Kawhi Leonard and the SFs Most Likely to Be Traded During NBA Offseason
Bring on the small forwards most likely to find their way onto the NBA's chopping block. We're ready, Rumor Mill.
Well, most of us are ready. If you haven't yet checked out the previous installments of this series, you're behind on your required reading:
With the lines between 2s, 3s, and 4s blurrier than ever, we'll lean on Cleaning The Glass' possession data to determine which players belong as small forwards. And remember, not all of these trade candidates have been linked to specific reports or destinations. They're here because an overwhelming amount of evidence suggests they may not be long for their current digs.
Certain players no longer fit the timeline associated with their incumbent team. Others could be moved as part of a necessary salary dump. Some may end up being collateral damage of stale nucleuses. A few more have contract situations that could force their squad into action.
Most of these players won't go anywhere over the offseason. That's fine. We aren't predicting departures—we're just identifying which names will monopolize the trade speculation at their respective position.
Longer-Shot Trade Candidates Worth Monitoring
Robert Covington, Philadelphia 76ers
If you don't think the Sixers will try to party-crash the Kawhi Leonard sweepstakes or be open to brokering an opt-in-and-trade for LeBron James, you have permission to stop reading.
For the more open-minded folks: Robert Covington is a last-ditch trade asset. He's critical to what the Sixers do defensively—All-Defensive first team, baby!—and he remains a nice complementary shooter despite an ice-cold postseason.
Still, if it means landing James or Leonard, Covington should in no way be considered untouchable.
Wesley Matthews, Dallas Mavericks
Wesley Matthews' trade candidacy rests on how quickly the Mavericks see themselves making the leap to contender status.
If they want the extra juice that comes with letting his contract expire next summer, he'll stay put. But if they're open to taking on longer-term money, either as a salary-dumping ground or as part of a blockbuster trade, he turns into a hot cap-relief commodity.
Evan Turner, Portland Trail Blazers
Moving Evan Turner and the $36.5 million he's owed through 2019-20 feels impossible. And it very well might be. It could cost Portland two first-round picks or prospects to unload his salary.
Toughing it out for another year and shopping Turner as an expiring contract next summer is the preferred option. But the Blazers may not have that kind of time. With Pat Connaughton (restricted), Ed Davis, Shabazz Napier (restricted) and Jusuf Nurkic (restricted) all up for new contracts, they're projected to blow past the $123 million luxury-tax line.
Short of showing their own free agents the door, the Blazers don't have a discernible route to sub-tax territory. Al-Farouq Aminu and Maurice Harkless don't make enough to dump; they're more valuable on the roster. Parting ways with Davis and Nurkic helps a bunch, but turning to Zach Collins, Caleb Swanigan and this year's No. 24 pick for a lion's share of the frontcourt minutes begs for regression.
Shipping out Meyers Leonard (two years, $21.9 million remaining) shouldn't cost as much as moving Turner, but no team will absorb him free of charge, either. And if the Blazers are going to gift wrap a bad contract, they might as well swallow whatever extra collateral damage it takes for their worst one to get a new home.
Justise Winslow, Miami Heat
Justise Winslow is extension-eligible. Josh Richardson is about to begin the first season of a four-year extension. Wayne Ellington is a free agent. Tyler Johnson and Dion Waiters will cost more than $30 million combined over the next two years. Miami is projected to flirt with the luxury tax until 2021.
Need we say more?
Unless the Heat are certain Winslow is poised for a breakout, they have to at least see whether he's enough of an icebreaker to get them out from under one of their less savory contracts. (Johnson, Waiters, Hassan Whiteside, etc.)
DeMarre Carroll, Brooklyn Nets
2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 13.5 points, 6.6 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 0.8 steals, 41.4 percent shooting, 37.1 percent three-point shooting
Contract Details: 1 year, $15.4 million
Getting shipped from the Toronto Raptors to the Brooklyn Nets has done wonders for DeMarre Carroll's trade value—and not just because he's now on an expiring contract.
He isn't all the way back to the player that landed a four-year, $58 million deal in 2015. Various knee and heel injuries have compromised Carroll's ambitious "LeBron James stopper" designation. He isn't someone you play—or deal for—to be your best all-around perimeter pest.
However, assertions of his demise are overstated.
Carroll looked the part of a sturdy defender in Brooklyn. He isn't the ideal pick-and-roll switcher, but he can be moved around and rotated on to smaller players without stretching his physical limitations. And he remains a worker bee in one-on-one situations. He won't force a bunch of turnovers, but he'll hang with speedsters in space and body up against bigger players on the block.
This defensive zeal comes complete with an easy-fit offensive game. Carroll shouldn't be tasked with doing too much off the dribble—though, to his credit, the Nets experimented with him initiating some pick-and-roll. He keeps the ball moving, and he rehabilitated his three-point stroke amid career-high volume. He's a plug-and-play guy through and through.
Rerouting Carroll to another team will sting if the Nets are looking to win games in 2018-19. He was an integral grinder in their at-times-not-terrible defense. But they have a ton of wings on the roster and remain in asset-collection mode even as they regain control over their future first-round picks.
Sticking Carroll on the chopping block paves the way for Caris LeVert to assume a more expansive role. It also invites more three-guard combinations from head coach Kenny Atkinson as he juggles playing time for Spencer Dinwiddie, Jeremy Lin and D'Angelo Russell.
Jettisoning Allen Crabbe would be better for Brooklyn's long-term cap sheet, but the $37 million he's owed over the next two seasons remain a back-breaker. Carroll should be movable without any sort of buffer. His expiring deal allows the Nets to take back unsavory salary attached to picks or prospects, and they could even look to increase their offseason spending power in a straight dump or by exchanging him for cheaper returns.
LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 27.5 points, 8.6 rebounds, 9.1 assists, 1.4 steals, 54.2 percent shooting, 36.7 percent three-point shooting
Contract Details: 1 year, $35.6 million (player option)
Impending free agents typically wouldn't make an appearance on this list. Superstars aren't known for deferring long-term windfalls by picking up player options, while sign-and-trade scenarios have devolved into meaningless pipe dreams reserved for whimsical fanbases prone to irrational exceptionalism or seeking refuge from bleak outlooks.
LeBron James' situation is different. The usual rules don't apply to him. He has prioritized control over his own destiny since leaving the Miami Heat in 2014. He'll do what he wants entering his 16th season.
It just so happens the free-agency landscape aligns with that. James' player option is worth slightly more than his projected max salary on the open market ($35.35 million), and sign-and-trade proposals carry more weight with around two-thirds of the league projected to operate over the cap.
Even though they aren't likely to have meaningful cap space this summer, the Houston Rockets fancied themselves a viable landing spot for James as of December, according to USA Today's Sam Amick. And they were still around in March when The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor identified four teams James has apparently zeroed in on, along with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Los Angeles Lakers and Philadelphia 76ers.
Pulling a Chris Paul and opting into the final year of his deal is the most efficient way for James to join the Rockets. They do not have a path to bankroll his max with cap space, and a sign-and-trade would shoehorn them to the hard cap.
The Rockets likely need to find third- and fourth-team facilitators to make the opt-in scenario work. Houston doesn't have the picks to make absorbing Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon a worthwhile stomachache for Cleveland. Granted, if James wants to join Paul and James Harden, he has the leverage to will the Cavaliers into action. But his trade candidacy isn't for the Rockets alone.
The Sixers have a stake in this race. They need to clear around $10.2 million to fund James' max salary next season. Greasing the wheels of a Jerryd Bayless dump won't take much, but cutting out the middle part of the process and going straight to the supplier has its advantages.
Building an offer around salary filler, picks and any one of their many promising prospects ensures the Cavaliers are adequately compensated for James' exit. Depending on the package, it may also keep the Sixers in play for other free agents. And although that doesn't make an opt-in-and-trade (or sign-and-trade) especially likely, this route is a genuine enough option to warrant discussion.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Charlotte Hornets
2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 9.2 points, 4.1 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.4 blocks, 50.4 percent shooting
Contract Details: 2 years, $26 million (player option for 2019-20)
Notice how Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's stat line doesn't have his three-point percentage? That's by design. He attempted only two triples last season, and he missed them both.
That absence of deep-ball range torpedoes Kidd-Gilchrist's trade value on its own. He works as an off-ball slasher and shot a stellar 46.5 percent between 10 and 16 feet over the past two seasons. But the space-obsessed NBA wants its wings to stretch the floor.
Kidd-Gilchrist doesn't technically even have to make threes. He just needs to attempt them. Think along the lines of Marcus Smart: He's a career 29.3 percent shooter from behind the rainbow, but he jacks more than five threes per 36 minutes. The willingness to fire away is a threat unto to itself—not as effective as clearing league-average clips would be, but a threat all the same.
Some teams would invariably talk themselves into taking a flier on Kidd-Gilchrist anyway. He's comfortable defending positions 1 through 3 and has the body type, albeit not the track record, to wage war with contemporary 4s.
Two years and $26 million isn't an albatross for a diligent defender. And as the Charlotte Hornets try to figure out what they'll do under the new regime, Kidd-Gilchrist is one of their best trade assets.
Keeping him is not out of the question. Head coach James Borrego specifically mentioned him, along with a few others, when riffing on the importance of player development, per the Charlotte Observer's Rick Bonnell. The Hornets could have designs on making him part of their big picture, and they most certainly won't entertain dealing him if they're aiming for a return to the playoffs.
All bets are off if the Hornets lean in to a reset, which they should. Kemba Walker's $12 million salary is poised to double as a free agent next July, and they won't enjoy legitimate spending power until 2020 at the earliest.
Dangling Kidd-Gilchrist alone won't net Charlotte a king's ransom. But he's a far more enticing add-on in prospective Walker deals than Nicolas Batum (three years, $76.7 million) or Marvin Williams (two years, $29.1 million) or even Cody Zeller (three years, $43.4 million). Whereas their inclusion will be viewed as concessions by trade partners, Kidd-Gilchrist verges on an asset. Attaching him to Walker might help extract an extra pick or cost-controlled youngster in any trade.
Charlotte could prefer the financial relief of ditching more expensive salaries. But most of Walker's suitors aren't footing Batum's bill, and neither Williams nor Zeller should be immovable on their own. If the Hornets initiate a much-needed teardown by flipping their best player, Kidd-Gilchrist likely will be part of the equation.
Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 16.2 points, 4.7 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 2.0 steals, 46.8 percent shooting, 31.4 percent three-point shooting
Contract Details: 2 years, $41.4 million (player option for 2019-20)
Never once has it seemed like the San Antonio Spurs are more likely to trade Kawhi Leonard than not. Top-five players on the right side of 29 are hard to find, and they'd be negotiating with vultures from a position of weakness. Not only would Leonard's next team have to worry about paying him in 2019 (player option), but a right quad injury limited him to only nine appearances this past season.
All the while, rumors of distance and discord surfaced at an alarming rate and with even more unsettling veracity. Leonard wasn't in attendance for San Antonio's first-round bout with the Golden State Warriors, and "You'll have to ask his group" must now legally be engraved on Gregg Popovich's eventual statue outside AT&T Center.
It makes sense, then, that the Spurs reportedly plan to offer Leonard a five-year supermax extension this summer, according to the San Antonio Express-News' Tom Orsborn. Reconciling with an All-NBA superstar like Leonard is always the preferred outcome, but he's also inherently more valuable as a trade asset if he's signed to a long-term contract.
Here's where all of the uncertainty kicks in: Leonard's relationship with the organization can be mended in time. The Spurs can overlook iffy emotional terrain. Ignoring his quad injury is harder. What if he's suffering from something potentially chronic? They cannot afford to hand him a five-year, $219 million-plus extension if he isn't a surefire lock to match its value.
Waiting out his recovery could wind up being the smarter play. Leonard will have no trouble requalifying for the supermax next season if he's his usual self. Letting him reach unrestricted free agency poses its own risk, but the Spurs would still hold the financial edge over all of his other admirers.
Good luck selling Leonard on the wait-and-see approach. Delaying his payday could prompt him to demand a trade. And rather than deal with the fallout of allowing this debacle to spill into the 2018-19 season, the Spurs could acquiesce. They could even be the proactive party. Testing Leonard's trade market is a strong preemptive measure if they aren't sure whether he'll ever be all the way back.
So strap in, rumor-mill consumers. This Spurs-Kawhi drama has another act or five left to play.
Otto Porter Jr., Washington Wizards
2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 14.7 points, 6.4 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.5 steals, 50.3 percent shooting, 44.1 percent shooting
Contract Details: 3 years, $81.8 million (player option for 2020-21)
John Wall made an appearance on the honorable mentions in the point guard edition of this exercise. Bradley Beal earned full-blown inclusion with the shooting guards. Otto Porter Jr. is now getting a nod among small forwards.
It's almost like we're trying to prove a point or something.
The Washington Wizards are not trading all three of their most important players. But their roster remains imbalanced and shallow, and they're running out of ways to fake-hide it.
"Just got to add some pieces," Wall said of Washington's offseason priorities, per NBC Sports Washington's Chase Hughes. "A lot, to be honest. There's a lot that we can use...I think it's pretty obvious. I don't need to point it out. I think the way the league is going, you need athletic bigs, you need scoring off the bench, you need all of those types of things."
Adding to the depth chart is next to impossible for the Wizards. They'll begin the offseason inside luxury-tax territory if Jodie Meeks and Jason Smith exercise their player options, and their salary commitments only mushroom from here.
Beal, Wall and Porter will cost more than $90 million combined starting in 2019-20, when Kelly Oubre Jr. is ticketed for restricted free agency. The trio doesn't get any cheaper as time goes on. Beal (2021) and Porter will still be in their primes when they're up for new contracts.
Incidentally, both of them will be easier to move than Wall. Few teams will pounce on the opportunity to take over his four-year, $169.3 million extension, which pays him nearly $46.9 million in 2022-23, his age-32 season. Beal stands to nab the best return of the trio, given the league's continued emphasis on hybrid from-scratch creation. But the Wizards will want to retain him for that same reason.
Porter, by contrast, is decidedly overpaid. Perhaps he can assume more offensive responsibility away from Beal and Wall, but dedicating more than $80 million to that uncertain scenario is a big ask. And yet, his experience working off the ball as a spot-up shooter and cutter renders him a near-universal fit.
Over 40 percent of his offensive plays this past season ended in transition or as a spot-up shooter. And he canned more than 44 percent of his catch-and-fire threes. Virtually any team could acquire him with a clear vision of how he'd work within its offense.
Pair that with still-developing switchability on defense, and his superstar salary won't curb the list of suitors. Busting up their Biggish Three must be the Wizards' last resort, but they need to more evenly spread out their roster expenses. Porter's plug-and-play appeal should be good for a collection of spare parts—cheaper role players and a pick or prospect or two.