You know what tradition I’ve never once enjoyed? The annual letdown that the NBA Trade Deadline turns out to be. Screw The Masters, now that’s a tradition unlike any other. Each year the build-up for the deadline far exceeds what happens in the end: a few role players are moved for future second-round picks, one notable name joins a contender for cheap and that’s basically the extent of it. Now, just imagine me yawning because that’s how deadline day ends every year.
It had become formulaic. High expectations plus minimal results equals a big letdown that leaves you wondering “Wait, why the hell did I get excited for this again?” Year in and year out, over and over and over again. For too long I was suckered into this routine, but this year I finally gave up on it. I believe it was Albert Einstein who said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Here is another definition of insanity, this one coming from yours truly: the 2015 NBA Trade Deadline.
In retrospect, we should have seen something like this coming. This was the one year where the experts told us not to expect a lot of movement on deadline day because of the activity early on in the season. Of course they would be wrong. Of course it would be this particular season, one that seems to be a new blood rising sort of year, where more impactful trades would be made in the first four months of the season than any other year, as if the season wasn’t confusing and unpredictable enough.
Since you’re probably asking who are/will be the winners of this four-month-maneuver-fest of NBA transactions, I’ll take it upon myself to answer that question. Here’s a slightly speculative, definitely much-too-quick-to-judge, not-totally-structured rundown of what the best moves made were.
Tayshaun Prince to the Detroit Pistons
The current version of Tayshaun Prince is now the poor man’s version of mid-2000s Tayshaun Prince, and this move is the poor man’s version of Kevin Garnett returning to the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Dion Waiters to the Oklahoma City Thunder
I’ve seen enough of Dion Waiters over the last two and a half years to know exactly what he’s giving the Thunder in the NBA Playoffs: one game each series where he catches fire, two or three where he’s a non-factor, and one where his shot selection will be so bad that Russell Westbrook might literally RKO him right on the court. Is that one solid game worth it in the long-run? If it’s a conveniently timed gem like Reggie Jackson‘s Game 4 last year, then yes it will be. If you’re a Thunder fan at least you can take comfort in knowing Waiters doesn’t need to be an integral part of this team, thanks to an under-the-radar deadline deal.
Norris Cole, Shawne Williams, Justin Hamilton and Cash Considerations to the New Orleans Pelicans
So, maybe this isn’t a massive roster upgrade for the Pelicans, but they did get a few bench pieces and cash for John Salmons, someone who has been involved in seven trades during his NBA tenure. This trade was a steal, even if it’s like a seven-year-old stealing a pencil from his classmate and getting away with it.
K.J. McDaniels to Houston
Did you know K.J. McDaniels is the second-leading scorer among rookies this season? Did you know that the Philadelphia 76ers apparently don’t give a crap about current assets?
Corey Brewer and Alexey Shved to the Houston Rockets
As much upside as McDaniels has (and he has roughly 30 percent more than I expected he did back in October), I like what Corey Brewer brings to the table right now. Brewer’s a proven commodity who at the very least will play hard defensively, and Houston could use a guy like that. In fact, consider me someone who would be surprised if Brewer wasn’t stealing some of Trevor Ariza‘s crunch-time minutes in the playoffs.
Will Barton, Victor Claver, Thomas Robinson, 2016 First-Round Pick to the Denver Nuggets
Two 2015 First-Round Picks to Denver
Denver GM Tim Connelly is currently enrolled in the Sam Hinkie School of Management and his first assignment was to flip some legitimate assets (Arron Afflalo and Timofey Mozgov in this case) for draft picks and moldable young guys who definitely won’t make a difference immediately, but might somewhere down the line. Hinkie gave him a B for the assignment. He was really disappointed that Connelly didn’t find a way to flip Ty Lawson or Kenneth Faried for a pair of first-rounders.
THE TOP FIFTEEN
15: Michael Carter-Williams, Miles Plumlee, Tyler Ennis to the Milwaukee Bucks
I still haven’t figured out the logic behind this move, but then again I’m not an expert. Wasn’t Brandon Knight having an Eastern Conference NBA All-Star-caliber season? Weren’t we looking at Milwaukee as a halfway frisky first round playoff matchup? Why even risk fudging that up by cutting Knight loose when he was your crunch-time scorer and only perimeter player you could count on to consistently create a shot for himself?
Look, I’m all about adding depth to the roster, but this is a situation where I just can’t see the forest through the trees. The fit just doesn’t make sense, unless the fit you’re going for is one that would make Jay Bilas pass out.
Milwaukee has put an emphasis on defense this year and swapping Knight for the long-armed Carter-Williams is an improvement on that front. Perhaps if Jabari Parker were healthy, the loss of Knight wouldn’t seem like such a blow offensively. Regardless, I trust what Milwaukee’s doing if only because they do always seem to be trying to figure out ways to be as competitive as possible despite market limitations. On the other hand…
14: Just About Everything Philadelphia Did
When I think about Sam Hinkie’s tenure in Philadelphia, I can’t help but think about the television show King of Queens. The plot for just about every King of Queens episode was Doug (Kevin James) telling his wife Carrie (Leah Remini) a lie–all sorts of lies, like faking a diet, borrowing money to go in on a boxing pool, playing mud football with co-workers, etc.–and then he would compound each lie with more lies and more lies until Carrie finally caught on to his scheme. Then they would fight, she would call him fat or some variation of fat, and then they’d make up. End episode. Lather, rinse, repeat.
I’m the biggest King of Queens fan you will ever meet or virtually meet, so this shtick will always remain funny to me. I’m not sick of Hinkie’s Sixers tenure yet either, even though like King of Queens, it’s followed a silly routine day in and day out. This silly Sixers routine works because just like Doug’s lies, Hinkie’s moves keep getting more and more ridiculous and that makes it more and more fun for me and every other casual observer. Here’s the thing though; it’s hard to say that these moves Philadelphia makes aren’t for the greater good. If Sam Hinkie didn’t believe Michael Carter-Williams could be a top ten point guard in the league or one of the two or three best players on a title team, why wouldn’t he trade him for a top-five protected lottery pick who might turn out to be one? If he thought Nerlens Noel or Joel Embiid could be guys like that, why wouldn’t he draft them even if they were going to miss one full year of action?
Over the last four months, Philadelphia has acquired two 2015 NBA Draft second-round picks and two 2015 NBA Draft first-round picks and a few players who, and I mean no disrespect when I say this, don’t really matter. Would you really expect anything different from Philly at this point? A roster that was one game away from the Eastern Conference Finals in 2012 has been gutted like a deer to the point where ebeing as bad as possible in the present actually quantifies as success.
The question remains how long Hinkie’s shtick can continue. For King of Queens, the same silly shtick ran for nine successful seasons. Doug Heffernan’s marriage lasted longer than the average one does nowadays. I don’t have any idea how Carrie tolerated Doug, or why he remained with her if he always felt the need to lie to her, but who am I to judge?
13: Mo Williams, Troy Daniels, and Cash Considerations to the Charlotte Hornets
I’ll always have a special place in my heart for Mo Williams because of two loveable years as LeBron’s teammate in Cleveland, and truth be told, I was hoping Cleveland would find a way to get their hands on him, but Charlotte is a logical landing spot. Kemba Walker will be out another month or so and the Hornets were already in desperate need for some outside shooting. Mo Williams was at the very least a reliable fill-in starting point guard, and so far in a short Hornets stint he’s been even more than that. And just in case you forgot, Troy Daniels is miles ahead of the closest competitor in the biggest no-name to ever hit a game-winning shot in the NBA Playoffs race.
12: Kevin Garnett to the Minnesota Timberwolves
I’m happy for Kevin Garnett and all of the Timberwolves fans out there. I’m a big sucker for any sort of full-circle homecoming story (even ones that don’t involve my favorite athlete), and this pseudo-homecoming beats the hell out of watching KG go to a contender and give them 10 to 15 angry minutes per game.
11: Reggie Jackson to the Detroit Pistons
Admittedly, this a slight overreaction based on the seven-percent chance that Reggie Jackson could transform himself into a superstar like James Harden did after the Thunder traded him. We’ll hold off on Jackson for now. Though I will cap this section with a prediction/statement; in the event that Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook both have an off-game in the same game in the NBA Playoffs this year, it’ll be a bummer for Thunder fans that Jackson isn’t there to try to bail them out like he did in Game 4 against the Memphis Grizzlies last year.
10: Arron Afflalo and Alonzo Gee to the Portland Trail Blazers
There were a few Western Conference teams that needed to pull the trigger on a move like this, so kudos to the Blazers for actually pulling it off without having to give up one of their top nine guys. Afflalo is a useful two-way 2-guard who could provide a nice scoring punch with bench units that were in need of such a thing. It was doubly important for Portland to grab Afflalo or someone like him because they needed some insurance for Nic Batum, who has been dreadful all season long. Plus, the Blazers could now theoretically go small late in games with Aldridge at the 5 and Batum at the 4, so long as the Frenchman snaps out of this season-long uptown funk.
A Phoenix Suns trade deadline bonanza! I have five thoughts:
A) No matter how you feel about Goran Dragic, we should be able to agree that this was a pretty good haul for a guy who was going to leave over the summer anyway.
B) No matter how you feel about what Phoenix did at the deadline, we should be able to agree that the Suns botched the Goran Dragic situation when they acquired Isaiah Thomas over the summer. Dragic was a Third Team All-NBA Player last season and kept the Suns alive in the Western Conference playoff race while Eric Bledsoe was out, and the Suns then “reward him” as he is going into a contract year by acquiring a shoot-first point guard who is going to take away his touches and minutes? That’s a savvy business move right there!
C) Just in case you were confused, here is a complete rundown of the players who were coming to and leaving Phoenix on deadline day:
Acquired: Brandon Knight, Kendall Marshall, Danny Granger, Marcus Thornton, John Salmons, a 2016 Top Ten Protected First-Round Pick (belonging to Cleveland), a 2017 Top Seven Protected First-Round Pick (belonging to Miami) and a 2021 Unprotected First-Round Pick (belonging to Miami)
Lost: Goran Dragic, Zoran Dragic, Isaiah Thomas, Miles Plumlee, Tyler Ennis and a 2015 Top-Five Protected Pick (belonging to the Los Angeles Lakers)
D) You could argue that these moves might end up knocking Phoenix out of the Western Conference playoff race, but then I would argue that if Oklahoma City or New Orleans got healthy, Phoenix wouldn’t have claimed the eighth seed anyway. How we’ll view these moves ten years from now comes down to two things: first, the Suns being able to re-sign Brandon Knight this summer, and second, how the Suns are able to utilize those draft picks. How many of those picks turn into actual contributors for Phoenix somewhere down the road? Maybe a more appropriate question to ask is whether those picks will even be made by Phoenix, or if they end up packaged to another team? Either way, Phoenix has work to do down the road before we fully judge these trades.
E) I didn’t forget about you Miami! The Heat nabbed the best player in any Phoenix-centric deal (G. Dragic), and they did so without giving up anyone of greater value than Norris Cole. They parted ways with two future first-rounders, but Pat Riley doesn’t have a reputation as a GM who uses his draft picks anyway, so that’s no sweat off of Riley’s brow. Landing Dragic was a steal for Miami, and we’d probably be talking about the Heat as the second most dangerous team in the Eastern Conference if it weren’t for some Chris Bosh health issues.
6: Absolutely Everything the Boston Celtics Did
Isn’t Boston doing what Philadelphia should be trying to do? Turning assets into a healthy mix of young guys with a ton of potential, competent veterans who are competitive right now, and draft picks that can possibly materialize into a useful piece somewhere down the line. Philadelphia is turning assets into chicken shit and draft picks that might someday be chicken salad if they luck out in that crap shoot. Maybe Philadelphia connects on a few of those draft picks while Boston falls flat, and then Sam Hinkie looks like a genius, but right now it really feels like Danny Ainge is writing the book on how to rebuild.
The Celts have dealt Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green both in the last three months and with both trades it has felt like the Celtics have made out in the deal. That isn’t an indication of the quality of player the Celtics were giving up. As you may have noticed, the Rondo and Green deals have yet to be discussed. Regardless, neither time it felt like the Celtics weren’t getting enough for what they were giving up.
Boston has draft picks for days, which as you may be able to guess by now, could be parlayed into a bigger piece somewhere down the line. Knowing Danny Ainge, there could be a big move to be made. The Celtics have enough draft picks and young talent to make an offer for any future disgruntled superstar. On the flip side, the Celtics can also opt to remain patient and keep a young and competitive nucleus in place (I’m talking Marcus Smart, Avery Bradley, James Young, Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk and the newly acquired Isaiah Thomas) while adding young talent to it.
5: Rajon Rondo and Dwight Powell to the Dallas Mavericks
The idea of Playoff Rondo elevates this trade higher than a usually moody, possibly past his prime 29-year-old point guard who doesn’t really fit the system would be able to. The harsh truth for Mavericks fans is that Playoff Rondo might be a thing of the past. The last time we saw him was in 2012 when he took it to the soon-to-be NBA Champion Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. Since then Rondo hasn’t played a meaningful basketball game. He missed the 2013 NBA Playoffs because of a knee injury and has been playing on cruise control in his hit-or-miss appearances since. His impact in Dallas has been minimal thus far and his clash with coach Rick Carlisle has been the defining moment of his Mavericks tenure. So much for a honeymoon period.
Was it a trade that Dallas should’ve made? I say yes. We know Rondo is a fearless competitor who won’t back down. We know his passing skills and basketball IQ are among the tops in the league. We know that on paper he was an upgrade over the point guards Dallas had on the roster before him. We know that giving him a bunch of skilled offensive players to set up for easy buckets should’ve been like leading a kid into a candy store and telling him to go nuts. Let’s give this one a little more time.
4: Enes Kanter, Steve Novak, D.J. Augustin, Kyle Singler, 2019 Second-Round Pick to the Oklahoma City Thunder
This move doesn’t completely ease the blow of the Harden trade, but it does at least send a message that management is trying to win now. Going out and getting three legitimate rotation guys–and they happen to be three sorts of players that the Thunder needed; a back-up point guard who can run an offense for six minutes at a time while Westbrook is resting (Augustin), a deceptively effective perimeter scorer who can knock down open shots (Singler), and a back to the basket scorer who compliments Serge Ibaka quite nicely (Kanter)–is exactly the kind of move the Thunder needed to make. They didn’t need to turn any trade chips into another superstar. The on-court relationship between their two superstars is already rocky enough. The Thunder were in desperate need of depth… this move provided them plenty of it. The Thunder were in desperate need of two more guys to close out games with Durant, Westbrook, and Ibaka … Singler and Kanter probably step into those spots.
3: Timofey Mozgov and 2015 Second-Round Pick to the Cleveland Cavaliers
2: Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith, 2015 First-Round Pick to Cleveland
More on this next week.
1: Jeff Green, Russ Smith, Trade Exception to the Memphis Grizzlies
So maybe the trade deadline wasn’t so crazy after all? The biggest move, or at least the one that I would guess turns out to have the biggest impact on an NBA title swinging was one made in January. Memphis’ acquisition of Jeff Green was a brilliantly-timed under-the-radar move that hasn’t gotten enough credit and most likely never will because who cares about the Memphis Grizzlies (sarcasm folks, I care very much about the Memphis Grizzlies). But in that move, the Grizzlies filled the one hole left on their roster that needed to be filled and all of the sudden they go ten-deep and have the best three-four-five trio in the NBA.
If this move was made in February it probably ends up being discussed a little more than it did in January. Regardless of when the trigger was pulled, Memphis wins the NBA Transactions Wire thus far this season by doing the one thing that I mentioned I usually yawn at during the trade deadline: acquiring a notable name for cheap and improving themselves in a big way. It wasn’t flashy, but it certainly will turn out to be effective… exactly what you’d expect from Memphis.