How’s everybody feeling this morning? While the draft itself is (somehow) tomorrow, the NBA’s transaction mill took center stage last night in the late hours of Eastern time. The Bucks agreed to a pair of deals that landed Jrue Holiday from the Pelicans and Bogdan Bogdanovic in a sign-and-trade with the Kings. Separately, there’s been tons of speculation that the Rockets would make a move, and of course, they delivered by trading … Robert Covington (to Portland). Chris Paul even got traded to the Suns on Monday. We’re not even halfway through the week.
The compressed nature of this offseason, with the trade moratorium lifting Monday, the draft on Wednesday, and free agency opening Friday, has created a massive transactional crunch for the entire league. At this point, everything is connected and has to be treated as such. So here’s a rundown of what you may have missed yesterday, and the latest I’m hearing around the NBA surrounding the draft, all the trades, and more.
— Well, it’s not a stretch to say that Bucks now have the best starting five in the league, with Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez joined by Holiday, who was likely the best player available to them on the market, and Bogdanović, a proven high-level three-point marksman. Both are strong fits with Milwaukee’s philosophy, and this ups the ante around the league in a real way. This would seem to be a convincing case for Giannis to sign an extension, and Milwaukee is going championship or bust with the intent of convincing him to stay put. The Bucks will be the Eastern Conference favorites—unless, of course, James Harden gets traded this week.
As far as the draft is concerned, The Athletic’s David Aldridge reported that Milwaukee’s No. 24 pick is part of the return for New Orleans, which now gives them a total of five selections, the highest being No. 13. Also fascinating: the two future first-rounders and two pick swaps (per various reports) also included in the deal. The details on these picks had not emerged as of this time, so it’s hard to totally assess what type of capital the Pelicans are getting, but it’s certainly a significant return on Holiday. These picks, coupled with the return from the Anthony Davis trade, give New Orleans a cabinet of draft assets rivaled only by Oklahoma City. It’s an advantageous place to be long-term. The Pelicans also took back Eric Bledsoe and George Hill from the Bucks, two veteran guards who can help New Orleans compete this season—or eventually be moved again.
— Ok, some real draft scuttle: The Bulls continue to stump the remainder of the NBA with their intentions at No. 4. Although Deni Avdija is a common match with Chicago, there are a number of conflicting rumors circulating around the league, the latest (and most fascinating) item being that the Bulls are interested in Patrick Williams. Per sources, Williams has worked out for Chicago. Beyond that, it’s still unclear what the actual interest level level is there. At this point, it’s worth naming every other player linked to Chicago, a list that includes Obi Toppin, Tyrese Haliburton, Killian Hayes and, in the event he’s on the board, LaMelo Ball.
— The Spurs appear to be angling to move up from their spot in the lottery at No. 11 and are open to moving established veterans in what would seem to be an attempt to get even younger up and down the roster. LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan (who picked up his option on Monday) are entering the final year of their contracts, and this is a good time for San Antonio to explore trades, with many teams operating with an eye toward next summer’s starry free-agent class. A contending team could acquire Aldridge or DeRozan now, play out the season, and then make use of the subsequent cap relief either of those players would create.
— Speaking of the Thunder, some quick thoughts on Monday’s deal that sent Chris Paul to the Suns (which almost feels like old news). I like this gamble for Phoenix, which is entering an important competitive window and needs to get the most out of it. Oklahoma City’s asking price doesn’t appear to have been exorbitant, with a 2022 first-rounder with rolling lottery protections being the most fascinating piece of the deal and Ricky Rubio, Kelly Oubre, Ty Jerome, Jalen Lecque and Abdel Nader coming back. It’s a good return in that it preserves future flexibility, opens up roster space, and ties up a minimal amount of money in the future. Plus, Oubre and Rubio could conceivably be traded again as the Thunder maneuver further. It’s notable that the Thunder ended up with that future pick instead of No. 10 for a couple of reasons. From OKC’s perspective, I actually prefer the pick they got: The Thunder are well ahead of the curve when it comes to familiarizing themselves with teenage prospects, so there may not be another team in the league with a better sense of what future first-rounders are truly worth. It’s probably a good proposition for them.
— From a Phoenix standpoint, it’s worth wondering how this deal changes the team’s plans at No. 10. Previously, I’d heard the Suns linked primarily to guards, and they were also thought to be considering trading back. If Oubre’s departure and Paul’s arrival alter the approach, it could make more sense for Phoenix to look at a wing, with Isaac Okoro and Devin Vassell potentially on the board. I placed Kira Lewis with the Suns in yesterday’s mock draft, but that may end up looking different in the next update.
— Circling back to the Bucks-Kings deal for Bogdanović, let’s not gloss over the fact that the Bucks had to surrender a promising young piece in Donte DiVincenzo in this deal. That’s a pretty decent pickup for Sacramento, as DiVincenzo should pair well with De’Aaron Fox, and the hope would be that those are your long-term starters. You also have to think his presence, along with that of the disgruntled Buddy Hield (for now) means the Kings look to address a different position at No. 12.
— Lest we forget, Houston netted the No. 16 pick, Trevor Ariza and a protected 2021 first from Portland for Robert Covington, who will slide perfectly into the Blazers’ lineup at forward. It’s a great addition for them, and also a good bit of business for the Rockets, who gave up a first and Clint Capela in the trade that brought him in at the February deadline. Of course, now you wonder what this means for James Harden and Russell Westbrook, with Covington an essential piece in the small-ball approach they employed last season. All bets are off at this point as to what the Rockets’ rotation is going to look like next season, but it has to be read as a signal toward more changes coming. Houston hasn’t actually picked in the first round since taking Sam Dekker at No. 18 in 2015, but Daryl Morey, of course, is gone. The Rockets are now a bit of a wild card drafting in the teens.
SI’s NBA offseason coverage
– Jeremy Woo’s latest mock draft
– Jeremy Woo’s final Big Board
– Crean dishes on projected No. 1 Edwards
– MANNIX: James Wiseman makes his case
– MANNIX: Harden rumors bring Houston to a crossroads
– WOO: Ranking the top 50 free agents
Grading the trades
For a rundown of yesterday’s two massive deals, we turn to Rohan Nadkarni…
Chris Paul to the Suns
Suns: A | Thunder: A
This move makes too much sense for Phoenix. Devin Booker has played with a rotating cast of point guards during his tenure with the Suns, and none of them has been as talented or well-rounded as Paul. CP3 proved last season he still has plenty left in the tank, and not only is he more than willing to mentor younger players, but he’s also capable of leading them to wins. Paul will help ease so much of the burden for Booker, as the primary ball-handler and secondary scorer. His pick-and-roll prowess should also be a boon for former No. 1 pick Deandre Ayton, who should benefit almost immediately from Paul’s ability to find good looks for his big men.
Jrue Holiday to the Bucks
Bucks: C+ | Pelicans: B
If this is what it takes to keep Giannis happy, I guess you give up as many draft picks as necessary? Holiday is a clear upgrade over both Bledsoe and Hill—he’s a staunch defender at multiple positions, with a more varied offensive game than anyone the Bucks are giving up. Milwaukee couldn’t afford to go this offseason without making a significant upgrade to the roster, and acquiring a talent such as Holiday while keeping Khris Middleton on the team is hugely important. The draft picks going out will raise eyebrows, but the cost should probably be more closely associated with keeping Antetokounmpo as opposed to acquiring Holiday. Milwaukee has to go all-in on keeping Giannis beyond next season, which means overpaying in a deal such as this one.
A note on the second-round landscape
File this aside under draft minutiae, but, yes, there are two rounds. And while the second round is always a bit of a circus, with teams trading up, down, back and out, buying and selling picks and drafting players the casual fan has almost certainly never heard of, that may be even more the case this year, noting the NBA’s current financial landscape. Many around the league have acknowledged the possibility that teams might look to spend less around the fringes an effect that directly impacts incoming rookies. There are picks for sale as usual, but there may be less leaguewide interest in directly buying into the second round this year as some owners hope to reduce nonessential spending. That may mean more teams than usual carrying fewer than 15 players to start the season, or offering fewer exhibit-10 contracts (intended to obtain a prospect’s G League rights) due to the uncertain state of the G League season.
Look for everyone to try and take advantage of two-way contracts, however—as part of the league’s new agreement, two-way contract language has now shifted to allow those players to play a maximum of 50 NBA games, rather than the previous, somewhat nebulous stipulation of 45 days on a roster over the course of an entire season. This is a good amendment that strongly increases the utility of those roster spots, and should facilitate a much better development situation for rookies. I’d expect a number of teams picking in the second round to look to use their picks to prioritize filling their two allotted two-way slots, an option that looks even more team-friendly given a dearth of appealing international stash prospects.
The top available options willing to stay overseas are Argentina’s Leandro Bolmaro (No. 25 on our big board), Cameroonian forward Paul Eboua (No. 54) and Israeli point guard Yam Madar (No. 58); much-ballyhooed projected first-rounder Serbian Aleksej Pokuševski intends to spend next season on an NBA roster, I’m told, which takes him out of the stash conversation. In other words, these are relatively slim pickings on that front. Agents representing midlevel and fringe clientele might have more incentive than usual to get their clients onto rosters by any means possible. A wide range of draft-eligible American seniors are already in Europe and are willing to be stashed by teams, but most of those players would have been bound for the G League under normal circumstances. None of these smaller moves will grab headlines, but there’s opportunity for teams to get particularly creative around the fringes.
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