If we’ve learned anything from Brian Windhorst’s “What’s going on in Utah?” monologue, it’s that NBA transactions never occur in a vacuum. A Royce O’Neale trade is not just a Royce O’Neale trade. Many moves that seem strange make more sense after the next one. Some of the moves that haven’t happened yet are on hold because the parties involved are waiting for others that haven’t happened yet.
To sort out what’s happened in the offseason, then, it’s worth looking at each trade or signing through the lens of its ripple effects. Let’s do that with six stories:
1. Brunson ditches Dallas
The New York Knicks got their guy. But how does that affect their other guys? The optimistic take is that Jalen Brunson will make life easier for everybody else because he can get into the paint, finish at the rim and space the floor, essentially giving them what they hoped they’d have when they signed Kemba Walker last offseason. The pessimistic take is that he’ll take the ball out of R.J. Barrett’s hands and Julius Randle’s hands, magnifying Barrett and Randle’s inconsistent spot-up shooting.
If the Knicks can’t find their flow on offense, it will be because of poor spacing. Randle made 30.1 percent of his catch-and-shoot 3s last season, down from 41.7 percent in his magical 2020-21 breakout. Barrett shot a more respectable 36.8 percent on catch-and-shoot 3s, but opposing teams mostly left him open. Ideally, Brunson’s presence will get them more clean, in-rhythm looks, and they’ll knock down enough of them to make this work. If they don’t, then this trio won’t have much staying power.
With Mitchell Robinson returning and Isaiah Hartenstein entering the picture, Brunson’s new offensive environment will be nothing like the 5-out system that allowed the Dallas Mavericks to take down the Utah Jazz and Phoenix Suns in the playoffs. And in Brunson’s absence, Dallas will look drastically different, too.
It’s worth wondering how much Brunson’s possible exit influenced the Mavs to trade their first-round pick for Christian Wood. It was the kind of move, though, that a team would only make if it wanted another source of offense.
When the Houston Rockets acquired Wood in 2020, coach Stephen Silas, who had spent the previous two seasons in Dallas, told him they’d use him like Kristaps Porzingis. The Mavericks traded Porzingis in February, and four months later they’ve effectively replaced him with Wood, while replacing Brunson with Spencer Dinwiddie.
Maybe this configuration will work better. Wood is more of a roll threat than Porzingis, and nobody’s talking about him and Luka Doncic as the next iteration of Dirk and Nash. Already, though, the is-he-a-4-or-a-5? debate is back. Perhaps because it doesn’t trust Wood to anchor the defense, Dallas grabbed JaVale McGee on a three-year contract worth more than $20 million. McGee will start, per McGee, and if Wood is next to him, this signing pushes Dorian Finney-Smith to small forward and pushes the Mavericks away from the simple formula that proved so successful in the playoffs.
2. The Brogdon Celtics
Congratulations to the Boston Celtics for making the most sensible, simple move of the offseason so far. They needed another guy who can dribble, pass and shoot and they found one who doesn’t take anything off the table defensively and didn’t cost all that much.
It is difficult to find much downside here. The injury concerns were priced into the deal, and, unlike the 2019 team that Terry Rozier called “too talented,” it’s difficult to imagine these Celtics falling apart because everybody wants more touches.
Will Brogdon start or come off the bench? If he starts, it could be an opportunity to reduce Al Horford’s regular-season minutes, so the 36-year-old can be as fresh as possible for the playoffs. If he comes off the bench, will his presence marginalize Derrick White and Payton Pritchard? Will Gallinari get in the way of Grant Williams earning a bigger role?
Adding depth always raises questions like these. The best answer, though, might be to keep things fluid. The Celtics can start “big” in certain matchups and “small” in others. (They’re never really small.) They can keep everybody’s minutes relatively low, rest vets on back-to-backs and handle injuries without missing a beat. Most importantly, Brogdon and Gallinari will take some of the playmaking load off of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. They had a lot on their shoulders last season, and it caught up with them in the Finals.
The Indiana Pacers didn’t get a huge haul for Brogdon, but the trade is clarifying: It’s Tyrese Haliburton’s team to run, and there will be plenty of playing time available for second-year guard Chris Duarte and rookie Bennedict Mathurin on the wing, particularly if Buddy Hield is traded next. It’s unclear how large a role Aaron Nesmith, drafted No. 14 in 2020, will play, but at the very least he’ll get a fresh start.
3. The BLOCKbuster
The Rudy Gobert trade means that Karl-Anthony Towns will now start at power forward, a position at which his skills will not stand out in quite the same way. But there are so many trickle-down effects. For the Minnesota Timberwolves, this one move changes just about everything:
- I liked the Kyle Anderson signing much better when I thought he’d be primarily at the 4 spot next to Towns. He’ll spend some time in that spot, but there are only so many minutes to go around between him, Jaden McDaniels and Taurean Prince. Anderson and McDaniels don’t have much shooting gravity, so teams will be even more comfortable loading up on Towns.
- McDaniels might be the fifth starter now. He had a 14.9 percent usage rate last season, and that number won’t skyrocket as long as he’s sharing the floor with Towns, Anthony Edwards and D’Angelo Russell. He has wing skills, though, and he should be encouraged to put the ball on the floor when he’s with the second unit. Everybody’s going to expect him to show that he’s developed, but I’m not sure that getting McDaniels on-ball reps is going to be a priority now that the Wolves are firmly in win-now mode. His defensive versatility is even more important now that Jarred Vanderbilt is out of the picture, and they’re going to need him to make 3s, crash the glass and find easy points in transition.
- Gobert might not put fear in Edwards’ heart, but the big man can help him take the next step. Edwards has already shown that he’s capable as an on-ball defender; now he can be more aggressive one-on-one and playing the passing lanes, knowing that Gobert will be behind him to clean things up. He’ll find that Gobert’s off-ball screening is helpful, too.
- Assuming Russell doesn’t get traded, he’ll develop pick-and-roll chemistry with Gobert in no time. On the other end, though, the Wolves won’t need to use him as a roamer and communicator as much as they did last season, since Gobert will be anchoring the defense in the paint. As crazy as it sounds, if Minnesota wants to get the most out of Russell defensively, it will make sure he’s on the court when Towns is at the 5.
- It looks like Jaylen Nowell has an enormous opportunity in front of him. Wendell Moore Jr., the No. 26 pick in the draft, might be able to earn a real role, too. As presently constructed, Minnesota has a serious shortage of prototypical wings.
For the Jazz, the trade gives them options. Danny Ainge could trade Donovan Mitchell, tear the whole thing down and bottom out, but he doesn’t have to. There is a world in which Patrick Beverley improves Utah’s point-of-attack defense, and there is a world in which he’s on the roster for about as long as he was with the Grizzlies last summer. You don’t need a great imagination to envision Beverley putting his imprint on a defensively challenged team; he just did it with the Wolves.
Beyond all this, the sheer number of picks involved in the trade — three unprotected first-round picks, a top-five protected first-rounder and a pick swap — could directly affect other trade negotiations. Why would the Brooklyn Nets accept anything less in a Kevin Durant deal?
4. The champs change things up
In order to avoid an even more insane luxury-tax bill, the Golden State Warriors let Gary Payton II and Otto Porter Jr. walk. This is risky, since both played vital roles in the NBA Finals, but it’s also a vote of confidence in Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody, both of whom will be 20 years old when next season begins.
Payton’s departure also opened the door for Donte DiVincenzo to step in, after the Sacramento Kings declined to issue him the qualifying offer. In a way, DiVincenzo is something of a reclamation project — he injured his ankle early in the 2021 playoffs, then struggled, particularly as a shooter, when he returned last season. He’s only 25, though, and, in the 17 games he played for the Kings, his numbers weren’t much different from the ones he’d put up in his breakout year with the Milwaukee Bucks.
DiVincenzo went to Golden State on the cheap, making the same move that paid off for Payton and Porter. I suspect he’ll thrive for similar reasons that Payton did: He gets after it on defense, and he’s a smart cutter, a connector on offense and a great rebounder for his size. DiVincenzo will have a chance to win a ring, and he’ll likely increase his market value substantially.
The Warriors’ reluctance to pay Payton more than the taxpayer midlevel exception allowed the Portland Trail Blazers to swoop in and steal him. The Blazers cut Payton in training camp right before the 2018-19 season, and they’ve always needed a perimeter defender like him. For a team that made it its mission to add athleticism and defense, he is an ideal fit.
Like Payton for the Blazers, Porter is a bargain for the Toronto Raptors. They desperately needed more 3-point shooting, and he’s the type of player that can hold their lineups together on the offensive end, without changing who they are defensively. By letting these guys get away, the Warriors have assisted in one team raising its defensive ceiling and another raising its offensive ceiling significantly.
I’m curious to see how the Warriors fill out the rest of their roster. Nemanja Bjelica left for Fenerbahce and Juan Toscano-Anderson signed with the Los Angeles Lakers, so the obvious move is to sign a big man to a minimum contract. As of now, though, there is a clear path for James Wiseman, the No. 2 pick in the 2020 draft, to get the backup-center spot.
5. Monk gets his raise, and…
Malik Monk signed with the Kings on a contract that the Lakers could not match. This move can’t be separated from Sacramento deciding to get out of the DiVincenzo business, especially if it already had an inkling it might trade for Kevin Huerter. The Kings always seem to have a surplus of guards, but at least Monk and Huerter are dangerous without the ball in their hands.
Monk’s brief time with the Lakers influenced their offseason in multiple ways. His short-term success had almost no chance of being anything more than that, since signing him to a minimum contract severely limited what they could offer him in free agency. When Los Angeles once again signed a 23-year-old guard at the end of his rookie contract, Lonnie Walker IV, it used the taxpayer midlevel.
Walker’s shooting has been inconsistent throughout his four years in the league, just like Monk’s was. He was most accurate from 3-point range early in his career when he shot them at low volume. The Lakers have to hope he can give them what Monk did, since they used one of its only resources to add him and most of their other additions — Troy Brown Jr., Toscano-Anderson, Damian Jones, Scotty Pippen Jr. — will not help their shoddy spacing. Max Christie, the No. 35 pick in the draft, is known as a shooter, but didn’t shoot well in college and is a 19-year-old project. Thomas Bryant is a 3-point shooter, but has never taken that many of them or been a plus defender.
Los Angeles got nothing out of the taxpayer midlevel last year because Kendrick Nunn didn’t play a single game. Nunn is still there, but he’s the only player on the roster who shot 36 percent or better from 3-point range in his most recent season. If there’s any question at all as to why the Lakers would be desperate to unload Russell Westbrook and add Kyrie Irving, that explains it.
6. Sixers plug holes, and…
Philadelphia’s defense predictably declined when Ben Simmons was no longer around, but it should bounce back in a major way next season. De’Anthony Melton, P.J. Tucker and Danuel House are precisely the type of players this roster needed. If Trevelin Queen, last year’s G League MVP, proves to be a rotation-caliber 3-and-D-and-more guy, the Sixers will have much more depth then they have in recent seasons.
One extra benefit of the Tucker signing: It weakened the team that defeated them in the playoffs. The Miami Heat have done nothing as of yet to replace Tucker.
Less clear, however, is what these additions will mean for Tobias Harris, Matisse Thybulle and Georges Niang. Thybulle has been the most popular trade candidate, and having other versatile defenders surely makes him more expendable. Daryl Morey’s front office clearly wanted to make the team more balanced in the offseason, and that work isn’t necessarily done.