NBA Trade Ideas from Latest Buzz: How to Move Anthony Davis, PG13 and More
Anthony Davis has found his way back into the NBA's circle of conjecture, and that can mean only one thing: Trade season has arrived.
Most free agents who signed contracts this past summer became eligible for relocation Dec. 15, marking the unofficial start of the Association's silly season. Not surprisingly, with the rumor mill approaching fever pitch, it took all of a few days for the breaking-news cycle to name-drop the New Orleans Pelicans megastar.
And we basically have the Boston Celtics to blame.
"Davis remains an obsession of several NBA teams full of the necessary trade assets to unfasten him from New Orleans, should the Pelicans ever consider a rebuild—or should Davis ever request a trade," ESPN.com's Adrian Wojnarowski wrote. "Boston has remained vigilant on the possibility of acquiring Davis, and Davis knows it. However, the Pelicans have no intention of trading an all-world talent under contract through 2021, no matter the return."
This last part is important. On second thought, strike that. This last part is everything. The Pelicans haven't offered any indication they're ready to cut bait with Davis more than two years before his foray into the 2020 free-agency ranks (player option). They needn't worry about entertaining offers until this summer at the earliest—and that assumes they're unable to re-sign DeMarcus Cousins, make a suitable splash after he bolts and unwilling to deal him as a quasi-expiring deal in 2019.
Still, the latest speculation dictates discussion 'round these parts, so Davis' future cannot be placed off-limits. Hypothetical offers must be ambitious enough to keep the Pelicans from cackling their way off the phone, which makes for tricky territory. But here, in the world of Pure Imagination, we have the license to try finding them.
Fear not, though: Plenty of other deals are on the table. The NBA's speculation factory is too bumpin' for this to be a one-star exercise.
What Would It Take for the Pelicans to Trade Brow This Season? Part I
Boston Celtics Receive: SG Ian Clark, PF Anthony Davis
New Orleans Pelicans Receive: C Aron Baynes, SG/SF Jaylen Brown, SF/PF Marcus Morris, SF/PF Jayson Tatum, 2018 first-round pick, 2019 first-round pick (via Memphis)
Starting anywhere else feels dirty. The Celtics are why the Anthony Davis rumor mill exists at all. Consider this anecdote from Wojnarowski:
"Before the Cousins trade a year ago, though, Davis kept hearing talk of the Celtics trying to trade for him. He walked into GM Dell Demps' office and asked about it.
"'He told me that [Boston] was calling, but nothing was going to happen,' Davis said. 'At the same time, though, you see how organizations treat players. Isaiah Thomas. DeMarcus [Cousins] told me that the [Sacramento Kings] told him that he wasn't going to get traded, but they traded him. Isaiah took his team to the Eastern Conference Finals, and they traded him.'"
Scores of Celtics fans won't feel good about this trade. Jayson Tatum only misses from three-point range when he's bored, he's polished in transition and looks like a superstar in the making. Jaylen Brown is a defensive worker bee whose tough-to-watch post-ups serve a purpose. He's also shooting almost 40 percent from long range overall and nearly 43 percent on corner triples.
Giving up two top-three prospects, plus another pair of first-round picks, feels like a lot for a team and fanbase that hasn't not fleeced trade partners since 2013. But guess what happens if they don't empty their treasure chest? They don't get Davis, a top-10 player closer to the top five than not.
New Orleans has no business accepting a deal built around Al Horford, one prospect and a pick. Horford remains one of the NBA's most versatile and underappreciated players, but he's owed $60 million through the next two seasons (player option in 2019-20). The Pelicans initiate a rebuild if they flip Davis, and no transitioning team should pay $30 million per year to someone on the wrong side of 30—particularly when he can fly the coop in one year's time.
Exclude Horford from the deal, and the Celtics have no choice other than to construct something resembling a four-for-two package. They aren't trading Gordon Hayward or Kyrie Irving, while Tatum and Brown rank as their fourth- and sixth highest-paid players, respectively.
Surrendering two high-end kiddies isn't nothing, even in the context of acquiring Davis. The Celtics should try removing the 2018 Los Angeles Lakers/2019 Kings pick from consideration as a result. If they're hoping to get Davis for cheaper, they must wait until New Orleans runs dry of leverage.
Pulling the trigger on this return is still difficult for the Pelicans. They secure a bunch of cost-controlled assets, two of whom, Brown and Tatum, might turn into stars. But they'll need to be sold on the Memphis Grizzlies' demise to move off their no-trade stance—or be absolutely sure Cousins isn't sticking around past this year.
What Would It Take for the Pelicans to Trade Brow This Season? Part II
Los Angeles Lakers Receive: C Alexis Ajinca, SG/SF Ian Clark, PF/C Anthony Davis
New Orleans Pelicans Receive: SG/SF Corey Brewer, PG/SG Jordan Clarkson, SF Brandon Ingram, PF Kyle Kuzma, PF/C Julius Randle, 2020 first-round pick
As Wojnarowski noted, the Celtics are one of just "several" teams obsessing over Anthony Davis' future. You can bet your bottom dollar the Lakers are among the others.
Taking on Davis and Alexis Ajinca doesn't derail the Lakers' salary-cap outlook. They'll be on track for more than $30 million in breathing room—enough to woo George or bring them within a breath of James' max. Stretch the final year of Ajinca's deal, and they'll have the spending power to reel in the King.
Getting off the final two years of Luol Deng's contract will be difficult, if not impossible, after anteing up for Davis. The Lakers burn through three of their best sweeteners in Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram and that 2020 first-rounder. They won't trim Deng from the bottom line unless they warm up to shipping out Lonzo Ball.
Team president Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka can try expunging Kuzma from the package, but the Pelicans could, and should, balk. Los Angeles doesn't have a leg on which to stand. Jordan Clarkson and Julius Randle are playing well, but the entire league knows the latter won't be long for Hollywood if cap flexibility remains the priority. Clarkson is more pipeline-clogger than asset for the Lakers' free-agency purposes as well.
Brook Lopez's expiring salary can be subbed in for Clarkson and Corey Brewer if the Pelicans aren't enamored with the former, but then they'll run the risk that Los Angeles peddles Josh Hart over Kuzma. This profiles as a reasonable return when left alone—as far as worst-case scenarios go.
Ingram and Kuzma give the Pelicans two top-end prospects, and a half-season flyer on Randle isn't insignificant when he's playing more defense and the free-agent market figures to depress his long-term cost. The absence of a pick before 2020 is an issue, but they're receiving enough equivalent prospects to sit tight.
Clarkson is a possible sticking point. He doesn't turn 26 until June, so he won't age himself out of a rebuild. The Pelicans have to decide whether he's worth $25.9 million over the next two seasons or someone they can trade for something later, or if they'd rather tweak the parameters to open up more cap space.
Denver and Atlanta Throw a Bigs-for-Wings Party
Atlanta Hawks Receive: PF/C Darrell Arthur, SG/SF Malik Beasley, PF/C Kenneth Faried, 2018 lottery-protected first-round pick
Denver Nuggets Receive: PF Luke Babbitt, SG/SF Kent Bazemore
Sources told Basketball Insiders' Steve Kyler the "right combination of ending contracts and a first-round pick, even one highly protected, might be enough" for the Atlanta Hawks to part with Kent Bazemore.
Atlanta is not netting expiring salaries and a first-rounder for Bazemore alone. He's back to shooting better than 36 percent from beyond the arc and starting to grasp his role as a secondary playmaker. He can be careless working out of the pick-and-roll, but his 4.8 assists per 36 minutes are a career high, and a larger share of his passes on drives lead to baskets than those from either DeAndre' Bembry or Dennis Schroder.
But Bazemore is no bargain. He has three years and $54.3 million left on his deal when including this season (player option for 2019-20)—an agreement that doesn't look so hot following last summer's market correction. He's not an asset who returns a pick- and prospect-heavy package without conditions.
The Denver Nuggets have the tools to limit those caveats.
Neither Darrell Arthur nor Kenneth Faried is appreciably useful to a rebuilding squad, but they both come off the books one year before Bazemore. And a Faried-John Collins frontcourt is worth exploring if Dewayne Dedmon and/or Mike Muscala opt out of their deals this July or get traded elsewhere. (Picture all the bounce!)
Malik Beasley remains a first-round prospect, even though he's mostly a ghost within the Nuggets' rotation. His role will only diminish from here, on the heels of Torrey Craig's emergence. The Hawks can use another wing to play around with and get an additional first-rounder for their draft-pick cupboard—giving them six total, including their own, for the 2018 and 2019 prospect pageants.
Don't sleep on Luke Babbitt in Denver, either. He offers shooting and a dab of switchability as a small-ball 4. The Nuggets, if nothing else, are just plain short on wings. They'll put two playable options, in Bazemore and Babbitt, to good use—especially now, with Paul Millsap recovering from wrist surgery.
Cleveland Parts with the Nets' Pick for Championship's Sake
Charlotte Hornets Receive: C Channing Frye, SF/PF Cedi Osman, PG/SG Iman Shumpert, 2018 first-round pick (via Brooklyn)
Cleveland Cavaliers: SF Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, PG Kemba Walker
Are the Cleveland Cavaliers willing to part with this year's Brooklyn Nets pick? It depends on who you ask.
"They would be open to a deal by all indications," a general manager told Sporting News' Sean Deveney. "But they're not talking about that pick. That's the Plan B for the LeBron stuff, and from what I know, they don't want to budge on it."
Another executive, however, suggested to Deveney "the Cavaliers' reticence is a smokescreen, hoping to drive up the value of the pick by declaring it untouchable and betting that, eventually, the Nets will slide back in the standings and the pick will land in the top five."
Both of Cleveland's prospective positions make sense. Keeping the pick in the chamber to soften the blow of LeBron James' possible departure is savvy big-picture planning. Likewise, so long as James is on the roster, doing whatever it takes to compete with the Golden State Warriors holds value.
Finding the right package is an issue. The Cavaliers don't have the complementary assets to join the long-shot Anthony Davis sweepstakes, while relinquishing the Nets' pick for soon-to-be-free-agent DeAndre Jordan or aging Marc Gasol is flat-out reckless. Sniffing around Paul George's situation with the Oklahoma City Thunder has its advantages, but his own free agency looms large in that pursuit.
Turning to Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Kemba Walker is not random. The Charlotte Hornets have the fourth-worst record in the Eastern Conference and little to no flexibility in coming summers. With Walker slated for free agency in 2019, they have to start thinking about the future, and whether they have the tools necessary to escape the NBA's pit of mediocrity.
Acquiring the Brooklyn pick affords them a launchpad they wouldn't otherwise have. The Nets can still fall in the standings—Cleaning The Glass expects them to contend for a bottom-eight record—and Cedi Osman is proving to be a nice combo-forward prospect. The Hornets aren't locked into Channing Frye (expiring) or the injured Iman Shumpert (long term), and they boost their own lottery odds with this clearance sale.
Walker's fit on the Cavaliers is slightly awkward with Isaiah Thomas on his way back, but a second unit led by the 5'9" fireball and Dwyane Wade would be terrifying. And Walker is a nice hedge against what Thomas will cost in free agency—or even the possibility that he's not right following his hip injury.
Add Kidd-Gilchrist to the mix, and the Cavaliers have a bundle of switchables capable of waging NBA Finals warfare with Golden State. Lineups featuring him, James and Jae Crowder should be suffocating. Even Walker helps in a Warriors matchup; he's a low-key defensive bulldog.
This trade hinges on how favorably the Hornets view the Nets' pick—not to mention how accepting they are of their nosedive. But if Brooklyn begins to slip back inside the bottom 10, Charlotte has to at least consider the benefits of entering this summer with two top-notch selections.
Thunder Sensibly Bust Up OK3 with Help of Miami and Milwaukee
Miami Heat Receive: SF Paul George, SF Kyle Singler
Milwaukee Bucks Receive: SF/PF Josh Huestis, PF/C Kelly Olynyk
Oklahoma City Thunder Receive: SG/SF Wayne Ellington, PF Mirza Teletovic, PF D.J. Wilson, SF/PF Justise Winslow
A league source told Bleacher Report's Ken Berger Oklahoma City has "shown no inclination to entertain trade discussions" for Paul George. But as ESPN.com's Royce Young noted ahead of the Thunder's Dec. 13 victory over the Indiana Pacers, many rival executives have yet to give up hope that he will "find his way back on the trade block if things don't improve."
Well, things haven't improved in Oklahoma City. They're also not much worse. This situation can only be described as fluid, with the team's trajectory changing by the game, and sometimes even by the quarter.
Although the Thunder landed George under the guise that he was a rental, they shouldn't be content to ride out this dynamic. Yes, the George-Carmelo Anthony-Russell Westbrook partnership deserves more time, but they're rapidly nearing the season's halfway point. If they're still fighting to stay above .500 come January, general manager Sam Presti has to explore all options.
Flipping George to the Cavaliers for the Nets' pick is preferable. The Houston Rockets are rolling, but general manager Daryl Morey can sling Trevor Ariza and Eric Gordon if he's feeling bold.
More likely than not, though, the Thunder are looking at a noticeably lesser return if George doesn't promise to re-sign with his next team. This package toes that line between ambitious and real life. They get rid of George and Kyle Singler's money without punting on 2017-18.
Wayne Ellington is a pinball off the rock and should feast from behind the three-point line. Mirza Teletovic only has one year left on his deal and brings a 46.7 percent three-point clip to the party if he returns from a blockage that has developed in both of his lungs; Oklahoma City shouldn't be concerned with an inability to pass a physical. Playing Justise Winslow and Andre Roberson together would be a floor-spacing nightmare, but it would help keep a No. 2 defense intact.
D.J. Wilson's best-case scenario is a shot-blocking rim-runner with some range on the perimeter. He's also a good contingency project in the event Oklahoma City doesn't want to pay Jerami Grant over the summer.
If anyone is willing to give up value for months-long face time with George, it would be Miami Heat overlord Pat Riley. He's notoriously confident in his ability to court superstars, and the organization needs a marquee punch as it toils away in no-man's land.
Convincing the Milwaukee Bucks to part with Wilson is probably the hardest part of this deal. But trading for Eric Bledsoe saddles them with win-now expectations.
Teletovic isn't helping them from the sidelines, and Kelly Olynyk instantly becomes their third-best defensive rebounder and sole stretch-5 option. And they can pair him with anyone up front—Giannis Antetokounmpo, John Henson, Thon Maker, whoever—without shelling out what it will cost to keep someone like DeAndre Jordan beyond this season.