Grading the Biggest Trades of the NBA Offseason so Far
If you give most of the NBA several extra months to consider their rosters and how to improve them via trade, the results turn out pretty well.
Our grades for this offseason's biggest deals are almost universally favorable—to the point where next time, we might have to consider grading on a curve, even if the Oklahoma City Thunder's never-ending parade of A's might wreck it.
We're dealing with teams in various stages of their development, and each organization's goals are different. Short-term improvements matter more to contenders, while asset accumulation is the name of the game for the rebuilding set. Value, then, isn't a fixed term.
It will mean something different for every team, and we'll highlight who got the most in the flurry of deals that came down over the last few days.
Holiday to Milwaukee in 4-Team Swap
Milwaukee Bucks Receive: Jrue Holiday, Sam Merrill
New Orleans Pelicans Receive: Steven Adams, Eric Bledsoe, unprotected first-round picks in 2025 and 2027 (via MIL), first-round swap rights in 2024 and 2026 (via MIL)
Oklahoma City Thunder Receive: George Hill, Kenrich Williams, Josh Gray, Zylan Cheatham, Darius Miller, 2023 first-round pick (lottery-protected, via DEN), 2023 second-round pick (via CHA), 2024 second-round pick (via WAS)
Denver Nuggets Receive: R.J. Hampton
Milwaukee Bucks: B
Holiday is the best player involved in this trade, but he came at great cost. Assuming Giannis Antetokounmpo inks the supermax, those first-rounders and swap rights might never yield a pick for the Pelicans inside the top 25. But Giannis hasn't signed anything yet.
The Bucks didn't just punt on the draft for the next half-decade to get Holiday; they also surrendered a starter in Bledsoe and a useful veteran backup in Hill. Milwaukee's starting and closing fives will be significantly improved with Holiday, a truly top-flight defender and an overqualified third option on offense behind Giannis and Khris Middleton. But the Bucks are thinner now, and they'll likely have to pay Holiday something like $25 million per season on a new contract to avoid losing him for nothing after the 2020-21 campaign.
Milwaukee made a big swing here, which was appropriate given a pair of related short and long-term aims: maximize the currently open title window, and convince Antetokounmpo that the organization is serious about doing what it takes to surround him with high-end talent.
In the Bucks' circumstances, this is the kind of bold move you have to make. The "B" grade is just an acknowledgement of the downside risk.
New Orleans Pelicans: B+
Adams has an onerous contract, but it will come off the books in 2021, and he fills the need at center created by Derrick Favors' return to the Utah Jazz. Though Adams isn't the kind of stretchy big you'd ideally want to pair with Zion Williamson up front, his toughness and professionalism (not to mention A-plus interviews) have value.
Bledsoe is a quality starter with real defensive chops who, like Adams, can contribute to a playoff push—if New Orleans has interest in one. And unlike Adams, the point guard's contract (three years remaining for $54.4 million, third year partially guaranteed) will be flippable either before the season or at the deadline. The Pels can still increase their asset haul by moving him in a subsequent deal.
The treasure trove of first-rounders and swap rights may not yield much value if the Bucks continue their recent trend of winning 70 percent of their games. But that's still a ton of draft capital for Holiday, who didn't fit into the Pelicans' timeline and might have left for nothing after this coming season.
Oklahoma City Thunder: A
How Adams' $27.5 million expiring salary was worth a future first-rounder and two seconds is a mystery. Where was the other offer of a first coming from? Did old-school centers paid three times what their production dictates suddenly become hot commodities?
Anyone want to guess how long it'll take Thunder general manager Sam Presti to flip George Hill for another protected first-rounder?
Denver Nuggets: A-
The Nuggets were minor players in this bloated four-teamer, but they managed to turn a lottery-protected first into R.J. Hampton. It wasn't so long ago that he and LaMelo Ball, who also skipped college to play internationally, were viewed as similarly valuable prospects. This is a perfectly reasonable upside play, and it's possible that if Hampton meets only his median projections, he'll still provide more value than whatever Denver would have gotten with its first-rounder in 2023.
Chris Paul Joins Devin Booker in Phoenix as OKC Hoards More Picks
Phoenix Suns Receive: Chris Paul, Abdel Nader
Oklahoma City Thunder Receive: Kelly Oubre Jr., Ricky Rubio, Ty Jerome, Jalen Lecque, 2022 first-round pick
Phoenix Suns: B+
In Chris Paul, the Suns got a future Hall of Famer who should provide a major on-court upgrade this season. And they made that addition without surrendering any of their most valuable future assets.
That might make it seem like Phoenix deserves a higher grade, but a few potential concerns render this deal merely "very good" rather than "unqualifiedly great."
First, it's probably unwise to assume the 2019-20 version of Paul will be the one Phoenix gets for 2020-21 and beyond. Though it's certainly possible CP3 is as impactful (and available; Paul played 70 games for OKC last year), the safer assumption involves regression in Paul's age-35 season. Remember, Paul averaged only 59 games played from 2016-17 to 2018-19.
Skill-based guards who don't need elite quickness to survive age better than many other player types. But Paul is closer to 40 than 30; nobody sustains All-NBA-level play forever.
Phoenix is now firmly in the playoff conversation, though, with a chance to build on its 8-0 bubble run in a big way. Paul's massive salary will also come off the books after the 2021-22 season, which means the Suns shouldn't have an issue extending Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges at market rates when the time comes.
Oklahoma City Thunder: A
Already in possession of two first-rounders and two additional sets of swap rights from the deal that originally brought Paul to OKC from Houston, the Thunder got themselves an extra 2022 first by sending CP3 to Phoenix.
Add to that a protected 2021 first from the Warriors for Oubre and the 2020 first for shuttling Rubio to Minnesota, which became No. 17 pick Aleksej Pokusevski, and OKC essentially got two more firsts in the exchange. If you're scoring at home, the Thunder netted five firsts and the right to swap two firsts with the Rockets in the various Paul-related transactions they've completed over the past year or so.
OKC even got an exciting 2019-20 season and an unexpected playoff trip out of the bargain, which surely upped Paul's value and contributed to the subsequent pick haul. The Thunder crushed the Paul and Paul-adjacent deals across the board.
Kelly Oubre Jr. Helps Fill the Klay Thompson Void for Warriors
Golden State Warriors Receive: Kelly Oubre Jr.
Oklahoma City Thunder Receive: 2021 top-20-protected first-round pick (otherwise conveys as two future second-rounders)
Golden State Warriors: B
Kelly Oubre Jr. heads into his age-25 season fresh off averaging 18.7 points per game with a 56.0 true shooting percentage, both of which were career highs. The Warriors should get the best of the 6'7" wing, as they'll only ask him to play to his strengths, which include transition scoring and opportunistic, high-energy defense.
Nobody will confuse Oubre with Klay Thompson, but he's a quality starter who could become something more than that if improved shot quality helps him build on his career-best 35.2 percent hit rate from three-point range in 2019-20. If he fits well, the Dubs could look to retain him after the upcoming season.
The cost is substantial here—not so much because of the draft capital, but because of what Oubre will set Golden State back in actual dollars. Deep into the tax, the Warriors could wind up paying two or three times Oubre's salary when factoring in those penalties.
The Warriors were going to pay through the nose regardless of whom they acquired with their $17.2 million trade exception. Considering Oubre's youth and possible long-term fit, there were worse ways to use it.
Oklahoma City Thunder: A-
OKC will likely get a selection in the 20s out of this exchange. But even if the pick protection prevents it from conveying in 2021, a pair of second-rounders is a solid haul for a player on an expiring contract who (apparently) didn't feature in the Thunder's plans.
Also keep in mind that OKC generated a $14.4 million trade exception with this deal. It could use that to take on bad money with more picks attached later this season. It would be just like Oklahoma City to somehow turn an unwanted asset into multiple first-round picks.
Josh Richardson to Mavs, Seth Curry to Sixers
Philadelphia 76ers Receive: Seth Curry
Dallas Mavericks Receive: Josh Richardson, No. 36 pick (Tyler Bey)
Philadelphia 76ers: B+
Among players with at least 1,000 career attempts, Seth Curry has the second-best three-point percentage in league history. He'll go a long way toward addressing one of the Sixers' longstanding shortcomings: perimeter shooting.
Richardson may be the better overall player in a vacuum, but he floundered in a suboptimal role last year with the Sixers, and he'll likely enter unrestricted free agency in 2021 by declining his player option. Philadelphia did well to trim some of its long-term commitments in another deal (more on that shortly), but it still would have struggled to replace Richardson next offseason.
Curry is under contract for three more years at an average of around $8 million per season. The fit and finances just make sense.
Dallas Mavericks: A-
Richardson's defensive contributions matter more for the Mavs than the Sixers, making this exchange a solid win-win for both parties. With Luka Doncic running the show and Kristaps Porzingis slotted in as the No. 2 option, Richardson will return to his ideal role as a versatile wing stopper who can cut, hit at respectable rates on the catch and even run some weak-side pick-and-roll against a jumbled defense.
Just as Curry's contract status benefits the Sixers, Richardson's potentially expiring deal fits more cleanly into Dallas' plans. The Mavs want as little money on their books as possible in the 2021 offseason, and Richardson will likely decline his $11.6 million player option for 2021-22. The Mavs will be freer to pursue a max-level star with Richardson than they were with Curry, and their defense will get closer to respectability for the upcoming season.
Sixers Dump Al Horford as OKC Piles Up the Picks
Oklahoma City Thunder Receive: Danny Green, Terrance Ferguson
Philadelphia 76ers Receive: Al Horford, rights to Vasilije Micic, No. 34 pick (Theo Maledon), 2025 protected first-round pick
Oklahoma City Thunder: Incomplete
If we had to grade this deal right now, it would probably be the lowest mark of OKC's busy offseason. Somewhere in the C range, most likely.
Yes, the Thunder snagged another first-rounder along with a second, which became Theo Maledon. But those were sweeteners for taking on Horford's contract, still among the least palatable in the league.
Horford obviously struggled with the Sixers last year. He never clicked with Joel Embiid when the two were paired together, and Philly had a negative net rating with them sharing the floor. But when Horford slotted in at the 5 with Embiid off the court and Ben Simmons on, the Sixers produced a plus-6.4 net rating.
That's encouraging for OKC.
If we assume much of Horford's down year was the result of suboptimal personnel groupings and/or a Sixers scheme that didn't make the most of his game, there's a chance for some value rehab in OKC. Horford's age-34 season could be better than his age-33 season.
If Horford wants to broaden his avenues out of Oklahoma City's rebuilding situation, it would behoove him to play well. And if the Thunder want to pump up his value for a subsequent trade, they're also motivated to make him look as productive as possible.
Incentives are aligned here. If Horford's play improves and the Thunder flip him for break-even value or better, we might have to circle back and give OKC a grade in neighborhood of a B+.
Philadelphia 76ers: A-
It seems like it should have taken more than a likely late 2025 first-rounder and the No. 34 pick in 2020 to get off the remaining three years and $81 million (third year only partially guaranteed) of Horford's contract, but that's all it took for new team president Daryl Morey to get the job done.
Better still, Philly brought back a title-tested three-and-D wing in Danny Green and exciting, athletic, still kinda-sorta prospect Terrance Ferguson in the bargain.
The Sixers diversified in all the right ways here, adding shooting and youth for a modest outlay of assets.
Ideally, the 76ers wouldn't have been in a position where they had to move one of their key 2019 offseason signings so quickly. But Morey expertly played the hand he was dealt.
It's almost like one of the league's most notoriously sharp executives knows what he's doing.
Blazers Add Covington in Deal That Ultimately Sends Christian Wood to Houston
Portland Trail Blazers Receive: Robert Covington
Houston Rockets Receive: Trevor Ariza, No. 16 pick in 2020, heavily protected 2021 first-round pick
Portland Trail Blazers Grade: A-
Robert Covington is one of those rare players whose skills fit anywhere, but few teams needed his off-ball defense and low-usage three-point shooting more than the Blazers. RoCo is going to slot in perfectly as a defensive disruptor and help-side rim-protector while feasting on clean catch-and-shoot looks facilitated by Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum.
All it took to add the perfect forward was Ariza, the No. 16 pick, which turned into center Isaiah Stewart, and a future first-rounder so ridiculously protected as to sap it of nearly all value. According to Vincent Goodwill of Yahoo Sports, it's top-16-protected through 2024, top-10-protected in 2025 and 2026 and top-nine-protected in 2027. After that, it converts to two second-rounders.
Houston Rockets Grade: B
We can't consider the Rockets' return in this deal without acknowledging how it played a part in acquiring Christian Wood in a sign-and-trade exchange with the Detroit Pistons.
Houston inked the intriguing young center for three years and $41 million (a bargain considering Wood's ideal fit and considerable upside), sending Ariza, Stewart and cash to the Pistons. If we view this series of moves as one, Houston essentially swapped Covington for Wood and that heavily protected 2021 Portland first-rounder.
Wood's NBA career was on life support until his breakthrough with the Pistons. Skepticism about that small sample of success and the fact that it came in meaningless games may have contributed to a cooler-than-expected market for a skilled 25-year-old center who shot 38.6 percent from deep and averaged 21.9 points and 9.4 rebounds in a dozen starts.
Lakers Swap Danny Green for Dennis Schroder
Los Angeles Lakers Receive: Dennis Schroder
Oklahoma City Thunder Receive: Danny Green, No. 28 pick in 2020
Los Angeles Lakers: C-
Danny Green is getting up there in years and isn't the on-ball shutdown artist he was several seasons ago with the San Antonio Spurs. But he was a part of the last two league champs and would have been much easier to envision on the floor late in a Finals game than Dennis Schroder.
The Lakers should get more out of their new point guard during the regular season than Green would have given them. Schroder finished second in Sixth Man of the Year voting this past season, right behind new teammate Montrezl Harrell, and he'll keep the offense flowing against backups.
But L.A. is a true contender, and we have to view its moves through the prism of high-stakes playoff basketball. Green, even in decline, has more to offer in those critical moments than Schroder, a suspect defender whose 38.5 percent hit rate on threes last year looks like a clear outlier compared to his past accuracy.
It's encouraging that Schroder drilled 41.4 percent of his treys off the catch with OKC last season. He won't be on the ball very often with LeBron James controlling things in the moments that matter. It seems unlikely Schroder can match that figure going forward, but if he can, this grade will need to be adjusted upward.
Oklahoma City Thunder: B+
Oklahoma City rerouted Green to the Sixers in the Horford trade and also used the No. 28 selection, which became Jaden McDaniels in the move that sent Ricky Rubio to Minnesota for the No. 17 selection.
Because the Thunder have swung what feels like 47 deals, it isn't really fair to view their end of this trade in isolation. Green and that No. 28 pick indirectly returned Horford, a first in 2025, Aleksej Pokusevski and Theo Maledon, among other less significant assets.
At no point was Green a part of OKC's future plans, so we have to fold all of those other transactions into this one in order to evaluate the return. As was the case with the Horford trade we hit earlier, much depends on what OKC can extract in a later deal for the veteran center.
Already, the Thunder have an exciting lottery ticket in Pokusevski, along with that 2025 first. If that was all they got for Schroder, the return would be solid. If Horford winds up yielding positive value, this will look even better for OKC.