Who was the big winner at the deadline?
The trade deadline itself. You’re damn right that’s a cop out.
With the exception of Utah and Phoenix, all the teams involved in a significant trade came out in better shape. It was a remarkable chain of events that led to a lot of teams getting exactly what they needed. Plus, it was loads of fun, something we haven’t been able to say about recent deadlines.
The downside of the analytics movement has been a surge of reports that follow this format: “Team 1 wants to trade player X for a player younger, cheaper and better than player X and a draft pick.”
For a moment, it looked like the magic of the deadline was lost for another year. Then Woj tweeted about Reggie Jackson getting traded to the Pistons and all hell broke loose.
Big Winner: The extremely sad Chris Bosh news aside, the Miami Heat. I once thought Pat Riley was an overrated GM, but that’s over with: he pulled a huge score here. No player Riley dealt has any real value: he essentially dealt a top 7 protected pick, and a pick so far in the distance he likely won’t even be around to see it, for an elite player, and seriously upgraded the roster.
Some have criticized this trade because the popular trend in the NBA is to stockpile picks and assets and build properly, but your plan should always be specific to what you have. Dwyane Wade is 33, Chris Bosh soon to turn 31. Miami does not have time to sit and wait for 2016 free agency, or sit and wait for down the line draft picks to develop. Will Wade and Bosh even be relevant by 2021? This trade is a huge upgrade, and only enhances their 2016 cap space plan: Miami could enter free agency with Dragic, Bosh, Whiteside and Wade’s bird rights, and cap space to upgrade from there. Talent wants to play with other talent, and Miami has upgraded its talent base in a big way.
It seems the majority of fans and TV talking heads feel that Goran Dragic to Miami is the winner. Au contraire, mon frere. I personally wouldn’t be happy about paying a soon -to-be 29 year old who’s a career 12 ppg, 4.5 apg guy $20 mil a year this summer, especially with a cool $46 mil tied up in Bosh, Wade, and Deng next year.
No, the winners are the Thunder. Oklahoma City flipped a disgruntled combo guard who had one foot out the door and a backup center on a bloated contract for: one of the better back up point guards in the leagues, a starter quality power forward, a versatile, sweet shooting wing, and, um, Steve Novak. Overnight, the 8th seeded Thunder went from a team that had middling talent once you got past it’s 2 big guns, Durant and Westbrook, to one of the deepest teams in the NBA. A bench that was 15th in scoring (33.6 ppg) has ripped off 45 ppg in the 1st 2 games with the new guys. Where they once rolled with 2 offensive zeros (Perkins and Andre Roberson) in the starting lineup, now the Thunder starting lineup of Westbrook-Roberson-Singler-Enes Kanter-Serge Ibaka has looked like a buzz saw. Tiny sample size, but it’s pretty cool to see OKC put up 114.5 points per game with the reigning MVP Durant out of the lineup. The rest of the league has to imagine Durant returning to such a potent line up and shake their heads.
Who was the biggest loser at the deadline?
With all due respect to the Jazz, who tried very, very hard to lose the deadline, the honor has to fall to the Charlotte Hornets.
Something’s happening in the East. It may seem a subtle shift, but all of a sudden there’s a bunch of teams with young talent, draft picks and roster flexibility. Milwaukee and Detroit have emerged from slumbers and have significant room for further growth. Boston and Orlando look to be on the cusp of doing something dramatic.
With a bevy of young building blocks, Charlotte should be in that mix, but they aren’t. The team can’t shoot, player development has been laborious and inadequate, and the pieces on the roster are ill-fitting. There’s a real chance this group gets left in the dust next year not just by the four teams mentioned above, but by Indiana and New York as well.
Big Loser: In the same vein, the Phoenix Suns. It is true that in being a great GM, knowing the CBA, managing assets, assessing your place on the contention arc, negotiating shrewdly, and understanding how advanced metrics show hidden value, is incredibly important. And Ryan McDonough does all of that and some. However, there is another component to all of this: as important as metrics and the CBA are, at the end of the day this is a business of people, and McDonough failed to manage relationships with the Thomas signing this summer.
Thomas at $27 million over 4 years is a bargain, on paper. The Suns were faced with either paying a lesser player that amount of money, or spending more on a player of his caliber. On paper, based on any metric or the CBA, that was a great signing. Well, the NBA is also a league of people and feelings and relationships, and the Suns did not make sure to maintain a sound relationship with their star talent. Dragic was a third team all NBA point guard: the Suns responded by primarily adding offseason talent at his position – how does that make him feel valued? The logic to some was that they can flip a player later, but do players see it that way? The Suns also made Bledsoe twist in the wind all summer. Couple that with dealing the Lakers’ protected first rounder, and taking parting shots at Dragic out the door (players and agents talk: any capital they built to get the LeBron sit down last summer may be burned), and the Suns, while mitigating the damage with Brandon Knight, are deadline losers because their problems were self-imposed.
Biggest loser is a little tougher. My knee-jerk reaction would be the Milwaukee Bucks for ditching Brandon Knight to the Suns for shipping out 2 starters from last year’s team and their big free agent signing, Isaiah Thomas, but upon further inspection, these moves make sense. No, from a basketball perspective, Minnesota moving talented power forward Thad Young for the shambling corpse of Kevin Garnett. I know, I know, KG back in Minny is a nice touch of nostalgia for the fans, and as an insanely hard worker who takes his craft as a basketball player seriously, his presence will be huge for rookie Phenom Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine, Anthony Bennett, etc, but c’mon.
What team was the deadline’s biggest surprise?
Surprised is too strong a word because we know Danny Ainge is clever, but I didn’t expect the Celtics to make a move that would improve their chances of making the playoffs – and lessen their chances of a lottery miracle.
Boston’s roster is filled with nice pieces who project as solid-to-good players, but really their focus is on adding stars via the next three or four drafts. Improving the team – and Isaiah Thomas will do just that – is logically counterproductive.
Of course, logic doesn’t apply here, because Billy King is involved. Ainge knows he’s going to get at least one high lottery pick from Brooklyn, so he can more or less add to his roster as he pleases and still have a chance to hit a home run in the draft.
Surprise: The Kevin Garnett for Thaddeus Young deal between Brooklyn and Minnesota was a shocker. Garnett, while he did come to Brooklyn for a chance to win, wanted to stay with Brooklyn this year, and reportedly resisted the chance to be dealt to a contender. The smart money was on KG being dealt to a contender, requesting a buyout to join one, or continuing on with Brooklyn. Winding up back in Minnesota will be awesome to see, but was also a surprise.
For Minnesota, I like the deal. Young is not part of their plans, so they essentially dealt a mid-round first for Garnett (they dealt one for Young). For a team that already has a ton of youth, it truly is important for that youth to learn from a rock solid veteran, and for that youth, particularly Wiggins, to see that the Wolves are indeed an organization with a rich culture that players should want to be a part of for the long haul. If they do that, and Wiggins makes Minnesota his long term home. That will matter more than the mid first lost.
For Brooklyn, it was worth it for Minnesota to trade for what KG can bring their franchise and no other given his legacy there, and the Nets were smart to take advantage of that to get Thaddeus Young for KG: he’s simply a better player at this juncture.
The biggest surprise to me? Tie between Phoenix shipping Isaiah Thomas out and Milwaukee moving Brandon Knight. Once I heard about Dragic being ready to leave, I figured order was restored: Bledsoe and IT2 would form a speedy, attacking back court. Wrong. And Brandon Knight was a borderline All Star. I was shocked when they got him outta there.
What trade addition will make the biggest impact in the playoffs?
I’ll default to Arron Afflalo, even though I think the real answer is none of the players traded at the deadline will have a big impact on the playoffs.
Portland’s bench has been a problem for a long time, and Afflalo is an immediate upgrade. More than that, though, I wonder if the addition of Afflalo will lead to Terry Stotts trying some smaller lineups. Of Portland’s 20 most used lineups, all have utilized two big men. A Lillard-Matthews-Afflalo-Batum-Aldridge lineup could be scary, and might just break Nicolas Batum out of his season long slump.
Really, though, most — if not all — of the impact players moved at the deadline will be watching the second round from their couch. Kanter’s the other option to shake things up, but Oklahoma City is heading for a first round series against Golden State, and I don’t think they stand a chance.
Playoff Impact: The Blazers acquiring Arron Afflalo. Dragic was the best player to change hands this deadline, but with Bosh sidelined for the season, I do not think the Heat have a high ceiling this postseason. Afflalo, however, is a great addition for a 36-18 Blazers team.
Nicolas Batum has been up and down this season, and Afflalo’s addition will help Portland weather that. Wes Matthews is big enough that the Blazers can play him at the 3 next to Afflalo at times, if they wish. If Batum is playing well and Afflalo is coming off the bench, he provides an enormous boost, and a huge upgrade over what is a thin wing bench rotation in Portland. The Blazers were perhaps the best team to make a deadline deal, and Afflalo can have a big impact as a shot maker and wing/guard defender in the western conference blood bath. He is easily the most likely piece that switched hands that may alter a playoff series with his play.
And with only dealing a lottery protected pick to get him, Portland did a great job here: Neil Olshey really understands the importance of balancing asset protection with building around stars and showing them that he is committed to them, on a personal level. You can see it when he discusses his communicative relationship with Aldridge (read this, Phoenix). Contracts are shorter these days, and players can rise and fall quickly due to many factors: when you’re a sturdy contender, you need to double down a bit, because you never know when that chance will expire. The Blazers balanced that here without going overboard by protecting the pick.
Biggest playoff impact, I have to say (again) OKC. With KD missing even MORE time, having some help for Westbrook is more important than ever to ensure that the Thunder hold on to that 8th spot. And now, in the playoffs, there’s more offensive talent to help OKC avoid turning into “The KS & Russ Offensive Extravaganza”.
Which team should have made a move, but didn’t?
I’ll give you two, one on each end of the spectrum: the Raptors and Lakers are both sitting ducks.
Toronto is a really good basketball team with two really good basketball players and a good supporting cast. It wouldn’t surprise me to see them hold onto the second seed in the East, despite the improved play of the Cavs.
Still, they hold no real hope of making it past the second round. They’re lacking the dynamism and experience needed for a serious playoff run.
The Lakers also needed to do something, although their options were limited. Mitch Kupchak is screwed right now, isn’t he? He’s sitting between two ticking time bombs: the lottery pick they traded to Phoenix (that’s now in the hands of Philadelphia) and Kobe Bryant’s notoriously short fuse. They need to find a way to rebuild, and do so in a manner that will keep Kobe from sabotaging the effort. Good luck.
Should have made a move: the Warriors. There is no such thing as too much talent, and as great as the Warriors are, there are some deficiencies. Andrew Bogut is injury prone, and there is no replacement behind him. Whether it was KG, Brandan Wright with how Phoenix ripped apart at the seams, Kosta Koufos with Denver’s blowup, or another player, why not try to fill the role. They also could use a reserve wing and pieces like Afflalo were clearly readily available.
Which goes back to my point with Portland. It is easy to say things are going well, let’s protect our future and not disrupt our chemistry, but again, this is a volatile league. 10% of the league was dealt in a day, contracts are shorter than ever, the tax has presented issues, and the cap is rising: rosters are turning over faster than ever before.
With that comes shorter contention windows, despite the popular belief of youth creating decade long windows. For now, the Warriors benefit tremendously from Curry on an under market salary, Thompson’s extension not yet kicking in, Harrison Barnes on a rookie deal, and Draymond Green on a comically cheap rookie deal.
Is Golden State able to keep this all together for the next five years? Three? Two? What if the injury bug strikes in one of those years?
Golden State should have gone for a reserve rim protector and perhaps an additional wing. If it meant a first or perhaps two (without going overboard), so be it: this could be their best chance ever to win a ring. The list of teams that reach a milestone and are touted as the team that will always do it, only to never do it again, is long.
Some question ripping apart chemistry, but the team seemed heartbroken by Mark Jackson’s firing: they seem to be over it. Dealing a piece like David Lee, and draft picks or end of the bench pieces, likely would not have ruffled feathers in that way.
That’s easy- the Clippers habitually get roasted by any wing with a pulse and a desire to set a career high. It’s unfathomable to me that they maneuvered so much to get Doc Rivers’ son, but are content with letting Matt Barnes get cooked night in and night out. Seriously Doc? Denver having a fire sale, and nothing? Imagine if the Clippers had some young player like, say, Reggie Bullock and a 2nd round pick; think they had a chance at KJ McDaniels, who went to the Rockets for about that?