Trade Deadline Winners and Losers-
The NBA’s trade deadline is normally a huge disappointment. There’s all sorts of talk about players being moved, but in the end just a few spare parts ultimately end up changing hands. Well not this year! There were so many trades this Thursday, some seemingly out of left field, for all sorts of different reasons. A few playoff hopefuls tried bolstering their rotation for the stretch run. Others tried shedding salary or would be free agents for future pieces. One contender even made a move to try and put them over the top.
The league certainly looks a lot different today than it did a few days ago. Let’s try and decipher this mess and see who came out on top.
Oklahoma City Thunder
For the last few years, the Thunder has decided to play it safe and plan for the future instead of going all in to win a title. But with Kevin Durant’s free agency looming, that changed this year. Even though they had already acquired Dion Waiters, GM Sam Presti decided he still needed to add more shooting and size to put his team over the top. He started by acquiring Enes Kanter, a free agent to be from the Utah Jazz. He’s a solid scoring option for their second unit and obviously a huge upgrade over the corpse of Kendrick Perkins. They also added DJ Augustine to replace the ineffective Reggie Jackson, and Kyle Singler and Steve Novak to knock down the inevitable open 3s that come from playing with Westbrook and KD.
Overall, the culture change in OKC from looking towards the future to looking at the present is the big reason why they were winners at the deadline. With their win Thursday night they finally pulled into the 8th seed out West and now we’ll see how high they can climb by the end of the season. This is still the most talented team in the NBA, and even without home court they’ll be a nightmare to play come playoff time.
GM Ryan McDonough had take a long hard look in the mirror yesterday and accept a few inevitabilities. First, that Goran Dragic, a 3rd team All NBA guard last year, would not be coming back next season. And second, that the Oklahoma City Thunder were eventually going to overtake them in the race for the 8th spot out West. When you look at it that way, there was only one move that McDonough could make- sacrifice this season for the good of the next few. And that’s exactly what he did.
First, let’s take a look at what Phoenix shipped out at the deadline. They sent Goran and Zoran Dragic to Miami, Miles Plumlee and Tyler Ennis to Milwaukee, Isaiah Thomas to Boston, and the Lakers 2015 first round pick (top 5 protected) to Philadelphia. In all they gave up 2 of their top 3 point guards, a solid rotation big man, a prospect, and what should turn out to be a good draft pick. That sounds like a lot to give up, but break it down a little further. As I mentioned earlier, Dragic was always leaving, so getting two first round picks for him was an absolute no brainer. Plumlee and Ennis are both young players who could develop into solid rotation pieces, but both are extremely replaceable as of right now. The only thing of value that they truly lost for the future was Thomas, and he’s nothing more than a score first/6th man type of guard on a good team.
Meanwhile, what they brought back should have a big impact on the team in the future. Brandon Knight fits perfectly in Phoenix’s two point guard system, since he can play without the ball in his hands. He’s also a very good defender, and pairing him with Eric Bledsoe will give the Suns a very tenacious backcourt. They also essentially took one first round pick, and turned it into three. While none of the picks on their own may be as valuable as the Lakers pick they traded away, the collection of picks they acquired gives them a lot of options down the road. Obviously they can simply keep them all, and hope to draft a few players that can become contributors. But maybe more importantly, they can use those picks as ammunition to try and land a disgruntled superstar that becomes available. There’s no guarantee that that happens, but should Kevin Love, Boogie Cousins, or someone else become available, expect Phoenix to be right in the thick of things.
If you live in Utah, play fantasy basketball, or happen to be a fan of the Jazz on league pass, congratulations you were a winner too Thursday. After shipping Enes Kanter out of town, the road is clear for Rudy Gobert to get as much playing time as he can handle going forward. Gobert, aka the Stifle Tower, aka the Gob-stopper, aka the French Rejection, aka Gobzilla, has shown some serious potential in limited minutes so far this season. He’s averaging 2.2 blocks per game, which puts him 4th in the league behind only proven rim protectors Anthony Davis, DeAndre Jordan, and Serge Ibaka. But the scary thing is he’s doing it in only 22 minutes a game! That’s ridiculous! He’s also shown ability as a roll man in the pick and roll game, and is force on the offensive glass. Hopefully, he can build on his stats with increased minutes.
I’m not going to go all out and call the Heat winners, because I think acquiring Dragic doesn’t make them true contenders this year and could hurt their chances of rebuilding in the future. Still, what the Godfather was able to do yesterday was impressive. While Phil Jackson was taking a nap in Montana, Reilly was wheelin’ and dealin’, turning a couple of protected first round picks and spare parts into an all NBA caliber point guard. Seriously, it seems like whatever Pat Reilly wants, he ends up getting. I don’t know if it’s the slicked back hair, tailored suits, or smooth talking that blinds players and GMs, but whatever he’s doing is clearly working. When he finally hangs it up for the Heat, at least he knows he has a career as a used car salesman to fall back on.
I get that the 76ers are actively trying to lose, but seriously when does this become too much? I guess they were worried about the atrocity that is the Knicks current roster, because they felt complied yesterday to ship out two of their best players to make sure that they had the worst roster in the NBA. Michael Carter-Williams was never viewed as a long term piece of the puzzle, and KJ McDaniels will be a restricted free agent in the offseason, but both guys were still young and could have contributed in a few years when the team is actually trying to be good (hopefully.) Of course, they succeeded in landing more first and second round picks yesterday, but what good are they if the players that they draft with them are just going to be jettisoned after a season or two? The culture of losing that they’re creating in Philly is a problem, and I think it’s going to hurt them when they do eventually try and start winning. Hopefully that comes sometime before 2030.
The Nets had one goal heading into Thursday- shed salaries. So what did they do? The exact opposite! Way to go Brooklyn! They weren’t able to trade Brook Lopez, Deron Williams, or Joe Johnson, and instead sold KG’s expiring contract for Thaddeus Young. Young is a good player (and one of my personal favorites) but his contract runs longer then Garnett’s did and will keep Brooklyn in Luxury Tax Hell next year. Honestly, I can’t blame GM Billy King for making this trade because right now tanking is not an option for the Nets. They have basically no picks over the next few years, no exciting prospects, and no hope. The only option is to keep digging the hole deeper and deeper and hoping to come out on the other side. It truly is a shame that Mikhail Prokorhov bought this team, drove it into the ground, and now wants to sell for what will probably be a huge profit. His sense of business was perfect and he got into the NBA right as it was about to explode, but clearly his sense of how to build a team was way off. I guess he’ll just have to go back to heli-skiing and banging models in Russia. Oh well.
I know how the Bucks going to try and sell this trade. “Brandon Knight was a restricted free agent who we weren’t going to be able to resign, and Michael Carter-Williams still has two years left on a very reasonable rookie deal.” “MCW gives Jason Kidd another hybrid defender to play in his hyper aggressive defensive system.” “Miles Plumlee and Tyler Ennis will give us a better bench.” Blah blah blah. The bottom line is that this team was the 6th seed out East by a large margin, and they’re worse off today than they were at the deadline. This team probably was probably going to be one and done in the playoffs anyway, but their future was bright. After all, this team had the worst record in the NBA last year and lost the player that was supposed to be their savior to an injury just 25 games into the season (Jabari Parker.) And they’re 6th in the East anyways! That’s a huge leap in one year with no real additions outside of Jared Dudley. Knight has worked hard to become a better point guard, and probably should have been an All Star this year. He also gave them some outside shooting that they won’t get from MCW. It would’ve been fun to see what they could do in the playoffs and going forward with Parker added to this team. Now we’ll never know.
Marcus Smart is a tenacious defender, but his offensive game needs a lot of work if he wants to succeed at the NBA level. Fortunately, he landed on a team with no playoff aspirations for the time being, and after they traded Rajon Rondo they had no problems handing him the keys to the offense and letting him learn to drive it. He had been logging almost 35 minutes a game in the six games heading into the All Star break, and his offensive game did look like it was slowly developing. But just as Smart was getting comfortable in the driver’s seat, the team brings in another point guard and now he has to hand the keys over to him. While he’ll still get minutes and obviously this doesn’t doom his career, missing out on those minutes where he could learn to be a point guard will hurt his development, at least in the short term.