Flurry of point guard swaps at 2015 deadline has yielded mixed results

The clear winner so far of the point guard deals at the 2015 deadline is the Celtics, who landed All-Star Isaiah Thomas. Mark L. Baer/USA TODAY Sports

It was one of the craziest few hours in recent NBA history. In the moments leading up to last year's trading deadline, a flurry of frontline point guards rapidly switched teams in a dizzying array of deals.

Though other point guards were dealt in separate moves, the day was defined by what essentially was a five-team swap of interconnected moves: Goran Dragic went from Phoenix to Miami; Brandon Knight went from Milwaukee to Phoenix; Michael Carter-Williams went from Philadelphia to Milwaukee; and Isaiah Thomas went from Phoenix to Boston.

Nearly a year after this giant trade, the results have been mixed. Most of the teams involved aren't better, some are waiting on draft picks coming later to define the success and only the Celtics really can claim victory.

Thomas has been the smash hit of the great point guard swap; he's about to play in his first All-Star Game. Tuesday is an interesting time to ponder the fallout from it all since Thomas' Celtics play the Carter-Williams' Bucks, who have struggled this year as Carter-Williams hasn't made the impact that the Bucks had planned.

Knight got a $70 million deal and Dragic got $85 million, making them winners for sure, but their teams haven't really gotten the production they were seeking.

As time has passed, the thinking and motivation of each team has become clear and allows for a more reasoned judging of just what the heck happened.

The genesis of the huge deal hinged on two moments. The first was a decision by the Bucks, who were facing both Knight and Khris Middleton heading to free agency. The team decided it wasn't prudent long term to pay both the huge contracts they would likely demand. They preferred to pay one of them and use the leftover cap space to chase a big man. So they began looking at options several weeks before the deadline.

Coach Jason Kidd had a target in mind as a replacement, former NBA Rookie of the Year Carter-Williams. Both are represented by the same agency, Excel Sports. Another factor was that Carter-Williams, who Kidd felt he could mold and improve his shaky shooting, was under contract for two more seasons at a total of $5.5 million.

"When we made the decision to trade Brandon, it gave us the opportunity to not only look at [Carter-Williams] but also flexibility going into the summer," Kidd said earlier this season. "At that point, we had to figure out which one we could move and had the opportunity to get something in return."

The problem was, when the Bucks probed, the 76ers weren't interested in doing a deal straight up for Knight, sources said.

A stalemate ensued. It only broke when the second important event happened, which was Dragic publicly demanding a trade away from the Suns just a few days before the deadline. The Suns, fearing they would lose Dragic for nothing in free agency, became motivated to deal.

That engaged the 76ers, who were highly interested in the Los Angeles Lakers' future first-round pick the Suns owned. It was top-five protected last year and top-three protected this year. The 76ers' front office believed the Lakers were going to have a several-year rebuild and that pick would retain value.

Over the 24 hours leading up to the deadline, many various pitches where thrown Philadelphia's way, but it only had eyes for the Lakers' pick. The Bucks only had eyes for Carter-Williams. That made the Suns the crux of the deal.

"When Goran said he wanted to be traded, that kind of started it," said Jeff Hornacek, the Suns coach at the time. "So the decision was made that we should try to get Brandon."

The Suns shopped Dragic hard in the hours leading up to the deadline, but only a few teams were interested, concerned about re-signing him in the summer. A few hours before the deadline, they agreed to send Dragic to Miami, essentially for two future first-round picks and a bunch of players they didn't intend to keep. With those Heat picks in hand, the Suns became more open to send the Lakers pick they owned.

That got the 76ers willing to part with Williams, and the three parties agreed to the trade with less than an hour to go before the 3 p.m. deadline.

But the Suns had an issue: The problem of playing time that upset Dragic sharing the job and the ball with Thomas would have remained with Knight. So the Suns quickly looked to see what their options were.

"The thinking was, well, do we finish the season out with Isaiah, who is a great player? But really, he wanted to start, also," Hornacek said. "So do you start the 6-foot guy (Eric Bledsoe) and a 5-7 guy in the lineup? It would be awfully tough."

Just minutes before the deadline, the Suns called Boston and expressed interest in sending Thomas there for one of the numerous future first-round picks Boston owned.

"I got a call from [Celtics GM] Danny [Ainge], probably 10 minutes before the deadline, and he said, 'It doesn't look like we're going to do anything,'" Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. "I got a call eight minutes later that said, 'We've talked about [trading for Isaiah] real briefly, but what do you think?' It was, obviously, a unique, quick, last-minute thing."

The Celtics offered the Cavaliers' 2016 first-round pick, arguably the least valuable future first-round pick they owned. The Suns, pressed for time without better options, agreed. Though some minor other pieces were involved, they had turned Dragic, Thomas and the Lakers' pick into three future first-round picks and Knight.

How did it all work out?

Knight only played 11 games after the trade because of a severe ankle injury. The Suns were 29-25 at the time of the deal but went 10-18 down the stretch and missed the playoffs. Knight is averaging nearly 20 points and five assists per game after re-signing in the offseason, but the Suns failed to land LaMarcus Aldridge in free agency after signing Tyson Chandler to a deal in trying to attract Aldridge. The Suns have been one of the most disappointing teams this season, and Hornacek was fired two weeks ago.

Carter-Williams averaged 14 points and six assists and shot 43 percent with the Bucks after the deal. But after going 30-23 with Knight as their starter and best 3-point shooter, the Bucks went 11-18 after the deal. They made the playoffs -- a significant accomplishment after having the league's worst record the season before -- and were eliminated in the first round.

Over the summer, Middleton agreed to a $70 million deal, and the Bucks used their extra cap space to sign center Greg Monroe. Carter-Williams has been in and out of the starting lineup this season and is averaging a career-low 11.5 points and a career-low 5.1 assists, though his shooting numbers have improved. The Bucks have been one of the most disappointing teams in the league.

The Heat went 15-15 after trading for Dragic, better than the 23-30 they were before. But their season was derailed immediately after the trade when Chris Bosh was lost for the season with a blood clot in his lung. Dragic is averaging just 12.2 points -- his lowest in four seasons -- for Miami this season, as he has had to share the ball with Dwyane Wade. But the Heat have rebounded and are currently in playoff position.

"The trade definitely turned my career around. It hurt at first, because I've never been traded, never been in that situation, but it's a better situation for myself here."
Isaiah Thomas

The 76ers made a separate trade to acquire Isaiah Canaan to replace Carter-Williams last season. They were 12-41 at the time of the deal and finished the year 6-23, as Canaan averaged 12.6 points and 3.1 assists. He was the primary starter this season as they started 1-30. But the 76ers have improved dramatically since trading for Ish Smith and implementing offensive changes under new assistant coach Mike D'Antoni. Current models give them a 40 percent to 50 percent chance of getting the Lakers' pick this year.

The Celtics were 20-33 before Thomas arrived last season. His offensive infusion helped them to a 20-9 finish and get into the playoffs, as he averaged 19 points off the bench. He is averaging career highs in points and assists as a starter this season, earning him a selection as an All-Star reserve.

Under a team-friendly contract that will pay Thomas' $6.2 million next season, the Celtics will be able to retain him while having cap space to improve the team this summer. The pick they gave up for him currently is projected to be the 28th in the June draft.

"The trade definitely turned my career around," Thomas said in January before he faced his former team. "It hurt at first, because I've never been traded, never been in that situation. But it's a better situation for myself here. I'm loved it here and people like what I do, and I appreciate that."

ESPN.com's Dave McMenamin and Chris Forsberg contributed to this story.