Give And Go: Assessing Gasol, Bargnani, other popular trade targets
Give-and-Go is a recurring feature in which The Point Forward’s Ben Golliver and Rob Mahoney bat an NBA topic du jour back and forth.
This week: assessing the trade viability of some of the most popular names in the rumor mill, which is beginning to heat up now that most players who signed contracts in the offseason are eligible to be dealt. The trade deadline is Feb. 21. Click here for an earlier post examining whether the Cavaliers should trade Anderson Varejao.
1. Should the Lakers trade Pau Gasol this season?
Ben Golliver: Before we delve into this year’s most popular trade topic, it’s important to point out that we’re now just barely past the one-year anniversary of David Stern’s killing the three-team deal that would have sent Gasol to the Rockets and Chris Paul to the Lakers. A player’s value is bound to go up and down and Gasol is unquestionably at low tide right now because of poor play, knee injuries and an uncertain fit with the new-look Lakers, but how laughable does that trade scenario look right now? The Lakers avoided potential calamity by trading Andrew Bynum last summer, but the same can be said for the Rockets and Hornets, who both can’t be complaining too much about the vetoed deal. Houston wound up landing a far better franchise player — 23-year-old James Harden beats 32-year-old Gasol by a country mile — and the Hornets avoided the Lamar Odom headache, enjoy cleaner books and have the makings of a nice core, assuming Eric Gordon can ever get back on the court.
Recalling this bit of history not only illustrates how far Gasol’s value has plummeted but it also reaffirms the logic in the Lakers’ thinking. Moving big for small to land a dynamic point guard was a sensible play with the Thunder and Spurs standing in the way of a sixth ring for Kobe Bryant. Picking Bynum over Gasol made sense in 2011, and picking Dwight Howard over Gasol in 2012 isn’t even up for debate. The calculus has changed: Once Steve Nash is healthy, the dynamic point guard hole will be filled once again. The question now is whether the Lakers are better off trying to make things work with Gasol or moving him to address other problems: a lack of athleticism on the wings, depth or a stretch forward who fits better alongside Howard. Answering that question will be much easier after seeing how Nash’s presence affects Gasol. The simplest answer is there’s no real need to rush in advance of the Feb. 21 deadline, as general manager Mitch Kupchak and Co. seemingly have concluded.
The trickiest part is finding a trade partner. Gasol’s $19 million salary this season and $19.3 million salary next season eliminate some teams from the conversation right off the bat. Also, contenders with big salary commitments will find it hard to make a trade work: High-salary players are needed to make a Gasol trade legal for capped-out teams, but those players are likely to be important to their clubs and thus difficult to deal. From there, any team that might have sought Gasol as a No. 1 guy, like the Rockets did just one year ago, would be foolish to value him in the same way this year. Gasol can play better than his current averages of 12.6 points, 8.8 rebounds and 42 percent shooting. But he’s not getting any younger and his contract length is stuck in purgatory: He’s not on the books long enough to be considered a piece a team can build around, but the presence of next year’s big salary limits his appeal as a trade asset.
The Lakers should probably be targeting teams stuck in the middle looking to get over the hump, willing to cash in younger parts that could help fill out L.A.’s bench for a shot at a guy to pair with another star (or preferably two). Of all of the trade whispers to hit so far, the Timberwolves seem to fit that mold best. The pressure for them to make the postseason is the highest it has been in years, and Gasol could fit nicely with the key pieces they have in place.
Rob Mahoney: In a Lakers season marked by impatience, I’m glad that Kupchak and the Busses were able to come to such a sensible conclusion regarding Gasol’s fate. There is no ticking clock. There is no need for a reactionary move. There is only a team desperate for some strategic navel-gazing, as its health and coaching reboot are now creating something of a fresh start.
The question of whether to trade Gasol is complicated. The Lakers should deal Gasol in the sense that all players should be moved for better ones; Kupchak should trade Kobe Bryant if he were able to get Kevin Durant in return, or Nash were Paul somehow attainable. The calculus would be different with Gasol in that L.A. would most likely be looking to turn one star-caliber player into an assortment of supporting parts, but the prerogative remains the same: If you’re going to cut ties on a player this good, you better make damn sure that your team is getting better in the process.
I just don’t buy the notion that Gasol needs to be moved due to the grave sin of positional overlap — not after he managed well enough alongside Bynum, and especially not after Gasol outsmarted opponents in working from the high post for Spain during the London Olympics. Clearly, the early mid-range returns for Gasol haven’t been spectacular, but this is a player with tremendous basketball IQ going to work for a coach who has already proved willing to adapt his system to the Lakers’ needs. There are some redundancies to work around and some lineup issues to consider, but Gasol and Mike D’Antoni have miles to go in their regular-season schedule and all of the resources necessary to figure this out. That doesn’t mean they will or that Gasol won’t be dealt at some point, but there’s enough reason for confidence to abstain from making a significant, panic-driven change.
2. The Raptors finally seem ready to deal former No. 1 pick Andrea Bargnani, but what can they reasonably expect to get for him?
RM: At this point, trading Bargnani amounts to a salvage mission. His trade value is certainly low, but only because Toronto has passed up so many more opportune times to deal him. Bargnani upsets a lot of what the Raptors hope to be, and yet a four-year low in scoring (16 points per game), along with shooting marks (39.8 percent from the field and 31.9 percent from three-point range) that approach the worst of his career, make worthwhile deals hard to come by. (He’s also now out indefinitely with a torn right elbow ligament.)
That’s why packaging Bargnani with pending free agent Jose Calderon does make some sense, even if doing so requires the Raptors to take back some heavy contracts. Calderon is a useful player for Toronto at this stage in its rebuild, but this could be GM Bryan Colangelo’s last chance to get something for a player who will surely be gone after the season. Better to pull some value from Calderon and Bargnani both than none at all, particularly considering that the Raptors are unlikely to have much cap room until 2014 unless they make some fairly considerable cuts via trade. In that, I see no problem with Toronto’s taking a chance on a potential Gasol deal, if such an offer comes to pass, or any well-compensated gamble provided that any contract it receives expires before 2014. What may end up happening is that the Raps foot the bill for another team’s mistake while also grabbing a prospect or pick for their trouble, though it’s hard to pin down which players/teams might fill that hypothetical scenario.
BG: I’ve never been high on Bargnani, and his season has been a mess in every conceivable way. If the poor shooting, lackluster effort and more attempted three-pointers (4.5 per game) than rebounds (4.3) didn’t dissuade potential suitors, Bargnani has been busy making the wrong kind of headlines off the court. He appeared indifferent at best to trade talk, reportedly got called out by teammates in a locker-room meeting and threatened legal action against an Italian journalist with whom he conducted an interview that he claims was reported improperly. Is anyone surprised that the Raptors have nearly as many wins (three) in the week they’ve played without Bargnani than they had in 21 games with him (four)? That was a rhetorical question. No one is surprised. The Raptors/Bargnani/Colangelo triumvirate has the feel of a situation that’s run its course.
The hang-up is that Bargnani might be the one big name who has submarined his trade value even more than Gasol this year. Unless he magically comes back from his injury a totally different player, trading him is addition by subtraction at worst for the Raptors given that he’s owed $10.8 million in 2013-14 and $11.5 million in ’14-15. Any assets they get in return (ideally picks and expiring contracts) would just be icing on the cake; the only requirement in moving him is taking back less guaranteed (or potentially guaranteed through a player option) money. There’s probably a deal-seeker willing to buy low and hope that a change of scenery will produce better production and effort.
3. Should the Bucks trade Brandon Jennings (2013 restricted free agent) or Monta Ellis (possible 2013 unrestricted free agent) this season? Both? Neither?
BG: Zooming out, the arguments for retaining both past this season are a lot weaker than the arguments for parting with one. You just don’t need two guards who both take 16-plus shots a game and make 40 percent or less of them while presenting issues on the defensive end, especially when both are going to expect big dollars next summer. Make no mistake, both will want to get paid. Jennings, who watched draft classmates like Stephen Curry, Jrue Holiday, Ty Lawson and DeMar DeRozan all get extensions in October, will be looking for eight figures per year, minimum, and he should have multiple suitors at that price. Ellis, 27, has made noise about opting out of his $11 million contract for 2013-14, and he’s the classic inefficient volume scorer who will find a sucker to pay him, oh, 25 percent more than he’s worth. Choosing between the two, the 23-year-old Jennings is obviously preferable: He’s younger, he has better range, he’s a more natural distributor, he has a lower turnover rate and he has a higher ceiling.
With Ersan Ilyasova, Drew Gooden and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute already signed to long-term deals, paying both Ellis and Jennings to stay makes even less sense. That core isn’t advancing deep into the postseason regardless of how much talent the Bucks have accumulated on rookie deals. What’s the justification in shelling out? The fact that Jennings is on his rookie deal right now reduces the urgency factor and makes it difficult and unlikely to find return value for him by the trade deadline. Let’s assume the Bucks keep winning at their current rate, putting themselves firmly in the playoffs. The strategy should be to shop Ellis and deal him if blown away by a return package, seeking young talent and picks or the ability to package him with one of the other questionable contracts on their books. If there’s no deal, playing out the stretch with Ellis and hoping for a good first-round playoff matchup is a fine backup strategy. No real harm done. If we assume the Bucks fall on hard times in advance of the deadline, then the asking price for Ellis simply drops and you try to cash out on him.
Either way, the plan next summer will be to cross the fingers and grit the teeth during restricted free agency, paying Jennings whatever the market decides he’s worth. With no other readily available options at the point, the Bucks are in a corner on that one. When it comes to Ellis, exploring sign-and-trades would be worth the time but simply letting him walk and allowing someone else to (over)pay him isn’t a bad option either.
RM: Jennings hasn’t shown leading-man aptitude to date, but I agree that the Bucks have virtually no choice but to match whatever gruesome offer sheet comes his way in restricted free agency. Age is a powerful motivator in that decision; while Milwaukee has a tough call to make regarding two good players with functionally similar games, one is four years younger, better defensively and has the benefit of being a lesser-known quantity. Ellis will undoubtedly grow as a player as his career goes on, but we don’t have any reason to expect dramatic improvements or outright reinvention. He is who he is, while Jennings is only beginning to find out what he can be. That makes him a far more attractive piece for a Bucks team without much of an upward trajectory.
I’m not as down on Ellis as most, but I do think he needs very specific conditions in order to succeed, and sharing the backcourt with Jennings over the long term doesn’t exactly fit his needs. He gave the Bucks a way out after they tired of waiting for Andrew Bogut, and given that Bogut has progressed with the pace of a Peter Jackson epic since suffering a wave of injuries, Milwaukee is surely glad to be rid of that concern. But that doesn’t mean Ellis was anything more than a temporary fixture, fit to be repackaged and returned to the store either at the deadline or if he winds up declaring for free agency next summer.
4. Should the Jazz trade Al Jefferson or Paul Millsap (who will both be unrestricted free agents next summer) this season? Both? Neither?
RM: If I were in Utah GM Dennis Lindsey’s shoes, I’d be working the phones to find a trade destination for Jefferson while attempting to keep Millsap. We obviously don’t know either player’s value on the free-agent market yet, but I’d be more willing to accept the range of financial possibilities for Millsap’s potential deal than Jefferson’s, largely because of the value Millsap offers as a two-way player.
Millsap is far from unimpeachable as a defender — his head may still be spinning from Blake Griffin’s whirling around him for bucket after bucket a few weeks ago — but his deficits on that end are ultimately manageable. That’s high praise compared to what one might say of Jefferson, who defends the pick-and-roll as if his shoes were cinder blocks. No one can argue with Jefferson’s scoring or rebounding production, but the fact that he’s 27 and about as defensively mobile as Kurt Thomas is a pretty glaring problem — one that even a fully actualized Derrick Favors won’t completely solve. That he’ll undoubtedly draw substantial contract offers only makes the concern that much greater. While the Jazz didn’t blink at taking on Jefferson’s contract in a trade, it’s very different when a team with bankable prospects is forced to commit a huge slice of its cap space to a player who will be a perpetual drag on its performance at one end of the court.
Millsap’s production is slightly less gaudy, but he’s more defensively inclined, more versatile and more compatible with both Favors and Enes Kanter — Utah’s hopeful pivots of the future. The market may well put a dollar amount on the 27-year-old Millsap’s services that go beyond what the Jazz are willing to pay, but at this point, he seems the more affordable option, not to mention a better bridge into the next stage of Utah’s reconstruction.
BG: I would choose Millsap over Jefferson and shop Big Al hard before the deadline. To me, this is all about fit with Favors first, fit with Kanter second and then contract terms third. The Jazz have done a wonderful job of maximizing their flexibility heading into next summer and a huge part of that is how many young pieces they’ve collected around which to build. They actually have room to overpay both Jefferson and Millsap if they really wanted to without incurring any horrible luxury taxes, though that could mean getting creative and cutting corners in filling out their backcourt rotation, which is full of guys on expiring contracts.
Millsap’s combination of versatility and range seems vastly preferable to Jefferson’s size and strength when looking through the prism of what the Jazz will become in 2014 and beyond. I think they can shop one (or even both) players at the deadline with the knowledge that it’s very unlikely they can upset any of the West’s current top-four seeds in the playoffs. When shopping Millsap, I’d be asking for a lot in return; similarly, I would be doing so knowing that I was prepared to pay him handsomely come summer time.
5. Which player just flat-out needs to be traded by the deadline?
BG: You mentioned him earlier, but the guy I want to see moved for everyone’s benefit is Calderon. Him staying put past the deadline is just a lose/lose/lose for the Raptors, for him and for the other teams that could use a very capable and experienced point guard. The motives for Calderon’s being OK with a move are obvious: He hasn’t played in the postseason since 2008; he’s 31, so his clock is ticking; he has no reason to re-sign with the Raptors after they committed to Kyle Lowry; and he won’t play a meaningful game between the deadline and the offseason given Toronto’s current pace.
The Raptors are similarly motivated to cash out on him. Look at what they did with Leandro Barbosa last season. In both cases, the writing was on the wall for a veteran who could benefit a team looking to make a playoff push. Here, Calderon brings real value as a player capable of handling big minutes, whereas Barbosa brought a narrower skill set and bench depth. Barbosa netted the Raptors a second-round pick from Indiana; Calderon should bring them much more. Letting Calderon leave in free agency would be one of those quiet mistakes that bad teams make. Colangelo has appeared desperate in recent weeks, so the chances that he finds a way to get something back for Calderon seem better than not.
There should be no lack of interest in Calderon. Playoff teams can always use a point guard who does a solid job of taking care of the ball and can knock down three-pointers. Calderon’s $10.6 million contract will limit trade possibilities to a degree, primarily because the Raptors shouldn’t accept any bad contracts in return under any circumstances. But he would be an excellent addition for any team that could use help at the point now and especially to those teams interested in building a relationship in advance of attempting to sign him (at a much lower contract figure) next summer.
RM: Calderon is a great choice, and I’d love to see him moved solely because he’s served out most of his Toronto tenure as a fan base’s punching bag. His lack of flashy playmaking and characteristically porous defense make him an easy target, but I’ve long found value in Calderon’s efficient caretaking of the offense. A change of scenery might help some fans see Calderon’s game in a new light, and at this stage in his career he is legitimately best served as a low-risk backup.
But another player I wouldn’t mind seeing traded is Orlando’s J.J. Redick, who seems to have all of the qualities of a deadline-day target. He plays for a team that, while impressive in its efforts thus far, ultimately can’t make best use of his game. He’s in the final year of his deal on a team that really has no business re-signing him with so much extraneous salary already on the books. He does a little of everything, but has great specific value in helping to space the floor with accurate shooting and clever curls. His presence isn’t a defensive concession, and he can handle the ball somewhat reliably. That’s an incredible package of skills that shouldn’t take a king’s ransom to acquire. Everyone would win in such a scenario, with Redick — who could soon move from the plucky-but-grounded Magic to a legitimate playoff team — the greatest victor of all.