There hasn't been a trade in the NBA for almost nine months! Do you have the shakes? Let's take a look at the broader questions that will define the wild next month -- and maybe the next few years. How does a pandemic offseason unfold when almost every team is trying to win, limiting the number of sellers?
The Giannis domino
• Many within the Bucks remain confident Giannis Antetokounmpo will sign a five-year supermax extension valued at between $220 million and $250 million (depending on the cap level) before the start of the 2020-21 regular season. Unless something drastic changes, Milwaukee is not trading him. If Antetokounmpo doesn't sign, the Bucks are prepared to play it out, sources have said.
As an aside, it's an interesting quirk -- one that disadvantages the Bucks -- that Antetokounmpo is not allowed to sign that same deal during the season. A huge subset of players can sign extensions (for below the supermax) in-season.
Antetokounmpo has already met supermax criteria, so there is no need to wait and see if he hits relevant benchmarks.
What if the Bucks start 30-5, and Antetokounmpo wants to commit?
Then again: What if the Bucks then disappoint in the playoffs? That's one intent of the rule: to give supermax-level players the most information before they decide. The league was also wary about supermax eligibility hovering over the season -- about superstars being asked if every win and loss impacts their thinking.
In any case, the Bucks will be active. They love Bogdan Bogdanovic, a restricted free agent with the Sacramento Kings who would require a sign-and-trade; the Bucks have kicked around scenarios in which they also absorb Harrison Barnes, sources have told ESPN. It is unclear if they have engaged the Kings in real discussions; it's early. (Acquiring any player in a sign-and-trade would trigger the hard cap.)
The Bucks are also eyeing Indiana's Victor Oladipo, though no substantive talks with the Pacers have taken place, sources say. Other teams are monitoring the Oladipo situation, but several of them would like to see Oladipo in action before engaging Indiana, sources say.
Oladipo has struggled since his leg injury in January 2019, but he's only 28 and two years removed from an All-NBA season -- and on an expiring contract, which might deflate his trade value. If you don't give up too much now, letting Oladipo walk after the season (in the worst case) doesn't kill you. If Oladipo recovers 90% of peak form, any team that trades for him has a leg up on re-signing him (or extending him) through his prime.
The New York Knicks had past interest in Oladipo, sources say, but they might have shifted into "wait and watch" mode. Oladipo would be an interesting fallback option as the Brooklyn Nets' "third star," though I'd be very surprised if Brooklyn dealt Caris LeVert for him.
It would not surprise me if Oladipo and the Pacers come back to the table on extension talks. (Oladipo can sign an extension at any point during the season.) Indiana can offer him a four-year deal starting at $25 million per season. I'm not sure the Pacers would approach that number, but considering Oladipo's recent play -- and that some potential suitors, including the Miami Heat, have likely backed away -- he would be wise to consider securing something.
• The broader issue is what Milwaukee can offer for Oladipo (or Jrue Holiday) -- something like Eric Bledsoe, Donte DiVincenzo, filler salary, and an extra first-round pick (or two) that will be low if Antetokounmpo stays. Bledsoe's trade value has cratered. The Pacers are probably not in any hurry to reunite the Malcolm Brogdon/Bledsoe backcourt; would Milwaukee have to find a three-team deal sending Bledsoe elsewhere?
The Bucks could sweeten the pot by trading lightly protected first-rounders further out -- picks that could become valuable (dangerously so from Milwaukee's perspective) if Antetokounmpo leaves.
• I don't know what Antetokounmpo is going to do, but I'm on record betting against him signing the supermax this offseason. That said, as I told Bill Simmons on the Lowe Post podcast last month, there is value in locking in between $220 million and $250 million. Rivals will be able to offer Antetokounmpo a four-year deal worth between $140 million and $160 million. Antetokounmpo would make up some of that difference in his next deal -- but not all of it. The economic outlook is uncertain. Antetokounmpo can always sign now, and ask for a trade after a one-year waiting period.
Antetokounmpo's course now will impact how his top potential suitors in 2021 free agency -- Miami, Dallas, and Toronto -- behave in the next month. Toronto seems a pretty open-and-shut case, assuming Masai Ujiri considers the team too good to break up. (I would argue the Raptors are despite some aging. Any team pursuing Antetokounmpo must also provide a roster ready to win.)
They can re-sign Fred VanVleet to a fair contract, keep Serge Ibaka on a one-year balloon deal, and have plenty of space next offseason depending on OG Anunoby (extension eligible) and how Norman Powell approaches his $11.6 million player option. They wouldn't have quite enough to fit Antetokounmpo, but they'd be one simple move away.
• New York and Detroit are obvious VanVleet fits, but their interest in a VanVleet megadeal in the $20 million-per-year range is unclear. Detroit has telegraphed to other teams that it would rather operate as a dumping ground for unwanted salaries, hoarding picks in the process, sources say.
The intel with the Knicks is more blurry. They have projected similar patience in some talks, sources say, but their definition of "unwanted salaries" might be different than Detroit's -- i.e., they might want players who can help their 2020-21 team without compromising future cap room. Regarding bigger names, it might be as simple as New York pivoting from "dumping ground" to "talent acquisition" mode only for a small bucket of players under some age threshold and available at the right price.
Does VanVleet thread that needle? He's only 26, and he's really good. Atlanta is armed with oodles of cap space, hunting veterans and defense around Trae Young. VanVleet has plenty of experience playing off the ball. But would the Hawks outbid Toronto?
• Miami has interest in re-signing Goran Dragic and Jae Crowder, but the Heat won't do anything that jeopardizes their chances with Antetokounmpo. (The list of such things might include asking Bam Adebayo to wait until next offseason to sign his new contract -- a way of maximizing cap space for Antetokounmpo. Adebayo and Antetokounmpo share an agent -- Alex Saratsis of Octagon. This is tricky stuff, but I assume everyone will communicate what they need to communicate.)
Dragic seems a good candidate for a huge one-year deal. Crowder will draw multiyear offers around the $9.3 million midlevel exception, and Miami should retain him at that rate. Doing so would impinge on their 2021 space, but the Heat are experts at manufacturing room when they need it.
• A Luka Doncic-Antetokounmpo pairing would be a nightmare for the other 29 teams. Is Antetokounmpo willing to give up being the undisputed face of the franchise and lead ball handler -- to become a little more Anthony Davis, and a little less LeBron? Few know. But the Mavericks are slated to have cap room and hold a bunch of tradable role players should they need to open more.
Other teams report the Mavs are already chasing that elusive "third star" in trade talks. I'm sure that is true to some degree. Acquire a very good player now, and you can trade that player -- or Kristaps Porzingis -- for Antetokounmpo in the offseason if Antetokounmpo picks Dallas. But I'm skeptical the Mavs will find anyone now via trade who fits that description.
• Several rival executives have pitched the Mavs as a trade destination for Rudy Gobert, who is eligible for a supermax. I get the thinking -- a rim-running center to stabilize Dallas' shaky defense -- but I can't get there. Devoting $65 million combined to Gobert and Porzingis when the latter needs to play a good chunk at center is not optimal.
And let's say the Mavs snare Gobert and then need some means of acquiring Antetokounmpo via sign-and-trade. Do the rebuilding Bucks want Gobert? They would almost certainly prefer Porzingis, but that leaves Dallas figuring out how to fit Antetokounmpo and Gobert on offense -- or finding a third team for him. (There's also the small matter of whether Dallas has much Utah would want.)
• Would Oladipo work for Dallas -- a player who can help this year's Mavs without compromising cap space? Dallas holds the No. 18 pick and all those very useful role guys on friendly contracts.
• You can concoct fun Gobert trades with Boston (Marcus Smart, Robert Williams III, and picks), Atlanta, Sacramento, Washington, Brooklyn, and even the LA Clippers (with Ivica Zubac going back to Utah), but I'm not sure how realistic they are. For one, Utah will need a quality starting center back or risk imploding on defense. Several teams are wary of Gobert's next deal.
The simplest outcome is Utah and Gobert finding a palatable middle ground between Gobert's current salary and the supermax -- perhaps something like a four-year, $135 million deal with incentives. Gobert is 28, so such a deal carries him through his prime.
The big-name shooting guard trio
• The assumption has been that teams angling for the big score face a choice: acquire Holiday or Oladipo now, or wait for Bradley Beal and risk losing out on everyone.
The Wizards have shown no inclination to trade Beal, sources say, and might do so only if Beal -- under contract through at least 2021-22 -- indicates he would prefer to play elsewhere. Could that happen at the trade deadline if the Wizards are bad again?
Rivals are not giving up on Beal becoming available sooner. Multiple strong playoff teams have called teams in the top 10 of the draft, investigating what it would take to acquire those picks, sources have said. Do those teams love a certain prospect? Or are they seeking ammo for a big trade?
The bidding for Holiday and Beal figures to center on Denver, Golden State, and Brooklyn -- and to some extent Atlanta, Miami, and Dallas. The Hawks might try nabbing Holiday using their No. 6 pick -- which they would be open to trading for veteran help, per several sources -- but I don't see that alone getting it done. Would they attach one of their young wings?
I would be very surprised if the Heat included Tyler Herro in any deal for Holiday, and without Herro, they don't have enough. I don't see a Dallas trade that is worth New Orleans' while unless interest overall is tepid, at which point the Pelicans might as well keep Holiday.
They love Holiday. They are serious when they say they would like to give their young cornerstones playoff experience, and Holiday helps there.
But he's also 30, on a contract that could expire after this season. Holiday could seek a big-money extension from the Pelicans or whatever team might trade for him.
He would be perfect in Denver as an upgrade over Gary Harris, but given Harris' play over the last two seasons, I'm not sure Denver has enough if the Nuggets don't include Michael Porter Jr. -- which I doubt they would.
On paper, Holiday is a snugger fit than LeVert around Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. He's an elite defender who doesn't need the ball as much. But the perceived shooting gap in Holiday's favor might not exist. Holiday is a career 35.4% shooter from deep, and has hit about that rate on catch-and-shoot 3s in four of the past five seasons.
LeVert is 33.9% from deep for his career, and weirdly much better over the past two seasons on pull-up 3s than catch-and-shoot looks. That seems fluky, maybe even encouraging. His off-the-bounce scoring could allow Durant and Irving to save their legs in the regular season as they age.
Durant has praised both LeVert and Holiday publicly. The Nets would have to send another meaningful player to match salary and minimize their tax hit.
This is not an easy choice. But the Nets are approaching this season with some urgency, and my bet -- my very tentative bet -- would be that with proverbial gun to head, they would include LeVert as the centerpiece in an offer for Holiday.
(A question asked less often: Is LeVert a good fit with Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram? Does New Orleans trust his injury history? Unless the Pelicans love Spencer Dinwiddie or Jarrett Allen -- and they have Allen's player type in Jaxson Hayes -- the Nets will have a hard time cobbling any Holiday package that doesn't include LeVert.)
If the Nets blanch, the door reopens for a potential Denver offer built around Harris, Bol Bol, and future first-round picks with limited protections.
• Acquiring Holiday would make it harder for Denver to re-sign two or three of Jerami Grant (drawing interest from cap room teams, sources say), Paul Millsap, and Mason Plumlee without bursting into the luxury tax.
Meanwhile, the Nuggets can trump most realistic offers for Beal if they include Porter. That is a brutally tough decision. Porter has flaws and carried the reddest of red injury flags into the draft, but 6-foot-10 dudes who shoot the lights out -- with defenders in their face -- are incredibly rare. Porter is 22 -- five years younger than Beal. To include him, the Nuggets would be smart to seek assurances from Beal that he would stay long-term.
The top of the draft
• Rarely have the No. 1 and 2 picks gone to teams in various win-now stages. Both the Minnesota Timberwolves and Golden State Warriors have explored trading their picks for All-NBA-level stars, sources say, but no such deal appears (for now) likely to materialize. The Wizards have shown no interest in trading Beal for either pick, sources say. Ditto for Phoenix with Devin Booker and Philadelphia with Ben Simmons. Again: If Beal forces Washington's hand, a package centered on the No. 1 pick is nothing to sneeze at. Players one tier down are probably not worth a top-two pick.
• Does that apply to Golden State's potential pursuit of Holiday? I just don't see the Warriors giving up that pick -- a precious chance for a dynastic team to find a bridge to the next era -- for a 30-year-old who has never made an All-NBA team without getting something more. Maybe I'm wrong.
You then run into the problem of Holiday's salary eclipsing (by a lot) the Warriors' $17.2 million trade exception. Smart people -- namely John Hollinger of The Athletic -- have constructed deals in which Golden State sends the No. 2 pick and its lightly-protected 2021 pick from the Wolves to New Orleans, along with Andrew Wiggins, to bring back Holiday (and maybe JJ Redick), but trades of that size get messy. That is a lot of pick equity. Would New Orleans include their No. 13 pick as sweetener? Perhaps it all coalesces around this simpler deal: No. 2 and Wiggins for No. 13 and Holiday. One big question: Does Wiggins fit with Ingram and Williamson?
• Jarrett Culver's name has entered the rumor mill, and my best read is the Wolves would deal Culver now only in a blockbuster for a star -- or for a high draft pick that would help in acquiring said star. I'd also expect Minnesota to peddle the combination of the No. 17 pick -- via Brooklyn -- and James Johnson's expiring contract. Does that get the Wolves involved in a Danilo Gallinari sign-and-trade? My guess is the Thunder find something better, but No. 17 is a decent asset.
• Depending on whether Minnesota or Golden State covets a specific prospect, the next logical step would be trading down. That has placed the focus upon the Charlotte Hornets, sitting at No. 3 with an obvious need for a big man.
The Hornets have heard speculation Golden State is leaning toward James Wiseman at No. 2. That would appear to put Minnesota in position to squeeze Charlotte for a bounty -- something like No. 3, Miles Bridges, and at least one lightly protected future first-round pick to move up to No. 1. In drafts with a no-brainer top pick, the value gap between No. 1 and No. 3 is enormous.
This is not that sort of draft. I am not quite convinced Charlotte's appetite for Wiseman is so strong as to meet the kind of price Minnesota (or Golden State) might demand. The Hornets might be fine settling for Onyeka Okongwu. They could also trade for a veteran big -- a placeholder like Al Horford, or someone (Myles Turner?) who better fits their timeline.
Charlotte could carry more than $50 million of cap space into the 2021 offseason. That is a recipe for bad decisions. It would not be the worst thing to preemptively use some now in a trade, and maybe in an extension for Devonte' Graham.
But if Minnesota has no strong leaning -- or prefers LaMelo Ball and Anthony Edwards to Wiseman -- extracting something from Charlotte is still worth it, even if it's not a complete heist.
Finding a trade-back scenario that nabs veteran help while reaping appropriate value for the No. 2 pick is difficult. A potential package from the Knicks of No. 8, Kevin Knox II, and two Dallas first-rounders doesn't get it done, and might not leave enough of the trade exception for another quality player. (New York has been reluctant to discuss RJ Barrett and Mitchell Robinson, sources say.)
The Pistons could offer Luke Kennard, No. 7, and a lightly protected 2021 first-rounder, but that doesn't net the Warriors much present value. Does tossing in Svi Mykhailiuk -- coming off a sneaky good season -- grab Golden State's attention? Probably not enough.
I was intrigued by the idea of the Chicago Bulls dealing one of Lauri Markkanen or Wendell Carter Jr. to exchange places -- No. 2 for No. 4 -- with Golden State, but I have not yet heard much noise about such a deal. Perhaps Chicago is fine sitting at No. 4 and seeing who falls. They want to watch Markkanen and Carter develop under Billy Donovan.
I poked around the notion of Golden State sending No. 2 to Sacramento for No. 12, Nemanja Bjelica, Richaun Holmes, and a top-five protected future Kings pick, but the consensus from executives across the league was that Golden State would view that as selling low. I get that, even though Bjelica and Holmes would help now. But both are on expiring deals, and the average return on the combination of No. 12 and a future pick that lands around No. 8 is not all that robust.
You can build bigger trades combining No. 2 and Wiggins with (among others) Orlando (at No. 15) and Cleveland (at No. 5), but tossing in that much salary becomes cumbersome -- especially considering Golden State is in line to pay a gazillion in luxury tax. (There's a reason Golden State officials on a recent conference call with the league inquired about the feasibility of safely allowing high-paying fans into luxury suites, sources say. They are far from the only team asking these sorts of questions.)
If Golden State can't find a best-of-both-worlds trade -- or if the Warriors just love someone at No. 2 -- they can make their pick, and look to fill the trade exception later. As the trade deadline nears, they could revisit whatever big-name veterans might be gettable with some combination of whoever the Warriors take at No. 2, that Minnesota pick, and other players or picks.
• The East is kinda good, which means the Orlando Magic can't count on running back this group and coasting to the Brown Participation Ribbon Junior Varsity No. 7/8 Playoff Spot -- which might really just be No. 8 unless one of Milwaukee, Miami, Boston, Toronto, Brooklyn, Philadelphia, and Indiana disappoints.
Per usual, teams who have talked with the Magic have a hard time parsing their intentions. The wager here is they would be fine with Evan Fournier opting into the final year on his contract, and playing things out. If so, they should investigate what they might get for him in a trade.
The leaguewide interest level in Aaron Gordon is murkier. Brooklyn discussed chasing him in prior years, but that is probably moot now. He makes sense in Portland, though NBA Twitter's beloved Gordon-for-CJ McCollum swap has never been discussed in any serious way, sources say. Could Portland pry Gordon away without surrendering McCollum? Does Zach Collins appeal to a team with Nikola Vucevic, Mo Bamba, and Jonathan Isaac? What about Anfernee Simons?
Isaac could miss the season because of a knee injury; does that make Orlando less likely to move Gordon or Vucevic? Does the franchise have the stomach to take a step back?
• Reports that Boston has explored trading its three first-round picks -- Nos. 14, 26, and 30 -- to move up are accurate, sources say, but not surprising. Teams with that many picks explore everything; Boston has also sniffed around using picks to acquire a solid veteran, sources say. There are few such veterans available in future-for-present deals with almost the whole league trying to win.
This is why you hear Larry Nance Jr.'s name a lot across the league -- in addition to the big names in Oklahoma City (Paul, Gallinari, and Dennis Schroder). Schroder would draw strong interest, sources say.
• As Bobby Marks and I discussed on the Lowe Post last week, there is smoke around Gordon Hayward's situation; Hayward holds a $34 million player option for next season. That is a lot to turn down. Boston considers Hayward hugely valuable. The Celtics are also facing a luxury tax crunch once Jayson Tatum signs his max extension. Hayward opting in and then leaving in free agency might be more palatable than an opt-in-and-trade scenario that brings back another big long-term salary. Would Hayward opt out and sign with one of the cap room teams -- almost all of which are bad?
The leverage game could be fascinating. Check out that podcast for more.
• I would bet against any team trading a first-round pick for cash (and the required token second-rounder) -- something that hasn't happened since Denver traded the pick that became Gobert in 2013 -- but given economic uncertainty, I'd expect some teams toward the bottom of the first round to try to exchange those picks for roughly equivalent future picks. We will see some second-rounders sell for cash.