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NBA Trade Deadline Winners and Losers: Daryl Morey gets his man

Profile Picture: Rory Breasail

Rory Breasail

February 11th, 2022

Some people in the NBA consider it a problem that the transaction game can occasionally eclipse the significance of what actually happens on the court. But when you have a day like yesterday, and everything that led up to it, you realize that the drama that comes from these high leverage team-building situations is one of the best parts of being an NBA fan. 

The 2022 NBA Trade Deadline will go down as one of the best in history, with a plethora of teams taking monster swings over the last week. But NBA basketball is a zero-sum game, at the end of it all, we crown a single champion. So who did the best? And who lost out? 

Today we’re looking at the 2022 NBA Trade Deadline winners and losers.

LOSER: EASTERN CONFERENCE CONTENDERS OUTSIDE OF THE NETS AND SIXERS

This one is going to keep rival executives up at night. For most of the season, it was reasonable to assume that the Philadelphia 76ers were not a legit title threat despite the individual brilliance of Joel Embiid. And then the Brooklyn Nets, once considered favorites, had seen the wheels come off before the car was even out of the driveway.

Thursday's deadline changes all of that, and Eastern Conference hopefuls from Miami to Milwaukee are facing a much steeper climb to claim ultimate victory.

It’s a rare enough thing that division rivals both with championship aspirations make an in-season trade with each other, but I can’t remember one of this magnitude that actually has the chance to make both teams better off.

Daryl Morey got his man, and James Harden and Joel Embiid are a potentially overwhelming duo. The Nets, meanwhile, rebounded nicely, and might even have gotten better from the balance and depth this trade gives their roster.

Whoever you think won the trade, the rest of the East are the real losers.

WINNER: THE INDIANA PACERS

Now, this is how you kickstart a rebuild. 

The Indiana Pacers turned Caris LeVert and Domantas Sabonis into Tyrese Haliburton and multiple picks. The Pacers also increased their odds of landing a top player in this year's draft, as they already own the league's fifth-worst record.

I was skeptical that the Pacers would actually move Sabonis because the return they were after seemed exorbitant, but what Haliburton has already shown is better than two middling firsts, and he’s young and cost-controlled, allowing him to grow alongside the next great Pacers team.

LOSERS: THE LOS ANGELES LAKERS, CHICAGO BULLS

The Lakers are coming off the worst week of the LeBron James era, and the cavalry is not coming. While the Lakers’ options were limited, not making a single trade feels like organizational malpractice. That one of LeBron James’ last prime years will go to waste like this is a bitter pill to swallow.

The Chicago Bulls also stood pat, while everyone in the East rearmed around them. They now find themselves clearly outside the top-four teams in the East, with a roster designed to win now. Zach LaVine is still going to hit free agency, and Bulls ownership has only paid the luxury tax twice.

WINNER: SAN ANTONIO SPURS

The San Antonio Spurs seem to have finally got religion. The Spurs are 13th in the West, and instead of foolishly trying to keep building through the middle, they sold off pieces and are getting worse. They’re eating some short-term pain to build a future where newly-minted All-Star Dejounte Murray can actually play for something meaningful, and that’s a good thing.

After making only a handful of midseason trades during the entire Gregg Popovich era, the Spurs executed four separate deals to ship out veterans including Derrick White and Thad Young to bring in prospects and picks.

Does this auger a Pop retirement at the end of the season? Time will tell.

LOSER: THE SACRAMENTO KINGS

The Sacramento Kings no doubt got the best player in their trade with the Pacers. Sabonis is a unicorn-type big, a playmaker more than a shooter, but a legit offensive hub that can encourage all kinds of dynamic off-ball action.

And there is absolutely a reality in which Tyrese Haliburton never becomes as good as Sabonis. So how can they be a loser? Because what the Kings are doing is pushing all-in on the chance to chase the 10 seed. And even that meager goal is no sure thing and comes with immense risk.

By trading Haliburton the Kings are giving up a significant amount of team control, and by winning more games they make their own draft pick this year worse. Not to mention that he was a fan favorite, an on-court leader, and seemed determined to help turn the Kings into a winner.

Sabonis can be an unrestricted free agent in just two years. That is both a lot of time to turn things around but also plenty of time for Sabonis to perhaps realize he doesn’t like playing for the Kings organization.

The Kings got better, but they also boxed themselves into a very high-stakes game with enormous downside.

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