NBA Trade Ideas Off Latest Buzz: Deals for Carmelo Anthony, Jeremy Lin, JR Smith
This marks our first trip down the wormhole of hypotheticals following the official start to the league's silly season. Most free agents who signed deals last summer are now eligible to be moved, and as every team creeps toward the halfway pole, a clear list of buyers is emerging.
Spotting committed sellers is a taller order. Blame the Western Conference's ultra-uber-unfair playoff race and the Eastern Conference's infectious mediocrity.
Like good little trade-idea soldiers, though, we press on.
The sources-said factory is treating us to plenty of chatter related to Carmelo Anthony, Kent Bazemore, Jeremy Lin, the Los Angeles Lakers, the Houston Rockets and many, many more. Let's get cracking.
Sacramento Aims for the Postseason and Collects an Asset from New York
New York Knicks Receive: Zach Randolph
Sacramento Kings Receive: Courtney Lee, 2020 second-round pick (from Charlotte, via New York)
Should the Kings turn their armory of expiring contracts into an immediate upgrade and try to clinch their first playoff berth since 2006? Or should they sell off their digestible deals and cap space in exchange for picks and prospects?
How about they do a little bit of both?
ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst previously identified the Kings as one of the NBA's most aggressive buyers. That could change by the time they finish their current gauntlet—including Wednesday's matchup with the Oklahoma City Thunder, they face nine consecutive Western Conference playoff candidates—but their stance makes sense.
Sacramento doesn't own this year's first-round pick. It doesn't technically matter whether the postseason is within reach. This team has every incentive to continue chasing wins.
Throwing away cap space and assets in search of those victories is a no-no, but the Kings have the capacity to take some risks. They can sleepwalk their way to $45 million in spending power this summer, and that number could blow past $60 million depending on the outcome to Willie Cauley-Stein's restricted free agency.
Theoretically, then, the Kings can sponge up a really bad deal and still have max-contract capacity.
Rolling the dice on Courtney Lee is nothing by that measure. His 2019-20 salary isn't great ($12.8 million), but if he keeps trending up in his recovery from a neck injury, he'll augment the wing rotation with quality shooting and active backcourt defense. Should the experiment flatline, Sacramento has what could be an early second-rounder, and Lee becomes a nice trade chip over the offseason as an expiring contract.
Dealing away yet another second-round pick isn't ideal for the Knicks. They'll have to suck it up. They have superstar aspirations this summer, but they won't enjoy the room to sign a Kawhi Leonard or, more exactly, Kevin Durant without jettisoning Lee or Tim Hardaway Jr.'s money.
Sources told The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor that either salary dump will cost the Knicks an asset. Unless a crummy offensive team gets hot for the two years and $37.1 million still owed to Hardaway, who's currently battling plantar fasciitis in his right foot, Lee will be cheaper to pawn off.
Brooklyn Becomes...A Buyer (After Jan. 14)
Brooklyn Nets Receive: Rodney Hood, JR Smith
Cleveland Cavaliers Receive: Allen Crabbe, 2019 first-round pick (top-12-protected from Denver, via Brooklyn)
Don't look now, but nearly halfway through the regular season, the Nets are pulling off quality victories and still within striking distance of a playoff bid. Color the Washington Wizards shades of mopey.
Brooklyn's recent stretch won't matter that much if the front office doesn't ascribe merit to the winning and fun-having. Related: It might be.
The Nets "are hinting in talks with teams they could be a buyer at the trade deadline," according to Brian Windhorst. That could mean any number of things.
Perhaps Brooklyn is interested in using one of its many expiring contracts to acquire an impact player who possibly jeopardizes next summer's cap flexibility. Or maybe, after extending Spencer Dinwiddie and with restricted-free-agent-to-be D'Angelo Russell playing the best basketball of his career, the Nets are looking to recoup some of their soon-to-be-squandered maneuverability.
Waiting out Rodney Hood's trade eligibility enables them to straddle both sides of the fence. He cannot be dealt until the middle of January, by which time the Nets will have a firmer grasp on where they stand in the East. If they're still hovering closer to the top eight seeds than not, they'll find it easier to buy than sell.
Forking over a first-rounder is typically taboo even for fringe playoff teams—especially ones that are just emerging from the asset-strapped doldrums. But Denver's pick will be in the bottom five to 10, and Brooklyn has its own selection.
Getting out of Allen Crabbe's 2019-20 player option ($18.5 million) is worth breaking character. JR Smith might be more playable this season. Seriously. Mostly, subbing out Crabbe for Smith's partial guarantee ($3.9 million) saves the Nets $14.6 million this summer. That leaves them with a clear path to $35 million in space while accounting for Dinwiddie's salary and the free-agent holds on Russell and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.
Cleveland could push for an extra second-rounder as part of this deal. The Nets shouldn't balk at that request if it doesn't include this year's Knicks selection. Other than that, the Cavaliers should be amenable. They aren't slated for cap space until 2020, when Crabbe would come off the books, and they only have one pick in this year's draft so far—their own.
3-Team Blockbuster Between Atlanta, New Orleans, Utah (After Jan. 14)
Atlanta Hawks Receive: Dante Exum, Solomon Hill, Wesley Johnson, Ian Clark, 2019 first-round pick (lottery-protected, via New Orleans), 2020 first-round pick (lottery-protected, via Utah)
New Orleans Pelicans Receive: Justin Anderson, Ricky Rubio, Thabo Sefolosha
Utah Jazz Receive: Kent Bazemore, Jeremy Lin
Kent Bazemore and Jeremy Lin continue to garner interest around the league, according to the New York Times' Marc Stein. Utah needs both of them.
The Jazz are fourth in drives per game but shooting an unimpressive 47.3 percent on those attacks—barely a top-15 mark. Their guards are getting to the line but rank 19th in efficiency within five feet of the basket. And while they don't rely too heavily on square-one shot creation, the offense needs another viable and consistent pull-up threat beyond Donovan Mitchell.
Lin addresses that on his own. He's shooting 53.7 percent on drives without committing too many turnovers, and his 54.6 effective field-goal percentage on pull-ups would be the second-highest among Utah's rotation fixtures, trailing only Kyle Korver's lucrative, low-volume efficiency. He also keeps in theme with the Jazz's free-throw parade and is a more natural off-ball weapon beside Mitchell than either Dante Exum or Ricky Rubio.
Bazemore is not excess in this scenario. His shooting splits are wonky, but he's one of the league's more underrated offensive weapons. He's comfortable staying off the rock, and his secondary ball-handling diversifies Utah's stagnant half-court machine.
Coughing up a first-rounder will feel awkward while bringing back Bazemore's salary. He's far from a bargain at $19.3 million in 2018-19 (player option). But Exum is owed about the same over the next two years ($19.2 million), and his pay grade tilts closer to bad money after spending the season waffling in and out of head coach Quin Snyder's "You're Not Really Going to Play Much" house.
Utah can look at this deal as salary-cap consolidation. Paying Bazemore cleans up the 2020 books, and the Jazz could still get to almost $25 million in cap space this summer if they waive Derrick Favors. They'll dredge up even more than that should they waive Kyle Korver or reroute the salaries of Tony Bradley or Grayson Allen.
New Orleans, meanwhile, needs defenders who can match up with the league's bigger wings. Both Justin Anderson and Thabo Sefolosha qualify, and Rubio is extra stopping power himself. And none of them add money to next season's bottom line. This package doesn't include a premier shooter, but the Pelicans offense can make do. Plus, Sefolosha is quietly shooting 41.7 percent from beyond the arc, albeit on negligible volume, over his past 12 appearances.
Two protected first-rounders should be enough for the Hawks to absorb Hill and Exum. The latter doesn't turn 24 until July, is a defensive whiz and could end up being a good backup—or backcourt partner—for Trae Young.
That the Hawks wouldn't be (scheduled) to get both picks at once also helps. They're slated to have four total selections in this year's draft. Nabbing a 2020 choice allows them to spread out their talent acquisition and evaluation.
LA(Bron) Gets Melo
Chicago Bulls Receive: Marquese Chriss, Brandon Knight, Ivica Zubac, 2019 first-round pick (lottery-protected, via Houston)
Houston Rockets Receive: Justin Holiday, Robin Lopez
Los Angeles Lakers Receive: Carmelo Anthony
LeBron James is now totally, publicly onboard with the Lakers adding Carmelo Anthony.
"We'll see. I don't run the team," he said when asked about potentially teaming up with his currently exiled friend after Los Angeles' Dec. 18 loss to Brooklyn, per the Orange County Register's Kyle Goon (via CBS Sports' Jack Maloney). "There are obviously things that need to be worked out on both sides. But I've always wanted to play with Melo, and if the opportunity presents itself, it'll be great. So we'll see what happens."
This falls well short of a demand, but sometimes, as it pertains to James, a general endorsement is akin to the same thing.
The Lakers have resisted dealing for Anthony thus far, according to Stein. Maybe they should stop fighting it. They're 29th in catch-and-shoot efficiency on the season—24th since Dec. 1—and their half-court offense remains middle-of-the-road, per Cleaning the Glass.
Melo might be able to help them as a spot-up shooter off the bench, assuming he once again buys into reserve duty and starts hitting more of his wide-open threes. If the cost is this low, the Lakers should find out.
Chicago may not consider itself a salary-dumping ground. Zach LaVine's ankle injury, along with the team's general awfulness, should change that. Eating Brandon Knight's 2019-20 salary ($15.6 million) is worth a first-rounder. He might even offer some utility in a backcourt barren of reliable table-setters.
Houston should be similarly up for this deal. Justin Holiday is having a fantastic season and bolsters a shoddy wing rotation. He's not suited to chase around the biggest covers, but the same is true of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, whom the Rockets are apparently pursuing more than anyone, according to Stein.
Holiday is longer and does more off the bounce by a hair. With that said, his efficiency has dipped, while Caldwell-Pope is shooting 37.9 percent from downtown through his last 20 games. If the Rockets are higher on him and inclined to favor luxury-tax savings, something like this could work:
- Bulls Receive: Marquese Chriss, Brandon Knight, 2019 first-round pick (lottery-protected, via Houston)
- Rockets Receive: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Michael Beasley
- Lakers Receive: Carmelo Anthony, Justin Holiday, Robin Lopez
Nothing changes for the Bulls, and the Lakers are substantially better off. They add some money to this year's payroll, but none to next season's ledger. Holiday is more offensively interchangeable than Caldwell-Pope, and Lopez is good insurance against Tyson Chandler's age and JaVale McGee potentially regressing out of his new normal.
Detroit, Miami and San Antonio Help Each Other Stay Afloat (After Jan. 14)
Detroit Pistons Receive: Wayne Ellington
Miami Heat Receive: Bryn Forbes, Henry Ellenson
San Antonio Spurs Receive: Stanley Johnson, 2019 second-round pick (via Detroit)
Making mid-year trades is not the Spurs' style. The last deal they struck in-season was the legendary Nando de Colo-for-Austin Daye swap of...February 2014. They're overdue for a wintertime shakeup.
Heck, the Western Conference's overcrowded playoff race essentially demands one. Fourteen million of 15 teams fancy themselves playoff hopefuls at the moment, and FiveThirtyEight gives the Spurs a sub-10 percent chance of cracking the postseason.
Stanley Johnson doesn't solve everything, but he caught their eye last February, per The Athletic's Michael Scotto. He should be more gettable now. His restricted free agency is on the horizon, he still can't shoot, and Detroit has cut his minutes from last season. San Antonio can hope to reinvent his jumper, but his defensive portability alone plugs a gaping void.
Fresh off his return from a left knee injury, Johnson dropped 20 points on a tidy 8-of-14 shooting in a Dec. 17 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks. The Pistons know better than to read into his performance. They rank 29th in three-point accuracy overall (32.5 percent) and 28th when firing off the catch (33.3 percent). Wayne Ellington is canning more than 37 percent of his triples and shooting slightly better on spot-up looks (37.5 percent).
One Eastern Conference executive told The Athletic's Jordan Brenner that Detroit might "give Johnson away," so the structure of this deal should suffice. Ellington is an offensive boomstick who doesn't vault the Pistons into the luxury tax, and they don't need to view this as a partial-season investment. His Bird rights won't transfer if he approves a move—he has an implicit no-trade clause—but they don't need them. Non-Bird rights on a $6.3 million salary should be enough to retain him.
Miami is without question fielding other offers for Ellington. The Lakers are among those who have a crush on him, according to Sporting News' Sean Deveney. His rumor mill should increase tenfold with Goran Dragic expected to miss the next two months following right knee surgery, per ESPN.com's Adrian Wojnarowski.
Most teams would take this as a sign to throw in the towel. The Heat aren't most teams. President Pat Riley turns 74 in March and will forever believe he can a pull a rabbit out of his hair-gel tub. (Though, if he's vibing a teardown, he should totally offer Ellington and Josh Richardson to the Philadelphia 76ers for Markelle Fultz and all the first-round picks, including Miami's own 2021 selection.)
Bryn Forbes helps steady the ship in Dragic's absence and costs next to nothing next year. The Heat have other ball-handlers, but no one who thrives as a from-scratch creator. Even with a recent downtick, Forbes is posting a 50.4 effective field-goal percentage on pull-up jumpers—a top-10 mark among 67 players averaging at least four such shots per game.