Realistic Deals for NBA's Least-Tradable Contracts
The word "untradable" has been dropped from the NBA lexicon.
There are differing degrees of tradability, but recent history has hammered home the point that no contract is impossible to move.
From Russell Westbrook to John Wall and Chris Paul to Al Horford, so many pacts that might've been characterized as such at one point have moved from one franchise's ledger to another in recent years.
This typically happens one of two ways. Usually, the team acquiring said albatross must be incentivized to do so. When the Oklahoma City Thunder took Horford off the Philadelphia 76ers' hands this offseason, for instance, they added both freshman floor general Theo Maledon and a future first-round pick.
The other avenue involves the direct swap of bloated salaries. Westbrook has been involved in this type of transaction each of the past two offseasons, first dealt by OKC to the Houston Rockets for Chris Paul and picks, then traded by the Rockets to the Washington Wizards for Wall and a future first.
Since the worst of the worst contracts can be moved around, let's conjure up some trade-machine magic and uncover realistic swaps involving the toughest-to-trade salaries.
Blake Griffin, Detroit Pistons (2 Years, $75.8 Million)
Oklahoma City Thunder receive: Blake Griffin and 2021 second-round pick (via TOR)
Detroit Pistons receive: Al Horford, Darius Miller and Ty Jerome
The best thing to say about Blake Griffin's deal is that it's down to its final two seasons. Technically, his 2021-22 salary is a $39 million player option, but if you've ever watched the now-ground-bound version of Griffin, you know he isn't leaving that kind of coin on the table.
After hammering down 38 dunks in the 2018-19 season, he has just five in the past two combined—and not a single slam comes from the current campaign. That helps explain how the career 49.6 percent shooter has connected on just 35.7 percent of his shots since the start of 2019-20.
Mapping his way out of the Motor City in a realistic manner is tough.
"If this season was about proving his worth to a potential trade partner who could use a recent All-NBA talent in a push for the Finals, the early returns have surely dampened any such interest," The Ringer's Zach Kram wrote. "Griffin's contract ... already made for a tough trade fit, and now he's not playing well enough to make any deal worth it."
The natural question, then, is why the Thunder would be remotely interested in acquiring Griffin. A couple of factors work it within the realm of possibility.
For starters, Griffin's contract comes off the books in 2021-22. Al Horford will still have a $26.5 million salary ($14.5 million guaranteed) for 2022-23. That's not an insignificant deal. By then, this up-and-coming Thunder roster might be in a position to justify adding a big-ticket item or two. If not, OKC could use the added flexibility in other trades that bring back roster-building assets.
There's also a chance—albeit a slim one—that Griffin isn't completely washed. He was an All-NBA third-teamer in 2018-19, after all. If he can become a complementary part of this core, his playmaking could elevate the players around him, and the fact he's a Sooner State native and Oklahoma alumnus might make him a marketing draw for the franchise.
The Pistons, meanwhile, might deem Horford an easier roster fit since he's less ball-dominant (2.03 seconds per touch compared to Griffin's 2.97) and would free more minutes at the 4 for Jerami Grant and Sekou Doumbouya.
Detroit would deal the second-rounder to deepen its backcourt with Ty Jerome, a 2019 first-round pick, and it should have the minutes to showcase Darius Miller in case he attracts a shooting-starved contender between now and the deadline.
Kevin Love, Cleveland Cavaliers (3 Years, $91.5 Million)
Washington Wizards receive: Kevin Love
Cleveland Cavaliers receive: Davis Bertans, Troy Brown Jr., Robin Lopez, 2022 second-round pick (via CHI, DET or LAL) and 2023 second-round pick (via CHI) (after Feb. 20)
Few teams, if any, could talk themselves into Kevin Love still qualifying as a legitimate difference-maker. The former focal point now handles support duties—when healthy—primarily consisting of floor-spacing, ball-moving and glass-cleaning.
"He's a complementary player," an NBA scout told B/R's Greg Swartz last season. "Fourth piece on a contending team."
The Wizards, of course, are nowhere near title contention. But if they're determined to keep moving forward with Bradley Beal—that's still the word out of Washington, per B/R's Jake Fischer—they might be desperate enough to move actual assets for Love. If nothing else, a swap might show the kind of commitment the clearly frustrated Beal needs to see.
Having Love provide spacing from the frontcourt could offset some of the lane-clogging issues that come along with giving Russell Westbrook heavy minutes. He could also grease some offensive gears for Westbrook as a pick-and-pop partner and an elite outlet passer. He wouldn't help the Wizards' 29th-ranked defense, but Washington clearly isn't planning on winning many contests at that end.
Does this meet the Cavs' desire for "some combination of draft picks and young, ascending players for Love," as Cleveland.com's Chris Fedor previously reported? Considering that came back in July 2020, perhaps the Cavs have settled on a more reasonable asking price since. With Love past his 32nd birthday and navigating his way back from yet another injury (this time a strained calf), this might be as good as it can get for Cleveland.
Troy Brown Jr., the 15th pick in 2018, can't get a ton of run with the Wizards, but he still intrigues as a 21-year-old 6'6" playmaker with two-way versatility. The second-round picks would offer two more throws at the dartboard, and the 2022 choice could be early (it's the most favorable of all three teams).
Davis Bertans has been mired in a shooting funk since the ink dried on his five-year, $80 million deal, but if he rediscovers his touch—a safe bet for a career 40.3 percent three-point shooter—he'd be a jumbo spacer who could clear congestion for Collin Sexton and Darius Garland to attack. Robin Lopez could add frontcourt depth or perhaps be flipped to a win-now team lacking size and experience on the interior.
Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors (4 Years, $157.2 Million)
Indiana Pacers receive: Klay Thompson and Jordan Poole
Golden State Warriors receive: Myles Turner, Jeremy Lamb and Justin Holiday (after Feb. 18)
Splitting up the Splash Brothers? Say it isn't so.
OK, we will. There's zero indication out of Northern California the Warriors would even entertain the idea. In fact, any hopes they're entertaining of returning to title contention in 2021-22 heavily involve a healthy Klay Thompson.
But the fact that the "healthy" qualifier must be attached is why the five-time All-Star gets mentioned in the worst-contracts conversation. The next time he takes the floor will be the first time since June 2019 due to the ACL tear that wiped out last season and the torn Achilles that erased this one. Considering his 31st birthday is behind him, he's now racing against time to recapture what's left of his prime.
That might be one red flag too many for Golden State to risk another year of Stephen Curry's apex. Instead, the Warriors could broker a Thompson trade to bulk up their frontcourt and depth.
Golden State has already seen that rookie center James Wiseman requires more seasoning, so a trade for Myles Turner would let the club practice patience on that front. Turner would perk up the paint protection and stretch out opposing defenses as a 6'11", 250-pounder with a three-ball. Jeremy Lamb could slide into Thompson's vacated spot, while Justin Holiday could handle a reserve role like he did for the 2014-15 Dubs.
Indiana would need to make two concessions to sign off on the swap. The first would be that the Turner-Domantas Sabonis frontcourt isn't built to win the biggest games in the modern NBA. Slicing it in half would also open up the stretch 4 spot in which T.J. Warren shined during the bubble.
The second would involve the Pacers feeling they don't have the star power to escape the East. If Thompson returns to form, his perimeter stroke and incendiary scoring might nudge Indy's 11th-ranked offense closer to the elites.
Finally, the Pacers would hope they could stumble into some off-the-dribble scoring with Jordan Poole, a 2019 first-round pick struggling to get his career going.
John Wall, Houston Rockets (3 Years, $132.9 Million)
Los Angeles Clippers receive: John Wall, Ben McLemore, Danuel House Jr., 2021 second-round pick, 2022 first-round pick (via MIL) and 2024 second-round pick
Houston Rockets receive: Lou Williams, Patrick Beverley, Marcus Morris Sr., Ivica Zubac and Luke Kennard
Houston has proved (far) friskier than expected on this side of the James Harden trade, posting an 8-5 record with the league's sixth-best net rating (plus-5.3). For some, maybe that's motivation to keep this core together and see where things could head.
But what would the end game be? This isn't a championship contender now, and it's woefully short on avenues to internal improvement. Plus, the recent success is open to skepticism since the post-Harden Rockets have defeated just one team in current possession of a playoff spot (the Portland Trail Blazers, who were playing without CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic).
Tearing down and rebuilding around Christian Wood remains the most logical step forward. This deal would shed what's left of John Wall's colossal contract, net a pair of long-term keepers in Ivica Zubac and Luke Kennard and add three veterans who could be plugged into the rotation or moved for assets in future trades.
Wall has exceeded most reasonable expectations so far, but he's still a 30-year-old with a frightening injury history. Plus, he was overpaid before a rash of medical misfortunes forced a two-year layoff. He had never been the best player on a great team, and his shooting limitations have led to some logistical issues in the half court.
For the Clippers, though, he might be the playmaker they need.
Kawhi Leonard's reported request for a point guard upgrade was never really addressed. This would do it—just ahead of Leonard's potential venture into unrestricted free agency—in the form of a five-time All-Star and career supplier of 9.1 assists per game.
L.A. could also round out its wing collection with Ben McLemore and Danuel House Jr., plus add a trio of picks (a concession for Wall's contract cost) to develop or go shopping for more.
Russell Westbrook, Washington Wizards (3 Years, $132.6 Million)
Chicago Bulls receive: Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal
Washington Wizards receive: Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, Coby White, Otto Porter Jr., Cristiano Felicio and 2021 first-round pick (top-five protected)
Finding a new home for Russell Westbrook is just on this side of impossible. His contract is enormous, and his playstyle is anything but easy on the eyes. Switching from the film to the stat sheet does him no favors. He leads the league in turnovers (4.9 per game) and has the second-worst field-goal percentage among all players averaging 17-plus shots (41.3).
But he is teammates with Bradley Beal, and if the backcourt could move together, you can start to squeeze out some possible suitors. The Bulls might be atop that list. Chicago seems on the road to nowhere without an elite on the roster. The new front office also shouldn't be married to much of this core since it was mostly in place before the new decision-makers assumed control.
The Bulls quietly have a decent asset collection from which to pull, and they're reportedly ready to push in some of their best chips if Beal hits the open market.
"I would tell you that the Bulls, if they're gonna trade a guy like Zach LaVine, who's having a career season, would want to trade him for someone like Bradley Beal," ESPN's Brian Windhorst said on The Jump.
Beal should be enormously expensive on a trade market that set Jrue Holiday's value at three first-round picks. A way for Chicago to save a good chunk of that draft capital would be taking back Westbrook's deal. If the Bulls don't balk at the money, they'd be bringing back an absurdly productive pair of guards with 11 All-Star selections between them.
If Washington wants to reload instead of undergoing a full reset, this would net some established contributors while still offering considerable upside. LaVine is having an All-Star season, Coby White packs a mean scoring punch, and Lauri Markkanen still looks like a matchup nightmare when he's healthy.
Throw in former Wizard Otto Porter Jr., a lightly protected first and gobs of cap savings, and there might be enough here for Washington to pull the trigger.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.