Thursday's NBA trade deadline was a whirlwind of blockbuster deals, nostalgia, and confusion. It was exciting, frightening, and full of the last minute, impulse deals that broke Twitter and left NBA writers and fans scrambling to keep up.
Despite all of the trades and excitement, the Charlotte Hornets stayed out of it. Having acquired Mo Williams and Troy Daniels last week in exchange for Gary Neal and a future second round pick, the Hornets' front office staff were set with their roster unless another team called with an offer they couldn't turn down.
Those calls went elsewhere, and more importantly, a few of them went to teams in direct competition with the Hornets for the playoffs. So just how did the trade deadline effect the Hornets' playoff chances? Let's break down each team.
The Heat acquired Goran (and Zoran!) Dragic in exchange for Danny Granger, Norris Cole, Justin Hamilton, Shawne Williams and two future first round picks. Talk about win-now mode. Dragic is a far superior point guard than Cole or Mario Chalmers, and a starting lineup of Dragic, Dwayne Wade, Luol Deng, Chris Bosh, and Hassan Whiteside looks great on paper. However, Dragic only solves their weakness at point guard, and doesn't fix the Heat's ailing roster. Wade remains out, the wear on Deng's legs has left him a step slower, and Bosh won't play in the immediate future due to a shocking lung injury. We wish him nothing but good health. This trade also leaves the Heat's roster thin, with their bench consisting of Chalmers, James Ennis, Shabazz Napier, Chris Andersen, and Udonis Haslem. The older Dragic brother Zoran may be joining his brother, but its unclear how much, if any, impact he will have in Miami, having only appeared in four games this season.
Clearly, Miami is intent on keeping themselves in the playoffs, and Dragic will help in that regard. He's a near All-Star caliber point guard at his best, and he'll have some talented players to work with, at least in the starting lineup. The Heat got better, and may now be good enough to stay above the eight seed, but health will still be the determining factor as to how much better they will be the rest of the season.
The Nets were desperate to dump at least one of their big contracts, and it appeared they were on the verge of dealing away Brook Lopez to Oklahoma City in exchange for Reggie Jackson. In the end, the Thunder opted not take on Lopez, leaving Billy King waiting by his phone.
The day wasn't a total loss for Brooklyn however, as the team dealt veteran Kevin Garnett to the Minnesota Timberwolves in exchange for Thaddeus Young. The Nets kind of lucked into this trade — Garnett's age has shown this season and his no-trade clause meant the Nets couldn't move him. Then the Timberwolves, flipping through old family photo albums, got a rush of nostalgia and offered one of the best players up in hopes that Garnett would waive the no trade clause and return to Minnesota. Garnett did just that, and the Nets were able to acquire Young, who could be a decent piece in the immediate and long-term plans of the team.
Young is a tweener, able to play both the small and power forward positions, but unlike most tweeners who aren't particularly good at either position, Young is athletic and tall enough to guard players at either position, and has a solid offensive game playing from the wing. This season he is averaging 14.3 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 2.8 assists per game, with a field goal percentage of 45.1. It's likely he'll play small forward, which will shift Joe Johnson over to shooting guard. He's a good player, but he's never played for particularly good teams, having spent seven seasons with the Philadelphia 76ers, and this season with Minnesota. The Nets aren't all that good either, but they are in the playoff hunt. How well, and how quickly, he fits in Brooklyn will determine how positive an impact he has.
Reggie Jackson wanted out of Oklahoma City, and the Pistons surprisingly ended up with him. In exchange, Detroit sent Kyle Singler and DJ Augustin to OKC. It's unclear how good Jackson really is -- in 13 games as a starter this season he averaged 20.2 points and 7.8 assists per game, but in the 37 games off the bench he only averaged 10.2 points and three assists. He will be the starter in Detroit, so the Pistons will hope he puts up similar numbers to what he did as a starter in OKC.
The Pistons also showed a bit of nostalgia as well, acquiring Tayshaun Price from Boston in exchange for Jonas Jerebko, and Luigi Datome. Prince averaged 7.6 points and 3.2 assists with Memphis and Boston this season, playing mostly as a reserve. He is also shooting well from three point range at 48.8 percent. These are solid numbers given Prince's age, but he's most productive now off the bench, and the Pistons just traded away their starting small forward in Singler. The only other small forward on the roster is Caron Butler, but based on his production he isn't going to be the starter. If Prince is the starter, Detroit will need to limit his minutes.
Detroit certainly got better in the short-term, as Jackson fills the void left by the injury to Brandon Jennings, and Prince could be a solid 3-and-D player. Jackson will have to prove he's worthy of being a starting point guard full-time, but Stan Van Gundy has managed to make every trade this season work so far.
Side note: Long-term this will be interesting, as Jackson clearly wants to be a starter, but Brandon Jennings remains on the roster, and was in the form of his life before he tore his achilles. Unless the Pistons move Jennings in the offseason, Jackson may find himself in a similar position to where he was in OKC.
While the Bucks are seven and a half games in front of the Hornets, there is still a mathematical chance the Hornets can catchup (though it is highly unlikely as of now). In a surprise move, the Bucks traded away starting point guard Brandon Knight to Phoenix, and, as part of a three-team trade, acquired Michael Carter-Williams from Philadelphia, as well as Miles Plumlee and Tyler Ennis from Phoenix.
This trade make some sense long term -- Milwaukee seemed unconvinced they could re-sign Knight in the offseason, even though he was a restricted free agent and they could match any offer. It's possible they weren't willing to match any offer, and felt they would be out-bid by other teams. In any case, they decided to sell high on Knight, and received Carter-Williams to replace him, along with Plumlee (who is a solid big man), and Ennis (who is only 20 and comes with upside).
Short-term, Carter-Williams is a downgrade. He'll fit in well with the super-long Bucks lineup that uses their length well on defense. However, he has never been asked to play winning basketball, and he's suddenly heading to a team that is expected to win every night. He's a solid player with a bit of upside remaining, but his ceiling is lower than Knight's. This is a risk on Milwaukee's part, but maybe they feel comfortable enough staying in the playoffs with a 10 game lead over 9th place Brooklyn.
Finally, we turn to Boston, a team unexpectedly still in the playoff race. The Celtics received Isaiah Thomas from Phoenix, sending Marcus Thorton and a 2016 first round pick the other way.
This could be a sneaky good move for Boston, as Thomas has proven he can score the ball when given the opportunity and a starting role. The Celtics were in desperate need of a point guard that could run the pick-and-roll effectively, and as Kevin O'Connor of Celtics Blog points out, Thomas will do just that:
Thomas is scoring 0.845 points per possession out of the pick-and-roll this season, which unsurprisingly blows away everyone else on Boston's roster (Bradley: 0.782 PPP; Turner: 0.668; Smart: 0.448).
Despite the Celtics previous trades that were all about acquiring assets, trading for Thomas signals the Celtics don't mind making the playoffs this season. They are still a bit of long-shot, but they can't be taken lightly the rest of the season.
Time to panic right?
Not quite. Criticizing the Hornets for not making a deal on the deadline is unfair -- they did make their deal, it just happened last week. Acquiring Mo Williams is a solid move with Walker out, and he'll theoretically be able to play the off-guard position (where Neal was playing) once Walker returns.
Injuries have been this team's biggest problem this season, and yet they have been able to string wins together despite losing key players (aside from Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who they can't afford to lose for a single game). Trading away Gary Neal was addition by subtraction, even if it creates a bit of a log-jam at point guard once Walker returns. Yes, most of these teams got better, but none of these trades fixed all the problems facing each team. Plus, these trades sacrificed bench depth in exchange for starting caliber player. The Hornets on the other hand, retained their depth, and once Walker, MKG and Bismack Biyombo return they'll be the deepest team of those playing for the seven and eight seeds.
If anything, the race for the final two playoff spots in the East simply grew a little tighter. The Hornets still hold a slight advantage due to current positioning, and as our own Bryan Mears discovered, their remaining strength of schedule is favorable. With a healthy roster, the Hornets can stack up with any of the teams, but the sooner the team gets healthy, the better.
These trades made it clear that Miami, Brooklyn, Detroit, and even Boston are willing to make a playoff run, meaning Charlotte cannot afford another losing streak, and cannot afford to lose to any of these teams. In other words, Hornets fans should heed the words of Ray Arnold, who seriously had the worst luck, and did not deserve what became of him: