The player movement that has altered the landscape of the NBA this season started during the offseason and has continued all the way up to the trading deadline. The activity has surprised many in the media as well as the fans who must at least feel that their teams are making serious pushes to improve, get into the playoffs or even make a serious title push. This player movement has brought hope to a city in need, given Wisconsin fans more to cheer about than the Green Bay Packers and brought Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook more support to think a little more about life after the first round of the playoffs.
The Cleveland Cavaliers didn't qualify for the lowly Eastern Conference playoffs last season and this year it seems to be more of a question about what seed they will be following their offseason acquisitions. They also made some tremendous acquisitions mid-season. The Oklahoma City Thunder recently added four new faces to their mix, all with the ability to score and play right away. The Milwaukee Bucks are off to one of their best starts in a long time and still decided they could improve their chances with a new point guard leading the way. Even the Houston Rockets and Portland Trailblazers felt the need to improve their positions in the competitive Western Conference with moves leading up to the trading deadline.
The player movement in the NBA has been epic and quite extensive. The following 15 players have changed locations and have contributed to greater balance in a league that has plenty of disparity, thanks in large part to player movements that have gone bad. These 15 players should contribute to the success of their new teams.
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15 Isaiah Thomas, G / Boston Celtics - 15.8 PPG, 3.9 APG, 2.4 RPG
If the Boston Celtics were looking to add more to their offense, they shouldn't be disappointed with their new acquisition. Isaiah Thomas left the crowded Phoenix Suns backcourt to fill the shoes of Rajon Rondo. Thomas has much more of a scorer's mentality and gets most of his assists when he knows he has little chance to score himself.
This should be a nice spot for Thomas to land with a youthful team and playing in a city full of basketball tradition. The Celtics are not out of the Eastern Conference playoff chase and now have a guard who be more than happy to take that last shot or drive down the lane to earn a trip to the line.
14 Michael Carter-Williams, G / Milwaukee Bucks - 14.6 PPG, 7.2 APG, 5.9 rpg
The Milwaukee Bucks have been a surprise team this year in the Eastern Conference with a 31-23 record and their current position as the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference playoff picture. In order to reinforce coach Jason Kidd's ball sharing philosophy even more, the swap of Michael Carter-Williams for previous point guard Brandon Knight should play right into Kidd's hands. Carter-Williams was the 2014 NBA Rookie of the Year, and has averaged 6.7 assists per game in a year and a half of play. He is a point guard who is not going to crowd the three point line but will look to dish to his teammates when slashing down the lane.
This move should improve the Bucks even more if they can find someone else who can score or take clutch shots late in games. Working with Kidd should help unlock even more of his enormous potential.
13 Goran Dragic, G / Miami Heat - 16.1 PPG, 4.1 APG, 3.5 RPG
Goran Dragic was considered to be the big prize as this year's NBA trading deadline loomed. He did get his wish to leave the Phoenix Suns and found his way onto the roster of the now depleted Miami Heat. Dragic comes as the Heat get the news of the loss of Chris Bosh for the remainder of the season. Dragic brings energy, a solid three point shot and a career average of 4.5 assists per game while only playing a little over 25 minutes a contest. With Bosh out, the Heat will be hoping that Dragic can contribute offensively right away.
Dragic was unhappy in Phoenix, having to share time at the point with Eric Bledsoe and Isaiah Thomas and should add a more consistent presence to the Heat's starting backcourt. He should have more opportunities to drive to the basket on the Heat and his numbers could easily improve. The Heat will only have to worry about seeing if they can sign him to a long term deal.
12 Darren Collison, G / Sacramento Kings - 16.1 PPG, 5.6 APG, 1.5 SPG
The Sacramento Kings have had more than their fair share of young talent, but have seemingly felt they needed a true point guard to get all the players more involved. Collison is a true point guard coming with more experience and a career average of 5.0 assists per game, despite averaging less than 30 minutes of play per game. The Kings are hoping that Collison can bring veteran leadership to the team and do a better job at getting DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay more scoring chances.
Given more playing time, Collison has been playing quite well for the Kings. The Kings might be struggling but Collison is having the best season of his career with personal bests in points, rebounds and steals, up to this point of the season. He might not be the explosive scorer that Thomas is, but the Kings have more mouths to feed and Collison can pass the ball while also costing the Kings less money.
11 Rajon Rondo, G / Dallas Mavericks - 8.8 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 8.1 APG
Rajon Rondo has never been a prolific scorer, but he has always been able to find a way to get his teammates the ball. Rondo has averaged only 10.9 points, but has chipped in 8.4 assists per game, throughout his career. Since Dallas has no shortage of scoring options, the acquisition of Rondo seems to be a good fit.
The Mavericks can use Rondo's hard driving style and the fact that Rondo doesn't have to score to make his presence felt. It will take a little time for him to work into the Dallas attack, but there will be no shortage of talent around him. He now gets a chance to lead a team that is battling to get to into the playoffs with a winning record in the competitive Western Conference.
10 Enes Kanter, C / Oklahoma City Thunder - 14 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 0.7 APG
Oklahoma City has been looking for a center who can fit into their high powered offense and run in the open court. Enes Kanter is mobile for a big man and should offer much more of a threat offensively than the duo of Kendrick Perkins and Nick Collison that the Thunder utilized before. Kanter was putting up some solid numbers on Utah, but he may do even better in OKC.
What makes Kanter a good fit is his athleticism and ability to get out and run on a team, with Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, that excels in the open court. He has the support of Serge Ibaka on the defensive end and should be able to work well with him on the offensive end as well. He can keep developing his shot and work inside or out, making him harder for other teams to match up with. He offers tremendous upside.
9 Luol Deng, F / Miami Heat - 14.5 PPG, 5 RPG, 1.9 APG
Luol Deng needed a fresh start after battling injuries for two straight seasons and the Miami Heat needed a replacement for LeBron James. Deng can't do that, but at least been able to score some points throughout his career. Deng has averaged 15.9 points and 6.2 rebounds during his career that has mostly been spent in defensive-minded Chicago. He might not be on the same planet as LeBron James, but he could provide just enough of a scoring punch to get the Heat into the Eastern Conference playoffs.
The Heat are scoring fewer points this season, but they do have one of the league's best defenses when it comes to holding opponents under 100 points. Deng has always been a solid defender and rebounder with his experience as a Bull and even going back to his college days at Duke. The Heat can't replace LeBron but Deng has certainly helped make them more competitive.
8 Paul Pierce, F / Washington Wizards - 12.7 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 2.0 APG
Paul Pierce is not the player he once was. As a Celtic, Pierce averaged over 20 points per game for 8 of his 15 NBA seasons. He has also averaged 1.4 steals per game throughout his career, and has been good for 5.9 rebounds per game as well. Despite his age, Pierce is still a scoring threat and can also play solid defense as well. What makes him a compelling acquisition for the Wizards is his veteran leadership and clutch play in the fourth quarter of close games. This is something the Wizards could have used in their run through the playoffs last season and have been missing for some time.
Pierce's true value for the Wizards might not necessarily be evident in his scoring average. They are hoping that he will be the competitive force they need in the playoffs and Pierce is happy to be on a team that can actually get him there in good position.
7 Timofey Mozgov, C / Cleveland Cavaliers - 9.3 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 1.4 BPG
The Cavaliers transformed their roster by adding LeBron James, Kevin Love, J.R. Smith and even the lesser known Timofey Mozgov. In many ways, the addition of Mozgov might have been the most important acquisition for Cleveland besides the return of James. With Anderson Varejao out with an Achilles injury, the Cavaliers acquired Mozgov to help fill the void in the middle. Mozgov's ability to provide a defensive presence in the paint has kept him in the NBA. Reunited with his former coach from the Russian national team (David Blatt), Mozgov has all of a sudden provided the Cavs with even more.
He is proving to be quite a consistent asset while he learns and continues to improve his game.
6 Chandler Parsons, F / Dallas Mavericks - 15.4 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 2.4 APG
Chandler Parsons might have cost the Mavericks with his salary of around $15 million, but he has added another legitimate offensive threat to the team's lineup. His scoring, rebounding and ability to get out on the fast break all add an extra dimension to the Mavericks attack. Parsons can also dribble, takes good care of the ball (1.3 turnovers per game average) and can make his three point shots. He might not be leading the Mavericks in scoring, but he is still young and athletic enough to improve at both ends of the floor, while also providing them with a solid contributor for a playoff push this season and continued success in the future.
At only 26 years of age, Parsons is a solid addition to an already good Mavericks team.
5 Josh Smith, F / Houston Rockets - 12.4 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 3.6 APG
Josh Smith adds an element of toughness and more veteran savvy to a relatively inexperienced Rockets team that has been in need of players to complement James Harden. Smith can defend, block shots, rebound and play in the post when needed. What comes as a pleasant surprise to the Rockets is that Smith also has shown some consistency from behind the three point line since coming to Houston.
Smith was quite a pick up for the Rockets who have been in need of a little more activity in the paint besides Harden's drives down the lane. Smith might be able to contribute more as he gets more playing time, making him a pretty valuable pick up for a Rockets team focused on not only making the playoffs, but making a run once they get there.
4 Rudy Gay, F / Sacramento Kings - 20.2 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 3.8 APG
Rudy Gay has always been able to do some damage with his ability to score, but he has seemingly had trouble finding a team that really wants to retain his services. This season, Gay changed his jersey for the fifth time in as many seasons, to come back to Sacramento to provide more offensive punch to the young Kings lineup. He has done more than that by averaging almost 20 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists per game. On a team in need of more stability, Gay has been taking care of the basketball better, shooting better and getting more of his teammates involved as well.
Gay is a terrific fit for the Kings who know him well thanks in large part to his experience with the Kings before and his consistency at being a scoring threat. Gay can't really provide playoff experience to the Kings, but he can improve their chances of someday getting there in the rugged Western Conference.
3 Kevin Love, F / Cleveland Cavaliers - 16.9 PPG, 10.2 RPG, 2.4 APG
Kevin Love might be having a difficult time adjusting to his role of being a glorified role player on the Cleveland Cavaliers, but he is still one of this season's biggest acquisitions. Love has struggled with back problems so far this year, but his even bigger struggle has been trying to fit into the Cavaliers offense. Although he is still trying to figure out his space on the court and fit in the Cavs offense, Love does contribute over 10 rebounds and 17 points with only 1.7 turnovers per game. He is still a significant factor and upgrade to the Cavaliers roster.
In Minnesota, Love was able to operate just about anywhere on the court. Things have been different in Cleveland, with LeBron James and Kyrie Irving both very capable at taking their defenders off the dribble through the paint. Love is still one of the NBA's most talented big men and is arguably the best in the league at initiating the fast break with his repertoire of outlet passes.
2 Pau Gasol, F/C / Chicago Bulls - 18.2 PPG, 12.1 RPG, 2.8 APG
Chicago was a strong contender in the Eastern Conference before the acquisition of Pau Gasol. On a team with Joakim Noah's presence already established in the paint, the addition of Gasol was not considered to be such an earth-shattering event. In his 15th NBA season, Gasol looks like he is having fun playing basketball for a contender once again. The Bulls were rather certain that Gasol would be able to add some scoring punch in the paint, but what has come as a nice surprise is his average of 12.1 rebounds per game.
Gasol has benefited from the Bulls solid guard play, complementary players and outstanding team play. He fits perfectly with their offensive scheme and even complements Noah who is terrific at doing all the dirty work on both ends of the floor. By turning back the clock and playing well at both ends of the floor, Gasol is surprisingly one of the NBA's top acquisitions.
1 LeBron James, F / Cleveland Cavaliers - 26.2 ppg, 5.7 RPG, 7.2 APG
This one is hard to argue. No one player has changed his team's fortunes more than LeBron James has this season. The Cavaliers went from a team in need of some help for their young superstar Kyrie Irving, to an instant playoff contender in the Eastern Conference thanks in large part to the addition of LeBron James. James is arguably the best player in basketball at this time and the addition of his scoring average, rebounds and especially his 7.3 assists per game, certainly help make the Cleveland Cavaliers a much more dynamic team.
The comeback to Cleveland has not come without some major concerns and bumps in the road. Despite all the points, rebounds and the defense that LeBron brings to the Cavaliers, it is his assists and ability to get teammates involved that is invaluable to the team. So far this season, James is averaging almost one more assist per game compared to last season with the Heat. All of his other numbers are down a bit from last season as his shooting percentage, especially from beyond the arc, has come down since he has come to the Cavs. Regardless, his 26 points and 7 plus assists per game are a welcome relief for a team fortune enough to have acquired his services.
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