NBA Trade Ideas from Latest Buzz: How to Move Cousins, Randle and Mirotic
Reports and rumors are cool, but it takes an extra, imaginative step to breathe real life into the latest NBA buzz.
We have to take the news of who's on the block and who's interested in making a deal, and then we have to figure out how those transactions might actually come to pass. How the theoretical becomes substantive.
Nikola Mirotic is playing out of this world and hasn't rescinded talk about waiving his no-trade clause? Awesome! How do the Chicago Bulls capitalize?
How do the Golden State Warriors parlay JaVale McGee, marginalized by rookie Jordan Bell, into their next second-round rotation-caliber heist?
And, of course, what might the Los Angeles Lakers and Milwaukee Bucks do to turn the constant rumors surrounding both franchises into reality?
The Lakers Do Some Runway Clearing
Lakers Get: Greg Monroe and 2019 second-round pick
Phoenix Suns Get: Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson
According to Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times: "The Lakers would love to trade [Randle] if they could, and Jordan Clarkson fits in that category too."
This isn't breaking news. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.com reported in November that Randle was on borrowed time. Even before that, it was clear the Lakers' ambitious 2018 free-agent plans would require a massive salary dump. Randle and Clarkson aren't integral pieces of L.A.'s future; they're cash that needs to be off the books—a necessary sacrifice in the interest of chasing Paul George and/or DeMarcus Cousins.
Approaching the transaction that way makes it easier to stomach what seems like a modest return. Monroe isn't a needle-mover. He's an expiring contract who can help the Lakers bolster their already hefty league lead in paint scoring. Nobody gets a higher percentage of their points at the rim than L.A., per Cleaning the Glass.
The second-rounder is half sweetener, half acknowledgement that Randle and Clarkson actually have value to other teams as on-court assets. The Suns are in a rebuilding phase, and outside of Devin Booker, no member of their core projects as a surefire rotation talent. Randle is due for restricted free agency, and Clarkson has two more years on his contract after this one. Both would give Phoenix a couple of more young talents under team control who could improve.
That's worth an expiring deal and a second-rounder.
You might argue the Suns would rather have the space freed up by Monroe's exit in free agency, but they're not in a position where a newly signed veteran fits their timeline. Just look at how little they've gotten out of Tyson Chandler and Jared Dudley.
And that's to say nothing of the difficulty a rebuilding club has in enticing impact free agents in the first place. That cap space isn't worth as much to a Suns team that can't easily spend it at market value.
Better to snag two young guys and hope one seizes an opportunity in a new locale.
Boogie Goes to Hollywood
Lakers Get: Cousins and Omer Asik
New Orleans Pelicans Get: Randle, Clarkson, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and 2020 first-round pick
In an appearance on the Lakers Nation podcast Dec. 28, Eric Pincus dropped an intriguing note:
"Plan A is still LeBron James. ... I don't think they'll do anything that gets in the way of that, but that said, at the deadline, there are two targets that they could look at ... Paul George with the Oklahoma City Thunder—they've been struggling. Over the last 10 or so games, though, they've sort of figured it out. They've been climbing in the standings, so I think he may be more of a long shot. ... But the Pelicans are a different story because they're just at about .500. They've won a couple or so, and they're playing a little bit better. They're getting healthier, and maybe they climb. But if they don't climb, they're looking at DeMarcus Cousins."
Be advised: obscene amount of caveats inbound. Impact in three, two, one...
The Pelicans won't trade Cousins if they're in the playoff hunt. It just doesn't make sense—not for a franchise whose strategic approach, for years, has been about focusing on short-term gains. And if the Pels think there's a decent shot they can re-sign Cousins this summer, you can also disregard trade talk.
If New Orleans has an inkling Boogie will "test free agency," which is almost always code for "I'm outta here," then it should be motivated to move him regardless of the team's record or playoff positioning. This would be a major haul for a guy with a foot out the door.
The other side is similarly qualifier-ridden.
Los Angeles must have some wink-wink assurance that Cousins will re-sign with it following a trade. It obviously can't surrender goods like this for a rental.
Why should the Lakers trade anything if they think they can just sign Cousins in July?
That's what you're asking, right?
Well, there's still the salary issue, and the Lakers clear Randle's cap hold and Clarkson's money this way. Plus, KCP is gone anyway if L.A. intends to pursue another max free agent. Essentially, this boils down to getting Cousins and shedding cash in one fell swoop. The cost of doing business is a first-round pick, which is admittedly steep...and Asik's contract.
But if the Lakers are where they hope to be in 2019-20, that pick might not be worth much. And you'd have to think getting Cousins would make figuring out what to do with Asik's money a fix-it-later issue.
There's also the possibility the Lakers screw everything up and that pick is worth something to New Orleans.
Asik is a major component in this hypothetical. Getting the Lakers to take him depends on the Pelicans knowing Cousins plans to leave...and the Lakers not knowing it.
If you're the Lakers and you think there's any chance you can sign Cousins outright in July, you're not taking Asik, and you're probably not doing this deal in any form.
Fun to think about, though, no?
Kyle O'Quinn: The Bucks' Hefty Fallback Option
Bucks Get: Kyle O'Quinn and Lance Thomas
New York Knicks Get: Matthew Dellavedova
The Bucks don't need more reasons to root against their Eastern Conference competition, but they might have one, according to Marc Berman of the New York Post: "The Knicks' interest in trading Kyle O'Quinn at the Feb. 9 trade deadline will rise at the same rate as their chances of making the draft lottery."
But if it can't connect on a DJ deal, maybe Milwaukee will turn its search for bulk toward O'Quinn. If only in terms of aesthetics, the Knicks center would provide a change of pace from the willowy John Henson and Thon Maker. In addition to bearded heft and sheer physicality, O'Quinn is also a more daring passer than either Henson or Maker. He's a decent floor-spacer out to long-two range, and he'll defend the rim.
In only 16.5 minutes, he's averaging a block per game.
Berman reported O'Quinn is likely to opt out of his deal after this season, which might lower the expected return. At the same time, maybe the Bucks are keen on a rental after taking on Bledsoe's longer deal.
New York has to clear its logjam at center, and Milwaukee ought to be willing to surrender the worst of its three rotation point guards to get O'Quinn and Thomas, who owns a career three-point percentage of 40.2.
How the Warriors Get Their Next Second-Round Steal
Bucks Get: McGee
Warriors Get: 2018 second-round pick (via Dallas)
Hey, it's the Bucks again!
They show up mostly because they need a center and the deal makes sense but also partly because you're not allowed to discuss any trade rumors without cooking up a deal involving Milwaukee. It's codified somewhere in the blogger bylaws for 2018.
According to Marcus Thompson II of The Athletic:
"Multiple sources confirmed the Warriors and Milwaukee Bucks have discussed a trade. Nothing is imminent, but the Bucks are on the market for a center, and the Warriors are overstocked. The on-and-off conversations between the teams have included the Bucks inquiring about Pachulia and McGee. No doubt, they've asked about Bell, but that conversation ended quickly."
McGee's role has disappeared with Bell's emergence. With Zaza Pachulia entrenched as the starter, David West dominating as a second-unit 5 and Draymond Green sure to play most of the center minutes that really matter, there's not much sense in keeping McGee around if he's unhappy—which Thompson also says is the case.
McGee fits Milwaukee's preference for length, and he'd be an upgrade over Henson as a dive man in the pick-and-roll. Defensively and on the glass, McGee is a liability. The Warriors defend and rebound better without him on the floor, but the energy he brings and the highlights he generates can have an impact.
The only thing standing in the way of Golden State pulling the trigger for a second-rounder is the utter certainty that they can just buy somebody else's pick on draft night and knock it out of the park. That's what they did for Patrick McCaw two years ago, and that's what led to them getting Bell, who displaced McGee.
The Dallas second-rounder has heavy protections (31-55), so it may not convey. All the better for the Bucks. And for the Warriors, the roster spot is as valuable as anything else. They could bring up Damian Jones from the G-League or give the spot to Quinn Cook, who performed well at the point with Stephen Curry out.
The biggest drawback from a fandom perspective is the weather in Milwaukee. If you try bare-chested Parking Lot Chronicles in Wisconsin, you're going to lose some nipples.
The Bulls Sell Ultra High
Bulls Get: Stanley Johnson, Jon Leuer and 2018 first-round pick (lottery protected)
Detroit Pistons Get: Mirotic and Jerian Grant
Mirotic has been phenomenal since returning from a fractured orbital in December, smashing career highs in everything that matters and, most notably, hitting 46.6 percent of his three-point shots.
That may persuade you to say Mirotic is too good for the Bulls to trade, particularly since his return has coincided with a 10-4 stretch.
But let's be realistic. Mirotic can't stay this good forever. So why not strike now and move a guy who seemed destined for a trade just a couple of months ago anyway?
As K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune reported, Mirotic hasn't publicly backed off his willingness to waive the no-trade clause in his deal. More than that, his contract structure, which includes a team option, gives the Bulls some intriguing flexibility to formulate a deal:
"They can dangle Mirotic as an expiring contract if that team doesn't want the option exercised, although Mirotic would have to agree to be traded to that team in that case. Or they can shop him as a productive player on a manageable two-year, $27 million deal, with the Bulls picking up the option before the trade. In that case, that team also would get Bird rights on Mirotic when he becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2019."
However the deal gets structured, the Pistons would get a floor-stretching 4 who could start or come off the bench and close games in spaced-out lineups. Stan Van Gundy has been big on frontcourt shooting since he coached Ryan Anderson in Orlando, and for a Detroit team set to play without Reggie Jackson for at least five more weeks, better spacing could make life easier for Ish Smith, who needs driving lanes.
The Pistons would also cut bait on Johnson, who just hasn't met his potential, get off Leuer's money and add Grant, who might push Smith for minutes at the point. A first-rounder might seem steep, but Mirotic is a fine player on a good deal.
And if the current lottery odds hold, the selection would be somewhere in the 20s. Even if Detroit insisted on heavier protections, it's hard to imagine Chicago backing out.