NBA trade deadline: Winners and losers
Although deals were flying left and right in the final hours before Thursday’s NBA trade deadline, a few guiding principles are all you really need to cut through the clutter. Let’s boil things down in a few quick bullet points to make sense of all the activity.
• Impact players did not get traded. More than 25 players were traded this week but only one, Spencer Hawes, possesses a Player Efficiency Rating above the league average of 15. Hawes, who was sent from the Sixers to the Cavaliers, has a PER of 15.4, so his move isn’t exactly a game-changer. Danny Granger (who went from the Pacers to the Sixers) and Antawn Jamison (who went from the Clippers to the Hawks) were the only players with All-Star appearances to change teams, and neither has made one since 2009.
• First-round picks did not get traded. Zero 2014 first-round picks exchanged hands, a clear sign that we should be excited about the possibilities of this upcoming draft class.
• Players with larger salaries (mostly) did not get traded. Only two players earning more than $7 million were traded: Granger and Marcus Thornton (who went from the Kings to the Nets). The average salary of players who were traded this week: $3.4 million, well under the league’s average salary of $5.2 million.
• Players owed big money in the future did not get traded. Roughly three-quarters of the players who were traded are headed to free agency this summer. Thornton is the only traded player who is on the books for more than $6 million next year.
Taken together, where do those principles leave us? With a bunch of minor deals executed to reduce luxury-tax obligations and rebalance depth charts from positional standpoints, plus a few opportunistic trades made by contenders or fringe contenders looking to fortify their rosters for a push through the playoffs.
Here’s a look at this year’s trade deadline winners and losers:
The Contenders: The biggest winners of a trade deadline lacking in star movement? The establishment favorites, of course. Miami, Indiana, Oklahoma City and San Antonio can all breathe a sigh of relief. They entered Thursday as the favorites to challenge for the 2014 title and they exited Thursday in exactly the same place because none of the league’s second- and third-tier teams (the Clippers, Rockets, Blazers, Suns, Warriors, Raptors and Bulls) made moves with enough significance to truly shake up the standings.
Of the top four title favorites, only the Pacers made a trade of any consequence, dumping Granger’s expiring contract for Sixers guard Evan Turner. That’s a fine move, but it’s hardly a game-changer: Turner has posted big raw numbers (17.4 points, six rebounds, 3.7 assists) for a rebuilding Philadelphia team, but he’s struggled to play efficiently throughout his four-year career. In the short term, the arrival of “The Villain” in Indiana is unlikely to leave Miami quaking in its boots, even if Turner should make for a moderately useful addition to the Pacers’ reserve corps.
Otherwise, Oklahoma City sat out the deadline entirely, content to welcome back Russell Westbrook from his knee injury. Miami and San Antonio enjoyed similarly quiet deadlines, as the Heat cleared a roster spot by sending the seldom-used Roger Mason Jr. to the Kings while the Spurs traded Nando de Colo to the Raptors for Austin Daye in a swap of deep reserves.
Warriors: Golden State just might be able to lay claim to the shrewdest addition, having landed a solid backup point guard in Steve Blake for two younger prospects (Kent Bazemore and MarShon Brooks) who were not in their plans. Acquiring Blake, 33, from the Lakers did not push the Warriors into the luxury tax or require parting with any picks or coveted youngsters. The Warriors also didn’t take on future salary, and the move addressed a roster hole that has existed since Jarrett Jack’s departure last summer. Blake’s long-range shooting prowess should fit right in with his new teammates and his ability to run an offense should alleviate some of Stephen Curry’s burden. Reducing Jordan Crawford’s responsibilities come playoff time is certainly a good idea, and Blake should be able to help in that regard, even if his own postseason track record is fairly limited.
Rockets: The most intriguing “change of scenery” guy from the deadline moves might be Jordan Hamilton, who was traded from Denver to Houston for Aaron Brooks. Hamilton has yet to really make a big mark in three seasons. But the athletic tools that made him a first-round pick in 2011 are undeniable and his fit in Houston’s rotation is sound, given the Rockets’ other available personnel. One thing to watch: Hamilton’s three-point shooting. He’s a career 35.7 percent shooter, and he was launching more than three long-range attempts per game this season in Denver. Of course, the Rockets encourage the long ball philosophically and their personnel — James Harden and Dwight Howard, among others — creates plenty of good looks for wing shooters. If Hamilton can take advantage of these beneficial circumstances, we could be looking back at this in a month or two as a shrewd play by Houston.
Wizards: Washington’s hole behind John Wall at point guard has been a crater for years. Eric Maynor looked like a reasonable stopgap signing last summer but he simply underwhelmed this season, leading coach Randy Wittman to ride his All-Star point guard for 37 minutes a night. Unloading Maynor and Jan Vesely in a three-team trade to acquire Andre Miller, then, is a move that brings some real promise. Yes, Miller is 37 years old and, yes, he was kept away from the Nuggets after a recent run-in with first-year coach Brian Shaw. But this is a durable, reliable floor general who is capable of scoring a little bit and acting as a distributor, depending on what’s asked of him. The big cost of this deal wasn’t anything that the Wizards sent out, but rather the $4.6 million owed to Miller next season. While that’s pretty spendy for a reserve point guard, Washington can swallow the price as Miller’s addition should help its push to make the playoffs for the first time since 2008. Washington is fifth in the East, but there’s plenty of potential for movement either up or down over the next two months. Miller will hopefully arrive in the nation’s capital excited by the prospect of playing for a team with a chance to go places, an opportunity that wasn’t available to him in Denver.
Sixers: The most interesting strategy and the best laughs of the trade deadline came from Philadelphia, where GM Sam Hinkie auctioned two of his biggest-name players and stockpiled as many freaking second-round draft picks as possible. Hinkie’s Thursday resembled the old game-show gag where a contestant is inside a closed room and dollars bills are pumped in from the ceiling as a clock ticks down and the player tries to stuff as many greenbacks into his pockets as possible. All told, Hinkie sent out Hawes and Turner (both free agents this summer) and acquired second-round picks, along with Maynor, Granger, Earl Clark and Henry Sims. In a year that saw no first-round picks change hands, the Sixers seem to have concluded that the next best thing is to gather as many draft night assets as possible. If you’re going to tank, you might as well tank with panache.
Bobcats: It’s hard — OK, really hard — to get excited about a “loading up for the playoffs!” move that involves peeling off Gary Neal and Luke Ridnour from the league-worst Bucks, but the Bobcats deserve a solid “B” for the effort. After years of dreary basketball, first-year coach Steve Clifford has Charlotte playing top-10 defense and clinging to the No. 8 seed in the East. Why not shake things up slightly, add a shooter in Neal and try to lock down just the second playoff appearance in franchise history? I’m usually not not huge on “sending a message to the players” type of moves, but when you’ve lost as often as the Bobcats have in recent years, even a small midseason move in search of victories can have a philosophical benefit.
Nuggets: Denver entered the trade-deadline season with a bullet hole through its own foot. There’s no way to get a real return on a 37-year-old player who gets into a public verbal altercation with his coach and, wouldn’t you know it, the Nuggets proved that point by receiving draft bust Vesely for Miller. It wasn’t particularly surprising that Denver sold low on Miller, and GM Tim Connelly can at least say that he salvaged the day by acquiring Brooks as a stopgap for his bleeding backcourt. Getting Brooks cost the Nuggets Hamilton, though, and there seems little question that the Miller/Hamilton duo is vastly preferable to the Brooks/Vesely combination. We’re not talking about an earth-shattering downgrade here, but that’s rough. Tack on the loss of center JaVale McGee to a season-ending leg surgery and it’s probably time for Denver to put a draft-lottery countdown clock front and center on Nuggets.com.
Bucks: If there was one victim of the league’s lack of interest in acquiring big, long-term money, it was Milwaukee, whose payroll includes significant contracts via Caron Butler, O.J. Mayo, Ersan Ilyasova, Zaza Pachulia and Larry Sanders. Yes, that’s five contracts that are worth trying to trade for a team that has by far the league’s worst record at 10-43. Ultimately, the Bucks were unable to dump any of them, or tie them into other deals, and they leave the trade deadline without acquiring any valuable rebuilding assets. Contrast this with the 15-win Sixers, who added picks galore, and you can’t help but see a big gap in hope.
Blazers: Calling the Blazers “losers” is a bit extreme, but they were uniquely positioned to benefit from a little midseason invigoration because of a rash of recent injuries (LaMarcus Aldridge, Joel Freeland and Meyers Leonard), a 5-9 stretch over the last month, a below-average defense and a thin bench that is always in need of help. The decision not to deal was shaped by a lack of quality assets and a desire to postpone the roster-building until the summer, but one wonders whether the hands-off approach is setting the organization up for second-guessing come playoff time. After an insanely hot start, the Blazers are in danger of missing out on home-court advantage, and a first-round round exit would be an unfortunate end to what began as a dream season. Was there really no deal that could have helped?
Lakers: Another quasi-loser were the Lakers, who did well to reduce their luxury-tax burden with the Blake trade. Could more slashing-and-burning have been done? Rumors persisted around the likes of Jordan Hill, Chris Kaman and Pau Gasol over the last few weeks, and L.A. was potentially in position to escape the luxury tax entirely with the right set of moves. Does it really matter that a franchise that prints money wasn’t able to pinch these pennies? Maybe not, but paying taxes on a roster this bad goes down as a black mark of bad management.
Knicks: The NBA’s biggest disappointment this season was unable to address its point guard problems — though not for lack of effort. A bare shelf of future assets cramped the Knicks’ deal-making ability, though that didn’t stop them from being among the league leaders in rumors. Any hope that was generated for fans by all that chatter landed with a thud on Thursday, as the 21-33 Knicks didn’t make a deal and will be forced to play out the string with their hand of poor cards.
Evan Turner: This is about as easy as it gets. Turner is going from a 15-win team to a championship contender that started 15-1 and won its 15th game before Nov. 29. Cue the “My life got flip turned upside down” line from the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air theme song. Yes, Turner will need to find a way to fit into a much narrower role with the Pacers, but every competitive player — especially those in a contract year — would prefer to work toward a title chase rather than deal with a full-on tank.
Steve Blake: As mentioned above, the fit for Blake in Golden State looks good. Like Turner, Blake goes from a Lakers team headed nowhere to a Warriors team with some upside, and he doesn’t even have to change time zones or states to do it. At 33, Blake is likely nearing the “one-year minimum contracts” stage of his career this summer. Competing on the playoff stage for a high-visibility team should give the well-traveled veteran a shot to maximize his options and earning power.
Andre Miller: Miller’s NBA legacy? His durability and the fact that he has never advanced out of the first round of the playoffs. Both of those things matter to Miller. A lot. His initial disagreement with Shaw came over a lack of playing time, which ended his games played streak, and he will surely be glad to leave the lottery-bound Nuggets for a Wizards team that has a chance to advance to the conference semifinals in the weaker Eastern Conference. Things don’t always work out this well for players who pitch fits and get sent home, and Miller should consider himself lucky that he won’t be exiled for the rest of the season.
Kent Bazemore: One of the most electrifying performers from the 2013 Las Vegas Summer League now finds himself on a Kobe Bryant-less Lakers squad that is a glorified Summer League team. This has the potential to be a heavenly fit for Bazemore, as there is no pressure or expectations and a series of injuries should create the opportunity for some real minutes. Kendall Marshall, Nick Young and Xavier Henry have all taken turns at various points this season capturing headlines for the dead-in-the-water Lakers, and there’s no good reason that Bazemore shouldn’t be able to add his name to that list. Being the league’s best bench hype man is a good title, sure, but getting a chance to earn a contract for next season is about 1,000 times better.
Gary Neal: The 29-year-old guard reportedly got into a locker-room exchange with Bucks teammate Larry Sanders and has been open about the culture shock of going from the contending Spurs to the also-ran Bucks. It goes without saying that the Bobcats are a far cry from the Spurs, but at least he will have something to play for in Charlotte and a fresh start with a new set of teammates. Considering that he’s owed $3.3 million next season, a valuation he wouldn’t meet in the eyes of many teams, Neal should consider himself lucky for this midseason reboot.
Danny Granger: Get ready to hear Danny Granger say “It’s a business” about two million times during interviews over the next few months. After spending his entire nine-year career with the Pacers and working his way back from injuries in recent seasons, Granger finds himself shipped out at the very moment the Pacers are reaching the highest peak of his tenure. Of course, that’s only half the story: He’s headed to Philadelphia, where, barring a buyout, he’ll have to pointlessly go through the motions for the next two months before watching his old mates go up against the Heat in the playoffs. It’s a cold world.
Roger Mason: Much like Granger, but not quite as drastic. Roger Mason, 33, has bounced around over the last decade and he landed where any minimum-salary player would want to land these days: South Beach. Instead of going along for the ride and having a chance to win the first title of his career, Mason was traded to the Kings and promptly released on Thursday. Rough day.
Antawn Jamison and Byron Mullens: The Clippers might not be as close to a title as the Pacers and Heat, but their decision to move Jamison (to Atlanta] and Mullens (to Philadelphia) in cash-dumping deals to save on luxury taxes surely hurts. “Lob City” looks like one of the league’s most entertaining places to play, and the Chris Paul/Blake Griffin combo will be disappointed with anything less than a conference semifinals appearance. Jamison and Mullens are now on the wrong side of the velvet rope.
Jason Terry: What is the point of a 36-year-old Terry playing for the going-nowhere Kings? He is stuck in limbo until they can figure out what to do with the $5.9 million owed to him next season.
Lance Stephenson: It’s probably smart not to overreact here, but the addition of Turner certainly complicates Stephenson’s impending free agency. The Point Forward noted in January that Stephenson is likely headed for a monster payday, and Turner’s arrival potentially gives Indiana a little leverage in its negotiations. By all accounts, Stephenson is interested in remaining with the Pacers if possible, but he now has direct competition for those free agency dollars, even if he’s a clearly superior player to Turner. This will be an intriguing situation to watch unfold, particularly if Indiana makes a deep playoff run as expected.