Realistic Trades to Move NBA's Worst Contracts

Greg Swartz@@GregSwartzBRCleveland Cavaliers Lead WriterJanuary 24, 2022

Realistic Trades to Move NBA's Worst Contracts

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    Ringo H.W. Chiu/Associated Press

    With the Feb. 10 trade deadline drawing near, this is the last chance teams will have to get rid of their worst contracts until the offseason.

    Moving massive deals isn't easy, of course, and often ends up costing draft picks or young players, or results in taking on a different bloated deal instead.

    Based on production versus remaining money, these are the worst contracts in the NBA:

    Davis Bertans, PF, Washington Wizards:

    • $16 million in 2021-22
    • $16 million in 2022-23
    • $17 million in 2023-24
    • $16 million in 2024-25 (early termination option)

    Tobias Harris, PF, Philadelphia 76ers:

    • $36 million in 2021-22
    • $37.6 million in 2022-23
    • $39.3 million in 2023-24

    Kristaps Porzingis, F/C, Dallas Mavericks:

    • $31.7 million in 2021-22
    • $33.8 million in 2022-23
    • $36 million in 2023-24 (player option)

    John Wall, PG, Houston Rockets:

    • $44.3 million in 2021-22
    • $47.4 million in 2022-23 (player option)

    Russell Westbrook, PG, Los Angeles Lakers:

    • $44.2 million in 2021-22 
    • $47.1 million in 2022-23 (player option)

    Just missed the cut: Evan Fournier, Markelle Fultz, Al Horford, Kevin Love and Duncan Robinson.

Davis Bertans to Thunder with a Unique Pick Swap

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    Rocky Widner/Getty Images

    Oklahoma City Thunder Receive:

    • PF Davis Bertans
    • 2022 first-round pick (unprotected)
    • 2026 second-round pick

    Washington Wizards Receive:

    • 2023 first-round pick (originally lottery-protected, via Washington Wizards)

    The Thunder have become a popular dumping ground for some of the NBA's worst contracts, from Al Horford's to Kemba Walker's and Derrick Favors' (albeit not as bad) pacts over the past few years.

    Oklahoma City is $33 million below the salary cap and can absorb some of the league's heftiest deals without having to send back any players. Taking on Bertans' $16 million salary for this season would still leave the Thunder $7 million short of reaching the minimum salary floor, per ESPN's Bobby Marks.

    Bertans has been buried in the Wizards' rotation and is averaging just 6.2 points and 1.9 rebounds in his 15.4 minutes per game while shooting 33.6 percent from three. Signed to be an elite marksman, he's simply not getting enough action to regain any consistent shooting stroke.

    The Thunder could actually use Bertans' floor-spacing ability, as the team's 31.0 percent mark from three is the worst in the NBA.

    Since OKC would be taking his remaining four years and $65 million off Washington's books, the two teams could get creative with their picks. The Wizards' 2023 first-round pick is currently owed to the Thunder and is protected from Nos. 1 through 14 in 2023, 1-12 in 2024, 1-10 in 2025 and 1-8 in 2026. If not conveyed by then, the pick turns into second-rounders in 2026 and 2027.

    For a rebuilding Thunder team, that could be a long time to wait, especially if Bradley Beal should leave the Wizards in free agency this summer and the franchise continually starts picking at the top of the draft.

    Instead, OKC would agree to trade the 2023 lottery-protected first-rounder back to the Wizards, in turn giving Washington the freedom to trade its 2022 first-round pick. The Wizards, 23-22 overall, would agree to make the 2022 first-rounder unprotected, giving the Thunder a potentially far more valuable selection—one they now receive a year earlier.

    The move would free up a significant amount of cap space for Washington and give it the freedom to trade any future first-rounder after the 2022 draft has concluded.

Tobias Harris Gets a Fresh Start in Sacramento

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    Rocky Widner/Getty Images

    Sacramento Kings Receive:

    • PF Tobias Harris
    • G/F Danny Green
    • 2022 first-round pick (lottery-protected)
    • 2023 second-round pick

    Philadelphia 76ers Receive:

    • PF Harrison Barnes
    • SG Buddy Hield

    As is the case with many of the names on this list, Harris isn't a bad player (far from it), he's just a very overpaid player, especially for the situation he's in.

    Averaging 18.2 points, 7.3 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game and shooting 46.1 percent overall this season, the 29-year-old is still having a productive year. His three-point shooting has dropped off (31.6 percent, down from 39.4 percent a year ago), perhaps a product of Ben Simmons's absence.

    In Sacramento, Harris would have a trio of talented young guards to get him the ball in De'Aaron Fox, Tyrese Haliburton and Davion Mitchell, and he would help improve their games as a pick-and-pop option at power forward. He's a better passer than both Barnes and Hield and would be a nice frontcourt fit for the Kings.

    Green gives the Kings wing depth and has appeared in the playoffs each of the past 11 years, starting 147 of his 153 games en route to winning championships with the San Antonio Spurs, Toronto Raptors and Los Angeles Lakers. For taking on Harris' hefty remaining contract, Sacramento also collects the Sixers' first-round pick this year and a second-rounder in 2023.

    If the Sixers want to add talent around Joel Embiid and are still holding out for the perfect Simmons trade, acquiring Barnes and Hield would be a nice appetizer, especially since they'd unload Harris' contract.

    Barnes would become Philly's new starting power forward next to Embiid at center and is averaging 16.3 points per game and hitting 41.5 percent of his threes. Hield would either join Tyrese Maxey as a starter in the backcourt or become an instant scorer off the bench as the team's sixth man.

Texas Trade Lands Kristaps Porzingis in San Antonio

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    Eric Gay/Associated Press

    San Antonio Spurs Receive:

    • F/C Kristaps Porzingis
    • C Moses Brown
    • SG Josh Green

    Dallas Mavericks Receive:

    • G Derrick White
    • SG Lonnie Walker IV
    • F/C Thaddeus Young

    If the Mavericks aren't sold on Porzingis as a No. 2 option behind Luka Doncic and would rather opt for cap space and some solid role players, a deal with the Spurs could make sense for both sides.

    Porzingis has been good defensively this season and is averaging 20.1 points, 8.0 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.7 blocks in his 30.4 minutes per game. He's moving as well as we've seen in years and is starting to shoot threes better as of late (36.7 percent over his last seven games). He's certainly overpaid, especially considering his injury history (which includes a Feb. 2018 torn ACL), but Porzingis is a good player when he's on the court.

    He'd be an intriguing fit as the starting power forward in San Antonio, a team with a nice collection of young talent to put around him that includes Dejounte Murray, Keldon Johnson, Devin Vassell, Josh Primo and Jakob Poeltl. That's also the foundation of a potentially elite defense as well. Brown, 22, and Green, 21, are included for depth at center and guard with Young and White on the move, and both fit into a Spurs rebuild.

    For Dallas, adding White gives the team a good combo guard who can lock down opponents and allow Doncic to play off the ball more. He's giving the Spurs 14.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 1.1 steals and 1.0 blocks in 30.4 minutes per game.

    Young is on an expiring $14.2 million contract and would be a welcome addition to the frontcourt while he's in Dallas. Able to play both power forward and center, he is a good defender who's appeared in eight postseasons, playing in 51 games overall.

    Walker, 23, will be a restricted free agent this summer and gets a chance to show he's worth the investment for Dallas. Averaging 11.1 points and 2.3 assists per game primarily as a reserve, Walker is a high-upside wing who should intrigue the Mavs.

John Wall Joins the Boston Celtics

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    Troy Taormina/Associated Press

    Boston Celtics Receive: 

    • PG John Wall
    • F Jae'Sean Tate
    • 2023 first-round pick (unprotected via Milwaukee Bucks)

    Houston Rockets Receive:

    • SG Romeo Langford
    • G/F Josh Richardson
    • F/C Al Horford

    Boston ranks 21st in assist percentage (58.4 percent) and 22nd in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.62) and almost certainly won't be able to re-sign current point guard Dennis Schroder this offseason. Wall is extremely overpaid but could give the Celtics stability at the point after averaging 20.6 points, 6.9 assists and 1.1 steals per game last season.

    The 31-year-old should be well-rested after sitting out the year so far, awaiting a trade while the Rockets focus on developing their young players, and he would be an added offensive force for a Celtics team in danger of missing the playoffs.

    For taking on his contract, however, Boston should ask for some sweeteners.

    Tate can play and defend multiple positions at 6'4" and 230 pounds and is averaging 12.6 points, 5.7 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game and is shooting 50.3 percent overall. He'd be a big do-it-all addition to the Celtics' second unit. Getting a first-round pick next year to use or dangle as trade bait in future deals should help convince Boston to trade for Wall as well.

    For Houston, this move is primarily about financial flexibility.

    With Wall's $47.4 million salary for next season off the books (assuming he picks up his player option), the Rockets can make a significant splash in free agency, especially if they waive Horford. Only $14.5 million of his $26.5 million 2022-23 salary is guaranteed.

    Richardson, 28, could take over Tate's spot in the starting lineup and is hitting 40.2 percent of his threes. He's a solid wing defender who's averaging 9.9 points and 2.7 rebounds per game for Boston this season.

    Langford, 22, has never gotten big minutes in his three seasons with the Celtics but still carries enough upside to possibly intrigue Houston. Considering the Rockets' goal to acquire as much young talent as possible, Langford fits the bill.

    Houston might not want to surrender draft capital to dump Wall's contract, but doing so in 2023 (when it owns three first-rounders) makes it a little easier.

Russell Westbrook Stays in Los Angeles to Help Injury-Plagued Clippers

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    Ashley Landis/Associated Press

    Los Angeles Clippers Receive:

    • PG Russell Westbrook
    • C DeAndre Jordan
    • F Trevor Ariza
    • 2023 second-round pick
    • 2025 second-round pick

    Los Angeles Lakers Receive:

    If the Lakers want to rid themselves of Westbrook yet still do right by the Los Angeles-area native, trading him to the Clippers may be the only option.

    His lack of outside shooting and high turnover rate don't make him a good fit next to LeBron James, something everyone in the basketball world outside the Lakers front office could have predicted. He's still owed the remainder of his $44.2 million salary from this year and $47.1 million next year (assuming he picks up his player option), so moving Westbrook won't be easy.

    Still, the Clippers could be a trade partner. Westbrook wouldn't have to relocate and would still get to play for a team with championship aspirations, even if injuries to Kawhi Leonard (torn ACL), and now Paul George (torn UCL), have doomed the team's offense.

    Westbrook would have complete freedom to run the team under a terrific coach and former point guard in Ty Lue, on a roster that contains enough shooters (Luke Kennard, Nicolas Batum, Terance Mann, George) to give him the spacing he needs.

    For the Clippers, dumping Bledsoe and Ibaka's contracts is a plus, as is collecting a pair of future second-round picks. Jordan returns to the place he spent the first 10 seasons of his career to provide depth behind Ivica Zubac, and Ariza fills frontcourt minutes left by Morris.

    From a pure talent standpoint, the Lakers are taking a step back, although the new pieces fit a lot better.

    Morris is averaging 16.0 points, 5.2 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game and connecting on 37.5 percent of his threes for the Clippers this season. He can play power forward next to Anthony Davis or serve as a small-ball 5 as needed.

    Bledsoe would likely become the team's new starting point guard with Westbrook gone, although he's not much of an outside shooting threat either. Still, at less than half the salary, Bledsoe would at least be an upgrade on defense.

    Ibaka is on an expiring $9.7 million deal and is still working his way back to form after offseason back surgery. He's putting up just 6.3 points and 4.1 rebounds in 15.4 minutes per game but has at least been an effective floor-spacer (40 percent from three) who would keep driving lanes open for James.

    The Lakers simply aren't going to get anything of real value for Westbrook and should be prepared to sacrifice draft picks in the process.


    Salary info via Spotrac unless otherwise noted.