The 1 Trade Every Eliminated Playoff Team Needs to Make This Offseason
Making the NBA playoffs is both an achievement and a ticket to failure. Only one of the 16 entrants survives, which means the other 15 bow out disappointed, with flaws exposed.
The eight teams already eliminated will address their shortcomings through the draft and free agency, but let's not forget trades as a third route to improvement.
Timing-wise, this is a tricky juncture from which to propose swaps. The draft will alter roster outlooks, and there are a number of big-name free-agency dominos that need to fall before organizations start swinging major deals. Still, as a way to highlight the priorities, weaknesses and goals of eliminated teams, this exercise is helpful.
So you got bounced in the first round. Big deal. Now's the time to start thinking of ways to postpone that disappointment a little longer next year.
Brooklyn Nets Get: Protected future second-round pick
Atlanta Hawks Get: Allen Crabbe, 2019 first-round pick (via Denver)
Allen Crabbe's $18.5 million option for 2019-20 is a living reminder of how wildly out of whack NBA spending got in the summer of 2016. Once Crabbe picks up that option, it'll become the most significant hindrance to the Brooklyn Nets' big free-agency plans.
Unless the Nets renounce D'Angelo Russell's cap hold or take some other series of drastic steps, they won't have enough cash to chase a max free agent this summer. Moving Crabbe would be the simplest way to clear the space Brooklyn needs, but it won't be easy. Crabbe is a career 39.3 percent shooter from deep, so he's certainly not without his uses. It's just that he's mostly unhelpful as a defender and creator. It's hard to justify paying such an extreme specialist like an above-average starter, so the Nets will probably have to attach a draft asset to get him off the books via trade.
There's always a pool of teams under the cap that should be willing to take on bad money with draft compensation attached. The Atlanta Hawks, Phoenix Suns and Chicago Bulls would all be reasonable candidates to absorb Crabbe, with longer shots like the Utah Jazz and Dallas Mavericks looking like potential options, depending on how they plan to spend their money this summer.
The Hawks are patient rebuilders, and they've shown a hunger for picks in the past—most notably by trading out of position to draft Luka Doncic in exchange for what amounted to Trae Young and a future first from the Mavs.
Brooklyn has two first-rounders in 2019. Its own pick might be too valuable to use as a salary-dump facilitator, but maybe the Hawks would take the No. 27 or No. 31 pick the Nets have incoming from the Denver Nuggets and New York Knicks, respectively. If Brooklyn knows it has an inside track on a marquee free agent, it might even make sense to give up both those picks to move off Crabbe.
The return package from Atlanta doesn't really matter, since the whole point of this exchange is excising Crabbe's salary. So let's give Brooklyn a heavily protected future second-rounder from Atlanta and call it good.
Detroit Pistons Get: Mike Conley
Memphis Grizzlies Get: Reggie Jackson, Jon Leuer, Bruce Brown, 2019 first-round pick, 2021 first-round pick
The Detroit Pistons got more than they could have asked for from Blake Griffin in 2019-20, as the formerly bouncy finisher completed his transformation into multiskilled, (mostly) ground-bound offensive hub. Griffin was effectively Detroit's point guard, even if Reggie Jackson nominally occupied the position, leading the team in assists while also topping the Pistons in scoring, free-throw attempts and three-point attempts.
Whenever Griffin wasn't on the floor, Detroit's net rating cratered, dropping from a respectable 109.4 points per 100 possessions to 102.1. Though the 10-year vet has been no stranger to injuries during his career, it wouldn't be far-fetched to argue the extreme offensive burden Griffin carried contributed to his late-season physical breakdown—which culminated in arthroscopic knee surgery as soon as the Milwaukee Bucks swept the Pistons out of the playoffs.
Clearly, Detroit needs someone to help Griffin score and create shots for others. And since it is committed to big-money deals for Griffin and Andre Drummond, it shouldn't balk at taking on more high-dollar, relatively short-term salary.
Enter Mike Conley, in whom the Pistons showed interest before the 2019 trade deadline.
Conley fits the Pistons' Griffin-based timeline and would be a colossal upgrade over Jackson on both ends and fill the scoring and facilitating voids on the roster. Maybe banking on both players to stay healthy for two more years (which is how long Conley's contract runs) would be a risk, but the Pistons aren't going anywhere as presently constructed. They might as well double down on veterans with dubious health records.
The Memphis Grizzlies are rebuilding, so they should welcome the chance to get off the $67 million Conley is owed over the next two years. Jackson and Jon Leuer would provide further relief, as both of their deals expire in 2020. If the Grizz wanted to move them during the season for heftier/longer-term salary with picks attached, they could further expand their haul.
The picks might be a sticking point for the Pistons, but at least one first-rounder would have to be involved. Detroit could make its 2019 selection with the intent to include that player in the package for Conley and then be free to offer another first-rounder in 2020 or 2021. The further into the future Detroit goes with its pick offers, the more likely it'll want to include protections. The Conley-Griffin-Drummond mix could go south in a hurry if injuries or decline hit, so a Pistons first-rounder two years from now could wind up being extremely valuable to Memphis.
Indiana Pacers Get: Jrue Holiday
New Orleans Pelicans Get: Domantas Sabonis, 2019 first-round pick (drafted by Indiana), 2019 second-round pick, 2020 first-round pick (lottery-protected)
Domantas Sabonis is eligible for an extension this summer, which means the Indiana Pacers face a key decision.
Having Sabonis and Myles Turner is a pleasant problem when one of them is still on a rookie-scale deal, but the Pacers, always reluctant to touch the tax under owner Herb Simon, might be reluctant to devote another $20 million per season to Sabonis, who doesn't pair well with Turner. That's a lot of money for a backup. In fact, it's not backup money at all. It's starter money, which Sabonis deserves
Better to move him now and let another team give him what he's worth—in both coin and minutes.
Jrue Holiday would team with Victor Oladipo to create one of the league's top defensive backcourts. With Turner and his presumably perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidacy in the middle, Indiana would practically assure itself of a top-three finish on defense over the next couple of seasons. More importantly, Holiday would address the dearth of shot creation Indiana struggled with even when Oladipo was healthy. Anyone who watched the Pacers struggle to a sub-.500 record after the All-Star break and flounder on offense against the Boston Celtics during a first-round sweep knows the scoring issues only got worse without Oladipo.
Holiday is a two-way star and an All-Defensive first-teamer who can play on or off the ball effectively. Even if the New Orleans Pelicans find themselves in teardown mode after dealing Anthony Davis this summer, a guard as good as Holiday won't come cheap.
Sabonis profiles as a highly productive starter, and the Pels could either extend him right away or let restricted free agency dictate his price in 2020. For a theoretically rebuilding team, a pair of first-rounders would be a fine sweetener alongside a potentially foundational starting center.
Indy would have to renounce some of its free agents to fit Holiday's salary. That shouldn't be a problem if the payoff is adding another star at a position of need.
Los Angeles Clippers
Los Angeles Clippers Get: Anthony Davis and Solomon Hill
New Orleans Pelicans Get: Danilo Gallinari, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Montrezl Harrell, 2020 first-round pick, 2021 first-round pick (via Miami)*
Let's say Kyrie Irving leaves Boston in free agency, which would diminish the chances of Anthony Davis being a rental, which, in turn, would make it less likely the Celtics give up their entire trove of youth and draft assets to get him.
That takes Boston out of the trade picture.
The Los Angeles Lakers remain as the likeliest destination for Davis. The shared Klutch Sports connection with LeBron James and the smoke billowing all season mean there's some fire there. At the same time, if it's Los Angeles that Davis wants, and not necessarily the Lakers, there's another way.
The Los Angeles Clippers just showcased a culture of relentless effort in taking the Golden State Warriors to six games, Doc Rivers is widely respected (certainly more so than whomever the Lakers wind up hiring), Kawhi Leonard may be inbound, and owner Steve Ballmer's deep pockets give the Clippers creature comforts and a robust front office few can match.
Davis doesn't have any control over where he goes beyond telegraphing his likelihood of re-signing in 2020, but the Clippers should be more confident than most that they can impress him during a 2019-20 audition.
New Orleans might be able to get more from the Celtics or Lakers, but the Clippers' package is at least competitive.
*If that's not enough, cram Landry Shamet and another 2020 first-rounder (via Philadelphia) in there. The Clippers are flush with assets, and they should be willing to surrender almost all of them for Davis. That doesn't mean you make your best offer right off the bat, though.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Oklahoma City Thunder Get: Bradley Beal, Ian Mahinmi
Washington Wizards Get: Steven Adams, Dennis Schroder, Terrance Ferguson, 2019 first-round pick, swap rights on 2020 first-round pick, 2021 first-round pick
Russell Westbrook might be the only player in the league who would be considered untouchable by both sides of a potential trade. Despite his third consecutive playoff flameout, he's still integral to the Oklahoma City Thunder's identity. He's the star who stayed as others got traded or left of their own volition. Irrational as it seems, the Thunder may be comfortable tying their fate to a declining Westbrook over the next four years.
On the other side, no team should want anything to do with his contract, which will pay him $171.1 million over that span. Westbrook's game is based almost entirely on his athleticism (which does not include skills such as accurately shooting basketballs from outside three feet). His decline phase could get especially ugly.
That means OKC's big-swing options are limited to deals involving Paul George and Steven Adams. George is the team's best player, and Adams is a conventional center at the wrong time. Just two-and-a-half years after signing a four-year, $100 million extension, Adams wouldn't command 60 percent of that number on today's open market.
The Washington Wizards should be desperate for assets, and like the Thunder with Westbrook, they can't realistically expect to find a taker for John Wall's albatross deal. Adams would be a significant upgrade at the 5 who'd also give the Wizards leverage against overpaying to match offer sheets on Bobby Portis and Thomas Bryant. Dennis Schroder would slot in as the starter until Wall returns from his Achilles injury, and he'd also lessen the Wizards' urgency to match offers for Tomas Satoransky. In Terrance Ferguson, Washington would also get a young, athletic wing with upside.
The two first-rounders would be the real prize, though, as the one in 2021 could be valuable if Westbrook's decline accelerates.
Bradley Beal would give the Thunder badly needed shooting on the wing, and he proved he could run an offense when Wall went down.
This is the massive shakeup OKC needs, and besides, it's time for Jerami Grant to play center in a supercharged small-ball lineup.
Orlando Magic Get: Jordan Clarkson
Cleveland Cavaliers Get: Timofey Mozgov, 2019 second-round pick (via Brooklyn)
We're not doing anything franchise-altering here, but the Orlando Magic need another scorer/shot-creator to free up their offense.
D.J. Augustin led the Magic in drives per game but ranked just 38th in the league among guards who played at least 10 contests this season. Though he contributed as a pull-up shooter and steady facilitator, Augustin's inability to pierce the defense for buckets was a big reason Orlando, which ranked 29th in percentage of points scored on drives, struggled on offense all season.
The Magic rarely got to the foul line and didn't get up enough threes to take advantage of solid conversion rates (12th from the stripe, 11th from deep).
If Markelle Fultz pops, this will be less of an issue. But do you really want to bet on him sorting things out in his third season?
Timofey Mozgov is dead salary, which should interest the rebuilding Cleveland Cavaliers. Jordan Clarkson is a borderline rotation player on a typical team, but he'd fill a need for Orlando as a weapon off the bench. He can at least get his own looks when plays break down, and that'd be useful on this roster. His 22.2 points per 36 minutes would have ranked behind only Nikola Vucevic among qualifiers on Orlando this year.
It shouldn't take much in the way of draft compensation to make the Cavs part with Clarkson for Mozgov's expiring $16.7 million.
San Antonio Spurs
San Antonio Spurs Get: Nicolas Batum, Miles Bridges, 2019 second-round pick (via Washington), 2019 second-round pick (via Oklahoma City)
Charlotte Hornets Get: DeMar DeRozan
Nicolas Batum is due to collect about $2.8 million less than DeMar DeRozan over the remaining two years on their similar deals, but he's coming off a strange season in which he basically stopped shooting. His 11.6 field-goal attempts per 100 possessions marked a career low.
He almost feels like dead money, but the San Antonio Spurs have a way of reviving players in his situation. Boris Diaw's late-career renaissance with San Antonio came after the Charlotte Bobcats gave up on him, and Rudy Gay performed better than anyone could have expected following a torn Achilles. Batum fits the mold of a heady, multiskilled veteran whose abilities tend to get amplified when he puts on a Spurs jersey.
DeRozan is coming off averages of 21.2 points, 6.2 assists and 6.0 rebounds per game with 48.1 percent shooting. He's a far better shot-creator, and his conventional numbers blow Batum's averages of 9.3 points, 3.3 assists and 5.2 rebounds away. DeRozan also has the significant edge in name value and reputation, as denoted by his 4-0 All-Star nod advantage.
Thing is, DeRozan's advanced metrics were just marginally better than Batum's—even during the latter's rough 2018-19 season. DeRozan's box plus-minus of plus-0.9 didn't exactly dwarf Batum's plus-0.8.
Next year, the Spurs will add a healthy Dejounte Murray to a guard rotation that already includes Derrick White, Bryn Forbes and Patty Mills. Though DeRozan spent the majority of his minutes at the 3 and wouldn't necessarily have lost court time, Batum's ability to slide anywhere from shooting guard to power forward could give the Spurs greater versatility—particularly if Gay doesn't return in free agency.
Miles Bridges is a dynamite athlete with (at least) enough promise to project as a quality rotation piece, and those two seconds Charlotte would send to San Antonio would further sweeten the pot for a player in DeRozan whose reputation, again, probably outstrips his value.
From the Hornets' perspective, perhaps adding DeRozan and jettisoning the disappointing Batum would entice Kemba Walker to stick around. At the very least, DeRozan has proved he's a high-volume scorer who could share some of the offensive burden with Walker. Batum just isn't wired to help in the same way, but his breadth of skills could work well with the Spurs.
Utah Jazz Get: Kevin Love
Cleveland Cavaliers Get: Derrick Favors, Dante Exum, 2019 first-round pick, 2019 second-round pick
This is a lot for the Jazz to surrender for Kevin Love, who's playing on one of the league's more onerous contracts. But you've got to remember Utah's history of underwhelming results in free agency. The Jazz have to pay a premium for talent because they don't tend to attract it.
Love's defensive shortcomings are well known, but where better to hide them than alongside the league's best eraser, Rudy Gobert? Against second units, Love could comfortably slide to center.
On the other end, Love would address Utah's issues with shot creation, as he'd feast on mismatches in the post—either by scoring, drawing fouls or facilitating. He'd function beautifully in the Jazz's egalitarian system but could also be a hub whenever things broke down. As a passer, spacer and last-resort scoring option, Love would give Utah something Derrick Favors never could.
This would be a big swing and a significant financial commitment for the Jazz, but their first-round elimination stemmed largely from an inability to knock down the open shots they created against the Houston Rockets. Love would not only help the Jazz create more of those looks, but he'd also hit them. He's a career 37.0 percent shooter from deep and someone defenses can't ignore.
Utah could stay the course. It could trust its defense, bank on growth from Donovan Mitchell and hope it finds a point guard to replace Ricky Rubio. But Love would alter the team's makeup in a potentially positive way, balancing it by adding offensive punch. His playmaking could also allow the Jazz to think creatively when filling their point guard position. Utah could get unconventional and slot a big guard next to Mitchell, splitting playmaking duties across several positions. Love, Mitchell and Joe Ingles could all run the offense, and Love's range would unclutter the floor for Mitchell to attack downhill.
Cleveland's side is simple. It would lose its best player but gain a young wild card in Dante Exum and a first-rounder and shed a massive salary.