From Trash to Treasure: NBA Castoffs to Contracts


Baeden Blackburn, Staff Reporter

Members of my family all play in the same fantasy football league. I was never one for fantasy football myself, but I enjoyed the NBA. There was, however, something in this fantasy football league that always intrigued me. Every year, there’s a team called “The Rage”. The Rage has no manager or player controlling them. They are a team, which after the draft is over, is composed of all the best remaining players that no team drafted or selected. The whole idea of this team is basically to say, “Anyone could have had any player on this team, and look at how good they’re doing!” This past season, an actual regular team managed by a regular living and sentient person performed worse than The Rage, and anyone could have had any of these players. No one wanted them. 

I am fascinated by the idea of The Rage, and I got to thinking: what NBA players could exist on this hypothetical Rage team in real life? My criteria are simple. A player is eligible if in the past he:

  • Was traded for close to nothing or well below their market value
  • Was a free agent who remained available after the off-season concluded (such as Carmelo Anthony pre-Trailblazers or Dwight Howard pre-‘19-20 Lakers )
  • Was waived or bought out

If any of these apply to a given player, they belong on The Rage. 

Let’s get the obvious out of the way first: Carmelo Anthony. After Melo’s 10 game stint with the Rockets in 2018-19, no one wanted him. Allow me to reiterate: no one wanted 10-time All-Star, surefire Hall of Famer Carmelo Anthony on their NBA roster. Anyone could have had him. He was a free agent, but instead, Melo was jobless for over a year because no one wanted him. Luckily, the Portland Trailblazers took a chance on him after a year of him being without a team, and Melo would provide stable shooting, rebounding, versatility, and overall reliable veteran play. The Rage wouldn’t take that long to pick up any 10-time All-Star, future Hall of Famer without a job, and Melo will make a great addition.

Next up, another future Hall of Famer that has cemented himself as a serviceable role player in recent years, Dwight Howard.

During a 4 season stretch from the 2015-16 to 2018-19 seasons, the former 8-time All-Star Dwight Howard had played for 4 different teams, was traded 3 times, and was even waived twice. Howard had become a journeyman and no team was willing to take a chance on him in the offseason of 2019. However, the Los Angeles Lakers, a team needing a quality backup center, rolled the dice on Howard and offered him a one-year contract. Was Howard a star for the Lakers? Of course not, he was 34 years old and had regressed significantly since his time as an All-Star. The Lakers only needed a serviceable big man to play close to 20 minutes a game off the bench. Luckily, this is exactly what they got out of Howard; 19 minutes of ultra-efficient, savvy veteran play, and that season he would help lead the Lakers to their first NBA championship in a decade. All this as a player that many teams were not willing to take a risk on. A perfect addition to the Rage.

So it’s safe to say that The Rage has quality veteran help available with quality veteran role players, a good foundation. But what about star power and quality young players? It makes sense that teams would give up on old role-players, but there’s no way they’d give up on stars and quality young players, right? Fortunately, even stars and talented young players are given up from time to time. Two notable young players and three notable stars from recent years (among countless others throughout history) include young players Kevin Porter Jr, and Lonzo Ball, and stars Kemba Walker, Jimmy Butler, and Chris Paul.

Beginning This past NBA regular season, a 21-year-old second-year player was traded for a heavily protected second-round pick amid locker room issues. The player has grown to become a 21-year-old phenom and would even drop 50 and 10 on the eventual title-winning team in 20-21. This 21-year-old was Kevin Porter Jr. 

KPJ has a skill set and size allowing him to play the 1, 2, or 3. He has a bag of offensive tricks impressive for most prime players, let alone a 21-year-old. He has even drawn player comparisons to former NBA MVP James Harden. It’s no secret, his stat sheet is by no means going to jump off the page. 16, 6, and 4 are solid stats, but it’s not setting the world on fire. But the eye test shows a phenomenal ball-handler and scorer at such a ripe, young age, and anyone could have had him, a perfect addition to The Rage.

So KPJ is a high-upside combo guard, but what about a backcourt partner for him? Perhaps another versatile combo guard that has skills in defense, playmaking, and shooting enough to make them what some would call the perfect role-player at only 24 years old? If this is who we want to pair Porter Jr with in our backcourt, look no further than Lonzo Ball of the Chicago Bulls.

Lonzo was the number 2 pick in the 2017 NBA draft by the Los Angeles Lakers but was shipped to New Orleans in 2019 alongside other young assets in exchange for Anthony Davis. Lonzo was now in a position without the spotlight and micromanaging of the LA media, and began to thrive because of it. In two seasons with the Pelicans, Ball proved to be the perfect role-player to pair next to stars like Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson. A playmaker in the full court, a shooter in the half-court, he would take on the challenge of defending the other team’s best perimeter player. 

Lonzo Ball would fit seamlessly into any NBA team—the Pelicans included—and teams knew this as when Ball and the Pelicans failed to reach a contract extension or a trade at the 20-21 deadline. The contract offers came flooding in from any team looking for a young, versatile guard. Eventually, Lonzo was signed-and-traded to the Bulls, but only for 2 role-players and a future 2nd round pick. Obviously, the sign-and-trade implications make this transaction a little more complex, but do keep in mind that Lonzo was still a restricted free-agent. New Orleans had and used their right to match the Bulls’s contract, and did, meaning they could have traded him for anything they wished. However, the value they asked in return was less than what many would view as Lonzo’s true value. Regardless of unusual circumstances, Lonzo Ball was dramatically undervalued in a transaction this past offseason, and will make a great addition to The Rage.

Next up, let’s begin the current stars section with the most recent transaction of the bunch, Kemba Walker. Kemba was the Boston Celtics’ point guard for two seasons, but in the 20-21 offseason, he wasn’t cutting it anymore and Boston wanted him out. So Kemba was shipped to OKC in a salary dump. However, in a shocking turn of events, Kemba (the former All-Star just the previous season) was not traded from the Thunder and instead had the remainder of his contract bought out amid injury concerns and became a free agent. Kemba was All-NBA just two seasons ago and was an All-Star just last season, and he was bought out, meaning anyone could pay for his services. Kemba’s hometown team, the New York Knicks, came to his door and offered him a two-year deal to come play for them and Kemba accepted. 

The former All-Star, former All-NBA player Kemba Walker was bought out for nothing and a free agent during the midst of his prime, and anyone could have had him. Walker was bought out because no one wanted to trade for him. A perfect player for The Rage.

Next, Jimmy Butler. Jimmy is a 5-time All-Star, 4-time All-NBA forward currently for the Miami Heat, and just last season, he led the Heat to their first NBA Finals berth since Lebron. Safe to say, he’s really darn good. But at one time, Jimmy was viewed as a “locker room cancer”, and teams were not willing to roll the dice on him. Luckily for The Rage, we roll the dice all the time, and we will certainly roll the dice for a player of Butler’s caliber.

In the 2017 offseason, Jimmy Butler was a Chicago Bull, coming off a playoff berth and a 6 game first-round battle against the Celtics. The Bulls, however, would later move Butler to Minnesota that offseason. With Minnesota, Jimmy was incredible. They were as high as the 3-seed in an ultra-competitive western conference when Jimmy was healthy, and even despite Butler missing 23 games of the regular season, the Wolves squeaked into the playoffs and Butler was top 10 in MVP voting.

After a first-round loss to the Rockets in the postseason, turmoil began to grow between Jimmy and the Wolves, and Butler requested a trade. His trade value plummeted.

Offers for Jimmy were lackluster at best until the Philadelphia 76ers came through with the Godfather offer of Robert Covington, Dario Saric, and a future second-round pick. RoCo, Saric, and a second-rounder for an at-the-time 4-time All-Star, 2-time All-NBA player in the prime of his career! (Can you sense my sarcasm?) Now, don’t get me wrong, Covington and Saric are fine players, but not enough to be the main pieces of a Jimmy Butler package. Thanks to this transaction, Jimmy will make a great addition to The Rage.

Finally, Chris Paul. Paul is 36 and just coming off an All-Star year and his first finals berth as a player, so it is safe to say he has not lost a step despite his age. However, this is not what the Rockets must have thought when they shipped the 33-year-old Paul off to OKC in a panic move alongside 4 FRPs in order to get off Paul’s contract. Chris had a contract at the time that many viewed as an overpay, and Houston must have thought so too as they sent him off after a disappointing loss in the 2019 playoffs. Paul would prove shortly after that he could still play at a high level and the Rockets would regret giving him away.

Chris was now on an OKC team that was predicted to have the 7th worst record in the league alongside the likes of the Knicks, Cavs, Bulls, and Wizards. However, Chris Paul’s All-Star season among a productive supporting cast willed the Thunder to the 5th  seed in a historically competitive western conference. They would end up losing in 7 in the first round, but that’s not too bad for a team that was predicted to be the 7th worst team in the NBA in preseason projections. 

After the Thunder’s magical run, Chris would be traded to the Suns and would lead them to the NBA finals in just his first year there coming off a second straight All-Star selection. Safe to say, Paul could still help a team win despite his old age, and he was a player that was traded alongside 4 first-rounders just so a team wouldn’t have to pay his salary. He’ll make a perfect fit on The Rage. 

So within only the last three seasons, the hypothetical Rage could have acquired the likes of countless productive veterans, All-Star-caliber players, and quality young talent. Every single player on this list was acquired for no greater than a traded role player, second-round pick, or their contracted salary. All this to say, nearly any NBA team could have had any one of these players. They are more than welcome on The Rage.