Trade deadline: Five deals we want to see
There is no such thing as a quiet trade deadline. Even in its seemingly less active iterations, the official NBA cut-off for team-to-team exchange is marked by constant chatter among league executives. Few stones remain unturned. It's phone call after phone call and email upon email, some of which manifests publicly through a frenzy of rumor and response.
What might begin as mere inquiry sometimes develops into legitimate exploration or a survey of the market. But at some point comes the pitch -- that more specific proposal where discussions over a potential trade begin to take shape. To get in the spirit of this year's deadline, below are five such pitches for moves we wouldn't mind seeing, informed by team needs, rumored wants, and general intrigue.
1. Greg Monroe to the Thunder
The primary motivation for this hypothetical deal isn't to accommodate Josh Smith in Detroit, but to alleviate what could be a tricky long-term pairing between Monroe and Andre Drummond. Youth and talent alone don't ensure their compatibility; over the last two seasons, the tandem of Monroe and Drummond has yielded results ranging from passable to disastrous depending on other lineup particulars. That doesn't give me much confidence from a teambuilding standpoint, particularly with Monroe set for a massive pay increase as a restricted free agent this summer.
So instead of seeing the Pistons sign Monroe to a big contract in the hopes of sorting out the rest later, I'm steering them to circumvent the issue entirely. Were there any capacity for ranged scoring between Monroe and Drummond, there might be hope for greater offensive synergy. Were there more promise in Monroe's slow-footed defensive game, the two might make for a more formidable pair. As it stands, though, Monroe and Drummond are a clumsy enough fit to inspire some serious doubt in their long-term viability, and therein incite just this kind of make-believe move.
That said, it's never easy to build a trade around a free agent, particularly when a player like Monroe already needs a very specific ecosystem of surrounding skills and rotation pieces in order to account for his limitations. To pile complication on complication, Monroe's rookie-scale salary also makes it difficult to find a return package that would give the Pistons a fair return while keeping within the NBA's salary-matching rules. There's a reasonable market for Monroe, still, though those factors leave it much slighter than one might initially think.
Of those possibilities, there's something particularly alluring in the prospect of Monroe landing in OKC. The Thunder are a team without defining weakness, and thus without need to make a move of this magnitude. Yet the opportunity to add another quality big while shedding the salary owed to Kendrick Perkins might be enticing enough to keep Sam Presti on the line.
For all the value Perkins still has as a team defender, he's an easily identifiable and wholly exploitable flaw in the Thunder's offensive structure. Many opponents don't even pretend to guard him; defenders are able to stray away from Perkins with near impunity, eating into the working space and angles of the Thunder creators. Swapping out Perkins for Monroe solves this problem entirely, as if nothing else Monroe projects as enough of a scoring threat to keep opponents honest.
That's really only the beginning of Monroe's offensive influence. He's a natural in the post with good touch and a great feel for putting together fluid moves and counters. He's just as comfortable setting up near the elbow, too, where he can help to direct traffic and put cutters in scoring position. Within the context of OKC's greater offense, Monroe's role would be one of enrichment -- to flesh out the Thunder's options, to stabilize things in moments of vulnerability, and to add an organic complexity to OKC's basic offensive flow.
Acquiring such a skilled offensive player is not without cost, though the Thunder would also pick up Rodney Stuckey (a veteran guard having arguably his best NBA season while playing out an expiring contract) and Kyle Singler (a competent wing on a bargain deal) for their trouble while shedding a $9.4 million obligation to Perkins in 2014-15.
The Pistons, in exchange, would acquire a host of prospects that both better suit their developmental timeline and make more sense for a roster built around Drummond. Lamb is the most immediately viable among them, and would step in with a three-point percentage (36.6 percent) better than any Detroit regular. He also projects to be a fairly productive scorer long-term, as the 21-year-old Lamb has already broadened his game by selectively taking on more creative responsibility. At worst he's a nice insurance policy on the far streakier Kentavious Caldwell-Pope; at best he could pan out as the kind of offensive player whose acquisition makes trading Monroe wholly justifiable.
With Lamb also comes Perry Jones and Steven Adams, two players who help Detroit to maintain their emphasis on size and length while getting much quicker at both frontcourt positions. Jones, in particular, makes for a tantalizing complement to Drummond; while every bit as athletic as the Pistons centerpiece, Jones has the ability to work as a shooter (he's made 41.9 percent of his spot-up threes this season, per Synergy Sports) and cutter to contribute from different spaces of the floor.
All of this makes for a rather dizzying daydream, but only that. The Thunder are far too good and the Pistons far too playoff desperate to make such significant change mid-stream, to say nothing of the tax considerations that would come with OKC taking on Monroe for the next few seasons. Detroit GM Joe Dumars wouldn't likely touch a deal like this one with his job essentially hanging in the balance. The Thunder would have to needlessly grapple with a shortened rotation for the remainder of the season, despite the fact that they were set to be title contenders as perviously constructed. There are plenty of practical reasons why this deal would never come to pass, though the questions posed by the thought itself (Is it worth Detroit's time to build around Monroe/Drummond? Should OKC move to do better than Perkins, and if so, at what cost?) make it a worthy enough indulgence.
2. Suns gear up for playoff run
Suns acquire: Thaddeus Young
The rumor mill comes alive to claim Thaddeus Young, who has been linked to countless teams over the past five months of rebuilding. None, though, makes for a more perfect fit than the upstart Suns. Any trade partner for Philadelphia needs to be in a position to offer decent assets atop an expiring contract, a prerequisite that Phoenix could meet without issue. Beyond that, the Suns have a distinct need for a player of Young's particular profile. Rare are those NBA bigs who can both space the floor to the three-point line and blow up a pick-and-roll as a defender, yet one just so happens to be available to any team willing to give up the requisite assets.
I see reason for the Suns to take the plunge, and corresponding reason for the Sixers to bite on an offer structured around Archie Goodwin and a late first-round pick for the 2014 draft. Okafor is included strictly to satisfy the NBA's salary-matching rules, with a cash kickback headed Philly's way to help offset some of the salary added to the Sixers' payroll. There are also an a number of permutations to this trade that could make sense, involving any combination of the following:
• Markieff Morris (in place of Goodwin)
• Marcus Morris (in place of Goodwin)
• Jason Richardson (as to make the salary input and output more equal)
• Indiana's 2014 first round pick (top-12 protected; via Philadelphia)
• Minnesota's 2014 first round pick (top-13 protected; via Philadelphia)
Regardless, the basic incentives are the same: A versatile scorer and defender for a Suns team that could use both, an athletic wing prospect (in the case of Goodwin/the Morris twins) and another first rounder for a rebuilding team looking to stock-pile assets. It may not be the kind of offer that would bowl over Sixers GM Sam Hinkie, but there is logic (and cap space) in it.
Bobcats acquire: Kyle Korver
Hawks acquire: Gerald Henderson
This is a pretty clean swap from a salary standpoint, making the motivations for this deal almost solely a function of talent and fit (rare in the NBA these days). Charlotte's angle is simple: A team that ranks 28th in the league in three-point attempts per game and in the bottom half of the league in three-point percentage guns for one of the best shooters in the league. Korver isn't just a spot-shooting type to park in the corner, but a player who actively creates space for his teammates by curling into potential shots. When Korver moves, so too does the defense; opposing wings have to chase him, opposing bigs have to shade in his direction, and structurally an entire defense can be compromised just by tilting toward the threat of a Korver catch-and-shoot. That makes him one of the league's foremost facilitators for post play and dribble penetration, both of which are hugely important for a team that features Al Jefferson and Kemba Walker.
Plus, it's becoming increasingly clear that the trio of Walker, Henderson, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist just doesn't -- and may never -- command enough attention on the perimeter to keep defenses honest. None among them is even a league-average three-point shooter, though Walker is closest and Kidd-Gilchrist is otherwise Charlotte's most promising individual defender. That makes Henderson the odd man out for both his and the Bobcats' sake, as no one in Charlotte is much empowered by lineups devoid of floor spacing. Korver is something of a one-man fix in that department, with the passing skill and defensive competence necessary to round out his contributions.
Henderson, in turn, would land with the Hawks -- a team that could make excellent use of his versatile game. Together with Paul Millsap and the injured Al Horford, Henderson would add to an incredibly well-rounded core. None among them is a superstar, though Horford, Millsap, and Henderson can all defend, can all play pick-and-roll, can all move without the ball, can all work from the post, and can all shoot. The basis of their team would be stout and flexible, which would then allow Hawks GM Danny Ferry to chase players at other positions with more idiosyncratic games or specific needs. Korver's broad offensive value provided some of that same quality, though Atlanta both upgraded its wing defense and imported some creative dynamism in the move wile landing a player six years Korver's junior. Even without looking too far forward, Henderson's gradual build would seem to make more sense for a Hawks team with plenty of construction left to do.
4. Wolves add veteran point guard
Wolves acquire: Jameer Nelson
With Wolves coach Rick Adelman weirdly insistent on playing Barea for long stretches (often at Ricky Rubio's expense), we're forced to take matters into our own hands. There may be no rotation need in the NBA more obvious than Minnesota's back-up point guard slot, which Barea has filled this season to irritating and awful effect. Few NBA regulars over-shoot their welcome quite like Barea has this year; it's not uncommon to see the dribble-pounding point guard ignore several options for better offense on his single-minded drives, which in part explains why the Timberwolves have scored 10.2 fewer points per 100 possessions whenever Rubio has checked out of the game.
That's a problem worth addressing directly, particularly if Adelman isn't comfortable trusting Rubio in certain situations. The targeted quality is competence. Minnesota doesn't need a point guard of the future so much as a useful stopgap in the interim, which they can find easily by raiding the roster of the lottery-bound magic. It's been a spell since Jameer Nelson was all that relevant on the national NBA landscape, though he's still plenty capable of helping a team in Minnesota's position. If the Wolves are going to trust a back-up point guard in tough spots, after all, why not move to acquire one who can do so without upsetting the larger offensive balance?
Nelson wouldn't be a knockout acquisition by any means, but that's precisely why he's attainable. Orlando is moving in a direction that leaves little need for a decent 31-year-old point guard, and thus could wind up waiving Nelson after the season as to save on the unguaranteed portion of his 2014-15 salary. That puts something of a clock on any effort to redeem value for Nelson via trade, which in this case could lead the Magic to accept Barea and 2014 lottery pick Shabazz Muhammad in exchange. Picks or lesser players could be added to move the needle on either side of this deal, but ultimately this is a compromise from Orlando's expressed interest in netting a future first round pick for Nelson; he may not be worth that, but he could land a recent first-round selection if the Magic are willing to take on the final year of Barea's contract.
Supposing Orlando likes Muhammad, I don't see why they wouldn't. Cap space is only a pressing concern for those teams looking to make use of it, and I'm not sure the Magic are quite to the point where Barea's $4.5 million hit would present all that much of a problem.
5. Bobcats go all-in on playoff chase
76ers acquire: Ben Gordon, Jeff Taylor, Portland's top-12 protected first round pick, Charlotte's own 2014 second round pick
It's another trade rumor coming to fruition, albeit at a lesser price than the Sixers have reportedly been asking. Getting first round picks in exchange for both Turner and Hawes is a tough sell; the former might be able to pull a first rounder in light of his terrific offensive showing this season, but Turner's impending free agency isn't all that friendly to potential suitors. Should a team angle to trade for Turner and keep him beyond this season, they'd need to pony up an $8.7 million qualifying offer -- a ridiculous sum for a player of Turner's limited abilities. That nearly prohibitive cost needs to then be accounted for in any kind of trade package, as looking for a team to give up a first round pick for the right to overpay Turner might be expecting too much.
Charlotte does seem to have taken a liking to Turner, though, and while I don't love the fit I'm willing to play along provided we can bring Hawes to Charlotte to be a stretched-out, souped-up version of Josh McRoberts. He's the better value and the better player of the two, and the real reason why the Bobcats would theoretically be willing to part with a first rounder in a potential deal.
Nabbing Turner will demand something worth the Sixers' time, though, which is where Jeff Taylor and the Bobcats' 2014 second rounder come in. I'm not really convinced that Philadelphia could do all that much better for Turner under these particular salary conditions; he is not an efficient shot creator, not yet a useful defender, and at the moment not of any kind of cap value. For a player bearing that many asterisks, Turner returning a potential rotation player (when healthy) and a second round pick isn't too bad.
Add Gordon's contract to make the salary-matching math work, and voila: Charlotte gets its man, Hawes finds a new home, and the Sixers get a few more picks to play around with. Worth a note: Trades 2, 3, and 5 on this list can actually be collapsed into a four-team, nine-player transaction.