There weren’t a lot of fireworks at this year’s trade deadline. The most noteworthy deal - Tobias Harris to the Detroit Pistons - happened two days prior, while none of the big names who were rumored to be on the block ended up being moved. Few teams were willing to give up a lot of assets to acquire guys in the last year of their contracts, not with the rising salary cap meaning that almost everyone in the NBA could be a big player in free agency. The deadline was the calm before the storm in what should be an incredibly hectic offseason.
The trades that did go down aren’t likely to affect the balance of power league-wide, but there were some interesting ramifications for the teams that made them. Here’s a look at the ten biggest questions to emerge from a relatively uneventful day.
1) How big of a role will Channing Frye have in Cleveland’s rotation?
Frye has slipped below the radar after two seasons in Orlando playing for a team that has been stuck in neutral trying to move from full-scale rebuilding back into playoff contention. While he wasn’t the type of player who could turn a bad team into a good team, he has an interesting skill-set that could make a good team better and there’s a chance that he could carve out a role for himself in Cleveland, despite the ever growing logjam in their frontcourt.
At 6’11 250 with a 7’2 wingspan, Frye is a prototypical stretch 5 who brings a different dimension than any of the Cavs other big men. He can step out and stroke 3’s at a high volume (career 38.7% from 3 on 2.8 3PA’s) and play passable defense at either frontcourt position. While he’s not a rim protector and he doesn’t have exceptional quickness, he’s a 10-year NBA veteran with a good feel for the game who won’t embarrass himself on that end of the floor, which is more than can be said for Kevin Love.
Looking back on it, Frye was every bit as valuable to the Phoenix Suns improbable 48-win season in 13-14 as Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe, and the Suns have never been able to replace his combination of shooting, defense and veteran leadership. While he could be paired with any of the big men on the Cavs roster, the most interesting frontcourt combination might be Frye at the 5 and LeBron James at the 4, a five-out line-up which would stretch any defense in the league past its breaking point. At the very least, Frye gives Tyronn Lue a different look he can go too over the course of a playoff series.
2) Will Donatas Motiejunas be part of Detroit’s long-term future?
The Pistons trade of a first-round pick in this year’s draft (Top 9 protected) and Joel Anthony for Donatas Motiejunas and Marcus Thornton didn’t make a huge splash, but it was a move that could really benefit them this season and into the future. The biggest issue with Motiejunas has been his health - he has played in only 14 games this season coming off back surgery and he has never been able to put together a full season at the NBA level to show what he could really do.
He definitely has a skill-set to where he could improve the Pistons, who have been dying for help off their bench, particularly upfront. At 7’0 255, Motiejunas is a wondrously skilled big man who can shoot 3’s and score with his back to the basket and can be utilized in a number of different ways on offense. He could be paired as an off-ball threat next to Andre Drummond and he could play as a small-ball 5 who could open up the floor or be a primary option in the post for the 2nd unit. There are plenty of minutes to be had for him in Detroit so he could play his way into a big contract in the off-season as a restricted free agent. The question is how much money will the Pistons be willing to commit to a bench player with a long history of injury woes.
3) Can Markieff Morris get the Wizards back in the playoff mix?
With their backs against the wall and likely needing a playoff appearance to save their jobs, Wizards GM Ernie Grunfeld and coach Randy Wittman rolled the dice on the mercurial Morris. The other half of the Morrii hasn’t been the same player on or off the court since the Phoenix Suns shipped his twin brother to Detroit in the off-season, and he essentially played his way out of Phoenix despite being signed to one of the most favorable contracts in the league.
At 6’10 240, Morris can do a little bit of everything and he represents a huge talent upgrade for a Wizards frontcourt that hasn’t been able to find itself in the aftermath of their decision to play smaller this season. When he’s at his best, Morris can shoot, dribble and pass with the best big men in the league and he can play credible defense at either frontcourt position. He should be able to thrive in the two-man game with John Wall and he gives Wittman a lot of line-up options - they can play big and maintain their spacing with Morris at the 4 and they can go small and attack from every spot on the floor with Morris at the 5.
Can he get his head on straight and will that be enough to get the Wizards back into the mix in what has suddenly become a very competitive race for the 7 and 8 seeds? If not, we’re likely to see a whole lot of changes in Washington in the off-season and none of them will involve Kevin Durant. There’s an argument to be made that Wizards fans should be rooting for them to come up short, if only to force owner Ted Leonsis to pull the plug on a management team that has never really inspired that much confidence.
4) Is the fourth time the charm for Jeff Green?
The Los Angeles Clippers are the latest team to take a flyer on Green in the hope that he can put it all together and take their team to the next level, less than a year after their archrival Memphis Grizzlies tried the same thing. The clock is ticking for the Clippers and the Green trade is the latest in a long line of YOLO trades by coach/GM Doc Rivers that have emphasized short term over the long without necessarily improving their short term outlook. They gave up a future first round pick to acquire Green, even though he’s set to be a free agent in a few months, so it’s now or never if this trade is going to work out for them.
In a best case scenario, Green slides between the 3 and 4 positions and gives them more size and athleticism to fill the hole created by Blake Griffin’s decision to start a Fight Club with members of the training staff. Green could be a small-ball 4 next to either DeAndre Jordan or Griffin at the 5 while also giving them more size at the 3 in their bigger line-ups. It’s basically exactly the role he had in Memphis, except playing next to better players in more space.
In a worst case scenario, Green is who he has been in every stop of his NBA career, a tweener forward who doesn’t shoot well enough to be a 3 or rebound well enough to be a 4 and can’t be bothered to give anything more than inconsistent effort on defense. While he probably can’t hurt the Clippers, there’s no guarantee he ends up more useful than Lance Stephenson, as their most productive 5-man line-up this season was Stephenson next to their Core Four.
5) Will the Grizzlies' firesale impact Mike Conley’s decision in the offseason?
The Grizzlies were caught in an identity crisis even before Marc Gasol went down with a season-ending foot injury a few weeks ago, a move which essentially ended their season and forced their hand when it came to getting a return on Green and Courtney Lee, both of whom were set to be unrestricted free agents in the offseason. They were able to turn them into one first and four second round picks, but that’s not going to mean much for Conley as he decides on the contract that will take him through the end of his prime.
The days of the Grit ‘N Grind Grizzlies have come to an end and Gasol is the only player they can really sell Conley on as a viable part of their future. Will that be enough to keep him in town? Or will the aging core around him convince him that he should look for greener pastures? None of that even gets into whether a team should be eager to invest a max contract on an undersized 28-year-old PG who relies primarily on his speed and athleticism. Guys with Conley’s skill-set don’t tend to age that well and that’s even if they aren’t asked to carry the type of load he would have to carry for Memphis 2.0.
6) Will Randy Foye earn playing time in Oklahoma City?
The open question for the Thunder all season has been who will play crunch time minutes next to Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka, with most people pegging their biggest need as a reliable 3-and-D player on the wings. They didn’t have to give up much (DJ Augustin, Steve Novak and two second round picks) to get Foye, which makes sense considering that’s relatively undersized for a wing (6’4 215 with a 6’6 wingspan), has never been known for his defense and is putting up horrible shooting numbers this season (35.1% from the field, 29.6% from 3).
If you want to take the glass half full approach, Foye is a 10-year NBA veteran who is widely respected around the league and has a proven history as a shooter and a scorer. This is his best (and possibly last) chance to make an impact on a contender and he could theoretically be a wiser and more mature version of Dion Waiters. At the very least, he can’t be any worse than Derek Fisher or Caron Butler - he won’t need a motorized scooter to get up and down the court.
7) Will Courtney Lee keep the Hornets in the playoffs?
The Hornets aren’t messing around when it comes to getting in the Top 8 out East, as Lee is the second 3-and D wing in the last year of his contract (along with Nic Batum) whom they have given up real assets to acquire. With the Wizards and the Pistons breathing down their necks, they almost had to do something, especially once Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was lost for the season after re-injuring his shoulder. Charlotte now has one of the best wing combos in the NBA, a duo which would cost them a fortune to re-sign in the off-season, if the two of them even want to come back and aren’t tempted by a ton of suitors with better teams in bigger markets. It’s now or never for the Hornets, who are putting all their chips into the middle of the table.
8) Did the Magic keep the right players?
With the playoffs looking increasingly out of reach, the Magic probably had to make some type of move at the deadline to clear out some of the logjams in their rotation and try a different mix of players. They were in the tough spot of not being good enough to contend and not being bad enough to where they could just throw minutes at every talented player on their roster. A lot of tough decisions had to be made and it’s an open question whether they made the right ones.
The guys who have gotten the most publicity in Orlando are Nik Vucevic, Victor Oladipo and Elfrid Payton, but I was always more intrigued by Tobias Harris, Aaron Gordon and Evan Fournier. The latter three give you the length and athleticism to switch positions on defense, open up the floor and play a number of different line-ups. The former features a center who can’t play defense, a shooting guard who holds the ball and a point guard who can’t shoot. Vucevic and Payton, in particular, have holes in their game that will make it very difficult to build around them and I’m not sure how appealing they will really be for prospective free agents. The Magic have opened up a ton of cap space in the off-season, but there’s no guarantee there’s going to be anyone worth having who is willing to take their money.
9) How much will the extra first round picks help the Suns?
The Suns haven’t gotten much right over the last few seasons, but the one thing they have proven themselves to be really good at is finding talent in the draft. They held out for a first-round pick in the Markieff Morris sweepstakes and they were able to find a bidder in the final minutes, a move which could have a huge impact on the franchise considering they found Devin Booker in that range of the draft last season. 2016 isn’t likely to be as strong as 2015, but there are no bad drafts in the NBA, only bad drafters. They have three picks - their own, the Wizards and the Cavs - and Suns GM Ryan McDonough is likely going to have to nail them to keep his job.
10) Can Jarnell Stokes succeed in New Orleans?
I was a fan of Stokes coming out of Tennessee but there were only a few places where a big man who couldn’t protect the rim or stretch the floor was going to work in the modern NBA. Playing next to Anthony Davis is one of them and Stokes could end up being a steal for the Pelicans if he ever finds his way onto the floor. At 6’8 260 with a 7’1 wingspan, he’s a bull in a china shop who plays with a chip on his shoulder and has a surprising combination of skill, touch and athleticism for a player of his size. He basically hasn’t gotten on the floor in his first two stops in Memphis and Miami and this could be his last chance to stick in the league. New Orleans really has nothing better to do the rest of the season than to take a flyer on Stokes and there’s a chance it could work.