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NBA AM: Five Trades That Make Sense

Joel Brigham suggests five trades, including deals involving DeMarcus Cousins, Dwight Howard, Hassan Whiteside and more.

Joel Brigham

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The best possible Christmas gift for NBA fans is a flurry of trade rumors in the month of December, and that’s exactly what we’ve gotten in recent weeks. Big names are being tossed around in trade rumors on an almost daily basis, which is amazing considering the trade deadline is still a full two months away.

While it could be awhile before any actual blockbusters go down, now is a perfectly appropriate time to look at some of the bigger names reportedly on the trading block and what deals might make sense for the teams interested in (or forced into) shopping them.

Of course, Pat Riley has said that Hassan Whiteside isn’t going anywhere, and Danny Ainge won’t come out and say how badly he wants DeMarcus Cousins on his team. The Rockets aren’t likely to trade Dwight Howard unless it’s a no-brainer win for them (or they feel they’ll lose him in July when he can opt out), and the Markieff Morris issues in Phoenix still have plenty of time to be resolved.

Despite all of that, here are five trades that could make a lot of sense if all the names currently in the rumor mill did actually find their way to a new team:

The Sacramento Kings trade DeMarcus Cousins to the Boston Celtics for David Lee, Jared Sullinger and Brooklyn’s 2016 and 2018 first-round picks.

Without actually coming out and saying the name “DeMarcus Cousins” in an interview with a local Boston radio station, Celtics President of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge made it known that his team is looking to buy on the trade market this year and that his number one priority is “a go-to scorer… another player that’s a reliable scorer at the end of games, night in and night out.”

He went on to say that “ideally, it’d be a big man,” qualifying that “it doesn’t have to be,” but we can all read between the lines. There’s no bigger, possibly obtainable talent right now than Cousins and with all of the assets Boston has to offer, they absolutely should go after him hard.

Sacramento is going to want a lot back in exchange for the game’s most talented all-around center, but a package centered on what could be two very high first-round picks and a solid young big like Sullinger is far from the worst they could do. They could also ask for Marcus Smart, which would be a steep price for Ainge, but still one he’d have to consider. Players as good as Cousins don’t come available often, and his acquisition would be a coup for a team seemingly on the brink of big things. They’re just one star away, and that star could be Cousins.

The Miami HEAT trade Hassan Whiteside and Josh McRoberts to the Dallas Mavericks for Dwight Powell and Zaza Pachulia.

As much as Pat Riley says that he intends to hold onto Whiteside, the league-leader in blocks per game and one of better defensive players in the NBA right now, the reality is that it’s going to prove very challenging to keep him considering the HEAT’s cap situation. Whiteside will be an unrestricted free agent in July and Miami doesn’t have his Bird Rights, so they must use cap space to re-sign the big man and can’t offer more money or contract years than any other interested team. The HEAT won’t have the advantages a team typically has when they’re trying to retain a free agent. It’s very possible that Whiteside bolts to another team this summer, so cashing him out for some assets now would be a whole lot better than losing him for nothing by the time July rolls around.

Pachulia isn’t a long-term building block for Miami, but he is among the league-leaders in rebounds per game and is a tough-as-hell veteran that absolutely would hold things down for a Miami team hoping to make it back to the NBA Finals this year. His presence would keep those dreams alive even after losing Whiteside, though the payoff would be considerably shorter-term.

Powell, meanwhile, is one of the league’s more underrated up-and-comers and at times has looked like he could be a very good player in the relatively near future. Getting a piece for now and a piece for the future out of Whiteside is far from a bad deal, and it keeps Miami competitive.

Dallas, meanwhile, gets the borderline All-Star center they wanted (and almost got) this past summer without having to give up any of the pieces on that roster they consider part of their foundation. This gives the Mavericks the chance to show Whiteside what their organization is all about for the remainder of the season, with the hope that he’d be impressed and choose to re-sign this summer. It’s a risky move since there’s no guarantee he’d stay beyond this campaign, but it could pay off in a huge way. And at the very least, Whiteside makes Dallas more competitive this season as a rental and the team didn’t have to give up too much to acquire him.

The Houston Rockets trade Dwight Howard to the Washington Wizards for Marcin Gortat and Nene.

The Rockets only want to deal Howard if they are overwhelming winners in the swap, and this admittedly doesn’t appear to be that. Gortat, who once backed up Howard in Orlando, looked like a burgeoning All-Star at one point in his career, but he has sort of leveled off in the last couple of seasons. He and Nene don’t necessarily represent the sort of haul Daryl Morey would want out of the team’s second biggest name, but it’s still a reasonable return for a guy who has been truly disappointing this season and seems to be struggling as a personality in the Houston locker room. Not to mention, Howard can opt out of his contract after this season so the Rockets could find themselves in the same boat as Miami with Whiteside, wanting to get something back for the center rather than potentially losing him for nothing.

If nothing else, Nene and Gortat keep the Rockets a veteran-laden team but shake things up enough to put some energy back into a club that has fallen so short of expectations. As for the Wizards, Howard is a perfect fit for them defensively assuming he stays healthy, and he could possibly help take the team to the next level as they look to contend in the Eastern Conference.

The New Orleans Pelicans trade Ryan Anderson to the Phoenix Suns for Markieff Morris

There will be plenty of Phoenix Suns fans who look at this proposal and wonder aloud whether Anderson is the best they can get for Morris, a player who looked like a borderline All-Star just a season ago. While Anderson is a great three-point shooter who could be effective in Jeff Hornacek’s offense, he is an older player on the last year of his deal, and our own Eric Pincus is hearing Anderson is poised for a enormous pay day this summer.

It’s hard to see him as a max guy, but he’s going to pull big money in free agency, probably more than the Suns are going to want to pay to hold onto him. This is a mostly young team that should be looking to add players on the same career arc as Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Knight and the rest of that young core.

With that said, Tyson Chandler is there too, and this team could use a veteran presence like Anderson, even though they already have a couple of stretch bigs in Mirza Teletovic and Jon Leuer. At 27 years old, Anderson could still fit in better than expected, and at this point he certainly would give them more than a disgruntled Morris has this year. It would be easy to see Phoenix hold out for more than Anderson, but they could certainly do worse, while New Orleans has been so bad this season that any sort of change would be a welcome one.

The Minnesota Timberwolves trade Kevin Martin and Adreian Payne to the Memphis Grizzlies for Brandan Wright, Courtney Lee and two future second-round picks.

Easily the least sexy of these hypothetical trades, this one also could be the most realistic of the batch. The reports that Minnesota is shopping Martin make a ton of sense considering they want to give as much playing time as possible to Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine, but they’re going to have to find an older playoff team amenable to acquiring a 32-year-old shooting guard with an injury history.

The Grizzlies are pretty much exactly that, and it’s no secret that they really have struggled to get consistent scoring out of the backcourt this season. Martin would help remedy that and also likely would play rather nicely off of starting point guard Mike Conley. The Wolves don’t really need Wright or especially Lee, but the picks would be a nice parting gift for their time with Martin, and the deal certainly would free up minutes for the young guys on the roster.

*****

Are there other trades that you believe make sense right now? Do any of these five look particularly realistic or interesting to you as the NBA trading season approaches? Throw in your two cents and know that somehow, someway, a big trade is coming, and it could very well be one of the five trades mentioned here.

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NBA

Looking Toward The Draft: Power Forwards

Basketball Insiders continues their NBA Draft watch, this time with the power forwards.

David Yapkowitz

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We got some updated NBA draft news this week when the league announced that several key dates have been pushed back including the draft, the start of free agency and the beginning of the 2020-21 season.

The 2020 draft was originally scheduled for Oct. 16, but it will now likely occur sometime in November. Obviously, with the COVID-19 pandemic still wildly out of control in the United States, all of these potential deadlines are fluid and subject to change.

With that said, we’re continuing our position by position breakdown here at Basketball Insiders of some of the top 2020 draft prospects. We looked at the point guards and shooting guards last week, and this week we’re covering the small forwards and power forwards.

The power forward crop, like the draft overall, doesn’t appear to be as strong as recent years, that doesn’t mean there aren’t potential contributors and high-level NBA players available, as well as one who might just turn out to be a star-caliber player.

Onyeka Okongwu, USC – 19 years old

Okongwu is the player who just might develop into a star on some level. He was actually underrated in high school and was snubbed for a McDonald’s All-American selection his senior year. He established himself early on at USC as the team’s best player as a freshman and now appears to have turned some heads.

He’s been mentioned as a lottery pick and in some mock drafts, he’s top 4-5. He possesses a great all-around skill-set; he can score in the post, he can put the ball on the floor and attack and he can shoot. But perhaps his biggest attribute is his versatility on the defensive end. He’s got quick feet and mobility and can guard multiple positions.

Okongwu might actually play center in the NBA, especially in small-ball lineups, but he’s mostly played power forward and so he’ll probably see time there in the league. His skill-set fits perfectly with today’s game.

Obi Toppin, Dayton – 22 years old

Toppin is one of the older players in the draft, and in recent history, players that age tend to slip on draft boards. In Toppin’s case, it looks like the reverse might actually be true. He’s been projected as a lottery pick, and even going in the top 3.

He’s an incredibly athletic player who thrives in the open court. He looks like he’ll do well in an up-tempo offensive system that has capable playmakers who can find him in transition. He’s extremely active around the rim and he can finish strong. A decent shooter too, something he’ll need at the next level.

Toppin has the physical tools to be an effective defensive player, but that’s where the questions marks on him have been. In the NBA, he’s likely going to have to play and guard multiple positions. Whether or not he can adapt to that likely will answer the question as to what his ceiling can be.

Precious Achiuwa, Memphis – 20 years old

Achiuwa is another intriguing prospect. this writer actually got to watch him play in person while he was in high school and he was very impressive. He looked like a man among boys. He’s projected to be a late lottery pick.

He has an NBA-ready body and he’s got some toughness around the rim and in the paint. He was a double-double threat during his one season at Memphis and his knack for rebounding is something that should translate to the NBA. He’s a very good defender too, in particular, as a rim protector. He’s very quick and has the ability to guard multiple positions.

One of the main knocks on Achiuwa is his shooting ability. He didn’t shoot that well in college and power forwards being able to space the floor is almost a requirement in today’s NBA game. It’s something he can certainly work on and improve on though.

Honorable Mentions:
Paul Reed, DePaul – 21 years old
Xavier Tillman, Michigan State – 21 years old
Killian Tillie, Gonzaga – 22 years old

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NBA

Looking Toward the Draft: Small Forwards

Basketball Insiders’ examination of the 2020 draft class continues with a look at the small forwards.

Drew Maresca

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It was announced on Wednesday that the NBA Draft would be delayed from Oct. 16 to Nov. 18. The rationale is that the extra month gives the league and its players association more time to negotiate changes to the CBA. It also grants teams additional time to procure information on prospects and allows the NBA to establish regional virtual combines. But nothing is set in stone.

Still, draft prep must continue. This year’s draft class has more question marks than usual – which was complicated by the cancellation of the NCAA tournament (along with the NIT and a number of conference tournaments). There are incredibly skilled offensive players with limited offensive upside and jaw-droppingly talented defenders with incomplete offensive packages. But if (recent) history serves as a guide, there will be a few guys who make an immediate impact – and some of them very well could be small forwards.

The small forward position is key for the modern NBA. Want proof? Survey the league and you’ll find that most – if not all – contenders have an elite small forward – Milwaukee, Los Angeles (both), Boston, Miami, Toronto.

But the list of can’t miss small forward prospects feels smaller than usual. Scanning the numerous legitimate mock drafts (including our own by Steve Kyler), it becomes apparent that we lack a consensus on which small forwards will be selected (and in what order) after the top 3 or 4. Can any of them grow into a star? Maybe. Maybe not. But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s identify what the top few bring to the table.

Deni Avdija, Israel – 19 years old

Avdija is a relatively well-rounded prospect who’s played professionally since he was 16. He boasts good height (6-foot-9) and uses it effectively to shoot over and pass around opposing defenses. Further, Avdija is an exceptional playmaker and he’s incredibly confident, enabling him to take chances many players would be apprehensive trying. Avdija is a high-IQ player. And what’s more, he’s a surprisingly strong defender. His height and above-average athleticism allow him to block shots, and he’s more physical than you’d expect him to be.

But there are drawbacks to Avdija, too. His main issue is around shooting. Avdija shot only 28% in the EuroLeague last season, and he shot only 60% from the free-throw line. Further, while he’s a decent athlete, he’ll struggle to secure a role in the NBA. He’s going to need to add speed to stay with modern wings, and he’ll also have to bulk up to bang with power forwards.

Still, Avdija’s upside is alluring. He’s only 19, and his smarts, confidence and grittiness should provide him cover for much of his rookie season. Avdija should be the first small forward off of the board.

Isaac Okoro, Auburn – 19 years old

Avdija might be the flashier name currently, but Okoro will give him a run for his money in terms of which small forward is first off the board. Okoro is built like a traditional NBA wing; he’s 6-foot-6 with good strength packed in his muscular frame (215 lbs). Okoro finishes well around the rim and he converts well through contact. He’s an exceptional athlete who excels catching the ball on the move. Like Avdija, Okoro has the poise and composure of a more experienced player. Also, like Avdija, Okoro looked the part of a high IQ player in his lone season at Auburn.

And while all that is great, the main allure of Okoro is his defense. He’s a fairly advanced defender given his age, and his athleticism and timing make him an effective weak side help defender.

While Okoro’s raw abilities are exquisite, his refined offensive skills leave something to be desired. Okoro shot 28 percent on three-point field goals and he struggled from the free-throw line (67.2 percent). His mid-range jump shot also needs work, and he struggles in isolation situations.

If Okoro can hone his offensive game, he could grow into an All-Star. He has the ability to guard multiple positions, and his strength and athleticism give him a leg up on most prospects. But even if he doesn’t become an All-Star, he possesses a fairly high floor given his defensive abilities — and the guy definitely fills the state sheet (12.9 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.0 assists, .9 steals and .9 blocks). He has lockdown defender potential and he’ll put his stamp on the game beginning on night one.

Devin Vassell, Florida State – 20 years old

Vassell played two seasons at Florida State, but he came into his own in his Sophomore season. He averaged 12.7 points, 5.1 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.0 blocks per game. He shot a more than respectable 41.5% on three-point attempts, and he demonstrated a strong stroke from the free-throw line (73.8 percent) and on two-point field goal attempts (53.2).

Vassell is an extremely athletic leaper, who can rise up for a highlight dunk and sprint down the floor with ease. He has good body control and demonstrated a strong mid-range game, especially his step-back jump shot. But Vassell must generate more free throws through decisive moves to the hoop, which would be bolstered by a more muscular frame. Additionally, he must improve his ball-handling to get more from isolations.

Vassell will have an adjustment period in terms of scoring the ball at the next level. Fortunately, his defense and shooting should get him by. If he can bulk up and improve his handling, Vassell could grow into a serious player.

Aaron Nesmith, Vanderbilt – 20 years old

Nesmith probably has a lower floor than any of the other top small forward prospects given that he’ll be 21 by the draft. Still, he looked quite good in his Junior year, averaging 23 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game on a scorching 52.2 percent shooting from deep. Nesmith is an incredibly gifted shooter who has impressive range. His ability to catch-and-shoot and create space with fakes makes him a promising prospect – for the right team.

Nesmith is a high IQ player who uses his smarts on the defensive end. He’s also quite strong, can get buckets in the open floor and demonstrates above average ball-handling skills, as long as he’s not taking the ball to the hoop.

But there are inherent limitations in Nesmith’s game. He’s doesn’t create for his teammates too effectively and he turns the ball over more frequently than one would like with. Further, Nesmith is plagued by robotic movements that limit his athleticism. His ball-handling breaks down when taking the ball to the rack – something he’ll certainly have to work on in the NBA if he wants to be a versatile scoring threat against the bigger and stronger competition.

Still, Nesmith’s positives give him an excellent chance at being selected in the first round. His range alone will intrigue teams in need of a shooter.

Honorable Mentions:

Saddiq Bey, Villanova – 21 years old

Jaden McDaniels, Washington – 19 years old

Robert Woodard II, Mississippi State – 20 years old

With the uncertainty around small forward prospects, expect to see a revolving door of names enter the discussion after the first four wing prospects are off the board prior to Nov. 16 – assuming the draft is held then. But regardless of how you have them ranked, all of the aforementioned prospects have question marks. But all have had far more time to improve than they would have in years’ past. Let’s hope that shows come next season.

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NBA

NBA Daily: Opposite Plotlines for Today’s Matchups

With the two matchups going on today, Matt John examines the two teams who could be in the most trouble because of one of their individual stars for opposite reasons.

Matt John

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The second round of the NBA playoffs was hyped up to be one of the most entertaining we’ve had in years. So far, they haven’t fallen short of expectations. We knew that Houston and Los Angeles’ battle of opposite philosophies would make for some twists and turns. We knew that Boston and Toronto would duke it out in an Atlantic Division showdown. We knew that Miami would push Milwaukee to new heights. We didn’t really know if the Nuggets would give the Clippers a good series, but the fact that they have so far has made an intense postseason all the more gripping.

Anyway, today we’re getting two games from two series in completely opposite places. The Lakers and the Rockets will face off for the series lead, while the HEAT will try to finish off the Bucks once and for all. Below, we’re going to focus on two teams who have an individual star that either may be more flawed than we thought or one that may not be as flawed as we thought.

Bucks vs. HEAT: Giannis is great and all, but…

We all pretty much knew this was going to be a good series. We did not expect this.

The buzz surrounding Bucks v. HEAT was that Miami was going to make Milwaukee earn every win they got in this series. If that was the plan, then Miami has failed miserably, because until Khris Middleton went supernova on them on Sunday, Milwaukee had come up terribly short.

Let’s first give Miami the credit that they are due and more. With Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler alone, Miami was going to be a tough matchup for Milwaukee – but to see the Bucks all but roll over in this series is an unpleasant sight. Acquiring Jae Crowder and Andre Iguodala has paid huge dividends and it’s showing. There are other factors involved, but Miami’s defensive efforts have limited Giannis to 21.8 points a game and that’s played a role in the HEAT being in the driver’s seat of this series.

Speaking of Giannis Antetokounmpo, this series has not been a good look for the Defensive Player of the Year. Especially since it looks like his second consecutive MVP (presumably) is right around the corner. So, to see both him and Milwaukee, once an unstoppable force without an immovable object in sight, get stopped by a sturdy but not immovable squad is saddening.

Nearly a year ago, Basketball Insiders compared these current Bucks to the Dwight Howard-led Orlando Magic from the late-2000’s/early 2010’s. To oversimplify things, both were contenders led by a superstar with a rare physique that made them tough to stop. To put the superstar in the best position, they surrounded them with playmakers and three-point shooters.

While the teams’ roster constructions weren’t exactly the same, their strengths as a team certainly were. Now we’re seeing the Bucks’ flaws just as we did the Magic 10 years ago. If you have the personnel to make the lone superstar uncomfortable, the team doesn’t function as well.

Giannis is near impossible to stop, but the one major flaw is that if you take away his ability to drive and force him into a jumper, he loses his rhythm. Even if his shot is on – never a guarantee – his opponents will let him beat them that way until he makes them pay. Hardly any team can pick on this, but the HEAT are one of them, and now they’re one win away from their first Eastern Conference Finals since LeBron James took his talents out of South Beach.

This ultimately is what puts Antetokounmpo below the likes of LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard for now. Those guys are rare physical specimens like him, but their elite games don’t revolve entirely around their natural gifts as he does or Dwight did. At 25 years old, there’s plenty of time for him to change that and, for all we know, he will, but to see him struggle at a time when the conference was supposed to run through him has ignited tons of questions.

Milwaukee’s technically not out yet, but they’ve shown their mortality against Miami. If this really is it for them, then they’ve got to find a quick fix for this problem because if they don’t, then the unspeakable may happen.

Lakers vs. Rockets: Westbrook has been bad and all but…

Shaking off the rust and recovering from a balky knee would be tough for anyone. For Russell Westbrook, it’s killing his productivity and, in turn, the Rockets’ playoff chances. He’s averaging 15.6 points on 39/16/47 splits with a most recent 10-point, 4-of-15 effort from the field which included seven turnovers and air balling wide-open threes sticking out like a sore thumb.

It also doesn’t help that he’s playing the Lakers of all teams. When Westbrook has been in, the Lakers have taken advantage of his shortcomings offensively and it shows both on the court and the stat line.

Most of Westbrook’s damage is hurting Houston on the offensive end. With the All-Star guard in the game, Houston is minus-13.7 with him on the court, the worst offensive rating on the team. The 12 turnovers he’s coughed up in this series probably have something to do with that.

With Westbrook’s struggles and his predecessor Chris Paul coming off of his best individual season since 2016, this, of course, has led to many second-guessing the swap last summer. Or let’s rephrase that: People have been second-guessing that trade since the moment it was announced and, in light of recent events, they’re piling on now more than ever.

Maybe they’re right. Even after playing in the NBA for over a decade now, Westbrook still hasn’t proven that he can control himself enough to reach his potential as a team player. We’ve seen glimpses. On the other hand, Paul showed that he can still pick apart defenses while holding his own on that end.

But replacing Paul with Westbrook was Harden’s idea. He didn’t want to play with Paul anymore and chose to play with one of his closest friends. You may think that the better fit is what’s best for the team, but we’ve seen the damage that can happen when your team’s best players have friction with one another. It hurt Utah this season. It hurt Boston last season. It destroyed the Lakers back in 2013. There’s no telling what it could have done to Houston this season.

Besides, we know that as bad as Westbrook has been, he’s capable of being better. Not a knockdown shooter, not even an efficient scorer, but he has done better in the past when the focus was on him. The more days he takes to shake off the rust from his knee, the more optimistic the Rockets ought to be.

The Rockets have to take the glass-half-full on this one because they don’t really have a choice otherwise.

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