Admit it, you were shocked when DeMarcus Cousins was traded to the Pelicans. But you shouldn’t have been. Superstars are almost never traded to the team they’re expected to be when they initially hit the market. Here are the last 10 superstars to change teams via trade:
- Cousins: everyone expected Boston or the Lakers to acquire him. New Orleans came out of nowhere.
- Kevin Love: the widely assumed favorites were Golden State, Chicago and the Lakers.
- James Harden: we had no idea he was even on the market until he was traded.
- Dwight Howard: we expected the Lakers and that’s where he went.
- Chris Paul: was literally traded to the Lakers before he wound up with the Clippers.
- Deron Williams: like Harden, the trade came out of nowhere.
- Carmelo Anthony: we expected the Knicks and that’s where he went.
- Pau Gasol: was projected to Chicago for years before finally becoming a Laker.
- Kevin Garnett: Boston was no longer seen as viable after giving up one of their main assets (the No. 5 pick in the 2007 draft) for Ray Allen. He only ended up in Boston after Minnesota took less than fair value to make the trade. The destination most had keyed in on was the Lakers in a trade for Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum.
- Ray Allen: as with Harden and Williams, we never expected Allen to be traded.
So what’s the lesson here, aside from how often the Lakers tend to be involved in these conversations? It is somewhat rare that a superstar is traded at the exact moment we expect them to be traded to the exact team we expect them to be traded to. Typically these things either come out of left field entirely, as with Harden or Williams, or a player ends up on a team we didn’t expect, like Paul or Cousins.
There happen to be at least two superstars who spent much of last week on the trade market in Jimmy Butler and Paul George. They will likely remain available when trading reopens after the season. There are also going to be star players discussed that we haven’t heard of yet. Especially if their teams don’t have the offseason success they’re planning for.
So let’s try to find the star trades that are coming ahead of time. Here are four that make varying degrees of sense:
Portland trades Damian Lillard and Meyers Leonard to Indiana for Paul George
Indiana’s fundamental problem with Paul George is that he isn’t signed on long enough for their other potential star, Myles Turner, to hit his peak. If he were signed on for an extra year, he’d have a better sense of whether or not Turner is the star teammate he needs to compete for a championship.
Portland’s fundamental problem is that their backcourt can’t defend well enough with Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum on the floor together. And, they don’t have the assets to find two-way players who can improve their defense enough to make up for those two. So why don’t the Pacers and Blazers solve each other’s problems by swapping Lillard for George?
Lillard is signed through the 2020-21 season. Turner will be at his peak by then. So between the trade and when Lillard eventually comes up for an extension, they’ll have time to find him defensive-minded wings to make up for his deficiency in that area.
Portland, meanwhile, gets to insert one of the best wing defenders in the league into their starting lineup next to McCollum without sacrificing all that much in the way of scoring. They’re taking on risk as far as George’s contract goes, sure. But if they are competitive next season they’ll at least have a decent shot of bringing him back. After all, they can give him a bigger contract than the Lakers. Plus, the Lakers aren’t close to being ready to compete yet.
Taking on the Meyers Leonard contract (which isn’t that bad to begin with) is just the tax Indiana pays for the cost certainty they get in Lillard. Portland clears a bit of long-term money off their books to help pay for George’s extension. Meanwhile, both teams get a star player that makes more sense given the makeup of their rosters anyway.
Miami trades Hassan Whiteside to Milwaukee for Thon Maker, John Henson and their 2017 1st Round Pick
Milwaukee has invested a fair amount in centers between contracts for Greg Monroe, Miles Plumlee and John Henson (and, technically, Larry Sanders) as well as first-round picks on Thon Maker and Henson. But they haven’t found a definitive long-term answer yet. Whiteside would certainly be that answer. And if Miami’s going to move him, they need to get started now.
Their first-round pick next season goes to Phoenix unless it’s in the top-seven. If they want to keep that pick, keeping Whiteside becomes counterproductive. They’d lose their 2019 pick no matter what if they keep it next year. But with only Justise Winslow and the 2018 first-rounder on the roster, they could likely tank again in 2020 if they really wanted to. The 2021 pick belongs to Phoenix no matter what.
Now, Miami has grander designs for this summer than a tank job. But they have to have a backup plan prepared in case they don’t sign a superstar. Moving Whiteside for a chance at someone in the 2018 class seems like the right way to reboot what has become a fairly stale franchise.
Detroit trades Andre Drummond to the Lakers for Brandon Ingram and Timofey Mozgov
There’s been chatter about Andre Drummond and there’s been chatter about the Lakers. But there’s never been chatter about Andre Drummond and the Lakers, despite the two being a match made in heaven.
Ingram was apparently the sticking point in DeMarcus Cousins negotiations. And if the Lakers wind up with a top-three pick this summer (particularly No. 3 overall, which would presumably mean they weren’t getting Markelle Fultz or Lonzo Ball) that might be a preferable trade chip to them. But if they really do expect Paul George to come, why not use Ingram now as a trade chip to fill the massive hole they have at center?
And, wouldn’t having Drummond on board make the Lakers that much more enticing to George when he does hit free agency?
Let’s say the Lakers can eventually throw out a lineup of D’Angelo Russell-Jordan Clarkson-Paul George-Julius Randle-Andre Drummond. Doesn’t that group compete for championships if the youngsters hit their ceiling? And what’s really the point of keeping Ingram anyway if he’s going to be tied to the bench when George arrives?
As for Detroit, they’re sneakily in a really good position to tank if they don’t believe this current core will ever be able to contend. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is a free agent, and Detroit could let him walk if they were committed to a rebuild. Marcus Morris has one of the most tradable contracts in the league. (He’ll make less than $11 million over the next two full seasons.) And, based on the response we heard at last year’s deadline, several teams would be prepared to pony up something of value for Tobias Harris if they were only given the chance.
As it stands right now, neither Los Angeles nor Detroit is primed to compete for championships anytime soon. A trade like this would help the Lakers do it in the immediate future while giving the Pistons a chance to build a team capable of doing so down the line.
Oklahoma City trades Russell Westbrook to Minnesota for Andrew Wiggins, Ricky Rubio, Kris Dunn and Cole Aldrich
Russell Westbrook is already eligible for a super-max extension, one the Thunder are going to offer this summer. The money is enticing, but he’s also one of the most competitive players in the league. He might not be thrilled with the prospect of losing in the first round every year. Especially while Kevin Durant is winning championships for the Warriors. If there’s even a whiff of hesitation on Westbrook’s part, the Thunder are going to at least scope out the market to see what they can get.
Though he’s one of the more talented players in the league, Andrew Wiggins is not what Tom Thibodeau traditionally looks for out of a wing. To be blunt, he’s lazy. He averages fewer pass deflections than Kris Dunn in over twice as many minutes per game. Minnesota’s defense is a disaster when he’s on the floor (110 points allowed per 100 possessions) and gets significantly better when he’s off. And, he’s not a great fit for where the league is going either. He’s not a good three-point shooter. His season-long 35.4 percent number from downtown is misleading, due just to a hot streak early in the season. From December 1st on, he’s back to a below average 32.4 percent shooter.
It may accelerate their timeline quite a bit, but stick Westbrook on the Wolves without Wiggins, Rubio and Dunn and they’re probably ready to compete right away. They’d still have Karl-Anthony Towns, Zach LaVine, a high lottery pick in this year’s draft and max cap space this summer. Say they spent the cap space on a stretchier power forward (let’s say Patrick Patterson) and a shooting wing (let’s say Danilo Gallinari), then went best player available with their lottery pick. They’d suddenly be in a position to compete for the championship right away. And without compromising their future all that much either.
Sam Presti isn’t afraid of pulling the trigger on trades like this. Just look up to the top of this column with James Harden. If he feels there’s any chance Westbrook is leaving, he’ll at least explore a trade like this. And Tom Thibodeau has had quite a bit of success with an explosive point guard before. Something tells me he’d enjoy having Westbrook just as much as he did peak Derrick Rose.