Trade grades: Thunder add center Kanter, send Jackson to Pistons
With eyes toward immediately launching itself back into the championship contention mix, Oklahoma City traded guard Reggie Jackson and center Kendrick Perkins in a complex three-team trade involving Detroit and Utah that landed center Enes Kanter, forward Steve Novak, guard D.J. Augustin and forward Kyle Singler.
Jackson, 24, is averaging 12.8 points, 4.2 assists and four rebounds per game this season. Kanter, 22, is averaging 13.8 points and 7.8 rebounds per game this season. Jackson and Kanter are headed for restricted free agency this summer.
Augustin, 27, is averaging 10.6 points and 4.9 assists per game this season. He is on the books for $3 million this season and $3 million next season. Singler, 26, is averaging 7.1 points and 2.6 rebounds this season. He will be an unrestricted free agent this summer.
Perkins, 30, is averaging four points and 5.5 rebounds in the final year of a contract that is paying him $9.7 million. Utah is expected to buy him out. Novak, 31, is averaging 2.2 points in limited minutes this year. The shooting specialist is under contract for $3.4 million this year and $3.8 million next year.
Oklahoma City Thunder: B
Outgoing: Reggie Jackson, Kendrick Perkins, Grant Jerrett, the rights to Tibor Pleiss, a protected 2017 first-round pick
Incoming: Enes Kanter, Steve Novak, D.J. Augustin, Kyle Singler, 2019 second-round pick
Watching Thunder GM Sam Presti transform this season from one of the league’s most flexibility-minded and budget-conscious executives into an under-the-gun trigger-puller has been fascinating. Between his move to add Dion Waiters and this massive three-team trade, Presti has essentially overhauled his second unit, handing coach Scott Brooks a host of new pieces to integrate with just months to go before the playoffs. Will Brooks be able to put this together in time to give the Thunder a real shot at making a deep run? That’s the million-dollar question.
Presti’s move has accomplished a number of strategic goals. First, it allows Oklahoma City to get a return on Jackson, who is set to become a restricted free agent this summer with eyes on his own starting job after years backing up Russell Westbrook. Second, it cashes in Kendrick Perkins’ expiring contract for a young big man in Kanter, which is a particularly helpful move in the short-term because center Steven Adams is expected to be out until mid-March. Third, it adds two off-the-bench shooters in Novak and Singler. Finally, it adds a proven, if unexceptional, backup point guard in Augustin, ensuring that Jackson’s departure doesn’t leave the Thunder without a lead ball-handler for its second unit.
In un-Thunder fashion, the trade takes on future salary owed to Augustin and Novak. The move also forces Oklahoma City to make an offseason decision on Kanter, who was unhappy in Utah and is looking for a payday.
This move was worth doing simply because the downgrade from Jackson to Augustin, given the presence of Westbrook, Kevin Durant and Waiters as offensive threats and Jackson’s desire to seek a greater role in the offseason, just isn’t that steep compared to the improvements offered by the incoming pieces. Jackson hasn’t looked like an above-average starting point guard when Westbrook has missed time over the last two seasons, and Augustin might actually be a more natural fit in the role behind Westbrook. Adding Singler should help alleviate some of the Thunder’s cramped spacing issues too.
Perception of this trade will hinge on Kanter’s ability to acclimate quickly and contribute in the postseason, and Presti’s ability to re-sign him at a reasonable price. Luxury tax concerns are in play for Oklahoma City, and Kanter needs to earn his keep. Although he’s compiled stats in Utah, the Turkish center hasn’t yet enjoyed a real breakout and he watched as Rudy Gobert snatched his role pretty easily this year.
Kanter is a bit of a brute, and he joins an Oklahoma City frontline that includes a bunch of guys that like to mix it up (Adams, Mitch McGary and Nick Collison). Serge Ibaka should help cover for Kanter’s defensive limitations and they should make an interesting pairing on offense, as Ibaka’s range should allow Kanter some room to work down low.
Make no mistake, this is a win-now move for a team that’s facing the daunting prospect of sneaking into the playoffs and going on the road against a team like the Warriors in Round One. Those rough circumstances alone could wind up making this move much ado about nothing. Not necessarily, though. The Durant/Westbrook/Ibaka trio is now surrounded by multiple shooters (Anthony Morrow, Singler), a capable backup point guard (Augustin), an on-again and off-again microwave scorer (Waiters) and a bunch of physical bigs. That’s not too shabby at all. At the very least, this move should be enough to reduce Durant’s recent crankiness.
Detroit Pistons: B
Outgoing: D.J. Augustin, Kyle Singler, 2017 second-round pick, 2019 second-round pick
Incoming: Reggie Jackson
This is a sensible trade for Detroit, even if it might not deliver the upside that Pistons fans might be hoping for. The good news is that president/coach Stan Van Gundy acquired Jackson without giving up a first-round pick or a must-have rotation player. Compared to the prices paid for Rajon Rondo, Goran Dragic, and Brandon Knight, Van Gundy absolutely avoided overpaying for Jackson, who has the potential to be a dependable starting point guard.
That’s big, because Van Gundy was in a prime position to overpay after losing starting point guard Brandon Jennings to a season-ending Achilles injury. Van Gundy entered the deadline knowing that his 2015 postseason chances were up in the air and that he could be forced to make due without a full-strength Jennings for a portion of next season, too. Jackson is an immediate upgrade as Detroit pushes toward the playoffs and, assuming he is re-signed, he can hold the fort down next season, too.
There are still questions here. First, are the Pistons prepared to open up the vault for Jackson, who reportedly turned down an eight-figure extension offer from the Thunder? Does it really make sense to pay Jackson and Jennings, two players who will want to start and play the same position, or should Van Gundy wait to figure that out once Jennings is healthy? The top question is simple: How good can Jackson be? This year, he’s been pretty meh and he doesn’t seem to possess an elite skill: he’s not a knockdown shooter, his athleticism isn’t overwhelming, he isn’t an above-the-rim finisher and he doesn’t get to the line that much.
Perhaps a significantly larger role and freedom from Westbrook’s shadow will allow Jackson to flourish. On the other hand, a change of scenery might expose him a bit, too. In sum, Detroit did fine trading for Jackson, but it needs to be careful when it comes to the upcoming contract negotiations.
Utah Jazz: A-
Outgoing: Enes Kanter, Steve Novak
This was nice work by Jazz GM Dennis Lindsey to make a first-round pick appear out of thin air. Kanter made no secret of his unhappiness in Utah, and his play wasn’t exactly bowling anyone over. The player/team relationship seemed destined for a split this summer, and any minute given to Kanter instead of Gobert down the stretch of this lottery-bound season would have been a wasted minute.
In addition to the first-round pick, Utah adds German prospect Pleiss, who is currently playing a major role for Spanish powerhouse FC Barcelona. The 25-year-old Pleiss has expressed interest in jumping to the NBA in the past, and the Jazz would do well to pursue bringing him over as soon as possible.
Ditching Novak’s future money helps ease the financial pain of buying out Perkins, as coach Quin Snyder wasn’t making use of Novak anyway. Utah also gets a free look at Jerrett, a 6-foot-10 stretch forward who never got a shot in Oklahoma City after being picked in the second round of the 2013 draft.
All in all, Utah walks away with one big asset (the first-round pick), one smaller asset (the second-round pick) and two potential assets (Pleiss and Jerrett) in exchange a marginal player who had one foot out the door and some short-term financial pain. That’s a pretty solid haul for a young team that’s in talent acquisition mode as it attempts to find its footing.