Blockbuster Trade Ideas Entering 2017 NBA Free Agency
Was the deal that sent Jimmy Butler from the Chicago Bulls to the Minnesota Timberwolves only an appetizer?
The All-Star swingman was the first big-name player to be shipped off to a new location after the Golden State Warriors won their second title in three years, but plenty of other teams will be attempting to upgrade in an attempt to dethrone the defending champions—or challenge the Cleveland Cavaliers for Eastern Conference supremacy.
At this point in the NBA calendar, anything could happen. So, with that in mind, let's dig into a few blockbuster ideas that actually make sense for both sides.
Paul George, Kevin Love and the Denver Nuggets
Cleveland Cavaliers Receive: Paul George
Denver Nuggets Receive: Kevin Love
Indiana Pacers Receive: Malik Beasley, Kenneth Faried, Tyler Lydon, Trey Lyles
First, let's address the elephant in the room.
"As first reported by ESPN, the Cavs engaged the Nuggets as a possible third team to facilitate a trade for the All-Star George on draft night," Joe Vardon wrote for Cleveland.com, "But a source said the discussion was 'nothing serious' and 'very unlikely' to happen now."
"Very unlikely," however, is not the same as "impossible."
This scenario requires everything going right for the Cleveland Cavaliers. They need the Denver Nuggets to show interest in Kevin Love, to the point that they're willing to part with two of their recent acquisitions (Tyler Lydon and Trey Lyles) and a fan favorite (Kenneth Faried). Even more importantly, they need the Indiana Pacers to have every other deal fall through, to the point that they're willing to accept a lesser return.
If everything does fall into place, it's a sensible deal for all sides.
As impressive as Love has been in his role as the third member of Cleveland's Big Three, Paul George would be a better fit. He'd mesh perfectly with LeBron James and Kyrie Irving to add more defense and grant the Cavs even more positional versatility while preparing for the Golden State Warriors' high-powered offense, which features ball-handlers at virtually every lineup slot.
Love, meanwhile, would make for an offensive juggernaut next to Nikola Jokic, even if defense would be an enduring concern. And though the Pacers may be bummed about the lack of top-level prospects and draft picks heading in their direction, getting three first-round talents at various early points in their respective careers is far better than receiving nothing when George inevitably walks.
Paul George Gets to Los Angeles a Year Earlier
Los Angeles Lakers Receive: Paul George
Indiana Pacers Receive: Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle, Kyle Kuzma
According to ESPN.com's Marc Stein, the Los Angeles Lakers tried to pry Paul George away from the Indiana Pacers before the 2017 NBA draft with either Jordan Clarkson or Julius Randle and both of their picks late in the first round.
But now that the selection process has passed and George is still set to wear the wrong shade of yellow—from Los Angeles' perspective, at least—they should try again. This time, give up one of the two picks (Kyle Kuzma over Josh Hart, given the former's upside) and both of the young players with enduring potential.
George arriving in purple and gold would lessen the need for Randle. His role can be subsumed by small-ball lineups, Ivica Zubac and Larry Nance Jr., who—boldness alert!—might actually become better than the Kentucky product who lines up at the same position. And while Clarkson's departure would make the Los Angeles backcourt rather thin, turning things over to Lonzo Ball and Hart might pay large long-term dividends.
But should Indiana accept this?
Perhaps not right away. The Pacers should keep testing the market and see if anyone is willing to pay more for a one-year rental. But they also know Los Angeles wants to get its hands on George before he becomes a free agent, since that's the best way to secure his services and prevent him from bolting to a legitimate contender when he hits the open market.
It's a delicate balancing act. But again, Indiana has to be concerned with getting something, and a package centered around Randle most certainly qualifies as exactly that.
San Antonio Spurs Get in on the Paul George Action
San Antonio Spurs Receive: Paul George
Indiana Pacers Receive: LaMarcus Aldridge, Derrick White, 2018 first-round pick (top-20 protected)
Don't worry. This is the final Paul George trade featured today, and the San Antonio Spurs had to get in on the fun.
Though they could certainly continue trying to clear space in a pursuit of Kyle Lowry (or maybe George Hill?), using their assets to onboard the superstar wing would make for a devastating duo with Kawhi Leonard. Just imagine the trouble teams would have stopping two go-to scorers of that caliber. Think about the defensive versatility with two men who can switch onto almost anyone.
This also might be the best possible package from the Indiana Pacers' perspective.
Not only do they get a first-round prospect in Derrick White who could either learn behind Jeff Teague or, if the unrestricted free agent departs this summer, take over as a lead guard, but they land another first-round pick that will likely convey next offseason. And it's not like LaMarcus Aldridge is just a throw-in.
Aldridge's stock is on the decline, but he remains a high-quality fit next to Myles Turner. His mid-range ability would complement the young center's game nicely, and his newfound ability to protect the rim would mitigate the defensive responsibility Turner feels while trying to develop his all-around exploits.
This isn't just an attempt to remain mediocre after losing an established star. Instead, it's a way of promoting the development of your premier building block and simultaneously acquiring two valuable assets in the process.
Ricky Rubio Plays Some Jazz
Minnesota Timberwolves Receive: Rodney Hood, Dante Exum, 2019 second-round pick
Utah Jazz Receive: Ricky Rubio
If George Hill walks this summer and the Utah Jazz are able to land Ricky Rubio in a trade, they'll remain legitimate contenders for a top seed in the Western Conference. Assuming Gordon Hayward comes back to play with the Spanish point guard, they'd get to run out a starting five comprised of Rubio, Joe Ingles/Alec Burks (depending on if Ingles is re-signed), Hayward, Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert.
And thanks to the passing chops of this trade's centerpiece, he'd make everything flow.
"Rubio is a great defender and a great passer. He also possesses excellent size, which fits with Utah's defensive scheme," Tony Jones wrote for the Salt Lake Tribune while listing him as one of the point guards the Jazz should target this summer. "And for as long as Rubio has been in the league, he's still 26 years old. The best, arguably, is still yet to come."
Trading away Dante Exum would hurt. Even if the young point guard has done little of note during his NBA career, he's brimming over with upside and playing for a franchise that appreciates home-grown talent.
But the Minnesota Timberwolves need upside in return. They also want shooting, which is why Rodney Hood enters into the equation.
The 24-year-old isn't yet a knock-down marksman. But coming off a season in which he hit 37.1 percent of his treys while taking 5.2 per game, he's displayed the ability to change a game with his floor-spacing habits and his knack for connecting at the charity stripe hints at future growth from long-range.
Paul Millsap Signed-and-Traded to the Mile High City
Atlanta Hawks Receive: Wilson Chandler
Denver Nuggets Receive: Paul Millsap (via sign-and-trade)
As Kurt Helin explained for NBC Sports, this isn't about getting Paul Millsap more money:
Under the rules of the CBA, Millsap cannot make more money with a sign and trade (the days of a team signing a guy to a five-year max in a sign-and-trade are gone, now that contract can only be for the four-year deal another team could offer as a free agent). Which means the only motivation for these other teams is to clear out some cap space needed to sign Millsap, or to get other value.
The Atlanta Hawks are plunging fully into a rebuild here by moving on from Millsap. It would be painful to see him leave, especially after trading Dwight Howard to the Charlotte Hornets for absolutely nothing Marco Belinelli and Miles Plumlee, but it's a necessary choice to avoid wading back into perpetual mediocrity.
Wilson Chandler can be a quality veteran presence who fits with head coach Mike Budenholzer's schemes, and he won't interfere much with the growth of high-upside prospects such as John Collins, Taurean Prince and DeAndre' Bembry.
For the Denver Nuggets, the desire is much more obvious.
Shipping off Chandler in a sign-and-trade rather than pursuing Millsap as a pure free agent gives them the luxury of clearing more cap space. And the four-time All-Star is a perfect fit next to Nikola Jokic, given his penchant for all-around play on both ends of the floor.
If the thought of Jokic and Millsap playing a two-man game isn't exciting enough, perhaps the image of the latter's athletic defense counteracting some of the former's porosity can get you frothing at the mouth.
A New Point Guard in Denver
Denver Nuggets Get: Eric Bledsoe, 2018 second-round pick (via Toronto Raptors)
Phoenix Suns Get: Jamal Murray, Kenneth Faried
We're not yet finished in our attempt to upgrade the Denver Nuggets.
Should they fail to land a power forward (or even if they're successful and still looking to make a push toward the top of the Western Conference), they can go after one of the league's most underrated point guards. Eric Bledsoe shouldn't be long for the Phoenix Suns, given the overarching youth movement sweeping through the desert, and he'd be a great fit in Denver.
Not only does Bledsoe thrive on offense whether serving as a floor-spacing option or a lead handler, but he's a tenacious defender who could help curtail the ridiculous amounts of dribble penetration allowed by the rest of the Nuggets. He'd give them an established option who's ready to lead a playoff push on both ends of the floor.
Of course, parting with Jamal Murray would admittedly be tough.
The former Kentucky standout enjoyed a solid inaugural season that resulted in an All-Rookie Second Team nod, and he should eventually develop into a special contributor on the scoring end. From the beginning of March through the end of 2016-17, he averaged 12.7 points, 2.9 rebounds and 3.0 assists while shooting 44.0 percent from the field, 34.2 percent from downtown and 90.9 percent at the stripe. That stretch even included a 30-point outburst against the New Orleans Pelicans, as well as a 27-point showing against the Oklahoma City Thunder to close out his rookie go-round.
Phoenix should be salivating at the thought of an all-Wildcats backcourt comprised of Murray, Devin Booker and Tyler Ulis.
DeAndre Jordan on the Move
Milwaukee Bucks Receive: DeAndre Jordan
Los Angeles Clippers Receive: John Henson, Thon Maker, 2018 first-round pick (lottery protected), 2018 second-round pick (better of Clippers' pick and Dallas Mavericks' pick)
To be clear, there are no rumors that this is in the works. But doesn't it make sense for both sides?
The Milwaukee Bucks aren't missing much as they attempt to ascend the Eastern Conference standings. Rookie of the Year point guard Malcolm Brogdon should be joined by Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker in the starting lineup, assuming all players are healthy and available. But there's a hole at center, and Milwaukee is attempting to plug it with the up-and-coming Thon Maker while Greg Monroe excels as a sixth man.
It's a tenable solution, but the Bucks could also land a legitimate star who fits the lineup perfectly. DeAndre Jordan never needs offensive touches unless he's finishing alley-oop lobs, his athleticism meshes with that of the incumbent Bucks and he'd be the dominant interior stopper Milwaukee has been missing.
As for the Los Angeles Clippers, they should be willing to hear out Jordan offers if (when?) Chris Paul and Blake Griffin both depart for new homes. Paul is already set to join the Houston Rockets in a trade, per The Vertical's Adrian Wojnarowski, and Griffin shouldn't be long for the Staples Center. They'll need to pencil-dive into a full-fledged rebuild, and it's tough to imagine a better package than Maker's upside, two future draft picks and a big for depth (John Henson) whose contract only runs through 2019-20 and has a declining structure.
Getting rid of the Big Three in one fell swoop is painful, but the Clippers can and should accelerate the rebuild now that the core is beginning to unravel.
A High-Powered Boston Backcourt
Boston Celtics Receive: C.J. McCollum, 2018 first-round pick (lottery protected)
Portland Trail Blazers Receive: Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Tyler Zeller
First, a couple caveats.
This only works if the Boston Celtics decide they won't be able to get Gordon Hayward and/or Paul George. Acquiring one (or both) of those All-Stars mitigates the need for another scoring threat and makes a two-way guard like Avery Bradley more valuable.
The structure listed above also only works on or before July 1. If it's past that date, Tyler Zeller will likely have been waived to avoid paying him his non-guaranteed salary, and the Celtics would have to scramble to involve a third team for salary-matching purposes.
But if those conditions are met, it's a sensible move for both sides.
The Celtics could use another go-to scorer alongside Isaiah Thomas, even if pairing the diminutive point guard with the Rip City shooter would create an unbearably porous backcourt. That's just where Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Al Horford come in, as they should be able to protect the interior and help against dribble penetration. Plus, Boston is getting another asset (the 2018 first-round pick) that it can pair with its myriad other selections to acquire a complementary star whenever one becomes available.
For the Portland Trail Blazers, it's all about defense.
Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder would ease the workload endured by Damian Lillard and Jusuf Nurkic, forming a two-way juggernaut with talent at every position in the starting five. Though it might not be on the same level as the Golden State Warriors' opening lineup, a quintet of Lillard, McCollum, Crowder, Al-Farouq Aminu and Nurkic would strike fear into every team.
Plus, we already know some people in Portland are fans of Bradley's defense.
"Someone need slapped ... Avery Bradley ain't make one team ?" McCollum tweeted after the All-Defense teams were announced and Bradley's name was nowhere to be found. "[cry-laugh emoji] f--k outa heaaaa."
Adam Fromal covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @fromal09.