The 2020 NBA off-season had a chaotic opening when the transaction moratorium lifted Monday, as numerous high-profile moves were executed and the breaking news tweets stretched past midnight on the East coast. To get caught up on all the deals and how they impact the Clippers’ offseason, I put together Monday’s NBA trade recap.
Lakers acquire Dennis Schroder
The transaction window got off to a premature start on Sunday, when it was reported that the Los Angeles Lakers and Oklahoma City Thunder had reached a deal to swap Danny Green and the 28th pick in Wednesday’s draft for Dennis Schroder. The Thunder, who are seemingly ready to lean into their rebuild after a one-year detour with Chris Paul and company, were able to add a late first round pick in exchange for an expiring veteran who would have left in free agency next summer anyway. In addition to the 28th pick, Danny Green’s expiring deal likely has positive trade value–look for him to end up with a team like Dallas or Golden State with additional draft compensation headed to Oklahoma City.
Schroder helps the Lakers, but maybe in a different way than a lot of folks seem to think. With LeBron James only getting older, coming off of a short off-season, and playing an accelerated schedule, a Lakers team that was already somewhat weak in terms of offensive creation simply needed to add another weapon in that category. Schroder, who finished second in sixth man of the year voting last season, will help the Lakers give LeBron nights off, play him fewer minutes, and manage his usage rate. He has his limitations defensively, though, not unlike Lou Williams, and could be a candidate for shooting regression after being a below-average shooter (32.5%) in his first six seasons before hitting 38.5% from deep last season.
The pursuit of Schroder at point guard is also connected to an apparent belief on the Lakers’ part that they will be unable to retain Rajon Rondo in free agency, which could be noteworthy as the Clippers are rumored to have interest in him. The Lakers are also expected to chase Wesley Matthews in free agency, which makes sense as his starting job in Milwaukee is likely gone with their acquisition of Bogdan Bogdanovic.
Nets Add Bruce Brown
In a much quieter deal, the Brooklyn Nets added a bit of guard depth by swapping little-used forward Dzanan Musa and a second-round pick for Detroit’s Bruce Brown. Brown has started 99 games over the last two seasons for Detroit and the Pistons were better with him on the court than off both years. The pick is Toronto’s 2021 2nd rounder, which figures to be late again, so it doesn’t feel like a particularly great deal for Detroit since they lost a rotation player. Maybe their front office believes in Musa, who is still just 21 years old and was a first-round pick in 2018.
Suns Win Chris Paul Sweepstakes
It’s hard to say what the “big” news was on Monday, since so much happened, but this one is up there. The Phoenix Suns brought closure to the question of how CP3 would get out of Oklahoma City, and to where. In exchange for Paul and Abdel Nader from the Thunder, the Suns sent out Ricky Rubio, Kelly Oubre, Ty Jerome, Jalen Lecque, and Phoenix’s 2022 protected 1st round pick.
Many Clippers fans had hoped that Paul would ultimately return to LAC this offseason, but there really wasn’t any way for the team to compete with this offer from Phoenix once the Suns decided to pursue CP3. Even though they weren’t directly involved in this trade–which has already been made official–there are ramifications aplenty for the Clippers. First of all, Rubio seems like a likely candidate for a re-trade, as the rebuilding Thunder have little use for him. He’d be a big-time upgrade for the Clippers in terms of a starting point guard who can create good looks for others, but Oklahoma City has proven that they’re stubborn enough to let veterans hang around until they get a good return, so it’s unclear what the Clippers would have to give up (and what other teams would be going after the veteran point guard).
The Suns’ decision to execute the trade now also eliminates the possibility of them creating a significant amount of cap room to add a free agent, which has ripple effects. It means that the most they can offer a free agent like Danilo Gallinari (or Marcus Morris) is the non-taxpayer mid-level exception, potentially keeping them from outbidding the Clippers for a veteran free agent, but also means that they likely plan on keeping free agents such as Dario Saric, Frank Kaminsky, and Aron Baynes, all of whom could have become Clipper targets if cut loose as LA searches for frontcourt depth to replace Montrezl Harrell. The inclusion of Nader similarly implies that the Suns intend to keep him when the Thunder would not have, taking a minimum-salary wing off of the free agent market.
Perhaps most importantly, the Suns just got a lot better. The Clippers already share the Pacific Division with the reigning champion Los Angeles Lakers and returning-to-health Golden State Warriors, so the addition of a legitimate Suns team could mean that four of the Western Conference’s best five teams play in the Pacific next season. If the NBA emphasizes divisional games in their shortened 2021 schedule, the Pacific will be particularly brutal.
Blazers Land Covington in Wing Upgrade
In a sign that the Houston Rockets might really be blowing it up, they pre-empted the impending superstar trade(s) by selling off one of their top role players to a Western Conference playoff competitor with a serious need at the forward positions. Covington is a really solid two-way player, and probably becomes the best wing to play in Portland during the Damian Lillard era. In return, the Rockets got Trevor Ariza, the 16th pick in Wednesday’s draft, and Portland’s 2021 protected 1st round pick.
It’s hard to place either of these teams right now. The Blazers’ 2019 Western Conference Finals run–and subsequent lost sweep–was a bit flukey, but their sub-.500 2020 was largely due to injuries to key players and a severe lack of options on the wing, which Covington addresses in a big way. The Rockets, on the other hand, have been a conference finalist in recent years and will always be at least decent with James Harden on the roster (which isn’t a guarantee). Are they officially dropping out of the hunt? Are the Blazers good enough to challenge the new top tier in the West? Keep an eye on Trevor Ariza as a potential re-trade or buy-out candidate, now or at the trade deadline.
Jrue Holiday Joins Giannis in Milwaukee
In one of the big shockers of the day, the Milwaukee Bucks officially committed to going all in on an attempt to upgrade their roster and keep Giannis Antetokounmpo, who can leave in free agency next summer if he doesn’t sign a “supermax” extension this off-season. In order to get Holiday, the Bucks paid an incredibly steep price: Eric Bledsoe, George Hill, the 24th pick in Wednesday’s draft, two future Milwaukee first round picks, and two future Milwaukee pick swaps. That’s right: New Orleans got the Paul George package for Jrue Holiday, a very good two-way player who made one All-Star team in 2013 and made the playoffs just twice in six years playing with Anthony Davis.
Squeamishness about the massive draft compensation aside, it’s a wonderful trade for Milwaukee to get a major upgrade at point guard over incumbent Eric Bledsoe. Holiday is a legitimate #3 guy who can average 20 points a game (though he likely won’t as his shots are reduced alongside Giannis and Khris Middleton) and is one of the league’s better defenders.
It’s also a wonderful trade for the Pelicans, who add this stash of assets to the haul they received from the Lakers for Anthony Davis last summer to allow them to build long-term around Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson. Keep your eye on the guard situation in New Orleans–Bledsoe and Hill likely aren’t part of their long-term plans, and the future of Lonzo Ball depends on the Pelicans’ willingness to pay him in restricted free agency next summer. Any of the three could be available over the next couple of weeks.
Bucks Tamper; Sign-and-Trade for Bogdanovic
In a second big upgrade designed to keep Giannis in town, the Bucks are going to add Kings guard Bogdan Bogdanovic in a sign-and-trade deal when the free agency window opens this weekend. To be blunt, this is a flagrant violation of the league’s tampering rules, since teams are not even legally allowed to begin negotiations with free agents until Friday afternoon. I’d be surprised if there wasn’t some serious punishment for the Bucks here. Blocking the move itself is unlikely due to the player’s union standing up for Bogdanovic’s freedom of movement, but financial or draft penalties could be imposed upon the franchise.
In order to execute the trade, D.J. Wilson, Donte DiVincenzo, and Ersan Ilysaova will head to Sacramento. With the Suns getting better, as noted above, the Clippers will take any talent leaving the Pacific, though the Kings still have an interesting collection of young talent.
So, six trades in one day, five of which featured teams that will be good next year adding quality starters. Let’s turn our attention to some other news, even if it isn’t exactly trades.
James Harden Wants Out
Yeah, this is the big one. It’s unclear if this is actually going to happen, but this is definitely more than just rumors:
I’ll wait until a Harden deal actually happens to really think through the ramifications, but one thing to keep an eye on is Spencer Dinwiddie, and LA native who has been connected to the Clippers in some trade rumors. He’d definitely be a part of any Harden trade, though Houston’s willingness to part with him afterwards is unclear. As far as what a Irving-Harden-Durant trio would look like… well, we’ll have to wait and see what the on-court fit looks like, but it certainly wouldn’t be a boring year in Brooklyn.
Bulls Let Dunn, Harrison Hit Free Agency
I gotta be honest here–I have no idea what the Bulls are doing. With 12 guaranteed contracts on the books for next season, two picks in Wednesday’s draft, and three players eligible for restricted free agency, Chicago was always going to have to make some tricky choices to trim down their roster. Kris Dunn, who has become an elite defender but is still atrocious offensively, was probably a coin flip at $7M. The Bulls opted not to extend a qualifying offer, letting him enter unrestricted free agency. At 26 years old, it’s hard to know how much upside he really has left to develop into a complete player. The Clippers were linked to Dunn at last year’s trade deadline, and have been again headed into this free agency period. I’m not really sure what price point or role makes sense for him at this point, but he’s an intriguing option because of his defensive versatility at the guard position.
The Bulls also didn’t extend a $2M qualifying offer to Shaquille Harrison, which is odd as he’s made well-rounded contributions in a rotation role over the last couple of seasons. The 27-year-old can now leave in free agency, and could be a really nice addition to someone’s depth as a 6’7″ guard. They did, however, extend a $4.7M qualifying offer to Denzel Valentine, who looks like a fringe NBA player after missing the entire 2018-19 season and playing an underwhelming 36 games last year. Even if the front office likes Valentine and wants to keep him around, $4.7M is above his market value.
Cauley-Stein Opts In, Lopez Opts Out
In a couple of surprising choices, Willie Cauley-Stein opted in to his $2.3M player option with the Dallas Mavericks next season, while Robin Lopez opted out of his $5M player option with the Milwaukee Bucks. Cauley-Stein wasn’t likely to get a big raise in free agency, but he couldn’t have done worse and could have chosen a new team, while Lopez almost certainly won’t beat a $5M salary on the open market.
Cauley-Stein’s reasoning isn’t clear to me here, and it’s a bit disappointing as he was one of the more intriguing minimum-salary backup centers in this year’s free agent pool. Depending on whether or not the Mavericks want his contract on the books taking up a roster spot, adding him via trade (the Clippers have a small TPE that could absorb him) could still be an option. Lopez, I’m assuming, grew concerned that opting in would result in his $5M expiring being used in one of Milwaukee’s trades and take away his control over what team he played for. Due to acquiring Bogdanovic in a sign-and-trade deal, the Bucks will be hard capped this season, so they would have likely found a way to dump Lopez’s deal. Now, he can sign a new deal anywhere–even back with Milwaukee, which is probably most likely–and control his own destination.
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