NBA Trade Ideas from Latest Buzz: Deals for Trevor Ariza, JR Smith, More
Are you ready for the NBA's trade season to get underway?
Here's to you answering yes, because the rumor mill waits for no one.
Almost every free agent who signed a contract over the summer is eligible to be dealt on Dec. 15. This calendar benchmark has never invited a flurry of moves from the get-go, but it signals no-holds-barred speculation and expanded possibilities.
And this year isn't shaping up to be like the others.
The Los Angeles Lakers may be closing in on a trade for Trevor Ariza, according to ESPN.com's Adrian Wojnarowski. The Sacramento Kings believe in their proximity to the Western Conference playoff picture. The Houston Rockets, along with other postseason hopefuls, are getting desperate.
So, in honor of the atypical action that could grace the start to this year's silly season, here's another piping-hot batch of trade ideas for you to love or loathe.
Detroit Encourages Chicago to Embrace the STANK
Chicago Bulls Receive: Henry Ellenson, Langston Galloway, Jon Leuer, 2019 first-round pick (lottery protection in 2019; top-12 protection in 2020; turns into 2024 and 2025 second-rounders if not conveyed)
Detroit Pistons Receive: Justin Holiday, Robin Lopez
League sources told ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst the Pistons are among the leading gaggle of "teams calling around looking for ways to upgrade their rosters." Their primary need is the same as ever: a wing who can shoot and defend, rather than either/or.
Justin Holiday remains one of the most commonly pitched trade candidates potentially on the block. It isn't hard to see why. He is canning over 38 percent of his catch-and-shoot threes and has added some off-the-dribble depth to his game over the past three seasons. His $4.4 million salary doesn't break the bank, and he comes with "Early Bird" rights ahead of free agency this summer.
Every bit of that should speak to contending teams and playoff hopefuls light on financial flexibility, including the Pistons. Their shot profile is mostly fine—they're 10th in three-point attempts per 100 possessions—but they rank 28th in accuracy from beyond the arc (31.9 percent), and their 32.3 percent hit rate on wide-open triples comes in at 29th.
Getting Holiday to Detroit is more complicated than it should be. The Pistons aren't flush with assets. A straight Holiday-for-Glenn Robinson III swap works, but the Bulls need to have interest in the latter. More than that, Detroit has to be in the business of deepening the wing rotation. Trading even the disappointing Robinson (team option in 2019-20) is a lateral body-count move.
Expanding the deal to include salary dumps and a first-round pick makes the most sense. Holiday isn't worth a first-rounder on his own with free agency on the horizon, and Chicago can stomach 2019-20 salaries for Langston Galloway ($7.3 million) and Jon Leuer ($9.5 million) without torpedoing its cap sheet. There would still be a path to $30-plus million in space with both on the books if Jabari Parker's team option doesn't get picked up.
Convincing the Bulls to embrace the stank could be a tough sell. They might fancy themselves a free-agency heavyweight. They're not. The near-mutiny under head coach Jim Boylen, whose abrasive style has since been backed by vice president of basketball operations John Paxson, is a terrible look. Free agents will have other glitzy markets to choose from, with both New York and Los Angeles teams ticketed for major spending power.
Chicago should place more stock in getting an extra first for about the same going rate the Cleveland Cavaliers paid when taking on Matthew Dellavedova and John Henson from the Milwaukee Bucks. And again: Eating Galloway, who actually helps the backcourt, and Leuer doesn't preclude the Bulls from joining the July craze.
Sacramento Aims to Hit a Single with Orlando
Orlando Magic Receive: Yogi Ferrell, Justin Jackson, Ben McLemore
Sacramento Kings Receive: Jarell Martin, Terrence Ross
Hovering above .500, with a buffet of expiring contracts and their first-round pick headed to Boston or Philadelphia, the Kings can go in one of two directions: They could cobble together salary filler and sponge up bad money in exchange for pick and prospect compensation, or they could lean into their surprise showing and chase win-now upgrades.
Sacramento is apparently leaning toward the latter. As Windhorst wrote: "They have no incentive to tank, and with the upside-down Western Conference—miraculously, there are five teams who made the playoffs last season who are currently out of playoff position—the Kings apparently are thinking big."
Before rolling out the hashtag Kangz, let's give them some credit. They can indulge their record without mucking up the rebuild.
Acquiring someone on a big contract—like, cough, Otto, cough, Porter—doesn't erase their capacity to carve out max space. They have wiggle room to spare. That doesn't give them license to go out and broker an Andrew Wiggins blockbuster, but it affords them leeway to find a middle ground.
Targeting an expiring pact like Terrence Ross' is an even safer play. His marksmanship (38.7 percent on spot-up treys) and shot-making off the dribble (40.0 percent on pull-up threes) augments their wing rotation, and he doesn't add to their bottom line beyond this season.
Cutting Justin Jackson loose now might not sit well with Sacramento. He's starting to find his comfort zone on offense and shooting 48.3 percent from distance since registering a "Did Not Play" against the Memphis Grizzlies on Nov. 16.
Still, his inclusion should not be a deal-breaker. The Kings defense is getting hammered whenever he plays small forward, according to Cleaning the Glass, and they don't have the frontcourt minutes to run him at the 4. Ross is a cleaner fit at the 2 and 3 spots and does so much more off the dribble.
Orlando shouldn't have an issue getting on board. Ross is a potential goner this summer, while Jackson has two years left on his rookie-scale deal. Yogi Ferrell isn't guaranteed money beyond this season but could plug a hole at point guard. And even if they're interested in crashing the Eastern Conference playoff race, the Magic have the rotation bandwidth to see whether Ben McLemore still belongs in the NBA.
New Orleans Nets a Wing with Help from Atlanta and Miami
Atlanta Hawks Receive: Tyler Johnson, Hassan Whiteside, 2019 first-round pick (via Miami; top-10 protection; turns into 2022 and 2025 second-rounders if it doesn't convey), 2020 second-round pick (via New Orleans; top-40 protection in 2019; top-44 protection in 2020; extinguishes in 2021 if not conveyed)
Miami Heat Receive: Dewayne Dedmon, Solomon Hill, Wesley Johnson, Jeremy Lin
New Orleans Pelicans Receive: Kent Bazemore, Derrick Jones Jr.
Death, taxes, the Pelicans losing sleep over Anthony Davis' future.
This concern is typically hyperbolized—or flat-out invented—by rival fans hoping their team swings a trade for one of the NBA's five best players. New Orleanians have a right to be exhausted, exasperated, frustrated and then exhausted again.
But the clock is officially ticking. Davis will be eligible to sign a super-max extension this summer. Management is feeling the squeeze to make a move and impress their superstar, per Windhorst.
New Orleans kicked around Kent Bazemore scenarios last summer, according to The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor, who also noted Atlanta is still looking to get rid of the swingman's salary. This framework could reignite those talks.
The Pelicans would be adding $6.5 million in salary next season, but that shouldn't matter. Bazemore is an upgrade from Solomon Hill, and Wesley Johnson is once again out of the rotation.
New Orleans always needed to renounce Nikola Mirotic and Julius Randle (player option) to maximize its offseason purse anyway. That wouldn't change after this trade. Also: Derrick Jones Jr. could be sneaky fun under head coach Alvin Gentry, and acquiring two wings without forking over a first-rounder is a huge win.
The Hawks' gradual timeline would allow them to swallow this pill. Tyler Johnson, 26, is younger than Bazemore and costs about the same next season. He could be an intriguing piece off the bench and even soak up some minutes next to Trae Young. Viewed that way, Atlanta is basically taking on Hassan Whiteside and ditching two expiring deals for a first- and second-round pick.
Surrendering another first-rounder hurts the Heat but is a worthwhile price of admission. They would be ducking the luxury tax this season (seriously) while landing two to three playable assets who keep them in the playoff hunt. Jeremy Lin in particular would be huge for their shoddy half-court offense.
The Heat would also lop off more than $30 million from next year's salary commitments, which puts them comfortably under the tax and in line to re-sign Wayne Ellington and Rodney McGruder (restricted) or go outside the organization for help.
Trevor Ariza Returns to Los Angeles
Indiana Pacers Receive: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
Los Angeles Lakers Receive: Trevor Ariza
Phoenix Suns Receive: Darren Collison, 2020 second-round pick (via Los Angeles)
Another Trevor Ariza-to-the-Lakers scenario!
Don't mock the three-team structure. It is non-negotiable. Phoenix wants "to land a playmaking guard and a draft asset as the price of unloading Ariza," according to Wojnarowski. Caldwell-Pope isn't it. And who knows if he'd waive his no-trade clause to join the Suns' tank-fest.
That necessitates the inclusion of a third party. The Pacers are natural candidates. Phoenix needs a more competent look at point guard, and "league executives believe Indiana might look to move" Darren Collison or Cory Joseph, per Windhorst.
Something built around Joseph and TJ Leaf would be preferable for the Suns. That's also too rich for the Pacers. Caldwell-Pope is banging in 41 percent of his threes over the past seven games and can defend either backcourt slot, but Joseph is by far the steadier player. Giving him up should be a no-go, particularly when Indiana will have the cap space to sign Caldwell-Pope in free agency.
Using Leaf as pseudo draft compensation would be fine. The Pacers don't have consistent minutes for him now, and the emergence of Aaron Holiday combined with the return of Victor Oladipo won't make it any easier to get him on the floor. Phoenix would have to send out another player—perhaps Troy Daniels—to make the money work.
A fourth team—maybe Orlando—could be sussed out if the Suns don't want a 31-year-old point guard. Then again, they're not in a position to turn away any competent floor general. They may not be trying to win games, but their 28th-place offense includes a bunch of kiddies who could stand to learn beside a more accomplished hand.
Worst-case scenario: Phoenix saves $5 million as part of this deal, which is more than Ariza would give back in a prospective buyout, and then gets another break if Collison starts begging for a buyout of his own.
The Lakers' logic remains obvious. Reliable wing defenders who can knock down threes are big-time postseason weapons. Ariza is 33, and his effort has waxed and waned with Phoenix. But he'll probably play harder and better on a LeBron James-led team angling for a playoff berth.
Cleveland and Houston Get Busy (After Jan. 14)
Cleveland Cavaliers Receive: Michael Carter-Williams, Marquese Chriss, Brandon Knight, 2019 first-round pick (top-18 protection in 2019; lottery protection in 2020; turns into 2021 and 2022 second-rounders if not conveyed)
Houston Rockets Receive: Rodney Hood, David Nwaba, JR Smith
JR Smith has caught the "exploratory" eye of the Rockets, according to the New York Times' Marc Stein.
No, he doesn't do anything to revive their 27th-place defense. But their wing rotation is a ghost town, and his $3.9 million guarantee for next season is a money-saver and, because his deal was signed under the previous collective bargaining agreement, a tasty offseason trade chip (until June 30).
Houston is reportedly dangling Brandon Knight and picks to break the trade-season seal, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium. That won't do anything for most teams.
The Cavaliers are different. As they showed by taking on Matthew Dellavedova and John Henson, they're ready to be a salary-dumping ground.
Packaging Knight and a pick for Smith pans out in theory. But the Cavaliers set the going rate for taking on crummy money while making nice with the Bucks. They're probably not getting a first-rounder to save the Rockets $11.6 million next season.
Opening up that deal to include Rodney Hood and David Nwaba would make this a lot more interesting. Hood is already on Cleveland's list of expendables, per Windhorst. Neither he nor Nwaba profile as big-picture fits with free agency on this summer's agenda.
Cleveland could try pushing for Houston to throw in a 2021 second-rounder from the jump. Asking for looser protection on the first works, too. It might not be a sticking point.
Hood is nailing almost 37 percent of his threes and swishing a nice percentage of his pull-up jumpers, and Nwaba, while 6'4", has spent ample time defending power forwards. The Rockets need depth, and they, along with Smith, stand to provide plenty of it.