Jeremy Berman breaks down the motivations behind yesterday’s blockbuster 4-team trade between Atlanta, Denver, Houston, and Minnesota.
Last night, we saw our first trade of NBA trade deadline week. Fans who thought the league would be sputtering into trade deadline week were sorely mistaken, as we are all witness to the largest trade since 2011, when 13 players were involved and Carmelo Anthony was traded to the New York Knicks. Let’s take a look at the perspectives each team had, and why the trade makes sense. First, here’s a summary of what each team sent out and received:
Atlanta Hawks -
Out: Evan Turner, Brooklyn 2020 1st Round Pick, Golden State 2024 2nd Round Pick
In: Clint Capela, Nene
Waived: Chandler Parsons
Denver Nuggets -
Out: Malik Beasley, Juancho Hernangomez, Jarred Vanderbilt
In: Noah Vonleh, Shabazz Napier, Keita Bates-Diop, Gerald Green, Houston 2020 1st Round Pick
Houston Rockets -
Out: Clint Capela, Nene, Gerald Green, Houston 2020 1st Round Pick
In: Robert Covington, Jordan Bell, Golden State 2024 2nd Round Pick
Minnesota Timberwolves -
Out: Robert Covington, Noah Vonleh, Shabazz Napier, Jordan Bell, Keita Bates-Diop
In: Malik Beasley, Juancho Hernangomez, Jarred Vanderbilt, Brooklyn 2020 1st Round Pick, Evan Turner
Atlanta Hawks Perspective
It has been public knowledge for at least a month now that Atlanta was in pursuit of a high-level veteran that would complement Trae Young. Further, they were looking for a player with playoff experience to buoy a slightly discouraged team that is one of the least experienced in the league.
Capela checks both boxes. He is under contract for 3.5 more years at a reasonable cap hit - averaging about $17 million over the 3 years following this one. He’s young enough at age 25 to grow with Young, Huerter, Collins, Reddish, and Hunter, but brings 61 games of playoff experience with him, easily the most of the young core.
On the court, Capela will play a huge role in raising the team’s defensive ability with his versatility and rim protection (Atlanta is currently 28th in defensive rating). He’ll provide another vertical spacer for Trae Young, and the two should combine to form one of the deadliest pick and roll duos in the league.
As a team with all of their own future firsts and plenty of seconds, Brooklyn’s Lottery Protected 1st Round Pick and Golden State’s 2024 2nd Round Pick do not hold a ton of value to the Hawks at this time. To take a step forward, they need guys that have proven they can play at a high level on the roster for the next few years, rather than more development pieces. This move accomplishes that.
The only real negative for Atlanta is that Capela will likely help improve this season’s record somewhat, hurting their chances for a top 3 pick in the 2020 draft.
Cap notes for the Hawks:
Capela’s salary for 2020 brings their max room this summer to about $67 million.
Atlanta could take in Nene with cap room, and create a $3.7 million trade exception. However, that trade exception will disappear in July in the likely event that they use cap room.
Atlanta will have to waive Chandler Parsons to make room for Nene, before likely also waiving Nene.
Denver Nuggets Perspective
For the Nuggets, this trade was about extending assets. The writing was on the wall for both Malik Beasley and Juancho Hernangomez. It’s clear now that Denver had already made the decision that they were not willing to pay either restricted free agent what the asking price might be, so the front office decided to get whatever value out of them they could. They were both playing less than 20 minutes per game this season, and have seen their shooting percentages drop significantly.
Jarred Vanderbilt had not seen many minutes with the Nuggets this season, and without their own G League team, Denver was sending him to Delaware to get minutes. He likely adds more value to the Timberwolves than the currently competing Nuggets.
In return, Denver received Houston’s 2020 1st Round Pick, currently projected to fall at #22 based on today’s standings. Surely Denver was hoping to extract even more value from the market for the two restricted free agents, but a late 1st round pick is not a bad return for two players you don’t see a future with. Kudos to the front office for extending their assets. Along with the pick, Denver will get a chance to evaluate Noah Vonleh, Shabazz Napier, and Keita Bates-Diop in the Nuggets’ system, and can get off all three this summer if the fit is not right.
For an organization that has exhibited its unwillingness to pay the tax in the past, this gives the Nuggets more breathing room to potentially re-sign some combination of Jerami Grant, Paul Millsap, Mason Plumlee, and Torrey Craig if they so choose.
Cap notes for the Nuggets:
Denver can budget about $30 million to re-sign these four rotational players and stay below the tax. Whether that is possible or likely is another question.
Denver will likely waive Gerald Green and pursue another contributor via the buyout market.
There are multiple variations possible, but the Nuggets could create $2.6 million and $1.4 million trade exceptions in one scenario.
Houston Rockets Perspective
With this trade, the Rockets are fully invested in small ball, unless they make another deal for a starting center. After trading Capela, the only true bigs on the roster are Tyson Chandler, Isaiah Hartenstein, and Jordan Bell. That means PJ Tucker will likely spend even more time at center, where he’s already been playing about 20% of his minutes according to Basketball Reference.
Houston is committing to switching 1-5 with their likely starters, and opening up the lane for James Harden and Russell Westbrook to attack one-on-one. They will have 5 three-point shooters on the floor at almost all times, and at the end of games will make it very tough for opposing centers to stay on the floor. However, they will be relying on PJ Tucker (who has been somewhat successful in the past) to deal with potential playoff opponents Nikola Jokic, Rudy Gobert, and Kristaps Porzingis toward the end of games.
Covington fits in well with the Rockets with his penchant for chucking threes and the ability to guard multiple positions. He’s likely the best version of a 3-and-D player that was available on the market. While a less proven piece, Bell does provide potential to fit into what the Rockets are trying to do, as sort of a mini-Capela in limited minutes.
Capela and their own 1st may have been a slightly high price to pay in my opinion, but the Rockets are committed to executing their vision to the fullest extent.
Cap Notes for the Rockets:
Houston has successfully given themselves about $6 million in breathing room below the tax as the trade is currently constructed.
They now have 13 players on the roster and could become a player in the buyout market.
The Rockets will create trade exceptions of $3.5 million, $2.5 million, and $1.6 million.
Minnesota Timberwolves Perspective
Although this trade does not end up with Minnesota acquiring D’Angelo Russell, it’s still a solid trade. Covington, while under contract and a valuable player, is worth more to contending teams than he is for the struggling Timberwolves right now. Other than Covington, Minnesota only lost fringe rotation players that likely wouldn’t be with them in the future.
Minnesota is exactly the type of team that should be looking to sign restricted free agents. They are not in a cap crunch in the future and need to acquire young talent and try to nurture it whenever possible. Beasley, Hernangomez, and Vanderbilt all fit that mold of players whom Minnesota should be pursuing. While the team will still need to find a point guard of the future to be successful, at least they acquired some intriguing pieces to help supplement Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins for the time being. While the 2020 draft class is generally weak, there is a good crop of point guards that the Timberwolves could look to take with their first-rounder this season.
While it’s not a guarantee that Brooklyn makes the playoffs this year, it is looking likely. In that case, the 1st round pick the Timberwolves received will convey this year. If not, it’s likely to convey next season when Kevin Durant is back to full health.
Cap Notes for the Timberwolves:
Minnesota will have plenty of room under the tax to re-sign Beasley and Hernangomez this summer.
With Gorgui Dieng’s salary still on the books, Minnesota will still have the ability to combine his salary with another player to salary match for D’Angelo Russell this summer.
This trade grades out as a positive for every team involved. Each team accomplished its goals while giving up what could be deemed as pretty much fair value. The concept of this trade was a good one. While there were a lot of moving pieces involved, it seems as though each front office and salary cap group did a great job of hashing out creative ways to get this trade done.