Realistic Trades After 1st Month of NBA Free Agency
Successfully completing trades during this portion of the NBA offseason is tough.
The New York Knicks have found that out the hard way, as Carmelo Anthony still remains on their roster. Kyrie Irving hasn't yet been shipped off to a new location, which could present problems for the Cleveland Cavaliers as we move closer toward the 2017-18 campaign.
But this isn't unexpected.
Recently signed free agents can't be moved until December, which drastically diminishes the number of potential deals. Teams are attached to their rookies because the sky is the limit and they've literally never done anything bad on an NBA court. Optimism almost universally reigns supreme, which isn't conducive to wheeling and dealing.
That's not going to stop us, though.
With these five deals, we're improving the present situations for more than a handful of NBA squads.
Kyrie Irving to Phoenix
Phoenix Suns Receive: Kyrie Irving
Cleveland Cavaliers Receive: Dragan Bender, Eric Bledsoe, 2018 first-round pick (via Miami Heat)
This same package is the actual one floating around the interwebs, just with Josh Jackson replacing Dragan Bender. But as Joe Vardon reported for Cleveland.com, "Cleveland also wants Josh Jackson, a 6'8" rookie drafted fourth overall by the Suns in June. Phoenix reportedly doesn't want to trade Jackson, and a source said the Suns told Devin Booker he would not be traded—which would seem to put a serious hamper in this potential trade."
It might for now. But if the Suns are willing to offer something close, essentially replacing this year's prospect with one of last year's lottery picks (Bender was also selected at No. 4), the two sides may still be able to come to an agreement.
Phoenix just doesn't have to be the organization acquiescing.
Cleveland's leverage should logically diminish as we move closer and closer to training camp, preseason action and games that count. At this point, it's inordinately clear Kyrie Irving and LeBron James have little interest in teaming up alongside one another, and forcing them to share a uniform might do more than make the point guard publicly demand a trade. James could also make his intentions to depart next summer painfully obvious, citing the franchise's unwillingness to improve or keep him satisfied.
Plus, this deal still makes sense for both sides.
Phoenix gets its young superstar to pair with Booker, Jackson and Marquese Chriss, while Cleveland remains competitive in the present and stocks its arsenal with rebuilding tools should James flee in 2018. In some ways, Bledsoe may be an even better fit alongside the incumbent members of the Cavaliers' Big Three, given his penchant for physical defense and all-around scoring tools.
Let's make it happen already.
Eric Bledsoe to Denver
Denver Nuggets Receive: Eric Bledsoe
Phoenix Suns Receive: Darrell Arthur, Emmanuel Mudiay, top-10-protected 2018 first-round pick
Picture a starting five comprised of Eric Bledsoe, Gary Harris, Wilson Chandler, Paul Millsap and Nikola Jokic. Now, imagine that the Denver Nuggets still have Jamal Murray, Jameer Nelson, Juancho Hernangomez and Kenneth Faried coming off the pine.
That's a squad that would compete for one of the Western Conference's top four seeds. It has virtually no weaknesses aside from the unproven nature of the second unit, and it boasts two-way assets at four of the five positions.
Even without a fringe All-Star running the show at the 1, Denver already feels like a playoff lock.
Bledsoe could push it over the top.
Of course, this only works if the Suns' deal for Kyrie Irving falls through. Phoenix would prefer landing a superstar at the point, even if Emmanuel Mudiay, Darrell Arthur and a 2018 first-round pick that would likely fall in the 20s is by no means a bad haul.
Mudiay hasn't done much in his NBA career. His jumper remains broken, and his defensive abilities lag well behind where they should be. But lest we forget, the rising junior turned 21 in March and still has plenty of time to live up to the initial billing. In many ways, evaluation has operated on an expedited timetable, forgetting he was supposed to be a long-term project after skipping collegiate play to perform abroad in China.
The Suns could do worse than taking a flier on him, especially because he fits the developmental timetable of their other core pieces and comes with a first-round selection attached at the hip. Parting with Bledsoe and handing the reins to Mudiay/Tyler Ulis would be painful, but it would help facilitate the tanking process in the present and maximize the long-term value of a 27-year-old point guard with a lengthy injury history who might not still be playing at a fringe All-Star level when the rest of the youngsters are truly ready to make the leap.
Carmelo to Houston, Drummond to Knicks in 3-Team Trade
Detroit Pistons Receive: Ryan Anderson, Kyle O'Quinn, Isaiah Taylor, second-round pick (from Houston Rockets)
Houston Rockets: Carmelo Anthony
New York Knicks Receive: Andre Drummond, Isaiah Hartenstein, Shawn Long, Tim Quarterman
Obviously, this move makes sense for the Houston Rockets.
They know Carmelo Anthony wants to end up alongside Chris Paul and James Harden—in fact, that's the only location for which he'll waive his no-trade clause, per Marc Berman of the New York Post—and they can acquire him without giving up anything too substantial, thanks to the three-team trickiness. Losing Ryan Anderson might sting, but Anthony can replace some of his spot-up efforts and add more in different facets of the game.
Parting with Isaiah Taylor, Isaiah Hartenstein, Shawn Long, Tim Quarterman or a second-round pick should hardly be a deal-breaker, though it does force general manager Daryl Morey to go digging for more end-of-bench pieces.
The Detroit Pistons are the team in the middle, likely to go along with the deal but neither loving nor hating the return. Their inclusion rests upon head coach/president of basketball operations Stan Van Gundy continuing to covet Ryan Anderson, who thrived during their mutual time with the Orlando Magic. It's been no secret that the executive has previously pursued his former player.
But are Anderson, Kyle O'Quinn and a second-round pick enough to sway them into parting with Andre Drummond?
They should be after considering O'Quinn's underrated play and the ability to back out of Drummond's massive contract. Some advanced metrics even had the New York Knicks big man outplaying his Detroit counterpart: O'Quinn sat at No. 152 in ESPN.com's real plus/minus and No. 48 in NBA Math's total points added, while Drummond placed Nos. 155 and 84, respectively.
Drummond is obviously better in a vacuum, but O'Quinn's under-the-radar performances off the bench and in a smaller role make losing the 23-year-old center more palatable.
Finally, we come to the Knicks.
This deal isn't perfect. They're not getting any picks out of the three-team party, and Drummond's arrival would push Kristaps Porzingis firmly to the 4, where he's been a bit less successful. But it still works.
Not only are they adding long-term talent, but Drummond has the mobility necessary to cover stretchier frontcourt players and create a tremendous defensive frontcourt alongside Porzingis. He could work with both the Latvian upstart and Willy Hernangomez to create a terrifying rotation with plenty of time to grow together.
It's not perfect, but this may be the best option if they're still set on parting with Anthony.
Atlanta Hawks Turn on the Tank
Los Angeles Clippers Receive: Kent Bazemore
Atlanta Hawks Receive: Lou Williams, Wesley Johnson, Montrezl Harrell
The Atlanta Hawks aren't done plunging toward the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings. One offseason after Jeff Teague walked to the Indiana Pacers (from where he departed for the Minnesota Timberwolves this summer), they shipped Dwight Howard to the Charlotte Hornets for Marco Belinelli and Miles Plumlee, then facilitated Paul Millsap's exit to the Denver Nuggets with a three-team sign-and-trade.
Next up? Kent Bazemore.
The swingman isn't a star. He's not going to keep the Hawks from their descent into unmitigated futility and a legitimate pursuit of Michael Porter Jr./Luka Doncic/Marvin Bagley(?). But he does have $54.3 million remaining on the next three years of his contract, including a player option for 2019-20 he's almost sure to pick up.
That's what the Hawks would presumably love to clear from their books, especially if they can get their hands on an intriguing prospect such as Montrezl Harrell. Wesley Johnson and Lou Williams are useful veterans, but it's the outgoing money and Harrell's upside that function as the primary draws.
As for the Los Angeles Clippers' reasoning, well, let's turn to Bleacher Report's Zach Buckley, who originally came up with this potential trade:
"Assuming the Clippers can remain competitive, their path out of the Western Conference will take them through a gauntlet of high-scoring wings—Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, James Harden, Paul George, Jimmy Butler, etc. They can't go into those battles thinking Gallinari is the defensive answer.
"Bazemore might not be either, but he can make a more compelling argument. He's athletic, energetic and armed with a 6'11.5" wingspan. Oh, he's also readily available after disappointing in the first year of a four-year, $70 million contract."
Good enough for me.
Jahlil Okafor Is Finally on the Move
Chicago Bulls Receive: Jahlil Okafor
Philadelphia 76ers Receive: David Nwaba, Cameron Payne
Sometimes, the best trades come out of nowhere and are almost solely intended to clear up logjams.
The Chicago Bulls have far too many unproven point guards on their roster, and it's unlikely Cameron Payne will get a true chance to shine while competing for minutes with Kris Dunn and Jerian Grant. If they fail to learn from the Minnesota Timberwolves' mistakes and grant Zach LaVine minutes as a floor general, that'll only compound the issue.
The Philadelphia 76ers, meanwhile, have Joel Embiid and Richaun Holmes (rightfully) ahead of Jahlil Okafor in the center pecking order. Amir Johnson can also play the 5, and there's no telling how much small ball head coach Brett Brown will insist on running at the backup centers' expense.
But Philly is still trying to cobble together depth in the backcourt, since T.J. McConnell possesses limited upside and Jerryd Bayless' effectiveness is unknown following last year's season-ending wrist injury. Meanwhile, Chicago could use another quality big. Cristiano Felicio doesn't possess top-end upside, and Robin Lopez is already 29 years old.
Swapping these youngsters just makes sense. And if you're worried about Okafor's potential fit in Fred Hoiberg's uptempo schemes, allow Bleacher Report's Dan Favale to assuage those fears:
"In no way does Okafor fit the offensive mold for Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg. He finally has the opportunity to install a faster-paced system, and Okafor's post moves and face-ups slow things down while cramping Chicago's already shaky spacing.
"Still, the Bulls' rebuild is in its infancy. It doesn't hurt to take on an at-times crafty big, even if it's to test his mettle as a second-unit alpha."
Ultimately, this boils down to a simple question: What do either of these organizations have to lose with such a deal?
As it turns out, "nothing" is a perfectly valid answer.
Adam Fromal covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @fromal09.