A true two-way player capable of knocking down a three, handling the ball in pick-and-roll, and defending three positions, Kent Bazemore’s wide-ranging set of skills makes him the perfect complementary piece on just about any team in the league. For the Atlanta Hawks, he’s been a key cog on successful playoff teams and taken larger role, both on and off the court, as the club moved into a rebuilding phase.
Unlike a number of his current and former teammates, Bazemore clearly relishes his role within a young Hawks locker room and provides leadership by word and by example across basketball and life outside of the game. His words are backed up by his play on the court, where he brings an infectious energy to the lineup and perpetuates the unselfish attitude and playing style that was ingrained throughout the club over the last five years. The last true connection to the Budenholzer era among the players on the roster, it’s up to Bazemore to adapt to the new world order while also holding on to the key components of what made those teams successful.
With that said, a player of Bazemore’s versatile talent is somewhat wasted on a Hawks team that won’t be competitive any time soon. His contract runs through 2020, at which point Atlanta may not have even hit the midpoint in their multi-year rebuild. He’ll turn 30 on July 1, a birthday he celebrated in style in 2016 when he agreed terms with the Hawks on his current four-year pact worth $70 million. 30 isn’t what it used to be – we routinely see players hold onto their prime years for at least two or three more years – but it also doesn’t fit with the new-look Hawks, who will want to build their long-term future around rookies Trae Young and Kevin Huerter and sophomore John Collins, none of whom are older than 21, as well as their significant flock of future draft picks. As the 2018-19 season has aged and the contenders have separated themselves from the basement, Bazemore’s name has popped up in a number of trade rumors, though nothing particularly strong has yet linked him to an exit from Atlanta.
The first step in any trade scenario is ensuring that the incumbent team is willing to make a deal with the player involved. Whether Bazemore is being openly shopped or not by general manager Travis Schlenk is a question to which we’ll know the answer over the next few months, but it’s clear from what was reported over the offseason that the club would look to move him in the right scenario.
One of the iterations of the Trae Young-Luka Doncic swap on draft night included another pair of players – Bazemore and Wes Matthews. The move would have saved the Hawks about $19 million off their 2019-20 books, but the two teams instead agreed on a picks-only trade that included a protected first-rounder going from Dallas to Atlanta.
We don’t need to relitigate that trade (there’s been enough of that just about everywhere), but the key takeaway with respect to the current discussion is that Schlenk is seemingly open to the idea of trading Bazemore in a deal he finds worthwhile. The same cannot be said for a number of other players on the roster — namely the Young-Huerter-Collins trio — but Bazemore, despite being either the best or second-best player on the team (depending on how you feel about Collins), is in no way on that list.
The next steps are figuring out what Bazemore’s market is, how he’s valued around the league, and which teams might be calling Schlenk for to gauge his availability. His play over the life of his current contract puts him among the starting-level wings and although he doesn’t have much (if any) upside left to explore, finding competent two-way role players at that position is one of the key goals of every front office in the NBA.
Bazemore’s on-court value has probably never been greater – wings are the most valued commodity in the league, with two-way wins leading the charge as some of the best role players. In the playoffs, basketball becomes a different game from the regular season, where a team with a few great players can go far. Once every team left has a few great players, the difference is found elsewhere; tacticians on the bench will look for holes in their opponents’ role players and exploit those to the highest degree. A player like Bazemore, who has no easy holes to exploit, is an even more valuable piece at the highest levels than he is in the day-to-day grind of the regular season.
His contract makes a trade a bit more complicated. $18.1 million this year and a player option for $19.3 million for 2019-20 is a large pill to swallow for a high-level contender to get marginally better on the edges of their team and he doesn’t quite bring enough to the table for a middling team to justify the expenditure. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t moves out there to be made; Bazemore wasn’t the only one to get paid over the last few years and there are plenty of teams with players on bloated contracts who match up with Bazemore’s number but don’t provide near the on-court value he does. This is where Atlanta will find his most fruitful market.
The Rockets make the most sense of any team for Bazemore, provided new owner Tilman Fertitta is willing to pay out a larger luxury tax bill. There are a lot of questions and rumors swirling in Houston surrounding their financial stability and the team’s slow start to the season was a worry, but they have since turned it around and gotten firmly back into conversations among the best non-Warriors teams in the league.
General manager Daryl Morey is perpetually active and will continue to be this season, as his Rockets have a Trevor Ariza-sized hole on the wing that hasn’t quite been filled by newcomer James Ennis. After Houston struck out on a deal with Phoenix to fill that hole with Ariza himself, you can bet that Morey will be calling around in an attempt to make another deal, as Houston’s window for competitiveness at the top of the league shrinks with every passing year. Bazemore would be a perfect fit with the Rockets’ style of play and has already been moved to Houston in innumerable analysts’ minds.
Atlanta receives Brandon Knight, HOU 2019 first-round pick (lottery-protected in 2019 and 2020, top-10 protected in 2021 and 2022, unprotected in 2023), and GSW/HOU 2020 second-round pick (lesser of the two, HOU’s end protected 31-40).
Houston receives Kent Bazemore
Knight’s contract pays him about $30 million over the next two years, less than Bazemore’s $37 million over the same period. However, Bazemore’s a far more useful player on the court and represents far less “dead money” on a team’s books as a result. Fertitta would have to sign off on the extra expenditure – it would cost him roughly $8 million in salary and luxury tax penalties – but would significantly upgrade the Rockets’ current roster. The on-court improvement would be paid for in draft compensation, a low-end first-round pick courtesy of the Rockets and a 2020 second-rounder that’s sure to be 50 or worse.
For Atlanta, their goals remain firmly focused on the future. They pick up another pair of picks, including a late first, for the right to pay Knight through the end of that deal.
While Houston is desperate to protect their championship window, the Pelicans are desperate to open theirs at all and are on the clock to get a deal done. Anthony Davis, the world’s most exciting trade prospect, will be eligible for the super-max extension this summer. New Orleans, should he turn that extension down, would have to look to move him at that point, but between now and then, their highest priority is to make him happy at every turn.
So far, reports are relatively mixed as to whether they’ve been successful; one week he’s making noise about bearing too much of the load, the next he’s talking about how much he loves the city. Like Houston, the Pelicans have a hole they need filled on the wing, where Bazemore would fit perfectly. And like Houston, general manager Dell Demps has a mostly-dead salary he’d love to be rid of in the deal.
Atlanta receives Solomon Hill, Jahlil Okafor, NOP 2019 first-round pick (lottery-protected through 2021, converts to 2021 and 2022 second-round picks if necessary), NOP 2020 second-round pick (protected 31-40, otherwise extinguishes)
New Orleans receives Kent Bazemore and Tyler Dorsey
Through no real fault of his own, Hill’s own four-year contract hasn’t quite worked out for New Orleans. He tore his hamstring in August 2017 and just hasn’t been able to recapture what made him what he was in Indiana before making the move to the Pelicans. As stated, New Orleans is looking to go all in this season and wing help and backup center are the two key spots for them to improve. This move helps their wing depth in two spots, with Bazemore immediately able to step into a starting role alongside E’Twaun Moore and Dorsey as a break-in-case-of-emergency option off the bench.
Atlanta gets significant salary relief, as Hill is only slated to make $26 million over the next two years and Okafor’s contract is non-guaranteed, so the draft compensation is a bit lessened over what the Hawks could get from Houston – a lottery-protected first-rounder in case things don’t go as planned for New Orleans and a 2020 second-rounder that doesn’t convey at all if things completely fall off the rails and Davis isn’t on the team for the 2019-20 season.
Any number of teams will be interested in acquiring Bazemore ahead of the February 7 deadline. Houston and New Orleans make the most sense from a fit and trade perspective, but as many as a dozen clubs could inquire about his services, though some may fall out as the playoff picture becomes clearer.
Dallas might reignite their interest after the summer’s flirtation; rumor has it that it was Atlanta who pushed for the Bazemore-Matthews swap in the first place, but the Mavericks are also closer to a playoff spot than most expected before the season began. The Los Angeles Lakers strongly pursued Ariza before he was traded to Washington and are still in the market for a wing. The biggest issue with Los Angeles is that their biggest trade chip, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, has a full no-trade clause this season, and it’s hard to see him waiving it to join a losing situation in Atlanta ahead of his own free agency in July. For Portland, Bazemore would represent a nice upgrade over Evan Turner and fits better with their core duo of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum than Turner does. The money lines up between Turner and Bazemore, so the last component is figuring out draft compensation – a full first-round pick might be too much for the Trail Blazers to give up for the marginal upgrade, but Atlanta would certainly want to push for a first to be included.
Wherever he finishes the season, it won’t be a surprise to hear Bazemore’s name at the forefront of trade talks between now and early February. He’s got a skill set that’s in vogue throughout the league and a team that’s not entirely desperate to get rid of him but is clearly open to the right future-facing move. That potent combination makes Bazemore one of the players to watch as the calendar turns to 2019.