Trade Deadline Winners and Losers: The Suns Regroup, the Heat Reload, and the Sixers Re-Tank

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The trade deadline has come and gone. It was madness.

Now it’s Friday.

Before the weekend gets started, and because my brain stopped working around 2:45 on Thursday afternoon, let’s do some winners and losers and try to sort through what actually happened yesterday.

Losers

Suns

This isn’t entirely Phoenix’s fault. Ryan McDonough was dealt a losing hand when Goran Dragic abruptly decided to make his future plans (very) public, about 48 hours before the trade deadline.

Once that happened, there was no way Phoenix was getting anything close to fair value. Part of the blame for that falls on the Suns, obviously. Signing Isaiah Thomas confused everyone this summer, and it looked pretty bad for the first few weeks. Then it looked smart for about a month, when the Suns were winning and looked like a playoff team. Now the Suns are on the outside of the playoff picture, Dragic is gone, and it all looks really, really bad.

All of that is just one offseason gamble that went the wrong way. Dragic probably expressed his frustration over the course of the year, but nobody could have predicted the total meltdown we saw the past few days. This was bad luck as much it was bad management.

The real reason the Suns are losers after Thursday is the second trade. Giving up a likely top-10 Lakers pick (probably in either 2015 or 2016) is just incomprehensible. In July, Phoenix will have either given that pick away for nothing (if Brandon Knight leaves), or it will have given that pick away so it can pay Knight $15 million a year. I don’t even know which scenario is more depressing.

For now, they have two months of Knight. He was good to great with Jason Kidd this year, scoring for a team that badly needed it. But if he’s supposed to be a Dragic replacement (or even a Thomas replacement), this will probably end in disappointment. Phoenix would have been just fine continuing the small-ball madness with Eric Bledsoe and Thomas. The Suns had the most fascinating future in the league as recently as three weeks ago. The future is still bright after Thursday, but goddamn … this week got DARK.

Bucks

Speaking of bright futures that got more complicated on Thursday … The Bucks are still in great shape for the future. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker, Khris Middleton, and John Henson ensure that the future is bright. And trading Knight is probably better than paying Knight. Point guard talent is two or three times deeper than every other position in the NBA, and when everyone’s great, it makes no sense to commit a ton of money to someone who’s only decent. The Bucks will still have room to make deals down the line if they decide they want a great point guard.

Michael Carter-Williams is not that point guard. He can’t shoot, he’s not a great passer, and he’s not even a very good ball handler. For a team that already had spacing issues, he will likely make things worse. He’s one of those players who is better in theory than reality. And now the Bucks will probably take another 18 months to realize that they need to look elsewhere. Or maybe Tyler Ennis will surprise people and fill that role.

MCW is great on defense, and his length will make the Bucks miserable to score against, but that was never the problem with this team. They need offense, and MCW probably won’t help there. If the Bucks were going to trade Knight to the Suns, why couldn’t they have done it over the summerAs it stands, they would have been much better off keeping Knight through the end of this year and then doing their best to steal Ty Lawson this summer.

(If MCW works in Milwaukee, it will be the ultimate proof that Kidd is a real, true point guard whisperer. Or that the Sixers have no idea what they’re doing and are actively holding players back. Maybe both.)

Wizards

Think about Christmas as a teenager. You’re opening a present from a distant relative. You unwrap it, open the box, and it’s not a video game … it’s not a a bunch of DVDs … it’s not even a gift certificate. It’s a sweater. Something you need but definitely didn’t want. So you grit your teeth and do your best. Oh wow. This is great! Good. [Forced laugh.] Green! I like this. I’ll wear it tonight. Thank you!

Ramon Sessions is that sweater for me. Mo Williams would have been a bunch of DVDs. Jarrett Jack would have been a video game. Ramon Sessions is a sweater.

At least they didn’t give up a first-round pick to get him. That would have been the Christmas when your parents get belligerent drunk and tell you they don’t love you.

Nuggets

“Wait, WTF are they doing?” (Part 1).

Celtics

“Wait, WTF are they doing?” (Part 2).

I just can’t understand whether the Celtics are tanking or not. If they are going for the eighth seed … why? If they are trying to land in the top five, why trade for Thomas? Giving up the Cavs pick is not as big of a deal as “first-round pick” sounds, but still. Adding a scoring combo guard to Marcus Smart and Avery Bradley doesn’t make a whole lot of sense in any context, and especially not one in which the goal is to rebuild through the draft.

This is what happens you plan to tank for a year or two and accidentally hire a great coach who gets the most out of everyone on the roster. If the Celtics had Byron Scott instead of Brad Stevens, their tanking intentions would be crystal clear right now. On the bright side, no matter what happens, at least they are not the Nuggets.

Raptors

“WTF? Why aren’t they doing anything?”

Masai Ujiri might be very smart, but let’s also remember that he constructed the Nuggets team that’s currently in fiery shambles (i.e., the team that just had to trade a first-round pick to get rid of JaVale McGee). And the greatest thing to happen to the Raptors in the past two years is Kyle Lowry, a player Ujiri tried to trade for a 2018 first-round pick. His two biggest moves have been dumping bad contracts on the Kings and Knicks, two teams on which, it turns out, it’s pretty easy to dump bad contracts! In the meantime, he’s had a very good team for two years now, but the rotation is too big and probably not good enough to actually contend in the East, and he hasn’t done anything to even try to change it. The Raptors are still in good shape, but it’ll be interesting to see when “credit for Raptors success” turns into “blame for Raptors shortcomings” for Toronto management.

Brook Lopez

Free Brook Lopez. Seriously. This is painful.

Ty Lawson

FREE TY LAWSON.

The Nuggets need to gut the roster and start over, but instead of just pulling the trigger, they are doing it in stages. Rather than tear down the building, someone has decided to take a wrecking ball to one floor at a time, every three months.

Side note: Would you rather have Dragic on a max deal at close to $20 million a year or Lawson through 2016 at $12 million a year? Dragic may be a little better, but the answer is pretty clear once you factor in the contract (and assume that DUIs and Vegas trips are a coping mechanism for life with Brian Shaw). Lawson is probably the most underrated guard in the entire NBA. It makes no sense that teams were fighting for Dragic and Reggie Jackson yet nobody came up with enough to steal an unhappy Lawson from a Nuggets team that’s going nowhere.

Anyone on Twitter Who Doesn’t Like the NBA

It’s totally understandable if the NBA isn’t your thing. And I feel bad, because if the NBA isn’t your thing, I can’t even imagine how obnoxious full meltdown basketball Twitter must have seemed yesterday. Even I thought the all-caps tweets about Brandon Knight were a little much.

Anyone Trying to Keep Track of Draft Picks

Just give up now.

The Wolves

It’s very cool if Kevin Garnett is coming back to finish his career for the final 29 games. It’s pretty weird if Garnett is coming back to play two more years in Minnesota.

The Wolves weren’t re-signing Thad Young regardless, so flipping him for KG was a fun solution. I’m just happy he won’t end his career playing behind a Plumlee in Brooklyn.

But this also seems like a situation that’s a lot more fun for national fans who don’t actually care about the Wolves. For the people who have watched this team screw around for the better part of a decade, it’s understandable if this feels like an empty gesture designed to distract everyone during another lost season. For the fans who really care about the team, Garnett in a Wolves uniform is a reminder that the front office traded a first-round pick for Young and is now pandering to nostalgia when there’s a perfectly awesome young team that should be exciting enough on its own. On the other hand …

ARE YOU RUSHING OR ARE YOU DRAGGING?

Winners

Reggie Jackson

This was a massive win for Jackson …

… and a massive win for anyone who’s had to watch Jackson sputter in Oklahoma City over the past few months. We are all right there with you, Reggie.

Whether Jackson will take off in Detroit is up for debate, and the Pistons will only have two months to decide how much he’s worth. They got him without giving up a first-round pick, though. If you’re looking to get the most out of a scoring point guard with untapped potential, it’s hard to imagine a better place than a Stan Van Gundy offense. That’s why it was such a big win. This is so much better than going to Brooklyn and trying to fit into the 10th-seed mix with Joe Johnson and Deron Williams.

The Pistons have already revived the careers of Jodie Meeks, D.J. Augustin, and Brandon Jennings this year. Now it’s Jackson’s turn, and he’s been waiting for this chance. Good for him.

Blazers

I USED TO BE JEALOUS OF ARRON AFFLALO.

I USED TO BE JEALOUS OF ARRON AFFLALO.

(Sorry.)

Good deal for the Blazers.

Protections

Fun fact: There will never again be an NBA draft pick sent anywhere that doesn’t have several layers of protection, so much so that you’re really not even sure what any team just got. That 2016 first-rounder? Protected 1-13, and 27-30 on the back end. Then it rolls over to 2017 and it’s protected 1-8, and also 17-22, with an option to flip picks in 2019, and a corollary that Sam Hinkie gets the pick if it lands at exactly 23.

On the one hand, it would be a lot simpler and more fun if the NBA banned protections and teams just flipped picks straight up. On the other hand, all of these protections are probably the biggest reason we’ve seen chronically paranoid GMs making more deals over the past few years. So sure, protect away. Thursday was too much fun to ruin it with sanity.

K.J. McDaniels’s Mom

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Additional winner: K.J. McDaniels, who goes from a hopeless team deliberately going backward to a potential title contender. Third winner: Mark Bartelstein, the agent who saw the Sixers’ bullshit contract gimmicks and decided to play the reverse Uno card on Hinkie. Four partially guaranteed years? How ’bout one year!

You see, Hinkie’s extensive cost-benefit analysis didn’t account for other people being able to read contracts. If Bartelstein were my agent, I’d be grateful for life after this.

Andre Miller

Mentioned here because (a) he’ll always be the greatest and I’m happy for him, (b) god, I’m going to miss him, but mostly (c) it’s so perfect that he loves the city of Sacramento. The weirdest good player of the past two decades couldn’t possibly live anywhere else.

Kings

Didn’t freak out and trade Boogie Cousins … didn’t trade a top-10 pick (Nik Stauskas) after four months … didn’t do anything like trade two first-round picks for Kenneth Faried. A trade deadline without any horrifying decisions has got to be considered a success.

Sam Hinkie

Parsing the logic of what Hinkie and the Sixers are doing requires a longer conversation than a blurb in a quick winners-and-losers column. But within the framework of what the Sixers are doing, Thursday was a massive win. They got rid of Carter-Williams — a player who wasn’t as good as his reputation — and in return they brought back what should turn into an excellent Lakers lottery pick either this year or next year.

It’s funny, because we just lived through a month of Sixers cult members lashing out at everyone for mocking the 12-41 Sixers. “Do you even watch this team? Update your jokes, bro, the team is fun this year!” And apparently that was too good for Hinkie! Things are looking up? Time to gut the team one more time.

The criticisms write themselves. The problem with the criticisms is that MCW wasn’t actually good. Long term, it didn’t make sense to invest in him as the centerpiece of the offense. Flipping him for anything would have been reasonable, but getting that Lakers pick back is an act of evil genius. And now they’re well positioned to get tankeriffic down the stretch and land another top-three pick of their own.

If you can’t stand what the Sixers are doing and want them to fail, that’s reasonable. But if you want the Sixers to fail, Thursday was not a good day.

Sam Presti

It feels like a decade ago that Presti was being called the greatest young GM in the NBA. The James Harden trade will do that to you. Likewise, banking on Derek Fisher and Jeremy Lamb in consecutive title runs will hurt a reputation. So will refusing to ever move Kendrick Perkins. So will pulling some bullshit draft gimmick to avoid paying a first-round pick. So will … you get the point.

Whoever you blame for all of that (Presti, OKC owners, or both), Thursday was a reminder that the GM in OKC is still pretty smart. Trading for $30 million of Lopez would have been a desperate, headline-grabbing move that would put OKC into luxury tax territory for the next two years. It would have been the sort of move that would look great on paper and then get progressively worse as it played out over the next few years.

Instead of making that mistake, Presti grabbed Enes Kanter for basically nothing, adding someone who will give this team most of what Lopez would have at a fraction of the cost. Presti also added Kyle Singler and Augustin from Detroit, two players who will help fill out the rotation and could absolutely make a difference with a few big shots in the playoffs. Not bad! It’s only bad if the Thunder freak out and decide they have to pay $60 million to keep Kanter this summer. But here’s to betting that the, um, fiscally responsible owners decide to stick with Steven Adams instead.

While we’re here: The Angry Thunder remain the best.

And considering that this came five minutes after the Reggie Jackson tweet above, I think this counts as the best subtweet of the NBA season.

Goran Dragic

Consider the other teams chasing him: the Knicks, the Kings, the Lakers, the Celtics. The only potentially good teams Dragic could have gone to were the Pacers or the Rockets, where he would have run into the same ball-sharing issues with Harden that he had with Bledsoe. Next to all of those options, the Heat must feel like a miracle. Now he goes to a playoff team, and we get to watch him strike terror into the rest of the East for the next two months.

I do wonder how we’d react if this were someone other than Dragic. Tom Ziller hinted at this Thursday morning when he compared it to the Carmelo Anthony situation in 2010. If Bledsoe and LeBron’s management company had done the same thing Dragic did and hijacked the Suns front office at the 11th hour of the trade deadline, would everyone be sympathizing with Bledsoe’s frustration? Or would we be writing open letters again? Maybe it’s because of the way Dragic plays, or maybe it’s because he’s white, but it seems like he got a pass through all of this. The Suns were winning, the three-guard lineup was working — albeit thanks in part to Dragic’s sacrifice — and the front office was pretty clear it would move Thomas this summer if Dragic wanted it, along with (probably) offering him a max deal. He wasn’t exactly a martyr.

Anyway, I’m not saying Dragic deserves more criticism for using his leverage this way, but his situation is a reminder that other stars probably deserve less. Everything is better when we look at athletes like real humans.

Miami

Still can’t believe Pat Riley got away with this.

The Chris Bosh blood clot scare is awful in real life, and obviously troubling on the court, too. That puts a damper on the euphoria Miami had yesterday. But here’s to hoping that Bosh will be OK. Even if it doesn’t happen this year, the trade Thursday, and the rise of Hassan Whiteside, solidifies Miami as a relevant contender for the next several years. It also solidifies Riley as the real-life Tywin Lannister, but you knew that. With Dragic onboard, Miami went from being a nightly factory of sadness to a top-five League Pass team in the span of an hour.

Get better, Chris Bosh.

Basketball Fans

Sometimes it feels like the Internet is willing chaos into existence with this sport. Other times, it’s like the NBA has turned into the soccer transfer market, and imagining players on new teams is just as entertaining as watching the actual sport. All I know for sure is that there has never been a more entertaining time to be a basketball fan. Thursday was more proof.

Zoran Dragic

For real, the rise of Zoran Dragic in America makes up for every stupid State Farm commercial we’ve had to sit through the past 12 months. Zoran is the real Cliff Paul, and now he’s going to take over South Beach.

God bless the NBA.

Also, I really want to know who made this video.

Filed Under: NBA, Miami Heat, Philadelphia 76ers, Phoenix Suns, Sam Hinkie, Goran Dragic, Ty Lawson, Boston Celtics, Milwaukee Bucks, Michael Carter-Williams, Washington Wizards, Jason Kidd, Brandon Knight, Chris Bosh, Denver Nuggets, Sacramento Kings, demarcus cousins, Nik Stauskas, Andrew Sharp

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Andrew Sharp is a staff editor at Grantland.

Archive @ andrewsharp