Who was the big winner at the NBA trade deadline of 2023?
Before Thursday’s 3 p.m. ET deadline, things were unusually quiet. Only one important trade (Rui Hachimura to the Los Angeles Lakers) was made before Sunday.
Kyrie Irving’s request to be traded from the Brooklyn Nets opened the floodgates. He went to the Dallas Mavericks, and Kevin Durant, his MVP teammate, went to the Phoenix Suns.
These two moves changed the look of the Western Conference.
In the last 24 hours before the deadline, there were an amazing 16 trades involving 49 players (almost 10% of the league’s total) and 25 teams. The Los Angeles Lakers changed their lineup to help stars LeBron James and Anthony Davis, and their rivals, the Los Angeles Clippers, got Eric Gordon, Bones Hyland, and Mason Plumlee.
Still cleaning up after the season, which teams did the most to improve their chances of winning a championship? And who will be hurt by the moves they make or don’t make in the middle of the season?
Let’s look at the NBA trade deadline and see who won and who lost.
NBA Trade Deadline: Superteams Winners and Losers
Superteams are hard to kill, just like a bad guy in a slasher movie.
After Irving asked to be traded, the end of the Big Three era for the Nets became the beginning of a new superteam in Phoenix, where Kevin Durant will join forces with All-Stars Devin Booker and Chris Paul to try to win the championship that Brooklyn couldn’t.
Durant went three days without a teammate who made the All-NBA first team. This was the longest time since his rookie year with the Seattle SuperSonics. The next year, Russell Westbrook joined the Oklahoma City Thunder, and then James Harden did the same.
Harden and Westbrook weren’t All-NBA players yet, but they got there before Durant traded Westbrook for Stephen Curry with the Golden State Warriors, Kyrie Irving and Harden again with the Brooklyn Nets, and Paul and Booker, who have five first-team selections between them.
The way superteams come and go may change over time, but as long as the NBA is around, teams will try to get as many stars as possible, and stars will want to get together to increase their chances of winning a championship.
Even though Brooklyn didn’t do what we thought they would when Harden joined Durant and Irving, and even though it now takes a ridiculous number of first-round picks to trade for a signed star, that won’t change.
NBA Trade Deadline: Winner, Suns Fans
Mat Ishbia is the new majority owner of the Suns, but Robert Sarver is no longer in charge. Ishbia quickly showed how different he is from Sarver by agreeing to a trade that increased Phoenix’s luxury tax bill by about $16 million, even after Dario Saric was traded for Darius Bazley to save money.
Since 2004, when Sarver took over the team, the Suns have only paid the tax three times in 17 seasons. They’ll pay $50 million in taxes this year, which is almost four times what they paid under Sarver ($13.7 million).
Even so, Phoenix had already started to pay the luxury tax before Sarver agreed to sell the team after being banned for a whole season. Also, most of the Suns’ teams that went to the lottery in the last decade or so did not deserve to pay the tax.
Still, one of the most important things about the “Seven Seconds or Less” era in Phoenix when Steve Nash was the point guard was that the team gave up draft picks to lower its tax bill.
Ishbia has already shown that his time with the Suns will be very different.
NBA Trade Deadline: Draft Picks
Winner: Getting five second-round picks in exchange, Loser: Trading first-round draft picks in 2023
Because so many of them have already been traded, only two first-round picks for this June’s draft were included in deadline deals.
The Knicks sent a lottery-protected first-rounder to the Portland Trail Blazers for Josh Hart, and the Suns included theirs as part of the draft-pick haul for Durant.
With so many first-round picks already spoken for, the deadline was all about getting more and more second-round picks. The Milwaukee Bucks sent out five players for Jae Crowder.
Two of them went to the Indiana Pacers, who took on Milwaukee’s matching salary, while the Portland Trail Blazers received the same number from the Atlanta Hawks as part of a four-team deal involving Gary Payton II.
Like the development of razor blades, this arms race looks like it will only get worse. I’m looking forward to the six second-round picks that will be traded next year.
NBA Trade Deadline: Loser, Non-Taxpaying Teams
At the beginning of the week, teams outside of the luxury tax were set to get more than $17 million each in tax payments. This was a record amount because the Clippers and Warriors were deeper than ever into the tax, and the Warriors had to pay the repeater tax.
With the Golden State Warriors lowering their tax bill by trading James Wiseman for Gary Payton, the Philadelphia 76ers getting out of the tax entirely, and the Nets paying only a small amount of tax because of the Crowder trade, each of the 21 teams that are no longer subject to the tax could now make about $13.6 million, depending on incentive payments.
That’s still the most ever since it’s more than the $10.5 million that was given out last year, but it’s no longer as big of a surprise.
NBA Trade Deadline: Winner, The East’s Top Three
The Celtics, Bucks, and 76ers should all feel better about their chances of at least making it to the conference finals this year after the trade deadline. Not only did all three teams make moves to improve their teams, but they also watched the Nets fall apart and the second-tier teams in the East make few deals to win right away.
Only the New York Knicks, who have Josh Hart on their wing, are ready for the playoffs. The other four East teams are all at.500 or better. The Cleveland Cavaliers were one of two teams, along with the Chicago Bulls, that didn’t make a single trade during the season. The Miami Heat, on the other hand, sent out Dewayne Dedmon in their only trade to free up tax space.
Cleveland and Miami could still add players through the buyout market, but for now, the top teams in the East have a stronger grip on the conference.
NBA Trade Deadline: Loser, Denver Nuggets
On the other hand, the congested middle of the West was aggressive in its search for improvements. The sixth-place Clippers fixed their problem with their backup center and added Eric Gordon, who can play on either wing.
They also gave Hyland a try as a second-unit creator. The 13th-place Lakers look to be a more dangerous rival if they can make the postseason with more detail and shooting around James. Meanwhile, the Minnesota Timberwolves will hope that Mike Conley Jr. is a better fit at point guard than D’Angelo Russell.
The teams that dealt with Brooklyn, though, made the biggest moves. Those in the know believe that now that the Suns have added Durant, they are the favorites to win the West, while the Mavericks’ odds got better when they paired Irving with Luka Doncic.
We liked that the Nuggets got Thomas Bryant as a backup for Nikola Jokic, a 2 MVP center, but the return for Hyland, two second-round picks from the Clippers that aren’t likely to be in the top half of the round, didn’t help the Nuggets right away.
NBA Trade Deadline: Winner, Houston Rockets
The Rockets made a couple of trades. They got two second-round picks from the Hawks in a deal that was mainly about money, and they gave Eric Gordon to the Clippers in exchange for swap rights on a first-round pick.
Still, Durant’s trade request was the greatest story for Houston this week. Even if the suddenly deep Nets don’t seem likely to bottom out, the Rockets’ first-round picks from Brooklyn in 2024 and 2026 (with switches in 2025 and 2027) have little drawback with Durant gone.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this article on the winners and losers of the NBA trade deadline.