The Rockets traded away Isaiah Canaan, Alexey Shved and three second-round picks for Knicks point guard Pablo Prigioni and Sixers wingman K.J. McDaniels mere minutes before the trade deadline Thursday.
No matter your opinion on Canaan and Shved -- and mine was that they were both useful players at worst -- neither of them were seeing the court, so the Rockets didn't lose anything from this year's team. The three second-round picks are all projected to be at the back of the second round, as they retain the one they have from the Knicks, which could be No. 31 overall, essentially a first-rounder.
Goran Dragic was traded to the Heat, Isaiah Thomas to the Celtics, Brandon Knight to the Suns, Reggie Jackson to the Pistons, Norris Cole to the Pelicans, Arron Afflalo to the Blazers, Michael Carter-Williams and Miles Plumlee to the Bucks and Enes Kanter/D.J. Augustin/Steve Novak/Kyle Singler to the Thunder.
In all, there were 11 trades completed by the deadline. Unlike previous years, these were not mere deck chair shuffling moves. The Thunder and the Blazers made their teams better, and both are capable of beating just about any team in a seven-game series. The Warriors, Spurs, Grizzlies and Clippers all stayed quiet, but none of the teams qualify as automatic Rockets wins in the playoffs.
I'll focus on Prigioni first, because he, more than McDaniels, comes into a clearly defined role.
The Argentinian -- with a distinctly Italian-sounding name -- has shot 41 percent from deep in his career, but this year, the 37 year old is down to 37.5 percent on 2.7 attempts a game. He's played 18.5 minutes per game on the league's worst team. He's a limited player.
But he does helpful things, and is above-all an excellent decision-maker. I haven't watched many Knicks games this year because I'm not a masochist or a sadist, frankly. But in years past, he has come off the bench and been effective, facilitating good offense and getting steals at a high rate.
This year, he's got a net rating of -7.2 and an assist rate of 20.4 percent. Much of that is a result of his team being a disaster of historic proportions. He's averaging 4.7 assists per 36 minutes, according to NBA.com, and you'd have to figure if he were passing to the Rockets' players, that would be up near eight or nine.
He's an upgrade over Jason Terry, who isn't shooting three-pointers any better and is generally a defensive minus. Prigioni would take pressure off of Kostas Papanikolaou to direct the bench offense, and can be a good spot-up shooter around James Harden. He is by all accounts a good-to-great dude.
He's also owed $1.7 million next year. If he plays well down the stretch, the Rockets can keep him as JET's contract expires. If not, it's a movable contract, and Morey moves movable contracts, more often than not (see: Shved, Alexey).
McDaniels, however, is the fascinating piece in this deal. The 6-foot-7 wingman is an athletic marvel. He's bulky already (he was a four-year player at Clemson and a second-round pick) can block shots, make insane dunks and play terrific defense. SB Nation's Mike Prada wrote this about him today, in a dissection of Rockets GM Daryl Morey's old underling, Sam Hinkie's team building efforts.
He may already be one of the best athletes in the game and has tremendous defensive potential. His shooting isn't there yet, but it'll come. Under normal circumstances, McDaniels, 21, could be a 10-year starter at small forward, solidifying a position of need.
That sure sounds nice. McDaniels can also do things like this, which is basically young Josh Smith stuff:
Anyone who does that to a member of the Utah Jazz is a friend of mine.
His fit is yet to be determined. The Rockets have Corey Brewer, Josh Smith and Terrence Jones off the bench, who have all played sensationally in a Rockets uniform at one point or another. Brewer and Smith have been playing so well off the bench, it would frankly be irresponsible to lower their minutes at this point.
McDaniels could theoretically play shooting guard in a James Harden-led ridiculous size lineup, and he could be unleashed on opposing point guards.
Considering Kevin McHale doesn't exactly have the reputation of nurturing his young players with playing time, I wouldn't be surprised if McDaniels doesn't crack the rotation come playoff time, and is merely a far more promising basketball prospect than Canaan (sorry, Lil Sip).
McDaniels only signed a one-year deal with the Sixers after the draft, deciding to bet on himself to earn more money after just one year in the league. It paid off, and he's a restricted free agent in the offseason. The Rockets might see him walk if another team makes a large offer and Morey doesn't want to lose the cap space, but he's someone who they should want to keep around in the long run.
But, about those other trades.
The Thunder may have improved in a big way. They dumped Kendrick Perkins, long an anchor tied to the leg of the Thunder's offensive potential. They add Enes Kanter, who is at the very least a talented offensive player, and may have actually upgraded after dealing Reggie Jackson by getting D.J. Augustin, plus ridding themselves of a player the team clearly hated.
The Blazers added Arron Afflalo, who's a competent starting NBA shooting guard now coming off the bench. I don't think he creates matchup problems with the Rockets, since Harden, Ariza and Brewer are all capable of winning that matchup. They lost Thomas Robinson in the trade, but he had become expendable with the development of Meyers Leonard, Three-Point Shooter.
Both of those are upgrades. And, considering how miserable everyone in Phoenix was with the point guard situation, the Suns might have upgraded, too. Brandon Knight has been better than Goran Dragic this year, and he and Bledsoe create an even better defensive backcourt. Plus they ditched Miles Plumlee -- also whining about minutes -- and were able to snag three(!) first-round picks in future drafts.
Yes, the Rockets solidified their rotation, but this is essentially the team. I saw one theory on Twitter that ventured the Rockets' cost-cutting move of Shved for Prigioni (about $1.6 million this year) might fund a buyout of someone's contract -- say, Joey Dorsey.
That's not a bad theory considering Kendall Marshall, also traded today, was waived and the Rockets could STILL use more point guard options. Or, if Dorsey were waived, a free agent big man (Blatche? I've never been more conflicted about a player). But, again, not a needle mover.
The only piece of the puzzle that ultimately makes a big dent is Dwight Howard's knee. If he can return in late March or early April, in time to get some timing and conditioning back before the playoffs, the Rockets have a chance to go a long way. If he's not hurt, no trade for Prigioni, McDaniels, or even Goran Dragic would take the Rockets to the finish line this year.