Trades to Replace the NBA's 10 Worst Starters

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistMay 26, 2019

Trades to Replace the NBA's 10 Worst Starters

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    Nell Redmond/Associated Press

    From the world-beating Golden State Warriors to the willingly beaten New York Knicks, every NBA team has a weak link in their first five.

    That said, these soft spots in the starting group aren't all created equally.

    Some are youngsters promoted too quickly and forced to learn on the job. Others might be temporary replacements for injured regulars.

    Those groups have excuses. The 10 worst starters we've selected do not.

    To get beyond the growing pains, 2018-19's rookies and sophomores are excluded. To control for temporary assignments, players must have made 40-plus starts. To narrow the list to potential trade candidates, only those with at least partially guaranteed contracts for next season are considered.

    These 10 players are ranked from worse to worst by a combination of advanced stats, on-court impact and the always trusty eye test. Then, each gets hypothetically sent away from his current squad through a realistic trade.

10. Kyle Anderson, SF, Memphis Grizzlies

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    Brandon Dill/Associated Press

    Memphis Grizzlies receive: Derrick Favors, Dante Exum, Grayson Allen, 2019 No. 23 overall pick

    Utah Jazz receive: Mike Conley, Kyle Anderson

    The Jazz chased Conley at the trade deadline, and multiple sources said they're "expected to make another push for him this offseason," per The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor. Utah needs more scoring and shot-creating options outside of Donovan Mitchell, and when Conley's body cooperates—his 70 games this past season were his most since 2014-15—he checks both boxes while defending at a level Jazz coach Quin Snyder would appreciate.

    The possible snag here is whether Utah feels Anderson can scratch its years-long itch for a small-ball 4.

    While not much of a shooter (career 32.4 percent from deep), he's crafty with the basketball, moves it quickly enough to keep the offense flowing and defends multiple positions. He failed to impress during his first season of a four-year, $37.2 million deal in Memphis, but April shoulder surgery could both explain his struggles (12.8 player efficiency rating) and help him return to form.

    The future-focused Grizzlies add both a first-round pick in this draft and a first-round selection from the last in Allen. The 23-year-old Exum could eventually emerge as the biggest prize should he ever escape the injury bug. There's some redundancy with Ja Morant likely heading to Beale Street, but there's also enough size and athleticism between the two for Memphis to eventually deploy a dual-point guard lineup.

    The Grizzlies would need to guarantee Favors' $16.9 million salary for next season, but they can afford to splurge with anchors Jaren Jackson Jr. and (presumably) Morant early into their rookie contracts. Between Favors, Jackson and Jonas Valanciunas ($17.6 million player option), Memphis would have a frontcourt combo for any situation and a full year to decide which veteran big fits best with Jackson.

9. Tristan Thompson, C, Cleveland Cavaliers

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    Cleveland Cavaliers receive: Malik Monk, Bismack Biyombo

    Charlotte Hornets receive: Tristan Thompson

    Thompson's lack of range and shot-blocking makes him a tricky fit in today's game, and if he hit the open market, he wouldn't command close to his $18.5 million salary for 2019-20. But his relentless rebounding (career 17.4 rebounding percentage, 34th-highest in NBA history), ability to handle defensive switches and postseason experience could interest the success-starved Hornets.

    Kemba Walker wants to stay in Charlotte, but he needs to see a commitment to winning. The Hornets don't have the assets to strike a blockbuster, but solidifying the center spot with Thompson would help.

    Defensively, he'd a big improvement over Cody Zeller. That's where the Hornets need the most help after finishing this past season 11th on offense but only 22nd at the other end.

    Monk, the 11th overall pick in 2017, could look dramatically different to these two teams given their 2019-20 intentions. The Cavs could see the 21-year-old as a sweet-shooting, long-term backcourt mate for Collin Sexton. The Hornets might look at his career 37.6/33.5/87.1 slash line and deem him incapable of making a significant impact in the near future, which is obviously Walker's primary concern.

8. Jeff Teague, PG, Minnesota Timberwolves

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    Jordan Johnson/Getty Images

    Minnesota Timberwolves receive: TJ Warren, 2019 No. 32 overall pick

    Phoenix Suns receive: Jeff Teague, 2019 No. 11 overall pick

    After Teague made a surprise appearance in the 2015 All-Star Game, his stats have been sliding ever since. He (hopefully) bottomed out this past season, as he battled both injuries and inconsistency. His 42 games were a career low, while his 12.1 points per game and 42.3 field-goal percentage were among the worst he's ever posted.

    Minnesota already shopped him at the deadline and should remain motivated to move the soon-to-be 31-year-old, who already picked up his $19 million option for next season. But the point guard-needy Suns, who were linked to Teague in September, might see some buy-low potential here, especially if they can add a second lottery pick to their collection.

    The 25-year-old Warren is a natural scorer who expanded his range by sinking 1.8 triples per night at a 42.8 percent clip this past season. Between him, Robert Covington, Dario Saric, Josh Okogie and Andrew Wiggins, the 'Wolves would have a wealth of 2-through-4 combinations to put around Karl-Anthony Towns. Adding the 32nd pick—effectively a late first-rounder—ensures Minnesota the opportunity to add another youngster to its collection.

    Phoenix, meanwhile, has more wings than it can use and might look to move one if it can re-sign Kelly Oubre Jr. By pairing Teague with a lottery pick, the Suns help both their present and future. Teague has enough speed to keep pace with Phoenix's young players, and he'd alleviate some of the offensive pressure on Devin Booker. Having two lottery picks might allow the Suns to go best-player-available with one and draft for need with the other.

7. Nicolas Batum, SG/SF, Charlotte Hornets

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    Chuck Burton/Associated Press

    Portland Trail Blazers receive: Nicolas Batum, 2019 No. 36 overall pick, 2020 lottery-protected first-round pick

    Charlotte Hornets receive: Evan Turner, Skal Labissiere, Gary Trent Jr.

    Back in January, loud whispers suggested the Hornets were "desperate" to deal Batum and willing to attach a sweetener (in that case Frank Kaminsky) to do it. Considering Charlotte was still fully in win-enough-to-appease-Kemba mode, this was not an insignificant desire.

    Then again, it also wasn't surprising. Batum pocketed a team-high $24 million salary this past season while ranking sixth in scoring and 13th among rotation players in usage percentage.

    Blazers fans surely remember Batum's frustrating inconsistency, as he spent his first seven NBA seasons in Rip City. But they should also remember his glue-guy gifts, like secondary playmaking, floor-spacing and defensive versatility. Those skills only shine when he has top-level talent to complement, and he'd get that in Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum.

    Batum's contract is colossal, but Portland might be more open to add money than most with a close-but-not-quite-contending roster and limited resources to reshape the roster. Adding a pair of draft picks also eases the financial sting.

    This is mainly a money-saving move for Charlotte. Turner and Labissiere only have guaranteed contracts through next season, and Trent just started his rookie deal. But the hope is one or both of Trent (a perimeter sniper) and Labissiere (a 23-year-old with length and a jumper) emerge as keepers.

6. Tim Hardaway Jr., SG, Dallas Mavericks

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Oklahoma City Thunder receive: Tim Hardaway Jr.

    Dallas Mavericks receive: Dennis Schroder

    Shot-chuckers don't always realize they're chuckers. Just ask George Costanza.

    Considering Hardaway averages 18 points per 36 minutes for his career, he might not see the error in his shoot-first ways. But this past season, he did something only done 11 times in the three-point era: shot below 40 percent while logging 2,000 minutes and averaging 18-plus points.

    The 27-year-old isn't changing his ways now, so he needs a team desperate enough for outside shooting and quick-strike scoring to look beyond his inefficiency. The Thunder, whose top non-Paul George wing scorer this season was Terrance Ferguson with 6.9 points per game, could be that club.

    OKC could barely breathe on offense, sitting 22nd overall with a 34.8 three-point percentage. Things might get more crowded with non-shooter Andre Roberson rejoining the fold after having his season erased by a knee injury. While not the most accurate shooter (career 34.3 percent), Hardaway has too much volume and streakiness for opponents to ignore. He'd work as a decoy, a spot-up launcher and a second-team leader.

    Schroder, meanwhile, would head to Dallas fresh off a productive year as a leading reserve. He's good enough to fill the starting floor general spot, but if the Mavs make a bigger upgrade there (think, Kemba Walker), then Schroder could stay in the role he just deftly handled. In 2018-19, he held top-10 reserve rankings in games with 20-plus points (14, eighth) and six-plus assists (16, tied for fifth).

5. Evan Fournier, SG/SF, Orlando Magic

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    Fernando Medina/Getty Images

    Memphis Grizzlies receive: Evan Fournier, D.J. Augustin, Mohamed Bamba

    Orlando Magic receive: Mike Conley

    Fournier wasn't a top-200 player by ESPN's real plus-minus, while Basketball Reference's box plus/minus placed him eighth-worst among players with at least two years experience who topped 2,000 minutes. His dreadful 5.1 PER sits fifth-worst of the players to receive 100-plus minutes this postseason.

    Orlando might be ready to cut the cord, especially if it could use his remaining contract ($17 million next season, $17 million player option for 2020-21) to match money in a blockbuster.

    The Magic, like any point guard-needy team, should have the hots for Conley. His leadership, two-way play and three-point shooting would all make life easier on this young, rising core.

    "Maybe the Magic, after being bad for so long, should tap the gas to get a little better right now," Chris Herrington wrote for the Daily Memphian. "If they re-sign center Nikola Vucevic, Conley would pair nicely with him and could also both play with and be a kind of bridge for trade acquisition Markelle Fultz."

    Fournier could be what the Grizzlies thought they were getting in Chandler Parsons. Augustin works as either a backup behind presumed No. 2 pick Ja Morant or a part-time starter who helps the rookie ease into his new gig. Bamba is the crown jewel, as an impossibly long 21-year-old with athleticism, above-the-rim ability and some shooting range, although Orlando could move last summer's No. 6 pick if it re-ups with Vucevic.

4. Kris Dunn, PG, Chicago Bulls

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    Dylan Buell/Getty Images

    Los Angeles Lakers receive: Kris Dunn, 2019 No. 7 overall pick

    Chicago Bulls receive: Lonzo Ball

    The Bulls hoped they found their floor general of the future when Dunn arrived as one of the central figures in the 2017 Jimmy Butler deal. But with 2016's fifth overall pick having yet to post even a league-average PER, Chicago's focus is already back on the point guard spot.

    "We have to get better at that position, there's absolutely no question in my mind," Bulls executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson said, per The Athletic's Darnell Mayberry.

    The Bulls are reportedly intrigued by Ball, per K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune. Given Ball's pass-first approach, aggressiveness in the open court and underrated defense, he could be the accelerator who helps this young but talented roster leap into the playoff discussion.

    Would Dunn and the seventh pick be enough for L.A. to part with a presumed centerpiece? Johnson has his doubts, but this swap would add to the Lakers' asset collection ahead of a potential major move for a top talent like Anthony Davis or Bradley Beal. The 25-year-old Dunn could get a lot more interesting if he harnesses his outside shot, and the seventh selection might net the likes of Cam Reddish or Coby White.

3. Andrew Wiggins, SF, Minnesota Timberwolves

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Atlanta Hawks receive: Andrew Wiggins, 2019 No. 43 overall pick

    Minnesota Timberwolves receive: Kent Bazemore, Miles Plumlee

    For statistical simpletons who view points per game as the only meaningful metric, Wiggins' ranking might seem like punishment for not living up to his draft pedigree (top choice in 2014) or contract (four years, $122.2 million remaining). Truth is, he's been objectively bad at almost everything other than inefficient volume scoring.

    He's been worse than replacement level each of his five NBA seasons. His 9.9 career assist rate is seventh-worst among non-centers with a 25-plus usage percentage (minimum 5,000 minutes). His 6.7 rebounding percentage is third-worst among players his height (6'8") or taller since 2014-15. He landed a criminally low 450th in ESPN's defensive real plus-minus this past season, which is inexcusable with his physical tools.

    And see his length, his athleticism, his age (24) and his pedigree, and it's hard not to wonder if a change of scenery might unlock his previously drool-worthy potential. If you're the Hawks, and you have both time on your side and significant cap space, wouldn't you at least consider adding Wiggins if you can add him without sacrificing anything of substance and collect a moderately valuable second-rounder while doing it?

    If Wiggins moves down the offensive food chain, maybe that allows him to expend more energy on defense. If he plays alongside gravitational forces like Trae Young (a threat from anywhere), Kevin Huerter (a perimeter splasher in perpetual motion) and John Collins (a rolling rim-rocker), maybe that increases his shot quality and improves his efficiency.

    That's a lot of maybes, sure, but the potential payoff is rich if everything breaks Atlanta's way.

    For Minnesota, this is an escape from one of the Association's most burdensome contracts. Shedding Wiggins' deal without sacrificing more than a mid-second-rounder would be no minor victory. Bazemore and Plumlee would each arrive as an expiring salary, and they'd both work as role players if the Wolves want to compete for a 2020 playoff berth.

2. Taurean Prince, SF, Atlanta Hawks

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    Aaron Gash/Associated Press

    New Orleans Pelicans receive: John Collins, Taurean Prince, Kent Bazemore, 2019 No. 8 overall pick

    Atlanta Hawks receive: Anthony Davis

    With Trae Young taking a superstar turn in the second half of the season, the Hawks sense something special is brewing. They're hoping to court free agency's best this summer, "everyone from Kevin Durant on down," per The Athletic's Sam Amick.

    It's hard to see a top-shelf free agent buying in this quickly, but Atlanta could approach its attractive asset collection a different way. If an elite player is wanted, why not join the AD sweepstakes and give the Pelicans plenty to think about?

    Collins just essentially averaged 20 points and 10 rebounds in his age-21 season. Whenever he makes his All-Star debut, he might indefinitely reserve his spot. Put him in the same frontcourt with Zion Williamson, and the ghost of the Lob City Clippers would envy the Big Easy's bounce.

    The eighth pick could fetch either a floor general or Cam Reddish, a fellow Blue Devil. Prince, while rough this past season (428th in RPM), excited not long ago as a three-and-D ace with some off-the-dribble wiggle. Bazemore is mainly a money-matcher, but he has an endless supply of energy and a bird of prey's wingspan (7'0").

    Atlanta, meanwhile, has at least one year to try to make Young-Davis pick-and-rolls the NBA's most potent weapon. Considering how well that's worked for Stephen Curry and Draymond Green, maybe it'd become a ticket to title contention for this rapidly rising organization and a reason for Davis to consider ATL as his long-term home.

1. Avery Bradley, SG, Memphis Grizzlies

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    Brandon Dill/Associated Press

    Detroit Pistons receive: Mike Conley, Avery Bradley

    Memphis Grizzlies receive: Reggie Jackson, Luke Kennard, Langston Galloway, Jon Leuer, 2019 No. 15 overall pick

    Once regarded as a three-and-D standout, Bradley crashed and burned in a 2018-19 campaign that featured long stretches of ineffectiveness, a midseason trade and finally a shin injury that shelved him for good in March. By year's end, he found himself 465th in RPM and holding the third-worst PER among players who made 40-plus starts (7.6).

    But he did seem rejuvenated by the deadline move to Memphis. He doubled his assists average (2.0 to 4.0), almost did the same with his scoring (8.2 to 16.1) and improved his shooting accuracy from every level. It wasn't enough to salvage a lost season, but it could have made him a viable trade target for a team with more immediate win-now designs than the Grizzlies.

    The Pistons are already approaching a crossroads, as the Blake Griffin-Andre Drummond frontcourt isn't getting any younger or cheaper. Snapping a two-year playoff drought showed some progress, but getting swept out of the first round with four double-digit losses highlights how much work this roster needs.

    Conley, whom Detroit targeted at the deadline, could be a difference-maker as a massive upgrade over Jackson at both ends. Bradley, meanwhile, gets a second chance to catch on in the Motor City after his first stint with the Pistons lasted less than seven months.

    Memphis takes back three expiring salaries, 2017's 12th overall pick in Kennard and the first non-lottery selection in June's talent grab. That's ideally two long-term starters—Kennard's shooting would provide critical balance if Ja Morant's outside shot sputters initially—and three future money-savers who work as either placeholders or maybe trade chips for a separate transaction.


    Statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference and Salary information obtained via Basketball Insiders.

    Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @ZachBuckleyNBA.

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