Like many Magic fans, I too am starting to thoroughly enjoy this rebuilding phase that our team is going through. The search for young talent and assets, combined with an approach that prioritizes the future, rather than stressing about the present, is exciting because we all have that spring of eternal hope that we will find that young key piece that will turn this franchise around. It also helps that it appears Rob Hennigan knows what he is doing in terms of scouting talent as well as being a shrewd and principled negotiator.
However, as gifted as Hennigan is, he is not an all-powerful Superman of GM's. When I read fellow fans' ideas for trades, I'm usually shaking my head at how much they over value the assets we have or overestimate the willingness of other GM's to give up young talent. Yes, we were able to pry (or perhaps steal) Tobias Harris away from the Milwaukee Bucks, but let's be honest: it takes a certain special kind of ineptitude to pull off some of the moves the Bucks' organization has, (Exhibit A: Zaza Pachulia).
The fact of the matter, is that when you look at trading guys like Jameer, Big Baby, and Afflalo, you have to step out of your Magic-fan shoes and remember that around the league, Jameer is still viewed as an undersized PG on the wrong side of 30 and Davis is viewed as a highly serviceable backup PF, but just that--a backup. Afflalo is the most attractive trade chip because he is 27, has a decent contract, and can score the ball and defend. But there are only certain types of teams that are in the market for their services. So, as much as I'd like to think we could get a couple more Tobias Harris's for the three of these guys, I just don't see it happening. However, what is the ultimate goal when trading these players?
Get Their Contracts Off The Books. Period.
If we can get something in return, that's terrific. But really, we just want to create minutes for the youth on the roster and clear cap space so that we can sign players that fit into our rebuilding process or have the space to keep some of these young guys when their rookie contracts are up.
The certain type of teams that will be in the market for these players are contenders who will have low value draft picks they might be willing to part with in exchange veteran talent that will help them win now. The team I'm looking at today is the Indiana Pacers. Here is my proposed trade:
G Aaron Afflalo
2014 1st Round Draft Pick
First, let's look at the basketball side of this trade. Paul George is a small forward and not a shooting guard. He plays much better at the 3 spot because he can use his quickness and athleticism against slower guys at the position, (save LeBron James) rather than speedier 2 guards. Moving the oft-injured, and now 30-year-old Granger allows George to start at his natural position while bringing in an all-around solid shooting guard in Afflalo, who's contract is all in his prime basketball years (27-30). A starting backcourt of Hill (6'3") and Afflalo (6'5") would still give Indiana good size, and Afflalo's skills as a defender would fit right in with the Pacers identity. In Glen Davis, they get the perfect backup to David West. Another talented defensive player, Davis would do more than fill the void left by Tyler Hansbrough while giving great energy off the bench along with sparkplug Lance Stephenson and newly-signed Chris Copeland. Davis' contract is also in his prime years.
Now, this deal would have a very real impact on Indiana's cap-situation. Currently, they are committed to $52 million according to basketball-reference.com but with the additions of CJ Watson, Chris Copeland, Solomon Hill, and the re-signing of David West, their payroll will be roughly $70 million. However, Paul George will be a restricted free agent at the end of the 2013-2014 season and while Indiana will undoubtedly match any offer for the young All-Star currently on his rookie contract, you can be certain a team will max him out in order to make Indiana pay a hefty price tag (Lance Stephenson is in the same situation, though he will probably demand only $4-6 million per year).
This means if they make this trade, committing to the contracts of Davis and Afflalo, they will have to go about $18 million into the luxury tax in order keep George (assuming the tax threshold is still roughly $72 million). Would they rather watch Granger's contract expire and save some money when re-signing George? Any other roster additions they would want to make would have to be minimum contracts as they would still be $4 million into the luxury tax once George is signed at the max. Or would they be willing to go all-in with a core of Hill-Afflalo-George-West-Hibbert over the next 2-3 years? The fact that they spent the money to re-sign David West might indicate they are willing to spend if it will deliver a championship. And the luxury tax is usually meant for those who want to win championships.
As for the Magic, they would get Granger's expiring $14 million dollar contract, which they could try to flip at the deadline (they would have to let Granger log major minutes to keep his trade value up) or simply let expire as he rides the pine. This would allow young players like Victor Oladipo and Tobias Harris to get the playing time they need to develop. Orlando would also get another first-round pick from the highly touted 2014 draft class, which they can use to draft another young player or use as a trading chip. Although it would likely be in the 20's and would certainly be no Andrew Wiggins, which is presumably why Indiana would be okay parting with it, Hennigan has proved that he can find NBA level talent deep in the draft.
In my opinion, getting a draft pick + expiring contract in return for Afflalo/Davis would be a great win. Even if this trade happens during the season and Granger has already gotten hurt (as he predictably will), I would still make it if I were Rob Hennigan. Assuming that Orlando does indeed reach buyouts with Turkoglu and Harrington, that would mean the only veteran contract left on the books at the end of the 2013-2014 season would be Jameer Nelson, and ...I know I may be alone here... I don't see the Magic trading him. Maybe it's just me, but I think the organization values his leadership and presence in the locker room enough that they want to keep him in the fold past this contract. I think there is a reason that, amidst all the contract shedding that they were trying to do during the Howard trade negotiations, they actually re-signed Nelson to a multi-year deal. But that may be a whole other discussion for another post.