Smart but Heartless Moves NBA Teams Should Make This Offseason
It's a cold world out there, and it only gets colder during NBA free agency.
Or, at least it should.
Sentiment is the enemy of optimal roster construction. Just ask the Golden State Warriors how touchy feely they got when forced to choose between familiar mainstays and newcomer Kevin Durant last summer. Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut were gone in a calculated blink.
Several teams face difficult decisions every offseason. Extend an aging veteran on a big deal? Cling to hope a free-agent-to-be won't leave for nothing in a year? Appease fans hungry for short-term success with a trade, even if it muddies the long-term waters?
Here, we step in to offer the icy logic teams weighing these decisions need to hear.
It'll be impersonal. Cruel. Callous.
But if you want to build the best team possible, there's no room for feelings.
Besides, winning will create the good vibes on its own.
Try to Trade Russell Westbrook
Every one of these suggestions rests on a critical contingency, but the biggest "if" resides here.
Trading Russell Westbrook only makes sense if he doesn't agree to sign an extension when he's eligible in July. There's a school of thought that the Oklahoma City Thunder shouldn't move their best player under any circumstances, but letting him play out this season and hit unrestricted free agency in 2018 brings immense risk.
Durant's exit should still be fresh enough to serve as a reminder of what can happen to a team without leverage.
Westbrook might re-sign in a year. But what if he doesn't?
Wouldn't it be better to move proactively, perhaps sending Russ to the Los Angeles Lakers for a package of young players and picks?
If you're L.A., and you think you have a crack at Paul George in a year, wouldn't adding Westbrook (and getting a wink-wink assurance he'd re-sign) be a good enticement to land that second star?
This may not be advice Thunder GM Sam Presti needs. He has a track record of moving swiftly to avoid losing his bargaining power. When James Harden wouldn't take slightly less than the max on his extension, Presti traded him. Rather than haggle with Serge Ibaka, Presti dealt him a year early, too.
Durant was the exception, and OKC got burned.
Moving Westbrook if he won't sign on for the long haul this summer is a good way to avoid a second scalding.
Let Paul Millsap Go
Former Warriors assistant general manager Travis Schlenk is making personnel decisions for the Atlanta Hawks now, which makes his cagey comments on Paul Millsap unsurprising.
He knows how great teams are built, and the process doesn't involve maxing out 32-year-old undersized forwards—even if they're productive and professional.
"Do we want to keep Paul? Sure," Schlenk told Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal Constitution. "I said last week, if you are building a team with all the things I've said, Paul checks all those boxes. He's a hard worker. He's a good guy. He's high-character. Skilled. He does all that stuff. We'd like to have him. The reality is, he might get better offers than we can make him."
Vivlamore lays bare the facts, which warrant repeating. Atlanta can pay Millsap $205 million on a five-year deal, while no other team can offer more than four years and $152 million.
If the Hawks can't make the best offer, it'll be because they choose not to.
And they should choose not to.
Atlanta has already gotten unthinkable production from Millsap, who has defied the aging curve and remained an All-Star well past his 30th birthday. That the Hawks got these last few seasons from Millsap on a bargain deal makes their next move that much clearer.
They've been playing with house money, and they shouldn't press their luck.
Turning the locker room over to Dwight Howard and Dennis Schroder is a terrifying thought; the maturity deficit would be massive without Millsap around. But if the Hawks can't retain him on a short-term deal (we're talking two years, three max), they'll be better off letting him go.
Just Say No to Blake Griffin
Blake Griffin is a 28-year-old five-time All-Star. An All-NBA talent. A super-skilled big man who can run an offense as the primary facilitator.
And the Boston Celtics shouldn't touch him.
They have some interest, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical:
"I think the Clippers may think this too, Boston is really the danger for Blake Griffin. Boston's two primary free agent targets right now are Gordon Hayward and Blake Griffin. They're not gonna get both of them. But they're both players who would potentially have interest there, and who Boston looks at in different ways with their future."
Griffin's injury history is a serious concern, and maxing out any player with multiple knee surgeries on his recent resume (plus toe, hand and quad operations) should give any team pause. Health tends to trend one way: down.
The fit is admittedly intriguing.
Al Horford isn't DeAndre Jordan. Boston's starting center can stretch the floor out to the three-point line, and he's a fantastic passer. Griffin could operate in more space than he ever dreamed possible, which would maximize his own passing and ball-handling in ways the Clippers never could.
But for a team with two distinct windows—Boston can pursue a conference title right now or wait until its lottery picks mature and the Cleveland Cavaliers disband—Griffin doesn't necessarily fit either.
He'd theoretically help in the short term, but would he be enough to knock off the Cavs in the East? And what proof do the Celtics have that he'll stay healthy? He'll have huge offers, and it'll take a major investment to get him—in both years and dollars. Because Griffin will be well past his prime when the Boston kids mature, the best hope is that he contributes immediately.
But even that's uncertain. And you don't spend max cash on uncertainty.
Move Derrick Favors
This would be a different discussion if there were a way to be sure the 2015-16 version of Derrick Favors might return.
Even then, the injury-plagued big man would be duplicative for a Utah Jazz team with its franchise center, Rudy Gobert, getting better by the minute. Favors is more luxury than necessity, and he broke down last year, as knee and back injuries rendered him only sporadically available. He played 50 games, and his lack of mobility was painful to watch.
Utah has had success playing both Favors and Gobert together. In 2015-16, when Favors was healthier, he and Gobert produced a plus-4.2 net rating in 882 shared minuets. They were a plus-10.7 in 541 minutes this past season.
Nonetheless, it's increasingly apparent that two-big lineups are regular-season novelties that cannot work in critical moments against the best teams. If the Jazz want to compete with the league's top squads, their best move is finding a suitor for Favors.
He'll only be 26 when the 2017-18 season, the final year of his eminently tradable contract, begins.
Could he net the Jazz a first-round pick? A young player and cap relief?
The bigger issue is Utah's need to retain more valuable talent. Gordon Hayward is a free agent this summer, as is George Hill. Even Joe Ingles will hit the restricted market. All three fill more significant needs than Favors, which makes this a decision based on scarcity of resources.
If the Jazz want to continue their upward trajectory, they should consider moving Favors on draft night, adding flexibility and building a more modern roster around Gobert, Hayward and Hill.
Match KCP, Shop Drummond
If restricted free agent Kentavious Caldwell-Pope signs a max offer sheet with another team, the Detroit Pistons can go ahead and match.
But if they do that, and they commit huge cash to KCP—who is a quality three-and-D wing with room to get better—they need to explore moving on from Andre Drummond.
Drummond's growth stalled this past season, and Detroit's net rating and rebound percentage were both higher when he was off the floor. That's not saying he's without value, but it's increasingly clear he's not someone who, in the modern NBA, should be making a max salary.
The league is getting smaller, skill matters more than size, and Drummond isn't equipped to make a difference in big moments against quality competition. He'd get run off the floor and then relentlessly hacked in a playoff scenario. He can't be the second guy you're paying over $100 million.
It's difficult to know what the Pistons might get for him in a trade; 29 other teams understand (or should understand) big men who don't stretch the court or defend consistently aren't worth what they once were.
But the Pistons must do what they can to move on from Drummond, especially if they commit a significant chunk of their cap to Caldwell-Pope.