- The NBA trade deadline is fewer than 48 hours away, and there's plenty of drama to consider. With the big day looming, we look at six snapshots from around the league.
The NBA trade deadline is upon us and that means the next 36 hours will be full of rumors, protected picks, Woj bombs, Ainge scheming, Lakers photoshops, and 1,000 trade machine screenshots. It's one of the best times of year to be a basketball fan on the Internet. So, to celebrate the season and help make sense of the news we've seen so far, here are six snapshots from around the league.
The Cavs have no easy solutions
The Cavs are in a very, very dark place. Every week now, there's a new report detailing the incredible dysfunction within the Cavs organization. Last week we heard that Dan Gilbert has been acting as a shadow GM all season. This week, the Athletic reported that Gilbert and LeBron James have "no relationship," the same goes for LeBron and Koby Altman, and there was a recent meeting in which LeBron cursed at multiple team executives. (Also in that report: Kyrie Irving did not want to play another minute with LeBron James.)
Meanwhile: Kevin Love is out for two months, Isaiah Thomas is lecturing everyone about hustle plays, and the Cavs had lost 12 of 18 games before Tuesday, when they blew a 21-point lead in Orlando and lost by double digits. It's been a breathtaking six weeks. All of this adds up to what has become the most openly miserable team in the entire league.
“When adversity hits, we go our separate ways” - Isaiah Thomas— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) February 7, 2018
The Cavs do have options at the deadline. They can pursue George Hill from Sacramento, they can try to steal Rodney Hood from Utah, or they could try to dropkick Isaiah Thomas onto another team in the hopes that it'll improve chemistry. I'm sure at least one of these moves will happen before the week is done. But Cleveland's almost certainly not trading the Nets pick, in part because there's no star available who would make it worthwhile. And the bigger problem in Cleveland is two-fold. First, the relationship between Gilbert and LeBron seems irrevocably broken. The ongoing friction between them and its implication—LeBron's leaving this summer—seems to be rippling through the rest of the organization.
Second, and maybe more important, LeBron is worried about the Warriors. Short of kidnapping Paul George, there's no move that will make Cleveland a real threat to Golden State. LeBron knows this, and it's part of why this season is spinning out of control. There will be all kinds of off-the-record explanations for what's going wrong in Cleveland as things unfold from here—every Cavs writer deserves a raise for this season—but I think the biggest, most basic problem is that LeBron is playing for titles at this point in his career, and a title has never looked less realistic. It's affected his play and his approach, and he's set the tone for everyone else. Whatever happens in the next week, I don't think George Hill or Rodney Hood can solve that problem.
The Lakers are extremely on brand
The Lakers are perfect. Even when plans are supposedly calming down, it all gets weirder. After nine months spent clearing salary in a bid for LeBron James and Paul George this summer, ESPN reported Tuesday morning that Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka would be "recalibrating" their plans and shifting the focus to the 2019 class of free agents. Within an hour, there were dreams about which superstar the Lakers might pursue in 18 months (Klay Thompson, Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler, and Kyrie Irving will all be available). Minutes later, news broke that the Lakers were being fined $50,000 for tampering—the second tampering violation in six months for Magic Johnson.
For the record, the tampering was harmless. Magic Johnson predicted Giannis would win a title for the Bucks one day, a move that's technically against the rules. So that's pretty simple. As for everything else? Given a serious injury to one target (Boogie Cousins), Paul George's stated affection for OKC, and the LeBron experience looking more exhausting than ever in Cleveland, "recalibrating" makes a lot of sense. The next 36 hours could go a long way toward telling us just how committed the Lakers are to this new direction.
If this summer's no longer a priority, L.A. is in good position to flip the expiring deals of Brook Lopez and/or Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and take back one or more bad contracts (expiring in 2019) in exchange for a pick over the next two years. They would forfeit some flexibility in free agency, but the right trade could give Magic and Pelinka a few more assets to build with down the line. Or, it could be that the team will essentially stand pat—no trades to clear salary (Deng, Clarkson, or Randle) but also no trades taking on additional money. That seems like the most likely scenario. It would also explain the well-timed leaks to ESPN: Magic and Pelinka keep all their options open, but by hinting that the summer of 2019 is the real plan, it tempers expectations locally and buys them cover should LeBron James decide to play elsewhere this summer.
For Lakers fans, this continues a maddening year of trying to decode a management team that is either smarter than anyone realizes or exactly as clumsy as their critics allege. For everyone else, we get another 6–18 months of boundless free agency speculation, palace intrigue with Pelinka and Magic, tampering investigations, trade rumors, Mamba nights, and more. I love the Lakers.
Danny Ainge is always dealing
Marcus Smart is reportedly available for any team that's willing to surrender a first-round pick, and the thinking is that the Celtics would then use that pick in a deal for either Tyreke Evans from the Grizzlies or perhaps Lou Williams from the Clippers (although that window appears to be closing).Boston already won big when it won the Greg Monroe buyout sweepstakes late last week, and adding either Evans or Williams would be a really nice way to upgrade a bench that has been anemic all season long.
Three questions you might be asking:
1. Wouldn't trading Marcus Smart be Celtics blasphemy?
2. Doesn't this team have a dozen first round picks they can trade for Tyreke Evans?
3. Since when is Tyreke Evans considered the missing piece for a title contender?
All good questions. As far as I can tell from Celtics broadcasts, Marcus Smart might be the most beloved player in the history of the organization. He's the all-time leader in Tommy points. Still, we are six months removed from the Isaiah trade, so obviously everyone is in play here.
Smart will be due for a raise when he hits restricted free agency this summer, and after failed extension talks in October, his agent warned, "It will cost them a lot more [next summer], I can tell you that." Also, Smart is currently sitting out for two weeks because he punched a picture in his L.A. hotel room, prompting disappointment from Brad Stevens. So maybe the relationship has run its course.
As for the other two questions: all the other Celtics picks are off-limits until Anthony Davis is available, and Tyreke Evans has one specific skill—shot-creation—that would solve a lot of Boston's problems off the bench. The same goes for Lou Williams. Who knows what move will emerge for Boston in the next day or so, but if the past year is any indication, a nation of Celtics haters will be disgusted by how much sense it makes.
When free agency complicates every trade
DeAndre Jordan is due to make $24 million next season, but he has a player option that would allow him to opt out of that deal and hit free agency this summer. Will he do it? Back in December, Jordan signed with agent Jeff Schwartz, and as David Aldridge noted on Tuesday, signing with a new agent is not something a player does if he's intending to opt-in to the final year of his deal. So that's where the free agency question stands for now.
It makes any DeAndre Jordan trade a lot more complicated. In the wake of the Blake deal, moving the last remaining member of Lob City would seem to make sense for the Clippers, particularly if they don't intend to pay a premium to keep him this summer. But if Jordan's looking to get paid in July, how much can the Clips really get? The Wizards have been rumored to be interested in Jordan for quite some time. In the parameters of a deal that's been floated since the summer, Washington would send Marcin Gortat, Kelly Oubre, and Jason Smith to L.A., possibly with a first round pick.
It's a risk for the Wizards, but it's not crazy. They may not be able to afford Kelly Oubre long-term, and in the meantime, the team has struggled on defense all year long in large part because of their frontcourt defense. If L.A. could absorb some extra Wiz salaries (both of which expire at the end of 2019), there would be luxury tax issues on Washington's end, but it's a decent gamble on a big man who's been extremely durable and consistently good for the past five years. It would mean parting ways with a two-way wing in Oubre who's spent the past four months looking like a wavier version of Jaylen Brown, but if the Wizards don't think they can afford to keep Oubre when he hits restricted free agency at the end of next season, this is an opportunity to capitalize on his value.
Still, it's a 50/50 bet that would require a leap of faith on Washington's part. If DeAndre were willing to opt-in to the final year of his deal, the potential benefits justify the cost. The worst case scenario is a season-and-a-half with an above average center. But if Jordan's looking to get paid all over again this summer, there's a chance that Washington would be priced out of the market, in which case the Wizards would be giving up their best young player for three months with a center who's made one All-Star game in nine years and a roster that probably won't make it to the conference finals. That's not worth it. And that same calculus is happening with anyone considering a DeAndre Jordan trade this week. Could he improve 10 different playoff teams across the league? Definitely. Is he worth it if he's going to require surrendering assets to the Clippers this week and making a massive long-term commitment this summer? Probably not.
Sam Presti has some work to do
OKC had been dominating in the weeks after Andre Roberson's return—since Dec. 1, the Thunder were 14-0 with Roberson in the starting five—and it looked like the West had another contender alongside Houston, San Antonio and Golden State. Since Roberson's season-ending injury last weekend, it's gotten trickier. It was easy to miss as the Cavs became engulfed in rumors and dysfunction, but before Tuesday's matchup Golden State, the Thunder lost four straight games. Last night's Warriors win not withstanding, OKC is pretty clearly short a fifth starter.
Presti has a few decent options to choose from: Rodney Hood, Avery Bradley, or Courtney Lee could make sense. The trick will be finding the assets to get a deal done. The Thunder roster is already incredibly expensive, so taking on too much additional salary is a non-starter. Expiring deals like Bradley or Hood will be key. Meanwhile, OKC has already traded its first round picks in 2018 and 2020, and after trades for Paul George and Carmelo Anthony the roster isn't exactly teeming with players that other teams want. Would Patrick Patterson be enough? Jerami Grant? Terrance Ferguson's upside? How many second picks would the Clippers need in an Avery Bradley deal?
All we know at the moment is that the Thunder defense has been disastrous with Ferguson in Roberson's place, and only slightly better with Alex Abrines or Josh Huestis. Can they fix this? The lack of assets isn't particularly promising, but after the moves he pulled off over the summer, I'm terrified to doubt Sam Presti.
One trade that won't happen, but should
Utah gets: Jabari Parker, Mirza Teletovic, D.J. Wilson, Tony Snell.
Milwaukee gets: Joe Ingles, Rodney Hood, Derrick Favors.
This is a trade I've been dreaming about all year long. It probably won't happen because both sides of this deal would feel like they're giving up too much. But isn't that the sign of a fair deal?
So: Utah trades Ingles, along with two players who are moving on in free agency anyway, and the Jazz get a potential star to slide in between Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert. Milwaukee gives up Parker before he hits restricted free agency this summer, and instead of a expensive running mate who's always been an awkward fit next to Giannis, the Bucks add three excellent role players who can help this year, while retaining the option of bringing back either Hood or Favors on a favorable deal this summer.
It's trade machine certified, and while Utah might take a step back down the stretch this season, that could be a healthier option than pushing toward a seventh seed and an inevitable first-round blowout. On Milwaukee's side, it gives the Bucks two role players (Hood and Ingles) who would fit perfectly with Giannis' game. The trade deadline doesn't have be to complicated. This deal makes both teams more interesting now and better off in the long run. Fax it in!