Despite making a plethora of moves on Thursday, including trading a player who one year ago was viewed as the franchise point guard, shipping K.J. McDaniels to Houston was the trade questioned the most. The Sixers had been actively trying to seek out a trade for Michael Carter-Williams for months, and his departure seemed more like a matter of if rather than when.
Sending McDaniels to Houston for Isaiah Canaan and a second round pick was the hardest pill to swallow, even if there were signs of him not returning next season.
When the former Clemson standout pushed to sign a one-year contract instead of the typical four-year pact most second rounders sign, it was clear that there some roadblocks to securing his future with the Sixers. McDaniels deal was not the sign of a player looking to push his way out of Philadelphia, but rather a player who felt he was a first round talent and deserved to be paid like one.
He started the season on an absolute tear, shooting 39.5% from beyond the arc in November, and stunning NBA fans with his wild dunks and blocks. At that point it looked like he would be the recipient of a large offer sheet from another team in the ballpark of $8 million.
Since then, McDaniels has returned to Earth. Remain are the highlight reel dunks and blocks, but his shooting has certainly fallen off. As of the All-Star break, McDaniels was shooting just 39.9% from the floor, and 29.3% from beyond the arc. His severe offensive drop off cooled a lot of the talk of a team offering McDaniels a contract the Sixers wouldn't feel comfortable matching. Despite his sub-par numbers, his strong defense coupled with his good shooting mechanics give him the potential to be a really good 3 & D player in the NBA. He was a pretty perfect fit for the Sixers mold.
For whatever reason, Philadelphia chose not to try and re-sign him this summer, and subsequently sent him to the Rockets. Maybe there were some issues behind the scenes (although my understanding is that McDaniels was not against staying in Philadelphia by any means, nor were there issues with teammates), but on the surface the trade makes little sense.
The Sixers have made it clear all along that they will try and capitalize off the assets they have, and trading a player before he's about to become a free agent is understandable. Make what you can off a player in case you lose him. But for what Philadelphia got in return for McDaniels, the trade looks all the more questionable.
Isaiah Canaan has played somewhat sparingly this season, and while he shot the ball well, he doesn't seem to be anything more than a backup point guard. And while the second round pick from Denver (via Houston) is rather high, finding NBA talent in that portion of the draft is luck more than anything. For every K.J. McDaniels, there are hundreds of other players who can't hack it at the pro level.
Sometimes there are calculated risks in the NBA, and for the return the Sixers got, the possibility of McDaniels walking this summer was a risk worth taking. Receiving Canaan and a second round pick is not equal to the player they could have had in McDaniels.
It's like going to a dog breeder and being told multiple families are looking at the same beautiful puppy you are. So instead of trying to get the puppy, you go to PetSmart and buy a hamster yelling, "At least I got something!".
And because McDaniels would have been a restricted free agent this summer, the Sixers would at least have the ability to match an offer sheet rather than watching him walk off into the sunset.
Not to mention, trading away a key piece like McDaniels strains the relationship with fans. You can try and sell the fans on whatever slogans you'd like, but eventually they need players they can connect with. Continuing to move guys who fans have grown fond of (Holiday, Carter-Williams, McDaniels) makes what this team is trying to do even tougher accept than it already is.
How are people supposed to buy into the future when the guys who are supposed to be a part of it are here today and gone tomorrow?
Ultimately, the only thing to do is put faith in the front office, and be patient in hoping they can put together a title contender. But trades like that of K.J. McDaniels make it that much harder to sustain said faith.