In his attempt to stop the New Orleans Hornets from matching his offer sheet from the Phoenix Suns, guard Eric Gordon rather infamously talked about how highly he thought of the Suns’ bigs (much to the amusement of observers who noted the presence of future superstar rookie big man Anthony Davis on the Hornets). Well it looks like he’s going to be able to play with two members of that fearsome frontline after all. Robin Lopez and Hakim Warrick have been traded to the Hornets, with New Orleans sending retired center Brad Miller’s contract to Phoenix and guard Jerome Dyson to Minnesota, who in turn have sent former number 3 overall pick Wes Johnson and a future first round draft pick to the Phoenix Suns.
For Minnesota, this is a pure salary dump and an acknowledgement that they whiffed badly on Johnson, who we can safely say is a bust just two years into his career. Advertised as an athletic do-everything forward, Johnson has failed to show any NBA-level skill whatsoever thus far in his career. His career numbers come out to an ugly 7.7 points 2.9 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game on 39% shooting from the floor, 34% from 3 and 69% from the free throw line. And at 25 years of age already (he was already 23 years old and had limited upside as a draft prospect) he’s not likely to get much better. The fact that Minnesota had to ship out a first round pick to unload speaks volumes. The Wolves wanted to clear cap space to sign veteran forward Andrei Kirilenko to a 2 year $20 million contract. They also received 2 second round picks from New Orleans as part of the deal.
For Phoenix, they get a role player who makes $4 million this year with a $5 million team option next year. There is of course the slim chance that Johnson finds something useful to contribute to a team and earns his salary, but really this transaction can be viewed for them as clearing out guaranteed salary for next year, and pocketing an extra draft pick in the process. Warrick makes $4.6 million this year and $4.9 million next year, so in combination with Brad Miller’s waiveable contract they have essentially pocketed around $10 million in savings and a first round pick for their troubles, and all they had to give up was backup center Robin Lopez.
And so we come back to New Orleans, who appear to be the only team who made the deal for basketball reasons here. After shipping defensive ace Gustavo Ayon to Orlando for the Ryan Anderson sign-and-trade, and sending Emeka Okafor to the Wizards in return for Rashard Lewis’ expiring contract, they found themselves devoid of depth at the big positions behind Anthony Davis. Robin Lopez is a quality backup, especially so for the 3 year $15 million deal he agreed to, and should help limit Davis’ minutes playing the more physically demanding center position. And while Warrick is hardly a player to write home about (unless you’re Eric Gordon), as a fourth big guy he can at least provide a bit of scoring punch off the bench. And due to their low payroll and the small amount of guaranteed money next year, the salaries aren’t going to affect their cap situation in any meaningful way.