5 Trade Ideas for NBA's Tanking TeamsNovember 12, 2018
5 Trade Ideas for NBA's Tanking Teams
Let's begin with a disclaimer: Few teams are doing their best tanking impression this early into the NBA's regular season. Full-blown commitments to losing require more absences from a squad's best players and fewer minutes for veterans who don't fit the rebuilding timeline.
Some are just waiting to take the most drastic measures. Again: It's early. Others haven't yet realized or accepted their fate. It's early.
That leaves this latest trip into the trade-idea abyss to lean on expected, eventual tankers. Fortunately, they're not hard to spot.
Rosters entrenched in the most obvious youth movements or assembled without serious winning in mind are easy targets. So are flat-out bad teams that will, at some point, recognize they are flat-out bad.
Any squad with binding playoff aspirations despite a cruddy start is safe...for now. We're not here to blow up the Houston Rockets or Washington Wizards or to decimate fringe cases and could-be postseasoners like the Brooklyn Nets, Los Angeles Clippers, Memphis Grizzlies, Miami Heat et al. Surprise rock-bottom enthusiasts will emerge in time. They always do. Trying to identify them so soon is a nincompoop's errand.
Teams without an incentive to begin tanking or hold a fire sale are off the table as well. The Sacramento Kings don't own their 2019 first-round pick (and are better than expected!). The Dallas Mavericks may want to lose their way toward keeping their own selection, which is owed to the Atlanta Hawks with top-five protection. But they're light on pricey long-term pacts, and they won't be open to increasing their payroll before free agency.
Contenders and playoff hopefuls will be on the other side of these deals. Mostly, though, this is about helping the worst teams cut costs, collect intriguing assets, capitalize on inevitable goners, open playing time for the kids and/or shore up proximity to top-three lottery odds.
Chicago Helps Denver Beef Up Its Wing Rotation
Chicago Bulls Receive: Malik Beasley, Tyler Lydon
Denver Nuggets Receive: Justin Holiday
Justin Holiday is showing out this season. He's shooting 38.3 percent from long range, finding spotters and slashers off the dribble and assuming defensive assignments well above his pay grade for protracted spells: Luka Doncic, Kevin Durant, James Harden, even his brother Jrue Holiday.
Chicago shouldn't be dying to trade wings, especially with the 6'6" Denzel Valentine on the shelf. The roster is light on bodies who stand up to the most versatile scorers. And calling Holiday a "wing" sort of stretches his functional versatility. His performance thus far is a luxury borne out of necessity.
But Holiday is headed for free agency and turns—wait for it—30 in April. He doesn't jibe with the Bulls' beginner's timeline. Keeping him doesn't hurt anyone. Despite some off-the-bounce guile, most of his looks come on the catch. He is a seamless, harmless fit.
That'll change with his next contract. Teams will have more cap space to throw around this summer than they did in 2017, when Holiday signed his deal. Short of him accepting an over-the-top, one-year placeholder agreement, Chicago is better off allocating its capital to—semi-spoiler alert—young or youngish wings with a bit more flair on either side of the floor.
Sussing out offers won't be a problem. Having Holiday's Early Bird rights is a fairly big deal for teams that don't project to wield cap space this offseason.
Denver's hypothetical offer might fall a tad short. Throwing in a future second-rounder would considerably strengthen the package, but the Nuggets are plum out of those until 2022. They'd be banking on a depressed response to Holiday's availability.
There's some merit to this train of thought. Expiring contracts don't fetch a ton on the chopping block. It will take an act of desperation for the Bulls to net much more than Malik Beasley, a 21-year-old wing with another season left on his rookie deal, and a flyer on unrestricted free agent-to-be Tyler Lydon.
The Nuggets would have little to think about. Their wing rotation is thin even with Juancho Hernangomez balling and will remain imperfect following Will Barton's return. Holiday wouldn't compromise their defensive improvement and would bring accessory shooting to an offense that badly needs it.
Orlando Leans In to the Tank to New Orleans' Gain
New Orleans Pelicans Receive: Terrence Ross
Orlando Magic Receive: Wesley Johnson, 2019 second-round pick
Trading Terrence Ross would be a tough pill for the Orlando Magic to swallow. Their offense is going nowhere. They rank 25th and 28th in effective field-goal percentage and points scored per 100 possessions. Flipping Ross, who leads them in three-point attempts per 36 minutes, for a non-spacer they'd probably look to buy out wouldn't do them any favors.
Nor would letting him walk for nothing in free agency.
Shooters will be handsomely rewarded for their services this summer, and Ross will turn 28 before he reaches the open market. The Magic have zero business making a significant multiyear investment in him. They remain too far from Eastern Conference relevancy and should be saving their cash for 2020, when D.J. Augustin, Timofey Mozgov and Jonathon Simmons ($1 million guarantee for 2019-20) are off the books and Evan Fournier has a player option (he'll likely exercise).
Ross would be more valuable to another team. The Orlando offense doesn't have the floor balance to profit from his standstill shooting. He's hitting under 33 percent of his catch-and-fire threes, and the Magic, bereft of quality point guard play beyond Augustin, need him to work off the dribble way more than he should be.
Grabbing a second-rounder and $4.4 million in savings for a stark flight risk isn't nothing. Orlando would have to eat an unsavory contract to get appreciably more. Solomon Hill and a first-rounder for Ross is something New Orleans would have to consider. If the Magic don't want to mess with Hill's $12.8 million next season, extracting another second-rounder from the Pelicans would be the ceiling on this deal's return.
As Bourbon Street Shots' Mason Ginsberg noted on a recent episode of Hardwood Knocks, a deal like this is exactly what New Orleans general manager Dell Demps might've had in mind when he acquired Wesley Johnson from the Clippers for Alexis Ajinca. Johnson's $6.1 million salary would allow the Pelicans to trade for someone making around $10.8 million. Ajinca's money ($5.3 million) would have only been good for a $9.3 million player.
Ross, who makes $10.5 million, would be a no-brainer for the Pelicans. They need playable depth on the wings, and his 35.4 percent clip from downtown will spike within their capable offense. That his contract doesn't leak into next season would only make for an easier decision—even if the Magic are insisting on another second-rounder.
Cleveland Embraces Rock Bottom (Mid-January)
Cleveland Cavaliers Receive: Wilson Chandler, Furkan Korkmaz, Mike Muscala, Justin Patton, 2019 second-round pick (from Chicago, via Philadelphia), 2020 second-round pick (from Dallas, via Philadelphia)
Philadelphia 76ers Receive: George Hill, Kyle Korver
Technically, the Cavaliers don't have to do anything to hit rock bottom. They're already there. The Phoenix Suns are the only direct competition for the league's worst record at the moment, and Cleveland doesn't even need to be that bad.
Every team with one of the three lowest winning percentages has an equal shot of landing the No. 1 overall pick. The Cavs can effectively tank without being the best at it. That shouldn't dissuade them from selling off veterans—the movable ones anyway.
Four-for-two trades are rare, particularly during the middle of the season. The Cavaliers could stomach this lopsided return.
They'd save about $4.5 million in salary this season and close to $5 million next season when factoring in partial guarantees for George Hill and Kyle Korver. They shouldn't have any qualms about waiving Justin Patton or brokering buyouts with Wilson Chandler and Mike Muscala. A flyer on Furkan Korkmaz for a team that needs wings and swingmen and a higher-end second-rounder would be enough net incentives for Cleveland to get on board.
(Aside: Patton cannot be traded in combination with other players for two months following his arrival in Philly. This deal won't be allowable until Jan. 12 or 13, depending on the official completion date of the acquisition of Jimmy Butler.)
Though the Sixers would again increase their commitment to this year, they wouldn't butcher their offseason flexibility. They can waive Hill and Korver over the summer and still eke out $15-plus million in cap space. They may even opt to keep Korver at his full price point ($7.5 million).
Ditching Chandler would cut into the wing rotation. The Sixers shouldn't care. They'll retain access to some dominant defensive combinations with Butler and Ben Simmons tackling the toughest wing assignments, and Landry Shamet can move about positions 1 through 3. When he's healthy, Hill's length helps him against some off-guards.
Whatever defensive tradeoff the Sixers incur is worth it. They're 21st in points scored per 100 possessions and 29th in catch-and-shoot effective field-goal percentage. Adding Butler to a cast that includes the ball-dominant Simmons, Joel Embiid and Markelle Fultz will only complicate matters.
Both Hill and Korver would be ideal fits for an offense that needed spotters to begin with yet just dealt away two of its primary off-ball weapons in Robert Covington and Dario Saric.
Phoenix Evades the Inevitable Trevor Ariza Buyout (After Dec. 14)
Indiana Pacers Receive: Trevor Ariza
Phoenix Suns Receive: Darren Collison, future second-round pick (conditional upon Indy's 2019 obligation to Brooklyn)
Strong veteran leadership is important on a losing team. Rookie Deandre Ayton has already lauded the intangibles brought to the table by the Suns' elder statesmen, per The Athletic's Gina Mizell. Getting rid of Trevor Ariza, who plays a ton and closes games, after buying out Tyson Chandler could feel like overkill.
Let's face it, though: Ariza's probably not finishing the season in Phoenix anyway.
Buyout talks are inevitable following the trade deadline. They could take place before then if LeBron James asks vice president of basketball operations James Jones nicely...again.
Ariza is 33 and making $15 million. The Suns could overpay him a second time so he sticks around, but why? They won't be contending for a title by next season, and other veteran mentors come cheaper. Phoenix has one of them in Jamal Crawford.
Most teams won't take back Ariza's bloated salary. Suitors will either want to send long-term money to the Suns or wait for him to hit the buyout market rather than fork over anyone or anything of value. It'll take a special admirer with the right assets to make a deal work.
Giving up Darren Collison isn't something that should scare the Pacers away. His three-point percentage has fallen off a cliff from last season's league-leading mark, and they have more than enough ball-handlers to pick up the slack in his absence. Jettisoning him would open the door for Tyreke Evans to assume a larger role.
The Suns could push for something more. They shouldn't. That won't end well. This iteration of Indiana isn't prone to sweeping midseason changes, and Phoenix would get enough. Ariza isn't giving back $5 million in a prospective buyout. Collison is making $10 million and can pitch in at the Suns' weakest position, much to Devin Booker's appreciation.
Phoenix could look at rerouting him closer to the deadline if it wants another draft pick. Would Washington send over Austin Rivers and a future second-rounder or two for Collison in order to shore up the playmaking behind John Wall while slashing its tax bill? Either way, saving some serious coin and nabbing a second-rounder would be worth the cost of a player bound to leave by next season, if not before then.
Cleveland, Chicago and New York Get Weird (After Dec. 14)
Chicago Bulls Receive: Tim Hardaway Jr.
Cleveland Cavaliers Receive: Jabari Parker
New York Knicks Receive: George Hill
Jabari Parker and the Bulls are not a fit. They'll be even less of one when Lauri Markkanen and Bobby Portis return from elbow and knee injuries. Parker would be more of an asset to the Cavaliers, who are light on intriguing young players and power forwards. The defensive dynamic between him and Kevin Love would be laughable, but Cleveland might try to trade the latter once he recovers from left foot surgery. If not, well, no-defense frontcourts are great for tanking.
Chicago could wait out the season, decline Parker's option and mosey on. But rerouting him beforehand makes sense if they can pick up a weapon on the perimeter. For now, Tim Hardaway Jr. qualifies.
As The Ringer's Dan Devine wrote, "He's taking and making more three-pointers than ever, getting to the free throw line at the highest rate of his career, and dishing assists on a larger share of New York's possessions while maintaining a microscopic turnover rate—all aspects of his game that needed to advance, and ones that will pull defensive attention away from [Kristaps] Porzingis."
Hardaway is also posting an effective field-goal percentage of 53.5 on his pull-up jumpers—a top-11 mark among the 69 players who average at least four attempts per game. He will never be an average defender, but he's more active than Parker, and Knicks head coach David Fizdale has occasionally thrown him on some of the game's deadliest scorers, for experience's sake.
Going on age 27, Hardaway is entering awkward territory. He's not young enough to bank on upside, but he's not too old to be part of a team with long-term expectations. The Bulls could build a nifty offense around him, Markkanen, Wendell Carter Jr. and Zach LaVine.
Hardaway's salary would be a sticking point. He's owed $37.1 million over the next two years (player option for 2020-21). That's not great value. If his numbers hold, he's not an albatross, either. Then again, if Hardaway keeps this up, the Knicks won't necessarily see the logic behind turning him into cap space.
They should try. Taking on George Hill and his $1 million guarantee for next season would lop $17.2 million from this summer's bottom line. Finding a Courtney Lee salary dump would then give them a path to more than $60 million in room—enough for Kevin Durant (player option) and then some.
Whether that much flexibility appeals to New York is debatable. Durant isn't a sure thing. The Knicks would feel better about this if they had access to dual maxes. They don't. They need $70.9 million to sign Durant and, say, Kawhi Leonard (player option). They can't get there while keeping Porzingis, Kevin Knox, Frank Ntilikina and this year's pick. Aiming instead for two of Leonard, Jimmy Butler (player option), Kyrie Irving (player option), Khris Middleton (player option) and Klay Thompson would at least be mathematically possible.
Either way, New York can afford to take this gamble. Hardaway's price point remains short of desirable. Getting out from the final two years of his deal without surrendering a sweetener would be a victory. That extra breathing room would come in handy. In the meantime, his departure would free up even more run for Damyean Dotson and Allonzo Trier along with Ntilikina and Emmanuel Mudiay.
Unless otherwise noted, stats courtesy of NBA.com or Basketball Reference and accurate leading into games on Nov. 13. Salary and cap-hold information via Basketball Insiders and RealGM.
Dan Favale covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter (@danfavale) and listen to his Hardwood Knocks podcast, co-hosted by B/R's Andrew Bailey.