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NBA Trades That Make Too Much Sense: Avery Bradley to Minnesota

With the 2016-17 NBA season over, we look ahead to another busy offseason, and the win-win deals that ought to be made.
Photo by Greg M. Cooper - USA TODAY Sports

The offseason is trade season in the NBA. A blizzard of transactions will take place over the next few months as organizations all over the league try and reshape themselves, improve their personnel, and alter their directions. To prepare, over the next few days and weeks we'll propose and analyze a few hypothetical trade ideas that may (or should) go down at some point before the 2017-18 season tips off.


Boston Celtics get 7th pick in 2017 draft
Minnesota Timberwolves get Avery Bradley

All trades are tricky, but this one is particularly complicated for a variety of reasons. The Boston Celtics would not have made it to the Eastern Conference Finals without Avery Bradley's ferocious on-ball defense and underrated off-ball offense—timely baseline cuts that ended with him pummeling the rim, and rhythmic jumpers that served as an exclamation point for Brad Stevens' brilliant ATO actions. Bradley has never been a first or second option on a good offense, but his two-way play is incredibly useful in today's NBA, where dynamic guards who can switch and shoot are as indispensable as water bottles on deserted islands.

The Celtics love Bradley. He embodies the rugged, selfless culture the franchise has established over the last half-decade. However, he could be wearing a different jersey sooner than later. He'll be a 27-year-old unrestricted free agent in 2018, and given that he's viewed around the league as a crucial missing piece in any potential matchup against Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors, the 6-foot-2 guard will draw generous, near-max money on the open market. Just about every team with cap space will kick the tires on a potential signing.

This week's draft impacts things, too. On Saturday, Boston agreed to trade the first overall pick to the Philadelphia 76ers for the third pick and a future selection. The implications are huge, with one side effect being that Boston can clear max cap space without surrendering any rotation players from last year's team (the Celtics would have to move on from Guerschon Yabusele and Ante Zizic). The Celtics don't need to move Bradley (or Marcus Smart) if they don't want to, but keeping him figures to be expensive. If Boston also re-signs Isaiah Thomas, lands someone like Gordon Hayward in free agency this summer, and also trades for an All-Star talent, the franchise will find itself paying the luxury tax.


Of course, Bradley could always be part of a deal to bring in that aforementioned All-Star. If he's not, and the Celtics decide to keep him, it will be a gamble. He's an important puzzle piece, but also a player whose deficiencies will became more glaring if he's earning $100 million-ish over a long-term deal.

Moreover, Boston should be able to replace Bradley's contributions with prospects already in house, along with whomever they add with cap space. Smart, Jaylen Brown, and Terry Rozier will all be better players next season, more equipped to handle larger roles within Stevens' plug-and-play system.

When Bradley strained his Achilles' tendon in January and missed 23 straight games, Boston ranked 5th in offensive rating and 14th in defensive rating. They outscored opponents by 4.3 points per 100 possessions and defeated the Houston Rockets, Toronto Raptors, Utah Jazz, Los Angeles Clippers, and Milwaukee Bucks.

The Celtics can survive and thrive without Bradley. Add someone like Hayward, and it's unclear what his offensive role would even be. Trading him for Minnesota's pick in this year's draft would allow them to keep Zizic and Yabusele, while also adding yet another valuable asset into Danny Anige's Scrooge McDuck Treasure Room of future draft picks. For a team that's trying to straddle short and long-term contention while also being able to outbid every other team whenever the next star becomes available, that's an appealing prospect. Boston would have of its own selections, the third and seventh overall picks in this year's draft, Brooklyn's first-round pick in 2018, a 2018 first-round pick from the Lakers that's protected 2-5 and can turn into an unprotected Sacramento Kings' first-round pick in 2019, a pick from the Memphis Grizzlies that will be unprotected in 2021, and more. All of those picks give the Celtics options. The No. 3 and No. 7 picks could be used on building blocks for the future who can simultaneously help out today (Josh Jackson and Dennis Smith Jr. or Jonathan Isaac), or as trade chips. With more than enough picks to kick-start a rebuild, Boston would be able to create an irresistible package for Anthony Davis. The more picks they get, the more realistic that blockbuster becomes.

What the Wolves have, and what they need. Photo by Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

For Tom Thibodeau and the Timberwolves, Bradley makes plenty of sense as a starting off guard who perfectly complements Karl Anthony-Towns, Andrew Wiggins, and even Ricky Rubio. He can defend both guard positions at a top-notch level while positively impacting the offense without the ball in his hands. Minnesota has the NBA's lowest three-point rate last season; Bradley can also help amend matters. Surrendering a lottery pick for an expiring contract is an obvious gamble—especially if said expiring contract plays the same position as Zach LaVine—but Minnesota would have Bradley's Bird Rights. Assuming the Wolves waive Jordan Hill, Nikola Pekovic retires, and they renounce all their own free agents (including Shabazz Muhammad), this trade wouldn't even take Minnesota out of the running for a max player—assuming they also dump Nemanja Bjelica's expiring contract.

All of a sudden, Minnesota would be able to offer Andre Iguodala more money than anybody else, try and get into the Paul Millsap sweepstakes, or trade for Jimmy Butler. These moves sound nice, but with so many young players on their roster, the Timberwolves would also have to accept a major increase in their salary starting in 2019, when Andrew Wiggins and LaVine are both up for new deals alongside Bradley's next contract. Maybe Minnesota thinks Bradley replicates what Kris Dunn can be, but that's a stretch. Bradley is the young, ego-free veteran with playoff experience and two-way value this team needs. Trading for him would almost certainly spell the end of LaVine's time in Minnesota, and that complicates matters since he's coming off a torn ACL. But still, the Timberwolves would be wise to exchange the No. 7 pick for someone who can immediately improve several areas of weakness without throwing their overall timeline off course.