5 NBA Trades That Should Happen Immediately
Fire up those imaginations. Hypothetical trades are inbound.
The NBA's endlessly active rumor mill will shape certain deals, but not all of them. We cannot be leashed to such a finite scope. The league features 30 teams with varying outlooks and collections of assets. We deserve the chance to tap into whatever situation is deemed worthy of speculation.
Striking a balance between ambitious and realistic packages remains the goal. Some of the included players will never be totally up for grabs, but they do have a path toward reaching the chopping block.
Contract situations can demand a marquee name be shopped. Teams toeing the line of a rebuild become sellers. The opportunity to make upgrades prompts general managers to empty their coffers.
Now, open those minds and check reticence at the door. We have a basketball league to shake up.
Knicks Press 'Tank' While Nuggets Break the Bank
Denver Nuggets Receive (after Dec. 14): SG/SF Courtney Lee and PG Ramon Sessions
New York Knicks Receive: PF Darell Arthur, SG/SF Malik Beasley and 2018 top-20-protected first-round pick
The New York Knicks need to tank. Flirting with .500, even amid injuries, is overrated. Their entire performance thus far is overrated. A home-heavy schedule and unsustainably effective display in the clutch is propping up one of the league's most misleading starts.
Perhaps recent injuries to Tim Hardaway Jr. and Kristaps Porzingis will convince the Knicks to steer into a nosedive. Maybe they finally realize the importance of snaring one final top-seven prospect before Porzingis gets his extension. Whatever revelation they reach, it needs to come fast.
Dealing Courtney Lee is a good place to begin the teardown. He typifies the coveted three-and-D label. He's putting down 45 percent of his triples and ranks second on the team in points saved on defense, according to NBA Math.
Lee would noticeably bolster the rotation for a Denver Nuggets squad that was short on wings to begin with and has imploded on defense while Paul Millsap recovers from wrist surgery. Since he went down during a loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Nov. 19, they rank 26th in points allowed per 100 possessions.
Acquiring the 32-year-old wing is also a good hedge against Will Barton's and Wilson Chandler's (player option) forays into free agency this summer. Including this season, Lee has three years and $36.8 million left on his contract—a deal that Bleacher Report's Adam Fromal formulaically graded as the fifth-best among all shooting guards.
Attaching Malik Beasley to a protected first-rounder equates to forking over two picks, but the Nuggets shouldn't balk. Beasley has hardly seen the floor even when they've been desperate for minutes on the perimeter. They're more inclined to roll out Juan Hernangomez, a should-be 4, at the 3. They cannot treat Beasley as a first-round prospect on his own.
Swallowing Darell Arthur's pact is the cost of doing business for the Knicks. He'll make nearly $7.5 million next year after picking up his player option and be off the books by 2019—a small price to pay for what amounts to two first-round prospects and a substantive boon to their 2018 lottery odds.
Los Angeles Clippers Receive: C Ian Mahinmi, SF Kelly Oubre Jr., PF/C Jason Smith and 2019 lottery-protected first-round pick
Washington Wizards Receive: C DeAndre Jordan and PG/SG Lou Williams
DeAndre Jordan and the Los Angeles Clippers shouldn't be long for one another. He turns 30 in July, when he'll be due to sign a new contract after he declines his $24.1 million player option, and they're another team that should be firing up the tank in the wake of an injury-bug infestation.
A trade feels imminent. Jordan finally hired an agent (Jeff Schwartz), according to ESPN.com's Adrian Wojnarowski, which could expedite his departure from Los Angeles. Non-unicorn bigs don't hold a ton of value, and Jordan's contract situation complicates matters, but the Milwaukee Bucks, Minnesota Timberwolves, Toronto Raptors and Milwaukee Bucks are all hot for the 29-year-old, per the Racine Journal Times' Gery Woelfel.
Washington doesn't initially register as a no-brainer fit. Marcin Gortat has developed great chemistry with the team's wings; he and Ian Mahinmi combine for a $30 million cap hit; and the Wizards have three max players on the books in Bradley Beal, Otto Porter and John Wall.
Convince the Clippers to stomach Mahinmi's deal, and the optics shift. The Wizards can spin landing Jordan and attempting to re-sign him if they aren't footing Mahinmi's $48.1 million in guaranteed money through 2019-20.
Forfeiting Kelly Oubre Jr. and another first-rounder hurts. The 21-year-old wing has improved his three-point stroke and can defend four positions, while the capped-out Wizards need cost-controlled assets. But Oubre is extension-eligible this summer, and netting Lou Williams, a viable second-unit pilot, softens the blow.
The Clippers shouldn't bat an eye. They get this season and next to evaluate Oubre before restricted free agency, a future first that coincides with their own 2019 lottery-protected obligation to Boston and suddenly booming lottery odds for this year.
Negotiating this package also arms the Clippers with a few options leading into next season. Oubre and an inbound first-round newbie can contribute to win-now ambitions beside a healthy Patrick Beverley, Danilo Gallinari and Blake Griffin. If that doesn't tickle their fancy, they can opt for the full-tilt barnburner, knowing they finally have enough young players to float an authentic rebuild.
Dallas and Philly Break Bread
Dallas Mavericks Receive: PG/SG Jerryd Bayless and C Jahlil Okafor
Philadelphia 76ers Receive: SG/SF Wesley Matthews
Please consider all of the moving parts before crying foul in the comments section.
The Philadelphia 76ers are looking to conserve cap space for this summer, when they might make a play for LeBron James (player option), per USA Today's Jeff Zillgitt. But general manager Bryan Colangelo also has designs on using Jahlil Okafor's now-expiring salary to make a splash on the trade market, according to ESPN.com's Adrian Wojnarowski:
"So far, Colangelo has rejected discussions on a contract buyout that would allow Okafor to become a free agent. Colangelo is holding out the possibility that Okafor's $5 million salary could be packaged as part of a bigger deal before the Feb. 9 trade deadline, even if he can't find a singular move involving Okafor, league sources said."
Offering Okafor and Jerryd Bayless for Wesley Matthews qualifies as the Sixers' happy medium. They add around $10 million in salary for next year by subbing out Bayless' $8.6 million hit for Matthews' $18.6 million player option. They'll have a clear path to $15 million in cap room if they renounce their free agents, and they won't have any trouble using their own pick (2018 or 2019), Justin Anderson or Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot to wash off Matthews' expiring money over the summer if James shows interest in heading to Philly.
In the meantime, the Sixers welcome Matthews' 40.9 percent clip from deep and worker-bee defense to their second unit ahead of the postseason. He's also a good hedge against JJ Redick pricing himself out of Philly this summer, and he doesn't compromise their flexibility in 2019—which instantly becomes the more intriguing offseason should James sign elsewhere.
This proposal shouldn't take long for the Dallas Mavericks to accept. They save $10 million in advance of this summer while getting a partial-season flyer on Okafor—who, by the way, gets to reunite with benchwarming, hot-dog-eating extraordinaire Nerlens Noel.
Most importantly: Trading Matthews aids the Mavericks' tank, which has taken a hit in recent weeks. They're 5-5 over their past 10 games, with a top-nine point differential per 100 possessions. That won't cut it when battling expert rock-bottom denizens like the Atlanta Hawks, Chicago Bulls, Phoenix Suns and Sacramento Kings.
Three-Team Blockbuster Between Memphis, Orlando and Toronto
Memphis Grizzlies Receive (after season): SG/SF Jonathon Simmons, PF Pascal Siakam, C Nikola Vucevic
Orlando Magic Receive: SF/PF OG Anunoby, C Jonas Valanciunas, and 2019 second-round pick (via Toronto)
Toronto Raptors Receive: C Marc Gasol
We'll have to expand the definition of "immediately" to include "as soon as possible," since the Orlando Magic and Toronto Raptors are not permitted to swap players until late May at the earliest following Jeff Weltman's departure from the latter to the former.
Marc Gasol trade proposals feel vapid knowing the Memphis Grizzlies canned head coach David Fizdale at least in part because he couldn't make nice with the Big Burrito. Their brazen aversion to tanking doesn't help, either.
"We're bringing a number of young guys along, and we think we have two guys that are big-timers and we think are going to be big-timers for years to come," general manager Chris Wallace said, per ESPN.com's Tim MacMahon. "So why back off of that?"
Because this deal allows for the best of both worlds, Mr. Wallace.
The Grizzlies don't get appreciably worse by accepting a package starring Nikola Vucevic, the very-little-defense version of Gasol. But they do get younger. And a little cheaper. And much deeper.
Vucevic is 27 and under contract through next season. Pascal Siakam is 23 and a twitchy defender. Jonathon Simmons does a lot of what Tyreke Evans is doing for the Grizzlies, albeit not as efficiently. But teams can never have too many like-sized wings, and Simmons, unlike Evans, is under lock and key through 2019-20.
Toronto remains a popular hypothetical destination for Gasol, largely because Jonas Valanciunas' contract lays a nice salary-matching foundation. The Grizzlies could be bullish and insist on Jakob Poeltl instead of Siakam, but that shouldn't be a deal-breaker. The Raptors are getting a supercharged version of Valanciunas—someone whose offensive range and half-court defense complements all of their other incumbent bigs.
The Magic should have a similarly easy time pulling the trigger. Valanciunas is only 25, OG Anunoby is ahead of schedule and they should enhance their lottery odds by bidding farewell to Vucevic.
Megabuster Between Cleveland and OKC
Cleveland Cavaliers Receive (after Dec. 14): SF/PF Paul George and PF/C Patrick Patterson
Oklahoma City Thunder Receive: PF/C Channing Frye, SF/PF Cedi Osman, SG/SF Iman Shumpert and 2018 Brooklyn Nets first-round pick
This scenario leans on a loose interpretation of "immediately." The Oklahoma City Thunder are't going to cut bait on Paul George until they're sure the marriage isn't panning out or he clearly indicates he has no intention of sticking around beyond this season.
Still, even as the Thunder inch their way back toward .500, it seems they may have amassed one too many ball-dominant stars.
George, Carmelo Anthony and Russell Westbrook have gobbled through more isolation possessions between them (273) than 27 of the NBA's other 29 teams. And they're shooting a combined 31.5 percent during crunch time (22.9 percent on threes).
Though the Thunder have pulled out three consecutive close-call victories, their offense has remained uneven in those situations. They cannot count on Anthony to take 10 or fewer shots every game, and George has looked more passive than either of his Big Three castmates, often ending up stationary above the break or in the corner.
Signing Westbrook to an extension inoculates the Thunder against planning around his free agency. They're free to take the longer view and either rejigger the roster around him (again) or capitalize on his trade value later.
Moving Anthony makes more sense in a vacuum. Oklahoma City outscores opponents by 5.3 points per 100 possessions when George and Westbrook play without him, but the Thunder are a minus-12.8 when he and Westbrook play without George. However, Anthony won't command the same return as George, even if he's more likely to pick up his $27.9 million player option for next season.
George, for that matter, won't net a king's ransom from most teams. But the Cleveland Cavaliers are an exception.
They have the swaying power—aka LeBron James—to cough up the Brooklyn Nets' unprotected 2018 first-round pick in exchange for a months-long sales pitch to George.
Shipping out what figures to be a top-seven selection verges on reckless without George and James guaranteeing their returns. But an eighth straight trip to the NBA Finals for James and first-ever cameo for George should entice them to stay in Cleveland beyond this season.
Plus, with Patrick Patterson also arriving as part of this deal, the Cavaliers arm themselves with a bunch of shifty defenders. Throw him, George, James, Jae Crowder and whoever else on the floor, and Cleveland deploys enough switchability to genuinely pester the Golden State Warriors in a potential (or perhaps inevitable) NBA Finals rematch.