NBA Trade Deadline 2018: Grading Every Trade
Few, if any, knew what to expect ahead of the NBA's trade deadline on Thursday.
"Teams are still reeling from the summer of 2016's spending craze," some said. "Gear up for relative inactivity or the usual heaping doses of 11th-hour chaos," others implored.
Yeah, sure. As if #ThisLeague would ever treat us to anything short of under-the-wire mayhem.
Deals were made. Players were swapped. Championship hopes were bolstered. Surprises were unveiled. The Cleveland Cavaliers Cavalier'd. The San Antonio Spurs Spurs'd, which is the exact opposite of Cavalier'd (i.e. they remained idle). The Los Angeles Clippers bluffed.
Fun was had.
And now, we get to have some more fun, with first-look grades for every trade that took place during the Association's silliest season—beginning with Blake Griffin's relocation to Motor City.
Cleveland Completes Its Midseason Demolition
Cleveland Cavaliers Receive: PG/SG George Hill, SG/SF Rodney Hood
Sacramento Kings Receive: SF/PF Joe Johnson, SG/SF Iman Shumpert, 2020 second-round pick (from Miami, via Cleveland)
Utah Jazz Receive: SF/PF Jae Crowder, PG Derrick Rose
Properly judging this trade demands we look at the Cavaliers' deadline happenings in the aggregate:
- Cleveland Outgoing: Jae Crowder, Channing Frye, Derrick Rose, Iman Shumpert, Isaiah Thomas, Dwyane Wade, 2018 first-round pick, 2020 second-round (via Miami)
- Cleveland Incoming: Jordan Clarkson, George Hill, Rodney Hood, Larry Nance Jr.
Viewed in different terms, the Cavaliers turned Frye, Shumpert and Kyrie Irving into Clarkson, Hill, Hood, Nance, Ante Zizic and the Brooklyn Nets' 2018 first-round pick. That's pretty damn good. (Though, in all fairness, many of us felt the same way about the initial Irving trade.)
Plenty of risk is caked into the Cavaliers' frenzy. Paying a combined $31.5 million for Clarkson and Hill won't sit right if LeBron James leaves in free agency. Hood is also up for a new contract this summer (restricted), while Nance will be due a raise in 2019 (restricted). Cleveland will pay a pretty premium to keep this roster together, with or without LeBron.
In the meantime, the Cavaliers are a lot longer and switchier than before—and thus, better suited to wage postseason warfare with the Boston Celtics and prospective NBA Finals foes like the Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors.
Overturning so much of the roster mid-stream is seldom the smartest course. It takes time to integrate and acclimate, and the best benefits often aren't reaped until the following year. The Cavaliers don't have that kind of time.
Yet, in addition to retaining that Brooklyn selection, their deadline dance only cost them one of their six most-used players. It doesn't get much better than that—even after accounting for the pick and cap space the Cavs sent to the Lakers.
Cutting Hill's salary from next season's cap sheet is a nice little pivot from the Kings. They save about $8 million for 2018-19 with this deal—flexibility they can use to swallow unwanted deals elsewhere in exchange for picks and cost-controlled prospects.
This should have been the route Sacramento took over the offseason, when the front office was busy doling out contracts to veterans who didn't fit the team's new timeline. But hey, better late than never! Especially when that 2020 second-round pick helps offset the Kings' lack of punctuality.
On a completely unrelated note: Just about every contender in the league will now on Joe Johnson buyout watch.
Utah Jazz: B+
More than a few Jazz fans will be left feeling uncomfortable about this trade. Rage against that discontent.
Utah is getting a nice haul here. Hood's offensive game is a tad redundant following the emergence of Donovan Mitchell, and he would have cost a small fortune to retain in restricted free agency.
Crowder has underperformed since joining the Cavaliers, but a change of scenery—in other words: less Cleveland drama—could do him some good. He offers more defensive range than Hood when healthy and has the physical profile to soak up Johnson's minutes at power forward.
Best of all, with two years and $15.1 million left on his deal, he could wind up costing the Jazz roughly one-third of what Hood will take home annually in his next contract. Also, if it helps, Rose won't be sticking around. So, yay to that!
Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Join The Land
Cleveland Cavaliers Receive: PG/SG Jordan Clarkson, PF/C Larry Nance Jr.
Los Angeles Lakers Receive: PF/C Channing Frye, PG Isaiah Thomas, 2018 first-round pick
"I'm tired of being traded," Isaiah Thomas said after the Cavaliers' Wednesday night victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves, per Cleveland.com's Joe Vardon. "That's not a good thing, but I just want to be where I'm wanted. I like it here. It hasn't been as planned, but I definitely want to be here."
Thomas wasn't working out with the Cavaliers. They don't have the surrounding defenders to cover up for him, and his shooting percentages have plummeted to career-worst levels. Getting Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. helps the Cavaliers on almost every front. Clarkson is an upgrade over any non-LeBron James option at point guard, and Nance adds some much-needed switchability in the frontcourt at both the 4 and 5.
But, like, the Lakers? Really? Breaking bread with them is a daring, verging on reckless, move. By sending back two expiring contracts and absorbing Clarkson, the Cavaliers have given them an effortless path to carving out two max-contract slots this summer, theoretically strengthening the Lakers' free-agency pitch to...LeBron James.
Teams cannot always think in these fear-fraught terms, but Cleveland knows better than most how detrimental doing business with direct rivals can be. (Kyrie Irving to Boston anyone?) And let's not pretend this return is a picture-perfect fit.
Clarkson can flat-out score, but he's not accustomed to a high-usage off-ball role. Most of his baskets go unassisted, and he's never been the best cutter. The Cavaliers are gambling with their present just as much as their future.
So much for the Lakers shifting their focus to 2019 free agency.
Wiping Clarkson and Nance's salaries from the ledger in exchange for expiring contracts gives them more than $44 million in cap space if they carry Julius Randle's hold and renounce all their other free agents. That number jumps closer to $56 million if they tell Randle to take a hike as well.
That isn't quite enough to afford both James and Paul George, but the Lakers can dredge up the extra $10 million or so in room by stretching Luol Deng or keeping their fingers crossed for pay-cut behavior.
To get a first-round pick on top of clearing this space is a big deal. Grabbing a partial-season flier on Thomas isn't nothing either. Having his Bird rights will work in their favor if he shows out and they're looking for placeholders over the summer.
Dwyane Wade Returns to Miami
Cleveland Cavaliers Receive: Protected 2024 second-round pick
Miami Heat Receive: SG Dwyane Wade
Trading LeBron James' BFFL months before he explores free agency feels a little WTF. But, as Brian Windhorst noted on ESPN's The Jump, the Cavaliers gave Dwyane Wade control over his destiny.
With a bunch of perimeter length making its way to Cleveland, the 36-year-old's role was bound to change. Giving him the option of returning to Miami is a classy call. The Cavaliers don't have to labor through unnecessary playing-time politics and shouldn't suffer the fallout associated with doing LeBron's bestie dirty.
Then again, we'll have to see whether J.R. Smith and Tristan Thompson can fill the bromance void in James' heart before dubbing this deal a success.
Admit it: Seeing Wade in a Chicago Bulls jersey and then Cavaliers uniform felt weird.
It felt wrong.
This, however, feels right. Wade is back with the team that drafted him, and the Heat have their Dion Waiters replacement. Life makes sense again—even though Miami's offensive setup still doesn't.
Three-Team Minibuster Among Dallas, Denver and New York
Dallas Mavericks Receive: SF/PF Doug McDermott, 2018 second-round pick (from Portland, via Denver)
Denver Nuggets Receive: PG/SG/SF Devin Harris, 2018 second-round pick (from Los Angeles Clippers, via New York)
New York Knicks Receive: PG Emmanuel Mudiay
Dallas Mavericks: A-
Devin Harris filled an unconventional role for the Mavericks, with head coach Rick Carlisle effectively turning him into a point guard/shooting guard/small forward hybrid. But he turns 35 at the end of February and is scheduled for free agency this summer, and they can get their old-man floor-general fix from J.J. Barea.
Doug McDermott gives the Mavericks a playable flier on the wings. His outside touch diversifies an offense that remains run-on-the-mill from long distance, and he's a young Kyler Korver on defense—someone who works his butt off without generating noticeable results.
At 26, with restricted free agency on the horizon, McDermott has a chance to play himself into Dallas' future.
Turning Emmanuel Mudiay into Harris' expiring contract and a second-round swap is what selling low looks like.
The No. 7 pick from the 2015 draft ambled in and out of the Nuggets rotation, and Jamal Murray's sophomore detonation rendered him expendable. Denver needs an extra backcourt playmaker as well—and, again, Mudiay clearly wasn't the answer.
Still, failing to land something more permanent than a Harris rental doesn't track. He doesn't do much more than help them run in place. Assuming nothing better was on the table, the Nuggets should have holstered Mudiay until the offseason or next year, when they could have used his salary as fodder for a bigger deal.
Did...did...did the Knicks do a good thing?
Buying low on Mudiay is a fantastic play for a rebuilding team that didn't know it was rebuilding until Kristaps Porzingis suffered a season-ending ACL injury. McDermott was a hoot to watch in New York, but the Knicks shouldn't want any part of his next contract, if only because they shouldn't be shelling out long-term deals at all.
Mudiay has one year left at the rookie scale before he'll need a new deal, so New York assumes zero risk. And he has boosted his three-point clip above 37 percent, which suggests he'll be able to spend time beside rookie Frank Ntilkina.
Herein lies the danger: Will the Knicks try developing Mudiay and Ntilikina in unison? Or will they continue to inconsistently divvy up their backcourt minutes while playing Jarrett entirely too much?
Detroit Deepens Its Wing Rotation with James Ennis
Detroit Pistons Receive: SG/SF James Ennis
Memphis Grizzlies Receive: PF/C Brice Johnson, second-round pick
At long last, a move by the Pistons that requires no equivocation. They slayed this deal.
James Ennis is one of the most underrated role players in the NBA. He has the defensive chops to hang with most wings, and his shot profile is a coach's dream. More than 75 percent of his looks come inside three feet or from beyond the arc, and nearly three-quarters of his made buckets come off assists.
Deepening the wing ranks behind Reggie Bullock and Stanley Johnson became a pressing priority following the departures of Avery Bradley and Tobias Harris. This trade does just that, and the Pistons will have an opportunity to retain Ennis in free agency using his Early Bird rights.
The Grizzlies were never going to get much for Ennis' expiring contract, even with his Early Bird rights in play. Rival teams know the Grizzlies won't be paying him this summer as they try to manage a steep payroll with an unknown ceiling.
Would it have behooved the Grizzlies to explore taking back a longer deal in order to improve their inbound spoils? Of course. But who knows what was out there so late in the game. Getting a mid-tier second-rounder without taking back any future money is a solid return—nothing more, nothing less.
Phoenix Buys Low on Elfrid Payton
Orlando Magic Receive: 2018 second-round pick (from Memphis)
Phoenix Suns Receive: PG Elfrid Payton
This trade won't look so hot if, a couple years from now, Elfrid Payton is helping the Suns vie for Western Conference relevance. But the Magic couldn't have done any better than a mid-end second-rounder with him barreling toward restricted free agency as an unfinished project.
Letting this situation ride out until the summer and taking stock of his market would have made some sense. Payton is posting career-best clips around the rim and from beyond the arc, but he's a disengaged defender and his sudden marriage to efficient three-point shooting screams facade when he's canning just 63.2 percent of his free-throw attempts.
Much like the rest of Orlando's nucleus, Payton isn't a building block of choice for the current front office. The prospect of re-signing him holds little to no appeal if general manager John Hammond and team president Jeff Weltman don't actually want him.
I want to give the Suns perfect marks. Really, I do. They deserve a round of applause for parlaying a mid-end second-rounder into a player they need now and, potentially, later without assuming any risk.
If Payton doesn't mesh in the backcourt with Devin Booker, the Suns can hit the peace-out button. If that duo plays nicely off each other, they'll have Payton's Bird rights in a freezing-cold market. Downside does not exist.
At the same time, we must ask: Should we trust the Suns to responsibly price his next contract if things work out? Can they even be counted on to let him walk if the fit isn't peachy keen?
Portland Escapes the Luxury Tax with Chicago's Help
Chicago Bulls Receive: PF/C Noah Vonleh, cash
Portland Trail Blazers Receive: Rights to Milocan Rakovic
Noah Vonleh isn't the most ideal salary absorption. He's a few months out from restricted free agency, so even if the Bulls like him, they'll need to promptly reinvest in him.
The Bulls need another combo big to evaluate in conjunction with Lauri Markkanen and Bobby Portis, and the restricted free-agent market isn't expected to be lucrative this summer. Vonleh playing his way to another contract with this team won't trigger a flurry of offers from other ones.
And hey! The Bulls received some cash! Maybe they can use that money to purchase their very own Jordan Bell this June.
DUCKING THE TAX SZN!
Cost-evasive maneuvers often come at a premium. The Blazers, for their part, eschewed this year's luxury tax while dumping a free-agent-to-be who fell out of the rotation and creating a roster spot that'll come in extra handy on the developing buyout market.
Owner Paul Allen shouldn't be hearing any complaints from Damian Lillard.
Stan Van Gundy and Jameer Nelson: Reunited and It Feels So...Blah
Chicago Bulls Receive: C Willie Reed, 2022 second-round pick
Detroit Pistons Receive: PG Jameer Nelson, 2022 second-round pick
Extracting anything at all from Jameer Nelson is a good value play for the Bulls. Going on 36, he doesn't come close to fitting their timeline, and they already have a jillion guards on the roster. They probably would have bought him out after the deadline.
Waiving Willie Reed, who is serving a six-game suspension as the result of a domestic violence charge involving his wife last August, doesn't help or hurt the Bulls' grade. He might have been of use to them. None of their current bigs—Lauri Markkanen, Bobby Portis, Robin Lopez, Omer Asik, Cristiano Felicio—fit that shot-swatting mold.
But this deal was never about him. Nor was it ever about the current roster.
Swapping 2022 second-round picks with the Pistons could prove uniquely useful. Chicago should be more competitive by then, while Detroit, as of now, will be coming off a season in which they paid a 32-year-old Blake Griffin $39 million (player option).
Landing Nelson doesn't address a real need for the Pistons.
Sure, it reunites Stan Van Gundy with a floor general he coached for five years in Orlando. And yes, Reggie Jackson remains on the shelf recovering from a Grade 3 ankle sprain. But backup center remains Detroit's larger issue, particularly with Jon Leuer out for the season.
Maybe Van Gundy believes Henry Ellenson (not absurd) or Eric Moreland (eh) can assume a larger role. Playing Griffin with Anthony Tolliver during Andre Drummond's rest periods bridges the gap, too.
More than anything, though, this feels like Van Gundy acting on a lack of faith in Dwight Buycks and Langston Galloway, the primary backups to Jackson fill-in Ish Smith. That by itself is fine. But combining it with a distant second-round swap at a time when this core will have long since run its course and the team is staring at a potential reload or transition? Not so much.
Luke Babbitt Takes His Talents to South Beach
Atlanta Hawks Receive: PF Okaro White
Miami Heat: SF/PF Luke Babbitt
Talk about your blah decision.
Luke Babbitt is more valuable than Okaro White in a vacuum, but he wasn't part of the Hawks rotation. They aren't trying to win games or develop 28-year-olds, and their frontcourt is crowded.
White hasn't played since November after fracturing his left foot, so the Hawks are either placing stock in having his Early Bird rights this summer or super happy about saving $100,000 in salary obligations this season.
To each their own. Or something.
Dwyane Wade isn't the only one coming home.
Babbitt went on a quasi-tear with Miami last season and established himself as a lethal shooting option at the 4. He promises the same value now—only the Heat need him more. They're 21st in non-garbage time efficiency from downtown, according to Cleaning The Glass, and Babbitt is finding nylon on more than 44 percent of his triplets.
Playing him in lineups that feature all three of Wade, Hassan Whiteside and Justise Winslow will make for a much-needed spacing buffer.
R.I.P. Bruno Caboclo's Raptors Tenure
Sacramento Kings Receive: SF Bruno Caboclo
Toronto Raptors: SG/SF Malachi Richardson
The Kings made this trade to help facilitate their three-team deal with the Cavaliers and Jazz, so it initially looked like they'd release Bruno Caboclo. Instead, it looks like Georgios Papagiannis will be collateral damage.
This registers as mostly innocuous on its face. And yet, call me old fashioned, but this isn't an inconsequential development either. Richardson, the 22nd pick in 2016, hasn't shown much with the Kings. He's shooting under 37 percent overall for his career, including a sub-30-percent three-point clip.
Richardson also hasn't played much, and ditching a 22-year-old unknown with two seasons left at the rookie-scale salary is fairly irresponsible—especially when you did so to make room for Joe Johnson, Iman Shumpert and a 2020 second-round pick.
Unloading Richardson and waiving Papagiannis isn't franchise-altering. By the Kings' standards, it barely piques our attention. But trying to broker a buyout with a 41-year-old Vince Carter would've shown more forethought.
Shipping Caboclo to Sacramento for Richardson saves the Raptors about $1 million in salary, dragging them further below the luxury-tax line and enabling them to be a tick more aggressive when surfing the buyout market.
Ergo, team president Masai Ujiri stays winning.
And now, let us have a moment of silence for the Brazilian Kevin Durant's final moments in Toronto.
New York Grants Willy Hernangomez's Wish...Kind Of
Charlotte Hornets Receive: C Willy Hernangomez
New York Knicks Receive: PF/C Johnny O'Bryant, 2020 second-round pick, 2021 second-round pick
Willy Hernangomez wanted out of New York because he wasn't getting enough playing time as third-string center. Now he heads to Charlotte, where he will be...a third-string center.
Hornets head coach Steve Clifford should find Hernangomez more than the nine minutes per game he averaged with the Knicks. He'll run dual-big lineups that feature the 23-year-old alongside Dwight Howard, Cody Zeller or Frank Kaminsky.
Adding someone at Hernangomez's price point is also huge for the Hornets. They will come awfully close to entering the luxury tax, if not cannonball into it, by tacking money onto the bottom line this summer or re-signing Kemba Walker in 2019. Hernangomez is under team control through the next two seasons for a total of $3.2 million, giving them a playable alternative to replacing Howard if he leaves during free agency in 2019 or gets dealt before then.
Jettisoning two second-round picks that won't transfer until after Walker's free agency is nevertheless reckless.
General manager Rich Cho followed owner Michael Jordan's lead, telling reporters the Hornets "aren't shopping Kemba." But that doesn't mean Walker won't leave, or that the Hornets won't strike after, as Cho put it, listening to opportunities.
In the event they lose their floor general to free agency or a future trade, they'll have given the Knicks two assets at the onset of the second round—useful tools for any rebuilding team. That's doubly detrimental knowing any potential Walker trade will likely be punctuated by the Hornets' attempts to dump salary rather than command top-flight picks and prospects.
Planning for yet-to-be-determined doom isn't an NBA staple. Teams cannot live in fear of the future when entering the buyer's market. But that's the thing: The Hornets shouldn't be acting like buyers, not even modest ones, when they're speeding toward a third lottery appearance in four years.
The Knicks received nice value for Hernangomez even after waiving Johnny O'Bryant. He was behind both Enes Kanter and Kyle O'Quinn in the center rotation, and the league is oversaturated with bigs
As many have since pointed out, Kristaps Porzingis' season-ending ACL injury could also accelerate his transition into full-time center duty, in which case Hernangomez becomes even more redundant. Bringing back two second-round picks that could feasibly fall in the early 30s verges on a big-time victory when the Knicks weren't doing anything to build up their young behemoth in a constrictive market.
Except, the whole point of obtaining these second-rounders is to maybe, possibly, if you're lucky, draft a rotation-worthy project...like Hernangomez. So while the Knicks aren't irrevocably committing themselves to the 25-year-old Kanter (player option) or soon-to-be 28-year-old O'Quinn (player option) over the long haul, they prematurely pulled the rip cord on a cost-controlled prospect at a time when they're supposed to be trafficking in such assets.
This could be one of those moves that pans out for the Knicks in hindsight. Hernangomez might flame out with the Hornets, or one of those second-rounders may turn into someone of consequence. But unless they actually know something we do not, this premature dip on Hernangomez reeks of a franchise without discernible direction.
Brooklyn Gives Milwaukee a Zeller
Brooklyn Nets Receive: SG/SF Rashad Vaughn, 2018 second-round pick (protected Nos. 48 to 60)
Milwaukee Bucks Receive: C Tyler Zeller
All the Nets seem to do is win trades during the Sean Marks era.
This deal doesn't push the immediate bill for them one way or the other. They lose size in Tyler Zeller, but this opens up more time for Jahlil Okafor, and head coach Kenny Atkinson likes to experiment with small-ball combinations.
Plus, you know, the second-round pick. The Nets now have three in this year's draft. They may be able to consolidate them into an earlier selection, perhaps at the beginning of the second round.
Landing Zeller helps the Bucks. They needed a big who deviates from the spindly archetypes of John Henson, Thon Maker and rookie D.J. Wilson.
Zeller is it...sort of. He's a nice defensive rebounding alternative to Maker and Wilson, but he's not a noticeable needle-nudger, and giving him any minutes over the others won't do much for their development.
Sending a second-round pick back to the Nets doesn't sit right, either. Along with Vaughn's expiring contract, this represented one of the Bucks' most useful assets ahead of the trade deadline. They've now essentially removed themselves from conversations for higher-end players unless they're willing to part ways with one or more of Maker, Malcolm Brogdon, Jabari Parker, Khris Middleton and a distant first-round pick.
Granted, the odds of turning, say, Vaughn, Wilson, Mirza Teletovic's salary and a second-rounder into anything special aren't particularly high. But snuffing out that possibility altogether two days before the trade deadline for a nonessential asset like Zeller isn't the least bit inspiring.
Pelicans Send Dante Cunningham to Brooklyn
Brooklyn Nets Receive: SF/PF Dante Cunningham
New Orleans Pelicans Receive: SG/SF Rashad Vaughn
Remember when Rashad Vaugn was on the Nets? Good times.
Brooklyn has shown an affinity for combo wings and journeyman veterans under general manager Sean Marks and head coach Kenny Atkinson. Dante Cunningham checks off all those boxes—and the Nets have a real need for him.
Jarrett Allen and Jahlil Okafor are their lone playable bigs (sorry Timofey Mozgov) following the Tyler Zeller trade. Quincy Acy should now see more time at center, and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson will likewise help out in super small arrangements.
That, in turn, will open up minutes at the 4 spot, even with DeMarre Carroll often sliding up. Cunningham won't want for playing time—hence why he won't seek a buyout—and could help the Nets win some games in the name of raining all over the Cavaliers' parade.
Cunningham immediately became dispensable following Nikola Mirotic's arrival. And not only do the Pelicans change him out for a 21-year-old wing who might enhance their spacing, but they save more than $400,000 in the process.
New Orleans is now more than $1 million under the luxury-tax threshold, which gives them breathing room to wield during the upcoming buyout sweepstakes.
Washington Saves Money with Atlanta's Assistance
Atlanta Hawks Receive: SG/SF Sheldon Mac, cash
Washington Wizards: Heavily protected second-round pick
Sheldon Mac has already been waived by the Hawks, so they did this trade strictly for the cash Washington sent their way.
Though the 6'5" swingman—who at times dabbled in spot power forward minutes for the Wizards last year—would have been an interesting experiment piece, he's recovering from surgery to repair a torn left Achilles tendon. And since the Hawks have prioritized financial plasticity heading into this summer, retaining the Early Bird rights of a player who'd never suit up for them couldn't possibly rate too highly on their to-do list.
Junking Mac's contract saves the Wizards a tidy chunk of luxury-tax change. They're now slightly less than $4.4 million over the threshold as opposed to almost $5.7 million—a noticeable difference.
This second-rounder will most likely never convey, but the Wizards won't care. They'll take their savings and their open roster spot for buyout-market browsing and be on their merry way with bright eyes and a million-watt smile.
New Orleans Softens the Blow of Losing Boogie with Nikola Mirotic
Chicago Bulls Receive: SG Tony Allen, C Omer Asik, PG Jameer Nelson, a protected 2018 first-round pick (top-five protection), the right to swap second-rounders with the Pelicans in 2021
New Orleans Pelicans receive: PF Nikola Mirotic, 2018 second-round pick (its own, which was traded to Chicago as part of the Quincy Pondexter salary dump in late August)
This deal is mostly a victory for the Bulls. They get rid of a player who wanted out and was helping them win games they need to lose while also nabbing the hallmark asset of any rebuilding team: a first-round pick that, barring a ridiculous twist, will convey this season.
Eating Omer Asik's deal is even a savvy move. He's on the books for two more years and $23.3 million, but only $3 million of his salary is guaranteed for 2019-20. Rather than stretch him this summer, they should look to swallow the short-term cost and attempt to leverage his quasi-expiring status into an additional asset, via another salary dump, as the buyer's market unfolds next season.
Getting the Pelicans to include that 2021 second-round swap is significant as well. Anthony Davis is, as of now, slated for free agency in the summer prior (player option). Should he leave or the Pelicans be forced to move him before then, the Bulls will gain a pick in the early 30s just as they're, presumably, ready to compete.
Forking over a second-round pick is Chicago's lone questionable concession. New Orleans' choice may not even fall in the top 45, but rebuilding squads shouldn't be in the business of trading draft selections. Period. End of story.
The Bulls know this better than anyone by now—or at least they should. They gave up the right to choose Jordan Bell, now of the Golden State Warriors, for a $3.5 million payday. They also inexplicably sent the No. 16 pick to the Minnesota Timberwolves as part of the Jimmy Butler trade. And on top of all that, their own second-rounder this year is headed to the New York Knicks by way of the Oklahoma City Thunder as compensation for that humdinger of a Taj Gibson deal last February.
Giving up a first-round pick is never recommended for a team in the Pelicans' situation. They'll be up against the luxury tax next season if they re-sign DeMarcus Cousins, and their roster is already on the shallow side. They need all the cheap contributors they can get.
Securing the career-year version of Mirotic while getting out from under Asik's contract renders this a worthwhile dice roll. Reclaiming their own second-round pick and creating two roster spots in the process, arming them with ample flexibility for the buyout market, warrants an even more enthusiastic stamp of approval.
And yet, the Pelicans' most meaningful victory, aside from preserving this year's playoff hopes, won't play out until the offseason.
They no longer need to assume a position of total desperation in Cousins' contract negotiations. Letting him walk for nothing would sting, but it won't be catastrophic. Mirotic should end up being a nice complement to Davis at the 4 spot as both a reliable spot-up shooter and secondary shot-creator. With him under contract next season, the Pelicans don't have to worry about a bare-bones frontcourt in the absence of Cousins.
Once more, for the selective readers: re-signing Boogie remains the priority. But he's working his way back from a usually career-altering Achilles injury. If the Pelicans don't want to pay market or above-market value to keep him, as they did last summer with Jrue Holiday, they at least get to sell Davis on a fringe playoff push in 2018-19 and the prospect of a wholesale reload that summer.
Will that be enough to coax an ironclad commitment out of him? Maybe not. But the Pelicans have a much better chance of holding onto Davis should their worst-case scenario become reality than they did a few weeks ago.
Blake Griffin Goes from Hollywood to Motor City
Detroit Pistons Receive: PF/C Blake Griffin, PF/C Brice Johnson, C Willie Reed
Los Angeles Clippers Receive: SG/SF Avery Bradley, SF/PF Tobias Harris, C Boban Marjanovic, 2018 first-round pick (top-four protection), 2019 second-round pick (via Cleveland, Houston, Orlando or Portland)
Coach-president Stan Van Gundy clearly made this move with his job security in mind. And for now: so far, so good.
The Pistons have rattled off five consecutive victories since the trade—the first of which came before Blake Griffin's debut—and are once again fixtures in the Eastern Conference playoff conversation. Concerns over how their two bigs, Griffin and Andre Drummond, will coexist have thus far proved pointless; they're outscoring opponents by almost 30 points per 100 possessions when this duo is on the floor.
Detroit's honeymoon won't last forever. Even if it somehow persists for the rest of this season, a playoff bid doesn't negate all of the long-term worries.
Griffin is playing out the first of a five-year, $171.2 million pact. Not only must the Pistons come to grips with him exercising a $39 million player option prior to 2021-22, at the age of 32, but pairing his cap hit with those from Drummond and Reggie Jackson restricts their capacity to fiddle with the depth chart—and avoid the luxury tax—through at least 2019-20.
No one will fault Detroit's logic, or financial obligations, if this core turns into a perennial 50-win candidate. But we don't yet know if the team has the requisite playmaking and shooting around Griffin and Drummond to make this work—a recent spurt of dominance notwithstanding.
Can the Pistons cobble together an above-average defense for an entire season with two non-switchy bigs in the middle? Will they be able to afford Stanley Johnson's next contract (extension-eligible this summer) if they hold onto him? Will the Drummond-Griffin partnership stand the test of playing with a higher-usage point guard upon Jackson's return from an ankle injury?
Teams shouldn't have to answer this many questions after acquiring a five-time All-Star who puts butts in the seats and, in the most ideal scenario, appreciably elevates their ceiling. But the Pistons do. And clogging up their already-stuffed financial pipeline without gaining a semblance of certainty counts, at best, as a gutsy dice roll.
The Clippers deserve praise for snagging Tobias Harris (still just 25), a possible lottery pick and some long-term cap relief for what eventually profiles as one of the NBA's worst contracts. Moving Griffin also allows them to begin a full-scale rebuild, without regard for placating an incumbent star.
About that: The Clippers apparently aren't angling for a teardown—not right now. They just gave a three-year, $24 million extension to 31-year-old Lou Williams, one of this season's most sought-after trade-deadline commodities.
Retaining an aging scorer who detracts from the value of your draft pick seems puzzling at first glance. But $8 million annually isn't that much money even in a penny pincher's market, and the deal includes a partial guarantee worth $1.5 million in the final season.
The Clippers can now have the chance to flip Williams later for more than they'd receive if he were an expiring contract. That aides their rebuild.
Of course, they still need to map out a concrete plan before we revel in their coup. Offloading Griffin won't mean as much if they opt to re-sign Avery Bradley and DeAndre Jordan (player option) and re-commit themselves to the same glass ceiling.
This trade reflects so favorably upon them not just because they've shed the massive deal of an oft-injured star battling against contemporary constructs he doesn't quite embody, but because they're supposed to be chasing something more than early playoff exits—something more than just good enough.