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NBA Daily: The X-Factor Of The Summer

Because of the repercussions of one particular free agency period, teams can use assets to win now by acquiring a star player, like Chris Paul or hoard more assets to win later, writes Matt John.

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Houston, we have a problem.

Yeah, it’s an overdone cliche, but when is it not fitting to tie that quote into any problems going on in the Houston area? For the Rockets, it appears that things are not all too peachy at the moment.

Despite both another MVP-caliber performance by James Harden and another hard-fought series against the Warriors, it looks like Daryl Morey and co. are on the verge of mixing some things up in preparation for next season.

The team has already fired most of Mike D’Antoni’s assistants, extension talks between the team and D’Antoni have been broken off, and according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, everyone on the team – minus Harden (probably) – appears to be available to acquire for the right price.

Wow. And we all thought the Celtics’ narrative had changed the most in a year’s time. If these truly are the Rockets’ plans, and if their aim is to follow through with them at any cost, then they’ve got their work cut out for them this summer. Following these recent reports, fans and media have questioned what Houston will be able to get in exchange for Chris Paul and his $120 million contract over the next three years after his slight but noticeable decline.

At 34 years old, CP3 appears to have lost a step and will be owed $38+ million next season. To make matters worse, that figure will only get higher from there. Not many teams out there would be willing to pay that much for a guy whose best days appear to be behind him.

Getting Paul off the books could be the greatest challenge Daryl Morey has ever had to face. Is trading him improbable? Yes. But is it impossible? No.

There’s one thing that could help Houston offload Paul’s deal: The after-effects from the insanity that was the 2016 offseason. We all remember the one night where it seemed like a fair number of teams got unapologetically inebriated at the start of free agency so they handed out eight-figure contracts to rotation players.

Evan Turner, Allen Crabbe and Bismack Biyombo are all capable of putting up solid performances, but there’s no conceivable universe in which any of those guys should be getting paid close to what Draymond Green, Jimmy Butler and Victor Oladipo are earning. Those were three of the many who just happened to be free agents at the most opportune time. And that was just the tip of the iceberg.

There’s not much need to elaborate on the absurdity that was the 2016 offseason because it was only three years ago. You probably remember what happened. It’s relevant now because a lot of those awful contracts handed out to those players are going to be expiring next season. They now go from horrible albatross to a somewhat useful asset.

Houston could use to this to its advantage.

There are either current or aspiring playoff teams who could use some of the deadweight contracts from the infamous 2016 offseason to acquire a useful player like Paul.

Orlando could be a viable trade partner. At the moment, the team is slated to pay Timofey Mozgov, arguably the most infamous 2016 signing, $16.7 million dollars this upcoming season. Mozgov hasn’t exactly earned his paycheck. In fact, the last time he stepped foot on the court was April 11, 2018. He hasn’t played one minute in Orlando, and from the looks of things, he probably never will.

The Magic are coming off of their most successful years since Dwight Howard skipped town. They have the chance to build off of their playoff run, and better yet, they could use an upgrade at point guard. Now obviously it would take more than Mozgov, and there are less expensive options at point guard that could definitely be on the market – Think Mike Conley Jr. or Jrue Holiday – but having CP3, who would probably cost less, could further build the winning culture that the franchise has desperately craved.

The Rockets are in essence a team who wants to relieve payroll, and the Magic are in essence a team looking to find any edge they can to become relevant again. But this isn’t specifically about them.

There are other talented players who are overpaid – and not to the same degree that Paul is – that could be had for less than what they are worth just as well as teams who suddenly have team-friendly contracts to trade for them.

Kevin Love, though he definitely does not have the same reputation he had in Minnesota, has championship experience and when he was on the floor, was productive for Cleveland. Since Cleveland is in the middle of transitioning into a rebuild, there’s really not much use for him there anymore.

A team like Portland suddenly has the assets to make a deal for Love. The Trail Blazers were one of the teams who pushed a lot of their chips into the summer of 2016, spending hundreds of millions on Turner, Crabbe, Meyers Leonard and Maurice Harkless. Now, Turner, Leonard and Harkless, who are useful players, suddenly could help clear cap room for Cleveland if they were to trade for Love.

Seeing how the Blazers made it all the way to the Conference Finals without Jusuf Nurkic, imagine what they would look like with both him and Love on the team for their next playoff run. Damian Lillard is on the cusp of turning 30, so there’s no time to waste.

There are others, like the aforementioned Conley, who probably will be traded (more on this later) and Holiday. Even the mercurial Andrew Wiggins, who is getting paid top dollar despite his regression in the last two years. If a team who is rebuilding wants to take a flyer on young talent like him, assuming there’s not much else stopping them, then why not?

Those are only for teams whose aim is to win now. The profusion of large expiring contracts that were agreed to in 2016 can also be used for other means. There are quite a few teams who are rebuilding right now who have contracts like those that be used to get more young assets.

Cleveland executed this to perfection this past season. The Cavaliers traded what was left of their team-friendly deals this season, and used them to acquire long-term contracts in order to acquire more draft picks. They can do it again this offseason.

J.R. Smith (whose contract is only partially guaranteed), Tristan Thompson, Matthew Dellavedova and Jordan Clarkson all have contracts that are expiring. If Cleveland goes this way, then they could conceivably get more young players to add to their youth movement.

One team that could follow the Cavaliers’ example is the Grizzlies. Mike Conley Jr. is sure to be on the market this summer as the team reluctantly embraces its rebuild, but that has already been discussed and will be discussed more over the next month or so. If and when they trade him, Memphis should turn to another asset that they can use to help as they build a new youth movement, and his name is Chandler Parsons.

Parsons was a gamble gone wrong for Memphis. Compared to some of the other awful signings from 2016, no one thought Memphis made a dumb signing as much as they made a risky one. Three years later, and Chandler is unfortunately now just a contract to be moved more so than a valuable contributor for Memphis. The Grizzlies could use his deal to inherit more payroll in the hopes of acquiring more young talent. Even if he didn’t give them what he wanted, Chandler could still be useful for something.

These are just a few examples of what to expect as a consequence of what happened three years ago. There are plenty of other contracts as well. With the balance potentially shifting this offseason, teams are going to be wheeling and dealing. It’s hard not to imagine that what happened in the summer of 2016 won’t greatly impact what happens this summer.

As hard as it may sound, even when your team invests in someone who won’t give you much, we’ve seen how life can somehow find a way to help you benefit from it even when it wasn’t the benefit you originally hoped for.

Matt John is a staff writer for Basketball Insiders. He is currently a Utah resident, but a Massachusetts native.

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