This year’s NBA trade deadline was one of the busiest in recent memory, as not only did some big names (Goran Dragic, Arron Afflalo) move around, but a bunch of deals went down in general.
Eleven trades were made on the day of the deadline alone, not to mention a few meaningful deals that trickled in during the days leading up to February 19. As usual, most of the deals were made by playoff-contending teams looking to shore up a weakness in time to be cohesive and competitive in the postseason, and with the exception of Reggie Jackson in Detroit, most moves of that variety have worked out well so far, although the players have enjoyed just three weeks of time with their new clubs.
Whether a player’s new team is competing for the postseason or not, however, half-seasons of success from new players can prove to be difficult cost assessments for those teams during the offseason. Two of the players mentioned already, Dragic and Jackson, have expiring contracts, and while Dragic’s price means Miami is stuck trying to re-sign him no matter what, Jackson’s struggles thus far with the Pistons, combined with the cold goodbye received from the Thunder, means Detroit could have a difficult decision ahead of them in deciding whether or not Jackson will be a long-term fit on that team.
These five guys have all made positive impacts on their new teams, and four of the five will be free agents this summer. They represent the irony of the best-case scenario for mid-season rental acquisitions: teams want and need them to play well, but the better they play, the more competitive their free-agent market becomes, or, at the least, their value can become inflated to their incumbent teams. It will be interesting to see how about 30 games of strong play would affect the summers for these players and teams.
Mo Williams, Charlotte Hornets – Williams was actually shipped to Charlotte more than a week before the deadline, when Minnesota opted for Gary Neal and a second-round pick, but he couldn’t have come along soon enough for a Hornets offense that was floundering while being led by Brian Roberts and Lance Stephenson.
Since arriving in Charlotte, Williams has posted a team-leading plus-minus of 4.6, according to NBA Stats, and has averaged 21.4 points, 8.5 assists, and 2.9 three-pointers per game. He has been exactly the kind of all-around scoring guard this offense has been looking for since losing Kemba Walker in January, and Williams was rewarded by being named Eastern Conference Player of the Week last week.
Considering these numbers are better than even his All-Star season with Cleveland in 2009, Williams’ current level will probably regress a bit, but with Walker expected to return soon, his role might change as well, which would finally give the Hornets the capable combo-guard sixth man they’ve been looking for all season.
Enes Kanter, Oklahoma City Thunder – The Thunder made headlines with a great haul at the deadline, and Kanter was the prize of that group, a gifted back-to-the-basket scorer with a developing all-around offensive game who’s still just 22 years old.
So far, Kanter has been a hit in OKC, averaging more points per game than in Utah and pairing well with the more defensive-minded, jump-shot-oriented Serge Ibaka. If the Thunder can hang on to the 8th playoff spot, and Kevin Durant can return healthy, he could be a difference-making interior presence for a potential championship chase. Seeing how Oklahoma City plans to retain Kanter this offseason, especially if he enjoys postseason success, will be just as intriguing.
Thad Young, Brooklyn Nets – There were reports that Young had been on the Nets radar for weeks, and when the trade deadline finally came around, all they had to do was unload Kevin Garnett for him.
The Brooklyn front office looks good after Young’s first nine games there. After moving to his third team in the last two seasons, the stretch-four seems like he might have found a long-term place in Brooklyn, as he has been rewarding the Nets’ pursuit of him to the tune of 13.1 points on 56 percent three-point shooting in just 23.9 minutes per game so far, per NBA Stats.
Brooklyn is just 4-5 since acquiring Young, but the team was 21-31 before his arrival, so that is actually an improvement, and it might be a good enough mark to keep them in the Eastern Conference playoff basement. It seems like the Nets will want to keep him around after this season, but at what cost?
Isaiah Canaan, Philadelphia 76ers – OK, probably one of less exciting cases up here, but Canaan has been shooting nearly 40 percent from deep in his 9 games in Philadelphia, which have all been starts, and the 76ers are fielding a more NBA-ready team than the Knicks have recently.
Canaan isn’t an efficient scorer, which shows in his less-than-40-percent shooting overall, but his problems mostly come around the basket, which isn’t surprising for a player who’s generously listed at 6-feet.
Canaan has the potential to become a player in the same vein as Nate Robinson or the next guy on this list, but those are niche players, which means the ever-rebuilding 76ers will probably show him the door this summer. That doesn’t mean he won’t end up somewhere else.
Isaiah Thomas, Boston Celtics – After Phoenix screwed him over twice, Thomas has found a happy home in Boston as the third member of another undersized backcourt, this one featuring two youngsters in Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart, combo-style guards that are much better on the defensive end.
Thomas’ prodigious offense and occasional ball-hoggery, then, have fit right in for the Celtics, who are suddenly interested in pursuing a playoff berth in the East. Bill Simmons recently expressed on the BS Report that this could drive by a fear the team could lose coach Brad Stevens without some success to show soon, but whatever the motivation, Thomas has been a pleasant addition in every way.
He’s the only player listed here who isn’t set to become a free agent, and despite Boston’s ongoing rebuild, Thomas figures to be a part of it going forward, especially considering the success he’s enjoyed so far. He’s a top-notch bench scorer who’s comfortable with that role, and he’s on a great contract, with 3 years and $21 million remaining. Those guys have a place on any team.