The trade deadline is fast approaching (Thursday, February 8th), so who might be on the move between now and then? Nikola Mirotic, on the Bulls, and Kemba Walker, on the Hornets, are both publicly available to be traded, according to their teams. So, where should they go? Both are good, young players (they’re both 26) with affordable contracts. Let’s only consider playoff teams, even though a lottery team could very well trade for either or both (and, we’ll talk about a few non-playoff teams), and realistic scenarios. We’ll try not to worry ourselves with salary too much, but if a trade idea is basically impossible due to the salaries involved, then let’s consider it scuttled. However, when a team wants a player, they usually don’t let salaries get in the way; you can always dump contracts with a third team. In fact, that’s exactly what third teams are for and why they exist.
So, where could these two go?
The Bulls are 17-28 and they seem dead set on trading Niko, especially since he publicly demanded it. The return of Isaiah Thomas from injury makes this more interesting because a public demand for a trade has to be considered in the light of the recent Kyrie Irving and Paul George demands. The Pacers got an All Star in Victor Oladipo and the Cavaliers got an All Star and an attractive, and valuable, first round pick. (Plus, the Bulls just traded Jimmy Butler for a wonderful return, too, even if they had more leverage in that situation.) Both those positive returns to the trading team suggest the Bulls should DEFINITELY trade Niko, but! Stranger things have happened than pro franchises standing pat when everyone else IN THE WORLD knows you have to make a move. A year ago we all thought that the GarPax regime in Chicago was hopelessly broken; now we feel differently. If they screw this trade up, all the recent good feelings will disappear faster than a warm feeling on Soldier Field in February.
So, where could he go? The 26 year old is currently 10th in the NBA in 3PM per game. He scores more than Carmelo, Eric Bledsoe, and Wiggins, and does it on fewer shot attempts (Niko has a 49 FG% on the season). He has the ninth best true shooting percentage in the league (of players who play at least 20 minutes per game). Aside from blocks and steals, ALL of his numbers are career bests, including his ratios (he’s shooting 45% from three point range).
Oh yeah, and he’s 6’10”. He’s what we now call a “gasp! Mommy, mommy, look! A Unicorn!” Niko is possibly the single most significant player who is likely to get traded. If he goes to the Spurs or the Rockets, they can legit put up a fight with the Warriors. If he goes to the Jazz, he instantly upgrades their offense and maybe, maybe, they can sneak into the playoffs. Mirotic is the kind of player who makes sense for almost every team.
The least likely playoff teams to trade for him are Boston and Golden State, and it’s doubtful he’d go to the Pelicans (on the other hand, let’s full-on embrace the Nawlins Opposite Day ethos, and add another enormous wing who can shoot from outside to the front court of Boogie and the Brow; who knows, maybe they become a dynasty?). But, literally almost every other team would be better with him: Toronto would add another shooter and small-ball big who can shoot; the Cavs would have another tall shooter to try and get over KD and Draymond; Minnesota could switch Niko and Ancient Taj depending on what they needed during a game; we already mentioned Houston and San Antonio; I don’t think the Heat will trade for him, but he’s better than some of their players, so why not, if you can?; he’d be devastating on the Wizards, especially if he replaced Gortat in a “small” lineup of John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Jr., and Kelly Oubre, Jr.; he’d provide elite outside shooting for the Bucks, and the Pacers, and the 76ers; he’s better than Carmelo Anthony this season (sorry, Thunder fans, had to); and, I have a feeling he’d be brilliant in Portland.
But, my absolute favorite is kind of a weird one: Niko to the LA Clippers. This would probably require a third team, but I love the idea of a front court of Blake and Niko (and, Danilo Cincinnatus Gallinari, if his butt ever heals). The Clippers could let DeAndre Jordan go and bring in Niko; if the third team were the Cavs, then the Bulls would probably end up with the Brooklyn pick. LA didn’t think they’d be in the playoffs this year, anyway, so why not capitalize and get Blake a young partner to run with over the next few seasons? This team needs youth but that doesn’t always mean draft picks.
I’m not including the Pistons or the Knicks or the Nuggets out of spite. I’m mad those three teams are now out of the playoffs. Inexcusable for the Pistons, and kinda ditto for Denver. The Clippers were injured most of the season and you STILL can’t box them out from the 8th seed? Get real. The Knicks shouldn’t be in the playoffs, but I like the idea of Mirotic ending up there. I think he and the Unicorn hisself, Porzingis, would be a dynamite duo.
Kemba’s one of the best point guards in the NBA, period. He’s the fifth highest scoring true point guard (I’m not counting Harden nor Lou Williams), and he dishes more dimes than Kyrie. He’s also top 15 in 3PM over the last 30 days (hey, look, Niko Mirotic is 16th!), so he’s an outside threat who can help space your floor.
The Charlotte Hornets are 18-25. They need to make a trade (well, “need”; they could obviously just buy out their expensive players and not divest themselves of their actual good assets, but, of course they won’t do that; when do rich people actually pay for things?), and they need to try and dump one of their, ugh, “onerous” contracts, also known as “bad” contracts (players getting a lot of money is always “bad”; owners/front offices getting a lot of money is always “good”), and the only way to do that is by attaching said contract to Kemba.
Again, if a team really wants a player, salary usually doesn’t get in the way. Teams have their stretch provisions, too, to make buying out contracts more palatable. Or something. (Why do they count against the cap, at all? Because owners don’t want it to be common practice to straight up dump players and give them all their money; there must be a downside to a player receiving all that cash, lest fans begin to implore the VERY, VERY wealthy owners to just bite the bullet and waive players more often, thus spending more money.)
Unfortunately, the Pistons won’t be able to trade for them because God is clearly a Bulls fan. (Yo, seriously, though, get real: how do the Bulls keep falling into good teams? I don’t get it. They don’t deserve it! I love watching this Bulls team. I love Baron Markkanen and Kris Dunn and the Dentist and Niko. I can’t stand it. Why are the Bulls trading Mirotic instead of Bobby Portis again?)
So, where does Kemba make sense?
Honestly, I don’t see him in the East, unless Detroit is actually able to pry him away for a collection of their expensive garbage. (I know this is the Kemba section but I can’t hold it in any longer re Mirotic to Detroit: Jon Leuer just went down, opening a roster spot for a power forward, PLEASE! PLEASE HAPPEN! NIKO WILL BE OUR RASHARD LEWIS BUT WITH FEWER, Y’KNOW, UM, ASTERISKS! I know it won’t happen. My God is a vengeful one, and I sorely distressed him, somehow. No way this happens, right? Detroit sends StanJohn, an expiring, and a pick for him? Please, Jesus, be merciful and let this happen.) Anywho, Kemba’s better than RJax, fersher, and I’d love to have Uncle Marv in the D, but I feel like Charlotte probably has better deals on the table. For instance, Brooklyn should absolutely just trade Professor Dinwiddie for Kemba. Or, how about D’Angelo Russell? Kemba’s probably a better player than DAR will ever be, no?
But, let’s confine ourselves to playoff teams. Neither Boston, nor Toronto needs a PG, nor does Golden State or Houston. So, the top 2 seeds in each conference are out.
Would Cleveland dump I.T. to get Kemba? Maybe. Would they improve? On defense, yes. This is a defensible trade. Kemba’s basically got the same defensive rating as Paul George, and though he’s short, he’s also taller than Isaiah Thomas. Throw in some salary filler, and the contracts will work, especially with certain draft picks involved. Out of all the realistic trades, this is probably the best one that Cleveland could make. I’d rather have Kemba than DeAndre Jordan.
The Heat, Wizards, and Bucks don’t need point guards, so they’re out. Indiana is VERY interesting. Would you trade Thad Young (yes, full stop, for anything), Cory Joseph and a pick for Kemba and Uncle Marv Williams?
Kemba for Fultz and a pick is defensible, too, but only because the Philly front office seems intent on destroying Ben Simmons’ value as a point forward by forcing him to abdicate the ball to “true” point guards. Also, has anyone noticed that Joel Embiid likes to play with TJ McConnell? I mean, all due respect to the fine people of Philadelphia, but who gives a fudge sheet about Markelle Fultz? I would trade him for Kemba RIGHT AWAY. On the other hand, I wouldn’t ruin the Chosen One by forcing him to play off the ball with a traditional point guard, so I’d trade Fultz for a NON-point guard, but whatever, man, whatever.
Kemba to the West is a liiiiiitle bit more interesting. The Spurs could DEFINITELY use Kemba, and he’d be an upgrade for Minnesota, New Orleans, and the Clippers (ditto the Nuggets; I’d rather combine some of my Denver guards into one Kemba, if possible). Could LA send DJ and/or Lou Williams and get Kemba back? Would they want him playing with Teodosic (Austin Haunted Rivers is hurt right now, so let’s not have his presence block any trades)? Kemba is an obvious upgrade over Jeff Teague, and I like the potential of Minnesota using a Kemba trade to rid themselves of Wiggins. The money would take some maneuvering and you’d probably have to pay a third team to get involved, but a team of Kemba, Jimmy Butler, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Ancient Taj, and Karl-Anthony Towns is better than what they have now. Plus, Thibs would just love MKG, don’tcha think?
Kemba in New Orleans would probably mean that he and Jrue Holiday start, which would continue the Pelicans’ weird construction of point guards and bigs, with a single, solitary wing sprinkled in there for spice sometimes. The fact that both Boogie AND the Brow can distribute the ball means that Nawlins doesn’t need to run a typical point guard. Would Kemba and Jrue mesh? Lemme ask ya this: why wouldn’t they? Jrue already plays with Rondo, and the tandem of Chris Paul and James Harden is working out in Houston, so why not in the Big Easy, too?
Regarding the Spurs, all I can say is this: Kemba, Kawhi, and Slow Kyle. That’s a dynasty. Or, as Stephen Miller pronounces it for some reason, that’s a “din-est-ee.” Does he say “al-yoo-mini-um,” too? And, “La-bore-ator-ee?”
Regardless, it’s always a shame to watch a good, young player get traded, especially because of mistakes made by the front office. Charlotte shouldn’t be in this position. They shouldn’t have to trade one of the best players they’ve ever had because they were foolish in handing out massive contracts. Honestly, just keep Kemba and cut Batum or Dwight and stretch them out, no? Maybe you can trade the one you keep as an expiring next year and then, BAM!, you’re right back in the thick of things with a young, relatively cheap team? I thought the Charlotte front office was supposed to be savvy and “New NBA?” They seem just as stupid as all the other dumb teams.
And, as for Niko: Chicago shouldn’t trade him, either. Why is Bobby Portis better than him again? Because he’s cheaper? Why isn’t a team of Dunn, Dentist, X, Niko and Markkanen a good idea? Neither of those bigs want to play center, but, um, who cares? That’s the way the NBA is trending, with bigs who can shoot, so best adapt before the game passes you by. Remember Roy Hibbert? Besides, it’s not like these slimmer centers would be banging big bodies like ZBo every night; they’ll be defending mirror images of themselves, for the most part, unicorns who won’t beat you black and blue.
Both these teams are making a mistake in trading their good, young players. But, the worst part about it is, everybody understands and agrees that it must happen, for this is how the NBA operates.