In basketball one dominant player can have the biggest impact. There’s something primal about it.
“I’m better than you,” a great athlete thinks to himself. “I can jump higher, run faster, shoot better and I will prove it. You don’t matter right now.”
The fastest way to become a great team is to acquire a great player. That can happen a few ways: via the draft, free agency or trade.
In this column, I’ll be directly ripping off a Bill Simmons classic: the trade value rankings. The rules are simple.:
1. Salaries matter.
2. Age matters; would you rather have Chris Paul for the next five seasons or Kyrie Irving for the next 12?
3. Pretend the league passed the following rule: for 24 hours, any player can be traded without cap ramifications but with luxury-tax and every-season-after-this ramifications. If Team A tells Team B, “We’ll trade you Player X for Player Y,” would Team B make the deal?
4. Concentrate on degrees. I don’t think San Antonio or Oklahoma City would make a Durant-Kawhi swap, but San Antonio would at least say, “Wow, Durant is the type of dominant, crunch-time scorer we’re lacking right now, should we have a meeting about it?” Meanwhile the OKC would say, “There’s not a chance we’re moving Durant.”
5. The list runs in reverse order. So if Klay Thomposn comes in at No. 20, players 1 through 19 are all players about whom Golden State would say, “We hate giving up Klay, but we definitely have to think about this.” And they wouldn’t trade him straight-up for any player listed between Nos. 21 and 30.
1.) Stephen Curry two years/$23million- The most valuable player in the league at this very moment. A historical anomaly. Perhaps the greatest shooter of all time. The Bay Area would riot for 10 consecutive decades if the Warriors traded Curry. He’s locked up through the 2017 season for just under $23 million dollars. To put that in perspective, Joe Johnson is getting $24 million this year.
2.) LeBron James one year (option)/$23 million- Put it this way: could you imagine the reaction if the Cavaliers traded King James? It’s not even fathomable. The Cuyahoga would burn again if that happened. A whole state would collapse in a fit of sports depression.
Completely and Utterly Untouchable:
3.) Anthony Davis five years/ $145 million- Despite signing the biggest contract in NBA history, there’s no way the Pelicans could move on from 22- year-old Davis. The team has done an abysmal job surrounding the forward with talent, but he is the type of transformational player that a franchise builds around. He is why you tank.
4.) Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant- I cannot split them apart. OKC is in “win now” mode. There is no way they could get equal value for either of these players. No matter which way you cut it, KD and Russ are two of the best players in the league. They’re averaging a combined 51.3-ppg/15.3 rpg/14.4 apg. The league hasn’t seen a duo like this since the early 2000s when Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant were rolling their way to a three-peat. Most fans and media members are handing the Western Conference to the Warriors already, but do not sleep on the Thunder. Durant and Westbrook are great enough to steal it.
5.) Kawhi Leonard five years/$90 million- 2014 NBA Finals MVP. 2015 Defensive Player of the Year. Current leader in three-point shooting percentage. Leonard is easily the best defensive player in the league and has only grown as a crunch time player. The Spurs have nurtured Leonard from a one-dimensional wing into an All Star starter and potential MVP.
He’s worth more to us than he is to you:
6.) Draymond Green five years/$85 million- This is baffling. How a second round pick has developed into the heart and soul of a potential 75-win team is nothing short of miraculous. There are probably two dozen players in the league more talented than Green, but no one is more versatile or would fit in better with the Warriors. He is their mouthpiece, their toughness and allows them to play small ball better than the rest of the league. So yeah, DeMarcus Cousins is better than Green. But there’s no way the Warriors make that trade.
We’re listening but don't tell anyone:
7.) DeMarcus Cousins 4 years/$65 million
8.) James Harden 3 years/$48 million- Two extremely polarizing players. Both carry reputations, earned in most cases, of being subpar defenders, though Cousins has improved some. However, these are two rare talents. There is simply no big man in the league like Cousins. Boogie is able to score inside and out and is an unmatched physical specimen capable of taking the ball coast to coast. Harden, meanwhile, is an offensive machine. His development from sixth man to MVP caliber starter has been staggering. He’s an analytical miracle, dominating from three-point range and the foul line.
9.) Andrew Wiggins/Karl-Anthony Towns- The late Flip Saunders played the Minnesota Timberwolves rebuilding project perfectly. He waited out the market on Kevin Love until he got the perfect offer. Flipping Love for back-to-back No. 1 picks (Anthony Bennett and Wiggins) and then successfully tanking to get another No. 1 pick (Towns) may turn out to be the best haul for a superstar ever. Wiggins and Towns are the ultimate rebuilding pieces and have the potential to be perennial All Stars. Towns already looks like one of the best big men in the league and Wiggins is a top 20 scorer in the league. They are a combined 40 years old. Winter is coming.
10.) Kristaps Porzingis four years/18.4 million- KP is at the perfect stage of his career. People only see the positives, when the comparisons to Dirk Nowitzki don’t seem high enough. No one focuses on the bad. He’s nowhere near a finished product yet, he’s only 20 years old. But he has all the potential in the world. At 7-foot-3-inch he’s able to shoot like a guard, move with grace and agility, and defend the rim like a center. We don’t yet know what Zinger is going to be. We do know that it will be fun finding out.
Jimmy Butler, Klay Thompson, Chris Paul, Paul George, Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond, Kyrie Irving, John Wall, Damian Lillard