There’s a reason why “Unorthodox” is the operative word here.
There were several big winners from the trade deadline. Philadelphia got the perfect and relatively young scorer in Tobias Harris to put next to Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. Toronto added an experienced, jack-of-all-trades center in Marc Gasol to cement their status as a contender. Even though their prized new acquisition hasn’t played a game, Dallas added a generational young talent in Kristaps Porzingis to give Luka Doncic the perfect partner-in-crime for a potential dynasty.
And that’s just to name a few.
We already knew those teams were going to be winners the second those trades were finalized. What we didn’t know was that one month after the deadline happened, there would be other winners that manifested themselves but for different reasons and in different ways.
Los Angeles Clippers
Now, we knew the Clippers made two brilliant moves at the deadline.
1. They hoarded good assets for Tobias Harris, a player whose return was very much in doubt this summer.
2. They stole Ivica Zubac from their crosstown rival – Seriously, Magic, what were you thinking?
When they made those deals, the common consensus was that the Clippers were punting on the season. The Western Conference has been tough as nails – as usual – and the Clippers owed a protected first-round pick to Boston if they made the playoffs. Trading Harris, who garnered plenty of all-star consideration, would have signaled them pulling the plug.
But they didn’t. Since they re-worked half the roster, the Clippers have still been humming, and haven’t missed a beat. The play of both the Clippers’ staples, most namely Danilo Gallinari, Lou Williams, and Montrezl Harrell as well as their new guys, most namely Zubac, Landry Shamet, and JaMychal Green, have made up for Harris’ absence.
Los Angeles has gone 9-5 since the deadline, having beaten the likes of Boston (twice), Oklahoma City, and Sacramento among others. They now sit comfortably in the eighth seed with a five-game lead over the Kings and are a half-game outside of a three-way tie between Utah and San Antonio for the six through eight spots in the conference.
Basically, because of the moves they made at the deadline, the Clippers have had the privilege of having their cake and eating it. In what could be Doc Rivers’ best work as Head Coach, along with Jerry West’s savvy moves as General Manager, the Clippers have built a winning culture and are quite a joy to watch.
They were already in a good position before they made their moves. Since then, they’ve made their pursuit of Kawhi Leonard all the stronger.
Detroit didn’t exactly get the best haul at the deadline trade-wise.
Given their youth, Thon Maker and Svi Mykhailiuk could be contributors down the line for the Pistons. So far, their impact since arriving in Motown has been minimal. Maker has been barely passable as a backup five while Svi has barely played.
Yet, the Pistons have gone 10-4 since the deadline, just recently had a five-game winning streak snapped, and have beaten Toronto and Indiana. In all fairness, Detroit has been a team made almost entirely of runs. They started the season on a four-game win streak, then lost five straight games, then won four of their next six, then won five in a row, then went on a six-game losing streak, and you get the idea.
So what makes this one different? Well, here’s what’s odd about Motor City.
It’s not who they acquired that made them an unexpected winner from the trade deadline. It’s who they traded away.
At the deadline, Detroit traded Reggie Bullock and Stanley Johnson, both of whom are wings. Bullock was regarded for his shooting while Johnson’s specialty was defense. Both were clearly not seen as long-term fixtures, and by trading them, it opened up minutes for new addition Wayne Ellington and the suddenly emergent Luke Kennard.
Since the deadline, Kennard is averaging 13.6 points on 48.3 percent shooting and 45.6 percent from three-point land. Ellington, who mind you was racking up DNP’s in South Beach, is averaging 9.5 points on 39.6 percent shooting and 37.9 percent from three.
Those numbers are making an impact, as when those two are paired with Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson, their net rating is plus-29.4 in 43 minutes together.
The most striking tidbit is that Blake Griffin, who should be a shoo-in for an all-NBA team this season, hasn’t played great in this timespan. He’s averaged 20.6 points on 44.3 percent shooting and 35.7 percent from three. That’s a drop off compared the numbers he’s put up this season, and the Pistons are minus-4.2 with Blake on the floor.
Despite that, it bears repeating: Detroit has won 10 of its last 14 games.
By trading Bullock and Johnson to make room for Ellington and Kennard, the Pistons appear to have found a stronger rotation, which could help their playoff chances.
This is the probably the oddest of them all. Memphis is pretty much out of the playoff race, and they’ve been a shade under .500 since the deadline (6-7). So how exactly did they win?
Well, thanks to lowered priorities, it’s looking increasingly likely that the Grizzlies will be able to get the monkey that is the pick that they owe Boston off their back, which is what they’ve wanted all along.
It’s weird because they traded the franchise’s backbone in Marc Gasol as well as JaMychal Green and Garrett Temple for Avery Bradley, CJ Miles, Jonas Valanciunas, and Delon Wright. Gasol is the best player of that bunch, but somehow it’s given Memphis badly needed depth. Bradley and Valanciunas have been the standouts in this newly found depth.
Bradley has found his old self again in Memphis, averaging 15.7 points on 45.6 percent shooting and 39.1 percent from three. After being by all accounts one of the worst players in the NBA given his salary during his stint with the Clippers, Bradley’s career appears to be right back on track.
Valanciunas has been tearing it up in Grind City, averaging 17 points and eight rebounds on 58.1 percent shooting. It helps that he’s their best option in their frontcourt with Jaren Jackson Jr. out, but he’s still getting it results.
This is all going according to plan because there has been plenty of speculation that the Grizzlies would rather give the pick they owe the Celtics from Jeff Green deal now so that they won’t have to worry about it as they approach their inevitable rebuild. Since 2019 has not been regarded as a particularly deep draft, and the best placement Memphis would give Boston would be the ninth pick, that’s not too steep of a price to pay.
Currently, Memphis has the seventh-worst record in the league, having just been leap-frogged by Dallas. Don’t be shocked if the Lakers, who appear to be calling it a season, and New Orleans, who has lost four in a row, surpass them given that their best options would be to get as high a pick as possible at this point.
Again, they haven’t been great, but Memphis has to like its chances of giving Boston the pick now. By doing all this, they might just be able to rip off that band-aid and finally start over. The shame of it is, all four of those guys would have been perfect fits during the prime days of Grit-and-Grind.
There could be a whole section about them, but this writer already covered them a few weeks ago here.
The trade deadline can have a major influence on the final result of the season. Sometimes a team wins because they acquired the right player. Sometimes a team wins because they rid themselves of the wrong player. Every time, you win when either your present or future is looking up.
For these four teams, it was definitely the latter, but in some of the most peculiar ways possible.