Offseason Trade Ideas That Would Trigger NBA Fanbases
Let's get hypothetically bent out of shape.
The NBA offseason is, in sum, a mess of the unpredictable. Every year, without fail, big-time moves go down no one foresaw.
Certain developments aren't slap-you-in-the-face surprising or universally controversial, even when they're considered long shots. Gordon Hayward didn't catch anyone completely off guard by choosing the Boston Celtics over the Utah Jazz. Ditto for Paul Millsap when he took his mixed bag of tricks to the Denver Nuggets.
Blockbuster trades are a different beast. Some aren't total shockers—Paul George being dealt from the Indiana Pacers, for instance. Others are truly disarming.
Chris Paul to the Houston Rockets. Kyrie Irving to the Celtics. These deals were stunning. They came, for the most part, out of nowhere. They incited feelz. They obliterated pre-existing notions. They incensed fans.
Now, more than a half-year later, they will be the baseline for our make-believe blockbusters.
All of these deals are deliberately ambitious. They're aimed at drawing the ire of everyone involved. That doesn't mean they're terrible. There will be a clear path for each of the primary subjects to reach the trade block. That route to relocation is neither inevitable nor being endorsed here. But it exists.
Every pretend idea will be accompanied by hard-feelings slants from each side, with a few additional bonus offshoots sprinkled in for good measure. Just so we're clear: This isn't a class in "Why Team X would say no."
It's more like a "Why Fanbase Y would be riled up in the aftermath of this trade."
Kemba Walker to New York
Charlotte Hornets Receive: C Enes Kanter (assuming he opts in), PG/SG Frank Ntilikina, 2018 first-round pick (actual player)
New York Knicks Receive: SF Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, PG Kemba Walker
Riled Up Because...
Let's get this straight: Instead of trading Walker in February, when he could be peddled as more than an expiring contract, the Hornets keep him just to pull the trigger five or six months later? Seriously?
Picking up Ntilikina, another lottery prospect and an expiring contract is hardly a bad haul. But Kidd-Gilchrist's contract (two years, $26 million remaining) isn't a major burden and therefore not the top priority to trade. Flipping Walker prior to February's deadline might've given Charlotte the leverage necessary to pawn off Nicolas Batum (three years, $76.7 million) or Marvin Williams (two years, $29.1 million) in this deal.
The optics change ever so slightly if Walker requests relocation—which seems possible.
"Whenever we get a new GM, we'll see what direction he wants to go," Walker told the Charlotte Observer's Rick Bonnell, "and I'll make the best decision for me."
Yet, even if he initiates divorce proceedings, the Hornets won't look great. Everyone could see such a breaking point from a mile away. Charlotte fell comfortably outside the Eastern Conference's playoff picture before the deadline, has earned just one postseason trip in the past four years and doesn't have the cap space or non-Kemba trade assets to beef up the current core.
Trading Ntilikina should remain unforgivable in the eyes of Knicks fans. His offensive game is raw, steeped in both hesitation and inefficiency, but he's already one of the NBA's most pesky on-ball gnats.
Pick-and-roll ball-handlers average just 0.65 points per possession when being defended by Ntilikina, the lowest mark among 94 players to guard more than 150 of these plays. He's also holding opponents to sub-29 percent shooting in isolation and party-crashing the occasional post-up set against bigger wings.
But Trey Burke dropped 42 points and 12 assists in a game once! And the Knicks picked up Mudiay at the trade deadline! He was drafted No. 7 in 2015! Ntilikina didn't get picked until a much, much later No. 8 in 2017!
Never mind that the Knicks would be tasked with footing a near-max bill for a 29-year-old Walker in 2019. Or that their ceiling with an All-Star point guard would be capped until Kristaps Porzingis returns from his ACL injury. Or that Walker's $12 million salary is a lot to pay Trey Burke's backup.
It doesn't take much to imagine their viewing Ntilikina as expendable and another top-10 selection as immaterial. They are the Knicks. They gave Tim Hardaway Jr. $71 million when they were supposed to be rebuilding. Mortgaging the future for Walker's expiring contract is a pretty tame flub-up by their standards.
Zeller is already losing minutes, when healthy, to Frank Kaminsky and Dwight Howard. And he has Willy Hernangomez waiting off to the side. Adding Kanter to that mishmash just seems mean—even if said logjam, failing subsequent moves, would only exist for a year.
LeBron James to Houston
Cleveland Cavaliers Receive: C Cole Aldrich, PF/C Ryan Anderson, 2018 second-round pick (from Houston, via Miami), 2020 first-round pick, 2020 second-round pick
Houston Rockets Receive: SF/PF LeBron James (after opting in)
Minnesota Timberwolves: SF/PF PJ Tucker
Riled Up Because...
They lose James. Duh. And that wouldn't be the most frustrating part.
Plenty of people expect James to leave Cleveland. Some of those people are Cavaliers fans. He's left before. The team and city know he's a flight risk. At least this time he'll leave after getting them a championship.
Hell, given how the Cavs handled the Kyrie Irving situation, a not-insignificant number of Cleveland fans will understand if James sees himself out. He didn't want them to deal the All-Star floor general. They did it anyway.
And then they proceeded to call for a mulligan on a large chunk of their return at the trade deadline, rerouting Jae Crowder and Isaiah Thomas—who, by the way, is done for the season because he needs surgery to re-address the hip injury that gave the Cavaliers some pause over acquiring him in the first place.
Allowing James the opportunity to make nice with Irving could've ended up being Cleveland's ticket to keeping both long term. And yet, once again, that still isn't the worst part.
James was pegged for another free-agency tour long before the Cavaliers granted Irving's trade request. He could have had eyes for an alternative destination no matter what. Irving, no Irving, two Irvings, it doesn't matter. Cleveland needed—and still needs—to prepare for James' departure regardless of how much it pandered to him.
The real shame: Irving, now 26, would have made for a great centerpiece of the post-LeBron era, knee problems and all. With him, the Cavaliers have options. He's established enough for them to straddle the line between a reset and retooling process. He's also young enough for them to blow up everything and start from scratch, with him and that Brooklyn Nets pick as the focal points.
Buuut no. The Cavaliers acquiesced to leverage Irving didn't have. They should count themselves as lucky if James is willing to cushion the blow of his exit by facilitating the acquisition of another first-round selection.
This package blows. Make no bones about it. The Cavaliers avoid taking on a then-33-year-old Tucker—Aldrich is guaranteed under $2.1 million in 2018-19—but they're forced to swallow the final two years and $41.7 million on Anderson's deal.
Perhaps Houston would be open to coughing up a 2022 first-round pick as well. Then again, maybe not. The Cavaliers won't have much going for them in negotiations if James makes it clear he'll accept a (massive) pay cut to play with James Harden and Chris Paul.
Houston's fanbase wouldn't have anything to gripe about in this scenario, right?
Au contraire, it could find something.
Giving up a second first-round pick to get the Cavaliers on board would rile up a small gaggle. These same asset enthusiasts should also see the danger in gambling part of the future on aging superstars.
Paul could command max money this summer, at the age of 33. If James picks up his player option to orchestrate his arrival, he'll need a max deal in 2019, at which time he'll be 34...and entering his age-35 season.
Tucker fits the bill for what the Timberwolves need: any competent help on the wings whatsoever. Even his contract is friendlier than it seems. He's owed a total of $16.3 million over the next two years and guaranteed just $2.6 million for 2020-21. That gives Minnesota an affordable out if he falls off a cliff before his age-35 campaign.
So, rejoice. Be glad. Give coach-president Tom Thibodeau a pat on the back. He'd have done something good.
But Tucker isn't exactly cheap either. And he's going on 33. Should Thibs drag the Timberwolves further past the luxury-tax threshold ($123 million) for someone he cannot play 45 minutes per game?
Ryan Anderson and PJ Tucker
Imagine going from a championship favorite in Texas to a freshly rebuilding franchise in Ohio.
Forgive this hypothetical, Ryno.
Picture leaving a juggernaut in a warm-weather climate that doesn't play you a zillion minutes every night for a fringe contender ruled by a rest-averse tyrant in Minnesota.
Apologies to you as well, Peej.
Klay Thompson to Milwaukee
Golden State Warriors Receive: PG/SG Malcolm Brogdon, SF/PF Khris Middleton
Milwaukee Bucks Receive: SG Klay Thompson
Riled Up Because...
Kevin Durant didn't take roughly $10 million less than he was eligible to earn last summer for this brazen penny-pinching!
Also, and most importantly, the Warriors wouldn't consider a wholesale shake-up unless they fail to win a championship. Owner Joe Lacob said as much while discussing Golden State's nightmare scenario.
“Maybe we will emphasize continuity," he proposed, per the Bay Area News Group's Mark Medina. "Or maybe we will make a big move. We're looking at different options, given different things playing out in different ways. I think you should always be doing that.”
This comes with the disclaimer that Lacob guaranteed nothing. He made it clear that he's happy with the present nucleus. But the prospect of major tweaks following a botched title run is not an absurd one.
The Warriors are sprinting toward seemingly untenable luxury-tax issues with Thompson set for free agency in 2019 and Draymond Green right behind him in 2020. Both Brogdon and Middleton (player option) are up for new deals in 2019 as well, but they won't combine to earn what it would take to re-sign Thompson at market value.
So, by this measure, Warriors fans would be losing a championship, one of the greatest shooters ever, Thompson's dog Rocco and bragging rights over other teams concerned about the luxury tax all in a few months span. Durant, Green, a fringe-star in Middleton, Stephen Curry, a deep bench and a regular, run-of-the-mill title favorite is all they'd have left.
Talk about life-altering misfortune.
Is Thompson even an upgrade over Middleton?
Running around screens, cutting and quick-firing threes is a big deal. Thompson doesn't play with the same hesitation as Middleton from beyond the arc. He's averaging more than two additional three-point attempts per 36 minutes. Nor does he fall in love with posting up, often inexplicably, over working off the ball.
And yes, Thompson is probably the better defender. He's more accustomed to chasing around point guards in addition to bigger wings, and he rates nearly 200 spots higher in ESPN's Defensive Real-Plus Minus.
But Thompson has also never played outside the comfy confines of Curry's shadow. And the Warriors just kept grooming and adding superstars around him. Will he be the same player when he's running beside Giannis Antetokounmpo, Eric Bledsoe and Tony Snell instead of Curry, Durant and Green?
Plus, he's older! By more than a full year! And he won't take a hometown discount to remain in Milwaukee! Does maxing him out, at around $32.4 million in 2019-20, help at all? When the combination of Brogdon and Middleton may not even cost $20 million?
Shaun Livingston and Patrick McCaw
Have fun forfeiting minutes to Brogdon, Mr. Livingston!
Good luck on your next team, Mr. McCaw!
Andrew Wiggins to Disney World
Minnesota Timberwolves Receive: SG/SF Evan Fournier, SG/SF Jonathon Simmons
Orlando Magic Receive: SG/SF Andrew Wiggins
Riled Up Because...
Wiggins isn't a finished product or anywhere near worth the five-year, $154 million extension he signed, but talk about selling low.
Fournier is the more efficient scorer and a much better fit for an offense that should be built around Jimmy Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns, with a side plate of Jeff Teague. Almost one-third of his attempts come as spot-up threes, on which he's shooting 40.3 percent. That dwarfs Wiggins' 34.7 percent clip on smaller volume. And Fournier can be trusted to run a functional pick-and-roll.
Simmons is also a catch-and-fire upgrade over Wiggins. He can be counted on for good pick-and-roll decision-making as well if he's not expected to initiate them en bloc. He even has a little Marcus Smart in him on defense. He's listed at 6'6" and under 200 pounds, but he can body up against bigger wings, including some small-ball 4s, and has the chops to cover point guards.
Which, awesome. Spectacular. Dandy. But Fournier isn't a bargain at $17 million a pop through 2020-21. And he doesn't have the theoretical upside of a 23-year-old Wiggins. Acquiring him and Simmons deepens Minnesota's razor-thin rotation, but Tom Thibodeau doesn't use his bench.
The logic behind this deal is not batcrap bonkers.
Orlando is in the unenviable position of being both terrible and capped out. Long-term deals for Fournier and Bismack Biyombo gum up the financial pipeline, and more reasonable commitments to Simmons, D.J. Augustin, Terrence Ross and Nikola Vucevic add up.
Ross and Vucevic wash off the ledger in 2019, when the Magic also have a $1 million escape clause on Simmons. But Aaron Gordon's next contract will negate most of that aggregate flexibility, and they don't have the trade chips to grease the wheels of salary dumps.
Alternative rebuilding tools aren't readily accessible. Acting as a salary-dumping ground for more desirable free-agent locales isn't an option when the Magic are drowning in their own mistakes. Gordon and Jonathan Isaac are their lone cornerstone prospects. They should snare a top-five pick for this season's struggles, but their draft-day track record in the post-Dwight Howard era is unseemly.
Bringing in someone with Wiggins' ceiling is tempting for a franchise so thoroughly stuck. Twenty-somethings with a tantalizing physical profile and oft-captivating scoring prowess never become available when they're a half-decade out from free agency. Wiggins presents a unique opportunity to a team bereft of others.
Here's the thing: Should the Magic be the tiniest bit comfortable potentially shelling out a combined $250 million or more for the next five years of a Gordon-Wiggins dyad?
Don't feel like you have to respond. The answer—an enormously resounding no—is implied.
Trading Wiggins amounts to an admission of guilt from Minnesota's owner. It would be him saying "So, er, maybe making Wiggins promise to get better at basketball before handing him $154 million wasn't the best negotiating tactic after all."
Crow never tasted so strong.
John Wall to Phoenix
Brooklyn Nets Receive: PF Jared Dudley, PF/C Jason Smith, 2018 first-round pick (via Phoenix)
Phoenix Suns Receive: C Ian Mahinmi, PG John Wall, 2018 first-round pick (from Toronto, via Brooklyn)
Washington Wizards Receive: SF/PF DeMarre Carroll, C Tyson Chandler, PG/SG Spencer Dinwiddie, SF/PF Josh Jackson
Riled Up Because...
Dinwiddie will be up for a new deal in 2019, just like Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and D'Angelo Russell. Exploring trade possibilities makes sense, because reinvesting in an infrastructure that hasn't yielded even 30 victories does not.
Grabbing a top-end draft prospect for their salary-sponging troubles is valuable for this reason. The Nets have all their first-round picks beginning next season but still need cost-controlled assets at their disposal as incumbents inch closer to new contracts.
At the same time: Ugh, again? At what point do the Nets cease the revolving door of salary absorptions and fliers and just start basking in the spoils from their legwork during this stint as Boston's draft-pick bank?
General manager Ryan McDonough has, it seems, every intention of expediting the Suns' rebuilding process. But this?
Wall is a no-brainer All-Star when healthy—and a borderline top-10 player when his jumper is finding nylon. He's worth more to the Suns as a trade target than Kyrie Irving ever was, because he cannot enter free agency until 2022 at the earliest (player option).
That's part of the problem.
No way, no how, does he turn down a $46.9 million option before his age-32 season. He won't actually come off the books until 2023. And Devin Booker's next contract will kick in at the same time as Wall's extension (2019-20). If the Suns give him max money, they'll be allocating almost $65 million to him and Wall, with that commitment only ballooning over time.
Bankrolling that backcourt while eating the final two years of Mahinmi and dealing what will be akin to a pair of top-five prospects (Jackson and this year's pick) is a steep price to pay for extra star power that doesn't assure the Suns of contention.
Falling in the playoffs without reaching the Eastern Conference Finals will necessitate change from the Wizards. They'll be up against the luxury tax if Smith and Jodie Meeks pick up their player options. Paying that much for a non-contender is just a glitzier version of NBA purgatory.
One member of the Big Three could find himself up for grabs. That member isn't supposed to be Wall. Not after his extension. His knee injuries are a concern, but he's still Washington's most valuable player.
Should the Wizards be doing their best Los Angeles Clippers impression when a rebuild isn't in the cards?
This package—or something similar to it—equips them with a nice mix of veterans, cost-controlled assets and cap relief ahead of Kelly Oubre Jr.'s restricted free agency in 2019. But does it make them more likely to battle for Eastern Conference supremacy? Or would it be a dice roll aimed at eschewing the buyer's remorse that possibly awaits them somewhere in the middle of Wall's four-year extension?
Anthony Davis to Los Angeles
Los Angeles Lakers Receive: C Alexis Ajinca, PF/C Anthony Davis
New Orleans Pelicans Receive: PG/SG Lonzo Ball, SF/PF Luol Deng, SF Brandon Ingram, SF/PF Kyle Kuzma, 2019 first-round pick
Riled Up Because...
[Extremely Lakers extremist voice.]
Oh? So we're just gonna trade away the skeleton of a decade-long dynasty for Anthony Davis and his Greg Oden-light durability? When he's just two years away from entering free agency and signing with us at a discount?
Look, we'll take him. But Deng, a first and filler is more than enough, because he'll obviously ask the Pelicans to trade him, and we'll obviously be his preferred destination, which obviously leaves them with no choice other than to deal him to us for whatever we're offering.
And if they don't like it, screw it. We'll re-sign Julius Randle, the better, younger, more durable Kentucky big. And we'll probably land Paul George or LeBron James, if not both, in free agency. We don't need Davis if the price is Souped Up Jason Kidd, Paul George or Kevin Durant 2.0 and Nikola Mirotic's role model.
This would be a lot for the Lakers to give up. But they'd be acquiring a top-10 player while lopping off one of the league's least movable contracts in the process. And the Pelicans are under no obligation to deal Davis now, even if he asks for out. That decision doesn't really have to be made until next summer, when he's one year out from exploring the open market (player option).
If it makes Hollywood devotees feel any better, the Lakers won't consider gutting their future if they don't have the inside track on George or James. Such an aggressive play would come after landing one of them—or as a means of enticing both of them.
The Lakers could make this trade, stretch Ajinca, renounce Randle and all their other free agents, waive their non-guaranteed deals and get to around $63.4 million in space while carrying Davis, Josh Hart, this year's Cavs pick and a bunch of minimum holds. That leaves them roughly $2.3 million shy of meeting the $65.7 million it'll take to max out George and James, but hey: Maybe they'll each shave a million-and-change off the top to sync up with Davis.
[Rational Pelicans fan voice.]
What team doesn't see through next season before shopping Davis? Literally why would we do this?
DeMarcus Cousins may be injured, but we have his Bird rights. And who cares if we let him walk? That's what giving up another first-round pick to land Nikola Mirotic was for: protecting us against complete and utter desperation in Boogie's contract negotiations.
And swallow Deng? All two years and $38.6 million of Luol Deng? Hahaha. We're already paying Solomon Hill and Jrue Holiday Daddy Warbucks money. You're off your rocker, or a Lakers shill, or both if you think we're letting that fly. AD has two full freaking years left on his deal. We're not making any concessions. That includes agreeing to a sign-and-trade for Randle.
Y'all should have come calling when you still had Corey Brewer and Jordan Clarkson as fodder. At least then we'd pick up the phone. Maybe. Probably not. And if we did, we'd still be demanding Josh Hart and another first-rounder or two.
[Removes Pierre the Pelican costume head.]
All valid points—especially on Deng. The Lakers surrendered their most digestible salary-matching filler by sending Clarkson to Cleveland. And it may have been easier to pique the Pelicans' interest with an over-the-top overture in February, when Brewer's expiring contract and Randle's Bird rights could've come into play.
Still, the Pelicans cannot expect to emerge from Davis talks without having made compromises. Whether they contemplate moving him this summer or next, the rest of league knows they're on the clock. Davis' All-Star break comments, however inapposite, aren't doing them any favors.
"Yeah when you hear that, it makes you think," he told ESPN's Rachel Nichols of Kevin Garnett's loyalty sentiments from 2010. "I'm not going to lie, it makes you think. You wonder if you're following in that same path. But then again, you think this year could be the year. You don't know. You just have to take it year-by-year and see."
[Celtics Twitter font.]
Um, you realize Davis was talking to Nichols about Garnett, right? You know, the same Garnett we rescued from Minnesota? And who we brought a title?
Davis is basically already one of us. We have dibs. The Lakers can go get their own player-who-isn't-actually-their-player.
Cleveland Cavaliers and Oklahoma City Thunder
If the Lakers start hocking their soul in exchange for Davis leading up to or after the height of free agency, it probably means they'll land—or have already wooed—one or both of George and James. That would be no bueno for the Cavaliers and/or Thunder.