Offseason Trade Ideas: Travis Outlaw

Travis Outlaw, Richard Jefferson
Trading Travis Outlaw would be no easy task.

Let’s be fair. After a 24-58 season, every player save Deron Williams and arguably Brook Lopez is on the block. There is no way a team that lost more than twice as many games as it won can’t stand to improve – or, at the very least, change – at almost every position.

Of all five positions, none in New Jersey is more maligned than the small forward spot, and no player more maligned than Travis Outlaw. He has been, for all intents and purposes, a bust contract – after signing him for five years at $7 million per year, the Nets expected him to perform. He didn’t.

A few weeks ago, I was chatting with friend and fellow TrueHoop Network writer Timothy Varner. Tim writes for the Network’s San Antonio Spurs blog 48 Minutes of Hell, and by his own admission thinks about trades more often than the average human. This entire idea came from him and was born out of our discussion. The deal he asked me about was very simple, realistic, and in his words, equitable.

The deal?

Travis Outlaw for Richard Jefferson.

Here’s how it breaks down. Outlaw is owed $28 million over the next four years at a base salary of $7m/yr. RJ is owed $19.4 million over the next two seasons, with a player option for 2013 at $11 million. You have to assume he’ll pick up that option, making his contract roughly $30 million over three years.

Jefferson played in 81 games (starting all of them), averaging 11 points and four rebounds per game with a very good true shooting percentage of 61.2%. He produced 116 points per 100 possessions in a very limited offensive role in San Antonio, basically playing off San Antonio’s “Big Three” and getting shots where he could find them.

Outlaw played in all 82 games this year, starting 55 of them. He averaged 9.2 points and four rebounds per game with a true shooting percentage of just 46.9% (that’s bad. Very bad. Like Travis Outlaw-level bad). He produced just 97 points per 100 possessions in a slightly bigger role than Jefferson’s.

Personally, I’m a big fan of this trade for a few reasons. Firstly, Outlaw is a much better fit in San Antonio than he is in New Jersey. With the Nets, Outlaw was called upon to create his own shot and be the 3rd or 4th option on offense – sometimes higher when he was playing with the bench. In San Antonio, Outlaw will have a much lighter load; the Spurs have three young wings (James Anderson, Ba’Sean Butler, Danny Green) who can all take a share of the minutes, while Outlaw will be asked to hang out on the perimeter, occasionally cut to the basket, and occasionally play defense for about 10 minutes per game.

Secondly, the reverse is true – Jefferson is a much better fit in New Jersey than San Antonio. He’s clearly not the Richard Jefferson of old, the one I remember flying through the air en route to 17.4 points per game in his seven seasons in New Jersey. That guy’s athleticism and penchant for scoring is long gone. Still, Jefferson is an immediate upgrade over Outlaw, a guy who’s cerebral enough to make smart cuts and get good shots in an offense, and a guy who can make threes consistently. Jefferson notched career highs in three point makes, attempts, and percentage this year, shooting 3.8 threes per game at a 44% clip. Jefferson’s production would likely take a dive in New Jersey as his role would change and he’d be leaving the coaching genius of Gregg Popovich, but his skill level would dictate that he still outperforms Outlaw in New Jersey by a wide margin.

Thirdly, the salary benefits work out for both teams. Outlaw saves the Spurs $3 million per year for the next three years, getting them further under the luxury tax level (which, according to Tim, they’re very close to). The Nets can shed Outlaw’s contract, freeing them of at least one extra year and giving them another tradable asset. Given my expectations surrounding the new CBA – which seems like it may favor shorter contracts – I’d rather the Nets have that extra year off the end for flexibility.

This trade is one that speaks to me because it’s immediately realistic. The Deron Williams trade was kind of a fantasy; after being rocked back and forth for eight months on a flawed superstar, the Nets switched around and got a real one in like four seconds. I’m not looking for lightning to strike twice here, I’m just looking for a realistic trade with two flawed players that makes sense for both teams.

Or maybe Tim & I are just nuts.