Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Whole lotto trade scenarios
By John Hollinger
how will the Clippers screw this up?
I can't imagine I was the only one who had that thought run through his or her head after the Clippers won the NBA draft lottery Tuesday night, and with it, the right to nab Oklahoma's stud power forward, Blake Griffin.
But it was an odd night for the league's riffraff, because the teams that "won" by finishing in the top three are now in position to draft a player that they don't really need. The Clippers are already stacked in the frontcourt with Marcus Camby, Chris Kaman, Zach Randolph, DeAndre Jordan and occasional 4-man Al Thornton.
Memphis, picking second, was the team that could really use a power forward like Griffin. But they already have a decent young point guard in Mike Conley and a quality center in Marc Gasol, and the two next best players (Connecticut's Hasheem Thabeet and Spain's Ricky Rubio) play those positions.
Ditto for Oklahoma City, picking third. If Memphis takes Thabeet, as our draft expert Chad Ford suggests, then the Thunder would get Rubio
one year after taking another point guard, Russell Westbrook, with pick No. 4.
Meanwhile, two teams that were hoping to finish much higher, Sacramento and Washington, were pushed down to fourth and fifth.
All of which makes for some interesting discussion in the days leading up to the draft, because trade scenarios seem rife for each of the teams in the top five spots. Let's run through the role call:
|Will Spain's Ricky Rubio or UConn's Hasheem Thabeet hear his name called for the No. 2 pick?|
1. Los Angeles Clippers
LA's other team managed to keep itself in the news by winning the Griffin sweepstakes, but now attention immediately turns to how they'll juggle the frontcourt. The obvious solution would be to trade Randolph, but he has two years and $33 million left on his deal and he's one of the league's most difficult personalities. That shrivels the market for him to just a few teams, even if the Clippers are willing to take back bad contracts in return. (A lot of clubs won't touch the guy at any price.)
But it's hard to imagine the Clips playing Randolph and Griffin together, since both are natural power forwards and Randolph won't do jack on defense. So trading one of the other frontcourt players (Camby or Kaman, most likely) doesn't really solve the problem -- it has to be Randolph. One would also have to think the Clippers are desperate to provide a better role model for Griffin than Z-Bo, a gifted post scorer on the court but a scoundrel off it.
So where they can possibly offload Randolph? A few places, actually. A deal with Milwaukee for Richard Jefferson would work, providing the Bucks more post scoring and a replacement for likely goner Charlie Villanueva. However, the Bucks supposedly deep-sixed a deal for Randolph when he was a Knick and might turn their noses up at this idea too.
A few other partners come to mind. Golden State could even out its roster at a stroke by sending Jamal Crawford and Corey Maggette to the Clips, and we know they won't ask Zach to play any D. Memphis is desperate for a power forward and could do a deal for Marko Jaric, Darko Milicic and the Grizzlies' pick at No. 27. And Chicago, which really needs a post scorer to get to the next level, could make it work for Brad Miller and Tim Thomas
a deal that doesn't really solve the Clippers' frontcourt logjam, but does achieve the aim of ridding the team of Randolph.
All of this gets back to one simple NBA truth -- there is no such thing as an untradable contract. Every player has his price, and it's tough for the Clippers to make a deal that replaces Randolph's production because so many teams see him as radioactive. But if the Clips lower the bar to just clearing the deck for Griffin, they can make it work.
2. Memphis Grizzlies
The Grizzlies have the second pick but are said to prefer Thabeet to the player most teams have rated second, Rubio. That leaves room for them to trade down with Oklahoma City at No. 3, presuming the Thunder would rather have Rubio
but only if the Griz are really good at bluffing that they'll take Rubio otherwise. So far, not so good.
If Thabeet is the pick, then it raises the question of what they would do with Gasol. Gasol ranked second among rookies in Value Added -- ahead of more heralded teammate O.J. Mayo -- and had the best PER on the team (16.74), so this doesn't appear to be a position in dire need of an upgrade. They can't play side-by-side either. You really want Gasol chasing Dirk or Chris Bosh around the perimeter?
However, the Griz are in a similar quandary if they choose Rubio. The Spanish sensation would be replacing young Mike Conley, who just survived a three-way competition with Kyle Lowry and Javaris Crittenton.
The trade market for both players would be active, so it's not a question of if they could get something back. The dilemma is that they'd be trading one of their best young players either way, an odd turn of events considering the stated goal is to build the team by developing young players.
3. Oklahoma City Thunder
If the pick is Thabeet, then it's no worries for the Thunder. They would get the shot-blocking big man they were looking for when they made the revoked Tyson Chandler trade in February.
If it's Rubio, things get a lot trickier. Oklahoma City already has Westbrook at the point, and he had an exceptional rookie season considering his youth and inexperience at the position. It's not as simple as moving Westbrook to the 2, either. He has the size to play there, but he's not a good shooter. Since Rubio is a lousy shooter too, it would invite opponents to double- and triple-team Kevin Durant while sagging way off the Thunder's guards.
Yet the Thunder don't seem anxious to trade Westbrook either, not after the season he had as a rookie, and not when his aggressive mentality seems to be exactly what the team was looking for as the yin to Durant's laid-back yang.
So we need to at least ask the question: Would Oklahoma City trade down a spot with Sacramento? The Kings are dying to get Rubio, while at No. 4 the Thunder could snag a much-needed wing sniper like James Harden and earn a few other goodies in the process. As enticement, Sacramento could offer its No. 23 pick and/or Spencer Hawes, or agree to swap Jason Thompson for Thabo Sefolosha.
4. Sacramento Kings
If Oklahoma City won't play ball on a Rubio deal, the Kings are probably the worst-positioned of the top five to make a deal after unexpectedly falling to No. 4 (the Kings had about a two-thirds chance of finishing in the top three). But if rumors of their longings for a point guard are true and obtaining Rubio isn't in the cards, then it makes no sense to use a pick at No. 4 that likely would be just as available at No. 6 or No. 7.
Thus, it seem the Kings might be able to profit by working a deal with Minnesota or Golden State that moves them down a couple of spots and still allows them to select guards Brandon Jennings, Jrue Holliday and Jonny Flynn, among others. The Kings would be looking to offload salary and perhaps add another young player in such a deal, with dumping Beno Udrih's contract being the Holy Grail.
5. Washington Wizards
Remember a couple of years ago when Washington had the fifth pick and traded it to Dallas for Antawn Jamison? Me too. And with 14 players already under contract for next season I have a feeling they might do it again, packaging it with an unwanted contract in order to make a run with their current roster while still getting under the luxury tax.
For instance, the Wizards could trade down with Memphis (No. 27), Oklahoma City (No. 25) or Sacramento (No. 23), throw in $3 million (the maximum allowed) and dump Etan Thomas' $7.3 million on their lap, simultaneously getting Washington back to the tax line while still adding another young player. Alternatively, the Wizards could ask for a role-playing wing with a modest contract, or just structure it as a straight salary dump for a future conditional pick.
A lot of possibilities are on the board here, too many to enumerate. Suffice to say that I'd be stunned if Washington actually uses the pick. The salary commitment is too high once tax concerns are taken into account, and the expected immediate return too low. For a team hoping to bounce back quickly behind a healthy Gilbert Arenas, they're much better off using the pick as a trade asset.
John Hollinger writes for ESPN Insider. To e-mail him, click here.