Post-2016 NBA Free-Agency Blockbuster Trade Ideas

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistJuly 26, 2016

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - NOVEMBER 15: Marcus Smart #36 of the Boston Celtics tries to block Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder during the first quarter of a NBA game at the Chesapeake Energy Arena on November 15, 2015 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by J Pat Carter/Getty Images)
J Pat Carter/Getty Images

Long live hypothetical NBA blockbuster trades—especially now that we've reached the "Dog Days of Summer" portion of the offseason.

Can we get the Los Angeles Clippers to turn Blake Griffin loose? Should the Oklahoma City Thunder deal Russell Westbrook in the wake of Kevin Durant's departure? Is there another star we can move just for (sensible) giggles?

Before we start, bear in mind that players on expiring contracts, Griffin (early-termination option) and Westbrook included, will not command their usual returns. Trade packages can change if they promise to stick around their new digs beyond next season. For now, they are flight risks and will be viewed as such at our imaginary bargaining table. 


Atlanta and Denver Get Weirdly Sensible

DENVER, CO - JANUARY 25: Paul Millsap #4 of the Atlanta Hawks looks on during the game against the Denver Nuggets on January 25, 2016 at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or
Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images

Atlanta Hawks Receive: SF/PF Wilson Chandler, PF Kenneth Faried, SG Gary Harris

Denver Nuggets Receive: PF Paul Millsap, SG/SF Thabo Sefolosha

Earlier in the offseason, the Denver Nuggets had the Atlanta Hawks "biting on a package of picks and players, including Kenneth Faried," for Paul Millsap, according to ESPN.com's Zach Lowe. This was before Al Horford officially left for the Boston Celtics, but the framework still makes sense.

Dwight Howard and Faried pose plenty of frontcourt spacing issues—more than the Hawks would ever experience with a Horford-Howard or Howard-Millsap dyad. But head coach Mike Budenholzer can look to stagger their minutes after the opening tip or bring Faried off the bench from the jump.

Faried won't make more than $13.8 million in a single season through 2018-19. That's second-unit salary in the new cap climate. Wilson Chandler can come in as Atlanta's stretch 4 and help salvage part of the dynamic the team is looking for from the Howard-Millsap tandem.

Though integrating Chandler and Faried may still force the Hawks to take a collective step back up front, Millsap isn't a long-term solution on his own. He will be 32 when he hits free agency next summer, and it could cost more to keep him than the $24.9 million Atlanta would shell out for both Chandler and Faried in 2017-18.

Wilson Chandler and Gary Harris, along with Kenneth Faried, help Atlanta continue its delicate balancing act.
Wilson Chandler and Gary Harris, along with Kenneth Faried, help Atlanta continue its delicate balancing act.Bart Young/Getty Images

Gary Harris is a huge pickup and helps the Hawks toe the line between rebuilding and competing. He won't turn 22 until September, will earn the rookie scale through 2017-18 and doesn't need a ton of touches to make an impact. As Rob Mahoney of SI.com explained:

His pick-and-roll game is nascent—functional in some cases but not yet fully natural or reliable. There will be more opportunity this season for Harris to test out that element of his game, but only because he's subsidized his development with the strength of his work off the ball.

Harris made the ball see him, to borrow Malone's phrasing, and found a lane to playing time and a starting spot. A no-frills cutter who shoots respectably (35.4% from three last season, up from 20.4% the season prior), rebounds competitively, and defends committedly is a difficult one to keep off the floor. 

A Kent Bazemore-Harris-Dennis Schroder troika is one around which the Hawks can build. They all complement each other on the court, and Bazemore, at 27, is the old head of the bunch.

Losing Harris and Chandler in a trade that returns an over-30 power forward on an expiring contract would normally be a no-go for the Nuggets. But 2016 first-round picks Malik Beasley and Jamal Murray give them more than enough depth in the backcourt, and they have the option of replacing Harris with Will Barton in the starting five.

Millsap is the ideal fit for a roster with too many weapons—a playmaking power forward who protects the rim, jumps passing lanes and can score on catch-and-shoot opportunities. Pairing him with Nikola Jokic drives up the appeal of Denver's frontcourt defense and allows head coach Mike Malone to experiment with five-out lineups. 

This isn't a deal the Nuggets pounce on if they don't plan on paying Millsap next summer. Most rebuilding squads cannot justify slinging near-max money for an aging star, but Denver ranks as the exception.

More than they need to worry about developing youngsters, the Nuggets have to make sure there are enough minutes to go around for anyone worth playing. Turning a trio of assets into Millsap simplifies the rotation quite a bit without emptying their stable of basketball kiddies.


Let Westbrook Be Westbrook...in Boston

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - NOVEMBER 15: Avery Bradley #0 of the Boston Celtics tries to stop Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder during the first quarter of a NBA game at the Chesapeake Energy Arena on November 15, 2015 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
J Pat Carter/Getty Images

Boston Celtics Receive: PG Russell Westbrook

Oklahoma City Thunder Receive: SF Jaylen Brown, SG Avery Bradley, SG R.J. Hunter, 2017 first-round pick (right to swap with Brooklyn Nets), 2019 lottery-protected first-round pick (from Los Angeles Clippers, via Boston)

Rival executives told Bleacher Report's Howard Beck that they think Thunder general manager Sam Presti will end up trading Westbrook before the offseason reaches its conclusion. Before the Thunder go down that rabbit hole, though, they will first look to renegotiate the 27-year-old's contract, according to The Vertical's Adrian Wojnarowski.

If Westbrook does hit the chopping block, Oklahoma City figures to demand a king's ransom for his services. But it's incredibly difficult to get adequate value for an impending free agent—even when that flight-risk-to-be is Westbrook.

Interested suitors won't fork over queen and country for someone who can leave over the summer unless they're assured of his return. Westbrook may commit to the Celtics; he might not. Even if he does, Boston's president, Danny Ainge, could decide it's more prudent to chase him in free agency rather than pay a premium for his services now.

The Thunder, in turn, will have to make concessions if they are moving Westbrook. They won't be getting both of Boston's Brooklyn Nets picks. The combination of Brown, Bradley, Hunter, what should be an early lottery selection and another first-rounder is more than fair for a Celtics squad rolling the dice on Westbrook's free agency.

The Thunder do not have a ton of leverage in Westbrook trade talks, which should allow the Celtics to play hardball.
The Thunder do not have a ton of leverage in Westbrook trade talks, which should allow the Celtics to play hardball.J Pat Carter/Getty Images

Bradley, 25, is one of the best defenders at his position and can stroke three-pointers off the catch. The roughly $17 million he is owed through 2017-18 won't break the bank, and he fits perfectly next to the more ball-dominant Victor Oladipo and Cameron Payne.

Brown doesn't project as a superstar after being selected with the third overall pick, but he should make noise as a multi-position defender (2, 3, 4). His stock skyrockets if he develops a jumper, otherwise he's a richer-man's Andre Roberson. 

Hunter will yield surprise gains if his shooting touch from his freshman and sophomore seasons in college ever makes an NBA appearance, and that 2019 lottery-protected Clippers pick will look mighty fine if the Big Three disband before then. The Brooklyn swap comes at the perfect time, before the Nets are too good, and could feasibly put Oklahoma City in line for another top-three choice, in addition to its own selection.

For the Celtics, this is as high as they go without Westbrook guaranteeing his return. Any wink-wink agreement between the two parties gives Ainge license to sweeten the pot, but Boston must prepare for the worst-case scenario of Westbrook bolting in free agency.

In the meantime, the Celtics have an entire year to sell their newest floor general on the city of Boston. That should be pretty easy. Westbrook joins a team that is firmly entrenched in the Eastern Conference contender's circle after acquiring Horford.

Even after acquiring Westbrook, Boston will have enough to construct another blockbuster trade offer.
Even after acquiring Westbrook, Boston will have enough to construct another blockbuster trade offer.Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

There will need to be some give-and-take between Isaiah Thomas and Westbrook, but the two aren't incapable of playing together. Thomas drilled 38.7 percent of his spot-up triples last season, and Westbrook is used to making off-ball beelines toward the basket after playing with Kevin Durant for eight years.

Boston's rotation does get funky after dealing away two swingmen for a point guard. Either Marcus Smart will have to start at shooting guard, or Celtics head honcho Brad Stevens will slot Westbrook as a shooting guard on defense, with Thomas playing beside him.

Still, just imagine those protracted stretches when Boston runs super-small, trotting out Smart, Thomas and Westbrook, with Jae Crowder and Al Horford as its frontcourt. That five-man unit provides the right mix of pesky defense, explosion and spacing. Bet on it becoming Stevens' trademark lineup if this group survives on the glass—and provided Ainge doesn't make another move.

The Celtics still have Crowder, Smart, Thomas and Brooklyn's 2018 first-rounder, plus the expiring pacts of Jonas Jerebko and Amir Johnson, after talking shop with the Thunder. That's enough to keep them in the mix for another high-end wing such as Jimmy Butler, should one become available.


Four-Team Super-Blockbuster

SACRAMENTO, CA - MARCH 18: Blake Griffin #32 of the Los Angeles Clippers looks on during the game against the Sacramento Kings on March 18, 2015 at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by
Rocky Widner/Getty Images

Charlotte Hornets Receive: PF Patrick Patterson, C Jonas Valanciunas

Los Angeles Clippers Receive: SF/PF Rudy Gay, SG/SF Jeremy Lamb, SG Norman Powell, C Cody Zeller, 2018 top-seven protected first-round pick (via Charlotte)

Sacramento Kings Receive: PF/C Spencer Hawes, SF Paul Pierce, PG Delon Wright, 2017 lottery-protected first-round pick (from Los Angeles, via Toronto)

Toronto Raptors Receive: PF Blake Griffin, C Kosta Koufos

"I like our core, and I like our bench, which was really good this year," Clippers coach Doc Rivers said after his team was eliminated from the playoffs by the Portland Trail Blazers, per the Associated Press (via ESPN.com). "I think they all want to come back, and we're going to make a strong effort to bring all our guys back."

True to Rivers' word, the Clippers kept the band together. Nine of their top-10 "minutes-getters" will be back for 2016-17 after they re-signed Jamal Crawford, Wesley Johnson, Luc Mbah a Moute and Austin Rivers.

Sources also told the Orange County Register's Jeff Miller that the team is "focused on adding stars," not trading them away. But Griffin's rumor mill nevertheless churns on. Sporting News' Sean Deveney recently had Boston hot on his trail. Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald refuted those findings, but Los Angeles may (or may not, per HoopsHype's tracker) have shopped their All-Star power forward ahead of this past season's trade deadline.

Dealing Griffin is a complicated process for the Clippers. His value has never been lower. He can opt out of his contract in 2017, and teams are apparently worried about his partially torn left quad tendon, according to Bulpett.

Securing Rudy Gay, Jeremy Lamb, Norman Powell, Cody Zeller and a mid-to-late first-rounder doesn't land the Clippers a Griffin equal, but it considerably deepens the roster and infuses the rotation with some much-needed youth.

Gay can help fill the offensive hole left by Griffin as a small-ball 4.
Gay can help fill the offensive hole left by Griffin as a small-ball 4.Rocky Widner/Getty Images

Gay can come in and play the part of a stretchy 4. He has dabbled at power forward his entire career, and his pedestrian three-point clip (34.4 percent) should take a substantive leap with Chris Paul setting him up for bunnies.

Lamb and Powell are two perimeter fliers, both of whom are under the age of 25 and should function at a high level in secondary catch-and-shoot roles. Powell, to his credit, flashed fringe-star potential in limited exposure with the Toronto Raptors. Cody Zeller replaces Cole Aldrich in ways the Clippers haven't, and the extra first-rounder is something Rivers can use to trade for Jeff Green flesh out the roster even more later on.

Gambling on Griffin is an extension of the Raptors' starry-eyed offseason. They tried to get in on the Serge Ibaka and Millsap sweepstakes, according to ESPN.com's Marc Stein and Lowe. Griffin isn't the rim protector either of those two are, but he can work as a small-ball 5 if you put enough perimeter defenders around him. Toronto can also offset his shortcomings on that end by sliding Kosta Koufos into the starting center spot.

The Sacramento Kings shouldn't blink at joining this party. They are looking to move Gay and Koufos, according to Stein, and this deal offloads both. Spencer Hawes can soak up time as a three-point marksman at the 4 or 5, and Delon Wright is the second point guard Garrett Temple is not.

The Charlotte Hornets shouldn't have any second thoughts here, either—not when they are getting Jonas Valanciunas. He is like a younger version of the departed Al Jefferson, only with more upside as a pick-and-roll finisher.

Grabbing an interior scorer like him on a pre-cap-explosion contract is a big-time steal. The Hornets come out of this looking even better with Patrick Patterson, who instantly becomes the Marvin Williams of their bench.

Do the Clippers or Raptors dare roll the dice on this trade?
Do the Clippers or Raptors dare roll the dice on this trade?Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Any hesitation related to this four-team blockbuster should originate in Los Angeles and/or Toronto. Do the Clippers sell this low on Griffin, knowing they'll have to pawn off other pieces to make room for all the new acquisitions? Do the Raptors give up two of their best trade assets, Powell and Valanciunas, for a flight risk like Griffin?

There are a lot of moving parts involved. But if the Clippers decide to get smaller and younger and the Raptors are still looking for another star to partner with DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, there's a mutual fit here.


Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com unless otherwise cited. Salary information via Basketball Insiders.

Dan Favale covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @danfavale.


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.