Examining the aftermath of a Goran Dragic and Reggie Jackson-rocked NBA trade deadline

Jonathan Raymond breaks down the biggest deals of Thursday's NBA trade deadline, the biggest by volume in the league's history.

New Miami Heat player Goran Dragic smiles during a news conference at his team introduction on Saturday. David Santiago / AP / El Nuevo Herald / February 21, 2015
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It was supposed to be a quiet NBA trade deadline on Thursday, with the league's top teams feeling settled and a general lack of noteworthy names attached to any rumours.

Then 39 players switched teams, many in the waning moments before the deadline – an NBA record.

It was a dizzying sprint to the finish that had title implications (if the Oklahoma City Thunder’s moves pay off), aggressive deals made by play-off contenders (via the Phoenix Suns, Miami Heat and Milwaukee Bucks) and even a homecoming (with Kevin Garnett returning to the Minnesota Timberwolves eight years after he left and roughly 20 years since he started his career there).

In some descending order of significance, we’ll break down the deals:

Goran Dragic to Miami Heat (with Zoran Dragic and, from New Orleans Pelicans, John Salmons; Norris Cole, Justin Hamilton and Shawne Williams to New Orleans from Miami; Danny Granger and draft picks to Phoenix Suns from Miami): The three-team deal, a very rarely used feature in North America's other sports, has become a recurring feature in the NBA, and Thursday's biggest was the one that landed Dragic, one of the league's top players last season, in Miami.

At the risk of overstating things, let’s start by acknowledging Dragic hasn’t been as good for the Suns this season as he was last year. Not nearly. His three-point shooting is notably down (40.8 per cent to 35.5 per cent), his knack for drawing foul shots as fallen off a cliff (.381 free throw attempts for every shot last year to .191 this year) and his assist percentage is significantly worse (28.1 per cent to 19.5 per cent, a career worst). His 2014/15 actually looks a lot like his first season in Phoenix, two years ago, which was good, but not great like last year’s breakout.

He’s still likely a very good offensive player, though, with his production probably in no small part dampened a bit this year by the Suns’ creative, if ultimately disjointed and failed, three-point-guard system. In Miami his game isn’t hugely dissimilar to Dwyane Wade’s, but being able to play more as a primary point guard next to a virtuosic offensive player like Wade should allow his creativity to flourish again and open up better looks from three, addressing at least two of his issues.

With Chris Bosh out for the season following a health scare (developing blood clots on his lung), the move’s impact is minimised, but it was still a coup for the Heat capitalising on Phoenix’s poor bargaining position with Dragic very publicly wanting out, and may now allow them to weather the loss of Bosh.

Enes Kanter, DJ Augustin and Kyle Singler to Oklahoma City Thunder; Reggie Jackson to Detroit Pistons (with Steve Novak to OKC from Utah Jazz; Grant Jerrett, draft picks and Kendrick Perkins – immediately waived – to Utah from OKC): The Thunder dealt their talented, mercurial guard Jackson after earlier this season they felt they made him expendable by trading for the talented, mercurial guard Dion Waiters from Cleveland.

Waiters was shipped out of Cleveland as the Cavaliers worked to address their depth issues, and Jackson now heads to Detroit as Oklahoma City seek to do the same. Don’t underestimate what simply a few capable bodies bring to a top-heavy, but thin, team. Cleveland is a great example, as decent if unspectacular players like Timofey Mozgov, Iman Shumpert and JR Smith helped the Cavs turn the corner from underachieving superteam to more well-rounded, hard-charging contender.

The likes of Lance Thomas, Jeremy Lamb, Sebastian Telfair, Ish Smith and Perry Jones have killed the Thunder this year, and replacing their minutes with even average players is a significant upgrade. Singler, an able role-playing wing who can knock down a three (40.6 per cent from deep), Augustin, a capable backup point guard who can reproduce the bench volume-scoring aspect of Jackson’s game, and Kanter, a nice offensive, if still developing, big man who for now at least plugs a hole in the dam with Steven Adams hurt, all bring useful skill sets to Oklahoma City.

Jackson, meanwhile, gets to be a starter in Detroit after agitating for a larger role in OKC for what feels like the better part of two years now. He’ll score a lot of points for the Pistons, in the same way that Brandon Jennings did before his injury, but he arrives in Detroit still much the same player as when he first gained a role with the Thunder in 2012/13. He needs to improve his three-point shooting, get to the line more often and play better defence if he wants to be more than just a scorer.

Brandon Knight and Kendall Marshall to Phoenix Suns; Isaiah Thomas to Boston Celtics; Michael Carter-Williams, Tyler Ennis and Miles Plumlee to Milwaukee Bucks (with the Lakers' 2015 first round draft pick to Philadelphia 76ers from Milwaukee; Marcus Thornton and a draft pick to Suns from Boston): Phoenix certainly got busy on Thursday, keeping only Eric Bledsoe of their point guard triumverate and essentially replacing Dragic and Thomas in that trio with Knight and Marshall, sacrificing Ennis and Plumlee in the process while gaining a draft pick.

Phoenix management must have seen their play-off hopes waning and decided a major re-tooling was in order. Dragic is a free agent in the summer and Knight will be a free agent too, but a restricted one, and Phoenix might have been intrigued by the 23-year-old in the midst of his best season yet as a pro. He’s arguably even been a little better than Dragic, shooting 40.5 per cent from three and playing a bit better defensively.

It’s impossible to predict how he’ll integrate in Phoenix alongside Bledsoe, but it wasn’t a bad upside play by the Suns to try and continue out as best they can this year.

The Bucks, meanwhile, have traded one of their core players somewhat perplexingly in the middle of a promising season. One of the best defensive teams in basketball, Knight was one of the few players Milwaukee could reliably count on to just score some points. And they replace him with Carter-Williams, a physically interesting second-year guard who won the Rookie of the Year last season but who is, unfortunately, a really, really bad offensive player (his career three-point shooting percentage is 26.1 and his overall field goal percentage this season is just 38.0. He can attack the rim but his free-throw rate is down, as well).

Carter-Williams does show hints of being a good distributor (42.0 assist percentage this year, though that may simply because somebody had to log assists in Philly), and at 6ft 5ins he fits into Milwaukee’s roster of long, athletic, defensively solid players. The problem is he also turns the ball over too much and the Bucks just don’t have great scoring options to distribute to at the moment.

All that said, it’s an interesting gamble by Milwaukee on a player who very well could break out in leaving the weird confines of Philadelphia, where he was a way-too-high usage centre of gravity for a team not much interested in winning for the time being. If coach Jason Kidd can accentuate the best of his playmaking instincts and defensive talent and coax even an approaching-acceptable shooter out of him, he might very well turn into a real asset for the Bucks.

Ennis was also a first round pick just last summer and could still turn into something useful after the Suns never bothered to play him much and Plumlee adds another long-armed 6ft 11in dude to a team seemingly bent on being comprised solely of players 6ft 5in to 6ft 11in tall.

Thomas arrives in Boston, as well. It’s not entirely clear why the Celtics would want him, but there he is now, all the same.

Arron Afflao to Portland Trail Blazers (with Alonzo Gee, from Denver Nuggets; Will Barton, Victor Claver, Thomas Robinson and a draft pick to Denver): As both Cleveland and Oklahoma City know, good depth is both underrated and hard to find, and Afflalo offers the Blazers great quality in depth.

Though Afflalo, 29, is probably mired in one of the worst seasons of his career, the eight-year veteran can hit a three (38.4 per cent for his career), score points with decent efficiency (45.5 career field goal percentage) and not really kill you defensively. The likes of CJ McCollum, Allen Crabbe and Dorell Wright just haven’t offered Portland much, and Afflalo represents an upgrade for their second unit. The Nuggets score 2.5 more points per 100 possessions with Afflalo on the court, and the Blazers, 10th in the NBA in offensive efficiency, will appreciate the boost in that department.

Kevin Garnett to Minnesota Timberwolves and Andre Miller to Sacramento Kings (and Thaddeus Young to Brooklyn Nets and Ramon Sessions to Washington Wizards for each, respectively): These are nice-story trades that really don't move the needle much in terms of impact. Garnett returns to the place where he forged the first half of his hall-of-fame career for a farewell tour. Miller, a California native who apparently lives in Sacramento in the off-season, reunites with his old coach George Karl to help teach Sacramento's kids a thing or two.

Ramon Sessions has been a good scorer in the past and might prove to be a slight upgrade for Washington, but he’s been awful for the Kings this season.

Young represents a definite upgrade from the Nets for the diminished Garnett, but it’s not clear how that matters for a team limping along in the eighth-seed and headed for a play-off battering seemingly no matter what.

KJ McDaniels to Houston Rockets (Isaiah Canaan and a draft pick to Philadelphia 76ers): Just another reminder that the Sixers will cash in anything that resembles a fungible asset for more picks, however little value they represent, as they blissfully tank away and that Houston general manager Daryl Morey will always jump at an opportunity to turn next to nothing into a fungible asset.

McDaniels had been shockingly competent for the hapless 76ers this year, he has the length to be a strong defender on the wings and some offensive upside that the Rockets may be able to wring out of him.

Javale McGee to Philadelphia 76ers; Pablo Prigioni to Houston Rockets; Tayshaun Prince to Detroit Pistons; Ish Smith to New Orleans Pelicans; Jonas Jerebko and Gigi Datmoe to Boston Celtics; Alexey Shved to New York Knicks; the rights to Chukwudiebere Maduabum to Philadelphia and the rights to Cenk Akyol to Denver: These are moves that happened, technically, on Thursday as well.

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