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The 2022 NBA draft delivered answers and questions in equal measure.
Sure, it resolved months of speculation about where top prospects would land, but it also added plenty of more established names—Kyrie Irving, for example—to the rumor mill.
Even if the picks are all in, the biggest offseason transactions may be ahead in the form of trades. There are several teams with glaring holes in their rotations. Though free agency is only days away, swaps might be the best way to address those.
Here, we’ll hit on a few potential deals that involve high-end players who didn’t move on draft night but could still easily change teams within the next week or so.
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The Trade: Kyrie Irving to the Miami Heat for Kyle Lowry and Tyler Herro
If Irving leaves the Brooklyn Nets via trade, the franchise that takes him on will have to believe its culture is exceptional. It will have to believe—despite a decade of evidence that suggests Irving cannot be prevented from one form of success-undermining self-absorption or another—that this time, things will be different. It will have to believe that all of Irving’s considerable talent will be worth the trouble because it will get through to him in ways nobody has before.
You need a franchise that is perpetually hungry for stars who add championship equity—one totally unconcerned with the distant future.
That’s the Miami Heat. They’re the only semi-logical option.
This deal could be blown out and expanded in a number of different ways, with more picks and perhaps Duncan Robinson heading to Brooklyn for Irving and additional players. But there’s no scenario in which Miami would include Bam Adebayo. More broadly, Irving’s trade value is (or should be) relatively low. So we’re keeping this one simple.
It’s hard to say whether the Heat would worry more about taking on Irving as an expiring salary or in a sign-and-trade that delivered him with two or three extra years under contract. Losing Kyle Lowry and Tyler Herro for a rental would hurt, but committing multiple years to Irving has lately proved to be just as painful.
The Heat are risk-takers who need a primo shot-creator next to Jimmy Butler. Irving’s talent is enticement enough, even with all the potential headaches he brings.
From Brooklyn’s perspective, a closing lineup of Lowry, Herro, Joe Harris, Kevin Durant and Ben Simmons would figure to be dangerous. Retain Nic Claxton or add a conventional center at the minimum, trust Seth Curry to offer enough supplemental shooting as a starter and sign a wing defender with the mini mid-level exception, and the Nets can head into 2022-23 with justifiable confidence that they can compete with anyone.
Perhaps most importantly, adding Lowry and Herro—two legitimate talents with Finals experience (and a ring in Lowry’s case)—might convince Durant that Brooklyn is still the best place for him.
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The Trade: De’Aaron Fox to the New York Knicks for RJ Barrett, Derrick Rose and two 2023 first-round picks (via Detroit and Washington)
The New York Knicks exited draft night without addressing their point guard need, and though everyone seems to think their decision to trade out of the first round and dump salary was made with an eye toward overpaying free agent Jalen Brunson, we posit the following counter.
What if it wasn’t?
Brunson would now be an almost painfully obvious target, but there’s no guarantee New York will put forth a better offer than the Dallas Mavericks. And Brunson may simply prefer to stay where he is. There are worse players to tie your destiny to than Luka Doncic.
So let’s give the Knicks an alternative and use some of the draft equity they added to swing a deal.
De’Aaron Fox is on a max contract, so there’s really no such thing as a buy-low opportunity with him. But his down-year effort in 2021-22 could make the Sacramento Kings more comfortable with the idea of moving him than they would have been after 2020-21, when Fox was one of four players to average at least 25.0 points, 7.0 assists and 7.0 free-throw attempts per game.
The others: Doncic, Damian Lillard and Trae Young.
Knicks fans will surely balk at surrendering RJ Barrett, the team’s best young player. But a closer look reveals that Fox has long been a safer bet to achieve stardom than Barrett.
Fox’s age-21 campaign was significantly better than the one Barrett just completed. At the same age, Fox topped Barrett in true shooting percentage (54.4 to 51.1 percent), player efficiency rating (18.1 to 13.7), box plus/minus (1.5 to minus-1.6) and value over replacement player (2.3 to 0.2). In fact, Barrett has never posted a positive BPM figure or averaged more than 20.0 points per game. Fox has done both three times.
And with Barrett due an extension next summer that will likely put him in Fox’s pay grade, the financial component of this deal will soon be a wash from New York’s perspective.
Though last year was a disappointment, Fox closed with a flourish that indicated a full-season bounce-back may be ahead. He averaged 28.9 points, 6.8 assists and 4.3 rebounds with a 50.3/38.0/76.6 shooting split after January.
Fox is not an ideal fit with Domantas Sabonis, a non-stretch center who’s best with the ball in his hands. Nikola Jokic was the only big man to exceed Sabonis’ 5.2 assists per game last year, but Fox’s career 32.0 percent three-point shooting means he’s of little use as an off-ball threat.
If the Kings had picked Jaden Ivey, this would have been an even easier sell. But don’t forget they drafted point guard Davion Mitchell in 2021, and he showed elite defense and flashes of playmaking talent. Even without Ivey to supplant Fox, Sacramento could still flip him to acquire in Barrett the big, dynamic wing it has lacked for…(checks calendar)…ever.
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The Trade: Myles Turner and Chris Duarte to the Toronto Raptors for OG Anunoby and Khem Birch
The Indiana Pacers grabbed Bennedict Mathurin at No. 7, adding the sweet-shooting off-ball threat to a backcourt that was already a little crowded. The Arizona product joined Chris Duarte, Tyrese Haliburton, Malcolm Brogdon, Buddy Hield and TJ McConnell.
Though Myles Turner is the key export from Indy’s side, the now-expendable Duarte might be just enough of a sweetener to convince the Toronto Raptors to part with OG Anunoby. Khem Birch is as much a favor to the Pacers as anything, a serviceable replacement center at a reasonable $6.7 million in 2022-23.
Duarte lacks Anunoby’s heft and defensive versatility, but the 25-year-old scored 13.1 points per game and shot 36.9 percent from distance as a rookie. He’d fit cleanly into a rotation that could use another guard behind Fred VanVleet and Gary Trent Jr. Meanwhile, Turner would give Toronto the center it lacks while also adding even more stretch to its preferred five-out looks.
Anunoby is under contract for two more seasons plus a player option, and he still feels like a player that has another level (or two) of development ahead. The Raptors wouldn’t normally part with someone like that for Turner’s expiring salary, but Anunoby may not be happy with Toronto, and you have to assume terms of a Turner extension would be discussed prior to the consummation of a deal like this.
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The Trade: John Collins and Kevin Huerter to the Charlotte Hornets for Terry Rozier, Kelly Oubre Jr. and PJ Washington
despite clear intentions, the Atlanta Hawks couldn’t find a taker for John Collins on draft night. No problem. They can move him in a deal that doesn’t involve picks.
Duke wing AJ Griffin, whom the Hawks selected at No. 16, doesn’t necessarily overlap with Collins. But Griffin is expected to contribute primarily as a shooter, which might make it easier for Atlanta to use Kevin Huerter as a supplementary piece.
This revamped version of the Hawks has Terry Rozier as a dynamic secondary playmaker behind (or next to) Trae Young, filling a potentially critical need with Bogdan Bogdanovic having recently undergone surgery on his right knee. He’s had issues with that knee since January 2021, and though Bogdanovic is a stellar combo guard, he hasn’t played more than 63 games in any of the past three seasons. More broadly, a team can never have too many shot-creators.
In addition to Rozier, Atlanta would add the length and defensive chaos of Kelly Oubre Jr. plus get a look at PJ Washington ahead of his restricted free agency in 2023. Though Collins is the better offensive player, Washington is a floor-stretching big who can slot in as a small-ball center with the right matchups.
The Charlotte Hornets’ side is simpler to explain. Collins is the biggest name in the deal and a potential All-Star if given a meatier role. He’d fit well at the 4 alongside rookie center Mark Williams or Mason Plumlee, who, yes, got his full $9.1 million salary guaranteed for 2022-23. Huerter’s shooting and underrated playmaking at the 2 would make him a strong fit next to LaMelo Ball, and his 6’7″ size would help offset the loss of length with Oubre’s departure.
Moving Collins has always seemed like a strange fixation for the Hawks, but if they’re still committed to getting rid of him, a return of rotation players who can add playmaking, defense and stretch would be a good way to go.
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The Trade: Deandre Ayton to the Indiana Pacers for Myles Turner
Myles Turner has been in trade rumors for months, and an Deandre Ayton exit from the Phoenix Suns has grown likelier every day since he and the team failed to agree on a preseason extension. Both centers figured to be in high demand, but two of the most sensible landing spots disappeared on draft night.
The Detroit Pistons landed Memphis’ Jalen Duren, and the Charlotte Hornets grabbed Mark Williams from Duke, removing two prime center openings that could have been filled by Turner or Ayton.
In fairness, Detroit is now even more flush with cap space after moving Jerami Grant to the Portland Trail Blazers. It’s not a lock that Duren’s presence will preclude the Pistons from signing Ayton to an offer sheet. But it’s certainly less plausible. Watch for the Pistons to target Miles Bridges instead.
We digress. The point here is to make a straight-up swap of likely-to-be-moved centers, sending Ayton to Indiana for Turner in a sign-and-trade deal. Indy’s cap space makes it possible to take on what will likely be a starting salary in the $30 million range for Ayton while sending out Turner’s $18 million expiring contract. Normally, base year compensation rules make an exchange like this prohibitively difficult, but the numbers just happen to check out here.
Turner would give the Suns more stretch and shot-blocking than Ayton, though his poor rebounding would be an issue. But if Phoenix is simply unwilling to pay Ayton the huge salary he might get on the market, it’s far better to get back a starting big on a reasonable salary than it is to just lose the 2018 No. 1 pick for nothing. Turner gives the Suns a chance to remain in the contender class, and he even adds new dimensions to an offense that got a little sticky in the postseason.
With Ayton, Indiana adds another cornerstone next to Tyrese Haliburton. For a Pacers team that hasn’t historically favored rebuilds, Ayton is an ideal fit. He’s young enough to improve but is already hugely productive and in possession of significant big-game experience. If Bennedict Mathurin is the real deal as an off-ball weapon with defensive potential, Indy will have a balanced core around which to construct its next great team.
Stats courtesy of NBA.com, Basketball Reference and Cleaning the Glass. Accurate through 2021-22 season. Salary info via Spotrac.