The 9 Best Trade Chips in the NBA Right Now
'Tis the season for identifying the glitziest trade assets around the NBA, fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la.
Perhaps you're laughing, but hopefully it's at my inability to sing in key. The unofficially official start of NBA Trade Season (Dec. 15) is just around the corner. Teams have now played out between 15 and 20 percent of their schedule. We know who most squads are—or, equally important, what they aren't.
The time for self-discovery, reflection and patience is quickly expiring. The window for action is about to open. This warrants a look at the top blockbuster magnets with feasible paths to the trade block.
That last part is an important distinction. Franchise directions and intentions will be massive parts of this process. Paolo Banchero could net the Orlando Magic a galaxy's worth of unprotected picks or a more entrenched star right this season, but there's a sub-zero chance he's actually available. Stephen Curry should probably ask the Golden State Warriors for a trade if they won't cater to his timeline, but he remains ridiculously low-maintenance, and we're not journeying into the Land of Never Going to Happen.
This exercise will instead focus on players and picks who have the most appeal as centerpieces in aggressive blockbuster buys. Maybe Kevin Durant wakes up tomorrow and decides "Hey, no disrespect, but I don't want to play with the dude whose last name I thought was 'Summer' until, like, three weeks ago, or anyone else on this roster. I'd like to be traded." This scenario is totally feasible...and already basically played out once. But his departure would not constitute a buy-now move for the Brooklyn Nets.
Draft picks are fair game, but we're not just going to identify the juiciest potential 2029 first-rounders because they're so far off into the distance. There has to be an airtight reason for why selections more than a half-decade out will trickle onto the auction block.
Finally, and like always, Please do not interpret inclusion as a "Team X should trade Player Y or Pick Z!" endorsement. This is more of a "Which teams are both equipped and most likely to monitor the blockbuster trade market, and what is the best asset they have to flesh out prospective packages?" situation.
John Collins, Atlanta Hawks
Atlanta has once again made Collins available, according to The Athletic and Stadium's Shams Charania. His offensive usage has declined so starkly that the three years and $78.5 million left on his deal will be treated as an albatross to some.
Let's all agree, right here and now, not to be among those people. Collins' offensive armory is infinitely scalable, translating to screening or spot-up duty with room for situational floor-game exploration. He needs touches to be effective, but, er, that's not really an insult. And since he's only 25, he fits any timeline—rebuilding, win-now, gray-area windows, whatever.
L.A. Clippers' 2029 First-Round Pick
Do the Clippers believe in this core—and Kawhi Leonard's long-term health—enough to auction off their 2029 first-rounder in a consolidation? I'm skeptical.
I'm also confident their front office is resourceful enough to resolve the worst-case scenario before this pick ever conveys if that's the route they go. Even so, the sheer distance of this pick inflate its value in consolidation-trade efforts.
Bones Hyland, Denver Nuggets
Bizzy Bones would make the meet and potatoes of this list if he were less pivotal to the Nuggets. Their hope of managing minutes without Nikola Jokic go up in flames if they suddenly have to bank on Michael Porter Jr. to do the heavy lifting on his own. They could stagger Jokic and Jamal Murray more often, but the latter isn't all the way back from his ACL recovery, and more importantly, separating perhaps the greatest personification of symbiosis in the league is basketball heresy.
It helps that the Nuggets don't look like a team that needs to make a big-time trade. But if they sense an opportunity to enter the running for another star or go from title hopeful to championship favorite, the 22-year-old Bones is their ticket to the bargaining table—and not just because they can't convey a first-round pick until 2029.
Though Bones has a long way to go as a defender and primary playmaker, he is offensive-engine material. At his core, he is a caps-lock, italics-text SHOOTER. The functional pressure his range puts on defenses belies his age—and a certain logic. He can uncork mega-deep threes, down standstill triples and rain hellfire from the perimeter off the bounce, and his live-dribble incision puts defenses on tilt even when he's not finishing or shooting well.
2024 or 2025 Los Angeles Lakers First-Round Pick (via New Orleans)
The New Orleans Pelicans own the Lakers' 2024 first-round pick with the right to defer until 2025. Given the current state of affairs in L.A., this selection looms as an A+++ asset.
Then again, the in-betweenness of this pick almost works against its value. It's not immediate enough to capitalize on a sinking-ship season (more on this shortly), and it's not far enough down the line to exploit a post-LeBron James and/or post-Anthony Davis era (more on this shortly, too).
Yet, it is valuable. And the Pelicans are frisky enough to consider moving it for instant help as part of a medium-sized deal (Myles Turner? OG Anunoby?) or home-run swing (rhymes with Schmevin Schmurant).
2023 Lakers 1st-Round Picks (via New Orleans)
New Orleans has the right to swap its 2023 first-rounder with the Lakers' pick. And, uh, they're on pace to totally do that.
This selection is so valuable I almost considered nixing its inclusion. If the lottery were held today, L.A. would be one of the three teams with a 14 percent shot of landing the No. 1 choice. Would New Orleans really punt on the chance, however slim, to add Victor Wembanyama to a core of Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram, CJ McCollum, Dyson Daniels, Trey Murphy III, Herb Jones and Jose Alverado?
It's a tough call. In the end, the Pelicans are good enough—and deep enough—now to consider all of their options. Their record doesn't necessarily reflect it, but they have a top-four point differential per 100 possessions, with top-six offensive and defensive ratings.
Mind you, this is all with Zion missing time and not always looking like himself, McCollum only just starting to find nylon from the floor and Ingram sitting out four games earlier this season while in concussion protocols. The fully healthy version of New Orleans will be terrifying and possibly a contender if it's ever available for protracted stretches.
Dangling the Lakers pick gets the Pelicans into whatever splashy negotiations materialize between now and the trade deadline—in no small part because they have plenty of other assets to peddle, including L.A.'s pick outright in 2024 (with the option to defer until 2025).
Granted, with great trade value comes great particularlity. New Orleans shouldn't just be flipping what could be a primetime lottery pick for a rim-protecting center like Myles Turner.
But if Kevin Durant meanders his way back onto the market? Or if Jimmy Butler gets the itch to play for a better-than-mediocre team? Or the unthinkable Stephen Curry trade demand comes? Or another surprise name like Pascal Siakam or Paul George spills into the rumor mill? Then, yeah, the Pelicans' window is immediate enough to sniff around.
Shaedon Sharpe, Portland Trail Blazers
Shaedon Sharpe is making the sector of NBA intelligentsia who thought he might be the highest-upside prospect in the 2022 draft mighty proud at the moment.
Other rookies are playing larger roles, but the Portland Trail Blazers are actually good. Like, really good. Best-record-in-the-Western-Conference good. And Sharpe has managed to crack the regular rotation—a monumental feat.
His minutes aren't for posterity's sake, either. They can be a spectacle; his vertical suggests he has nitroglycerine coursing through his veins. Mostly, he's just pretty good!
Sharpe's scoring is both, well, sharp
e and complementary. He is shooting 68.4 percent(!) on spot-up threes (13-of-19) and averaging 1.82 points per possession off cuts (96th percentile) but has offered polished glimpses into more complicated usage. His 58.3 effective field-goal percentage on step-back jumpers is really good (5-of-12), and he has converted some truly ridiculously angled layups and finishes through contact.
To be clear: Shopping Sharpe should not be the Blazers' default. They're winning while getting him invaluable developmental reps. But they're also on Damian Lillard's timeline.
If someone like Kevin Durant, Jimmy Butler, Jaylen Brown, Joel Embiid, etc. gets fed up with their current situation or there's a surprise superstar seller, Portland has to at least investigate, knowing its 19-year-old blue-chip prospect grants them entry into every possible tier of negotiations.
Tyrese Maxey, Philadelphia 76ers
Tyrese Maxey almost missed the cut for this exercise by virtue of being too mission-critical to the Philadelphia 76ers. (And because he's due for an MRI on his left foot after leaving Philly's game against the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday.)
He topped my trade-asset rankings entering the offseason, back when I assumed, reluctantly, the Sixers would be open to bagging another star. But now he's averaging 22.8 points and 4.4 assists while downing 40.8 percent of his seven three-point attempts per game.
With two more years left on his rookie scale, the field of players worth dealing Maxey for has winnowed down even further from last season's peak. And given the time Joel Embiid has already missed, plus the time James Harden is currently missing, perhaps the Sixers understand more than ever the benefit of pristine availability?
Still, Philadelphia is gauging the market for Tobias Harris and the $39.3 million he's owed next season, according to The Athletic's Shams Charania. Today, tomorrow, the day after and even the one following that are all days that end in "y," after all.
Short of future first-rounders to spare, the Harris-plus-Maxey package might pique the attention of teams coaxed into moving superstars. Do the Nets consider Harris, Maxey and a 2029 first-rounder a viable starting point if they're forced to shop Kevin Durant again?
It doesn't seem like much on paper, but Maxey is already a borderline All-Star—and only just turned 22. The opportunity to acquire someone this established and young who can be the basis for an entire rebuild is beyond rare. And if the Sixers invariably feel they need another top-15 player to pair with Embiid and whatever a healthy Harden ranks as now, Maxey is both an attention-getter and the asset that has to be on the table.
2026 Warriors 1st-Round Pick
Reigning champions who didn't just undergo nuclear teardowns deserve benefit of the doubt. The Golden State Warriors are running thin on theirs—and potentially wasting a daydream masterpiece from Stephen Curry in the process.
Through his 485 minutes of court time entering Friday, the Warriors have outscored opponents by 63 points. They have lost the 240 minutes he's watched from the bench by 76 points.
That's a big-ass "Uh-oh." And it holds up when filtering out garbage time and weighting possessions. Steph has the fifth-largest net-rating swing in the league.
Waiting this out is no longer a luxury the Warriors have. The Western Conference offers next to zero margin for error. Maybe Golden State kicks it into high gear, but the same could be said for other letdowns like the Clippers and Minnesota Timberwolves.
Little about the bench, meanwhile, inspires confidence the Warriors will figure this out. Playing the kids less—and sending James Wiseman to the G League—might be addition by subtraction. It also increases the burden placed upon other roster spots. Golden State has been uncomfortably reliant on Anthony Lamb, who they only signed to a two-way contract.
Klay Thompson's shooting will normalize. Will his defense be any better? Jordan Poole will be less of a roller coaster. At some point, though, we need to have a discussion about whether he's #ThatDude enough to carry Steph-less units toward league-average offense or at least #ThatDude enough to not suck on defense.
Warring timelines are not meant to be juggled. It can happen, but it's hard. And the Warriors have failed in their attempt thus far. Forced to choose, there is no choice. You cater to the actual championship timeline—to Steph's timeline.
It says a lot about the state of #TwoTimelines that none of Golden State's prospect are here. They will be integral ingredients to any bigger trade. Not one of them, though, is centerpiece material right now. Jonathan Kuminga comes closest, but he's still too formless on offense.
Offering up the 2026 draft pick is far more enticing if the Warriors go big-swing hunting. (They owe their 2024 pick to Memphis with top-four protection). We're already seeing an MVP-level Steph Curry fail to spare Golden State from mortality. Shorting the team's future when he'll be coming off his age-37 season is a roll of the dice worth taking.
And if it means inflating this year's fast-fading title hopes, then it's a risk worth taking for the Warriors, as well. That's not a license to flip the pick (and other stuff) for anyone. But headlining names hit the rumor mill every season. More than most, whether it's John Collins or a Kevin Durant reunion or a star-to-be-be-made-available later, Golden State has every obligation to weigh a vast array of different scenarios and acquisitions.
2027 or 2029 Lakers 1st-Round Pick
Either one of the Los Angeles Lakers' trade-eligible first-round picks are red-carpet assets. Both the 2027 and 2029 selections probably post-date LeBron James' basketball tenure in Los Angeles and Anthony Davis' current contract. Perhaps the latter re-ups on a long-term deal in 2024 (early termination option), but the 2026-27 campaign will be his age-33 season. That's, like, an age-47 season in Anthony Davis years.
If I'm any one of the league's other 29 front-office heads, I prefer the 2027 choice. There's a better chance I'd still have my job than in 2029, and there's something about having to explain to your bosses the crown jewel in the trade you just made is a nameless, faceless, numberless first-rounder that won't turn into an actual player for another seven drafts.
Also: Giving the Lakers seven years to stumble into superstar salvation on the free-agency market is too much of a buffer.
Bigwigs aren't leaving via the open market as often, but the expected salary-cap spike following the NBA's next TV deal could set the stage for even more unwieldy amounts of tampering in 2025 and beyond. Regardless of how you feel about the Lakers' decision-making braintrust, the team plays in the Association's most desirable market.
Los Angeles' 2027 pick feels like the sweet spot. It's still five drafts away, but not so long after the anticipated infusion of TV money that they'll have time to about-face into glorified championship contention once the LeBron (and maybe AD) era ends. The New Orleans Pelicans having control over their next couple of drafts helps the long-term cause, too.
Whether the Lakers put either of these picks on the table is anybody's guess. They are so far gone that no one trade vaults them into immediate title contention. If they were going to shake up the top of the roster with a Russell Westbrook-plus-picks deal, they should have done it over the offseason. There's a case to be made that they're better off taking their medicine this year, holstering the picks, ambling into the summer with a bunch of cap space and reevaluating their trajectory then.
Counterargument: LeBron is about to turn 38. If you still believe he's good, then he is your timeline and the picks should be available. What these picks get you is a separate matter. Westbrook is playing better off the bench, but his expiring salary is a monstrosity ($47.1 million), and the Lakers' lack of other assets impedes their chase for anyone who hasn't explicitly demanded a trade to them. Still, a rival team with talent to spare should be circling any one of these picks like a vulture.