There have only been a few games since we last checked in on the standings due to the extended All-Star break, but the landscape of the league has shifted in the wake of an active trade deadline. A flurry of moves leading up to last week's deadline included over a dozen trades that saw more than 40 players being moved and a bundle of draft picks switch hands. There may not have been much movement in the standings yet, but the outlook for several teams has changed from the fallout of these trades.
Deadline day was a roller coaster ride for Celtics fans. There was no lack of rumors surrounding the team all week, but as the deadline approached it seemed likely to pass without Danny Ainge pulling the trigger. Then at the last minute the Celtics swooped in to become as active as anyone with a pair of trades.
Acquiring Isaiah Thomas from Phoenix for Marcus Thornton's expiring contract and a 1st-round pick from Cleveland is a potential steal. Thomas has already shown us a glimpse of his explosive scoring ability and he gives the Celtics a much needed weapon to use in the pick-and-roll game, as Kevin O'Connor pointed out. Boston has Thomas locked up for three more years on a very team friendly contract that depreciates in salary each season.
We knew Ainge was a big fan of Thomas, given that he was the first one to reach out to him when he hit the free agent market last summer. Upgrading the backcourt with Thomas may have been done with the future in mind, but it also improved the current roster enough to make the Celtics a dark horse candidate for the playoffs. That is until the unfortunate news of Jared Sullinger's season-ending foot injury derailed that dream. Several other teams that Boston will battle for that last playoff spot also made upgrades at the deadline, so with the loss of Sullinger offsetting the addition of Thomas, it's difficult to imagine them making it now.
Unfortunately, Thomas improves the team enough that even without Sullinger they are unlikely to sink much further in the standings, leaving them stuck in the dreaded middle. Some teams are rising and some are falling in the wake of the trade deadline, but the Celtics are among the teams that have found themselves in the abyss of uncertainty in the fallout of the trade deadline.
These are the teams currently bound for the lottery (as of Wednesday morning), along with some useful information regarding their remaining games, courtesy of ESPN's Playoff Matchups page.
Detroit Pistons: Reggie Jackson has been freed from the shadow of Russell Westbrook and handed the reigns to the Pistons offense. Jackson has his share of issues with inefficiency and decision making, but some of that may stem from frustration with his role in Oklahoma City when their stars were healthy. He averaged 19.5 points and 7.5 assists in November while Westbrook and Kevin Durant were sidelined, so that's the version of Jackson that Detroit is hoping to get. It remains to be seen what Detroit's plans are for him, given that he's headed for restricted free agency, or what this means for Brandon Jennings when he returns from injury next season. Setting the future aside, Jackson will serve as an immediate upgrade over D.J. Augustin (shipped to OKC in this trade), giving Detroit a boost in their efforts to make up the 1.5 games they trail for a playoff spot. As an added bonus, Detroit acquired Tayshaun Prince from Boston to add veteran leadership and remind fans of the glory days from their last championship.
Oklahoma City Thunder: As thrilled as Detroit is to get Jackson, the Thunder are just as pleased to get rid of him after he wore out his welcome in OKC. They had no intention of re-signing him given his well publicized desire to be a starter and managed to flip him for several pieces to help revamp their shallow bench. Enes Kanter has already proven in his first couple games with the team that he can be an effective low-post threat that this team sorely needed - especially with Steven Adams sidelined. They also added a point guard replacement in Augustin who is better suited for a backup role than Jackson was and a couple of shooters in Steve Novak and Kyle Singler. They will miss having Kendrick Perkins around (who doesn't love Perk?!), but the team looks to be improved after their three-way trade. The uncertainty of Durant's health is the only question holding this team back from being a serious threat in the West.
Milwaukee Bucks: From a big-picture standpoint, it's defensible what the Bucks did here. Brandon Knight was having a breakout season under the guidance of new coach Jason Kidd, but he's more of a scorer than a distributor and Milwaukee clearly had no intention of overpaying him this summer when he hits free agency. However, in the short-term, replacing him with Michael Carter-Williams is a significant downgrade. MCW's surface stats are inflated by running an uptempo Sixers teams that lacked talent. He's a turnover-prone disaster of inefficiency, shooting 38% from the floor, 25% from beyond the arc and 64% from the free throw line. His 12.9 PER ranks 45th among points guards this season. Not 45th overall, that's 45th at his position! He does improve the team defensively and the Bucks backcourt will be a terror for opposing offenses to deal with, but this is a team in need of more scoring, not less. Perhaps Kidd can work his magic to transform MCW into a useful offensive player and they'll get two additional years of team control over him, rather than potentially losing Knight after this season. Taking a flyer on a rookie Tyler Ennis and adding a big man in Miles Plumlee helps, but it still seems like the Bucks have taken a step back this year. It may be the right move for the long run, and Milwaukee has a comfortable 8 game lead over the 9th place Charlotte Hornets in the East, but they now seem less likely to make any noise in the playoffs.
Denver Nuggets: Arron Afflalo was likely to decline his player option and bolt after the season, so shipping him to Portland for a lottery-protected pick in 2016 makes sense. Especially since it helps offset having to give up a draft pick (acquired from OKC) to rid themselves of JaValee McGee. Denver saves some money and weakens their roster enough to potentially improve their lottery position.
Abyss of Uncertainty
Miami Heat: They seemed like the winners of the trade deadline after stealing Goran Dragic for a pu-pu platter of bench players and a pair of future draft picks (which don't look likely to be lottery picks now, but who knows what this team will look like in 2019). Then we learned the troubling news that Chris Bosh has been lost for the season due to blood clots in his lungs. Miami has indicated that Bosh is recovering well and they are optimistic of his future, but his absence creates a drastic void for the Heat. With the addition of Dragic and emergence of Hassan Whiteside, Miami was shaping up to be a terrifying first-round opponent in the postseason. Take away Bosh and factor in the always uncertain health of Dwayne Wade and the excitement surrounding this Heat team at the deadline has cooled off.
Phoenix Suns: After starting the day with too many point guards, all Phoenix managed to do was shuffle in different point guards. Dragic essentially put a gun to their heads by telling the Suns he was going to leave as a free agent and making his frustrations with the front office and his role in a crowded backcourt public. It also didn't help that he handcuffed them by making it known he would only agree to an extension if he was traded to a select few teams. Under those circumstances, they had to get whatever they could for Dragic and they could luck into a valuable lottery pick down the road if the Miami roster crumbles as Wade and Bosh get older. Trading away Isaiah Thomas makes a bit less sense, given he was locked into a bargain contract. Maybe they see Brandon Knight as a better fit with Eric Bledsoe, but Knight will be a free agent after the season and they surrendered a very valuable top-5 protected pick from the Lakers (along with Ennis and Plumlee) to get him.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Kevin Garnett's career comes full circle by returning to the team that he spent the first 12 years of his career with. The nostalgia factor makes it a win for the Wolves, even if KG doesn't have much left in the tank. Celtics fans can certainly relate to the excitement their fans must be feeling to see him back in Minnesota and his veteran presence should have a positive effect on their young players. Minnesota also added more youth and flexibility by swapping Mo Williams for Gary Neal, Troy Daniels and a 2019 2nd-round pick.
Philadelphia 76ers: Sam Hinkie's tanking strategy requires him to move any player showing a shred of value that isn't part of their long-term core. He did well in selling high on Carter-Williams' inflated stats to grab that valuable Lakers pick. K.J. McDaniels will be a restricted free agent after the season, so the Sixers exchanged him for Isaiah Canaan, who has a team option for next year. They also picked up a lottery-protected pick from Denver (via OKC) for taking on the final year and a half of McGee's salary. While McGee's contract is an albatross, it hardly puts a dent in the Sixers flexibility, given how far under the cap they were, and his expiring contract will probably be flipped for more assets next year.
The biggest achievement for the #Sixers this season has been finally reaching the salary floor. Only took until late February— Sean Penney (@spenney83) February 24, 2015
New York Knicks: In case there were any doubts that the Knicks were trying to tank, there's no reason for them not to now that Carmelo Anthony has been shut down for the season. The dealt Pablo Prigioni to Houston for Alexey Shved to free up more cap space for this summer and picked up a pair of 2nd-round picks along the way, then bought out Amare Stoudemire's contract.
The projected draft order, as of Wednesday morning (pending lottery results).
|1. New York Knicks|
|2. Philadelphia 76ers|
|3. Minnesota Timberwolves|
|4. Los Angeles Lakers|
|5. Orlando Magic|
|6. Sacramento Kings|
|7. Denver Nuggets|
|8. Utah Jazz|
|9. Boston Celtics|
|10. Indiana Pacers|
|11. Detroit Pistons|
|12. Charlotte Hornets|
|13. Phoenix Suns|
|14. Houston Rockets (via New Orleans Pelicans)|