The Pros and Cons of Trading with Elite Teams

Kyle Korver is one of the most accurate three-point shooters of all time. Over the weekend, the perfectly average Atlanta Hawks traded him and his jump shot to the defending champions in Cleveland, who sent Mo Williams, Mike Dunleavy, and a 2019 first round pick in return. Depending on what team you’re affiliated with and their level of contention, you could feel a lot of different ways about this.

Trading pieces to already-elite teams is often a good move for both parties involved in the actual trade, but it also creates ripples that affect the rest of the league. Here are the pros and cons for trading with elite teams.


They’re willing to spend to ensure a championship:

A team that close to a title isn’t much concerned about the future. They’ll give up a lot to make incremental gains that a lesser team would find insane. Take the very same Cavaliers giving up two first round picks for Timofey Mozgov, for example. That’s a steep price, but Cleveland’s success the last two years couldn’t have happened without him.

They’ll likely have specific needs, giving you leverage:

If that elite team is in trade talks, it means they have a specific player they want and/or need. They wouldn’t be talking if they didn’t desire that player’s skill set very much. Lesser teams can leverage that desire to squeeze a larger trade package out of them (see above) than any other team would agree to.

The team probably has desirable assets:

The best example is the Clippers, who have sent out multiple picks, Jared Dudley, Spencer Hawes, Matt Barnes and Lance Stephenson, all useful assets for their trading partners, in return for dubious gains. Good teams probably have decent players and draft picks. If they want better ones, trading partners can be assured they’ll get something decent in return. A 2019 first round pick from Cleveland will likely be in 20s. There’s little chance it will turn into a superstar, and probably not even an All-Star. But it could easily be a solid role player (like Mike Dunleavy himself), or the pick could be flipped for a player that can help sooner. Every bit helps.

You can use them to stick it to your rivals:

The Hawks have been swept by Cleveland in the playoffs each of the last two seasons. It’s been humiliating, embarrassing, and just plain sad. Perhaps they want the rest of the league to get swept by the champs as well. Atlanta beat Boston in the first round last year, only to see them swipe Al Horford out from under them a month later. They saw they weren’t in a position to deliver the Celtics any revenge or embarrassment, so now they’re just delegating the task out to Cleveland.


You’re inherently admitting you can’t beat them:

Trading to a superior team is like punting in football. Here, I couldn’t do anything with this, see if you can make something useful out of it. But trading to the Cavaliers in 2017 is like punting the ball then immediately vacating the field and telling other teams to keep your opponent out of the endzone. It’s giving up at its finest.

You’re further ensuring you won’t beat them in the future:

Not only are you making that elite team even more elite, you’re making yourself worse. It barely even matters what you get in return. You could trade Michael Myers a bulletproof vest, and even if you get machine gun in return, you’re still screwed. Even if the Hawks don’t trade Paul Millsap like they’re now saying (they will), they’ve removed an essential piece of their team and culture. Atlanta won’t recover from that easily.

You’ve pissed off the other 13 teams in your conference:

Not only are you worse off, the other teams in your conference have seen their odds of victory go down without doing anything themselves. They need all the help they can get, and you’re making the rich richer. In their eyes, you started a kickstarter for Bill Gates. Cleveland hasn’t had real competition in the first three rounds of the playoffs since LeBron arrived. Atlanta just ensured another year of the same.

And probably the 15 in the other one, too:

You can be sure Golden State isn’t happy about this either. They improved their roster while it seemed like Cleveland would have depth and shooting issues throughout the year. The Hawks ruined that. The Warriors, or whoever is lucky enough to knock them off and unlucky enough to run into the Cavs in the Finals, now has a much tougher task ahead.

– – –

Nobody trusts an elite team making a trade for any player, no matter how inconsequential. Last summer, the Spurs traded with the Kings for Ray McCallum. A significant number of people had to stop and ask, “wait, is Ray McCallum good?” simply because San Antonio wanted him. He isn’t, but it’s every middling team’s fear that an elite team will bring something out of a player they couldn’t.

Needless to say, as efficient as Korver was in Atlanta, he’ll have a much easier time in Cleveland. Twenty-eight teams aren’t happy about that, but it only takes one who wants something in return. Keep in mind that the team making the trade absolutely could not care less about the cons.

The NBA is a cold, cutthroat world, and there’s no looking out for anyone but yourself. Atlanta proved that this week.

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