Every NBA Team’s Biggest Regret of 2022
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Welcome to the season of #NoRagrets, a glorious time of year in which we reflect on the past 12 months of the NBA calendar, never once actually lamenting our fandom, interest or the hours upon hours we’ve spent watching this league, yet dutifully acknowledging that, yeah, things could have always gone better for each and every team.
This exercise will seem unnecessarily pessimistic to some. It’s not. Retrospectives are important, because the past can, in fact, be prologue.
Regrets are also relative. Some teams barely have any from which to choose. They force us to split hairs and pick nits and obsess over the particulars. And that’s perfectly fine!
For other franchises, well, yes, there will be stronger, louder, more painful pangs of “If only we had a time machine!” and “Oh, crap!” moments. But many of these more wholesale mistakes and misgivings aren’t irreversible. Some might even need more time to marinate.
To that end, if you prodded team executives for their own answers, you’d no doubt get different responses. These regrets are not meant to depict how every organization actually feels. Instead, I informally polled people who cover and follow every team for thoughts, suggestions and confirmations with one goal in mind: spotlighting moves or overarching themes from 2022 that each franchise should regret entering 2023.
As a final aside, this recollective will focus solely on basketball matters. There are, of course, much more important issues. They are also less debatable, because they’re inarguably regrettable—or worse. What follows isn’t intended to ignore or marginalize these ultra-serious issues.
This covers the Boston Celtics (suspended head coach Ime Udoka for an inappropriate workplace relationship with and behavior toward a female employee); the Brooklyn Nets (Kyrie Irving’s antisemitic propaganda); the Charlotte Hornets (Miles Bridges pleading no contest to a felony domestic violence charge and the team’s recent cringey holiday weekend news dump); the Minnesota Timberwolves (Anthony Edwards being fined $40,000 after making homophobic comments); the New Orleans Pelicans (Jaxson Hayes being sentenced to probation, community service and weekly domestic-violence classes stemming from 2021 charges); the Phoenix Suns (Robert Sarver’s reign of racism and misogyny); the San Antonio Spurs (former team psychologist Dr. Hillary Cauthen alleging indecent exposure from the since-released Joshua Primo); and any others I may have glossed over.
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The Regret: Trading Kevin Huerter to Sacramento, and also letting Travis Schlenk direct your entire offseason before pivoting into different front office leadership less than halfway through 2022-23.
Wouldn’t it be great if the Atlanta Hawks, who rank 28th in three-point-attempt rate and 29th in accuracy from beyond the arc, had someone on their roster who was canning over 41 percent of their triples on nearly seven attempts per game?
Technically, they do. His name is Bogdan Bogdanović. But knee issues have limited his availability, and he alone isn’t resurrecting Atlanta’s outmoded shot profile.
Keeping Huerter would have helped. He wouldn’t be a panacea, either. The Hawks have needed to withstand career-worst shooting for much of this season from Trae Young and John Collins, but Huerter would be a boon for one of the league’s most disappointing offenses.
Ah, well. At least the Hawks extracted an, ahem, king’s ransom from Sacramento in the process.
Except, wait, they didn’t. They ended up with Justin Holiday, Moe Harkless, a heavily protected 2024 first-rounder and some long-term bottom-line savings. That’s going to be a “Meh” from me.
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The Regret: Turnovers and poor defensive rebounding to close out the 2022 NBA Finals.
Snark merchants are free to roll with some variation of “Why didn’t the Boston Celtics trade for Malcolm Brogdon sooner?” Which, OK, I guess. But Brogdon battled Achilles issues for much of last year, and there’s no way both he and Derrick White end up in Beantown at the 2022 deadline.
Plus, the Celtics weren’t necessarily one Malcolm Brogdon away from a title. He would have helped as a half-court safety valve when Jayson Tatum was being smothered by the Golden State Warriors defense, but Boston jumped out to a 2-1 lead in the Finals. Winning it all was not outside the scope of possibilities.
Turnovers and shoddy defensive rebounding are easier to lament. The Celtics coughed up the ball on more than 20 percent of their non-garbage-time possessions during Games 4 to 6 while allowing the Warriors to clean up 29-plus percent of their own misses.
Game 6, in particular, ended up being even more of a dumpster fire. Boston committed a turnover on nearly 25 percent of their offensive possessions, and Golden State boarded 37.3 percent of their friendly misfires.
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The Regret: Taking so long to carve out some semblance of stability.
Interpret this as you see fit. Many will spin it into “The Brooklyn Nets should have fired Steve Nash sooner!” They might be right. Brooklyn has a top-three net rating under Jacque Vaughn, and since the start of December, they’ve been on a tear—statistically, functionally, and emotionally.
But the Nets’ issues go beyond just Nash. The organization, as a whole, took forever to get its act together.
Brooklyn waited too long to settle the James Harden situation last season. It allowed the Kevin Durant trade demand and Kyrie Irving contract circus to fester for so much of the summer. It definitely waited too long to start operating with a heavier hand on all matters pertaining to Kyrie. And, yeah, what was the point of letting Nash coach into the season if seven games is all it took to deem him finished?
We can’t know for sure whether abating, if not altogether avoiding, an off-court soap opera would have equipped the Nets to start better this year or improve upon last season’s finish. But, the path here, to what seems like sustained contention, sure as hell couldn’t have been any worse without the drama and, frankly, rampant self-sabotage.
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The Regret: Dealing out of No. 13 in the 2022 NBA draft.
Skewering the Charlotte Hornets for failing to blow it up and methodically rebuild around LaMelo Ball is fair game. It also rings a little hollow.
How many players on the current roster, aside from LaMelo himself, are yielding net-positive value on the trade market? Mark Williams, Kelly Oubre Jr. and maybe P.J. Washington? Perhaps Cody Martin too, if he hadn’t missed basically this entire season with a left knee injury?
Demanding the Hornets answer for their addiction to mediocrity holds more weight looking at 2021-22. Maybe they should have tanked and juiced the value of their first-round pick rather than bag 43 wins. But 43 wins isn’t, like, 34 wins. It’s above .500. And Charlotte isn’t anywhere near good enough this year to lament its aspirations of 11-seed basketball. It may finish with a bottom-four record even if LaMelo stays healthy the rest of the way.
Faulting them for the botched Kenny Atkinson dalliance doesn’t sit right. He was an inspiring target. To be honest, the Hornets should probably hang a banner for almost poaching him from Golden State.
Trading out of the No. 13 pick in last June’s draft is the answer. Williams has looked spunky in recent weeks, so it’s not about missing out on Jalen Duren, but the Hornets turned a No. 13 selection into what will be a worse pick this year (Denver Nuggets first-rounder) and four middling to flat-out-poopy second-rounders. Charlotte would have been better off taking a flier on another youngster—imagine Tari Eason or Christian Braun here—to groom as part of the alternative they’re facing right now.
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The Regret: Whiffing on the 2022 NBA trade deadline.
It’s easy to forget, because their outlook is so dire now, but the Chicago Bulls were really good for most of last season. They sat 34-21 at the 2022 trade deadline, vying for a top-three seed and within striking distance of the first-place Miami Heat.
Chicago responded by doing…absolutely nothing. Signing Tristan Thompson to the bi-annual exception, for some reason, was its big midseason swing.
Maybe the Bulls avoided any major transactions knowing the state of Lonzo Ball’s left knee. That’s not really an excuse.
They surrendered picks and flexibility on multiple occasions to optimize their win-now window. Sitting tight, when you’re 13 games over .500, with Harrison Barnes and Jerami Grant floating around the trade market, because you consider the idea of Patrick Williams too valuable to deal is backwards thinking.
This season has not vindicated Chicago’s inaction. Williams will show flashes of figuring it out, at both ends, but he isn’t a player you always feel. And the Bulls are no better positioned to rebuild, start over or immediately turn their bleak trajectory around because they kept him.
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The Regret: Acquiring Caris LeVert ahead of the 2022 trade deadline.
Landing LeVert last year did not bag the Cleveland Cavaliers a playoff berth. His play was uneven, and injuries sapped the roster of its darling-status rise by the end of the schedule.
That doesn’t make this a wholesale mistake. LeVert’s efficiency has guttered inside the arc, but the concept of him off the bench holds value until Ricky Rubio fully recovers from a left ACL tear.
Still, the Donovan Mitchell trade has rendered LeVert at least somewhat superfluous over the longer term. And acquiring him cost the Cavs a lottery-protected first-round pick (2022 that folded into 2023), as well as two seconds, one of which already turned into standout rookie Andrew Nembhard.
Having that pick now would certainly help Cleveland grease the wheels of a trade to shore up their 3 spot. Granted, it wouldn’t have LeVert’s expiring contract to use as a salary buffer, but the team can step-ladder its way to sizable returns by using Cedi Osman, Isaac Okoro and Dylan Windler. Nembhard himself would be useful off the bench—assuming the Cavs afforded him the runway to actually play.
The catch? Utah Jazz CEO Danny Ainge and general manager Justin Zanik may have insisted upon the selection as compensation on top of everything else in the Mitchell trade. Then again, the Cavs might’ve also theoretically spared themselves a future pick or swap if they had 2023’s to deal.
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The Regret: How they handled the Jalen Brunson situation and his eventual exit.
Most, if not all, of the Jalen Brunson situation played out before 2022. The Dallas Mavericks reportedly didn’t offer him a four-year, $55.5 million extension ahead of the season, and he wasn’t going to sign that deal at any point thereafter given how well he played.
That doesn’t absolve the Mavs of blame. They knew he was a flight risk or outright goner all season and didn’t capitalize on his value at the trade deadline. They also didn’t try to leverage the New York Knicks into a sign-and-trade when it became clear he was leaving. New York traveled significant lengths to create cap space, but again, that doesn’t shield Dallas against critique. Losing your second-best player from a Western Conference finalist for absolutely nothing is terrible.
Inadequately replacing him is just as bad. The Mavs have Spencer Dinwiddie. They also already had him. Kemba Walker is, for now, their pseudo Brunson substitute. Or maybe it’s Christian Wood’s floor game. Either way, we have seen Luka Dončić be overworked accordingly—though, to be fair, Dallas has tried different things to alleviate some of his usage.
Teams are at the mercy of trade markets and their own assets. The Mavs are losing on both fronts. The star-trade landscape is bare bones at the moment, and they can’t offer a godfather package of picks (four firsts, three swaps) until after their 2023 obligation to the Knicks conveys (top-10 protection).
Once more, with feeling: This isn’t a defense. Simpler contingencies existed. The Mavs couldn’t even reel in Goran Dragić, a friend of Dončić who they apparently wanted to be a “foot-shorter version of Boban [Marjanović] and sit on the end of the bench.” Digesting this stance in tandem with the JaVale McGee contract requires a metric ton of antacids.
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The Regret: Giving the Thunder a 2027 first-round pick to take on JaMychal Green.
Tax-ducking and cutting maneuvers needn’t be applauded by fans or analysts. Trimming the operating costs of billionaire team governors is not our concern.
The Denver Nuggets get a pass on the Kentavious Caldwell-Pope trade, which was a roster upgrade that simplified their books. Go ahead and quibble about what the deal did to the backup point guard rotation. Bones Hyland looks overstretched, and Ish Smith has barely played. KCP is still a divine fit, and these developmental reps for Hyland, however ugly at times, should prove valuable in the long run.
Offloading Green onto the Oklahoma City Thunder is much less commendable. His contract, which included a player option, was clearly a mistake. But the salary dump cost the Nuggets a conditional 2027 first-round pick, which would be quite useful if and when they decide to poke around the backup center or bigger-wing trade market.
Snagging the No. 30 selection as part of the process doesn’t improve the optics—unless you’re smitten by the six appearances from Peyton Watson. Playing the roster-spot game is equally futile; this trade ended up being a wash for the Nuggets’ body count. Yes, they spent the mini mid-level exception on Bruce Brown and are comfortably in the tax now. But this wasn’t an either-or proposition.
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The Regret: Giving Marvin Bagley III three guaranteed years.
Bagley had a nice close to the 2021-22 campaign after the Detroit Pistons choppered him out of Sacramento, and bringing him back for another go-round made sense. He is just 23 and forged some nice chemistry with Cade Cunningham.
But giving him three guaranteed years, at $12.5 million a pop, was always steep. It is a hair above mid-level-exception money at this point, but there’s no way Bagley’s market necessitated the agreement go that far out.
This deal looks even less flattering, albeit not detrimental, now. Bagley returned from his right knee issue just as Cunningham exited for the year with his left shin injury, so the two haven’t played a second together. And the Pistons’ two-big frontcourts are ill-suited to cover up for a 6’10” non-spacer.
Try as Detroit might to bill Bagley as a shooter, his 28.6 percent clip from three begs to differ. He has swished 47.1 percent of his mid-range looks (8-of-17), but this isn’t 1995. Those shots are mostly on-ball opportunities rather than catch-and-fires. And whatever he might do on offense, Bagley isn’t worth the trade-off on defense, where he struggles to hang with either frontcourt slot, and where opponents shoot nearly six percentage points better at the rim when he’s on the floor.
Golden State Warriors
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The Regret: Failing to add/replace veteran depth outside the starting five.
Kudos to the Golden State Warriors’ kiddies for their last-ditch effort to outdate this stance.
Bright spots galore have revealed themselves since Stephen Curry suffered his left shoulder injury. Jordan Poole is providing a steadier hand, his turnovers and three-point shooting notwithstanding. Jonathan Kuminga is starting to go boom at both ends.
James Wiseman looks more like an NBA player and less like someone trying to catch and handle a tennis ball in rush hour traffic. Moses Moody’s poor on-off splits don’t align with the eye test.
Patrick Baldwin Jr. looked like a stud against the Utah Jazz on Dec. 28. Ty Jerome is apparently the Stephen Curry heir apparent. Donte DiVincenzo, while not especially young, is nailing 48.5 percent of his threes, and injecting intensely useful off-ball movement into the offense over the Dubs’ last seven games.
And yet, opting against veteran bench depth remains a miss by Golden State.
Losing Otto Porter Jr. and Gary Payton II turned out not to be a big deal. Porter has appeared in just eight games for the Toronto Raptors while GP2 has yet to debut for the Portland Trail Blazers. But re-signing Andre Iguodala and bringing in DiVincenzo and JaMychal Green and then calling it a day was a two-timeline gamble.
That bet hasn’t panned out. The Warriors are far from out of the woods. They’re 10th in the Western Conference at this writing, with no concrete timeline for Curry’s return, and still subject to getting lampooned when the reigning Finals MVP sits.
Golden State might be alright in the end. But it wasn’t nearly aggressive enough with its smaller signings, roster spots or surfing the non-star trade market before now. And let’s face it, there’s something inherently unsettling about a defending champ being even kind of reliant on guys like Baldwin, Jerome and Anthony Lamb.
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The Regret: Superficially restricting Alperen Şengün’s role for so long.
Şengün may not be at risk of receiving a “DNP – Coach’s Decision” on any given night, but that’s not the bar for optimizing someone this good. He is, by far, the Houston Rockets’ best passer and should be a bigger focal point of the offense.
This isn’t a problem on some nights. It’s damning on others.
Though Şengün is averaging more paint touches per 36 minutes this year (10.8) compared to last (7.2), his post-ups and overall frontcourt touches are down. More to the point, his touches have been juiced only recently. The Rockets started running more through him right around Thanksgiving.
Committing extra volume to Şengün is the right call. Especially so long as Houston remains without a true floor general. But it took the team too long to get here. Even now, absent foul trouble, there shouldn’t be games in which he logs under 25 minutes.
Houston also has more runway to experiment with his point-center capabilities. Emboldening him to churn out additional outside-in drives, and generating more than one players’ worth of off-ball movement around him in the half-court, are good places to start.
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The Regret: Lack of clarity on the frontline.
Singling out a regret for the Indiana Pacers is pretty hard. They rejiggered the roster and punted on the rest of the 2021-22 season, just like everyone wanted. Should they have traded for Tyrese Haliburton sooner?
Resolving Myles Turner’s future, finally, would be nice. He’s been in trade rumors since 2009, which is weird, because he didn’t make his NBA debut until 2015. But the Pacers don’t have to trade him. (Sorry, Rob Pelinka.) He isn’t ancient, at 26, and Indiana is already flirting with a playoff spot. Turner and the team have reportedly opened renegotiate-and-extend talks, which range from “Totally OK!” to “Incredibly smart.”
At the same time, the constant lurch in which Turner’s future exists has trickled down to the rest of the frontcourt.
What do the Pacers want or need at the 3 and 4 spots? They don’t have a pure 3 of the future, although Aaron Nesmith is having some nice moments, and haven’t looked to make stab-in-the-dark acquisitions. (Cam Reddish or , anyone???) They have gotten weird at the 4, sometimes gloriously so. Oshae Brissett (needs to play more, period), former-guaranteed-starter Jalen Smith, Terry Taylor, even Chris Duarte and Buddy Hield and Andrew Nembhard have soaked up reps guarding power forwards.
Indiana is in no rush. It’s also plucky and good now, with no-brainer building blocks in the backcourt thanks to Haliburton and Bennedict Mathurin. The frontcourt flux can only qualify as instructional experimentation for so long.
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The Regret: Not thinking outside the box enough with their offensive rotations.
Stop-and-start availability has messed with the L.A. Clippers’ returns this season. The gist you care about: Paul George and Kawhi Leonard have appeared in just 12 games together. And the Clippers are absolutely spanking opponents during their joint minutes while maintaining the same level of dominance through Kawhi’s solo stints.
Couple this with a top-four record in the West, and harping on L.A.’s 28th ranked offense seems unnecessary. Their top-end units are going to kill it. We can move on.
Only, we can’t.
Squeaky-clean bills of health aren’t guaranteed. The Clippers know this, perhaps better than anyone. Alternative combinations and the general supporting cast matter.
This isn’t to say L.A. has a depth problem. It doesn’t. Its roster is stocked with dudes who should play more. And, er, maybe they should—even at the expense of bigger names and entrenched veterans.
John Wall doesn’t need to be assured playing time at this point. Ditto for Marcus Morris Sr. The Clippers offense needs some jet fuel. How about the rim pressure of Terance Mann? Or the slippery and functional shooting of Luke Kennard?
The theory behind Wall makes sense. But he hasn’t translated to noticeably more rim pressure or better ball control or enough variable cadence. There is room in this crowded rotation for the Clippers to further experiment—plenty of it, actually.
Los Angeles Lakers
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The Regret: Forgetting, once again, that wings are valuable rotation assets. Or the Rob Pelinka extension. Because, well, they’re basically the same thing.
Holy hell, where do we start?
Dinging the Los Angeles Lakers for not trading Russell Westbrook over the offseason (or at all) doesn’t fit this bill. He has been much better since moving to the bench, and we don’t know, with absolute certainty, whether there was a deal that could rescue this team from its current pile of ruins.
Would Russ and two firsts ever have landed you Buddy Hield and Myles Turner? Probably. Do those two, alone, severely alter the Lakers’ trajectory? Not unless they also came with a bionic skeletal frame for Anthony Davis. Failing to fork over the picks in a Kyrie Irving trade during the offseason is one potential exception, but there’s nothing floating around the basketballsphere to suggest that was seriously on the table or ever scuttled by Los Angeles itself.
Whiffing on the rest of the 2022 offseason is the better selection. It’s more controllable. The Lakers didn’t have much to work with, and they failed even by those limited standards. Their aversion to signing real, live, actual wings is so hilariously, hopelessly dumb it’s almost impressive.
Nobody worth the mini mid-level exception was going to save these Lakers. And Lonnie Walker IV has fit into the offense better than anticipated. But you didn’t get team control on him beyond this year, and more to that point, what’s with all the guards?!
Walker, Westbrook, Patrick Beverley, Troy Brown Jr., Kendrick Nunn, Dennis Schröder—oh my! Austin Reaves (totally cool!) and Brown (less cool!) lead this team in total minutes at the 3. That is definitively not it. But don’t worry, Lakers fans. The man primarily responsible for this dumpster fire, general manager Rob Pelinka, received an extension—proof that if you mess up hard enough, for long enough, you too might one day be able to fail upwards.
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The Regret: Opting against frontcourt diversification.
I won’t pretend the Memphis Grizzlies have any regrets. They would probably trash-talk me into a sobbing fetal position if I directly suggested to them, gently, that maybe they shouldn’t have tied so many of their back-end rotation minutes to internal development.
And look, it’s hard to blame them. The Grizzlies are third in the West despite having missed both Jaren Jackson Jr. and Desmond Bane for a bunch of time. They keep chugging along, often dominantly, and the kids are intriguing.
Bane might be an All-Star if he didn’t miss over a month with that right toe injury. Santi Aldama is super useful and just sort of everywhere. David Roddy is idiosyncratic utility. You can see the vision of Jake LaRavia and his outside value. Ziaire Williams, who dealt with a knee injury to start the year, has the fluidity and length to make things happen, even if he too often plays at a speed best described as “buffering.”
This is hunky-dory stuff. The playoffs are a different beast. The Grizzlies have half-court holes. Their defense is back, Jack, forcing turnovers and all. It would be nice to have the decision-making of Kyle Anderson in place of Aldama or Roddy at times, or to have someone who can better supplant Brandon Clarke in certain matchups. It would be even nicer to swing for a double and look at a Kyle Kuzma or Bojan Bogdanović, or to have been part of the Jerami Grant sweepstakes last season and into the summer.
Memphis is good. Really good. So good, it makes you wish the team would approach its search for finishing touches with more urgency.
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The Regret: Inadequately replacing the P.J. Tucker minutes.
The Miami Heat cannot be vilified for losing Tucker. Even if they were willing to match the money, his reunion with James Harden, Daryl Morey and Danuel House on the Philadelphia 76ers appeared fait accompli.
Sort of moseying along from there, without an actual replacement for Tucker, is a different story.
Lineups featuring Caleb Martin at the 4 have largely held serve. But Jimmy Butler is playing more power forward than ever, and the Heat are left to fill the gaps with varying doses of Haywood Highsmith (defending well), rookie Nikola Jović and the silhouette of Duncan Robinson. Their offensive rebounding—and offense in general—has suffered accordingly.
Miami has time to exit this holding pattern it doesn’t need and make a move ahead of the 2023 trade deadline. But just for the record: Skulking around the Jae Crowder rumor mill doesn’t count as making move.
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The Regret: Not doing more to beef up the half-court offense.
Harping on anything the Milwaukee Bucks did (or didn’t do) last season or during the 2022 playoffs doesn’t move the needle here. Khris Middleton’s left knee injury was beyond their control and justifiably compromised their repeat bid.
More of that uncertainty is at play now. Middleton missed most of the season with a left wrist injury and is now dealing with right knee soreness. Should you be concerned that the Bucks rank 23rd in half-court offense and 26th since the start of December? Or do you write it off as a temporary malaise, a blip that will fade once Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jrue Holiday appear in more than five games together?
Patience is fair. The half-court offense has found life during the Big Three’s joint sample. Angst is fair, too. Milwaukee doesn’t have a huge margin for error. Middleton has better two-man chemistry with Giannis than anyone, and the options to create looks off the dribble quickly dwindle.
To what end the Bucks could have deepened their half-court arsenal is debatable. The Joe Ingles signing was perhaps a touch too ambitious knowing Middleton would miss time to start the year. But the mini mid-level exception wouldn’t have nabbed a shot-making superhuman. T.J. Warren would have been nice. Did he want to play in Milwaukee? Even if there was a missed free-agency opportunity, we’re talking about one or two guys.
Relative silence on the trade market is a separate matter. The Bucks don’t have an endless supply of assets, but they can trade distant second-rounders, a 2029 first-round pick and—gulp—MarJon Beauchamp. The cost for Jordan Clarkson (player option) is likely too high now that the Utah Jazz are actively good. Jae Crowder isn’t the answer, even if he unlocks some 2020-title-run lineups the Bucks could use.
Was Kevin Huerter outside their asset range when he went to Sacramento? Luke Kennard in L.A.? The Bucks can get to Eric Gordon’s money via complicated step-laddering, but are they willing to navigate the logistics? A dearth of sellers offers Milwaukee some cover, and the trade deadline isn’t yet here. That doesn’t negate the indifference with which they handled an already-fragile half-court arsenal to this point.
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The Regret: Going all-in on the Rudy Gobert experiment.
Sure, the Minnesota Timberwolves need more time at full strength, with both Rudy Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns in the fold, before this experiment is packaged as an inexorable failure. KAT is out with a right calf strain, and he missed valuable preseason reps.
Opportunity costs sometimes eclipse learning curves. This is one of those times.
Minnesota gave up Malik Beasley, Patrick Beverley, Leandro Bolmaro, Walker Kessler, Jarred Vanderbilt, four first-round picks (2023, 2025, 2027, top-five-protected 2029) and one swap (2026) to grab Gobert. Given where Kessler was selected (No. 22 in 2022) and how well Vanderbilt played last year on a bargain-bin contract, this is the equivalent of six first-round picks and a swap. And it’s more like seven-plus first-rounders when factoring in how Beasley is slinging the three-ball these days.
That isn’t a bounty you pay when you’re guesstimating or trying to make a splash for new team governors. It’s the price you pay when you know something’s going to work—when it’s your line to title contention.
Gobert hasn’t been that for the Wolves. He alone isn’t responsible, but Minnesota has lost the minutes he’s logged alongside KAT and is even worse when the former goes it alone. Gobert doesn’t look the same. Opponents get to the rim much less when he plays, but the 59.5 percent clip he allows at the hoop is by far and away the worst of his career.
Coaxing more complicated usage out of him on offense hasn’t gone so well, either. Gobert has already attempted more jumpers (20) than all of last year (19), but isn’t hitting them at a buttery mark.
Blame can be doled out across the spectrum—to president of basketball operations Tim Connelly, to Towns’ defensive limitations that prompted the Wolves’ interest in this model, to head coach Chris Finch’s less-inventive-than-advertised offensive solutions, to Gobert himself. Regardless, this setup is one the Wolves had no business mortgaging everything to actualize. Cheaper, more exploratory options like Myles Turner or Jerami Grant would have made more sense without proof of concept already in place.
New Orleans Pelicans
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The Regret: Starting Jaxson Hayes in every game of the playoffs.
Good luck finding a real regret on behalf of the New Orleans Pelicans.
You can’t be mad that they haven’t rerouted Garrett Temple or Devonte’ Graham when neither is near the top of the rotation. Holding onto Jaxson Hayes when you have Larry Nance Jr., Jonas Valančiūnas, Willy Hernangómez and Zion Williamson is somewhat curious, but Hayes is currently playing amid Nance’s Achilles injury. Break-in-case-of-emergency depth is important.
Head coach Willie Green probably waited too long last season to bounce Temple from the rotation and start unleashing then-rookie Trey Murphy III. But he remedied the issue early enough in 2022 to let it slide.
That leaves the decision to start Hayes in every single game against the Phoenix Suns during the playoffs. He totaled just 83 minutes across eight games, but that merely begs the question of, Um, why?
Stints with both Valančiūnas and Hayes up front weren’t nearly good enough on defense during the regular season to view them as a staple. The Suns ended up outscoring the Pelicans by 21 points in the 77 minutes the two bigs tallied together. For a six-game set in which New Orleans was only a minus-nine overall, this is kind of a big deal.
Free from expectations without Zion at the time, there’s no sinister “What if?!” scenarios at play. That is, unless you think Zion both could and should have played in that series. In that case, hot damn, imagine what happens if you get even just 83 minutes from him instead of Hayes.
New York Knicks
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The Regret: Taking too long to clear the runway and continuously confounding and obfuscating their direction.
Fumbling Donovan Mitchell trade negotiations will be the choice for loads of people. I’m not here to argue with you. The New York Knicks stockpiled picks to trade for a star and then, quite literally, failed to use them in a trade for a star who wanted to play for them.
I can’t bring myself to view this as a mistake. The Knicks are not the Cavaliers. They weren’t a Donovan Mitchell away from title contention. And burning their asset stash on him would’ve made it incredibly difficult, verging on damn near impossible, to acquire another star via trade. New York would have needed to strike gold in an increasingly barren free-agency landscape or through internal development. Passing on Mitchell—or being forcibly nudged out of the sweepstakes—was fine.
This organization’s perpetuance of a blurry and unformed, if not aimless, long-term vision is not.
Indeed, the Knicks have made strides. Jalen Brunson is a home-run addition. The good version of Julius Randle is showing up on offense right now. Head coach Tom Thibodeau ditched Derrick Rose and Evan Fournier and started relying on Quentin Grimes and Deuce McBride and more RJ Barrett-plus-bench/RJ-Barrett-without-Randle combinations. New York is defending harder, thanks in large part to Grimes, McBride and Immanuel Quickley.
Awesome. The Knicks have followed up these good vibes with a reality check: five straight losses. Two of these Ls coincide with injuries to Brunson and Barrett, but the larger point stands: New York has fast-tracked itself to the middle. And while that’s a step up from last year, it falls short of instilling confidence.
Questions remain. Why did it take so long to get here in the first place? Grimes has battled injuries both as a rookie and this season, but it took the Knicks forever to uncork him last year. The front office gave up a conditional first-round pick for Cam Reddish only to use him sparingly, inconsistently or not at all when healthy. And they were shopping Quickley, for some reason, as recently as early December.
Competent basketball deserves to be applauded, particularly around these parts. The Knicks have delivered…lately…for the most part. But the endgame for this core, specifically, isn’t any clearer because of it.
Oklahoma City Thunder
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The Regret: Continued dearth of shooting around Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
Anyone who thinks the Oklahoma City Thunder should regret drafting Chet Holmgren at No. 2 following his season-ending-before-it-started right foot injury needs to immediately douse themselves in glacially chilled water.
This organization is not the tanktastic, visionless punchline it’s often made out to be. The Thunder have a tent-pole star around which to build in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander; intriguing cast members like Josh Giddey, Lu Dort, Jalen Williams, Isaiah Joe (thanks, Philly) and Kenrich Williams, along with the recently injured Ousmane Dieng and Alexsej Pokusevski; compete their butts off on defense; and have a bunch of picks they have already shown a willingness to consolidate (Dieng).
Contending for anything special this year isn’t obligatory. Adding another high lottery pick to this core would be terrifying. But the Thunder are tied for the lead in crunch-time minutes played. They could be better now—decidedly play-in worthy—if they had more shooting around SGA, who has so far turned in an All-NBA campaign amid cramped half-court spacing.
Oklahoma City is 22nd in three-point-attempt rate and 20th in long-range accuracy without the personnel to bank on improving from within. Joe and Poku are the only players on the roster attempting at least three triples per game and canning them at or above the league average of 35.7 percent—and one of them is now out for the foreseeable future with a fracture in his left leg (Poku). So, unless they can order Teflon wrists for Dieng with rush shipping, more shooting would be nice.
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The Regret: Holding onto Terrence Ross for so long.
Much like many other rebuilding teams, the stakes aren’t high for the Orlando Magic (yet). They haven’t done—or not done—anything that evokes waves of regret.
Authoring more chicanery around the 2022 draft could be the call. They tricked everyone into thinking they’d select Jabari Smith Jr., only to (wisely) select Paolo Banchero. Could they have convinced Oklahoma City to pony up an asset for the No. 1 pick if general manager Sam Presti and crew were married to Chet Holmgren? Perhaps.
Bemoaning the guard rotation is another way to go. But a healthy Markelle Fultz and Cole Anthony have both been good, it’s too early to give up on (the injured) Jalen Suggs, and it’s also too early for the Magic to lament not ponying up to enter the Donovan Mitchell sweepstakes.
And so, we have Terrence Ross, who offers the idea of floor spacing without actually hitting enough of his threes.
Why he’s in Orlando, still, remains beyond me. His locker room presence no doubt has a lot to do with it, and he’s weirdly necessary given all the perimeter injuries this team has withstood, including extensive absences from Gary Harris and Chuma Okeke. But the Magic probably should have more aggressively looked at capitalizing on whatever value he had to prospective contenders at the 2022 trade deadline when he profiled as more than a partial-season rental.
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The Regret: Leaving Joel Embiid in too long during their Game 6 win over Toronto.
Remember when Embiid suffered a mild concussion and right orbital fracture during the Philadelphia 76ers’ Game 6 victory against the Toronto Raptors last season?
And remember how there were less than four minutes remaining when it happened?
And remember how head coach Doc Rivers had no business leaving him in because the Sixers were up by 29 points at the time?
And then remember how Embiid ended up missing the first two games of the semifinals against Miami? And how Philly lost both tilts by a combined 30 points while relying too heavily—which is to say, at all—on DeAndre Jordan?
(Note: With the exception of some Paul Reed goodness, these were not good times.)
The Sixers were (probably) not healthy enough to materially or good enough (probably) to alter the course of the last postseason. Probably. But “probably” isn’t “definitely.” And even though Embiid was already banged up by Game 6 versus the Raptors, he was magnificent. This injury set him back—and, worst of all, was wholly avoidable.
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The Regret: Not taking a bigger swing on the trade market.
Go ahead and select the Game 7 meltdown or blown 3-2 series lead against Dallas in the second round of the 2022 playoffs. I get it. I also can’t bring myself to go there following the reports of a COVID outbreak among the Phoenix Suns at the time.
Passing on material changes since then matters more, to me.
Flash-bulb moments reminding the Suns that they need someone, something extra to fortify their championship chances have been peppered throughout the season. There was—and still is—the Jae Crowder absence. There was—and still is—the Cam Johnson right knee injury. And then the Chris Paul right heel injury. And then the Cam Payne right foot injury. And now, there’s the Devin Booker groin injury, a blow that could realistically derail the team’s entire season.
Phoenix is not without reinforcements. Mikal Bridges is better. Deandre Ayton makes finesse work. Payne was in the middle of a bounce-back year before his foot issue cropped up. The Suns have received useful minutes from Damion Lee, Josh Okogie and, lately, even Landry Shamet.
It’s not enough. They need more—someone, something, preferably in the form of a ball-handler who can play beside both Booker and Paul when everyone’s healthy.
The Kevin Durant ship has sailed for this season. And while it’s easy to excuse the Suns not spending their mini mid-level in free agency (who could they have realistically signed?), their reticence on the trade market is less understandable. The sellers market hasn’t developed yet, blah, blah, blah. That doesn’t fly here. The Suns were caught up in the KD vortex but had all offseason to take a swing, and general manager James Jones’ front office hasn’t really been a regime willing to roll the dice on meaningful midseason acquisitions. Phoenix’s 2022-23 title stock is currently taking a hit because of it.
Portland Trail Blazers
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The Regret: Turning over the roster without getting back an extra 2022 first-rounder.
Uncomfortable conversations can be had in this space if you begrudge the Portland Trail Blazers for chasing the instant-turnaround after their long-awaited about-face leading into the 2022 trade deadline. Are they really better off now? Or just a different sort of middling?
It’s too early to go there. They have more options and upside baked into the longer term, largely thanks to Anfernee Simons and Shaedon Sharpe. And tearing everything down in favor of a gradual rebuild was never an option with Damian Lillard on board.
The Gary Payton II contract deserves some consideration. Depth and defensive issues have started rearing their heads, and he has yet to suit up for the Blazers. He’s also a potential solution to both problems.
Pivoting to the returns at last season’s deadline is more apropos. Portland gave up CJ McCollum, Larry Nance Jr., Norman Powell and Robert Covington without snaring an additional 2022 first-rounder—an asset it could have kept to add developmental depth or rerouted as part of another upgrade.
Missing out on the pick from New Orleans didn’t hurt. The Blazers still carved out a massive trade exception and picked up Milwaukee’s 2025 first-rounder, which they parlayed into Jerami Grant. Was that enough? When you were sending NOLA two players it was interested in extending?
Portland’s return on Covington and Powell is tougher to embrace. General manager Joe Cronin wouldn’t purposely accept below-market value. Acquiring a Detroit 2025 second-rounder and Keon Johnson as primary compensation is a reflection of how the league felt about Powell’s contract more than anything. But his market, specifically, could have increased over the offseason if they shut him down and he didn’t end up suffering the left foot injury he did in L.A. Months later, that move continues to feel like an inessential sell-low play.
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The Regret: Unresolved depth at backup center.
Re-litigating the Tyrese Haliburton and Domantas Sabonis trade, for a kabillionth time, doesn’t do it for me. I would not have made that deal then or now. But the Sacramento Kings are in the playoff hunt—not just play-in territory; a full-blown postseason bid.
Just because their thinking doesn’t align with mine doesn’t mean the move is regrettable right now. Fast forward a few years into the future, and we’ll see. For now, this isn’t Rudy Gobert to Minnesota. Sacramento is better, and Sabonis, currently playing through a fractured thumb in his non-shooting hand, has been their most valuable player and a near-lock to make the All-Star pool.
Part of me wants to lean toward “Not going the crap-ton of shooting route” sooner. The Haliburton-De’Aaron Fox partnership might have panned out with spacier personnel. This year’s wing rotation still makes me uneasy, too. But the absence of a pure 3 hasn’t been detrimental. Sacramento is doing just fine during the Kevin Huerter, Keegan Murray or Harrison Barnes stints.
Backup center is an odd place to shine the microscope. But hey, these are peachy, #LightTheBeam times.
Chimezie Metu is the most bankable player behind Sabonis so far. That is…less than ideal. Should the Kings have kept Damian Jones? Should they be more invested in a Richaun Holmes renaissance? Did they miss the window to flip him for value that could have went toward addressing this issue? Did they have to keep Alex Len?
Sabonis’ thumb injury left Sacramento vulnerable. It has skirted disaster, thus far, because he’s apparently tough as nails. But the backup center rotation isn’t built to handle anything less than best-case scenarios.
San Antonio Spurs
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The Regret: Not bringing in a veteran floor general after the Dejounte Murray trade.
Extended self-discovery is good. Let’s get that out of the way. What the San Antonio Spurs are doing now isn’t wrong. They’re testing the depths of their players—exploring their limits. And it has translated into some invaluable intel.
Keldon Johnson is overstretched as a No. 1- or No. 2-type focal point. Devin Vassell has levels to his pick-and-roll orchestration, as both a scorer and playmaker. Rookie Jeremy Sochan can navigate the floor pretty well on-ball and might be more than just a connective passer. Tre Jones is a stabilizer…and under-equipped to run an offense as the alpha floor general.
This information can and will help shape the Spurs’ future. But by trading Murray—and Derrick White at the 2022 deadline—they created a vacuum of established game management. That’s not an issue, per se. San Antonio is rebuilding and in a race to the bottom.
Growing pains are part and parcel of this direction. But having a steadying hand to streamline the roles, shot profiles and overall decision-making of prospects and unfinished projects can go a long way. The Spurs opted against it for the sake of their youthful turn. At some point, though, a 27th-ranked offense needs to see what its primary drivers look like in a more seasoned ecosystem.
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The Regret: Prioritizing ‘Project 6’9″‘ over roster balance and actual needs.
Don’t be afraid to say it: The Toronto Raptors are in free fall.
Since Nov. 30, they are 4-11, with a bottom-five defense and bottom-six net rating. For all the talk about offensive sloggy-ness, the Raptors are 14th in points scored per possession during this stretch. But the half-court attack still ranks 28th.
Injuries haven’t helped matters. Precious Achiuwa and Otto Porter Jr. aren’t playing. Both Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet have missed time. But the Raptors weren’t ignorant to these risks. They depended heavily on their primaries last year, only to see them break down. They’re in a similar situation this year. Siakam, VanVleet and OG Anunoby all rank in the top 10 of minutes per game.
What’s more, this isn’t just a depth problem. As Eric Koreen wrote for The Athletic:
As we trot toward the new year, it’s clear: The Raptors don’t fit, and they can’t make up for it with pure energy expenditure. Offensively and defensively, this team is uninspiring and predictable. The same problems continue to reveal themselves. Nothing is changing…Going back to last season, the Raptors have relied on isolation far too much for a team that doesn’t have any especially skilled one-on-one players, Siakam excluded. Coming into the game, the Raptors were among the leaders in isolation percentages yet ranked in the 7th percentile in efficiency on those plays. Yet, with as many gifted passers as they have — Siakam, the injured VanVleet, Scottie Barnes, Thaddeus Young — this is a team that attacks with little cohesion.”
It remains to be seen what the Raptors could have done differently since the end of last season. Their spending power was limited, and they were among the teams caught up in the theoretical Kevin Durant sweepstakes. But this never should have been a “Marquee name or bust” situation. The Raptors were good enough to chase in-between upgrades on the trade market. If that wasn’t and still isn’t their prerogative, they should look at burning the whole thing down and recalibrating around Siakam and Scottie Barnes this summer rather than enabling a core that seems to have hit its ceiling last season.
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The Regret: Their uninspiring loss against Dallas in the first round of the playoffs.
Bowing out against the Mavericks last season may have been a blessing in disguise for the Utah Jazz. It solidified the beginning of the end for a core that had grown stale, and the franchise’s future is more open-ended and asset-rich because of the value they extracted from the Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell trades.
This presumes the Jazz weren’t looking to start anew before then. We should all have our doubts. They didn’t aggressively explore upgrades prior to the postseason. They just let a team that clearly wasn’t good enough to win the 2022 title run its course.
That’s not a knock. Utah was pick-strapped at the time and limited in what moves it could make. Doubling-down, again, on a nucleus the organization didn’t trust isn’t smart.
Relative to how successful this era of Jazz basketball was, though, it would have meant more if its final playoff series didn’t unfold in a haze of nonexistent ball containment and listless perimeter defense from a Mavs team that didn’t have Luka Dončić until Game 4.
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The Regret: Forfeiting all leverage in the Bradley Beal contract.
This goes beyond the Washington Wizards keeping Beal in the first place. Should they have hit the reset button rather than locking themselves further into sub-mediocrity? Of course. But that’s not their M.O.
Beal is also a fringe All-NBA candidate when healthy. His five-year, $251 million contract should never be immovable. Washington could absolutely trade it this January for actual value.
Of course, the Wizards couldn’t make such a move without Beal’s say-so. Because they gave him a no-trade clause. And a 15 percent trade bonus. And a player option on the final season, in 2026-27, his age-33 campaign.
Surrendering so much leverage while also ponying up the entire supermax value is genuinely bonkers stuff—infinitely so knowing how limited the cap-space landscape was at the time, and how Beal has since admitted he didn’t have lots of alternatives.
Focus your attention on the Johnny Davis pick or Kentavious Caldwell-Pope trade if you’re so inclined. The Wizards retaining a star is not the end of the world. Their inability to chisel out a future that can unfold on their own terms just might be.
Unless otherwise noted, stats courtesy of NBA.com, Basketball Reference, Stathead or Cleaning the Glass and accurate entering Thursday’s games. Salary information via Spotrac.