1 Trade for Every Rebuilding NBA Team

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistApril 23, 2019

1 Trade for Every Rebuilding NBA Team

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    When the NBA playoffs start, it's easy to forget about the other half of the league. And it's even easier to disregard the clubs that were nowhere near postseason races after the All-Star break.

    Here, we'll remember those forgotten teams with trade ideas to help them stay relevant a little longer next year.

    Not every team with a rotten 2018-19 record falls into the rebuilding category. The Minnesota Timberwolves made the playoffs last year, sniffed the race as late as February and have a cornerstone in Karl-Anthony Towns. The Dallas Mavericks also posted a win total in the 30s while adding Kristaps Porzingis in a deal that cost them a pair of first-rounders. They're closer to "built" than "rebuilding."

    The Los Angeles Lakers, Washington Wizards, Sacramento Kings, Miami Heat and Charlotte Hornets aren't rebuilding, either. They all missed the postseason but are either firmly planted on the mediocrity treadmill or have reason to trust that better luck (or free agency) will deliver better results in 2019-20.

    The teams on which we'll focus should be looking for young talent, draft picks, distressed assets, fresh starts and, above all, paths back to respectability.

New York Knicks and Atlanta Hawks

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    New York Knicks Get: Taurean Prince

    Atlanta Hawks Get: Frank Ntilikina, 2019 first-round pick (via Houston Rockets)

    We help a pair of rebuilders right off the bat here as the Hawks buy very, very low on Ntilikina, whose excellent perimeter defense makes him a perfect running mate for Trae Young. In theory.

    Ntilikina is among the worst offensive players in the league, but the Hawks are a developmental organization with a history of forging quality wings and guards out of some rough-edged prospects. If Ntilikina could even approach average scoring efficiency with decent playmaking skills, he'd make a lot of sense in a rotation with Young and Kevin Huerter.

    Those two could hide more easily with Frankie Smokes around to guard the opposition's biggest perimeter threat.

    Plus, Atlanta can reapportion Prince's minutes to DeAndre' Bembry and Kent Bazemore without losing much.

    The Knicks are fast-tracking their fresh start. If they land two max stars in free agency and add Zion Williamson in the draft, they'll be in the market for more plug-and-play options. Prince is a shoddy defender who gets into trouble whenever he tries to dribble or facilitate, but he's a career 38 percent three-point shooter and has the kind of frame you could imagine someday working in switch-heavy schemes.

    He'd make sense as a one-task role player supporting the Knicks' stars, and his game still has some untapped upside. 

    Because Ntilikina's value is so speculative after a brutal, injury-hit sophomore season (39.5 effective field-goal percentage!), the Knicks need to throw in a late first-rounder from the Rockets to keep Atlanta from hanging up the phone.

Cleveland Cavaliers

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    Cleveland Cavaliers Get: Bismack Biyombo, 2019 second-round pick (via Oklahoma City Thunder), 2019 second-round pick (via Washington Wizards)

    Charlotte Hornets Get: JR Smith

    An admission: I just can't figure out how to get Kevin Love off the Cavs.

    A 30-year-old on a $120 million contract extension has no place on a roster this far removed from competitiveness, but the assets Cleveland would need to attach in any deal to get rid of him—draft picks and cheap rookie contracts, mainly—are exactly what it should be trying to acquire.

    So, we shelve Love for the time being and focus instead on more realistic options.

    JR Smith's 2019-20 salary counts as $15.7 million for trade purposes, but his acquiring team can cut him loose after it pays only $3.9 million in guaranteed money. Charlotte should be interested in cutting expenses however possible with Kemba Walker's free agency looming, and this deal would save it roughly $13.1 million next year.

    The Cavs have no use for Smith or Biyombo and his $17 million salary, but a couple of second-rounders should be enough of a sweetener to make the exchange worthwhile for the Cavs. A first-rounder would be ideal, but it's difficult to imagine a team parting with an asset that valuable for a bit of cap relief.

    Maybe the Brooklyn Nets would be interested in a similar deal involving Allen Crabbe, but Brooklyn just spent a half-decade without controlling its own first-rounders. You could excuse the Nets for wanting to hang onto their selections.

Chicago Bulls

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    Chicago Bulls Get: Dante Exum, 2020 second-round pick

    Utah Jazz Get: Kris Dunn

    The Bulls have a 48 percent chance to select in the top four of this year's draft. Barring slippage beyond that range, they'll likely spend their pick on a point guard. Ja Morant would be ideal.

    That means now is the time to trade Kris Dunn, before he falls behind a rookie in the franchise hierarchy—a status change that could further diminish his value on the market. The Bulls would probably prefer to dump the remaining two years and $15.7 million left on Cristiano Felicio's contract, but that deal is dead money. Chicago would have to include more to remove it from the books.

    Ricky Rubio is a free agent, Dante Exum can't stay healthy and Raul Neto lacks the upside necessary to trust him with more than a third-string spot. The Jazz could do worse than adding a lottery talent at a position that traditionally takes longer to develop.

    Exum is also a lottery talent at the point, but he hasn't been able to stay on the floor, and his contract runs a year longer than Dunn's at a higher annual value. The Bulls are in a very different place than the playoff-proven Jazz, so they're better positioned to absorb the risk of Exum's health. His ceiling remains harder to gauge than Dunn's, but that's actually a positive for the rebuilding Bulls. He still has a chance to become a multi-positional shutdown defender who can change games with his transition attacks.

    Maybe the Jazz's equal-opportunity offense will unlock something new in Dunn, or maybe he'll spend the offseason learning how to shoot the deep ball. Either way, he's more valuable to Utah than Chicago, and the Bulls get a better risk-reward option in Exum, plus a draft asset.

Memphis Grizzlies

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    Memphis Grizzlies Get: Derrick Favors, Dante Exum, 2019 first-round pick, 2019 second-round pick

    Utah Jazz Get: Mike Conley

    OK, no more messing around in our efforts to fix the Jazz's playmaking problem. This gets it done.

    Conley is fresh off his best season, toting averages of 21.1 points and 6.4 assists. He also played 70 games and might have logged more if the Grizzlies had been closer to a playoff spot down the stretch. That's a good sign for a player who couldn't hit that mark in any of the three preceding seasons.

    He'd give the Jazz a steadying influence in the backcourt who could actually scare opponents with his jumper—something Ricky Rubio, a free agent this summer, could never do.

    Donovan Mitchell may yet turn into a star, but he's overmatched as the lone shot-creator on Utah's roster.

    The return for Memphis may not seem great, but it's hard to be picky when you're dealing a guy due to collect $67 million over his age-32 and age-33 seasons. There's huge risk involved for Utah, so it's not giving up anything ridiculous. Favors is a starting-caliber big who could mentor Jaren Jackson Jr. and replace Jonas Valanciunas if the latter opts out of his deal this summer. Exum is a wild card.

    The picks are what make this work for the Grizzlies. They're not a free-agent destination and have to build through the draft. Even if Utah's selections won't have high value, a pair of draft assets is nothing to sneeze at.

New Orleans Pelicans

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    New Orleans Pelicans Get: Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Lonzo Ball, picks, cap relief, kitchen sink

    Los Angeles Lakers Get: Anthony Davis

    ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported in February that all the Lakers assets listed above were on the table for Anthony Davis. With call-screening general manager Dell Demps out and highly respected executive David Griffin now running the Pels operations, talks should resume along similar lines.

    The package headed to New Orleans isn't set in stone—Griffin may want to think about involving a third team to take Ball—but these are the broad strokes about which everyone has been talking for months: Davis to the Lakers in exchange for the team's entire young core.

    The Pelicans could begin their rebuild with a heap of picks and a crew of young talent led by Ingram, who looked to be on the verge of stardom before deep venous thrombosis in his right arm prematurely ended his third season.

    Don't forget Jrue Holiday is still in New Orleans. If the Pelicans really wanted to start fresh, they'd have no trouble finding takers for a two-way standout who can play either backcourt position and guard anyone on the perimeter. At the same time, Holiday's grit and professionalism would be helpful in molding a roster that would suddenly become much younger. 

Phoenix Suns

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    Phoenix Suns Get: Timofey Mozgov, 2019 first-round pick

    Orlando Magic Get: T.J. Warren

    Warren magically learned to shoot threes last year, hitting 42.8 percent from deep after he finished under 27 percent in three of the four previous seasons. He also logged just 43 games, which made his $11.8 million salary a little less palatable. Availability is still the best ability, and Warren's track record suggests he doesn't have it; he's never played more than 66 games.

    No questions, though, exist about Warren's scoring ability.

    He put up 18 points per game this past season and would be a valuable addition to a Magic team that hasn't had much luck producing points. Orlando showcased elite defense for most of 2018-19 but fell flat on the other end against the Toronto Raptors in the first round of the playoffs. Anyone would help the Magic offense more than Mozgov, who has basically been a bench ornament in recent years, but Warren also fills a clear need.

    The Suns might hesitate to move the 25-year-old less than two years after they signed him to a new extension, but they've already got Mikal Bridges and Josh Jackson under rookie deals, and Kelly Oubre Jr. is headed for restricted free agency. If retaining Oubre isn't too costly, it'd make sense to let that trio split the minutes at small forward and power forward next year.

    Obviously, the pick is the prize in this deal. If you're not a likely playoff team, it's always smart to take on bad salary with future assets attached. And since the Suns don't have any ugly contracts of their own to ship out, absorbing one is a shrewd play.

    Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference, Cleaning the Glass or NBA.com unless otherwise specified. Accurate through games played Monday, April 22.