The Detroit Pistons and Orlando Magic are both aiming to end long, painful playoff droughts. But in getting together to better meet those ends on Tuesday, only one came out with a prettier picture in both the short and long terms.
The two fringe Eastern Conference playoff contenders announced Tobias Harris would be heading to the Motor City, with Brandon Jennings and Ersan Ilyasova reuniting with Scott Skiles in Orlando. In doing so, the Magic may have given the Pistons a leg up in a race for eighth place in the East that's just heating up.
The upshot is simple enough to spot for the Pistons. In Harris, Detroit nabbed a player who figures to fill several holes, albeit while digging a few new ones.
Harris is the sort of attacking wing-scorer the Pistons sorely lacked. When standing in with Detroit's starters, he can serve as a threatening third option beside the pick-and-roll pair of Reggie Jackson and All-Star Andre Drummond. And when that duo hits the bench, Harris can prop up a second unit that has scored at an anemic rate this season.
There will be some concern about just how well Harris fits alongside Jackson and Drummond as far as spacing is concerned. The Tennessee product's outside stroke has slipped significantly in 2015-16 after soaring to career-best rates the previous season:
Put him on the floor with the Pistons' other subpar shooters (i.e. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Marcus Morris, Stanley Johnson) and opposing defenses might be able to suffocate the Jackson-Drummond pick-and-roll into submission.
To that end, swapping Harris in for Ilyasova could hurt Detroit's offense, which already ranks among the league's bottom half in points per possession, according to NBA.com. Harris has proved to be an inferior shooter off the catch and thus won't threaten opposing defenses as well as Ilyasova did.
On the other side of the floor, though, the Pistons could be in better shape. According to stats obtained by B/R Insights, Harris has held opponents to 40.8 percent shooting—nearly 10 percentage points stingier than Ilyasova (50.7 percent). It's here that the 23-year-old's amorphous NBA profile could work to his and Detroit's advantage.
"I've already talked to Coach [Stan] Van Gundy about that," Harris told ESPN's Zach Lowe. "I'm not big on the position thing. I'm versatile. We'll just figure out which guy everyone is best fit to defend and go from there every night."
What Harris can't quite do for the Pistons is play point behind Jackson. That task now falls to the aging Steve Blake and the inexperienced Spencer Dinwiddie, though Detroit could bring in another guard—like, say, D.J. Augustin, per the Detroit Free Press' Vincent Ellis—to secure the position.
The Magic, on the other hand, can call off their search for support behind Elfrid Payton. Between Payton's youthful inconsistency and C.J. Watson's injuries, Orlando needed another option at the point.
And while Jennings has shot poorly (37.3 percent from the field, 31.2 percent from three) since returning from a torn Achilles, he's never been a high-efficiency guy. More importantly, he can still make plays for teammates courtesy of his nifty handles and eyes-behind-the-head court vision.
As for Ilyasova, he looks like an upgrade at Orlando's stretch 4 spot over Channing Frye, who could be gone from the Magic Kingdom soon (more on that later). He's younger, far more reliable on a night-to-night basis and does a better job on the boards while still drawing defenders to the perimeter (36.3 percent from three).
These two players could put Orlando in better position to win now, especially if Aaron Gordon parlays his eye-opening performance in the Slam Dunk Contest into a second-half breakout as Harris' replacement.
"We feel like additional minutes for Mario [Hezonja], Evan [Fournier] and Aaron Gordon are important for our team—both this season and long term," Magic general manager Rob Hennigan said, per team reporter John Denton. "I think all of that sort of gets factored into the stew when you make a decision like this. That was certainly a factor."
So, too, were the future salaries of Hezonja, Fournier and Gordon, along with those coming to Payton and Victor Oladipo once their rookie deals expire. By snipping Harris from the payroll, the Magic will have more flexibility to chase marquee free agents now and take care of their own later.
Instead of braving the salary-cap bonanza to come, the Pistons essentially took care of some offseason business before the opening bell. Whatever happens, the team will be maxing out Andre Drummond as a restricted free agent this summer. If Harris proves potent as a Piston, Van Gundy won't have to worry about cobbling together cap space to pursue Ryan Anderson—an old favorite from their days together in Orlando.
As Jeff Bower, Detroit's general manager, explained, per Pistons.com's Keith Langlois:
We looked at this as a player (Harris) we would want to add as a free agent and have wanted to add as a free agent. Difficulties that are contained with the restricted status really made it hard this past summer, but he’s a valuable player we have a long-term outlook with and feel like we used our cap space for the summer on a very valuable player for us and we get the added benefit of having him available for the stretch run this year.
That approach sounds eerily similar to the one the Pistons took at last year's trade deadline, as Sports Illustrated's Rob Mahoney noted:
"In that way, it’s a similar format to the acquisition of Reggie Jackson. Both were added via trade as a means of effectively sidestepping free agency. Jackson was the piece that might trigger the Pistons’ rebirth. Harris is the player that might amplify it."
Harris helping to turn the Motor City back into a basketball powerhouse over the long haul wouldn't be a good look for Orlando. But the black eye could be more immediate if Harris lifts the Pistons into the postseason just ahead of the scrappy Magic.
Hornets Think Big, Go Small
The Charlotte Hornets nearly set the race for the East's eighth playoff spot ablaze on Tuesday with its pursuit of Dwight Howard, per ESPN's Marc Stein. Even if nothing comes of those talks, the Hornets can feel as though they've made progress prior to the deadline, if only for the time being.
Shortly after the Orlando-Detroit swap went down, Charlotte announced it had snagged Courtney Lee as part of a three-team deal that saw Brian Roberts join the Miami Heat and P.J. Hairston, Chris Andersen and four second-round picks land in the hands of the Memphis Grizzlies.
Lee's season in the Queen City begins just as Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's has ended. Per The Vertical's Adrian Wojnarowski, Kidd-Gilchrist will undergo surgery on the same shoulder that put him out before the 2015-16 campaign began.
Lee's perimeter prowess (37 percent from three this season) will come in handy next to Kemba Walker and Nicolas Batum. At the very least, the Hornets can look forward to fewer headaches with Lee replacing Hairston, as Yahoo Sports' Marc J. Spears noted:
The Hornets rid themselves of a player they were tired of dealing with in PJ Hairston, one NBA exec said. https://t.co/w98zD1js6S— Marc J. Spears (@SpearsNBAYahoo) February 16, 2016
Still, Charlotte paid a steep price to satiate Michael Jordan's "win now" thirst with an impending free agent. As Sports Illustrated's Ben Golliver detailed:
Center Al Jefferson, Batum and Lee are all headed to unrestricted free agency this summer, meaning Charlotte will need to decide whether it should pay up to keep three key pieces from a mediocre team. Should Lee wind up as merely a short-term rental, it will be hard to justify sacrificing multiple picks and increasing the team’s cap position by $1.6 million for a shot at an early postseason exit.
Miami may look bad for doing little more than dumping salary, and Memphis could catch flak after giving up a key piece for flotsam (and four second-rounders). But Charlotte could come out with the most egg on its face by betting big on a team with slim hopes of surviving into the second round of the playoffs, if it gets there at all.
Clippers Keeping Blake...But Dealing Lance?
Go ahead. Ask Doc Rivers again. I dare you. I double dare you (NSFW).
Are the Los Angeles Clippers trading Blake Griffin? Per Dan Woike of the Orange County Register, Rivers said they were not:
Doc Rivers said "We're not trading Blake."— Dan Woike (@DanWoikeSports) February 16, 2016
OK, well, are they taking calls about Griffin? Per Robert Morales of the Long Beach Press-Telegram, Rivers firmly declined to comment:
That doesn't mean the Clippers will spend the coming days twiddling their thumbs—not with the San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors coming to town. According to Wojnarowski, L.A. is in hot pursuit of Orlando's Channing Frye, but it has opted not to pull the trigger just yet.
Why? Because a bigger deal could be in the works. Whatever that deal is, it would likely require the Clippers to part ways with Lance Stephenson and C.J. Wilcox, both of whom would be sent to the Magic in exchange for Frye.
Per Woj, should L.A. wind up dealing for Frye, Stephenson could be headed for another low point in his ignominious journey toward the fringes of the NBA:
Stephenson would never play a game for the Magic. If the trade is completed, Orlando plans to waive Stephenson and let him become a free agent, league sources said. For Orlando, that deal would mostly allow the team to save money on the final year of Frye's $8 million annual salary.
As for the Clippers, they'd get yet another stretchy big to trot off their bench, after running through the likes of Spencer Hawes, Hedo Turkoglu and Byron Mullens under Rivers' regime.
Knicks Kick Tires on Point Guards
The Kurt Rambis era isn't likely to end any better than the Derek Fisher era did if the New York Knicks don't strengthen their league-worst stable of point guards.
According to Stein and ESPN's Brian Windhorst, the Knicks "are trying their best to get a team interested in Jose Calderon" by "talking up [his] leadership qualities and, in some cases, offering to include big man Kyle O’Quinn to sweeten proposals." He mentioned Atlanta Hawks floor general Jeff Teague as one of New York's targets.
Chances are, it'll take more than Calderon's $7.7 million salary for 2016-17 and O'Quinn's skills to get Atlanta or any other prospective suitor to bite. Outside of their core pieces (i.e. Carmelo Anthony, Kristaps Porzingis, Robin Lopez), the Knicks don't have much more to give.
If Phil Jackson waits until summer, he could talk to the Minnesota Timberwolves about reuniting Rambis with Ricky Rubio, per Wojnarowski. And if the Zen Master wants to move sooner than that but can't find a suitable deal by the deadline, he could spring for Glens Falls native and newly minted D-League All-Star MVP Jimmer Fredette, per the New York Post's Marc Berman.
League Plays Power Forward Roulette
If you're a team looking for a 4-man, you don't have to search high and low to find one.
For starters, there's Markieff Morris, who's been on the trading block since summer. According to USA Today's Sam Amick, the Phoenix Suns could have a tough time unloading their mercurial big man without first softening their asking price:
Suns still determined to get a young player & a 1st in return for Markieff Morris. To this point, firsts are there but not appealing player.— Sam Amick (@sam_amick) February 17, 2016
Ryan Anderson is still out there for the taking. More than a few teams would fancy slotting his three-point stroke (38.3 percent this season) into their lineups.
The New Orleans Pelicans, though, are having trouble finding a partner willing to pony up for a player who plans to test the market in free agency this summer, per Wojnarowski. The Washington Wizards were wary of giving up assets for Anderson now and paying him later, since both would imperil their pursuit of Kevin Durant in July.
Those needing some punch at power forward could inquire with the Brooklyn Nets about Thaddeus Young. According to the New York Daily News' Frank Isola, the Clippers and Toronto Raptors have done just that.
And if anyone wants to swing for the fences—and has a star player to spare—Kevin Love could be available. Per Stein and Windhorst:
But league sources say that the Cavs have made it clear to interested teams -- starting, of course, with the Love-hungry Boston Celtics -- that they'd covet a star in return if or when they do reach the point of letting Love go ... and not a package of draft picks and role players like the Celtics are offering.
Take note, Danny Ainge.