• Thinking of trading Paul George or Jimmy Butler? It’s probably not worth it. Big names have been floated in deadline chatter, but NBA teams need superstars to succeed.
By Rohan Nadkarni
February 22, 2017

There are a lot of things I would do if I were an NBA owner. Free parking. Cheap food. Finally learn what the phrase “jet-setter” means and become one. I would also fire my general manager every time they even suggested trading a superstar.

We’ve already seen one team— the Sacramento Kings—trade a superstar in DeMarcus Cousins—so far this season. And you know what? That was an awful trade! How are the Kings, who were lottery bound with Cousins, any closer to winning without him? If the Kings were actually managed well, there would be no need for them to jettison a great player.  

NBA Trade Deadline: Team-By-Team Previews

The reason the Kings have been awful is not because of Cousins. I won’t discount the fact that he could be a hot head on and off the court. But his immense talent outweighs all of that. What I don’t understand is why anyone thinks it makes more sense to get rid of Cousins as opposed to the people responsible for drafting Georgios Papagiannis or constructing a roster with (when healthy) Rudy Gay as its second-best player.

So, let this be a warning to the Pacers and Bulls in advance of the trade deadline. Thinking of trading Paul George or Jimmy Butler? It’s probably not worth it.

The Pacers actually have some intriguing pieces between George and young center Myles Turner. They should—this is where things get really crazy—consider building around both of them instead of turning George into pennies on the dollar. I can’t stress this enough: Finding superstar talent is going to be much more difficult in the new CBA landscape. Teams like the Pacers already have a very difficult time luring big-time free agents. Their next chance at acquiring a player like George is to draft him... so why not keep the player who is already one of the best two-way forwards in the league?

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The same goes for Butler and the Bulls. Chicago was given a golden opportunity to rebuild around Butler last year, but completely mangled that opportunity by signing aging veterans (moves endorsed by Magic Johnson!) instead of dipping into the lottery to find more young talent. In what world does it make sense for the Bulls to sign guys like Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo only to then trade 27-year-old Butler, who is averaging 25-5-6 and can guard the best perimeter players in the league?

And is it certain that guys like Cousins, George and Butler would turn down potentially massive extensions to stay with their own clubs? The new CBA’s Designated Player Exception more or less begs teams to hang on to their star talent and dare them to leave millions on the table in favor of free agency. There’s no way of knowing for sure, but Cousins at least claimed he was ready to sign his big contract in Sacramento.

Apparently it needs to be said: You can’t win without star players in the NBA. So teams should stop giving them away. If you’re headed into the lottery anyway, then drafting and/or trading for talent to pair with your superstar should be option No. 1 (way to go Pelicans!). If you’re worried about losing your superstar for nothing, wouldn’t you rather try to make it work until the very end instead of trading for a draft pick whose best case scenario is maybe turning into the next Steven Adams?

The odds are stacked right now in favor of teams who want to keep their budding superstar. If the Pacers, Bulls or anyone else feel like their best chance to win is to get rid of their most talented player, it’s most likely not a reflection of the player; it’s probably a reflection of the front office. 

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