clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

What If You Could Do Cross-Sport Trades?

Sports fans don’t just cheer for a team, they cheer for a region. So what if Cleveland fans could fix the Cavs with the help of the Browns? In honor of the NBA trade deadline, we dive into the imaginary world of cross-sport trades.

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

In 1972, Lakers owner Jack Kent Cooke tried to trade Wilt Chamberlain for a hockey player. Cooke, a man so much larger than life that he doubted he would die, hoped to kill two birds with one trade. Just five years after Cooke opened the “Fabulous” Forum, attendance plummeted for the L.A. Kings, his NHL franchise. Worse, the NHL itself was being threatened by the World Hockey Association, which was preparing to launch later that year. Rumors swirled the WHA was prepared to offer Blackhawks star left winger Bobby Hull $1 million to defect. Blackhawks owner Arthur Wirtz, like many NHL owners, didn’t take the WHA seriously, but Cooke was concerned that Hull would legitimize the league.

In addition to owning the Blackhawks, Wirtz was in the process of acquiring a majority stake in the Chicago Bulls, who were struggling to fill their arena. Cooke approached Wirtz with an outside-the-box idea: What if we swapped one of the best basketball players of all time for one of the best hockey players of all time? The aging Chamberlain would attract interest in the Bulls, Hull would bring hockey fans to the Forum, and Cooke could ensure a star NHL player didn’t legitimize the WHA.

The deal never materialized—and may not have been legal if it had—but maybe Cooke was on to something. Our sports conversations are confined to individual leagues, but our allegiances are often spread across an entire region. The Cavs fans wondering how to keep LeBron James in Cleveland are likely the same Browns fans debating what to do with two top-four draft picks. Wouldn’t it make sense for Northeast Ohio to channel its inner Jack Kent Cooke and survey the landscape of the entire region?

Imagine if the city of Cleveland could trade the Browns’ no. 1 overall draft pick to New Orleans for Anthony Davis. Or if Carolina could send Hornets point guard Kemba Walker to Indiana for Colts wide receiver T.Y. Hilton. Or if Houston could swap Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins for DeAndre Jordan. What if San Francisco sent Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner and catcher Buster Posey to Arizona in exchange for Devin Booker to the Warriors? What if this is a Galaxy Brain meme but it goes on forever?

Cross-sport trades aren’t happening in real life anytime soon, but February is the perfect time for hypotheticals that merge the three conversations happening in basketball, football, and baseball—what should this team do?—into one holistic sports conversation: What should this place do?

It’s easy to get lost in the cross-sports sauce, so before we begin, here’s the framework we’ve created that will guide this discussion:

The Rules:

Structure

  • Nothing about the individual leagues changes. The NFL, NBA, and MLB still have completely separate schedules, drafts, free-agency periods—everything. The only difference is that trades can include assets from other leagues.
  • For the purpose of this exercise, we’re pretending that each team’s ownership and front office is untouched, but that owners are now beholden to the local regional general manager. The regional GM—part public servant, part chairman of the board—is the ultimate decision-maker in trade talks (i.e., the Cleveland GM would be in charge of the Cavs, the Browns, and the Indians. The Arizona GM would oversee the Suns, Cardinals, and Diamondbacks).
  • The regional GM has one goal: Maximize the happiness of their fan base. It’s up to the RGM to define what happiness is and how to maximize it.

Money Matters

  • Basketball teams still need to adhere to the salary cap. (You can check the trade machine to confirm cap numbers.)
  • NFL teams also must stay under the cap, and can cut players to do so. (I.e., the Seahawks can save $11 million by cutting Richard Sherman. Cap numbers are available on Spotrac. We’ve also created a cheat sheet for creating NFL cap space, available here.)
  • MLB teams don’t have a cap, but salaries aren’t irrelevant. Nobody’s paying Albert Pujols $28.5 million per year out of the goodness of their heart.

The Smell Test

  • There must be an internal logic for all involved parties. Trades can’t be ridiculously one-sided, defy common sense, or potentially spark civil unrest.
  • Economics: Age, price, and contract length are all key factors. Good quarterbacks and NBA superstars are more valuable than everything else.
  • Championships: The only metric that matters. Does the deal put each side closer to a title (or multiple titles)?

Priorities!

The real-life desires of the fan base must be taken into account. Some regions require more balance than others. Dallas will gladly let you gut the Mavs and Rangers to pursue a Super Bowl for the Cowboys. On the other hand, Philly fans won’t let you blow up the Sixers or the Eagles no matter what the return is. A good rule of thumb: If fans would burn down city hall, no deal. (Yes, this allows for some teams to be really bad, but there are already lots of bad teams. At least now fans can get something out of those bad teams besides misery.)

The Regions

Listed below are the regions. (For our sanity, the regions aren’t changing. We apologize in advance if we offended you.) Also listed is an incomplete list of each region’s assets, which is not a list of the best players, but rather the players that can be mentioned in trade negotiations with a straight face. The asset list is not all-encompassing—it’s more to jog your memory.

Cross-Sport Trades

Region NBA Team NFL Team MLB Team NHL Team Assets
Region NBA Team NFL Team MLB Team NHL Team Assets
Arizona Suns Cardinals Diamondbacks Coyotes SG Devin Booker, SP Zack Greinke, SP Robbie Ray, RB David Johnson, CB Patrick Peterson, S Tyrann Mathieu, OLB Chandler Jones, SG
Atlanta Hawks Falcons Braves N/A Hawks' first-round Pick, WR Julio Jones, 1B Freddie Freeman, SS Dansby Swanson,
Baltimore N/A Ravens Orioles N/A 3B Manny Machado, CF Adam Jones, RP Zach Britton, G Marshal Yanda, OT Ronnie Stanley
Boston Celtics Patriots Red Sox Bruins SG Jaylen Brown, SF Jayson Tatum, QB Tom Brady, TE Rob Gronkowski, SP Chris Sale, 3B Rafael Devers
Buffalo N/A Bills N/A Sabres RB LeSean McCoy, QB Nathan Peterman (Just Kidding)
Carolina Hornets Panthers N/A Hurricanes PG Kemba Walker, SG Malik Monk, C Dwight Howard, LB Luke Kuechly, RB Christian McCaffrey, TE Greg Olsen
Chicago Bulls Bears Cubs Blackhawks SG Zach LaVine, PF Lauri Markkanen, Bears no. 8 overall pick, QB Mitchell Trubisky, RB Jordan Howard, RB Tarik Cohen, 1B Anthony Rizzo, 3B Kris Bryant
Cincinnati N/A Bengals Reds Blue Jackets 1B Joey Votto, WR A.J. Green, G Sergei Bobrovsky
Cleveland Cavaliers Browns Indians N/A Kevin Love, Brooklyn Nets pick, 2B Jason Kipnis, Browns’ 2018 picks (first, fourth, 33rd, 35th overall), Francisco Mejía
Dallas Mavericks Cowboys Rangers Stars PG Dennis Smith Jr., Mavs' first-round pick, WR Dez Bryant, SS Elvis Andrus, C Tyler Seguin
Denver Nuggets Broncos Rockies Avalanche C Nikola Jokic, SG Gary Harris, OLB Vonn Miller, CB Chris Harris Jr., Broncos no. 5 overall pick, 3B Nolan Arenado, OF Charlie Blackmon, C Nathan MacKinnon
Detroit Pistons Lions Tigers Red Wings PF Blake Griffin, C Andre Drummond, QB Matthew Stafford, DE Ezekiel Ansah*, CB Darius Slay, WR Marvin Jones Jr., WR Golden Tate, SP Michael Fulmer, RP Alex Wilson, RW Gustav Nyquist, C Dylan Larkin
Houston Rockets Texans Astros N/A PG Chris Paul, SG Eric Gordon, C Clint Capela, QB Deshaun Watson, WR DeAndre Hopkins, DE J.J. Watt, SP Justin Verlander, SS Alex Bregman
Indiana Pacers Colts N/A N/A SG Victor Oladipo, QB Andrew Luck, WR T.Y. Hilton, Colts no. 3 overall pick
Kansas City Thunder Chiefs Royals N/A S Paul George, SF Carmelo Anthony, C Steven Adams, QB Patrick Mahomes II, TE Travis Kelce, OLB Justin Houston
Los Angeles A Lakers Rams Dodgers Kings PG Lonzo Ball, DT Aaron Donald*, RB Todd Gurley, SP Clayton Kershaw, SP Julio Urías, C Anze Kopitar
Los Angeles B Clippers Chargers Angels Ducks C DeAndre Jordan, SG Lou Williams, WR Keenan Allen, OLB Melvin Ingram, DE Joey Bosa, SP/DH Shohei Ohtani
Miami Heat Dolphins Marlins Panthers C Hassan Whiteside, PG Goran Dragic, DE Ndamukong Suh, Derek Jeter's Soul/Literally anything not nailed to the ground in Marlins Park
Minnesota Timberwolves Vikings Twins Wild C Karl-Anthony Towns, SG Jimmy Butler, SG Andrew Wiggins, WR Stefon Diggs, WR Adam Thielen, CB Xavier Rhodes, FS Harrison Smith, OF Byron Buxton
New Orleans Pelicans Saints N/A N/A C Anthony Davis, DE Cameron Jordan, RB Alvin Kamara
New York A Knicks Giants Yankees Rangers PF Kristaps Porzingis, PG Frank Ntilikina, WR Odell Beckham Jr. QB Eli Manning, Giants no. 2 overall pick, OF Giancarlo Stanton, SS Gleyber Torres
New York B Nets Jets Mets Islanders PG D'Angelo Russell, Jets no. 6 overall pick, SP Jacob deGrom, SP Noah Syndergaard, SS Amed Rosario, C John Tavares
Oakland N/A Raiders Athletics Sharks DE Khalil Mack, WR Amari Cooper, Raiders' first-round pick (no. 9 or 10), C Joe Thornton
Philadelphia 76ers Eagles Phillies Flyers PG Markelle Fultz, SF Robert Covington, QB Carson Wentz, QB Nick Foles, TE Zach Ertz, OF Odúbel Herrera, C Sean Couturier
Pittsburgh N/A Steelers Pirates Penguins WR Antonio Brown, RB Le'Veon Bell, WR Martavis Bryant, C Evgeni Malkin, C Sidney Crosby
San Francisco Warriors 49ers Giants N/A SG Klay Thompson, 49ers' first-round pick (no. 9 or 10), SP Madison Bumgarner, C Buster Posey
Seattle N/A Seahawks Mariners N/A S Earl Thomas, CB Richard Sherman, TE Jimmy Graham, 2B Robinson Cano
St. Louis N/A N/A Cardinals Blues SP Carlos Martínez, 3B Matt Carpenter, C Brayden Schenn
Tampa Bay Magic Buccaneers Rays Lightning PF Aaron Gordon, Bucs no. 7 overall pick, WR Mike Evans, SP Chris Archer, RW Nikita Kucherov
Tennessee Grizzlies Titans N/A Predators Mike Conley Jr., Marc Gasol, Grizzlies 2018 First rounder, RB DeMarco Murray
Toronto Raptors N/A Blue Jays Maple Leafs PG Kyle Lowry, SG DeMar DeRozan, 3B Josh Donaldson, OF Vladimir Guerrero Jr., C Auston Matthews
Washington D.C. Wizards Redskins Nationals Capitals OF Bryce Harper, SP Stephen Strasburg, SP Max Scherzer, SF Otto Porter Jr., SG Bradley Beal, CB Josh Norman, LW Alex Ovechkin
Wisconsin Bucks Packers Brewers N/A PF Jabari Parker, PG Eric Bledsoe, OF Christian Yelich

Some explanations for the hard decisions on regional groupings:

  • The Angels, Clippers, and Chargers are all little-brother franchises. This was an easy decision.
  • Jets and Mets are a traditional pair, and they both rhyme with “Nets,” so this was also an easy decision.
  • The Thunder have an official partnership with the Royals, making them Kansas City–eligible.
  • After consulting with a number of Florida experts, the Orlando Magic were aligned with Tampa Bay, not Jacksonville.
  • Forced to pick between San Francisco and Oakland, the Warriors chose San Francisco. Therefore, so did we. Don’t blame us, blame Joe Lacob.
  • Teams left out of this exercise: Jacksonville Jaguars, Chicago White Sox (bounced by the Cubs), San Diego Padres, San Antonio Spurs, Portland Trail Blazers, Sacramento Kings, Utah Jazz. We’ll pour a 40 out for you.

With those rules and regions in place, we asked The Ringer staff to churn out some hypothetical trades.

Detroit receives: Lou Williams, Tobias Harris, and Boban Marjanovic

Los Angeles (Group B) receives: Michael Fulmer, Glover Quin Jr., and Darius Slay

Shaker Samman: Everyone wins here. The Angels get a young ace who can anchor their rotation for years to come, the Chargers get two established defensive backs who can bolster their secondary, and the new-look Pistons get some shooting in the form of Lou Williams. But more importantly, Boban returns to Detroit. Originally, this trade didn’t involve Slay or Harris, but after realizing that would mean splitting up Harris and Marjanovic, I had no choice but to pull Tobias back to Detroit. The Pistons would have to dump some salary elsewhere to make the money work, and the Lions would be cementing themselves to a future of mediocrity, but look at these two dance! Can you really bear the thought of tearing them apart?

Los Angeles (Group B) receives: Marcus Stroman, Russell Martin, and Matt Martin

Toronto receives: Hampus Lindholm and Brandon Montour

Michael Baumann: The Toronto Maple Leafs are the most culturally important team in Canada’s biggest city, and they haven’t won a Stanley Cup since 1967; in fact, no Canadian team has taken the Cup home since 1993. While I—and most American hockey fans—find that fact hilarious, it also means that if the Leafs won a title it’d make the collective relief and joy we just saw in Philadelphia look like a church picnic. The Leafs have a great core of young forwards, led by Auston Matthews, but they’re thin on the blue line.

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Angels are scrambling to get back to the playoffs before Mike Trout leaves via free agency, and they’ve got a good team, but they don’t have a good catcher and they can use some help in the rotation. The Blue Jays’ window for contention is closing, to great consternation in Toronto, but hitting the rebuild button would be worth it if the Leafs got closer to a title. Lindholm and Montour would reinforce the blue line, and Lindholm, 24, is under contract through 2021-22. Sending checking-line winger Matt Martin the other way would allow the Leafs to stay under the salary cap. The Leafs would solve what’s probably their biggest issue, while the Angels would greatly increase their chances of catching the Astros in the AL West, while both Toronto and Anaheim weaken teams of lesser local importance.

Philadelphia receives: Mike Trout, Avery Bradley

Los Angeles (Group A) receives: Markelle Fultz, Dario Saric, future Sixers first-round pick, Rhys Hoskins, Sixto Sanchez, and Sean Couturier

John Gonzalez: Let’s start with the L.A. side. The Clippers, who are evidently trying to rebuild on the fly, take a shot on the no. 1 overall pick from last year’s draft, add a useful piece in Saric, and a valuable draft pick. The Angels add Hoskins and the Phillies’ top prospect in Sanchez. As for the hockey component, I will quote my super-helpful colleague Mike Baumann, who was instrumental in helping me craft this trade: “The Ducks are getting old” and have “little forward depth and their best forwards are getting into their mid-30s.” (Which I totally knew. They call me Johnny Hockey Pucks in the office.)

As for the Philly side, it’s pretty obvious. Philadelphians love Trout so much that I basically had to pepper-spray Baumann so I could write this hypothetical trade. (Google “Mike Trout Philly fans” and watch your computer burst into flames.) Trout attended Eagles games so often, I’m fairly certain he’ll get his own ring. Trout, who is actually from South Jersey, is nevertheless adored and accepted by the faithful as “a real Philly guy”—the highest honor our area bestows. (We also proudly acknowledge people for eating a gross amount of chicken wings and wearing sweatpants outside.) It’s every Philly fanboy’s fantasy.

San Francisco receives: Stefon Diggs and Latavius Murray

Minnesota receives: Klay Thompson

Megan Schuster: I’m going to start this off on an honest note: I am the rare kind of Minnesotan who is not a Vikings fan but is a Wolves fan. With that said, I tried to keep this trade as fair to Minnesota’s football team as possible while also achieving my own self-serving ends. The ball-dominant Timberwolves need more outside shooting—they attempt the second-fewest 3-pointers per game in the NBA, and are making those at just a 35 percent clip—so why not go out and get the expert? That’s why I’m shipping receiver Stefon Diggs (an excellent target for America’s New Favorite Quarterback, Jimmy Garoppolo) and running back Latavius Murray (love that Bay Area payback) to San Francisco in exchange for Klay Thompson. Imagine this starting lineup: Jeff Teague, Klay Thompson, Andrew Wiggins, Jimmy Butler, Karl-Anthony Towns. Who says no? (Probably the Warriors.)

Carolina receives: T.Y. Hilton

Indiana receives: Kemba Walker

Riley McAtee: The Colts were rumored to be shopping Hilton before the NFL’s October trade deadline, and similar rumors have floated around the Hornets and Walker for a month. So let’s put the rumors to bed and make something happen. The Pacers get a solid point guard to pair with Victor Oladipo, and the Panthers finally give Cam Newton someone to throw to.

Cleveland receives: Carson Wentz, Markelle Fultz, J.J. Redick

Philadelphia receives: LeBron James

Danny Heifetz: In the summer of 2010, Cleveland let the most valuable chess piece in modern sports history leave for virtually nothing. With LeBron once again a free agent this July, Cleveland can ensure history doesn’t repeat itself by filling the quarterback-sized hole in its heart (and undoing the initial draft swap that sent Wentz to Philly in 2016). LeBron has said he won’t waive his no-trade clause, but considering this Cavs squad will have to wear name tags throughout the playoffs, it makes more sense for LeBron to get an early start on ring-hunting with his next team than to waste one of his apex seasons.

No other destination for LeBron’s next act offers the tantalizing foundation for a dynasty that the 76ers do. And if an NBA title is on the table, Philly fans should drop Wentz faster than Brady fumbled the ball on the penultimate drive of Super Bowl LII. A trio of LeBron, Ben Simmons, and Joel Embiid is such explicit basketball porn that Reddit might require you to click “Yes, I’m 18” before streaming Sixers games. The Cleveland Browns get a starting quarterback. The Philadelphia 76ers complete the Process. This is what Sam Hinkie died for.

An earlier version of this story’s chart placed Anze Kopitar in the incorrect region. He belongs in Los Angeles A, not Los Angeles B, since he plays for the Kings, not the Ducks.