Grading the Biggest Trades from Wild NBA Draft Day
Chaos reigned supreme during the 2021 NBA draft.
Prospects fell. And fell. And then fell some more. The New York Knicks became allergic to keeping their own first-rounders. More prospects fell.
Oh, yeah: Russell Westbrook is now a member of the Los Angeles Lakers.
Perhaps you're among those disappointed Bradley Beal, Pascal Siakam and Ben Simmons remain on their respective teams. I get it. But one, there's plenty of offseason yet to unfold. And two, the draft still delivered plenty of trades that warrant breaking out the red pen.
Please note only the most significant trades completed on draft day are included in this exercise. Deals that solely included 2021 picks will be left out as well since that gets into strictly grading this year's draft selections—something my mega-awesome colleague Zach Buckley has already done.
Derrick Favors to OKC
Oklahoma City Thunder Receive: Derrick Favors, future first-round pick
Utah Jazz Receive: Future second-round pick
Thunder executive vice president Sam Presti will have enough future first-round picks someday. Just not today.
This is a witty long-term play by Oklahoma City. It was never going to use the almost $37 million in cap space for which it was ticketed, and flipping No. 16 to Houston meant the team had one more roster spot relative to draft-night expectations.
Swallowing Favors' salary isn't nothing. He is owed two years and $19.9 million (2022-23 player option) and looked a few steps slower on defense last season. But the Thunder don't project to be glittery spenders during that span, and their center rotation is thin enough that he fills an immediate need. This is a worthwhile cost of entry for a future first-rounder from the Jazz, even without knowing the exact parameters.
Utah already traded No. 30 and owes its 2022 first-rounder to Memphis with top-six protection. The earliest it can send Oklahoma City a pick is 2024. Almost anything could happen between now and then. The Jazz are working off a regular season in which they owned the league's best record, but their core isn't exactly young.
The Thunder have, in essence, acquired another distant first-rounder with the kind of mystery-box appeal that can help soup up trade talks whenever they're ready to make a buy-now acquisition.
Using future firsts to dip further below the luxury tax is not noble. This move by the Jazz is no exception, not even after paying the tax in 2020-21. But it is different.
Utah isn't dumping Favors to avoid the tax altogether. It is between $13 million and $14 million below the line as of now. Re-signing Mike Conley still stands to vault it above the threshold. This is less about being inexplicably cheap and more about sparing themselves from a $50-plus million tax hit—an untenable bill for a team outside the flagship glamour markets.
That's not to say the Jazz deserve a round of applause. They don't. They just had to use a future first-rounder to undo a deal they never should've offered in the first place.
Favors' three-year, $27 million pact smelled like an overpay last year and is giving off an even stronger stench now. Investing in backup bigs is not taboo, but his defense started slipping during the latter half of his season in New Orleans, and burning your entire mid-level exception on someone to spell Rudy Gobert for 15 minutes per game is hardly the best use of resources.
The exact details on this pick will matter. Utah's grade can improve if it turns into an afterthought selection.
Conversely, its grade can get worse. The Jazz are, presumably, making this move to ensure they can re-sign Conley. That's great. Right now. But he turns 34 in October. So does Joe Ingles. Bojan Bogdanovic is 32. The core around Gobert and Donovan Mitchell won't be around forever.
The Jazz's outlook is mostly rosy so long as they have both, but they're not assured title-contender status for the next three to five years. Trading another first-round pick so far off into the distance is a risk—a calculated and justifiable one, but a risk all the same.
Landry Shamet to Phoenix
Brooklyn Nets Receive: Jevon Carter, No. 29 (Day'Ron Sharpe)
Phoenix Suns Receive: Landry Shamet
Landry Shamet is a better player than his resume suggests. He has now been traded three times before entering his fourth season, a somewhat wild development for a 6'4” guard who's shooting 38.7 percent from deep for his career.
But the Nets don't have as much use for Shamet as his previous teams. His extension eligibility is also part of the calculus. They have three max superstars on their roster, along with a handsomely paid Joe Harris. Even championship favorites will look to pinch pennies.
Parlaying Shamet into two cost-controlled assets spares the Nets from Shamet's payday and deepens their rotation in process. Jevon Carter fell out of the Suns' game plan this past season after an otherworldly performance in the Disney bubble, but he's a low-usage point guard who has shown he can stroke threes and hound opponents on defense end-to-end. Brooklyn certainly needs the latter, and his two-year, $7.6 million price point is modest at worst.
Ending up with Day'Ron Sharpe at No. 29 is...interesting. Smarter people than me envision someone who will be able to expand his offensive game amid NBA spacing. I don't see that same range. Too much of his offensive usage came in high-low actions at UNC.
That doesn't make it a bad pick. Sharpe is tall, sturdy and will gobble up rebounds at both ends.
Loving this trade for the Suns is much harder knowing Jared Butler and Miles McBride were on the board at No. 29. The logic is still justifiable.
Phoenix hasn't had a true backup 2-guard in, like, forever. Shamet arms them with one who can splash in threes off motion and take on some extra ball-handling responsibilities. (He hinted at real depth in the latter department during his time with the Clippers.) He is also some insurance against the departure of Cameron Payne in free agency.
Skeptics will worry about the Suns' willingness to pony up for their own talent. Chris Paul has a $44.2 million player option for next season and will cost a pretty penny whether he picks it up and extends off that number or signs an entirely new deal. Luxury-tax concerns could get real in Phoenix. They'll be fait accompli next year, when Deandre Ayton, Mikal Bridges and Landry Shamet are all on new deals.
Worrying about 2022-23 is overrated. CP3 is beyond likely to stay now that Lakers fans' primary pipe dream is off the table following the Russell Westbrook trade. This deal infers a commitment to strengthening a title contender through at least next season.
Ricky Rubio to Cleveland
Cleveland Cavaliers Receive: Ricky Rubio
Minnesota Timberwolves: Taurean Prince, Washington's 2022 second-round pick, cash
Cleveland is absorbing an extra $4.8 million in salary by going from Taurean Prince to Ricky Rubio. That's perfectly fine. Rubio has more value to them as a backup point guard who can help spare Collin Sexton from too much playmaking responsibilities in bench-heavy units, and the Cavs never projected as a cap-space team with Jarrett Allen's restricted free-agent hold on the books.
Lineups featuring Allen, Rubio and Isaac Okoro should be special on defense. Throw Larry Nance Jr. in there too. Rubio slipped defensively in Minnesota last season, but he can still be pesky and force turnovers at the point of attack.
His offense is probably the larger concern. He remains a crafty playmaker who flings smooth drop-offs on the move, and his post-entry passes are works of art. But his set outside shooting returned to solid ground in Minny, and he has never converted more than 57 percent of his looks at the rim.
There will be times when his relative unwillingness to take shots at all is an issue. Last year's 16.0 usage rate was the lowest of his career.
Taking a chance on Rubio still tracks for a Cavs team that can use veteran savvy in the backcourt. Rubio is only entering his age-31 season. He could have a bounce-back season.
Shipping out a second-rounder—one that could feasibly fall in the 30s, no less—just doesn't sit right. Cleveland helped Minnesota increase its maneuverability below the tax and gave up a pick. That doesn't quite compute when the inbound player won't factor into the team's bigger picture.
Jarred Vanderbilt fans can rejoice. The Timberwolves' only notable free agent has an unobstructed path to re-signing. They are now nearly $8 million below the luxury tax, which will allow them to retain the human energy drink without running into a cost-conscious wall.
Prince has some immediate value as well. His defense is touch-and-go at best, but he's a body to roll out at the 4, and Minnesota has the personnel to maximize his offense. Prince is best when operating within a specific role. Giving him too much on-ball license is a recipe for frittering away possessions, but he's a career 37 percent three-point shooter who can dot Anthony Edwards' dribble penetration, D'Angelo Russell-piloted pick-and-rolls and Karl-Anthony Towns' everything.
This assumes the Timberwolves are going to keep him. They might not.
Team president Gersson Rosas hasn't shied away from chances to futz and fiddle. He may look to dump additional salary in hopes of unlocking the bigger mid-level exception while still shirking the tax. Prince's $13 million expiring contract also works as a mutable matching anchor in trades. He is expensive enough to serve as the financial foundation when attached to picks or cost-controlled prospects but is cheap enough to be combined with other players on steeper pay grades.
Clearing the way for Vanderbilt's return—or just more flexibility in general—without selling low on Jarrett Culver registers as another victory. The biggest win of all, though, might be snaring a second-rounder from a Wizards team that just veered off the playoffs-at-all-costs path.
Mason Plumlee to Charlotte
Charlotte Hornets Receive: Mason Plumlee, No. 37 (JT Thor)
Detroit Pistons Receive: No. 57 (Balsa Koprivica)
Anyone hoping the Hornets would spend big on a center in free agency will be disappointed. They traded their way out of $20-plus million in cap space by taking on Mason Plumlee's $8.1 million salary.
Whatever. The center market isn't teeming with star-level options. Charlotte's best-case scenario consisted of backing up the Brinks truck for Jarrett Allen (restricted) or Richaun Holmes. Both would be gnarly fits, but the Hornets aren't yet more than postseason blips. The time for all-in investments isn't necessarily now.
Plumlee is a solid offensive stopgap in the middle. Starting centers off their rookie deals usually make more than sub-$9 million per year, and the Hornets can use him as a steadying presence over the next two seasons while they let Kai Jones, who they drafted at No. 19, marinate as a backup and in the G League.
Playing Plumlee comes with a defensive trade-off. He is human toast when pulled too far away from the basket. But his offensive skill set is more than serviceable. The Pistons often used him to facilitate action from the post, and his finishing at the rim was otherworldly last season. He shot a career-high 79.5 percent inside three feet and averaged 1.5 points per possession as a cutter—the sixth-best mark among 84 players to finish at least 50 such touches. LaMelo Ball can have fun with him in the half court.
Acquiring Plumlee still gives the Hornets an opportunity to work with cap space if they want. They could also just carry Malik Monk's restricted free-agent hold and dangle the non-taxpayer's mid-level exception, valued at more than $9.5 million. Either way, between Plumlee and drafting Jones and the 6'9" JT Thor, they've freed themselves up to focus on wings who pack a defensive punch.
Detroit treated Plumlee as a net negative in this trade, which is a little surprising given the offensive utility he provided with minimal talent around him. Moving down 20 spots to lop off the two years and $16.7 million he's owed isn't egregious, but given some of the prospects who fell past No. 37 (Jared Butler, Ayo Dosunmu), it feels like the Pistons should've held serve rather than chiseling out cap space.
Then again: They have cap space.
Wiping Plumlee's money from the ledger gives them access to more than $18 million in spending power if they so choose. They can use that cash to make some nifty grabs on the open market—not unlike what they did with Jerami Grant last year.
Trading Plumlee is fine even if the Pistons are more bent on talent retention (Hamidou Diallo, Wayne Ellington, Dennis Smith Jr.). They were a little too tank-proof when left untouched. A Rookie of the Year push from Cade Cunningham can feasibly move them out of high-lottery territory.
Beyond the preservation of a low floor, Detroit is now more married to Isaiah Stewart's development. After watching his defensive energy and seeing his dalliance with set threes, that counts as a win.
Russell Westbrook to the Lakers
Los Angeles Lakers Receive: Russell Westbrook
Washington Wizards Receive: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Montrezl Harrell, Kyle Kuzma, No. 22 pick (Isaiah Jackson, who was sent to Indiana)
This is not an unreasonable price to pay for Russell Westbrook in a vacuum. He remains one of the NBA's most divisive figures, but he cobbled together legitimately transcendent stretches in Houston (after it punted on playing true bigs) and Washington (once his quad injury healed). The Lakers acquired another star—not just a third-best player, but a viable, actual star.
Westbrook's fit in L.A. is nevertheless flimsy. He'll provide the most value during minutes the Lakers play sans LeBron James. Their offense ranked in the 23rd percentile without him this past year and has been a half-court disaster through each of the past two seasons when he sits.
Carrying the Lakers during those stints is within Westbrook's wheelhouse. He continues to put a ton of pressure on defenses with raw, explosive athleticism—even at the age of 32. (He turns 33 in November.) That downhill velocity creates easier looks for others. Trae Young was the only player last season who tallied more assists at the rim, according to PBP Stats.
Still, bringing in Westbrook marks yet another counterintuitive shift away from shooting. He is a career 30.5 percent sniper on threes and posted an effective field-goal percentage of 40.4 on pull-up jumpers this past year—the fifth-lowest mark among 61 players who averaged at least five such attempts per game. It is worth noting Anthony Davis' effective field-goal percentage on these looks (39.7) ranked 58th within the same group.
Spacing is more than just shooting. At the same time, shooting is pretty friggin' important. The Lakers didn't have enough of it in the first place. They were 23rd and 20th in three-point-attempt rate and accuracy, respectively...and just traded away their two leaders in made triples. If Davis doesn't play more 5 next season, there will be an overreliance on ungodly clumpy lineups in which Los Angeles deploys four non-shooters.
By acquiring Westbrook rather than prioritizing sign-and-trade scenarios, the Lakers are not currently hard-capped. That more easily allows them to facilitate sign-and-trades of their own players, namely Dennis Schroder, in exchange for alternative assets. But they just gave up more to get Westbrook than it would have cost them to land Kyle Lowry at last March's deadline. Though Westbrook could—emphasis on could—be the better player overall, Lowry is the much snugger fit.
The Lakers still have free agency to go through, so an element of wait-and-see remains in play. This deal also looks a lot different if they can expand it to reel in Buddy Hield. But that would require sending out more than $53.5 million in matching salary, something achievable only by brokering an internal sign-and-trade or two. Bleacher Report's Eric Pincus poured cold water all over this scenario.
Make no mistake, the Lakers have more top-end talent. How much better they'll be, if at all, remains to be seen. Looking at the rest of the roster, Westbrook is for now more floor-raiser than anything else.
Many immediately interpreted the Westbrook selloff as a precursor to Bradley Beal's exit. It apparently won't be. He currently has no intention of requesting a trade, per The Athletic's Shams Charania.
This trade is solid for the Wizards even if Beal's allegiance starts to waver. They were not close to championship contention as previously constructed. They cleared more than $5 million from the ledger this summer and more than $25 million from their 2022-23 cap sheet (assuming they waive Kentavious Caldwell-Pope) while bagging another first-rounder.
That added flexibility is valuable with or without Beal. If he leaves in 2022 free agency (player option), their books verge on a blank slate. If he stays, they have a path to meaningful cap space that didn't exist before. Between that and their modest collection of intriguing prospects, they will have the asset juice to go wild on the trade market and during free agency.
In the meantime, the Wizards can field lineups with serious shooting. KCP and Kuzma aren't the most lights-out assassins, but neither needs to play on-ball in volume. Unless Washington adds more depth at point guard, Kuz might get a chance to turn the clock back to his rookie season and experiment with more self-creation.
It is imperative not to view this trade through the Wizards' immediate lens. They might be skirting a playoff chase next season. But it takes gall to recognize that you're not good enough with a superstar on the verge of entering free agency. They're prioritizing bigger swings with a more malleable slate. Kudos to Beal for riding with them. Props to the Wizards for making this call even if it turns out he's not.
Aaron Holiday to Washington
Indiana Pacers Receive: No. 22 (Isaiah Jackson)
Washington Wizards Receive: Aaron Holiday, No. 31 (Isaiah Todd)
Aaron Holiday was never really put in a position to succeed with the Pacers. His role was all over the place, and he so often found himself matched up on defense with much bigger players who weren't exactly stationary.
Granted, he didn't do himself any favors. His offensive swings were wild. He looked uncomfortable on possessions in which he was saddled with floor-general duty, and his jet-fuel drives were mitigated last season by a suboptimal 48.1 percent clip inside three feet.
Turning him into an outright first-rounder is a big win. Holiday is extension-eligible, and the Pacers no longer have to worry about bankrolling his next deal or allowing him to walk for nothing.
What Indiana did with that first is less clear. Isaiah Jackson is big and long, capable of surviving in all sorts of defensive schemes and profiles as a strong finisher on rim dives. But how many minutes will be available to him with Domantas Sabonis, Myles Turner and Goga Bitadze all on the roster?
Maybe this augurs a trade—or less of a commitment to Bitadze. Until then, the Pacers basically used a distressed asset and No. 31 to move up nine spots. That's a rock-solid play.
Washington no doubt needs point guard help after trading Russell Westbrook to the Lakers, but giving up No. 22 for someone entering the final year of his rookie-scale deal who hasn't ever played like a floor general prepared to captain the offense is questionable
Isaiah Todd's arrival at No. 31 makes it easier to spin. He ranked much higher on plenty of big boards. Consider what The Box and One's Adam Spinella wrote about him:
"Todd is so much more than that. His comfort in the mid-post isolations, scoring with his back to the basket and the few glimpses he's shown of scoring off the bounce are all incredibly functional as an NBA 4-man. They're also ceiling-raisers, where Todd might be able to develop those traits enough to become a scoring pillar for some team. Similarly to [Roko] Prkacin, Todd could be a do-it-all guy without a major strength or signature spot. Or he could just be a pick-and-pop specialist."
It's pretty clear the Wizards have a thing for bigs with significant offensive juice and limited defensive upside. Todd doesn't forecast as someone who will be a stout rim protector and disruptive switcher. He does, however, have the ability to soak up some time at the 4, and stashing another big on the roster makes sense.
Thomas Bryant is working his way back from a torn left ACL and enters free agency next summer. Robin Lopez is a free agent now. Montrezl Harrell is in the final year of his deal. Daniel Gafford and Davis Bertans are, for now, Washington's only staple bigs. There's a chance Todd could join them.
Houston Trades Up for Alperen Sengun
Houston Rockets Receive: No. 16 (Alperen Sengun)
Oklahoma City Thunder Receive: Detroit's 2022 first-round pick (top-16 protection), Washington's 2023 first-round pick (lottery protection)
Appreciating the Rockets' logic here isn't hard.
Alperen Sengun is a bite at the top-talent apple. He slid down draft boards presumably because he's something of a throwback player, but he's otherwise polished and poised on the offensive end. He can screen, play-make on rolls to the basket and fend for himself on the block. There's a chance he expands his range at the NBA level as a higher-volume, longer-distance pick-and-pop threat.
This might seem less than ideal with Christian Wood on the roster. The Rockets were smart not to let that stop them. Wood has two years left on his deal and could be gone by the time they're ready to be really good.
More than that, Houston doesn't have anyone outside of Jalen Green (picked at No. 2) who profiles as a true cornerstone. The team remains in talent-collection mode, regardless of fit alongside incumbents. Also: The Rockets are not drowning in bigs beyond Wood. Sengun will be ticketed for heavy minutes if Kelly Olynyk leaves as a free agent.
Whether the opportunity cost involved was worth it is a different story. The protections on both the Detroit and Washington picks are weird. They don't turn into seconds for a half-eternity—2026 and 2027, respectively—and the protections eventually loosen to inside the top 10.
Houston is at once betting Sengun was undervalued and that both Detroit and Washington will be somewhat good down the road. The Rockets might be right on both fronts.
Thunder team president Sam Presti continues to fetishize the acquisition of additional first-round picks. Those selections can be over-romanticized. There's no telling what they turn into when actually used or sent out in a trade.
Wonky protections on both of the Thunder's inbound selections only confound the return. Look at the progression on the Detroit pick:
- 2022: top-16 protection
- 2023: top-18 protection
- 2024: top-18 protection
- 2025: top-13 protection
- 2026: top-11 protection
- 2027: top-nine protection (turns into 2027 second if not conveyed)
And the Washington pick:
- 2023: top-14 protection
- 2024: top-12 protection
- 2025: top-10 protection
- 2026 top-eight protection (turns into 2026 and 2027 second-rounders if not conveyed)
Given the distant protections, the Thunder appear to be simultaneously hedging against imminent success from the Pistons and Wizards and counting on one or both of these selections yielding more value as a trade asset than this year's No. 16 spot.
No part of that is irrational. Oklahoma City was back on the clock at No. 18. If Tre Mann was its highest-rated prospect remaining (he probably was), junking No. 16 entirely is no sweat.
The Thunder cannot house all the picks they own and face a roster-spot crunch as it stands. Shorting the futures of two wayward franchises and betting on distant protections inciting trade appeal is a pretty good, albeit not no-brainer, piece of business.
Charlotte Trades Up for Kai Jones
Charlotte Hornets Receive: No. 19 (Kai Jones)
New York Knicks Receive: 2022 first-round pick (top-18 protection)
Surrendering a future first-rounder initially seemed like a cringey decision by the Hornets. They have LaMelo Ball and Gordon Hayward and some other nice players, but they're not guaranteed to be smack-you-in-the-face good for at least the next couple of seasons.
Then the protections came in, per ESPN's Bobby Marks:
2022: Top-18 protection
2023: Top-16 protection
2024: Lottery protection
2025: Lottery protection
Charlotte won't have to fork over a lottery pick no matter what happens. That's huge.
So too is the selection of Kai Jones.
The 20-year-old big man is incredibly raw, but the Hornets needn't be in any rush, despite what the inclusion of a future first-rounder implies. Mason Plumlee can handle primary-big minutes for the next two seasons, and head coach James Borrego has a propensity for small-ball lineups.
Jones will have time to work on his game in a pressure-free role and in the G League. The potential payoff for the Hornets is monstrous. His skill set tantalizes at both ends. He has a chance to be an all-time rim-runner and someone who defends like he's a small-ball 5 without actually sacrificing size.
This is a big-ass "eh" from the Knicks.
Viewing it against the totality of their draft-night transactions doesn't help (more on this in a minute). They open up a little more than $2 million in cap space after all of the moves, but they already had the chance to dredge up more than $50 million in wiggle room. That extra breathability is mostly inconsequential.
Scooping up a future first-rounder from a franchise with, let's say, a less-than-stellar reputation for building sustainable winners is always worthwhile. But the Knicks won't be getting anything higher than a No. 15 pick for moving out of this spot.
That's shaky logic even if they weren't in love with anyone at No. 19, and even if they bagged their two primary targets at No. 25 (Quentin Grimes), No. 34 (Rokas Jokubaitis) and No. 36 (Miles McBride).
To be absolutely clear: This trade isn't overtly damaging. Nor is it worth "Knicks gonna Knicks" reactions. It is, however, thoroughly unremarkable and not the shrewdest move for an organization that can't yet peddle itself as an inarguable fringe contender.
LA Clippers Trade Up for Keon Johnson
Los Angeles Clippers Receive: No. 21 (Keon Johnson)
New York Knicks Receive: No. 25 (Quentin Grimes), Detroit's 2024 second-rounder
Rolling the dice on a project like Keon Johnson is a fantastic decision by the Clippers. Next year might be a wash for them as Kawhi Leonard (player option) recovers from a partially torn right ACL, which would afford them the license to roll out the new 19-year-old with regularity.
Johnson can do all sorts of things on the floor. His finishing around the rim flirts with divinity, and he has shown the willingness to pull up for jumpers off the dribble. Bake in budding floor vision, and he's a semiconsistent three-ball away from a comprehensive offensive armory.
This says nothing of his defense. He's billed as one of the top on-ball stoppers of the draft and doesn't really have any positional limitations. The Clippers may have just mined a gem. If they didn't, they won't lose any sleep over the Detroit second-rounder. The Pistons should be better than terrible in three years' time after getting Cade Cunningham.
Some might've wanted the Knicks to keep No. 21 and take a bigger swing of their own. But if they didn't want to undertake a long-term project amid win-now hopes—again: The Clippers could be headed for a gap year—this is a pretty good alternative.
Quentin Grimes is a touch undersized at 6'5" to be considered a true wing. But he defends bigger than his measurements and doesn't overextend himself on offense. Though he has on-ball feel worth plumbing, he canned over 40 percent of his threes last season at Houston in a supporting role and off some motion—and on significant volume (10.4 attempts per 40 minutes).
Now feels like a good time to take a gander at the Knicks' (most notable) transactions in full. They had:
- No. 19
- No. 21
- No. 32
And turned it into:
- No. 25 (Grimes)
- No. 34 (Rokas Jokubaitis)
- No. 36 (Miles McBride)
- Charlotte's 2022 first-round pick (top-18 protection)
The word you're looking for is "meh." Yes, New York's front office has earned some leeway given everything it's done since assuming the reins. It just would've been nice to see the Knicks take aim at a higher-upside prospect overall.