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NBA trade deadline grades: Cavaliers flipped the tables, Lakers are plotting

We grade all the teams that made substantial moves at the deadline.

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Cleveland Cavaliers David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

What was shaping up to be a boring, low-drama NBA trade deadline was lit ablaze by the desperate, feisty Cleveland Cavaliers. As a result, we have plenty of intrigue to unwind in the aftermath. Hence these NBA trade deadline grades, a collective attempt to make sense of all that happened on Thursday.

There were officially 12 deals on the day of the deadline — we’re ignoring those that came on days prior for this exercise — but just a few of them stuck out for impact. Collectively, though, they remade one contender, set up the league’s most famous franchise to perhaps regain a foothold in the upper echelon, and shuffled expectations for teams in the soft NBA middle.

This didn’t turn into an arms race, as the offseason did. Among contenders, only Cleveland was heavily active. But the Cavaliers and their star, LeBron James, loom so large on the horizon that this was enough. It was plenty. Here’s our take in report card form.

Head of the Class

Cavaliers: A

Holy smokes. The Cleveland Cavaliers traded almost half of their roster on Thursday! The mix wasn’t working, the front office knew it, and everyone decided that desperate times called for desperate measures. So gone are ISAIAH THOMAS (yeah, I’m still in all-caps mode on that one), Dwyane Wade, Iman Shumpert, Channing Frye, Jae Crowder, and Derrick Rose, plus Cleveland’s own 2018 first-round pick.

In come George Hill, Rodney Hood, Jordan Clarkson, and Larry Nance Jr. Odds are two of those players — maybe three — will be starters in the near term. Hill is going to play a ton of minutes, and Nance is going to have a huge role until Kevin Love returns. Clarkson and Hood should help if they can adjust to playing with James.

We have no idea if this is going to work, either in reinvigorating Cleveland’s title run or in convincing James to stick around this summer. But it’s a bold, bold stroke to try. Good job, Cavs.

Here’s Paul Flannery on the remaking of Cleveland. Here’s Fear The Sword’s take.

Lakers: A

The Lakers helped the Cavaliers by shipping out Clarkson and Nance for Isaiah, Frye, and that Cavs pick. Essentially, L.A. gets out of Clarkson’s contract — which isn’t hideous, but isn’t helpful to the Lakers — and gets another late first to play with. The cost is Nance and some potential drama with Isaiah, who is about thisclose to snapping if he’s told to be Lonzo Ball’s backup. (Lonzo’s hurt right now anyway. Josh Hart has been starting.)

Losing Clarkson for two expiring deals also helps the Lakers potentially open up salary cap space for two max contracts, one of which might very well be LeBron. Ain’t that a twist? The Lakers helped Cleveland get better, presumably helping the Cavs keep LeBron. The Cavs helped L.A. open up space to attract a second superstar, presumably helping their case to LeBron. The only way this can end: LeBron picks a different team entirely.

Here’s a timeline showing how Isaiah got here. Here’s Flannery on Isaiah’s fate, arguing that he deserved better. Drew Garrison writes that the Lakers are betting on their ability to draw stars.

Dwyane Wade: A+

Dwyane Wade and Gabrielle Union get to go back to Miami! Phenomenal!

Above Average

Jazz: B

Utah wasn’t going to get anything great for Hood on the market and didn’t seem interested in re-signing him, so taking a flyer on Crowder isn’t a bad idea.

Suns: B+

The Suns picked up Elfrid Payton for a second-round pick, which is a real WTF. But Phoenix only has less than 30 games to evaluate Payton before he hits restricted free agency, unless the team thinks it can convince him to sign the qualifying offer in a tight-market summer.

Mavericks: B

Dallas turned Devin Harris into Doug McDermott and a second. Nice work! It’s a minor little improvement that’s worthy of praise as other awful teams sat on their veterans. (It’s pretty interesting that there were no meaningful Nerlens Noel rumors, as it were.)

Average

All the teams that made minor salary cap moves to save luxury tax: C

They have to do it. I don’t have to care. No offense to Noah Vonleh, Sheldon Mac, or Dante Cunningham.

Knicks: C

New York landed Emmanuel Mudiay for McDermott and a second. No one is really sure if Mudiay is a rotation-level point guard still in Year 3. A change of scenery might be nice?

Magic: C-

It’s hard to kill Orlando for selling so low on Payton: This is a new front office that clearly wasn’t willing to commit to the oddball point guard this summer when he becomes a restricted free agent, so why not set him free? That said, he’s been showing signs of improvement of late, and there could been an opportunity to get more than a single second-round pick via a sign-and-trade. Maybe.

Below Average

Nuggets: D

Trading Mudiay to get 34-year-old Harris isn’t so bad given Denver’s playoff push. But it is an indictment of the front office that picked Mudiay No. 7 overall in 2015 ... which is the same front office running the Nuggets now.

Grizzlies: D

Memphis refused to take two seconds in lieu of a first for Tyreke Evans, according to multiple reports. Congratulations for standing on principle? What’s just as strange is selling low on James Ennis, who has been a rare pleasant surprise for the Grizzlies.

Failing

Kings: F

In a vacuum, Sacramento’s Thursday moves were perfectly ignorable. They did not encumber any future assets, including draft picks. They cut salary. Hey, they even got a future second! The moves themselves do not significantly impact the Kings’ future, which depends on how good Bogdan Bogdanovic, De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Willie Cauley-Stein, the 2018 first-round pick, and a few others become.

It’s what the deals represent and what came next that burns. The Kings swapped Hill — their signature offseason pick-up — for Shumpert. That’s fine, if a little funny. Then they cut bait on Malachi Richardson via a trade for Bruno Caboclo and waived Georgios Papagiannis for roster space.

Richardson and Papagiannis were the Kings’ top draft picks in 2016 ... less than two years ago! The Kings actually traded down from No. 8 to get Papagiannis and Skal Labissiere, who has seemed to be on the verge of being traded all month. That was a shallow draft pool, but at least most teams who picked in the first round still have something to show for it, even if it’s just unfulfilled hope. The Kings have nothing. (Adding to the hilarity: The Kings picked up Papagiannis’ 2018-19 option three months ago. Sacramento will be paying a 21-year-old $2.4 million to go play in Europe or something next year.)

The number of lottery picks lit on fire by the Kings over multiple regimes over the past decade is staggering. From Jimmer Fredette to Thomas Robinson to Ben McLemore to Nik Stauskas to Papagiannis — it’s one of the most predictable NBA events at this point. It’s essentially the defining feature of the modern Sacramento Kings.