NBA Trades to Further Shake Up East, West Power Balances

Andy Bailey@@AndrewDBaileyFeatured ColumnistAugust 6, 2019

NBA Trades to Further Shake Up East, West Power Balances

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    In terms of player movement, the summer of 2019 is likely to go down as the wildest in NBA history.

    And as if Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard, Russell Westbrook and others changing squads wasn't enough, a few more dominoes may still be teetering.

    They may not be explicitly available now, but players like D'Angelo Russell, Kevin Love, Chris Paul, Bradley Beal and a handful of Toronto Raptors veterans could further shift the balance of power in the NBA.

    Deals featuring these players certainly aren't imminent, but slow starts from their current squads could turn up the desperation meter. And the restriction prohibiting teams from trading players signed this summer until Dec. 15 makes trades difficult before then.

    But don't be surprised if these names serve as fixtures in the rumor mill until February's trade deadline.

    A move involving any of them could further separate a legitimate contender from the tier below or push a fringe team into that contender tier.

    What follows are 10 trades that would do just that.

D'Angelo Russell for Tobias Harris

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    Mary Altaffer/Associated Press

    In the wake of the Golden State Warriors' acquisition of Russell in a sign-and-trade that sent Kevin Durant to the Brooklyn Nets, the New York Times' Marc Stein opined that the young guard wouldn't be long for his new team on The Dan Patrick Show:

    "This is all about the future. D'Angelo Russell doesn't fit there whatsoever. ... They just wanted to make sure they did not see Kevin Durant, arguably the best player in the league when healthy, walk out the door for nothing. They got a 23-year-old All-Star, and they will trade him. It's just a matter of when. ... This was really about the Warriors protecting themselves for the future."

    Golden State has since refuted that notion on more than one occasion. One team executive even went so far as to say it was "the stupidest thing I've ever heard," per Gary Peterson of the Mercury News.

    Russell and Stephen Curry have even been seen together enjoying one of NBA summer's favorite pastimes: Instagramming workouts.

    Still, you can see the logic behind Stein's assertion. Russell is a ball-dominant combo guard who just posted a below-average true shooting percentage of 53.3. Golden State has a guy you may have heard of, Curry, who shouldn't have to cede many possessions next season.

    They deserve some time to see how well this partnership works. But if Golden State is sputtering as the deadline approaches, Russell could help them land a bigger wing/forward who might fit the roster a bit better.

    Enter the Philadelphia 76ers and recently re-signed Tobias Harris.

    In theory, Philly's jumbo starting lineup of Ben Simmons, Josh Richardson, Harris, Al Horford and Joel Embiid is intriguing. But Russell, Richardson, Simmons, Horford and Embiid may be more balanced, has another layer of shot creation with Russell and isn't quite as reliant on Simmons at the point of attack.

    Philadelphia could also stagger Russell and Simmons, giving them a full 48 minutes with a top-tier initiator on the floor. The Warriors could employ a similar strategy with Russell and Curry, but Harris could potentially be a better version of the Harrison Barnes they had for their 73-win season.

    Again, this deal isn't as much about talent as it is balance. Russell (No. 76) and Harris (No. 68) even finished within a tenth of a point of each other in 2018-19 real plus-minus, per ESPN. And both teams would want to see how their new rosters look before considering anything drastic. But Golden State might need a little more size, and Philadelphia has an abundance of it.

D'Angelo Russell for D.J. Augustin and Aaron Gordon

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    Of course, they wouldn't do it out of the goodness of their hearts, but the Orlando Magic are another team that could help balance Golden State's roster.

    Orlando currently has Nikola Vucevic, Aaron Gordon, Al-Farouq Aminu, Jonathan Isaac, Mohamed Bamba and Khem Birch on the roster. And while Gordon, Aminu and Isaac may all be able to play some 3, they're all better suited for minutes at the 4. Isaac and Gordon could even play up to the 5 in today's NBA.

    Trading a player from a talent-rich area (the interior) to upgrade at point guard could push the Magic closer to home-court advantage in the Eastern Conference.

    Last season, they were plus-6.3 points per 100 possessions when Augustin and Vucevic were on the floor, according to Cleaning the Glass. D'Angelo Russell is bigger (6'5" to 6'0"), eight years younger and topped Augustin in both offensive real plus-minus and overall real plus-minus last season.

    The upgrade there might be worth losing Gordon and trusting more minutes at the 3 and 4 to Isaac, Aminu and Terrence Ross.

    For Golden State, Augustin would be a better backup point guard than the Warriors have had in years. And while there's some positional overlap with Gordon and Draymond Green, they could coexist well in those infamous death lineups.

    Those two, Klay Thompson and one of the Warriors' young wings playing alongside Stephen Curry would form a switchy, fast and versatile lineup.

D'Angelo Russell for Robert Covington and Jeff Teague

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    Mary Altaffer/Associated Press

    Let's have one more D'angelo Russell idea for the road.

    The Minnesota Timberwolves' interest in the Warriors' new guard has been well-documented. In June, SKOR North's Darren Wolfson reported that the team was interested in a sign-and-trade that would have sent Russell to Minnesota and Andrew Wiggins to the Brooklyn Nets. And they had a meeting set with Russell to kick off free agency this summer, according to Yahoo Sports' Chris Haynes.

    The Warriors swooped in and thwarted Minnesota's pursuit, but that doesn't mean the Wolves should give up on it.

    Robert Covington could be an ideal 3/4 in lineups with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. But his salary isn't near enough to satisfy the collective bargaining agreement's salary-matching rules. Jeff Teague and his expiring contract could bridge that gap.

    Like the Magic deal, this one would give the Warriors both a forward who might fit better than Russell and a backup point guard.

    Minnesota would get the point guard it was after all along. Losing Covington and his below-market contract isn't ideal, but a long-term pick-and-roll combo of Russell and Karl-Anthony Towns would be a nightmare to defend.

    The Wolves may rather ship out Wiggins for Russell, and I'd sure love to write about the Warriors potentially salvaging his career. But that one just feels too far-fetched.

Kevin Love for Hassan Whiteside

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    The Portland Trail Blazers had an interesting offseason. Committing more time and money to Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum wasn't surprising. But significant turnover around the rest of the roster was less than inspiring.

    All in all, FiveThirtyEight's CARMELO projection system forecast a net loss of wins above replacement after all the moves. The most surprising may have been the acquisition of Hassan Whiteside.

    But was that just the first step in a grander plan?

    "If he blossoms, the Blazers look smart," the Oregonian's John Canzano wrote. "Then, the franchise can do what it does well—retain existing talent. If he doesn't, let Whiteside walk and keep the cap space. And if Nurkic comes back healthy before February, Whiteside’s contract is suddenly a huge trade asset (See: Kevin Love, Blake Griffin)."

    Whiteside is on an expiring contract, and his salary matches almost perfectly with either Love or Griffin. That could be very intriguing for either the Cleveland Cavaliers or Detroit Pistons.

    The latter could be competing for a second straight playoff appearance, though. Cleveland should have no such aspirations. And if the Cavs can get out from under Love's contract while maybe getting a draft pick or two, a trade like this one should make the front office think.

    A Love/Nurkic frontcourt might have some defensive issues, but imagine trying to defend a Portland lineup of Lillard, McCollum, Rodney Hood, Love and Nurk. That's a high-powered attack that can score at all three levels.

    Sure, the Blazers would likely give up plenty of points, too. But that squad would win a lot of shootouts.

Kevin Love for Eric Gordon, PJ Tucker, Danuel House and Deyonta Davis

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    This would be an all-in gamble for the Houston Rockets, who would almost certainly need to see Love's first few months of the 2019-20 season to be sure he's healthy and productive.

    If he is, Love could be a nearly ideal complement to Russell Westbrook and James Harden. He settled into the No. 3 role almost perfectly with LeBron James and Kyrie Irving in Cleveland, and his ability to shoot would draw bigs away from the paint and give those slashers more room inside.

    Throw in the fact that Love played alongside Westbrook at UCLA for the 2007-08 season, and this idea has a little sentimentality to it, as well.

    But this isn't a move without a cost. In fact, it's fairly steep. Unless you're moving Clint Capela, you need both Eric Gordon and PJ Tucker in the deal to make the salaries work, and Tucker was a critical component of Houston's defense the last two years.

    Since he joined the Rockets, the team's net rating is 1.8 points per 100 possessions better when he's on the floor (though it was actually 1.5 points worse in 2018-19 alone). Without Tucker's switchability and toughness, a lineup with Westbrook, Harden and Love could lead to one of the worst defenses in the NBA.

    And despite posting a well-below-average box plus/minus in Houston, Gordon is important, too.

    The Rockets' net rating has been 5.5 points better with him on the floor over the last three seasons. He could seamlessly transition between No. 2 alongside Harden or Chris Paul, primary playmaker when Harden and CP3 were both out or third wheel alongside both. That adaptability holds value and is something that should help him fit with Westbrook.

    Then, finally, there's the inclusion of Danuel House and Deyonta Davis. Because Houston already unloaded its war chest of draft assets to land Westbrook, it might have to include young(ish) players to incentivize Cleveland.

    House is already 26, but that's not too far removed from the Cavs' rebuilding timeline (Cedi Osman, for example, is 24). He also has that 3/4 build (6'7", 220 lbs) and shot 41.6 percent from three last season.

    Davis, meanwhile, is 22. He's 6'11", and though he hasn't had the chance to show off much, his rebounding and shot-blocking rates are decent (10.1 boards and 1.8 blocks per 75 possessions for his career).

    If Love's trade market isn't robust because of that contract ($120.4 million over the next four seasons), a switchy wing, a flyer on a big and the savings might be worth it to the Cavs.

    For the Rockets, it would be all about the ceiling. Tucker has been solid in the stretch 4 role, but having Love there would make Houston exponentially more difficult to defend. The more reliable outlets for Harden and Westbrook's drives, the better. Love can pass a little, too. And it's tough to imagine a Love/Capela frontcourt being outrebounded on many nights.

Chris Paul for Justise Winslow and Goran Dragic

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    According to RealGM, the Oklahoma City Thunder already have as many as 12 incoming draft picks that aren't their own between now and 2026. Plus, they got Shai Gilgeous-Alexander in the Paul George trade with the Los Angeles Clippers.

    Chris Paul's deal may not be easy for the Thunder to move. But if they can get any more assets on top of what already came through in the PG and Russell Westbrook deals, this could go down as one of the most impressive resets in league history.

    But ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski and the South Florida Sun Sentinel's Ira Winderman both suggested OKC might actually have to pay to get rid of the three years and $124.1 million Paul has left on his deal.

    "For now, Oklahoma City doesn't feel a need to surrender draft compensation to unload Paul's contract," Wojnarowski wrote.

    Waiting is probably a smart move for the Thunder. Perhaps the Miami Heat will become more desperate in a few months. Despite adding Jimmy Butler, they're only forecasted for 44 wins next season with just a 4 percent shot at making the Finals, per FiveThirtyEight.

    If they come out of the gate looking mediocre—or even a tier below the real contenders—maybe team president Pat Riley would be more willing to surrender one of his younger players for Paul. Miami, with so much now invested in a 29-year-old Butler, could be feeling pressure to make some win-now moves.

    Goran Dragic and Justise Winslow work salary-wise. And though Winslow offers some intrigue as a 3/4 hybrid, he's yet to post a league-average box plus/minus or true shooting percentage in his career.

    Paul, though he's already 34, would make Miami better in the short term. Even in a so-called down year, CP3 was 12th in real plus-minus last season. And though Butler can be ball-dominant, he's nowhere near James Harden levels in that respect.

    Putting the ball back in Paul's hands could lead to a resurgence.

The Raptors Teardown

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    Less than two months removed from winning the organization's first NBA title, the Toronto Raptors may already be facing the prospect of a rebuild.

    Their Finals MVP and leading scorer, Kawhi Leonard, moved on to the Los Angeles Clippers in free agency. Danny Green is now a Los Angeles Laker. Last season, the Raptors were minus-2.5 points per 100 possessions (39th percentile) in the 2,000-plus possessions they played without either on the floor, according to Cleaning the Glass.

    Can continued improvement from Pascal Siakam or breakouts from Norman Powell and Stanley Johnson make up for part of that loss?

    If not, Toronto could kick off an NBA fire sale.

    "Now, Masai Ujiri—the best basketball operations executive in the entire league, at this point—can do what it seems he's always longed to do in Toronto: tear it down to build it back up again," SB Nation's Tom Ziller wrote.

    With Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka and Fred VanVleet all on expiring contracts this season, Toronto can surely find an asset or two on the marketplace to support a rebuild around Siakam.

    Imagine, for example, the Atlanta Hawks are a year ahead of schedule and competing for a playoff berth with Trae Young and John Collins. Would the team consider early playoff experience worth the loss of a draft pick? On a team already overloaded with young talent, the answer could be yes.

    Chandler Parsons' expiring deal and a pick for a playoff push with Gasol would make sense.

    Finding potential rental destinations for Lowry and Ibaka isn't quite as easy, but there may be value out there for them, as well.

Bradley Beal and Ish Smith for Gordon Hayward, Jaylen Brown and Picks

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    More than D'Angelo Russell, Kevin Love, Chris Paul or the veteran Toronto Raptors, Bradley Beal is the player who can do the most to shift the power balance in the NBA.

    "League sources say that Beal isn't currently available, though that could change by the deadline," The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor wrote.

    And if that does change, several teams, including the Boston Celtics, should dive headfirst into the mix.

    "Few teams can match the type of package Boston could put together," The Athletic's Jordan Brenner wrote in June. "One league source suggested that Washington would need to strongly consider an offer of Jayson Tatum, Marcus Smart and a protected pick for Beal or that Boston could offer Smart, Jaylen Brown and two future first-rounders as an alternative trade."

    At the time, those possibilities were contemplated with the understanding that Boston may have a little cap space to work with in the event Kyrie Irving left. He did leave, but that space was instead spent on Kemba Walker.

    Now, the Celtics may have to throw a bigger deal into the mix to make salaries match. The same general framework of the deal built around Smart and Brown would work if No. 14 pick Romeo Langford were included. But Gordon Hayward's $32.7 million salary could make things easier.

    If Hayward were to pick up his player option for the 2020-21 season, this deal wouldn't save Washington any money, but the Wizards would at least come out of it with a promising young player and multiple picks. That should be preferable to losing Beal for nothing.

    Again, Washington has some time before it should feel any such pressure, but Boston is in position to pounce if that changes.

    And if the Celtics could hang onto Tatum and Smart, they'd have some intriguing small-ball lineups at their disposal. Walker, Beal, Smart and Tatum lining up 1 through 4 would give the team loads of switchability, shooting and playmaking.

Bradley Beal for Gary Harris, Michael Porter, Jr., Juan Hernangomez and Picks

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    The Denver Nuggets are another team that can make a compelling offer to the Washington Wizards in the event they decide to make Beal available.

    And although depth has been a key component of Denver's rise over the last couple of seasons, Forbes' Joel Rush explained that it may be time to be aggressive:

    "The consolidation of the talent on Denver's roster will have to happen at some point in some form, and Beal might just be the right trade target to make that happen. But if so, he won't come cheap. The Nuggets may well have the assets to put together a package that would outbid competitors, but it would likely have to include at least one if not two future first-round draft picks, an established high-caliber player like Gary Harris, and one or more young players with high upside such as [Michael] Porter and [Malik] Beasley."

    Beal for Harris, Porter, Juan Hernangomez and a pick (or picks) could serve both sides well.

    Porter was widely forecasted as the No. 1 pick of the 2018 draft before injuries derailed both his freshman season at Missouri and his first year in the NBA. There are serious questions about his health and whether he was worth the hype, but he could form one half of an interesting forward tandem with Rui Hachimura.

    Hernangomez still offers promise, as well. He's 6'9", entering his age-24 season and has a career three-point percentage of 36.6. Harris is just one year older, though he's much more established in the NBA than either of those forwards.

    Those three, in addition to some draft consideration, would make a pretty good haul for Washington. Again, it far outweighs the possibility of losing Beal for nothing.

    For Denver, the rationale is obvious. Porter didn't play, Jerami Grant should more than replace what Hernangomez brought and though Harris is a good (maybe even top-10) shooting guard, he's not on Beal's level.

    Lineups with Jamal Murray, Beal, Beasley, Paul Millsap and Nikola Jokic would be nearly impossible to defend. Torrey Craig could provide a little more defense at the 3. Grant, Monte Morris, Mason Plumlee and Will Barton would all still be around to provide depth.

    The up-and-coming Nuggets may be contenders just by virtue of in-house development. Adding Beal to their core could take them there right away.

Three-Teamer to Move John Wall and Bradley Beal

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    Another wrinkle in the Bradley Beal situation is that he's on the same team as John Wall, who may be on the league's least tradable contract.

    After posting a career-worst minus-0.2 box plus/minus in 32 games last season, he suffered a ruptured Achilles. He played in just 41 games the season before. He's never posted a league-average true shooting percentage. And he's set to be paid $169.3 million over the next four seasons (assuming he picks up a $46.9 million player option for the last year).

    "Beal will have lots of suitors, particularly among the teams that hoped to land [Anthony] Davis or who miss out on the premier free agents," The Athletic's Jordan Brenner wrote. "It's possible the Wizards could try to persuade a team with significant cap room to trade for both Beal and Wall—a deal that would require little in return, since the key for Washington would be to clear Wall's contract."

    A fresh start could be just what the Wizards need. Building around Beal makes sense, but the team's flexibility is almost nonexistent as long as Wall's contract is on the books. And after seven seasons together, it's tough to imagine that duo competing for titles.

    One team that may be desperate enough for a return to relevance is Miami. Assuming, of course, the Chris Paul talks are never resurrected, the Heat may have enough salary-matching fodder to relieve Washington of its financial woes.

    A deal of Beal and Wall for Goran Dragic, James Johnson, Justise Winslow and Dion Waiters works financially. And while Johnson and Waiters aren't expiring, their combined salaries will cost far less in the long run than Wall's deal and Beal's inevitable extension.

    Winslow might actually have some value for the Wizards, though Miami may insist on sending Kelly Olynyk instead if Brenner's suggestion that the deal would "require little in return" proves correct.

    Another iteration could loop the Dallas Mavericks back in. It appeared they'd land Luka Doncic's Slovenian national team teammate, Dragic, as part of the Butler sign-and-trade that put him in Miami. Quibbling over some of the lesser contracts involved in that trade doomed the Mavs' involvement.

    Jumping into this fray could pair the Slovenians and add one of the other players Dallas thought it was getting when free agency started (the Mavs reportedly thought Derrick Jones Jr. may be headed their way):

    • Miami receives John Wall and Bradley Beal from Washington, Justin Jackson from Dallas;
    • Dallas receives Goran Dragic and Derrick Jones Jr. from Miami, Isaac Bonga from Washington;
    • Washington receives James Johnson, Justise Winslow and Dion Waiters from Miami, Courtney Lee from Dallas

    Three-teamers are tricky. Some draft considerations may have to be thrown in there somewhere.

    But this would give the Heat a Wall/Beal/Butler core. And while all the Wall concerns remain, Beal and Butler would make for one heck of a top two. Plus, Jackson still has some potential as a floor-spacer.

    Dallas would get to reunite Dragic and Doncic, add an intriguing athlete in Jones and get a positionless mystery box in Bonga.

    Washington would get out of its salary-cap nightmare while still adding some long-term hope in Winslow.

         

    All stats, unless otherwise indicated, courtesy of Basketball Reference and ESPN