The 2013-14 season is already setting up to be a fantastic one.
We have at least 10 true contenders for a title (Miami Heat, Indiana Pacers, Brooklyn Nets, Chicago Bulls, New York Knicks, Los Angeles Clippers, Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets, San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder). The final spots in both conference's playoff pictures are completely up for grabs.
But it can get more exciting. And now's the time that I must warn you: If you're not one for entertaining hypotheticals, escape while you still can.
This blockbuster trade would see to that increased excitement level, as it would further promote one team's ability to tank for Andrew Wiggins, add another playoff-contending team, push one squad into thinking solely about the future and strengthen a contender in a big way. I'll go over each team's thinking in a bit, but first, here's the overall trade picture:
Draft picks are involved as well, so don't just look at the players who are switching teams.
The Rockets and Sacramento Kings are both giving first-round draft picks to the Philadelphia 76ers. Houston's comes in 2014, but the Kings already owe their first-round selection (top-12 protected) to the Cleveland Cavaliers, so their pick will come in 2015. Philadelphia is also giving the second-round pick it acquired from the Nets to the Hawks.
Now that you've seen the overall picture, let's roll with the team-by-team breakdowns.
Atlanta Hawks: Committing to the Future
Incoming: Omer Asik, Evan Turner, 2014 second-round pick from Brooklyn (via Philadelphia)
Outgoing: Al Horford, Mike Scott
The Hawks are in a strange spot at the start of the 2013-14 season.
While they could maintain the upper-level mediocrity they've "enjoyed" over the past few years and make the playoffs again, what's the point?
Atlanta hasn't fully committed to this team, as it's too much of a football city and well aware that a championship is not in the cards for the current roster. Even though the postseason seems like a lock each year, it's still common to hear MVP chants for the wrong team in Philips Arena.
Something needs to change, even if it involves trading the best player on the roster.
In return for Horford (and Mike Scott, who's really more of a salary-cap throw-in with some semblance of upside than an actual trade chip), the team is receiving a not-so-valuable draft pick from the Nets and two quality rotation players.
Omer Asik would immediately step into the starting lineup, taking over the job that Horford left vacant. He's a bigger player, and he'd minimize the size issues that Atlanta faces with a Horford-Paul Millsap frontcourt.
However, the bigger acquisition (not in a literal sense) is Evan Turner.
He's not as good as Asik right now, but there are still signs that the young shooting guard—he'll enter the season having just turned 25—has upside left. During the preseason, he averaged 17.3 points, 7.0 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 0.3 steals and 0.3 blocks per game. While he boasted a sub-40 shooting percentage, his jumper was abnormally off, likely the result of having to carry a team.
Turner is eligible for free agency next year, but that doesn't make him less of an asset. It's the exact same situation that the Phoenix Suns found themselves in by acquiring Eric Bledsoe—taking a chance on a young player and knowing that they control his rights when he hits the open market as a restricted free agent.
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Furthermore, committing to the future enables Atlanta to move up in the loaded 2014 NBA draft while shamelessly giving young players like Dennis Schroder and John Jenkins more playing time. Sometimes it's necessary to take a few steps backward in order to take a few leaps forward.
A starting five of Jeff Teague, Turner, Kyle Korver, Millsap and Asik would still be a solid bunch, but a lottery selection would be looming next summer.
Houston Rockets: Going after the Top Starting Five in Basketball
Incoming: Greivis Vasquez, Thaddeus Young
Outgoing: Omer Asik, Jeremy Lin, 2014 first-round pick
I can just imagine the Rockets making this deal then sitting back before the season opener against the Charlotte Bobcats and channeling their inner Joker.
They'd pull the trigger on this trade and then watch the destruction unfold as they lay waste to the rest of the NBA.
In a vacuum, Greivis Vasquez and Thaddeus Young aren't huge upgrades over Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin. That's a fairly even swap, although I'd argue that the incoming pair includes the two best players of the four, even if it's by a small margin.
However, we aren't working in a vacuum.
Asik's value is diminished because he doesn't fit with the current roster. The Rockets either have to play him and Dwight Howard at the same time (yikes) or use him sparingly when D12 needs a rest. Either way, they aren't sucking as much value out of the Turkish big man as they could.
They'd get everything out of Vasquez and Young, though.
The point guard would immediately jump into the starting lineup, as he does the two things that Houston needs from him. He can make three-balls (34.2 percent shooting on 3.1 attempts per game in 2012-13) and is one of the best distributing point guards in basketball.
The latter is the role that the Rockets want Lin to fill, but Vasquez is better at it. He and Patrick Beverley would form a potent two-headed monster at the point, and there would no longer be any need for debates about which player needs to find himself in the starting five.
As for Young, he might not be the stretch 4 that Houston would love to land, but it's not like he struggles to play power forward. He'd be the best option on the roster there, and he's proved in the past that his rim-seeking abilities work quite well when paired with a distributing point guard.
You might have seen that Young is listed as a "SF" in the picture of the ESPN Trade Machine up above, but that's just wrong. According to 82games.com, he played zero percent of the Sixers' minutes at the 3 last year, as opposed to 64 percent of the power forward minutes and two percent at center.
Houston would now be working with one of the best starting fives in the NBA: Vasquez, James Harden, Chandler Parsons, Young and Howard. Sure, there might not be too much depth, but that team would be immediately thrust into the OKC/San Antonio/LAC realm of truly elite teams in the Western Conference.
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And that's why giving up a draft pick isn't too bad.
Not only does general manager Daryl Morey have a stockpile of second-round picks owed to him, but he'd be giving up a de facto second-rounder here because it would come so late in the proceedings.
Plus, Houston has so much young talent that it doesn't need to worry about the draft producing another star. The oldest member of that projected starting lineup is the 27-year-old D12.
Philadelphia 76ers: Literally Aiming at "Winless for Wiggins"
Incoming: Jimmer Fredette, Chuck Hayes, John Salmons, 2014 first-round pick from Houston, 2015 first-round pick from Sacramento
Outgoing: Evan Turner, Thaddeus Young, 2014 second-round pick (via Brooklyn)
I don't think too much explanation is needed here.
Just take a look at what Philadelphia's depth chart would look like after making this deal:
- Point guard: Michael Carter-Williams, Tony Wroten, Darius Morris
- Shooting guard: James Anderson, Jimmer Fredette
- Small forward: John Salmons, Hollis Thompson
- Power forward: Lavoy Allen, Chuck Hayes, Arsalan Kazemi
- Center: Spencer Hawes, Daniel Orton
That would be the worst team in NBA history, bar none. Head coach Brett Brown already said that this team has only six NBA players, as reported by the USA Today's Sean Highkin, and now we're taking away their two best players.
Remember how bad the New Jersey Nets were in 2009-10? Remember the lockout-season Charlotte Bobcats? How about those 9-73 Sixers from 1972-73?
They would all beat this team.
Winning nine games would be a laughable goal, and for the first time ever, it might be possible for a team to go 0-82. Of course, the Sixers would probably catch a team on a ridiculously bad night and manage to win a game, but the point still stands.
Top odds for the 2014 NBA draft would be almost guaranteed, even with the Phoenix Suns going into full-blown tank mode after dealing Marcin Gortat to the Washington Wizards.
That said, there are a couple of things worth mentioning.
Hayes and Salmons would be owed a combined $13.3 million in 2013-14 with another year left on each contract, and that's normally problematic. But not for Philly, as the franchise will inevitably struggle to get to the minimum salary without overpaying too many low-level free agents next summer.
The other relevant aspect of Philly's side in the four-team deal revolves around Jimmer.
Maybe I'm being foolish here, but I'm not ready to give up on the former BYU standout, especially after he broke out for 10.5 points and 3.3 assists per game in the preseason while shooting 51.6 percent from the field and 60 percent beyond the three-point arc.
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In fact, his career stats look awfully similar to J.J. Redick's over the first two years of the latter sharpshooter's NBA tenure. And Redick is doing pretty well for himself at the moment.
Even without a breakout from Jimmer, this deal still makes sense for the Sixers. And it only gets better if he starts living up the hype that accompanied him before the 2011 NBA draft.
Sacramento Kings: Wait, Can We Make the Playoffs?
Incoming: Al Horford, Jeremy Lin, Mike Scott
Outgoing: Jimmer Fredette, Chuck Hayes, John Salmons, Greivis Vasquez, 2015 first-round pick
Can you imagine the Sacramento Kings making the playoffs in the ridiculously tough Western Conference?
I can if they make this move.
All of a sudden, the Kings are boasting a starting five of Jeremy Lin, Ben McLemore, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Al Horford and DeMarcus Cousins. It's not a truly elite group of players, but it's pretty damn good.
There's offensive galore between the pounding, physical game of Boogie, the versatile contributions from Horford, the attacking nature Lin brings to the table and McLemore's shooting. And while Cousins might continue to be a defensive liability, Lin is improving on that end of the court and the other three all excel there.
LRMBAM might be the most underrated defensive player in the league, and Big Al ain't far behind. Plus McLemore has shown all sorts of point-preventing potential, even if his rookie season will inevitably be filled with some struggles.
But that's not what pushes the team into the playoffs—or even playoff contention. While the starting lineup is great, it's the combination of that and the skill on the bench.
Sacramento's bench would not be comprised of Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Thornton, Travis Outlaw/Mike Scott, Carl Landry/Jason Thompson/Patrick Patterson and Hamady N'diaye. There's an obvious weakness at the 5, but that's remedied by the fact that both Cousins and Horford are natural centers.
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Plus, it's not like Sacramento is giving up too much to make this happen. Losing a first-round pick hurts, as does trading away one of the point guards in the competition for the starting gig, but it's worth it to acquire a bona fide Al-Star like Horford.
Even though it would immediately contend for a postseason berth, this roster would still be one with a lot of potential left unrealized in the present. Mbah a Moute and Horford would be the oldest starters, and they're only 27 years old.
To the rest of the NBA: Say hello to a new playoff contender for the foreseeable future.