Free Trade: Superstar Blockbusters to Consider Ahead of NBA's Trade Deadline

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Free Trade: Superstar Blockbusters to Consider Ahead of NBA's Trade Deadline
Tony Dejak/Associated Press

Calling all hypothetical NBA trade-lovers!

Free Trade is back, and this time, with the Association's Feb. 18 trade deadline fast approaching, we'll be manufacturing superstar-headlined blockbusters for your enjoyment. After all, small-scale deals are the enemy of exciting trade deadlines.

Here's a quick refresher of how this works: Yours truly, Dan Favale, will put together three monster deals. Bleacher Report's Adam Fromal will then give his input. If he has any qualms, we'll work together to incorporate them. If not, these theoretic deals will be green-lit for general managers' consumption. 

 

Celtics Get Even Scarier

Michael Dwyer/Associated Press/Associated Press
The Celtics would be a more formidable team with Hawks center Al Horford.

  • Atlanta Hawks Receive: G Avery Bradley, SG R.J. Hunter, PF David Lee, PF Jared Sullinger, 2016 first-round pick via Boston and 2016 first-round pick via Dallas (top-seven protected)
  • Boston Celtics Receive: C Al Horford, SG/SF Kyle Korver and SG Thabo Sefolosha

Favale: Sources told ESPN.com's Kevin Arnovitz and Brian Windhorst the Atlanta Hawks are mulling a quasi-teardown and Al Horford, Kyle Korver and Jeff Teague are all considered available ahead of the trade deadline.

To this end, while speaking on CSN New England, The Vertical's Chris Mannix revealed that Boston Celtics president Danny Ainge is "excited about" the prospect of landing Horford. Mannix later said Atlanta's asking price for its prized players is "borderline ridiculous," which suggests it will take a monster offer to poach Horford.

But the Hawks are light on leverage overall and will eventually have to move off their demands. Horford is a free agent at the end of this season, so his next team is either acquiring a rental or a soon-to-be nine-figure investment.

This hypothetical package flirts with monster-offer status anyway.

David Lee's contract comes off the books this summer, and he provides the Hawks with a solid playmaking center in the interim. Jared Sullinger has lined up at center for most of this season and makes for an awesome complement to Paul Millsap's inside-out game. Atlanta has ample time to evaluate him before he reaches restricted free agency in July.

Maddie Meyer/Getty Images
Jared Sullinger (left), Avery Bradley and Isaiah Thomas

Avery Bradley can help shoulder point guard responsibilities with Dennis Schroder if the Hawks decide to cut bait with Teague. He is insurance against Kent Bazemore signing elsewhere over the summer, and his 38-plus percent clip on catch-and-shoot triples will transition seamlessly into Atlanta's passing-packed system.

Snagging R.J. Hunter, in addition to those Boston and Dallas Mavericks picks, essentially stocks the Hawks' asset cupboard with three mid-end first-rounders. They won't get more than that for Horford's expiring deal and an aging Korver.

The Celtics, conversely, shouldn't even need to think before pulling the trigger. They and the Golden State Warriors are the only teams to rank in the top 10 of offensive rating, defensive rating and pace. They already have the East's third-best record.

Boston is right there, and Horford pushes it over the top. He offers the same spacing as Sullinger with more passing and rim protection. Losing Bradley stings, but the Celtics have enough perimeter weapons in Jae Crowder, Marcus Smart and Evan Turner. Korver replaces any shooting Bradley takes with him.

Fromal: Signing off on this deal is akin to admitting the Hawks aren't going to recapture the magic that led to an undefeated January and the eventual top spot in the Eastern Conference during the 2014-15 season. It just so happens that's exactly what the Atlanta front office should be doing. 

Even last year, there were clear signs this team was overachieving. I'm not talking about the failure to get by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the penultimate playoff round but rather what happened before the injuries piled up. Any underlying metric could tell you the torrid pace was unsustainable. 

Scott Cunningham/Getty Images
Though the Hawks are fourth in the Eastern Conference, they may look to sell to improve their long-term outlook.

Now it's time to tear things down, and it's tough to think of a better deal for a star big man on an expiring contract. Thanks to Boston's need for a go-to piece in the frontcourt, Atlanta is getting everything it could possibly want—and then some. 

As Dan explained, the Celtics are essentially handing over three first-round picks and a pair of players who should fit in nicely with head coach Mike Budenholzer's offensive schemes. It's still unclear whether Sullinger is actually a stretch big or if he just wants to be one, but that chance is one worth taking for a team in dire need of upside. 

Maintaining financial flexibility next summer, adding picks to the coffers and acquiring players who can immediately be impact rotation members? All for an aging sharpshooter, a veteran role player and a center who could walk this offseason? 

It's a no-brainer. Unless, of course, the Hawks are content to plunge back into the Sisyphean cycle of upper-tier mediocrity. 

Dwight Howard Journeys East

Sam Forencich/Getty Images

  • Houston Rockets Receive: SF Jared Dudley, C Marcin Gortat, PF Kris Humphries and PG Ramon Sessions
  • Washington Wizards Receive: C Dwight Howard and SG Marcus Thornton

Favale: Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical previously brought word that the Houston Rockets "are working with [Dwight] Howard’s agent, Dan Fegan, on possible" trade destinations. Fegan denied this, per ESPN's Marc Stein, as did Howard himself.

"I have not asked the Rockets to trade me, nor have I talked about right trades," he told Stein. "I want to win. I want this situation to work. I chose this team. And I'm not running because we have been faced with some adversity."

That doesn't mean the Rockets aren't trying to ship out Howard on their terms. According ESPN.com's Zach Lowe, they are the ones placing calls:

More so than most teams, the Washington Wizards have the contractual fodder to match Howard's $22.4 million salary. And they have enough incentive to shake things up at the deadline.

Like the Rockets, the Wizards are severely underachieving. Their once-sterling defense now ranks in the bottom 10 of points allowed per 100 possessions, and they entered the All-Star break three games outside of the East's playoff bubble.

Howard still has the ability to enact defensive change. Opponents are shooting under 50 percent against him at the rim, and he joins Anthony Davis, Andre Drummond and Nerlens Noel as the only players averaging one steal and 1.5 blocks per game.

Marcin Gortat is the lone loss for the Wizards in this deal, and any adverse impact is negated by the additional cap space they generate shedding the final three years and $38.4 million of his contract.

Plus, while the Wizards defense is statistically better with Gortat on the floor, it's still pretty bad. And let's not pretend his offensive success isn't wholly dependent on a certain All-Star point guard who goes by the name John "My back hurts from carrying this Washington team" Wall:

Failing to grab a first-round pick from Washington might limit Houston's interest, but general manager Daryl Morey doesn't have a ton of other options. As Bobby Marks wrote for The Vertical: 

Factor in that the Rockets also have eyes on All-Star Kevin Durant this summer. Adding additional salary could make it difficult for Houston to create cap space to sign Durant.

It will be hard to make a deal with any Western Conference team above Houston in the playoff race.

The top-five West teams – Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder and the Los Angeles Clippers – do not need a center. Although the Grizzlies' Marc Gasol recently broke his foot, Memphis does not have the picks or assets to get a deal done.

Absorbing Gortat's deal won't obliterate the Rockets' chances of landing Durant. His $12 million salary next season brings the team's guaranteed total to around $57.6 million.

That's before accounting for the cap holds of Terrence Jones and Donatas Motiejunas, Kris Humphries' and Ty Lawson's non-guaranteed deals and Houston's potential first-round pick, which will be sent to the Denver Nuggets if it falls outside the lottery. But Corey Brewer's and K.J. McDaniels' pacts can be dumped for additional wiggle room, and the Rockets will need to finagle their finances no matter what if they're going to chase Durant.

Gortat is almost two years older than Howard, but he comes at a fraction of the cost and is an offensive upgrade thanks to his 50-plus percent shooting between 16 feet and the three-point line. Humphries is now shooting threes at a respectable 34.3 percent clip, and Ramon Sessions has the edge over Lawson as secondary playmaker.

Flipping Howard for this type of return promises Houston more court balance and, by extension, a better shot at reentering the West's playoff bracket.

Fromal: I don't want to like this trade, largely because I've resigned myself to hating almost every deal that involves Howard. It's one of those situations where the likely reward simply isn't worth the risk for teams such as the Boston Celtics and Dallas Mavericks. 

But sending the former All-Star to the nation's capital actually works. 

Bill Baptist/Getty Images

Howard would replace Gortat as a fantastic pick-and-roll option next to John Wall, but the nature of his contract makes him even more appealing. Even if he doesn't pan out and walks this summer, that's still a better outcome than having to pay the remainder of Gortat's gaudy deal as the incumbent big man moves further from his athletic prime. 

Also, we don't want to overlook the potential impact of Marcus Thornton. He's shooting only 33.8 percent from beyond the arc for the Rockets, but we know he's capable of more than that. Expect Wall to bring out the best in him, especially as he plays in a more cohesive unit than a Houston squad constantly left in flux while James Harden dribbles out possessions. 

Failing to get back a first-round pick might sting for Houston, but it doesn't have any leverage in this situation. It's getting a lot of value out of the role players being sent away from Washington, and Gortat should serve as a nice complement to the bearded 2-guard without demanding as many touches as Howard. 

Kudos on finding a Howard deal that makes sense for both sides. That ain't easy these days. 

Four-Team Megabuster

Tony Dejak/Associated Press/Associated Press
Blake Griffin and Kevin Love have been subjects in many recent trade rumors.

  • Cleveland Cavaliers Receive: SF/PF Tobias Harris and PF Ryan Anderson
  • Los Angeles Clippers Receive: PF Channing Frye, PF Kevin Love and PG Mo Williams
  • New Orleans Pelicans Receive: PF Aaron Gordon, SG Victor Oladipo and SG Lance Stephenson
  • Orlando Magic Receive: C Alexis Ajinca, PF Blake Griffin and PG Jrue Holiday

Favale: This four-team party comes complete with caveats.

Not all of these players are technically available. Stein has the Orlando Magic accepting offers for Tobias Harris, and the New Orleans Pelicans are very much in seller's mode, according to CBS Sports' Ken Berger. But, per Windhorst, the Cleveland Cavaliers have made it clear they're not looking to move Kevin Love, while Berger wrote the Los Angeles Clippers aren't expected to shop Blake Griffin until after the season.

Still...oh my god.

Ryan Anderson doesn't demand as many touches as Love and is shooting a higher percentage from three-point range. He is a better fit beside the ball-dominant Kyrie Irving and LeBron James and won't command Love-level money in free agency.

Harris' shooting percentages have dipped within Orlando's clunky offense, but he is having a career year on the defensive end and proved last season he could function as a secondary option. He's put down 37.9 percent of his open triples (four feet of space or more between the closest defender) and will only get more easy looks next to Irving and James.

Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press/Associated Press
Ryan Anderson

The Clippers have deployed a top-five offense and defense since Griffin last played. The Warriors and San Antonio Spurs are the only other teams to have done the same during that time. Los Angeles can justify offloading Griffin for more frontcourt spacing, and Love gets to be the second option next to Chris Paul rather than the third.

New Orleans needs to face facts. Tyreke Evans is done for the season, Eric Gordon is on the shelf and the playoffs are a pipe dream. Aaron Gordon and Victor Oladipo are two star-level prospects who would look excellent running with Anthony Davis. 

Participating in this trade increases the value of the Pelicans' 2016 first-rounder, while Lance Stephenson's expiring deal relieves some of next season's financial burden. In essence, this lets the Pelicans enter the offseason with three top-five draft talents (including Davis), another top-five selection and additional cap space.

For the Magic's part, we defer to Stein:

Griffin, who may not return from a fractured right hand and four-game suspension until April, and Jrue Holiday won't help Orlando make a playoff push this season. But, like the Pelicans, the Magic help their draft positioning by acquiring the injured Griffin.

Then next season, they enter the fray with a possible core of Evan Fournier (restricted free agent), Griffin, Holiday, Nikola Vucevic and another top-seven pick.

Fromal: Let's look at this from each team's perspective and see who—if anyone—would say no. 

First, the Cavaliers are getting Harris and Anderson for Love and Mo Williams.

Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Even though they are parting with the most talented player involved in that swap, this is a situation in which two dimes might be worth more than a quarter. The Cavs need more depth, and Anderson is an ideal fit next to the other two ball-dominant members of the vaunted Big Three. Throw in Harris' versatility and all-around upside, and it's tough to see them being too bummed about dealing one of their max players. 

Still, it feels like a pick—even if it's nothing more than a protected second-rounder—would be necessary for Cleveland to pull the trigger. Optics matter, and it'll take a Godfather offer to convince general manager David Griffin he should give up on Love. 

The Clippers are the other team giving up a true star, swapping Griffin and Stephenson for Channing Frye, Love and Williams. This one doesn't take too much thinking, as they get a complementary star for Paul and DeAndre Jordan while adding depth in the places they need it most—power forward and point guard. No qualms from this squad's perspective. 

As for the Pelicans, they're parting with Alexis Ajinca, Anderson and Holiday to get Gordon, Victor Oladipo and Stephenson.

At first glance, this is the team that might blow up the trade and force everyone to evaluate other options. If we look solely at current value, it's just not even—particularly with Holiday beginning to thrive as he gains comfort in NOLA. 

But as Dan said, it's time for the Pelicans to pull the plug on this season. Doing so in this manner would allow them to acquire plenty of talent while maximizing the value of their first-round pick in the upcoming 2016 NBA draft. Plus, the thought of Gordon and Davis playing defense together is almost too tantalizing. 

Finally, we come to the Magic, who are giving up Gordon, Oladipo and Frye for Ajinca, Griffin and Holiday.

Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

If any team would be pushing for the other three to accept the terms as they're currently laid out, it would be Orlando. Much as it may pain general manager Rob Hennigan to part with Gordon and Oladipo, this is talent consolidation done so well that it nets significant upgrades at two positions. 

Gordon may never reach the level Griffin is already at. Ditto for Oladipo and Holiday, as we've all seen what the 25-year-old point guard is capable of when healthy. Plus, the LAC power forward can't help the Magic for at least a few more weeks, which means the Magic get to subtly tank and increase the value of this year's first-round selection. 

From a purely objective standpoint, I can't see any of the four teams saying no.

But just to solidify the deal, let's have the Magic throw a second-round pick in Cleveland's direction. They're the big winners in this trade, and that wouldn't change if they had to include one more asset.

Favale: Deal. Orlando will toss its 2017 second-round pick Cleveland's way, this trade will get done, Twitter will break and NBA anarchy will ensue. 

Our mission is accomplished.

Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com and are accurate leading into NBA's All-Star break unless otherwise cited. Salary information via Basketball Insiders.

Dan Favale and Adam Fromal write about the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow them on Twitter, @danfavale and @fromal09.

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