“The craziest NBA trade deadline ever!!” “THIS LEAGUE!!” “WOJ BOMB!!” “Check Shams’s latest tweet!!”
Movement among NBA rosters has become an entirely different sport. There is not a single sports conglomerate that a superstar or single individual has more of an impact in terms of wins and losses, and no league markets the faces and personalities of their stars better. Therefore, when all of the stars are either unhappy, want to play with their friends or in a more-desirable location, or the team has failed them in terms of winning and can cash-out by trading them before they inevitably leave, we see the changing in the landscape of the league that we do.
It is a live-reaction social media gold mine that brings us all together on the internet in the preceding chaos. It is a psychological thriller, a comedy, a horror movie, a drama, and a reality TV show all at once.
This NBA trade deadline was no short of characters this year with the statements that teams made. To break down the major moves (or non-moves) that occurred around the league, let’s cast the organizations as characters with trope characters we see since the league’s theatrics has gone beyond just sports at this point.
Dallas Mavericks- The “Man Who Falls for the Femme Fatale”
We’ve seen this all too many times before.
The man talks himself into the mysterious, seductive, manipulative female only to have a disaster (or in some cases, murder) strike. Think Rosamund Pike in Gone Girl or Catwoman in any of the Batman arcs or Circe wreaking havoc in Game of Thrones.
Kyrie Irving is arguably one of the most-impressive ball-handlers of this generation, he hit the most-important shot in Cleveland Cavaliers history that won them their first NBA Championship, and was a beloved, marketable superstar with his own movie and shoes that the youth obsessed with. He also has the reputation as a much-desired potential teammate by athletes around the league, wanting to play alongside his versatile offensive mastermind.
He has also torn apart every single organization he’s been apart of and left them out to dry, alienated teammates and fans, sat out half of a season and refused a contract due to being adamant about not receiving the COVID vaccine, written off coaches, and requested trades after massively underachieving.
The Dallas Mavericks have arguably a top-5 talent in the NBA in Luka Doncic, and the timeline to win with him in his prime is now. They’re coming off of egregiously letting Jalen Brunson walk away to New York after refusing to pay him, leaving them with the largest-gap in the league between their #1 and second-best player. There was no quality #2 option to pair with Luka, leaving Dallas residents painting murals of him holding a sign that said “PLEASE SEND HELP.”
Their desperation made them fall for the femme fatale. They sold their souls (and divided their fanbase in the process, making a trade for such a divisive superstar) by making a move for the man who has self-imploded every locker room he’s been in by dealing Dorian Finney-Smith (Luka’s apparent best friend on the roster), Spencer Dinwiddie, and three future draft picks. They didn’t see the turmoil he’s caused, they looked at him with fawning eyes, seeing only the Uncle Drew handles paired next to Luka in the backcourt. No athletes or teammates are perfect, but to have Kyrie as THE face of your team due to what he has stood for and done to teams in the past was quite the statement. If we had to predict, he’ll probably lure them by buying into the team and putting up excellent stats and highlights before it ultimately fails as the femme fatale strikes again.
Los Angeles Lakers- The “Self-Absorbed Hero who becomes Humbled”
“Never tell me the odds!” Han Solo shouts in complete and utter confidence before escaping the tie-fighters in Star Wars despite just being a normal human in a world of Jedis, aliens, and Wookiees, among other things.
“I feel the need for speed.” Tom Cruise reassures himself in Top Gun as he plays the same character he always does, the protagonist who learns to fight for the greater good as opposed to just living in his own world, feeling invincible.
That’s exactly the LeBron-Lakers experience this year.
The Lakers actually had a pretty successful trade deadline despite LeBron melodramatically Tweeting “Maybe it’s me” when his GM empowerment didn’t afford him the opportunity to land his BFF Kyrie Irving in a trade. However, after banking on the star-studded Hollywood lights and the allure of playing with his talent would be enough for big-name or Klutch free agents would flock to the keystone franchise (and even tragically forcing their hand in making a move for the dysfunction of Russell Westbrook), they’ve massively improved their roster without abandoning their entire future assets.
While they didn’t land any of the megastars that the crazed fans photoshop into yellow and purple, they flipped:
Russell Westbrook, Kendrick Nunn, Juan Toscano-Anderson, Damian Jones, Thomas Bryant, Patrick Beverly, a 2027 first-round pick, and two second-round picks
Into Jarred Vanderbilt, D’Angelo Russell, Malik Beasley, Rui Hachimura, Mo Bamba, Davon Reed, and two second-round picks.
They stopped swinging for the fences with Lakers photoshops or making it all about LeBron playing with his buddies, humbled themselves, and found a way to increase their depth in order to turn around a season where they’ve been on the outside looking in on the playoffs for the majority of the year.
As opposed to Russell Westbrook yelling “never tell me the odds” as he stat-hunts for another rebound, the Lakers now regrouped, looked themselves in the mirror, and have a more well-rounded team! This is their Jennifer Connelly moment!
Toronto Raptors- The “Character in a gambling or poker movie that foolishly developed a gambling addiction and ends up broke”
The entire story leading up to the NBA trade deadline was that the Toronto Raptors were going to be the big sellers at the deadline and strip down the era of this core. Who was going to make a move for OG Anunoby? Anyone interested in scoring guards Fred VanVleet, Gary Trent Jr., or maybe a lengthy wingman in Pascal Siakam? They could tear down and absolutely load up on picks with these players that practically every team would have a need for! The reality is that with their start under .500 for most of the year, a brand new iteration of the team to build around their Rookie of the Year, Scottie Barnes, would probably be the smart way to walk away from the year and regroup.
Until they hit the table once again.
Rather than sell their assets at an all-time high value to contending teams before the break, they talked themselves into having a puncher’s chance! They looked at the standings and saw a weaker Eastern Conference that just lost Kevin Durant and Kyrie and said, “Anything can happen! We’re the 10th seed, which would make the play-in! That’s why you play the games, right?”
They’re going to continue to run it with their core and even ADDED by trading for draft picks, meaning they have the mindset that they in fact can make it work in the future with the pieces they have around Barnes. Nick Nurse has been a master of improvisation as a coach thus far with his variety of groups, and they couldn’t take a good look at themselves in the mirror and realize it might be time for a change.
They’re Adam Sandler in Uncut Gems where you just want him to walk away before it gets too late due to the stakes and go home. They’re the guy on Deal or No Deal that continues to say “NO DEAL!” only to leave with the $100 case instead of the $50,000 when he had the chance.
Ironically, this is the same Raptors team that could have been in on the Durant sweepstakes this summer, but didn’t want to give up Barnes and bet on themselves..
Brooklyn Nets- The “Tragic Hero”
In 2019, the Brooklyn Nets went from the plucky “we’re a large market that could be attractive but still the forgotten team in the city” franchise to signing Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and hiring a legendary former player in Steve Nash as their head coach.
Then came the saga of Kyrie Irving going on a plethora of, let’s call them “personal hiatuses.”
Then in 2021, they pulled off a major trade for James Harden to create possibly the strongest offense ever assembled since the 2017 Golden State Warriors with each having years to go on their contract! This was the next dynasty of the NBA! New York Knicks whom? Who is stopping that offense?
They played a total of 16 games together. In the totality of the Durant era, the Nets went 7-9 in the postseason.
Since then, we’ve had Harden traded for the corpse of Ben Simmons, Steve Nash fired per the request of Kevin Durant after he requested a trade, Kyrie promoting an anti semitic documentary and finally getting traded per his request, then the nail in the coffin was finally Durant being traded to Phoenix.
They’re now left with Spencer Dinwiddie, a roster entirely of wings, and Ben Simmons in street clothes.
Their tragic downfall was their pride in believing the amount of egos paired with these talents would work. They only saw the handles, the stats, and the possibilities of each athlete at their peak, and they bought
into it. They’re Jay Gatsby only seeing the beautiful Daisy in this story as opposed to the actual awful human that she is, and they’re left with nothing.
Perhaps the worst question surrounding teams in sports that we ask ourselves far too much regarding talent is “What could have been?”
Phoenix Suns- The “Power-hungry Politician”
The egocentric maniac who thinks he or she will change the world through their rise to individual power with burning, convincing moves and propaganda is something we’ve seen far too often in fictional (and, unfortunately, real-life) politics. They do whatever it takes to work their way to the top by way of some sort of shadiness; Harvey Dent had good intentions to change Gotham and ended up making some of the most reprehensible, egregious and murderous decisions by flying too close to the “Sun,” if you will.
The Suns are doing whatever it takes to climb that ladder on their campaign.
They’ve had a line graph of expectations that looks as up and down as the stock market beginning with their meteoric rise in the bubble and Finals run, their absolutely embarrassing Game 7 blowout loss to the Dallas Mavericks in the Western Conference Semifinals and allegations of racism and misogyny from Robert Sarver leading to the sale of the team, the underperforming season thus far with Jae Crowder refusing to play and their reluctance to extend DeAndre Ayton as they questioned his commitment to the team and winning, to now.
The now being they saw they were still 5th in a weakened Western Conference, knew they were getting Devin Booker back from injury, and made maybe the largest trade deadline acquisition in NBA history: Kevin Durant and TJ Warren for four unprotected draft picks, Cam Johnson, Jae Crowder, and Mikal Bridges.
This feels like the power-hungry political arc where they invest so much into winning now with this dynamic core in the West either to have them win the presidency or have all of their moves in the shadows amount to nothing in the end, especially with Durant’s injury history now piling up and Chris Paul’s age accumulating. However, they went as all-in as possible in Clay Davis fashion.
The hierarchy of power has changed in the West now.