The 2023 NBA trade deadline provided blockbuster deals, moves on the fringes and plenty of drama for basketball fans around the world. Here’s a look at some winners and losers after this year’s deadline.
Winner: Kevin Durant
Durant didn’t get his trade request fulfilled this summer, but the writing was on the wall when Kyrie Irving got moved. The Nets ultimately sent the superstar forward to his desired destination in Phoenix, uniting him with Chris Paul, Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton. The Suns have become the favorites to win the West with Durant expected to return after the All-Star break. It’s going to be hard to stop that team when he’s healthy, and he’s under contract for three more years. New owner Mat Ishbia makes an immediate impact.
Winner: Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers whiffed on Irving, which definitely upset LeBron James. However, LA did manage to pull off a great deal Wednesday when it sent Russell Westbrook to the Utah Jazz as part of a three-team deal with the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Lakers got D’Angelo Russell, Jarred Vanderbilt and Malik Beasley back in the process while only surrendering a protected 2027 first-round pick. Russell is an expiring contract as well, so the Lakers can cut bait if things don’t go well here. It gives the Lakers everything they need to be more competitive and they still have their future assets somewhat intact. They also rounded out the deadline well by swapping Patrick Beverley for Mo Bamba, giving them a replacement big after dealing Thomas Bryant. The wholesale rotation changes should benefit this team tremendously in the second half of the season.
Loser: Brooklyn Nets
Irving, Durant and James Harden played just 16 games together in what was supposed to be the most dominant team in NBA history. Irving was likely the main cause for the dysfunction and destruction of the franchise but Durant and Harden didn’t exactly help matters. The Nets ultimately cut bait on all three players and have a treasure trove of draft picks, but are left attempting to re-discover their identity and don’t have any blue-chip prospects to build a future around. They could’ve gotten more out of the Suns for Durant, and we’ll see if not asking for Ayton will come back to haunt them.
Winner: Phoenix Suns
The Suns managed to keep Ayton out of the Durant trade, which is ultimately going to be a win for them even if the big man is unhappy about it initially. Phoenix only parted with two starters in the deal and while Mikal Bridges is a nice piece, he’s not a star. The Suns are going for the championship under new ownership, and they weren’t shy about ponying up for one of the best players in the league. The Suns still have some draft capital available to them for future moves, although they’ll have to work on the fringes.
Loser: Russell Westbrook
It’s been a rough five-year period for Westbrook, and it might continue to go downhill. The former league MVP got traded for the fourth time in four seasons, and he might not even suit up for the Jazz with a buyout possible. Westbrook enters free agency this summer with his value at an all-time low. He has long been a fan favorite due to his energy, hustle and electrifying plays but his game has deteriorated significantly with age and his stubbornness has gotten in the way of him evolving and extending his career in a meaningful way.
Winner: Player empowerment
We’ve had three players force trades this season in Irving, Durant and Jae Crowder. In Crowder’s case, he removed himself from the team and still got dealt to a place where he wanted to be. Even Thomas Bryant got his trade request fulfilled after he felt he deserved consistent minutes with the Lakers even after Anthony Davis returned. Players have more power than ever when choosing their situation, and it apparently doesn’t seem to matter how much talent you actually have for this to be the case. In the end, this is a good thing for the league as it forces teams to build strong cultures and make moves wisely.
Loser: Denver Nuggets
The Nuggets didn’t have to really do anything at the deadline to maintain their status atop the Western Conference, but they saw the Suns, Mavericks and Lakers get better. The Nuggets even gave the Clippers a player in Bones Hyland for draft picks. Getting Thomas Bryant as a backup big man is cool, but the Nuggets saw their biggest competitors improve significantly while they largely stayed the same.
Winner: Reunions and third wheels
Russell is going back to the Lakers. Eric Gordon went back to the Clippers. John Wall went back to the Rockets. Teams are not hesitant to bring former players back if it means a better shot a title. There were also a significant number of three-team deals this year, with some franchises acting as salary vessels to take on unwanted contracts. The Pacers did this in the Jae Crowder trade, while the Hornets inserted themselves in a deal with the 76ers and Blazers for draft compensation.
Loser: Golden State Warriors
Saving money on your tax bill is important, but this is embarrassing. The Warriors have long touted their goal of chasing championships when they have the team capable of doing so, but decided to essentially give up James Wiseman for Gary Payton II. Stephen Curry got a promising update as he’ll be re-evaluated after the All-Star break but Golden State just saw every other contender in the West get better. It’s going to be hard for the Warriors to avoid the play-in tournament if Curry is out for an extended period of time and that’s where danger sets in. This team can win a title but the path got a lot more difficult in the last 24 hours.