The NBA Expendables

By: Scott Levine

NBA Expendables .png

They’re the heroes we deserve. (Ersan Ilyasova and Trevor Booker courtesy of Keith Allison via Wikimedia Commons. Marco Belinelli courtesy of chensiyuan via Wikimedia Commons. Expendables movie poster courtesy of Tatiana T via Flickr. Photo editing courtesy of yours truly 😏.)

The salary cap for the 2018-2019 season is expected to be $102 million. It was projected to be $108 million a year ago, when many teams threw irresponsible amounts of money at players such as Timofey Mozgov, Evan Turner, and Joakim Noah.

Due to clogged cap sheets around the league, the 2018 Free Agency market will have less bidders than the average offseason. General Managers, always quick to sniff a market inefficiency, may be willing to pay a premium to get off bad contracts and into the bidding war.

The trade between the Lakers and the Nets before the 2017 draft set the market. The Lakers needed to give up D’Angelo Russell for the Nets to take on Mozgov’s salary. The Lakers will now have cap space for two max contracts next offseason.

Bad teams looking to rebuild, like the Nets, will serve as dumping grounds for these bad contracts in exchange for future assets, but they can only take on so much salary. Eventually, these bad teams will have to send salary back, just as the Nets did with Brook Lopez.

As a result, decent players with expiring contracts will be sought after by teams looking to make a splash next summer. These expiring players will be expected to help keep their new team competitive for the remainder of the 2017-2018 season, then banished. We’ll call these players The NBA Expendables.

Did you know that The Expendables 4 is coming out next year?

Me neither until I just looked it up. I only saw the second one. I thought it was pretty good. It set out to be a loud and dumb action movie and achieved that goal. I respected that about The Expendables 2.

The Expendables are a group of mercenaries. They do…things. I don’t remember the plot at all. Anyways, here are The NBA Expendables with fake trades for each one.

Marco Belinelli – Atlanta Hawks – 6.6 mil

With the departure of Millsap, Atlanta has lost all five horcruxes of the insurmountable beast known as the January 2015 Eastern Conference Player of the Month. Now, their best player is…Dennis Schroeder? Kent Bazemore?

They took back Miles Plumlee and Marco Belinelli for Dwight Howard. Plumlee and his contract are not going anywhere. Plumlee’s contract kept former Bucks General Manager John Hammond up at night until he miraculously traded him to Charlotte, where it kept Hornets GM Rich Cho up at night. No GM wants that contract.

Belinelli, on the other hand, is on a decent expiring contract. Come playoff time, it seems every team that isn’t the Warriors is short a wing off the bench who can shoot and be generally helpful. Belinelli has been an above average shooter every year of his NBA career except two seasons ago. But that was on the Kings, so does it really count?

Hawks Receive: Meyers Leonard, Top-20 Protected 2018 Pick. If not conveyed, Portland will send more favorable of Timberwolves and Lakers second round pick.

Trailblazers Receive: Marco Belinelli

Belinelli would provide much needed floor spacing off the bench, something the Blazers are missing without Allen Crabbe and his mammoth contract. Shedding Meyers Leonard’s contract and renouncing Belinelli would allow Portland team to dip well below the tax apron for 2018.

Portland is stuck after Olshey decided to use all the Microsoft money on decent-but-not-franchise-changing free agents last offseason. Their only option to acquire a difference maker left is the Mid-Level Exception. The Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception, at around $38 million over four years, would give them over $3 million more annually to spend than the Taxpayer Mid-Level.

They should look to beef up their guard rotation to take some playmaking stress off of Lillard and McCollum. Seth Curry and Cory Joseph are in their price range if they can stay below the tax.

Trevor Booker – Brooklyn Nets – 9.1 mil

Last season, Trevor Booker quietly played the part of helpful role player. He defended the perimeter, rebounded, blocked shots from the weak side, and flashed a three point shot. But he was on the worst team in the league, so his merits did not lead to wins.

Nets are young, and are going to try this whole Rondae Hollis-Jefferson at the 4 thing. Booker is 29 and will be washed up by the time the Nets are ready to win games.

Nuggets Receive: Trevor Booker, Joe Harris

Nets Receive: Kenneth Faried, Trey Lyles, Tyler Lydon, 2018 Golden State Second Round Pick (via Denver)

I’m not sure the Nuggets need Booker. They already have Millsap, Arthur, Hernangomez, and Chandler to play power forward. But Booker would give them the short-term flexibility to trade Arthur and Chandler, who both have a player option in 2018-2019.

Mason Plumlee is still unsigned, which makes me think they haven’t offered him anything north of 10 million a year. Let’s say he makes 10 million in 2018-2019, which I think might even be too high of a guess. And let’s also say that neither Chandler nor Arthur get traded, both opt in, and Denver renounces Booker’s rights. The Nuggets would still have $15 million to throw at someone in 2018 if they dump Faried.

2018 could be the Nuggets’ last chance to get a marquee free agent unless they feel like opting out of Paul Millsap’s contract in 2019. Gary Harris will become expensive. Jokic becomes unrestricted in 2019, but he will go into restricted free agency in 2018 if the Nuggets decline his 2018-2019 club option. They should play it safe with a player of Jokic’s caliber and re-sign him in 2018.

As for 2018 free agent targets, I’d look for more wings. Harris and Beasley are the only young wings on Denver, and both are more suited to play the 2 than the 3. TJ Warren is a guy the Nuggets could consider. Omri Casspi will be coming off a career year with the Warriors. They could see how committed the Jazz are to Rodney Hood if they have around 25 million in space, even though I’m unsure if Hood will ever be able to play full-time at small forward.  

They could also load up on guard depth if they become impatient with Mudiay. Seth Curry is an option, as is Marcus Smart if the Celtics’ path takes them elsewhere.

Lyles would give the Nets another bite at the apple in case the whole Rondae Hollis-Jefferson at the 4 thing doesn’t work out. I have no idea what Tyler Lydon’s fit in the NBA is, but if his elite shooting in college translates, he will find a role regardless.

Ersan Ilyasova – Atlanta Hawks – 6 mil

There’s a case for having Ilyasova on your team while developing players. On Philadelphia for half of last season, Ersan provided Joel Embiid more space in the post, and showed his young, inexperienced teammates how to take a charge.

At the same time, Ilyasova’s expiring contract has trade value, and he is redundant on the Hawks. Once Ilyasova is eligible for a trade on Dec. 14, Atlanta should move Ersan, give the power forward keys to John Collins, and let him go to work. They will win less games that way, but will give Collins more reps and improve their lottery odds. They also have Mike Muscala, one of the many Bucknell graduates with a man bun.

Mavericks Receive: Ersan Ilyasova

Hawks Receive: Dwight Powell, 2018 Lottery Protected First Round Pick. If not conveyed, First Round Pick becomes 2018 Mavericks Second Round Pick (55-60 protected), 2019 Mavericks Second Round Pick (55-60 protected).

Mavericks are best off playing a stretch four who can space the floor for Dennis Smith. Things get tricky if Dirk gets hurt, and he probably will. He is 39 now, and played 54 games last season. They have Josh McRoberts, but he’s a twenty-minutes-a-game guy at best. Harrison Barnes and Dorian Finney-Smith can play some 4, but the team needs both to also play small forward. Ilyasova can be plugged into Dirk’s starting role if the big German crumbles.

This trade and the subsequent renouncing of Ilyasova and Delaney would help clear up $30 million of cap space, or around $27 million in space if they retain the cap holds of Seth Curry and Yogi Ferrell.

Everyone likes to talk about how Dallas has lost many a free agency sweepstakes. There was Dwight, there was Deron Williams, and there was the DeAndre Jordan thing. Regardless, they’ll have a real shot at some quality non-All-Star free agents if they are one of the few teams with cap space.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope should be their main target. In 2018, Caldwell-Pope presents a rare opportunity for a team with cap space to sign an unrestricted free agent starter with upside at only 25. He fits well with the Mavericks’ timetable. Noel will be 24 next offseason while Barnes will be 26.

If Wes Matthews opts in next offseason (he should), Matthews could reinvent himself as a useful shooter off the bench, paving the way for Caldwell-Pope to start. They could smother teams with a small-ball lineup of Smith, Caldwell-Pope, Matthews, Barnes, and Noel. Dallas could also dangle Matthews on the trade block during the 2018-2019 season as an expiring contract who can help a good team.

The Sixers seem like the most logical candidates to land Caldwell-Pope because of their immense upside, but having to compete with other teams for a free agent has never stopped the Mavericks from shooting their shot.

Bonus Fake Mega Trade!!!

Bucks Receive: Trevor Booker, Quincy Acy, Malcolm Delaney, Ersan Ilyasova, Marco Belinelli, Joe Harris, Nicholas Brussino

Nets Receive: John Henson, DJ Wilson, Sterling Brown, DeAndre Bembry, 2018 Milwaukee Second Round Pick

Hawks Receive: Mirza Teletovic, Matthew Dellavedova,  2018 Milwaukee First Round Pick, 2019 Milwaukee Second Round Pick, 2020 Milwaukee First Round Pick (Protected 1-14)

This is probably too much for Milwaukee to give up, but it is the price of getting off this much salary. We are a month removed from teams allegedly requesting Houston give them two first round picks to take on Ryan Anderson’s contract.

While opening up $30 million in cap space for next offseason after renouncing Booker, Ilyasova, and Belinelli would obviously help, the Bucks can also wait until the 2018-2019 season to clear salary and free up space for the summer of 2019. They wouldn’t need a taker for Teletovic’s contract since it expires in 2019. Therefore, they wouldn’t have to give up as many assets to clear space. They could reach $23 million in cap space (assuming Jabari gets the max) in 2019 if they got off Henson and Delly’s contracts.

Waiting until 2019 to clear space sounds like a better idea in a vacuum. However, there is a specific player in the 2018 free agency class who they should target.

No, I’m not insinuating that LeBron James, Paul George, or Russell Westbrook would want to come to Milwaukee.

Avery Bradley should be on the Bucks. It seems so obvious. Bradley would be an ideal off-ball 1 next to Giannis and would add to their already scary defense.

Yes, he would fill basically the same role as Malcolm Brogdon did last season. But that’s okay. Both are useful players to have and can coexist. Ideally, Milwaukee would start Bradley, Middleton, Giannis, Parker, and Maker. Brogdon would come off the bench for Parker, and shift Bradley, Middleton, and Giannis up a position. Then, Tony Snell would come in for Bradley or Middleton. It works!

The trade would also improve Milwaukee this upcoming season, Booker’s combination of switchability and rebounding fills a need for Milwaukee. They are a notoriously bad rebounding team when Greg Monroe sits, but playing Monroe hurts their defense.

Ilyasova and Belinelli are good fits around Giannis because they can shoot. The key to getting playing time in Milwaukee is to shoot the ball in the hoop when Giannis passes it to you. With Booker, Ilyasova, and Belinelli, the 2017-2018 Bucks have a chance to gain home court advantage in the first round, which will make them seem all the more appealing to Avery Bradley.


Many thanks to Ethan Giles, whom RTRS Podcast’s Spike Eskin coined the Fake Trade Guru, for providing feedback as I figured out the terms for fake trades. I hope to add more NBA Expendables for a sequel when the season starts and we figure out which other teams with expiring contracts are willing to pack it in and take on salary.


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