Andre Drummond made the best financial decision of his career in picking up his $28.7 million player option last offseason. The free agency period that followed was particularly unkind to big men. Only two centers, Anthony Davis and Christian Wood, got more than the mid-level exception. That's where Serge Ibaka, Derrick Favors and Montrezl Harrell settled. All three are easier fits on winners.
Drummond, 27, ducked what has increasingly become a perpetual buyers market for centers, but he was always going to have to face it eventually. Now, he's on an expiring contract so massive that few teams even have the means to trade for it, let alone the interest. But now that Cleveland has settled on Jarrett Allen as its long-term starter, it is seeking out one of the few possible deals on the table.
In declaring so publicly, the Cavaliers have sacrificed what little leverage they might have had. Drummond has value in a vacuum, but $30 million backups are few and far between, and only a select few teams will want to make the necessary sacrifices to acquire him. Any team doing so either needs to sorely be in need of immediate help (even as a rental), or must view Drummond as a possible long-term starter at center. Only a small number of teams check either box. Here are the five most logical among them.
The Raptors are the lone team known to have expressed interest in Drummond thus far. Here's the problem: They lack matching salary. Assuming Toronto's young trio of Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby is untouchable, it would have to stack several role players just to get to Drummond's level. Those players are more than just filler. A package of Chris Boucher, Aron Baynes and Norman Powell would become legal as of March 3, for example, but is Drummond more valuable as an expiring contract than Boucher or Powell? Probably not. There is no version of a Drummond trade that does not involve the Raptors giving up serious present value.
There's a solution to this, but it's a costly one. Toronto could easily match Drummond's salary by including Kyle Lowry in a deal. Cleveland, with Collin Sexton and Darius Garland in place, likely wouldn't value Lowry particularly highly, but a host of contenders might in a three-team deal. Say, for instance, Toronto were to deal Lowry to Philadelphia for draft picks. They could take Drummond back from the 76ers, who could send the expiring contracts of Danny Green, Terrance Ferguson and Mike Scott back to Cleveland.
But this isn't a move to be taken lightly. Lowry is a franchise icon, and trading him would likely only come with his consent and in acknowledgment that both sides would be better off moving on. Doing so for Drummond would essentially be a bet on his fit as their long-term center, and would essentially mean sacrificing their 2021 cap space. If the Raptors believe Drummond can be a permanent fixture in their frontcourt, it's worth considering.
Charlotte swung and missed on Harrell, and its frontcourt has been a mess as a result. The 6-foot-7 PJ Washington is playing significant minutes at center. That plan is not tenable defensively. Drummond is no Rudy Gobert, but he offers stability the Hornets sorely lack. It's time for the Cody Zeller era to come to an end.
It is therefore fitting that he would likely provide the bulk of Charlotte's matching salary in this deal. Malik Monk and Bismack Biyombo could do the rest. That's hardly an exciting return on a former All-Star, but remember, Cleveland traded only a second-round pick and expiring salary to get Drummond in the first place. The Cavs didn't exactly make a hefty investment, and the Hornets wouldn't need to either. Drummond would take up the bulk of their cap space this offseason, but assuming they could sign him to a team-friendly deal, they could still carve out enough beyond him to add a meaningful piece to their rotation.
We've now reached the rental portion of the proceedings. This would be a fairly quick one. The Knicks lost starting center Mitchell Robinson to a fractured hand on Friday. They've won their two games since, but lost the rebounding battle in both and were outscored in the paint by Atlanta on Monday. Their Derrick Rose trade signaled a serious desire to remain in the playoff race, so if they don't believe in Nerlens Noel as a replacement for Robinson, Drummond is a stylistically similar substitute.
The Knicks have two major advantages if they want to pursue Drummond. The first is their recent frugality. The Knicks have $17 million in cap space burning a hole in their pocket. They could use it to absorb the bulk of Drummond's deal without sending out nearly as much matching salary. The other advantage here is timing. The Knicks genuinely could view this as a one-month move. Get Drummond in the door, start him until Robinson recovers, and then flip him at the deadline to another interested party if he isn't comfortable being Robinson's backup afterward.
Is this particularly likely? No. The Knicks are undefeated without Robinson, after all, and short-term rentals aren't particularly frequent in the NBA. But it's an option the Knicks could consider. Few other teams have that flexibility.
The Mavericks have improved of late, but still sit at No. 10 in the Western Conference and could use a short-term upgrade. In a perfect world, that would come at another position. Kristaps Porzingis is most valuable as a center, as it limits how much perimeter defense he needs to play and maximizes floor-spacing. But adding another big man might help Dallas keep Porzingis healthy, and the Mavericks are ranked 24th in rebounding rate. Luka Doncic wouldn't say no to another lob threat.
James Johnson's hefty expiring salary could provide the bulk of the ballast, and Cleveland might be able to extract a bit of extra draft capital in a deal by taking on Dwight Powell's deal, which, unlike Drummond's, extends beyond this season. In that sense, Dallas could view the trade as both a short-term upgrade and a long-term cap dump. That might not be enough to convince the Mavericks to send out a first-round pick, but perhaps one of their young players could fit into the deal.
This is exactly the kind of move the Heat don't make. Miami doesn't mortgage long-term assets for short-term bandages. The Heat learned the dangers in investing serious money in non-shooting, stat-hunting centers with Hassan Whiteside. Miami has loftier ambitions than Drummond.
But the Heat need to do something if this season is going to be salvaged. COVID-19 was a viable excuse early on, but losing to the Clippers without four starters is not something one typically expects out of a defending Finals team. Drummond, for all of his flaws, fills preexisting holes in Miami. The Heat are near the bottom of the league in rebounding and paint scoring. They could use preexisting big men Kelly Olynyk and Meyers Leonard as their cap filler.
But that would be a significant stylistic shift for a Heat team that has preferred either playing Bam Adebayo at center or alongside a shooting center. The spacing of a Drummond-Adebayo-Jimmy Butler trio would be dangerously cramped, especially without either Tyler Herro or Duncan Robinson on the floor. Drummond isn't exactly the sort of cerebral offensive player that tends to fit in with the Heat.
Again, it's not a typical Heat move. It might not even be a sensible one. But the Heat are floundering at 11-16. Something needs to be done to salvage this season, if the Heat are even concerned with winning in 2021 at all. If they choose to focus their efforts entirely on their superstar hunt for the future, Drummond makes little sense. But if they want to take a swing right now and shore up some current holes in an effort to make a playoff push, there is at least an argument in favor of buying low on Drummond. It probably isn't one the Heat would subscribe to, but it exists.