It seems for all the world as though the Atlanta Hawks will be trading Dejounte Murray in the next two weeks. With a 19-27 record that will struggle to make the play-in tournament let alone any noise at the top of the Eastern Conference, they need a change; even though he was a headline acquisition relatively recently, Murray becomes on the block by default, as he is the most changeable part they have to offer.
Since coming to the Hawks and pairing with All-Star point guard Trae Young, Murray – a one-time All-Star in his own right – has played a different role. When Young is on the court, the ball is or should be in his hands, and Murray’s assists per game totals have taken a hit from 9.1 in his final season with the San Antonio Spurs, down to 5.1 in his first 45 games of this season.
On the flip side, his scoring average this season is a career-high 21.4 points per game, a continuing source of growth throughout his career. Yet Murray’s defense is not enough to offset what Young gives back on that end. It is unclear if anyone could be; nonetheless, if the defensive advantage is not there, then perhaps better offensive cohesion could be.
In terms of what Murray did wrong to be traded; he didn’t. While his defense has wilted somewhat this season, Murray is still a productive two-way player of quite some caliber and of the right age to be valuable. If the Hawks are looking to deal Murray, be it actively or passively, they are not doing so because of his individual failings. They are doing so because they need to make a winning trade.
With this in mind, here are three possible trade destinations for Dejounte Murray to have hit the rumor mill, and the reasons why they all make at least some sense.
Since the long-awaited Pascal Siakam trade was finally completed, the rumor mill has been dominated by stories of the Lakers’ dogged pursuit of Murray. They are his loudest suitor, he is their “top priority”, and he is certainly a logical one. 27 years old, entering his prime, and on an acquirable (albeit not insubstantial) contract, Murray’s ability to be both primary and secondary ball-handler augurs well with LeBron James’s unselfishness and workload management, while providing defensive help on all types of opposing guards.
For the Lakers, D’Angelo Russell is also a logical trade piece, having re-signed over the summer to a deal that would have entitled him to have the right to veto any trade he is in, had he not vetoed that right. This decision can only have been the result of negotiations made at the time, ones telegraphing the intent – or at least, the likelihood – of him being made available in trade. Russell has been on the table since the day he re-signed, and thus has been the assumed starting point of the whole discussion.
There is however one clear sticking point; the fact that the Hawks do not want to take Russell in trade. It is not meant as an indictment on Russell as an individual; rather, in being a ball-dominant, creative scoring type with spotty defense and an inclination to gravitate towards the ball rather than moving off it, Russell replicates Young’s style, without getting to quite his level. It therefore would be a bad use of the limited salary spending, trade assets and Murray’s premium spot on the market for the Hawks to get back someone they do not much need, at a time when they need to hit on a deal quite urgently.
In addition to this, Russell’s own play has improved to the point that a Murray trade is not seen as the automatic upgrade it once was. Since moving back into the starting lineup eight games ago, he has averaged 27.5 points and 6.4 assists per game, shooting 52.3 percent from the field and 54.2 percent from three-point range. The Lakers would still like to have Murray, but a Russell of this caliber makes it less of a requirement. Nevertheless, all reports indicate that the Lakers are still in for him, and he is certainly still available in talks.
In theory, the Lakers do not have to base a trade package for Murray around Russell. In terms of both salary and talent, they could very easily engage the Hawks on a deal centered around Austin Reaves. But this is not happening. Reaves – understandably, yet perhaps excessively – has been deemed off limits for all but the game’s very best, a level outside of Murray’s reach. Rightly or wrongly, this appears to be steadfast.
From a financial perspective, in order to salary-match Murray’s $18,214,000 2023-24 salary, deals can also be based around Rui Hachimura ($15,740,741) or Gabe Vincent ($10,500,000). From the point of view of their trade capital – which the Hawks are said to be seeking, given their shortage in that department as a result of the trade to bring Murray in – the Lakers are not the best team to ask, given their own shortages in this area.
The challenge, then, is to either find a third team that will take on Russell instead, or to try and cook something up around Rui and Vincent, neither of which has Russell’s trade value (and in the case of the latter, is said to have merely the equivalent value of second-round picks). It is not easy to do. The Lakers do however seem the likeliest destination for Murray, given the lengthy commitment to talks.
Considering they are on course for the worst season in NBA history and need a fundamental paradigm shift to have any hope in their medium- and long-term futures – something that is best achieved by bottoming out for longer – it makes little sense for the Pistons to be targeting players in their prime seasons. An argument can be made that there is such a thing as being too bad, and that losing at a history-making level is self-defeating actually undercuts the supposed growth that is supposed to come from the tank. This does not however predicate being seemingly in the discussions for every available star.
Nonetheless, the Pistons are attached to all the market’s names, Murray included, so there must be something to it. They also have form, having dealt for Blake Griffin at a time when he was at his most expensive, a move that worked for a few months before backfiring heavily. The Pistons may have changed a lot of their basketball hierarchy since then, yet seemingly the same mindset prevails.
Were they to actually be seriously in on Murray, their best value may come financially. With the league’s second-lowest 2023/24 payroll and a whole bunch of expiring salaries in the forms of Joe Harris, James Wiseman, Alec Burks and Monte Morris, the Pistons can offer much greater salary relief than any other peers in the race for Murray.
If this is Atlanta’s priority, Detroit has leverage. If the Hawks want an established player, then Bojan Bogdanovic becomes another logical piece, with a year left to run on his $20 million contract and some offensive juice still left in him (while the rest of us will have to cope with the resulting Bojan Bogdanovic/Bogdan Bogdanovic confusion). If the Hawks mostly want draft capital, though, the Pistons should stay away. After all, that is what they should be seeking too.
Having traded away Jrue Holiday in the offseason, there exists a hole in the Bucks’ lineup. Damian Lillard, of course, came back in return, yet it is on the defensive end that the Bucks are coming up short. Their second-best league offensive rating is good enough for a title, but their 19th-best defensive rating is not, and the defensive downgrade from Holiday to Lillard is a big part of why.
If Murray can be acquired, he should help with that. But realistically, any Milwaukee Bucks trade for Dejounte Murray has to start with Bobby Portis. His $11,710,818 contract is the right sort of size (meeting salary-matching rules when paired with that of Pat Connaughton), he is an established player for the Hawks to utilise, and although he is an important scorer for the Bucks and popular player, they will need to deal from a position of excess (offense) to shore up the area of weakness (defense).
If the Bucks can pair those two contracts with, perhaps, MarJon Beauchamp, Andre Jackson Jr and the 2024 second-round pick of the Portland Trail Blazers, perhaps they can make an ambitious pitch. Almost all of their own future draft picks are already owed elsewhere, mostly because of the Lillard trade, but perhaps the Hawks will see enough in Beauchamp and Jackson Jr to pique their interest.
If they do not, and if the Bucks would rather keep Portis, then any alternate package becomes tough to forecast. On pure salary-matching alone, the only other viable option involves trading Brook Lopez. And that will not help with the defense.