It is officially NBA Rumor season! The draft has come and gone with a blockbuster deal already (Jimmy Butler to Minnesota), but the Association is nowhere near done.
General Managers like Kevin Pritchard will be Wheelin’ and Dealin’ to the tune of I Got A Feelin’. “I got a feeling, woo-oo. That this trade’s gonna be a good trade. That this trade’s gonna be a good, good-“ “Danny?” “Yeah, Mike?” “Are you singing about making a trade again?” “Uhhh… no.” “Danny, we’re the Celtics. We already made our one trade for this decade!” “Ok, Mike”. (Ainge proceeds to pout as Mike Zarren scouts non-shooting athletic wings).
Was that 100% real dialogue a bit over-the-top? Yes. But GMs really want to get star players, whether them leaving their current situation is realistic or not. For these players, leaving their current situation isn’t just a possibility- it’s pretty much decided.
1. Gordon Hayward - Miami Heat (85% Chance)
Hayward has spent his whole career in Utah, a small market that hasn’t had a high-end playoff team since the 90s. Getting a mere 5 seed was considered a huge win for the Jazz, who managed to pull off a coup with their acquisition of two-way guard George Hill. But Hill is, like Hayward, on an expiring deal. His return may sway Hayward’s decision, which seems to have come down to Utah, Miami, and Boston. Will Gail Miller be willing to spend big money to keep a team with the absolute upside of a three seed together in a minuscule Salt Lake City market?
Remember, Hill would likely demand a four-year max. Hayward would demand the same. Gobert has a contract roughly a million below the max. Favors is making $12 million and will be up soon. Rodney Hood is nearing the end of his rookie deal. Diaw is making $7 million this year. Exum is up soon. Alec Burks is being paid $10 mil/year for the foreseeable future to do nothing but sit on the bench, and that’s just some of the team. They still have to fill in the rest of the roster, and I’m not sure if Miller is willing to pay that. Even if she was, I’m not sure if Hayward wants to stay.
So when he leaves, where will he go? Well, Miami and Boston seem like the most prevalent destinations throughout reports, with the common thread being Boston. However, based on their 1) Crowded wing situation, and 2) Unwillingness to give up enough to get a star, it seems as if they may not get a star. With how little Minnesota gave up, you would think that #3 would clearly have been enough. Maybe, that’s because they want a big. Miami, on the flip side, has a clear opening on their wing right where Justise Winslow’s three-pointer isn’t. Pat Riley got LeBron, Bosh, and others as a master negotiator. Is Dragic/Whiteside scary? No. Is Dragic/Hayward/Whiteside with Waiters/ Winslow/ Johnson & Johnson as role players scary? Heh. Are beef fajitas better than chicken? (Yes. The answer is yes). Is adding another wing to Boston, albeit one better than their incumbents, a team that can beat LeBron? No, unless that player IS LeBron. If they add a big? That makes it more interesting.
On Miami’s side, Hayward + health should be able to make them competitive and get them a home-court advantage over the Raptors (more on that later). As an Eastern Conference team, Miami has a better chance to win than Utah does. Big city? Check. No state tax? Check. No clotted wing depth chart? Check. Eastern Conference team? Check. Each team fits at least one of these three factors. Only one fits all four. Boston and Miami are the big cities. Miami has no state tax. Miami and Utah don’t have muddled wing depth charts. Boston and Miami are in the East. If you’re keeping score, that gives Utah one point, Boston two, and Miami four. So when Pat Riley, a man with a black belt in negotiation, gets a meeting with Gordo, he can call scoreboard. And Hayward can turn around and call his agent. “”Get. Me. To. Miami.”
2. Kevin Love and 3. Paul George - Indiana Pacers, Cleveland Cavaliers (70% Chance)
Kevin Love has overstayed his welcome in Ohio. When Golden State goes small, you can’t play Love and Tristan Thompson together. Between Thompson having far more value to Cleveland than anyone else and Love’s lack of defense, it seems as if Kevin may be the guy to go. Cleveland isn’t good enough to beat Golden State right now, and their only tradeable asset is Love. So, what would they need? A 3-and-D (especially the D) combo forward, someone who is able to lock down, especially on someone like Durant or Klay. So who are some options? Jae Crowder, of Boston, could be an option. Jared Dudley of Phoenix or Khris MIdddleton of Milwaukee. But these are inferior players, who aren’t even close to Love’s value or ability. How about Paul George? “Hold on!” you say, furiously typing on your computer or mobile device of choice, “Kevin Love is nowhere near as good as PG, and the Pacers want to rebuild!” Yes, that is true, but think of it this way. You saw how little Boogie Cousins and Jimmy Butler fetched.
How much less will George, as an expiring contract who will by all accounts go to LA in the offseason, bring back in a deal? Certainly not as much as those guys, no matter who you think is the best of the Traded Trio. So Kevin Pritchard managing to get an All-Star for him, not only an All-Star but one who is locked up through 2020, is a steal. Lose him for nothing, get subpar prospects, or get an All-Star who you can flip later for better assets than a Paul George rental would get you. That’s a coup by Pritchard. They get worse, clearly, but Love could mentor Turner and fetch more assets later. This is not necessarily a great move by any means for Indiana, but it is definitely the best move.
4. Chris Paul - San Antonio Spurs (80% Chance)
From what I’m hearing, Paul will stay if he’s given the 5-year SuperMax. I do not believe that they will offer that. A 6-foot tall 32-year-old point guard who has sustained over sixty injury events (according to InStreetClothes.com operator Jeff Stotts) is not someone you can definitively count on to be leading your team for $40+ million as a 37-year-old. Small point guards fall off a cliff once their quickness subsidies, and there is no reason to believe that Chris will be different. Doc may not want to go down that road, especially if Blake leaves (Wink wink). His son is on the team, and they drafted Jawun Evans, on of the most impressive offensive players ever in college, and he seems like he’ll be at least a good backup, if not more. It seems as if they will start leaning towards a rebuild, or at least not give him the full 5-year DVPP.
And if they don’t then from everything I’m hearing, he’ll leave. Where could he go? Well, the Spurs seem like an obvious choice. Gasol opted out and Ginobili will likely retire, Which will get them roughly $20 million in cap space. Sure, Gasol wants to re-sign on a longer deal, but San Antonio has expressed no such interest. They are reportedly shopping Danny Green, which would get them to around $30 million in space, roughly enough to sign CP3. The remaining money could be opened up by not offering Kyle Anderson (The most hated player in Spurs history), and rescinding his Bird Rights. They would likely not be able to bring back Patty Mills, but Chris would be a more than capable replacement. Kawhi/Chris/LMA/Pop is a legit Big Four, maybe not quite to the level of Golden State, but definitely close and better than Cleveland.
If he wants to go to a contender, Paul needs to go to San Antonio. Rings are, right or not, a major logical issue, and Paul’s legacy would be exponentially improved if he wins a chip. SA is his best chance for that.
5. Blake Griffin - Boston Celtics (85% Chance)
Blake has always been the awkward third guy in Lob City, who wasn’t a great fit but was still supremely talented. How about he goes to Boston, where his talents would be better appreciated? Griffin and Horford would be by far the best passing frontcourt in the league, arguably ever, and would give Brad Stevens way more lineup flexibility to add even more plays to his telephone book of a playbook. It seems at this point like it’s between Boston and LA, and he’s never really been a great fit in Lob City.
If he comes to Boston he’ll fill a need, and following Cleveland’s acquisition of Paul George, should more than proportionally improve Beantown relative to the King’s team. Blake will be fully appreciated for the first time since the pre-CP3 era in LA and should elevate Boston to “contender” status.
6. Paul Millsap - Minnesota Timberwolves (40% Chance)
Millsap is a high-level two-way big who can shoot threes. Really valuable, right? Except that they won’t offer him the Bird Rights max. Or the Non-Bird Rights max, for that matter. New Hawks GM Travis Schlenk said this when asked about Millsap:
"We are going to make Paul our best offer," Schlenk said. "Will he have better offers? I don’t know. Do we want to keep Paul? Sure.”Schlenk said that re-signing Millsap is one of his top priorities, yet did admit that he may receive offers "better offers than we can make him."
Other teams can offer up to 4 years/$152 million, and the Hawks can offer up to 5 years/$205 million, and as a player entering his age-33 season, the rebuilding Hawks may not want to pay him the big bucks through his age-38 season. So where will he go? Well, although teams like Houston and Toronto have been mentioned in the past (Although Toronto might lose someone; a cough, foreshadowing, cough), Minnesota is clearly the best destination for the veteran big man.
Thibs loves guys who play defense, something Millsap plays more of than Ringo Starr on the drum kit. He is the perfect compliment to Karl-Anthony Towns, and would be a great guy to round out their “Big Four” of Towns, Jimmy Butler, and Andrew Wiggins. This is their last year to really have cap space (although they would have to move Aldrich and/or Dieng), so capitalizing on it now would be a great move to round out a pretty good offseason by President of Personnel Thibodeau.
Rubio/Butler/Wiggins/Millsap/Towns is an amazing team that within a year or two could compete for the Finals.
7. Kyle Lowry - Houston Rockets (70% Chance)
Reports that came out a few weeks ago detailed how other teams were being told that Lowry had “zero interest” in re-signing with the Raptors. Which makes sense- they don’t really have a clear path to catch the Wiz for third in the conference, with the Bucks (and, following the Hayward/Melo acquisitions, the Heat) hot on their tails. DeRozan doesn’t seem like the best teammate in the world, and Lowry is essentially carrying their team. He is 2.9 VORP ahead of the next-highest on the team (Lucas Nogueira? 8 and 8/36? Ok, sure), and a full 3 VORP above their next “Star”, DemarDerozan. BPM-wise, he is 1.3 ahead of 2nd-place Nogueira (Wait, is this kid for real?), and 5.8 BPM above 6th-place Derozan. FIVE POINT EIGHT! Lowry is plus-6.7, Derozan is plus-0.9. DBPM-wise, he’s another 1.1 higher. 0.5 more WS/48, 1.1 more total WS. And on 9.4% less usage! Ridiculous. He has used atrociously alongside an iso who doesn’t pull near his weight defensively. Sure, he has advanced stats darling Lucas Nogueira, but is that really enough? Casey only plays him 19 minutes per game!
Lowry, if he wants to improve his legacy (and have better teammates) needs a change of scenery. Where? Well, a Houston return seems perfect. They are shopping Pattrick Beverly and Ryan Anderson to clear cap space for another player who goes by a nickname designated by a word with an extra capital letter (KyLow). He is essentially a better offensively Patrick Beverly and would be a great second star to put alongside Harden. Trading Anderson and Beverly should clear enough space if not then Williams would need to go in addition to Beverly. Lowry gets to a pseudo-contender (and away from Derozan) to pair up with Harden, who is a better, less selfish Derozan who can shoot threes and actually pass to Lowry when he’s open. Seems like a good pairing for both sides.
8. LaMarcus Aldridge - Phoenix Suns (20% Chance)
Aldridge’s relationship has soured considerably with San Antonio. As a source told the San Antonio Express-News,
“They feel it’s time to move on”
How often does San Antonio trade their second option, who also happens to be their first marquee free agent signing? Is it to sign their second? No, it is for a more odd, more worrying reason. As told to USA Today,
“It’s the 31-year-old’s unhappiness in San Antonio that is the driving force behind the Spurs’ trade talks… The five-time All-Star, according to the person, is hopeful that San Antonio can find a better fit for his talents.
Wait… who wants out of San Antonio? And isn’t San Antonio everyone’s best fit? According to various sources, they have been in contact with 3 teams, including Phoenix and Portland. What could they get? Well, perhaps Bledsoe. Remember, Phoenix wants to clear up backcourt minutes for guys like Ulis, Booker, reclamation project Knight, as well as for perimeter guys like Jackson and Warren. Bledsoe is ahead of their timeline. So is LaMarcus, but they have gone after him hard in the past, and even signed Tyson Chandler as a means to convince him to come. Phoenix’s front office seems enamored with Aldridge, yet was willing to give Bledsoe a healthy scratch at the end of the year. This seems highly possible for both teams, as it clears space and makes them better, and gives Phoenix a player they like better. Seems like a highly possible all-around trade.