At the end of a dizzying frenzy of trades in the N.B.A., featuring 24 deals in one week, Anthony Davis of the New Orleans Pelicans stayed put — for now.
Yet there was plenty of action to make up for the lack of a Davis trade, with two of the four title hopefuls in the Eastern Conference making significant acquisitions before Thursday afternoon’s trade deadline, intensifying the race at the top of the East after Philadelphia’s big trade earlier this week.
In the most significant deadline-day deals, Toronto acquired the former All-Star center Marc Gasol from Memphis, while Milwaukee imported the sharpshooting forward Nikola Mirotic from New Orleans as part of a three-team deal that also involved Detroit.
Those moves capped a wild seven-day stretch that began with the Knicks’ blockbuster trade of Kristaps Porzingis to Dallas and also included the 76ers’ acquisition of Tobias Harris from the Los Angeles Clippers. Philadelphia’s big swing to land Harris, who joined a starting lineup that already featured Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Jimmy Butler and JJ Redick, seemingly forced the Raptors and Bucks, who entered Thursday as the East’s second- and first-place teams, to make their own moves.
Milwaukee, Toronto and Philadelphia, along with the Boston Celtics, are jockeying to become the first LeBron James-less team to represent the East in the N.B.A. Finals since 2010.
The Sixers, at fifth in the conference standings, didn’t stop at their Harris trade, though. Shortly before the deadline, they made a surprising deal with the Orlando Magic to send the wayward guard Markelle Fultz — whom they selected with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 draft — for the small forward Jonathon Simmons and two future draft picks (one in the first round, one in the second).
The Celtics, who entered Thursday in third, came away from trade season simply relieved that Davis had not been traded to the Los Angeles Lakers. After a nervy two weeks, during which the Celtics could merely watch because of an obscure league rule, they will now get an opportunity to make a run at Davis in the off-season — although Davis is said to remain adamantly against signing a long-term contract with the Celtics should they trade for him.
The Celtics were ineligible to make in-season trade offers for Davis with Kyrie Irving still on their roster, since both Davis and Irving are currently playing under maximum rookie-scale contract extensions; league rules allow teams to field only one such player.
The Lakers, however, were unable to persuade the Pelicans to surrender Davis during the exclusive negotiating window they had to pursue him in the wake of Davis’s Jan. 28 request to be traded. The front offices of Los Angeles and New Orleans had no discussions about Davis on deadline day, according to two people familiar with the talks, after negotiations broke down Tuesday over what the Lakers deemed to be exorbitant demands from New Orleans.
Late Thursday, Pelicans General Manager Dell Demps confirmed that Davis would continue playing for the team rather than be held out to guard against serious injury in advance of the trade sweepstakes that will likely emerge closer to the draft. Davis had not played since Jan. 18 because of a finger injury followed by the team not wanting to risk an injury. Demps confirmed he would be back on the court soon.
“Ultimately, Anthony made it clear to us he wants to play and he gives our team the best opportunity to win games,” Demps said in a statement.
The Lakers on Thursday were left trying to recover from the instability wrought by their pursuit of Davis as they seek to make the playoffs in James’s first season in Los Angeles. They entered Thursday’s play at 27-27, good for just 10th place in the West, after falling to a humiliating 42-point defeat in Indiana on Tuesday night. The one-sided loss, against the Victor Oladipo-less Pacers, left little doubt that the mounting trade speculation surrounding the likes of Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma was taking a toll on the Lakers.
When the Lakers couldn’t acquire Davis on Thursday, they did trade the Croatian center Ivica Zubac — who was among the promising young players mentioned as potential parts of a trade for Davis — along with Michael Beasley to the Los Angeles Clippers in a deal for forward Mike Muscala. The move opened a roster spot for the Lakers that will allow them to seriously consider signing the former All-Star forward Carmelo Anthony, but Los Angeles will have plenty of other options on the free-agent market as various veterans become available following the deadline.
As the Davis talk cooled on Thursday, much of the focus leading into the deadline centered on the Grizzlies, who wound up trading Gasol but keeping their point guard Mike Conley, who had drawn serious trade interest from the Utah Jazz and Detroit Pistons.
Conley, 31, has two seasons, with a combined salary of $66 million, left on his contract after this one, which convinced the Grizzlies that trading him closer to the draft in June might yield a better offer. Gasol, though, can become a free agent at season’s end, so Memphis had to trade him now or risk losing one of the game’s best two-way players without compensation this summer.
Charlotte and Memphis engaged in serious trade talks regarding Gasol earlier this week, which prompted the Spaniard, who has only played for the Grizzlies — and who played his high school ball in Memphis after the Grizzlies imported his brother Pau Gasol from Spain — to clean out his locker.
But Toronto, perhaps motivated by what the Sixers did and by the Bucks’ move for Mirotic, packaged Jonas Valanciunas, Delon Wright, C.J. Miles and a second-round draft pick in 2024 to add Gasol to a team straining to convince the All-Star forward Kawhi Leonard to make a long-term commitment when he becomes a free agent July 1.
The Bucks, like Toronto, managed to upgrade their roster without surrendering a first-round pick. By expanding a Thon Maker-for-Stanley Johnson trade it had hashed out earlier this week into a three-team deal, Milwaukee landed Mirotic for the primary cost of four second-round draft picks, which were sent to the Pelicans, who also came away with Johnson and the veteran Jason Smith.
The Knicks did not make another deal, one week removed from the Porzingis blockbuster that got everything started, but they did set two veterans free to find deals on the postseason market. The outspoken forward Enes Kanter was waived, as was the newly acquired Wes Matthews — with Matthews immediately coming to terms with Indiana to join the Pacers after he clears waivers.
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