The Clippers want Carmelo Anthony. Carmelo Anthony wants to be a Clipper (reportedly). And the Knicks, for their part, seem more than eager to give away their superstar forward for a disproportionately small return. Now, it’s just a matter of deal-making: how can the Clippers fit Anthony’s $24.5 million salary (and, potentially, his $4.9 million trade kicker). Given the Clippers’ hard cap restrictions, it’s no easy task.
It seems as though the sticking point is Jamal Crawford’s salary. It’s hard to find a way for the Clippers to work within the restraints of their hard salary cap and build a roster where they keep their core four and add Carmelo Anthony’s huge salary without sending out Crawfords’ $13.25 million salary. The Knicks, for their part, seem to not want Jamal—part of the point of trading Anthony is to rebuild with youth, cap room, and draft picks. Crawford is owed over 14 million next season, and he’ll turn 37 this season. Therein lies the complication in moving Crawford: he’s paid a lot, he’s old, his contract isn’t expiring, and he isn’t having a very good year.
If your major deal hinges on another team eating a bad contract, there’s always a taker—it might cost you, though. It’s possible that the Clippers have to attach draft considerations or prospects to sweeten the package. They could also take back a cheaper bad contract, lessening the blow for their trade partners or perhaps easing it, if the cheaper deal runs for longer than Crawford’s (Jamal can be cut in the summer of 2018 and only owed 3 of his 14.5 million salary for 2018-19). There’s also always a chance that another front office believes that Jamal can have a strong second half of the season, and help the team—that’s certainly what the Clippers are hoping for (if they’d given up, he’d be on the bench instead of featured in the offense). You can probably find some way to send Jamal to any of the 28 teams besides the Clippers or Knicks, but there are some that seem more viable than others. Here are 12 calls the Clippers should make:
- Brooklyn Nets: The Nets have the cap room to absorb Jamal’s salary outright, which makes this a pretty simple deal—just make it worth their while to bite the bullet on his salary. They don’t really have a bad contract for the Clippers to take back, and with the worst record in the league, they hardly have any use for Jamal Crawford. They could try to stretch his contract, reducing his cap hit to about $6 million a year for the next 5 years, and then hope that another team signs Crawford to help off-set some of that cap hit. Still, the Nets would prefer cap space to Jamal’s deal this summer—you’d have to compensate them.
- Chicago Bulls: What the hell is up in Chicago? I certainly have no idea, but I do know one thing: Rajon Rondo’s contract is friendlier than Jamal’s, even though Rajon himself might not be. Rondo is only guaranteed $3 million next season, which might be acceptable for the Knicks, and the Bulls have to be looking to move the embattled, struggling guard. Would they be willing to take on a year of Jamal at 14 million, with a low guaratneed salary in a second year? Well, they just gave Rajon Rondo the same deal last summer, and gave an aging Dwyane Wade over $20 million a year. So, maybe they could be sold.
- Dallas Mavericks: This is the wrong move for Dallas if they’ve accepted their fate and are aiming for the bottom of the lottery, but if Mark Cuban is allergic to tanking, the 8-seed is still within sight. It probably isn’t the smart move, since a lottery pick and cap room is more valuable than a first-round date with the Warriors and $14 million on Jamal Crawford next season, but Dallas in the lottery just doesn’t sound right. Andrew Bogut’s expiring contract fits the bill here, and he has struggled to find consistend minutes this season with injury issues.
- Denver Nuggets: Denver is one of the few teams that has the cap room to absorb Jamal outright, but they seem incredibly unlikely to make a deal. The Nuggets already have a cluster of younger, better shooting guards, and they should be looking to make the most of big-time cap room this summer as they build around Nikola Jokic. Still, they have the room, so it remains legally feasible, if unlikely.
- Los Angeles Lakers: This one isn’t as easy as some of the others, but the expiring contract of Jose Calderon gives you a starting point to build a return package for Jamal. The Lakers probably don’t really have a real want or need for Jamal Crawford... but you would have said the same last summer for Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov, and the Lakers are paying them a combined 33 million this season. Maybe they want another overpaid vet.
- Minnesota Timberwolves: The Wolves are juuuuust short of the cap room needed to absorb Jamal’s contract, but they have a couple of nonessential pieces that make finding a deal easy. Adreian Payne, Brandon Rush, Jordan Hill: three guys who aren’t drawing regular minutes for Minny that have expiring contracts. Any one of them puts a trade through. For their part, the Clippers might prefer Rush as a depth option on the wing since they’ll be losing several players in the larger Carmelo trade, but there’s some flexibility among those three players depending on who wants whom. As for Jamal, it actually doesn’t seem crazy that the Wolves would have interest in adding a seasoned veteran, since they pretty much have their roster built for the future and are largely struggling due to the inconsistency of young, inexperienced players. One area Jamal doesn’t help: Minny’s poor wing defense.
- Oklahoma City Thunder: In my opinion, this is the most enticing team on the list. The worst thing about Jamal’s contract is that it limits flexibility next summer. For OKC, that isn’t a problem because of Steven Adams’ extension, which already has them capped out. They have just over 7 million in cap room this year, and if they don’t use it to add a player before the deadline, they won’t get to use it this summer. Adding in Anthony Morrow and Nick Collison, two expiring veterans who aren’t playing for the Thunder, allows them to painlessly add Jamal Crawford. With Enes Kanter set to miss two months with a broken forearm, a scoring threat on the second unit would be a welcome addition to the Thunder rotation. And if they’re unwilling to part with Collison, a veteran who has been with the franchise forever, the inclusion of two little-used youngsters—Joffrey Lauvergne and Josh Huestis—makes the salary work too.
- Orlando Magic: This one is kind of simple: Jeff Green is awful, and if Jamal can step his game up, Orlando could really use him. The Knicks would probably be willing to take back Green’s expiring contract. The cost? Orlando’s cap room next summer might be too precious to part with. Maybe Rob Hennigan, scrambling in the midst of another losing season, makes a win-now move with his feet to the fire and Orlando slipping dangerously out of the playoff race.
- Philadelphia 76ers: This would be a rotten deal for Jamal, who turned down a larger offer from Philly to return to the Clippers this summer, but sometimes that’s life. The Sixers definitely wanted Jamal in July, but now his value has taken a hit during a down year, and Philly might be wondering if they can lure a better free agent than Crawford this summer. On the other hand, Philly is three losses away from a playoff birth, which would be a huge step for a team that has been historically awful in recent years. A couple hot Jamal games could be the difference. The Sixers can absorb Jamal’s contract, but if they’re too worried about their cap, the Clippers could take back Jerryd Bayless’ three-year deal for around 9 million per. Bayless will miss the rest of the season following surgery on his left wrist, but he could help the Clippers in the final two years of his deal.
- Phoenix Suns: The Suns are another team with enough room to absorb Jamal’s salary outright, though they don’t really have an apparent need for him short-term to make up for the long-term contract hit. Maybe he could be included as part of the Clippers’ pursuit of P.J. Tucker. Phoenix covets a first-round pick for Tucker, while the Clippers are only willing to part with a second-rounder. Maybe LAC would pony up that future first in exchange for Tucker if the Suns also take on Jamal’s contract, facilitating a Carmelo Anthony trade. The Suns might then waive Crawford and stretch his salary to ease the burden of his cap hit.
- Sacramento Kings: If the Kings want Jamal, this deal can get done in a variety of ways. Rudy Gay has a player option for next season that he will probably decline, making him essentially an expiring deal. Due to a torn Achilles, however, he won’t be able to help the Kings in the race for the 8-seed, making him movable to the Knicks. Arron Afflalo’s salary is only $1.5 million guaranteed past this year, which gives New York cap relief, but the Kings might not want to part ways with the 41% three-point shooter. The Clippers could take back the multi-year deal of underwhelming center Kosta Koufos, but he’s still starting most of Sacramento’s games, and Anthony Tolliver is playing well as a part of Sacramento’s rotation as is Garrett Temple. That exhausts the options that fit Crawford’s salary alone, but the Kings can piece together other offers: Matt Barnes has struggled on and off the court and has a player option for next year, the Kings are probably ready to cut their losses with Ben McLemore, and little-used Omri Casspi could be on the table as well. The big hurdle here is convincing the Kings to take on Jamal and help them earn the 8-seed this spring.
- Utah Jazz: Utah is the last team that has room to take on Crawford’s contract without sending something back, but they have no need for him with Gordon Hayward, Joe Johnson, Alec Burks, Rodney Hood, and a few of their young guys manning the perimeter. LAC’s only advantage? The Jazz won’t have flexibility next summer, with Gobert’s extension kicking in and Gordon Hayward’s giant cap hold (and, they hope, new contract). That means the blow is softened for Jamal’s guaranteed salary next year, and easier to stomach if they can be convinced that he provides any marginal utility next season.