Deadline Detonation: Ranking All The Moves Of The Explosive 2015 NBA Trade Deadline

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The 2015 NBA Trade Deadline almost coasted by with only a glimmer of player movement. Every GM appeared constipated despite the upcoming TV-rights revenue that’s likely to alleviate any payrolls nudging uncomfortably close to the luxury tax line. But right before team’s lost any chance of trading unwanted players, jump-starting the rebuilding process, or plugging glaring holes in their rotation, things went cataclysmic in the last few minutes, as a bevy of activity changed the NBA landscape.

This is exactly what NBA Trade Machine savants love, and it’s what makes Deadline Day almost as chaotic as the moratorium beginning free agency with the July 1 − 10 swoon.  We’ve sifted through the Twitter detritus to come up with the 10 trades that made the biggest impact. We evaluated them on how they affect teams right now, and moving forward. Since so much time will have elapsed before so many players change their address yet again, we’re primarily focused on what this trade means today, and for the rest of the 2014-15 season.

10. Kevin Garnett to the Minnesota Timberwolves

From a basketball perspective, this doesn’t move the needle for the ‘Wolves. Garnett is a far better defender than his trade counterpart, Thaddeus Young, and will always offer his unique blend of mentorship and maniacal intensity. The future Hall-of-Famer is one of the most beloved teammates in league history, and that counts for something on an impressionable young team like Minny.

But this is more about honoring a franchise legend and filling the empty seats of Target Center than anything else.

Flip Saunders traded a top-10 protected first-round pick to the Philadelphia 76ers in exchange for Young as part of the Kevin Love-Andrew Wiggins deal. That he effectively chose 30 games of Garnett’s swan song over that selection is indicative of just how rocky his tenure as president – and now coach – of the ‘Wolves has been.

But that’s a realist’s take on KG’s return to his beloved ‘Sota, and this development seems nothing short of fantastical. It’s a story tailor-made for a sappy Hollywood movie, and will serve as a fitting end to the career of one of basketball’s best and most influential players.

9. Thaddeus Young to the Brooklyn Nets

Young’s trip to Minnesota only lasted a few months. He had toiled in Philadelphia for a depressing Sixers squad last season, then fell in the mix with the Bounce Brothers and only a few weeks of Ricky Rubio. We feel bad for Young, and we’re not sure his sojourn to Brooklyn will be that much better.

Young’s lack of luck isn’t some demerit against him or his game, either. In fact, after shooting below 45 percent in November, December and January, he had shown flashes of new life during a six-game stretch in February where he’d been connecting on better than 52 percent from the field before the break. He causes problems against other fours because he’s left-handed, and he plays hard, attacking the glass and expending energy on the defensive side of the ball.

While Young isn’t a great shooter, particularly from deep, he’s a serviceable pick-and-pop guy, and should fit in about as well as can be expected for a team going no where fast as they attempt to cut the fat on the league’s most expensive roster. Hopefully, with an early-termination option on $9.9 million owed next season, he can catch on with a winner.

8. Isaiah Thomas to the Boston Celtics

Thomas went from being the trade deadline’s tipping point to getting almost lost in the shuffle. When news of Goran Dragic being dealt to the Miami Heat initially broke, one assumed that the diminutive guard would stay put in Phoenix. But the Celtics recognized his depreciated value to the Suns and promptly took advantage, snagging one of basketball’s better contracts in the process.

That said, Thomas is hardly a seamless fit in Boston. Brad Stevens’ system thrives foremost on player and ball movement, a direct clash with the Washington product’s ball-stopping and dribble happy nature. And with Marcus Smart and Avery Bradley entrenched in the Celtics’ backcourt, one wonders how Stevens will juggle his rotation – especially because Thomas is known to covet a starting role.

But adding talent is almost never a bad thing, and Thomas is certainly that. Though the 2016 first-round pick Boston parted with seems extremely valuable on the surface, it goes to Phoenix after being originally acquired from the Cleveland Cavaliers – the Suns will pick in the 20s, basically.
Bottom line: Stevens’ team needed some playmaking dynamism, and Thomas provides it in spades.

7. K.J. McDaniels to the Houston Rockets

The high-flying second-round steal for Philly is now in Houston, as Daryl Morey continues to fleece opposing GMs. Isaiah Canaan isn’t a bad player, but McDaniels has the ability to be something more, or at least act as a dependable role player for a team with title aspirations.

Because the Sixers didn’t lock him down to the patented Chandler Parsons four-year deal, most smart GMs now offer potential gems in the bottom 30 of the draft, Philly was forced to unload one of their few bright spots rather than pay him his market value when he elects to opt out of his $1.045 million option this summer. As a restricted free agent, the athletic guard was eminently poachable, so Sam Hinkie unloaded him, much to the delight of the Rockets.

McDaniels was smart to sign a one-year deal with the Sixers. He had faith in himself as a real NBA prospect at the wing, and it paid off. This is just another indicator that Sam Hinkie has fallen in love with draft picks, and won’t start assembling a real roster until, well, we don’t really know. Another second round pick — we lost count of how many they have long ago — and a guard don’t really make up for McDaniels’ high-energy game.

He can’t shoot that well right now — he’s at 39.9 percent on the year and a horrendous 29.3 on four 3-point attempts per game — but that can come with time and better shot selection, something he’ll experience in Houston (or Beard will say something). But McDaniels offered Sixers fans something else: hope, and now we don’t know what to say to them. Some Philadelphia fans are silently applauding this deadline, but with the loss of MCW and McDaniels, they’re attempting another do-over. When do they stick with a group and try to get better? The front-line of Noel, Saric and Embiid might be deadly, but by then Hinkie’s five-year plan will be over. Maybe a long-term rebuild is just so rare, we’re not patient enough to watch it unfold in real time.

But maybe the fans in Philadelphia were hoping at least K.J. would stick.

6. Arron Afflalo to the Portland Trail Blazers

The Western Conference arms race is real, and Portland had sat idly by and watched the Dallas Mavericks, Memphis Grizzlies, Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Clippers, and Oklahoma City Thunder make moves to improve their teams before Thursday’s bonanza. With the deadline fast approaching, though, GM Neil Olshey made the long-awaited trade to improve his team’s depth on the wing.

The only surprising portion of the Blazers’ swap with the Denver Nuggets is that it was for Afflalo – Portland had been linked to Wilson Chandler for weeks. And while Chandler might be a better fit on-paper due to his status as a full-fledged small forward, Afflalo is certainly a worthy consolation prize and perhaps superior player in a vacuum.

What will fascinate is how Terry Stotts manages his rotation on the wing with Afflalo, Wes Matthews, and Nicolas Batum. The latter’s struggles contributed to Portland’s need for an additional dose of talent midseason, but it’s not so simple as Afflalo simply taking his spot in the starting lineup. Batum boasts length the 6-6 traditional shooting guard doesn’t, and Afflalo also performed up to the level he did with the Orlando Magic that would make him a shoo-in starter. There’s some redundancy between he and Matthews that must be addressed, too.

But these are good to problems to have. Afflalo should thrive in Portland’s beautiful offense, feasting off open catch-and-shoot opportunities that came few and far between in Denver. His strength, quickness, and understanding on the other end gives Stotts another versatile defender to throw at the West’s best perimeter scorers, too.

One caveat: Afflalo is a likely free agent after the season. But considering the Blazers surrendered a top-10 protected first-rounder in the 2016 draft to acquire him, it goes without saying that Paul Allen will open his checkbook when the time comes.

Every little move matters in a conference as tightly packed as Portland’s; by adding Afflalo, the Blazers made a pretty significant one.

5. Michael Carter-Williams to the Milwaukee Bucks

Like McDaniels, MCW’s trade to the Bucks was Sam Hinkie’s cutthroat belief that anyone can be expendable so long as you can get value in return. Like a commodities trader, or a perpetually single lothario who plays the field then complains about their love life, Hinkie doesn’t care one bit that Carter-Williams won the 2014 NBA rookie of the Year, or that he might strikeout in whatever draft he decides to actually select a healthy player who isn’t stuck under contract overseas.

There are obvious slights against MCW’s game: he’s a volume shooter prone to turnovers, with only the most basic concept of the timing and vision necessary to run an efficient pick-and-roll. But he’s long, a terrific defender-in-the-making and he can create his own offense — even with a shaky jumper.

As Tom Moore at the The Intelligencer notes, Carter-Williams had some conflict with coach Brett Brown after failing to get back on defense. Some question his ability to guard opposing points one-on-one, and it’s clear he no longer factored into Philadelphia’s long-term plans. But to sacrifice him for LA’s top-5 protected pick this year, feels unsound, and it’s not like they were getting Brandon Knight back in the exchange.

Carter-Williams will do well under coach Jason Kidd in Milwaukee, and it’s a better team, overall, for him to learn from. Maybe we’ve rushed to question Hinkie’s judgement just like it seems he’s done here with the second-year guard out of Syracuse. Maybe Hinkie was acting in the best interests of Carter-Williams because he’s got a much brighter future on a young Bucks team than he did on the equally as inexperienced one in Philadelphia — where his heavy usage was already wearing him down (he missed three games before the break and is expected to miss three more after).

Maybe now he won’t have to watch quite so much Ellen to cope.

4. Reggie Jackson to the Detroit Pistons

It’s not Brooklyn, where he seemed keen to go, especially with the promise he’d be the man in the backcourt, but it’s at least not OKC. We’re not sure how Stan Van Gundy gets around Brandon Jennings’ presence when it’s so clear Reggie wants the ball-dominant role guard Russ fulfills for the Thunder.

We’ve mentioned it before, but Reggie’s defense is shaky. We see him trying to swipe the ball from behind rather than stay in front of his man on the perimeter, but Van Gundy will cure him of that practice soon enough — or completely break him while trying.

The question is whether he’s the fit at guard the Pistons need with Jennings out for the year with a torn Achilles. Tossing lobs to Andre Drummond at the rim and running high scree- and-roll actions with Greg Monroe is a whole lot different than acting as a scorer off the bench with the Thunder. Plus, Dion Waiters isn’t on this team.

But Jackson struggled in Oklahoma City without the presence of Durant and Russ to start the year, and he’s such a negative on the defensive side of the ball, we could see him getting benched at some point in Motown. Detroit didn’t have to give up much to acquire him, either, but we’re not sure the gamble is so smart if he bounces in free agency this offseason. Kyle Singer and D.J. Augustin are OK reserve guards, but Reggie has shown he can peel off special performances when they matter most.

This could be a coup for SVG, or it could backfire in his face. For the Thunder, they’re sitting pretty with the big man they coveted, plus no more Perk clogging up the block or malcontents coming off the bench.

3. Enes Kanter to the Oklahoma City Thunder

Kanter doesn’t carry the name recognition of Brook Lopez, and Thunder fans might be thinking their team missed out on a superior player than the one it ultimately acquired after talks with the Brooklyn Nets finally fell through. And while that might be the case, there’s also no doubting that Kanter is a better fit with Oklahoma City than Lopez would have been.

The Turkish big man is a skilled scorer in the post. He’s an ox with a relatively advanced set of moves down low and surprisingly quick feet and explosiveness. But what makes Kanter’s acquisition most intriguing is that he combines prowess on the block with a developing perimeter jumper. The 22 year-old won’t be hoisting three-pointers in Oklahoma City, but he’s made an encouraging 13 of his 41 tries from beyond the arc this season regardless. And though Kanter’s mid-range shot has failed him thus far in 2014-2015, the extra space he’ll be afforded as a tertiary offensive option at best will surely help right those relative struggles.

The other thing to consider here is that the Thunder had clearly reached a breaking point with Jackson. He’s always longed to be a starter, and let the recent acquisition of Dion Waiters further influence his already poor body language. Sam Presti was going to let Jackson walk this summer, initiate a sign-and-trade once the season ended, or take advantage of his team’s surplus of talent now – he was right to implement the latter approach.
Why? Oklahoma City has Kanter’s Bird Rights and will thus exceed the cap to re-sign him:

Open that checkbook, Clay Bennett.

It’s not all roses, of course. Kanter is a limited defender with short arms that prevent him from blocking shots and can be a black-hole offensively. Those are problems.

But the Thunder are better now than they were this morning, and suddenly boast the kind of interior presence so many have longed for them acquire. We don’t necessarily think they need Kanter to win a championship if fully healthy, but having him certainly won’t hurt.

2. Brandon Knight to the Phoenix Suns

All hail Ryan McDonough. Less than 24 hours ago, it seemed that Goran Dragic’s sudden change of heart would leave the Suns’ present and future in doubt. Now, there’s an argument to be made that Phoenix is in a better position than so many assumed they were all along.

And the addition of Knight is the chief reason why.

It’s reductive to wonder why the Milwaukee Bucks were so apt to give up on the All-Star snub. Jason Kidd and company surely have good reasons, but none of them should matter to Phoenix. Knight is a very good player who has the chance to even get better, and he fits Jeff Hornacek’s system better than either point guard McDonough jettisoned on deadline day – that is what matters.

Many believe the jury is still out on Knight as a full-fledged point guard. While we don’t necessarily subscribe to that concern, it’s of even smaller consequence with the Suns than it was with the Bucks. Knight will share ballhandling and playmaking duties with Eric Bledsoe in Phoenix, and his wildly improved shooting stroke makes him a bigger threat spotting up than Dragic or Isaiah Thomas ever was. The 23 year-old’s length and quickness makes him an ideal partner for Bledsoe, too – both players can ably defend both guard spots.

But this is about the future as much as the present for Phoenix. Instead of holding onto Dragic and watching him walk in free agency or stretching Thomas thin as a starter, McDonough overhauled his roster and ensured a sense of flexibility and security in the process. Knight is a restricted free agent come July, affording the Suns the opportunity to retain him they should so choose. We expect he and Bledsoe to make a relatively seamless transition as a new two-headed point guard attack, thus becoming Phoenix’s long-term starting backcourt in the process.

The Suns were in flux on Wednesday, and somehow find themselves re-built with opportunity and stability looming just a day later. It’s a shocking turn of events, and one we believe will further buoy Knight’s sudden and rapid development.

1. Goran Dragic to the Miami Heat

To call Dragic the domino that tipped the trade deadline into organized chaos somehow doesn’t do his influence justice. Days of the Milwaukee Bucks, Philadelphia 76ers, and Boston Celtics would look drastically different if the Slovenian star had been content staying put in Phoenix. But his marriage with the Suns was never as close to perfect as it appeared and finally reached a point of no return earlier this week.

We were dubious that Dragic’s aggressive play of a public trade request would elicit the outcome he so desired. Obviously, he knew what he was doing. Not only is Dragic now playing for one of the three franchises he reportedly preferred, but the Heat also kept enough talent on-board despite acquiring him for The Dragon to feel confident his new team can compete for years to come.

A starting five of Dragic, Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng, Chris Bosh, and Hassan Whiteside is one of the league’s best, and will remain intact through next season as long as the lefty point guard re-ups with Miami this summer. Considering Pat Riley wouldn’t feel comfortable parting with two future first-rounders unless fully prepared to make the 28 year-old a market level contract offer, Dragic’s future in Miami seems secure.

His present looks pretty great, too.

Nothing is guaranteed in the Eastern Conference. The Atlanta Hawks are a regular season juggernaut, but still need to prove their dominance or something close to is translatable come spring. The Cleveland Cavaliers are still gelling, and the Chicago Bulls are wildly inconsistent. There’s a chance for a team on the periphery to pounce on an injury or simple misfortune and make a surprising appearance in the Finals.

With Dragic in tow, the Heat are suddenly among that group. The health of Erik Spoelstra’s team is always concerning; it lacks any semblance of reliable depth; and will need to make major stylistic adjustments now that Dragic is on the roster.

But talents wins, and Miami has it. Will that be enough for the Heat to rise from their current nadir and emerge as a potential threat to the Hawks and Cavs? Perhaps, which is far more than Miami could say before it swung the fences for Dragic and kicked Thursday’s proceedings into overdrive.