Trades to Save Every NBA Free-Agency Loser
The summer of 2019 has been the wildest offseason ride in NBA history.
In less than a month, we were treated to the following transactions (and this is just a taste of everything that went down):
- Anthony Davis was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers.
- Mike Conley was traded to the Utah Jazz. They later added Bojan Bogdanovic.
- Zion Williamson was drafted by the New Orleans Pelicans.
- Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant decided to team up on the Brooklyn Nets.
- Jimmy Butler went to the Miami Heat.
- Al Horford signed with the Philadelphia 76ers.
- The Golden State Warriors landed D'Angelo Russell.
- The Los Angeles Clippers somehow got both Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.
- The Houston Rockets swapped Chris Paul for Russell Westbrook, per ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski.
There's more to a lot of those deals. For example, Butler went to Miami in a sign-and-trade that, in part, sent Josh Richardson to the Sixers. Again, that list represents just a fraction of the players who switched teams this summer.
And yet, between now and February's trade deadline, we're likely to see more movement.
After losing both George and Westbrook, the Oklahoma City Thunder are in a teardown. There's little reason to have CP3 there.
Some, including the New York Times' Marc Stein, have speculated that Russell may just be a rental for the Warriors. Golden State may entertain the possibility of flipping him this winter for someone who might fit better with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.
Then there's Andre Iguodala. Like CP3, he's a veteran who finds himself on a rebuilding team. Whether the Memphis Grizzlies buy him out or trade him, he'll likely finish the season elsewhere.
Teams that may have missed out on the summer splurge will still have opportunities to improve or bolster a rebuild, especially after Dec. 15, when players signed this summer will be eligible for trades.
The Deal: D'Angelo Russell for Aaron Gordon and Markelle Fultz
Are the Orlando Magic free-agency losers?
They re-signed Nikola Vucevic to a reasonable contract (four years, $100 million). He was eighth in real plus-minus for the 2018-19 season, and he signed for less than the max.
They brought back Terrence Ross (four years, $54 million) and Khem Birch (two years, $6 million). The one outside addition was Al-Farouq Aminu for three years and just under $30 million. All three of those deals are fine in a vacuum.
But Orlando went just 42-40. And barring dramatic internal development from Jonathan Isaac or maybe Markelle Fultz, the Magic may have locked themselves into mediocrity.
However, Golden State could target them with a potential D'Angelo Russell deal.
The 6'5" point guard is big enough to play up a position and alongside Curry, but that backcourt could routinely be lit up. Essentially swapping a plus-defender at combo forward in Kevin Durant for a minus-defender at combo guard in Russell hurts the Warriors on defense.
Russell would make more sense in Orlando.
The Magic were plus-6.3 points per 100 possessions (85th percentile) when Vucevic shared the floor with D.J. Augustin last season, according to Cleaning the Glass.
Russell, 23, is eight years younger than Augustin and finished ahead of him in real plus-minus last season.
And just like the Warriors may have too many guards, Orlando may have too many forwards.
Last season, Aaron Gordon and Isaac were basically interchangeable at the forward spots. Both are closer to 4s than 3s. And now, Aminu is in that mix.
A deal sending Russell to Orlando for Gordon and Fultz could bring balance to both squads.
Because Russell signed this summer, he can't be traded until Dec. 15. The Warriors will be closer to getting back Klay Thompson (ACL) by then. And small-ball lineups with the Splash Brothers, a wing, and Gordon and Draymond Green at the 4 and 5 could look an awful lot like the pre-Durant Warriors.
For the Magic, this would be a short- and long-term upgrade at the 1. It would open up more minutes for Isaac at his natural position. And it would allow for more shooting to be on the floor at once. Evan Fournier and Ross could spend more time together at the wings.
The Deal: Kent Bazemore and a second-round pick for Marvin Williams
The Charlotte Hornets had a terrible offseason.
On top of losing Kemba Walker—the franchise leader in minutes, points and value over replacement player, among other things—they signed Terry Rozier to one of this summer's most surprisingly large deals (three years, $56.7 million).
But they may have just been par for the course, as Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer explained:
"The Hornets have a pattern of paying complementary players a lot of money for a long time. That Walker was the sixth-highest paid Hornet last season at $12 million speaks to what a bargain he was, but it also speaks to how other contracts (Nic Batum, Bismack Biyombo and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist) haven't worked out.
"Adding Rozier on this contract feels like more of the same: Hoping that a good player (about nine points and three assists per game last season) can turn out really good player, because that is how he'll be paid."
Swapping Kemba for Rozier could take the Hornets from mediocre (39-43 last season) to the bottom two or three in the East. Walker was 10th among point guards in real plus-minus last season. Rozier was 42nd.
Charlotte is not going to be competitive next season. For that reason, it needs to look into moving any of the veterans who might return an asset or two. Even getting a second-round pick would be better than losing upcoming free agents for nothing.
"I believe the player most likely to be traded between now and training camp is [Marvin] Williams. That doesn't mean it's going to happen, but it's the logical move because of the three veterans on expiring contracts — Williams, Bismack Biyombo and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist — Williams would be the most attractive to other teams. He has a reasonable salary at $14 million for a player who, when healthy, would be in any rotation in the NBA."
The Portland Trail Blazers could use Williams. This summer, the team lost two stretch 4s (Maurice Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu) and one stretch 5 (Meyers Leonard). And when Rodney Hood re-signed, Kent Bazemore (obtained via trade) may have become somewhat redundant.
Right now, Zach Collins (who should be a 5) will probably have to start at the 4. Sending Bazemore and a second-round pick (or two) for Williams would help the Blazers. And it would give Charlotte more than nothing for Williams (Bazemore's deal is also expiring).
The 6'9" Williams is bigger, more experienced and puts a stretch big back in the Blazers' lineup. Over his five seasons with the Hornets, he's hit 37.8 percent of his attempts from deep.
And a starting five of Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Hood, Williams and Hassan Whiteside (then Jusuf Nurkic, when he's healthy) is more balanced than what Portland figures to start the season with.
The Deal: Norman Powell, Malcolm Miller, Chris Boucher and a second-round pick for Andre Iguodala
Toronto won Game 6 of the NBA Finals over the Warriors on June 13. And yet, in terms of free agency, the Raptors are losers.
Not only did Kawhi Leonard depart to the Los Angeles Clippers, but Danny Green is also now a Los Angeles Laker. They were both of the starting wings for the title-winning team. And the two finished first and fourth on the team, respectively, in value over replacement player in 2018-19.
But losing Kawhi and Green doesn't necessarily mean the Raptors need to dive head-first into a full-scale rebuild. One more run with Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam—all on expiring contracts—makes sense, but they need to do something on the wing.
As things stand, Norman Powell, OG Anunoby and Stanley Johnson figure to soak up most of the minutes Leonard and Green vacated. That could go OK, but a potential upgrade is out there.
When Golden State first offloaded Andre Iguodala, many assumed the Grizzlies would buy him out. Rumors he'd end up with the Lakers started almost immediately.
But Memphis pulled a swerve on everyone, hanging on to Iggy and gauging the trade market for the veteran wing, per ESPN's Tim MacMahon. Depending on the asking price, Toronto should think about crashing this party.
Powell, Malcolm Miller, Chris Boucher and a second-round pick for Iguodala works. If the bidding drums up first-rounders, Toronto should walk away. The Raptors will want as many of those as possible if they soon pivot to a rebuild. But the deal above could work for both sides.
Memphis would get another young(ish) player who may show more in a bigger role (Powell, 26). They'd also add to an ever-growing treasure trove of future picks.
For the Raptors, Iguodala doesn't come close to replacing the offense of Leonard and Green. But those two were critical cogs on the other end too. The 2015 Finals MVP could help there. And his playmaking could ease Siakam's transition into the role of a No. 1 scorer.
New York Knicks
The Deal: D'Angelo Russell for Marcus Morris, Reggie Bullock (assuming he still signs with the Knicks) and a first-round pick
Another potential landing spot for D'Angelo Russell is back in New York, this time with the Knicks.
If the Warriors don't love the fit of Curry and Russell and they're unable to flip the younger guard for a player like Aaron Gordon, they could make a depth move. And the Knicks just signed a bunch of guys to tradable deals and can offer them Dec. 15.
For starters, there's Marcus Morris (one year, $15 million), per Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium; Taj Gibson (two years, $20 million); and Bobby Portis (one year, $15 million, with a team option for 2020-21). All are power forwards.
Morris and Reggie Bullock—still technically unsigned, though there's mutual interest, per SNY.tv's Ian Begley—would make a lot of sense for the Warriors.
Neither is as individually good as Russell, but they would give Golden State two bigger, multipositional bodies who can switch on defense and hit threes on the other end.
With Curry under contract—and Thompson when he's healthy—Russell's offense may not be critical for the Warriors later in the year. Depth and size at the wing/forward spots could be more important.
For the Knicks, the four-year, $117.3 million deal Russell signed would tie up some cap space in 2021. The short-term contracts New York gave out this summer suggest the franchise is angling for future stars. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, among others, could all be on the market in two years.
But after whiffing in so many high-profile free-agency chases over the years, it's time for the Knicks to switch up their strategy. Landing a star who's already signed long-term, like Russell, spares the team and the fanbase from the heartbreak of another swing and miss.