NBA Trade Ideas for League's Most Desperate Buyers
Say goodbye to the NBA's early-season disclaimers. We are, officially, beyond them.
Enough basketball has been played to read into revelations and reach sweeping conclusions. Most teams are what they are, with little or no reason to brace for radical change. Feel-good surprises can bask in their new normal, while the as-expected tankers, playoff hopefuls and title contenders can rest easy.
Other teams aren't so lucky. They are worse than they're supposed to be or tilting too close toward their floor, and for many, waiting is no longer an option. They need to react and resolve ahead of February's trade deadline.
Teams like the Dallas Mavericks, Orlando Magic and Sacramento Kings are baselines for exclusion. Their seasons were never viewed in playoff-or-bust terms; they've been pegged as potential sellers.
Market buyers like the Philadelphia 76ers or Portland Trail Blazers are also exempt. Either they're already rich and trying to get richer (Philly), or they don't have to worry about key players leaving in free agency or demanding a trade (Portland).
Our catalogue of hypotheticals is only for the most urgent cases—the franchises that, for one reason or another, would be most wounded by missing the postseason. As always, assume every deal is being completed on or after Dec. 15 unless otherwise noted.
Charlotte Hornets Receive: Justin Holiday
Chicago Bulls Receive: Frank Kaminsky, 2019 second-round pick (from Oklahoma City, via Charlotte), 2020 second-round pick (from Brooklyn or New York, via Charlotte)
Pining for a splashier move from the Hornets is fine. They need it. But we've already cooked up blockbusters—one for Bradley Beal and another for Kevin Love. Recycling isn't all that much fun when it doesn't help the environment, and tinier swings are always more realistic.
It helps that the Hornets don't technically need to aim for wholesale renovation. Acquiring a second star is crucial if they're serious about re-signing Kemba Walker to a pricey pact that'll take him into his mid-30s (they are), but returning to the playoffs after a two-year absence is the more immediate concern.
And by that measure, the Hornets are right there. They have the point differential of a 50-win team, according to Cleaning the Glass. They're only dancing around the .500 marker because they're 4-9 in games that enter crunch time.
Deepening the wing rotation is a good way to safeguard them against rampant letdowns. And Justin Holiday is balling.
He doesn't address their touch-and-go rim protection, but that's a stylistic hazard. Charlotte has favored lineups with wing-sized 4s beyond the starting five. Holiday jibes with that model as a combo 2-3. He should help shore up one of the league's worst corner-three defenses, and his fit beside Walker figures to be seamless.
Close to 60 percent of Holiday's looks this season are coming as catch-and-fire threes, which he's shooting better than 38 percent. He's also been showing capability as an off-the-dribble creator dating back to his time with the New York Knicks. He's now canning 40-plus percent of his pull-up threes.
Frank Kaminsky has played some good minutes in recent weeks, but the Hornets shouldn't lose sleep over dealing him or a pair of second-round picks. They won't have cap space this summer, and retaining Walker could take them into the tax. Getting hold of Holiday's Bird rights is low-key big.
The Bulls have no use for Kaminsky, a restricted free agent this July. They also don't have a second-round pick this year. This gets them one. And that 2020 selection should be relatively tasty unless the Knicks or Brooklyn Nets go boom. That's adequate compensation for a soon-to-be 30-year-old free agent who doesn't fit the rebuilding timeline.
Houston Rockets Receive: Terrence Ross, Jonathon Simmons
Orlando Magic Receive: Michael Carter-Williams, Brandon Knight, 2019 first-round pick (top-10 protection), 2021 second-round pick
Sitting tight until the buyout market develops is no longer in play for the Rockets. They've yet to get back to .500, and their wing rotation is unspectacular on its best days. They need to upgrade the roster now.
Targeting a smaller move—like Justin Holiday—works just fine. But the Rockets appear to be interested in something on a larger scale. They're dangling Brandon Knight and picks in talks, albeit it to no avail, according to Shams Charania of Watch Stadium and The Athletic.
That package is a tough sell. Knight is owed $15.6 million next year and hasn't played since February 2017, and Houston's first-rounder won't be worth too much if the team emerges from its season-long malaise.
Fortunately for the Rockets, the Cleveland Cavaliers set an interesting market rate for absorbing bad salary. They took on the final year and combined $20.9 million for Matthew Dellavedova and John Henson in exchange for a 2021 second-round pick and a first-rounder that probably won't convey until 2022 at the earliest and has the chance of not conveying at all, per ESPN.com's Zach Lowe.
Giving Orlando this year's first and a down-the-road second for Terrence Ross and Jonathon Simmons seems fair. The Magic, despite hanging around the Eastern Conference's postseason fracas, shouldn't be concerned with earning a first-round exit. Neither Ross, a free agent this summer, nor Simmons ($1 million guarantee in 2019-20) factor into their long-term snapshot.
Even a late first-rounder helps the Magic load up the asset cupboard. And given how much Houston has struggled to date, they could end up with a selection that's closer to the lottery than the bottom five choices. Who knows? Maybe Orlando even gets some nice, and much-needed, combo-guard play from Knight once he returns to action.
Houston would come out of this looking much better for wear. Simmons is a non-shooter—he's OKish around the rim—but he's a defensive hustler. At 6'6", he pesters 2s and 3s while dabbling in point guard coverage.
Ross isn't a defensive asset, but he's not a nightly half-court sieve. He can stay on the floor against some of the highest-powered offenses. That's a win for the Rockets, who could use an additional outside threat. They're shooting just over 33 percent on standstill threes. Ross is hitting more than 38 percent of his spot-up treys. That Houston would get off Knight's deal while taking on just $1 million in guaranteed salary for next season is a bonus.
Miami Heat and Washington Wizards
Miami Heat Receive: Austin Rivers, John Wall*
Washington Wizards Receive: Goran Dragic, Kelly Olynyk, 2019 first-round pick
Buyers helping buyers alert!
If we're being honest, the Heat and Wizards should be more focused on tearing it down than salvaging this season. Miami isn't slated for cap space until 2020. Washington won't get there until 2021. Both are paying into the luxury tax for sub-elite rosters. But burning either to the ground is difficult. So, oh well.
Dealing John Wall isn't typical buyer behavior. This would be an exception. Escaping his four-year, $170.9 million extension, which kicks in next season, is its own victory, and Washington would return players who preserve postseason hopes without compromising the books beyond 2021.
Jettisoning Wall, whose salary almost doubles in 2019-20, gives the Wizards easier access to a potential rebuild. If they're more interested in retooling around Beal, this move affords them more room under the tax to navigate free-agency negotiations with Markieff Morris, Kelly Oubre Jr. (restricted) and Tomas Satoransky.
Goran Dragic, currently working his way back from a right knee issue, has a $19.2 million player option for next season. In the event he declines it, he'll fetch a fraction of what Wall is taking home, and the Wizards could always let him walk. Kelly Olynyk isn't necessarily a bargain with two years and $26.7 million left on his contract (player option in 2020-21), but the Wizards' frontcourt rotation needs him. He can play center in five-out lineups and coexist in dual-big combinations.
Stomaching Wall's deal isn't a no-brainer for Miami. He's owed $47.3 million in 2022-23 (player option), his age 32 season. But the Heat are star-chasers. For all his warts—shaky jumper, wildly inconsistent defense, potentially ebbing athleticism—Wall is a star.
Besides, the Heat are already in salary-cap hell. They're not slated for a squeaky-clean ledger before 2021. Wall only extends their limitations by a summer or two. Perhaps team president Pat Riley would break character and blow it up if he could. He can't. The Heat are harder to deconstruct than the Wizards. Most of their larger salaries require a sweetener just to net cap relief.
Another variation of this trade to consider:
- Heat Receive: Austin Rivers, John Wall
- Wizards Receive: Tyler Johnson, Kelly Olynyk 2019 first-round pick, 2023 first-round pick (top-three protection)
This is a super intriguing structure if the Heat are married to fringe contention in the East. Dragic and Wall make for a nifty backcourt duo.
Washington is getting a lower-end return but wouldn't be a hopeless playoff case with Bradley Beal still on the docket. Johnson comes off the books in 2020, three years before Wall, and that 2023 first-rounder could end up being miiiighty fine.
(*We're assuming Wall waives his 15 percent trade-kicker, because, frankly, it is too complicated not to.)
New Orleans Pelicans
New Orleans Pelicans Receive: Trevor Ariza, Troy Daniels
Phoenix Suns: Ian Clark, Solomon Hill, 2019 first-round pick (top-10 protection in 2019; lottery protection in 2020; turns into two second-rounders if it never conveys)
The Pelicans need wings. They know they need wings. They tried striking a deal for Kent Bazemore over the summer and were among the teams that made semi-serious offers for Jimmy Butler, per The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor.
The catch? New Orleans isn't willing to go all-all-in for the same reason it needs to aggressively improve the roster: Anthony Davis' upcoming designated player extension talks this summer.
"League sources say the Wolves demanded an unprotected first-rounder in 2022 [for Butler], which is the earliest year that high schoolers could be allowed to once again enter the draft, meaning that class could have double the top talent," O'Connor wrote. "But the Pelicans resisted that too; Butler is in the last guaranteed year of his contract, and the Pels likely didn't want to commit high-value future resources in the event that Davis doesn't stick around."
Using this year's first-rounder to offload Solomon Hill and his 2019-20 salary flirts with that line. Lottery protection helps, but cost-controlled prospects are primo assets whether the Pelicans are trying to build around Davis or plan for life without him.
For now, though, the Pelicans have him. And the rumor mill isn't churning out reports about his unhappiness. They can't let the fear of losing him in 2020 free agency (player option) or having to trade him before then mandate inaction.
Trevor Ariza, who ESPN.com's Adrian Wojnarowski noted is being targeted by the Los Angeles Lakers, doesn't guarantee the Pelicans a playoff berth. But he inches them closer to a sure thing, and having his non-Bird rights holds value when he's working off a $15 million payday. Troy Daniels helps as well. He's found his three-point groove since re-entering Phoenix's rotation, and New Orleans' volume and accuracy from beyond the arc is below average.
Equally important: Unloading Hill gives the Pelicans a path to max space this summer if they renounce all their own free agents and Julius Randle opts out of his contract. Marquee free agents have never flocked to New Orleans, but Davis is a top-five player and should catch the eye of some A-listers. If not, at least the Pelicans have a ton of flexibility to wield in the race for second-tier talent and on the trade market.
Hill eats into the Suns' cap space, but they're not good enough to go on a spending spree. And with the way some of their recent top prospects have panned out—Dragan Bender (declined fourth-year team option), Marquese Chriss (now on Houston), Josh Jackson (possibly broken)—they could use an extra first-rounder. This package also saves them close to $5 million, which is more than Ariza would give back in a prospective buyout.
San Antonio Spurs
San Antonio Spurs Receive: Allen Crabbe, Spencer Dinwiddie
Brooklyn Nets: Pau Gasol, Quincy Pondexter
A lot has to fall into place for this trade to pique the interests of both parties.
The Nets aren't looking to move Spencer Dinwiddie. He became extension-eligible Dec. 8, and they're hoping to keep him around long term, per Wojnarowski. But D'Angelo Russell is a restricted free agent this summer, and they have to start thinking about Caris LeVert's next contract (extension-eligible in July).
Thoroughly reinvesting in a core that hasn't yet needled its way into the postseason discussion is out of the question. The Nets are still rebuilding, and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is headed for restricted free agency as well. They can't pay everyone. The Dinwiddie-Russell combination feels like an either-or situation.
Brooklyn could try parlaying one of them into a first-round pick. That'll be tough. Plenty of teams have money to pitch them this summer, and front offices are hesitant to pony up assets for non-stars nearing hefty raises. Dinwiddie is especially hard to evaluate as a trade asset. He's not a restricted free agent, so if the Nets don't give him an extension, he can walk free and clear.
Turning him into extra cap space is enticing if they believe in their curb appeal. Subbing out Allen Crabbe's $18.5 million salary next year with Pau Gasol's $6.7 million guarantee—that number could go down in a potential buyout—gives them a cakewalk to more than $50 million in spending power if they don't overpay Russell.
Crabbe is an integral part of the rotation, but he's a standstill specialist who doesn't do much else. The Nets overvalued him in 2016 free agency (admittedly, so did yours truly), and then again when they traded for him in 2017. They shouldn't make that mistake again.
The Spurs, meanwhile, are in a weird spot. FiveThirtyEight gives them less than a 5 percent chance of making the playoffs. They could throw in the towel and look to regroup next year with a high draft pick, but they prioritized a win-now centerpiece, DeMar DeRozan, in the Kawhi Leonard trade. They also cannot bank on much changing between now and next year, aside from Dejounte Murray's return.
"But it's not like the rest of their books clear up this summer," Vice Sports' Michael Pina wrote. "Patty Mills, Davis Bertans, Marco Belinelli, Bryn Forbes, Derrick White, and Jakob Poeltl are all under contract in 2020. Instead of selling off [LaMarcus] Aldridge and DeRozan, dangling Rudy Gay or Belinelli in an attempt to get younger while increasing their shot at a higher pick makes sense. What doesn't is heading the other way, trading an asset for more immediate help just to make the playoffs."
Going the Crabbe-Dinwiddie route would be a nice middle ground. Paying Crabbe next season isn't a huge deal when the Spurs won't have cap space until 2020 or 2021 anyway, and they flat-out need wings. Dinwiddie gives them another shot creator who doesn't truncate their spacing, and his length affords him honorary wing status against certain defensive matchups.
San Antonio would have to make this deal with the intention of keeping him. That's not a problem. Dinwiddie can work as a sixth man or backcourt starter beside Murray, with DeRozan remaining at the 3, into 2019-20 and beyond.
Unless otherwise noted, stats courtesy of NBA.com, Cleaning the Glass and Basketball Reference and accurate leading into games on Dec. 10. Salary and cap-hold information via Basketball Insiders and RealGM.