The Teams That Were Surprisingly Inactive at the N.B.A. Trade Deadline

The definition of anticlimactic, courtesy of Dictionary.com: “An event, conclusion, statement, etc., that is far less important, powerful, or striking than expected.”

Does that sound about right, Los Angeles Lakers fans … Atlanta Hawks fans … Chicago Bulls fans … Sacramento Kings fans … and Golden State Warriors fans?

The list could go on from there, but that group of five teams makes up The Athletic’s inaugural All-Standpat Team for this year’s NBA trade deadline. The Milwaukee Bucks came close to making it but barely avoided the unflattering inclusion by landing a “Pat” from the Philadelphia 76ers — Beverley, that is — and potentially helping their awful defense.

As for the ones who did make it, this group is a mixture of alleged buyers and sellers who surprised the masses by keeping their underperforming teams intact. The motivations varied, but there’s one factor that it’s safe to say played a pivotal part for some of these teams: the league’s Play-In Tournament.

If there wasn’t more postseason wiggle room than before with 10 spots in each conference up for grabs rather than eight, then there would be an even greater need for each of these teams to take a long, hard look in the proverbial mirror and truly decide what they see in the reflection.

Instead, there’s a standings buffer that offers additional hope and, it seems, inspires cold feet when it comes to making the tough decisions.

That’s a broad generalization and hardly a one-size-fits-all explanation for this group. But let’s take a closer look at each situation and discuss what likely led to being inactive.

(Records and standings are from the time of the trade deadline.)

Lakers

(27-25; ninth in the Western Conference) 

This much is clear: Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka didn’t see the Hawks’ Dejounte Murray as the kind of difference-maker who would vault his team back into a title contender. If he did, he would’ve put Austin Reaves into the offer like Atlanta had wanted and done the deal.

Truth be told, I can’t blame him. And even with LeBron James sending so many (Knicks-colored) smoke signals indicating a strong desire for the Lakers to make a significant move, this wasn’t the way to go.

While Reaves has his faults, the third-year guard is a very productive piece of the Lakers’ core (15.5 points, 5.3 assists, 4.0 rebounds per game) who is signed to a team-friendly deal through the 2025-26 season (with a player option worth $14.8 million in 2026-27). He’s homegrown too, which comes with some sentimental value. Losing him would have hurt.

Then there’s the D’Angelo Russell factor.

While there will always be a roller-coaster element to the D-Lo experience, and times when a bad matchup (last season’s Western Conference finals against Denver) might become a major issue, the gap between him and Murray isn’t so great that it justifies losing two key members of the Lakers rotation, a 2029 first-rounder and additional draft compensation to bring Murray to town. Especially when this core showed last season that it can make a legitimate run.

But this surely sets the stage for a compelling next few months as it relates to James and his uncertain Lakers future. He has a player option for next season, meaning the free-agency exit door will be wide open if this Lakers season ends so poorly that he wants to consider other options. The timing of it all could make for dramatic NBA theater too.

James has until June 29 to decide on his option, which is just two days after the conclusion of the draft. Why does that matter? Because the Lakers will be able to offer three first-rounders for a star player of their choice by then, meaning James’ view of their next few seasons could be changed for the better at the 11th hour.

What’s more, that’s when his dream of playing with his son Bronny could be fulfilled if the current USC player decides to enter the draft (and James finds a way to persuade his current team to select him). There could be a consolation prize for the Lakers on the buyout market too, with ESPN’s Dave McMenamin reporting Thursday that they’re among the front-runners for Spencer Dinwiddie.

Hawks

(22-29; 10th place in the Eastern Conference)

Let’s just start by making this declaration on the Murray front: The price the Hawks paid in 2022 — three first-rounders, a first-round pick swap and Danilo Gallinari — has long since become a sunk cost. So if there’s any internal pressure to recoup those assets in a Murray deal to justify giving him up, that flawed logic needs to go.



After much speculation, Atlanta’s Dejounte Murray isn’t going anywhere. (Brett Davis / USA Today)

The Hawks still have time to figure out the Murray situation (he’s signed through the 2026-27 season with a player option in 2027-28), and the fact that the market wasn’t strong certainly appears to have played a part.

Beyond the Lakers, the Brooklyn Nets were believed to be interested, and the New Orleans Pelicans were the only other known team to show interest near the end. However, according to a Pelicans source, those talks were never seen as serious from their side. New Orleans believes it was largely used as leverage (that didn’t work) against the Lakers.

In terms of Hawks surprises, I’m more stunned there wasn’t more discussion about some of their other guys. Whether it was Clint Capela, De’Andre Hunter or Bogdan Bogdanović, I thought for sure they’d be able to find a deal or two that could help reshape this roster a bit. But now with their Trae Young-centric culture intact and no objective observer convinced that their ceiling is anything more than a first-round bow out, it’s more of the same for the foreseeable future.

Jalen Johnson’s ascension has been a major bright spot, with the third-year small forward who was taken 20th from Duke in 2021 in the running for the NBA Most Improved Player Award. Beyond that, though, the Hawks had better hope second-year coach Quin Snyder has some serious X’s and O’s magic up his sleeves.

Bulls

(24-27; ninth in the East)

The Bulls might need to change their pregame theme music now, from the legendary “SIRIUS” instrumental by The Alan Parsons Project that sparks all those memories of Michael Jordan-led title teams to this 1973 ditty that is far more fitting in the modern day: “Stuck in the Middle with You” by Stealers Wheel.

That’s the harsh truth of these choices that they’re making with 87-year-old owner Jerry Reinsdorf prioritizing the chance to field a competitive team over a rebuilding pathway toward a younger core and true contention.

In that sense, it was almost perfect that they beat the West-leading Minnesota Timberwolves in overtime two nights before the deadline. That sort of best-case-scenario showing, small sample size and all, is the kind of thing that likely confirmed this sort of ethos.

“This team is very competitive in every game,” vice president of basketball operations Artūras Karnišovas told the media after the deadline passed Thursday. “And we have aspirations to compete for the playoffs.”

Zach LaVine was likely staying put even if his season wasn’t cut short by right foot surgery recently. His massive contract (four years, $178 million) was proving to be a significant deterrent for potential suitors. But Alex Caruso ($9.4 million this season, $9.8 million next) is a different story with his market known to be robust and his two-way impact tailor-made for contenders.

Meanwhile, DeMar DeRozan is still playing at a high level and will be an unrestricted free agent after this season. That’s typically a formula for a deal when a team is mired in mediocrity, but these Bulls will now look to keep the 34-year-old this summer. A league source with knowledge of DeRozan’s situation said he is happy there and would like to return — if the money is right.

Big man Andre Drummond was another bench player whose value has increased, with the Sixers and Knicks known to be interested. Again, though, no deal happened.

There’s real hope for the Bulls when it comes to Coby White, who like the Hawks’ Johnson, should be a serious candidate for Most Improved Player too. But because of Lonzo Ball’s unfortunate future — the 26-year-old is missing a second consecutive season because of chronic knee issues — the reasons for long-term optimism end there.

Kings

(29-21; seventh in the West)

The pressure from the Kings’ fan base to make any move was fairly significant, especially after the Kings lost to the lowly Detroit Pistons on Wednesday night. While Sacramento is in a decent position to make the playoffs for just the second time since 2006, the locals’ hope of this team evolving into something even more dangerous this season has been fading of late. And with good reason.

So when the Kings did nothing of significance at the deadline, it came as no surprise that there was a sense of significant disappointment among their faithful. But the truth about the situation is that they made their most significant roster choices long before the deadline arrived — at least when it comes to the possibility of adding impact players.

They had extensive talks with Toronto about Pascal Siakam in mid-January, choosing not to make that deal after league sources said a deal was close. As I reported at the time, it didn’t help matters that Siakam, who will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, didn’t want to be in Sacramento long term (or short term). Considering the Indiana Pacers would later give up three first-rounders to land Siakam, it’s hard to argue with the Kings’ choice to hold onto those kinds of draft assets.

Even before that, the Kings had decided against making a serious pursuit of the Raptors’ OG Anunoby before he went to the Knicks in late December for RJ Barrett, Immanuel Quickley and a second-round pick. Team sources said the cost of retaining Anunoby in free agency this summer was a concern.

What’s more, the Raptors’ desire to land second-year Kings forward Keegan Murray also was known to be an obstacle. Again, it’s not hard to see why a deal didn’t go down. When it comes to other high-profile targets, the Kings had long since lost interest in the Wizards’ Kyle Kuzma.

Only time will tell if the Kings’ patience pays off, but there’s something to be said for not making that next big move too early if it’s not there. Just ask the Hawks.

Then again, it’s still less than ideal that they couldn’t find anyone to help inject some new life into their lineups. They were known to be interested in the Nets’ Royce O’Neale (who went to the Suns in a three-team deal) and Dorian Finney-Smith (who wasn’t traded). They had eyes for Washington’s Delon Wright and Miami’s Caleb Martin. But the trade dud-line theme continued in Sacramento too.



It was clear in recent weeks that Sacramento wanted to hold onto second-year forward Keegan Murray (David Richard / USA Today)

Warriors

(23-25; 11th in the West)

I probably covered the Warriors dynasty too closely for too long and with my eyes wide open in sheer awe for so much of that time. So when Warriors general manager Mike Dunleavy Jr. chooses to lean into their storied history at this deadline, holding onto those hopes that Stephen Curry can lead them out of this darkness rather than rolling the dice on whatever deals came their way, I sort of get it. Even with all the bad basketball we’ve seen from this particular Golden State squad this season.

They won four titles in eight years and went to the NBA Finals six times in that stretch. Their last title was less than two years ago. There were signs of long-term hope in their second-round loss to the Lakers last season. And now, just four months into this season that has been so revealing in the worst kind of way, you’re surprised that they want more time to figure out how to forge a new future with Curry still at the center of it all? I am not surprised.

Andrew Wiggins was the only one who was out there in terms of trade talks by the time deadline week arrived. But as my “Tampering” podcast co-host and Warriors beat writer Anthony Slater discussed in our latest episode, Draymond Green’s recent return from his league-issued suspension has allowed the Warriors to play Wiggins and the emerging Jonathan Kuminga together much more effectively.

If their convincing win over Indiana on Thursday night was any indication, their quiet deadline was well received in the Warriors locker room.

As for the Klay Thompson situation, which was front and center this week when he discussed his basketball mortality with such vulnerability, that’s a bridge to be crossed when he becomes a free agent this summer. Ditto for Chris Paul, whose $30 million salary for next season is not guaranteed. Those answers, much like a new Warriors era, will come in time.

(Top photo of Joe Lacob and Mike Dunleavy Jr.: Rocky Widner / NBAE via Getty Images)

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