Another NBA season, another trade deadline full of swirling rumors. The best midseason deals are usually struck in the closing hours, but on Tuesday, we saw two major transactions go down between franchises looking to move the needle. In this article, I will be reviewing the deals between the Pacers and Kings and the Pelicans and Trail Blazers and doling out grades for their moves. Note that this was written on Wednesday, so any significant deals from Thursday will be covered next week.
Pacers, Kings swap young cornerstones
Pacers receive: Tyrese Haliburton, Buddy Hield, Tristan Thompson
Kings receive: Domantas Sabonis, Jeremy Lamb, Justin Holiday, 2023 second-round pick
This is one of the more shocking midseason deals in recent years, involving two middling franchises desperately trying to find an identity. At 19-37, the Pacers have trudged through a wholly disappointing, albeit unexpected season. It’s a far cry from their late-2010s consistency in which they qualified for the playoffs five consecutive seasons. So when reports surfaced last December that Sabonis wanted out of Indiana, no one was terribly surprised.
Having already shipped Caris LeVert to Cleveland, it has become clear that the Pacers are looking to enter a rebuild phase. Malcolm Brogdon and Myles Turner are on the block, as Indiana could strip their roster completely by the beginning of next season.
Haliburton is one of the league’s brightest young talents, so his inclusion in the trade left many shocked. He overcame pre-draft questions about his unorthodox jumper to earn a selection to the All-Rookie First Team in 2021. He’s a patient guard with impressive vision (7.4 assists per game) and efficiency (41.1 percent on threes) beyond his years. Turning 22 at the end of this month, Haliburton is the perfect piece for a franchise searching for direction.
Hield will provide much-needed shooting for an Indiana roster that hits just 33.3 percent of their deep shots (25th in the league). At least three teams have inquired about flipping him, but it seems that the Pacers like his chemistry with Haliburton. Hield’s three-point efficiency has been declining for five seasons, but a change of scenery should be nice. Head coach Rick Carlisle is a proponent of team basketball, and his system should create catch-and-shoot looks for Hield. Thompson will likely struggle to find consistent minutes—Turner, Goga Bitadze, and Isaiah Jackson are above him in the depth chart.
In Sacramento, Sabonis will look to forge a strong pick-and-roll connection with point guard De’Aaron Fox. He’s a strong presence in the paint and has soft touch at the rim. Added bonus—the Kings won’t have to start Maurice Harkless with regularity. However, Sacramento won’t be able to consider their side of the deal a true success until Sabonis can prove to be a reliable shooter. He’s converted less than 30 percent of his triples and 38 percent of his midrange shots in the last three seasons.
With that being said, Sabonis is a promising up-and-comer who already has two All-Star selections on his résumé. He has a unique blend of craftiness and grit, willing to post up the league’s best defenders and face premier finishers head-on. The Kings now have two creative big men in Sabonis and Richaun Holmes, who has his own special floater package.
Lamb has been nowhere near as impactful (7.1 points per game on 37.3 percent shooting), but he could provide a jolt off the Kings’ bench on any given night. Holiday was Indiana’s best three-point shooter this season (37.8 percent) and is a high-effort guy who plays with passion.
It’ll be fascinating to see how this trade pans out, one that doesn’t have any true losers. Indiana now has a very solid foundation to build upon, and Sacramento adds another talented piece to their jumbled roster.
Indiana: A-, Sacramento: C+
Pelicans build, Trail Blazers break it up
Pelicans receive: CJ McCollum, Larry Nance Jr., Tony Snell
Trail Blazers receive: Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Josh Hart, Tomas Satoransky, Didi Louzada, protected 2022 first-round pick, two future second-round picks
New Orleans just made a big splash. After a 1-12 start, the Pelicans have managed to hover around .500 since. Superstar Zion Williamson hasn’t played since last May as he rehabs a fractured fifth metatarsal in his foot, so it’s been on Brandon Ingram to spark the offense.
The addition of McCollum, averaging 20.5 points per game, will give the Pelicans another scorer to bolster their lineup. Looking at a completely healthy team, New Orleans will have McCollum, Herbert Jones, Devonte’ Graham, Brandon Ingram, Zion Williamson, and Jonas Valanciunas at their disposal. It’s an interesting group, featuring three pure scorers in McCollum, Graham, and Ingram, two defensive forces in Jones and Valanciunas, and one do-it-all dynamo in Williamson.
By dealing for McCollum, the Pelicans are relying on his ability to continue shooting with efficiency. He’s a crafty ball-handler and an elite shot-creator with a wicked handle. McCollum averages 9.2 points per game off pull-up attempts, good for 11th in the league. It should be interesting to see how he and Ingram coexist on the court—both have a score-first mentality, but can provide for others when called upon.
McCollum is the star of the deal, but New Orleans got a solid small-ball center in Larry Nance Jr. He’s a ferocious dunker and will provide some much-needed interior defense off the bench. Snell will be a back-of-the-bench guy who will eat up some minutes at the wing position.
There’s reason to be excited about this new-look Pelicans squad, but there are several questions left to be answered. How is this team going to play NBA-caliber defense? McCollum is a massive downgrade on defense from Josh Hart, and New Orleans is banking on Jones to become an All-Defense kind of guy. Can Zion stay healthy? He’s already missed significant time throughout his career with a torn meniscus and now a broken foot. How many years can McCollum remain a high-level scorer? It’s a bit of a gamble trading for a 30-year-old and expecting him to compete for several years with a much younger roster surrounding him.
In Portland, it’s still unclear what their exact plan is. It’s been a difficult season, as franchise legend Damian Lillard is likely out for the rest of the season with an abdominal injury. The Trail Blazers sit at 21-34 and are unlikely to make the playoffs for a ninth straight season. Their front office is still on the hunt for “high-end talent,” but it appears to be a questionable plan.
Last Friday, the Trail Blazers dumped Norman Powell and Robert Covington to the Clippers in exchange for Eric Bledsoe, Justise Winslow, Keon Johnson, and a 2025 second-round pick. It was a paltry return for two players that were integral components of Portland’s roster. And they couldn’t even coax a first-round pick from Los Angeles.
Between the L.A. and New Orleans deals, it certainly appears that the Trail Blazers are in rebuild mode. But they have a 31-year-old Lillard who has stayed loyal to the franchise for his entire career, at times dragging his team to deep playoff runs that haven’t produced a championship. By dealing McCollum and potentially finding a trade suitor for Bledsoe, they could clear up to $50 million in cap space. But what do they expect to do with that money this season?
Portland has their eyes on Pistons forward Jerami Grant—not enough to push toward a Finals run. The team is simply stuck in limbo. Worse yet, they dumped Alexander-Walker to the Jazz on Wednesday in a three-team deal also involving the Spurs. He’s only in his third year and has serious promise as a valuable scorer off the bench—something the Blazers won’t get to experience.
On a more optimistic note, Hart is enjoying career-best marks in several categories in his fifth NBA season. The Villanova product is averaging 13.4 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 4.1 assists per game on 50.5 percent shooting overall. He’s an excellent defender and will make for a nice complement to the 22-year-old Anfernee Simons, a scorer in every sense of the word.
This trade could have negative ramifications for both teams in the future, more so Portland than New Orleans. Both franchises have superstars they are trying to please, but they’re finding different levels of success in doing so.
New Orleans: B+, Portland: D-