With the NBA trade deadline coming in the next month or so and teams starting to figure out who they are nearing the half-way mark of the season, we are looking at some of the best trade ideas for each team to help them improve their roster. Each team has different needs, strategies and situations, so here's a look at each sensible trade that could make the most sense from each team's perspective.
1. Boston Celtics (29-10, first in Atlantic Division)
Trade Idea: Acquire G/F Tyreke Evans from the Memphis Grizzlies for Celtics 2018 first-round pick (top 20 protected).
The Gordon Hayward injury was a huge blow to the Celts season initially, but they've rebounded and now sit atop the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference. The Hayward injury netted the team a disabled player exception (DPE) worth up to $8.4 million, which can only be used on a player with that salary or lower on an expiring contract. With up to $9.4 million in luxury tax room and an open roster spot, Boston can afford to absorb a player without much consequence now, but it doesn't mean they need to use the entire $8.4 million allotted under the DPE. They just need to add the best player they can on an expiring.
Evans might be such a player, available with the Grizzlies so clearly out of the playoff race. Evans adds another switchy, playmaking wing that has been efficient this year from three and is an above-average defender. The top title threats to Boston right now – Cleveland Cavaliers, Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets – all have lineups with five guards or wings that have insane versatility. Evans could help add one more type player for the Celts to be ready to combat that style. As we know about head coach Brad Stevens, he likes to match his teams to the opponents' type of playing style.
President Danny Ainge is fantastic at making trades with the right protections on draft picks, so the Celtics first-rounder he'd give to Memphis would likely have some sort of protection in case the Celts fell off from being a legitimate title contender. The Grizzlies have every incentive in the world to move on from Evans, whose Bird rights they do not have, and try to get as high of a return on investment as they can. A first-rounder, even if it's between 25 and 30, is a good grab for Memphis.
The caveat here: the buyout market. Boston shouldn't feel a ton of pressure to move too quickly on Evans and give up a first-rounder if they feel a comparable veteran could be available after being bought out around the trade deadline. This DPE gives them the ability to outbid anybody for a veteran on the open market. Don't expect Ainge or the Celtics to rush to use this too quickly.
2. Brooklyn Nets (13-22, fifth in Atlantic Division)
Trade: Brooklyn receives F Mario Hezonja from the Orlando Magic, Orlando gets C Wily Hernangomez from the New York Knicks, and the Knicks receive F Quincy Acy and Orlando's pick swap rights for a second-round pick in 2020.
It's hard to predict what type of smaller deal Sean Marks will use to leverage his cap space remaining, but Marks is great at utilizing every little avenue to pick up the Nets something small. After already dishing away Trevor Booker, the Nets are thin on veteran assets other teams would really want. That being said, Brooklyn currently sits with roughly $3.7 million in cap space. The Nets could absorb a little salary and use that space to add either a young player or an additional draft pick.
Right now the Nets are taking fliers on younger players on expiring contracts in an attempt to unearth diamonds in the rough. Hezonja fits the bill as a once-quality prospect that has fallen out of favor in Orlando. As the Magic look to recuperate some youth out of the trade deadline, the Knicks could factor in as a trade partner. Hernangomez could come into Orlando for the cost of a second-rounder heading back to New York. The Magic might also want to open up a little extra cap space so they can absorb something back in the event they waive or trade expiring veterans Marreese Speights and Arron Afflalo. Unpacking Hezonja nets them enough cap space to do so.
The Nets, for the price of the flier on Hezonja, would give up on Quincy Acy, sending him to the Knicks. The two have a similar role, Hezonja has a much higher upside and is five years younger. That might be a quick way to involve themselves in a minor gamble that utilizes their cap space.
New York Knicks (18-18, third in Atlantic Division)
Trade: Knicks send C Wily Hernangomez, PG Jarrett Jack and their rights to a 2019 second-round pick swap to Memphis Grizzlies for SF James Ennis.
Addition by subtraction seems very real in New York, although it's difficult to tell if the subtraction was Carmelo Anthony, Phil Jackson or both. Still, general manager Steve Mills is a realistic team-builder that will not place the chase of the eight-seed ahead of long-term goals of the organization.
Here is another example of the Grizzlies dismantling their free agents at the end of the season, instead choosing to grab draft picks and youngsters. Instead of paying Ennis they bring in Willy Hernangomez, a perfectly good backup and potential successor to Marc Gasol. Willy, consistently out of the rotation this year for the Knicks, would benefit from a trade to Memphis.
The Knicks in turn get Ennis, who will be a free agent at the end of the season, but get the inside track on retaining him with Bird rights. He'd be relatively cheap while being a perfect 3-and-D role player on the wing next to Tim Hardaway and Courtney Lee. They wouldn't have to break the bank to get him, or to retain him (I'd estimate roughly $8 to $10 million a year). Combine Ennis, their first-round pick, the high-value Chicago Bulls 2nd rounder they own and retaining Michael Beasley and the Knicks end up with 14 on their roster heading into next season, and full usage of their Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception this summer. Not bad maneuvering, especially when factoring in the fact that the Knicks free up a fifteenth roster spot by shedding Jarrett Jack (who Memphis would immediately cut). That puts the Knicks in the buyout market this February.
Philadelphia 76ers (16-19, fourth in Atlantic Division)
Trade: C Amir Johnson, G Jerryd Bayless and their 2018 first-round pick for G George Hill.
The Sixers already made a win-now move by swapping out Stauskas and Okafor for Trevor Booker, so something tells me they may try to make another similar type of move before the deadline. This would be a big move, and one I think moves forward their roster without compromising their flexibility in the future.
Hill is disgruntled in Sacramento, but has proven extremely valuable as a catch-and-shoot combo guard that can also provide stingy defense. The salary is high this season, but comes down $1 million each of the next two seasons. Most notably, that final season, worth $18 million in 2019-2020, has only $1 million guaranteed. That flexibility gives the Sixers a really good trade chip next season if things don't work out with Hill, or if they need to make a move. Hill's contract, due to expire in July 2020, would be off the books at the same time any Ben Simmons or Dario Saric extension kicks in. The contracts are staggered perfectly.
On the court, how can you not tell me this potential isn't insanely talented for the Sixers both this season and moving forward to next year:
Markelle Fultz, George Hill, T.J. McConnell
J.J. Redick, Justin Anderson, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot
Robert Covington, Dario Saric, Furkan Korkmaz
Ben Simmons, Trevor Booker
Joel Embiid, Richaun Holmes
Sacramento getting cap space, a decently valuable first-rounder and a couple years of veteran PG Jerryd Bayless as the backup isn't the worst thing in the world if it gets Hill off their books. The Kings are already missing their 2019 first-rounder in the disastrous Philadelphia trade from a few years ago; it might be time to try and reclaim an extra pick by trading into another pick in the 2018 draft.
Toronto Raptors (24-10, second in Atlantic)
Trade: Send away C Jonas Valanciunas, PG Fred VanVleet and a 2019 second-round pick in exchange for C Tyson Chandler and G/F Tyreke Evans. Memphis receives VanVleet, Phoenix receives Valanciunas and a second-round pick. Phoenix also receives the right for a second-round pick swap from the Grizzlies in 2019.
The Raptors are about $1.9 million below the luxury tax line, which they cannot exceed at any point this season since they are hard-capped. It has made it very difficult for Masai Ujiri to improve the talent level without giving up draft picks, and it greatly lowers, if not fully neutralizes, the value of their trade exceptions.
So the biggest question for Masai Ujiri, a perennial multi-team trade creator, is if he's willing to blow up their (working) bench unit in order to add one greater talent of a player? Adding two veterans might be worth that price though, especially if it gets Valanciunas off their books.
The Raps are starting to experiment with some smaller lineups that feature Ibaka at the 5, with O.G. Anunoby at the 4. If that's their desired route, and they can get there without giving up Jakob Poeltl, that's a huge win for the Raptors. Chandler is on a smaller salary and one fewer year than Jonas, Tyreke Evans helps the team right now and is a likely more impactful two-way player for the rest of the season than VanVleet (the assumption is both will walk as they'd both be too expensive for the Raptors).
So short term, it's VanVleet for Evans. Long term it's Valanciunas and a second-rounder for Tyson Chandler and the cap space that provides.
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Head Boys Basketball Coach, Boys' Latin School (MD).