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Winners and Losers of the NBA Trade Deadline

The NBA trade deadline has become an unofficial holy day on basketball’s calendar, representing the ultimately establishment of a team’s identity. This is where months-long storylines come to a head and the drama-filled first half of the season gives way to the intensity and focus that defines the back-half. Amongst the chaos of this year’s especially chaotic edition, here are our winners and losers of the NBA’s trade deadline.

Winner: Complaining

For the umpteenth year in a row, complaining has continued to run up the score against silently enduring. Across the NBA, basketball’s squeakiest wheels were greased—Brooklyn and Philly swapped world-historic malcontents James Harden and Ben Simmons; Goran Dragic was liberated from Toronto. Trade demands are certainly not a new development, but never have they been so protracted and, ultimately, all-around beneficial. Harden, Simmons, Dragic and the teams that dealt them are all better off today than they were on Wednesday. “Player empowerment” is often unfairly sneered as an euphemism for “teams getting screwed over,” but Thursday presented a vision of how players and teams can mutually advance their seemingly conflicting interests. 

Loser: The Therapy Industrial Complex

Tired: months of grueling work with psychiatrists and therapy to resolve mental health issues. Wired: being cured because you no longer have to live in Philadelphia.

Winner: The Eastern Conference Playoffs

Long considered the NBA’s kids’ table compared to the perennially loaded Western Conference, the East is now home to the NBA’s most intriguing teams. Between the Nets, Sixers, Bulls, Cavs, Heat and Bucks, there are six teams who can credibly hope to win the conference. And, over the last few days, nearly all of them significantly and materially improved. April and May will be a bloodbath. 

The Cavs kicked off the week by trading for Caris Levert, crucially adding a second guy who can, like, dribble and shoot to their surprisingly potent gumbo. The Bucks acquired Serge Ibaka, giving them a drop-coverage friendly stretch-five who provides them with insurance for the injured Brook Lopez. 

Most significantly, the Sixers and Nets helped each other heal. In their abbreviated Big Three flop era, the Nets tried to live on buckets alone—Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden were such transcendent offensive players that nothing else really mattered. This year, though, Durant’s injuries, Harden’s apathy and Irving’s terrible taste in Youtube videos revealed the precarity of the Nets’ success—heading into the deadline, the team had lost nine consecutive games and plummeted from the top of the conference down into play-in range. In Simmons, the Nets have seemingly acquired the tonic for their ails; on a team that’s been unable to scrounge up enough defense, playmaking, size or athleticism, Simmons provides all four in spades. 

Similarly, Harden legitimizes the Sixers’ championship aspirations. For the first half of the season, Philly’s relative success has been entirely tied to Joel Embiid’s greatness; his 37 percent usage rate is the highest mark that any center has ever posted. But beyond Embiid, the Sixers haven’t really had any other way to conjure productive offense. Tyrese Maxey is a spunky shot-maker, but is more of a sidekick than a co-star; Tobias Harris is the least inspiring efficient volume scorer in the NBA. With Harden, the Sixers have a perimeter counterweight to Embiid’s interior stylings, giving them two of the best isolation scorers in recent history. Even if there are questions of whether the team will able to accommodate two of the most profligate ball-stoppers in the league (will this be the least frequent passing team ever? Will Danny Green ever know the warmth of a basketball’s touch ever again?), the combined talent of Harden and Embiid could prove to be overwhelming. 

Losers: Dallas Mavericks

In perhaps the most shocking move of the deadline, the Mavs shipped Kristaps Porzingis to the Washington Wizards for, uh, Spencer Dinwiddie and Davis Bertans. Porzingis may not be the All-NBA center that the Mavericks forecasted him to become when they traded for him back in 2019, but he’s still a very good—albeit overpaid—player when he’s available. Conversely, Bertans and Dinwiddie are both mired in the worst stretches of their career. Bertans is a reputed shooter who can no longer make shots. Dinwiddie has struggled to regain his explosiveness after tearing his ACL last year and is shooting 37.6 percent from the floor this year. Unless the two of them can recapture their form from two or three years ago, the value that they bring to the Mavs is dubious. 

Winner: Sacramento Kings

Although the Kings don’t necessarily deserve the benefit of the doubt on account of their Kings-iness, their early trade deadline returns don’t seem unpromising. The decision to move on from Tyrese Haliburton was widely pilloried, but the newly-acquired Domantas Sabonis has already shown an intriguing chemistry with star point guard De’Aaron Fox; in their first game together, Sacramento’s star duo demonstrated a nascent, zippy chemistry as a pick-and-roll and dribble-handoff battery that should serve as the foundation of the team’s offense. In a smaller move, the Kings also added Donte Divencenzo from the Milwaukee Bucks, giving them a gritty defensive wing who, theoretically, could help space the floor. Even if the team’s ceiling isn’t necessarily high, this is just about the first time in nearly two decades that their floor has ever crept above ground-level. 

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Sports Strength

Five Random NBA Predictions In 2022

In its 75-year history, 2021 will go down as one of the most transformative years in the NBA. Several franchises saw their fortunes change overnight. A once-mediocre franchise became an NBA champion and was led by a player many didn’t expect to become the best in the world. And lastly, the league continued to navigate through a global pandemic. As 2022 is mere hours away from happening, I have five predictions for what could happen in the NBA next year.

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Ja Morant will win the MVP

As crazy as this sounds, it will only be accurate when it happens. The former second overall pick is taking that “superstar leap,” that consists of producing a career-best stat line (24 PPG, 5 RPG, 6 APG, and nearly two steals per game), team success (The Grizzles are 22-14), and MVP-like moments— Morant outdueled LeBron James two nights after making a game-winning shot on the road against the 27-7 Phoenix Suns.

Even if Morant doesn’t win the MVP this season, you can expect his name to pop up in the conversation, and he will probably begin the 2022-’23 season on the shortlist of viable candidates who can win the award.

The league’s interest in expansion will come to fruition

For years, the NBA’s reported interest in expansion sparked conversations that have only gotten hotter due to the number of potential teams growing. But with significant support from the general public, especially when it comes to giving the city of Seattle a team again, the NBA could make expansion a reality by the end of next year.

And besides Seattle getting a team, cities such as Las Vegas, NV, and Kansas City, MO have been mentioned as the following locations to receive an NBA team, specifically the former.

Ben Simmons will be traded… in February

Since last summer, the former first overall pick has been in a stalemate with the Philadelphia 76ers, and there have been few indications of when he’ll play for them again. As much as 76ers general manager Daryl Morey wants to get his “bang for the buck” in any deal for Simmons, there’s a reported expectation that the team will trade him by this coming February’s trade deadline.

With a sizable list of teams interested in the three-time All-Star point forward, most notably the Portland Trail Blazers, there will be a loud reaction on the day Simmons gets traded and how much the 76ers received in exchange for him.

Everyone will love an in-season NBA tournament
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Even though some people, including a few teams themselves, are still against the NBA’s play-in tournament, the truth is it’s a massive success from both a competitive and entertainment standpoint. The league has been motivated to find a way to make their regular seasons more critical, and they believe a mid-season tournament can help make that happen.

Fueled by several financial and competitive incentives, as well as European soccer’s ability to hold tournaments seasonally within their schedule, commissioner Adam Silver has championed this cause, with hopes it happens between next season and 2024-’25.

LeBron James will retire after the 2022-’23 season

It’s insane to believe that LeBron James and retirement hasn’t been realistic to us NBA fans because of his insanely-high level of play, but as the man himself said on Tuesday, “he is on the other side of that hill.” So given what it takes to play at the level the four-time NBA champion and MVP is required to play at, it wouldn’t be a surprise if James made the 2022-’23 season his last one.

Other than what is happening with the Los Angeles Lakers and their title chances, James will be playing in his twentieth season and could surpass Kareem Abdul Jabbar for most points scored by a player in league history. And minus the historic chance to play alongside his oldest son, Bronny James (who’s currently draft-eligible in 2024), King James doesn’t have much to play for at this point of his career.

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These 5 Sixers Players Must Improve In These Areas

The time has come to focus on simply basketball for the Philadelphia 76ers. The off-seasons distractions and prima donna bullshit will take a back seat when the Sixers visit New Orleans for their season opener against the Pelicans tonight.

The Sixers went 2-2 during the pre-season, as Doc Rivers and company likely got a feel for where minutes will be allocated amid Ben Simmons’ absence. More likely than not, we’re going to see a variety of line-ups from the Sixers this season. Whether that’ll mean starting Tyrese Maxey at point guard one night, Furkan Korkmaz (yes, Furkan Korkmaz) or Shake Milton at the one another night, or even Simmons, it’s safe to say that we won’t be seeing the same look night-in and night-out from this team.

Rather than discussing who should start, I think it makes more sense to go over the most important players on the 76ers, and what they need to improve on for the team to be where they want to be.

Joel Embiid – Limiting Turnovers & Leadership
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Embiid enters the 2020-2021 season in a prime position to author an encore to his MVP caliber campaign last year. The Sixers star big-man is coming off of his best season, posting career highs in points, shooting percentages across the board, as well as steals. With the best record in the East to show for it, the Sixers need to center the offense around Embiid and his dominant skill-set night in and night out. Expect the Sixers to call plays for Embiid on the low block and high post, while involving him in many pick-and-rolls and pick-and-pops as well, in what should be another MVP type season from the 27 year-old superstar.

To become truly unstoppable, Embiid needs to be better at limiting turnovers, especially while being double-teamed. Even though he has improved at doing so, he must continue to make the right decisions when teams throw double teams at him. Embiid averaged a career low in turnovers during the regular season, but averaged a career high in turnovers during the playoffs.

As the best player, Embiid needs to become more of a vocal leader. When things were going poorly against the Atlanta Hawks in the playoffs, every Sixer seemed to have their head down. There was no one rallying the troops, or screaming in timeouts when necessary. You see that type of leader on all of the championship teams: Giannis, Steph, LeBron, etc. Embiid needs to emulate them for the Sixers to reach their potential.

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Tobias Harris – Dirty Work & Leadership
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Tobias Harris is one of the most scrutinized players on the Sixers, with many people believing he hasn’t lived up to the $180 million contract he signed in 2019. Amidst all that scrutiny, though, he actually posted the best season of his Philly tenure last year by significantly upping his true shooting percentage from 55.6 percent to 59.7 percent. Still, Harris has a tendency to shrink in the biggest moments, notable shooting horribly during Game 7 against the Atlanta Hawks, and disappearing entirely during their Game 5 defeat as well.

Now more than ever, the Sixers need Harris to score 20 points a game, and he’s proven to be good for it. And while Harris has never had problems getting buckets, he has a hard time impacting games in other ways. As such, to fill the likely Ben Simmons-sized hole in the lineup, Harris needs to play with more energy and effort, particularly on the defensive end.

Seth Curry – Leadership & Defense
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As a UNC fan, I was kind of irked by the Sixers signing a former Dookie Blue Devil before the 2020-2021 season; now, it’s no secret that Philly needs the sharpshooting of Seth Curry in their offense. Last postseason, Curry shot like a man possessed, averaging 18.4 points per game while maintaining an incredible clip of 50% from three-point range. Since the Sixers have enough options to handle playmaking duties, Curry can continue to do what he does best: move without the ball and make shots. While he’s adept at working his own mid-range game, he’s best used when spacing the floor our playmakers and big men.

As a key contributor to their limited playoff success last season, Curry should assume more of a vocalized leadership role this year as well. As someone who stepped up when it mattered most last year, he’s won the respect of those in the locker room and should take advantage of that for the sake of a team that doesn’t really have a one at the moment.

Additionally, while Curry will never be an elite perimeter defender, there’s no reason he should get torched by Kevin Huerter like he was in the playoffs. Since Curry is such an integral part of the Sixers’ offense, he must do everything in his power to hold his own on defense, and make opposing players uncomfortable.

Matisse Thybulle – Discipline & Shooting
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The stock of Matisse Thybulle is rising. Thybulle, a third-year swingman, made the All-NBA 2nd defensive team last season, and lead the Olympics in steals this past summer while playing a key role for Australia. His action during the pre-season was limited due to shoulder soreness, but he’s expected to play a big role for the Sixers this season as a lockdown defender. Thybulle is long, athletic and has great instincts on that end of the floor, even if he can be reckless at times.

For Thybulle to take the next step in evolving into an elite defender in this league, he needs to find the right balance between discipline and aggressiveness; his instincts are what make him one of the most disruptive defenders in the NBA, but he needs to understand how to operate within the structure of the team while not get pulled out of position and into foul trouble. If he can maintain what makes him such a special talent while reining in his rashness, he will earn more minutes and could easily make First Team All-Defense.

Offensively, Thybulle regressed in his three-point percentage during his sophomore season, so becoming reliable from beyond the arc will also allow him to have more playing this season.

Tyrese Maxey – Defense & Shooting
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Many thought that Tyrese Maxey slid too far in the 2020 NBA Draft. After watching his rookie season, it’s hard to disagree. Maxey, along with Thybulle, will vie to be the top option off the bench for the Sixers this year, thanks to his ability to score and penetrate the lane relatively well. Doc Rivers also trusted the 21 year-old guard out of Kentucky to play vital minutes during Philly’s win in Game 6 of the Atlanta Hawks series. His energy and charisma have also made Maxey a fan favorite in the city of Brotherly Love.

Maxey will be asked to shoulder a larger load this season as he becomes more comfortable as a facilitator. In that case, he’ll have improve at keeping ball-handlers in front of him on defense, while improving his consistency from three-point range as well.

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Unpacking the Ben Simmons News: It Isn’t His Fault

Ben Simmons, the NBA’s enfant terrible, has been suspended by the Philadelphia 76ers for the season opener for “conduct detrimental to the team.” Since returning from his extended hold-out last week, Simmons has been noticeably apathetic in practice. A quick recap of this week’s Ben Simmons news: yesterday, he loafed through a drill with his phone in his pocket, proof that, ironically, he isn’t exactly dialed in for this season; today he was dismissed from practice after refusing to participate in a defensive drill.

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“At the end of the day,” Joel Embiid said to reporters after practice, “our job is not to babysit somebody.”

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I wonder who he’s talking about.

This outcome—Ben Simmons openly not giving a shit and everybody getting super mad at him—is unsurprising; Simmons has warned the Sixers that he would be insolent and difficult if they don’t trade him and now he’s being insolent and difficult. It’s understandable to criticize Simmons for demanding a trade in such a disruptive way, but Simmons and his agent Rich Paul are hardly breaking precedent by doing so; Simmons isn’t the first superstar to request a trade and he won’t be the last. Last winter, James Harden skipped training camp to go to strip clubs with Lil Baby and loafed through regular season games; in 2018, Jimmy Butler bullied his way out of Minnesota

Moreover, it’s unreasonable to get furious at Simmons because he’s sad and unhappy; he’s allowed to be sad and unhappy. 

In this sense, the ongoing disaster in Philly is simply a result of the Sixers’ refusal to trade Simmons, let alone engage in good faith negotiations with other teams. The only impediment to ending the stand-off is the ego of Darryl Morey, the Sixers’ general manager. Nobody wants Simmons to continue to be a Sixer—and yet he is and he will be for the foreseeable future because Morey can’t stomach the idea that he might trade away a player with a higher EPM than the ones he gets in return. 

The strangest thing about the ordeal is that there’s no reason this should’ve become so toxic in the first place. When Simmons is on the floor, the Sixers are obviously better than when he’s not. Even if the fit seems aesthetically clunky at times, Embiid and Simmons are one of the best duos in the NBA; in their 1,479 minutes together last season, they posted a net rating of +16.44 points per 100 possessions, per PBP Stats. As such, the main motivating force behind Simmons’ trade demand is the Sixers’ utter self-sabotage. Somehow, the team has alienated Simmons so thoroughly that years of toiling in Sacramento or Minneapolis suddenly seem more appealing than contending for a championship.

The whole thing is such a nonsensical clown show that it’s almost stopped being funny.