Fun with the NBA Trade Machine: Deals That Should, but Likely Won't, Happen
Come one, come all. You're just in time to witness contrived chaos in advance of the NBA's Feb. 23 trade deadline!
Theorized madness is, after all, why the Trade Machine exists in the first place. (Isn't it?)
Be warned: Our deals are going to pull at the fabric of the Association's competitive landscape. We want to blow up sellers, beef up buyers and relocate household names.
Generally speaking, we're aiming for 11th-hour mayhem turned up to 11.
Established rumors will be our guide, but we will journey outside that box in search of the right trade partners and packages. Yet, we're also going to remain logical. Ergo, the Kawhi Leonard-for-Timofey Mozgov blockbuster Los Angeles Lakers romantics are jonesing for has no place here.
Sensible anarchy is the best kind of bedlam.
Serge Ibaka Grabs One-Way Ticket to the Big Easy
New Orleans Pelicans Receive: PF/C Serge Ibaka, SG Jodie Meeks
Orlando Magic Receive: C Alexis Ajinca, SF Solomon Hill, 2017 second-round pick (via Philadelphia) and 2018 top-10 protected first-round pick
Buyer's remorse has kicked in for the Orlando Magic, and they are ready to deal Serge Ibaka, whom they view as a flight risk, according to the Sporting News' Sean Deveney. The New Orleans Pelicans are in the market for another big to help take the load off Anthony Davis, per The Vertical's Adrian Wojnarowski.
Let's make this happen.
Ibaka is a much better fit beside Davis than Jahlil Okafor, because he can actually protect the rim and space the floor. And he'll come much cheaper than, say, Brook Lopez, as Ibaka's on an expiring contract.
Grabbing him while getting out from Alexis Ajinca's long-term, albeit reasonably priced, deal is a huge win. Getting rid of Omer Asik would be better, but the Magic aren't soaking up the three years and $33.9 million remaining on his deal. Sub-$12 million salaries such as Asik's are borderline backup money anyway.
Ship out Solomon Hill's 2017-18 cap hit ($11.7 million) with Ajinca's ($5 million) and the Pelicans break close to even on their guaranteed commitments, even upon re-signing Ibaka.
Orlando will want more after giving up Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis for Ibaka's services, but it doesn't have the requisite leverage. It's best to capitalize on his departure with whatever value's available. Hill isn't an offensive revelation, but the Magic need wings. He works his butt off on defense and hits enough of his three-point attempts (34.7 percent) to help break up the Magic's clumpy floor balance.
Snagging first-round compensation for Ibaka is a bonus, and the Philadelphia 76ers remain bad enough for their second-rounder to fall in the low 30s. The Magic, under the circumstances, can't expect to get much more.
Jimmy Butler Joins the Nuggets
Denver Nuggets Receive: SG/SF Jimmy Butler, PG Isaiah Canaan, PG Michael Carter-Williams, C Robin Lopez
Chicago Bulls Receive: PF Kenneth Faried, PG Emmanuel Mudiay, SG Jamal Murray, C Jusuf Nurkic, 2017 unprotected first-round pick and two 2017 second-round picks (via Memphis and Oklahoma City)
More than a few people believe the Chicago Bulls are waiting to talk shop with the Boston Celtics, who control each of the Brooklyn Nets' next two first-round picks. League executives told HoopsHype's Alex Kennedy they expect Jimmy Butler-to-Beantown discussions to gain traction closer to the deadline, while The Vertical's Adrian Wojnarowski intimates those negotiations are already ongoing.
Though the Nuggets don't have any lottery-winning selections to dangle, they have the next best thing: a combination of everything else.
Emmanuel Mudiay and Jamal Murray are two top-seven prospects on the front ends of their rookie-scale deals; they make for a nice backcourt foundation around which Chicago can build. Denver's own pick this year will be just outside the lottery or near the top 10—a solid asset amid a particularly deep 2017 draft.
Jusuf Nurkic has shown he can hang with the big boys on offense. His mid-range jumper has fallen off, but he's stroked long twos in the past, and he's a per-minute superhero. With Robin Lopez headed west and Taj Gibson slated for free agency in July, he gives Chicago a frontcourt pillar.
Kenneth Faried helps the Bulls tread water between now and later. He won't turn 28 until next season, so we know he'll make do coming off the bench, and the $26.7 million he'll earn over the next two years doesn't break the bank.
Denver doesn't hesitate to pull this trigger, as Butler forges a fantastic one-two punch with Nikola Jokic, and Robin Lopez is cheap enough (around $13.8 million per year) to use as the backup 5. Trading Mudiay costs point guard depth, but the Nuggets have cap space to work with this summer. In the meantime, they'll be fine with Isaiah Canaan, Michael Carter-Williams and Jameer Nelson. The offense already runs through Jokic, and most of their wings can absorb spot-playmaking duties.
Boston Celtics Make a Miniature Splash
Boston Celtics Receive: C Willie Cauley-Stein
Sacramento Kings Receive: PG Terry Rozier, SG James Young and 2019 lottery-protected first-round pick (via Los Angeles Clippers)
Well, if Cousins isn't being dealt, one of Sacramento's other six jillion bigs should be.
Add Kosta Koufos, Skal Labissiere and Georgios Papagiannis to Cousins and Willie Cauley-Stein, and the Kings have five players best suited at center. Koufos' contract is a hot commodity, but he won't net anything substantial.
Unlike Labissiere and Papagiannis, Cauley-Stein has more than 10 NBA appearances under his belt and is therefore the Kings' best bet at grabbing first-round talent. Boston has such assets to burn.
The Celtics are the league's second-worst defensive rebounding team, in front of only the New York Knicks. Cauley-Stein's board rates aren't where they should be for a lanky 7-footer, but they'll go up when he's not playing power forward or shadowing Cousins.
Throw him into a frontcourt carousel that has Al Horford and Kelly Olynyk, and Boston gets the right mix of floor-spacing, shot-blocking, rim-running and rebounding potential.
Sacramento, for its part, isn't in position to turn down a future first-round pick when it's accompanied by a 22-year-old point guard. Terry Rozier is still finding his footing as a scorer and passer, but he's a good alternative to re-signing soon-to-be free agents Darren Collison and Ty Lawson.
Brandon Knight Gets a New Home
Orlando Magic Receive: PG/SG Brandon Knight, SF P.J. Tucker
Phoenix Suns Receive: SF/PF Jeff Green, SG/SF Mario Hezonja, 2017 second-round pick
Rival general managers haven't shown interest in trading for Brandon Knight, according to ESPN.com's Zach Lowe. He owns the Association's second-worst plus-minus and has completely lost his offensive swagger as a member of Phoenix's bench.
Stick Knight on the right team, however, and he should enjoy a quasi-renaissance. He's at his best when sliding between both guard slots, as a spot-up shooter and secondary facilitator.
But he should not be your primary offensive pilot.
Which brings us to the Magic: They want to earn a postseason bid "ASAP," per Lowe, and need more than a 29th-place offense to erase the six-game chasm standing between them and the Eastern Conference's No. 8 seed.
Knight can play beside Elfrid Payton as a three-point marksman, or on his own opposite Evan Fournier. The power forward minutes Orlando opened up in our Ibaka trade leaves room for a Payton-Knight-Fournier-Aaron Gordon foursome, which pairs nicely with either Bismack Biyombo or Nikola Vucevic.
P.J. Tucker is also a sneaky-good pickup for a wildly inconsistent Magic defense. He can check the perimeter weapons Fournier can't, Jeff Green couldn't and Gordon shouldn't.
The Suns are selling low here, but Knight hasn't left them much of a choice. Mario Hezonja is a top-five prospect less than 125 games into his career, and Tucker, at 31, doesn't fit into the big picture.
Best of all: Swapping out Knight's deal with Green's expiring contract sets up the Suns for a spending spree over the offseason.
Boston and Cleveland End the Melodrama
Boston Celtics Receive: C Chris Andersen, PF Kevin Love, SG Jordan McRae
Cleveland Cavaliers Receive: SF/PF Carmelo Anthony, SG/SF Justin Holiday, PG/SG Marcus Smart
New York Knicks Receive: SF Jaylen Brown, PF Amir Johnson, 2018 top-seven protected first-round pick (via Boston)
League sources told The Vertical's Adrian Wojnarowski that Carmelo Anthony is more determined to stay with the Knicks in the wake of team president Phil Jackson's flagrant—and classless—attempts to push him out the door. Meanwhile, a report from the New York Daily News' Frank Isola that claimed LeBron James wanted the Cavaliers to trade Kevin Love for Anthony was deemed "trash" by the four-time MVP himself.
Would all parties involved change their tune if this scenario were on the table?
Forking over Love for Anthony is pointless. Maybe you upgrade the offense in the short term—maybe. But Anthony is more than four years Love's senior, costs more per year, reaches free agency sooner and doesn't fortify Cleveland's 18th-ranked defense. Attach a defensive bulldog and secondary playmaker (Marcus Smart), plus a three-and-Dish wing (Justin Holiday), to the 32-year-old Knicks outcast?
You've gotten somewhere.
Boston is the wild card in this scenario. As Michael Pina wrote for RealGM ahead of this season, it makes sense for team president Danny Ainge to keep the franchise's treasure trove of assets intact:
It’s possible this team is building itself in reverse, with the franchise player arriving in next year’s lottery to join Smart and Brown as their next Big 3, after their current core (plus whoever they sign with max cap space next summer) starts to decline. Imagine how long the Detroit Pistons would’ve dominated if they drafted Carmelo Anthony or Dwyane Wade back in 2003.
This rings true more than ever now that the Celtics have a 2.5-game hold on the East's second-best record. But Amir Johnson is a free agent this summer, and Smart will be a restricted free agent in 2018. If you can get Love for them, Jaylen Brown and a non-Nets pick, you have to at least consider it.
There's nothing to justify here for the Knicks. They were (are?) entertaining a Melo offer built around Austin Rivers. Even if the Celtics play hardball and pull the 2018 first-rounder, landing a high-IQ wing such as Brown is six(ty) steps up.
Atlanta, Oklahoma City and Toronto Pivot, Together
Atlanta Hawks Receive: PG Cameron Payne, SG/SF Andre Roberson, C Jared Sullinger, 2017 lottery-protected first-round pick (via Toronto)
Oklahoma City Thunder Receive: SG/SF Terrence Ross
Toronto Raptors Receive: PF Paul Millsap
Dealing Kyle Korver to the Cavaliers was supposed to be the start of the Hawks' fire sale. But then they yanked Paul Millsap from the chopping block, according to The Vertical's Adrian Wojnarowski—a move that implied no trade would be taking place.
Or maybe the Hawks are fixing for a roster closeout. We don't know. They can't even know—not until they lay out a discernible blueprint, as Bleacher Report's Adam Fromal underscored:
They've vastly improved since the calendar flipped to 2017 and are on the verge of earning home-court advantage in the postseason's opening round.
Are they still mired in the morass of mediocre teams, in possession of an inflated record that distracts from their inevitable failure against the postseason boogeyman that is LeBron James? For all the offensive and defensive strides this squad has made, it may still lay claim to a limited ceiling that prevents it from dethroning top-tier opponents in a seven-game series.
Millsap shouldn't factor into the long-term outlook with Atlanta so entrenched in the middle. He is 32 and will command max money in free agency. The Raptors' window to win with Kyle Lowry, also a soon-to-be free agent on the wrong side of 30, and DeMar DeRozan is now. They can justify paying Millsap but won't have the cap space to get him in free agency.
Oklahoma City was willing to move Cameron Payne in a deal for Rudy Gay, per The Vertical's Chris Mannix. Turning him and Andre Roberson into Terrence Ross is a huge get—he's younger than Gay and under contract through 2018-19.
Payne poses an interesting fit next to or backing up Dennis Schroder, and the Hawks have the next couple of seasons to see if the marriage develops into something. Roberson is a strong perimeter stopper whom the team could consider re-signing in restricted free agency, if his three-point shot progresses.
Any package for Millsap must include one first-rounder, and the Hawks get one from Toronto—the finishing touch on what is a quality return for an over-30 star in the last year of his contract.
The Hawks Finish Their Teardown
Atlanta Hawks Receive: PF/C Meyers Leonard, SG Ben McLemore, PF Noah Vonleh, 2017 first-round pick (from Cleveland, via Portland), 2018 lottery protected first-round pick (via Portland)
Portland Trail Blazers Receive: SF/PF Omri Casspi, C Dwight Howard
Sacramento Kings Receive: SF/PF Al-Farouq Aminu, PG Shabazz Napier
If you're going to rebuild, you better do it right. The Hawks won't have much use for a 31-year-old Howard if they deal Millsap. (During the few days in which they were contemplating a teardown, they talked about sending Howard to New Orleans, according to ESPN.com's Zach Lowe.)
Portland wanted in on the Howard sweepstakes this past summer, per CSN Northwest's Jason Quick, and its frontcourt rotation remains a mess. Meyers Leonard isn't living up to his contract, Festus Ezeli has yet to play, and Mason Plumlee is due a bunch of money in restricted free agency.
Adding Howard drums up the Blazers' defensive appeal, even as they lose Al-Farouq Aminu and soldier on without the injured Evan Turner. Howard is still a strong rim protector and rebounder, and his devastating pick-and-roll finishes fit well beside Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum.
Atlanta cannot expect to get more than this for its mortal Superman: He's making more than $20 million per year, and his athletic prime is behind him. Taking fliers on three cheap youngsters and two should-be late first-rounders is adequate compensation.
The Kings, as we know, are forever obsessed with losing to the Golden State Warriors in the first round of the playoffs. If they can nab a perimeter stopper in Aminu for the expiring deals of Omri Casspi and Ben McLemore, they shouldn't need to think about it.
Their 25th-ranked defense is that bad.