'What a Boon': Fake Blake Griffin Trade Earns Praise from NBA Insiders

Eric Pincus@@EricPincusLA Lakers Lead WriterMay 14, 2020

Detroit Pistons' Blake Griffin argues a call against the Oklahoma City Thunder in the second half of an NBA basketball game in Detroit, Wednesday, March 4, 2020. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Paul Sancya/Associated Press

The B/R fantasy league Detroit Pistons have continued to make impressive moves in the week leading up to the draft Saturday. General manager Michael Ritter has agreed to his third trade in as many days:

  • Recently acquired Myles Turner has been flipped to the New Orleans Pelicans.

  • The Pistons receive veteran guard JJ Redick, young center Jaxson Hayes, the Lakers' 29th pick and a 2023 second-rounder from the Washington Wizards.

"GM of the Year!" a real-world former Western Conference executive said. "[He] can probably get a second first-rounder [with strong protections] for JJ."

On Monday, the Pistons sent Blake Griffin (owed $75.8 million over the next two seasons) to the Indiana Pacers with Svi Mykhailiuk for TJ Leaf, Jeremy Lamb and Turner. On Tuesday, Ritter acquired Kyle Kuzma, Quinn Cook and a 2023 second-rounder from the Los Angeles Lakers for veteran guard Derrick Rose.

A current real-world Western Conference executive agreed, saying: "That's really good value. Detroit needs a full rebuild. They got off Blake's money, got No. 29, Hayes, Lamb (who they can probably move, as well as Redick)."

After acquiring Griffin in January 2018 in a midseason trade with the Los Angeles Clippers, the former All-Star led the Pistons to a .500 record to finish eighth in the Eastern Conference. After a first-round sweep versus the Milwaukee Bucks, Detroit (20-46) struggled through the 2019-20 campaign, falling to 13th place with Griffin sidelined in January with knee surgery.

"What a boon," the former executive said. "Free books [without Griffin], lots of picks and solid players."

On the other side of the trade with Detroit, the Pelicans shook off a slow start to the week with a series of moves:

  • New Orleans acquired the Lakers' No. 29 pick for three second-round picks (Nos. 39, 42 and 60). The L.A. first-rounder was included in the deal with the Pistons for Turner.

  • The Pelicans got the No. 12 pick from the Sacramento Kings, along with Garrett Temple from the Brooklyn Nets. New Orleans sent Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Nicolo Melli and two 2021 second-rounders to the Kings. Sacramento dealt Jabari Parker, who opted into his contract, to the Nets.

To summarize, Pelicans general manager Preston Ellis added two players in Turner and Temple plus the No. 12 pick for Redick, Alexander-Walker, Hayes, Melli and six second-round picks.

"That's a mixed bag of moves from New Orleans," a real-world NBA agent said. "The Pelicans gave up a lot, especially in Hayes and Alexander-Walker. They lost shooting in Redick. Turner is more of a win-now player and may be a good fit defensively protecting the rim next to Zion Williamson."

"Why three picks for [the Lakers]?" asked the Western Conference executive, noting that a team in win-now mode may not have the minutes to develop one rookie, let alone three. "For trade potential?" Sources close to fantasy Lakers general manager Ryan Cole insist, "He's trying."

Also, because the Lakers owe their 2021 first-round pick to the Pelicans from last summer's Anthony Davis trade, they cannot send their No. 29 pick to New Orleans until after the draft. This too will delay the Pistons agreement.


Horford Deal Nearly Died on the Table—Twice

Matt Slocum/Associated Press

Fantasy general managers Michael Vernon (Houston Rockets) and Ross Schwaber (Philadelphia 76ers) were excited to have a verbal agreement in place to swap Eric Gordon and Nemanja Bjelica for veteran forward/center Al Horford, shooter Furkan Korkmaz and the 34th pick.

Unfortunately, the deal wasn't legal by the strict rules of the NBA's collective bargaining agreement.

The Rockets acquired Bjelica on Tuesday from the Kings along with Marvin Bagley, sending out PJ Tucker, Danuel House and a first-round pick. Because he was just traded to Houston, Bjelica's $6.8 million salary cannot be aggregated (combined) with Gordon's $14.1 million to near Horford's $28 million.

Without Bjelica, Houston wasn't close to the $22.4 million in outgoing salary needed for Horford. After some initial consternation, the teams went back to the drawing board. Both sides agreed to look at the numbers in a delayed trade, one executed after the NBA's moratorium at the start of the 2020-21 season.

Not only does Horford's contract descend next year to $27.5 million, but Gordon's climbs to $16.9 million. Both Isaiah Hartenstein (currently $1.4 million) and Chris Clemons ($563,347) were needed to make the initial deal work. Their raises to $1.7 million and $1.5 million, respectively, only helped get the two teams closer to a resolution.

Unfortunately, the Rockets remained $3.1 million short of their goal. Having previously traded Ben McLemore to the Washington Wizards for Troy Brown Jr., the only available player left to add (outside of James Harden, Russell Westbrook or Robert Covington) was Austin Rivers.

But Vernon did not want to give up Rivers, putting the entire deal on the border of failure. Schwaber pulled it back from the dead with a painful sweetener of his own, agreeing to offset Rivers with Shake Milton. Just like that, the two teams had an agreement in principle.

To make everything work, Rivers needed to opt into the final year of his contract. After a little prodding—he wasn't keen on leaving Houston—he relented with the opportunity to play alongside Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. Additionally, Hartenstein, Clemons and Korkmaz each agreed to let their contracts guarantee in full to make the numbers work (no-brainer decisions).

Time for a deal. Or was it?

Over the course of the second negotiation, Vernon had believed that Bjelica was no longer in the deal; Schwaber had an entirely different impression.

After a few minutes believing the deal to be off once again, a quick look at the numbers showed the trade could still work. The Rockets took both Korkmaz and Milton into a previously held trade exception, gaining a $7.2 million trade exception for Bjelica. The 76ers get two small trade exceptions for Korkmaz ($1.8 million) and Milton ($1.7 million).

"The Rockets win this trade," the agent said. "They need all those pieces, and they fit in nicely. [For Philadelphia], Hartenstein is one of my favorite sleepers, so that's a good get. I don't think Rivers clicks chemistry-wise with Joel and Ben."

The agent also didn't like Bjelica for the 76ers.

The former executive wasn't as high on the move for the Rockets, saying: "They lose spacing without Gordon. That's all they really care about. And [Horford] wants to play as a team, but [that's not the Rockets' strength]."


More Trades!

A few additional deals were reached Wednesday:

  • The Minnesota Timberwolves traded up to the second pick, sending the No. 5 to the New York Knicks. Minnesota also included Jarrett Culver and James Johnson, with the Knicks dealing Julius Randle and the No. 38 pick.

  • The Los Angeles Clippers added shooter Matt Thomas, sending Terance Mann to the Toronto Raptors.

  • Utah agreed to send Royce O'Neale and a 2022 second-round pick in July, after O'Neale's January extension restriction expires, to the Raptors for Stanley Johnson and Terence Davis.

The former executive wasn't a huge fan of the New York/Minnesota trade for either team.

"[Culver] is another non-shooting wing; the Knicks already have that," he said. "Julius, Karl-Anthony Towns and D'Angelo Russell aren't a good fit. Julius is a ball-dominant playmaking 4. That's the last thing they need. Their defense will be the worst in the league. They're better off playing zone."

What value could the Knicks get out of power forward Julius Randle?
What value could the Knicks get out of power forward Julius Randle?Kathy Willens/Associated Press

Sources close to the T-Wolves suggest Randle could be on the move later in the week. Moving up in the draft and dealing Randle could be the first steps toward another attempt at Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker.

Knicks general manager Alex Larsen responded to critics of the deal, saying, "The untapped potential of Culver should be applauded."

Did Minnesota at least gain value by moving up in the draft?

"Not in my opinion," he answered. "The thing is, at picks 1-6 you can throw a rock at the top prospects and make a case."

Jazz general manager Andy Bailey said on the O'Neale trade: "Terence Davis is the same height (6'4"), but he's four years younger and has a more versatile offensive game. At 22 years old, he's on the same timeline as Donovan Mitchell. The two have the potential to be the backcourt of the future."

Bailey also spoke highly of Johnson's potential.


Other Buzz

  • Larsen and the Knicks are still active, with some consideration to making a run at Charlotte Hornets guard Malik Monk, whose season ended in late February after violating the NBA's anti-drug program. Expect New York to move at least one of Dennis Smith Jr., Elfrid Payton or Frank Ntilikina before the draft.

  • The Jazz remain committed to the Rudy Gobert/Mitchell duo, despite some internal friction. Teams continue to pursue Gobert, but nothing has piqued Utah's interest.

  • The Denver Nuggets have had discussions with the Orlando Magic, with designs on either Aaron Gordon or Evan Fournier. Because Fournier has a player option, he'd have to agree to opt in for a return to the team that drafted him. Word is Fournier would expect an extension for his participation. Denver has also looked at Kelly Oubre Jr. of the Suns and Justise Winslow of the Memphis Grizzlies. Phoenix is getting a lot of calls on Oubre.

  • The Magic aren't opposed to trading Gordon, but they are asking for a significant bounty in return.

  • Milwaukee remains interested in Jrue Holiday of the Pelicans, and Redick, now with the Pistons. The Bucks also like Detroit scorer Luke Kennard (as do the Boston Celtics).

  • After trading Turner earlier in the week, the Pacers are happy with their core of Domantas Sabonis, Victor Oladipo, Malcolm Brogdon and Griffin. The team is in win-now mode, so offers for any of the four have been continually rejected. Instead, general manager Emily Bindelglass is looking to add bench depth at both center and shooting guard, with eyes on Wizards big Moritz Wagner.

  • The Miami Heat are one of many teams interested in CJ McCollum, but the buzz around the league is that the Portland Trail Blazers are asking for the world. Sources close to Portland disagree, saying they've gone far down the road with two separate franchises but just haven't crossed the finish line with their prolific scoring guard. The Blazers have also had talks with multiple teams surrounding forward Trevor Ariza.

  • The Chicago Bulls continue to shop Zach LaVine. They're less motivated in dealing veteran Otto Porter Jr., who when healthy is a productive starter on a short contract.

  • The Oklahoma City Thunder remain relatively quiet thus far, prompting a different real-world Western Conference executive to text, "We'll have to wake up the fantasy Thunder GM." But word is Joey Akeley is keeping his moves close to the vest. Opposing executives say they believe the Thunder could move Chris Paul before the draft.

  • The Golden State Warriors are open to offers on the No. 3 pick in the draft.

  • The Dallas Mavericks have regrouped after two near-trades earlier in the week. Sources suggest they could be on the verge of a completed deal.


Email Eric Pincus at eric.pincus@gmail.com, and follow him on Twitter, @EricPincus.