Realistic Trades That Would Blow Up 2019 NBA Free Agency
Almost every trade that takes place between now and the NBA's Feb. 7 deadline will have an impact on this summer's free-agency class.
Close to half the league's players are hitting the open market. Waiting for expiring contracts and flight risks to get rerouted isn't a novel concept. It's the standard. There will rarely be a move made without an underlying offseason focus.
With so many teams scheduled for significant space this summer, the effect each deal has on salary-cap outlooks is the more pressing matter.
Some squads will aim to deepen their offseason purse, which opens the door for strategic contract dumps. Recognizing the oversaturation of free-agency buyers, other suitors will—or rather, should—try nabbing impact acquisitions now, even if it comes at the expense of flexibility.
These trades are assembled with that in mind. They don't all include a marquee free-agent-to-be, but they're built to maximize or minimize the need for cap space while in some way leaving a mark on this offseason's laundry list of big spenders.
New York and Utah Take Different Stances on Cap Space
New York Knicks Receive: Ricky Rubio
Utah Jazz Receive: Tim Hardaway Jr., 2020 second-round pick (from Charlotte, via New York)
Tim Hardaway Jr. deserves credit for the season he's piecing together in New York. His efficiency has dropped off after a scorching-hot start, but he's cutting his teeth as the Knicks' No. 1 option. His shooting slashes should be much worse.
Among every player averaging at least two pull-up three-point attempts per game, Hardaway's 39.5 percent success rate ranks seventh, behind only Eric Bledsoe, Stephen Curry, Paul George, Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard and Khris Middleton. His catch-and-shoot clip is in the gutter, but that should change on a team with another offensive safety valve.
Front-office people around the league think the Knicks will need a sweetener to move off Hardaway's contract, according to The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor. He's owed $37.1 million over the next two seasons (2020-21 player option), and New York has to shed salary before officially entering the Kevin Durant sweepstakes this summer.
The Jazz are one of a few teams that can talk itself into absorbing Hardaway without bringing back other significant assets. They need the extra firepower. Donovan Mitchell's struggles from the field have compromised an offense with virtually no margin for error. Utah is 21st in points scored per 100 possessions and searching for a semblance of consistency.
Trading for Kyle Korver has helped the outside shooting—the team is hitting 38.1 percent of its threes since his arrival—and a road-heavy schedule no doubt contributes to the seesaw-like showings. That changes nothing. The Jazz's need for another shot creator predates Gordon Hayward's exit. They're verging on desperate for one now.
Forfeiting cap space is a fair price to pay for Hardaway. Ricky Rubio, who's dealing with lower back and left knee injuries, isn't playing well enough to be a real loss—especially with Dante Exum perking up—and Utah has yet to establish itself as a premier free-agent destination.
Plus, even with Hardaway on the books, the Jazz have a clear path to more than $15 million in room if they renounce all their own free agents and waive all their non-guarantees except for Korver. The Knicks, meanwhile, set themselves up for almost $46 million in space, which is more than $7 million above Durant's max salary. Their total spending power climbs past $60 million if they go nuclear and find takers for Courtney Lee and Frank Ntilikina.
New Orleans Goes All-In, Brooklyn Plays a Shorter Game, Cleveland Keeps Selling
Brooklyn Nets Receive (after Jan. 22): Julius Randle, JR Smith
Cleveland Cavaliers Receive: Allen Crabbe, Solomon Hill, Frank Jackson, Shabazz Napier, 2019 first-round pick (top-10 protection, via New Orleans), 2019 first-round pick (top-12 protection, from Denver, via Brooklyn), 2020 second-round pick (via New Orleans), 2020 second-round pick (from Denver, via Brooklyn)
New Orleans Pelicans Receive: Rodney Hood (must consent to trade), Kevin Love
New Orleans doesn't have to reconcile Anthony Davis' potential departure this season. He hasn't requested a trade and "has not yet told those close to him that he is dead set on the Lakers or any other specific team should he decide to leave," according to ESPN.com's Zach Lowe. Sorry, Lakers fans.
This summer remains the Pelicans' all-or-nothing crossroads. If Davis signs the designated veteran extension they'll offer him, then they're fine. If he rejects it, they have to start shopping him. In the meantime, New Orleans has one job: enticing Davis into staying put.
Cleveland can help. Kevin Love hasn't played since Oct. 24 after having toe surgery and, at 30, no longer fits the post-LeBron James timeline. He never did, really, but that's a different story.
Though the Cavaliers aren't looking to move him unless they're "blown away" by an offer, according to Cleveland.com's Chris Fedor, Love's absence and pending four-year, $120.4 million extension will force them to reimagine what that means. Netting multiple first-round picks is out of the question unless they shrewdly play their salary-absorbing cards.
Brooklyn can help there. Rival teams are getting the sense that the Nets will be buyers at the deadline, per ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst. This year's Nuggets pick has to be in play if that's the case. And while throwing away draft selections is seldom prudent practice for a team still in a rebuilding stage, this package is a nice hedge.
Julius Randle is expected to decline his 2019-20 player option, so he helps this season without butchering next year's bottom line. And the difference between JR Smith's partial guarantee ($3.9 million) and Allen Crabbe's player option ($18.5 million) gives the Nets an extra $14.6 million to fiddle around with over the summer. They'd have a line to more than $35 million in space without renouncing free-agent holds for Rondae Hollis-Jefferson or D'Angelo Russell.
Taking on both Crabbe and Solomon Hill is steep. The Cavaliers shouldn't care. They're securing two firsts for their troubles, both players come off the ledger after next season, and getting out from under Love's extension before it ever kicks in is its own victory.
The Pelicans will grapple over adding money to their salary-cap outlook without Davis under lock and key. As of now, they could have nearly $25 million to burn this summer. Adding Love derails that flexibility. They'll have to get over it.
Cap space isn't going too far when so many glitzier markets have money to throw around, and the Pelicans need cut bait with both Randle and Nikola Mirotic to meet the top end of their projection. If Love returns from his stay on the sidelines without further issue, New Orleans should be intrigued. Randle is playing like a fringe All-Star, but with Davis' future hanging in the balance, the chance to buy-low on an actual All-Star cannot be brushed aside.
Dallas Angles for 2 Max-Contract Slots, While Sactown Gets a Wing
Dallas Mavericks Receive: Kosta Koufos, Zach Randolph
Sacramento Kings Receive: Harrison Barnes, 2020 second-round pick (from Golden State or Houston, via Dallas), 2021 second-round pick
Pretty much everyone has identified the Los Angeles Clippers as the team most likely to carve out dual max slots in advance of free agency. Dallas should have something to say about that.
Assuming their first-rounder conveys to Atlanta (top-five protection) and they renounce every free agent other than Dorian Finney-Smith and Maxi Kleber, the Mavericks are on track for around $50 million in space. Suss out a new home for Harrison Barnes, and that number skates past the $74 million marker.
In theory, Dallas could even tank to keep its draft pick and still dredge up a pair of max slots. Picture that: Luka Doncic, another top-five prospect and room for two stars. What a world.
Getting to that point isn't easy. Barnes is shooting a career high from downtown and holds up defensively versus both forward spots, but his functional limitations remain the same. He is not an exceptional from-scratch creator, doesn't get to the foul line a ton and ranks among the league's top tunnel-visionists. Out of 112 players averaging at least five drives per game, only TJ Warren passes less.
Fortunately for the Mavericks, the Kings need a wing, have cap space to spare and are trying to win.
Sacramento was monitoring Otto Porter's availability in Washington as of late November, according to The Athletic's Jason Jones. He is, by far, the more complementary player. But Barnes' contract comes off the books one year earlier and is less likely to cost an actual asset.
That he has accepted more of an off-ball role beside Doncic and Dennis Smith Jr. bodes well for Barnes' fit next to Bogdan Bogdanovic, De'Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield. Sacramento also spends more time in transition than Dallas, which should ramp up his scoring opportunities.
Punting on $25.1 million of cap space is a bitter pill for any team. The Kings can swallow it. They'd maintain easy access to more than $20 million after accounting for Barnes' player option—and that's a conservative forecast. Depending on what happens with Willie Cauley-Stein's restricted free agency and Yogi Ferrell's non-guarantee, the Kings can sleepwalk their way to $30-plus million in breathing room while footing the bill for Barnes' 2019-20 salary.
Washington Begins a Reset, and Dallas Accelerates Offseason Plans
Dallas Mavericks Receive (after Feb. 5): Bradley Beal, Dwight Howard
Orlando Magic Receive: Sam Dekker, Dennis Smith Jr.
Washington Wizards Receive: Jalen Brunson, Dorian Finney-Smith, Jonathan Isaac, Wesley Matthews, 2019 second-round pick (from Brooklyn, via Orlando), 2020 second-round pick (from Golden State or Houston, via Dallas), 2021 first-round pick (top-five protection, via Dallas)
Expect teams to start inundating the Wizards with Bradley Beal inquiries in the aftermath of John Wall's season-ending Achilles injury. They were open for business as of November, per ESPN.com's Adrian Wojnarowski, and the loss of an All-Star doesn't do much for their slimming postseason hopes.
Prying Beal out of Washington won't come cheaply. It might be impossible. He's under contract through 2020-21 and doesn't turn 26 until June. The Wizards don't need to move him as part of a teardown.
The Mavericks should make a call anyway. They should be prepared to up the ante, too. Subbing out Dorian Finney-Smith for a protected 2023 first-rounder or giving up Maxi Kleber cannot be considered a deal-breaker.
Basically, the framework of this deal can assume many different forms. The Mavericks need to explore all of them. They're already gauging the market for Dennis Smith Jr., according to ESPN.com's Tim MacMahon, and Beal gives them another to star to pair with Doncic.
Yes, all-in overtures are typically reserved for top-25 guys. Beal isn't that player. But he's close enough, and Dallas becomes a more appealing free-agent destination with him in the fold.
Adding him and Howard leaves the Mavs with an open invitation to $25 million in space if their first-rounder conveys to Atlanta. They'll have more if Howard or Dwight Powell declines his player option, and they could even double their spending power by jettisoning Harrison Barnes. (Related: The Barnes-to-Sacramento trade could still work if Dallas tinkers with its combination of sweeteners.)
Washington isn't getting an immediate first-rounder, but that's not the end of the world. Jalen Brunson, Finney-Smith and Jonathan Isaac are all quality prospects, and including Howard and Sam Dekker in the deal drags the Wizards under the luxury-tax line. And again: They can try extracting other stuff—mainly a 2023 first-rounder—from Dallas.
The Magic have the least to second-guess among the three parties. Isaac is a tantalizing defensive prospect, but they need a point guard. and rolling the dice on Smith makes way more sense than any of their other options.
This year's draft class isn't teeming with high-ceiling floor generals, and Orlando doesn't yet have the timeline to justify spending big on potential solutions—Terry Rozier, D'Angelo Russell, Kemba Walker—in free agency.
Chicago Forgets About 2019 Free Agency, as Washington's Teardown Rolls On
Chicago Bulls Receive: Otto Porter
Washington Wizards Receive: Antonio Blakeney or Justin Holiday, Jabari Parker
Forgive the slight indecision of this package. Otto Porter's trade value is complicated. He is more likely to get dealt than Bradley Beal and John Wall, according to The Athletic's Sam Amick, but the Wizards don't have a clear asking price.
Offering Washington straight cap relief with Antonio Blakeney and Jabari Parker works out for Chicago. The Wizards save about $4.6 million this season while unloading the final two years and $55.7 million of Porter's deal (2020-21 player option).
If Washington pushes for a player who has more of an impact, the Bulls can use Justin Holiday. He's an active backcourt defender, solid shooter and subtly capable worker bee off the dribble, but they're not competing for anything this season, and he could price himself out of town in free agency.
Chicago has to want Porter, who is getting over a knee strain, for any of this to matter. That's not a given. The Bulls haven't shipped out Jabari Parker yet in part because prospective trade partners want them to "take on bad, long-term contracts," according to the Chicago Tribune's K.C. Johnson.
Porter's agreement should flirt with exemption. His price point is miles from ideal, but the Bulls need sweet-shooting wings who can be moved around on the defensive end. Porter fits that bill. He also jibes with Chicago's timeline, as he doesn't turn 26 until June.
Free agency shouldn't get in the way of the Bulls' thinking here. Porter's 2019-20 salary ($27.3 million) gobbles up most of their cap space, but they're not being mentioned among the hottest destinations. Brooklyn, Dallas, New York and both Los Angeles teams are getting more shine, and superior basketball fits in smaller markets such as Indiana and Utah loom.
Landing Porter doesn't fully remove the Bulls from the offseason's foreground, either. Renouncing all of their own free agents, including Cameron Payne (restricted) and Bobby Portis (restricted), would still get them around $20 million in room, depending on where their draft pick falls.