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Morry Gash/Associated Press
Public service announcement: This is not the offseason in which NBA teams should be itching to add stars.
Trade possibilities abound, because they always do. Buyers will be waiting on not-currently-available-but-could-become-available guys like Bradley Beal and Jrue Holiday. Chris Paul might already have his bags packed. Certain teams may talk themselves into enormous-contract osmosis—the acquisition of overpriced stars for a paltry outgoing sum. Others, or everyone, will be waiting to see which surprise names hit the block.
That’s about the extent of this year’s star-acquisition market. At least, it feels that way. This incoming draft class doesn’t have an overwhelmingly obvious immediate star in its ranks, and free agency does nothing to help the cause; the landscape is completely absent gettable headliners.
Anthony Davis (player option) and Brandon Ingram (restricted) aren’t going anywhere. Many other candidates who fit the bill probably won’t reach the open market, namely DeMar DeRozan (player option), Mike Conley (early termination option), Andre Drummond (player option) and Gordon Hayward (player option).
Danilo Gallinari and Fred VanVleet are up after them. Or there’s heavily aged star power in Marc Gasol and Paul Millsap. That…doesn’t do it.
And so, we’re back to trades. And how every team can put together blockbuster packages to get one. This is an impossible ask, and not every squad will be looking to make such a gigantic splash. We won’t pretend otherwise. Consider this more of a “if Team X wants to try acquiring a star this offseason, even if it probably shouldn’t, even if it almost assuredly can’t, here’s how it should go about it” guide.
Specific trade targets will not be cited in most instances. Who wants to hear the same names over and over and over? Star-for-star swaps will not be a focus. Those defeat the purpose of star acquisitions. Russell Westbrook-for-Chris Paul (and other stuff) deals are a rarity. And finally, package parameters for each squad will factor in competitive outlooks and cap situations and explain why a less or more ambitious blueprint isn’t being laid out.
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Nick Wass/Associated Press
Cap space can technically be the best method by which the Atlanta Hawks acquire a star.
No, they’re not poaching Anthony Davis or Brandon Ingram. But they have more projected wiggle room than any other team. Depending on how they handle their own free agents, they could have the bandwidth to absorb Chris Paul’s $41.4 million salary from the Oklahoma City Thunder without sending back a cent.
Let’s go ahead and call that scenario unlikely. Paul played well enough for the Thunder to seek more than cap relief for his services—he made second-team All-NBA for crying out loud—and Atlanta should be setting its sights higher than other big names on, shall we say, questionable contracts.
Building offers for more coveted stars probably starts with John Collins. His restricted free agency next year complicates his value, but star-shedding squads can still sell themselves on scooping up what will be a 23-year-old fringe star who they’ll have every chance to keep long term.
Fleshing out the rest of the prospective package is pretty straightforward. How much the Hawks must surrender will vary based on the hypothetical target, but they have a number of cost-controlled wings in Kevin Huerter, De’Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish, plus all their own first-rounders, including this year’s No. 6 pick, and a lottery-protected first from Oklahoma City in 2022.
If you’re adamant that Collins is already a star, well, fair enough. Atlanta’s wing prospects and picks should be enough to enter certain discussions. Ditto for the team’s cap space. Everyone the Hawks might dangle, including Collins, is still on rookie-scale salaries. They can use Clint Capela or Dewayne Dedmon to match inbound salaries, but their capacity to eat a ton of extra money is an asset unto itself.
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Michael Dwyer/Associated Press
Any interest the Boston Celtics might show in targeting another star is immensely conditional. They’re not busting up what already might be a championship core to fix what isn’t broken.
Rigidly translated: Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Kemba Walker and Marcus Smart aren’t going anywhere.
Yes, Marcus Smart. He’s so often mentioned in expendable terms. Select Golden State Warriors fans have even pondered whether their team can bag him using the Andre Iguodala trade exception and picks.
Not happening. Smart is no less a part of Boston’s core than Brown, Tatum or Walker. Not only did he just make first-team All-Defense for the second time, but this marks year two of the “Marcus Smart is a competent shooter” experience. He drilled 40.1 percent of his pull-up threes during the regular season and has converted 40.1 percent of his catch-and-fire triples in the playoffs.
This version of Smart isn’t trade fodder. It’s untouchable. Boston would, seemingly, sooner consider dealing Walker than its three-and-all-the-D ace—who, with $27.8 million owed to him over the next two years, has played himself into perhaps the league’s best contract.
Oh, right. The best-Celtics-star-package thing. That begins and ends with Gordon Hayward’s 2020-21 salary (player option). Boston doesn’t have any other money-matching alternatives. Enes Kanter (player option) or Daniel Theis (nonguaranteed) is slated to be its sixth-highest paid player next season.
Hayward’s $34.2 million price point is steep, especially given all the injuries he’s incurred since joining the Celtics, but most acquiring parties won’t bring him in to be their present or future No. 1 or No. 2 option. Huge expiring contracts are a form of long-term cap relief. He allows Boston to sponge up another massive deal that stretches past 2020-21.
That alone isn’t nabbing a star, unless the Celtics are inexplicably smitten by a Blake Griffin– or Russell Westbrook-type situation. But they have goodies they can tether to Hayward’s deal, including three firsts in this year’s draft, all their own picks moving forward and cost-effective youngsters like Carsen Edwards, Romeo Langford, Grant Williams and Robert Williams III.
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Ashley Landis/Associated Press
Captain “Um, Duh” reporting for duty.
The Brooklyn Nets are reportedly in the market for a third star. Dangling Jarrett Allen and Caris LeVert has always been their best shot at landing another big name.
Allen is just 22, a smothering defender around the basket and on a rookie-scale salary through next season. LeVert can’t be considered a prospect at 26, but his combination of off-the-dribble scoring and understated table-setting gives him featured-option appeal—without the usual cost. He’s under team control for the next three years at $52.5 million, a complementary weapon’s price tag that renders him one of the Association’s most valuable trade assets.
Offering just LeVert will put the Nets ahead of many others in certain instances. They’ll need to throw more on top of both he and Allen in others. They have the ammo. Spencer Dinwiddie gives them another reasonably priced to staring-caliber player to include, and they have Rodions Kurucs, Dzanan Musa, this year’s Philadelphia 76ers pick (No. 19) and all their own future firsts. Smart teams will try to get them to part with Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot (nonguaranteed).
Moving on from head coach Kenny Atkinson, replacing him with Durant favorite Steve Nash and promoting DeAndre Jordan to the starting lineup infers a player-driven urgency. But KD has also said LeVert is good enough to be Brooklyn’s third star. That sentiment might spare LeVert from the rumor mill, in which case the Nets will have a harder time acquiring another heavyweight unless they find a seller intrigued by Dinwiddie-Allen framework or the idea of grabbing an unprotected first-round pick that, preferably, doesn’t convey for a few years.
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Tony Dejak/Associated Press
Absent a blue-chip cornerstone, the Charlotte Hornets will probably be out of their depth in the most competitive trade talks. Miles Bridges, Devonte’ Graham, P.J. Washington and this year’s No. 3 pick are better than fine, but none of them oozes centerpiece potential.
Maybe the third overall selection is being undervalued here. Charlotte can also throw in future firsts to glitz up offers. But targeting less sought stars on pricier contracts is more convenient and plausible.
The Hornets should be working with close to $20 million in cap space this summer, assuming they retain all their nonguaranteed contracts and renounce their own free agents. That’s not worth a bad-money star by itself, but it’s enough to offer some immediate cap relief.
Sizable expiring deals also let them aid longer-term cap concerns. Nicolas Batum ($27.1 million player option) and Cody Zeller ($15.4 million) can both anchor trades. Even Terry Rozier III’s money (two years, $36.8 million) will have pull to any might-be sellers looking to offload contracts with more than two remaining seasons.
Please don’t confuse this “most likely route to a star trade” as an endorsement. Do the Houston Rockets consider Batum and Rozier for Westbrook (three years, $132.6 million)? They should. Would the Detroit Pistons bite on Batum or Rozier for Griffin (two years, $75.8 million) straight up? They better.
That doesn’t mean the Hornets should do it—any of it. They probably shouldn’t. They’re in the early stages of what appears to be a real, methodical rebuild. Their flexibility is best burned on young free-agent fliers or trades that net them unsavory contracts attached to picks and prospects.
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Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press
Chicago Bulls executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas is beyond unlikely to oversee a star acquisition at the moment. New front-office regimes taking the controls of a team closer to rebuilding than competing seldom go that route. This franchise is set up to play the longer game.
In the event the Bulls wish to accelerate the process, or want to land a big name just because, they have a number of avenues at their disposal. Tacking other assets on to Zach LaVine’s salary should limit the number of picks and prospects they’d need to surrender. They can also use the expiring contracts of Cristiano Felicio and Otto Porter Jr. to enter overpriced star “sweepstakes.”
But this exercise is about identifying the most competitive manner in which each team can add a star. And the Bulls, unlike the Hornets, have bluer-chip prospects to use as bait.
Coby White looms large in this discussion should Chicago go all-in. If he’s deemed untouchable, they still have Wendell Carter Jr., the extension-eligible Lauri Markkanen, the No. 4 pick and all of their own future firsts.
Adding larger salaries to some combination of those assets—they have quasi-expirings in Tomas Satoransky ($5 million guaranteed in 2021-22) and Thaddeus Young ($6 million guaranteed in 2021-22) to include as well—should open plenty of doors for the Bulls. Whether they should actually pass through them is a separate matter. (They most likely should not.)
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Paul Beaty/Associated Press
Entering star-acquisition mode would mark a course reversal for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Sure, they landed Andre Drummond (player option) at the trade deadline. But that was a transaction borne of opportunity. They paid pennies on the dollar for his services. His arrival has not created a clear path out of rebuilding mode. Nor does it suggest Kevin Love will be anything other than eminently available over the offseason.
Stranger things have happened, though—like the Drummond trade itself. Perhaps the Cavaliers decide to expedite their process. Maybe they just want another household name who won’t force them to mortgage the future.
Bet on the latter scenario if you’re betting on anything. (Related: Do not bet on their hunting stars.) The Cavaliers don’t have the asset firepower to outbid other suitors in the Bradley Beal/Jrue Holiday/Victor Oladipo tier.
Make no mistake, something along the lines of Kevin Porter Jr., Collin Sexton, the No. 5 pick and additional salary would be an aggressive offer. It can still be beaten, which renders go-for-broke offers, implausible in the first place, less of an intriguing play.
Using Drummond’s expiring $28.8 million salary as a starting point is more palatable. He isn’t the type of big name whose exit would guarantee a downgrade, and Cleveland can affix him to a smaller collection of buffers (Darius Garland, Dylan Windler) if it’s targeting lower-end stars who won’t be flipped purely for long-term cap relief.
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Richard W. Rodriguez/Associated Press
Sign-and-trade scenarios should be on the table for the Dallas Mavericks in free agency, but that brings us back to our opening quandary: The list of available players is just about devoid of stars.
Removing Anthony Davis and Brandon Ingram from consideration leaves…Danilo Gallinari and Fred VanVleet as the closest (should-be) free-agent stars. Both are tantalizing fits for the Mavericks but stretch the criteria much too far—particularly in the context of the Western Conference.
Taking to the trade market is more feasible by default, but it’s also far from bankable. Dallas doesn’t have an it asset if Luka Doncic (duh) and Kristaps Porzingis (duh) are off-limits. Jalen Brunson is its top prospect-with-upside candidate.
Desirable contracts are the best thing the Mavericks have going for them. Tim Hardaway Jr. (player option) comes off the books after next year, and Seth Curry, Dorian Finney-Smith, Maxi Kleber and Delon Wright are all on fair- or below-market deals.
Combining any of those deals is a boon for salary-matching purposes but doesn’t get Dallas anywhere special. Having Doncic demands more than accepting stars on lackluster contracts. The Mavericks need to make a shinier acquisition if they’re going to punt on—or even complicate—their 2021 cap space.
Including distant first-round picks could do the trick. Emphasis on could. Dallas can’t trade a future first before 2025. Star sellers rarely think that far in advance, but they should. Present-day contenders can be in drastically different situations four and five years later or so.
Extracting loosely protected, down-the-line firsts should be more of a common practice. But Dallas’ distant picks aren’t as glamorous. The Mavericks aren’t the Rockets, a wannabe contender assembled around aging stars. Doncic is 21. His best basketball has yet to come. Still, Porzingis’ injury track record is drowning in red flags, and the Western Conference remains unforgiving. Getting a long-ways-away first from Dallas wouldn’t be nothing.
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Kevin C. Cox/Associated Press
Michael Porter Jr. should give the Denver Nuggets access to any bigwig trade target who comes across their radar. His debut season has featured plenty of peaks and valleys, right down to his playing time, but he’s flashed scoring chops from every level, looking the part of someone who can, long term, work as both alpha and companion.
Every team put in the position of having to shop a star should place him atop their wish list. He has two years left on his rookie-scale deal and might be an heir apparent for any squad nearing the throes of a rebuild. Pair him with more expensive salary, and the Nuggets are really working with something.
That’s part of the problem. Denver is in the Western Conference Finals. It could make the NBA Finals. Its two incumbent stars, Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray, are under 26. Dealing MPJ submits to urgency from which this team isn’t suffering. Its window to win is now, but it might already have enough to abide by that timeline.
Tying larger salaries to Porter only complicates matters. They’re not teeming with dispensables. Paul Millsap and Mason Plumlee are coming off the ledger. Jerami Grant will likely follow suit, and Denver’s defense cannot afford to lose him even if he picks up his player option
Will Barton and Gary Harris register as the best salary-filler candidates. Neither is expendable. Harris is mission critical to guarding wings even when he’s not scoring, and Barton, while a magnet for injuries the past two years, was no worse than the Nuggets’ third-best player for most of the regular season.
Denver might have the juice to negotiate a semiseismic trade without Porter. He is still the most alluring non-star on the roster—someone who the Nuggets can use to enter any big-name discussion they please yet might be just as valuable as a keeper.
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Matt York/Associated Press
Relying on cap relief alone could possibly get the Pistons a big name. They have a path to $30 million in space if they renounce all of their free agents other than Christian Wood. They’ll have even more if Tony Snell declines his player option.
All of that runway immediately puts them in play for unattractive contracts, some of which they could swallow without sending back anything in return (Al Horford, DeMar DeRozan, etc.). For the more expensive dice rolls, they can lean on cap space while throwing in the expiring deal of Snell or Derrick Rose.
And yet, the Pistons already have one of these star pacts on the books, courtesy of Blake Griffin. Adding another—let alone one like Russell Westbrook’s or John Wall‘s—would be unqualified overkill.
Detroit is better off prioritizing actual star assets, though that’s a pretty generous interpretation of “better off.” Right now, no player who’s worth accelerating a might-be-rebuilding timeline profiles to be available. Bradley Beal would come pretty close, but he alone doesn’t guarantee a punched playoff ticket.
Cobbling together offers built around some combination Sekou Doumbouya, Luke Kennard, Svi Mykhailiuk, the No. 7 pick and future firsts is at once fairly meh and a tall-tall-tall order. If the Pistons want to, though, pairing any of those cost-controlled assets with the immediate cap relief they can offer should amount to an attention-getter.
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Ben Margot/Associated Press
Pretty much every Warriors offseason trade scenario—of which there are many—focuses on this year’s No. 2 pick. That’s not unfair. It is the more immediate asset. Inquiring teams know where the selection has landed and who will roughly be available at that spot. Kicking the can another year is more subject to the unknown, both good and bad.
At the same time, this draft isn’t generating a ton of fanfare. Few squads figure to be smitten by the prospect of grabbing Anthony Edwards or LaMelo Ball. The ones who might be—the Hornets and the New York Knicks, for instance—don’t have the star equity to placate Golden State’s blockbuster lust.
Hypotheticals get more interesting if the Warriors include next year’s top-three-protected Minnesota Timberwolves pick. The draft class is far deeper, and the Timberwolves aren’t yet out of the early lottery woods.
Committing to a D’Angelo Russell-Karl-Anthony Towns core is a start, but the supporting cast remains an issue. Malik Beasley (restricted), Jarrett Culver, Juan Hernangomez (restricted), James Johnson (player option), Josh Okogie, Jarred Vanderbilt and whomever Minnesota takes at No. 1 hardly assure Minnesota of anything. The West is still ultrabrutal, and the rotation wants for two-way impact from the top down.
Completely counting out Timberwolves president Gersson Rosas would be a mistake. He’s shown he’ll be aggressive, beginning with the Russell trade. He is someone who has the gall to flip the No. 1 pick and, by extension, devalue Minnesota’s 2021 selection.
This doesn’t change much for Golden State. This year’s pick will hold more value in the future, if the player it turns into has proved his mettle across an NBA sample. The mystique attached to the Timberwolves’ first isn’t going anywhere until sometime next year, if it ever does. The Warriors should be able to wedge their way into all sorts of talks by making it available—especially if done in tandem with the No. 2 choice and a willingness to use the $17.2 million Andre Iguodala trade exception.
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Kim Klement/Associated Press
Houston’s contract commitments are not a haven for hypotheticals. The nature of this exercise is already loaded. Mapping out the best, most sensible ways in which every team can acquire a star is patently unfair. The Rockets are having us do it with both hands tied behind our back, a blindfold over our eyes and Russell Westbrook’s game-worn socks in our mouth.
Capped-out teams are forced to empty their pick-and-prospect armory under these circumstances. Houston has already done so. Its 2022 first is in play, but that means little unless you’re expecting James Harden to fall off or demand a trade.
Mashing together pricey role-player contracts doesn’t do the Rockets many favors, either. They’re barren of such deals that are both reasonable and expendable. They cannot get away with moving Robert Covington or P.J. Tucker if they want microball to effectively survive.
Some will claim that Westbrook is dispensable, but jettisoning the three years and $132.6 million left on his deal is not a mindless matter. No team is tripping over itself to obtain Eric Gordon and the $54.7 million he’s guaranteed through 2022-23.
Swapping monster contract for monster contract is an idea, but not an especially good sensible appealing one. The Rockets don’t substantively move the needle by subbing out Westbrook for Blake Griffin or post-Achilles-injury John Wall. (For their part, the Pistons probably rebuff the Russ-for-Blake exchange without thinking once. Griffin has one year less on his deal.)
Philadelphia might just be Houston’s tough-to-find match. Any Westbrook deal should be a no-no given his non-fit with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, but the Sixers could convince themselves to soak up Gordon’s deal if it means unloading pricier commitments to Al Horford (three years, $81 million; $69 million guaranteed) or Tobias Harris (four years, $147.3 million).
Horford’s money is easier to match if the Rockets don’t want to include Covington, Tucker or Danuel House. Sending out Gordon, Chris Clemons, Ben McLemore (non-guaranteed) and David Nwaba (team option) satisfies financial requirements. Austin Rivers can be subbed in for McLemore or Nwaba if he agrees to pick up his player option.
Does this make sense for Houston? Horford still has some defensive switch to him, but he’s not microball-sized. Does it make sense for Philly? Gordon is cheaper, but he bricked a lot of threes this season. Equivocation abounds. Welcome to Club Rockets.
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Ashley Landis/Associated Press
Forcing the Indiana Pacers into the star-trade discussion is neither a hopeless nor suitable venture.
Their asset store isn’t built for it. They have a truckload of “oh, sure, we’ll take him” contracts, but no one who registers as an incoming-superstar magnet. This doesn’t include Victor Oladipo. Shopping him as part of this process defeats the purpose of it.
On the flip side, so many other teams find themselves in shoddier shape relative to this conversation. The Pacers have plenty of salary anchors that don’t break the bank, can point to Aaron Holiday and Goga Bitadze as upside plays and control all of their own first-rounders after 2020. They just need that centerpiece.
Myles Turner is it—or close to it.
Domantas Sabonis is the better player right now, but his skill set is more possession-dependent and not as scalable. Malcolm Brogdon is more of a finishing piece than a building block. And Oladipo’s expiring deal alone isn’t getting a star on a net-positive pact following his right quad injury; he’s still working his way back.
Centers who can hit threes, move their feet on defense and protect the hell out of the rim have universally translatable impacts. Turner hasn’t wowed offensively. He’s passive, not a standout passer and inconsistent in the post. But his price tag is easy on the wallet (three years, $54 million), he’s young enough to be a part of any timeline (24), and teams prepared to coax more three-point volume from him will get a bigger, better bang for their buck on offense than Indiana has so far received.
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Kevin C. Cox/Associated Press
Landing two stars last offseason probably prevents the Los Angeles Clippers from nabbing another one before next year.
Short of offering Paul George or Kawhi Leonard, blockbuster trade assets are impossible to come by. Landry Shamet is the highest-upside player on the roster—which, it could be worse—and the Clippers cannot trade a first-rounder before 2028.
Step-laddering their way to one of the not-so-pretty max contracts isn’t much of an option, either. The Clippers cannot burn whatever few notches of flexibility they have on the near-immovables, most of whom don’t really jibe with their roster makeup.
Putting together a pu pu platter of playable rotation pieces who, combined, can bring back the expensive salary of a serviceable star, present or past his prime, is their best bet. And even that’s tenuous.
Would the Sixers do Patrick Beverley, Mfiondu Kabengele, Terance Mann and Rodney McGruder for Al Horford? Would the Clippers? Or would they need another asset back?
Do the Thunder consider Beverley, McGruder, Lou Williams and Ivica Zubac for Chris Paul? Are the Clippers willing to surrender three major rotation players, one of whom is just 23, for a 35-year-old star point guard? Feel free to discuss among yourselves.
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Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press
The Los Angeles Lakers are in a boat adjacent to the Clippers. They can’t flip a future first-rounder before 2026, and their youngish-player pool consists of Alex Caruso, Kyle Kuzma and Talen Horton-Tucker.
Getting standout contributions from Caruso and Kuzma helps, and Horton-Tucker doesn’t turn 20 until November. They’re not carrying the Lakers into the Bradley Beal or Jrue Holiday discourse, but they could provide pathways to stars in the tier above scared-face salaries.
Matching incoming pay grades will be an issue if enough player options aren’t exercised. Avery Bradley ($5 million), Kentavious Caldwell-Pope ($8.3 million), JaVale McGee ($4.2 million) and Rajon Rondo ($2.7 million) can all hit the open market. The Lakers need between two and three of them to return if they also wish to retain Danny Green.
And even that doesn’t put them in an enviable spot. Shipping out Bradley, KCP, McGee, Rondo and Kuzma would allow the Lakers to take on more than $30 million in salary, but who is that getting them? They can include other players to drum up their money-matching limit, but few teams are going to pounce on four-, five- or six-for-one proposals. Roster limits are a thing.
Treating Green as salary filler may be unavoidable in the end. That’s more than acceptable if the Lakers are getting back a star, assuming he’s the right one. Maybe that’s Chris Paul. It’s almost assuredly not Al Horford or Tobias Harris. Could it be Kevin Love? It is definitely not Blake Griffin or Russell Westbrook.
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Ashley Landis/Associated Press
Consider this star-gathering blueprint a nod to the Memphis Grizzlies’ timeline (and first-team All-Rookie emergence of Brandon Clarke). They could try snatching a more onerous contract by offering mid-end salary fodder, in the form of Gorgui Dieng, Tyus Jones and Kyle Anderson, but the crux of their nucleus is too promising to jeopardize with a potential non-asset.
Going after someone who isn’t yet on the back end of his career is more their speed, because it has to be their speed. And with Ja Morant fast-tracking their draft-pick stock toward mediocrity, they need a cornerstone-type prospect to headline blockbusters offers.
Jaren Jackson Jr. is that guy. He clearly shouldn’t be the fulcrum for an entire rebuild, but he’s a plug-and-play offensive star who has more defensive range than his foul rate suggests. Having just turned 21, with two years left on his rookie contract, he is a caps-lock, bold-font asset.
Making him available puts the Grizzlies in line to join almost any star sweepstakes that take place—depending on how they fill out the rest of the package. With Jackson in play, though, they’d need to use Jrue Holiday as a baseline and someone with the cachet of Bradley Beal as the actual goal.
Just a friendly reminder, for the umpteenth time: This isn’t an endorsement. Given Memphis’ semi-immediate timeline, and how detrimental the wrong acquisition could be, it’s just the most sensible blockbuster framework.
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Lynne Sladky/Associated Press
This blurb should really be titled “Giannis Antetokounmpo signs his supermax with the Milwaukee Bucks.”
The Miami Heat have cap space—if they’re willing to let their own free agents walk, so they probably won’t have cap space—and a couple of tantalizing young players in Tyler Herro, Kendrick Nunn and Duncan Robinson. (Bam Adebayo, 23, is untouchable.) But they, like so many others, have a vested interest in Antetokounmpo’s 2021 free agency. Chasing another star now messes with their cap space when he’s scheduled to reach the open market.
Planning around another team’s player is wildly dangerous. The Heat are also the Heat: experts in reacting and rejiggering on the fly. Equally important: They needn’t be in a rush. They’re two wins away from the friggin’ NBA Finals at this writing. Patience is a luxury they absolutely have, and it comes risk-free if they can convince Jae Crowder and Goran Dragic to sign above-market one-year deals in free agency.
Then again: The Heat are still the Heat. Everything can change on a whim if they find the right opportunity. Maybe Bradley Beal is suddenly within grasp. Or perhaps they’re able to steal Victor Oladipo for a cut rate.
Antetokounmpo signing a supermax is among the list of potential curveballs. If he recommits to Milwaukee for any period of time, Miami is free to explore the star market without reticence. And team president Pat Riley has the tools to set off fireworks.
Herro and Robinson are two of the league’s most valuable trade assets. Herro specifically might be the absolute best. He’s an ultraconfident sharpshooter who has shown he can do more off the dribble, including, at times, converting tricky finishes, through contact, around the rim. That he doesn’t turn 21 until January and has three years left on his rookie-scale deal is a seller’s dream. He might put the Heat in star contention without having to also forfeit Robinson.
Finishing off prospective packages is the real challenge. Matching salary is not available to the Heat in heavy supply, and they won’t have cap space if they ferry free-agent holds for Crowder and Dragic. Kelly Olynyk gives them one contract, assuming he picks up his $13.2 million player option, but they’d have to send out Andre Iguodala’s deal to enter superstar-money range.
None of which is a deal-breaker. Herro himself might be the hangup. Miami has no business including him in Chris Paul hypotheticals—which, for what it’s worth, stand to be money-matching migraines if the Heat aren’t working with cap space. They will be hard-pressed to give him up for Oladipo. Using Herro to candy-coat a Beal package would be easier to stomach. It is also, at this point, probably the star threshold Miami must clear to relinquish its prized kiddie.
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Morry Gash/Associated Press
Diving into exact trade scenarios for the Bucks feels like a waste of time. Their range of outcomes is all over the place.
They’re brimming with practical salary-matching tools, but no matter what they say, it isn’t yet clear whether they’ll pay the tax. They need to enter it first. Then we’ll talk.
They have an intriguing young player in Donte DiVincenzo, along with Indiana’s No. 24 pick, but they lack a crown-jewel asset. They can deal a future first-rounder, but not before 2024, which will be valuable if it’s loosely protected and teams expect Giannis Antetokounmpo to bolt but will be not-so-hot if it’s moderately protected and the reigning MVP goes nowhere.
Cue mystified exasperation.
Chris Paul has quickly developed into the “go get him!” target amid the fallout from Milwaukee’s second-round exit. This tracks. The Thunder appear on the verge of a rebuild, and his $41.4 million salary renders him accessible to suitors without A-plus assets. Assembling a package to pair him with Antetokounmpo isn’t easy if the Bucks want to retain both or either of George Hill and Brook Lopez, but it can be done.
Related: It might not matter. The Athletic’s Eric Nehm and Sam Amick reported Paul is a no-go for Milwaukee. Check back in a few weeks or months. See if that’s still the case.
But the Bucks’ interest in Paul—or lack thereof—isn’t the entire point. Any star trade they angle for needs to include Eric Bledsoe and the $38.9 million he’s guaranteed over the next two years. (His full three-year cap hit is $53.4 million.) Though many crappier deals are out there, most non-contenders don’t have a purpose for a 30-year-old point guard who, while a defensive whiz, hasn’t played up to snuff over the past three postseasons.
Sussing out a third team who might be interested in his services would, theoretically, go a long way toward beefing up Milwaukee’s best trade proposals. Maybe he goes directly into another squad’s cap space. (Atlanta?) Or perhaps a third party sends out an expiring contract to the Bucks’ primary trade partner.
Or maybe, just maybe, Milwaukee actually gleans a low- to mid-end pick or prospect from the facilitating squad it can then use to mollify the overall offer.
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Jim Mone/Associated Press
Trading the No. 1 pick, while suggested in mass every year, is usually a farfetched proposition. This year is different.
Uncertainty at the top of the draft would’ve validated the sentiment no matter who won the lottery. Anthony Edwards and LaMelo Ball seem like the consensus options at No. 1, but neither is the formality Zion Williamson was last year. Even Deandre Ayton was more of a certainty at the top spot in 2018—Luka Doncic’s draft year.
Sweeping ambiguity invites drastic measures. Nearly any team with the No. 1 pick probably would’ve considered trading it. But it isn’t just any team with the No. 1 pick. It’s the Timberwolves. And they have more of an incentive to shop it around than most.
D’Angelo Russell and Karl-Anthony Towns are part of this calculus. Both are on the right side of 25, but they’re also on max deals. Franchises don’t foot the bill on two huge contracts just to wait around.
More than that, the Timberwolves gave up their 2021 first-rounder to get Russell, with only top-three protection. They need to be good next season. Even not terrible won’t cut it. Coughing up a top-seven pick in what’s considered a super deep draft class would sting.
As ever, Minnesota’s willingness to unload the No. 1 selection depends on its value. This draft’s muted supply of perceived star power works against potential returns. It’ll take more than this pick and a filler contract to bring in a marquee talent like Bradley Beal, Victor Oladipo, Jrue Holiday or whatever surprise name pops up.
The Timberwolves do have some sweeteners, but not a boatload. Their well dries out after Jarrett Culver, Josh Okogie and Jarred Vanderbilt—Malik Beasley is a restricted free agent—unless they’re open to baking in distant firsts, beginning with the 2023 draft. That shouldn’t be problematic if they’re married to the Holiday or Oladipo tier, but it’ll be dicey if they’re aiming higher.
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Matthew Hinton/Associated Press
Blockbuster trade packages from the New Orleans Pelicans can take many different forms.
For our purposes, Jrue Holiday, Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson are non-starters. Everyone and everything else is on the table. And that’s a lot. From Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart to Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Jaxon Hayes to all of New Orleans’ future firsts and a couple of Lakers picks, it’s a lot.
Others are free to run with Lonzo-plus-whatever framework. But he is set for restricted free agency in 2021 and hasn’t yet hinted at sustainable stardom. The Lakers’ 2024 first—which can be deferred until 2025—is a more tempting asset.
Rolling with this pick is not without risk. LeBron James could be mortal by then or playing for a different team, but the Lakers still have Anthony Davis. They will not necessarily be win-loss dregs in four to five years’ time.
This first-rounder is so far down the line it could be anything. It is five to six drafts from now. That is an eternity in the NBA. The Lakers could age out of championship contention. Davis will be in his 30s and, presumably, have a second crack at free agency before then. LeBron will be in his 40s…or about to be in his 40s.
Reference Lakers exceptionalism as you must. They will always be a destination. Both LeBron and AD have proven as much. But this pick is not without curb appeal for the big-picture-thinking franchises.
Really, it would border on irresponsible for the Pelicans to sell it off so soon. But if they’re looking to float a win-now mode and trying to enter the fray for Bradley Beal or a better player yet to be made available, designing deals around the 2024/2025 Lakers selection should be an effective, if precarious, if slightly reckless, place to start.
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Kathy Willens/Associated Press
If any rebuilding team is going to pursue superstar trades over the offseason, it’ll be the Knicks. They rarely live in the future if said future is more than a few months away. New team president Leon Rose might run a more forward-thinking ship, but the preliminary interest in 35-year-old Chris Paul speaks to at least a dab of lateral reasoning.
Piecing together sparkly trade packages shouldn’t require too much critical thought for a squad in the Knicks’ position. They can have gobs of cap space if they waive their partially guaranteed deals and decline Bobby Portis’ club option, house a slew of lottery prospects, own this year’s No. 8 and No. 27 picks, control all of their future firsts, own two Mavericks firsts in 2021 (unprotected) and 2023 (top-10 protection), and still employ Mitchell Robinson.
The problem? There may not be a cornerstone asset in New York’s arsenal.
Too many of the Knicks’ prospects verge on distressed assets, mainly Kevin Knox, Frank Ntilikina (I will forever believe!) and Dennis Smith Jr. RJ Barrett holds a higher level of sway; his down-up-down-down rookie year had so much to do with the roster makeup. But he may be more non-shooter than shooter, which will invariably give teams pause when evaluating him as a standalone building block.
Dallas’ draft picks are whatever. They’re not turning into red-carpet draws unless Luka Doncic falls off the face of the planet. Robinson is a blue-chip prospect…at his position…which is center…a spot that’s being increasingly, alarmingly marginalized when not occupied by someone with the offensive skills and range of a wing.
Piling their assets on top of one another can glamour up all of the Knicks’ offers, but to what end? They need an asset base to support whatever star they’re acquiring. That’s why CP3—but for the sensibility’s sake, hopefully not Blake Griffin or Russell Westbrook—is so intriguing. He’ll cost the Knicks something, maybe even somethings, but not everything. The breadth of asset consolidation New York would need to underwrite to beat out offers for younger All-NBA types is sort of terrifying—yet, in all likelihood, entirely necessary if it is looking to make that kind of deal.
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Kim Klement/Associated Press
Pursuing a star trade goes against the Thunder’s apparent direction. Chris Paul’s Disney World sign-off sounded like a heartfelt farewell to Oklahoma City, and parting ways with head coach Billy Donovan adds further merit to the organization preparing for a reset it was supposed to begin following the Paul George and Russell Westbrook exits.
This course correction is totally, completely, unequivocally voluntary. The Thunder just finished fifth in the wild West and came within a few makes and stops of ousting the Rockets in the first round. They have the grounds to re-sign Danilo Gallinari, shop around free agency with the mid-level exception, keep Paul and run it back.
There’s also the more nuclear scenario: Do all of that while scoping out the star-trade market.
Throwing together packages built around Shai Gilgeous-Alexander should get the Thunder a seat at any bargaining table. The thing is, they don’t need him.
They will have as many as 14 first-rounders through the 2026 draft (their 2020 selection is headed to the Philadelphia). Not all of those picks will be razzle-dazzle assets, but the post-2023 Rockets and Clippers choices give off a certain sheen. Both squads may have aged out of their current windows between 2024 and 2026.
Plopping two or three of those selections next to Steve Adams’ expiring salary ($27.5 million) should pique the interest of certain, if not most, sellers. And the Thunder have more immediate picks to spare if it comes to that. It just doesn’t seem like it’ll come to that, mostly because they won’t allow it to.
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John Raoux/Associated Press
Jonathan Isaac’s torn left ACL has upended the Orlando Magic’s blockbuster-asset inventory. He would’ve been an integral ingredient in any all-out, full-tilt, no-holds-barred home-run swing. He might still be. But his value is warped, if torpedoed, by an injury that’s expected to sideline him through next season, by which time he’ll be a restricted free agent.
Certain teams might see this as an opportunity. Acquiring him before 2020-21 tips off would give them a chance to broker an extension, and he may be more inclined to sign one at a reduced price tag in favor of long-term security.
Treating him as the Magic’s most hypnotic asset still feels like a reach. His extended absence has to matter. It isn’t just about next season. He’ll need time to find his bearings in 2021-22.
That leaves Aaron Gordon, the most frequently discussed player on Orlando’s roster. His peak continues to fall shy of stardom, but he busted out more playmaking and a tidier post game this season. And while his shooting remains warty, he canned 36.1 percent of his catch-and-fire triples after Jan. 1. That he’ll run just $34.5 million over the next two years is also a boon for his stock. A team that doesn’t rely on him to be a from-scratch jump shooter as often should fall in love.
The Magic will still have to dress up the rest of their package. Gordon and his cap-friendly contract is a start, not the whole kit and kaboodle. Their finishing touches can include any number of their solid-yet-unspectacular assets: Mo Bamba, Markelle Fultz, Chuma Okeke, Terrence Ross, this year’s No. 15 pick and future firsts. Star-for-star swaps aren’t the focus here, but flipping Nikola Vucevic shouldn’t be out of the question if the acquiring team is positioning itself to make more of an immediate dent in the standings.
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Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press
Here’s the good news: the Sixers absolutely have the salary to orchestrate another star acquisition. Here’s the not-so-good news: the asset equity is a different story.
Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons are not part of this, ahem, process. Moving right along. And that takes us to…Al Horford, who has three years and $81 million left on his deal ($69 million guaranteed), and Tobias Harris, who is owed $147.3 million over the next four seasons.
On the bright side, go ahead and choose your star target. The Sixers can make the money work. But again: the logistics…the friggin’ logistics. Good luck finding a team that’ll accept Horford or Harris without sending back a comparably problematic deal. Philly should be able to set its sights for Blake Griffin, John Wall or Russell Westbrook, but…woof. Griffin stands out as the best fit, but only because his deal only runs another two years.
Aiming higher—including above Kevin Love—dictates the Sixers break open the buffer-asset bank. Except, theirs is fairly sparse. Josh Richardson alone doesn’t cut it after the season he just had, and his $11.6 million salary cannot be readily worked into deals headlined by a $27.5 million or $34.4 million player. Zhaire Smith’s value peaked on draft night 2018. The No. 21 pick probably isn’t enough to spice up the pot on its own.
Future firsts and Matisse Thybulle project as the most powerful sweeteners. Thybulle proved himself a not just pesky but omnipresent defender during his rookie campaign, and while Philadelphia will hope to contend moving forward, the combustibility of this year’s roster could leave a few trade partners willing to bet against the franchise’s longer-term outlook.
Chris Paul seems like the target if the Sixers want to limit the number of assets they must include. Oklahoma City has little use for Harris or Horford if it’s entering a rebuild, but Philly, ostensibly, has a puncher’s chance of emerging from those negotiations with Thybulle still on the roster. Prioritizing younger options could demand his inclusion on top of multiple firsts and, if feasible, Richardson—a full-on depletion of the asset clip.
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Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press
So much for generality.
This isn’t an attempt to troll the Phoenix Suns. Their situation just demands a more specific outline.
They appear on the cusp of cracking the Western Conference playoff discussion after a perfect 8-0 showing in the bubble. That outlook is also fragile. Theirs is a trajectory that feels like it could be thrown off-balance by the slightest trace over-aggression.
Hashing out a star trade will, in many cases, cost an arm and a leg in blue-chip assets. The Suns are a team with plenty of those, but a scant few feel expendable.
Devin Booker isn’t the concern here. He’s untouchable. But going all-in for certain stars could require unloading Deandre Ayton or Mikal Bridges and potentially some combination of Cameron Johnson, this year’s No. 10 pick and future firsts. Phoenix is not yet deep enough into its new normal to render that kind of verdict. Mortgaging a substantial chunk of the future is, for now, more haphazard than prudent.
Adjusting their scope to focus on elder stars who won’t cost as much big-picture equity is safer. Those finds don’t grow on trees. Many, if most, who fall under that umbrella are on tough-to-stomach deals.
Chris Paul will even register as one of those players for some. Resist being among them. The $85.6 million he’s owed over the next two years is elephantine, but that commitment is short-lived, so any belly-up outcomes would be as well.
If this season is any indication, though, Phoenix wouldn’t have to endure the worst. Paul made second-team All-NBA and led the Thunder within an inch of victory over the Rockets in the first round of the playoffs. At 35, his age is a concern, but the Suns wouldn’t be asking him to fly them to the moon and back. They have Booker to ferry that burden. Between he, Ayton and the version of Dario Saric (restricted) from the bubble, Paul’s offensive workload in Phoenix should be lighter than it was in Oklahoma City.
To what lengths the Suns should go for Paul is worth conversation. Packaging Ty Jerome, Kelly Oubre Jr. and Ricky Rubio creates the necessary bandwidth and is a worthwhile cost. Does Phoenix balk at dropping in the No. 10 pick? Would Oklahoma City bristle at taking on Rubio, even though the two years and $34.8 million left on his deal are cheaper than Paul’s 2020-21 salary alone? Could the Suns get out of giving up No. 10 if they find a third partner to grab Rubio?
Phoenix should draw a line in the sand. It would also need to recognize that Paul is ridiculously good, and that ridiculously good players cost assets, and that Oubre and Rubio plus Jerome and/or No. 10 is not a ridiculous price to pay for a ridiculously good player.
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David Zalubowski/Associated Press
Assembling a star-trade blueprint for the Portland Trail Blazers is a chore without including one of their three best players. It is both an issue of assets and salary-matching tools.
After Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, no one on the Blazers is scheduled to make more than $14.2 million next season. Trevor Ariza and Jusuf Nurkic are the only players currently set to earn eight-figure salaries, and that’s if the former’s contract is guaranteed. Rodney Hood (player option) could wind up as Portland’s fifth-highest paid player, at $6 million. (That honor may, if almost certainly will, belong to whomever general manager Neil Olshey signs with the mid-level exception.)
Inserting Ariza as the primary salary anchor would force the Blazers to probe four-for-one scenarios. Dangling him, Hood, Zach Collins and Anfernee Simons allows them to take back a little over $33 million. They can futz around with the package if they’re returning less money, but Collins and Simons, together, are non-negotiable inclusions for any blockbuster, and removing Hood would drag their returning-money ceiling down to around $25.6 million.
Perhaps that’s enough. Great. Finding three-for-one deals isn’t easy. It will be more like four-for-one again if the Blazers have to throw in this year’s No. 16 pick. And adding more assets should be the expectation. Simons’ value has plummeted following a forgettable sophomore year, and Collins’ stock may have taken a hit now that he’s nearing his second contract (extension-eligible) and missed most of this season with left shoulder and left ankle injuries.
Portland should not be against the all-out approach if the return is nice. Bradley Beal feels out of reach, but Jrue Holiday and Victor Oladipo might be more reasonable. This would be a nifty destination for Draymond Green if the Warriors are feeling frisky and fractious. I had a dream once the Blazers acquired Chris Paul right before a playoff game, played super small and scored 200-plus points. Interpret that as you like.
No package that doesn’t include Lillard or McCollum should be considered out of bounds (for this exercise, anyway). Throw Gary Trent Jr. in there too. He went kaboom in the bubble, and Portland has been hard up for wings since forever. He’s a free agent in 2021, so perhaps his eventual payday should compel the Blazers to capitalize on the goodwill he’s built up. But it better be in exchange for a top-25 player if they’re dealing him and a consortium of other assets.
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Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press
The Sacramento Kings don’t have a ton to work with once we account for the obvious and note that De’Aaron Fox will not be tossed into any trade packages.
Not one of their contracts is an irredeemable turnoff—yes, including Harrison Barnes’ deal—but they’re not bankrolling any hot-commodity bargains beyond Richaun Holmes’ expiring pact. They also don’t employ any splashy youngsters after Fox. Marvin Bagley III’s injury-damned sophomore campaign has, for now, obliterated his value.
The No. 12 pick is useful, but not standalone material. The same goes for the Kings’ future firsts. Their organizational track record is, um, iffy enough for teams to place premiums on loosely protected draft equity, but they’re set up to hover around the mid-to-late lottery or better so long as Fox remains healthy.
Just about every blockbuster trade proposal needs to begin with Buddy Hield and his about-to-kick-in extension. That marching order changes if Sacramento is willing to devour one of the more noxious star deals. Spoiler alert: It shouldn’t be. The Kings are barely on the postseason fringes as it stands. Spinning the Wheel of Chance on a Blake Griffin, Al Horford or, much less logically, Russell Westbrook risks cratering the middle-rung standing to which they’re clinging.
Granted, Hield alone isn’t getting Sacramento too far. Deadeye shooters are worth paying, but he’s not an afterthought at four years and $106 million ($94 million guaranteed). His annual salary is most useful because of what it can bring back without expanding the deal.
Picks must be attached to Hield for the Kings to reach the inbound-star finish line. Plural. Probably. Just how many rests with the target. It’ll take more than one to get the Washington Wizards thinking about Bradley Beal (if they’re willing to consider moving him at all). It shouldn’t take as many—or even more than one—if they’re chancing a look-see at Victor Oladipo. Hield and No. 12 actually seems like a fair starting point with his entering free agency in 2021 and still trying to build himself back up following a 2018 right quad injury.
I’ll add this as well: If for some reason the Kings use Hield’s salary to break bread with the Sixers, they better get a carrot (or three) should Horford or Tobias Harris be the end result.
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Darren Abate/Associated Press
Exploring the blockbuster-trade landscape isn’t the San Antonio Spurs’ style—unless, of course, their hand is forced by an incumbent who wants out, and whose name rhymes with Lawhi Keonard. To that end, they have given no indication this will change. Nor is it clear whether they have the assets to substantiate said change.
Skulking around cap-hell contracts is a no-no. The Spurs are nearing the end of their own salary slog. LaMarcus Aldridge, DeMar DeRozan (player option), Rudy Gay and Patty Mills will all be off the books after next season, at which time they’re slated to have only one eight-figure hit on the ledger—two if you account for Derrick White’s free-agent hold.
Incidentally, having four semi-large to actually large expiring deals does pave the way for San Antonio to make moves. Attaching Aldridge ($24 million) or DeRozan ($27.7 million) to some mix of White, Keldon Johnson, Lonnie Walker IV, this year’s No. 11 pick and future firsts could be good enough to land a second-tier star. Offering Aldridge or DeRozan and Gay or Mills to Oklahoma City might get the Chris Paul ball rolling.
But the Spurs’ most enticing hypothetical packages include both Murray and White, two potential building blocks who will earn under $18 million between them next season. Coupling them with another sizable salary—Gay or Mills unless they’re looking at someone on a supermax—is a competitive package without making any tweaks.
Exactly what conversations this framework grants San Antonio access to is fuzzy. It’s probably too steep for Jrue Holiday or Victor Oladipo and definitely not enough for Beal. Murray and White’s joint value could also be mega hazy to other teams, in no small part because they’ve seen so little time together (494 possessions this season).
The Spurs can beef up their offer with picks, both present and future, but they’ll need to weigh the cost of trading what may be two of their three best players. Bringing back any star not at or above Beal’s level would put them out on a limb.
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Kevin C. Cox/Associated Press
Few teams have a tougher path to brokering a star trade over the offseason than the Toronto Raptors. Their presumed chase of Giannis Antetokounmpo is part of it; preserving cap space will take precedence. Mostly, though, they just don’t have the salary filler.
Kyle Lowry’s $30.5 million expiring deal technically resolves this issue, but landing another star at his expense rings hollow. The idea would be to maximize his partnership with Pascal Siakam, not dissolve it in favor of a new one.
Those terms might be unworkable. Toronto wants for sizable salaries after Lowry. With Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka and Fred VanVleet all entering free agency, Norman Powell is, for now, the team’s third-highest paid player next season, at $10.9 million. The Raptors do not have the midpriced contracts beyond him to three-for-one their way to a star’s price point. Combining their three highest-paid players after Lowry and Siakam allows them to take back around $23.5 million.
Tacking on a fourth salary gets the job done, but four-for-ones aren’t exactly commonplace. Toronto will have cap space to burn in deals by renouncing all of its own free agents, but cutting ties with everyone is unrealistic. Carrying VanVleet’s hold at the very least is a must, and that $17.8 million placeholder would annihilate the Raptors’ flexibility and only knife further into it should he return on a more expensive annual rate.
Sign-and-trade scenarios are always a possibility, albeit not a particularly strong one. Teams unloading stars most likely won’t be infatuated with the over-35 Gasol, 31-year-old Ibaka or an extremely expensive VanVleet.
All of which renders OG Anunoby the swing piece in any (highly unlikely) Raptors star-trade pursuit. He’s the brand of prospect who makes four-for-ones worth it—a genuine building block who can erase an opposing team’s top scorer while pumping out threes and straight-line drives at the other end. His next contract might dissuade some from treating him as a solo centerpiece—he’s extension-eligible—but that concern can be mitigated by the inclusion of a Terence Davis, Matt Thomas or future first.
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Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press
Most of the Utah Jazz’s best trade chips were shipped out as part of the Mike Conley deal. They’re now handcuffed if they wish to pull off another blockbuster.
Banking on actual players to get the job done is probably futile. Bojan Bogdanovic, Joe Ingles and Georges Niang (nonguaranteed) are all movable, but they’re not centerpiece assets. Even the three-and-D stylings of Royce O’Neale, whose four-year, $36 million extension ($28.5 million guaranteed) kicks in next season, don’t replace the shimmer of a high-end pick or prospect.
Utah cannot offer trade partners either. It can move this year’s pick after the fact but is drafting at No. 23. Its 2023 first-rounder—the team’s 2021 first is headed to Memphis (top-seven protection)—might have some pull, but not too much if both Rudy Gobert (2021 free agent) and Donovan Mitchell (extension-eligible) stick around for the long haul.
Hitching a couple of goodies to Mike Conley’s expiring $34.5 million salary (early termination option) feels like the Jazz’s best crack at bringing in another star.
Swapping him and a pick or prospect for Chris Paul works straight up. Maybe the Thunder even consider accepting Ed Davis as part of that deal. But that could be the extent of the Jazz’s options—unless they have four years’ and $147.3 million worth of faith in Tobias Harris.
Conley is too expensive to be traded outright for Jrue Holiday ($26.2 million). Even if Utah spruces up that framework with enough picks, New Orleans doesn’t have any bloated salaries it should be desperate to wipe off the ledger—assuming, that is, JJ Redick’s expiring $13 million contract doesn’t count. (It does not.)
This problem manifests in starker contrast if the Jazz want to target Victor Oladipo. Conley has $13.5 million on his 2020-21 salary ($21 million), and Indiana is another team without dumpster-fire deals littering its cap sheet.
Jeremy Lamb’s remaining money (two years, $21 million) might qualify after suffering a devastating left leg injury, but Utah would have to convince itself Oladipo is worth Conley, whatever sweeteners it takes to polish off the trade and a $10.5 million player who might not take the floor until 2021-22. And that’s in addition to accounting for Oladipo’s own checkered health bill, on top of the new contract he’ll command over the 2021 offseason.
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Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press
Both salary matching and asset fuel are obstacles the Wizards have to overcome if Bradley Beal and John Wall aren’t heading out as part of any blockbuster. The latter is easier to navigate than the former.
Washington’s assets aren’t glittery, but it can scrap together prospect-driven packages featuring Rui Hachimura, the No. 9 pick and a future first-rounder. Troy Brown Jr., Jerome Robinson or Mo Wagner could be used as spare decorations.
This general idea is extremely eye-of-the-beholder. Its appeal depends densely on how high teams are on Hachimura, players who fall to ninth overall in this year’s draft and whether future firsts from a squad landing a high-impact player to pair with Beal and Wall has much value.
It likewise doesn’t help that the Wizards can neither promise imminent cap relief nor a simple transaction. Even if they wait and move this year’s draft pick as an actual salary, a package of that player, Hachimura and Thomas Bryant still only allows them to take back sub-$23 million. That either limits their search to Victor Oladipo and star-ish players like Aaron Gordon and Zach LaVine or forces them to include another player, in which case they’re looking at four-for-one scenarios.
Lopsided deals are easier to complete in the offseason when rosters are more pliable or flat-out open, but that doesn’t make them effortless. More importantly, the Wizards aren’t in the simplest of situations. Their most ambitious package can be superseded without too much imagineering, and any mammoth trade seems likely to cost a chunk of their supporting cast and tools with which they can use to deepen it.
Flinging the kitchen sink at teams open to moving stars would be more tempting if the Wizards knew they were working with the version of John Wall they had in 2017-18 before his left Achilles injury. They don’t have that luxury. Until he turns in a post-recovery sample, they have little incentive to mortgage their future for another billboard name.