The Washington Wizards are really going for it, aren’t they?
They traded Bradley Beal, Kristaps Porzingis and Chris Paul in about 48 hours, and all of the deals are head-scratchers to one degree or another.
They trade Bradley Beal, a guy who has a 30 ppg season on his resume, is a three-time All-Star and has made an NBA team, and all they got was a handful of seconds and Chris Paul’s right to get mad at their young players? (Oh and Lanry Shamet – that’s right, I left out the “d” just like he does).
So they moved Kristaps Porzingis, the original unicorn who was coming off arguably the best season of his career, and could help any team, and they got a back-up point guard a second rounder and contract filler? Somehow the Celtics who got KP also ended up with two first round picks?
These guys are chumps! Idiots! Rob Babcook could run a better team!
And then Washington turned around and somehow traded a 38 year old making 30 million for a guy a decade younger who is having a 20ppg season his Resume, plus a prospect (Ryan Rollins), and protected first and second round picks?
Like what? This was a guy the Phoenix Suns were talking about waving two weeks ago!
To paraphrase James Carville – “it’s the contracts, stupid.”
Welcome to what looks like the early days of a significant shift in how NBA teams view contracts in light of the new CBA.
(Very briefly, the new CBA makes going over the various tax caps increasingly destructive to a franchise’s ability to compete. It’s not just paying a tax to the other teams, it’s losing the ability to combine player salaries to (a trade for a player with a larger salary, forfeiture of certain exemptions to sign free agents and even waive the right to trade.)
Beal’s contract is so huge – averaging over $50M. year for four more years that even for a guy with his resume he was a negative asset. For the most part, NBA fans seemed to understand that: good (but not great) player + terrible contract = mediocre return. While Beal’s no-trade clause didn’t help, even without it, it’s hard to see who was in line for that deal.
With KP, his opt-in seemed a bit like his own veto – if he didn’t like a potential destination, he could just choose free-agency and let Washington screw up, but the bigger reason the Celtics got value is that Marcus Smart has three years left on a deal that is seen as a significant underpayment. The Grizzlies were willing to opt out of picks because they get cost certainty and a player who fits well.
While the Celtics are getting a good fit in Porzingis, they will also have to wrestle with the idea of giving him a big extension in one year. Last year’s version of Porzingis suits up on literally every team in the NBA (more on that later), but comes with significant injury risk. With the new CBA, signing a guy like KP to a $35M+ contract presents some significant, even franchise-shattering, opportunities. Even if Porzingis stays healthy, is he really a guy you can pay that much for? Especially if you have to pay Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown a combined $100 million a year?
The Chris Paul deal turns this concept on its head. Yes, Paul is overpaid by $30.8 million, but his second year is totally non-guaranteed. Meanwhile, Jordan Poole will pull in $128 million over four years. Between his disappearing act in the playoffs and the defensive problems he presents even when he scores, Poole’s contract aged like milk almost immediately after he signed it, with some NBA observers calling it one of the worst in the league.
Again, in a league where running deep into the luxury tax is no longer just about money, but losing important team-building levers, can a struggling team afford to have those kinds of deals on the books? The reason the Wiz did so well in the Paul deal is because the answer for the Warriors was “no.” They were willing to move draft assets to both get a player in Paul who they thought would help more now, but also to clean up their cap sheets going forward.
It’s crazy to think that less than a year ago today, the Minnesota Timberwolves shocked the NBA world when they traded players and four first-round picks to the Utah Jazz for All-NBA player Rudy Gobert.
At the time, the deal was seen as a potential overpayment. Now it seems like disastrously bad timing, like buying an apartment building as an investment property in Chernobyl in March 1986.
So where does this leave the Raptors? Frankly, in a difficult spot. The Raptors’ best trade asset is Pascal Siakam, but given the Wiz deals, how valuable should he be?
Pascal Siakam is a very good NBA player, honestly, he is underrated in his home market. He is a category stopper who plays hard in defence, is incredibly good, as 5th most efficient in the leaguein the post, and has already proven that he can produce on the biggest stage.
Remember, any team that trades for Siakam isn’t just trading for the player they’re trading for obligation to sign him to a long-term extension.
As good as Siakam is, in this new environment teams have to be very careful about how much money they offer. Unlike Porzingis, Siakam isn’t guaranteed to fit in every situation. Because KP can shoot and protect the rim at a high level, there isn’t a system he wouldn’t fit in. If he was in Phoenix instead of Beal, he could space the floor and protect Kevin Durant and Devin Booker in that other end.
His fit in Boston is just as seamless, and it would be on any challenger you can think of.
Siakam? While he is arguably the better player, we have ample evidence to say that he is not a good enough offensive player to be the main creator on a title team. He would be an awkward fit in Phoenix because he doesn’t space the floor and his considerable skills on the ball would be wasted as the third guy. Miami could use it badly on the ball juice, but can you really play Bam Adebayo, Jimmy Butler and Siakam together? When is Siakam the best three-point shooter in the bunch?
The point here is that Siakam is in a strange middle ground, definitely good enough to command a massive contract, and yet a specialized enough player that most NBA teams wouldn’t or couldn’t give him one.
That’s why the rumors surrounding the Atlanta Hawks offer are both exciting and depressing. On the one hand, the Hawks are exactly the kind of team that should have Siakam. Siakam screening in the pick and roll for Trae Young would be almost indefensible. If Young gets room, he can take Siakam’s man to the can, or bury the step-back, if not, then whoever was guarding Young, Siakam would mash him in the post. Put a double on either, and both are more than good enough passers to send the ball pinging around the perimeter – that would be a devastating combination. Atlanta also has two potential shot-blocking centers to anchor a defense, though they would have to find a way to import more shooting (Kevin Huerter would look good out there in this scenario).
Since Siakam is such a good fit for Atlanta (or Portland or Sacramento – my favorite Kings deal would see them get Siakam and then move Sabonis in a separate deal to get the #10 pick so they could take Dereck Lively II – that kind of leaping rim protector who could quickly anchor a playoff defense), you’d expect Atlanta to offer a big bounty.
But not really. Not when the main returning asset is supposed to be Dejounte Murray, who is also a free agent in a year and offers a similar problem to Siakam in that, as good as he is, his major weaknesses (three-point shooting, effective scoring ), means you have to build a very specific type of team around him. Which means making him the kind of contract extension he undoubtedly, and understandably, believes he’s earned could hinder you from building that team. And that’s before worrying about whether Toronto would have to pay some kind of ‘Canada Tax’ to get him to stay.
That’s why OG Anunoby is likely a better trade asset — he’d fit on any team in the NBA, and his contract demands are limited by the league’s understanding of his role. That’s why Fred VanVleet might not find the bag waiting for him in free agency. If Orlando isn’t 100% in love with the idea of Fred being their missing piece, who else wants to tie up their meaningful cap space for the next 3-4 years on an excellent but undersized guard who can’t pressure the rim ?
Perhaps Atlanta or Portland will become desperate enough to give in to what is reported to be a “skyrocketing” Toronto asking price, but if they remain patient, the pressure will turn on Toronto. Even if the Raps take a step forward this year, will they think a $35-40 million dollar per year deal makes sense for Siakam? Or will it effectively price them out of other team-building options and saddle them with the type of player and contract combination destined to make for a subpar trade package in this new NBA.
Before they know it, Toronto fans could be watching as a face of the franchise is shipped off for what appears to be pennies on the dollar.