Trade deadline: Five deals we want to see
There is no such thing as a quiet trade deadline. Even in its seemingly less active iterations, the official NBA cut-off for team-to-team exchange is marked by constant chatter among league executives. Few stones remain unturned. It’s phone call after phone call and email upon email, some of which manifests publicly through a frenzy of rumor and response.
What might begin as mere inquiry sometimes develops into legitimate exploration or a survey of the market. But at some point comes the pitch — that more specific proposal where discussions over a potential trade begin to take shape. To get in the spirit of this year’s deadline, below are five such pitches for moves we wouldn’t mind seeing, informed by team needs, rumored wants, and general intrigue.
1. Greg Monroe to the Thunder
Thunder acquire: Greg Monroe, Rodney Stuckey, and Kyle Singler
Pistons acquire: Jeremy Lamb, Steven Adams, Perry Jones, Kendrick Perkins, and an unprotected 2015 first round pick
The primary motivation for this hypothetical deal isn’t to accommodate Josh Smith in Detroit, but to alleviate what could be a tricky long-term pairing between Monroe and Andre Drummond. Youth and talent alone don’t ensure their compatibility; over the last two seasons, the tandem of Monroe and Drummond has yielded results ranging from passable to disastrous depending on other lineup particulars. That doesn’t give me much confidence from a teambuilding standpoint, particularly with Monroe set for a massive pay increase as a restricted free agent this summer.
So instead of seeing the Pistons sign Monroe to a big contract in the hopes of sorting out the rest later, I’m steering them to circumvent the issue entirely. Were there any capacity for ranged scoring between Monroe and Drummond, there might be hope for greater offensive synergy. Were there more promise in Monroe’s slow-footed defensive game, the two might make for a more formidable pair. As it stands, though, Monroe and Drummond are a clumsy enough fit to inspire some serious doubt in their long-term viability, and therein incite just this kind of make-believe move.
That said, it’s never easy to build a trade around a free agent, particularly when a player like Monroe already needs a very specific ecosystem of surrounding skills and rotation pieces in order to account for his limitations. To pile complication on complication, Monroe’s rookie-scale salary also makes it difficult to find a return package that would give the Pistons a fair return while keeping within the NBA’s salary-matching rules. There’s a reasonable market for Monroe, still, though those factors leave it much slighter than one might initially think.
Of those possibilities, there’s something particularly alluring in the prospect of Monroe landing in OKC. The Thunder are a team without defining weakness, and thus without need to make a move of this magnitude. Yet the opportunity to add another quality big while shedding the salary owed to Kendrick Perkins might be enticing enough to keep Sam Presti on the line.
For all the value Perkins still has as a team defender, he’s an easily identifiable and wholly exploitable flaw in the Thunder’s offensive structure. Many opponents don’t even pretend to guard him; defenders are able to stray away from Perkins with near impunity, eating into the working space and angles of the Thunder creators. Swapping out Perkins for Monroe solves this problem entirely, as if nothing else Monroe projects as enough of a scoring threat to keep opponents honest.
That’s really only the beginning of Monroe’s offensive influence. He’s a natural in the post with good touch and a great feel for putting together fluid moves and counters. He’s just as comfortable setting up near the elbow, too, where he can help to direct traffic and put cutters in scoring position. Within the context of OKC’s greater offense, Monroe’s role would be one of enrichment — to flesh out the Thunder’s options, to stabilize things in moments of vulnerability, and to add an organic complexity to OKC’s basic offensive flow.
Acquiring such a skilled offensive player is not without cost, though the Thunder would also pick up Rodney Stuckey (a veteran guard having arguably his best NBA season while playing out an expiring contract) and Kyle Singler (a competent wing on a bargain deal) for their trouble while shedding a $9.4 million obligation to Perkins in 2014-15.
The Pistons, in exchange, would acquire a host of prospects that both better suit their developmental timeline and make more sense for a roster built around Drummond. Lamb is the most immediately viable among them, and would step in with a three-point percentage (36.6 percent) better than any Detroit regular. He also projects to be a fairly productive scorer long-term, as the 21-year-old Lamb has already broadened his game by selectively taking on more creative responsibility. At worst he’s a nice insurance policy on the far streakier Kentavious Caldwell-Pope; at best he could pan out as the kind of offensive player whose acquisition makes trading Monroe wholly justifiable.
With Lamb also comes Perry Jones and Steven Adams, two players who help Detroit to maintain their emphasis on size and length while getting much quicker at both frontcourt positions. Jones, in particular, makes for a tantalizing complement to Drummond; while every bit as athletic as the Pistons centerpiece, Jones has the ability to work as a shooter (he’s made 41.9 percent of his spot-up threes this season, per Synergy Sports) and cutter to contribute from different spaces of the floor.
All of this makes for a rather dizzying daydream, but only that. The Thunder are far too good and the Pistons far too playoff desperate to make such significant change mid-stream, to say nothing of the tax considerations that would come with OKC taking on Monroe for the next few seasons. Detroit GM Joe Dumars wouldn’t likely touch a deal like this one with his job essentially hanging in the balance. The Thunder would have to needlessly grapple with a shortened rotation for the remainder of the season, despite the fact that they were set to be title contenders as perviously constructed. There are plenty of practical reasons why this deal would never come to pass, though the questions posed by the thought itself (Is it worth Detroit’s time to build around Monroe/Drummond? Should OKC move to do better than Perkins, and if so, at what cost?) make it a worthy enough indulgence.