The week of the NBA trade deadline started slow, and then ... well, it finished slow, too. While the basketball world was bracing for 72 hours of Woj Bombs this week, what actually happened was something like a series of stray landmines. Instead of “LOVE TO BOSTON,” we got “Randy Foye's still in the league? And now he’s on the Thunder? Huh.” Great trade deadline.
On the other hand, this is the Internet. We can find a way to write about anything. So with that in mind, here are six takeaways from the deadline madness that never got all that crazy.
1. Stan Van Gundy is building that wall
Phase 1 of the Stan Van Gundy Plan began with an inexplicably rich Jodie Meeks deal two summers ago. Then, after a slow start caught everyone off guard, Van Gundy sprung into action and waived Josh Smith with the stretch provision. It was considered a radical move at the time, but the team caught fire for a few weeks, briefly turning Van Gundy into a self-help celebrity among hardcore NBA fans.
Then came this summer. For a second there, I was pretty sure the Pistons had officially lost their way. After last year’s team tailed off due to injuries, Van Gundy gambled by giving Reggie Jackson a max contract to be the point guard of the future. At the time, it wasn’t clear how much competition Detroit had for Jackson, and it seemed like the logical extension of the Jodie Meeks approach a year earlier. Maybe if we pay him enough, he’ll be the guard we need.
Then, Van Gundy traded for Marcus Morris and added Ersan Ilyasova as mega-discount versions of the Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu mix he had around Dwight Howard in Orlando. By October, he had Kentavious Caldwell-Pope coming back as an unknown starter, and he’d added Stanley Johnson as a raw 19-year-old coming out of the draft. And then ... It all worked!
It’s hard to say whether the progress of the Pistons is a testament to the brilliance of Stan the Coach or the wisdom of Stan the GM, but Morris and Ilyasova have delivered as big men on the wing. Jackson has been a perfect partner in the pick-and-roll with Andre Drummond, and he really does look like a trustworthy point guard for the future. Meanwhile, Caldwell-Pope and Johnson are both helpful on the perimeter in 2016, with the potential to get much better down the line. Drummond is eating big men on a nightly basis, and the Pistons are in the playoff hunt. These first four months were Phase 2 of the Stan Van Plan.
Phase 3 started this week. Ilyasova and Brandon Jennings became Tobias Harris. Joel Anthony and a top-eight protected pick in June’s draft became Donatas Motiejunas.
Look at the Pistons’ future now:
PG: Reggie Jackson (25 years old)
SG: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (23 years old)
SF: Stanley Johnson (19 years old)
PF: Tobias Harris (23 years old)
C: Andre Drummond (22 years old)
6th: Donatas Motiejunas (25 years old)
7th: Marcus Morris (26 years old)
I never should have doubted Stan Van Gundy.
As solid as Ilyasova has been, Harris is an even more explosive scoring option to stretch the floor, and pairing his porous defense with a rim protector like Drummond should mitigate some of the shortcomings. Meanwhile, if Motiejunas can get healthy and the Pistons can re-sign him this summer, he’s overqualified to fill in at either front court spot off the bench. I’m not sure how much I trust Harris, but if nothing else, he’s a smart gamble for a team that would struggle wooing free agents this summer. There’s a lot to like here—especially if the NBA changes the Hack-A-Shaq rules and makes Drummond even more dangerous as the centerpiece to all this.
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Big picture: At the beginning of this week, the Pistons were a fun success story and a testament to Van Gundy’s coaching guile. Now the dust from the deadline has settled, and this isn’t just a clever experiment anymore. Look at the nucleus. How many young teams have a better core than the Pistons? And it’s only been a year-and-a-half. The Stan Van Plan is no joke.
2. Not every trade can be a blockbuster
Do these deals matter to you? Let’s go ahead and agree to ignore these deals.
3. Nobody wants Dwight
Dwight Howard was reportedly offered to the entire league over the past two weeks. And ... after gauging interest, the Rockets found out that the rest of the NBA isn’t very interested.
Getting cold feet makes sense. I don’t want to watch Howard play basketball anymore, and I didn’t want him on my favorite team. With his contract expiring, he’s free to explore his options this summer. Even if you ignore the questions about his intangibles, trading for him this week would have just given his new team the right to offer a fifth year of guaranteed money to an aging, injury prone big man who might not be good for more than two years of that deal. It's hard to blame the Hornets, Wizards, Celtics, or Blazers for balking at that proposition.
On the other hand, Howard can still help teams. He was great in last year’s playoffs. He’d be an upgrade over almost every starting center in the league, especially on defense. So what does the league do when he's a free agent this summer? Is Houston prepared to lose him for nothing? Would that be preferable to locking themselves into $30 million-a-year? If so, then where else does he go?
We’re headed into a summer that will be full of outrageous contracts—watch Ryan Anderson get John Wall money, watch Festus Ezeli make the Forbes list—but while the league goes crazy overpaying role players, it’ll be interesting to see who wants to bet big on the aging superstar who could actually make a difference. This week, nobody did.
4. Doc Rivers is on a mission
Jeff Green on the Clippers? Sure! The Lance Stephenson experiment did not go particularly well, or at least not well enough for Doc Rivers to give him consistent playing time. In that case, flipping Stephenson and a future first-round pick for Jeff Green is a victory.
In the short term, Green becomes another strange weapon who will look much better playing next to Chris Paul. That may not be enough to make a difference in the West, but for a team that’s been running on fumes without Blake Griffin, more help on the wings is a good thing. Long term? Rivers is on a mission to never use a first-round pick again. Do you believe in him? I believe in him.
5. The Wizards ordered the fugu
Looking at the Wizards’ deal for Markieff Morris, I remembered something SB Nation’s Spencer Hall wrote about poisonous fish and Florida’s decision to hire Will Muschamp: “We all just ordered the fugu together, and if the chef gets it right you’ll taste the faintest hint of the fish’s fatal poison on your tongue in a sublime culinary experience unlike any other. If he gets it wrong, we die.”
If Morris decides to play hard, the Wizards just got a sublime stretch four for John Wall, with three years left on one of the best contracts in the league. If he’s a headcase who causes problems in the locker room—ahem then this dinner could go horribly wrong. And good news, the chef in charge is Randy Wittman!
But I love it. Fish metaphors aside, the Wizards’ season was already dead. The future has been on life support. This is a low-risk, last-ditch move to revive things. The only relevant cost is a top-nine protected first-round pick in an underwhelming draft this June. And ... have you seen how good Markieff Morris is when he actually cares? He has averaged 20.6 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 4.6 assists since Earl Watson took over. And Washington’s got him for three more years after this season, at $8 million-a-year for a starter?
That is worth a first-round pick. The risk makes sense.
It’s so much better than trading for half-a-season of Howard or Anderson. And as crazy as trusting him sounds, it’s not half as terrifying as trading Marcin Gortat and picks for the right to give $100 million to Hassan Whiteside this summer. This was smart, and if it doesn’t work, the Wizards don’t lose anything that wasn’t already lost over the first four months.Marcin Gortat and picks for the right to give $100 million to Hassan Whiteside this summer. This was smart, and if it doesn’t work, the Wizards don’t lose anything that wasn’t already lost over the first four months.
6. Let’s do this again in the summer
Blake Griffin and Kevin Love could still be on the move once this season wraps up. Given the Warriors reign and the expected ceilings in Cleveland and L.A., those two players represent the best chance at getting meaningful pieces back to rearrange those rosters around existing superstars. Meanwhile, the Celtics still have an alarming number of assets to throw around the league, Daryl Morey and the Rockets will be reassessing everything, and teams like the Raptors could have big decisions to make with prospective free agents. What happens with Mike Conley in Memphis? What if Boogie and the Kings flame out all over again a year before his free agency?
It’s only February, but the most important takeaway from this week is that June and July will be fun.