TORONTO -- Here's something to keep in mind in the wake of the trade deadline: a player is not his PER. If you're in the NBA and you're not a superstar, your success is largely determined by your environment and your job is to fit into a system. Front offices and coaching staffs make moves to match skills to roles and try to put players in the position to prosper. Sometimes a sad script can be flipped with a bit of foresight.
An example is D.J. Augustin. The sixth-year point guard was out of the Toronto Raptors' rotation in mid-November. Once a lottery pick and a starter for the Charlotte Bobcats, Augustin was reduced to watching Julyan Stone and Dwight Buycks play in front of him. That wasn't the plan when he chose to sign in Toronto as a free agent. On Nov. 9, the Raptors released him to facilitate the trade that sent Rudy Gay to the Sacramento Kings. His PER was 1.3.
The Chicago Bulls got in touch with Augustin almost immediately, called again the next day and signed him as soon as he cleared waivers. They were in a tailspin after losing superstar Derrick Rose to a season-ending knee injury. Since then it's been a different story, with the Bulls a half-game out of third place in the East even after trading away Luol Deng for nothing. Augustin in the midst of a renaissance, averaging 10.9 points and 4.5 assists (17.8 and 6.4 in nine starts) as a Bull and making 42 percent of his three-pointers. There's no telling where Chicago would be without him.
"He's changed everything," Bulls center Joakim Noah said. "Changed our team. We were really down in the dumps, D.J. came in, he's a great scoring punch for us, he makes easy offense for other guys. For me personally, I don't think I would've made the All-Star Game if it wasn't for D.J."
As a backup Augustin never found his form as a table-setter for the Indiana Pacers last season and looked lost in extremely limited minutes in Toronto. Chicago, though, just wanted him to be aggressive, and once he got familiar with the playbook things flowed freely. Like fellow diminutive guards Nate Robinson and John Lucas III before him, Augustin's been empowered to make plays in head coach Tom Thibodeau's offense.
On a roster bereft of creators, he has the ball in his hands about as much as Chris Paul, Stephen Curry and Damian Lillard, per NBA.com. Augustin is trusted to run the pick and roll and hit open shots, and he's allowed to make mistakes without the fear of being banished to the bench.
"He had a great need, we had a great need, sometimes the timing is just right," Thibodeau said. "It was good fortune for us."
Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said he was happy for Augustin, adding that a Kyle Lowry injury would have been the only way for a similar opportunity to come his way in Toronto.
"I knew I could play," Augustin said. "The times I did play poorly, it was when I wasn't playing a lot of minutes. It's hard for anybody to come in the game, play three or four minutes here and there and play great."
On the way to the Air Canada Centre on Wednesday, the Bulls' bus passed Augustin's old apartment. It was his first visit to Toronto since being waived. He met the media after shootaround, sounding grateful he'd found the right fit. Hours later he delivered the type of performance he never got the chance to provide for the other side.
Augustin scored 13 of his 19 points in a fourth quarter, making five of his six field goal attempts, including a 28-foot step-back three-pointer late in the game. He talked trash with a courtside fan and played as if he had a point to prove. The surely playoff-bound Raptors didn't need to keep him, but they'd likely have one fewer team on their tail if they did.
"I know this was a big game for him, too, being able to play in Toronto, the team that cut him, and play well like that and lead us to victory," Noah said. "That must be the best feeling in the world."
It's certainly better than feeling uncertain, out of control or unable to show what you can do.
"The NBA is about rhythm and confidence," Augustin said. "If you don't have neither one of those things, you're not going to play well, I don't care who you are."
In Chicago, Augustin has everything he could ask for, and his teammates know how lucky they are that his former club cut ties.
"I don't know what they were looking at," Bulls forward Carlos Boozer said, "but we picked up a gem."