On Trades, Talent and Tiers

June 17th, 2016 | by Dan Clayton


AP Photo/Rick Bowmer

AP Photo/Rick Bowmer

We’re a week away from the NBA Draft, which is great for people who have a physiological reaction to the words “upside” and “wingspan.”

But we’re also seven days away from what is usually the biggest trade day on the NBA calendar. For a team like the Utah Jazz hunting for the final pieces of a competitive rotation, that could be a more salient reason to count down to June 23.

It makes sense why Utah is considered a likely actor in the trade market. Utah clearly needs to address its suspect depth and can’t necessarily rely on the seller’s market of all seller’s markets in free agency. They could use their #12 pick to address weak spots in the rotation, or they could parlay current players into what they believe will be an upgrade. What they shouldn’t do is make a trade that crosses tier boundaries in the wrong direction.

Talent tiers are a big part of the draft discussion, logic that saves teams from overreaching on a guy who fits an on-paper need but is less of an overall talent than somebody else. If you look at the recent history of NBA trades, you can see some similar tier logic emerging: players usually get traded for assets on about the same level as them.

It’s not like there are set tier definitions out there, and even if there were, consensus can be hard to come by across front offices and the broader NBA community. So this isn’t easy. But there’s a reason you rarely see All-Stars traded for non All-Star talent. When they do, it’s usually because something funky is going on: chemistry problems, ideological difference or the threat of the player leaving can motivate a team to take $.50 on the dollar, but for the most part, that’s the way that trades work. It’s important to remember that when constructing ideas on what the Jazz could get away with on the market, and (especially) the types of deals they should avoid making.

Put another way, you could trade Gordon Hayward or Derrick Favors based on some sense of frustration over what they’re not, but unless you’re getting back something that’s as good as they are as a player and an asset, you just made the Jazz worse.

After ton of research about the trade market, including my yearly look at what picks in different ranges tend to yield in trade value1, I can say with relative confidence that trades tend to stay within similar levels. The ones that don’t are the ones that get picked apart as having a clear loser.

The last year gives us plenty of case studies. Every trade that wasn’t motivated by salary cap needs was essentially a deal involving guys of similar levels. Starter-quality wings Gerald Henderson and Nic Batum were swapped2. Fringe rotation players like Jon Leuer, Shabazz Napier and Ray McCallum were traded for second-round picks, assets that usually yield fringe rotation talent. Reserve guards Mario Chalmers and Beno Udrih switched places.

Even Utah’s own midseason deal passes the test: they gave up a second-rounder for a non-rotation player, although Shelvin Mack was then able to breathe life into his five-year NBA career.

The ones that didn’t match the tier criteria were either bad deals on one end and/or were motivated by other situations. Markieff Morris and Ty Lawson were moved because of off-court drama, Gerald Wallace and David Lee were flipped for salary reasons, and Orlando probably looked bad for giving up on recent mid first-rounder Mo Harkless in exchange for a top-55 protected pick that may never be conveyed.

So what are these supposed tiers? These are my definitions and therefore somewhat arbitrary.

  • I. Megastars: Elite players and surefire franchise draft picks. We’re talking about players like KD, LeBron and Steph here, or draft picks like the #1 in can’t-miss drafts like the LeBron or Tim Duncan years. There are probably none of those picks in this year’s draft.
  • II. All-Stars: All-league, proven stars and picks that *could* become franchise players. This is the tier that helps explain the Kevin Love (coming off his 2nd All-NBA selection) for Andrew Wiggins (likely future star) trade. This draft probably only has one of those picks (Ben Simmons).
  • III. Fringe All-Stars: One of the top few at their position and picks that *could* become multiple-year All-Stars. In this draft, that’s Brandon Ingram. So if you’re trading Hayward for anything less than Ingram or Simmons, you just cost the Jazz a tier downgrade. Even trading him for those two is a big risk.
  • IV. Solid starters: Top 10 at their position and draft picks that *could* become stars, but should at least be good starters someday. There might be a few of these guys in the draft, but if you give away an above-average starter and find out you guessed wrong, that can set you back.
  • V. Starter-quality: Average to below average starters, top reserves and picks that *could* yield strong starters. The ’16 draft is pretty long on this category, per the pundits.
  • VI. Rotation-quality: Guys who contribute on good teams and picks who are expected to be rotation quality.  
  • VII. Fringe rotation-quality: Everybody else.

Particularly at the upper tiers, the value is so different that multiple guys from a lower tier don’t necessarily “equal” one higher tier guy. It’s really hard to acquire All-Star talent, so if you have it and you downgrade to two guys who are solid starters, you might have a hard time ever replacing the star power you gave away. You better be pretty confident that someone you’re acquiring is better than advertised, or else you had better be playing a long game as part of a rebuild.

So what about the Jazz?

Hayward is a top-30 player, full stop. He’s in the tier I would call “fringe All-Star,” because he’s someone who could easily make an All-Star team with the right confluence of team success and/or players missing time. A Hayward trade that nets an All-NBA talent isn’t likely to happen, and trading him for a solid starter type is just bad asset management.

So would you trade him straight across for another player in that same tier, say a Jimmy Butler type? It’s risky. You might get a similar quality player who unlocks some different synergies… or it could break the other way. Hayward likes his situation, believes in the program and has good chemistry with the dudes around him; why trade him for someone for whom those statements might not be true if he’s not a clear upgrade?

Favors and Rudy Gobert are probably close to that level right now, but I’d put them a tier below: they’re above average starters (top 10 guys at their respective positions), but they’re not necessarily among the first names people think of when they start naming off All-Star snubs. They’re probably top 40-50 players overall… and they’re climbing. As with Hayward, the bar for a return that would make a Favors/Gobert deal work is set really high.

All-Stars, fringe All-Stars and high-quality starters are extremely hard to replace. Trading one of those guys for a lesser asset out of impatience would cost the Jazz wins, relevance, and time on the ascent.

So let’s collectively decide to stop floating trade proposals where those three head out and lesser players or Hail Mary draft picks come in, OK?

Rodney Hood is firmly starter-quality, although it’s not hard to imagine a version of him that’s a top 10 player at his position or even a fringe All-Star. Alec Burks is probably starter-quality even though he comes off the bench3. It’s hard to imagine the Jazz trading either guy for someone they wouldn’t expect to play 24-28 quality minutes a night.

Dante Exum is a unique one because there’s still wide variance between his best and worst case scenarios. There are people who still believe he could realize an All-Star potential. At minimum, he probably qualifies for Tier V; his defensive impact alone means he could start for a good team, and he has some of that “could” potential to keep scaling the tiers.

The Jazz also have a handful of rotation-quality players, including at least one (Trey Lyles) who has some alleged star potential.

They may not want to disrupt that core for the sake of adding rotation-quality veteran depth, and that’s where the #12 pick might be their best chance. A solid vet acquisition could potentially help Utah achieve relevance more quickly than a late-lotto draft rookie could.

On the other hand, there’s no telling when the Jazz will pick inside the top half of the first round again, and with Lindsey’s recent track record of finding value picks throughout the first round, why take away the asset he has probably done the most with in his Jazz tenure?

So the Jazz won’t necessarily trade #12 this year, but with that pick as well as 42, 52 and 60, it’s a safe bet to expect at least a minor deal.

And rest assured, they’ll be attempting to parlay up to better assets, not dropping from star and starter-quality players to lesser guys.

Dan Clayton

Dan Clayton

Dan covered Utah Jazz basketball for more than 10 years, including as a radio analyst for the team’s Spanish-language broadcasts from 2010 to 2014. He now lives and works in New York City, but contributes regularly to Salt City Hoops, FanRag and BBALLBreakdown.
Dan Clayton

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  1. Paul Johnson says:

    Someone acting as “GM for a day” on David Locke’s morning broadcast suggested that one player who might be interesting for the Jazz in a draft day trade is Wilson Chandler of Denver.

    He has good size, length and strength for a small forward, and could be the 3-and-D player the Jazz probably would like to obtain to back up Gordon Hayward. At 6’8″ tall with a 7’3″ wingspan, he is the right size to play the 3-and-D role. He is also right in his prime as a player. He is coming off a hip injury that kept him out all last season for the Nuggets. He has two years left on his current contract, at $11.3 mil. next season and $12.0 mil. in 2017-2018.

    Denver has 3 first round picks at #7, #15 and #19. The trade that was suggested on David Locke’s show was Trey Burke and the Jazz’s #12 pick for Wilson Chandler and Denver’s #15 pick. I like that trade, which probably means that Denver wouldn’t do it. If Denver wanted more than that, perhaps the Jazz could trade Trey Burke and the 2017 GSW 1st round pick, which will probably be in the 28-30 range in the 2017 draft.

    Chandler is a player who could help the Jazz in defending very good, big, small forwards who are good offensive players, such as Kevin Durant, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony.

    What would you all think of a trade like that?

    • I put in a similar trade but I put in Burke, Burks the 12th for Chandler the 15th and 19th. It was turned down but then I added either GSW or OKC first to the pot.

    • We're Fine says:

      Love that deal. It adds wing depth at an average cost for only two years, meaning he’ll be off the books when we have to pay Gobert and Favors. If Hayward is still a Jazzman ( hopefully ) then he’s gone but if not and he fit well we can resign him. Unless somebody slides out of the top 8 or maybe Poeltl falls, the difference between the 12th pick and the 15th is minor. Plus we ditch Trey Burke.

    • Jason says:

      The Jazz would love it, Denver laughs. What does Denver have to benefit? They move up 3 spots by giving away Chandler and getting an average to below average starting PG.

      Jazz fans need to realize that you can’t give away players you don’t want anymore and expect something in return. Trey, Alec, Tibor Pleiss, and all the 2nd rounders aren’t going to get the Jazz any solid value unless the names of Hayward, Hood, Favors, or Gobert are attached to the trade. Trey could maybe net the Jazz a late 1st rounder but no one is going to trade back #12 to get Burke without other incentives. Alec is almost untradeable because of his injuries and his contract. The Jazz aren’t trading up or getting anything of significant value without giving up something of significant value.

      • Paul Johnson says:

        I’m not sure Wilson Chandler fits with Denver’s current plans to go young, and he is coming off of being out for a year with an injury. Therfore, this trade would be a salary dump trade for Denver to some extent. Chandler pretty much plays the same position as Gallinari and is not really a starter quality player, or a knock-down shooter. Although he appears to be a good defensive player, I’m not sure that he adds enough value to Denver’s team as it is presently constituted to be worth $23 mil. over 2 years to Denver. He fits a specific role for the Jazz, and his contract is the right length, so I think he fits much better with the Jazz. The Jazz should be able to figure out a deal that would work, even if it is not the deal I set forth up above.

  2. Cory McKee says:

    I like the Wilson Chandler idea, especially because there are so many good players in that 10-20 range, and I trust in DL. But I agree, the Jazz would have to sweeten the deal, but I think only slightly (like a 2nd rounder or two). I wouldn’t part with a #1, even if it is GSW pick next year. You can still find solid player in that range (Gobert, Butler, Crowder, Draymond, Ezili, etc.)

    Also, great article, and I completely agree. We as fans need to STOP crying for the organization to get rid of players simply because they are only “fringe all-stars” and not HOFers. Call it the Stockton/Malone syndrome. I for one am excited to see high our current players can climb once they have some solid, consistent PG play on the team.

  3. Diggin' It says:

    Alec Burks and #12 for Omri Cassipi and #8?

    That way the Jazz could adding shooting, veteran leadership, and better wing depth along with shoring up the backup center depth (Marquese Criss, Jakop Poeltl, Damontis Sabonis, Timothe Luwawu, Skal Labissiere, Deyonta Davis).

    I don’t know if they’re ready to deal Burks for a 28 year old Cassipi, but I would really love to see the Jazz add another wing to their roster that can shoooooot! When injuries happen, Chris Johnson and Joe Ingles should not be playing major minutes like they were last December and January.

    • We're Fine says:

      Only if Jamal Murray slips to #8 and the Jazz like him (I do). Cause only 3 of those 6 players you just listed will be gone by #12 in all likelihood. The Jazz could still draft one then without losing Burks. And Alec is way better than Casspi despite the injuries.

  4. cw says:

    The whole aim of sports is to win a championship. I think signing Hayward to a max contract will actually make it less likely that the Jazz would win a championship.

    The point is not that the jazz won’t get equivelent in a trade with Hayward, it’s that Hayward is not good enough to be the best player on a contender, and yet if the Jazz resign him he will take up 30% of the salary cap. In the days before the rising cap, signing a non-max player to a max contract was classic, embarrassing mistake because teams ended up in the mediocrity trap. Teams in the mediocrity trap make the playoffs but never contend. They can’t improve because the get low draft picks and because their cap is clogged by the non-max player’s max salary.

    I would bet lots of money that this current version of the Jazz will never contend (unless Exum suddenly turns into a superstar which is very unlikely)and if that is so, why make Hayward your highest paid player? What’s the rush? Why not trade Hayward and bring in more young talent? Hayward is tradable now, but will he be tradable 2-3 years from now when the salary cap is no longer rising and he has peaked as a fringe allstar with a max contract? And when the Jazz see that this current group is not going to contend and management wants to go in another direction? Or when they want to pay younger guys?

    One plan could be to pay Hayward now hoping to add talent a tier or two above him, but 1. how likely is that in Utah, and 2. how do you pay for that, especially if Hayward is using up 30% of your cap?

    Hayward is a third or fourth best guy on a contender. He’d be great in that role, playing with better players. Ideally, that is also where he should be in an NBA salary structure.

    The Jazz giving Hayward max would be like a person marrying someone who is not really Mr or Mrs right because they don’t think they can get get someone better. The jazz should set Hayward free so that both parties can find their true love.

    • Gerald Bowers says:

      There are many teams that will offer a max deal for Gordon and we will need to pay or lose him. If you look at his stats he is a top 30 player and if we want to get to the playoffs soon we heed him

      • cw says:

        So say the Jz sign HW to a 5 year max that eats up 30% of the cap. Two years from now, Rodney Hood and Dante Exum are both looking like they will be better than Hayward. But the Jazz can’t sign both of them because they signed Hayward and Gobert to the Max. And they can’t trade Hayward because the cap is no longer rising and he is a fringe all-star.

        In the years right before cap expansion, teams were paying other teams to take their bad contracts so they could free up caps space. We are right in the middle of an aberation but it’s only going to last a couple more years and then who know what.

  5. Gerald Bowers says:

    You are looking at Exum and Hood but they will be restricted free agents and do not have the years to demand 30% so their max is far less than Gordon. The same for Rudy. We need to see how things develop and not worry about 3 years in the future and keep as many of the good Jazz players as we can and not to let players slip by us. The free agents we sign, if any, need to have their contract worked so we do not have players overlapping. Like if we sign Dudley or Bazemore as some sources say is likely we need to have 2 year contract with a third year as a team option.

    • cw says:

      Exum, Hood, and Gobert’s max is 25% of the cap. Favor’s max 30% of cap. running a multi-million dollar business by not worrying about what happens three years in the future is a really good way to fail.

      • gerald headrick says:

        think that the jazz have serious salary issues and decisions to make over the next couple years, and they really don’t have a max contract player on the roster currently. planning is critical right now.

        think they need to redo and extend favors getting him more money immediately. gobert is likely going to get a max offer from someone, which the jazz should match. matching means less years, and lower percentage increases. gobert is a top 5 player at his position.

        hayward will opt out next year and thats when the team faces real decisions. if he wants the full max and 5 years think you have to find an alternative. getting great value for him in a trade might be difficult, but not impossible. players and picks from the celtics might to it.

        hood looks to be the potential elite scorer currently on the roster. another step up this year and bit more consistency~~losing hayward becomes less of a burden.

        not sold on exum as an elite point guard, though he may well have elite defensive skills. burks needs to have a healthy season playing for snyder so we can see exactly how he fits. lyles looks like a 6th man scorer type to me, but one who will probably command a decent salary when he comes off his rookie contract.

        the big issue is can the jazz afford 2-3 max contracts, and still build the depth to create a team that can make deep playoff runs. i don’t envy management its task over the next 3 seasons.

      • Spencer says:

        CW your logic assumes we can get someone better than Hayward by trading him. Unless you think the #2 or #3 pick this year is likely going to be that good and that LA or Boston will trade, I don’t see an option. THAT option is one worth considering though.

        Is Ingram a sure thing and does LA bite on a trade? I don’t know. I’m actually really intrigued by Murry from Washington. He could be a Westbrook type. And he could be available at #12.

        The only real way to get that star is to develop what we have or draft and devlop. Good news though: I believe both are actually possible and there is a LOT of precident. Kawaii and golden states three stars are the most obvious.

        I just hope

        • Spencer says:

          We don’t panick and start giving away picks and players with potential for guys who are at the top of their game and that too is average.

          The way we have drafted lately, there is hope that with extra picks we can hit a home run a few more times and keep parleying this assets into future picks or a star at the right time.

        • cw says:

          The point is not whether the Jazz get someone as good as Hayward in a trade, the point is that Hayward is not good enough to be the highest player on a contender and that signing him to the max is settling for less than contention and is a good way to fall into the non-contender playoff trap (see Memphis). If you trade him you probably don’t get someone better back (though maybe you can get someone with a higher upside) but you don’t fall into the trap.

          You don’t win championships by just getting the 12 best basketball players you can scrape together (see NJ), you win by getting the twelve players that fit together best, both at playing basketball and financially.

  6. Vadim says:

    Favors and Trey Burke for Kevin Love?

  7. Pingback: Hill Gives the Jazz An Interesting Year | Salt City Hoops

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