The first major trade bombshell of the 2016 draft season dropped Wednesday, with reports that a three-way trade will send George Hill to Utah, Jeff Teague to Indiana and the 12th pick in Thursday’s draft (formerly belonging to Utah) to Atlanta. Further, reports have indicated that Indiana will pursue an extension for Teague. Let’s break down the deal as reported for each of the three teams involved.
Many will view swapping a starter for a lottery pick as a clear sign of a rebuild, but this could be entirely the opposite from the Hawks. It’s long been rumored that many in the front office considered Dennis Schroder the superior option at the point as he came of age, and moving Teague for a return that includes no incoming salary doubles down on that bet while also creating additional cap space. The Hawks’ chief priority this summer is retaining unrestricted free agent Al Horford, and the extra cap space opened up by Teague’s departure now leaves them right in the neighborhood of max space available for a potential free agent – one who could convince Horford they were still on a winning track. The room could also serve as a way to retain restricted free agent Kent Bazemore, whom the Hawks will have to dip into cap space for on a new deal.
Of course, should the dominoes not fall their way on the market over the summer, the move actually does allow the Hawks the flexibility to pivot into something of a temporary rebuild. Paul Millsap would be the largest tipping point in determining if they went all the way with this, but the other outlines are there: Atlanta owns all its own picks and now adds another in the lottery, plus has a ton of financial flexibility from the summer of 2017 on forward. Their ideal outcome with this move clearly appears to be to persuade Horford to stay while bringing on another high-talent veteran, and their second preference should Horford leave might just be to attempt to add multiple high-dollar guys (or re-sign Bazemore). Even if neither of these pan out, they’ve left themselves some outs, albeit not fantastic ones. The team is also reportedly shopping the No. 12 and No. 21 picks in tomorrow’s draft, so they may not be done dealing. For more on the Hawks’ angle, check out Lang Greene’s recent piece.
In swapping players at the same position who many consider to be on a similar talent tier, the Pacers are mostly betting on age and their ability to extend Teague, who is two years younger than Hill as both enter the final season on their current deals. If Larry Bird and Pacers brass do indeed believe they can lock Teague up for another few years at a fair deal, and do indeed have him at least even with Hill as a player currently, they’ve made a nice little deal for themselves.
The latter part there could be up for debate in some circles, though. Hill is the better distance shooter and defender of the two, by an amount that just might override the two-year gap in age (expressed another way, Hill has logged just over 3,000 more minutes than Teague in their respective careers). Teague is more capable creating offense, though the degree here might be overstated – he’s a very good passer, but many of the looks he was able to create for both himself and others in Atlanta were at least partially a result of a team system and fantastic gravity from guys like Kyle Korver and Paul Millsap. Hill was consistently good to great playing a slightly deferential role next to Paul George; will Teague fit in the same way?
From a raw value standpoint, though, the Pacers have done well if they can get extra years out of Teague in exchange for an older guy who might be over the hill a year or two earlier.
Purely from the perspective of immediate team goals, it’s hard to view the Jazz as anything but clear winners in this deal. A team already loaded with youngsters and without a major draft need, Utah was able to flip a 12th pick that held less value for them than most other teams into a starting-caliber player in their largest clear area of need.
Hill will fit like a glove in Utah, where he can play either with or without returning 20-year-old Dante Exum without forcing the Jazz to sacrifice an inch of size on the perimeter (the Hill-Exum duo would likely have the longest wingspan of any backcourt in the league, actually). He offers 37 percent and change from deep in his career to a team with major shooting and spacing needs last year, and is yet another above average defender to put in front of the menacing Rudy Gobert-Derrick Favors combo at the rim.
Best of all, Hill has proven successful in a situation where wings share in the primary ball-handling duties – exactly the scenario he’ll be entering in Utah. His own skill in the pick-and-roll will lighten the burden on guys like Gordon Hayward and Rodney Hood to generate all the offense, and vice versa. He’ll be the perfect soft landing spot for Exum, coming off a torn ACL, allowing the young Aussie to find his legs and his rhythm without an overdose of pressure from a fan base hungry for the playoffs.
The move has larger ramifications outside the specific players impacted on the court, too. With rumors flying about Gordon Hayward’s status as he nears a summer 2017 opt-out he’ll certainly exercise, the trade signifies in part the franchise’s commitment to pushing this core into contention immediately. They’ve added a veteran to fill a specific need. Talk that they’d send core assets to move up in the draft and trigger another minor rebuild was always contrary to this simple line of thinking. This has been the preference of the Jazz front office for some time now.
There could be some fairly immediate roster fallout at the point guard position, however. The Jazz now hold each of Hill (when the deal is consummated, which likely won’t be until July for salary reasons), Exum, Shelvin Mack, Trey Burke and Raul Neto under contract, and there will not be room for at least one of these guys (likely more than one) moving forward. How Dennis Lindsey and his team proceed here will be interesting to see. Burke has felt like an unlikely bet to remain on the team since he was relegated to third string upon Mack’s arrival last year, and that feeling was reinforced Wednesday. Exum isn’t going anywhere, period.
The most interesting debate would appear to come down to Mack and Neto, both of whom did well in the roles asked of them last season – but both of whom are clear backups. Expect Utah to give significant run to both Hill and Exum rather than relegating one of them to the more traditional “backup” point guard role, an easy task as they can play together whenever necessary. This probably leaves room for only one of the other two.
Mack has a non-guaranteed deal that the Jazz have to make a decision on by July 7 – should they choose to let him go, they can do so without costing themselves another dime before that date. Neto is guaranteed, but his deal is so cheap that releasing him (or trading him for whatever thin value they could get back, if such value exists) would be easy enough if they chose to. Both guys can be removed from the roster without much trouble, and which one leaves town probably just depends on who team brass thinks will do a better job in a limited role. Given the extra time on Neto’s contract and the team control it feels like he has a small edge at this point, though Mack’s rapport with coach Quin Snyder and connection to Hayward from their Butler days could play a role.
There’s no question Utah’s move involves a certain degree of risk. Hill is a big upgrade to Utah’s point guard situation, but he’s no superstar and he’s 30 years old. He could walk as an unrestricted free agent after this season, and retaining him might cost a pretty penny in the largest cap summer the league has ever seen. A lottery pick in return is far from nothing.
It’s exactly the sort of gamble the Jazz simply had to take, though. They believe in Exum on a high level, and holding firm in that belief would make a hypothetical Hill departure after just one year much more bearable. The 12th pick could yield a good player, sure, but it comes in a class with a ton of questions and warts after the top two guys – there’s no better than 50-50 odds that the player selected 12th in this draft ever becomes better than George Hill is right now. There’s also the very real chance that a guy labeled a solid teammate and an unselfish player his whole career would see an overwhelmingly positive youth movement taking place in Utah, and decide to return on a bargain deal to play veteran leader on a team chasing glory.
Most of all, though, it’s a signal to guys like Hayward, Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert that this team is serious right now. Who cares if Hill doesn’t make them a title contender overnight? The time is over for hedging assets and getting younger; the time is now for figuring out what it will take for this core to compete for a title. The Jazz will enter 2016-17 having filled their largest hole, and with perhaps the most menacing defensive starting lineup we’ve seen (on paper) in the league in a few years. This is a great move for Utah, even in realistic worst-case scenarios.
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