Predicting the First 5 NBA Trades of the 2013-14 Season
Brace yourselves. Trade season is coming.
More so than ever before, this year should have a very defined group of title competitors and lottery-ball gatherers. As a result, that means clear-cut buyers and sellers on the trade market. Once the reality of the standings starts to hit, expect the trade winds to pick up.
Aside from the on-court motivations, the more punitive luxury tax is looming, and a handful of teams have already expressed the desire to avoid it.
While the league's elite often shy away from making deals during the season in order to preserve chemistry, financial concerns may force those teams into action this season.
With so many clubs having the motivation to trade this year, predicting the first five deals is literally impossible. I'd have better luck winning the lottery and then getting eaten by a shark. But as my spirit guide Nick Young would probably tell me, you can't score if you don't shoot.
Based on probable buyers and sellers, financial concerns and positional needs, let's take a shot at predicting the first five deals of the 2013-14 NBA season.
Omer Asik for Paul Millsap
The Trade: Atlanta Hawks send Paul Millsap and Jared Cunningham to the Houston Rockets for Omer Asik, Terrence Jones and $3 million in cash.
Why the Rockets do it: If Dwight Howard and Omer Asik can't mesh in the same frontcourt, it might be time to acquire an established power forward who can stretch the floor and man the high post.
Paul Millsap has plenty of experience playing alongside a low-post oriented center because of his time in Utah next to Al Jefferson, and his addition would almost certainly make the Houston Rockets the most efficient offense in the NBA. Millsap is a complete offensive player, and he'd be a nightmare to cover with all of Houston's other options.
Jared Cunningham could provide some athleticism and depth behind Harden, while the trade of Terrence Jones and Omer Asik would clear time for Greg Smith, a player with a ton of potential who deserves minutes.
Houston would also get out of actually paying Asik $14.8 million next season, which would surely make owner Leslie Alexander very happy.
Why the Hawks do it: It's hard to truly compete without a rim protector and elite defender at the 5. With the exception of Miami, every playoff team in the Eastern Conference seems to have a big-bodied center manning the paint, and Asik could very well be that guy for the Hawks.
While Millsap is a great player, his skills and production may overlap with Al Horford's a little bit too much. Atlanta will be challenged defensively with its current lineup, and the upgrade on that end from Millsap to Asik is a massive one.
Getting a young power forward in Terrence Jones would probably be enough to put it over the top for Atlanta, as Hawks general manager Danny Ferry would likely want an asset for the future in any trade for Millsap.
The inclusion of the $3 million in cash would lessen the blow of Asik's big money due next year to $11.8 million, which isn't that big of a jump from Millsap's $9.5 million he's due.
Remember, $3 million is the maximum amount of cash that can be included in a trade, and cash can't be used to balance the salaries coming in. That money would solely be to help Atlanta pay Asik next year.
Probability Percentage: 80 percent. Millsap and Asik are two of the hottest names on the trade block, and although playoff teams rarely deal with one another, the positional needs of both teams are accounted for in this deal. Millsap is probably more likely to get dealt because of the money owed to Asik, but it wouldn't surprise me to see both players on new teams after the deadline.
Jamal Crawford for Ian Mahinmi
The Trade: Los Angeles Clippers trade Jamal Crawford to the Indiana Pacers for Ian Mahinmi.
Why the Clippers do it: Tax concerns. The Clippers are over the $71.6 million dollar luxury tax line by roughly $850,000, but the fear of the repeater tax down the line should be enough to motivate the Clippers to get out of it this season.
Trading Willie Green for another non-guaranteed salary before the January 15 contract guarantee deadline is one way to go about it, but the Clippers may want to kill two birds with one stone by shoring up the massive hole in the frontcourt behind Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan.
Considering the newly acquired depth on the wings for the Clippers, moving Jamal Crawford for a legitimate backup big man with size like Ian Mahinmi could lessen the blow when DeAndre Jordan goes to the bench, gets in foul trouble or needs to be pulled for free-throw shooting reasons.
Why the Pacers do it: Given the shaky health of Danny Granger and the need for offense throughout the roster, Crawford could immediately take a sixth man role with the Pacers and provide the team with a late shot-clock option who can create for himself.
While going with Luis Scola as a backup center may be a little scary, the Pacers have great depth at the 4 and can likely absorb Mahinmi's loss up front in exchange for some more firepower.
Perhaps more importantly, this move would help Indiana clear cap space for next season, as Crawford's contract is only guaranteed for $1.5 million.
That savings of about $2.5 million next year could aid in Indiana's efforts to retain Lance Stephenson this offseason in free agency. Without going over the luxury tax, keeping Stephenson will be almost impossible.
Probability Percentage: 60 percent. While the deal makes financial sense for both the Clippers and the Pacers, both Crawford and Mahinmi play important roles on teams that are already title contenders. While this would fill holes, there might be simpler ways solve the financial issues both teams are facing.
Kirk Hinrich for Donatas Motiejunas and Ronnie Brewer
The Trade: Chicago Bulls trade Kirk Hinrich to the Houston Rockets for Donatas Motiejunas and Ronnie Brewer.
Why the Rockets do it: Finding a wing option that meshes with Jeremy Lin, Patrick Beverley and James Harden might be difficult, but Hinrich might be that player. The Rockets will soon realize that surrounding Dwight Howard with three-point shooting and smart pick-and-roll defenders will add up to tons of wins, and Hinrich fits the bill on both accounts.
With Donatas Motiejunas struggling to find time in a crowded frontcourt, the Rockets might be well served to add a steady ballhandler and veteran floor spacer like Hinrich for a playoff run.
Why the Bulls do it: Because Nazr Mohammed is slated for decent minutes. The Bulls could really use another big guy with size, and Motiejunas is a 7-footer that's young, cheap and possesses the stretch to add another element to Chicago's offense.
Adding depth up front should be a priority for the Bulls given Joakim Noah's injury history, and cutting down on the amount of luxury tax owed should be as well.
After waiving Ronnie Brewer, the Bulls could shave a little over $4 million off their luxury tax owed by doing this deal. With Marquis Teague likely ready for more playing time, Hinrich might be expendable.
Probability Percentage: 70 percent. It's unlikely that the Bulls move Carlos Boozer, so Hinrich makes the most sense as the tax casualty in a trade. Although the Rockets seem pretty set in the backcourt, Hinrich's ability to play either guard spot and add a little veteran leadership might be worth one of their young frontcourt assets.
Marcus Thornton and John Salmons for DeMar DeRozan and Landry Fields
The Trade: Sacramento Kings trade John Salmons and Marcus Thornton to the Toronto Raptors for DeMar DeRozan and Landry Fields.
Why the Raptors do it: Getting out from DeMar DeRozan's massive four-year, $38 million dollar extension signed by the previous regime might be a priority for new general manager Masai Ujiri, who has shown a proclivity to get long-term salary off the books via trades in the past.
Trading DeRozan to the Kings is a glorified salary dump, as John Salmons is only guaranteed $1 million on his deal next year and Marcus Thornton would be expiring after next season as well. At least in Thornton, the Raptors would solve a few floor-spacing issues and find a better fit next to Rudy Gay for the time being. He's the type of three-point shooter the Raptors lack almost entirely.
More importantly, though, this move would put almost all of Toronto's roster on the same salary time line, freeing up massive amounts of free-agency spending room over the next two years. DeRozan is a good egg and hard-working player, but he's severely overpaid given his limitations as a shooter. It would be shocking if Ujiri didn't try to dump his contract.
Why the Kings do it: Because Sacramento is far from a premium free-agency destination, the Kings have to find other ways to get talent. DeRozan might still be young enough and talented enough to transform his game, and his 6'7" frame should allow him to play small forward next to Ben McLemore—something the 6'4" Thornton can't do.
With no cap space available next season anyhow, buying low on DeRozan and hoping he can hammer out a better perimeter game is a risk that might be worth taking. Even if he doesn't work at small forward, DeRozan could probably be a better sixth man than Thornton is right now. Fields is simply a throw-in.
Probability Percentage: 85 percent. I'm feeling pretty good about this one. Sacramento needs to find a way to tie down a young, long-term player with potential via trade, and Toronto will probably want to clean the books. In my opinion, DeRozan is the most likely player to get traded this season, but there are only a handful of teams that would likely take him on. Sacramento should be one of those teams.
Why the Bucks do it: Brandon Knight doesn't look like a real point guard at all, and Ersan Ilyasova is blocking John Henson from major playing time. Swapping Ilyasova for Dragic gives the Bucks a better floor general and distributor for the young bigs up front, and it also puts Knight in his more natural role as a scoring sixth man.
Why the Nuggets do it: If the Denver Nuggets believe Kenneth Faried's ceiling is capped as a high-energy rebounder and little else, moving him for a more versatile option like Ilyasova might be a better mesh with JaVale McGee up front. Ilyasova can space the floor, but he's also an excellent offensive rebounder that could replace much of Faried's production.
Why the Suns do it: Adding a productive and cheap frontcourt player that the Suns can control for the future might make more sense than keeping Dragic, particularly if Phoenix wants to give the point guard reins to Eric Bledsoe after all. The Suns could also clear even more cap if Andre Miller retired after the season, which would probably be more appealing than playing for a rebuilding team.
Probability Percentage: 40 percent. As if predicting a trade between two teams wasn't hard enough, right? I'm not completely convinced the Suns will feel the need to move Dragic unless draft picks are the result, and that may be the main holdup here.