5 NBA Breakups Where Everyone Wins
Sometimes, NBA relationships simply run their course.
Without apportioning blame or casting aspersions, we've highlighted a handful of player-team associations that, for the benefit of all parties concerned, should be dissolved. In some cases, rebuilding teams have one out-of-place veteran who's still languishing on the roster. In other situations, a player would be better served—professionally and personally—by a fresh start.
In all cases, these partnerships are preventing both player and organization from becoming their best selves.
It's time for a few breakups, but there's no need to get emotional. These splits are for the best.
Buddy Hield, Sacramento Kings
In a vacuum, Buddy Hield's four-year, $86 million extension, which kicks in for the 2020-21 season and could pay him an additional $20 million in performance incentives, isn't that bad. It declines by 8 percent annually and should take one of the league's most prolific long-range shooters through his prime, concluding after his age-31 season.
Hield made more triples through his first three years than anyone in league history, and the value of shooting has never been higher.
All that said, it still seems like both Hield and the Sacramento Kings need to go their separate ways.
Head coach Luke Walton shied away from using Hield during critical late-stage moments this season, and then he went a step further and removed his best shooter from the starting five. Hield voiced his displeasure prior to the demotion—which spurred better play from him and coincided with the Kings' making a late playoff push prior to the hiatus, by the way—and clearly wasn't satisfied after the change in role.
Sacramento is already committed to Harrison Barnes for $60.9 million over the next three full seasons, De'Aaron Fox will become max-extension-eligible in the 2020 offseason, and Marvin Bagley III—theoretically another long-term piece worthy of investment—will be due an extension the following summer. Those are significant future commitments to consider, and that's without even factoring in the team's likelihood of matching a hefty offer sheet on restricted free agent Bogdan Bogdanovic.
Maybe Hield and the Kings will reach an accord on his role, or maybe he'll defend well enough to justify reinsertion into the starting five. But it seems more likely that the fractures in the team-player relationship will expand, which makes moving on the wiser call—both from a financial and team-chemistry perspective.
A shooter as good as Hield fits almost anywhere, and it may even be possible he'd accept a bench role on a better team. A winner that needs spacing (hi, Philadelphia 76ers!) could get more out of him than the Kings, but a lottery team with a greater need for backcourt scoring could take Hield in and count on him to push his scoring average into the high 20s with more usage.
Possible Destinations: Philadelphia 76ers, Dallas Mavericks
Kevin Love, Cleveland Cavaliers
It's never a great sign when, before the ink is even dry on a new contract, an organization's most obvious priority becomes getting said contract off the books. That's how things went for the Cleveland Cavaliers, who handed Kevin Love a four-year, $120 million extension in the summer of 2018.
With LeBron James gone and the talent stores empty, Cleveland was in line for an obvious rebuild. Yet it went ahead and locked down an increasingly injury-prone player for nearly max money over his age-31 through age-34 seasons.
Let's never begrudge Love for signing that deal. It was above market value, which we can say with certainty because no other market participants have expressed serious interest in acquiring it. Love was right to secure the bag on what should be the last high-dollar deal of his career.
There's just no mutual benefit.
Love's only real value to a team in the earliest stages of reconstruction is as a mature veteran influence. That sort of thing is important, but it's often a commodity rebuilders target with minimum salaries—not nine-figure contracts. Likewise, Love isn't getting the chance to play with experienced, high-end talent. The bleakest slant on his position is that he's effectively wasting the last of his productive years in a sort of NBA purgatory. If that's too dark, we can at least agree Love would be more fulfilled and better utilized on a team with playoff hopes.
Love remains one of the top-shooting bigs in the game (career 37.0 percent on threes), and his passing ability makes him more than a standstill spacer. He can get a bucket on the block or sucker defenders into fouling him with highly developed contact-seeking craft. Defensively, he's a minus. But slot him next to the right 5—ideally one who can switch and/or protect the rim—and Love could still play a prominent role on a quality team.
Possible Destinations: Portland Trail Blazers, Miami Heat
Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards
Bradley Beal gave the Washington Wizards everything he had (on offense, to be clear) during the 57 games he played prior to the hiatus. He averaged 30.5 points and, despite a massive spike in usage, sacrificed almost nothing in the efficiency department.
His true shooting percentage was 58.1 percent in 2018-19 and only dipped to 57.9 percent in 2019-20.
In short, Beal established himself as one of the top 10 to 15 offensive weapons in the league. Even with his play at such an elite level, though, his Wizards were just 24-40 when the season stalled.
It's possible John Wall's return will help Beal and Washington produce better results, but there's an equal chance the former All-Star (Wall) will take touches and opportunities away from the Wizards' best player (Beal). Remember, Wall's performance was trending down before he tore his Achilles. With so much of his game built on downhill burst, Wall figures to struggle more than most in his return from a devastating injury.
Most importantly, Wall is due to collect about $133 million from 2020-21 to 2022-23, his age-30 through age-32 seasons. That deal will be almost impossible to move without sacrificing a mountain of sweetening throw-ins. So if Beal sticks with the Wizards, he'll either have to roll the dice with Wall or watch future assets stream out the door in any deal that removes Wall from the equation.
Either scenario would feel like a waste of Beal's prime years.
Washington could replenish its asset pool and add at least one quality young player by moving Beal, and Beal would get the chance to prove he can replicate this year's production on a winner. It's fair to argue Washington shouldn't move its most valuable player, but that may be the only way to recoup the cost of also moving on from Wall.
Possible Destinations: Denver Nuggets, Los Angeles Lakers
DeMar DeRozan, San Antonio Spurs
DeMar DeRozan's teams have posted better net ratings with him off the floor in 10 of his 11 NBA seasons, so it's a bit of a tough sell to say he and the San Antonio Spurs, specifically, are a bad marriage in need of a divorce.
The evidence would suggest DeRozan, in his current high-usage starting role, isn't a great fit anywhere.
There are a couple of circumstances in San Antonio that exacerbate the issue, the first being DeRozan's obstruction of younger guards who figure to matter much more to the organization's future. The Spurs may have been right to limit Dejounte Murray's minutes in his first year back from a torn ACL, and perhaps there's value in holding Derrick White and Lonnie Walker IV below the minute totals you'd ideally like to see a lottery team grant its most promising young players.
But that can't continue going forward—not if the Spurs have any intention of starting their first serious rebuild in over 20 years. Murray, White, Walker and even Keldon Johnson need their reps, and they need them in an offensive system that doesn't grind to a halt as DeRozan works his way into a mid-range jumper.
Where in this modern, mid-range-averse environment might DeRozan be more useful? Where is there a need for a high-usage, moderate-efficiency, zero-defense veteran?
That's the hard part. Any team that adds DeRozan would have to be equipped with quality defenders at the guard and wing positions, and it'd also have to be comfortable with the four-time All-Star's anachronistic shot profile.
DeRozan could engineer a divorce by opting out of the $27.7 million he's owed for 2020-21 and becoming an unrestricted free agent. More likely, San Antonio will have to find a taker in need of high-priced scoring.
Possible Destinations: Indiana Pacers, New York Knicks
Aaron Gordon, Orlando Magic
The Orlando Magic weren't able to move Aaron Gordon at the 2020 trade deadline, but they were clearly willing.
Orlando can't unring that bell now, but even if it could, backpedaling from a Gordon deal would be a mistake.
Yes, Gordon's declining contract, which will pay him $18.1 million in 2020-21 and $16.4 million in 2021-22, is a relatively inexpensive one. And yes, the 24-year-old forward offers a ton in the defense, rebounding and facilitation departments. It's just that the Magic, as currently built, aren't equipped to maximize what Gordon does best.
Orlando inked Nikola Vucevic to a four-year, $100 million deal in 2019, so the starting center spot is spoken for. Meanwhile, Jonathan Isaac and Mo Bamba, Orlando's last two lottery selections, are either probably (Isaac) or definitely (Bamba) future centers. Now, to be clear, Gordon isn't a 5. But getting the most out of his skills depends on the center with whom he's paired. Ideally, that player would provide the floor spacing Gordon can't.
Vucevic has only ever dabbled with the long ball, but at 33.1 percent for his career, it seems unlikely the interior scorer will suddenly become a stretch 5 as he hits his 30s. Bamba came into the league as a purported long-range threat, but it's still too early to tell if his stroke will produce reliable hit rates at decent volume from deep. Isaac is the Magic's lottery ticket, a five-position defensive menace. But his three-point volume has decreased in his third year, and his mechanics don't scream "future marksman."
Gordon is an unquestioned talent on a deal that most teams in Orlando's low-end playoff position should covet. But the fit is clunky, and we've spent the last several seasons parsing rumors and reports about a breakup. For both parties, a change seems best. And in an ideal world, Gordon could team up with a big man who'd help unlock his considerable abilities.
Possible Destinations: Minnesota Timberwolves, Denver Nuggets