With a mix of All-Stars on big contracts and impressive young players on rookie deals, what moves would make sense?
Our NBA Insiders give four deals that work, either heading into the draft or in free agency.
Upgrading for the postseason
Raptors get: Guard Nicolas Batum; Charlotte’s 2019 first-round pick (top-10 protected in 2019, top-four protected in 2020 and 2021, converts to second-round picks in 2022 and 2023 if not conveyed); Utah’s 2018 second-round pick
Hornets get: Guard DeMar DeRozan
Jazz get: Forward/center Frank Kaminsky
Kevin Pelton: This is the kind of trade the Raptors would make only if they believe DeRozan’s game fundamentally can’t translate to the postseason; they were outscored by 23.1 points per 100 possessions with him on the court in their loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers, per NBA Advanced Stats. There’s little question Toronto would be downgrading in the regular season — that’s the whole reason the Hornets, still hoping just to make the playoffs, would make the trade — but Batum’s playmaking from the wing would move the Raptors’ starting lineup closer to the kind of pass-first style the team’s young reserves play. He would also be an upgrade defensively.
Though Batum has been less efficient offensively than DeRozan during his three years in Charlotte, I think he could be more effective in an offense similar to the one he played in under Terry Stotts in Portland. As measured by Second Spectrum’s quantified shot quality (qSQ) measure, Batum got much easier shots during his last two seasons with the Blazers. Second Spectrum tracking suggests an average player would have a 52.2 effective field goal percentage on Batum’s shots in 2013-14 and 2014-15, which dropped to 47.5 percent with the Hornets. Batum actually shot an effective 48.7 percent in Charlotte, and combining that shot-making with easier shots should translate into above-average efficiency.
Besides the stylistic change, the Raptors would also see modest tax savings next year because DeRozan will make $3.7 million more than Batum. The Hornets manage to stay close to tax-neutral by sending Kaminsky to the Jazz for their second-round pick, a move Utah could make at the draft using the trade exception created in the Jazz’s deadline deal with the Cavaliers. Getting a second-rounder is also helpful for Toronto in tax terms because draft picks making the rookie minimum count less against the tax than rookie free agents signed to identical contracts.
Wiggins comes home
Raptors get: Guard/forward Andrew Wiggins
Wolves get: DeRozan
Jeremias Engelmann: The Raptors’ problem is obvious: While the team performs quite well in the regular season — resulting in three top-three seeds in a row — Toronto has enormous difficulty carrying that success over to the postseason.
The common denominator is DeRozan turning into a shell of himself. Not once did he record a positive playoff box plus minus (BPM), with this year taking the cake at minus-4.1 BPM. For a star player earning more than $25 million each season, that is inexcusable.
From the Raptors’ standpoint, replacing DeRozan with a slightly inferior version of himself in Wiggins might lead to fewer regular-season wins, but they get a player who is unlikely to have as big of a drop-off come playoff time. Also, with Wiggins not quite fulfilling his potential in Minnesota, what better team could the Toronto native play for than one that has its entire young bench play way above draft expectations?
After signing Wiggins to a big extension last offseason — meaning this deal couldn’t be completed until after July 6 — the Timberwolves expected more of a leap from the former No. 1 pick. While most of his numbers improved slightly, he’s still miles away from what a max player should be contributing.
In DeRozan the Wolves would get a superior player on a shorter contract, one whose propensity to drive should fit perfectly with Karl-Anthony Towns‘ ability to shoot from outside. I also deem it unlikely that DeRozan’s playoff woes continue in this extreme fashion once he changes teams. It should help that the Wolves already have a true go-to guy in Jimmy Butler, so the pressure on DeRozan won’t be quite as intense.
Finding a top draft pick
Raptors get: Guard Wesley Matthews, Dallas’ 2018 first-round pick
Mavericks get: DeRozan
Bobby Marks: There are no untouchable players on this Raptors team.
Despite DeRozan being in the prime of his career and under contract through 2020-21, the All-Star guard is the odd man out because of his trade value as Toronto begins to reshape a roster that has been swept by Cleveland in two consecutive postseasons.
The obstacle for the Raptors is identifying a lottery team that has the right assets in a good first-round pick, a placeholder to replace DeRozan and a desire to accelerate the rebuild.
Enter the Dallas Mavericks. Though the cost is a top-five pick, acquiring DeRozan leaves the Mavericks with three long-term foundation players: Dennis Smith Jr., DeRozan and Harrison Barnes. Dallas would still have the flexibility in cap space ($20 million) in July to build out the roster, or take a conservative approach and have up to $30 million in cap room the following year.
The Kawhi play
André Snellings: The Raptors aren’t good enough as currently constituted, and LeBron is their personal kryptonite. DeRozan’s game is built on driving and the midrange, and LeBron is just bigger and stronger, with the ability to prevent him from doing what he wants to do.
Leonard, on the other hand, is much bigger and athletic enough to go at LeBron one-on-one. Plus, Leonard is a legit top-five MVP candidate when healthy. Even if he won’t commit to Toronto long term, it’s worth the swing for a Finals run. (Gay would need to opt into his $8.8 million contract for this trade to work).
In return, the Spurs get an excellent scoring wing in DeRozan as a lieutenant to LaMarcus Aldridge, and both Anunoby and Siakam are young talents who fit the Spurs’ mold. Coach Gregg Popovich could likely turn them into borderline stars.