NBA Trades That Would Force Mediocre Teams to Rise or Tank

Greg Swartz@@CavsGregBRCleveland Cavaliers Lead WriterJune 26, 2019

NBA Trades That Would Force Mediocre Teams to Rise or Tank

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    In the NBA, stuck in the middle between championship contention and all-out tanking is the worst place to be.

    Sure, the new lottery odds assist those who don't completely blow up their roster, but the worst teams still get the best chance at the premier talent in the draft. That hasn't changed.

    For teams like the Detroit Pistons, Miami Heat, Minnesota Timberwolves, Charlotte Hornets and Washington Wizards, each of whom won between 32 and 41 games last season, it's time to get out of the middle of the pack—for better or worse.

    Choosing between tanking and doubling down should be determined by salary-cap situation, current star power, last season's finish and the team's ability to attract prominent free agents.

    The following trades would help get all five squads out of NBA purgatory in one way or another.

Wizards Refuse to Rebuild, Find Temporary PG Replacement for Wall

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    Washington Wizards Receive: PG Dennis Schroder, 2020 second-round pick

    Oklahoma City Thunder Receive: SG Jonathon Simmons, C Dwight Howard

    The 32-50 Washington Wizards should probably shop All-Star shooting guard Bradley Beal and plunge head-first into a rebuild, especially with point guard John Wall expected to miss all of next season with an Achilles injury. Instead, the Wizards brass has let Beal know they plan to keep him.

    As Ben Golliver of the Washington Post reported: "While his name surfaced in trade rumors following John Wall's season-ending Achilles' injury in February, Beal said [Wizards managing partner Ted] Leonsis, [interim general manager Tommy] Sheppard and Coach Scott Brooks have each told him in recent weeks that he would not be moved."

    If the Wizards truly want to compete next year, they'll need a point guard to at least keep the seat warm while Wall recovers. Beal has shown he can be an effective playmaker, but asking him to handle the ball every time up the floor for 82 games seems a bit much.

    Schroder is among the league's best backup point guards, and the Oklahoma City Thunder have made him and others on their team available in an effort to avoid the luxury tax, per Sports Illustrated's Jake Fischer. Schroder is under contract for $15.5 million each of the next two seasons.

    Howard would be a fine backup center to Steven Adams, but this trade is primarily a salary dump for the Thunder to avoid a significant luxury-tax bill. Only $1 million of Simmons' $5.7 million salary is guaranteed, which means Oklahoma City would shed $8.9 million worth of contracts by flipping Schroder for Howard. 

    For Washington, Thomas Bryant is the center of the future, so losing Howard shouldn't hurt. Schroder, 25, averaged 19.3 points, 5.5 rebounds, 5.4 assists and shot 37.0 percent from three in 14 starts for the Thunder last season, and he would give the Wizards the offensive weapon they've been lacking ever since Wall went down.

Hornets Build Around Kemba...

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    Charlotte Hornets Receive: PF Kevin Love

    Cleveland Cavaliers Receive: PF Marvin Williams, SF Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, SG Malik Monk, 2020 first-round pick (top-five protected)

    With Anthony Davis and Mike Conley already moved and Bradley Beal supposedly out of trade talks, the number of available star players on the market is quickly dwindling.

    Assuming the team re-signs the All-Star point guard this summer, Charlotte's best bet to surround Kemba Walker with help may come from Cleveland in the form of Kevin Love.

    Love averaged 17.0 points, 10.9 rebounds and 2.2 assists last season, but he played in just 22 games. It's very possible Cleveland delayed his return from toe surgery just to be safe, given the tanking rebuilding state of the team.

    Still, Love would be the best player with whom Walker has played during eight seasons in Charlotte. If healthy, he would give the Hornets a 20-10 threat every night while also spacing the floor for Walker to get his shots off.

    Given the injury concerns and remaining contract (four years, $120.4 million), the Hornets shouldn't have to give up a king's ransom for Love, either. Expiring contracts with Marvin Williams and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, a young prospect in Malik Monk and a lightly protected 2020 first-rounder could work for both sides.

...or Take a Rebuilding Risk If Walker Leaves

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    Charlotte Hornets Receive: G/F Andrew Wiggins

    Minnesota Timberwolves Receive: G/F Nicolas Batum

    Of course, there's no reason to trade for the 30-year-old Love if Walker leaves.

    The Hornets would have no choice but to tank, as their leading returning scorers under contract would be Marvin Williams and Cody Zeller, both of whom averaged a whopping 10.1 points per game in 2018-19. Jeremy Lamb dropped in 15.3 points per night, but, like Walker, is set to become an unrestricted free agent.

    At that point, Charlotte would need scoring from wherever it could get some, even if it comes on a bad contract.

    Wiggins, 24, clearly isn't reaching his No. 1 overall pick potential in Minnesota, and the team should be willing to move his remaining four years and $121.2 million.

    For a Charlotte team without Walker, Wiggins would be worth the risk, especially if it could flip another bad contract for him. Wiggins has averaged 19.4 points, 4.3 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.0 steals during his five professional seasons, missing just 10 total games over that time.

    Batum, 30, would no longer fit on a rebuilding Hornets team, and Charlotte should be offering his two-year, $52.7 million contract to whoever would take it. For the Wolves, this may be their best chance to get off Wiggins' contract, and Batum could be a solid mentor and rotation player for the next two seasons before they get to cash in on newfound cap space.

    With no Walker and nearly $45 million worth of salary coming off the books in 2020, the Hornets could afford to take a risk on Wiggins.

Rebuilding Timberwolves Load Up on Assets

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    Minnesota Timberwolves Receive: SG Tyler Johnson, 2020 first-round pick (via Milwaukee Bucks)

    Phoenix Suns Receive: PG Jeff Teague

    After drafting Jarrett Culver and dumping Andrew Wiggins' contract in the previous trade, the Timberwolves rebuild is off to a flying start.

    The next step? Loading up on first-round picks.

    Teague has been a solid floor general in Minnesota (13.4 points, 7.5 assists, 1.3 steals) over the past two seasons, but he's 31 years old and will become an unrestricted free agent in 2020. Backup Tyus Jones averaged 10.8 points and 7.5 assists in 23 games as a starter last season and seems capable of taking over for Teague in a full-time starting role, assuming he re-signs in free agency.

    As the Wolves scour the league for point guard-needy teams, the Suns should immediately stand out. 

    Phoenix owns two first-round picks in the 2020 draft—its own and one from the Milwaukee Bucks via the Eric Bledsoe trade. The Bucks pick is protected for the top seven selections in 2020 and is unprotected in 2021, but it should fall near the end of the first round given Milwaukee's 60-win 2018-19 campaign.

    The Suns would get to keep their own first-rounder, get off Johnson's $19.2 million contract and receive a pass-first veteran point guard to mentor their young core.

    For the Wolves, collecting another first-round pick would help boost the rebuild, and Johnson's deal expires next summer.

Pistons Build off Playoff Appearance and Heat Start Mini Rebuild

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    Detroit Pistons Receive: PG Goran Dragic, SG Dion Waiters

    Miami Heat Receive: PG Reggie Jackson, SG Bruce Brown, SG Langston Galloway

    In a trade involving two of the most middling teams in the NBA, the Pistons would try to build on their recent playoff trip while the Heat would turn their attention to 2020 free agency.

    Dragic, 33, returned from December knee surgery to average 13.0 points, 4.3 rebounds, 7.4 assists and 1.8 steals upon his insertion into Miami's starting lineup. He's a better playmaker and three-point shooter than Jackson, who has been the Pistons' starting point guard for the past four-and-a-half seasons.

    The Pistons would also take a flier on Waiters, hoping he can stay healthy enough to provide some bench scoring—an area in which Detroit ranked just 20th overall last season.

    Miami grew accustomed to playing without Dragic last year, using Justise Winslow (12.6 points, 5.4 rebounds, 4.3 assists) in a ball-handling role. Jackson would give the Heat some insurance at the position, but he wouldn't have to carry the same load he did in Detroit. They would also get a young shooting guard in Brown (56 starts for the Pistons as a rookie last season) and another rotation piece in Galloway (8.4 points per game, 35.5 percent from three).

    But the main draw for Miami? Getting off Waiters' $12.1 million contract for next season while collecting on $25.4 million worth of expiring deals from Jackson and Galloway.

    The Heat don't have to tear down their roster completely, but they should be fine sacrificing some wins this season if doing so means opening up max space for next summer.


    Greg Swartz covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter. All stats via Basketball Reference or unless otherwise noted.