The latter half of the 2018-19 season is upon us and the trade deadline is approaching which means it's time for teams to start getting serious and separating the pretenders from the contenders. If you are a player in the last year of a deal you can expect teams to keep a close eye on how you perform even if you're not on their team.
General managers all throughout the league can point to moments where they may have misjudged a situation that led them to make a poor personnel decision. Mistakes are a part of the business but the best of the best have very few. As fans of the game, we're sure even you can watch from the outside and immediately recognize when a team just made a major mistake by reaching on a player.
When trades go down, the instant reaction is not always the correct one. It does take time for deals to become clearer when teams are banking on player potential. Over the last several years, the league has drastically changed in ways we could not have imagined four years ago. With the way the NBA works today, we can expect more major changes soon and the outlook of the league may be entirely different another few years from now.
Next, we'll go in detail about 10 recent moves that NBA teams already regret, and 10 smart moves that have been big-time wins for NBA front offices.
20 Regret: Atlanta Hawks: Luka Doncic Trade
Fans in Atlanta have to be scratching their heads when they see how good Luka Doncic has been for Dallas. On draft night, the Hawks selected Doncic third overall and traded him to the Dallas Mavericks for Trae Young and a 2019 first-round draft pick. Young has been good early, leading all rookies in assists up to this point, but Doncic's impact has been that of a veteran.
Doncic has been poised and clutch in late game situations for a team saying farewell to their franchise icon, Dirk Nowitzki. Young may one day be the better player, and the 2019 draft pick will one day have a name attached, but right now Atlanta cannot be very happy with this decision.
19 Smart Move: Lakers Signing LeBron
The Los Angeles Lakers made one of their smartest moves in years by signing LeBron James. The Lakers didn't have much selling to do as many believed that LeBron was intending to go to L.A. regardless of the state of the Lakers. But credit has to be given to the Lakers front office for at least setting the stage for the move to happen. Now, the real work begins as the journey to the championship starts now, not down the road as the team intended. Now that the Lakers have LeBron, acquiring another top free agent should be much easier – well, at least the Lakers better hope it is.
18 Regret: Nuggets Draft Donovan Mitchell... Then Trade Him
When the Denver Nuggets made a draft night trade in 2017 with the Utah Jazz they had to have really believed that Trey Lyles was a player that could really help their team. The Nuggets sent Lyles and Tyler Lydon to Utah in exchange for Donovan Mitchell. Mitchell is not having the same impact now that he did in the second half last season but Lyles and Lydon have not scratched the surface of where Mitchell is now. This move was a franchise changer for the Jazz as they had a future All-Star fall in their lap after losing Gordon Hayward to Boston.
17 Smart Move: Sixers Trade For Jimmy Butler
The Philadelphia 76ers finished off the season hot last year, so the team had high expectations entering the 2018-19 season. After early matchups with the conference elite, it was apparent that the Sixers were a level below the Raptors, and even the Celtics have had a lot of success against them. The Sixers needed upside and potential, as the team is dealing with the odd Markelle Fultz situation, and an injury that held first-round draft pick Zhaire Smith off the court this season. Trading for Butler finally gave the team a closer and someone to get stops against the talented scorers in the east.
16 Regret: Pelicans Not Re-Signing DeMarcus Cousins
One of the subplots of this NBA season has been the future of Anthony Davis. When an NBA superstar is headed toward unrestricted free agency, the spotlight on that player's current team gets amplified. Every loss for the Pelicans feels like one more straw leading toward Davis skipping town. One saving grace could have been selling Davis on waiting for DeMarcus Cousins to return from injury.
The Warriors look like a vulnerable team this season and the hope of a healthy Boogie seems like one of the few things holding this team together. It is hard for a franchise to replace a talent like AD, and starting all over will be tough to recover from.
15 Smart Move: Raptors Trading For Kawhi Leonard
The Toronto Raptors finished last season with the second-best record in the NBA behind the Houston Rockets. After losing to the Cleveland Cavaliers in four games after appearing to have their best chance to get out of the East, GM Masai Ujiri made a tough decision and fired Coach of the Year winner Dwane Casey and traded beloved All-Star DeMar DeRozan to the Spurs for Kawhi Leonard. This move has given the Raptors a clean slate as well, as someone who has won on the biggest stage to help the team overcome their past postseason shortcomings. It's a great short term move, and the in the long term, it adds roster flexibility if Leonard does depart in June.
14 Regret: Wizards Extending John Wall
The Wizards had high hopes for their chances in the eastern conference as did many other teams in the aftermath of LeBron's departure from Cleveland. At worst, the Wizards expected to be among the final four playoffs teams in the conference, not in the race for a top lottery pick. Washington has max money tied to Bradley Beal and Otto Porter, and last season the team re-signed John Wall. The $170M extension signed in 2017, has a cap hit in 2022-23 paying Wall $46M for that season. If the Wizards want to contend, then the team knows it will have to make drastic changes, and with Wall out with injury, this further delays the inevitable.
13 Smart Move: Bucks Hiring Mike Budenholzer
The Milwaukee Bucks have one of the best players in the world in Giannis Antetokounmpo. Even so, last season the Bucks finished as one of the league's most disappointing teams as they barely made the playoffs as a seventh seed before their first-round exit. This season has been quite the opposite, as we have seen the Greek Freak play the best basketball of his career and has the Bucks in the conversation for best teams in the East. Some credit goes to Giannis, but kudos also goes to Milwaukee management in hiring head coach Mike Budenholzer, who has transformed a once-stale offense to one of the highest-scoring units in the NBA.
12 Regret: Rockets Overpaying Chris Paul
Last season the franchise cornerstone of the Houston Rockets James Harden played the best basketball of his career winning the NBA's Most Valuable Player award. GM Daryl Morey's obsession with beating Golden State has gone on record and it may have been a blinder this past summer. Chris Paul was not available for Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals, where the Warriors defeated the Rockets on their home floor.
The Rockets re-signed CP3 this summer for four years and a $160M price tag that even surpasses that of LeBron James's $154M deal with the Lakers. Paul has been plagued with injuries this season and the cap number for Paul the next few years will be very steep for someone having trouble staying on the floor.
11 Smart Move: Cavs Firing Tyronn Lue
The Cleveland Cavaliers lost LeBron James to the Lakers in free agency and spent the summer stressing how the team wanted to win this year. After losing a handful of games early, it was soon clear that head coach Ty Lue and the organization should go in different directions. That direction has Lue without a job and the Cavs have been one of the worst teams in the NBA this season.
In the standings, it looks bad, but if you have watched college basketball this season, you know there is a crop of young studs with franchise potential. Cleveland can't rebuild in free agency the way the Lakers can, but securing a top pick in the upcoming draft is a positive step.
10 Regret: Knicks Drafting Frank Ntilikina
This move was an all-around head scratcher and actually, the entire Phil Jackson era in New York was one to forget about outside of landing Kristaps Porzingis. During his time as the GM for the Knicks, Phil was known more for not being on the job than actually doing the job. From reports of falling asleep in interviews during the draft process to his stubbornness in reaching for overseas prospects over local talents, the Zen Master had a rough stint in New York. Frank Ntilikina has good defensive tools and could be a great player in your rotation, but may never be the caliber of player to carry a franchise.
9 Smart Move: Celtics Trading For Kyrie Irving
The Boston Celtics handled Isaiah Thomas's 2016-17 season in a very questionable manner. IT played through injury in the wake of his sister's passing and without a path to recovery; GM Danny Ainge needed a way out. That way out was one of the most lopsided trades in recent years in the NBA. Kyrie Irving felt like he was stuck in LeBron's shadow in Cleveland as a secondary option and wanted his own team. The Celtics had the right assets and turned a first round pick (Collin Sexton), Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, and Ante Zizic into their future franchise star. Irving has flourished in Boston and this summer the Celtics can lock up Kyrie for the remainder of his prime.
8 Regret: Celtics Not Trading for Kawhi
During this past summer, the Celtics were crowned the Eastern Conference champions before they stepped on the floor as an entire collective. The Celtics at their core is still a very young team and it is easy to buy into your own hype. Kawhi Leonard was available this summer and the Celtics had the best assets to get Leonard but were unwilling to part with assets. The Celtics want to be prepared if Anthony Davis becomes available, but a move for Leonard could have allowed players to settle into their role unlike now where the rotation still seems in flux.
7 Smart Move: Pacers Trade Paul George
The Indiana Pacers did not get the best reviews from critics after sending an uncommitted Paul George to the Oklahoma City Thunder. How could the Pacers trade an All-Star for so little return? Well, it turns out the Pacers got a far better return than everybody thought. That's because what the Pacers got in return is Victor Oladipo, who has established himself as an All-Star with Indiana. In addition, they got Domantas Sabonis, who is one of the most talented forwards in the league under 23 years old. The trade for George has worked out great for the Thunder, as he is having one of the best seasons of his career but for a team with limited options, the Pacers made out very well for themselves.
6 Regret: Lakers Not Re-Signing Brook Lopez
If you have seen the Bucks play basketball this season, then you know something is different from last year. Yes, the Bucks have a new head coach in Mike Budenholzer that has instilled an offense that can score more points. All that is true, but the play of Brook Lopez for this team has been a huge addition to the spacing that is now allowing us to see the best of Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Lakers have had issues with spacing this season and a deal with Lopez may have benefited the Lakers this season more than they initially realized. He may no longer be a 20 PPG guy like he was with the Nets, but his emergence as a three-point shooting big man has revitalized him.
5 Smart Move: Kings- Drafting De'Aaron Fox
There aren't many times when you can look back on Sacramento draft picks and say they got the right guy. You can finally say the Kings got the right guy in De'Aaron Fox in a draft class where two other point guards were selected one and two respectively. Up to this point, Fox has arguably been the best point guard of his class, in part to his stellar sophomore season that has brought the Kings back to respectability. This year, the Kings had the second overall pick, and while it's still unsure whether they were right in picking Marvin Bagley over Luka Doncic, at least they have Fox's emergence to take the pressure off of them.
4 Regret: Sixers Not Drafting Michael Porter Jr.
The Philadelphia 76ers are in a weird position this season, as the team went from accumulating draft assets to trying to win the Eastern Conference. When the draft took place in June, the Philadelphia 76ers were on the clock with the 10th overall pick and could have stuck to their identity and gambled on the player with the highest upside despite injury concerns. Maybe the Markelle Fultz situation was too painful and judging how that has played out this season, maybe they had a right to have some reservations. Now the team has Jimmy Butler on the roster and the chemistry hasn't been the best so far, and the team has until June to convince Butler to stay.
3 Smart Move: Clippers Trading Blake Griffin
When the Los Angeles Clippers signed Blake Griffin to a five-year, $173M contract in 2017, it was an interesting move due to the Clippers' playoff shortcomings. The team had no choice to re-sign Griffin and after moving Chris Paul the summer prior, the future was still murky. Moving Blake to Detroit allowed the Clippers to add valuable rotation players while adding extra roster flexibility. The Clippers need to add a big name in free agency this summer and has the cap space to add two. Blake had a fantastic career in L.A. and may go down as the greatest Clipper ever, but it was time to move on.
2 Regret: Spurs Get No Draft Compensation For Kawhi Leonard
The San Antonio Spurs seemed to have two objectives when they traded Kawhi Leonard to the Toronto Raptors. One objective was to get the best deal and the other objective was to get Leonard out of the West. These two demands did not go hand-in-hand, and although the Spurs received DeMar DeRozan, there is not much upside to that deal outside of the hopes of Jakob Poeltl becoming the next great Spur. San Antonio should have gotten a deal that provides the team with a brighter long-term future, especially in the wake of all the injuries the team has endured this season.
1 Smart Move: OKC Re-signing Paul George
There were critics of the Oklahoma City Thunder trading for Paul George after he all but stated that he wanted to play for the Lakers. That move sent a future All-Star and a solid rotational player to Indiana, meaning OKC could wind up with nothing one year later. All of that is true, but the gamble paid off as Paul George re-signed with the Thunder just before the Lakers added LeBron James in free agency. This season, Russell Westbrook has started off the season slow and George has been right there playing the best basketball of his career to give Russ the help he needs.