I’ve reviewed rosters, looked at salary cap implications, surveyed the NBA landscape and come up with 5 trades that would be very unpopular in at least 1 NBA city, but make enough sense that they’re not unfathomable.
We’ve got 20 total players involved, plus 5 draft picks, and it involves 2 sign and trades (I’ll give you a hint…. bye bye lob city). We’ll start off with the least impactful, before moving onto bigger fish, and cap it off with a 3 team deal to create another “Big 3” super power.
TRADE #1: Avoiding that dreaded luxury tax and getting some salary cap relief
Nets Receive: Allen Crabbe, Noah Vonleh, and #20 overall pick in 2017 draft
Blazers Receive: Sean Kilpatrick
Straight up, on the court talent, you’d absolutely be correct in looking at this write up and saying this guy is crazy, let me go see if there is a Law and Order re-run on (The answer is YES. There is ALWAYS a re-run of Law and Order on somewhere). But hear me out.
The Nets have plenty of cap space to absorb the salaries of Crabbe, Vonleh, and the pick, while also having about another $40 million coming off the books after the ’17-’18 season. So from their view, they’re getting Allen Crabbe on a deal they actually signed him too last year (remember this contract is a restricted free agent contract that Crabbe signed with Brooklyn, that Portland then matched), along with a crack at Noah Vonleh (who I think is still potentially a serviceable NBA big man), and the 20th pick, which would give the Nets 3 picks in this years draft (though all are between 20-27). So it makes all the sense in the world for the Nets to do the trade. (Though Allen Crabbe getting $18.5 million a year is still shocking to me, even in the landscape of the summer of ’16, the NBA’s version of a Powerball summer, like peak Julia Roberts being with Lyle Lovett shocking).
From the Blazers perspective. Why would they give up a guy they just gave big bucks to last offseason, a young developing power forward, and the second of their 3 first rounders in the up coming draft? ….. MONEY.
The projected luxury tax threshold for the 2017-2018 season is $121 million. If you’re the Warriors or the Cavaliers, fighting neck and neck for a championship, you pay that tax and you pay it happily. If you’re the 8th seed Portland Trailblazers, its not as enticing an option.
Last offseason the Blazers overpaid for 2 wing players in Evan Turner and Allen Crabbe. Don’t get me wrong, both players are quality NBA players, and salaries not considered I’d love to have them on my team. But this is the real world, and salaries come into play, and it’d be luxury tax suicide to pay these two players a combined $35.6 million next season. So one of them has to go, and seeing as the Nets were willing to pay Crabbe 18.5 million a year last year, they’re likely still willing to do so.
As constituted the Blazers salary commitments for next season total $132,092,000 before factoring in the salary cap holds of their 3 draft picks. (salary info found on Basketball-Reference.com). By jettisoning the contracts of Crabbe and Vonleh the Blazers can avoid blowing past the tax threshold. As for the return, Sean Kilpatrick showed that he is at least a serviceable NBA rotation player at a very small fraction of the cost of what the Blazers would pay Crabbe.
TRADE #2: Getting something while you can
Lakers receive: Paul George, and the #18 overall pick
Pacers receive: Jordan Clarkson and #2 overall pick
Okay, well things just got interesting…. Two players a lot of people have speculated that will end up in purple & gold by the 2018-2019 season are Paul George and Lonzo Ball. In this deal, the Lakers are essentially trading the chance at Ball for Paul George.
If I’m Magic Johnson, why am I making this deal? Paul George has done everything but stand in the middle of Indianapolis and shout that he will not re-sign with the Pacers and will go to the Lakers after next season. So why not wait? Because Indiana has got to be thinking that barring a major injury to Lebron James, they’re not capable of making the NBA finals next season (and even without that, they’re still behind the Celtics, Wizards, Raptors, Bucks, and a Lebronless Cavs for Eastern Conference superiority), so are you going to let George walk and have nothing to add to the roster? I should hope not. So the Pacers, despite public comments to the contrary will be entertaining offers for George. That’s why the Lakers can’t wait. What if the Cavs offer anything the Pacers want not named James, Irving, or Love? What if the Heat offered Justice Winslow and picks for the chance to show Paul George what South Beach is all about? That’s why you make the deal if you’re Magic. To get Paul George in the door now, obtain your superstar to build around. You’d still have a newly in shape Julius Randle, a capable young guard in D’Angelo Russell, and the potential of Brandon Ingram.
Yes you wouldn’t have Lonzo Ball coming through that door. But you’d have a potential starting line up of Julius Randle, Luol Deng, Brandon Ingram, Paul George, and D’Angelo Russell, along with the 18th pick, Timofy Mozgov, Ivica Zubac, and Corey Brewer. And they’d still have about $20 million in cap room (less if Nick Young does not opt out of his deal, which he should) to pursue a point guard. (can you lure Jrue Holiday back to L.A. for $20 million?)
For the Pacers, this trade makes sense as I don’t see you getting anything better than the #2 overall pick for George in terms of potential returns. The question is, if you’re the Pacers, what do you do with this pick? Do you then flip it to Sacramento for the #5 and #10 picks? I think that’s a worthwhile scenario to consider. Do you take Lonzo Ball (I would not)? I think ultimately they select the guy they hope can be the next Paul George in Josh Jackson. Which is also why I think they’d be willing to flip that pick to Sacramento. At 5, with Boston, Sacramento, Philadelphia, and Phoenix in front of you, you’re only real concern is Phoenix taking Jackson, which would leave you looking at Malik Monk, or Jayson Tatum while still having that #10 pick in your back pocket. (If Philly took Jackson, then you’d be watching Fox slip to you at 5, which is also an enticing option). So for the Pacers future the trade makes sense, find their next building block to pair with Myles Turner.
TRADE #3: Two teams going in opposite directions
Timberwolves receive: Jimmy Butler
Bulls receive: Kris Dunn, Zach Lavine, and #7 overall pick
The Timberwolves are on the cusp, with 2 budding superstars in Karl Anthony Towns, and Andrew Wiggins the Wolves are now in position to start “going for it”. This would provide the Wolves with a formidable big 3 while still having solid role players around them such as Gorgui Dieng and Ricky Rubio. Obviously coach Thibs know what he would be getting with Butler, and would love to have it. Minnesota does not need to get any younger. Adding a guy in his prime, who’s seen the playoffs and just spent the last year picking the brain of NBA champions Dwayne Wade, and Rajon Rondo just makes too much sense. If the Bulls called up with this offer I don’t think Minnesota could say yes fast enough.
So if you’re the Bulls, why do you make this move? You’ve spent the last year fielding various offers from teams, the 2 most notable of which were from Boston and Minnesota. Why do you take the Minnesota offer now? First of all, its time to re-boot. And if you’re going to re-boot, you want a pick in this year’s draft lottery. Boston is not giving up the chance to draft Markelle Fultz on a rookie deal for Jimmy Butler, especially when you’d be asking for additional pieces. Look no further than the numerous reports that Danny Ainge insisted upon protection for the #1 pick when discussing Butler trades previously.
With this trade, you’d be adding 3 fine pieces to start the rebuild. Your point guard, your off guard, and a top 7 pick. Presumably, with Butler leaving you’d then see Dwayne Wade opt out (likely to go take the MLE from Cleveland), and can cut Rajon Rondo for only a fraction of what he would cost to keep, which means you’d essentially be taking off about $44 million from your salary cap figure with this one move. Leaving the Bulls with the 3 previously mentioned pieces, Bobby Portis, Robin Lopez, and last year’s first rounder Denzel Valentine who I believe could become a very nice 6th man in the future, as well as the #16 overall pick in this draft. That’s fairly well positioned. Oh, and did I mention that in this current scenario, with this trade, the opt out of Dwayne Wade, and the release of Rajon Rondo, the Bulls would then have about $60 million in cap room? Now you’re in the convo to pair 2 max contracts together, would Otto Porter and Gordan Hayward like to join forces in the windy city? Kyle Lowry, Blake Griffin, Jrue Holiday, Danilo Galinari. What two guys on the market would like to join forces and get paid? Can you take that cap space and take on bad contracts for a year or two in exchange for draft picks, aka, Trust the Process? Something to consider if you’re the Bulls
TRADE #4: Bye Bye lob city, hello sign and trade
Clippers receive: Isaiah Thomas, and Jae Crowder
Celtics receive: Blake Griffin, and reduction of future draft pick protection from 1-14 to 1-5 in 2019 draft
Well, as a Celtics fan I may get run out of town for this one, but luckily I moved to Vegas so that’s not an issue. I thoroughly enjoyed watching Isaiah Thomas play this year. He is an offensive weapon, and gives the Celtics some swagger. BUT, the Celtics roster is about to add Markelle Fultz to a roster that has IT4, Avery Bradley, Marcus Smart, and Terry Rozier. That’s 5 capable guards for 2 spots. That math does not work. I realize they like to play a lot of 3 guard line ups, but the answer isn’t cutting into minutes for Jaylen Brown, the answer is to give him more minutes. Now the front court… that’s where the biggest opportunity for improvement lies. I’ve heard all the potential Celtics off season targets thrown about, Gordan Hayward, Jimmy Butler, Paul George. But to me the 2 that make the most sense are Blake Griffin and Danilo Galinari. Both have a history of injuries, so in that sense, they’re fairly equal to one another. But when healthy, while Galinari is a nice player who I think would fair well in the C’s system as a stretch 4, Blake Griffin is head and shoulders above him.
For Danny Ainge it solves the glut of guards. Isaiah Thomas and Avery Bradley are both set to become unrestricted free agents after this season (and Marcus Smart a restricted free agent). It makes little to no sense to add a Hayward, and then turn around and re-sign Thomas and Bradley, while still having Markelle Fultz and Jaylen Brown on your roster (along with Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier, and Jae Crowder).
By adding Griffin, while jettisoning Thomas and Crowder the Celtics are then in a position to not have to renounce the rights to Kelly Olynyk to obtain a marquee player, something they would have to do in order to free up max cap space to sign Hayward. The offseason ledger would look something like this, they’d add: Blake Griffin, Markelle Fultz, Ante Zizic, and Guerschon Yabusele, while losing Isaiah Thomas, and Jae Crowder while having to renounce the rights to Amir Johnson, Jonas Jerekbo, James Young, while having enough room to retain Gerald Green and Kelly Olynyk, assuming they opted not to guarantee the contracts of Tyler Zeller and Jordan Mickey
They’d be looking at an athletic starting line up of Al Horford, Blake Griffin, Jaylen Brown, Avery Bradley, and Markelle Fultz, with a bench of Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier, Kelly Olynyk, Gerald Green, Ante Zizic, Guerschon Yabusele, Demetrius Jackson. With that roster you’d be in a position to move forward into next off season with Bird rights to re-sign Bradley, and Smart, while also adding the Nets 2018 1st rounder to augment your core.
As for why the Clippers would be willing to accept a sign and trade for Griffin. Well, as constituted, the Clippers have no chance of surpassing the Warriors. If they re-signed Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, and JJ Redick it would put them with a payroll of $146 million (assuming contracts worth $40 million for CP3, $30 million for Griffin, and $15 million for Redick), and that’s for only 9 players. Is it worth being $30 million+ over the tax threshold for the right to lose in the 2nd round of the playoffs? No, so its time to blow it up, exchanging Griffin for IT4 and Crowder shaves about $17 million, while receiving value for the former face of your franchise. But we’ll discuss the fate of the Clippers further with our 5th trade, with which this trade is linked.
TRADE #5: The 3 team blockbuster felt coast to coast.
Knicks receive: LaMarcus Aldridge, Kyle Anderson, and Tony Parker
Clippers receive: Pau Gasol, Danny Green, Dejounte Murray,#29 pick in 2017 NBA draft, and draft rights to Nikola Milutinov
Spurs receive: Chris Paul, and Carmelo Anthony
We’ll start with the Clippers as this blow up is a continuation of the previous Griffin sign and trade. With these 2 moves the Clippers go from a team with a very shallow top end roster with no future flexibility and $30 million over the tax threshold to a team right at the salary cap with a roster including DeAndre Jordan, Pau Gasol, Jae Crowder, Danny Green, and Isaiah Thomas as your likely starting line up with DeJounte Murray, Austin Rivers, Jamal Crawford, Wesley Johnson, Brice Johnson, and Diamond Stone on your bench. The real benefit though is next summer when they’d have only $38 million or so on the books with only DeAndre Jordan, Jae Crowder, DeJounte Murray, and Brice Johnson on the books. Plenty of room to start re-shaping the roster. And Gasol’s ’16-’17 contract isn’t guaranteed, so you could actually drop below the cap immediately by releasing him post trade.
Why would Phil Jackson make this move? Plain and simple, to get rid of Carmelo Anthony. While LaMarcus Aldridge hasn’t lived up to expectations that accompanied him to San Antonio, he is still a very good player. The difficult part here is trading away lifetime Spur Tony Parker. Obviously that part of the trade is due to salary cap implications, and becomes easier if Tony decides to retire following his catastrophic injury. The Knicks are in no position to win now, but they weren’t last year either when they overspent for Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, and Courtney Lee, so why would they change now?
And the last piece of the puzzle, the Spurs. There has been a lot of talk of Chris Paul’s destination being San Antonio should he decide to leave the Clippers. For the Spurs to sign Paul there would have to be some gutting of the roster. So if you’re going to have to make cuts, why not go for a complete overhaul?
For the Spurs it starts with having the above mentioned trade in place. It would also involve some other things to fall into place. First of which being, they’d have to renounce the rights to Manu Ginobili. This coupled with the trade of Tony Parker would mark the end of an era. But time marches on. Along with renouncing Manu, they’d also need to renounce Dewayne Dedmon, David Lee, Joel Anthony, and Bryn Forbes.
Assuming Chris Paul is commanding a salary of $40 million, the Spurs would have about 89 million tied up in their new Big 3 of Leonard-Anthony-CP3. That would leave David Bertans as the only other member of the roster under contract, but with these figures they wouldn’t need to renounce the rights to Patty Mills and Jonathan Simmons, meaning they could go over the cap to re-sign them.
The downside is that you’re now looking at a team over the cap, with only 6 guys under contract. The upside is that if any team can take that situation and fill out a roster its the Spurs. The obvious draw would be to join the Big 3, and Pop and have a chance to dethrone the Warriors. Who doesn’t want to see a western conference finals of CP3 going at Steph, Kawhi vs Durant, with Klay and Melo firing shots back and forth? It’d all start early with an offseason battle of who can sign aging vets to veteran minimum contracts as they chase that ring as Golden State will also need to gut their roster to re-sign Curry and Durant.
I’m not saying these trades will happen, I’m not even saying they’ll be discussed, but it’d sure make a fun summer if they were. The draft and July 1st can’t come soon enough.
- Jason Sullivan