It is the Wild, Wild West out there. Thanks to the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the NBA and the Players Association, and a fresh new (and WAAAAYYYY better paying) broadcasting contract, the salary cap in the league jumped by a whopping 34% to $94 million.
Flush with cash and the need to spend to at least $84.6 million (just to hit the Collective Bargaining Agreement’s salary floor), big money has already been thrown at middling players in an all-out bidding war the likes of which have never been seen (*cough* Mozgov *cough*). Millionaire GMs and billionaire owners tend to be competitive and have big egos… and that means whiffing on some free agent signings could easily send them into panic mode to try and find a trade to save both face and their respective team.
There are trades to be made out there; trades that make a good deal of sense to all involved teams. It is extremely tough to get a deal together and make the money work (teams literally have a person whose full-time job is to understand the ins-and-outs of trade restrictions). Unfortunately, much that was out there did not come to fruition and we are left with an unfathomable amount of "shoulda" and "coulda" and "woulda".
Below you will read about 15 trades that were put together to help both teams in very real ways, knowing that many of these can no longer happen because of movement like Durant to the Warriors and Wade to the Bulls. Think of these as alternate reality trades that are likely happening on a parallel Earth somewhere as we speak, garnering headlines and empowering the involved teams in ways that we'll likely never know of here in the 616 (Marvel shoutout for you sport/comic nerds out there). That said, there are still a couple that could happen and further alter the playing field.
15 Boston Gets Their Man
To the Boston Celtics: Blake Griffin, Pablo Prigioni
To the Los Angeles Clippers: Amir Johnson, Kelly Olynyk, RJ Hunter, returned 2019 1st round pick
The Celtics are painted as a team of role players in search of their star (despite having a 2016 all-star in Isaiah Thomas). The addition of Al Horford this offseason moves the needle a bit, but after several seasons of modest playoff success with the Hawks, Horford isn't really seen as a leading man. Given the immense basketball IQs of both Griffin and Horford, they could slot together as sort of an interchangeable 4/5 duo.
Thanks to the Clippers repeatedly failing to get over the hump and Blake Griffin potentially having worn out his welcome in Clipperland (by punching the team’s beloved equipment manager in the face, thereby breaking his hand), the Celtics in this scenario land a top 10 player in the league. Griffin’s uncanny ability to both dazzle and make plays from the 4 and 5 would instantly put Boston in the discussion for contenders coming out of the East. Prigioni is trade filler who, while sage, is probably nearly done in the league.
The Clippers get to diversify with Griffin’s departure; ostensibly trading four whole quarters for their dollar. Amir Johnson is a rugged do-everything 4 who could platoon with Kelly Olynyk’s sweet-shooting alongside Deandre Jordan in the frontcourt; giving the Clippers two very different looks on the floor. RJ Hunter is a young’un that partially restocks the bare cupboard of youth for the Clippers while providing some shooting from the wing positions. The draft pick they’d receive is the one they surrendered in the widely panned Austin Rivers (son of coach Doc Rivers) trade, and would give them a mulligan of sorts.
14 The Missing Piece In The West
To the Oklahoma City Thunder: Kyle Korver, Thabo Sefolosha
To the Atlanta Hawks: Mitch McGary, Kyle Singler, Nick Collison
This next trade comes with the disclaimer that while it could still feasibly be consummated, it would be some very backward thinking on OKC's part now that Durant has bolted for the East Bay.
OKC took Golden State to seven games in the conference finals. None other than Bill Simmons felt like the Thunder was the best team down the stretch. This trade would give them something they have needed for years in Korver; a marksman from the 3-point line to take stress and pressure off Durant and Westbrook… and to open up space for Adams or Kanter down low. Thabo had been with Oklahoma before the Hawks and was a beloved 3-and-D wing who could handle short stints off the bench.
This is Atlanta waving the white flag on its current incarnation… which is something they started when they traded away all-star point guard Jeff Teague for the 12th pick in the draft to make room for 24-year-old Dennis Schroder at the 1. It's something Atlanta should consider even more in the wake of Horford joining the Celtics. In McGary (Snake God!) they have a young big with boundless energy who showed flashes when healthy. Singler was supposed to be the 3-point threat in OKC, but would be a reclamation project in Atlanta where the hope would be Coach Buds could coax something out of the guy. Beloved longtime Thunder-er Collison is salary cap ballast, but would be a great mentor and (if they re-sign him) would reunite with former Jayhawk teammate Kirk Hinrich to make one of the gawkiest white benches ever.
If trading Collison is too taboo, you could remove Collison and add Morrow and Josh Huestis… and balance it with Mike Muscala from Atlanta.
13 The Missing Piece In The East
To the Toronto Raptors: Ed Davis, Pat Connaughton
To the Portland Trailblazers: Lucas Nogueira, James Johnson/Luis Scola
It was clear as day that Cleveland was head-and-shoulders above the rest of the Eastern Conference. Of that second tier, however, Toronto seemed pretty close to competing. So long as they are able to retain Derozan, it is widely believed by experts that the biggest hole in the roster is a competent power forward.
Enter Ed Davis, the hyper-efficient rebounding and putback stringbean. This would be a return to the team that drafted him, but Davis is now older and wiser than before (but still only 27). Depending on the lineup, he could move to the 5 or they could play large with Davis at the 4 and DeMarre Carroll at the small forward position. Best of all, Davis is on a very eye-pleasing $7 million deal and locked up for a couple more years. Connaughton would be mostly to balance the books as he is a fringe player, but he is still young enough that he might be worth the flier.
Portland, for their trouble, would get to try out Lucas “Bebe” Nogueira at center. The Blazers have not found their big man of the future yet, and Bebe has looked really impressive in his limited playing time (and at 23, he is basically the same age as a rookie). The trade hinges on a sign-and-trade of James Johnson or Luis Scola; both of which are serviceable veteran players with personalities that would push the locker room mentality in a new direction and help take the young Portland team under their wing.
12 Change of Scenery
To the Chicago Bulls: Blake Griffin
To the Los Angeles Clippers: Jimmy Butler
Our first true blockbuster! Like we said, Blake punched someone he shouldn’t have. But he’s too damn good to pass up by any team in the league.
Jimmy Butler is a bonafide two-way stud. The fact that he seems to have worn out his welcome in Chicago seems to speak more to the problems with the top brass than to any issues with the congenial Butler (who still praises former coach and noted curmudgeon, Tom Thibodeau). Hurting matters further, he plays the same position as returned prodigal son, Dwyane Wade. Teamed with Chris Paul, JJ Redick, and Deandre Jordan, the team might immediately become a true competitor for the 2017 title alongside the Warriors and Cavs.
Griffin's fit alongside Wade, Rondo, and Lopez would elevate the Bulls to the level of the Cavaliers; pushing their way past Toronto, Indiana, and Boston. Chicago would then have to decide what to do with Taj Gibson and/or Mirotic. If they consider Mirotic a small forward and Gibson a power forward, and Taj has no problem playing back-up to Griffin (Gibson has mostly been a career back-up with starter-level talent, anyway), then their work is done. If Mirotic projects better as a 4, or Gibson wants more run, the Bulls will have a couple very intriguing trade pieces with which to round out their roster.
11 Bottoming Out
To the Washington Wizards: Paul Millsap
To the Atlanta Hawks: Kelly Oubre Jr., J.J. Hickson (S&T), 2018 1st round pick
As mentioned before, Atlanta seems like they’re retooling in the lead-up to a very strong 2017 draft class. Getting rid of Millsap (now that free agent Al Horford is signing elsewhere) would stick the Hawks right in the mix for the top 3 picks in a draft that claims multiple potential franchise players, even with Dwight Howard manning the middle. Kelly Oubre is a high-upside wing player who, with the right mindset and tutelage, could be an all-star 3-and-D player. Hickson’s best days are behind him, but his presence would allow the Hawks to maintain a veteran presence for the young bigs to learn how to pad their own personal rebound stats at the expense of the team from.
In Millsap, the Wizards get a player with all-star talent and a blue-collar work ethic. He is capable of playing all three frontcourt positions and would instantly become a fan favorite. Combined with Gortat, Markieff Morris, and Otto Porter Jr., the Wizards would have one of the most formidably versatile frontcourts in the league to go with star guard John Wall and promising sniper Bradley Beal.
10 Run and Gun
To the Los Angeles Lakers: KJ McDaniels, Terrence Jones (S&T)
To the Houston Rockets: Nick Young, Lou Williams
The Lakers are in the middle of a youth movement. KJ McDaniels is a scrappy, young defensive wing. Terrence Jones, despite feeling like he’s been in the league forever, is only 24… and despite a very down year and some injuries has averaged 17 and 10 per 40 minutes in a starting role. Meanwhile Young and Williams leaving might be an addition-by-subtraction move as their attitudes (not to mention Nick Young’s legitimate beef with young cornerstone D’Angelo Russell) would likely poison the Laker kids.
Lou Williams is a recent 6th Man of the Year and Nick Young is an unrepentant gunner inside the Platonic Ideal body for his position. Both of these guys can put the ball in the net and, in basketball, that’s the name of the game. While Houston will still need a 2nd star in the wake of Dwight Howard’s presumptive departure, this move would add two very nice potential starting pieces to Mike D’Antoni’s armory.
9 Bright Lights, Big D
To the Brooklyn Nets: Dwight Howard (S&T), KJ McDaniels, Sam Dekker
To the Houston Rockets: Brook Lopez, Bojan Bogdanovic
Dwight Howard was going to be paid by someone and with $55 million to spare after releasing Jarrett Jack the Nets needed to spend at least some of it. With Lopez, center is the only position not of need for Brooklyn… but Dwight Howard would be able to keep people buying tickets with his name power, and the addition of McDaniels (23) and Dekker (22) would allow GM Sean Marks to continue building through youth after the previous regime mortgaged the franchise’s future.
Brook Lopez is not without his own injury risks, like Howard. Lopez, however, is 2 years younger than Howard and has far fewer miles on him. Lopez is also under contract for less money than what Howard made last season and is asking for with this new contract. Brook would be the 2nd star behind Harden for D’Antoni’s new-look, high-octane Houston Rockets. In addition to good shooting outside the paint, Lopez provides some good shot blocking on defense. The loss of McDaniels won’t be felt as he’s very much not a D’Antoni guy, but Dekker might have been a gem in the 7-seconds-or-less offense; but you can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs. Mitigating the loss of Dekker is Bogdanovic, who has great height for his position and shot over 38% from 3 last season.
Of course, with Dwight going home to the Hawks and the Rockets gambling with Anderson and Gordon, this brilliant move will have to exist only in our dreams.
8 One Man’s Trash...
To the Milwaukee Bucks: Nick Young, Lou Williams
To the Los Angeles Lakers: Greg Monroe
Yes, another trade for Young and Williams. The duo are about as useful in Los Angeles as a 6th toe. And while Lou Williams might net a decent piece in return (especially when the standings have solidified a little and a playoff team needs some firepower to get to the next level), Nick Young is seen around the league as damaged goods. Despite the negative attitude towards Swaggy P, he is a career 37% 3-point shooter in a league that has become more reliant on 3s and is in the middle of a quality wing shortage. Lou, for what it’s worth, is 34% for his career from behind the 3-point line… and he can handle the point for extended periods of time. It has been said of Milwaukee that their greatest need is 3-point shooting, and they are poised to lose OJ Mayo and what little shooting he brought with him in free agency. The math adds up.
Greg Monroe’s signing in Milwaukee was seen as a potentially franchise-changing win for the Bucks at the time (although many advanced metrics gurus were scoffing at the notion). Just one season later, John Hammond and Jason Kidd are frantically searching for a reset button on the transaction. Monroe’s value around the league is at an all-time low… but he is only 26, is signed to a contract that doesn’t look insane with this new salary cap ($17 million for this coming season), and averages 15 and 9 with a couple assists. The Lakers seem to have a player for each position poised to be with the club for a long time, except for at center.
While all the players in this trade haven’t ever looked less appealing, they would both add some promise and some much-needed stat stuffing to their new clubs.
7 Pick Up the Pace
To the Charlotte Hornets: Monta Ellis
To the Indiana Pacers: Jeremy Lamb, Spencer Hawes
Indiana is looking for ball movement and speed and Monta Ellis, while talented, is a Grade A Ballstopper. Jeremy Lamb in Charlotte proved to be as meek as his namesake when the Hornets were hoping for a star turn out from under the pressure in Oklahoma (where he was known as “The Guy We Got For James Harden”). With the Pacers, Lamb would just be another cog in the machine and a likely 4th or 5th option; free to pick his spots and drain open 3s. Spencer Hawes is the price Indiana would have to pay for ridding themselves of Ellis, but isn’t without his value provided he regains some of that Philly stretch big action instead of just looking like one of the players’ drug dealers was sitting on the bench in team warm-up gear.
Charlotte is desperate for scoring in the face of losing Jeremy Lin to free agency. Monta Ellis would be the 2nd option behind Kemba Walker that Buzz City needs, provided Ellis can come to terms with playing off the ball most of the time and letting Walker do the creating. Having two ball-handling scoring guards, however, has not been known to be a big complaint around the NBA (it is the league equivalent of a ‘First World Problem’).
6 Killer Bs
To the Chicago Bulls: Eric Bledsoe
To the Phoenix Suns: Taj Gibson, Aaron Brooks (S&T), Denzel Valentine
The Phoenix Suns have been reported as wanting to jettison yet another of their point guards, either Bledsoe or Knight. While both are injury risks, Bledsoe is the older of the two and the likelier one for Phoenix to want to trade away. When healthy, Bledsoe is an absolute dynamo; capable of scoring with Westbrook-like dashes to the basket peppered with Chris Paul jukes. He also is a complete ballhawk with a nose for steals and a burly frame that refuses to be pushed around. Teamed with Butler in The Windy City, the backcourt of Chicago would be something to fear greatly on both ends. Even with Rondo on the team, this is a no-brainer for Chicago.
Taj Gibson, while the highest-paid player coming to the Suns, would also likely not stick around long with Phoenix. Adding Gibson to the draft haul of Chriss and Bender (even without free agents Jon Leuer and Mirza Teletovic, who both signed elsewhere) would create a minutes logjam at the 4, not dissimilar to the one at point guard that the Suns are working to dig themselves out of. Taj, however, would be great as a locker room guy and mentor for the two rookie power forwards until February rolled around and he could be flipped to a contender for future draft considerations. Gibson would also keep the team’s production at that position steady enough to not make Phoenix a complete laughingstock. Aaron Brooks, a former Sun, would sign the minimum to provide salary balance… but would be useful far down the depth chart. Denzel Valentine is seen as a promising, but older, rookie shooting guard. Shooting guard is perhaps the least set position for Phoenix (along with small forward), and so Valentine keeps the Suns young and looking forward.
5 Dirk’s Last Stand
To the Minnesota Timberwolves: Chandler Parsons (S&T)
To the Dallas Mavericks: Ricky Rubio
Chandler Parsons didn't re-sign with Dallas after hearing the Mavs were pursuing Hassan Whiteside and Mike Conley before addressing Parsons; instead joining Conley in Memphis. Signing Parsons to a max contract (remember, teams with Bird rights can sign their own player for more years and more money than any other team) and sending him somewhere else would've allowed Dallas to recover something for the guy they paid more than $30 million to while he sat hurt for the better part of two years. Rubio isn’t quite the shooter Jason Kidd was in Dallas, but he is every bit the creative and heady passer that Dirk won his only title with. Had Dallas wooed Hassan (not unlikely if this trade was pulled off), the Mavs would play Dirk’s final years with a core of Rubio, Wes Matthews, Dirk, Whiteside, and assorted rando small forward. While that’s probably not enough to topple the San Antonios and Golden States of the world, it is certainly enough to go to war with and allow Dirk to go out proud with.
Minnesota has everything they need, more-or-less, except a power forward. Provided he’s healthy, Parsons is the kind of utility stretch 4 that would work very well alongside the rest of the T’Wolves.
4 Philly Gets the Point
To the Philadelphia 76ers: Eric Bledsoe
To the Phoenix Suns: Nerlens Noel, Robert Covington
Philadelphia has made no secret of wanting to rid itself of one of their many bigs, specifically Noel or Okafor. They have also been in hot pursuit of a veteran (but young-ish) starting caliber point guard as they move away from Sam Hinkie’s Process to a more conventional mode of competing. In fact, they nearly gave up both Noel and Covington to Atlanta for Jeff Teague before he was moved to Indiana. While Philly might prefer Knight to Bledsoe, Eric is still 26 and will provide some much needed defense, since Jahlil Okafor is a regular matador on that end of the floor.
Alex Len is the presumed center of the future for Phoenix, but having another promising young big (especially one with such a glorious high-top fade) is never really a bad thing. Additionally, this proposed trade would net them Covington, a great hustle player at a position of need. If Phoenix was feeling nice, this trade would also allow them to slide Tyson Chandler’s salary into Philly’s cap space and allow him to spend the autumn days of his career laughing it up with Joel Embiid and imparting some needed lessons to a stable of promising prospects.
3 Mile-High Boogie
To the Denver Nuggets: DeMarcus Cousins
To the Sacramento Kings: Emmanuel Mudiay, Jameer Nelson
The Denver Nuggets are pretty well-stocked at each position, but they are lacking veteran star power. DeMarcus Cousins is a mercurial talent, but an undeniable one… and he has gone on record as having only really truly appreciated now-Nuggets head coach Mike Malone. The loss of the promise of Mudiay would sting, but they could try out Jamal Murray in the point guard role, use one of their multiple promising foreign-born big men (Lauvergne, Nurkic, Jokic) to pry away a point guard such as Ricky Rubio or Michael Carter-Williams, or join the free agent game for a guard on the market. More importantly, Denver has to spend more money than what they have; they have too many roster spots committed to players on rookie scale contracts, and need to spend $21 million just to hit the salary floor. This trade would open a roster spot for a free agent while also adding roughly $10 million to their payroll.
Sacramento needs a new point guard (and a new owner and basketball operations staff, but who’s counting?). They have gambled on some very raw young, talented big men the last couple years like Skal Labissiere and Willie Cauley-Stein. Mixed in with the very top-heavy conference they play in and their brand new building, this is a franchise that can afford to go through some growing pains so long as there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. Mudiay might as well pronounce his name “High Upside”, as he’s seen as one of the most intriguing young guards in the game; someone with the potential to be a franchise cornerstone. Jameer Nelson would provide some sage locker room personality and give them a back-up point guard that doesn’t beat women (shame on you, Collison).
2 Brow’s Bodyguard
To the New Orleans Pelicans: Nikola Pekovic, Adrien Payne (or returned 2017 2nd round pick)
To the Minnesota Timberwolves: Omer Asik, Quincy Pondexter
Nikola Pekovic might be toast. The bruising, brutish center from Montenegro has been battling some seriously lingering injuries. If healthy, however, he would be a big and burly complement to Anthony Davis in the Crescent City… saving The Brow from an awful lot of punishment during the regular season. If Pek does turn out to be completely done, Payne is a good (and also rugged) prospect. Additionally, Pekovic’s salary is less cumbersome: $2 million less per year, two years shorter, and it actually goes down next year instead of up.
Let’s not mince words here, Asik completely crapped the bed in New Orleans. Seen as the imposing defensive presence Anthony Davis needed by his side in order to thrive, Asik has been a near non-entity when even deigned healthy enough to see the floor. If any coach were to get anything out of the Turkish center, it would be the coach (and team president) that coaxed all of Asik’s original value out of him: Minnesota’s Tom Thibodeau. This scenario would allow for a number of different looks for the T’Wolves. Asik could try to play alongside Towns in an extra tall line-up, he could be the defensive anchor off the bench with Dieng and Towns both starting, or it could allow Minnesota to package Dieng with Rubio for a more desirable point guard or small forward. Pondexter is the sort of back-up wing that every team playing for something needs on their team.
To make this trade more sexy, the teams could also add Ricky Rubio-for-Tyreke Evans.
1 Love the Big Easy
To the New Orleans Pelicans: Kevin Love, Timofey Mozgov (S&T)
To the Cleveland Cavaliers: Ryan Anderson (S&T), Tyreke Evans, 2018 1st round pick, Philadelphia’s 2017 2nd round pick
Let’s clear this up right away: As this article was getting published, Mozgov agreed to sign with the Lakers for 4 years and $64 million (like we said… Wild, Wild West). But as the Deandre Jordan scenario last season taught us, verbal agreements don’t mean anything until a contract has been signed and notarized. Quite possibly the dollar amount offered or the opportunity to play for a team further along than Los Angeles might appeal to Timofey and make him change his mind about the purple and gold.
Double sign-and-trades are near impossible to pull off (think double rainbows). That said, this would be a dream return for the marginalized Kevin Love. Ryan Anderson (again, reported to be signing with Houston... but things could change in this alternate reality we're in) is exactly the sort of player that they wanted Love to be, and won’t come with the same expectations of being a more featured player. Tyreke Evans is young and talented, and is either great J.R. Smith insurance, or another versatile wing/playmaker to throw at the other 29 teams. A New Orleans 2018 1st is a complete mystery at this point, but unless the 76ers take a stratospheric leap this season their 2nd rounder will be just as good as a 1st.
New Orleans gets to try pairing Love with Davis. While Love is an apathetic (at best) defender, he should be able to soak up some of the banging that goes on in the post while helping Davis stretch the floor. Mozgov would be a 3rd big in this scenario, teaming with either Love or Davis to provide an inside-out attack on offense and some serious lane clogging on defense.