NBA Trade Deadline Chips with Most to Prove
Enough ink has already been spilled explaining why the 2014 NBA trade deadline was as quiet and calm as it turned out to be. Whatever the causes, we can all agree on the facts at hand: that nine trades were consummated in the day-and-a-half leading up to the 3 p.m. Eastern deadline on Feb. 20, that not a single first-round pick changed hands and that no superstars will be changing addresses until July.
Now that we've gotten those basics out of the way, let's take some time to look ahead to what's in store for those players destined for new digs. For each, being part of a swap brings with it both the agony of having to move one's life to a different city in the thick of a hectic campaign and the potential ecstasy that accompanies the fresh opportunities therein.
Unless you're, say, Earl Clark and Antawn Jamison, who may have trouble finding gainful employment this season after being bought out on the back end of the deals in which they were involved.
In any case, these seven swap victims will have plenty to prove in the coming months as they seek to carve out comfortable niches of their own on foreign soil.
If not for Evan Turner's last-second departure to a contender, the honor of "Most Consequential Player Dealt at the Deadline" would've belonged to another now-former member of the Philadelphia 76ers: Spencer Hawes. The sweet-shooting 7-footer cost the Cleveland Cavaliers two big players (Earl Clark and Henry Sims) and a pair of second-round picks, but he should prove worthwhile as no worse than a fill-in for the perpetually injured Anderson Varejao.
The Cavs wouldn't need such vindication if Hawes were under their control over the long term. Hawes, though, is ticketed for free agency this summer, rendering his next two to three months in Cleveland that much more crucial to his future. As Grantland's Bill Simmons and Zach Lowe noted in their trade deadline chat, Hawes' play—like that of the Sixers as a whole—had tailed off considerably since his surprisingly torrid start.
Hypothetically speaking, joining a team that's actually trying to win should be enough of a spark to get Hawes to hustle a bit more on both ends of the floor. The Cavs had been on a six-game winning streak prior to their loss in Toronto on Friday night, during which Hawes tallied seven points, 10 boards, three assists and three blocks in 26 minutes off the bench. Even with that, the Cavs sit four games back of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
If Hawes can quickly establish himself as a key cog for a Cleveland team that sneaks into the postseason, he should earn himself a pretty penny or two on the market this summer.
And even if he doesn't, you can bet there will be at least one sucker out there who's entranced by a soon-to-be 26-year-old who can play the pivot and shoot from distance (39.9 percent from three this season)—and has the requisite cap space to make Hawes a rich man.
Spencer Hawes may put up some solid numbers with the Cavs from here on out, but he won't have the same chance to contribute to a legitimate contender that now lies before Evan Turner.
The No. 2 pick in the 2009 NBA draft joins the Indiana Pacers as part of a deal that saw Danny Granger depart the only team he's ever known as a pro. Turner's young, fresh legs will be a welcomed departure from Granger's decrepit form. As such, the new arrival should have little trouble replacing the 8.3 points and 3.6 rebounds off the bench that his predecessor provided this season.
Where Turner's task toughens is in supplementing the veteran leadership for which Granger had come to be known for. Granger was Indy's first draft pick and first All-Star in the aftermath of the "Malice at the Palace," and he hung around long enough to see the Pacers become a powerhouse again. There's no way that Turner can possibly fill that void or that anyone in Naptown should expect him to.
Intangibles aside, Turner's versatility as a ball-handler, scorer, facilitator and rebounder should come in handy for a bench that, despite the offseason additions of Luis Scola and C.J. Watson, still ranks among the least productive in the league, per Hoops Stats.
Turner won't need to do too much in Indy, seeing as how Lance Stephenson is already entrenched as the leader of the team's second unit. But if Turner can be anywhere near as productive on a team with title hopes as he was on the tank-tastic Sixers, he should be due for a decent payday as a restricted free agent this summer.
And if Stephenson takes his talents elsewhere in July, Turner might not have to look very far for his next contract.
You could say that Austin Daye is a poor man's Evan Turner, if you were so inclined to compliment a player such as Turner, whose own career hasn't amounted to much just yet.
The son of five-year NBA veteran Darren Daye, Austin has always been long on potential but short on playing time in the pros. When given the opportunity, Daye has shown himself capable of being a jack-of-all-trades type on the offensive end.
Which is impressive, since the 25-year-old's officially listed at 6'11".
That potential was enough to draw interest at the deadline from the San Antonio Spurs, who gave up French guard Nando de Colo to pry Daye from the Toronto Raptors. The Spurs could certainly use a versatile big at the moment, given their season-long and team-wide bout with the infamous injury bug.
Daye didn't play on Friday, despite the fact that San Antonio's blowout loss to the Phoenix Suns was replete with "garbage time." That may have had as much to do with Daye's newness to Gregg Popovich's system as anything else.
Should Daye prove himself worthy of playing time in the Alamo City, he has the talent and the tools to be Pop's next reclamation project, following in a long line of scrapheap finds like Danny Green, Patty Mills and Aron Baynes, all of whom have grown into substantial roles on the roster of a championship contender.
Gary Neal was once in Daye's shoes. The Towson product spent three seasons playing pro ball abroad before joining the Spurs as a 26-year-old rookie in 2010-11. Neal found his niche as a shooter in San Antonio and went on to become a valuable contributor under Pop, peaking with a 24-point explosion against the Miami Heat in in Game 3 of the 2013 NBA Finals.
Despite that effort, the Spurs didn't retain Neal this past summer, choosing instead to splash their cash at 2014 three-point champ Marco Belinelli. Neal snagged a two-year deal with the Milwaukee Bucks but never quite caught on, perhaps as a result of his early-season spat with Larry Sanders.
Whatever the case may be, Neal has since found his way to warmer, more winning-friendly climes with the Charlotte Bobcats. Their 25th-ranked offense could desperately use a dose of shooting to spread the floor and create space in the middle for Al Jefferson, who's been putting up 30-10 games with regularity of late.
A hot streak here and there from Neal should not only open up Charlotte's one-dimensional attack just a smidgen but also allow the wayward Spur to show that he wasn't just a product of Pop's system and that he can indeed be a productive player whenever and wherever he may be.
Marcus Thornton has a productive past of his own that he'd probably like to relive with his new team. Just two years ago, Thornton averaged 18.7 points per game in 51 starts for the Sacramento Kings. Granted, the Kings were terrible—they went 22-44 during the lockout-shortened season—but turning in 20-point nights with regularity in the NBA is no easy feat, regardless of the circumstances.
And especially when you're sharing the ball with DeMarcus Cousins and Tyreke Evans, among others.
That made Thornton's four-year, $31 million deal look more than passable at the time. Predictably enough, he's fallen off considerably since then, to the point where he was scoring a mere 8.3 points on a pitiful 38.1 percent shooting as a part-time starter in Sacramento this season.
Now, his expensive contract will be the Brooklyn Nets' to bear. Thornton's shown that he can still be a productive scorer, as was the case when he lit up the Indiana Pacers for 42 points in late January.
But can he inhabit such a role on a team that's trying to win? And can he do so to the extent that the Nets don't look like complete fools for taking on his $8 million salary and the massive luxury-tax hit that comes with it?
Thornton will be hard-pressed to live up to those dollar valuations, even if he returns to being a reliable 20-point scorer off Brooklyn's bench. But if his contributions are enough to solidify the Nets as a playoff team in the East and, perhaps, push them closer to a slice of home-court advantage, his arrival will have been well worth it.
Thanks in no small part to Mikhail Prokhorov's endlessly deep pockets.
Of all the players on this list—and, perhaps, of all the players dealt in the lead-up to the deadline—Steve Blake probably has the least to prove. He came to the Golden State Warriors with an extensive track record of solid point guard play, particularly as a backup.
That's precisely how the Warriors plan to use Blake, whom they snagged from the Los Angeles Lakers in exchange for MarShon Brooks and Kent Bazemore on Wednesday. Golden State's search for a cheap facsimile of Jarrett Jack had brought Toney Douglas and Jordan Crawford to the East Bay, only to see the former deal for the latter earlier this season.
Blake isn't about to morph into the sort of ball-handler and crunch-time scorer that Jack was for the Dubs in 2012-13. Instead, he'll be asked to serve as a steady hand with the second unit. He's a player whose history as a shooter (39 percent from three for his career) will make him plenty useful, whether or not he's the one orchestrating the offense.
Moreover, Blake's toughness should blend seamlessly with head coach Mark Jackson's old-school philosophy. If nothing else, the newest Warrior should allow the team's other reserves to stay in their lanes and give Jackson some options for shooting-heavy, small-ball lineups featuring Blake, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.
For the soon-to-be 34-year-old Blake, this opportunity could serve as a two- to three-month audition for what might be his last NBA contract.
And if the Dubs like what he does, Blake could find that cash right under his feet.
Roger Mason Jr.
Roger Mason Jr. seemed to have found a home with a contender again. Mason made a name for himself as a three-point specialist during a two-season stint with the Spurs and bounced between New York, Washington and New Orleans before landing in training camp with the Miami Heat.
Mason earned a roster spot and stuck around long enough to see his contract guaranteed for the season. But he struggled to scrounge up minutes in Erik Spoelstra's rotation before the Heat decided to dump him on the Kings in exchange for a highly protected second-round pick.
Sacramento promptly waived Mason, making him a free agent before he'd played a single second in California's capital. The challenge now is for Mason and his representation to find a team with both a need for perimeter shooting and a roster spot to bring some in.
At the very least, Mason can still be a spot-up specialist in the Association. He's been a 38.3 percent three-point shooter over the course of his career and nailed 41.5 percent of such attempts with the then-Hornets last season.
All Mason needs is a chance to show that his stroke is as pure as ever, even at the age of 33. Whether he gets that chance will likely determine if "Money Mase" has any future whatsoever in the NBA.
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