Free Trade: NBA Deals to Consider at Quarter Mark of 2015-16 Season

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistDecember 11, 2015

Houston Rockets' Ty Lawson (3) shoots under pressure from New Orleans Pelicans' Ryan Anderson (33) in the second half of a preseason NBA basketball game Monday, Oct. 19, 2015, in Houston. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)
Pat Sullivan/Associated Press

Did someone sound the NBA's trade-season gong?

There is a growing sense of purpose emanating out of the league's rumor mills these days. General managers have undoubtedly circled the imminent, and infamous, Dec. 15 on their calendars. That's when (most) players who signed new contracts over the offseason are first eligible to be traded, increasing the Association's pool of moveable assets by a considerable margin.

And with that increase looming, we're back to playing "Let's Make a Trade."

Here's a refresher on how it works: Yours truly will bring three totally made-up, not-at-all real deals to the table. Bleacher Report's Grant Hughes will then provide feedback on these deals, along with a final verdict on whether they're plausible.

See? It's that simple.

So, let's make some trades.

Ty Lawson's Third Chance

Lawson needs yet another fresh start.
Lawson needs yet another fresh start.Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

Houston Rockets Get: SG O.J. Mayo and PG Greivis Vasquez

Milwaukee Bucks Get: PG Ty Lawson

Dan Favale: The Rockets are ready to cut bait with Lawson. We think.

Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders had them "sniffing" around the league for suitors. He backtracked a bit soon after, noting that while the point guard can be had, Houston isn't actively looking to move him—which jibes with what Lawson himself has been told, per ESPN.com's Calvin Watkins:

Irrespective of what's being churned out of the rumor mill, there's no way Lawson is untouchable. His role within Houston's offense remains in constant flux under interim head coach J.B. Bickerstaff, and he's posting career lows in nearly every statistical category.

And that's part of the Rockets' problem. They picked up Lawson from the Denver Nuggets at a discounted price, and now his value is even lower. Their best, and perhaps lone, selling point is that Lawson's $13.2 million salary next season is non-guaranteed. That's almost as good as an expiring deal, and it makes him at least desirable for any team willing to take a low-risk flier on a once-impactful floor general.

If there is any should-be buyer willing to bet on Lawson's revival, it's the Bucks. Though their offensive standing has improved in rank this season compared to last, they're actually averaging fewer points per 100 possessions. Their point guards also fall inside the bottom five of collective offensive efficiency, according to HoopsStats.com.

This isn't shocking given the Bucks staff. Jerryd Bayless is more of an undersized 2-guard, Tyler Ennis doesn't see the floor and Vasquez left his three-point touch in Toronto. Michael Carter-Williams, most importantly, hasn't developed enough under head coach Jason Kidd.

Some of his shooting percentages have improved since he left the Philadelphia 76ers, but that's not saying much. To wit: Since the dawn of the three-point line, 315 players have attempted at least 2,000 shots through their first three seasons. Carter-Williams' effective field-goal percentage—measurement of two-point and three-point accuracy—ranks 312th among those who make that list.

Lawson projects as an offensive upgrade over Carter-Williams.
Lawson projects as an offensive upgrade over Carter-Williams.Kent Smith/Getty Images

Lawson's success rate from deep has imploded in Houston, but he's shooting better than 36 percent from distance for his career. He'll spread the Milwaukee defense more than Carter-Williams ever has, leaving additional room for Greg Monroe's post-ups, Giannis Antetokounmpo's slashes and Khris Middleton's perimeter everything.

Adding Lawson does compromise the Bucks defense—insofar as there is something to compromise. Kidd's kiddies rank in the bottom three of points allowed per 100 possessions one season after cracking the top five. They need an identity on both sides of the court, and Lawson, as a starter or reserve, brings them closer to forging one on offense.

Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, meanwhile, should jump on this deal.

With the exception of his time in Milwaukee, Vasquez has long been a better off-ball point man than Lawson. He splashed home 42.4 percent of his catch-and-shoot treys last season and won't look out of place next to the rock-dominant James Harden.

Mayo is to Houston what Lawson is to Milwaukee: a low-risk flier. He is shooting 37-plus percent from long range for his career and, on most nights, has the potential to be an upgrade over Corey Brewer.

Both Mayo and Vasquez come off the books this summer, so Houston needn't worry about adjusting its free-agency plans. Morey will be able to sleep at night, and the Rockets will be adequately equipped to re-enter the championship peripheral.

Yay or Nay?

Are Mayo and Vasquez a good enough fit in Houston?
Are Mayo and Vasquez a good enough fit in Houston?Pat Sullivan/Associated Press

Grant Hughes: We're off to a good start here, as this one earns an emphatic "yay" from me for a couple of reasons.

First, it's increasingly clear the Rockets need to cut bait on Lawson, who's been better lately but just doesn't make a lot of sense alongside their best player. And if you're in Houston's position, where, even after an awful start, you're thinking about who'll finish games for you in the playoffs, Lawson isn't helping you.

I like Mayo quite a bit and might actually view him as a better running mate for Harden than Vasquez. Admittedly, Mayo has been bad this year, but one of his most demonstrable NBA skills over the years has been his three-point shooting. A guy with a career accuracy rate of 37.5 percent from deep will find a welcoming environment in Houston's trey-happy scheme.

For the Bucks, Dan, you hit it: Their defense can't get a whole lot worse this year, so adding the mostly one-way Lawson isn't fatal. Plus, if Michael Carter-Williams sorts himself out at some point, he's the guy they'll lean on when they need stops anyhow.

Maybe it's silly to believe Lawson can get it going anywhere given his decline this season, but it's obvious Milwaukee needs somebody to attack the rim, hit an open shot and find teammates in the pick-and-roll. The Bucks have players who can do one or two of those things, but they really don't have one who's proved in the past he can do them all.

Verdict: Go for it. Houston sheds an underperforming gamble and takes on a couple of safer pieces who fit better. The Bucks get a crack at a risky rental who, when right, can do things nobody else on their roster can.

Ryno and Superman, Together Again (Dec. 15)

Anderson is the established stretch 4 Houston doesn't currently employ.
Anderson is the established stretch 4 Houston doesn't currently employ.Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Houston Rockets Get: PF Ryan Anderson and PG Norris Cole

New Orleans Pelicans Get: SF Corey Brewer, F/C Terrence Jones and SG K.J. McDaniels

Dan Favale: Anderson is set to explore free agency this summer and, after turning 28, will be seeking a lucrative long-term deal. The Pelicans are caught in that fuzzy area between rebuilding and competing, and being that Anthony Davis mostly plays the same position, they're unlikely to shell out what it'll take to keep Anderson.

Rather than potentially lose him for nothing, the front office has started sussing out deals for the floor-spacing 4, according to the Times-Picayune's John Reid. And as Reid explains, for the Pelicans to continue their delicate, albeit seriously slumping, balancing act, they need to seek a specific return:

If they move Anderson, they should look to improve the small forward spot and maybe add another scoring option who can come off the bench. They are not getting enough scoring between Alonzo Gee and Dante Cunningham, and there remains no set date when Quincy Pondexter will return from his knee injury that required surgery in May.

Brewer and McDaniels are at least marginal upgrades on the wings. Brewer's sub-35 percent shooting isn't attractive, and he's a notoriously overrated defender, but he hustles and can make the occasional big play. McDaniels, while an offensive project, is long and plays defense like a hybrid shooting guard-power forward.

With Eric Gordon slated for free agency, Pondexter on the shelf and Cunningham and Gee proving to be non-factors, Brewer and McDaniels set up New Orleans' swingman rotation through this season and beyond. And if it doesn't work out, both are on cap-friendly deals that can be unloaded whenever.

Jones is the meat and potatoes of this deal. The thought of him starting alongside Davis is harrowing. Both can play either the 4 or 5, and Jones' rim-protection numbers are statistically comparable to those of his would-be teammate.

Omer Asik's cap-clogging deal and Alexis Ajinca's reasonably priced pact do affect the logistics behind this move. Jones is approaching restricted free agency and will command a pretty penny. The last thing New Orleans should want to do is gum up its rotation with too many bigs.

But Asik doesn't look like a basketball player anymore. Jones is more serviceable on the offensive end and, unlike Asik, actually has a puncher's hope of defending rival stretch forwards. The Pelicans have every reason to give Jones a chance and figure out how to dump Asik—and the $43.8 million he's still owed after this season—at a later date.

Davis and Jones would make for quite the frontcourt tandem.
Davis and Jones would make for quite the frontcourt tandem.Bill Baptist/Getty Images

For Houston, this proposal works as a nice complement to the Lawson trade. 

Acquiring Mayo renders Brewer expendable; McDaniels doesn't play; Cole forms a nice three-headed platoon at point guard with Patrick Beverley and Vasquez; and Houston's offense simply cannot pass on Anderson's 37-plus percent shooting from downtown.

This is only even remotely unattractive for the Rockets because of Anderson's contract situation. They have the right to match any offer Jones receives in restricted free agency, while Anderson can flat-out bolt—hence why, per Watkins, they're reluctant to talk turkey on Jones at all:

Still, having both Jones and Donatas Motiejunas, who just returned from a back injury and will also be a restricted free agent this summer, is redundant. Houston will own Anderson's Bird rights and doesn't have to worry about being outbid.

Plus, because both Anderson's and Cole's deals can come off the books, the Rockets trim nearly $10.9 million off next season's bottom line—in addition to whatever they might have spent on Jones.

Re-signing Anderson, Dwight Howard (player option) and Motiejunas would eat into their flexibility, but with so many commitments in the wind, they'll be perfectly positioned to turn this summer's free-agent market into their own personal playground.

 Yay or Nay?

Are the Rockets ready to move on from Jones?
Are the Rockets ready to move on from Jones?Bill Baptist/Getty Images

Grant Hughes: I get the Pelicans' inclination to make a move, and the risk of losing Anderson for nothing is good motivation to hustle on that front. But if I'm New Orleans, I'm pushing for a draft pick in return because I need more young, cheap talent to grow with Davis and offset the silly contracts I've doled out lately.

The real-world Pelicans seem far more concerned with bringing in mid-career vets than realistically building through the draft around AD, so maybe my aims aren't a great guide. Maybe Jones is a good difference-splitting option, though: good enough to contribute nicely alongside Davis, but also young enough to improve with him for a few more years.

The real issue for me is on the other side. I'm not sure why the Rockets do this.

Anderson is effective at the limited things he does. But even if he represented a marginal upgrade over Jones, I'm not convinced Houston would surrender two things it has always highly valued: flexibility and cost-controlled assets.

Jones' restricted status is important, as it assures the Rockets they'll control his future one way or the other. Exchanging that for the unrestricted Anderson doesn't seem like a Morey move (though, it's also true Houston likes freed-up cap space, which the expiring Anderson would provide this summer).

Brewer's overpaid, but not horribly in the rising-cap environment, and McDaniels probably fits that same description.

The Rockets just don't strike me as a team whose history suggests it'd give up a decent vet and two cheap, young players firmly under team control for short-term help.

And if you're wondering whether I forgot about Cole, I didn't. He's not a needle-mover and didn't warrant a mention.

Verdict: I'd consider this if I'm the Pelicans, but the Rockets side doesn't pass muster. Also: Don't offer Norris Cole in a trade again. It's mean.

Markieff Gets His Wish

If it wasn't clear before, it's clear now: Morris and the Suns need to go separate ways.
If it wasn't clear before, it's clear now: Morris and the Suns need to go separate ways.Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images

Memphis Grizzlies Get: PF Markieff Morris

Phoenix Suns Get: PF JaMychal Green, F Jeff Green and 2016 first-rounder (via Boston or Toronto)

Dan Favale: League sources told ESPN.com's Marc Stein that the Suns are finally amenable to granting the trade request Morris demanded after the team shipped his brother, Marcus Morris, to the Detroit Pistons.

Stein cited the Rockets as a potential suitor, indicating they would build a package around Jones. Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski and Shams Charania followed up with a report that stated the Pelicans and Suns were working on the framework of an Anderson-Morris swap.

So, yeah, that's not happening—or at least it shouldn't.

Between the trade demand, off-court assault charges and career-worst shooting percentages, Morris' value has never been lower. His upside is wholly dependent on his contract. He won't earn more than $8.6 million in a single season through 2018-19, which sounds good overall, just not when he's losing minutes to Jon Leuer and Mirza Teletovic.

The Suns should consider themselves lucky if they can extract this much out of the Grizzlies. 

JaMychal Green and Jeff Green make for a good enough return on the disgruntled Morris.
JaMychal Green and Jeff Green make for a good enough return on the disgruntled Morris.Danny Moloshok/Associated Press

Jeff Green's contract essentially cancels out Morris' deal this season and comes off the books in time for free agency. And if we learned anything about the Suns last summer, as they signed Tyson Chandler and pursued LaMarcus Aldridge, it's that they're ready to make some free-agent noise.

JaMychal Green, just 25 years old, would arrive in Phoenix as a legitimate frontcourt prospect. He has shown he can stroke threes, owns one of Memphis' best net ratings and might have more to offer a team such as Phoenix—as in one that doesn't rank in the bottom 10 of pace.

The Grizzlies just need to make a change. That they stand above .500 is nothing short of miraculous. They sit inside the bottom 10 of points scored and allowed per 100 possessions and lack the roster versatility necessary to contend in today's league.

Morris is best suited at power forward but more likely to provide meaningful minutes at small forward than Jeff Green. He knows how to hit the open man in face-ups and inside the post, much like Zach Randolph, and he should work as a primary scorer off the bench.

As time moves on, Morris also allows the Grizzlies some wiggle room up front. They cannot afford to pack the paint with Gasol and Randolph forever, and Morris could morph into the playmaking 4 they need by the time Randolph's contract is up in 2017. 

Yay or Nay?

Does Morris make sense for the Grizzlies?
Does Morris make sense for the Grizzlies?Joe Murphy/Getty Images

Grant Hughes: I was hoping there'd be a Morris trade, and the fact that this one gives me a chance to lay out the following immutable law of basketball makes it even better.

Ready? Here's the law: If you can get Jeff Green off your basketball team, you do it.

That truism, coupled with the drool-worthy buy-low opportunity on Morris, makes this enticing for the Grizzlies. Even with his off-court issues and troubling mail-in job in Phoenix this year, Morris would be a major talent upgrade. He would, as you mentioned, shuttle between forward spots and give the Grizzlies some dynamic play where there was none before.

And I think the Suns should be pretty happy to get anything of value for Morris, who has essentially quit and even with his terrific contract, is basically worth nothing to them. This is one of those cases where a good contract doesn't exist in a vacuum. Morris is a major value at $8.6 million if he's engaged and trying, but he's not doing that in Phoenix, so he's effectively $8.6 million in dead money.

Opportunity cost is a consideration, of course. So if Phoenix can do better than this deal, it should. But if you're waiting for another suitor to offer up a first-rounder for Morris...well, just keep waiting.

A second-rounder, Jeff Green's expiring contract and a look at the other Green, JaMychal, is a pretty good haul for a player everyone knows doesn't want to be where he is.

Verdict: You've got another trade approval. Both sides cut loose guys they don't want (or in Green's case, shouldn't want) and set themselves up a little better for the future.

Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com unless otherwise cited and are accurate leading into games on Dec. 11. Draft-pick commitments via RealGM.

Dan Favale and Grant Hughes cover the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow them on Twitter, @danfavale and @gt_hughes.

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