Every NBA Team's Best Blockbuster Trade Asset Entering 2023 Deadline

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured Columnist IVJanuary 16, 2023

Every NBA Team's Best Blockbuster Trade Asset Entering 2023 Deadline

0 of 31

    LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 2: LeBron James #6 of the Los Angeles Lakers and Zion Williamson #1 of the New Orleans Pelicans stand on the court on November 2, 2022 at Crypto.Com Arena in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

    Prospect of a crickets infestation entering the 2023 NBA trade deadline got you down? You're not alone. A dearth of sellers around the league continues to rear its head, suggesting we may be in for a transactional lull that's heavy on housekeeping moves, but barren of smack-you-in-the-face blockbusters.

    Faced with this sobering reality, there's only one thing to reasonably do: Ignore every harbinger of inaction and mundanity and will a gloriously busy and meaningful #SillySeason into existence by obsessing over glittery trade possibilities anyway.

    You won't be solo if you step out on this limb. I'm already there, arms wide open, beckoning you with an uncool-person head tilt, a fanny pack's worth of bold trade deadline predictions fastened to my waist and a gift-wrapped bag of blockbuster-asset evaluations slung over my shoulder ready for you to sort through.

    This exercise will unfold relative to the following hypothetical scenario: Your favorite NBA team is choosing to aggressively pursue a blockbuster trade ahead of the Feb. 9 deadline that actively improves its roster. They are buyers, in other words. Knowing this, what's the most valuable player or asset each squad should be willing to move in order to make it happen?

The Process Behind Each Blockbuster Asset Selection

1 of 31

    SALT LAKE CITY UT- OCTOBER 26: Danny Ainge, CEO of the Utah Jazz, watches warm-up before their game against the Houston Rockets at the Vivint Arena on October 26, 2022 in Salt Lake City Utah. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Chris Gardner/ Getty Images)
    Chris Gardner/ Getty Images

    We're trying to operate with some semblance of realism throughout this process. Not every team is currently looking for a star-level acquisition or its rough equivalent, but if they were, certain players and picks would be off limits.

    These determinations will vary by the organization and their track record. The Orlando Magic aren't dealing Paolo Banchero. The San Antonio Spurs aren't trading their own first-rounder when they already pre-ordered Victor Wembanyama jerseys. But other calls will be less obvious.

    Would the Indiana Pacers trade Bennedict Mathurin? Would the Sacramento Kings move Keegan Murray? Would Orlando consider shipping out one of its own firsts? So on and so forth.

    In most cases, entrenched stars won't be up for consideration. Blockbuster buyers usually want to partner incumbent cornerstones with comparably impactful running mates. For the most part, anyway. There will be some exceptions—including one right out of the gate.

    Brace yourself for a lot of draft-pick talk. Teams jettisoning red-carpet names usually prioritize those over everything. The Utah Jazz didn't send Donovan Mitchell to the Cleveland Cavaliers because they thought Lauri Markkanen was an instant All-Star hiding in plain sight. That deal was more about the bounty of first-round picks (three) and swaps (two).

    At the same time, first-rounders conveying after 2025 will be selected only as a last resort. Front offices generally don't have the job security necessary to view inbound firsts from the ultra-distant future as must-adds. The calculus changes when those picks come with other goodies (i.e. look at the Utah Jazz this past summer). By and large, though, it makes more sense to balance both the immediacy and prospective long-term value of an asset.

    Finally, contract situations will be taken into account. Sellers facing rebuilds or retools tend to favor players under cost control. If someone is approaching free agency or due for an extension, it will detract from their outside appeal. To that end, players who signed rookie-scale extensions that have yet to kick in—RJ Barrett, Tyler Herro, Jordan Poole, etc.—will be excluded. The Poison Pill Provision makes it harder to move these deals prior to the offseason.

    And with that, we're off.

Atlanta Hawks: Trae Young

2 of 31

    PHILADELPHIA, PA - NOVEMBER 28: Dejounte Murray #5, Trae Young #11, and De'Andre Hunter #12 of the Atlanta Hawks react against the Philadelphia 76ers at the Wells Fargo Center on November 28, 2022 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
    Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

    Including Trae Young should go against the spirit of this shindig. He is an All-NBA talent, even amid his dip in offensive efficiency. Twenty-four-year-old stars with three team-controlled seasons left on their contract (2026-27 early termination option) aren't typically available when looking to improve the state of affairs.

    And yet, the Atlanta Hawks have officially entered anything-is-on-the-table territory.

    Shakeups have already taken place inside the front office, and the decision-making structure up top seems questionable at best and driven entirely by nepotism at worst. John Collins' value has cratered, and he's using air quotes to comment on the front-office hierarchy.

    Head coach Nate McMillan is either on the hot seat, on terrible terms with Young or contemplating retirement—or some combination of all three. Dejounte Murray is visibly shellshocked by Atlanta's unrest. The bench is underwhelming, even with the emergence of rookie AJ Griffin and the return of Bogdan Bogdanović. Clint Capela hasn't played for the better part of a month while dealing with a calf injury, and it feels like a footnote.

    All the while, the Hawks are gargantuan disappointments on the court, hovering under .500 while severely underachieving at the offensive end. League executives now think Young will be the next superstar to demand a trade, according to Bleacher Report's Chris Haynes.

    That doesn't mean Atlanta is obligated to use Young as a blockbuster magnet. Murray himself could be the answer, but he has just one year left on his deal before free agency, with alternatives wearing thin. Collins no longer has the cachet, De'Andre Hunter is harder to trade after signing an extension, and Onyeka Okongwu isn't primary-cornerstone material.

    Defaulting to the Hawks' 2023 first-rounder is a worthwhile move. They are so uninspiring that it could end up being a higher lottery pick. But it has to convey this season, because of their 2025 obligation to San Antonio, limiting optionality. Sending Atlanta good players also diminishes the value of this year's selection.

    Moving Young doesn't have to be a complete divestiture. His age and contract length should allow the Hawks to fetch a Donovan Mitchell-level package in which they bag not only draft equity, but immediate impact players who complement and deepen a core built around Murray, Hunter and Capela.

Boston Celtics: 2025 First-Round Pick

3 of 31

    CHICAGO, IL - NOVEMBER 21: Boston Celtics forward Grant Williams (12) Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum (0) and Boston Celtics guard Jaylen Brown (7) looks on
during a NBA game between the Boston Celtics and the Chicago Bulls on November 21, 2022 at the United Center in Chicago, IL. (Photo by Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are off-limits in this discussion, and the Boston Celtics don't have a ton of blockbuster contingencies after them.

    Grant Williams might get the nod if he wasn't about to enter restricted free agency. Rebuilding squads won't readily covet the soon-to-be 29-year-old Marcus Smart.

    Robert Williams III only just turned 25 this past October and is on a bargain-bin contract. He also has knee issues on his health bill, and "selling" teams are typically more drawn to second-contract players through which they can run their offense. Malcolm Brogdon and Derrick White are more valuable in these negotiations as salary-matches than functional centerpieces.

    That leaves draft picks. Boston has the capacity to dangle first-rounders in 2025, 2027 and 2029. The latter is too far away to spotlight. It gives the Celtics plenty of time to rejigger the core if their trajectory runs astray.

    Rival teams should be most interested in the 2025 selection. It conveys relatively soon yet post-dates Brown's entry in 2024 free agency. The current extension rules make it prohibitive for him to sign one, so he will hit the open market.

    This isn't to imply Brown is a flight risk, but he could be. And that uncertainty coupled with the aging curve for guys like Brogdon, Smart and Al Horford injects some variance into the Celtics' medium-term future.

Brooklyn Nets: 2028 First-Round Pick

4 of 31

    NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA - JANUARY 06: Kevin Durant #7 and Kyrie Irving #11 of the Brooklyn Nets react during a game against the New Orleans Pelicans at the Smoothie King Center on January 06, 2023 in New Orleans, Louisiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
    Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

    Process of elimination gets us here.

    There is no scenario in which Kevin Durant gets flipped as part of a blockbuster buy. The same goes for Kyrie Irving, whose trade value is, let's say, complicated.

    Nicolas Claxton has somewhat quietly entered the All-Defense discussion while expanding his offensive arsenal (he has a floor game!), but he's up for a new deal after next year and remains more of a complementary building block than a tent-pole piece. Ben Simmons' market value fluctuates somewhere between tantalizing enigma and potential albatross (two years, $78.2 million). Cam Thomas, of the #FreeCamThomas movement, is a bonafide shot creator without the overall ceiling of a blue-chip prospect.

    Going with Claxton or Simmons is the right call if you're looking to avoid the distant-first-round-pick pickle. Related: You can't avoid it. You have to lean into it.

    Durant is 34 and dealing with another MCL injury. Irving is hitting free agency this summer. Simmons has just two years left on his deal and is no longer considered a marquee star. The short-term future of the Nets is combustible. The bigger-picture outlook is indiscernible. You short both if you have the chance.

    Brooklyn doesn't control the fate of its own first again until 2028. Having to wait that long is painful and deflates the glamor of the team's most aggressive packages—especially when the Nets don't have any incentive to be bad before then, because Houston basically owns all their picks. But they do have not-as-valuable-yet-still-useful assets (Claxton, Thomas, Seth Curry) they can attach to their 2028 selection to bake some immediacy into their best proposals.

Charlotte Hornets: 2027 First-Round Pick

5 of 31

    CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA - DECEMBER 29: LaMelo Ball #1 and P.J. Washington #25 of the Charlotte Hornets react following a basket during the second half of the game against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Spectrum Center on December 29, 2022 in Charlotte, North Carolina. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
    Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

    Oof.

    LaMelo Ball is the only off-limits asset on the Charlotte Hornets. The thing is, they don't really have anyone or anything else to offer that'll drop jaws.

    Selecting a player is out of the question. Mark Williams looks like he'll be a long-time NBA player, but young bigs are seldom A-plus trade assets unless they have an operable floor game.

    Alternatives disappear after him. P.J. Washington is the embodiment of fine and also headed for restricted free agency. Neither James Bouknight nor Kai Jones is the answer. And, well, that's it.

    Charlotte's lackluster stable of talent demands we go the draft-pick path. But even that's complicated.

    Lottery protections on the first-rounder the Hornets owe to Denver last through 2025. The earliest they can guarantee one is 2027—forever away. The value of this selection will very much be in the eye of the beholder.

    Placing this pick in a vacuum that doesn't care about the job stability of rival front offices significantly drums up its appeal. The Hornets rank among the most inept franchises, an organization seemingly addicted to seven-to-10-seed pursuits that can't even meet those doldrum expectations. Snagging a first from them that conveys five years from now is a business decision that will age like fine wine.

Chicago Bulls: DeMar DeRozan

6 of 31

    BOSTON, MA - JANUARY 9: DeMar DeRozan #11 of the Chicago Bulls handles the ball against the Boston Celtics on January 9, 2023 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2023 NBAE  (Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

    Patrick Williams is the reflexive response here. That's so 2021.

    Efficient three-point point shooting on modest volume with smatterings of offensive and defensive aggression gets you only so far. There needs to be a more impactful status quo at some point.

    Williams is past it. His usage rate is at a career high—and still barely checks in at 15. The 40-plus-percent shooting from deep is nice, but it comes on a piddling 4.4 attempts per 36 minutes. He has provided glimpses into a more layered decision-maker but only in drips and drabs. He ranks eighth on the Chicago Bulls in total drives and is hitting under 40 percent of his field-goal attempts off those plays. His defensive range is flexible. That's not to be confused with dominant.

    Please don't take this to mean Williams is a lost cause. He's not. He's just 21, and the Bulls offense doesn't have the wiggle room to prioritize his development. But he's extension eligible over the summer. And with a payday around the corner, he hasn't maintained a high enough peak to be the meat and potatoes of a blockbuster trade.

    Pivoting to one of Chicago's first-round picks doesn't get the job done. Its combined obligations to Orlando (top-four protection this season) and San Antonio (top-10 protection in 2025) extend too far into the future. This year's Portland picks the Bulls own (lottery protected through 2028) is a sweetener, not a main course.

    Zach LaVine is an option. But not an especially good one. Though he has perked up in recent weeks, the four years and $178.1 million left on his deal won't speak to sellers eyeing rebuilds when coupled with his inconsistent defense and history of knee issues.

    And so, we have DeMar DeRozan. His inclusion feels weird. He's 33 years old, with just one season left on his contract. But he is very decidedly the Bulls' best player, as well as one of the league's most valuable crunch time weapons. He ranks first in clutch win probability added on the season, just as he did last year, according to Inpredictable.

    It'll take an incredibly specific trade partner for DeRozan to register as a blockbuster asset. He is someone the Bulls are more likely to move as part of their own selloff. But maybe they can find their own version of the Domantas Sabonis-for-Tyrese Haliburton established-vet-for-youthful-star deal, only on a more extreme level given that DeRozan turns 34 in August.

Cleveland Cavaliers: Caris LeVert

7 of 31

    CLEVELAND, OH - DECEMBER 16: Jarrett Allen #31 and Caris LeVert #3 of the Cleveland Cavaliers play defense on Myles Turner #33 of the Indiana Pacers during the game  on December 16, 2022 at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images)
    David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images

    There may not be an NBA team that needs a blockbuster trade less than the Cleveland Cavaliers.

    Incidentally, there may not be a franchise less equipped to reasonably pursue one.

    Cleveland already burned its home-run swing on Donovan Mitchell. The early returns suggest this was a great decision. But the Cavs have no first-round equity to trade after acquiring Mitchell and aren't about to shop him, Darius Garland or Evan Mobley.

    Throw Jarrett Allen under this umbrella, too. Perhaps Cleveland breaks up its two-big model one day. And using Allen to reel in a higher-end wing will appeal to some even now. It's not happening. The Cavs are contenders as currently constructed. They need to augment and modify rather than shake-up.

    Caris LeVert is the standalone choice. Select teams will value his shot creation, and his $18.8 million expiring contract offers just as much utility. It isn't so large that hypothetical deals get convolute (a la Kevin Love), but it's big enough on its own for Cleveland to take back sizable salaries (up to $23.6 million).

    Adequately sweetening any package will be tough, verging on impossible. The Cavs aren't winning any bidding wars by tacking on Isaac Okoro and Dean Wade. But the willingness to absorb longer-term money in exchange for the immediate flexibility LeVert's deal provides would be a nifty starting point depending on the target.

Dallas Mavericks: 2027 First-Rounder

8 of 31

    LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 12: Luka Doncic #77 of the Dallas Mavericks drives to the basket during the game against the Los Angeles Lakers on January 12, 2023 at Crypto.Com Arena in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2023 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

    With all due respect to Jaden Hardy, the Dallas Mavericks are bankrupt of blue-chip prospects to include in blockbuster trade packages. Even their raw draft equity is potentially bunk.

    Dallas cannot convey a first-rounder until 2025 because of its 2023 obligation to New York (top-10 protection). Which, fine. But how much will that interest outside parties when the Mavs are built around a one-man contender who doesn't turn 24 until February? They should, at worst, be much better than OK so long as he's on the roster.

    Pushing for their 2027 selection is the better play. That pick coincides with the final year of Luka Dončić's current contract (player option). Phrased another away: In the event Dallas doesn't get its act together, this pick extends past the eventual Dončić trade demand.

    Granted, the Mavericks could get their act together—particularly if they finagle a blockbuster acquisition. And any trade pitch for a star is bound to include multiple firsts. (Dallas is technically better off holding out until the summer, when it should be able to offer four outright firsts and three swaps).

    Forced to choose right now, the teams on the other side of negotiations should place a higher premium on the 2027 selection. Yes, it's far away. In this case, that's part of the charm, because it gives more time for the situation in Dallas to unravel.

Denver Nuggets: Bones Hyland

9 of 31

    DENVER, CO - JANUARY 11: Jamal Murray #27 and Bones Hyland #3 of the Denver Nuggets during the game against the Phoenix Suns on January 11, 2023 at the Ball Arena in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2023 NBAE (Photo by Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images

    First-rounders are no longer viable trade currency for the Denver Nuggets. They can offer a 2029 selection, but it'll need to be conditional, pending their 2027 obligation to Oklahoma City, and expire immediately if it doesn't convey.

    Michael Porter Jr. would have been the choice here once upon a time. For some, he still might be. He deserves oodles of credit for how he's played within his role this season. But he's owed $107.6 million over the next three years, with a $12 million guarantee on a $40.8 million salary in 2026-27. That's not an easy deal to stomach when he's battled back issues and never needed to be a primary creator.

    Jamal Murray doesn't warrant much back-and-forth. His first season back from an ACL injury is more encouraging than not, he's still just 25, and the two years and $69.8 million left on his contract are eminently digestible. But busting up the Murray-Nikola Jokić connection before getting to see it in the playoffs, at least one more time, would be malpractice—both functional and spiritual.

    Bones Hyland basically gets the uncontested nod. His defense leaves much to be desired, and he needs to tighten up his decision-making and finishing inside the arc. But he's a fluid on-ball creator who can stroke threes, of any kind, from anywhere.

    The Nuggets, of course, don't look like a team in dire need of anything. (Maybe another backup big.) But if they wanted to, they could party crash some interesting discussions by pairing the two cost-controlled years left on Hyland's deal with additional salary.

Detroit Pistons: Jaden Ivey

10 of 31

    DETROIT, MICHIGAN - DECEMBER 26: Jalen Duren #0 and Jaden Ivey #23 of the Detroit Pistons reacts against the LA Clippers during the fourth quarter at Little Caesars Arena on December 26, 2022 in Detroit, Michigan. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images)
    Nic Antaya/Getty Images

    Did you hear someone screaming "Ughhhhh" at the top of their lungs as you scrolled to this section? It was me trying to winnow down the Detroit Pistons' options.

    Including Jaden Ivey feels all sorts of icky. He's a rookie, and he's had a rough go. Newbie guards almost always do.

    To his credit, his speed and athleticism continue to smack you in the face, and he's starting to look more at home driving the offense for others in Cade Cunningham's absence. And to my credit, this isn't an endorsement or call for the Pistons to shop Ivey. Again: We're just going through the most realistically available blockbuster asset.

    Ivey is it for the Pistons, who don't have many options. Cunningham is untouchable, and Detroit cannot guarantee a first-round pick until two years after its obligation to New York extinguishes—which could be 2029.

    No other player on the Pistons comes all that close to earning this honor. Saddiq Bey and the improving Killian Hayes are not it-factor prospects. Both are also extension-eligible after this year. Jalen Duren has shown everything from tough-as-nails rebounding to highlight-factory finishing to raw-and-unchecked-but-enthralling versatility on defense. Bigs without a floor game or viable jumper just don't get the blockbuster-trade juices flowing as frequently as wings and primary playmakers.

    This is all a roundabout way of waxing futility. The Pistons aren't in nuclear-buy mode and almost assuredly aren't thinking of Ivey as anything less than a building block. Could that change if they land Victor Wembanyama, Scoot Henderson or Amen Thompson in the draft and create a logjam of offensive primaries? Quite possibly.

Golden State Warriors: Jonathan Kuminga

11 of 31

    SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA - DECEMBER 30: Jonathan Kuminga #00 of the Golden State Warriors slam dunk against the Portland Trail Blazers during the fourth quarter at Chase Center on December 30, 2022 in San Francisco, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
    Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    Jonathan Kuminga is the no-brainer pick for the Golden State Warriors.

    Maaaybe a few teams would prefer their 2026 first-rounder. The Dubs' current core has to age (or price itself) out at some point. But there are no assurances Golden State will be terrible. Perhaps Stephen Curry plays forever. James Wiseman could pan out. Jordan Poole might become less of a roller coaster.

    Or, more likely, Kuminga could develop into a certified building block for the Warriors, the player most responsible for extending or reinventing their window beyond the Prime Steph Era.

    At just 20 years old, he has already emerged as an important part of the rotation (pre-right-foot sprain). The thrust he plays with is hyper-valuable and translates to rim pressure, biting off-ball movement and regular doses of physical chutzpah on defense that no doubt make Draymond beam with pride on the inside.

    Kuminga's offensive IQ is visibly on the come-up, too. He's improved his overall decision-making while dabbling in more complex usage than highlight-reel dunks. Among the nearly 200 players who have finished at least 100 drives this season, Kuminga is one of seven shooting better than 55 percent with an assist rate north of 10. His company: Luka Dončić, Ayo Dosunmu, LeBron James, Nikola Jokić, Malik Monk and Domantas Sabonis.

    Sellers should want to get their hands on that player. Kuminga remains something of an unknown, but investing in him is less of a gamble than counting on Golden State to implode by 2026.

Houston Rockets: Brooklyn's 2026 First-Rounder

12 of 31

    NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA - JANUARY 04: Alperen Sengun #28, Kenyon Martin Jr. #6, Jalen Green #4, Jabari Smith Jr. #1 and Kevin Porter Jr. #3 of the Houston Rockets react during a game against the New Orleans Pelicans at the Smoothie King Center on January 04, 2023 in New Orleans, Louisiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
    Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

    Rationalizing your way through the Houston Rockets' stable of assets is quite the undertaking.

    Jalen Green and Jabari Smith Jr. are no-gos. That might change if James Harden finds his way back to Houston over the summer and wants to bring Kevin Durant or LeBron James with him. But neither of those players is available now.

    The Rockets' 2023 first-rounder is a taboo choice for similar reasons. They have top-three lottery odds at this writing. You can't punt on the chance to land Scoot Henderson or Victor Wembanyama without an immediate line to title contention.

    Future Rockets picks don't do the trick, either. Houston owes 2024 and 2026 selections to Oklahoma City (top-four protection), and latching onto a 2028 first-rounder from a team with so much burgeoning talent, however incomplete and incoherent it looks, doesn't move the Needle of Possibility.

    Alperen Şengün almost took home this honor. He is an authentic offensive hub, someone who will attempt and convert the most audacious passes. But two years of his rookie-scale contract are already in the books, his defense remains bad, and teams will need to see him hone his perimeter shot-making before declaring him a worthy focal point.

    That brings us to the 2026 Brooklyn first-rounder. It is entirely unprotected—much like the Nets' future.

    Kevin Durant is 34 and dealing with another MCL injury. Kyrie Irving is, um Kyrie Irving and about to hit free agency. Ben Simmons has not fully recaptured his All-Star-building-block appeal. And Brooklyn does not control its own first-rounder again until 2028.

    All of which puts the Nets on "Fall Off" watch, every year, essentially until the end of time. This first-round pick allows teams to bet on an eventual detour into oblivion without waiting too long for it to happen.

Indiana Pacers: Myles Turner

13 of 31

    SALT LAKE CITY, UT - DECEMBER 2: Bennedict Mathurin #00 and Myles Turner #33 of the Indiana Pacers plays defense during the game against the Utah Jazz on December 2, 2022 at Vivint SmartHome Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

    Talk about your anti-climactic selections.

    Tyrese Haliburton has given the Indiana Pacers' a directional star, the type of player who serves as the basis for every move you make. His ascension into All-Star territory and a rosier record than expected allow the team to accelerate what was considered a more gradual process entering the season.

    But the Pacers aren't that kind of team. Maybe they mess around and scoop up John Collins when his value is at its nadir. Historically, though, they are not the organization to make rash buy-now moves.

    Assuming they break from that approach is not a license to abandon all pretext. You might put Bennedict Mathurin on the table for an established star. The Pacers are less likely to do so. They will hem and haw over the prospect of said star leaving rather than sign another contract or lose sleep over what Mathurin could have become alongside Haliburton.

    Indiana will view their future first-rounders in the same light. Moving them is unnecessarily risky. Sellers probably won't care as much about that form of over-caution. The Pacers aren't following the arc of a team that'll be spitting out high lottery picks.

    This makes Myles Turner the answer, because, apparently, I won't let him escape even the most theoretical trade discussions. Certain teams will use his impending free agency to devalue his inclusion, but he's looked like a fringe All-Star this season and his skill set, at both ends, can slide into just about any roster makeup.

    More to the point: If the Pacers did stumble into star discussions this season, Turner feels like the most valuable asset with whom they'd be willing to part.

L.A. Clippers: 2028 First-Round Pick

14 of 31

    ORLANDO, FL - DECEMBER 7: Terance Mann #14 of the LA Clippers high fives Kawhi Leonard #2 of the LA Clippers during the game against the Orlando Magic on December 7, 2022 at Amway Center in Orlando, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images

    Remove Paul George and Kawhi Leonard from consideration, and the L.A. Clippers are left with...Terance Mann or a distant first-round pick.

    Feel free to choose Mann. He's connective tissue at both ends of the floor—and the Clippers themselves are finally starting to realize it. His two-year, $22 million extension that kicks in next season looks like a friggin' steal.

    At 26, though, Mann won't engender the same level of intrigue as L.A.'s 2028 first-rounder. The Clippers are already dealing with fragility, and that pick post-dates current contracts for George and Leonard by three years. Even if they do stick around, they'll be deep into their 30s.

    Ultra-distant firsts require imagination from the other side of negotiations. Executives who acquire this pick can't bank on being the ones to use it. But the Clippers have useful players on manageable salaries (including Mann) to glitz up any big-fish offers, invariably rendering their version of a one-forever-away-first-rounder package far more palatable.

Los Angeles Lakers: 2027 First-Round Pick

15 of 31

    LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 23, 2022:  Injured Los Angeles Lakers forward Anthony Davis, right, looks over plays with Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (6) on the bench during the game against the Charlotte Hornets at Crypto.com Arena on December 23, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
    Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

    This is not a particularly complex conversation. The Los Angeles Lakers have their 2027 and 2029 firsts and, well, basically nothing else—unless you're captivated by the futures of Austin Reaves and Max Christie.

    Figuring out which of these picks has more value gets a little difficult. Most might default to the later one. LeBron James definitely won't be playing by 2029. I think. Anthony Davis will be coming off his age-36 season—and who's to say he's still even in Los Angeles?

    Then again, the 2029 first is seven drafts away. That's a long time. The Lakers could stumble into a mega signing or two during such a long stretch. Free agency isn't conducive to star movement right now, but that could change depending on what the collective bargaining agreement looks like and how the infusion of money from the NBA's next TV deal impacts the salary cap.

    Prioritizing the 2027 selection makes more sense to prospective trade partners. It gives the Lakers less time to turn things around. Free agency may not change much by then, and Los Angeles will be just two summers removed from the final year of LeBron's current deal.

    Maybe he's still around by that time. He is a living anomaly, after all. But even he has to fall off around his age-42 season...right?

Memphis Grizzlies: Golden State's 2024 First-Round Pick

16 of 31

    MEMPHIS, TN - DECEMBER 31: Desmond Bane #22 high fives Ja Morant #12 of the Memphis Grizzlies during the game against the New Orleans Pelicans on December 31, 2022 at FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

    Desmond Bane has played himself into Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. waters. This is not to say he's an MVP or Defensive Player of the Year candidate. It's to say the Memphis Grizzlies wouldn't move him in just any ol' blockbuster—or any blockbuster at all.

    Taking that view would be iffy if they didn't have the ammo to complete a bigger trade without including one of their three best players. They do. They have all their own first-round picks, a smorgasbord of interesting rookie-scalers (Ziaire Williams, Santi Aldama, David Roddy, Jake LaRavia) and easy-to-swallow salary-matchers.

    The 2024 first-round pick from Golden State beats out everything and everyone else realistically on the table. It is top-four protected next year, top-one protected in 2025 and then unprotected in 2026, potentially making it a sleeper crown jewel.

    Banking on the implosion of a Stephen Curry-piloted team isn't what you'd call good business. But the Warriors are both aging and approaching a crossroads. Curry turns 35 in March. Klay Thompson turns 33 in February. Draymond Green turns 33 in March—and will enter free agency over the summer (player option). The supporting cast is not populated with sure things. That includes Jordan Poole.

    Visions of simultaneously dominating two timelines have given way to a reality check. Golden State's performance is evening out, but not on the back of its youth. Poole and Jonathan Kuminga won't seamlessly prop open the contention window if the Warriors fall off and/or lose Green to the open market. They're more likely to need a trade of their own than they are to remain on the treadmill of title-chasing without shaking up the core.

    At the very least, the future of Golden State is not without uncertainty. And that's a boon for the Grizzlies.

Miami Heat: 2027 First-Round Pick

17 of 31

    MIAMI, FLORIDA - DECEMBER 10: Tyler Herro #14 and Jimmy Butler #22 of the Miami Heat look on during the first half of the game against the San Antonio Spurs at FTX Arena on December 10, 2022 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Megan Briggs/Getty Images)
    Megan Briggs/Getty Images

    Tyler Herro might very well be the correct pick even after signing his extension. Poison pill deals make trades harder to complete if neither team is working with a truckload of cap space, but they're not impossible.

    Prospective Herro trades are still far more likely over the offseason, when he represents $27 million in outgoing salary. That's assuming he's up for grabs at all. He has become so instrumental to the Miami Heat's offense that he now may be viewed in the same terms as Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler.

    In the absence of another red-carpet youngster, draft picks are this team's most valuable currency. It's just a matter of choosing which one.

    This year's pick is somewhat alluring. The Heat would have to unprotect it, since they owe another first to Oklahoma City in 2025, and that's not a throwaway decision when they're floating around Eastern Conference play-in territory.

    Jumping ahead to their 2027 first-rounder is nevertheless more appropriate. Miami has battled injuries, continues to rain defensive hellfire and just made it to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals last year with the bulk of this nucleus. The Heat are more likely to figure things out this season than crumble.

    Their long-term outlook is a different story. Jimmy Butler is 33. Kyle Lowry turns 37 in March and doesn't factor into the organization's future beyond next season. The bench is devoid of much night-to-night certainty. The Heat won't get away without another influx of younger, more dependable depth or star power for much longer, which adds an element of mystique to a draft pick that would convey after the current contracts of Adebayo and Butler.

Minnesota Timberwolves: Jaden McDaniels

18 of 31

    MINNEAPOLIS, MN -  NOVEMBER 21: Jaden McDaniels #3 and D'Angelo Russell #0 of the Minnesota Timberwolves plays defense during the game against the Miami Heat on November 21, 2022 at Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images)
    David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

    *Shrugs in indifference.*

    Swinging another blockbuster trade is just about impossible for the Minnesota Timberwolves following their acquisition of Rudy Gobert. They can't deal a first-round pick and shouldn't even be thinking about moving Anthony Edwards.

    Unloading Karl-Anthony Towns is an actual no-no. He can't be traded until the offseason after signing an extension. Rerouting Gobert is not the answer, either. He's on the wrong side of 30 and owed $131.5 million over the next three years, and Minnesota's offensive struggles with him on the floor have neutralized, if not nuked, his market value.

    That makes this a toss-up between D'Angelo Russell and Jaden McDaniels. Let's go with the latter.

    Russell's shot-making and orchestration are the more conventional blockbuster magnets, and his $31.4 million salary is a tidier money-matcher. But his pending free agency represses his value, as does turning 27 at the end of February.

    McDaniels is closer to meeting the prospect/upside/mystery box criteria. He is 22; has another year left on his rookie scale; defends his butt off; has dropped in 39 percent of his triples; and, most recently, has added more layers to his decision-making in open space.

    If the Timberwolves do anything substantial (unlikely), it'll involve tethering McDaniels' cheapo salary to a more expensive contract or two.

Milwaukee Bucks: 2029 First-Round Pick

19 of 31

    ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 11: Brook Lopez #11, Giannis Antetokounmpo #34, and Marjon Beauchamp #0 of the Milwaukee Bucks looks on during the game against the Atlanta Hawks on January 11, 2023 at State Farm Arena in Atlanta, Georgia.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Adam Hagy/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Adam Hagy/NBAE via Getty Images

    Unless you envision the Milwaukee Bucks unloading Jrue Holiday or Giannis Antetokounmpo himself, this is a two-choice question: MarJon Beauchamp or Milwaukee's 2029 pick?

    Give me the 2029 pick.

    Beauchamp is genuinely intriguing. He knows how to use his length on defense and profiles as an energetic floor-runner who will eventually knock down corner triples at a dependable rate. The anonymity of a first-rounder seven drafts away is still far more polarizing. Beauchamp isn't a known quantity, but you're also not holding your breath for him to grow into an offensive creator or shutdown, All-Defense stopper.

    Contrary to a team like the Clippers, the Bucks don't have the residual assets to pair the 2029 first with instant gratification. Grayson Allen isn't evoking excitement from any trade partners. Ditto for Pat Connaughton. Bobby Portis or Brook Lopez might, but only if Milwaukee is talking shop with sellers not on the precipice of a rebuild.

    A quickly aging core might actually be the saving grace of this selection. Holiday is 32. Lopez is 34. Khris Middleton is 31 and a free agent after this season (player option). This Bucks nucleus is not forever, and the front office doesn't have the excess pick equity to pivot.

    Giannis is dominant enough to dismiss long-term concerns. But he'll be wrapping up his age-34 season by the time this pick conveys. And while that's not ancient, his physiological makeup isn't from this galaxy. The apex of his prime might end earlier than other generational talents. Betting on his decline and the Bucks' big-picture demise isn't the soundest investment. It's not without merit, either.

New Orleans Pelicans: 2023 First-Round Pick (Swap with Lakers)

20 of 31

    SALT LAKE CITY, UT - DECEMBER 13:  Larry Nance Jr. #22 Dyson Daniels #11 and Trey Murphy III #25 helping teamate CJ McCollum #3 of the New Orleans Pelicans up during the game against the Utah Jazz on December 13, 2022 at vivint.SmartHome Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

    Blockbuster trade assets galore are at the New Orleans Pelicans disposal.

    Dyson Daniels, Trey Murphy III, all their own first-round picks, 2025 and 2027 Milwaukee firsts, the Lakers' 2024 first (can defer to 2025)—the list feels unending. Some might even include Brandon Ingram. I'm not "some." It's a discussion if, like, one of five to 10 players becomes available. But Ingram is not run-of-the-mill blockbuster fodder, and the time he's missed this season with a left toe injury dings his value ever so slightly.

    Not that any of this particularly matters. Go ahead and include Ingram if you're so inclined. This year's pick wins regardless.

    New Orleans has the right to swap its own first with the Lakers' selection. Right now, this pick has top-eight odds to win the lottery. And that could improve depending on how the rest of the season unfolds.

    LeBron James remains ridiculous, but the rest of the Lakers' roster is bogged down by injuries (Anthony Davis), lack of fit and just generally suboptimal talent. If general manager Rob Pelinka doesn't make a trade, the value of this selection increases tenfold. It very seriously has the potential to yield Victor Wembanyama or Scoot Henderson.

    Perhaps some teams will prefer the certainty of Daniels (eclipsing defense at warp speed) and Murphy (holy functional shooting). Others might want to roll the dice on the Lakers' 2024 (or 2025 selection) in an attempt to capitalize on further decline and incompetence from Los Angeles.

    Sign me up for this year's pick. The Lakers will have cap space over the summer and could also decide to trade their available firsts at that time. Holding out hope for a LeBron decline or trade demand and subsequent teardown is riskier than taking what looks like a higher-end lottery selection right now.

New York Knicks: Quentin Grimes

21 of 31

    NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 20: Quentin Grimes #6 and Jalen Brunson #11 of the New York Knicks during the game against he Golden State Warriors on December 20, 2022 at Madison Square Garden in New York City, New York.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE  (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

    The New York Knicks are at once teeming with assets and lighter on blockbuster-trade fare.

    Immanuel Quickley remains underrated, often by his own team, but definitely on a national scale. Obi Toppin, when healthy, is a floor-running shot of adrenaline who hit threes at a dreamy clip to start the year. Neither player is cornerstone material at the moment, and their extension eligibilities this summer dampen their appeal to other franchises.

    RJ Barrett remains a divisive figure. Fortunately, we needn't get into it. He's bounced from the running as a poison pill. Jalen Brunson is tracking towards serious All-Star consideration, on a contract that's fast become a bargain and still only 26. He might actually be the answer. But his familial ties to the organization almost guarantee he won't be blockbuster bait.

    Julius Randle has re-entered the All-Star discussion, as well. But at 28, and coming off a wildly disappointing 2021-22 campaign with two more semi-pricey years left on his deal, he's unlikely to be treated as a centerpiece acquisition by non-contending teams.

    New York owns first-round picks from Charlotte, Detroit and Washington. None of them project to convey this season—or necessarily at all. Dallas' 2023 pick has top-10 protection and is currently forecast to dip comfortably outside the lottery. The Knicks do control all of their own firsts, but shorting their future wants for the usual luster knowing they have Brunson and impactful depth and remain motivated to chase playoff berths.

    Potential sellers may still lust after New York's own picks. Failing that, Quentin Grimes is The Asset. He is a scrappy defender and capable complementary shooter who has occasionally flashed the chops to effectively attack closeouts.

    Three-and-D wings with the runway to broaden their offensive horizons are immensely valuable to every team. And with two years left on his rookie scale, Grimes will be more appealing than most.

Oklahoma City Thunder: Josh Giddey

22 of 31

    PHILADELPHIA, PA - JANUARY 12: Jalen Williams #8, Josh Giddey #3, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander #2 of the Oklahoma City Thunder look on against the Philadelphia 76ers at the Wells Fargo Center on January 12, 2023 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
    Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

    Josh Giddey is piecing together the kind of sophomore season that makes you believe in his future. His vision and overall passing continue to wow, he's been rock solid to awesome on defense, and most critically, his offensive bag contains more variability.

    So much of Giddey's future is tethered to his fit with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, the linchpin of the Oklahoma City Thunder offense. That was an unsettling notion last season. It's much less so now.

    Giddey is learning how to position himself off SGA and move without the ball. His jumper is still hitchy, but it's falling more frequently. He's downing 41.5 percent of his triples on over three attempts per game since Dec. 1 and also canning a respectable 46 percent of his floaters for the entire season.

    The fit with SGA still isn't perfect. Oklahoma City has a below-average offense with both in the game. But retreating awkwardness counts as progress, and their dynamic will grow more natural as the Thunder surround them with betters shooting.

    That they are a workable duo at all speaks to the improvement Giddey has already made. He is a walking triple-double threat with two years left on his rookie scale who can run an upper-tempo offense solo without legally being able to consume alcohol.

    If the Thunder wanted to burst onto the blockbuster-trade scene, their package should start with him. You have to surrender value to get value, and Giddey is the right balance of higher-end and expendable. Oklahoma City isn't moving SGA or the injured Chet Holmgren, and its own first-round picks are declining in marketability as they continue to hustle their way up the standings.

    Jalen Williams has a chance to be the answer—just not now. Giddey's on-ball apex forecasts as more impactful. Houston's 2024 first-round pick is another good choice. The Rockets are talented yet bad and don't appear close to getting good. But the top-four protection on the firsts they owe to Oklahoma City in 2024 and 2026 restricts imagination. And choosing the Clippers' unprotected firsts in those same years doesn't sit right when the theory of a fully healthy and available Kawhi Leonard still exists.

Orlando Magic: 2024 First-Round Pick

23 of 31

    ORLANDO, FL - OCTOBER 11: Paolo Banchero #5 high fives Franz Wagner #22 of the Orlando Magic during the game against the Memphis Grizzlies on October 11, 2022 at Amway Center in Orlando, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images

    Part of me wishes I had the courage to list the Orlando Magic's 2023 first-round pick.

    Cursory scans of the standings show they're technically in Victor Wembyama and Scoot Henderson contention. But, like, are they really?

    Orlando is a 11-7 since beginning the season 5-20, with a top-eight defense that's only slightly reaping the benefits of unlucky opponent shooting. And this stretch has sustained amid a constantly shifting rotation, along with limited reps featuring the team's fullish stable of talent. It's not an accident.

    It also isn't evidence the Magic are ready for a playoff push. Their 2023 first-rounder joins Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner on the "Hands Off" list so long as they're dancing around top-five lottery odds.

    They shouldn't be as attached to their 2024 pick. They're about to head into the summer with cap space and, presumably, another lottery prospect to pair alongside Banchero, Wagner, Wendell Carter Jr., Markelle Fultz and Jalen Suggs (don't sell your stock!).

    The Magic can easily convince themselves they'll be ready to rumble with Eastern Conference heavyweights next season, particularly if they're bagging a blockbuster name. Prospective trade partners, on the other hand, can similarly convince themselves Orlando is a year or two away from causing a ruckus, even if they add a proven star. Getting back a loosely protected to unprotected 2024 first, on top of all the other draft and player noshes the Magic can dangle, is at the bare minimum a massive attention-grabber.

Philadelphia 76ers: Tyrese Maxey

24 of 31

    PHILADELPHIA, PA - JANUARY 12: Tyrese Maxey #0 of the Philadelphia 76ers drives to the basket against Shai Gilgeous-Alexander #2 of the Oklahoma City Thunder at the Wells Fargo Center on January 12, 2023 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
    Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

    Don't bother sussing out alternatives for the Philadelphia 76ers. There aren't any.

    Joel Embiid and James Harden aren't players you move in search of blockbuster upgrades. Tobias Harris' salary is more conducive to bringing back star salaries, but he doesn't get the job done on his own and wouldn't ever be a selling team's primary reason for making a trade.

    First-round picks aren't on the table. The Sixers' latest obligation to Brooklyn could leak out to 2028, so they can't legally send out a guaranteed one until the league's calendar resets over the offseason.

    It wouldn't matter if they could. The answer would still be Tyrese Maxey.

    Players approaching the end of their rookie scale and the extension eligibility that comes with it are not always quintessential blockbuster assets. Maxey is different.

    Every team should be comfortable bankrolling his next deal. He has now successfully thrived as a focal point (see: most of last season) and as the third wheel to Embiid and Harden. His straight-line speed breaks the sound barrier, and the three-point shooting is real.

    What he lacks in directionality and playmaking variance (can he run a top-tier half-court offense?) he makes up for with upward mobility. Maxey is nowhere near a finished product at 22 years old. Attach him to larger salaries (i.e. Harris' deal), without including anything else, and the Sixers would still have an absurdly attractive trade package on their hands.

Phoenix Suns: Mikal Bridges

25 of 31

    PHOENIX, ARIZONA - JANUARY 08: Deandre Ayton #22 of the Phoenix Suns and Mikal Bridges #25 grab a rebound during the game against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Footprint Center on January 08, 2023 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Cavaliers beat the Suns 112-98. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images)
    Chris Coduto/Getty Images

    Yours truly came much closer to selecting the Phoenix Suns' 2023 first-rounder than I ever could have anticipated. Devin Booker's groin injury and a rapidly plummeting record can have that effect. If Phoenix is open to shipping out an unprotected pick in the Victor Wembanyama and Scoot Henderson draft while sliding down the standings, could-be sellers will surely pounce.

    But there's a catch-22 to this logic.

    Pulling off a blockbuster trade makes the Suns better. That, in turn, wet blankets the value of their 2023 first. You'd have to believe they'd continue their downward spiral despite netting a significant upgrade.

    Others will now gravitate towards Deandre Ayton (trade-eligible on Jan. 15). I strongly urge them to stop.

    Never mind that he can veto any deal this season, thereby jumbling his value, even if only marginally. His defense has fallen off a cliff this year, and he continues to play offense like the Keith Van Horn of big men.

    Perhaps Ayton is simply disenchanted with his role and status in Phoenix. Or maybe, just maybe, the Suns maxed out a slightly above-average center. The mere possibility of the latter, however hot-takey, submarines his market appeal.

    First-round picks that convey after this season are fair game. The Suns have a huge chunk of their core under lock and key, but given Ayton's play this season, that's not necessarily a good thing. Chris Paul's days as a star seem dunzo. Cam Johnson is set to enter restricted free agency. Devin Booker and Mikal Bridges alone do not inoculate Phoenix against regression, so any unprotected pick conveying beyond 2025 has a certain shimmer to it.

    Bridges himself is still my choice. He is overstretched when saddled with No. 1.5- to No. 2-type offensive responsibilities, but he's so much more than a specialist. He remains a terror in transition from every level and an incisive off-ball mover and has on-ball downhill jet fuel in his armory. His defense has slipped this season, but watching him, it seems more like the offshoot of a deteriorating supporting cast and an overextended offensive workload.

    Everything Bridges does scales to 29 other teams. And at only 26, with three market-to-below-market years left on his deal, he's more of a blockbuster draw than Ayton or any of Phoenix's picks.

Portland Trail Blazers: Shaedon Sharpe

26 of 31

    TORONTO, CANADA - JANUARY 8: Shaedon Sharpe #17 of the Portland Trail Blazers looks on during the game against the Toronto Raptors on January 8, 2023 at the Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Vaughn Ridley/NBAE via Getty Images

    Anfernee Simons came oh-so-close to populating this space. His blend of off-the-dribble shot-making, spot-up snipery, leveled-up ball movement and detonative athleticism is anomalous for a guard, and at only 23, he retains that prospect-age sheen.

    Teams flirting with a rebuild don't always target players into their second contract. But Simons' four-year, $100 million deal suddenly looks dirt cheap.

    Shaedon Sharpe gets the go-ahead anyway.

    It'd be easier to slot him behind Simons on the asset scale if 1) the Portland Trail Blazers weren't more likely to prioritize keeping Simons as part of any win-now home-run swing and 2) Sharpe didn't already look so damn good.

    Human bounce houses that defy and disprove gravity are always polarizing. But Sharpe already looks like much more than his put-back yams and vicious throwdowns. He is a fairly intuitive cutter, has dropped in 46-plus percent of his catch-and-shoot triples (albeit on modest volume) and semi-routinely shows the bandwidth to knock down difficult jumpers. His 46.2 percent clip on pull-up twos deserves more attention.

    A prospective seller like the Toronto Raptors, angling for a quick turnaround, should have more interest in Simons. Overall, though, Sharpe is the more conventional blockbuster prospect—a 19-year-old barely into his rookie-scale deal who oozes could-be-anything possibility.

Sacramento Kings: Keegan Murray

27 of 31

    SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA - JANUARY 11: Keegan Murray #13 of the Sacramento Kings shoots the ball against the Houston Rockets at Golden 1 Center on January 11, 2023 in Sacramento, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Keegan Murray's inclusion essentially goes unchallenged.

    The Sacramento Kings can't convey a first-round pick before 2026. That'd be kind of attractive if they could guarantee it. They can't. The first they owe to Atlanta is lottery protected in 2024, top-12 protected in 2025 and top-10 protected in 2026.

    Any team accepting a conditional first-rounder has to believe the Kings will be a playoff lock next season. That's not unreasonable. Sacramento is good! But the Western Conference remains brutal, Harrison Barnes is a free agent this summer, and these are still the Kings.

    Nobody else on the roster comes close to touching Murray on the blockbuster-asset scale once we move past draft picks. Davion Mitchell swallows souls on defense, but remains uneven at the offensive end. Kevin Huerter is great but too finished of a product. De'Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis aren't going anywhere. The entire point of a blockbuster acquisition would be to form a starry trio.

    Murray is on the older side for a rookie (22) but has proven himself NBA-ready. His off-ball movement is divine, and he's a lethal plug-and-play shooter. Only six players have hit more spot-up threes this year—he downs at a 40-plus-percent clip. He has even hinted at a workable floor game after hand-offs from Sabonis.

    Opposing teams won't view Murray as a star-in-waiting. That does little, if anything, to curb his value. Total offensive scalability is incredibly valuable—and it becomes an even greater draw when the player promises they have three extremely cost-controlled years left on their current contract.

San Antonio Spurs: Atlanta's 2025 First-Round Pick

28 of 31

    SAN ANTONIO, TX - DECEMBER 12:  Keldon Johnson #3 of the San Antonio Spurs and Devin Vassell #24 reacts after they defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers at AT&T Center on December 12, 2022 in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)
    Ronald Cortes/Getty Images

    Going through this exercise for the San Antonio Spurs admittedly feels futile. They are perhaps the team least likely to go blockbuster hunting—not just this season, in the infancy of their rebuild, but across any given year. The Kawhi Leonard-for-DeMar DeRozan swap in 2018 is the closest they have come, and their hand was forced.

    Still, we press on!

    All of San Antonio's firsts are outside the scope, because mortgaging its own future isn't the organization's style, and because, this year specifically, it is firmly in the Victor Wembanyama and Scoot Henderson sweepstakes. Devin Vassell has more depth to his on-ball game than anyone would have dared guess one year ago—which is why he's also beyond the pale. The Spurs won't punt on who might be their highest-end building block, for now, without having another star already in tow.

    Keldon Johnson would like a word about that previous line. And he has a case as San Antonio's best pillar. It's irrelevant, though. Signing an extension before the season turned him into a poison pill deal.

    Jeremy Sochan optimists are encouraged to beat their chests and bellow at the top of their lungs. He is a whiz at navigating the floor, both on and off the ball, and will be a fundamentally sound and disruptive defender at his pinnacle. Would the Spurs move a rookie? And would star-sellers consider him flashy enough to anchor their return? Both questions give me pause.

    Settling on Atlanta's unprotected 2025 first-round pick is the way to gp. And it doesn't constitute settling at all. The Hawks seem like a borderline dumpster fire behind the scenes. Enemy front offices are already prepping for a Trae Young trade demand. This pick could post-date that selloff. And it already post-dates Dejounte Murray's free agency (2024).

    There is a universe in which Atlanta recomposes itself and emerges as a contender. But the combustibility of its future is just as real, if not just as likely. The Spurs can ignite splashy discussions if they're willing to pony up the Hawks' 2025 first-rounder.

Toronto Raptors: Scottie Barnes

29 of 31

    TORONTO, ON - JANUARY 12: Scottie Barnes #4 of the Toronto Raptors makes a pass around Cody Martin #11 of the Charlotte Hornets during the second half at Scotiabank Arena on January 12, 2023 in Toronto, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Cole Burston/Getty Images)
    Cole Burston/Getty Images

    My brain hurts after (incoherently) talking myself through the Toronto Raptors' best blockbuster asset.

    Two questions need to be asked. First: Is the answer, in a vacuum, OG Anunoby or Scottie Barnes? I'm inclined to go Barnes.

    Anunoby is the more proven player with a skill set that scales to literally every team. Barnes' archetype is more niche, and he has regressed at the offensive end without materially advancing on defense. Anunoby isn't old enough (25) for age to be a demerit. His next contract—he's extension-eligible this summer and a player option free agent in 2024—is a larger concern for teams not ready to win immediately.

    Barnes poses no such obstacles. He has two years left on his rookie scale and doesn't turn 22 until August. A few teams might fear grooming his offensive armory if the jumper never comes along, but the Raptors have laid a blueprint by deploying him as something of a point center. So while he might be more boom-or-bust, the highest-end boom is alluring enough to value him over a player like Anunoby who feels capped-out on offense.

    Which begs the second question: Assuming the right player stumbles onto the trade block, should the Raptors view Barnes as untouchable? Their refusal to include him in packages for Kevin Durant over the offseason implies they would. But they didn't make KD's (public) list of approved teams, and who knows how real their pursuit even was at the time.

    I could be potentially jaded by Barnes' relative lack of incremental improvement from last year. Counterpoint: Many of us overthought his inclusion in the Durant sweepstakes. You absolutely trade Barnes if it gets you KD.

    If the Raptors were, theoretically, targeting a top 10 to 20 player in hopes of better optimizing a clearly flawed and underachieving roster, the allure of what Barnes could be is no longer overpowering enough to register as a deal-breaker.

Utah Jazz: Minnesota's 2025 First-Rounder

30 of 31

    MEMPHIS, TN - JANUARY 8: Lauri Markkanen #23 of the Utah Jazz plays defense during the game against the Memphis Grizzlies on January 8, 2023 at FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

    Lauri Markkanen is the low-hanging fruit in this discussion. He is 25, with two team-controlled years left on his deal, and, well, straight killing it for the Utah Jazz.

    That's exactly why he isn't the answer. He is currently on pace to join LeBron James as the only two players in league history to average 24 points per game while converting at least 60 percent of their twos and 40 percent of their threes for an entire season. There is no discussion about whether he's an All-Star; it has shifted to whether he's an All-Star starter.

    As a general rule of thumb, if you're in the market for a star, you don't want it coming at the expense of your only incumbent one. Markkanen has become that in-house player for the Jazz.

    This moves one of Utah's many (many) future draft picks moves to the forefront. And guess what? It isn't any of the Jazz's own. They're too good right now. It isn't any of the Cavs' future selections, either. They're both too good and too young to bet against.

    Hello, Minnesota!

    Inserting this year's pick is somewhat tempting. The Timberwolves could feasibly end up in the lottery. Shorting their longer-term future still makes more sense. Rudy Gobert is only getting older, they have a decision to make on D'Angelo Russell this summer, and if Minnesota actually does miss the playoffs, Karl-Anthony Towns trade rumors will be coming down the pipeline.

Washington Wizards: Kyle Kuzma

31 of 31

    WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 11: Kyle Kuzma #33 of the Washington Wizards celebrates after hitting the game winning shot against the Chicago Bulls during the Wizards 100-97 win at Capital One Arena on January 11, 2023 in Washington, DC. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    Pick protections that span roughly all of eternity leave the Washington Wizards with scant few nominees. Their obligation to New York can leak out until 2026, which means they technically can't guarantee a first before 2028.

    Rui Hachimura is more of a steadying force this season but not intensely appealing with restricted free agency on the horizon. Rookie Johnny Davis, currently dealing with a hip injury, has barely seen the floor. Corey Kispert isn't a high-end enough talent. Kristaps Porziņģis' standout season doesn't negate his track record for lower-body fragility.

    Bradley Beal isn't worth making an exception to the entrenched-star rule. Washington cannot move his mammoth deal, with his 30th birthday coming in June, and reasonably hope to upgrade the roster. Deni Avdija has upped his unpredictability and efficiency on dribble penetration and only just turned 22. But he's extension-eligible this summer and not nearly aggressive enough on offense to meet the blue-chip-prospect criteria.

    Poof! Just like that, we're out of options.

    Except for Kyle Kuzma.

    This is an atypical selection. Kuzma turns 28 in July and is tracking towards a major payday (player option). Teams veering into rebuilds won't be bowled over by the chance to acquire his Bird rights.

    Tough noogies. There's no other way to go for Washington. And Kuzma is, you know, really good. He's averaging almost 22 points and four assists per game while dropping in 54.7 percent of his twos and playing truly impactful (and versatile) defense. His expiring contract alone won't sway blockbusters on its own, but attaching other assets to him and involving third parties on win-now trajectories should open up doors to which the Wizards otherwise won't have access.


    Unless otherwise noted, stats courtesy of NBA.com, Basketball Reference, Stathead or Cleaning the Glass and accurate entering Friday's games. Salary information via Spotrac.

    Dan Favale covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter (@danfavale), and subscribe to the Hardwood Knocks podcast, co-hosted by Bleacher Report's Grant Hughes.

X