Welcome back to the NBA Star Power Index — a weekly gauge of the players who are most controlling the buzz around the league. Reminder: Inclusion on this list isn’t necessarily a good thing. It simply means that you’re capturing the NBA world’s attention. Also, this is not a ranking. The players listed are in no particular order as it pertains to the buzz they’re generating. This week is all about Trade Deadline. This column will run every week through the end of the regular season.
We’re one day away from the NBA trade deadline, set for Thursday at 3 p.m. EST, and Anthony Davis is still a Pelican. The Lakers have reportedly offered New Orleans Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart, Ivica Zubac, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and two future first-round picks for Davis and Solomon Hill, and have said this is their final offer until New Orleans at least comes back with a counter.
We’ll see about that.
With the Clippers potentially becoming another buyer for Davis with the draft-pick-rich trade they executed in sending Tobias Harris to the Sixers, and with the Celtics‘ potentially unbeatable package set to become available to New Orleans this summer, the Lakers are desperate to get this done now. I’ve talked to people in the league who don’t think the Lakers should offer any more draft picks that would further deplete their future for Davis, and I’ve also talked to people who think they’ve come this far, why not go a little bit further and get this thing done.
I can see it both ways. Whether you think this Lakers offer matches up with other potential offers that might — emphasis on might — be out there this summer or even between now and the deadline, this is everything the Lakers have. They are effectively tearing down their entire team outside of LeBron to put two of the five best players in the world together. Is that enough to compete for a championship? Keep in mind, the Lakers would still have a max salary spot to potentially land another big name this summer, and the buyout market is an option to round out the roster should they lose all those rotation pieces.
In the meantime, the Lakers Svi Mykhailiuk and a 2021 second-round pick to the Pistons. If L.A. doesn’t land Davis, this will feel like a very boring, frustrating consolation prize for Lakers fans, but Bullock is a good fit next to LeBron. He’s a terrific 3-point shooter both as a spot-up guy and on the move, and the Lakers need all the shooting they can get. Bullock is the type of support player LeBron has traditionally preferred — an ever-ready marksman who can make use of LeBron’s drive-and-kick and perimeter sling-passing prowess while also simply spacing the floor for LeBron’s head-down drives with defenders having to honor Bullock’s shot., sending
Amid all this trade talk, the Lakers. It was the worst loss of LeBron’s career, and he did not look happy about it. On the floor, his effort fluctuated between minimal and embarrassingly non-existent. Off the floor, well, let’s just say he didn’t exactly appear connected with his potential short-timer teammates:
There’s context that should be addressed here. It was the end of a blowout and the end-of-bench guys, who usually sit next to LeBron, were playing garbage time. Still, LeBron knows the situation. He understands the optics. The Indiana crowd was chanting “LeBron’s gonna trade you” at Brandon Ingram while he was shooting free throws for crying out loud. The team was, is, shook by all this. You can’t claim all you want to do is lead and then when it comes time to lead, be unwilling to slide a few seats down if only for a show of support and understanding of what your teammates are having to go through not knowing their future one minute to the next.
In the middle of all this,— becoming the youngest player in history, and just the fifth player overall, to reach 32,000 career points. It’s obviously a major milestone, and LeBron should be able to enjoy it. But in this trade climate, after your team just had its spirit completely crushed, after you knew exactly what you were doing in leaving that empty space on bench between you and your teammates, to put out an Instagram post after the game basically making it all about yourself and how happy and grateful you are — even though, again, he should be happy and grateful and proud as hell — just wasn’t a good look.
When Jimmy Butler was traded to the Sixers earlier this season, I was talking to a couple scouts about how they saw Butler fitting alongside Ben Simmons. They were cautiously optimistic, but reserved concern about both Butler and Simmons needing the ball to some degree. In the middle of the conversation, one of the scouts said to me, “You know who would be a great fit with [the Sixers]? A guy like Tobias Harris.”
Late Tuesday night (or super early Wednesday morning), the Sixers made this deal with the Clippers:
This is a lot to give up. That 2021 unprotected Miami pick is a chunk of gold. The Clippers came out of this smelling like roses with a more draft picks to add to their trove of assets and the two max slots available for agents this summer. As for Philly, the reasons that Harris slots so well in this now stacked starting lineup is he’s a perfect secondary playmaker — he’s a 42-percent 3-point shooter who can space the floor for a team sorely in need of such a threat, and who can also make plays as they come to him rather than needing the ball from the start.
This also addresses Philly’s depth issue to come degree. Yes, it was a 3-for-3 swap, but with Harris being so versatile he can fill a lot of slots that could potentially allow Brett Brown to have three of his best players on the floor at all times even with a shorter rotation. When Simmons is out, Butler can have his time in control of the offense, and Harris is the perfect support piece, and we saw in last year’s playoffs how dangerous Simmons can be with the ball in his hands and shooters all around him. Redick isn’t the only true floor spacer now when Philly is running its best five out there.
The Sixers are hoping to re-sign Harris and Butler, but if Butler walks, Harris is a better fit anyway. If they lose them both and don’t do much damage in the playoffs this year, they probably gave up to much. But that’s a gamble Sixers GM Elton Brand, who is quickly climbing the Executive of the Year board, had to make. The Sixers are all in for at least an Eastern Conference title this year, and they have every reason to believe they can get it done.
More terrible news in what has been a truly terrible season for the Wizards: John Wall has ruptured his Achilles tendon, by slipping in his house no less, and will be out in the neighborhood of a year, perhaps more. It’s the same injury DeMarcus Cousins suffered and roughly the same timeline. The difference is, Cousins was in a contract year. He hadn’t gotten his big money yet, and as we know, after the injury, had to settle for a one-year, $5.7 million prove-it deal with the Warriors.
Wall has already signed his contract — which doesn’t even start until next season when his salary will jump to $38 million in an escalating deal that will guarantee him $170 million over the next four seasons. Wall is set for life — and we’ll have to see how that may or may not impact his motivation to get back to full strength as quickly as possible. The Wizards, meanwhile, are slowly suffocating to death.
With Wall’s money on the books, and absolutely no chance of anyone trading for him now (there really never was a chance), starting a full teardown/rebuild is tough while committed to all that Wall cash, and it was widely reported that Washington was indeed intent on keeping Bradley Beal and Otto Porter. But as we know by now, teams say a lot of things. Wednesday evening it was reported that the Wizards are trading Porter to the Chicago Bulls.
On the surface, I’m not sure what the Bulls are doing committing to Porter’s money on a team that is nowhere near being anything close to a good team, and I have to think the Wizards could’ve gotten a lot more for Porter than this. But from a purely financial standpoint, it makes sense to start getting off whatever big money the Wizards can. Without Wall for the rest of this season and potentially most of next season, and with no guarantee he’ll ever get back to the player he’s been at his best, biting the bullet and starting over seems inevitable for the Wizards, with the Wall money just being something they’re going to have to eat for a few years.
Now the question is: Will Bradley Beal be the next to go?
It looked like Marc Gasol was headed to Charlotte, but reports have since surfaced that both sides had enough concerns to back off. Everyone is interested in how this plays out. Chances are, Gasol will not be in Memphis past the trade deadline, and with Mike Conley possibly on the move as well, that’s going to bring an official end to the Grit N’ Grind era in Memphis that meant so much to so many people, not to mention the league as a whole. The Grizzlies have been a basketball purist’s treasure through all the changes the game has seen and managed to stay very competitive for a really long time in doing so.
That said, there’s still basketball to be played somewhere for Gasol. He can help a lot of teams. There was a report that he and Conley were close to being traded to Toronto in exchange for Kyle Lowry and Jonas Valanciunas. Perhaps Charlotte finds a way to get the deal for Gasol back on track. One way or another, it feels like something is going to happen with Gasol before the deadline passes.