Realistic 2018 NBA Draft Night Trades: How Sixers Could Land Kawhi Leonard
Draft-day trades are part of the NBA's DNA. They're a rite of summer—an indoctrination into the chaos that awaits us over the rest of the offseason.
This year's festivities will not lack a defining flurry of action. If anything, the league will be on tilt more than usual.
Offseason buyers are hard up for cap space in advance of free agency and looking to shed salary. Five teams have multiple first-round picks, many of which will be looking to cut the line. A talented crop of lottery prospects could uniquely enliven the trade-down market. A certain relationship in San Antonio is on the fritz and begging a resolution.
Thursday's draft has the potential to be both epic and weird. The prescription for coping with such madness? Workshopping plausible deals.
Dallas Helps Denver Shed Salary
Denver Nuggets Receive: No. 54
Dallas Mavericks Receive: PF/C Darrell Arthur, SG/SF Malik Beasley, No. 43
The Atlanta Hawks are apparently weighing whether to help the Nuggets in their quest to offload Kenneth Faried's expiring salary, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Michael Cunningham. But they won't open the cap space necessary to swallow money until after the draft.
Dallas is set up to immediately absorb Faried's $13.8 million hit, which it should do if Denver dangles the No. 14 pick. Related: Denver should not be using a friggin' lottery selection to shed salary.
Cap space is available in scant supply around the league. That won't change following the draft. But the market will expand a bit. More pointedly, expiring contracts aren't backbreakers. Junking a lottery selection to trim money from the bottom line doesn't make sense unless you're clearing the runway for a superstar.
The Nuggets aren't doing that. And the player they choose at No. 14 could add badly needed length to their perimeter carousel. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Kevin Knox and Zhaire Smith are all quality end-of-lottery options.
Passing on one of them—or someone else—just to pawn off Faried doesn't sit right. The Nuggets, of course, don't have the assets to entice the Mavericks with an alternative package. They're not the Hawks. They plan on re-entering the playoff conversation soon and won't trash a large chunk of their offseason flexibility for the sake of acquiring odds and ends.
Splitting the difference with Arthur is a happy medium. He'll make about 54 percent of what Faried will take home in 2018-19, and the Mavericks are getting two reasonable fliers in the untested Beasley and a higher second-round selection.
Denver is slashing $9.2 million from its payroll, which helps alleviate the luxury-tax concerns associated with giving Nikola Jokic (team option) a max contract. Dumping Arthur and Beasley doesn't solve everything. The tax would remain in play if Wilson Chandler picks up his player option and Will Barton signs a new pact. But Hawks aren't going anywhere. Faried can be rerouted to them at a later date.
This assumes the Nuggets are afraid of paying the tax. Team president Josh Kroenke said they're not, per The Athletic's Nick Kosmider, in which case this trade becomes more about crashing the free-agency party.
Jettisoning Arthur is the first step of capitalizing on Jokic's sub-$3 million contract hold. Sending Faried to Atlanta and then parting ways with Chandler, via free agency or trade, would arm the Nuggets with more than $15 million to burn through. Their tax bill would then explode after re-signing Jokic, but they'd be deeper and scarier for it.
Pick Swap #SZN in Atlanta and Washington
Atlanta Hawks Receive: No. 15
Washington Wizards: No. 19 and No. 30
Trading out of No. 15 could be a tough call for the Wizards. More than a few tantalizing names might remain on the board just outside the lottery: Gilgeous-Alexander, Smith, Robert Williams—just to highlight a few.
Still, in the face of the luxury tax, fleshing out the rotation on the cheap takes priority. The Wizards won't pick again until No. 44 and don't have the championship cachet to attract the top mini-mid-level candidates.
Sliding down four spots isn't that much of a sacrifice for scooping up an extra first-rounder. Smith may still be available at No. 19. Alexander is a mysterious enough fringe-lottery prospect to maybe tumble that far.
Troy Brown and Kevin Huerter will be up for grabs in that range. The Wizards could roll with one of them and then use No. 30 on another wing or athletic gamble up front. Mitchell Robinson would be a great project at the 5 if he lasts that long.
The Hawks shouldn't think twice about making this four-slot jump. They have three first-rounders.
Consolidating their final two into a borderline lottery prospect would bring them closer to building block territory. Four spots may not seem like a lot, but it could be the difference between taking a career complement at No. 19 and pouncing on a last-second faller such as Alexander, Miles Bridges, Knox or even Collin Sexton.
Granted, the Wizards could be thinking along those same lines. But it will be harder to develop a coin-flip cornerstone beside Bradley Beal and John Wall. Washington doesn't have the on-ball reps or learning-curve minutes to go around. Extra bodies, and the general depth they provide, will mean just as much to the Wizards.
Clippers and Grizzlies Get Strange
Los Angeles Clippers Receive: SF/PF Chandler Parsons, No. 4 pick
Memphis Grizzlies Receive: SF/PF Sam Dekker, SF/PF Tobias Harris, SF Wesley Johnson, No. 12 pick, No. 13 pick
League sources told The Athletic's Michael Scotto the Grizzlies "have gauged the trade market on a package of Chandler Parsons and the No. 4 overall pick." The Clippers, meanwhile, have interest in trading up to draft Luka Doncic, according to Yahoo Sports' Shams Charania.
Let's make one thing clear: Using a top-four prospect to escape the final two years and $49.2 million left on Parsons' deal is a terrible decision. The Grizzlies should look to start over before mortgaging a glitzy piece of their future. They'll squeeze additional value out of a Parsons trade with the fourth pick as bait, but the return won't propel them into the top half of the Western Conference.
Moving out of No. 4 would look especially bad, depending on who's available. As Grizzly Bear Blues' Joe Mullinax wrote:
"If [Marvin] Bagley, or heaven forbid Luka Doncic, falls to No. 4 and the Grizzlies aren't there to possibly take advantage, that could be very bad for the Memphis front office. What if the insane occurs, and Sacramento takes [Jaren] Jackson or Michael Porter Jr. (health concerns may negate this) and then for some reason Atlanta wants Trae Young, who they had in for a private workout? What if both Doncic AND Bagley are there? It isn't as far-fetched as we once thought, and a trade for that pick in that situation is much more valuable than it is sitting here days away from the draft in Brooklyn.
Even then, it is a tough sell to a fan base hungry for new blood and direction toward a future. Jackson or Porter (if healthy) would be decent consolation prizes if Doncic and Bagley are gone, and they could both be key cogs in a future Grizzlies team that doesn't involve [Marc] Gasol or [Mike] Conley. To pass on a shot at control (in theory) for almost a decade of a franchise level talent for moving on from two years of a bad contract and the chance to be 1st or 2nd round fodder to Golden State or Houston feels short-sighted."
This package is as close as the Grizzlies will come to neutralizing the risk inherent in shipping out a potential franchise pillar. Harris is a certified buckets-getter at the 3 and 4, and they'll be able to grab a wing and a guard with the 12th and 13th selections. Dekker and Johnson could move the needle a smidge as small-ball 4s. If not, both come off the books in 2019.
Harris' impending free agency will factor into the Grizzlies' decision. He'll fetch a pretty penny next summer. He'll also have just wrapped his age 26 season and will cost appreciably less than the $25.1 million Parsons is owed for 2019-20.
Giving up this much to (hopefully) take Doncic or Jaren Jackson Jr. would be quite the leap from the Clippers. They'll have more than $45 million per year wrapped up in Parsons and Danilo Gallinari through 2019-20. But they're toeing the line of a rebuild anyway. Doncic affords them a premier focal point, and they'll be set up to reload in 2020 free agency—when he's presumably ready to headline a postseason irritant.
Chicago Trades Up, and Sacramento Indulges Its Michael Porter Jr. Obsession
Chicago Bulls Receive: SG Iman Shumpert, No. 2
Sacramento Kings Receive: PF/C Bobby Portis, No. 7, No. 22
Chicago wasn't thinking about moving up the board as of the NBA's draft lottery.
"We may not even want to do that," vice president of basketball operations John Paxson said, per the Chicago Tribune's K.C. Johnson. "It's hard to do, unless you have something really valuable.”
Certain "rival teams" believe the Kings are "strongly weighing" whether to draft Michael Porter Jr. with the second overall pick, according to the New York Times' Marc Stein. This is, um, interesting.
Never mind Porter's back and, now, hip problems. He has the ceiling to make good on this swing. But the Kings don't need to take said swing.
Bleacher Report's Jonathan Wasserman has Porter going to the Bulls at No. 7 in his latest mock. Ditto for ESPN.com's Jonathan Givony. Pretty much no one has him going in the top five after he logged 53 total minutes across three appearances at Missouri. Gary Parrish of CBSSports.com slotted him for Memphis at No. 4, which is among the few and most extreme exceptions.
Drafting Porter without exhausting the trade-down market would be unforgivably irresponsible of the Kings. It doesn't matter if he pans out. Nor does it matter if he's atop their war-room big board. They need to channel their inner Danny Ainge and extract additional value from their position.
Contacting the Bulls is the place to start. They should be more keen on moving up the draft-day ladder than most other top-10 squads. Strike their bizarre 23-game tear following Nikola Mirotic's season debut from the record, and they played at a 17-win pace. Winding up with the seventh overall pick instead of a top-three choice cuts to the core.
Sweetening the pot with No. 22 and Portis comes off as steep at first glance. It's not. Jumping to No. 2 gives the Bulls at crack at Luka Doncic or a better frontcourt partner for Lauri Markkanen.
Shumpert's deal isn't much of a pill to them. He'll eat into their projected cap space, but they shouldn't spend big money while in the infant stages of a do-over. Plus, his money will come off the ledger next year, and he's from Oak Park, Illinois. Short-term, no-risk homecomings are fun.
Unless the Kings have intel that Porter is getting scooped up before No. 7, they should pounce. Portis is an awkward fit with Willie Cauley-Stein, Harry Giles and Skal Labissiere, but who cares? The Kings get their guy, in Porter, and shave almost $9 million from next season's salary obligations after accounting for the difference in rookie-scale contracts. That's money they can spend on free agents or lease out to desperate buyers in exchange for even more picks and prospects.
Philly Wins the Kawhi Leonard Sweepstakes
San Antonio Spurs Receive: SG/SF Jerryd Bayless, PG Markelle Fultz, PF Dario Saric, No. 10 pick
Philadelphia 76ers Receive: SF Kawhi Leonard
Don't bet on a predraft Leonard trade—or even one before next season. He wants out, as the San Antonio Express-News' Jabari Young first reported, but the Spurs needn't rush the process. They hadn't even spoken to him as of the initial report, according to USA Today's Sam Amick.
No one has the Spurs over a barrel. Not yet. Leonard is working off an injury-plagued campaign and ticketed for free agency next summer (player option), but lowball offers won't cut the mustard until he has convinced head coach Gregg Popovich he's done.
And even then, San Antonio could try rehabilitating his on-court value before moving him ahead of the trade deadline. The offers won't get much worse. Teams that are confident he'll re-sign with them now will remain so in February.
Bear this in mind when evaluating the Kawhi sweepstakes. It will, in all likelihood, take Godfather overtures to pry him out of San Antonio.
Few teams are qualified to make that commitment to a potential flight risk. The Sixers are one of them. The Boston Celtics are the only club that can match their recruiting tools. Leonard would join a team with two top-10 players in the making (Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons), and his arrival wouldn't preclude Philly from chasing Paul George and LeBron James in free agency.
Include the eventual salary for the No. 10 pick, and the Sixers would slice money off next season's operating costs—about $2.9 million, less empty-roster charges. They'll still enter the summer with more than $25 million in space and a clear path to bankrolling George's max salary ($30.3 million). If James is their guy ($35.4 million max), they can build opt-in-and-trade or sign-and-trade packages around Robert Covington to make up the difference.
Under no circumstance will the Sixers auction off Fultz, Saric and No. 10 without a wink-wink agreement from Leonard. They should get it. Whether they trust him and Dennis Robertson, Leonard's uncle and purported shot-caller, is another story. But they shouldn't have trouble securing a preliminary endorsement. Leonard will not find a comfier situation.
Potential roadblocks end there. The Spurs will have a hard time saying no even if Pop hasn't yet attempted a face-to-face reconciliation. Saric is the second-best player in this deal and such a Spurs player. Fultz is hardly a bust after a lost 2017-18. He retains the intrigue of a No. 1 pick, and a Fultz-Dejounte Murray backcourt will break both hearts and defenses in another year or two.
Stomaching Bayless' contract isn't the Spurs' speed, but he's a one-year issue if they don't reach a buyout. And taking on a single expiring deal is well worth ensuring the Sixers part with the No. 10 pick. They don't have an incentive to surrender three marquee assets without unloading Bayless, and the Spurs cannot turn down a chance to draft Mikal Bridges, Miles Bridges, Wendell Carter Jr. or another promising prospect after losing Leonard.