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Like usual, the NBA‘s offseason forecast is calling for lots and lots of…needless Twitter debates and lengthy YouTube-highlight rabbit holes.
Oh, and also trades.
Everyone is at their edge of their seat waiting to see how the Anthony Davis situation resolves itself, but the action doesn’t stop with him. Other big names will find their way onto the chopping block. That’s how the NBA offseason works.
Nothing is certain this far in advance, so issues will not be forced. We are not predicting a trade demand and subsequent relocation for Damian Lillard. Pre-existing trade candidates are our bread and butter.
Where might Davis land? Will the New Orleans Pelicans look to move Jrue Holiday after Davis is gone? Is Mike Conley’s time with the Memphis Grizzlies coming to a close? What can the Cleveland Cavaliers get for Kevin Love?
To the land of hypotheticals we go!
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Boston Celtics Receive: Anthony Davis
New Orleans Pelicans Receive: Marcus Smart, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Boston’s 2019 first-round pick, Memphis Grizzlies’ 2019 first-round pick (top-eight protection in 2019; top-six protection in 2020; unprotected in 2021)
No offseason trade discussion is complete without an Anthony Davis-to-Boston scenario. Jayson Tatum may be the only reason he’s even still in New Orleans.
The Pelicans talked “extensively” with the Celtics about the 21-year-old’s availability leading into the deadline, according to The Athletic’s Sam Amick. No promises were made, but New Orleans didn’t hold serve just because. Dealing Davis without giving Boston a chance to empty its war chest never made sense.
Tatum will be up for grabs if push comes to shove. The Pelicans must hope it does. Celtics president Danny Ainge might draw a line in the sand to start off, but Tatum only truly becomes off limits if Boston knows Kyrie Irving (player option) is a goner and doesn’t feel Davis will consider sticking around beyond next season.
That worst-case scenario is a real concern. Irving’s return isn’t considered a sure thing following his “Ask me July 1” about-face, and Davis didn’t have Boston on his initial list of preferred destinations (per the New York Times‘ Marc Stein) before declaring his love for every team outside New Orleans over All-Star Weekend.
Fear of losing both stars cannot dissuade the Celtics. Some think they should wait until free agency plays out before striking, but flipping the order of operations has its advantages. They’ll have a hold on Irving’s leanings before July 1, and landing a top-five player is a great way to change his mind if he has one foot out the door.
Harder questions arise for the Celtics while fleshing out the package around Tatum. Marcus Smart is a given for salary-matching purposes. Things get iffy after him. Do they include all three of Jaylen Brown, Memphis’ pick and this year’s Sacramento Kings selection? New Orleans will push for the whole shebang. Boston needs to resist.
Attaching the Celtics’ own first to the Grizzlies’ pick is a good middle ground if both Brown and Tatum are headed to the Pelicans. No other team is flat-out beating this offer. That’s Boston leverage. If New Orleans wants more draft equity, the proposed deal can be reworked to leave Brown in Beantown.
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New Orleans Pelicans Receive (after 2019 draft): OG Anunoby, Serge Ibaka, Pascal Siakam, 2020 first-round pick (unprotected), 2022 first-round pick (lottery protection; turns into two seconds if not conveyed)
Toronto Raptors Receive: Anthony Davis
Let’s say the Celtics are so worried about losing Kyrie Irving even if they have Anthony Davis that their top offer doesn’t include Jayson Tatum. Let’s also say that the Pelicans, as reported ESPN’s Marc J. Spears (h/t NBC Sports’ Dan Feldman), are serious about not sending their checked-out superstar to the Los Angeles Lakers.
Dark-horse suitors get busy.
The Raptors are among the teams that can rival the Celtics’ Tatum-less offers. Their participation in the Davis sweepstakes rests largely on Kawhi Leonard’s future (player option), but that’s fine. They might have intel ahead of the draft that points to his return, or they may believe that getting Davis seals his fate in their favor.
New Orleans would listen if Toronto calls with this package. Pascal Siakam is a Most Improved Player favorite with another year left on his rookie-scale deal. OG Anunoby is still a low-maintenance three-and-D wing. His outside clip has dropped this season, but he’s shooting 41 percent from deep over his last 15 games. He’s also just 21 and has two years left on his own rookie-scale pact.
Failing to pick up a first-round pick in this June’s draft is a mild turnoff for the Pelicans. They’ll get over it if the Raptors are dangling two more future selections.
Other permutations of this deal exist if New Orleans doesn’t want to take on Serge Ibaka’s expiring contract. Toronto can sub him out for Norman Powell and Fred VanVleet or use Marc Gasol as the salary anchor should he pick up his player option.
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New Orleans Pelicans Receive: Grayson Allen, Dante Exum, 2019 first-round pick (after the draft), 2020 first-round pick (top-1 protection)
Utah Jazz Receive: Jrue Holiday
Jrue Holiday figures to be the next domino to fall in New Orleans once Anthony Davis gets a new home. The Pelicans didn’t consider moving him before the deadline, per ESPN.com’s Adrian Wojnarowski, but he wants to play for a winner, according to ESPN.com’s Zach Lowe.
That doesn’t preclude New Orleans from keeping him anyway. Holiday doesn’t have the clout to force a trade with three years left on his contract (2021-22 player option), and he’ll be critical to the Pelicans’ plans if they opt for a quick turnaround following Davis’ exit.
Everything changes should New Orleans commit to a rebuild. Going on 29, Holiday is not fit to serve a more gradual timeline, and his market value, as a fringe All-Star, won’t get any higher.
The Jazz are the perfect trade partner. They’re close enough to the title contender’s circle to fork over two firsts and two young players, and they have the cap space to take back Holiday’s 2019-20 salary ($26 million) without sending equal value in return.
Not one of the inbound assets is going to wow the Pelicans. They’re not selling low, either. They’re getting what amounts to four first-round prospects. Put this package in harsher terms, and they’re still receiving two firsts, a 23-year-old with three years left on his rookie-scale contract and a flier on Dante Exum, who is currently sidelined with a torn patellar tendon in his right knee but doesn’t turn 24 until July.
This particular idea eats through just about all of the Jazz’s financial flexibility. They’ll deal. Cap space only goes so far in a market like Utah, and Holiday is an ideal backcourt running mate for Donovan Mitchell.
Plus, if the Jazz want to preserve their spending power, waiving Derrick Favor’s non-guaranteed salary gives them a line to almost $20 million in room even after making this trade.
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Detroit Pistons Receive: Mike Conley
Memphis Grizzlies Receive: Reggie Jackson, Jon Leuer, 2019 first-round pick (after draft), 2020 first-round pick (top-three protection)
Gaining ground in the Eastern Conference is not a license for the Pistons to stand pat. They have distanced themselves from the start-over talk and developed a couple of swing prospects in Bruce Brown and Luke Kennard, but they still need to make substantive upgrades before they’re genuine threats.
Revisiting the Mike Conley situation is a good place to start.
The Pistons spoke with the Grizzlies ahead of the deadline, per Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press, and while they never appeared close to a deal, they’ll have an easier time cobbling together sufficient offers over the summer. They won’t be nearly as close to the luxury-tax threshold, and their primary salary anchors will be entering the final year of their contracts.
Waiting until the offseason also lets them work in two first-round picks without hamstringing themselves beyond the 2020 draft. The Stepien Rule only applies to future selections, so they technically wouldn’t be leaving themselves without a first-rounder in consecutive years.
Punting on that many draft selections is tough for any team. Conley is worth the blow. Besides, the Pistons get to keep Brown and Kennard and, if all goes according to plan, won’t be giving up a lottery pick.
Reggie Jackson’s recent surge doesn’t change the calculus. Detroit knows better than to accept his peaks as new normals. Conley is a defensive upgrade, better playmaker out of the pick-and-roll and noticeably elevates the team’s ceiling in the East.
The Grizzlies will ask for more. They’re not getting it. Conley turns 32 in October and isn’t a bargain at his price tag (two years, $67 million).
Two first-round picks and cap relief is adequate compensation if the Grizzlies are firing up a rebuild. They’re sending their own pick to Boston at some point, and the $4.9 million they shave from their payroll next season by accepting this deal goes a long way toward giving them the breathing room to re-sign Delon Wright (restricted) and remain comfortably under the tax.
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Charlotte Hornets Receive: Kevin Love
Cleveland Cavaliers Receive: Bismack Biyombo, Malik Monk, 2019 first-round pick (30 days after he signs), 2020 first-round pick (top-seven protection)
Kevin Love’s trade value remains in limbo following his return from toe surgery. He’s on fire from three (for the most part) and having some big games, but he’s not a net-positive asset on the four-year, $120.4 million extension that kicks in next season.
Still, the Cavaliers were smart to keep him past the deadline. He had next to no value while on the sidelines. At least now teams know he hasn’t lost his offensive mojo. The right buyer will give them something.
Any interest the Hornets may have in Love is predicated on Kemba Walker’s return. That’s a non-issue. Charlotte can’t justify letting him walk over the cost of his next contract after electing not to move him at one of the past two trade deadlines, and he doesn’t sound like someone who wants to leave.
“Charlotte means a lot to me,” he told USA Today‘s Jeff Zillgitt. “This city has embraced me—allowed me to be who I am, allowed me to grow as a man. I just love the city. This team drafted me, believed in me when I was young.”
More problematic for the Hornets is deciding what to do after re-signing Walker. They’re on course to miss the playoffs and don’t have the salary-cap flexibility to spend on other talent or the assets to trade for a younger star.
Love is gettable for what they can offer. The Cavaliers need to trim money from the bottom line if they’re going to skirt the tax next year. This package saves more than $5 million if Charlotte doesn’t jump into the top four of the lottery while promising them a look at three first-round prospects.
Order of events matters here. The Hornets need the salary of this year’s pick to make the math work. Even then, they’ll have to reconcile jumping into the tax as a result of Love’s arrival.
That’s neither here nor there. Paying Walker puts them up against the tax even without Love. They can figure out how to offload salary later. Acquiring another star player is more important.