A quiet Monday between the draft and free agency was brought to a screeching halt when ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that a trade had been reached between the Atlanta Hawks and Portland Trail Blazers. The deal swaps Kent Bazemore for Evan Turner, two players coming up on the final year of four-year contracts signed in 2016 with their respective teams. According to The Athletic’s Chris Kirschner, the deal includes no other draft picks or cash exchanging hands; it’s a simple one-for-one swap between the two teams.
From a salary cap perspective, it’s essentially a zero-sum move. Turner makes $663,106 less than Bazemore for next season, so the Hawks will see a slight savings and a very small amount of extra cap space as a result, but this trade was not done for any level of cap savings. As such, this trade is about what it will do for the Hawks on the court, with the additional benefit of taking care of Bazemore, who was the team’s longest-tenured player before this deal. Bazemore will now have a chance to compete at the highest levels of the league with the Trail Blazers, who desperately need the combination of shooting and defense he will bring to the wing for them.
On the Atlanta side of things, this deal makes far less sense, as Bazemore is clearly a better player than Turner at this stage of each player’s career. The most important advantage Bazemore has is his ability knock down open shots from the perimeter, something Turner has never been able to put together. A career sub-30 percent three-point shooter, Turner is going to be a drain on the Atlanta offense – his teams have been worse offensively with him on the floor each of the last five years than they were when he sat, and usually significantly so.
Still, there are advantages Turner has over Bazemore. He’s a better playmaker, whether passing out of the post or handling the ball on the perimeter. Reports are surfacing (as Hawks’ management is seemingly rushing to get their rationale into the public view) that he’ll be used primarily as a backup point guard in Atlanta, a hole the team would have been looking to fill on the open market in July. Given his lack of shooting, the best role for Turner is as a backup playmaker who can also step into some lineups with starting point guard Trae Young, particularly as a short roll playmaker when John Collins is not in the game. Portland didn’t use Turner extensively in that role next to Damian Lillard, but his ability to make plays for others would seemingly make him a good candidate to work as the roll man in pick-and-roll with a guard like Young or Lillard who stretches the defense out past the three-point line.
He’s also a better defender than Bazemore, with more size to allow him to switch fluidly between both forward spots. On that end of the floor, Turner will act as the backup power forward behind Collins, with one of the wings, likely DeAndre’ Bembry, stepping up to guard opposing point guards. Atlanta will able to be switchier in bench lineups with Bembry, Turner, Omari Spellman, and rookies Cam Reddish and De’Andre Hunter in the game, for example. Of course, head coach Lloyd Pierce will have the opportunity to play lots of different bench combinations to find the one that works the best – perhaps throwing two non-shooters in Bembry and Turner on the floor together won’t work offensively, despite that lineup having defensive benefits.
Swapping a wing in Bazemore for a forward in Turner also helps clarify the Hawks’ rotation going into next season. Outside of backup point guard, Atlanta was relatively thin at the power forward position, particularly if they want to move Spellman to play more of the 5, where he and the team were better last season on both ends of the floor. Turner fills the gap behind Collins in the rotation and helps to undo the logjam in the team’s wing rotation, as now they can walk into the season with four primary wings in the rotation: Bembry, Reddish, Hunter, and Kevin Huerter. How they decide to split up the minutes and roles among those guys is a discussion for another time, but unlocking playing time for four young guys who could all play some part in the team’s future is an ancillary benefit of the move.
The positives are there for the Hawks to make this move, though the aggregate still stands against them. Shooting is just so important from wings and forwards in today’s NBA that even though Turner is better than Bazemore in both playmaking and defending, Bazemore still stands out as a better overall player and, considering the contracts are essentially identical, should have had more value on the trade market.
Atlanta’s inability to get at least a second-round pick from Portland in a deal that will make the Trail Blazers a better team and worsens the Hawks is a relatively poor piece of business from general manager Travis Schlenk, but not by so much that it’s anywhere near a disaster. They didn’t take on any extra money past 2019-20 and although they were unable to get a draft asset in this swap, it’s certainly not the end of the world and does bring positives to the team, particularly with respect to the money they’ve now saved on having to go after a backup point guard in free agency this summer. That money can now be put to better use; in particular, they could use it to bring back Dewayne Dedmon on a one-year balloon contract for about $14 million. It’s not a positive trade like some of the other heists Schlenk has pulled off, but it’s also not a detrimentally negative deal either.