BS Meter on Latest NBA Trade, Draft, Free-Agency Rumors

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistJuly 21, 2021

BS Meter on Latest NBA Trade, Draft, Free-Agency Rumors

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    Jim Rassol/Associated Press

    Come one, come all, you're just in time for another trip down the NBA's rumor-mill vortex.

    All sorts of chatter is heating up inside two weeks of the 2021 draft and free agency. The latest batch of intel is particularly heavy on latter happenings. Lonzo Ball (restricted), Kyle Lowry, Norman Powell and potential cost-cutting measures aimed at maximizing free-agency windows are all generating some buzz at the moment.

    Let's discuss them, and more, shall we?

    Remember: The "B.S. Meter" is not meant to trash the highlighted reporting. Every tidbit here is included because it holds meaningful weight. Our B.S. meter is designed only to gauge what we should make of each situation—if anything.

Pelicans Interested in Kyle Lowry

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    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    Pressure to win is rapidly crescendoing in New Orleans these days. It's not particularly hard to see why.

    Executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin is on his second head coaching hire (Willie Green) in as many offseasons. Zion Williamson is already really good and either he or his family isn't happy with the Pelicans' vibes. Brandon Ingram is one year into a max contract. New Orleans invested biggish money in Steven Adams last offseason with a two-year, $35 million extension. Lonzo Ball (restricted) and Josh Hart (restricted) will require significant raises this summer.

    Every team has issues, but the Pelicans are incurring problems typically undertaken by entrenched playoff squads. They certainly aren't that. They're fresh off two years of relative underachieving in which they failed to crack the play-in tournament.

    Urgency is their obligation. And it seems they're prepared to meet it. They are among the teams who plan "to enter the race" for Kyle Lowry in free agency, according to NBA reporter Marc Stein.

    New Orleans' interest in the 35-year-old is unimpeachable. It needs a floor general who can help set up the offense and put pressure on defenses in half-court situations, and who also has no qualms working off other primary ball-handlers. Lowry checks all the boxes and plays with a motor that inspires those around him to run through a brick wall on both ends of a round trip to hell.

    Figuring out how the Pelicans can bag him is less of a given. They won't have cap space to start the offseason; they could have some luxury-tax concerns if they re-sign both Lonzo and Hart.

    Brokering a sign-and-trade with the Toronto Raptors would be New Orleans' most efficient, if only, path to Lowry. And it isn't particularly hard to cobble together different permutations. The Pelicans can attach picks and/or Nickeil Alexander-Walker to Adams or Eric Bledsoe, or they could gauge the Raptors' affinity for a dual sign-and-trade involving Lonzo.

    This all presumes Lowry wants to play in New Orleans. That might be a reach. The Pelicans will be much scarier with him co-starring beside Ingram and Zion—and absolutely harrowing if they keep Lonzo in the process. But they still won't be in the same class as the Western Conference's foremost contenders.

    Lowry will enjoy better title odds in Dallas, Miami, Philadelphia (if he can find his way there) and even Toronto. If the Pelicans win him over, it's probably because they came over the top with a contract offer (via sign-and-trade) that blows the rest of the market to smithereens. And, frankly, that'd still be a huge W for them.

    B.S. Meter: New Orleans' interest in Lowry is eminently believable. Its path to getting him is a different story.

Heat, Kings, Knicks, Rockets and Sixers All Chasing Damian Lillard

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Damian Lillard hasn't officially hit the trade block, but that hasn't stopped rival teams from spamming Portland Trail Blazers general manager Neil Olshey with inquiries. The Houston Rockets, Miami Heat, New York Knicks, Philadelphia 76ers and Sacramento Kings "have recently been the most aggressive suitors" in pursuit of Lillard, according to The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor.

    Fans of those five squads should slow their roll before ordering custom-made No. 0 jerseys. O'Connor added that "few team executives" believe the Blazers will trade Lillard this offseason.

    Still, you can understand why Houston, Miami, New York, Philadelphia, Sacramento and approximately 24 other teams are contacting Portland anyway.

    TrueHoop's Henry Abbott recently wrote that a "source close to Lillard says that in the days to come, he plans to request a trade." Lillard rebuffed that notion while speaking with reporters after a Team USA practice but openly applied pressure on the organization to transform itself into an actual contender. He also gave an interview to Yahoo Sports' Chris Haynes during which he danced around the idea of a trade request without officially delivering one.

    This is all to say: Teams aren't chasing Lillard based on random whims or gut feelings. Plenty of smoke is emanating from Portland, and Lillard's contract situation—four years, $176.2 million with a 2024-25 player option—doesn't protect the Blazers against the nightmare scenario.

    Sure, they can theoretically just ignore Lillard's trade demand if and when it comes. But the optics of that won't fly long term. Agents and other players are always watching these situations, and front offices are keenly aware of it. That's partly why teams are not only inclined to indulge trade requests but often facilitate arrivals to preferred destinations.

    Yet, even when operating under the "Stars always have all the leverage" guise, it still feels like we're at least an offseason away from Lillard forcing the Blazers' hand. Everything he's said since their playoff run ended is at once dour and without concrete mandate. He sounds like someone who still wants to win in Portland and is prepared to give the Blazers a chance to construct a roster worthy of his doing so.

    How much time that buys Olshey and Co. is anyone's guess. Lillard is clearly looking for more immediate results. Playing the "Trust me' card is a good way to exacerbate his unhappiness. If the Blazers do nothing to materially change the roster during the height of free agency and trade season, then anything's on the table. But they'll do something. They have to. Not even Olshey is stubborn enough to try selling a disgruntled Lillard on moves solely made around the margins again. (Right?)

    B.S. Meter: Teams should keep blowing up Portland's phone, but Lillard's situation seems like it'll at least spill into next season.

Portland Making Norman Powell a Priority in Free Agency

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    Speaking of the Blazers: They have other matters that need tending—like Norman Powell's free agency. He declined his $11.6 million player option and is now set to hit the open market, where a shallow pool of available talent ensures he'll be met by sales pitches galore.

    Letting Powell walk after giving up Gary Trent Jr. to get him and when Damian Lillard's thumb is hovering over the "Trade me" button would be quite the decision. Not surprisingly, the Blazers are opting for the more sensible course. Re-signing Powell is a "top priority" for them, according to Haynes.

    That's a good call by Portland. And the only call. And an expensive call.

    Powell is coming off a career year in which he averaged 18.6 points while downing 53.2 percent of his twos and 41.1 percent of his threes. Lillard, Stephen Curry and Zach LaVine were the only players to match or exceed Powell's true shooting percentage (61.8) while clearing 18 points per game and attempting as many triples.

    Something in the neighborhood of $15 to $18 million, if not more, feels totally realistic for Powell. It's also a price point that could make the Blazers flinch. They have $70 million combined invested in Lillard and CJ McCollum next season. Paying Powell could leave them with $90 million or so committed to three players shorter than 6'4".

    Backing up the Brinks truck for Norm could signal an openness to deal McCollum. But that doesn't change the cap sheet. The Blazers will enter the offseason roughly one new contract for Powell away from the luxury tax, and they're not flipping McCollum as part of a cost-cutting maneuver.

    Re-signing Powell is instead akin to embracing a steeper luxury-tax bill. Maybe that's not a problem, and fans definitely shouldn't care about protecting billionaire pockets. But cannonballing into the tax simply to preserve a roster not good enough to win the title is hardly ideal. Keeping Powell isn't a panacea for Dame's displeasure and should be seen as the first step in part of a larger, more complicated offseason process.

    B.S. Meter: Portland needs to re-sign Powell—and do so much more.

Chicago Targeting Dinwiddie, Lonzo, Lowry and Schroder

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    Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    Zach LaVine trade machine enthusiasts should avert their eyes. The Chicago Bulls apparently aren't done trying to speed up their window.

    Point guard remains their biggest area of need, and the list of solutions they're considering implies a willingness to break open the piggy bank, per Action Network's Matt Moore: Lonzo Ball (restricted), Spencer Dinwiddie, Kyle Lowry and Dennis Schroder.

    Affording any one of these options will be tricky and could demand the Bulls explore sign-and-trade scenarios. They can get to around $25 million in room if they renounce all their own free agents and waive partially guaranteed deals for Tomas Satoransky and Thaddeus Young, but that results in a pretty bare-bones supporting cast. Also: A chunk of any cap space they create could go toward a renegotiate-and-extend with Zach LaVine.

    Hashing out sign-and-trades is cleaner, particularly if the Bulls want to adjust LaVine's salary for next season. And fortunately for them, all four of their options hail from teams that should be open to talking shop.

    Lonzo can feasibly price himself out of New Orleans. Dinwiddie's skill set is superfluous to a Brooklyn team with Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving. Toronto should want to capitalize on Lowry's potential departure after deciding not to move him at the trade deadline. And the Los Angeles Lakers should welcome any chance to turn Schroder into assets if they don't want to him.

    Whether the Bulls have the trade chips to pique the interest of incumbent teams is a separate matter. Brooklyn could definitely use Young. And maybe some squads will have interest in a dual sign-and-trade involving Lauri Markkanen. But that's not exactly a treasure-trove offering.

    The Bulls also need at least one of Ball, Dinwiddie, Lowry and Schroder to want them back. That's not a given—especially with a 35-year-old Lowry.

    Ball, Dinwiddie and Schroder should all be more gettable, but to what end? The Bulls probably aren't seducing most free agents on the merits of their immediate outlook. They need to outbid the rest of the market—a precarious move for a franchise that can't yet guarantee its best player will be in town beyond next season.

    B.S. Meter: Buy Chicago's interest in landing a major upgrade at point guard. Sell its potential to do it.

Utah Looking to Offload Salary or Make Major Move

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    Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    Absent any wiggle room under the luxury tax, let alone actual cap space, the Utah Jazz are open to all sorts of trade scenarios, according to Moore:

    "Multiple league sources indicated this week that the Jazz were open to trade discussions. The consensus is that Derrick Favors is not only available, but Utah is eager to move him to clear his roughly $20 million in remaining salary (including a $10 million player option for 2022-23). However, sources suggested that Bojan Bogdanovic and Joe Ingles were also bandied about as available if the Jazz could get a significant upgrade, which would be a major shakeup for the team, especially with Mike Conley headed to unrestricted free agency this summer."

    Dangling Bogdanovic, plus other stuff, is the way to go if the Jazz are looking to shake up or meaningfully improve the roster. The two years and $38.3 million left on his deal isn't exactly a bargain, but he's a dependable secondary scorer who just drilled 50 percent of his pull-up threes during the playoffs. They shouldn't have an issue attaching sweeteners to him (like the No. 30 pick) in consolidation trades or flipping him into two more manageable contracts.

    Offloading the two years and $19.9 million Favors is owed profiles as more pressing if the Jazz are looking to run it back. They forecast as a tax-paying team before baking in a new contract for Mike Conley. Paying him $20 to $25 million per year could be seen as untenable in their eyes without trimming costs elsewhere. They paid the tax this year, but there's a huge difference between going $3.3 million over and $25-plus million.

    Sending Favors into another team's cap space stands to save Utah a ton. But it's not quite clear what type of buffer that'll require. Favors will only be valuable to certain teams, most of which will view him as a backup center. Forking over about $10 million per year for a second-string 5 is on the higher end, so unless the Jazz are swallowing money in return, they may need to surrender their first-rounder to grease the wheels.

    B.S. Meter: Expect the Jazz to do something medium-sized on the trade market this summer.

    Unless otherwise noted, stats courtesy of NBA.comBasketball ReferenceStathead or Cleaning the Glass. Salary information via Basketball Insiders and Spotrac.

    Dan Favale covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter (@danfavale), and listen to his Hardwood Knocks podcast, co-hosted by NBA Math's Adam Fromal.


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