1 Trade Every Non-Playoff Team Should Make Before 2019 NBA Draft Lottery
Trades are rarely completed ahead of the NBA's draft lottery. Teams often want to see how the selection order shakes out before embarking upon roster reconstructions.
And to that, we must say: Who cares?
We're going to start a dialogue...about non-playoff teams. They get back-burner treatment during the postseason, for obvious reasons, unless they have Anthony Davis or are the Los Angeles Lakers.
But with the Zion Williamson sweepstakes less than one week away from its gripping conclusion, these teams are no less deserving of our love and affection and peanut-gallery trade concoctions.
Look, It Ain't Happening
Los Angeles Lakers
We are under no obligation to believe the Lakers are serious about deemphasizing the importance of wheeling and dealing. They will be at the forefront of this summer's rumor mill, especially after the free-agency dust begins to settle.
But they're beyond unlikely to make any significant moves before then. They don't have the low-profile assets to broker a small deal, and it doesn't make sense for them to take on additional salary, even for a superstar, prior to using their max salary-cap space.
Plus, the Lakers will no doubt only have eyes for Anthony Davis, and his future isn't getting resolved before the lottery.
New Orleans Pelicans
Speaking of which, the Pelicans should be at a standstill until the draft order is determined. They can't fiddle with the rest of their roster before hashing out the Davis situation, and it would be irresponsible for them to send him elsewhere without knowing which team owns this year's No. 1 pick.
David Griffin, New Orleans' executive vice president of basketball operations, also hasn't ruled out holding onto the franchise's megastar. That may be a leverage play, but if Davis' future with the organization remains undecided in any way, the Pelicans aren't going to consider making significant waves between now and May 14.
Charlotte Hornets and Washington Wizards*
Charlotte Hornets Receive: Bradley Beal
Washington Wizards Receive: Dwayne Bacon, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (must exercise player option), Malik Monk, 2019 first-round pick (drafted by Charlotte with top-two protection), 2020 first-round pick (top-seven protection)
Let's begin the festivities with an asterisk. Charlotte and Washington can have a handshake agreement in place for this deal but wouldn't officially complete it until 30 days after the Hornets' first-round pick, projected to sit at No. 12, signs his rookie-scale contract.
This serves an array of purposes. It lets the Hornets include next year's first-rounder, no small incentive for a Wizards team that won't be keen on a more gradual reset, given John Wall's contract. Waiting also allows Charlotte to include its 2019 first-rounder as actual salary, which is crucial to making the math work.
Wink-wink green lights aren't standard. They aren't unprecedented, either. The Boston Celtics used a weaker form of this thinking when speaking with the Pelicans about Anthony Davis at the trade deadline. The "Rose Rule" prohibited them from housing two players on designated rookie extensions—Kyrie Irving is wrapping his up—so they told Pels "everyone can be available" over the summer, per The Athletic's Shams Charania.
Washington has given no indication Bradley Beal is up for grabs. It doesn't even have a permanent general manager in place. Wall's ruptured left Achilles tendon should cost him most of next season, but flipping Beal, an All-NBA candidate who doesn't turn 26 until June, marks the beginning of a wholesale reset.
That's a monumental call to make. Wall is owed $170.9 million over the next four years. The Wizards do not have the luxury of playing it slow.
Beal's All-NBA bid is part of this calculus, though. He'll be eligible for a supermax extension worth more than $190 million over four years if he secures one of the six guard spots. Giving him that money locks Washington into a backcourt that'll cost close to $87 million in 2021-22. Delaying his next payday runs the risk of creating a rift between the franchise and its most important player.
Moving him is out of the question until the new front office is in place. But this Hornets hypothetical is worth a discussion.
The Wizards get at least one lottery pick; another first-rounder next year; a 21-year-old lottery prospect in Malik Monk; the up-and-coming Dwayne Bacon, who canned 43.7 percent of his threes this past season and will cost only $1.6 million when his salary is guaranteed; and a ton of cap relief once Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's deal comes off the ledger after next season. Their haul isn't getting much better if they wait to trade Beal until he's 12-18 months out from free agency, and they'll have the roster space to accept four-for-one parameters.
No one from the Hornets should oppose this framework. Giving up what amounts to three first-round prospects and punting on Bacon's development is a lot. Beal is worth it. He likely guarantees Kemba Walker's return and gives Charlotte a line back to the postseason.
Picking up an All-NBA guard without surrendering Miles Bridges would be a monster win on its own. The Wizards can, and should, push for him. But his inclusion is worth yanking that 2020 pick, Bacon and Monk from the table.
The Hornets end up adding more than $4 million to their payroll with this deal and skate into the luxury tax after re-upping Walker. They can figure that out later. Beal is worth that headache, too.
Cleveland Cavaliers and Dallas Mavericks
Cleveland Cavaliers Receive: Justin Jackson, Courtney Lee, 2020 second-round pick (more favorable via Golden State or Houston), 2023 second-round pick (via Miami)
Dallas Mavericks Receive: JR Smith
JR Smith will not reach July as a member of the Cavaliers. Only $3.9 million of his $15.7 million salary is guaranteed, and a rebuilding Cleveland squad has no use for him. He wasn't even with the team for most of the 2018-19 season.
How the Cavaliers plan to part ways with him is more of a mystery. They're dangerously close to the luxury tax for a franchise in transition. Waiving him gives them a clear path to staying under the tax threshold. It also costs them a golden opportunity.
Smith's contract was signed under the previous collective bargaining agreement, so he'll count for his full $15.7 million salary in any trade before his new team waives him for $3.9 million (prior to June 30). Any buyers looking to skirt the tax or open up additional cap space will covet that $11.8 million difference.
Dallas falls into the latter category. Subbing in Smith's partial guarantee for Courtney Lee's expiring pact and Justin Jackson's rookie-scale salary trims more than $12.1 million from the bottom line. The Mavericks would then have access or a feasible path to max space even if their top-five-protected pick doesn't convey to the Atlanta Hawks, all while carrying restricted free agency holds for Dorian Finney-Smith, Maxi Kleber and Kristaps Porzingis.
Pulling the trigger should be a no-brainer for them. Sources told the New York Times' Marc Stein that the Mavericks want to sniff around Khris Middleton (player option) and Kemba Walker in free agency. This lets them do that without surrendering any more primo sweeteners.
Whether Jackson and two second-round picks is enough to pique the Cavaliers' interest will depend on their view of the payroll. The salaries in this deal match up almost dollar for dollar. Cleveland would need to broker a series of buyouts and flat-out dumps to shirk the tax.
Extra work should not be a deal-breaker. The Cavaliers will run into this problem with almost any Smith trade. Two second-rounders and a first-round prospect is fair compensation for swallowing Lee, who instantly becomes a buyout candidate upon his arrival in Cleveland.
Memphis Grizzlies and Minnesota Timberwolves
Minnesota Timberwolves Receive: Mike Conley, CJ Miles
Memphis Grizzlies Receive: Keita Bates-Diop, Gorgui Dieng, Jeff Teague, 2019 first-round pick (top-four protection), 2019 second-round pick (via Miami), 2020 second-round pick
Yours truly recently proposed this deal during another trip down Hypothetical Highway. It has only grown on me with time.
Mike Conley's days with the Grizzlies are numbered. He's disenchanted by the prospect of a rebuild, which Memphis appears to be leaning into after firing head coach J.B. Bickerstaff and overhauling the front office.
Divorce is the only logical solution. It won't be painless. Conley is still a gamer, but the $67 million he's owed over the next two years will invariably render suitors pick-and-prospect shy.
Memphis must consider swallowing a not-so-desirable contract to incentivize top-shelf offers. Stomaching Gorgui Dieng isn't pleasant, but it doesn't cripple the books. He costs $33.5 million through 2020-21, less than half as much as Conley, and a rebuilding timeline allows for two seasons of less-than-ideal weight.
Nabbing this year's Timberwolves pick, which projects to land at No. 10, justifies taking on Dieng. No other team will cough up a top-10 selection for Conley.
Lottery choices are valuable even in weaker draft classes, and the Grizzlies would have two inside the top 10 if their pick doesn't convey to the Celtics (top-eight protection). Josh Okogie can be included instead of Keita Bates-Diop if need be, but Memphis isn't getting hosed under the current structure.
Bates-Diop doesn't turn 24 until January and can play the 2, 3 and 4. He flashed nice finishing around the rim in extended run toward the end of this season, and his off-ball awareness on defense belies his experience.
Minnesota may actually be the tougher sell. New president of basketball operations Gersson Rosas didn't hint at an immediate direction during his introductory presser, and this is very much a win-now move. That might jibe with his "Be different" mantra.
"We're going to be very creative. I think you're going to see a different tone from this administration, and part of it is going to be that we have to maximize every resource. Draft, free agency, trades, what we have on the roster in terms of player development. We have to be creative."
Partnering Karl-Anthony Towns with a point guard so comfortable working off the dribble is unfair—and definitely creative. He and Conley won't take long to find their synergy in the half court, and the Timberwolves defense will look a lot better when someone other than Tyus Jones (restricted) is capable of keeping pace with enemy floor generals.
Chicago Bulls and Phoenix Suns
Chicago Bulls Receive: Josh Jackson
Phoenix Suns Receive: Kris Dunn
Targeting a point guard before the draft lottery may not be up the Suns' alley. They have a 40.1 percent chance of winning a top-three pick, and Ja Morant is an ideal option if they sit at No. 2 or No. 3.
But Phoenix wouldn't be acquiring Kris Dunn to be its offensive captain. He isn't floor-general material. He's averaging more than seven assists per 36 minutes in two seasons with Chicago, but he doesn't have the chops to run a half-court offense.
Dunn's decision-making out of the pick-and-roll is shaky at best, and he cannot be counted on to attack the basket or draw fouls. The Bulls were more efficient in the half court with him on the floor this past season, but that says more about their personnel and the general underwhelming state of their offense.
Still, the Suns could use Dunn's grit. They're loaded with wings, and they won't have the bandwidth to indulge Josh Jackson's learning curve for much longer. Dunn gives them a big, scrappy point guard to pester opposing initiators and help hide Devin Booker.
Chicago might not be inclined to move Dunn, who is extension-eligible, while so thin at the 1 spot itself. But he isn't the answer. The Bulls have a better chance of finding that in the draft—Morant is an ideal get for them as well—or free agency, and they aren't particularly married to Dunn in the interim.
"We have not given up on Kris," John Paxson, Chicago's executive vice president of basketball operations, told reporters after the season. "I think he has defensive abilities. But we have to get better at that position, there’s absolutely no question in my mind."
Jackson is a quintessential second-draft player, and he'd be a nice flier for a Bulls rotation still short on wings. Chicago should expect little out of him as a ball-handler, but he did drill 34.5 percent of his treys over his final 35 games—and 38 percent after the All-Star break.
Swapping Dunn for Jackson costs the Bulls about $1.7 million in cap space. That's fine. They can still clear more than $15 million in room if they waive all of their own free agents, and Jackson has an additional year left on his rookie-scale contract. His $8.9 million salary in 2020-21 (team option), while not nothing, may wind up beating what Dunn costs on his next deal.
Atlanta Hawks and New York Knicks
Atlanta Hawks Receive: Frank Ntilikina, 2020 second-round pick (via Charlotte), 2021 second-round pick (via Charlotte)
New York Knicks Receive: Taurean Prince
Selling so low on Taurean Prince might rub the Hawks (and their fans) the wrong way. He embodies the NBA's premier archetype on his face—a 6'8" wing who's shooting 38 percent from downtown for his career. But that dreaminess is diluted by a lack of progression from Year 2 to Year 3.
Prince has not yet proved to be a reliable ball-handler. He coughed the ball up on 27.3 percent of his pick-and-rolls in 2017-18, and that number improved to a better-but-still-crappy 17.7 percent this past season.
His defense is not a saving grace. He isn't fit to play small-ball 4 and struggles to track assignments through screens and off the ball. He goes through stretches where it feels like he isn't on the floor at all.
Frank Ntilikina is more in line with the defensive talent the Hawks need around Trae Young. He's one of the NBA's worst offensive players, but Atlanta does a nice job willing projects into opportunities, even if it doesn't always work. (See: Bembry, DeAndre'.) The Hawks can mitigate Ntilikina's non-shooting and unpolished decision-making off the bounce by playing him between Young and Kevin Huerter.
Picking up two Charlotte selections should seal the deal. Prince is extension-eligible, while Ntilikina has two more years at a rookie-scale price. Atlanta takes on a bit more salary for 2019-20 but stays leaner—and gets younger—through 2020-21.
New York might wince at including both of Charlotte's future seconds, but Ntilikina is not a straightaway asset at his $4.9 million price point. The Knicks have made sure of that. A lingering groin injury helped torpedo his sophomore season, but their inability to groom him for a consistent role hurts more.
Besides, Ntilikina feels like a goner anyway. His name was bandied about the rumor mill at the trade deadline, and he is "expected" to be available on draft night, according to the New York Post's Marc Berman. Both Damyean Dotson (nonguaranteed) and Allonzo Trier (team option) have leap-frogged him in the Knicks' developmental pecking order.
Parlaying Ntilikina into a sweet-shooting wing who fits whatever team New York trots out next year is a nice hedge against an offseason that will either include superstar signings or fantabulous failure. And it helps that Prince costs slightly less.
Assuming the Knicks win the draft lottery while keeping Dotson and Trier, they'll fall about $3 million shy of the Kevin Durant-Kyrie Irving pipe dream. They make up close to half of that ($1.4 million) with a Ntilikina-for-Prince swap. Every little bit counts.
Miami Heat and Sacramento Kings
Miami Heat Receive: Nemanja Bjelica, Yogi Ferrell (must guarantee salary) OR Frank Mason III (must guarantee salary)
Sacramento Kings Receive: Kelly Olynyk
Luxury-tax concerns and designs on making a splash in 2020 free agency should have Miami looking to cut costs. This trade helps.
Waiving Ryan Anderson's partial guarantee ($15.6 million) would still leave the Heat around $7-9 million over the tax if Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside pick up their player options as expected. They can bridge $4.7 million of that gap by flipping Kelly Olynyk for Nemanja Bjelica and Frank Mason III. They'd save $3.1 million if they prioritize functional value and go for Yogi Ferrell instead.
Dipping out on Olynyk is tough. He averaged 15.1 points, 7.1 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.1 steals per 36 minutes while slashing 47.9/38.5/88.1 after the All-Star break. But this isn't just about shaving a little scratch off the top now.
"We've done this four times now, had a good group of players, young players, and then either through free agency or through trade brought the superstar in," Heat president Pat Riley said in February (h/t Slam's Isaiah Freedman). "In 2020, we'll have a ton of room. We'll also have the possibility to have enough room to go after two max free agents."
That...isn't exactly true. Miami needs to jettison two of its pricier contracts on the 2020-21 docket to even think about having that much room. Josh Richardson and Justise Winslow will be easy to move, but that summer's free-agency class isn't nearly talented enough to justify using the team's two best players to drum up flexibility.
Dumping James Johnson (two years, $31.4 million) and Dion Waiters (two years, $24.8 million) would be ideal, but the Heat don't have the sweeteners necessary to unload both—at least not right now. Getting off Olynyk's 2020-21 salary ($13.6 million player option) without having to include a buffer simplifies Miami's path to dual maxes. Both Ferrell and Mason come off the books next summer, and Bjelica's salary is nonguaranteed.
Sacramento's intentions here are less obvious, but they exist. Paying Olynyk for the next two years beats whatever Willie Cauley-Stein (restricted) will cost this summer, and he offers more on defense, from the inside and out, than Bjelica.
Eating up to $4.7 million in extra salary should not deter the Kings. They can still breeze past $30 million in cap space even if Harrison Barnes exercises his $25.1 million player option. They'd just need to renounce all their own free agents, including Cauley-Stein, and waive whoever remains between Ferrell and Mason.