LOS ANGELES — When the Memphis Grizzlies acquired Andre Iguodala in a trade from the Golden State Warriors over the summer, the plan was always to flip the veteran forward. The Grizzlies got a first-rounder in the deal and agreed to let Iguodala essentially skip the season until traded.
If Iguodala's goal was to join a playoff contender, who knew he was already on a team with a shot to make the postseason?
The Grizzlies (20-24) are currently ninth in the Western Conference, a half-game behind the San Antonio Spurs (20-23). Guard Ja Morant seems the runaway favorite for Rookie of the Year—though Zion Williamson’s seven-minute stretch on Wednesday night in his debut for the New Orleans Pelicans was certainly electric. Perhaps Iguodala should stay home and suit up for Memphis?
"Water under the bridge," one former NBA executive said. "And Iguodala wants to play for a team with a chance to do something special in the playoffs. Ja is amazing and the Grizzlies have been a lot better than anyone expected, but their best case is a first-round knockout to the [Los Angeles] Lakers."
Speaking of the Lakers (36-9), they would happily welcome Iguodala if he's eventually bought out, but L.A. doesn't have a clear path to the 2015 NBA Finals MVP and his $17.2 million salary, with no first-rounders to offer and valuable contributors Danny Green and/or Kentavious Caldwell-Pope necessary to make a trade cap-worthy.
"We're not buying him out," an executive with the Grizzlies said. "We will trade him, period."
That probably makes the Lakers a long shot. But the Los Angeles Clippers (31-14) could be a contender, with Maurice Harkless as the primary expiring contract ($11 million) along with second-year guard Jerome Robinson ($3.6 million).
The Clippers traded most of their future first-rounders to the Oklahoma City Thunder to land Paul George in July, but they can send their 2020 first, which currently projects to be the 26th overall pick in June.
Both the Lakers and Clippers would benefit from Iguodala's ability to defend and play-make, but the Clippers have the edge to land him between the two.
The Philadelphia 76ers have "expressed interest in a long list of wings," including Iguodala, per The Ringer. But like the Lakers, the Sixers would face a similar hurdle in matching salaries. Unless they're trading away Al Horford or Josh Richardson—assuming Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Tobias Harris won't be dealt—the next highest-paid player is Mike Scott at $4.8 million.
If Philadelphia did look to move Horford, it would look to get back a lot more than Iguodala, though a multi-team trade is always a possibility.
"What about the [Indiana] Pacers?" the former executive asked. "[T.J.] Warren and a highly protected pick?"
The problem there is the Pacers sent their first to the Milwaukee Bucks for Malcolm Brogdon with protections until 2026. That makes all of their upcoming first-rounders untradeable unless they make an additional deal with the Bucks, perhaps to make the pick unprotected this June.
The Pacers (29-16) are 12 games ahead of the ninth-place Detroit Pistons (17-28). The selection is extremely likely to convey; it may not take much to rework the obligation to Milwaukee.
As far as Warren, would the Pacers really be willing to give up their leading scorer (18 points a game) for a role-playing defender?
"With [Victor] Oladipo coming back, he's your scorer," he continued. "Will [Warren's] value be higher than it is now?"
Memphis could be looking to add a piece to help its playoff push, and Warren's contract at $35.3 million over three years is friendly. If not Warren, Jeremy Lamb has a similar three-year, $31.5 million contract.
Iguodala would be a boon for the Houston Rockets. When they re-signed Nene this offseason, they tried to manipulate the rules by giving the veteran big an incentivized contract that they hoped could be used as a $10 million trade chip. Instead, the league ruled that Houston was attempting to circumvent the salary cap and set Nene's outgoing salary in a trade to just $2.6 million.
That probably kills the Rockets' chances, unless they're looking to trade P.J. Tucker. Eric Gordon works mathematically but he can't be traded this season after signing an extension. Both are key rotation players. The Rockets just don't have the obvious outgoing salary to make a play for Iguodala.
If the Grizzlies are prioritizing draft considerations, the Miami Heat have almost nothing to offer outside of a 2022 second-rounder from the Denver Nuggets or 76ers, with all other future firsts and seconds encumbered by previous obligations.
Without picks, the Heat might have to give up one of their valued young players, like Derrick Jones Jr., Kendrick Nunn or Duncan Robinson (the latter two would probably be non-starters), along with a player owning one of their bigger salaries, such as Goran Dragic or Meyers Leonard.
Even if the two teams were interested in a Justise Winslow for Iguodala swap straight up, the Heat can't make that deal without other moves since they'd end up over their $138.9 million hard cap.
Take out most of the bottom 10 teams who are gradually fading out of playoff contention, and it's a lot easier to point out why the market for Iguodala may be limited, what with teams needing matching salary or the first-rounder the Grizzlies supposedly covet.
That's why the Dallas Mavericks stand out as a potential favorite, with Courtney Lee's $12.8 million expiring contract.
"Dallas could be in the mix with [Dwight] Powell out," the former executive said, referring to Powell's recent season-ending Achilles injury.
But the Mavericks don't have a first to give, with obligations to the New York Knicks from the Kristaps Porzingis trade. But they do have the Warriors' second-rounder in June, which projects to be near the 31st overall selection.
If Dallas went for Iguodala, it may still need to add another forward/center to replace Powell's size, but Iguodala would give the playoff contender some needed experience. His ability to handle the ball and initiate an offense could relieve some pressure on sophomore sensation Luka Doncic.
Finally, it's worth mentioning the Phoenix Suns and Sacramento Kings. Most executives tab the two franchises as "unpredictable" and may consider themselves buyers. The Suns have Tyler Johnson's expiring contract. The Kings can trade recently acquired guard/forward Kent Bazemore. Both teams have all of their future first-rounders available for trade.
Email Eric Pincus at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter, @EricPincus.
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