Impact Moves Teams Should Still Pursue During NBA Offseason
Most of the NBA's biggest free agents are off the board, but that doesn't mean summertime movement will grind to a halt. In many respects, the league's silly season is just getting started.
Thinned-out free-agent ranks give way to trade speculation. Prospective luxury-tax bills will invite buyouts and salary dumps. Certain teams will be looking to rebound from key losses. Others will try to hang tight in ongoing arms races.
And hey: The free-agency well isn't completely dry. A handful of impact players and tantalizing dice rolls remain up for grabs.
This summer is already weird. Market values have been difficult to peg. The motives for buyers and sellers alike remain in limbo.
Blame the 2016 cap spike, or irresponsible owners and general managers, or even the Golden State Warriors. Weird does not equate to ruined. Nor does it imply an early end to the general absurdity. The offseason has lot of drama yet to give.
Let's script some of our own.
The Kings Sign Clint Capela to an Offer Sheet
Clint Capela will probably return to the Houston Rockets. When incumbent teams have the right to match any offer sheets, restricted free agents worth a darn are seldom flight risks.
The Sacramento Kings might as well make life more difficult for the Rockets.
Capela is after "a deal similar to Oklahoma City Thunder big man Steven Adams' four-year, $100 million contract," according to ESPN.com's Tim MacMahon. On July 1, Houston offered him a five-year contract worth between $85 and $90 million, per the Houston Chronicle's Jonathan Feigen.
Sacramento doesn't have the space to tender Capela's max (nearly $25.5 million). It has a hair under $20 million and could maybe open up more by using Willie Cauley-Stein or Skal Labissiere to grease the departure of an expiring contract.
That initial price point could coax the Rockets into passing on their Swiss skyscraper. They've already lost Trevor Ariza to the Phoenix Suns and Luc Mbah a Moute to the Los Angeles Clippers. Diving too far into the luxury tax seems to be a major concern.
Owner Tilman Fertitta staunchly disagrees, telling MacMahon of Houston's summer: "We know we're going to be in the luxury tax, and if you want to compete for a championship, I feel like unless you get real lucky, you're going to be in the luxury tax. So it is what it is...It never even came up in any discussion."
Going after Capela only makes more sense for Sacramento after hearing that. If the Rockets match the offer sheet, the Kings have successfully futzed with their cap sheet and can resume hunting opportunistic salary dumps. If they balk, the Kings have themselves a slightly overpaid 24-year-old defensive fulcrum to plug into their frontcourt beside Marvin Bagley. They can hash out the futures of—i.e. trades for—Cauley-Stein, Labissiere and, potentially, Harry Giles later.
Either way, they win.
Sixers Go All-In on Kawhi Leonard Trade
Are the San Antonio Spurs ready to trade Kawhi Leonard? Can their relationship be repaired? Will teams pay a premium when he's ticketed for free agency next summer (player option)? And when he's working his way back from a mysterious right quad injury that limited him to nine appearances last season?
No one has a firm hold on how the Leonard soap opera will play out. Bleacher Report's Ric Bucher spoke with a number of league executives, and not one of them forecasted a specific ending. The Spurs could let all of this spill into training camp and the regular season. Or they could chance Leonard's free agency next year. Or he could sign the five-year, $221-plus million designated player extension that Bucher confirmed they've offered him.
Assuming any one outcome for this imbroglio is irresponsible. Based on what they demanded from the Los Angeles Lakers, according to CBA FAQ author Larry Coon, the Spurs aren't moving Leonard without netting a godfather haul.
It's unclear whether any suitor will acquiesce to San Antonio's demands in full. The Lakers have LeBron James under lock and key; they needn't be in any immediate rush. The Boston Celtics will get back two top-20 players, Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving, to start next season. The Los Angeles Clippers and New York Knicks don't have the assets to sway the Spurs. The Suns and Denver Nuggets shouldn't throw out their best offers without assurances Leonard will re-sign with them in 2019.
The Philadelphia 76ers are in a more unique position since they don't have to mortgage their asset chest for Leonard. In the race for Eastern Conference supremacy, they're closer to the Celtics than not. Standing pat leaves them within reach of an NBA Finals appearance.
Then again, a fully healthy Leonard transforms them from ahead-of-schedule dark horse to viable contender. They have enough star power in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons to convince themselves the two-time Defensive Player of the Year will want to stay.
Equally important: Their potential Leonard packages take many different forms, invariably shape-shifting to account for their own urgency and interest, as well as the Spurs' asking price and leverage (or lack thereof). Here are a few proposals to munch on, from the lowball to the all-in plays (assume all rookies are being dealt 30 days after signing their contract):
- Jerryd Bayless, Markelle Fultz, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and 2021 first-round pick (via Miami Heat) for Kawhi Leonard
- Robert Covington, Furkan Korkmaz, Dario Saric, Zhaire Smith, 2020 first-round pick and 2021 first-round pick (via Miami) for Kawhi Leonard and Brandon Paul
- Robert Covington, Markelle Fultz, Zhaire Smith and 2019 first-round pick for Kawhi Leonard
- Jerryd Bayless, Robert Covington, Markelle Fultz, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, 2019 first-round pick, 2020 pick swap and 2021 first-round pick (via Miami) for Kawhi Leonard and Patty Mills
- Jerryd Bayless, Markelle Fultz, Dario Saric, 2019 first-round pick, 2020 pick swap and 2021 first-round pick (via Miami) for Kawhi Leonard
This barely scratches the surface. The Sixers have so many permutations to peddle—an offer for every degree of compensation it may take the Spurs to part ways with Leonard.
Denver Signs David Nwaba
Defense is going to be an issue for the Denver Nuggets—a big issue. They placed 26th in points allowed per 100 possessions last season and aren't projected to improve much, if at all, leading into next year.
A fully healthy Paul Millap will help some, but not much. The Nuggets' other moves won't allow it. They offloaded Wilson Chandler, one of their more mobile defenders, into the Sixers' cap space. And then they proceeded to sign Isaiah Thomas, according to ESPN.com's Adrian Wojnarowski. They need worker bees on the wings even after re-upping Torrey Craig.
Sending Darrell Arthur and Kenneth Faried to the Brooklyn Nets positions the Nuggets to make an 11th-hour addition. They're saving more than $20 million as part of the salary dump, per Woj. That doesn't just yank them outside luxury-tax territory. It frees them up to use what's left of their mid-level exception without worrying about the tax.
And wouldn't you know it, the Chicago Bulls just rescinded their quality offer to David Nwaba, according to Yahoo Sports' Shams Charania. They could still re-sign him, but the Nuggets now have the financial clout to sling more than the minimum without incurring monstrous luxury-tax penalties. Or this could be a James Ennis situation, in which Nwaba signs on for the minimum.
Denver should be on top of him either way. Nwaba listed at 6'4" but defends like he's 6'9". Chicago got away with using him on everyone from point guards to power forwards.
Any perimeter rotation that now features Thomas, Will Barton and Jamal Murray needs that versatility.
Knicks Trade Courtney Lee to the Thunder
Getting rid of Courtney Lee has to be a priority for the Knicks. They have their eyes set on courting Kevin Durant next summer (player option), per ESPN.com's Zach Lowe. Sneaking out from under the final year of Lee's deal matters. Their cap outlook isn't all it's cracked up to be.
Kristaps Porzingis' restricted free-agent hold ($17.1 million) makes it tough for them to carve out max room. Stretching Joakim Noah alone doesn't get them there. Waiving Lance Thomas' partial guarantee ($1 million) and renouncing all their other free agents might, but it'll be tight depending on where their draft pick ends up.
Rerouting Lee to the Oklahoma City Thunder makes all kinds of sense. They need someone who can chase around opposing wings and hit three-pointers at a consistent clip. Lee fits that bill.
Oklahoma City doesn't have the assets to make a deal work straight up. Including Carmelo Anthony and sussing out a third-team facilitator is important—and also super hard.
Cap space around the league is harder than ever to find. The Atlanta Hawks have recused themselves as a major dumping ground by absorbing Jeremy Lin. That leaves the Kings and Bulls.
The latter is the best option after rescinding David Nwaba's qualifying offer. The Bulls can open up about $20.6 million in room by cutting bait with other non-guarantees, arming them with serious maneuverability in negotiations. A three-way deal along the lines of this works out for all three parties:
- Bulls Receive: Carmelo Anthony, Terrance Ferguson, 2020 second-round pick (via Oklahoma City Thunder)
- Knicks Receive: Hamidou Diallo and Robin Lopez
- Thunder Receive: Justin Holiday and Courtney Lee
Will the Thunder view Diallo, Ferguson and a future second-rounder as an acceptable cost for shaving $11.3 million off their bottom line before taxes? Are the Bulls cool with getting Ferguson and a second in exchange for renting out what will be sub-$10 million in cap space after Anthony's buyout?
Both questions are valid causes for hesitation. But the Knicks should green light their own participation. This package adds just a couple million in salary for 2018-19 while erasing Lee's $12.8 million hit from the 2019-20 ledger. Signing Diallo, a worthy perimeter flier, will barely eat into the resulting savings.
New York can hold out for a better return closer to the trade deadline. But going on 33, Lee's value is subject to a nosedive. The Knicks should find solace in improving their 2019 cap sheet now—especially when they're also opening more run for younger wings and strengthening their tank.
Phoenix Trades for Patrick Beverley
Patrick Beverley is the perfect trade target for a Suns squad trying to re-establish itself in the Western Conference.
Sure, he's coming back from right knee surgery, but he's also a no-risk acquisition. His contract comes off the ledger after next season. Phoenix's mistake will be short-lived if he doesn't help.
Except, he'll probably help.
The Suns need a point guard, and Beverley is an ideal fit beside an alpha scorer like Devin Booker. He busts his tail on defense and has spent most of his career working off ball-dominant partners in the backcourt. Reuniting him with Ariza bolsters the offense's previously crummy spacing while laying the groundwork for an effective defensive identity.
It shouldn't take much to pry Beverley from the Clippers. They're hardly light on backcourt options even after trading Austin Rivers to the Washington Wizards.
Rookies Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Jerome Robinson need reps to facilitate their development. Jawun Evans is in the same boat. Los Angeles also has Avery Bradley, Milos Teodosic (nonguaranteed) and Lou Williams to consider.
Coming up with a fair package is still harder than it should be. The Suns won't be hocking their best assets, and the Clippers may not have an affinity for their fringe chips.
Selling low on Dragan Bender or Marquese Chriss and perhaps a protected second-rounder feels fair. Both bigs are best equipped for center duty, and the Suns just drafted Deandre Ayton at No. 1. The Clippers don't have a building block at the 5 after losing DeAndre Jordan to the Dallas Mavericks. They're strictly invested in expiring placeholders (Marcin Gortat, Boban Marjanovic, Mike Scott) unless they re-sign Montrezl Harrell.
Neither Bender nor Chriss is a sure thing. They're quite the opposite. But the Clippers have room in their frontcourt for unknown 20-somethings who don't make enough to jeopardize next summer's spending power.
Carmelo Anthony Joins the Lakers
Yes, yes, yes. This goes against everything that's being reported.
Anthony has already started talking to the Heat and Rockets, according to according to Woj. Houston is reportedly the heavy favorite to land his services once he leaves Oklahoma City, per Marc Stein of the New York Times.
Anthony joining LeBron James is the dream for those of us who take great pleasure in oddball roster constructions. Think about it: The Lakers were at one time supposed to partner LeBron with Leonard and Paul George. Surrounding him instead with Anthony, JaVale McGee, Rajon Rondo and Lance Stephenson is an objectively hilarious contingency.
To be clear: This isn't all giggles and upside-down-face emojis. Anthony's connection with James is no laughing matter. He might be willing to make concessions alongside his BFFL that he wasn't open to in Oklahoma City.
Conversely, perhaps Anthony flat-out masters the role of secondary scorer, spot-up assassin and occasional pick-and-roll diver. James has a way of bringing out the best in everyone who follows his lead, which is why we can only cackle over the Lakers' peripheral moves until they play the games.
Indeed, the Rockets are an equally intriguing destination for Anthony. In reality, they're the best fit, bar none. They're approaching next season with more urgency; their timeline is more immediate than the from-scratch process James is endorsing with the Lakers.
Still, we're talking about LeBron and Melo playing on the same team alongside a bunch of kiddies in one of the biggest markets. This needs to happen.
Unless otherwise noted, stats courtesy of NBA.com or Basketball Reference. Salary and cap-hold information via Basketball Insiders and RealGM. Reported agreements to sign via NBA.com's free-agent tracker unless otherwise noted.