New Landing Spots for NBA's Most Rumored Trade Targets
By this point in the NBA offseason, fans have already cooked up imaginary trades to send their favorite players—available or not—to half the teams in the league. Don't lie: You've already figured out how to get Giannis Antetokounmpo to the Dallas Mavericks, and that's probably not even your most far-fetched instance of pretend GM-ing.
Here, we're relying on actual news to send players to destinations that are both plausible (sometimes barely) and logical. The reports are key; they keep us grounded, even if the NBA's transactional whirlwind often makes it hard to separate fantasy from reality.
Example: James Harden, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant teaming up with the Brooklyn Nets seemed like a pipe dream...until it happened. Irving's decision to opt in for 2022-23 didn't take him off the table as trade bait, by the way. If anything, Brooklyn's firm stance against giving him an extension makes its relationship with Irving even more tenuous.
We'll ship him and a handful of other rumored trade candidates to new teams. If any of the proposed landing spots feel unrealistic, well...check back in a few weeks when the NBA is, as usual, reshuffled to an unrecognizable degree. By then, these will probably seem quaint.
Deandre Ayton to the Pacers
There are plenty of simple solutions for restricted free agent Deandre Ayton. The Detroit Pistons or San Antonio Spurs could use their cap space to sign him to an offer sheet, forcing the Phoenix Suns to decide whether they want to match it. Or the Suns could still agree with Ayton on a new deal without the involvement of any other parties.
But complexity, in the form of a sign-and-trade, is also on the table. While you don't necessarily need a mail room and two miles of red yarn to keep the minutia of that option straight, it still takes a full whiteboard to explain it.
That said, sending Ayton to the Indiana Pacers would be relatively straightforward by sign-and-trade standards. And it turns out it's a possibility.
Per Hoops Hype's Michael Scotto: "Privately, some around the league wondered if the Indiana Pacers would make sense for Ayton in a sign-and-trade with Myles Turner. Both players are represented by agent Bill Duffy of BDA Sports. Turner, arguably the league's top shot blocker, would represent a defensive upgrade for the Suns entering a contract season."
Indy has just enough space to accommodate Ayton's new salary, which would start around $30 million if he gets the max, and Phoenix could certainly use Turner's stretch on offense and shot-blocking on defense. The cynics out there who view the Ayton fiasco as evidence of the Suns' cheapness could also point to the face-saving benefits that would come via adding Turner on an expiring deal. Phoenix could contend with Turner in the middle this season, avoiding the heat it would otherwise take for letting Ayton walk, and then still have the option to let Turner's contract expire. The Suns wouldn't avoid blowback forever in this hypothetical, but they'd duck it for a year.
Ayton and Tyrese Haliburton would complement one another nicely, with the big man feasting on lobs and pick-and-roll setups from one of the league's top young facilitators. Haliburton averaged 9.6 assists per game after joining the Pacers before the trade deadline last season. While nobody orchestrates the two-man game quite like Phoenix's Chris Paul, Indiana's young guard comes awfully close.
The Suns would extricate themselves from a situation with Ayton that has been thorny since they opted not to extend him ahead of the 2021-22 season, replacing the 2018 No. 1 pick with a player who'd add new dimensions to their offense. The Pacers would get a soon-to-be 24-year-old who's averaged a double-double in all four seasons of his career and has held up better than most centers under the strain of switch-heavy playoff basketball.
The Spurs loom as another logical landing spot, and Ayton is under no obligation to do the Suns any favors by agreeing to a sign-and-trade. But the quality of fit for everyone involved—Ayton, Turner, the Suns and the Pacers—is hard to deny.
Cam Reddish to the Jazz
Things we know about the New York Knicks:
1. They are committed to clearing space to pursue free agents (probably one in particular, Jalen Brunson). Their draft-night behavior, which included dumping Kemba Walker and the No. 11 pick in a deal for future picks, proved as much.
2. They are comfortable with the idea of trading Cam Reddish because, per Scotto, "When the Knicks tried to trade for Pistons guard Jaden Ivey on draft night, Reddish was a part of the proposal."
Let's mash those two pieces of knowledge together and send Reddish someplace where he'd have a chance to realize his considerable potential as a three-and-D wing. The trick, though, is that New York can't take any salary back. That's where the Utah Jazz's $9.7 million trade exception comes in, as it's more than large enough to accommodate Reddish's $6.0 million salary. All the Jazz have to do is attach future draft considerations, adding heavy protection or even angling for a swap instead, and we've got a deal.
Utah's future is hazy with the Rudy Gobert-Donovan Mitchell partnership potentially ending via a trade this offseason. But nothing's happened yet, and it's possible cooler heads will prevail. It wouldn't be the strangest thing if Utah decided a roster that won more games than any other as recently as 2020-21 shouldn't be dismantled. If the Jazz believe this thing is salvageable, they will need to address their dearth of athleticism and defensive physicality on the wing.
Reddish is more potential than production, but he's got the frame and skills to give the Jazz what they need in those areas. Though he might fancy himself more of a top scoring option, the 6'8" wing is just 22 years old and could find major success in a limited role until he proves ready to expand his game.
The drastic options will always be there, but Utah might want to consider moves on the margins that could balance the roster and produce wins. Successful teams tend to be better at burying hatchets and finding harmony.
Kyrie Irving to the Clippers
The Los Angeles Lakers were never a real landing spot for Kyrie Irving. Declining his player option to rejoin LeBron James for the taxpayer's mid-level exception would have left nearly $31 million on the table next season, plus Irving's future earning potential would have taken a major hit because of the Lakers' lack of spending power.
Without his Bird rights, Los Angeles would have needed cap space to give Irving a market-rate contract next summer, a tricky thing with Anthony Davis' max deal on the books and James also a free agent in 2023.
An opt-in-and-trade scenario involving the Lakers was never realistic, either, per ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski:
"Irving needs a trade partner to coordinate an agreement on a deal to get a long-term, maximum contract, but only the Lakers have interest in executing a sign-and-trade once free agency opens on Thursday night, sources said.
"So far, the Nets have no interest in taking back the available Lakers packages, sources said."
There's still another out. If the Nets can convince Durant that Irving simply can't be trusted as a key piece of the franchise, they could move him for the role-playing help KD needs while eliminating the drama that may be ahead in Irving's lame-duck season.
The Los Angeles Clippers are short on draft equity, but why should KD care about the Nets' future? He's entering his age-34 season on a "win-yesterday" timeline. If the Clips were willing to give up some combination of their mid-tier contracts, perhaps allowing Brooklyn to pick three of Ivica Zubac, Norman Powell, Marcus Morris Sr., Luke Kennard and Reggie Jackson with the option to add younger pieces such as Terance Mann or Brandon Boston Jr., the Nets could replenish their depth around KD and Ben Simmons while furnishing L.A. with a third star.
The presence of John Wall, who'll reportedly sign with the Clippers after being bought out of his contract by the Houston Rockets, doesn't change anything about Irving's potential fit. Wall has played 40 games since Dec. 26, 2018.
He's a worthwhile gamble at the taxpayer's mid-level exception, but a contender such as Los Angeles may not want to rely on him as a surefire answer at the point. Irving comes with his own baggage and risk, but there are far fewer questions about his effectiveness.
Irving's playmaking would lighten the load on Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, theoretically ensuring the offense would continue to thrive whenever one or the other (or both) need a little load management. The uncertainty and headaches that have defined Irving's career would surely accompany him across the country, but if one grossly expensive championship-chasing team—the Nets—decided the baggage was worth it, maybe another—the Clippers—would feel similarly.
Realistically, Irving has few options. But if we're focused on the one that might make sense on the floor, it involves Irving opting in as part of a blockbuster trade to the other team in Los Angeles.
John Collins and Dejounte Murray in a 3-Teamer
It defies belief that the Spurs would even consider moving Dejounte Murray, an apex-level defensive guard fresh off an All-Star age-25 season that featured averages of 21.1 points, 9.2 assists, 8.3 rebounds and a league-leading 2.0 steals per game. But top 2023 prospect Victor Wembanyama's game defies belief, too. If San Antonio is considering moving Murray to get the inside track on a 2022-23 tank, there's at least a semblance of justification.
Hence the "we surrender" package the Spurs are reportedly considering:
Zach Klein @ZachKleinWSB
In talking with multiple sources around the NBA, many believe Hawks on verge of trading for San Antonio's All-Star guard Dejounte Murray - However, it's looking like John Collins is not part of deal. Would be Gallo & multiple 1st round picks. Spurs prepping for future & '23 draft
If losing on purpose isn't the point, we'll be left to wonder if Murray fell out of favor for some reason. Maybe he parks a few inches over the line every day in the team parking lot, or maybe he always takes the best present in San Antonio's white elephant gift exchange. Nine assists per game don't preclude off-court selfishness.
Ridiculous as that sounds, it makes more sense than if the Spurs tried to deal the best player on the roster, who will make only $16.6 million in 2022-23.
It's easier to grasp why the Atlanta Hawks, a team hungry for change, appear committed to moving John Collins, a non-All-Star heading into the second season of a five-year, $125 million contract. He may not be part of the latest rumored trade, but Collins is available.
Per The Athletic's Chris Kirschner:
"Before the draft started, I reached out to someone close to Collins who said they felt 50-50 on the power forward remaining with the Hawks past Thursday night but that 'he won't be a Hawk past this summer.'
"The truth is no one across the league who I've spoken with believes Collins will be on the Hawks' opening night roster."
Let's solve this for everyone with a specific trade suggestion: the Hawks get Murray and Matisse Thybulle; the Spurs get Tobias Harris, Danilo Gallinari, two 2023 first-round picks (from Atlanta and from Atlanta via Charlotte) and a 2025 lottery-protected first-round pick (from Atlanta); and the Philadelphia 76ers get Collins and Josh Richardson.
The Spurs can flip Harris, play him or buy him out. The other incoming player would function just fine as part of a tank, with the Spurs on the hook for only $5 million of Gallo's $21.5 million salary if they waive him by June 29. A buyout would be another option if a deal doesn't get done prior to the guarantee date. Those three picks would be the real prize for San Antonio.
From the Sixers' perspective, they'd get off Harris' contract and replace it with Collins', which runs longer but at a much lower figure ($23.5 million vs. $37.6 million in 2022-23) without surrendering draft equity to do it. Note, too, that Collins is five years younger than Harris. Richardson would fill a three-and-D spot on a reasonable and expiring $12.2 million salary.
The Hawks would get their man in Murray, whose defense makes him an ideal counterpart for Trae Young, plus another shutdown weapon in Thybulle.
None of this is perfect, but all parties involved would get something they want. The Murray-Hawks partnership, in particular, stands out as mutually beneficial.