General managers are running out of time as the 2016 NBA trade deadline approaches. And just in case they're also running out of ideas, we've got a few worth considering.
DeMarcus Cousins on the Move
Sacramento Kings Get: David Lee, 2016 first-round pick (via Brooklyn), 2016 first-round pick (via Boston)
Boston Celtics Get: DeMarcus Cousins
Remember, these are suggestions. And we're doing our best to make them as logical as possible. It's not our fault the Kings so infrequently opt for the logical path.
If you're Sacramento, and you've got no future assets worth mentioning, and you have little evidence it's possible to build a winner around DeMarcus Cousins, and you think maybe it's time to wipe the slate clean, this should be something you consider.
David Lee is just a salary in this deal, and Sacramento's real gain here is the Nets' pick, which could end up in the top three. Boston sweetens the pot a little by including its own first-round selection, and if the Kings pushed back, it'd be tough to imagine the Celtics not including another first-rounder to get the deal done (they also have protected firsts from Dallas and Minnesota).
Even if Sacramento demanded Kelly Olynyk, Tyler Zeller or Marcus Smart be included, don't the Celtics have to go for this?
There's no guarantee the Celtics can get a superstar in this year's draft. And even if they landed someone like Ben Simmons, he wouldn't be ready to lead for another few years. With Boston looking like the third-best team in the conference right now, it's not crazy to say that adding a motivated Cousins, refreshed by his first stint in a functional organization, could vault Boston to the top of the East for the foreseeable future.
Cousins' contract is absurdly cheap at two more years for just over $35 million, so the Celtics lose little flexibility going forward.
Yes, the Kings have been fanatical in their commitment to making the postseason, and they've got a new arena to open next year—one they'd like to unseal with a playoff team and franchise star—Cousins—in tow. But wouldn't a stud rookie and the breath of fresh air Cousins' departure might bring be nearly as good?
This needs to happen.
The Nets Snatch Up a Pick (Option No. 1)
Brooklyn Nets Get: Patrick Patterson, Delon Wright, 2016 first-round pick
Toronto Raptors Get: Thaddeus Young
We all know the Brooklyn Nets don't control any of their first-round picks until 2019, so job No. 1 (for whichever Nets employee is technically making personnel decisions in the absence of an actual general manager) has to be accumulating future assets.
How about the Toronto Raptors upgrade at the 4 with Thaddeus Young, giving back Patrick Patterson, rookie point guard Delon Wright and their 2016 first-round pick?
Frank Isola of the New York Daily News suggested deals centering around Patterson and Young, and the Raptors have the New York Knicks' first-rounder in addition to their own. So losing a mediocre pick doesn't sting as much.
Young is averaging 15.1 points and 9.1 rebounds per game on 51.3 percent shooting this year, and Brooklyn's offense has cratered without him. The Raps need someone to score and capably defend switches on the perimeter when opponents go to the 1-4 pick-and-roll. Patrick Patterson and Luis Scola haven't done either of those things all that well this season.
If Young figures out what happened to the three-point stroke that produced 38 percent accuracy in 28 games with the Nets last year, he could give Toronto a real boost on a contract (four years, $50 million) that'll look dirt cheap when the cap spikes.
Even if the Raps don't want to deal a pick, Brooklyn might take a handful of young players instead. Bruno Caboclo, Lucas Nogueira and even Anthony Bennett might make sense for a Nets squad in need of young, cheap flyers.
The Nets Snatch Up a Pick (Option No. 2)
Brooklyn Nets Get: Tyler Zeller, David Lee, Jared Sullinger, 2016 first-round pick (top-seven protected, via Dallas)
Boston Celtics Get: Brook Lopez
The Nets would probably rather dump Young than Lopez, and dealing with the team that fleeced them so badly in the first place probably isn't appealing, but this is a pretty decent haul.
If it feels like Boston is giving up too much here, remember that Brooklyn owes an unprotected 2016 first-round pick to the Celtics (for the Paul Pierce/Kevin Garnett trade in 2013). It might be worth giving up a couple of young talents and a pick if it removes Lopez from the Nets roster, thereby weakening the team and increasing the odds that pick is as valuable to Boston as possible.
Getting Lopez as a post anchor and late-game scoring option is a good move for the Celtics, and it might even be a relief to move Sullinger and Zeller to do it, as both hit free agency this summer. But making the Nets worse is the real goal here.
Detroit Finds Brandon Jennings' Replacement
Detroit Pistons Get: D.J. Augustin
Oklahoma City Thunder Get: Anthony Tolliver
Cameron Payne has taken over the backup point guard spot from Augustin, and the Thunder can never have too much spot-up shooting around Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Tolliver, a specialist who has taken 202 of his 249 shots from deep this year, is shooting 36.6 percent on threes. With the Pistons adding Tobias Harris to a roster that already includes similar combo forward Marcus Morris, Tolliver is expendable.
This is a decidedly unsexy trade that helps fill needs on both sides, with the Pistons' being much more pressing after Jennings' departure. Though he wasn't scoring efficiently, he'd been running a decent offense and taking care of the ball in relief of Reggie Jackson. Detroit needs somebody new to assume that backup point guard role.
If it takes a second-rounder going one way or the other (probably from the slightly more desperate Pistons to the Thunder) as a sweetener, so be it. Detroit can't get a whole lot done with Steve Blake leading the second unit.
Note: The Orlando Magic's C.J. Watson would have seemed like another good candidate here. With him set to return from a calf injury, it would have made sense to include him in the deal that sent Harris to the Pistons for Ersan Ilyasova and Jennings. Oh well.
Atlanta Gets Proactive
Atlanta Hawks Get: Alec Burks and Trey Burke
Atlanta Hawks Get: Michael Carter-Williams, John Henson, Jerryd Bayless, 2016 second-round pick
Utah Jazz or Milwaukee Bucks Get: Jeff Teague and Mike Scott
On its own, Tiago Splitter's season-ending surgery wouldn't spur an Atlanta Hawks sell-off. But combined with Kyle Korver's decline, Al Horford's impending free agency and the growing certainty that this team isn't built to compete with the East's elite this season, it could function as a tipping point.
Let's give them two options.
In the first, Alec Burks and Trey Burke come over from the Utah Jazz, adding youth and cost certainty to a team that needs to get younger. Realistically, this seems like a heck of a haul for the Hawks, as Burke has shown major improvement this season and Burks is a starting-quality 2 who can also do some work as a primary ball-handler.
If you're the Jazz, Teague might not be enough to get this done.
So maybe the Milwaukee deal is more realistic. In that one, the Hawks get their shot to rehabilitate MCW, and Henson steps in as a solid backup big on a reasonable contract. Neither player is good enough to start, but Carter-Williams doesn't sound so bad as a backup to Dennis Schroder, and Henson would add a shot-blocking dimension to the frontcourt.
Bayless is included mostly to make the money match, but maybe Atlanta could re-sign him to a favorable deal (he's making $3 million in the final year of his contract this season) and go forward with a pretty deep backcourt.
For the Jazz or Bucks, Teague is the prize here. Both need a capable point guard, and Teague's contract ($8 million per season through 2016-17) is reasonable. Even the Jazz, who still view Dante Exum as the future, could use Teague in a lead role as Exum works back from a torn ACL next season.
Don't Do It, Wolves
Minnesota Timberwolves Keep: Ricky Rubio
Nobody Else Gets: Ricky Rubio
Frank Isola of the New York Daily News reported Ricky Rubio was "readily available and the feeling is that the Spanish guard could be moved" before the deadline, citing the New York Knicks as a good fit.
Obviously, if there's some massive, franchise-rattling offer out there for Rubio, the Minnesota Timberwolves can listen. But Rubio isn't the kind of player that should be "readily available." He's a flat-out elite defender, ranking first among points guards in ESPN.com's defensive Real Plus-Minus. Overall, he checks in at No. 5, behind Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, Kyle Lowry and Chris Paul, three of whom just started the All-Star Game.
Rubio's shooting is still a problem. But he's only 25, and he's hitting a career-best 50 percent of his shots at the rim, per Basketball-Reference.com. Get him in an offensive system that makes any sense at all (Minnesota's is an anachronistic disaster), and watch him orchestrate. And no matter what the offense looks like, Rubio is a huge asset defensively.
Don't do this, Timberwolves. Just don't.
Update from Wojnarowski:
Adrian Wojnarowski @WojVerticalNBA
Minnesota has no ongoing trade talks for guard Ricky Rubio now, league sources tell @TheVertical. That may change in the summer, though.2016-2-16 21:57:56
Oh, good. Still, why even put these thoughts out there? Rubio's a happy-go-lucky guy who doesn't need the vibe-killer of career instability.
If you're the Wolves, you don't toy with that kind of positivity.
Portland Uses That Cap Space
Portland Trail Blazers Get: David Lee, 2016 second-round pick (via Miami), 2016 second-round pick (via Philadelphia)
Boston Celtics Get: 2020 second-round pick (via Cleveland)
The Blazers are far enough below the salary floor to take on massive salary without giving up a player of their own, which means they can essentially do other teams favors by absorbing cash—in exchange for a small fee. In this case, the cost of doing business is a couple of second-rounders from the Celtics.
Boston would probably have to buy Lee out to get rid of him, and perhaps sending away a couple of picks from its war chest (and getting one back way down the line) would be preferable to paying someone to go away.
If the Blazers wanted to get really clever, they could expand the deal, perhaps getting another young player or even a first-rounder from the Celtics while sending back guys like Gerald Henderson (whose contract expires at the end of the year) and Meyers Leonard (who'll hit restricted free agency this summer and may cost too much to keep). Though they're in playoff position now, the Trail Blazers will lose their 2016 first-round pick to the Denver Nuggets if they finish the season there.
A subtle tank, sweetened by adding a couple of extra assets, makes some sense here.
Follow @gt_hughes on Twitter.