The Cavaliers have been clearing the rubble left over from LeBron's decision to skip town (again) nearly three years ago. The process has involved quite a whole lot of losing, a fair amount of patience, and just a dash of lottery luck. Since selecting the hot blooded guard Collin Sexton out of Alabama with the 8th pick in 2018, the Cavs have been blessed with two more top five picks in 2019 and 2020 (Darius Garland and Issac Okoro). The blessings look to be continuing after last weeks Draft Lottery, as the organization has seized control of yet another high quality 1st rounder at number three overall. In this draft, that pick will be particularly valuable, as most talent evaluators have concluded that the top four or five prospects in this class are supremely talented and have a chance at singularly altering the trajectory of a professional franchise.
However, this latest draft revelation has left the team at a crossroads. Recent reports have stated that teammates aren't exactly thrilled with the way Sexton plays the game of basketball, although he is very skilled and seems to be getting better each season. Not only that, but the fit between him and similarly small guard Garland have been a quirky pairing since day one, as they are both lacking in defensive tools and playmaking chops. That situation could be rectified this Summer with the introduction of Jalen Green or Jalen Suggs, who both seem to be better fits for what Darius Garland brings to the table. Suggs is a combo guard with a high IQ and impressive defensive instincts. Green is a high flying guard with more size than Sexton who could slot into an off-ball role while Garland develops his playmaking skills in a prominent lead guard role.
Of course, either of these selections would leave Sexton as the odd man out. After a career year that resulted in a fabulous scoring average of 24.3 PPG on 57 percent true shooting, it's doubtful he would be willing to accept a 6th man role. Despite the disconnect that has arisen between him and the rest of the Cleveland team, he is still a supremely talented player. Every team in the league is in need of scoring punch and he brings that in spades. He has also shown glimpses of being an impact defender on the ball due to his high motor and athletic gifts. In the proper situation, a team could continue to mold these strengths and draw out something a player approaching all-star caliber, if not better. Any team that acquires his him in a trade inherits his Bird RIghts. Remember, As long as a player doesn't sign with a new team in free agency, the "Bird Clock" does not reset. For these reasons, the next few months will be critical to Sexton's career.
The speculation on where he might continue his career has begun within social channels and while we're still waiting to see if the Cavs move him before or after the draft, it has become questionable that he remains with the team into the start of next season. That brings us to two pressing questions:
1) How would he fit on another team from an on court perspective?
2) In terms of salary, what would each team have to give up and where would it leave them relative to the cap/tax?
In this article, Sam Aldrich and Aaron Washington will break down each potential destination from an on court and court view respectively in an effort to find the best fit and most likely trade scenario as we move ever closer to an inevitable conclusion. Let's dive into it.
Oklahoma City Thunder
On Court: The Oklahoma City Thunder find themselves in an interesting situation after the lottery didn't break their way. After finishing the season with the 4th best odds, the Thunder ended up with the 6th pick in what many consider to be a 4-5 player draft. The goal for Sam Presti is to find SGA a running mate, who showed in this season that he's gone up a few levels, and it ready to be a star/co-star to lead the next great Thunder team.
Here's where Sexton comes into play- as mentioned above, the Cleveland Cavs have the third pick in this draft, meaning they'll have the opportunity to draft at least one of Evan Mobley, Jalen Green, and Jalen Suggs. They also have the Sexland backcourt of Sexton and Darius Garland, and Sexton is due for his first big payday soon.
Right now, the Thunder have SGA and Kemba Walker in their backcourt. A Sexton to OKC trade could look like the number 6 pick in this year's draft, another future first, and Kemba going to Cleveland, with Kevin Love and Sexton going back OKC's way. The result would give OKC a small ball 5 that they need in Love, and much more importantly, a budding star in Sexton to run with Shai. Cleveland gets out of the Love deal, adds the number 6 pick, and opens up that second backcourt spot for Green/Suggs to eventually take over, with Kemba able to play alongside Garland or off the bench.
Off Court: At this point, OKC has the most flexibility and adaptability of any team in the entire league when it comes to the type of deals they can make. With $10 million in cap room even after including cap holds and non-guaranteed contracts next season, they have the ability to take back major salary, which they did recently in the Kemba Walker/Al Horford swap. They also have the ultimate treasure trove of draft picks, with multiple selections in both rounds all the way out to 2027. Whatever Cleveland might be looking for in return for Sexton, they are more than likely to find in the Thunder's embarrassment of current and future assets.
Any team that deals for Sexton must keep in mind that he is eligible for a modest extension since he is approaching the final year of his rookie deal. His 2021-2022 salary only comes out to $6.3 million, so it won't take much outgoing salary to fulfill the minimum requirements to make the deal work. However, his upcoming contract will begin in 2022, whether or not it is given via extension, or a brand new deal that is reached following his restricted free agency next Summer. The Thunder do have a player by the name of Shai-Gilgeous Alexander who is eligible for an extension of his own, so the team will need to be absolutely sure that they believe in a Sexton/SGA backcourt for the future since it will require a major investment to keep both of them around long-term.
Neither player has achieved All-NBA or any other awards in their careers to this point, so they are eligible for deals up to 25% of the cap for 2022-2023. If we use a projected salary cap of $118 million, Shai's 1st year salary could be in the neighborhood of $29.5 million. Sexton more than likely wouldn't be far behind, as he looks to be in line for an annual salary over $20 million. OKC's books could go from pretty clean to highly bloated in a hurry.
As for Cleveland, they might not be interested in paying that $20+ million per year to keep Sexton around past next season, so that's another motivating factor in their decision to dump him to another team. By shipping out Sexton and replacing him with a brand new rookie contract in this year's draft, it would reduce the strain on their books for the next couple of years until Garland and Okoro are due for raises. They could dip under the salary cap without Sexton, but that's before factoring in Jarrett Allen's upcoming deal. They will more than likely be over the cap, yet comfortably away from the Luxury Tax. OKC has several players making between $2 million and $4 million in addition to some picks to sweeten the deal for Cleveland. Whether or not these teams strike a deal probably comes down to how highly the Thunder value Sexton. Who knows.
On Court: It feels like the Mavs have to do something, right? It's already been a tumultuous and tension-filled offseason in Dallas, with the report of Haralabos Voulgaris's influence within the front office and relationship with Luka Doncic, quickly followed by GM Donnie Nelson's exit and then Rick Carlisle's exit. Enter Jason Kidd, who has a less than sterling record as a head coach so far.
The elephant in the room is Kristaps Porzingis, who Dallas would not-so-secretly like to move off of, in order to get Luka a real number 2 that can be relied upon. Maybe Sexton is that guy, who can help take some of the offensive load off of Luka. This trade would send Porzingis, Josh Green, and a first rounder to Cleveland in exchange for Sexton, who would sign his extension and get moved to make the money match for Porzingis.
Cleveland has the opportunity to reclaim KP's value in a brand new situation and more opportunity, and Dallas gets a bonafide scorer to play off of Luka, and gets out of the awkward KP/Luka partnership.
Off Court: This is a massive offseason for Dallas in more ways than one. With Luka's $200 million, 30% maximum deal kicking in next year if he accepts it, the time is now for the Mavs to take advantage of their short lived cap space to bring in reinforcements for their generational superstar. If they renounce cap holds for Redick, Hardaway Jr., Melli, and Marjanovic, Richardson declines his player option, and they decline Clauley-Steins team option, they can open up around $22 million in space. Brunson is non-guaranteed for $1.8 million, but he's an incredible value at that price. They would be crazy to ditch his scoring burst for a negligible boost in spending power. Sexton wouldn't reduce their Summer spending power all that much if they decide to match or take back slightly more salary than they send out. However, the tax could become a major obstacle down the line once Sexton and Luka hit their 2022 raises, not to mention the other big fish the team goes out to get in free agency this year. Luckly, Mark Cuban doesn't seem like the type to shy away from some tax payments if it means fielding a championship caliber team.
Sexton brings exactly the type of offensive production the team needs, but if Cleveland is looking for the absolute best return possible, it puts Dallas at a huge disadvantage relative to other suitors. They are lacking high caliber young players to send back as well as premium draft picks. Josh Green and Tyrell Terry aren't exactly going to set the Cavs front office on fire. Same for the one 1st rounder Dallas has to trade (2027) and their few second rounders. Maybe Dallas could do Cleveland a favor by taking the often injured Dylan Windler of their hands, but while he's on his rookie deal, he probably isn't burning a hole in the team's wallet. Bottom line is, while a Sexton + Luka tandem is tantalizing, a deal probably doesn't get done unless it gets expanded to include multiple players and picks on both sides. Dallas is just sorely lacking in valuable assets here.
New York Knicks
On Court: The Knicks have been looking for their next young star for what feels like forever now, and Collin Sexton would absolutely love the bright lights of New York City and Madison Square Garden. The Knicks took a massive step forward this year, earning a trip to the playoffs and seeing a number of their young players emerge as valuable pieces, playing alongside inspired vets.
Sexton would provide a scoring punch in their backcourt that the Knicks do not possess today, and I think a few of Quickley, RJ Barrett, and Mitchell Robinson would get the job done to acquire Sexton from Cleveland.
Off Court: The Knicks are in a similar position to the Thunder in that they have gobs of cap space to utilize in any deal or free agency acquisition. Speaking of free agency, they have seven players hitting the open market and three more that could as a result of non-guaranteed deals (Randle would be a 4th if they wanted to get crazy and decide to not guarantee his 2021-2022 salary). They could scrap most of this roster and almost start from scratch around their new star Julius Randle if they wish. In that scenario, the Knicks open up about $52 million in space for this Summer's shopping spree. One of the players that could be cut is Mitchell Robinson, so that amount is probably a bit generous. Sexton is a perfect fit for their younger timeline along with RJ Barrett, so it's likely that New York at least make a few calls to inquire on the status of the young guard. Most of the average sized contracts the Knicks had in 2020-2021 are coming off the books this Summer, so the team is limited in what players they could theoretically trade. Kevin Knox is one option, as he has been buried in the Knicks rotation for ages and is owed a meager $5.8 million next season for his final rookie contract year. The Cavs would have the benefit of matching offers next Summer if he finds a fit there and improves on his underwhelming career so far. Obi Toppin is close in salary, but it's a risk to move off such a talented forward so soon. It remains to be seen if the team is willing to part with him after one year.
The Knicks are one of the few teams along with OKC that could comfortably absorb Sexton's upcoming extension without much fear of impending luxury tax payments. Randle's next deal is something they must take into consideration also, as it could approach the max, but there's still time to work that out. As of today, they barely have any contracts on the books past next season. They are an open book with many chapters ready to be written.
With the right combination of draft picks, the Knicks could construct a pretty attractive package for Sexton. They still have all their future 1st rounders and most of their seconds to throw in. Toppin and Knox still have tons of unrealized potential that Cleveland could tap into. This team seems like one of the more likely trade partners for Cleveland for several reasons and Sexton's ferocity could be just what Thibs is looking for. Keep an eye on this one.
On Court: With long time Heat veteran Goran Dragic approaching the twilight of his career and Kendrick Nunn coming off of another up and down season with Miami, the team from South Beach could certainly use another dynamic guard to suit up next to Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo. The team has reportedly shown interest in Sexton and for good reason. His three point shooting and explosive acceleration would be perfect complements to Butler, who relies on more bully ball and methodical footwork to generate offense. Butler is a facilitator by nature and sometimes gets himself in trouble by being too unselfish with the ball. His struggles from the perimeter were exacerbated and exploited in the post season when Herro and Robinson struggled to properly space the floor for him, and Milwaukee responded by closing down the paint.
Sexton's offensive game is more diverse than anyone on the Heat roster. His three point shooting is real, as he has shot at or better than 38% all three seasons of his career and he's comfortable putting his head down to create shots at the rim. He finished 61% of his shots at the cup for 2020-2021, a career high. Even when he gets fouled, he puts up points, as he was a 81% free throw shooter this past season and has never shot worse than that in any of his three NBA campaigns. He is clearly evolving into an efficient three level scorer and that could unlock Miami's offense in a big way.
Sexton's ability to distribute the ball, or lack thereof has been heavily criticized over the years and they have been valid concerns. With several players in the post and the wing that require a creator to help generate efficient shots, it has certainly been a problem that he has finished in the 4th and 6th percentile his first two season, respectively. However, he did show signs of growth in year three, when he jumped into the 64th percentile. He's still not a great playmaker relative to his usage, and may never be, but that wouldn't be much or a problem on Miami. Butler and Bam are great at that skill almost to a fault, so Sexton would be able to focus on what he does best. It has been the same story on the defensive end for most of his career, but Miami has had a defensive focus that could unlock that end of the floor for Sexton. There isn't really an avenue for him to become a defensive stopper, but certainly a guy who could make life difficult for opposing guards. That's plenty for what he brings offensively. Out of all the teams listed here, Miami might be the best fit for his strengths and weaknesses.
If Miami decided to send back Herro and Achiuwa (more on the salaries below), they could flourish in that situation. Herro could be the off guard they decide to pair with Garland for the long haul and then they could use their 2021 draft pick to grab a wing or big instead of a guard. Precious could be a valuable backup big and bring some much needed energy along side Nance Jr. or Love, for example. There aren't many downsides to this deal when it comes to basketball fits on each roster.
Off Court: The Heat are in a perfect position cap wise if they want to bring Sexton in. Similar to the Mavericks, this is probably the last year they will have cap space for some time due to a impending deal for Duncan Robinson that will probably be worth somewhere between $15 million and $20 million per year. They can use their rights to match offers in Restricted Free Agency, so there really isn't a chance he gets away unless he expresses a major displeasure with Miami, or he gets an outlandish deal from a desperate club.
Due to the plethora of free agents hitting the market and team options for Dragic/Iguodala, they can open up $28 million in space. Their realistic space will dip lower since Dedmon will probably be back on a minimum, however. If they decide to bring back Robinson on a deal they construct, or match an outside offer sheet, they could still have a bit of cap space to play with before taking care of current free agents they have bird rights to like Oladipo.
As far as salary they could send back, Herro and Achiuwa look like perfect candidates. Combined, their salaries for next season come out to about $6.7 million, which is within $100k of what Sexton will make. Neither team would need to add on any salary and the talent being sent both ways should be enough without complicating things with draft picks. This is a relief for Miami, since they're down to two seconds and have no 1st rounders that are eligible to be traded, unless their friends in Oklahoma City are kind enough to remove the protections on some of the picks they are owed.
All five teams have a case to be in the running for Sexton's services. He is a young guard that provides scoring in bunches and you can never have enough of that in the NBA. It comes down to how much each team values his deficiencies and how they deal with how their books may look like after his extension. Several more teams could fin their way into negotiations as the Summer wares on. What's fascinating about these rumors is the fact that a trade could be agreed upon tomorrow or even next year. Sexton is not approaching free agency for the next 12 months, so there is no rush. Expect Cleveland to explore every possible option and maybe even make their 2021 draft selection before moving on from him, if they even decide to do so. This saga may be far from over.