YOLO Trades That Make Sense
The Memphis Grizzlies kicked off the NBA’s trading season with a bang this week. After making a relatively minor deal to supply the Cleveland Cavaliers with a bench, they finally pulled the trigger on moving Rudy Gay in a massive three-team trade on Wednesday. There were “basketball reasons” at play, but financial considerations also clearly played a huge role.
From the Dallas Mavericks to Oklahoma City Thunder and now Memphis, we’ve seen teams make personnel decisions with one eye firmly placed on the league’s stiff new luxury tax penalties. The penalties are an economic straightjacket that make very little sense for a sport with so much money pouring into it, but that’s the price we all have to pay to keep guys like Robert Sarver in business. As a result, as anyone who has played around with the NBA Trade Checker knows, it’s very hard to create win-win trades that also make sense financially.
In reality, any remaining trades are more like to resemble the Marreese Speights deal than the Gay one. But where’s the fun in that? Here’s four deals, with varying degrees of plausibility, that would actually affect the balance of power in the league.
Pau Gasol for Shawn Marion, Chris Kaman, Dahntay Jones
A possible spark for two of the most disappointing teams in the NBA. The Los Angeles Lakers and the Mavericks have shown signs of life in recent weeks, but they’re going to need a lot more than that to dig themselves out of the holes they’re currently in. This could be a game-changer for both.
For the Lakers, it satisfies their two main priorities: adding speed and shooting around Dwight Howard while not taking on any more additional long-term salary. Marion is signed for only one more season, while Kaman and Jones are on expiring contracts. Marion is 34, but his game has aged well. He’s been the Mavericks best player this season and he’s the ideal small-ball 4 for Mike D’Antoni’s system. Marion and Jones would dramatically improve the Lakers team speed (kind of a sad when you can say that about two 10+ year NBA veterans in their 30’s), while Kaman could be useful in limited minutes as Howard’s backup.
For Dallas, it’s a belated acknowledgement of reality. Dwight Howard isn’t coming and Chris Paul isn’t either. You think “Cliff Paul”, State Farm spokesman, is happening in Dallas? You think Adidas wants Howard to leave the most high-profile franchise in the NBA? Gasol has had a tough season, but he’s still only 32, and he has the size and skill to age as well as Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett have, if he can play center. The Mavericks would need to add some speed around them in the offseason, but the Gasol/Dirk tandem is their best chance of throwing together one more elite team around Nowitzki before it’s too late.
Josh Smith for Meyers Leonard, JJ Hickson, Nolan Smith and a first-round pick
Everyone focuses on Josh Smith’s iffy shot-selection, but he can play some basketball too. He’s an Atlanta native who has spent the first nine years of his career playing for one of the most poorly run and nondescript franchises in the NBA. More than anything else, he needs a change of scenery.
Portland would be the ideal fit. It would force LaMarcus Aldridge to play at the 5, but with the NBA game becoming smaller and more perimeter-oriented, that’s a natural transition. Aldridge and Smith’s games mesh perfectly: Aldridge can stretch the floor and allow Smith to operate closer to the basket, while Smith’s passing ability would create easy shots for a big man who can finish from any part of the floor. A front-court with those two and Nic Batum is only the progression of Damian Lillard and a bench away from being an elite team.
For Atlanta, the same logic about a fresh start applies. Re-signing Smith locks them into the same team with the ceiling of a second-round exit they’ve been for almost half a decade. Leonard is still very raw, but he’s an athletic 20-year-old center whose holding his own as a rookie. A two-way center on a rookie contract is about the best deal you’re going to get for a disgruntled star. With Leonard, Al Horford and Jeff Teague to build around, the Hawks could focus on finding wing players in the draft and free agency.
Kevin Garnett for Kawhi Leonard, Tiago Splitter and Boris Diaw
Now, here’s where we get speculative. The Celtics are keeping up a brave face, but they were barely a playoff team with one of the NBA’s best PG’s playing 40 minutes a night. In all likelihood, Rondo won’t be at or near 100% for at least 12 months, which means two essentially rebuilding years for Boston. At that point, Paul Pierce will be 37 and Garnett will be 38. Dealing them now would accelerate the rebuilding process around Rondo and it could be sold as a way to give two Hall of Famers one more chance at a ring.
For the Celtics, Kawhi Leonard is the key piece in this trade. He’s an athletic 6’7, 225 small forward who can match up with multiple positions, rebound and stretch the floor. That’s exactly the type of player I want around Rondo: someone who can run the break and provide spacing in the half-court without compromising the team defensively. Splitter and Diaw are there as expiring contracts. They could help Boston’s depth upfront, but the Celtics would probably waive them to “give Jared Sullinger an opportunity” a.k.a. move up in the draft.
Giving up Leonard would be difficult for the Spurs, but their primary concern should be maximizing Tim Duncan’s final years. When he’s gone, a team built around Leonard and an aging Tony Parker isn’t going anywhere. Garnett would be the absolute perfect piece: he’s precisely the combination of interior defense and perimeter shooting they’ve been looking for since Robert Horry retired. How awesome would it be to watch the two greatest power forwards of all-time ride off into the sunset together?
Paul Pierce for Javale McGee, Wilson Chandler and Quincy Miller
Hold on. I can explain.
I’ll admit that Boston dealing one of the most storied players in franchise history for the right to pay JaVale McGee $30 million dollars looks off. However, while McGee is still racking up gifs on a nightly basis, he’s also starting to come into his own with Denver. The guy is a 25-year-old, 7’1 center with a 21.5 PER who can single-handedly change the complexion of a game defensively. What if his career trajectory follows Tyson Chandler’s? He’s all upside and Rondo could be the perfect PG to maximize his abilities.
Wilson Chandler and Leonard would form one of the most athletic forward duos in the NBA and they’d have the shooting ability to make it work offensively. Along with McGee, that’s a trio of frontcourt players who would look awfully good next to Rondo, whose spent his entire career shackled to veterans who want to play in the halfcourt, where his lack of a jumper is more of a problem than in transition. Quincy Miller, the Nuggets second round pick out of Baylor, is the wildcard. There’s a reason he was once the No. 2 player in the country. At 6’10, 220 with a 7’1 wingspan, he’s got a combination of skill, size and athleticism you can’t teach.
For Denver, the move would realign their rotation and give them a puncher’s chance in the West while also re-setting their cap situation going forward. Pierce is no longer the player he once was, but he would give the Nuggets their best shot-creator since Carmelo Anthony; on the other end of the floor, Iguodala could protect him by taking the more difficult assignment on the wings every night. Just as important, the option on Pierce’s contract next season would allow Denver to blow everything up if things didn’t go right and operate with a clean slate financially going forward.