The Denver Nuggets have agreed to trade Kenneth Faried, Darrell Arthur, a protected first-round pick and a 2020 second-round pick in exchange for Isaiah Whitehead, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Let's grade the deal.
The two cardinal rules of dumping salary in the NBA are as follows:
1) If at all possible, protect any first-round picks involved as the cost of doing business. There's little worse than losing a top-10 pick in a matter of bookkeeping.
2) If you're going to unload salary, make sure you're unloading enough salary—and have enough real opportunity—to make the process worthwhile.
Denver checks both of those critical boxes. In executing this trade, the Nuggets moved off $21.2 million in salary for the upcoming season in the contracts of two inessential players at the cost of two draft picks: a top-12 protected first rounder in 2019 and what appears to be the Nuggets' own second-round pick in 2020. That's quite reasonable, especially when considering how it allows Denver to maneuver going forward.
This was not a pure salary dump. Moving both Faried and Arthur at no cap cost (Whitehead, whose contract is fully unguaranteed, will soon be waived) means the Nuggets will no longer have reason to dread the luxury tax line. They can use what remains of their mid-level exception (after accounting for the signing of Torrey Craig and Jarred Vanderbilt) without the same level of concern. Other options could materialize through the biannual exception or the trade exception that was created as a byproduct of this deal. Performance bonuses for players like Nikola Jokic and Paul Millsap are less likely to hinder Denver’s future plans, given their lack of tax implications. We won’t know the true players “acquired” in this transaction until the Nuggets make use of their newfound flexibility.
Even if Denver's brain trust finds the roster wanting in January, they'll have all the more freedom to make moves on basketball terms—all because they found a taker for Faried and Arthur. This deal itself doesn't improve the Nuggets, though it clearly sets up subsequent moves that could.
Both teams in this trade turned out winners because they came to it with different objectives. The Nuggets, as playoff contenders inching toward the tax line, were motivated to find salary relief for all of the aforementioned reasons. The Nets operate with a different frame in mind.
In the immediate, Brooklyn stands to be more or less as bad as they were last season. That team won 28 games as it banked on developmental process. In addition to prospects like Jarrett Allen, D'Angelo Russell, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Caris LaVert, the Nets invested in younger veterans like Spencer Dinwiddie, Joe Harris and Allen Crabbe. This was a time for building culture, maximizing the value of the players available and waiting out the last of their draft pick debts to the Celtics.
Those motives carry over, though with next summer as a clear inflection point. Brooklyn is positioned to be a compelling player in the 2019 free agent market, which just so happens to be loaded with stars and potential stars. Any long-term deal signed now into the Nets' cap space would compromise their intentions. A one-year deal to a solid free agent wouldn't accomplish much; in fact, adding veteran talent without reason might only make Brooklyn's draft pick—which it controls for the first time in years—that much worse.
The Nets found another solution. By acting now, Brooklyn could redeem the most value from its available cap space by stretching it to its fullest. Harris will soon re-sign with a hefty raise. Ed Davis is set to join the team on a one-year, $4.4 million contract. Both of those deals—and others—would have eaten into the Nets' cap room, had they not made use of it first. A sharp front office found value in the order of operations.
So in come Faried and Arthur, both ideal for the Nets. Whether either will actually play for Brooklyn—or be bought out of their contracts, a la Dwight Howard—remains to be seen. Of far greater consequence to the franchise is the first-round pick they ferried with them, and the expiring contracts that won't interfere a bit in Brooklyn's plans.
Independently, the Brooklyn Nets have also traded Jeremy Lin, a future second-round pick (2025), and the right to swap second-round picks in 2023 to the Atlanta Hawks in exchange for a heavily-protected 2020 second-round pick and the draft rights to Isaia Cordinier. The trade was also first reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
For Brooklyn, it's best to understand this deal as one of a piece with the trade detailed above. The Nets only had the cap room necessary to acquire Faried and Arthur because they moved Lin, making this very much an extension of the same deal.
It's a bit curious that Atlanta, with all its functional cap space, didn't get involved more directly with Denver. Instead they've agreed to facilitate: to pick up Lin, a second-round pick, and a second-round pick swap for effectively nothing. A top-55 protected pick and the draft rights to a stashed, long-shot prospect is pretty much the bare minimum a team can send out in a trade.
To trade for Lin after drafting Trae Young hints rather strongly at the departure of Dennis Schröder. Atlanta's interest in moving Schröder is nothing new, though the formation of an alternative point guard rotation creates a clearer path toward his exit. Lin makes more sense for where the Hawks are right now. This is a franchise in desperate need of stars. Young has that kind of talent—the sort worth cultivating through reps and responsibility. In a world where Young might be the future of the franchise, Lin, a veteran comfortable in his own skin and in the final year of his contract, seems a more viable counterpart. Schröder, honestly, doesn't offer all that much as a player that Lin couldn't at least approximate.
This is assuming, of course, that Lin has largely recovered from the ruptured patellar tendon that cost him the 2017–18 season. That conversation, along with how and where the Hawks could trade Schröder, can be saved for another day.
Of interest now is how the Hawks proceed as one of the few teams left with significant cap space. Teams will approach Atlanta with deals similar to the one Denver consummated with Brooklyn. There is opportunity there, and even more leverage if teams like Chicago—which seems to positioning itself for some kind of move—opt to use their remaining space.