The Best Trade Assets of the 2020 NBA Offseason
Let's talk NBA trade assets.
It isn't yet clear what we should expect from the offseason swaps market. Everything is subject to a level of uncertainty amid the coronavirus pandemic. The league cannot be sure how long this new normal lasts, or how much of a financial hit it will ultimately incur. The actions teams take will be shaped by both.
And yet, more than a few signs point toward a busy trade season. Brokering deals will be the only way for certain squads to noticeably upgrade. The Association is prepping for what's considered a lackluster draft class, and the free-agency landscape wants for cap space.
Trades open up another avenue of improvement. For some, they may even be a means to cut salaries as franchises gain a better understanding of how they're financially impacted by the absence of fans. So while we can't count on much, it sure seems like we can bank on the NBA offseason providing us with its usual flurry of movement and rumors.
In advance of that action, it behooves us to take stock of the best trade assets out there. But before you start rattling off the biggest names that spring to mind, please note this isn't what we're after.
Entrenched stars are absolutely trade assets, just not the type teams usually look to move in the name of bettering themselves. Dealing marquee talents is typically akin to selling or starting over. This list is about identifying which assets are best suited to get those stars.
Prospective availability will dictate which assets make the cut. The Oklahoma City Thunder, for instance, aren't likely to trade Shai Gilgeous-Alexander for a finishing piece. They aren't close enough to title contention. This exercise is about the teams just as much as the assets themselves. We're after picks, prospects and fringe stars attached to squads who would consider moving them as the centerpiece in deals that net them whichever bigwigs might become available.
Caris LeVert, Brooklyn Nets
Caris LeVert's trade value should be peaking after yet another strong postseason performance.
His 34.6 percent clip on twos was ghastly, but it comes with the territory as the Brooklyn Nets' only true initiator facing a Toronto Raptors defense that wouldn't let him sniff the rim. He still connected on 42.9 percent of his triples while averaging 20.3 points and 9.5 assists per game.
Four games is nothing, and the Nets were swept. But LeVert showed similar aplomb last year in Brooklyn's five-game set with the Philadelphia 76ers, during which Ben Simmons decided to essentially erase D'Angelo Russell from existence. Plus, it isn't like LeVert's scoring was actually over his head. He averaged a career-high 18.7 points per game during the regular season. The playoffs merely proved he could do more as a playmaker, and that his production will hold up against the toughest form of attention.
Brooklyn may want to keep him around as a result. Pairing him with Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Spencer Dinwiddie seems like an overkill of ball-handling, but having too much shot creation isn't really a bad thing, particularly when the Nets can't be sure of what Durant looks like following his recovery from a ruptured Achilles. LeVert is wired to run lineups on his own when Brooklyn is staggering its best players or as the sixth man, and he'll convert more of his catch-and-shoot treys than he did this year (31.6 percent).
Then again, Brooklyn is reportedly in the market for a third star. It isn't entirely clear whether LeVert qualifies. He's certainly not an entrenched star, and his impact on a full-strength roster could be muted. The damage he inflicted during the postseason came almost exclusively on-ball. He won't have that same license beside Durant and Irving. The defensive ceiling on a Durant-Irving-LeVert trio is also fairly meh.
Sussing out a better fit who will be available isn't easy. Is Bradley Beal enough of an offensive upgrade? Would Victor Oladipo be worth a dice roll? Should the Nets pivot into more of a defensive combo forward and skulk around Aaron Gordon? Might they try swinging for the fences and poke around the availability of Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons or Rudy Gobert?
The who isn't really as important here as the how. LeVert will be integral to whatever blockbuster package the Nets cobble together, and he should appeal to anyone selling off a marquee name. At 26, he isn't young enough to be considered a prospect, but he hasn't aged out of rebuilding projects, either. That he's under team control for the next three years at $52.5 million only increases his value. That's a relative bargain for someone who's a fringe All-Star by Eastern Conference standards and fits basically whatever timeline a given team is operating on.
Tyler Herro, Miami Heat
Including Tyler Herro in a trade could run counter to the Miami Heat's plans. They may have the flexibility to carve out near-max cap space this offseason and will be in line to make a run at any of next summer's superstar free agents if they don't gum up their ledger beforehand.
Monitoring the blockbuster trade market doesn't feel like a huge priority right now. They eked out a Game 1 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. What if they win that series? Or even almost win it? The pull to tinker with their core shouldn't be as great, at least not until they let 2021 free agency play out.
On the flip side, the Heat might now have the asset juice to broker deals for spicier names. Matching salaries for available stars will be difficult if they're looking to keep Andre Iguodala's expiring contract (team option for 2021-22), but they have the prospect cachet to glitz up potential packages.
Tyler Herro, Kendrick Nunn and Duncan Robinson all factor into that equation, as do future firsts. Herro is the most appealing of the bunch. He profiles as someone who can do more with the ball in his hands long term, and his quick-fire shot-making from the outside has mostly translated to the postseason.
Robinson is the better player right now—the gap between the two is actually largest on defense—but he and Nunn will be restricted free agents in 2021. He specifically will be in line for a major payday. Herro is under team control for the next three years, which renders him more useful to a team presumably looking to stockpile assets for the future.
Miami has the luxury of selectivity if it enters trade talks. It's good enough not to rush into anything. Herro should not be in play if they're looking at Chris Paul. Bradley Beal and Jrue Holiday would be different stories.
Michael Porter Jr., Denver Nuggets
Michael Porter Jr. was reportedly untouchable at the 2020 trade deadline and, well, that might not change. He's only become more of an immediate contributor to the Denver Nuggets since then.
Through the Nuggets' eight seeding games at Walt Disney World, he averaged 19.3 points while slashing 53.5/42.2/93.1. And though his playoff performance has been more touch-and-go, especially on defense, he's still putting up more than 16 points per 36 minutes and banging in 41-plus percent of his threes.
Interest in him will be universal. He just turned 22, has two more years left on his rookie-scale contract and looks the part of an offensive cornerstone. If he's able to hang defensively for longer stretches against opposing starters, he might be someone who can spearhead a rebuild.
Whether the Denver Nuggets back off their untouchable stance rests on the urgency with which they approach next season. And that itself depends on how they finish this year. Making it out of the first round doesn't inoculate them against contemplating substantial change. Putting up a serious fight against the Los Angeles Clippers may.
Even then, though, the Nuggets would have to weigh all their options. Their two best players, Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray, are still relatively young and locked up on long-term deals, but their window is now. So long as Jokic is a clear top-10 player, it has to be.
Maybe Porter offers more value as a keeper. He might be in that sweet spot, where playing the long game promises a huge payoff but he provides enough present-day oomph to beef up the Nuggets' offensive hierarchy and wing rotation.
Making him off-limits is a no-brainer if the right opportunity doesn't come along. His outlook is that of a crown jewel—the asset you use to anchor packages for a top-20 player. Bradley Beal or Jrue Holiday might be the bare minimum Denver would accept back in any deal that includes him.
That doesn't say much for his accessibility to other teams. But with the Nuggets on the prowl for that final championship nudge, Porter should be considered their break-open-in-case-a-superstar-becomes-available asset.
Minnesota's 2020 1st-Round Pick (No. 1)
Dangling the No. 1 pick in this year's draft won't solicit the type of attention it would in other years. Make no mistake, it's a big deal. It's the No. 1 pick. But without a clear-cut superstar prospect at the top of this class, interested parties may not be as keen to unload high-end established talent.
Perhaps that changes. There is real value to holding the top selection. You get the pick of everyone available. If you want Anthony Edwards, take him. Ditto for LaMelo Ball. And James Wiseman. Your draft-day outcome is no longer tied to those in front of you.
The Minnesota Timberwolves are expected to entertain trading the No. 1 pick, according to The Athletic's Sam Vecenie. What it might get them is anyone's guess. It'll take more to net Bradley Beal. Jrue Holiday and Victor Oladipo may both be gettable, but are they worth it considering both can be free agents in 2021? (Holiday has a player option.)
Still, it makes sense for the Timberwolves to look at moving the pick. Team president Gersson Rosas chaperoned them into win-now mode by acquiring D'Angelo Russell and giving up next year's top-three-protected pick in the process. Minnesota runs the risk of sending the Golden State Warriors a main-attraction draft selection if it takes a more gradual approach.
Rerouting the No. 1 pick doesn't necessarily require an inbound star. Yes, this feels like that type of draft. The Timberwolves can justify hunting for smorgasbord packages—returns centered around multiple impact players.
Do the Orlando Magic consider packaging Aaron Gordon with one of Markelle Fultz or Terrence Ross and No. 15? Might the San Antonio Spurs be amenable to offering Derrick White, Dejounte Murray and Rudy Gay? Is that enough for Minnesota? Is it too much for San Antonio?
Keeping tabs on which stars become available is, of course, an obligation. The No. 1 pick may not be enough to sway any team on its own, but it gives the Timberwolves a highly valuable starting point for any marquee player that stumbles into the rumor mill.
Minnesota's 2021 1st-Round Pick (Owed to Golden State)
Including the Warriors' No. 2 selection in this year's draft may be the more popular decision. That's fine. It has value. Top-two picks are still top-two picks. Any team smitten with LaMelo Ball, Anthony Edwards or James Wiseman has grounds to lust after the No. 2 choice.
At the same time, it just doesn't get wheels turning. The first pick represents a stark difference, if only because its owner isn't at the behest of another franchise's decision. Even if you have the No. 2 spot, you're left with whichever players the Timberwolves don't select. That could matter.
Using the pick also leaves you on the hook for that player's salary. Assuming the rookie scale doesn't change leading into next season as a result of revenue lost from the coronavirus pandemic, that commitment will near $40 million over four years (with two team options baked in). That's a lot to invest in what will be considered a wild card no matter who's taken. This could be one of those situations in which the actual player is more valuable instead of the pick, after he's given a chance to test his mettle against the regular season.
Anyway...This 2021 pick from Minnesota. It's a hot property. Next summer's draft class is supposed to be much deeper—like, actually loaded—compared to this year's crop of inbound rookies. The Warriors are sitting on a potential goldmine. The pick is only top-three protected, and the absence of knowing where it lies heightens the intrigue. Pitching teams on a potential top-five choice in next year's draft is more tantalizing than hocking the current No. 2.
Granted, this entails betting against the Timberwolves. That doesn't feel ridiculous. Team president Gersson Rosas has already shown he'll be aggressive, but as of now, every single Western Conference squad will fancy itself a playoff hopeful next season. That all-everyone pool will invariably thin out before opening night, and certain teams will stand pat or make win-now plays only to fall off. But the path into the top eight will remain brutally obstructed. Expecting Minnesota to finish closer to last place than the final playoff spot hardly goes against the grain.
All the better for Golden State. This Timberwolves pick isn't jump-starting Giannis Antetokounmpo talks, but it is a draw on its own. Combining it with the Andre Iguodala trade exception or Andrew Wiggins' salary should open all sorts of doors. The Warriors can even attach it to this year's No. 2 selection if the right mega-return comes along.