How to Trade 6 of the NBA's Worst Contracts
The further the NBA moves from the 2016 summer of no restraint, the fewer colossally bad contracts you'll find across the league.
That said, the overall collection is far from a mistake-free zone. Even in this exercise, which excludes contracts that expire after both this season and next, there are more mega-million-dollar blunders than we're able to discuss.
But we have zeroed in on six of the worst and somehow found a squad that could be willing to take each one off the current overpayer's hands. Some require the attachment of additional assets. Others land with a club desperate enough to pretend the money really isn't so bad.
In the end, all of them prove that no contract is truly untradeable in the NBA.
Warriors Load Up, Pacers Gamble on Wiggins
Indiana Pacers receive: Andrew Wiggins, Eric Paschall, Jordan Poole, 2021 second-round pick (via Minnesota Timberwolves)
Golden State Warriors receive: Myles Turner, T.J. Warren
Getting numbers isn't an issue, but translating them into wins has been a major one. That makes his remaining contract—$94.7 million over the next three seasons—tough for any team to stomach, even a Golden State squad that swears it's excited about putting him through its player-development program.
But like with D'Angelo Russell—the player traded for Wiggins—the Dubs' latest newcomer could be a bridge to something better. If the Pacers finally decide to correct their roster imbalance, these clubs might come together on a blockbuster.
Myles Turner would be perfect for Golden State. The Dubs need a better defensive deterrent at the rim, but they don't want to sacrifice spacing. Turner averages 2.1 blocks and 0.8 threes on 35.4 percent shooting for his career. He'd be a no-brainer keeper for most clubs, but the Pacers could deem him expendable after committing to Domantas Sabonis and spending a 2019 first-rounder on Goga Bitadze.
T.J. Warren helps match money in this exchange, but he could be a sneaky-good on-court addition, too. The former inside-the-arc scoring specialist is suddenly splashing threes with regularity (40.1 percent since the start of last season) and keeping his motor revved at the defensive end. He can hold his own in the starting five or serve as the second team's primary option.
The Pacers obviously must be open to a major change for this to happen, but there are two scenarios in which they could be. One is if they aren't sure they can keep Victor Oladipo for the long haul. He's extension-eligible this offseason, and the two sides weren't close the last time they talked. The other is if Indy feels its current nucleus can't push its ceiling any closer to contention without a shakeup.
In either case, Wiggins has a chance to be the best player in this trade. He has all the tools to be an impact defender, and he packs a mighty scoring punch. If Indy opts for the rebuilding road, it would pick up two prospects and a potentially early second-rounder in a good draft. If the Pacers try to raise their ceiling, they would add three trade chips to fuel their next transaction.
Sixers, Cavs Swap Overpriced Bigs
Philadelphia 76ers receive: Kevin Love
Cleveland Cavaliers receive: Al Horford, Zhaire Smith, 2020 second-round pick (via New York Knicks)
Both the Cavaliers and 76ers have made major frontcourt investments they'd like to have back. Could they help correct the other's mistake? It's not ideal for either side, but each probably prefers its hypothetical addition over its current state.
The Sixers are desperate for outside shooting. Kevin Love has 1,223 career three-pointers and a 37.0 percent perimeter connection rate. That's most of the appeal from Philly's perspective, although his outlet passing could grow even more potent with an explosive finisher like Ben Simmons on the receiving end of those touchdown throws.
The Cavs are...well, eager to start life after Love. They won't admit as much because that's not how trade negotiations work. But he had some problematic interactions with the club's youngsters this season, and everyone in the relationship could probably use a fresh start.
In an ideal world, the Sixers would snag someone with a lot more defensive versatility than Love. This trade would put the burden on Joel Embiid to handle the toughest frontcourt assignment on defense while Philly holds nightly searches for the best places to hide Love. A perfect addition would also have more off-the-dribble shake away from the basket than Love.
That said, the Sixers would emerge from this trade with a better on-court mix than they entered it. Love could be an excellent pick-and-pop partner for Simmons, and his three-point threat is just what Embiid needs to find more breathing room on the low block.
The Cavaliers covet "a combination of picks and players" in return for Love, per Cleveland.com's Chris Fedor, and this package probably isn't what the front office has in mind.
But Horford plays a more complementary game than Love, so he should be a better fit for the Cavs' young players. He is also cheaper next season and going forward.
Zhaire Smith doesn't have much prospect appeal at this point, but 2018's 16th overall pick is only 21 years old and an elite athlete. The early second-rounder would become another possible pathway to a prospect.
This is fine value for an overpaid 31-year-old whose All-Star days are probably behind him.
Horford to Sacramento, Hield to Philly
Sacramento Kings receive: Al Horford, Furkan Korkmaz, 2020 first-round pick (top-20 protected, via Oklahoma City Thunder)
Philadelphia 76ers receive: Buddy Hield
Last July, the Sixers gave Al Horford a four-year, $97 million deal. In October, the Kings extended Buddy Hield on a four-year, $86 million pact. Both players have been benched during the course of this season.
A relocation could move both back into the opening group and perhaps change the perception about their contracts.
The Kings chased Horford hard last summer, and the same qualities that attracted them then remain true now.
"Known as a quality locker-room presence and a player who has accomplished plenty during his time in the league, Horford would have an opportunity to pull a young group together in Sacramento and forge ahead as the team's leader," NBC Sports Bay Area's James Ham wrote.
Horford plays a no-maintenance game that would allow him to guide Sacramento's young players without stepping on their shoes. He sets hard screens, he stretches the floor, he moves the basketball, and he doesn't miss defensive rotations. That's not worth the money he's collecting—especially as the 34-year-old progresses through this contract—but a success-starved squad like Sacramento might think it is.
The Kings would also leave this exchange with a 22-year-old sniper in Furkan Korkmaz (a cheap Buddy Buckets replacement) and potentially a first-round pick in the upcoming draft. That's a hefty haul considering they'd be adding a player they aggressively pursued less than a year ago and only giving up one they moved to the bench.
Put Hield in Philly, though, and he could be a contender's missing piece.
He's a lethal long-range shooter (career 2.7 threes per game at a 41.1 percent clip), and he's especially dangerous off the catch (46.0 percent on catch-and-shoot triples last season). As both a drive-and-kick option for Simmons and a decoy clearing room for Embiid's post-ups or Tobias Harris' isolations, Hield looks exactly like what the Sixers offense needs.
Knicks Find Floor General, Thunder Reset
New York Knicks receive: Chris Paul
Oklahoma City Thunder receive: Julius Randle, Bobby Portis, Dennis Smith Jr., 2020 first-round pick (via Los Angeles Clippers)
Chris Paul's masterful work in the Sooner State could get him some MVP votes, but that doesn't change the fact his contract ranks among the worst in basketball. He's on the wrong side of his 35th birthday, and he'll still collect—brace yourselves—$41.4 million next season and $44.2 million for 2021-22. (Technically, that final season is a player option, but he's not leaving that kind of bread on the table.)
That kind of coin is enough to scare off most suitors, but the 'Bockers are forever marching to the beat of their own drum. They're also on a perpetual search for a difference-making point guard, and they're now led by new president Leon Rose, Paul's old player agent.
"The Knicks, according to NBA sources, have been gathering intel on All-Star Chris Paul and could make a run at him this summer," SiriusXM's Frank Isola wrote. "Paul, 34, carries a huge contract, but he's had a resurgent season in OKC and is [a] proven leader."
It's a simple sales pitch for New York.
Paul could mentor the youngsters (primarily, RJ Barrett and Mitchell Robinson) while helping Rose's attempt to change the organization's image among the NBA's elite. Even with Paul's pact on the books, the Knicks should have major money to throw around in 2021, and one would presume they don't want to enter that star-laden market amid an eight-year playoff drought.
The Thunder would lose this exchange in terms of talent, but they could still win the swap.
Turning a player of Paul's age and price point into multiple assets is no minor miracle. The assets aren't great, but Julius Randle is a 25-year-old double-double machine, Dennis Smith Jr. is three years removed from being a top-10 pick, and even late first-round picks can fetch a difference-maker. OKC's financial savings, though, would arguably be the highlight in this financial climate.
Magic Land Griffin, Pistons Further Rebuild
Orlando Magic receive: Blake Griffin, Luke Kennard
Detroit Pistons receive: Aaron Gordon, Terrence Ross, Melvin Frazier Jr., 2020 second-round pick
Do you remember your reaction to hearing Blake Griffin declare himself "ready to go" in a mid-May interview with The Encore's Sage Steele? Skepticism was surely the most common response. Griffin is a 31-year-old with a history of injury problems. He had knee surgery in April 2019, then he went back under the knife in January for his latest operation.
But maybe someone found hopefulness in Griffin's words. For a team as starved for scoring and stardom as Orlando, it can't afford to leave any stone unturned when there's a possibility (even a faint one) of scratching both itches in a single swap.
The Magic are sort of stuck between eras. They're still juicing the orange with late-20-somethings Nikola Vucevic and Evan Fournier (who shouldn't need more than a millisecond to pick up his $17.2 million player option) but are also eager to see what the future holds for up-and-comers like Jonathan Isaac and Markelle Fultz.
If Orlando can somehow get a healthy version of Griffin, it could immensely brighten its outlook.
At his peak, he's on a shortlist of the Association's most powerful offensive weapons. While mentions of his peak probably take most minds to his Lob City days with the Los Angeles Clippers, he was playing a starring role as recently as last season. Then, he was one of only three players to average 24 points, seven rebounds and five assists; LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo were the others.
The Magic, who've been spinning their tires on the treadmill of mediocrity, have little to lose by gambling on Griffin. He's grossly overpaid, sure, but his deal only runs through 2021-22 ($36.8 million next season, $39 million player option for the following year).
That gives Orlando two cracks at getting Griffin right and making a run with him. Even if that never happens, it would still leave this exchange with Luke Kennard, a 23-year-old flamethrower.
Detroit would wash its hands of Griffin and lean even more heavily into its rebuild. Aaron Gordon still has time to cement himself as a keeper—he'd cover a ton of defensive real estate with Sekou Doumbouya—or a useful trade chip. The Pistons could also clear the runway for Terrence Ross to play his way into becoming a win-now trade target for contenders.
Ideally, one or both of Melvin Frazier Jr. and the second-round pick would help the reconstruction.
Suns Add Westbrook, Rockets Retool Around Harden
Phoenix Suns receive: Russell Westbrook, 2021 second-round pick (from Houston Rockets or Philadelphia 76ers)
Houston Rockets receive: Ricky Rubio, Kelly Oubre Jr., Ty Jerome
Even though Russell Westbrook and James Harden haven't yet spent a calendar year together in Space City, it's already make-or-break time for this iteration of the Rockets. They could be a quick playoff exit away from a substantial overhaul.
If Houston rethinks its formula, the first order of business is unloading the three years and $132.6 million left on Westbrook's deal. That's an absurd amount for almost anyone, and it's especially crushing for a 31-year-old, athleticism-dependent player.
Not many—if any—teams would still view Westbrook as a savior, but Phoenix could be the exception. Two years ago, Devin Booker told anyone who would listen he was done missing the playoffs. Barring a torrid run in Orlando (assuming the season actually resumes), the Suns are about to record their sixth consecutive losing campaign and extend their playoff drought to a full 10 seasons.
Westbrook could change that discussion.
Bring the Brodie to the desert and suddenly opposing defenses couldn't throw the kitchen sink at Booker anymore. Westbrook is mind-numbingly productive—one of two players with career averages of 23 points, eight assists and seven rebounds—and his stats have results. He's been a postseason participant in nine of the last 10 seasons, four of which featured him in at least the conference finals.
His work ethic and experience could be invaluable teaching tools for Booker and Deandre Ayton. Westbrook's gravitational pull on defenders could prove even more valuable to the youngsters. If the Suns see growth from their supporting cast and perhaps increased buying power with the arrival of a marquee All-Star, their best-case scenario for 2020-21 might include battling for home-court advantage in the opening round.
The Rockets would stop short of a rebuild, but they'd become more flexible going forward and add at least two players to what's not exactly the league's deepest rotation.
Ricky Rubio's pass-first game should work alongside a scorer like James Harden, especially if Rubio can keep his three-point connection rate near the league average. Kelly Oubre Jr. should fit perfectly in a threes-or-dunks offense. If any team can find an NBA niche for Ty Jerome's passing and shooting, it's probably Houston.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.