With Thursday’s NBA trade deadline over, we at BBALLBREAKDOWN decided to reflect back on the madness that erupted on Feb. 19, 2015, when a whopping 37 players found themselves on the move.
Earlier this month, ESPN.com’s Brian Windhorst shared some never-before-revealed details about the flurry of transactions, which resulted in Goran Dragic, Isaiah Thomas, Brandon Knight, Michael Carter-Williams and Reggie Jackson all switching teams, among others. For those interested in the ever-twisting machinations of the trade deadline—and how quickly some deals come together—it’s a must-read.
We’re not interested in the process here, however; just in the results. And with the benefit of a full year of hindsight, it’s time to re-grade seven of the biggest deadline-day deals from last February. Keep these in mind when evaluating swaps at this year’s deadline, as those that look like outright steals at the outset often have a way of losing their luster over time (and vice versa).
Philadelphia 76ers receive: 2015 first-round pick (LAL)
Milwaukee Bucks receive: Michael Carter-Williams, Tyler Ennis, Miles Plumlee
Phoenix Suns receive: Brandon Knight, Kendall Marshall
Let’s dig right in with the most shocking deal of the 2015 trade deadline, one that caused Twitter to nearly collapse.
The impetus for this three-team megadeal was the Bucks, according to Windhorst, who wanted to flip Knight before he became a restricted free agent that summer. Head coach Jason Kidd identified Carter-Williams as a target, but the Sixers “weren’t interested in doing a deal straight up for Knight.” Instead, they were “highly interested in the Los Angeles Lakers’ future first-round pick the Suns owed,” per Windhorst, as “the 76ers’ front office believed the Lakers were going to have a several-year rebuild and that pick would retain value.”
Since that Lakers pick hasn’t yet conveyed—it’s top-three-protected this year and next and completely unprotected in 2018 if it fails to convey until then—it’s impossible to give the Sixers a definitive grade for the swap. If that pick turns into Kris Dunn or Jamal Murray this June, that’s one thing; if the Lakers somehow convince Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to come to the City of Angels in 2017 and it becomes the No. 25 pick in 2018, that’s another. Unless Stephen A. Smith’s cockamamie theory comes true, the odds favor that pick falling somewhere in the lottery, but exactly where and whom it turns into are yet to be determined. The Sixers’ decision to begin the 2015-16 season sans a single replacement-level point guard doesn’t help the retrospective outlook of this deal, however, as they ultimately wound up sending two second-rounders to New Orleans for Ish Smith on Christmas Eve.
For Milwaukee, meanwhile, it’s far easier to cast judgment on the trade one year later. Prior to the trade, the Bucks were 30-23 and en route to a stunning playoff berth just one season after slogging through a 15-win campaign. After trading for Carter-Williams, they sputtered over the final month-and-a-half of 2014-15, finishing the year 11-18, and that malaise carried over into this season, where they’re a disappointing 22-32 through the All-Star break. MCW is shooting a career-high 45.3 percent overall, but he’s been brutally inconsistent, leading to Kidd moving him to the bench on two separate occasions. According to Stein and Windhorst, Carter-Williams was “undeniably gettable” leading up to Thursday’s trade deadline, while ESPN.com’s Zach Lowe reported Tuesday that the Bucks “remain unconvinced” that he is “the long-term answer.” That’s hardly a ringing endorsement of the prized possession from that deal.
At the moment, Phoenix appears to be the clear winner from this deadline blockbuster. Seeing as the team had agreed to ship incumbent starting point guard Goran Dragic to the Miami Heat and Isaiah Thomas to the Boston Celtics on the same day—more on those two deals later—its backcourt was suddenly sparse. Though an ankle injury cost Knight all but 11 games following the deadline, he returned with gusto this season, averaging a career-high 19.7 points, 5.1 assists, 3.7 rebounds, 2.1 triples and 1.3 steals a night heading into the All-Star break. He’s once again sidelined by an injury—this time a nagging groin strain—but unless that Lakers pick turns into a bona fide All-Star, it won’t compare to having a 24-year-old on-the-rise floor general locked up on an affordable five-year, $70 million deal.
PHI grade: Incomplete (A- for now)
MIL grade: D+
PHX grade: A (could drop to A-/B+, depending on where the Lakers pick falls)
Minnesota Timberwolves receive: Kevin Garnett
Brooklyn Nets receive: Thaddeus Young
When looking at pure on-court production, this is one of the most lopsided trades from last February’s flurry of deals.
In exchange for Kevin Garnett, who was a lock to leave Brooklyn at the end of the season anyway (if not retire), the Nets landed a productive then-26-year-old swingman who’d go on to average 13.8 points, 5.9 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 1.4 steals for them in the 28 appearances he made following the trade deadline. Better yet, Brooklyn management put some sort of Imperius Curse on Young, convincing him to sign a four-year, $54 million deal with the team this past summer that already looks like an outright steal. Now, he’s one of the cornerstones of a talent-starved Nets team that could be on the precipice of rebuilding, giving them one of their few potentially intriguing trade chips.
For Minnesota, meanwhile, the deal was almost inexplicable at the time. Rather than accepting a Miami Heat top-10-protected first-round pick from Cleveland in the Kevin Love-Andrew Wiggins swap, the Timberwolves allowed that pick to go to Philadelphia to acquire Young. He played relatively well during his time in Minnesota, averaging 14.1 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.3 assists in 48 starts, but his impending date with free agency seemingly had the Wolves front office skittish. So, rather than risk losing him for nothing, they made the sentimental decision to bring Garnett back to the franchise that drafted him nearly two decades prior.
One year later, that choice doesn’t look as insane as it did at the time. Garnett has embraced a mentorship role with the Wolves’ young pups, namely Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns, albeit at the price of $16.5 million through 2016-17. If KG is able to imbue his trademark aggressiveness in Wiggins and teach Towns to emulate the all-around devastating impact he routinely delivered back in his prime, every penny the Wolves spend on him this season and next will be well-spent. Still, giving up on Young after just a half-season, especially after punting on the Miami first-rounder to get him, remains an eyebrow-raiser. Depending on what happens with that Miami pick—it’s top-10-protected in 2016 and completely unprotected in 2017—the deal could wind up looking like a massive miscalculation. (After all, the Wolves could have simply signed Garnett in free agency this past summer and flipped Young for a younger player or future draft pick.)
MIN grade: C-
BKN grade: A+
Miami Heat receive: Goran Dragic, Zoran Dragic
Phoenix Suns receive: Danny Granger, John Salmons, 2018 first-round pick (MIA), 2021 first-round pick (MIA)
New Orleans Pelicans receive: Norris Cole, Justin Hamilton, Shawne Williams
When this deal went down, it looked like an outright coup for Heat president Pat Riley, provided he could convince Goran Dragic to re-sign in free agency last summer. He did just that, handing Dragic a five-year, $85 million deal that ensured trading those two first-round picks wasn’t all for naught.
The verdict remains decidedly out on Dragic’s long-term fit in Miami, however. He’s averaging just 12.2 points—the fewest since his 2011-12 campaign—to go with 5.3 assists, 3.3 rebounds and 1.0 steals in 32.3 minutes a night through the All-Star break. Even more concerning: When he’s paired with Dwyane Wade, the Heat outscore their opponents by 0.2 points per 100 possessions, but with Dragic on the court and Wade on the bench, that figure jumps to 11.4 per 100. The converse is true for Wade—opponents outscore Miami by 5.4 per 100 with Wade on the court and Dragic off—but that’s hardly a ringing endorsement of the duo.
With Dragic set to turn 30 in May, the Heat have to be wondering whether their investment will become a sunk cost over time, particularly with Chris Bosh’s professional future suddenly up in the air again. While it would be a surprise to see the Heat move on from Dragic, especially considering how much they gave up for him one year prior, the early returns on his pairing with Wade don’t inspire much long-term confidence in South Beach.
Phoenix, meanwhile, made out like a bandit in this deal. Dragic was a certifiable lock to leave the team in free agency, according to USA Today‘s Sam Amick, so Suns general manager Ryan McDonough deserves serious credit for extracting two first-round picks in return for what would have been a two-month rental. Depending on how the next few seasons unfold for Miami, those 2018 and 2021 first-rounders could prove to be extremely valuable selections for Phoenix. There’s no guarantee those picks pan out for the Suns—after the first few selections, the bust rate increases exponentially—but McDonough and Co. could always flip either to net concrete assets in return.
This deal didn’t move the needle much for New Orleans either way. The Pelicans landed a competent backup point guard in Cole for effectively nothing of value (John Salmons’ expiring contract), which is certainly a positive. Given the injury issues across their backcourt this season, having the Cleveland State product on their roster has been a blessing. They promptly waived both Williams and Hamilton, however, so it’s not as though they made a killing here.
MIA grade: B-
PHX grade: A+
NOP grade: A-
Detroit Pistons receive: Reggie Jackson
Oklahoma City Thunder receive: Enes Kanter, Steve Novak, D.J. Augustin, Kyle Singler, 2019 second-round pick (DET)
Utah Jazz receive: Grant Jarrett, Kendrick Perkins, Tibor Pleiss, 2017 second-round pick (DET), 2018 lottery-protected first-round pick (OKC)
Three cheers for Detroit head coach/team president Stan Van Gundy, who saw past Reggie Jackson’s flaws and recognized him as an ideal pick-and-roll partner for budding star center Andre Drummond.
As BBALLBREAKDOWN’s Bobby Karella wrote at the time, Jackson ranked in the league’s 85th percentile as a pick-and-roll ball-handler, giving him “the opportunity to put up monster numbers in a system tailor-made for point guards to dominate.” Lo and behold, that’s exactly what unfolded: He erupted for 17.6 points, 9.2 assists and 4.7 rebounds during his 27-game stint in Detroit, causing the Pistons to reward him with a five-year, $80 million contract offer this summer. Though it looked like an egregious overpay at the time, the Boston College product has rewarded Van Gundy’s faith by falling just outside the top 10 among point guards in real plus-minus this season, per ESPN.com. He’s also shooting a career-high 37.0 percent from deep on 4.1 attempts per game, a marked increase over his first four seasons.
Oklahoma City, realizing it was unlikely to re-sign Jackson in restricted free agency, sent him to Detroit in a win-now move that brought back four potential contributors. Kanter was the centerpiece of OKC’s haul, as he went on to average 18.7 points on 56.6 percent shooting and 11.0 rebounds in his 26 games following the trade deadline, helping keep the Kevin Durant- and Serge Ibaka-less Thunder afloat in the playoff race until the very end. The Portland Trail Blazers attempted to steal him away with a four-year max offer in restricted free agency, but the Thunder matched and turned Kanter into a super-sub this season, giving them a unique look to throw at the San Antonio Spurs’ and Golden State Warriors’ reserve units. Singler, Novak and Augustin, meanwhile, haven’t made a sizeable impact for OKC this season, but they represent some break-glass-in-case-of-emergency depth.
Utah wound up being the big winner of this deal in the ultimate case of addition by subtraction. None of the players the Jazz received, save for perhaps Pleiss, will prove to be difference-makers, but ridding themselves of Kanter freed up a spot in the starting lineup for Rudy Gobert, who took the league by storm after the trade deadline. The Stifle Tower currently leads the league in position-adjusted points saved per game, according to Nylon Calculus, as his massive 7’8.5″ wingspan helps deter opponents from attempting to challenge Utah in the paint while he’s on the floor. If Durant and Russell Westbrook both re-sign in OKC, that Thunder 2018 first-round pick figures to be in the 25-to-30 range, but if either (or both) leave, it could wind up being a mid-first-rounder.
DET grade: A
OKC grade: B
UTA grade: A+
Boston Celtics receive: Isaiah Thomas, Gigi Datome, Jonas Jerebko
Phoenix Suns receive: Marcus Thornton, 2016 first-round pick (CLE)
Detroit Pistons receive: Tayshaun Prince
Of all the deals consummated on last February’s deadline day, this is the easiest to re-grade.
In short, Boston won this one in a landslide. The Cleveland first-round pick it sent to Phoenix is almost certain to fall in the 25-to-28 range in what’s shaping up to be a weak draft class. Thornton played all of 81 minutes for Phoenix before leaving to join the Houston Rockets in free agency this past summer. Tayshaun Prince was a throw-in from the previous month’s three-team Jeff Green trade, one who had zero interest in remaining in Boston long term. The Suns and Pistons both have hardly anything to show for this deal one year later, unless Phoenix somehow unearths a diamond in the late-first-round rough with the Cleveland pick.
Thomas, meanwhile, has thrived in Boston. He averaged 19.0 points, 5.4 assists and 2.1 rebounds in 21 regular-season games off the bench upon coming to Beantown last season, helping the Celtics make the playoffs as a No. 7 seed. Though that late postseason push cost them the chance of landing Justise Winslow in the draft, Jae Crowder’s unexpected breakout has helped mitigate the pain. Meanwhile, Thomas is fresh off earning his first All-Star berth, having averaged a career-high 21.5 points, 6.6 assists and 3.0 rebounds through 55 games this season.
With Thomas only in the second year of a relatively low four-year, $27 million contract—one which only declines in salary from this point forward—the Celtics have one of the NBA’s best values on their roster. The Suns, meanwhile, need to hit a grand slam with Cleveland’s first-rounder this June to even slightly redeem this otherwise inexcusable trade.
BOS grade: A+++++
PHX grade: F
DET grade: D
Portland Trail Blazers receive: Arron Afflalo, Alonzo Gee
Denver Nuggets receive: Will Barton, Victor Claver, Thomas Robinson, 2016 lottery-protected first-round pick (POR)
Much like Miami’s decision to acquire Goran Dragic, this is one of those deals where the winners and losers have flipped over the past year.
At the time, Portland’s rationale was completely understandable. With LaMarcus Aldridge, Robin Lopez and Wesley Matthews all set to become free agents, the 2014-15 season appeared to be the last stand for that particular Trail Blazers core. Since Nicolas Batum was laboring through an injury-plagued season, adding Afflalo’s scoring punch off the bench gave Portland some dark-horse Finals potential. Instead, Matthews tore his Achilles in March and the team spiraled into a tailspin, ultimately losing in a gentleman’s sweep against the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round of the playoffs. Both Afflalo and Gee then left as free agents in July.
For Denver, meanwhile, the deal represented a short-term setback with a long-term gain in mind. Though Victor Claver and Thomas Robinson didn’t pan out, Will Barton has been a revelation with the Nuggets this year, working his way into the Most Improved Player and Sixth Man of the Year conversation. The fourth-year guard is smashing his previous career highs, averaging 15.5 points, 6.0 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.5 triples in just 28.5 minutes a night through the All-Star break, giving Denver a reliable scorer in its reserve unit. If the Blazers squeak into the playoffs this year, the Nuggets will receive their first-round pick, only further swinging the deal in their favor.
Though Portland had every reason to make this deal at the time, not having anything to show for it one year later makes the decision look far worse in retrospect. Denver, meanwhile, effectively flipped two rentals for a productive sixth man and a potential mid-first-round pick, making this an outright heist on its end.
POR grade: D+
DEN grade: A+
Philadelphia 76ers receive: Isaiah Canaan, 2015 second-round pick (selected Richaun Holmes)
Houston Rockets receive: K.J. McDaniels
Though the Sixers’ decision to ship out Michael Carter-Williams somewhat overshadowed this deal nationally, it was no less controversial than the MCW deal among those following the team closely.
During the 52 games prior to the trade deadline, McDaniels quickly asserted himself as one of the steals of the 2014 draft class, averaging 9.2 points, 3.8 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 1.3 blocks and 0.8 steals in 25.4 minutes a night. The problem, at least from Philadelphia’s end, was his refusal to sign a long-term deal with the team after being drafted. Rather than accepted the so-called “Hinkie Special,” a four-year contract with two guaranteed years and two non-guaranteed years at the end of the deal, McDaniels instead signed a one-year, non-guaranteed contract, ensuring he’d become a free agent following the 2014-15 campaign.
The Sixers, rather than risk losing him for nothing over the summer, decided to flip him to Houston for Isaiah Canaan and a second-round pick at the deadline. At the time, the haul looked paltry in return, even though Canaan went on to average 12.6 points, 3.1 assists, 2.7 triples and 2.5 rebounds over his 22-game stint in Philly, providing the Sixers with some much-needed floor spacing. After drafting Richaun Holmes with the second-round pick that came packaged with Canaan (No. 37 overall), however, the deal looks decidedly better on Philly’s end. Holmes hasn’t consistently broken into the Sixers’ rotation due to their glut of big men, but he continually impresses in limiting playing time, particularly as a shot-blocker.
The Rockets, meanwhile, simply haven’t found a role for McDaniels just yet. They did manage to re-sign him to a three-year, $10 million contract in restricted free agency this summer—a major bargain considering the impending salary-cap increase—but since coming to Houston, the Clemson product has played just 95 minutes. He’s spent much of the 2015-16 campaign bouncing back and forth between the D-League, begging the question of why the Rockets wanted him in the first place. Though the deal would look far worse from Houston’s perspective had McDaniels left in free agency, his lack of playing time with the Rockets has not helped the deal age well on their end.
PHI grade: B-
HOU grade: C-