One Trade to Help Each Contender Catch the Golden State Warriors

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistJune 27, 2017

One Trade to Help Each Contender Catch the Golden State Warriors

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    The Golden State Warriors are forcing opponents to play the game on their own switchy, undersized, two-way, up-and-down terms.

    It's true the game itself is changing, but it's also obvious that the Warriors are the most aggressive agents of that change. The rise of three-point shooting, the premium on defensive versatility and the need for multiple creators are the new norms—and the Dubs have more players who are abnormally good at those things than anyone.

    Beating them, a pipe dream for all but the most serious contenders, requires weapons similar (if not equal) to the ones they've got: more wings, more shooting, more multi-positional types.

    How can the handful of viable competitors tweak their rosters to better compete with the Warriors?

    That's the question five clubs are asking themselves this summer, and the real answer, barring a key injury in Golden State, is probably "they can't."

    But it's still worth trying.

    Here, we'll cook up trades to improve contenders' rosters in ways that make them more competitive against the Dubs. We'll make the deals legal under the CBA, use each key acquisition only once (giving Paul George to everyone is against the rules) and do our best to justify why both parties would pull the trigger.

    If nothing else, this should illustrate just how difficult it'll be for someone to dethrone the Dubs.

Cleveland Cavaliers

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    Ron Hoskins/Getty Images

    Cleveland Cavaliers Get: Paul George

    Denver Nuggets Get: Kevin Love

    Indiana Pacers Get: Juancho Hernangomez, Nuggets 2018 First-Round Pick (lottery protected), Cavaliers 2021 First-Round Pick (unprotected)

    ESPN.com's Chris Haynes and Marc Stein reported the Cavs are still in on the George chase and brought the Nuggets aboard in a possible three-team deal. Nobody seems to know which Nuggets players might be involved, but Indiana should be looking for a pair of first-rounders and a young asset—if it's rebuilding, which it should be.

    If Denver would part with a package including Nikola Jokic, Gary Harris or Jamal Murray, this deal would already be done. That it hasn't (and shouldn't) suggests Indiana will have to aim lower.

    Denver, even if it improves significantly with Love, may still struggle to make the playoffs. But it's difficult to deny how well he'd fit with Jokic up front, where his shooting and passing would take an already excellent Nuggets offense into truly elite territory. To Denver, Love is easily worth a mid-first-rounder, though parting with Hernangomez would be difficult.

    There's a good chance that 2021 asset from the Cavs comes after LeBron James is gone...which means it could be high in the lottery.

    Indy gets three key pieces to keep or flip as it builds around Myles Turner, Cleveland has no problem selling a future asset with Love while in ultimate win-now mode and Denver adds a perfect power forward alongside Jokic—without losing any of its backcourt core.

    George is easily the best anti-Warriors weapon on the trade market: long, versatile, defensively fearsome and as capable of anyone against Kevin Durant. So it's difficult to imagine any price is too high for the Cavs, who are the best threat to beat the Dubs as long as James is around.

    This deal admittedly looks worst for the Pacers, but the fact that George hasn't moved yet indicates there may not be much on offer from a league that knows Indiana will lose PG for nothing in a year. Two firsts and a second-year big man might be the best Indiana can do.

San Antonio Spurs

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    Danny Bollinger/Getty Images

    San Antonio Spurs Get: Wilson Chandler, Emmanuel Mudiay, Trey Lyles

    Denver Nuggets Get: LaMarcus Aldridge

    Aldridge is clearly the best player in this deal, but in addition to a terrific and affordable wing in Chandler, the Spurs get back a pair of young talents they'll almost certainly brainwash and turn into perfect rotation weapons.

    Chandler is the key for San Antonio, as he'd team with Kawhi Leonard in a hybrid frontcourt better suited to take on Golden State's Durant-Draymond Green tandem. It'd be a small 4-5 combo—far smaller than anything we've seen Gregg Popovich throw out there in the past.

    But the time for change is now.

    You'd be hard-pressed to find a superior three-wing combo, particularly on defense, than Danny Green, Leonard and Chandler. Not necessarily because they're the most talented, but because they could all match up well with at least three positions on D while stretching the floor to the three-point line on the other end.

    Maybe this doesn't feel like enough for Aldridge, but remember: He proved he wasn't all that useful against Golden State this past postseason. He couldn't score consistently, which wouldn't have been such a significant problem if Leonard had been healthy. But on defense, he's simply not mobile enough to defend the Warriors' best lineups.

    Chandler is the better option in this specific "must beat Golden State" scenario.

    And hey, if Mudiay leverages his size and morphs into a shot-creating, game-managing defender, even better. Lyles' ability to shoot makes him another worthwhile weapon—one the Spurs could also rehabilitate enough on defense to use.

    If you think Lyles and Mudiay are lost causes on D, just remember San Antonio dominated on that end while giving minutes to Tony Parker and David Lee all year.

Boston Celtics

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    Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

    Boston Celtics Get: Anthony Davis, Omer Asik

    New Orleans Pelicans Get: Brooklyn Nets 2018 First-Round Pick, Jayson Tatum or Jaylen Brown, Al Horford, Terry Rozier

    OK, that sounds like a lot for the Celtics to surrender, and they have to take on Omer Asik's terrible contract to make the salaries match. But this is Anthony Davis we're talking about: a super-duper star under contract for four more seasons.

    Boston retains a core of Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Marcus Smart, Jae Crowder, Brown or Tatum, and adds one of the few true big men athletic enough to stay on the floor against Golden State. AD averaged a league-high 35.3 points per game in four meetings with the Warriors last year, shooting 60.3 percent from the field, while grabbing 12.7 rebounds and blocking 2.3 shots.

    And even with Asik's bloated deal (which the Celtics could stretch), there's still a chance to move some money around and sign Gordon Hayward.

    Which means Boston, which finished with the East's top seed last year, could trot out Thomas, Hayward and Davis with a handful of defensive-minded wings ready to get after the Dubs (and the Cavs before them in a likely East Finals rematch).

    That's hard to beat.

    Now, there's a possibility New Orleans will never trade Davis. But suppose Jrue Holiday walks in free agency, things go sideways or simply don't work with DeMarcus Cousins, and AD sees a roster in 2019 that features himself and, well, nothing.

    Might he push for a move? Might he make it clear to the Pels that he wants out as soon as Holiday hypothetically bolts?

    It's a stretch, but if New Orleans strongly suspected Davis would agitate for a trade, getting a high lottery pick, the No. 3 overall selection from either the 2017 or 2018 draft (take your pick, Pels; it's up to you), plus Horford locked into a long-term deal would be a major return.

    It'd be close to 80 cents on the dollar for Davis, which would sting. But as we're seeing with George in Indiana, it's not always easy to get full value for a superstar.

    For my money, Boston is still the most realistic destination for George. Pairing him with Hayward makes Boston terrifying for any team, and particularly dangerous against the Warriors.

    But you'd have to think if Boston really wanted to make that move, it would have done it already. It has the assets.

    Perhaps its hesitation stems from fixating on an even bigger get like Davis.

Houston Rockets

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    Gary Dineen/Getty Images

    Houston Rockets Get: Nicolas Batum

    Charlotte Hornets Get: Ryan Anderson and Patrick Beverley, 2018 first-round pick (top-20 protected)

    Ryan Anderson's lack of mobility means he can't play against the Warriors. No way. No how. So the Rockets need to get off his contract and find someone who can.

    Anderson is coming off a season in which he performed as well as Houston or anyone else could have possibly expected. So in addition to his lack of utility against the Dubs, the Rockets should also be motivated to move him while his value is at its peak.

    The Hornets should be looking for knockdown shooters to pair with Dwight Howard up front, and Anderson had loads of success in that exact role with Dwight in Orlando. Marvin Williams is a similar player and just re-signed last summer, but he wouldn't be that hard to move if the Hornets wanted to cut out redundancy.

    Keeping him as depth wouldn't hurt, either.

    Beverley is on a bargain deal and offers excellent insurance for Kemba Walker. Playing both together would also be an option, as Beverley's defensive tenacity makes him viable as a defender against most shooting guards.

    Houston comes up big here, especially if the $5 million it saves by making this deal increases the odds of Chris Paul's arrival in free agency.

    Batum is a facilitating wing with a career 35.7 percent conversion rate from deep. Though he's willowy, his 6'8" size and length also make him useful in a switching defensive scheme. He could play anything from 1-4 in undersized groups.

    With James Harden, Trevor Ariza and Batum, the Rockets look much more like a team prepared to meet the Warriors in a modern small-ball battle.

Los Angeles Clippers

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    Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

    Los Angeles Clippers Get: Taurean Prince, Kent Bazemore, DeAndre' Bembry

    Atlanta Hawks Get: DeAndre Jordan

    If the Hawks don't retain Paul Millsap in free agency, you can forget about this one. They'll be fully focused on a rebuild, and keeping those three young wings will be a much higher priority than adding a center with two years left on his contract.

    If it feels like the Clippers aren't getting enough here, it's because they aren't.

    That this is the best L.A. can do under the circumstances (it doesn't help that we've already used up George, Chandler and Batum on other teams) says a great deal about the Clips' personnel quagmire.

    Teams with wings that might possibly be available don't need centers. Denver, for example, is perfectly satisfied with Jokic. And you can't trade Jordan to any team with designs on beating the Warriors because they don't want old-school big men.

    And with CP3, Blake Griffin and J.J. Redick all unrestricted free agents, Jordan is really L.A's only tradable asset.

    In a strange way, this exercise reveals that if the Clippers want to be their best selves this season, they should just bring everyone back (with the exception of Redick, who's most likely to leave no matter what). Sadly, we know the best possible version of the Clips isn't close to competing with the Dubs.

    Last year, Los Angeles was 0-4 and lost by an average of 21.5 points per game against Golden State.

    So the Clippers can keep most of their veteran core, trade Jordan and get crushed.

    Or they can keep most of their veteran core, not trade Jordan and get crushed.

    Locking in 55 wins never felt so bleak.

    Follow Grant on Twitter and Facebook.

    Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference or NBA.com. Salary info via Basketball Insiders.

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