Trade deadlines in sports often are duds, but NBA followers — both locally and nationally — witnessed an explosive few days involving superstar players and important pieces on the move to seismically shake up the league’s power structure.
The Nets’ final breakdown of their historic Big 3 — the overnight Woj bomb of Kevin Durant’s blockbuster trade to Phoenix — represented the most massive move imaginable. But several teams greatly improved their rosters for playoff pushes, including the Knicks filling a true need without disrupting their roster or much of their extensive draft pick equity.
Here’s a look at the winners and losers across the NBA from a dramatic few days leading into Thursday afternoon’s deadline.
Phoenix saw a splashy opportunity to vault back into championship contention under new ownership — literally on Mat Ishbia’s first official day — and fully went for it in seizing the opportunity to bring in Durant, who finally got his relocation request from last summer granted. The Suns, who just got Devin Booker back in their lineup after a lengthy injury absence, instantly become the favorites in the Western Conference. Their starting unit also still features big man Deandre Ayton and veteran point guard Chris Paul, in search of his elusive first NBA title. Durant (knee) is expected to return soon after the All-Star break.
Tom Thibodeau has to be elated in only deleting a player he clearly had no use for in bench-banished Cam Reddish and adding one who clearly fits his preferred style of play in Josh Hart. Thibodeau declared, “I love our team” after the Knicks closed out the Magic on Tuesday to improve to 30-26 overall and 16-11 on the road. Earlier this season, he called Hart “probably the best rebounding guard in the league.” At practice Thursday in Philadelphia, Thibodeau called him “a top-flight competitor.” The addition will necessitate someone coming out of the nine-man rotation or slightly less playing time across the board in the backcourt for the likes of Miles McBride, Quentin Grimes, Immanuel Quickley and RJ Barrett. But Jalen Brunson’s “oh s–t!” initial reaction to the deal shows the team’s most indispensable player is fully on board with his former Villanova teammate’s addition.
Now that LeBron James’ chase of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s scoring record has been completed, the Lakers’ front office was extremely active — in both additions and one key subtraction — to try to push the 2020 NBA champs into at least the play-in tournament in the remodeled West. GM Rob Pelinka previously acquired Rui Hachimura from the Wizards, and then brought in D’Angelo Russell, Malik Beasley, Jarred Vanderbilt and Mo Bamba to revamp the supporting cast, even if James clearly was unhappy former running mate Kyrie Irving wasn’t acquired. In the process, they also shed former league MVP Russell Westbrook’s expiring $47 million salary in the three-team deal with Utah and Minnesota.
In an under-the-radar deadline move, the Bucks added forward Jae Crowder from the Nets (via the Suns), which analysts are likening to their addition of veteran role player PJ Tucker during their title run in 2021. The 11-year veteran hasn’t played this season with Phoenix, but he’s a proven 3-and-D wing with extensive postseason experience to complement All-Stars Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jrue Holiday, with Khris Middleton still building his workload after missing most of the first half due to injuries.
The Clips also revamped their perimeter support group around stars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, adding guards Eric Gordon (Rockets) and Bones Hyland (Nuggets) and depth center Mason Plumlee, while shedding what’s left of John Wall’s contract. The Clippers reportedly are considering keeping Westbrook in LA and signing the former MVP if he gets bought out by Utah.
After Durant, Irving and James Harden played just 16 games together, the dysfunctional Big 3 was fully dismantled over the past 12 months. Nets GM Sean Marks actually did OK in getting back young players such as Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson and four unprotected first-round picks for Durant. But this goes down as one of the most disastrous big swings in New York sports history, especially when you consider the potentially rebuilding Nets owe the Rockets two more first-round picks (2024 and 2026) and three potential pick swaps (2023, 2025 and 2027) in the coming years from the Harden trade.
While the Knicks acquired Hart, the teams immediately above them in the East standings either blew up their roster (Nets) or essentially stood pat (Cavaliers and Heat) at the deadline. Entering Friday’s game in Philly, the Knicks (30-26) are 3.5 games behind the No. 5 Nets and a half-game behind Miami for the coveted sixth position with three more head-to-head matchups with the Heat remaining among their final 26 games.
The Warriors have made so many shrewd draft choices in building their four-time championship roster, but they gave up on 2020 No. 2 overall pick James Wiseman, trading the oft-injured center to Detroit in a four-team swap after a combined 60 games in three seasons. No problem at all with bringing back useful guard Gary Payton Jr. in the swap, but the Wiseman whiff clearly was a rare miscalculation by the Warriors.
Today’s back page
🏀 VACCARO: Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving ruined Nets culture and turned championship dream into abject failure
🏈 Jets legends Joe Klecko, Darrelle Revis headed into Hall of Fame
🏒 BROOKS: What Gerard Gallant must do after Rangers rightly make Vladimir Tarasenko trade
🏈 Brian Daboll wins Coach of the Year for stunning Giants turnaround
🏀 O’CONNOR: Bob Myers is next superstar Nets must chase after NBA trade deadline
Postcard from Phoenix
The Post’s team of football writers are in Phoenix this week to cover the Super Bowl. What’s it like to be there and take in the sights and sounds leading up to the big game? The final edition of the week is from Ryan Dunleavy:
No matter how far you travel, you can’t escape New Jersey.
At around 1 a.m. Friday morning, I was discussing former Hunterdon Central High School athletes with a waiter in Phoenix who grew up in Flemington, N.J. but moved west for graduate school. He was football teammates with Detroit Lions fullback Jason Cabinda and former Washington Commanders pass-rusher Matt Ioannidis, both of whom I had covered in my days as a high school sports reporter at the Courier News in Central Jersey. He did not know former gymnast Kristen Turner (nee: Harabedian), the wife of Philadelphia Phillies shortstop Trea Turner.
It was a sense of normalcy brought to a day that included stopping by the NFL Pro Shop for my best friend, who wanted to buy Super Bowl 2023 gear for his Philadelphia Eagles-loving wife and children in advance of Valentine’s Day. Then I FaceTimed him and showed him the prices — $51 for a long-sleeve T-shirt, $105 for a pullover, $125 for a sweatshirt, for example — and he came to his senses. Everything is marked up at a premium during a Super Bowl.
I’m looking forward to the “normalcy” of Sunday. Based on the crowds on the streets, I’m expecting a slightly pro-Eagles audience in the stadium. I’ll write six stories — three before the game and three after — instead of the normal three on a gameday in Week 2 of the regular season.
That could bring its share of journalistic peril. Former 49ers receiver Emmanuel Sanders wanted to argue with me after I asked him a tough question at the end of Super Bowl 54 — “could he have scored a touchdown if Jimmy Garoppolo threw a better pass on an incompletion?” — until a public relations employee dragged him away, and I’m hoping to avoid a relapse of that tense situation. There’s no telling for sure.
The other MSG deal
The NHL trade deadline isn’t until March 3, but the Knicks weren’t the only Garden team to land a big addition this week. The Rangers acquired former 40-goal scorer Vladimir Tarasenko from the Blues on Thursday to add another proven scorer to their top-six and their power play.
The Blueshirts also received depth defenseman Niko Mikkola in the trade, in exchange for a conditional 2023 first-round pick, a conditional 2024 fourth-round pick, forward Sammy Blais and prospect Hunter Skinner.
That the Blues also are retaining half of the pending free agent’s $7.5 million cap hit makes the move a no-brainer for Rangers GM Chris Drury. Tarasenko has managed just 10 goals in 38 games this season, but he posted 34 goals and 82 points in 2021-22. He’s also potted 41 goals in 90 career postseason games.
We all know the quarterbacks and the star players who always are keys to their team’s championship success, but there often is a David Tyree or a Malcolm Butler to emerge at the game’s most important moment to etch his name in Super Bowl lore.
Here is one potential X-factor player from each team to watch in Sunday’s title game between the Chiefs and the Eagles:
Andrew Wylie, Chiefs RT
Offensive linemen rarely get this sort of spotlight, but Wylie will be the primary matchup for Eagles sack man Haason Reddick, who had 16 sacks in the regular season and 3.5 more in two playoff games. Chiefs head coach Andy Reid and offensive coordinator Eric Bienemy obviously will scheme to provide Wylie with some help to keep Reddick and the Eagles’ vaunted pass rush away from quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
Kenneth Gainwell, Eagles RB
Miles Sanders was Philadelphia’s primary running back throughout the regular season, but Gainwell ran for 112 yards and a touchdown against the Giants in the divisional round and added 74 more yards from scrimmage against the 49ers in the NFC Championship game. Plus, Gainwell is a fitting name for a running back. As Kramer would say on “Seinfeld,” that’s like a library cop named Bookman or an ice cream man named Cone.