Stack of All Trades: Sorting through the NBA Trade Deadline


Thursday’s NBA trade deadline saw some 11 trades—or more, if you count the different portions of three- and four-way deals independently—move nearly 40 NBA players, the rights to four non-NBA players, and about a dozen draft picks. Players and picks flew across the league like barnyard animals in Twister, and just as suddenly. Even the Association’s foremost news breaker needed to stop and take a breath.

Yes sir, a whole lot of transactions happened Thursday, many of them in the final moments before the 3 p.m. deadline. To step away from your internet-connected device of choice was to risk finding out about the action seconds, minutes, even hours after it happened. Ugh, can you imagine?

However, if you were not plugged in, we’re here to offer aid, not judgment. Our goal is to look at every trade that happened on deadline day and to find the sense in each team’s decision, assuming there was any.

We have tried to give credit to the first reporter to break each story, but understand that it was a wasteland out there, and mistakes may have been made. Asterisks* denote former Cavaliers, because why not?

What Portland got: SG Aaron Afflalo, SF Alonzo Gee*
What Denver got: PF Thomas Robinson, SG Will Barton, PF Victor Claver, 2016 first-round pick (lottery protected)1

Why Portland did it: This was the first big deal of the day, aimed at raising a good team’s ceiling to championship levels. The Blazers are contenders in a stacked Western Conference, currently leading the Northwest Division and third in the conference with a 36-17 record. They have fine foundational pieces in LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard, and quality rotation players in Wesley Matthews and Robin Lopez.

They have been wanting for wing depth, however, as small forward Nic Batum is mired in perhaps the worst season of his career, and backup two-guard C.J. McCollum has not proven himself in limited minutes. Afflalo is a seven-year veteran, has legit size on the wing at 6-5/215, and is a capable defender and shooter.

Robinson, Barton, and Claver are spare parts, so Portland improved its core rotation without surrendering any regular players. And as a bonus, we’ll see Alonzo Gee in the playoffs! Good for you, Zo. Hopefully you can take your coat off and stay a while this time.

Why Denver did it: To get worse and bottom out. The Nuggets are likely to get the first-rounder ASAP as Portland will not be a lottery team next year unless a serious injury or three befalls them, and that pick is the most important asset from the Nugs’ point of view. Denver will be Robinson’s fourth NBA team, but he’s still just 23 years old. Barton is a wisp of a wing, and he’s just 24. If either of them turns into something, it’s all gravy for Denver. In the meantime, you can officially add the Nuggets to the tank brigade.

What Sacramento got: PG Andre Miller*

What Washington got: PG Ramon Sessions*

Why Sacramento did itTo get a very old former Cavalier point guard (and to reunite said point guard with his former coach George Karl).

Why Washington did it: To get a less old former Cavalier point guard (and to see if Sessions can be a better backup for John Wall).

What Philadelphia got: C JaVale McGee, rights to F Chukwudiebere Maduabum, 2015 first-round pick (originally Oklahoma City’s, top-18 protected)
What Denver got: Rights to G/F Cenk Akyol

Why Philadelphia did it: The draft pick. Sixers GM Sam Hinkie has been given carte blanche by Philly ownership to pull off the tank job to end all tank jobs, and this move is the latest designed to load up the team’s stockpile of picks. They could have four first-rounders and even more second-rounders than that in the upcoming draft, pending protections and conveyances and such.

The Sixers had enough salary cap space to absorb McGee’s $12 million contract as a tax for getting that pick, and they’re actually still under the cap even with him in the fold. His deal expires at the end of next season, and Philly is reportedly not planning to buy him out before then.

Maduabum is a 6-9 Nigerian originally drafted by the Lakers who currently plays in Estonia. His nickname is “Chu.” This is probably the last sentence about him you will ever read.

Why Denver did it: Cap space. McGee has been some combination of injured and infuriating in Denver, and the Nuggets gave up the OKC draft pick to get out from under JaVale’s contract. They will still have their own pick in this year’s draft (they would send it to Phoenix if they made the playoffs, but come on).

Akyol is a 27-year-old Turkish shooting guard who was drafted by the Hawks in 2005. He has not appeared in an NBA game, though his NBA rights have been traded three times. This is probably the last sentence about him you will ever read.

What Minnesota got: F/C Kevin Garnett
What Brooklyn got: F Thaddeus Young

Why Minnesota did it: To bring back the best player in franchise history. Garnett spent 12 seasons in the Twin Cities, and now he has the chance to mentor the franchise’s future stars, most notably Andrew Wiggins. Flip Saunders coached Garnett for a decade, with both joining the team in the 1995-96 season. Saunders now wears the the hats of Wolves’ GM, head coach, and part owner, so he had plenty of juice to pull off the deal. Garnett waived a no-trade clause in his contract in order to head back to Minny.

Minnesota gave up a first-round pick originally from Miami, among other things, in a deal for Young over the summer, so flipping him for a 38-year-old in his 19th season doesn’t exactly seem like maximizing value. But Young has a player option for nearly $10 million next season, and while he’s a good player, the Wolves have hitched their wagon to Wiggins and the pups.

The biggest story is that KG is back where he got his start, and it’s going to be a real moment when he gets introduced at the Target Center. And hey, Anthony Bennett might get a few more minutes with Young gone. Or Garnett might run him out of the league altogether.

Why Brooklyn did it: To get something for nothing, and to do KG a solid. Garnett is averaging a shade under seven points and seven rebounds in 20 minutes per game on the season, which may well be his last. Young is a legitimate NBA player; he started 78 games last year, averaging 17.9 points and 6 rebounds per game. He wasn’t that efficient, and the team did lose 63 games, but hey, he’s a starter, and he’s only 26 years old.

What Oklahoma City got: C Enes Kanter, F Steve Novak, F Kyle Singler, G D.J. Augustin, 2019 second-round pick (from Detroit)
What Detroit got: G Reggie Jackson
What Utah got: C Kendrick Perkins, F Grant Jerrett, rights to C Tibor Pleiss, 2017 first-round pick (from Thunder), 2017 second-round pick (from Pistons)

Why Oklahoma City did it: To get deeper while getting rid of a guy who didn’t want to be there anyway. Jackson was terrific off the bench for OKC last year, and had some major moments in the playoffs, but he declared early on this season that he wanted to be a starter.

He and Russell Westbrook—All-Star MVP, three-time All-NBA, destroyer of worlds Russell Westbrook—play the same position, so that was never going to happen. Jackson fell out of favor with his teammates and got his minutes squeezed after the team acquired Dion Waiters. Jackson requested a trade and, based on his parting tweet, he’ll be more likely to leave treadmarks than tears on his way out of town. Based on the comments of his best teammate, he isn’t likely to be missed.

Kanter is a young center with real center size, and he can provide interior scoring previously unheard of in Oklahoma City. He isn’t particularly fleet of foot, but he’s a load to deal with in the paint, and his bulk looks to be a natural fit next to Serge Ibaka’s lithe shot-blocking. Kanter was the No. 3 overall pick in 2011, and it’s rare to get a big man at his size and age. He will be a restricted free agent after this season, and OKC has said that they intend to re-sign him. With Kanter, Ibaka, and Steven Adams, the Thunder looked to have solidified their big man rotation.

Singler is a solid small forward with size, and he’s hitting 40 percent of his threes this season. He can spell Kevin Durant at the 3, and he’s big enough to open up the possibility of playing alongside him. He’s threatening enough to clear the dance floor for Durant and Westbrook to work, and at just 26 years old, he could stick around for a while if OKC re-signs him at the end of the season.

Oklahoma City will be Augustin’s sixth NBA stop, and he will slide into Jackson’s old backup point guard spot. Augustin isn’t much of a shooter, but neither was Jackson. What D.J. is is a veteran point with playoff experience, and a player who won’t gripe if he doesn’t see 30 minutes a game.

Novak can’t do anything but shoot, but shooting is something people do during basketball games. He’ll hit a couple garbage time threes if nothing else.

Why Detroit did it: Because talented, athletic, 24-year-old point guards don’t come on the market all that often, and the Pistons need a point guard. Starter Brandon Jennings ruptured his left Achilles tendon in late January, an injury that will keep him out for the season.

With the Pistons sending Augustin away in the deal, Jackson will get all the minutes he wants. Stan Van Gundy is surely intrigued by the idea of having a big, fast lead guard, and while the Pistons are a fringe playoff team, the rest of this season can be a work-shopping opportunity as much as anything.

Singler was a nice piece for Detroit, and some folks actually think Augustin is better than Jackson. The hope in Detroit is that Jackson turns out to be as good as he thinks he is.

Why Utah did it: To get what they could for a prickly young player in Kanter, once thought to be a Jazz cornerstone. He’s having his best season as a pro, averaging nearly 14 and 8 and splashing the occasional three. He’s making progress, but he also bristled at being part of a crowded frontcourt with strongman Derrick Favors, Rudy “The Stifle Tower” Gobert, and miracle shooter Trevor Booker. Not unlike Jackson in OKC, he made his unhappiness known, and he (and/or his agent, Max Ergul) may have a slightly inflated opinion of his talent.

At this point, the deals started coming faster than a first-timer, and I began to wonder about the health of the nation’s basketball reporters. I have tried to keep the deals in roughly chronological order, but any sense of order ceased to be around 3 p.m.

What Phoenix got: PG Brandon Knight, PG Kendall Marshall

What Milwaukee got: PG Michael Carter-Williams, C Miles Plumlee, PG Tyler Ennis

What Philadelphia got: 2015 first-round pick (from Phoenix, originally the Lakers’, top-five protected)

Why Phoenix did it: We’ll discuss them later. The short answer is that they went Extreme Makeover on their point guard situation.

Why Milwaukee did it: The Bucks are having a good season, and Knight played well for them, but he is going to be a restricted free agent in the offseason and will command big money. The Bucks are a long way from being a proper contender, so they swapped Knight for the cheaper, longer-armed Carter-Williams. MCW can’t shoot a lick, but he’s only in his sophomore season, and if anyone knows what it’s like to be a big bricky point guard, it’s Milwaukee coach Jason Kidd. The Bucks are assembling a squad with a collective wingspan on par with a 747, and Carter-Williams gives them another set of arms to suffocate opponents with.

Ennis is an unknown NBA commodity, a rookie point guard who has been on the Joe Harris plan of being shuttled back and forth between the NBA bench and the D-League. He was drafted because he takes care of the ball and gets teammates involved. His jumper isn’t threatening, but he’s a doe at just 20 years old, and he has a 6-5 wingspan.

Miles is the less talented Plumlee, but he’s 6-10 and 26 years old. He averaged about 8 and 8 for Phoenix in 25 minutes last season, and he’s a quality bench big at the worst. Marshall is out for the season with a knee injury, and will be waived.

Why Philadelphia did it: If you’re gonna tank, you might as well tank hard. The Laker pick they got from Phoenix is a major asset even if it doesn’t come to them right away. It’s top-five protected this year, top-three protected in 2016 and 2017, and becomes unprotected in 2018. With all the moves they’ve made, Philly is almost a whole new team coming out of the All-Star break.

What Phoenix got: SG Marcus Thornton, 2016 first-round pick* (from Boston; originally Cleveland’s, top-10 protected)

What Boston got: PG Isaiah Thomas, PF Jonas Jerebko, SF Luigi Datome

What Detroit got: SF Tayshaun Prince

Why Phoenix did it: The pick. Phoenix went from exciting-young-contender to everything-must-go real quick. Thornton is a warm body with an attached financial obligation.

Why Boston did it: Because Danny Ainge is as likely to sit out a trade deadline as Danny Ocean is to sit out a casino robbery. Thomas is another player known to be something of a malcontent, but he is also an explosive (if not terribly efficient) scorer. He put up 20 a game for Sacramento last season despite being the same size as your grandmother (whichever one is smaller). His numbers weren’t as good during his brief spell in Phoenix this year, but he immediately becomes Boston’s most threatening offensive guard. At 26 years old and in the first year of a front-loaded four-year deal, the Celtics will get a chance to see what Thomas can do.

The Celts have taken a rototiller to their roster, and have employed 27 different players this season alone. There is a slight contrast between that and the Boston basketball of yesteryear.

The pick Boston sent away will be late in the first round―it depends on how well the Cavs do, and the Cavs rule―and Thornton’s contract was necessary to make the contract math work.

Why Detroit did it: For the big Tayshaun Prince reunion, I suppose. It’s like Garnett going back to Minnesota, but less compelling in every way unless you’re a Piston fan. Neither Jerebko or Datome played much for Detroit. I have no more to contribute on the matter.

What New York got: G Alexey Shved, 2017 second-round pick, 2019 second-round pick

What Houston got: PG Pablo Prigioni

Why New York did it: Because they are a very, very bad basketball team, and draft picks are ostensibly a means to becoming a better basketball team. Perhaps they wanted to do something nice for their pal Pablo. The Knicks also get the distinction of being Shved’s fourth NBA employer.

Why Houston did it: They realized they had a startling lack of 37-year-old Italian point guards on their team. But seriously; Prigioni is thought to be a crafty player with a decent three-point stroke. He shot over 46 percent on his threes last year, so perhaps that’s true.

Still, if this trade were a song, it would be one that you skip every single time it comes on.

What Philadelphia got: PG Isaiah Canaan, 2015 second-round pick

What Houston got: G K.J. McDaniels

Why Philadelphia did it: Because…well, this one is a little tricky. McDaniels was a second-round pick, and he’s shown more potential than most second-round picks do. That sort of return (or potential return, anyway) on a low-risk investment seems to fit the Sixer strategy, which is why it’s a bit puzzling to see him shipped out of town. That said, he signed an unusual rookie deal that will make him a restricted free agent at the end of his rookie year, and his price tag may have exceeded Philly’s budget.

Canaan hasn’t shown much one way or another, but he and another pick at least represent assets for Sam Hinkie to play with.

Why Houston did it: K.J. McDaniels can do some very impressive things.

What Oklahoma City got: 2016 second-round pick

What New Orleans got: G Ish Smith, rights to F Latavious Williams, 2015 second-round pick, cash

Why Oklahoma City did it: They needed to send someone out of town to make room for all of their new guys. Smith was that someone. Williams is playing in Spain.

Why New Orleans did it: Because they sensed an opening in the race for Least Exciting Trade of the Day. The Pelicans waived Smith right away, and they got a pick, cash, and whatever potential Williams has as a cost of doing business.

What Miami got: PG Goran Dragic, G Zoran Dragic, F John Salmons

What Phoenix got: F Danny Granger, 2017 first-round pick (top-seven protected), 2021 first-round pick

What New Orleans got: PG Norris Cole, C Justin Hamilton, F Shawne Williams

Why Miami did it: This was the biggest deal of the day, and the Heat did it because they got sick and tired of pretending that Mario Chalmers is an NBA starter. That’s rude and beyond the point, but I’m also getting a little punchy.

Dragic (Goran, that is) was a third-team All-NBA player last season, having averaged 20-plus points and shooting strong percentages from both the field and the three-point line. For all the Heat’s recent success, they have not had a star point guard to pair with Dwyane Wade. Adding Dragic suddenly gives the Heat a very potent starting five in Dragic, Wade, Luol Deng, Chris Bosh2, and Hassan Whiteside. Miami will need to fill Granger and Williams’ minutes, but they, Hamilton, and the picks are a reasonable price to pay for a potentially top-flight point guard.

Why Phoenix did itDragic, not unlike Isaiah Thomas, was unhappy in the Suns’ three point guard attack, and went as far as saying that he didn’t trust the team. He threw his name into the trade request hat, and earmarked the Knicks, Lakers, and Heat as his desired landing places. He has a $7.5 million player option that he will likely decline for next season, so the Suns were forced to deal him away or let him walk for nothing.

The return isn’t great, but Phoenix didn’t have many options. At least they were nice enough to keep the brothers Dragic together.

Why New Orleans did it: Williams will be bought out. Hamilton has barely played, and may also be bought out.

That leaves Cole, the Cleveland State product whose contract is up at the end of the year.

The NBA trade deadline, like all things, revolves around Cleveland. Go Vikes.

  1. Protections on draft picks work like this: If a pick is lottery-protected, for instance, then the team that originally owned the pick keeps it if the pick is in the lottery (picks 1-14). The rules change accordingly if a pick is top-three protected, top-10 protected, and on and on. []
  2. Editor’s note: In the time since this piece was written, we have found out that Chris Bosh may miss the rest of the season with blood clots in his lungs []