Historically, the time between the All-Star Game and the trade deadline is usually one of the most exciting stretches of the NBA season. The trade deadline means something different to every team in the league. The elite teams have to decide whether their roster is one that can win a championship as constructed, and those near the bottom of the standings have to look at their roster and try to determine which players will fit into their future plans.
Yet, the franchises that are most interesting to watch at the trade deadline are those in the middle of the standings - teams that could become title contenders or fall into the mix for a lottery pick with a substantial push in either direction. These fringe teams are the ones who often make blockbuster moves, either to acquire the necessary talent to make a run at a championship or to trade away some of their most valuable pieces in an effort to look towards the future.
Now that this season’s trade deadline has come and gone, we have a pretty clear sense of what team rosters will look like for the remainder of the season. This means we have a good idea of which teams are contenders, as well as which ones are looking forward to tapping into this year’s outstanding draft class.
Although this year’s deadline didn’t produce the kind of fireworks that many fans would have liked, there were still a few moves that could hold some weight come playoff time.
Before we take a look at a trade that could impact the playoff picture this season though, it’s always fun to reminisce about blockbuster trades from seasons past. Here is a look back at the two biggest trade deadline deals from the past decade:
Sheed Propels the Pistons to the Title
Detroit Pistons Receive: Resheed Wallace and Mike James
Atlanta Hawks Receive: Chris Mills, Zelijo Rebraca, Bob Sura and 2004 first-round draft pick (Josh Smith)
Boston Celtics Receive: Chucky Atkins, Lindsey Hunter and 2004 first round draft pick (Tony Allen)
In 2003, the Detroit Pistons were one of the best teams in the NBA. They finished the regular season with the best record in the Eastern Conference and made it all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals, where they were blown out by Jason Kidd and the New Jersey Nets. Although the Pistons were unsatisfied with how their season ended, they were confident that they would bounce back quickly, especially after a pick they had acquired from the Grizzlies way back in 1997 ended up becoming the second-overall selection in the historic 2003 draft.
The Pistons’ front office felt that an athletic, scoring big man to pair with defensive stopper Ben Wallace would be the missing piece that could bring them a title. With that in mind, the Pistons chose Darko Milicic with the second pick in the 2003 draft, ahead of future superstars like Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, just to name a few. Although they began the season 34-22, Darko was a bust and the Pistons found themselves in the exact same situation as they were in a year before.
With multiple first-round picks and an abundance of talent at his disposal, Pistons President Joe Dumars pulled the trigger on a trade for versatile and volatile big man Rasheed Wallace. Wallace had played in 45 games for the Portland Trail Blazers (where he had spent eight of his nine previous seasons) before being shipped to the Atlanta Hawks, who then almost immediately sent him to the Pistons after playing just one game in Atlanta.
Wallace had been playing phenomenally prior to being traded to Detroit, averaging 17 points, 6.6 boards, 2.5 assists and 1.6 blocks in 37.2 minutes per game. Additionally, the all-star forward was shooting 44.2% from the field, including 34.1% from three-point range, and 74.2% from the free-throw line.
Although his numbers did drop significantly, Wallace was a perfect fit into the Pistons’ balanced offense. The Pistons’ forward averaged 13.7 points, 7 rebounds, 1.8 dimes and 2 blocks per game, with an offensive rating of 102 and a PER of 18.8. More importantly, the combination of Rasheed and Ben Wallace was arguably the most potent defensive big man tandem in the league. With Ben behind him as the anchor of the defense, Sheed was able to guard the PF, his more natural position, which led to him posting a career best defensive rating of 91 during the Pistons final 22 games.
With all of that said, what really made this deal special was how this team gelled in the playoffs. Although the former Blazers star was a huge part of the Pistons title run, it was their balance that made the Pistons special. Four of Detroit’s starting five averaged double-digit points and the fifth, Tayshaun Prince, averaged 9.9 points per game. Sheed was only the third-leading scorer behind Richard Hamilton(21.5) and Chauncey Billups (16.4) and second in rebounding and blocks behind Ben Wallace (14.3 and 2.4).
Sheed’s ability to stretch the floor as a near seven-footer was huge against Shaquille O’Neil and the star-studded Lakers, but, just like in the regular season, it was the Pistons’ historic defense that won them the NBA title. Led by Ben Wallace at 84 and Sheed at 91, every single member of the Pistons squad had a defensive rating under 100 in the 2004 playoffs, and their defense was on display in the NBA Finals. In five games, the Lakers did not score more than 100 points in a single game, including a 99-91 Lakers win that went to OT in game two.
Looking back on this trade, the most interesting aspect of it was the fact that, if the Pistons had drafted Carmelo Anthony, as many suggested they should have, there is little chance that they would have made such a blockbuster trade. And Anthony plays a much different style than Sheed. He takes a lot more shots and doesn't play defense to the level expected by that Pistons team. Is it possible that, had the Pistons chosen Carmelo over Darko, they would have been better served in the long term? We will never truly know, but if not for Darko’s early-season failures, the 2004 Piston’s may never have lifted the Larry O’Brien trophy.
Pau Teams Up With Kobe in L.A.
Los Angeles Lakers Receive: Pau Gasol and a 2010 second-round draft pick (Devin Ebanks)
Memphis Grizzlies Receive: Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittenton, Marc Gasol, a 2008 first-round draft pick (Donte Greene) and a 2010 first-round draft pick (Greivis Vasquez)
Just like the Pistons did in 2004, the Lakers gave up a ton of value to acquire an extremely talented, athletic big man in 2008. Although they did give away the rights to Marc Gasol, who has blossomed into one of the NBA’s best big men, adding Marc’s brother Pau was worth every penny the Lakers spent.
The Lakers traded for Gasol, who was averaging 18.9 points, 8.8 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.4 blocks per game at the time of the trade, in hopes to pair him in the frontcourt with young, rising star, Andrew Bynum, who showed tremendous promise but often lacked effort and focus. Gasol and Bynum were a match made in heaven. Although neither player was a great defensive stopper, having Bynum as the anchor in the post allowed the former Grizzly to was able to guard smaller guys on defense and have more freedom on offense.
What truly made Gasol a perfect fit for that Lakers team was the fact that he was no longer the focal point of the offense like he was in Memphis. Although the Lakers forward did average 18.8 points, 7.8 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game, Kobe Bryant was clearly the most important player on this Lakers team, especially in the playoffs. The Lakers’ MVP had a whopping 33% usage percentage during their playoff run, while Gasol, who had the second-highest usage percentage on the team, was used on just 19.6% of the Lakers plays.
With Kobe leading the show and Gasol as his right-hand-man, the Lakers ran through the Western Conference Playoffs, only losing three games in three series leading up to the NBA Finals. The only problem was they ran into a team of destiny in the NBA Finals, losing to Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett and the Boston Celtics.
Although the trade for Gasol did not have immediate results the same way that the Pistons’ trade for Wallace did, it only took one year for the trade to pay off. The Lakers won back-back-back NBA titles in 2009 and 2010 with the combination of Bryant and Gasol as their centerpiece. In the 2009 playoffs, Kobe averaged a ridiculous 30.2 points, 5.5 assists and 5.3 boards per game, while Gasol added 18.3 points, 2.5 assists, 2 blocks and a whopping 10.8 boards per game. The following year, Kobe posted similar numbers but the Lakers big man was even better in than the year before. Gasol posted 19.6 points, 11.1 boards, 3.5 assists and 2.1 blocks per game, adding a monstrous 126 offensive rating and 4.3 win shares.
Today, the Lakers are a shell of their former selves. Kobe is constantly on the shelf, Bynum has bounced around the league and Gasol nearly got traded away from the Lakers at this season’s deadline. Pau has taken a lot of heat during L.A.’s decline, but Lakers’ fans should always remember that without Gasol, it’s very possible Kobe would have never won a ring without Shaq.
A 2014 Trade That Could Have Championship Implications
Indiana Pacers Receive: Evan Turner and Lavoy Allen
Philadelphia 76ers Receive: Danny Granger
As I mentioned earlier, there were no real blockbuster trades this season, but this trade is one that I think could have the biggest impact on the playoff picture. As Brandon Gdula discusses in his Central Division trade deadline preview, the one move that Indiana could make to better their team was to move Granger for an upgrade at just about any position, and boy were the Pacers thrilled to get that done.
In Indiana, Granger was averaging 8.3 points, 3.6 rebounds and 1.1 assists in just 22.5 minutes per game. He wasn’t particularly effective on offense, and was tied for the second worst defensive rating on the team at 99. Granger is an aging player with a big, expiring contract, and he was simply taking up space on a title contender.
Turner was miscast on the failing 76ers as their go-to offensive player. His 24.2% usage percentage in Philly was way too high and, although his defensive rating (110), offensive rating (98) and nERD (-8.9) are all worse than Granger’s, the fourth year man out of Ohio State brings a similar skill-set as Granger but with more upside.
Turner could excel in a role as the energy guy off the bench rather than the focal point of the offense and adds another scoring option to the Pacers’ second unit. Additionally, the former 76er should benefit from learning from a great coach, Frank Vogel, and playing with all-star caliber players like Paul George, Lance Stephenson and Roy Hibbert. If Turner blossoms into the player the Pacers think he could be, this trade could be a difference maker in a playoff matchup with the Miami Heat.