Here’s something that makes the NBA incredibly fun to follow: Despite the massive strides made over the last few years related to quantifying the effects that players have within a team’s structure — the high-tech cameras, the various statistical tools, the GPS tracking systems that measure fatigue — the inner realms of the human soul still confound analysis. The best-laid plans of the most rational, process-over-results GMs can be undone in a few hours just because one guy hates another guy and both guys have seriously had enough of everyone else.
Trade Deadline Day 2015 was the day of these malcontents: Three unsatisfied players helped spark an explosion that sent an incredible 37 players and more than a dozen draft picks flitting around the league in a whirl of deals that we’re still trying to get a grip on. So, with the first weekend after the deadline behind us, let’s check in on those players as they settle into their new surroundings — and let’s perhaps draw some irresponsible conclusions about what the future holds for them based on this tiny sample of games.
The Freedom Fighters
Goran Dragic, Miami Heat
Dragic’s relationship with the Phoenix Suns seemingly went from “wait and see” to “I will cut you with a broken bottle” in the space of about 12 hours. In retrospect, though, Dragic had been preparing to burn that bridge for several months. In September, he confirmed that he planned to opt out of the final year of his deal and enter free agency, but with the ultimate intention of re-signing in Phoenix. I call this the “toe in the water” plan. By November, after getting a taste of sharing the court in a three-guard system with Eric Bledsoe and the newly acquired Isaiah Thomas, the re-signing in Phoenix part had been replaced by an “actually, I’ll just straight up go into free agency” strategy.
So, when the Suns fired back at Dragic’s departed shadow — saying that the franchise was caught by surprise by his demands, that he was selfish, and that Brandon Knight was, in fact, better than the Slovenian — it struck me as an effort to put some positive spin on what was essentially a self-inflicted wound. You could even argue that Dragic did the Suns a favor by giving them a chance to get some value for him.
In his Heat debut against the Pelicans, Dragic struggled, scoring 12 points on 4-of-11 shooting and notching one assist, so obviously he’s trash and Knight is better than him. He looked extremely excited sitting at his locker, though.
Related: Zoran Dragic recorded a “DNP-CD.”
Reggie Jackson, Detroit Pistons
One of my favorite aspects of deadline day is when a player who’s just been traded under somewhat acrimonious circumstances tweets a statement that was probably written by his agent that expresses his gratitude to the organization and city that he had just recently been agitating to leave.
Take it away, Reggie Jackson.
A few hours earlier, Jackson had tweeted, “Crying tears of joy #godisgreat,” as if he were fleeing OKC via a parting in the Red Sea.
Jackson had been open about his desire to be a starter. When it became obvious that wasn’t going to happen in OKC as long as Russell Westbrook existed as a living human being, and after seeing his minutes and touches siphoned off to slake the bottomless thirst of Dion Waiters, Jackson just really stopped giving a shit. He stopped attacking the basket and fell in love with launching high-degree-of-difficulty jumpers, usually after a bunch of offense-strangling dribbles.
Allen Einstein/Getty Images
Jackson made his first start for the Pistons on Sunday against the Wizards, and his leaving-OKC tears of joy were replaced by welcome-to-Detroit heaves of nausea. Jackson came out way, way, way, nervous. Like, Willie Beamen on three cups of coffee before the playoff game, wild-eyed and stage fright–shook. The good news: He drove to the hole and didn’t settle. The bad news: He was totally out of control and missed his first eight shots in a series of wild flails. After hitting a long straightaway 3 at the end of the second quarter to break the doughnut, he went into the intermission 1-for-9.
After halftime, Jackson settled down and pretty much became the player Stan Van Gundy is hoping he’ll be. He attacked off the pick-and-roll and closed the game with 12 points on 6-of-9 shooting in the second half.
Enes Kanter, Oklahoma City Thunder
Another guy who’s apparently spent the last few years digging an escape shaft out of basketball purgatory is Enes Kanter, a.k.a “one of the most dominant players of his generation,” according to his agent. The emergence of the giant, long-limbed, rim-guarding Rudy Gobert in Utah meant Kanter would be pushed out toward the perimeter. Despite averaging career highs in points, rebounds, and minutes per game while shooting more long 2s than ever before, Kanter was unhappy with his role. As any dominant generational player forced away from the basket by lesser peers would be.
Cue the obligatory tweet thanking the fan base of the team he was desperately trying to get away from:
You were awesome. Not anymore, though. Sorry. There are other, present-tense awesome fans out there now.
OKC seems like a great fit for Kanter. He gives the Thunder a post-scoring dimension they’ve lacked — and not a minute too soon. Kevin Durant recently told GQ, “Obviously our players aren’t as good as, you know, than they were before. But you have to figure it out.” That probably sent an arctic chill down Sam Presti’s spine, as he’s the “you” who has to do the figuring. Kanter will be a restricted free agent this summer, and the Thunder are infamous for treating the luxury tax like sarin gas, but it’s either show KD you mean business or risk watching him in Wizards colors while you drink heavily. Once Steven Adams’s paw heels up, the Thunder have a sneaky deep front line of Adams, Mitch “Hassan Whiteguy” McGary, Kanter, and Nick Collison.
Kanter made his debut Saturday in a 110-103 victory against the Hornets, where he messed around, got a double-double — 10 points and 13 rebounds in 32 minutes — and added a nice cutting edge to the pick-and-roll with Westbrook. Against the Nuggets on Sunday, Kanter started and put up 20 points and 12 rebounds as the Thunder tore Denver limb from limb like a malevolent child working on a grasshopper.
The Missing Piece
Sam Forencich/Getty Images
Arron Afflalo, Portland Trail Blazers
Short of some kind of healing potion to return Nic Batum to pre-awful levels and regenerate the tendon in LaMarcus Aldridge’s hand, Afflalo is the best addition for a Blazers team looking to make a title push right goddamn now. The former Nugget thinks so, too, as evidenced by his Players’ Tribune essay titled, “Portland, Here I Come,” in which he proclaims himself “… ready for any role if it means bringing the Larry O’Brien trophy to your city.”
At home against Memphis on Sunday, Afflalo came off the bench for eight points, four rebounds, and a plus-16 in 24 minutes — but the Blazers blew a 13-point lead in the fourth and lost the game.
Fun Afflalo fact: He’s tweeted 20 times, but 19 of the 20 tweets have been erased.
Brandon Knight, Phoenix Suns
The Suns may have misplayed the Dragic situation, but GM Ryan McDonough has a track record of coming out ahead on deals. In acquiring good-not-great point guard Brandon Knight, a future restricted free agent, he’s managed to turn lemons into unsweetened, room-temperature lemonade that’s been sitting out on the counter for a few hours but is nonetheless tasty enough to drink.
In Saturday’s loss at Chicago, Knight made his debut with about six minutes to go in the first quarter and recorded 13 points and five assists in 25 minutes. Much has been made of his shortcomings as a playmaker — and the Bucks were obviously concerned about possibly having to overpay him — but Knight’s primary weapon, speed, means he should theoretically slot perfectly next to Bledsoe in the Suns’ attack. He showed that against the Bulls on Saturday, pressuring the defense with the threat of his jets and capitalizing on the space it created.
Isaiah Thomas, Boston Celtics
Oscar night’s Lakers-Celtics matchup was the game of the weekend for three reasons:
1. It went to overtime, and Lakers-Celtics going down to the wire is always fun, even when one or both teams aren’t good. The weight of accrued NBA history makes you feel like you’re taking part in something elemental to the sport’s character.
2. This video of Swaggy, Jordan Hill, and Carlos Boozer, delirious with victory, crashing Jeremy Lin’s postgame interview after the team’s 14th win.
3. Isaiah Thomas played his first game in Celtics green.
Harry How/Getty Images
Ball-dominant guards are like those species of birds where the first one to hatch pushes the other eggs off the edge of the nest: There can be only one. Thomas may not be very fun to play with, depending on your usage rate, but he is very, very fun to watch. I think you can make the case that, with his arsenal of dribble-hesitation moves and dangerous pick-and-roll savvy, he’s one of the most offensively polished small players ever. Against the Lakers, he scored 21 points on 13 shots, grabbed five rebounds, and dished out three assists in 25 minutes. He also got ejected with about five minutes left for slamming the ball to protest a call.
Steve Novak, Oklahoma City Thunder
There will come a moment this season when Novak will get loose and rain like four or five 3s in a row, driving the OKC crowd into fits of hysterics. In the meantime, though, Novak has played one game for OKC, coming on in the dying minutes of the Thunder’s 25-point decapitation of the Nuggets and missing two 3s.
Kyle Singler, Oklahoma City Thunder
With Durant out because of a sore foot, the milky visage of Singler becomes medium-key important to the Thunder. Singler’s 40 percent 3-point shooting should keep the lane free for Westbrook rim-bombing runs while providing Adams, McGary, and Kanter with room to work. He was 3-for-3 with seven points in his second start on Sunday.
New Countries for Old Men
Kevin Garnett, Minnesota Timberwolves
The Big Ticket is back in ’Sota! But he hasn’t played yet. To much roaring from the fans, the Wolves did show his face on the JumboTron during Friday’s pregame video before facing the Suns.
Amar’e Stoudemire, Dallas Mavericks
Yeah, yeah. I know — Amar’e is a washed-up, multi-knee-procedure, defensive wormhole who reposes, for reasons unknown, in bathtubs filled with merlot. Still, Dallas picking him up makes a lot of sense. He’s an effective offensive player despite languishing in New York’s ninth-circle-of-hell triangle post-ups this season, and the post-waivers price of about $500,000 for the remainder of the season is low risk.
Richard W. Rodriguez/Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Well, GUESS WHAT. Stoudemire came off the bench against the Hornets on Sunday for 14 points, three rebounds, and three dunks — including a banger on Jason Maxiell that shook poor Maxiell down to his core value system — all in 11 tidy minutes. Fire up that wine pool!
Andre Miller, Sacramento Kings
The Professor has renewed his tenure under his former dean George Karl, this time in Sacramento. Miller is 38 years old, and he leaves several inches of sock hanging off the end of his feet, ties his sneakers like a maniac, and apparently had not slept for 32 hours leading up to the Kings’ win over the Celtics at Sleep Train Arena on Friday. Sacramento’s 19.4 assists per game is the worst mark in the league. Miller, a consummate ball mover who had eight points and four assists against Boston and four points and three assists in yesterday’s loss at the Clippers, should help with that.
The Hinkie Diaspora
Michael Carter-Williams, Milwaukee Bucks
The 2014 rookie of the year was once ostensibly an integral part of the Sixers’ future, a rangy, long-limbed guard with a broken jumper and untapped potential. This season, Carter-Williams is shooting 38 percent from the floor, 26 percent from 3, and 64 percent at the line, with a PER of 12.9 that places him 57th out of 94 qualifying guards.
The Sixers are looking for stars, and they decided MCW ain’t ever gonna be one, so Hinkie showed him his walking papers.
MCW made his “DNP-CD” debut for the Bucks on Friday.
K.J. McDaniels, Houston Rockets
A promising player, last fall McDaniels surveyed the cranes and diggers carving out the hole that will one day form the sub-basement to the basement of the foundation of the future Sixers high-rise and decided to reject the team’s four-year, partially nonguaranteed deal. Wagering on himself, McDaniels took a one-year, fully nonguaranteed deal that allows him to become a free agent this summer. Hinkie, as we know, is not the type to take free-agency fliers on second-round picks who don’t look like stars.
McDaniels emerged from the heap of fourth-quarter garbage time during Houston’s weekend romp over the Raptors. He played just less than four minutes and was 0-for-2, with zero everything.
Isaiah Canaan, Philadelphia 76ers
Hinkie, cementing his relationship with former boss Daryl Morey as the quant version of the McHale-Ainge bromance, acquired Canaan and a second-round pick for McDaniels. Canaan immediately became Philadelphia’s starting point guard, and he went for 14 points (4-of-9 from 3), four rebounds, three assists, and a block in a (decidedly close!) loss to the Magic.
JaVale McGee, Philadelphia 76ers
McGee is an argument for height being way too important in basketball. In two losses with the Sixers, McGee — who is 7 feet tall, mobile, with longs arms and a basketball IQ of “What’s basketball?” — is averaging two points, 40 percent shooting, 2.5 rebounds, and two turnovers in a magical 12 minutes per game. At one point during his debut against the Pacers on Friday night, McGee drove toward the baseline and then just kind of kept going until he was out of bounds, as if the lines on the court meant nothing.
Fun fact: McGee is 27 and in his seventh year in the league. He’ll continue to stick around because he’s, as mentioned above, very tall and every once in a while he does something like this.
Alexey Shved, New York Knicks
Everything about Shved’s game is bad. It’s like his competitive spirit has been shot with a dozen tranquilizer darts but is still flopping around through unconscious motor function in the brain stem. This weekend, Knicks legend and color commentator Clyde Frazier said that Shved “adds another guy who can handle the ball. Like Bargnani.” So, yeah. Your 2014-15 Knicks.
Shved made his debut in Sunday’s demolition at the hands of the now-rampaging Cleveland Cavaliers. He played three minutes, missed his only shot, and grabbed a rebound basically by accident. If you can only get three total minutes at guard for a team that starts Langston Galloway and Jose Calderon, your NBA career is basically done. Alexey Shved — once a Knick, always a Knick.