The NBA trade deadline is to men what Valentine’s Day is to women: there’s a lot of talk leading up to it, but it rarely meets everyone’s expectations. Last year, the biggest names changing addresses were Goran Dragic, Michael Carter-Williams, Brandon Knight, Isaiah Thomas and Enes Kanter. All of them are fine, young talents, but there were no blockbusters that made fans run to social media typing in ALL CAPS.
This year’s trade frenzy is projecting to be more of the same, with role players like New Orleans Pelicans shooter Ryan Anderson and versatile Memphis Grizzlies forward Jeff Green, among others, generating some buzz.
However, while Feb. 18 will likely be devoid of any big names switching uniforms, that doesn’t mean there aren’t stars who would benefit from a midseason change of scenery. That’s why I put together a list of stars who could potentially change the NBA landscape on the small chance they’re actually moved. In the interest of fairness, I made cases for both keeping and trading these players as well as the best potential landing spot for all involved.
Let’s have some fun.
Blake Griffin, Power Forward, Los Angeles Clippers
Why Los Angeles Should Trade Him: This has less to do with Griffin’s recent injury history or the fact that he went full Roman Reigns on a Clippers equipment staffer last week and more to do with the future.
Since Griffin made his debut in 2010-11, the Clippers have yet to make it past the second round of the playoffs, despite the team surrounding him with a solid supporting cast that includes DeAndre Jordan and future Hall of Famer Chris Paul. The Clippers have also proven capable of surviving without Griffin, going 15-3 this season while “The Blake Show” recovers from his injuries. With Griffin’s unfortunate haymaker expected to cost him two more months and the West’s Big Three (Golden State, San Antonio, Oklahoma City) having an iron-clad grip on the conference, the Clippers’ chances of getting over the hump this season appear slim.
There’s also the issue of Griffin’s contract, which expires next summer when the salary cap is expected to increase exponentially. Recently, ESPN.com’s Zach Lowe wrote that the Clippers should at least consider moving their star forward.
“Of the Clippers’ three foundational stars, Griffin probably would net the highest return in a trade. Several league sources insist that if Doc Rivers, the Clippers coach, general manager, head chef and lead custodian, were forced to pick one of the three to flip, it would likely be Griffin — in part because he knows Griffin would bring back the most. (He’d prefer to flip none, obviously.) Griffin is entering the late stages of his prime, and unless he learns to shoot 3s, his jumpy game might not age well. Rivers told me in September that another first- or second-round playoff loss might convince him to blow up the team…This promises to be one of the thorniest player-organization situations in the league over the next few months, as Griffin’s contract ticks toward expiration at the end of the 2016-17 season. The Clippers have to know they are just not as good as the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs, and they will have to beat both of them, eight times combined, to make the Finals.”
Why Los Angeles Should Keep Him: When healthy, Griffin is a top five power forward and one of the best players in basketball. He’s an extremely athletic interior force who gobbles up rebounds like Kim Kardashian eats up compliments. With Chris Paul’s prime winding down and DeAndre Jordan still flawed offensively, hanging on to Griffin is Los Angeles’ best chance at staying competitive in the short term and long term.
With most of San Antonio’s core getting long in the tooth and free agency threatening to break up Oklahoma City’s dynamic duo, there’s an outside chance the Clippers could move up in the West’s pecking order going forward.
Best Potential Trade Partner: Boston Celtics. The C’s have the most enticing package of young talent (Avery Bradley, Marcus Smart, Jae Crowder) and draft picks (Brooklyn’s unprotected 2016 first-round pick). As much as trading Griffin would be a tough pill to swallow for the Clippers organization, the chance to potentially build around a core of Jordan, Paul, Crowder, Bradley and LSU phenom Ben Simmons might be too good to pass up.
Meanwhile, Boston is tied with the Atlanta Hawks for the fifth-best record in an Eastern Conference that doesn’t have a dominant team beyond the Cleveland Cavaliers. General manager Danny Ainge has been stockpiling assets with hopes of landing a potential star, and this would be his best opportunity to cash in. Plus, with only $59 million on the books for next season, the Celtics could add Griffin and still be players in a loaded 2016 free agent class.
Chris Paul, Point Guard, Los Angeles Clippers
Why Los Angeles Should Trade Him: The case for trading CP3 is similar to the one for moving Blake Griffin. At this point, it’s not unreasonable to think the Clippers have reached their ceiling with the Paul-Griffin-Jordan troika, and it might be time to go back to the drawing board. The biggest difference here is Paul will be 31 in May and he’s been dealing with a bothersome knee practically throughout his career. With Los Angeles’ championship window closing, one of the greatest point guards to ever play the game deserves to spend the twilight of his career chasing a ring.
Also, if the Clippers want to both stay competitive and build for the future, trading away one of their oldest assets while he still has value wouldn’t be the worst idea in the world. Paul is owed $22.9 million next season with a player option worth $24.3 million for 2017-18. That’s a lot of money for a second-tier team to dole out to an aging talent, even one as good as CP3.
Why Los Angeles Should Keep Him: Even in the midst of his 11th season and the mileage on his legs adding up, Paul is still playing at a high level. He’s averaging 18.8 points, 9.5 assists (fourth in the NBA) and 2.1 steals (sixth) even with Griffin being sidelined since Christmas.
The Clippers want to win now. That’s why they did whatever it took to keep the Big Three together last summer while adding playoff-tested veterans like Paul Pierce and Lance Stephenson to the mix. It might be far-fetched to think L.A. can make a run this season, but the team will stay in the title picture as long as their prized point guard is able to suit up.
Best Potential Trade Partner: Miami Heat. Although the point-guard position is deep league-wide, there are still a few contenders who could use Paul’s services. The New York Knicks could use a third piece to put alongside Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis. The Atlanta Hawks were a 60-win team a year ago and could offer L.A. a package around fellow All-Star point guard Jeff Teague.
However, the destination that makes sense for both parties is Miami. Paul could team up with his buddy Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to form a new star trio in South Beach. Paul will also work under another championship-winning coach in Erik Spoelstra while continuing to raise the game of rising center Hassan Whiteside. With Wade and Whiteside both hitting free agency this summer, this would be a good opportunity for the Heat to go all in and make one last run with this current group.
In return, the Heat could offer up Goran Dragic, who was the league’s Most Improved Player two years ago but hasn’t found his groove since being traded from Phoenix last season. Miami could also part with rookie Justise Winslow, who would fill the Clippers’ hole at small forward and could develop into a star under Doc Rivers. To make the salaries work, the Heat could throw in Josh McRoberts, who would add depth in L.A.’s frontcourt.
Kevin Love, Power Forward, Cleveland Cavaliers
Why Cleveland Should Trade Him: Since coming over in a trade from Minnesota two summers ago, Kevin Love hasn’t been the All-Star force he was during his six years with the Timberwolves. In his 121 games in Cleveland, Love is averaging 16.3 points and 10.5 rebounds while shooting 43 percent from the field and 36.9 percent from three.
Those are modest numbers, but a far cry from the 19.2/12.2/45.1/36.2 he put up in Minnesota. With LeBron James still the King of Cleveland and Kyrie Irving continuing to emerge as one of the league’s best scorers, Love is now third in the pecking order. When you throw in Tristan Thompson’s emergence since Love’s arrival while being forced to either come off the bench or play out of position, there’s enough ammunition for the Cavs to part with their $110 million man.
Making matters worse, Love’s reputation for being a poor defender hasn’t improved since coming to Ohio, though he’s made some strides since the team fired David Blatt and appointed Tyronn Lue as head coach. Still, there are times where lapses like this rear their ugly head:
The Cavs re-signed Love thinking he’d eventually find his old dominant form, but those moments have only come in spurts thus far. With Cleveland’s championship window not staying open forever, they could use Love to bring in someone who might be a better fit.
Why Cleveland Should Keep Him: Cavs general manager David Griffin is adamant on not trading Love either at the deadline or any time in the near future, per ESPN.com’s Brian Windhorst.
“You’d have to go a long way to convince me that we’re a better team winning in the Finals without a player like Kevin on our team,” Griffin said. “We’ve never once put together an offer involving Kevin, nor have we taken a call on an offer for Kevin.”
It’s easy to understand Griffin’s reluctance. Love has been a different player since Lue took over. He’s averaging 19.2 points and 7.8 rebounds since Lue’s arrival, and he’s scored at least 20 points in each of his last three games. If Lue can continue to develop Love’s defense while finding better ways to utilize him on offense, he could eventually become the superstar the Cavs hoped he would be.
There’s another tricky angle to trading Love: finding a suitor that could offer a player of equal value who would be willing to take a backseat to King James and Uncle Drew. Would Blake Griffin be content with going from catching lobs from Chris Paul to fighting for touches on a crowded Cavs roster? Would Cleveland be willing to trade Love to a conference rival dripping with assets like Boston or take less in order to ship him out West to a club like New Orleans or Utah? Cleveland already gave up a potential star in Wiggins to acquire Love. They can’t afford to come up short again.
Best Potential Trade Partner: Houston Rockets. This is where things get fun. In order to get a Love trade that works for all parties, you’re basically conjuring up dream scenarios. In this case, the deal would center around Cleveland sending Love and Timofey Mozgov to Houston in exchange for Dwight Howard. Financially, it works out because Love and Mozzy combine to make roughly $24.5 million, while D12 is owed $22.3 million this season.
One of the Cavs’ biggest needs is a shot-blocker who can protect the rim. Thompson has done a good job patrolling the paint, but he has 19 blocks in 46 games this season. Mozgov has been slowed by knee and shoulder injuries, while Love’s defensive woes are well-documented. Meanwhile, Howard is a three-time Defensive Player of the Year who’s currently 12th in the league in rejections with 1.6 per game.
Howard could take over the center spot in Cleveland, allowing Thompson to shift back to the 4 and forming a potentially dominant defensive frontcourt. The trade would also allow the Cavs to remove Love’s huge contract from the league’s highest payroll.
Instead of battling James and Irving, Love would only have to worry about wrestling James Harden for scoring opportunities and would be a good fit on a Houston team obsessed with the three-ball. The Rockets would also get some value for Howard, who’s a free agent this summer, while handing the keys to promising young center Clint Capela.
Dwight Howard, Center, Houston Rockets
Why Houston Should Trade Him: Howard hits the open market this summer, and it would be hard for Houston to justify paying big money to a 30-year-old center with chronic back issues, especially with Capela waiting in the wings. Howard is already pulling down the fifth-highest salary in the league to average 14.4 points, 11.8 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game. Conversely, the Dallas Mavericks are paying Zaza Pachulia $5.2 million to produce similar numbers (10.5 points, 10.8 rebounds).
It’s becoming evident that Howard isn’t the dominant center he once was, and frustrations over the Rockets’ disappointing season are starting to pour onto the court. D12 has been ejected in each of his last two games, and rumors of his unhappiness surfaced earlier this season. With Houston clinging to the seventh seed in the West and Howard’s future past this season uncertain, it’s only a matter of time before aggressive GM Daryl Morey starts looking for ways to shake things up.
Why Houston Should Keep Him: When you take away Howard’s salary and his infamous stature, his numbers are pretty solid for a guy playing at less than 100 percent. He’s one of just nine big men averaging a double-double, and his 55.1 percent shooting from the free throw line is his best effort since his second-to-last year in Orlando (2010-11).
There’s also the issue of Howard’s limited market. How many teams would be willing to give up something worthwhile to rent a 30-year-old center with an extensive injury history who has a tendency to be a bit temperamental? The Rockets might be in dire straits, but Morey is too smart to get desperate. Unless a potential suitor is willing to offer something big, it may be wiser for Houston to just ride things out with its franchise center.
Best Potential Trade Partner: Washington Wizards. While the aforementioned Love/Howard swap is still the best move for all parties, Washington would be an intriguing option, as well. Fellow Today’s Fastbreak writer Andrew Bailey pitched a deal last month that would send Howard and Trevor Ariza to DC in exchange for Marcin Gortat, Nene, Kelly Oubre, Otto Porter and a first-round pick.
Washington is currently 2.5 games behind the Detroit Pistons for the eighth seed in the East and could use an influx of talent to help turn things around. Howard would be an upgrade over the Gortat/Nene tandem, and he should be considerably happier playing alongside John Wall (9.8 assists, third in NBA) than Harden (19.1 field goal attempts per game, third-most in the league). Ariza is a proven 3-and-D guy who played with the Wizards for two seasons before signing with Houston.
For Houston, Gortat is putting up comparable numbers to Howard (13.4 points, 9.9 boards, 1.4 blocks) while making nearly half of Dwight’s salary. He’s also under contract for three more seasons. Nene would add depth up front, which would come in handy with Donatas Motiejunas and rookie Sam Dekker dealing with back injuries. Also, Oubre and Porter are the kind of young, attractive pieces that Morey could develop and then flip down the road. It would be a good haul for a pending free-agent center and a perimeter defender who hasn’t lived up to his contract.