CBA Practicum: Offseason/Trade Deadline Analysis

Breaking down the offseason/trade deadline moves for every team involved

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Team Experts, from left (top): Danny Leroux, Dylan Murphy, Steve Kyler, Tim Bontemps, Rich Cho, Kevin O’Connor, Larry Coon, Josh Martin, Eric Pincus, Wes Wilcox, Jon Hamm, Bobby Marks, Nate Duncan. (bottom): Kevin Pelton, Dave DuFour, Dan Rosenbaum

The 2018 Sports Business Classroom CBA Practicum featured 13 teams and took place over two days. After spending Day 1 formulating a vision and goal for their respective rosters, each “front office” went through a simulated combined 2018 offseason/2019 trade deadline period on Day 2.

Dealing mostly with each other, these 13 teams made over two dozen transactions. Rather than listing each of those moves, I have broken it down team-by-team, looking at additions, subtractions and analyzing their overall performance.

(Thanks to everyone who participated in this exercise. While not all of my breakdowns are positive, the goal was not to criticize but rather to create a realistic piece of content. Also, much like analysis written on the actual NBA, this is just one dude’s opinion.)

Atlanta Hawks

Additions

Jabari Parker, Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Knight, David Nwaba, Luol Deng, Tyler Lydon, Lakers 2019 1st (top-15 protected for 2 years, converts to two 2nds), Nuggets 2020 2nd, Suns future 2nd

Subtractions

Dennis Schroder, Kent Bazemore, Mike Muscala, Dewayne Dedmon, Antonius Cleveland

Analysis

The Hawks №1 priority this offseason was clearly asset accumulation. They technically accomplished that goal, but one has to wonder if it was worth the cost. Gone are useful NBA players on team-friendly deals in Muscala and Dedmon, while bad money committed to Schroder and Bazemore has been transferred to Deng and Knight. In the end, a middling 1st and two 2nds is an uninspiring haul.

That said, free agency made Atlanta’s summer a success. It added wing versatility in Nwaba (2 years, $5.2 million), but the real prize was Parker on a 3 year, $40-million deal.

There is not a better-fitting roster in the league for a healthy Parker. While not an advanced facilitator, his ability to create offense for himself is enough to give Trae Young a little breathing room, something he did not receive at Oklahoma nor in Summer League. Should Parker fail to stay healthy, the Hawks are only committed to $3 million on the final year of his deal.

Denver Nuggets

Additions

Nikola Vucevic, Jonathon Simmons, Rodney Hood, Jarrett Jack, Jerian Grant, Antonius Cleveland

Subtractions

Kenneth Faried, Mason Plumlee, 2019 1st

Analysis

With unparalleled pressure to make the playoffs, Denver was willing to give up a 2019 1st-rounder to turn two deadweight bigs (Faried and Plumlee) into a useful big (Vucevic) and a much-needed wing defender (Simmons). We can joke about how the Nuggets gave up a 1st for Plumlee less than two years ago only to give up another to dump him, but that 2017 1st is a sunk cost.

It is fair to question whether getting off one year of Plumlee and mildly raising the team’s 2018–19 ceiling is worth the 2019 pick, but that’s not the reality of the NBA. Tim Connelly and Mike Malone could both be gone if they don’t go beyond 82 games this year. For the two of them, this move was obvious, and a massive win.

Orlando Magic

Additions

Thabo Sefolosha, Derrick Favors, Aaron Holiday, Kenneth Faried, Mason Plumlee, Nuggets 2019 1st, Jazz 2019 1st, Jazz 2021 1st, Milwaukee 2022 1st (lottery protected, then top 7, top 5, unprotected)

Subtractions

Aaron Gordon, Evan Fournier, Nikola Vucevic, Jonathon Simmons, 2019 1st (most favorable, Jazz or Nuggets)

Analysis

Miraculously, Orlando turned 4/5 of its 2017–18 starting five into three future firsts and Aaron Holiday. It got worse in the short term, sure, but that only fuels the all-out rebuild that these moves initiated.

I get it. We’ve seen this before. The Magic seem to perpetually give up on their young core before it reaches its potential, receive diminishing returns, draft a new young core and repeat the process. The difference here is that Fournier and Vucevic are no longer young nor cheap, and the returns were not diminished in the slightest.

Magic fans are in for yet a couple more years of pain, but the team has finally found coherent direction.

Utah Jazz

Additions

Mike Conley, Aaron Gordon, Jamal Crawford, David West, Trevor Booker, Kaiser Gates (two-way)

Subtractions

Ricky Rubio, Derrick Favors, Alec Burks, Royce O’Neale, Thabo Sefolosha, 2019 1st, 2021 1st, 2019 2nd

Analysis

Utah made three huge bets this offseason.

The first is on Conley’s health. The soon-to-be 31 year old played in just 12 games last year, but more concerning than the age or games missed is the reason: a lingering sore Achilles that hangs over the remainder of his career and his sizable contract. If healthy, he and Donovan Mitchell will form an absolute killer tandem.

The second is on Gordon’s potential. While he enjoyed a breakout year of sorts in 2017–18, his shooting and defense both remain works in progress.

Finally, the Jazz bet on their culture. They bet that their history of shooting development will help Gordon offensively, and that Quin Snyder will unleash him on defense. They also bet that their rocky health record over the last several seasons is anomalous, and that they have the training staff in place to help Conley keep his body right.

If Utah loses these bets, it will be down two opportunities in the form of 1st-rounders to build around Mitchell and Rudy Gobert. If it wins, it will have likely raised its ceiling higher than those picks ever would have.

Memphis Grizzlies

Additions

Danilo Gallinari, Ricky Rubio, Alec Burks, Royce O’Neal, Jazz 2019 2nd, Clippers 2020 2nd and 2023 2nd

Subtractions

Mike Conley, Marc Gasol

Analysis

The notion that it is time to move on from Conley and Gasol is a good one. The timing of that decision, however, is risky.

Given the net return of three 2nds and a bunch of inconsequential role players, the main motivator here seems to be draft position. Memphis owes its 2019 pick to Boston unless it lands in the top 8. Conley and Gasol’s absence make keeping the pick extremely likely.

However, the motivation seems short-sighted. Should Memphis retain its selection in 2019 and again in 2020 (top-6 protected), the pick will convey the following year. The problem is that year is 2021, which could feature a loaded draft class should the league repeal its one-and-done rule.

Keeping Conley and Gasol would be dangerous too. It is entirely possible that the Grizzlies would still be atrocious, lose their 2021 pick anyway and get less in return for their aging stars. Given that they failed to land a high-quality asset in either deal, however, the reward would have likely outweighed the risk.

Los Angeles Clippers

Additions

Jimmy Butler, Marc Gasol, Kemba Walker, Serge Ibaka

Subtractions

Tobias Harris, Danilo Gallinari, Patrick Beverley, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Jerome Robinson, Juwan Evans, Marcin Gortat, Boban Marjanovic, two 2019 2nds, 2020 2nd, 2023 2nd

Analysis

The Clippers could have ran it back. They could have kept their assets, fought for a playoff spot and banked on signing Kawhi Leonard next summer.

Instead, they brought in two current and two former All-Stars, forming a “super team” somewhere in between that of the 2016–17 Warriors that of the 2016–17 Knicks.

The beauty is that there is little opportunity cost. They had to move some assets, sure, but they did not compromise long-term cap flexibility. If things don’t work out, they can move Gasol and Ibaka on expiring deals and tank. If things do work out, the Clippers are again relevant, fun, good — and still a cap space team in 2019.

Indiana Pacers

Additions

Marcus Smart, Shabazz Napier, Guerschon Yabusele, Rodney Purvis, 2019 1st (most favorable, Jazz or Nuggets)

Subtractions

Darren Collison, Aaron Holiday

Analysis

It was quiet, but few teams had as productive an offseason/deadline as Indiana. Smart is a fantastic fit on a team with plenty of shooting (Victor Oladipo, Tyreke Evans, Bojan Bogdanovic, Doug McDermott, Myles Turner, Cory Joseph) but not a whole lot of defense. He also fits the team’s timeline better than either the aging Collison or the rookie Holiday, as does free-agent addition Napier.

Synchronizing the roster in this manner while also adding a 2019 pick makes it two straight dynamite summers for Kevin Pritchard. The Pacers are young, deep and primed to be a long-term factor in the East.

Milwaukee Bucks

Additions

Evan Fournier, Kent Bazemore

Subtractions

Eric Bledsoe, Jabari Parker, John Henson, Matthew Dellavedova, 2022 1st (lottery protected, then top 7, top 5, unprotected)

Analysis

The Bucks offseason/deadline all seems to be geared towards re-signing Giannis Antetokounmpo by or before the 2022 offseason, when he hits unrestricted free agency. Swapping dead money in Delly and Henson for a useful player in Fournier speaks to that, as does the protection structure on the pick they gave up to make the deal happen. Sure, a rebuilding Milwaukee team will look dumb if Giannis bolts and it is out a pick, but not nearly as dumb as it will look if it fails to retain its generational superstar.

Trading Bledsoe for Bazemore is questionable from a value standpoint, and also leaves the Bucks without a traditional point guard. Antetokounmpo, Fournier, Bazemore, Khris Middleton and Malcolm Brogdon can all initiate offense, but it remains to be seen whether Mike Budenholzer’s movement-heavy scheme can mesh without a natural lead facilitator.

By not matching on Parker, Milwaukee ducks the tax in 2019 and has a chance to do so again in 2020. Given his health and the lack of available minutes, letting him walk was a no-brainer.

Los Angeles Lakers

Additions

Mike Muscala, Dewayne Dedmon, Darrell Arthur

Subtractions

Luol Deng, 2019 1st (top-15 protected for two years, converts to two 2nds)

Analysis

On the surface, the Deng trade is a strict salary dump. If we take it for just that, getting off his Albatross deal for what is likely to be a middling 1st is great value.

There’s another element at play here, though. Not only do the Lakers generate $18.8 million in additional space next summer, but they improve significantly for 2018–19. Dedmon immediately becomes the best center on the roster and is a fantastic fit next to LeBron James. He can be part of five-out lineups while also giving James a strong pick-and-roll partner. Muscala is another stretch-5 option, and probably a safer “energy” guy than JaVale McGee.

The LBJ-Lakers era will be defined strictly by championships. Given that, this move may not ultimately matter. The central parties’ lofty standards, however, should not diminish this astute transaction.

San Antonio Spurs

Additions

Markelle Fultz, Dario Saric, Robert Covington, Sixers 2019 1st, Heat 2021 1st, Sixers 2023 and 2025 pick swap, Mavs 2020 2nd, three burner accounts

Subtractions

Kawhi Leonard (and Uncle Dennis)

Analysis

Whether or not the Spurs had leverage is a fascinating question. Would they lose him for nothing if they didn’t trade him? Would they ultimately offer him the Supermax and retain him? Reports were that Leonard gave the Sixers his word on re-signing; does this make it unnecessary for Philly to part with so much in a deal, or incentivize them to get him now before he changes his mind?

Like every element of the Leonard saga, most of this is unknowable. What we do know is that San Antonio came away with more than anyone thought was possible.

One could argue that Fultz, Covington, Saric should have been enough. There’s still superstar upside in Fultz, and Saric is likely to be a quality starter for a long time. Instead, the Spurs got the extremely valuable 2021 Heat 1st, as well as a Philly 1st and two pick swaps (these are unlikely to manifest into anything, but health is unpredictable for a team built around Leonard and Joel Embiid).

No team will ever get fair value for an expiring young superstar who wants out. This is as close to an exception as we’ve seen since the Melo trade, if not for longer than that.

Philadelphia 76ers

Additions

Kawhi Leonard (and Uncle Dennis)

Subtractions

Markelle Fultz, Dario Saric, Robert Covington, 2019 1st, Heat 2021 1st, 2023 and 2025 pick swap with Spurs, Mavs 2020 2nd, three burner accounts

Analysis

In the San Antonio section, we talked about the nearly unparalleled package the Sixers parted with in exchange for Leonard. Could they have negotiated for less? Could they have waited until next summer to sign him outright? We’ll never know.

Even if the answer to those questions is “yes,” that doesn’t mean Philly did not win this trade. Remember, the Spurs got a kid with the yips, another with no superstar upside, and a couple draft picks. And RoCo. The Sixers got Kawhi Freaking Leonard, who might be the difference between Embiid and Ben Simmons competing for titles and actually winning them. Just because both youngsters are already top-15 players does not mean either will ever reach the top five, and we know how essential MVP-level talent is when pursuing rings. Leonard, when healthy, is a top-four NBA player, and fits in perfectly with the two young stars.

The Sixers may have negotiated poorly. Brett Brown may have let the coach in him get too excited, showing his cards too early. None of that means the Sixers are not the winners of this offseason/deadline.

Boston Celtics

Additions

Wayne Ellington, Darren Collison

Subtractions

Marcus Smart, Guerschon Yabusele

Analysis

As guards that can shoot, Ellington and Collison fit better in Brad Stevens’ offense than Marcus Smart. Given Kyrie Irving’s uncertain health and future with the team, adding backcourt insurance helps.

It just…doesn’t seem worth losing Smart. Had Indiana’s offer been for $16 or $17 million, sure. But $13 mil? With four years of team control going through his age 28 season? For a team in need of mid-tier contracts for trade flexibility? All to keep one of the best defensive players on the planet? It just doesn’t seem like the value play we are accustomed to coming from Ainge. Of course, most people also questioned the Irving deal, the Tatum deal, the Brown pick, the Horford signing, not trading for PG or Butler, etc. Nothing is more questionable than questioning Ainge.

Chicago Bulls

Additions

Evan Turner, Tyler Ulis, Blazers 2020 1st (top 5 protected, then top 3, unprotected), Blazers 2020 2nd (top 55 protected), Blazers 2021 2nd

Subtractions

Justin Holiday, David Nwaba

Analysis

With a nice young core and a chance to add to it with another high pick, Chicago was more than happy eating a bad contract to acquire an asset. Portland can feel good about getting a useful player in Holiday back, but Chicago did well to land what could very well be a lottery pick in 2020 for essentially no downside.

The Zach LaVine contract is another story — but that was a different regime.

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