Kevin Love and the Top NBA Centers Who Could Be Traded During NBA Offseason
Get ready for the NBA's offseason trade market to be flooded by unwanted and unhappy big men.
Centers are becoming classic casualties of the Association's post-modern era. If you cannot chuck threes, create off the bounce and/or defend in space, chances are you're considered overpaid and a bad fit.
Once-upon-time building blocks have devolved into functional liabilities. Justifiable paydays have turned into cap-sheet detriments. Stars in the making have regressed into both.
On the bright side, not all chopping-block possibilities are the byproducts of depressing anecdotes and markets. Some have just out-aged their current situation. Others are approaching a mutual crossroads with their organization.
As a refresher for what it takes to end up here, in the pre-emptive auction bin, please peruse our previous installments of this exercise:
All of the same rules apply when identifying eligible candidates. Cleaning The Glass' exhaustive possession data will be used to determine who qualifies as a center. So, yes, that means—SPOILER ALERT—Kevin Love will be viewed as a 5 for our purposes.
Longer-Shot Trade Candidates Worth Monitoring
Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies
David Fizdale would probably still be coaching the Grizzlies if they had any inclination to move Marc Gasol. But should they go big in the draft at No. 4—namely with Jaren Jackson Jr. or Mohamed Bamba—they have to at least consider gauging the market for their 33-year-old center.
DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers (player option)
DeAndre Jordan displaces himself from this conversation if he picks up his player option. The Clippers could still move him, but he'll more likely than not be a midseason prize they dangle after falling outside the Western Conference's playoff race.
Opting out changes the party. Sign-and-trades have retreated into extinction, but they're due for a comeback with more than two-thirds of the league entering the offseason as capped-out buyers.
Although the Clippers appear adverse to initiating a full-on rebuild right now—see: extensions for Lou Williams and head coach Doc Rivers—financing another long-term deal for the almost 30-year-old Jordan should scare the bajebus out of them.
Giving him a two-year pact is fine. Even a longer-haul agreement toes the line of OK if they deem it tradeable. Otherwise, if he opts out and wants the moon, they should be calling the Washington Wizards about a package built around Marcin Gortat, Kelly Oubre Jr. and filler.
Jonas Valanciunas, Toronto Raptors
Staring at the luxury-tax pole could force the Raptors to take drastic measures. Re-signing Fred VanVleet (restricted) alone without unloading other money will have them breeze past the $135 million marker.
Jonas Valanciunas won't be Toronto's first-choice dumpee. Trading Serge Ibaka would be preferable. Good luck dealing the two years and $44.9 million left on his deal.
Norman Powell looms as another odd man out following the emergence of OG Anunoby. But Toronto will have an easier time replacing Valanciunas with Jakob Poeltl and Pascal Siakam, and his price tag (two years, $34.2 million) stands to make more of a difference on their bottom line.
DeMarcus Cousins, New Orleans Pelicans (free agent)
Apply everything from Jordan's situation to DeMarcus Cousins. If the Pelicans would rather stick with their Nikola Mirotic-Anthony Davis frontcourt, they should be trying to leverage a scrimpy free-agency landscape into a Boogie sign-and-trade.
Washington makes a cameo in this maybe-possibly scenario. Ditto for the Milwaukee Bucks and Miami Heat.
Tyson Chandler, Phoenix Suns
2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 6.5 points, 9.1 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 0.3 steals, 0.6 blocks, 64.7 percent shooting
Contract Details: 1 year, $13.6 million
Tyson Chandler is a valuable asset to have around the Phoenix Suns' kiddies. He doesn't bristle about playing time or late-season rest, hasn't requested a trade via Twitter and seems genuinely content to be part of the team's process.
"I think we can make the playoffs next year with the proper moves, to be honest," he told AZCentral's Scott Bordow at the end of the regular season.
Moving his expiring contract may be among those proper moves Chandler references. The Suns are in Deandre Ayton country with the No. 1 pick, and sources told Rockets Wire's Kelly Iko they're enamored by restricted free agent Clint Capela.
Taking a big first overall is akin to purchasing Chandler a ticket out of town. He seems like someone who would be fine playing the part of sensei and team dad. But the Suns' frontcourt rotation is crowded enough. Alex Len and Alan Williams (non-guaranteed) will factor into the center carousel if either one comes back, and both Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss need to soak up time at the 5.
Adding Ayton to this hodgepodge threatens Chandler's staying power. Earmarking Bender and Chriss for full-time power forward duty simplifies things a little bit...but not really. Committing to dual-big setups limits the amount of spin Jared Dudley, Josh Jackson and TJ Warren can log as small-ball 4s. Phoenix's offense is, for the time being, clunky enough without further downgrades to the spacing.
Treating free agency as an improvement lifeline, meanwhile, almost necessitates Chandler's exit. The Suns can dredge up slightly over $16 million to spend by renouncing Len and Elfrid Payton while waiving Williams but would need more to effectively chase Capela, DeMarcus Cousins or restricted free agents worth a damn.
Offloading Chandler or Dudley fast tracks them toward max space. Neither one is netting the Suns value without taking back bad salary, but they won't require heavy sweeteners if they're only after cap space. Chandler specifically should appeal to teams with room for a stopgap rim-runner and rebounder. Think Los Angeles Lakers, Milwaukee Bucks or Portland Trail Blazers.
Meyers Leonard, Portland Trail Blazers
2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 3.4 points, 2.1 rebounds, 0.5 assists, 59.0 percent shooting, 42.3 percent shooting
Contract Details: 2 years, $21.9 million
Meyers Leonard is a default inclusion for a Blazers squad that needs to shed salary.
Carrying cap holds for all their free agents puts them more than $23 million over the luxury tax to start the offseason. That number will shrink or mushroom depending on how many incumbent free agents they keep around.
Pretty much every imaginable scenario leaves them above the tax threshold. They'd have to cut ties with Pat Connaughton (restricted), Ed Davis, Shabazz Napier (restricted) and Jusuf Nurkic (restricted) to remain under the $123 million line. That ain't happening. They cannot afford to ditch all their own free agents, and re-signing Nurkic alone figures to drag them into the tax.
Greasing the wheels of a Leonard salary dump is Portland's bookkeeping middle ground. Al-Farouq Aminu (one year, $7 million) and Moe Harkless (two years, $22.3 million) are more valuable as assets at their respective price points. Moving Evan Turner helps the cause, but it will likely cost two first-round picks (or prospects) to lop off the $36.5 million he's owed through 2019-20.
Granted, shipping out Leonard's contract is no walk in the park. He finished the season behind Davis, Nurkic and rookie Zach Collins in the big-man rotation. And the Blazers would sooner turn to smaller lineups with Aminu or Harkless at the 4 before giving him minutes at power forward.
Leonard retains his pick-and-pop potential but doesn't tout any notable individual moves. His rim protection is fine in small doses when he's not required to flitter around outside the paint, but he's no deterrent. Portland's opponents have seen their accuracy around the hoop improve with him on the floor in five of his six seasons, according to Cleaning The Glass—an uncomfortable, if damning, trend given head coach Terry Stotts' ultra-friendly defensive schemes.
Still, other teams will talk themselves into Leonard. He doesn't turn 27 until February and won't break the bank at about $11 million annually. He'll be worth the gamble to rebuilding types if attached to a protected first-rounder. The Atlanta Hawks, Dallas Mavericks and Orlando Magic immediately spring to mind. So, too, do the Miami Heat if the Blazers are interested in expanding to a bad-salary swap for Hassan Whiteside rather than straight-up savings.
Kevin Love, Cleveland Cavaliers
2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 17.6 points, 9.3 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 0.7 steals, 45.8 percent shooting, 41.5 percent three-point shooting
Contract Details: 2 years, $49.7 million (player option for 2019-20)
Kevin Love's immediate future will be dictated by LeBron James' latest free-agency decision.
Either he leaves, in which case the Cleveland Cavaliers will look to start over without a soon-to-be 30-year-old entering a contract season. Or he stays, in which case the Cavaliers will...still probably shop Love in search of roster upgrades.
Cruel? Maybe. Inaccurate? Hardly. The Cavaliers tried moving Love last summer as part of a three-team trade with the Denver Nuggets and Indiana Pacers that would have landed them Paul George. Such is life alongside James: You're both Finals-bound and expendable.
Dethroning the Golden State Warriors this time around might solidify Love's place in Cleveland if James stays put. But 1) the Cavaliers aren't beating the Warriors, and 2) let's face facts: It probably wouldn't matter if they did.
Love hasn't played well enough in the postseason to endear himself as James' indispensable No. 2. He's shooting 33.0 percent on threes—33.3 percent on wide-open triples since the conference finals—and Cleveland still has to game-plan around his defensive limitations.
Any team James plays for must be assembled with Golden State in mind. Love fits into that vision if he's surrounded by a handful of switchy worker bees while playing the 5, but the Cavaliers' supporting cast doesn't begin to meet that criteria.
With James, and after posting a career-best true shooting percentage in the regular season, Love is Cleveland's best piece of trade bait. Without James, he's pointless. For Love, then, all offseason roads lead to another stint in the rumor mill.
Nikola Vucevic, Orlando Magic
2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 16.5 points, 9.2 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.0 steals, 1.1 blocks, 47.5 percent shooting
Contract Details: 1 years, $12.8 million
Nikola Vucevic is forever a staple in these discussions. His expiring contract, coupled with the Magic's lack of trade assets, ensures that won't change now.
And for his part, Vucevic didn't sound like someone itching to stay in Orlando by the end of 2017-18, per the Orlando Sentinel's Josh Robbins:
"Now we're kind of stuck. It's hard to see what we can do to get better. I always felt like before we had so many young pieces. We were going to grow together. We were going to get somewhere. A lot of times that happens: When you have young pieces you're able to maybe trade one for a couple of good veterans or something. But the moves we made didn't really work out for us.
"You look at Vic [Oladipo], Tobias [Harris] — where they're at, how they're playing. It's just very tough to deal with all that when you think about where we could be and where we're at. It's just very hard to deal with all that. It takes a very big toll mentally on you, especially for me. I've been here for so long. The last two seasons have been the very hardest for me and I've had a hard time dealing with all this.”
Vucevic is noticeably more upbeat about the Magic's future following the Steve Clifford hire. He told HoopsHype's Alex Kennedy that he's already had dinner with Orlando's new head coach and seems genuinely interested in playing for him.
But the Magic are about to have $40 million or more invested in Bismack Biyombo and Aaron Gordon (restricted) per season after caking in the latter's new, near-max contract. Vucevic doesn't have a clear place on the payroll beyond next season—particularly with Jonathan Isaac on the roster.
His short-term fit gets even more awkward if the Magic roll with a combo big or forward in the draft. Both Bleacher Report's Jonathan Wasserman and ESPN.com's Jonathan Givony have them choosing Trae Young sixth overall, but the pull to select the 6'11" and one-time consensus(ish) No. 1 pick Michael Porter Jr. will be real. A best-player-available approach would also demand they give Mohamed Bamba and Jaren Jackson Jr. a look if they fall.
Plus, as one of the many squads projected to begin this summer over the cap, the Magic don't have another impact move at their disposal. Putting Vucevic on the chopping block allows them to act like a rebuilding team and sponge up unwanted salary in exchange for a pick or prospect. Miami, Milwaukee, Portland and Toronto should already have them on speed dial.
Hassan Whiteside, Miami Heat
2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 14.0 points, 11.4 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 0.7 steals, 1.7 blocks, 54.0 percent shooting
Contract Details: 2 years, $52.5 million (player option for 2019-20)
The Heat's proximity to the luxury tax should leave Hassan Whiteside up for grabs no matter what. Floating Wayne Ellington's hold brings them to around $129 million in expected commitments entering the offseason. Swan-diving into the tax for a team that was bounced in the first round doesn't have a nice ring to it.
Whiteside's apparent displeasure with his role takes care of the rest. He grumbled and groaned about his place in the rotation and the offense to close the year. Most recently, he posted a Snapchat video in which he trolled the Heat for not allowing him to launch jumpers. Welcome to 2018.
Multiple sources have told the Miami Herald's Barry Jackson that "there is strong sentiment inside the Heat organization to move on from Whiteside and the Heat is expected to explore trades involving him this offseason." Junking what's left of his deal won't be easy, but the same goes for Tyler Johnson (two years, $38.5 million), James Johnson (three years, $46.1 million) and Dion Waiters (three years, $36.3 million).
Attaching Rodney McGruder or the extension-eligible Justise Winslow should get a team to bite. Even then, the Heat will have to reconcile taking back alternative unsavory salary. Most squads don't have the flexibility to swallow Whiteside's deal. The ones that do will ask for buffers Miami doesn't have or has no business forking over (i.e. Josh Richardson).
Portland (Meyers Leonard, Evan Turner) and Milwaukee (Matthew Dellavedova, John Henson) have the iffy salaries in place to make something work. Maybe Orlando builds something around Terrence Ross and Nikola Vucevic if the Heat aggressively sweeten the deal. Do the Dallas Mavericks look at dangling Harrison Barnes if they nab Marvin Bagley III, Jaren Jackson Jr. or Luka Doncic at No. 5?
Miami has to cut costs somehow, and showing Ellington the door must be viewed as a last resort. The offense cannot stomach his departure. And of all the unpalatable contracts on the Heat's books, Whiteside's should be the easiest to oust.
That, of course, doesn't say much. But a two-year commitment has a light at the end of a tunnel, and paying him top dollar still feels like a more worthwhile dice roll than bankrolling Tyler Johnson's $19 million-plus salary.