Only the strong survive, and as life continues on under the new economic era that the NBA’s 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement has brought forth, it is not the general manager who has the most money that will ultimately prevail.
No, it is the GM who has spent the most time with the barbell. But we, obviously, are not talking brute force strength here, we are talking mental muscle.
So you, Mr. GM, do you know how to survive in this new era? Do you know what you can do to get your team over the hump?
We do! Follow two simple rules.
First, do not allow useful players to flee your farm for free. Odds are, Gregg Popovich is not losing sleep in San Antonio over Gary Neal’s departure this past summer. But Mitch Kupchak and the Los Angeles Lakers? You can rest assured that the departure of Dwight Howard still disturbs.
That is exactly why Pau Gasol immediately emerges as one of our noteworthy names here.
But before delving into the details, observe the second rule: Do not put off for tomorrow what can be accomplished today, especially if your potential trade partners do not like the idea of being hard-capped or otherwise facing economic sanctions, and that is exactly what a sign-and-trade agreement does in this new economic era of the Adam Silver’s NBA.
In short, a team that receives a player in a sign-and-trade arrangement must be no more than $4 million above the luxury tax threshold after the trade is completed. The receiving team is also hard-capped at the apron amount for the duration of the season in which they receive the player. Even worse, the receiving team may not spend more than a taxpayer mid-level exception on summer acquisitions, so in other words, receiving a player in a sign-and-trade arrangement certainly is not all it is cracked up to be and it easily is no longer as viable an option as it was under the previous economic era.
So yes, Evan Turner and Greg Monroe, though possibly restricted free agents this summer, should be moved now.
The restrictions placed on receiving teams in sign-and-trade arrangements simply means that potential trade partners diminish significantly once February 20 passes.
So between now and then, Sam Hinkie, Joe Dumars, Mitch Kupchak, Masai Ujiri and even Daryl Morey would be wise to learn from the past mistakes of others. Each of those five should do their best to find a team that their respective players would like to go to, but does not want to be subjected to the restrictions born from a sign-and-trade arrangement.
Call them up and make the best effort to execute a trade involving the below players and do it before the February trade deadline. At the end of the day, everyone wins. The team trading the player gets something in return, the player leaving ends up in a situation where he is happy and the receiving team would not have to face any of the restrictions brought forth by executing the sign-and-trade.
It’s a no-brainer, is it not?
Of course it is. With that said, keep an eye on the following players as we draw nearer to the February 20 trade deadline.
Evan Turner (SG, Philadelphia 76ers)
Earlier this season, Evan Turner famously proclaimed that newly installed Sam Hinkie “is not my general manager” after Turner and the Sixers failed to come to an agreement on an extension. Turner has responded by turning in a good all-around season, despite the obvious struggles of the Philadelphia 76ers.
As it stands, the Sixers may make Turner a restricted free agent by extending him the required $8.7 million qualifying offer once they are eligible to, but that is no guarantee. In the summer of 2012, the Memphis Grizzlies opted to not extend O.J. Mayo a qualifying offer and saw him bolt to the Dallas Mavericks. Mayo was not as highly regarded as Turner, but their falling out of favor after being selected with lottery picks is somewhat familiar. The Grizzlies received nothing in return for a player who, despite his struggles, had perceived value around the league. Though they remain a power in the Western Conference, the Grizzlies obviously failed to maximize the value on their asset.
Turner, unlike Mayo, is just 25 years old and has shown, at least in spurts, that he can be a highly productive wing. Although the Sixers have some semblance of a nucleus upon which they can build, allowing Turner to leave on a four-year extension in the $40 million range—the amount he is likely to see on the open market—would be a tragic mistake.
There is no question that the Sixers should do their best to move him, right now, to a team that would not be in a position to meet his salary desires this summer.
Greg Monroe (C, Detroit Pistons)
Partially due to the acquisition of Josh Smith and the emergence of Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe has seen his production slip as a member of the Detroit Pistons. Like Turner, Monroe is completing his fourth year and could be made a restricted free agent by the Pistons this summer. Monroe’s qualifying offer is only about $5.5 million, but whether or not the Pistons would be willing to commit the kind of dollars it would take to secure Monroe for another four or five years is doubtful, especially after the club committed almost $80 million combined to Smith and Brandon Jennings last summer.
As far as big men go, Monroe will be among the most coveted this summer. It would not be surprising for him to receive a maximum offer from a team looking for an effective big man who can pass and make plays out of the post—during the 2012-13 season, with a higher utilization, Monroe averaged a mind-boggling 3.5 assists per game.
That, in and of itself, has immense value in the NBA. The presence of Drummond and the struggles of the Pistons, though, make it such that committing the dollars necessary to make Drummond happy may not be the wisest thing to do for the Pistons. All of that is true even before considering that Drummond and Monroe may actually be stunting one another’s development.
Waiting by idly until this summer and allowing Monroe the freedom to sign a maximum extension with another team? That would be ill-advised. He is highly coveted across the league and could probably fetch decent assets in return if the Pistons opted to move him rather than risking losing him for nothing this summer, if the Pistons aren’t prepared to open their wallet.
Clearly, the time to move Monroe is now.
Pau Gasol (PF, Los Angeles Lakers)
Like Amar’e Stoudemire during his tenure with the Phoenix Suns, Pau Gasol has been the subject of trade rumors for what seems like an eternity. His head-butting with Mike D’Antoni has been well-documented and whether or not Gasol would prefer to remain in Los Angeles once he becomes an unrestricted free agent this summer is doubtful.
Gasol went on the record as saying he would be interested in returning to the Memphis Grizzlies, where his younger brother has emerged as one of the best all-around centers in the league. A frontline featuring the two would be difficult to contend with, despite the health issues that have plagued the aging Pau over the past few years. If Zach Randolph sticks around, the Grizzlies would have a fearsome triad up front.
Fortunately for the Lakers, as long as Randolph opts into the $17 million he has due to him next season, the Grizzlies would not be able to offer Gasol more than a mid-level exception of $5.3 million in July.
The Lakers, with an eye toward luring free agents in the future, are hesitant to add long-term money to their payroll, but if Gasol is truly amenable to returning to Memphis, a deadline deal with the Grizzlies would both allow him to return to the team that drafted him while maintaining his full Bird rights heading into July.
According to the Los Angeles Times, the Suns have registered interest in Gasol, but are reluctant to meet the asking price of the Lakers—a high draft pick in this year’s draft.
Though he may be over the hill and almost 34 years old, Gasol is still a versatile interior force and for the rebuilding Lakers, accepting 50 cents on the dollar for him would be more advisable than losing him for nothing.
For what it’s worth, the Grizzlies make for a more attractive trade partner for the Lakers than the Suns. The Suns, first, will be under the cap this summer and could maintain the flexibility necessary to simply sign Gasol outright. Additionally, the Suns may be reluctant to trade a pick to the Lakers without an assurance that Gasol would re-sign in Phoenix come July. The Grizzlies, on the other hand, have already been cited by Gasol as a desired destination and are unlikely to have the ability to sign Gasol to a lucrative offer this summer.
Whether it be to Phoenix or Memphis, though, the Lakers must move the Spaniard.
Kyle Lowry (PG, Toronto Raptors)
After being mentioned as a trade target for the New York Knicks earlier this season, Kyle Lowry has emerged as one of the conference’s hottest topics.
The Raptors and their improbable rise to the top of the Atlantic Division is due in large part to the impressive play of Lowry, whom many believe should have been named as an Eastern Conference All-Star.
Lowry’s 16.6 points and 7.5 assists per game this season both represent career-highs, and at just 27 years old, he still has perceived upside that may be realized if he finds himself in the right situation.
General manager Masai Ujiri was brought to Toronto to help build the team into a contender in his own image, and thus far, he has not done or said anything to quiet the speculation that there is no interest in retaining Lowry past this season. It is a situation that is eerily reminiscent of what Evan Turner is going through in Philadelphia.
At this point, the New York Knicks still make for a sensible destination for Lowry. Across the league, he has developed a reputation for being a player who wears out his welcome, and odds are, if opposing teams were tearing down Ujiri’s door for a chance to acquire the 27-year-old point guard, he probably would have been dealt already.
A three-team trade in which the Knicks send out a coveted piece in return for Lowry could make sense if the Raptors and Knicks could not agree to a one-on-one trade. Such a deal makes sense for both teams, but only if the Knicks decided that they would re-sign Lowry this summer and make him a part of the team’s future.
The team’s interest in both Rajon Rondo and Kyrie Irving is a poorly kept secret around New York, but with neither player a guarantee to hit the free agent market anytime soon—much less land with the Knicks—Ujiri could take advantage of the Knicks and their desperate attempt to sneak into the playoffs.
It is hard to imagine Lowry remaining a member of the Raptors past this season, and letting a productive point guard whose best days may be ahead of him go for nothing—that’s something only a team like the Knicks would do.
Omer Asik (C, Houston Rockets)
Although Omer Asik is under contract through the end of next season, his soap opera with the Houston Rockets has gone on long enough and moving him now is the right decision for the franchise.
Asik is a good insurance policy for Dwight Howard, but negative vibrations emanating from players who are not content with their playing situations are things that have the potential to poison an otherwise harmonious locker room. Asik is nearing a return from an extended absence due to a troublesome knee and there is no doubt that the Rockets are a better defensive team with him, but through 31 games without him, they are 20-11.
Without him, they have fared just fine, but the catalyst behind trading him now is simple: tomorrow is not promised. Both the Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs know that well.
After being beat up by the Miami HEAT in the 2012 NBA Finals, injuries to Russell Westbrook have diminished the Thunder’s status as a contender. Obviously, in Westbrook’s absence this season, Kevin Durant has become the league’s consensus Most Valuable Player through its first half, but the assumption was that the Thunder would be the conference’s top team for years to come. Westbrook’s injuries have changed that.
That can happen at anytime, to any player—including both James Harden and Dwight Howard.
As for the Spurs, thus far this season, their health has been anything but optimal. Their return to the NBA Finals this year, at this point, seems like a long shot, especially if their troublesome health is a sign of what lies ahead.
With a brilliant half court scorer in Harden and a interior presence like Howard, the Rockets are a team that has the first two pieces toward enjoying sustained playoff success. They are one more piece away from potentially rising to the top of the conference, and they have Asik—a valuable player who is not happy with his role.
Why not deal him now? The fact remains that Asik’s presence on the Rockets’ roster and the continued questions about his status and demeanor will continue to be an unwelcome distraction for a young team still toiling and attempting to find itself amongst the conference’s elite.
There is simply little reason to continue to drag this out.
Knowing when to hold them and when to fold them is the responsibility of a good general manager. Bluffing and stalling has value, but with the trade deadline rapidly approaching, Turner and Monroe soon to hit restricted free agency, Gasol already thinking about another life in Memphis, Lowry playing himself into the highest trade value he will ever have and the Rockets’ existence as an emerging contender, Sam Hinkie, Joe Dumars, Mitch Kupchak, Masai Ujiri and Daryl Morey would all be wise to keep their cellphones charged.