The Anthony Davis saga has dominated 2019 NBA Trade Deadline rumors. His fate will be the banner headline story of the season. In Davis’ wake, the New Orleans Pelicans could find themselves considering trade offers for other starters, including Jrue Holiday and the subject of today’s Blazer’s Edge Mailbag question, Nikola Mirotic. Would a rumored Moe Harkless and a pick for Mirotic deal benefit the Blazers, and how much? Read on.
The new hotness is Harkless to the Pels for Nikola Mirotic. We pick up on AD’s leftovers. We give up a first rounder. Do you like it?
I’ve been fairly hot on Mirotic twice. When LaMarcus Aldridge was angling to leave Portland, Mirotic was one of a few players who might have been able to replace his versatile offense. I drooled over seeing him grow up in Terry Stotts’ system. Then, as my friend Kelly AuCoin likes to remind me occasionally, Dan Marang and I advocated a CJ McCollum trade that would have brought the Blazers Mirotic and Victor Oladipo. Mirotic was less central to that deal, but he was still a solid asset.
Even though he’s no longer considered a potential star, Mirotic has plenty to recommend him. He’s 27. He’s a decent three-point shooter, with a chance of becoming brilliant in Portland’s scheme. 57% of his attempts come from distance, but he shoots well from every range. His per-minute scoring and True Shooting Percentage numbers are excellent. His defense is well short of Al-Farouq Aminu’s, but it’d be easy to see Mirotic coming off the bench as a scorer, joining the first unit later in the game depending on mix and matchups.
If the cost is just Harkless and a first-round pick, there’s no downside to the deal for the Blazers except the obvious loss of the pick. Unless they’re in love with a low-level 2019 draftee, there’s no reason to hold back.
That said, the deal would be impossible to judge fairly until April, and the real impact wouldn’t be known until July.
Mirotic is on the last year of his contract. In the short-term, the Blazers would be hoping for the same thing they want from Rodney Hood: help win a playoff game that might otherwise have been out of reach. If something happens to the Warriors, the Western Conference will turn into the Hunger Games. Mirotic would be a silver parachute in that scenario.
After the season is over, certainty falls off a cliff. Mirotic would join Hood and Al-Farouq Aminu as unrestricted free agents this summer. Even without Harkless, Portland is on the hook for $114.2 million next season minimum, more likely $116.1. That’s against a projected salary cap of $109 million with only 9 players signed, no free agents.
The Blazers don’t have Bird Rights on Hood, so he’s probably out of the equation. Re-signing Aminu and Mirotic would put Portland over the tax threshold with more spots yet to fill. An excellent showing in the playoffs might convince them to do that, but more likely they’d be choosing between Mirotic and Aminu. They couldn’t retain either and still keep cap room for free agents in the Summer of 2020, though. If that’s the plan, they’d need to say goodbye to both.
Plenty of scenarios end up with Mirotic departing after three months of service. That’s completely legit...maybe even smart, but then let’s call it what it is: a fancy, optics-friendly way of spending a first-round pick to save money. No matter how the team tried to sell it, it’d be a make-up move for past mistakes, not a smart move for the future.
The Blazers would presumably have a pretty good idea of what would happen with Mirotic in the summer before they made the trade. Unless they shared that information, there would be no way for us to know whether the trade was about talent or dollars until he signed his next contract.
Either way, the Blazers would get something out of it, so it’d be defensible deal. Another 24th pick won’t save them from staring at the same team next year, minus Aminu. Trading away a first-round pick for an expiring contract is never smart, but when you’re this deep in, smart has to give way to sensible. Even if Mirotic walks, they should take the savings and do the deal.