Trade Packages and Scenarios for Cleveland's 2018 First-Round Pick Via Nets
Could the Brooklyn Nets' 2018 first-round pick be on the move yet again? Surely not.
Except apparently yes.
According to Cleveland.com's Joe Vardon, the Cleveland Cavaliers have "fielded numerous calls already about a potential trade" headlined by the could-be top-five selection they acquired from the Boston Celtics as part of the Isaiah Thomas-Kyrie Irving blockbuster. Preliminary discussions don't have to mean anything, and it doesn't sound as if general manager Koby Altman is initiating the conversations, but even picking up the phone to talk carries significance.
Sending Irving to Boston was "always about" Brooklyn's pick, per ESPN.com's Zach Lowe. Rerouting it now, or at any point prior to the draft, would come as a downright shock unless Cleveland has an ironclad guarantee from LeBron James that he won't bolt in free agency next summer.
Nothing suggests it's received such assurance. The decision to pull the trigger on Irving's departure after taking stock of Thomas' hip injury implies the exact opposite, as TNT analyst David Aldridge wrote for NBA.com:
"Anyway, James can afford to be sanguine about his future. Wherever he plays, championship opportunities follow. The Cavs don't have that luxury. Which is why they were never going to blow up the proposed deal from the Celtics. That deal held the key to their future—their post-LeBron future. There was no chance they were going to walk away from that."
The moral of all this: Cleveland won't flip the Brooklyn pick without a monster return. This selection is its ticket to a teenage cornerstone under team control for around a decade. It doesn't matter whether James has promised to sign on the dotted line or it's trying to woo him with its trade-market aggression.
For any deal to make the slightest sense, the Cavaliers need to bring in major pieces that advance their case against the Golden State Warriors beyond next season. And yet, at the same time, the uncertainty tethered to where the Nets' pick will wind up in the draft order gives way to varying returns.
Obligatory Mention: Anthony Davis
Cleveland Cavaliers Receive: PF/C Anthony Davis, C Omer Asik
New Orleans Pelicans Receive: PF Kevin Love, SG Iman Shumpert, SF Cedi Osman, 2018 unprotected first-round pick (via Brooklyn), 2021 top-one-protected first-round pick
Someone will eventually float Anthony Davis' name. The Celtics have their eyes "very much trained on him," according to Lowe, which many mistake for sweeping availability.
Let's get this out of the way: New Orleans is not trading its 24-year-old megastar unless he asks out.
Davis cannot explore free agency until 2020 (player option), and the Pelicans are committed to testing out his partnership with DeMarcus Cousins. They won't be painted into a corner until next summer at the earliest—and that's only if Cousins leaves and they're unable to make a subsequent splash via free agency. They're most likely in the clear until the 2019 February trade deadline, if not that summer.
In the event Davis tries expediting his exit, New Orleans can get better offers from other teams—Boston among them. But Cleveland has a good starting point with the Brooklyn pick, and an even better chance of sitting at the big kids' table if the Pelicans aren't interested in a full-fledged teardown.
Moving Davis and jettisoning Cousins would allow them to start over. Keeping the latter and pairing him with Kevin Love would keep them competitive. And if Cousins sticks around past this season, they'll have a nice young wing in Cedi Osman and that likely top-five pick to fuse present and future ambitions.
Absorbing the two years and $21.3 million left on Iman Shumpert's deal won't hurt if the Pelicans are ditching their three-year, $33.9 million commitment to Omer Asik. He'd also be extremely helpful for at least one season, while Solomon Hill recovers from his torn hamstring.
Snagging Cleveland's 2021 first-round pick could prove to be huge as well. Both Davis and James might be gone by then, in which case New Orleans could be looking at another top-end prospect—a coveted asset whether it's rebuilding or flirting with contention.
The Cavaliers have zero to think about here. Davis' price tag is high relative to their stable of assets, but if you have the opportunity to pair the best player in the NBA with one of the potential heirs to his throne, you must do it.
DeMarcus Cousins' Relocation, Take 2
Cleveland Cavaliers Receive: C DeMarcus Cousins, SG E'Twaun Moore, SF Rade Zagorac
Memphis Grizzlies Receive: C Tristan Thompson, SG Iman Shumpert, C Alexis Ajinca, 2018 unprotected first-round pick (from Cleveland via Brooklyn)
New Orleans Pelicans Receive: C Marc Gasol, PF/C Brandan Wright
Hopefully you enjoyed your trip into pipe-dream territory. Welcome back to reality.
Cousins is the more realistic target if the Cavaliers are trying to poach one of the Pelicans' premier bigs. He's a 27-year-old All-Star, but his impending free agency would make it easier for New Orleans to let go—provided it gets the right return.
Marc Gasol qualifies as that balanced compensation. Though he's a half-decade Cousins' senior, the two play a similar game, right down to their outside shooting, and Gasol is under contract for the next three years (player option 2019-20). If the Pelicans have even an inkling Cousins will leave in July, landing his elder equal while changing out Alexis Ajinca for Brandan Wright's expiring contract—and functional bounce—lets them thread the same timeline.
Convincing the Memphis Grizzlies to part with Gasol will never be a mindless venture. But league executives told The Vertical's Chris Mannix in July that Big Spain is "worth keeping an eye on." That makes more sense than ever now.
Memphis is at risk of falling outside the Western Conference's playoff picture. Picking up Brooklyn's pick in exchange for Gasol's services would be a clear victory—particularly if said victory comes with Tristan Thompson.
He will never carry Gasol's offensive workload, but he's younger, cheaper, under contract for three more years, devastating when rolling to the basket and better suited to switch assignments on defense. Grabbing Shumpert would even be a nice hedge against murky health bills for Tyreke Evans, Ben McLemore and Chandler Parsons.
This deal would only work for the Cavaliers if they're sure both Cousins and James will stay put. A Love-Cousins frontcourt wouldn't be Warriors-proof, but it'd allow for five-out lineups that don't concede rebounds. And the addition of E'Twaun Moore would give them one more scrappy defender to throw at the reigning champs' surfeit of wings.
The 22-year-old Rade Zagorac wouldn't do much for Cleveland now, but it'd have two quality perimeter prospects with him and Osman on board. Hit with one of them, and it would be noticeably deeper on the wings.
Cleveland's Present and Future Collide, Again
Cleveland Cavaliers Receive: SF Josh Jackson, SF/PF Wilson Chandler
Denver Nuggets Receive: PG Eric Bledsoe, SG Iman Shumpert
Phoenix Suns Receive: PG Emmanuel Mudiay, SG Malik Beasley, PF/C Channing Frye, 2018 unprotected first-round pick (from Cleveland, via Brooklyn), 2018 top-10-protected first-round pick (from Denver)
The Phoenix Suns weren't willing to part with Josh Jackson in proposed Irving packages. The point guard would be donning purple and orange right now if they forked over June's fourth overall pick, Eric Bledsoe and the Miami Heat's top-seven-protected 2018 first-rounder, according to Vardon.
Maybe the Suns will change their tune if they're getting more goodies.
Emmanuel Mudiay ranked as one of the NBA's 35 least valuable players last season by ESPN.com's real plus-minus, and he's yet to flash three-point range for more than small bursts. But he's barely two years removed from being selected at No. 7, and Phoenix can talk itself into grooming him as a long-term solution for at least the next couple of seasons—before he reaches restricted free agency in 2019.
Buying stock in Mudiay would also be much easier if he came attached to two first-rounders, one of which should fall inside the top five and offer comparable intrigue to Jackson. If Brooklyn is much better than expected, Phoenix has Denver's choice and another wing in Malik Beasley to soften the blow.
The Nuggets should be all over this blockbuster. They were linked to Bledsoe ahead of the draft, according ESPN.com's Chris Haynes, and still find themselves in need of a point guard. Gary Harris, Jamal Murray, Nikola Jokic and Paul Millsap cover up for an uninspiring floor-general rotation, but surrogate playmakers aren't permanent fixes.
Bledsoe would beef up the Denver defense, and his three-point success rate should explode if he's catching passes from Millsap and Jokic. He could even be used as a Harris-type cutter.
Bringing in Bledsoe isn't so much of a priority for Cleveland with Thomas on the roster. He acknowledged to ESPN.com's Adrian Wojnarowski that he's probably "not going to be back as soon this season as everyone wants me to be," but the Cavaliers have James and Derrick Rose to ferry the ball-handling in his absence. Accumulating wings is a more pressing concern when it comes to Part IV of their NBA Finals rivalry with the Warriors.
Jackson is someone Cleveland already coveted. His defense will help right away, and it shouldn't take as long for his three-point accuracy to translate with James slinging cross-court passes. Wilson Chandler is insurance against a steeper-than-expected learning curve for Jackson and a boon for potential "Death Lineup" imitations.
Trot out James, Thomas, Jackson, Chandler and Jae Crowder, and the Cavaliers have a fighting chance at standing up to the Warriors' Wikipedia-worthy unit. Swap out Thomas for JR Smith, with James playing the role of point-center, and the party changes—perhaps for the better.
Cavaliers Go for Depth
Cleveland Cavaliers Receive: SG/SF/PF Khris Middleton, PG Malcolm Brogdon, C John Henson
Milwaukee Bucks Receive: PG Eric Bledsoe, SF/PF Jared Dudley, C Edy Tavares, 2018 second-round pick (from Toronto via Phoenix)
Phoenix Suns Receive: SG Iman Shumpert, PF/C Channing Frye, SF Richard Jefferson, 2018 unprotected first-round pick (from Cleveland via Brooklyn)
The Milwaukee Bucks were offering Khris Middleton and Malcolm Brogdon in the Irving sweepstakes, according to Lowe. They could be willing to do the same for Bledsoe.
Though Bledsoe doesn't carry Irving's cachet, he's hardly a distant underling. NBA Math's Total Points Added rated him as the league's 28th-best player last year—three spots ahead of Irving.
That doesn't make Bledsoe better. Irving is still the player you turn to for from-scratch buckets. But Bledsoe, while two years older, is a more engaged defender and consistent passer. If Milwaukee thinks Irving is worth Middleton and Brogdon, shipping out the same package for Bledsoe while shedding the three years and $31.7 million left on John Henson's pact warrants discussion.
Jared Dudley would sweeten the deal. The Bucks can take on Channing Frye and Richard Jefferson if they're looking to gain more flexibility ahead of next summer, but Dudley can begin to replace some of the shooting and defensive switchability they'd lose with Middleton and Brogdon gone. And without the former in tow, re-incorporating Jabari Parker wouldn't be as difficult when he returns from his second ACL injury; it's far easier to bring Dudley off the bench than Middleton or Tony Snell.
Phoenix shouldn't have any qualms about this proposal. Getting the Brooklyn pick without including Jackson is worth eating Shumpert's agreement. And hey: If they're not bought out or waived, maybe Frye and Jefferson can re-brand their Road Trippin' podcast as members of the Suns.
This feels like an automatic yes for the Cavaliers. Paying Henson isn't the greatest investment, but he works as a rim-running shot-blocker off the bench—a rotation piece Cleveland needs. Middleton and Brogdon are defensive whizzes who will shoot 40-plus percent from deep next to James. Running those three out with Thomas and Crowder should make even Golden State's Death Lineup sweat before it rakes in its next title.
Use the Irving-for-Middleton and Brogdon package as a baseline, and the Cavs will have essentially traded Shumpert, Frye, Jefferson and Edy Tavares for Thomas, Crowder, Henson and Zizic. Hashtag winning.
The Nicolas Batum Dice Roll
Charlotte Hornets Receive: SG Iman Shumpert, PG Kay Felder, PF/C Channing Frye, 2018 unprotected first-round pick (via Brooklyn)
Cleveland Cavaliers Receive: SG/SF Nicolas Batum, PF Johnny O'Bryant
Are the four years and $99.1 million remaining on Nicolas Batum's contract worth Brooklyn's 2018 first-rounder? That depends on a few things.
First up: The Nets' ceiling. The latest OddsShark figures have their over/under at 21.5 wins. But with the Atlanta Hawks and Chicago Bulls racing toward the bottom, and teams like the Suns, Los Angeles Lakers, New York Knicks, Orlando Magic and Sacramento Kings not terribly far behind, the path away from top-five lottery odds beckons.
Next up: Batum. He's only 28, so this deal should cover his best years without substantive regression. But he's underwhelmed as a secondary pick-and-roll initiator over the past two seasons, and his three-point clip hasn't hit 35 percent since 2013-14.
Still, slot him alongside James, and perception would change. His outside efficiency should climb amid more wide-open looks, and he won't have to work so hard as a setup man with James and Thomas in the same rotation.
And if Batum remains a bit of an offensive wild card, so be it. His length lets him match up with 2s, 3s and 4s—cross-position defense that'll come in handy next to James and Crowder whenever the Cavaliers meet the Warriors.
Getting the Charlotte Hornets on board figures to be a tough sell. They aren't rebuilding. Cutting ties with their second-best player runs counter to their pursuit of playoff berths. But Batum's contract isn't particularly good, and the Hornets have Jeremy Lamb and Malik Monk to fill in some of the resulting gaps.
Equally important: If Cleveland trades the Brooklyn pick, it nods to a lengthy relationship with James, which in turn means Charlotte has no hope of emerging from the Eastern Conference without a major overhaul. Nabbing a grade-A first-rounder would enable it to chase two agendas. It'll retain enough talent to hunt for postseason appearances but have the inbound cornerstone to pivot into a rebuild as Kemba Walker, Dwight Howard and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist all near 2019 free agency.
Miami and Cleveland Make NIce
Cleveland Cavaliers Receive: PG Goran Dragic, SF/PF Justise Winslow
Miami Heat Receive: SG Iman Shumpert, PF/C Channing Frye, 2018 unprotected first-round pick (via Brooklyn)
Miami was willing to deal Goran Dragic and Justise Winslow for Irving before he ended up in Boston, per Wojnarowski. A pick without definitive placement isn't Irving, and the Heat denied making such an overture, but this framework remains interesting.
Dealing Dragic doesn't consign Miami to a rebuild—which is good, because team president Pat Riley has $152.9 million wrapped up in Dion Waiters, James Johnson and Kelly Olynyk over the next four years. Josh Richardson and Tyler Johnson can pick up the playmaking slack in head coach Erik Spoelstra's equal-opportunity space-odyssey offense, with Waiters and James Johnson soaking up residual responsibilities.
Embracing point guard-by-committee might not fully inoculate the Heat against setbacks, but the Nets pick is worth the exploration—especially with Tyler Johnson set to earn more than Dragic in 2018-19 and 2019-20.
Where Winslow is a jump-shooting liability who'd threaten to throw off the gains from last season's second-half surge in Miami, he would be a welcome defensive gnat in Cleveland. His career 25.8 percent three-point rate should spike if he's firing off the catch from James, and he's yet another player the Cavaliers can use to orchestrate pick-and-rolls when the four-time MVP is off the ball or on the bench.
Cleveland can rework this package to include Thomas after Oct. 21 if Miami doesn't bite. Something like this could pique the interest of both sides:
- Cavaliers Receive: Goran Dragic, Justise Winslow, Wayne Ellington and Josh Richardson or Rodney McGruder
- Heat Receive: Isaiah Thomas, Iman Shumpert, Channing Frye and Brooklyn's 2018 pick
Whatever the format, something's there. The combination of Dragic and Winslow would buoy present-day pursuits while awarding the Cavaliers a 21-year-old to nurture as part of best- and worst-case outcomes to James' free agency in 2018.