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The confusing Jalen Duren trade created peak chaos on NBA Draft night

Here’s how this three-way trade went down.

NBA: Draft Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA Draft was proceeding fairly normally on Thursday night until the Charlotte Hornets selected Jalen Duren at No. 13. It’s here everything went wild, with a huge confusing trade involving the Hornets, Knicks and Pistons — one that fans are still trying to work out today.

Confusion began as soon as the NBA’s two biggest insiders, Adrian Wojnarowski and Shams Charania tweeted two different trades, seconds apart.

The weirdest part of this is that they were both correct, which made this all the more confusing. It soon emerged that the trade for Jalen Duren was complicated, involving three teams, a veteran player, picks flying all over the place and questions lingering on why everyone even did this.

What exactly did this trade end up being?

Charlotte Hornets receive

2023 1st round pick (lottery protected — from New York, via Denver)
2023 2nd from pick (from New York)
2023 2nd round pick (from New York, via Utah)
2023 2nd round pick (from New York via Dallas or Miami)
2024 2nd round pick (from New York)

New York Knicks receive

2023 1st round pick (lottery protected —from Detroit)
2025 1st round pick (lottery protected — from Detroit, via Portland)

Detroit Pistons receive
Draft rights to Jalen Duren (from Charlotte)
PG Kemba Walker (from New York)

So why did everyone make this bizarre trade?

On the surface this appears like a weird, winding way that allowed the Pistons to get much better at the expense of the Hornets and Knicks, who got back fairly little considering what they gave up. However, the reasoning for all three teams was fairly sound — regardless of who you thought “won” this deal.

Why the Hornets made this trade

The biggest reason for Charlotte was a need for cap relief. That’s what got this ball rolling in the first place. The Hornets gambled a year ago by choosing not to sign Miles Bridges to a contract extension. Instead, they picked up his rookie option.

Bridges broke out, scoring 20.2 points per game in 2021-22, becoming Charlotte’s most critical player outside of LaMelo Ball. Now, facing restricted free agency, the Hornets need to clear room to have cap flexibility to match offers that might come Bridges’ way, including the likelihood of a max-level deal.

For Charlotte, this in all probability means trying to find a trade partner willing to take Gordon Hayward, Terry Rozier, or maybe even both — but more importantly, they didn’t want to pay two lottery pick players and put them against their cap in 2022-23 (which cannot be traded for three months after signing) if they still hoped to retain Bridges.

So, in practical terms, yes, the Hornets got back less than they gave — but with the expectation that the deal will allow them to retain someone they view as crucial to their future success.

Why the Knicks made this trade

This trade is well-trodden ground when it comes to New York: Future assets and cap space. For what purpose? Nobody knows, but it’s this team's M.O. to keep stashing their handful of magic beans with the promise it might bear fruit in the future.

As our Knicks blog, Posting and Toasting says:

So with this cap space, what will the Knicks use it on what you might be asking.

Jalen Brunson?
Kyrie Irving?
Malcolm Brogdon?

Alright, let’s come back to earth for a second.

The Knicks have dragged us down this road many times before over the last 12 years and have had nothing to show for it. It felt like New York was past this strategy.

This seems to center on New York’s desire to clear cap space so they can sign Jalen Brunson from the Mavericks or even Kyrie Irving now. The hope would be that Brunson becomes a true superstar point guard, which then gives the Knicks future assets to trade for another superstar player to pair with him — or that Irving allows them to try and assemble their own Big 3.

New York has done this time, and time, and time again. It hasn’t worked.

Why the Pistons made this trade

It’s simple: They’re smart. After years of languishing without much to show for it, Detroit is finally on a major upswing. Yes, they finished poorly last season, but 2021 No. 1 pick Cade Cunningham was still getting his feet under him and finished the year extremely strongly.

This move was made with a tacit understanding that the Pistons’ window is opening and a desire to make big moves now. Getting Jaden Ivey at No. 5 was a coup, adding Jalen Duren to the mix gives Detroit a young, potentially incredible Big 3 that puts the Pistons back in contention quickly.

Here’s what our blog Detroit Bad Boys said on the deal:

The Pistons were able to accomplish this with a mix of aggression and patience. First, they traded Jerami Grant in a deal that had people scratching their heads on Wednesday but was made much clearer by Thursday night. He received a low first-round pick in 2025 in the deal but also was able to send Grant without taking back any salary in return.

That proved to be important because he was able to take advantage of New York’s desperation to get off some money in its pursuit of Jalen Brunson and take on the contract of Kemba Walker as well as that low-first from the Grant deal and flip it for the 13th pick where they got one of their favorite big men in the draft in Jalen Duren.

So, who won this trade?

Theoretically everyone can. That’s what makes this so bizarre to analyze. If the Hornets are able to retain Miles Bridges with the money they saved in this deal, and pick up a couple of promising rotational players with their bevy of picks — they’ll be thrilled.

The Knicks could win if they’re finally able to turn the tide on this hoard-and-trade policy dating back a decade and become a contender.

That said, both those scenarios are less a plan, and more hope. The Detroit Pistons are the winner here. The team was able to take advantage of desperation from two other Eastern Conference teams and assemble a Big 3 overnight, albeit one based on youthful promise and not proven production — but with Cunningham already on his way to becoming an elite player the prospect is easier to imagine.