Every year, teams shift pieces during the draft with the long view in mind. Either they think they can nab their favorite player later and want to pick up extra assets to move down or the combine their current picks, future picks, and rostered players to vault themselves up the ladder and take the player they believe can be a superstar.
However, sometimes it’s just a money play, as teams look at their short- and long-term financial planning and realize they need to jettison money in order to appease their owners’ goals by ducking under the luxury tax. While the luxury tax is not calculated until the end of each league year, there are teams who may look to get ahead of the 2018-19 tax during Thursday’s draft.
Here are a few examples, along with what the Atlanta Hawks can offer these teams in a trade:
15 - Washington Wizards
Ownership agreed to support spending above the tax for the first time last season. They are already projected to be over the tax with the ten guaranteed contracts on their books for the 2018-2019 season and John Wall’s supermax contract does not even kick in until after this season.
The outlook has them firmly above the tax line for the foreseeable future and at risk to incur repeater penalties as soon as the 2020-2021 season even though it’s broadly accepted that the current makeup of their roster is not good enough to consider them a serious contender. And when it comes time to pay Kelly Oubre as a restricted free agent next summer, they may be in a similar position as they were last summer when Otto Porter became a restricted free agent.
They had to match the max offer sheet he signed with Brooklyn Nets because had they not done so they would have had no cap space to use to replace him. Oubre is not nearly as likely to command a max offer but if the Wizards encourage him to pursue an offer sheet there will be pressure to match because of the inability to replace him due to the absence of available cap space.
If the Hawks and Wizards outright swapped the 30th and 15th picks, the Wizards would save about $1.12M next season. That does not sound like enough to really entice the Wizards to move back 15 spots but when you project the impact of the contract across four seasons, two of which the Wizards could be paying at repeater penalty levels the Washington could be quite motivated to move back in this draft.
What would it take to entice the swap? The Hawks own the Cavaliers 2019 draft pick as long as it does not fall in the top ten picks. Next year’s draft class is not looking to have as much depth next season at this point. Since this draft class is deeper if the right player is on the board would the Hawks consider moving that Cleveland pick? It might be worth considering.
17 - Milwaukee Bucks
The Bucks narrowly avoided operating above the tax last season. It’s not likely that Milwaukee will operate above the luxury tax this season, but operating above the cap, which is a real concern and limits their ability to add talent to the roster as to improve the team. And that is something they would certainly need to do as to make progress toward the upper tier of the Eastern Conference.
There is a wide range of potential outcomes regarding Jabari Parker’s restricted free agency, so that could complicate any deal with the Hawks and Bucks prior to the July free agency moratorium. But it’s not impossible that the teams could find the motivation and framework to explore a trade on draft night.
If the Hawks and Bucks outright swapped the 30th and 17th picks it would save Milwaukee approximately $850K this season. That’s not enough to move the needle but if the Bucks wanted to move on from DJ Wilson, who will earn $2.53M this season and seems far from ready to help an ambitious team that increases the savings over the next few seasons, that structure would save the Bucks approximately $3.4M this season.
Depending upon the outcome of Parker’s restricted free agency that could open up some space to pursue a veteran looking for an opportunity with a team on the rise in the Eastern Conference. That cap space along with the mid-level and bi-annual exceptions could be a path that the Bucks organization could see in pursuing more veteran help around the up and coming talent on the roster.
The Bucks would almost surely ask the Hawks to include the 34th pick which they may see as being worth doing if a player they highly value is on the board at the 17th spot.
20 - Minnesota Timberwolves
Minnesota played like one of the four best teams in the Western Conference last season when Jimmy Butler was healthy. They seem almost surely to operate above the cap next season even if they don’t bring back Jamal Crawford, who decided to opt out his player option for next season.
Although it seems unlikely to happen depending upon the reasons he chose to opt out, he could be signed for up to $5.1M for next season without having to create cap space by using his non-bird rights. Likewise, they could re-sign restricted free agent Nemanja Bjelica to any contract without having to create cap space by using his full Bird rights. Both moves had seemed almost inevitable given how difficult it would be to create the cap space to sign anyone to replace either of those players, both of whom were critical rotation players for all of last season.
With the likelihood of a massive extension for Karl-Anthony Towns in the future and a possible contract extension for Jimmy Butler one summer away the Timberwolves could be highly motivated to avoid operating above the tax line this season simply for the purpose of delaying the repeater penalties by one more year. It would likely require the Hawks to be willing to finalize the deal after July 1 with them taking back the expiring contract of Cole Aldrich which fully guarantees for just under $7M if he is still on the roster by the end of the day today.
In this scenario the Hawks would need to agree to the deal before the draft. As such they would not have the option of waiting to see who is available to agree to the deal. Similar to the Bucks and DJ Wilson, the Timberwolves might also be interested in moving the $2.67M contract of Justin Patton who does not seem ready to help Minnesota, even if he fully recovers from a foot surgery prior to the beginning of the 2018-19 season.
Would the Timberwolves be willing to move back ten spots to unload the cost of the Aldrich and Patton? Pieces might be need to be added on the periphery to make it work. But the Hawks could simply value the opportunity to have back-to-back selections at 19 and 20 at the beginning of a group of players in a tier that might have decisively more upside than players that would be available at 30 or 34.