Free Trade: How We'd Unload David Lee, Greg Monroe and Markieff Morris

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistJanuary 15, 2016

PORTLAND, OR - DECEMBER 14:  C.J. McCollum #3 and Damian Lillard #0 of the Portland Trail Blazers talk during the game against the New Orleans Pelicans on December 14, 2015 at the Moda Center Arena in Portland, Oregon. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2015 NBAE (Photo by Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images)
Sam Forencich/Getty Images

Please put on your NBA general manager hats, suits, scarfs, leggings, girdles, etc.

It's time to talk turkey. Theoretically.

In the latest edition of "Free Trade," sourced reports and speculative musings will inspire our subject matter. None of these deals are in the works, as far as we know. But they should be.

Here's how it's going to work: Yours truly will propose some dynamite deals. Bleacher Report's Adam Fromal will then give his input. If he disagrees with a trade, we'll tweak the fabric of it and come up with a revised proposal that's backed by the both of us.

To the drawing board!

 

Celtics Finally Make a Splash

Greg Monroe on the Celtics? Yes, please.
Greg Monroe on the Celtics? Yes, please.Gary Dineen/Getty Images
  • Boston Celtics Receive: C Greg Monroe
  • Milwaukee Bucks Receive: F/C David Lee, PF Jared Sullinger and 2016 top-seven-protected first-round pick

Dan Favale: Greg Monroe isn't DeMarcus Cousins, which is kind of a good thing. The Boston Celtics have been linked to him forever and cannot wait around for the Sacramento Kings to actually make him available.

The Milwaukee Bucks, mind you, haven't put Greg Monroe on the chopping block, as Zach Lowe of ESPN.com noted while proposing the Celtics make a run at him. But the Bucks also haven't performed up to snuff.

Monroe was signed with the expectation he could push Milwaukee past mediocrity. But the Bucks own the Eastern Conference's third-worst record, and Monroe, as Lowe underscored, has proved to be an awkward fit alongside Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker:

It's going to be a long slog for Parker, and these Bucks. He doesn't have a post game yet. He has shot just 9-of-25 out of the pick-and-roll all season, and most of those are bricked pick-and-pop jumpers, per Synergy Sports. Parker can be explosive rolling to the hoop for dunks, but it's hard to find space when Monroe, [John] Henson or even Antetokounmpo is loitering around the paint.

Opponents are outscoring the Bucks by 2.5 points per 100 possessions when Antetokounmpo, Monroe and Parker share the floor. That's better than Milwaukee's overall net rating but nowhere near good enough to chase a playoff berth.

Monroe is easily the most expendable of the three. Antetokounmpo and Parker are still on their rookie deals, and Milwaukee's broken defense is better off with John Henson getting more burn.

Jared Sullinger and one of Boston's bajillion first-rounders, along with David Lee's expiring deal, is fair compensation should the Bucks decide to repurpose their season. Sullinger has more range on his jumper than Monroe and won't fetch anything in restricted free agency that approaches the $17.1 million Milwaukee owes his would-be predecessor in 2016-17.

Boston needs offense, and Monroe is offense.
Boston needs offense, and Monroe is offense.Morry Gash/Associated Press

If there is a team that can deploy a top-tier defense with Monroe logging heavy minutes, it's the Celtics. They already rank in the top three of points allowed per 100 possessions without a strong rim protector. Their defensive success is tied more to perimeter pests Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder and Marcus Smart.

Gambling on Monroe would be mostly about upping the ante on offense. The Celtics rank in the bottom 10 of points scored per 100 possessions, and Monroe is a borderline superstar on that end of the floor. He is one of just five bigs hitting 18.5 points and 2.5 assists per 36 minutes and averages far more points in the post than anyone else on Boston's roster.

Acquiring him, in this scenario, doesn't cost the Celtics many of their assets. They will still have the picks and prospects to pull the trigger on another blockbuster deal, and Monroe all but guarantees they don't miss the playoffs.

 

Adam Fromal: Something needs to change in Milwaukee, which has backslid more than anyone could've predicted behind a defense that would now have trouble stopping a nosebleed.

Even though the team is technically better at preventing points when Monroe is on the court, it's hard to imagine that being anything but a teammate-driven fluke. ESPN.com's defensive real plus/minus, for example, has Monroe as the No. 25 defender at his position. 

I like the current structure of the proposed trade (so long as we can make that 2016 first-rounder a lottery-protected pick rather than just guaranteeing the top six slots). But I love it if we're viewing it as the first trade in a sequence of moves. 

Juggling Henson's and Parker's minutes with those of Lee and Sullinger is the lone downside to this deal.
Juggling Henson's and Parker's minutes with those of Lee and Sullinger is the lone downside to this deal.Gary Dineen/Getty Images

Bringing in both Jared Sullinger and David Lee is only going to get in the way of John Henson receiving the minutes he's deserved for quite a while, and it could prevent head coach Jason Kidd from playing Jabari Parker at the 4. Ultimately, that's the natural position for the Duke product, and the Bucks are best served getting him into that spot as soon as possible. 

This is still a mutually beneficial deal—Boston gets the best player, and Milwaukee engages in a bit of addition by subtraction while getting its hands on rebuilding assets. But if the Bucks know there's a subsequent market for Sullinger or Lee (or both), that's even better. 

 

Raptors Go on the Prowl

Markieff Morris needs a new home, and the Raptors can give him a good one.
Markieff Morris needs a new home, and the Raptors can give him a good one.Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images
  • Phoenix Suns Receive: PF Patrick Patterson and 2017 lottery-protected first-round pick (via Los Angeles Clippers)
  • Toronto Raptors Receive: PF Markieff Morris

DF: Sources previously told Marc Stein of ESPN.com that a deal between the Houston Rockets and Phoenix Suns could be struck soon after Corey Brewer was allowed to be traded. The proposed framework, which is eligible to be pushed through as of Jan. 15, has Houston sending both Brewer and Terrence Jones to Phoenix in exchange for Markieff Morris.

But Jones is approaching restricted free agency, and unlike Sullinger, he's a virtual lock to grab an eight-figure annual salary. Investing that much in someone who, while promising, is still an unknown after employing him for only half of the season is too risky.

Grabbing a future pick is like the Suns getting found money. They have an extra first-rounder in the trade arsenal, and if they decide to keep it, they won't have to back up an armored truck for whomever they select for at least three full seasons.

There is some risk involved because the Los Angeles Clippers' pick is lottery protected through 2019, at which point it dissolves into two second-rounders if not conveyed. Two second-rounders isn't nothing, and the Clippers, barring an abrupt teardown, will still be a playoff team through at least next season anyway.

Patrick Patterson is a better shooter than Morris and more effective when playing off the ball. He'll fit nicely beside Phoenix's 47—or is it 74?—rock-dominant guards and wings. His yearly cap hit is also cheaper than Morris', and he'll come off the books at the end of 2016-17.

Patterson can help the Suns now and won't cost as much as Jones later.
Patterson can help the Suns now and won't cost as much as Jones later.Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Toronto is working off consecutive almost-50-win seasons that ended with first-round exits. The roster is more balanced than it has ever been, but even the Raptors know they must make moves to hang with the Cavaliers, Spurs, Warriors et al.

"How do you get from good in the NBA to great?" general manager Masai Ujiri pondered aloud to Lowe. "That is really hard." 

Power forward is the team's most uncertain position. Luis Scola and James Johnson will be free agents after this season, Patterson clearly isn't the answer and the Raptors don't yet have lineup flexibility to use the injured DeMarre Carroll exclusively at the 4.

DeMar DeRozan's impending free agency puts them in a weird place as well. They have the pieces to craft blockbuster offers, but any moves they make now will look different and, potentially, worse if he bolts.

Unless Ujiri (pictured above with DeMarre Carroll) sees the Clippers being horrible in 2017, he should have no qualms about dealing their first-rounder.
Unless Ujiri (pictured above with DeMarre Carroll) sees the Clippers being horrible in 2017, he should have no qualms about dealing their first-rounder.Ron Turenne/Getty Images

Rolling the dice on Morris is as low-risk, high-impact Toronto can get. He will never earn more than $8.6 million in a single season and figures to play better outside Phoenix. His spotty three-point shooting is negated by above-average playmaking, and he guards well enough for the Raptors to play him and Jonas Valanciunas together late in games without worrying about demonstrative defensive setbacks.

And in the event Morris recaptures his magic from the previous two seasons, Toronto will be in business. 

Only four players averaged at least 17 points, seven rebounds and two assists per 36 minutes with an effective field-goal percentage—combined measurement of two- and three-point accuracy—better than 49 in both 2013-14 and 2014-15. Morris was one of them.

Blake Griffin, Kevin Love and Paul Millsap were the other three.

 

AF: Morris is a perfect fit for a Raptors team that needs a more consistent floor-spacing option at power forward, but that doesn't mean he's worth the price tag. Though in a vacuum, he's a strong enough player to justify a non-lottery first-round pick, that's not how the NBA trade market works.

Morris' trade value has never been lower, bilking Phoenix of any leverage in negotiations.
Morris' trade value has never been lower, bilking Phoenix of any leverage in negotiations.Barry Gossage/Getty Images

Given the turmoil Morris has been embroiled in ever since the Suns traded away his twin brother to the Detroit Pistons, there's virtually no market for him. During a time of year in which the rumor mill is always churning out new ideas, there's a reason we haven't heard any legitimate whispers other than the aforementioned one involving the Rockets.

Because of that, the Suns don't have enough leverage to get their hands on a first-round pick—even if that pick is indeed heavily protected until 2019. They're just hoping to get something for him instead of eventually cutting ties with no compensation. 

Upgrading from Patterson to Morris is beneficial for the Raptors. Parting ways with Morris is a positive move for the Suns in and of itself. In all likelihood, it just takes a second-round pick to get both sides on board, so there's no reason for Toronto to offer anything more. 

 

DF: Phoenix is indeed devoid of leverage. But if Houston is dangling Jones, merely offering Patterson won't cut it. Toronto also doesn't have a 2016 second-rounder, mildly complicating matters.

Now, if the Rockets are equivocating on the offer of Brewer and Jones, the Raptors needn't bid against themselves. It helps either way that Patterson is more valuable to the Suns than Brewer.

We can pivot per your suggestion and have the Raptors sling two second-rounders—with the caveat that, if it's needed, the Clippers' 2017 pick shouldn't be off the table.

Revised Trade Offer 

  • Phoenix Suns Receive: PF Patrick Patterson, 2017 second-round pick and 2018 second-round pick
  • Toronto Raptors Receive: PF Markieff Morris

 

Blazers and Jazz Roll the Dice

Utah needs a go-to guard, and C.J. McCollum can be it.
Utah needs a go-to guard, and C.J. McCollum can be it.Melissa Majchrzak/Getty Images
  • Portland Trail Blazers Receive: SG Alec Burks and 2016 top-10-protected first-round pick
  • Utah Jazz Receive: C.J. McCollum

DF: John Canzano recently penned a column for the Oregonian that argued the Portland Trail Blazers should explore trading Most Improved Player candidate C.J. McCollum. And he was right.

McCollum offers great value at $2.5 million this season and $3.2 million in 2016-17, but his cap hit is going to soar ahead of 2017-18. He is one of seven players averaging 20 points and 4.5 assists per 36 minutes with an effective field-goal rate north of 50 and will be accordingly compensated.

After accounting for the two salary-cap eruptions that will precede McCollum's 2017-18 earnings, pricing him at $15 million per season feels conservative. The Blazers have $22.5 million already committed to Damian Lillard in 2017-18 and cannot afford to sink roughly $40 million (or more) into a backcourt pairing with severe defensive cracks.

A Burks-McCollum swap makes sense on many levels for both Utah and Portland.
A Burks-McCollum swap makes sense on many levels for both Utah and Portland.Melissa Majchrzak/Getty Images

Alec Burks does a lot of the same things as McCollum, and he will continue doing them without earning more than $11.6 million in a single season through 2018-19. And with the Blazers in the early stages of another rebuild, the Utah Jazz's first-rounder is especially useful.

Forking over draft picks isn't the Jazz's style, and as Bleacher Report's Andy Bailey pointed out, they aren't in any rush to clinch a playoff berth:

But it's hard to justify the Jazz not being aggressive. They remain in the Western Conference's playoff bubble despite battling an array of injuries, and the quartet of Derrick Favors, Rudy Gobert, Gordon Hayward and Rodney Hood is, when healthy, statistical heaven

Inserting McCollum into that fold gives Utah its first guard with a star's ceiling. The Jazz don't yet know what injured sophomore Dante Exum is; Trey Burke is a human seesaw; Raul Neto is effective in measured doses; and Burks has only been an offensive plus twice for his career, during the 2012-13 and 2014-15 crusades, the latter of which saw him appear in just 27 games.

McCollum's inevitable extension is something the Jazz must take into consideration, but they have the luxury of letting him play out this season and next before they absolutely have to pay him. Burke, Gobert and McCollum are all slated for restricted free agency in 2017, which is also when Exum and Hood are eligible to sign extensions of their own.

July 2017 will end up being an expensive one in Utah. But the Jazz will have enough information and talent by then to know who does and who doesn't belong with them for the longer haul.

 

AF: I'm giving this one a green light so bright that it might blind you. 

The Blazers can't fall into the trap of relative success in 2015-16, because the current members of the roster aren't strong enough to guarantee anything more than fringe playoff contention down the road. Even though they've remained somewhat competitive after losing four starters this offseason, they still need to parlay some of their current pieces into more assets. 

Lillard and McCollum will be just fine together long term, but the Blazers have to aim for more than "just fine."
Lillard and McCollum will be just fine together long term, but the Blazers have to aim for more than "just fine."Sam Forencich/Getty Images

Given his defensive porosity, McCollum is the right choice to move, even if fans in Rip City might justifiably be upset at the prospect of trading away a leading candidate for Most Improved Player who consistently throws up gaudy point totals. Guards in the NBA are too good for the Blazers to become contenders with two glaring liabilities in the backcourt. 

Now is the ideal time to sell high. McCollum's MIP case rests largely on the laurels of his scoring efforts, when, in reality, he hasn't actually improved by too large a margin. The extra offensive burden has forced him to become one of the worst defensive presences in the Association.

Here, let's turn to the two components of total points added (TPA, which is explained in full here), which estimate how many points McCollum adds on the offensive end and saves on the defensive side, as compared to a league-average player:

C.J. McCollum's Total Points Added Breakdown
SeasonOffensive Points AddedDefensive Points Saved
2014-15-7.64-5.73
2015-16158.68-120.38
2015-16 stats are prorated to a full season.

Perception is up, and that's what matters. Scoring ability is the most glamorous of all basketball attributes, and there's no doubt this former Lehigh standout has improved dramatically in that area. But when his defense is also factored in, his rising value doesn't keep pace with his burgeoning stardom. Based on my TPA calculations, he's barely been a top-100 player during the first half of the season.

However, McCollum would fare so much better on a Utah team that's primed to cover up for his biggest flaw. Few are better at erasing the mistakes of guards than Gobert and Favors.

The Jazz have been collecting young talents for a while now, and they'll eventually need to start combining some assets into stronger ones that fit perfectly with the established centerpieces. If McCollum is truly available, they almost have to jump through any hoops that emerge. 

 

Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com unless otherwise cited and are accurate leading into games on Jan. 15. Salary information via Basketball Insiders. Draft pick commitments from RealGM.

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