Justin Norris | Staff Writer
Although no stars were moved during the NBA’s trade deadline, plenty of teams made moves they think will upgrade their roster.
Some teams, such as the Houston Rockets, Miami Heat and the Los Angeles Clippers, made moves that further emphasized their win-now attitudes in a championship race that is more open than it has been in at least five years. The Los Angeles Lakers were the most notable team to stand pat at the deadline.
The Houston Rockets doubled down on their small-ball philosophy by trading away starting center Clint Capela, their 2020 first-round pick and Gerald Green for Robert Covington and a future second round pick. Trading Capela means that PJ Tucker will play center full time for the Rockets in a lineup where no player will be taller than Covington, who is 6-foot-7. The move will create more driving lanes for James Harden and Russell Westbrook while enabling Houston to play a five-out offense for virtually the entire game to maximize 3-point attempts and shots at the rim, while allowing them to switch anything defensively without putting any player at a major size advantage defensively.
Ever since GM Daryl Morey acquired Harden from Oklahoma City in one of the most lopsided trades of all time, he has been determined to maximize Houston’s championship window, which is directly tied to Harden’s shelf life as a superstar.
With the Golden State Warriors out of the championship picture this year, it was assumed Morey would make a win-now move to take advantage of the abdicated Western Conference throne. Morey even admitted in an interview with ESPN in 2017 that last year that he was “obsessed” with beating Golden State because he knew that the road to the NBA Finals ran through Golden State.
The Miami Heat sent Justise Winslow, James Johnson and Dion Waiters to the Memphis Grizzlies for Andre Iguodala, Jae Crowder and Solomon Hill. Iguodala was one of the most coveted names on the market for his playmaking acumen, defensive chops and championship experience, and Crowder and Hill are wings capable of making open 3-pointers and holding their own defensively.
Additionally, Miami was able to rid itself of Waiters, who had fallen out of favor with coach Erik Spoelstra after having multiple detrimental conduct issues with the team. Jimmy Butler’s arrival in Miami this past summer made Winslow’s presence somewhat redundant as a defensive-minded playmaking wing with a questionable jump shot.
Nazim Trammell-Wells, a Hampton University senior journalism major from Philadelphia, really liked the Heat’s deadline acquisitions.
“The move to get Iggy and Crowder definitely shifts us into a win now mentality,” he said. “Pat Riley is a great GM, and he is constantly finding pieces to have us in the conversation to both make a deep run, while also acquiring talent.”
This trade deepens Miami’s rotation, gives Spoelstra even more lineup flexibility and firmly puts the Heat into the tier of Eastern Conference contenders below Milwaukee, which includes Philadelphia, Boston and Toronto.
The Los Angeles Clippers acquired coveted forward Marcus Morris from the New York Knicks. Morris had been linked to both Los Angeles teams before the deadline, and he and Iguodala were two of the most highly sought after players on the market. While Morris represents another viable 3-and-D and scoring option for the already loaded Clippers, perhaps the biggest boon of this transaction is that the Clippers kept him away from their locker room roommates, the Los Angeles Lakers. Morris is averaging almost 20 points per game on 44 percent shooting from 3-point range. He is another wing defender who can at least hope to match up with LeBron James in a potential playoff series, if for no other reason than to keep Kawhi Leonard and Paul George fresh.
The Lakers chose to value team continuity and chemistry over perceived marginal upgrades at the trade deadline. The death of Kobe Bryant might have played a factor, as this team rallied and became closer than most in the weeks leading up to the deadline. Forward Kyle Kuzma’s name was circulating in trade rumors leading up to the deadline, but the Lakers decided to keep their streaky third-year scorer. In fact, Kuzma was rumored to be in discussions with the Knicks for Morris, but the Lakers must have decided that the price to acquire Morris was too steep. However, they are expected to be active in the buyout market, especially since free-agent guard and California native Darren Collison recently announced he will remain retired, to the chagrin of Lakers fans.
John T. Harvey IV, a fourth-year in HU’s 5-year MBA program who is from Washington, D.C., laments the Lakers’ passiveness at the deadline.
“When you look at the Clippers, they are deep at every position and have already beaten the Lakers twice this season,” he said. “I was hoping that they would acquire Morris to even the scales, but it is unacceptable to allow him to go to our biggest competition. His shooting and defense would have made him a great fit on any team, but especially next to LeBron and AD.”
As with every season, time will tell if teams such as the Rockets and Heat did enough to vault themselves into true championship contention, and if the Clippers did enough to topple the Lakers in a playoff matchup. But all eyes will be on the Lakers and whether or not they were prudent in their refusal to trade Kuzma and disrupt their chemistry like they did at last season’s deadline.