The Bucks, Suns and Sixers combined on Thursday for a three-team point guard mega deal that sent Brandon Knight to Phoenix, Michael Carter-Williams to Milwaukee and a protected 2015 first-round pick to Philadelphia. Tyler Ennis and Miles Plumlee will also go from Phoenix to Milwaukee.
For Milwaukee, the surprising decision to move Knight is an indication it wasn't prepared to commit major dollars to him next summer, when he's set to enter restricted free agency. Acquiring Carter-Williams allows the Bucks to ride the 2013 lottery pick for the next two-plus years on his rookie deal.
Phoenix adds Knight as its point guard of the future after shaking up its deep guard ranks in multiple moves. The Suns traded Thomas, 2014 All-NBA third team guard Goran Dragic and Ennis to leave Knight and Eric Bledsoe as its young and talented backcourt duo.
Philadelphia parts with Carter-Williams, who has dealt with injury issues, shooting struggles and turnover problems in his sophomore season, to play for the future and add to their deep stash of draft picks. Carter-Williams admitted on Twitter he was "shocked" by the move.
Knight, 23, drew some buzz as an All-Star candidate for this first time this season and is averaging 17.8 points, 5.4 assists, 3.8 rebounds and 1.6 steals per season.
Carter-Williams, 23, won the 2014 Rookie of the Year award and is averaging 15 points, 7.4 assists, 6.2 rebounds and 1.5 steals this season.
Milwaukee Bucks: B
Outgoing: Brandon Knight
Incoming: Michael Carter-Williams, Tyler Ennis and Miles Plumlee
This trade could go two ways for Milwaukee, depending on how Carter-Williams manages the adjustment to playing for a real NBA team: A) it could wind up looking like a cautious, shrewd approach to salary cap management or, B) it could send them searching for a long-term solution at point guard after developing Knight into just such a commodity.
Knight is sure to command major attention in free agency this summer. He's shown steady progress over his four-year career, has good size and the ability to balance his scoring and play-making for others and he carries zero off-court concerns. Knight isn't a top-flight option at his position in the East, and he will be pretty far down the loaded totem pole in the West, but he's proven this year that he can be the starting point guard for a team with playoff aspirations. Given the number of suitors available and the projected rise in the salary cap in 2017, Knight was sure to press Milwaukee to its limit when it comes to the price of his next deal.
The Bucks responded by trading Knight early, thereby preempting a damaging offer sheet. Their bet is that Knight is a good, but not great point guard who would have been overvalued by unique market conditions and his career-year performance. That's a reasonable bet. By taking on Carter-Williams, the Bucks will enjoy paying him just $2.4 million next year and $3.2 million in 2016-17. It's possible Knight earns something like five or six times that money over the next two seasons, and not even his biggest fans would argue he's five or six times better than Carter-Williams.
Milwaukee coach Jason Kidd will add the long, tall Carter-Williams to a lineup that's already overwhelming with its wingspan. Kidd will look to narrow Carter-Williams' role, as he simply was asked to do too much with too little help in Philadelphia. Carter-Williams' size and versatility should appeal to Kidd, even if Knight has been a much better perimeter shooter and a more polished player this season. A season-ending knee injury to 2014 No. 2 pick Jabari Parker gives Milwaukee some time to work these things out, and perhaps it decided that Carter-Williams' contract scale was better aligned with Parker's and Giannis Antetokounmpo's.
The addition of Ennis, a 2014 first-round pick, and Miles Plumlee gives Kidd new options at point guard and center. Ennis has yet to get a real shot in the NBA. His selection by Phoenix made little sense at the time, given its depth at the position, and he could get some time in the short-term due to Kendall Marshall's season-ending injury. Plumlee joins a frontline that includes Zaza Pachulia and John Henson. If Larry Sanders' buyout proceeds as expected, there should be some backup minutes for him as a beefier alternative to Henson.
All told, this is a counterintuitive move for a small-market team. Usually, such teams do whatever they can to lock up their breakout performers for as long as possible. Have the Bucks' new owners succeeded in selling high on Knight or did they simply get cold feet and outsmart themselves? Knight's play in Phoenix will write that story.
Phoenix Suns: B+
Outgoing: Tyler Ennis, Miles Plumlee, and 2015 first-round pick (top-five protected, via Lakers)
Incoming: Brandon Knight
Phoenix entered the deadline needing clarity at the point guard position and better roster balance. GM Ryan McDonough resisted the temptation to stay the course in hopes of sneaking into the playoffs by blowing up his backcourt depth chart, shipping out Goran and Zoran Dragic (to the Heat), Thomas (to the Celtics) and Ennis (to the Bucks). Needless to say, the log jam is cleared. Knight now enters the mix able to play all the minutes he can handle alongside Bledsoe, and he should fit well in coach Jeff Hornacek's up-tempo, aggressive schemes. Assuming he is re-signed this summer, Knight's arrival will hopefully slow down Phoenix's incredibly fast roster churn, allowing McDonough to focus his effort and resources on filling out his frontline.
McDonough was reportedly facing pressure from Goran Dragic's agent in advance of the Slovenian point guard's free agency this summer. There was no sense for McDonough to enter a staredown he wasn't going to win, and taking action at the deadline prevented a worst-case scenario where Dragic walked for nothing and Phoenix was left without a true starting point guard. Although he had to part with the Lakers' blue-chip pick, he replenished his stockpile with a total of three first-round picks in the deals with Boston and Miami. More importantly, he put himself in position to ink Knight to a long-term deal this summer. When weighing who to reward with a lucrative four-year contract, there's little question that Knight's age (23) relative to Dragic's (28) played a major role in McDonough's thinking.
The Suns move forward with a point guard who should be capable of hanging with his peers in the West and with far fewer questions than they faced one week ago. The worst thing you can say about this move from Phoenix's perspective is that it turns Ennis into a totally wasted pick less than a year after the selection was made.
Philadelphia 76ers: A
Outgoing: Michael Carter-Williams
Incoming: 2015 first-round pick (top-five protected, via Lakers)
Well, well, well. Wouldn't you know it? Philadelphia has jumped at the opportunity to trade current players for future players. GM Sam Hinkie's performed this movie before, when he traded Jrue Holiday to the Pelicans in exchange for Nerlens Noel and a first-round pick. As with Holiday, Hinkie likely came to the conclusion that he should cash out when he could for a good, but not elite, point guard.
Carter-Williams certainly had his warts this season. His 25.6 percent three-point shooting qualifies as atrocious, he ranks in the top five in turnovers and he penned one of the dumbest essays you'll ever read for The Players' Tribune. At 23, he's older than most top-flight second-year players, and it's fair to say that his star potential is pretty limited. Because the Sixers have no desire to win in the short-term, and everyone knows it, their only calculation is whether the player they can get with the Lakers' pick has a better shot to be a franchise player than does Carter-Williams. That seems like a pretty safe bet, given that Carter-Williams currently ranks No. 45 among point guards in Player Efficiency Rating, even though he's feasting on all the shots and minutes he wants.
Philadelphia could get Los Angeles' pick as high as No. 6 this year, No. 4 in 2016 and 2017 and No. 1 in 2018. Given the Lakers' misguided stubbornness not to full-on tank, there's a good chance the pick conveys to the Sixers this year or next year. It might require some patience, but Hinkie has just acquired yet another quality shot at a franchise-level talent.