Trades add another level to the NBA Draft. Teams hoarding picks and those with some to spare search for each other, each thinking that what the other has is what will make the difference for themselves. It’s a tricky dance that rarely ends happily for both sides. Here are a few of the main ones from the past week and what they mean going forward.
Los Angeles Lakers send Timofey Mozgov and D’Angelo Russell to Brooklyn Nets for Brook Lopez and the 27th pick (Kyle Kuzma)
In short, this paved the way for the Lakers to take Lonzo Ball with the 2nd pick. Despite being a 2nd pick himself, Russell hasn’t panned out in LA. That could be his or the organization’s fault, but one could easily argue he wasn’t put in a position to succeed. *cough*JIMBUSS*cough* *cough*BYRON SCOTT*cough* *cough*KOBE BRYANT*cough* But it can’t be argued that Ball has a higher upside already with management that’s better prepared to develop him. Russell had to go. (This can also be seen a big vote of confidence in Nick Young, who somehow outlived Russell in LA. Long live Swaggy P.)
Perhaps just as important as getting Ball was the cap space the Lakers gained by shipping out Mozgov’s contract. Lopez will make $22 million this year, but Magic Johnson will have his locker cleared out a day after the regular season and will push that cash into the Paul George/LeBron James fund. The Lakers with a cogent long-term strategy? Times have changed.
This trade actually turned out decent for both sides. Sure, the Nets will be paying Mozgov $16 million for three years, which is like paying an 8-year-old $5,000 to mow your lawn this summer. But they’ve got cap room and few free agents that want to sign with them. They’ll happily absorb that contract to get a quality young player in return. That tactic, along with grossly overpaying restricted free agents, is how they’ll need to get their talent in the years before they have draft picks again.
Brooklyn could always buy out Mozgov and players like him or use the stretch provision to make the money fit a little better. Either way, this is their only real option. Russell may not fit alongside Jeremy Lin perfectly, but he could certainly learn a thing or two from him. I don’t know who Kyle Kuzma is, to be honest, but I’d bet Russell can make a bigger impact than him in the long term. Brooklyn must have thought the same thing. Incredibly, for now, it seems as though everyone is happy.
Atlanta Hawks trade Dwight Howard and the 31st pick to Charlotte Hornets for Miles Plumlee, Marco Belinelli, and the 41st pick
This is so sad. As a Magic fan, I couldn’t care less what has happened to Dwight in the last five years. But I do like to remember the good old days when Howard was a force of nature and leading my team to the Finals. And seeing how far he’s fallen is just a bummer. The dude got traded for a Plumlee and a decent shooter. Crazy.
However, I think this trade also kind of works for everyone. If Howard can be a decent facsimile of old Dwight, the way Charlotte is structured around him could be effective. A pick and roll with him and Kemba Walker would be dangerous if ran right. And the Hornets lucked into Malik Monk in the draft (who I wanted Orlando to draft, by the way) who will be an excellent floor spacer around that duo. That pick and roll will give Nic Batum and Marvin Williams more room to work while a defense is scrambling as well. I can’t say Charlotte is playoff bound or anything, but there’s something there.
For Atlanta, it looks as though this is one part of a large roster reset. After losing Al Horford and trading Jeff Teague last summer and trading Kyle Korver during the season, most of the major players from that magical 60-win season in 2015 are gone. The Hawks probably won’t get in a bidding war in Paul Millsap’s free agency either, paving the way for a rebuild. They’re still paying Thabo Sefolosha, Kent Bazemore, and now Plumlee too much, and there doesn’t seem to be an easy path to clearing cap space or acquiring draft picks. Look for Atlanta to try to offload salaries in exchange for whatever picks they can scrounge up.
This has been a fun, if brief, era of near-excellence for the Hawks. LeBron James swept them twice in the playoffs, but just calling them sweeps can’t describe how far apart the Hawks and Cavs have been. There’s no shame in that. They gave it their best shot and ran into the best player in the world. Now they have to start over again.
Chicago Bulls trade Jimmy Butler and the 16th pick (Justin Patton) to Minnesota Timberwolves for Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn, and the 7th pick (Lauri Markannen)
Minnesota’s need to accelerate their timeline is a little confusing, but if you’re going to make a move you don’t need to make it’s a lot better if you embarrass the team you trade with. Giving up a player with a torn ACL, an underperforming rookie, and a mid-level lottery pick for a top-15 player is a laughably lopsided deal. If you know you can pull that off, you may as well go ahead and do it.
Again, considering that the Warriors still exist, I’m not sure why trading for a superstar that you’re only guaranteed to have for two years in necessary. Unless you get massive, unprecedented leaps from Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, they’re still not a real threat to Golden State. That’s what they have to overcome. Still, this is a heck of a team. It’ll be interesting to see how Butler and Wiggins will work together and how efficient the three-point shooting can be
But the defense should see an uptick and Butler probably won’t let the team repeat its habit of falling apart in the second halves of games. Question marks remain, but this was a strong move that adds wins in the short term without sacrificing much of Minnesota’s long term plan.
I have nothing more to add about Chicago. They got Tom Sawyer’d and now they’re whitewashing the fence. Do better, guys.
Boston Celtics trade the 1st pick (Markelle Fultz) for the 3rd pick (Jayson Tatum) and a future first round pick
Finally, the big one. If you’ve gotten this far then you probably know everything you need to know about this. Finally, the Sixers stopped taking big men and now have who looks to be their point guard of the future. Again, I don’t know a lot about college players, but I believe this to be true. More importantly, the team somehow got more likable already.
And if we’re lucky, this is the end of the beginning of The Process. Think of it as a parabola: if all goes well, drafting Fultz was the lowest point of y=x2 and now it’s all a sharp curve uphill. For the good of the NBA, let’s hope Fultz and the rest of the FEDS are worth those years of abhorrent basketball and stockpiling assets.
The Celtics went the reverse route of the Wolves. They could have cashed in their chips for a superstar but instead chose to push their window back another year. (So far at least, we still need to see how free agency plays out.) With Butler available for that low of a price, Boston could have easily beaten Minnesota’s offer. They didn’t, chose a quality player that will help them on the offensive end, and got another first round pick for their troubles. The draft is a crapshoot, and Danny Ainge appears to have gone with fit over the best available. That’s always tricky, but it doesn’t look like this has major backfire potential.
Once again, Boston has chosen to keep their options open. They could package that extra pick to nab Paul George from the Pacers, pair him with Gordon Hayward or not, or just run it all back with the addition of Tatum. With the Cavs still reigning in the East, it may be smartest to keep doing that for the foreseeable future. How the Celtics maneuver depends mostly on LeBron, but Hayward or George might play big parts as well.
Free agency is just around the corner!