In one of the more surprising deadline moves, the Rockets acquired rookie K.J. McDaniels from the Sixers in exchange for backup point guard Isaiah Canaan and Denver's upcoming second-round pick.
The 22-year-old McDaniels had shown promise since being selected 32nd overall out of Clemson in last year's draft. The 6-foot-6 guard possesses freakish athleticism and a unique skill set, leading all qualified guards with an average of 1.3 blocks per game. He also averaged 9.2 points and 3.8 rebounds in 25.4 minutes for the retooling (and possibly tanking) Sixers.
Canaan, 23, appeared in 25 games for the Rockets, who selected him 34th overall in the 2013 draft. The 6-foot point guard made the D-League All-Star game in 2014 and has yet to receive consistent minutes in the league. He may get that chance in Philadelphia, who dealt Michael Carter-Williams to the Bucks earlier in the day and are likely without guard Tony Wroten for the rest of the season after he tore his ACL in January.
It's unclear exactly how McDaniels fits into the Rockets' plans, but Daryl Morey found potentially sneaky value with this deal. In terms of talent, Houston won this trade, although McDaniels now enters a crowded wing rotation behind James Harden, Trevor Ariza and Corey Brewer. He doesn't possess the typical Rockets skill-set, as he's not a good shooter (29.3 percent from deep) and will require development on the offensive end to really harness his athletic package.
Still, McDaniels gives Houston another defensive weapon that could help come playoff time, with the luxury of rotating in another long, instinctive defender on the perimeter as they hope to contend in a crowded Western Conference. They'll have the option of extending him a qualifying offer this summer to try and bring him back for cheap, but should he reject it, they risk losing him in restricted free agency to another team intrigued by his potential.
It's likely that Morey has a plan in mind, and on paper, the deal helps Houston short-term and possibly longer. In adding McDaniels, and also Pablo Prigioni from New York, the Rockets successfully, and cheaply, geared up for the playoff run.
The Sixers were likely inclined to bail on their young guard due to his unique contract situation. McDaniels turned down a modest four-year rookie deal in the off-season to sign a one-year minimum contract that makes him eligible for restricted free agency this summer. His surprising success and promise at a young age make him a clear candidate for a bigger offer outside of the rookie scale, and out of the range the Sixers wanted to pay.
In anticipation of McDaniels cashing in, rather than tender him a one-year offer, Philadelphia decided to proactively move him. It's another curious move in the NBA's great big rebuilding project, and a step backward on the court. The Sixers have a ton of cap flexibility and aren't drawing a star remotely soon, so it's tough to believe they bailed on a solid young project player so quickly, but if McDaniels garners a questionably high offer, you can see the logic. Maybe they knew he had no interest in re-signing, and wanted to ensure a return on their investment.
Canaan is an intriguing sleeper who plays tough, can shoot the ball and should find himself thrust into real minutes for the first time in his young career. The second-rounder helps the Sixers cut their losses. Overall, it looks like a step backward as the team continues to float in awful territory. But hey, it's the Sixers. One step forward, two steps back and one step potentially closer to lucky lottery balls.