Bold but Realistic Trades That Could Shake Up NBA Free Agency

Kelly Scaletta@@KellyScalettaNBA AnalystJune 30, 2019

Bold but Realistic Trades That Could Shake Up NBA Free Agency

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    Chris Szagola/Associated Press

    Even in the midst of NBA free agency, you can never overlook the impact of potential trades. Whether they're dealing to improve, free up cap space by offloading "bad" contracts or to absorb money along with assets, general managers are on the phone with one another as much as they are with agents and players.

    Because of that, there is a value in speculating.

    These trades are hypothetical, so we won't nail down the exact contract details. For instance, if I'd posited the Anthony Davis to the Lakers trade before it happened, most would have called it silly and lost sight of the big picture: AD is going to the Lakers.

    Therefore, we're more worried about the big moving parts and not the "trade machine-approved" deal.

    Here are five notable players who could move—via trade—in the near future, in order of the impact it would have on the league.

JR Smith to Anyone

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    OK—time out!

    You may be asking, "Why is JR Smith here?"

    Though his play may have slipped, his $15.7 million contract is only partially guaranteed for $3.9 million. That means a team can acquire him, cut him and free up $11.8 million in cap space.

    That could put a few franchises in shouting distance of a max contract or another free-agent target. Or it could give them a player they can use to execute another trade with a third team.

    The catch is that no one has bitten yet, indicating that the Cleveland Cavaliers might be asking too much.

    Chris Fedor of reported they could have had deals on draft night: "The Cleveland Cavaliers entered Thursday night hoping to trade JR Smith, but turned down a few offers that would have returned a first-round pick."

    A first-rounder, even a late one, is a pretty decent return for a guy teams are trading for only to cut. So the Cavs might have to reduce their asking price if they want to get this done.

    As an aside, regardless of who cuts him, there's a real-world scenario wherein Smith reunites with LeBron James in Los Angeles.

Steven Adams to the Sacramento Kings

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    Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    The Oklahoma City Thunder are a small-market team, way over the cap and paying a repeater tax. All that, and they haven't made it out of the first round since Kevin Durant left in 2016.

    So there's a good chance they will be looking to move a contract, as Sports Illustrated's Jake Fischer reported. The best bet for that is Steven Adams, who has two years and $53.3 million left on his deal.

    The Sacramento Kings have up to $62 million in projected cap space, according to journalist Keith Smith. That's more than enough to absorb Adams' contract, even if they retain Harrison Barnes.

    The Kings have been idling outside the playoffs since 2006, and they're on the precipice of getting back in. All they need to take that next step is a center, and Adams is the perfect fit. He's an interior threat and dunking machine who can punish teams if they overplay Buddy Hield and De'Aaron Fox outside the three-point line.

    In exchange, the Kings can give the Thunder what they need: cap relief and future picks. Perhaps they could throw in Nemanja Bjelica to sweeten the deal, as OKC could use a stretch 4, and his $6.8 million contract is pretty palatable.

Kevin Love to the New York Knicks

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    David Dermer/Associated Press

    Kevin Love is the forgotten superstar of the Cleveland Cavaliers' championship team. That probably has something to do with the fact that he only played 22 games last year because of a toe injury, and only seven of them were wins.

    When he did play, Love averaged 17.0 points and 10.9 rebounds per contest.

    A league executive told Joe Vardon of The Athletic: "Yes, one of the big-market teams that fail to land a big fish are going to make an offer for Kevin."

    Enter the New York Knicks, who are flush with funds and low on realistic targets. They have more than $70 million in max cap space, per Smith.

    The Knicks are in dire need of a move that can ignite a long-suffering fanbase, and acquiring Love could accomplish just that, especially if he puts up the kind of numbers he did at his peak with the Minnesota Timberwolves (25.1 points and 13.0 rebounds per game over his last three years there).

    The Knicks might not have to give too much back, as the Cavaliers are pushing the luxury-tax threshold. Trading Love for a young player like Frank Ntilikina and future protected first-round picks could get a deal done.

    Cleveland doesn't need Love for the present, and trading him could work for the future. In addition, his presence in New York could persuade second-tier free agents to give the franchise a second look.

Bradley Beal to the LA Clippers

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Bradley Beal is confident the Washington Wizards won't trade 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 [owner Ted] Leonsis, [senior VP Tommy] Sheppard and Coach Scott Brooks have each told him in recent weeks that he would not be moved.

    "'They've been very transparent, and that's been great,' Beal said. 'They're not keeping me in the dark about anything, even about the trade rumors. ... It's great having that peace of mind.'"

    That isn't the most sacred promise, though. The Wizards told Otto Porter the same thing—right before they traded him.

    So, entertaining the idea of a Beal swap isn't that hard. Washington will be without its other star, Wall, whose career seemed to have hit a wall even before he tore his Achilles off the court. And with speed being his most important attribute, there's a good chance he won't return to the form he once had.

    The Wizards won't be competitive, and Beal (26) is too old to be the centerpiece of a rebuild, so trading him for assets while he's in his prime makes the most sense.

    The Clippers are in danger of striking out in free agency, as it is starting to look like Kawhi Leonard could choose the Los Angeles Lakers, and a deal there makes sense for both teams. Danilo Gallinari's $22.6 million contract and a couple of protected first-round picks (their own 2020 selection and the better of theirs and the Miami Heat's 2021 pick they own) should be a good framework for Beal, who's set to make $27 million next season.

Jimmy Butler to the Houston Rockets

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    Jim Mone/Associated Press

    The most talked-about possible trade is a Jimmy Butler swap to the Houston Rockets. While its plausibility is up for debate, its possibility isn't.

    The Philadelphia 76ers have an ace they can play that no other team can in the form of a fifth year on Butler's contract. However, it doesn't seem like they want to play it—at least not when it comes to signing and keeping him—according to Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer: "Fear of overpaying Butler, who would be 34 at the conclusion of the deal, could keep the Sixers from giving a fifth year. The Sixers will certainly have to wonder how much Butler would have left by then, considering how he plays so hard and has suffered injuries."

    For the Rockets to acquire him, the 76ers would have to agree to a sign-and-trade. This isn't as big of an issue as you might think, as Bleacher Report's Ric Bucher reported:

    "The Sixers' other key free agent, Jimmy Butler, has drawn interest from the Nets, presumably as a backup plan to pair with Kyrie Irving should Durant choose the Knicks or remain with the Warriors. But Butler, the Western Conference executive said, has interest in being the third star with the Los Angeles Lakers, even if it means accepting slightly less than a maximum salary. This is a shift by Butler and could reflect the value of the Lakers in his eyes now that they are about to pair Anthony Davis with LeBron James."

    That means Butler can tell the Sixers: "I'm going to the Rockets or the Lakers; your choice. If I go to the Rockets, at least you get something back." The Sixers paid a steep price to acquire Butler (Robert Covington and Dario Saric), so letting him walk would hurt.

    The other challenge here is the mechanics of the trade, as the Rockets would be dealing with three max contracts with James Harden and Chris Paul, and doing a sign-and-trade would hard-cap them. They do have three cap-friendly contracts they can use, though, and general manager Daryl Morey is the master of making things like this work.

    Including a third team in the swap or as a separate trade partner makes it feasible.

    And that's what makes this trade such a potential shake-up to free agency. Butler is only part of the equation. If Eric Gordon, Clint Capela and/or PJ Tucker end up with different teams, that could also have an impact on what franchises do.