The Blockbuster NBA Trades We Want to See This Season
The NBA season is underway. Teams are fighting for initial positioning, stars are asserting themselves as celestial presences and youngsters are trying to carve out larger roles in their rotations. The entertainment level is off the charts.
We still want more.
These five trades would do the trick. Each of them moves a notable player to a new home and drastically alters the direction of at least one franchise. All-Stars are shifting squads, novel cores are being crafted and dysfunction is blotted out via player movement.
Though the goals are different in each case, one common truth exists: The NBA as a whole would be better off with the narratives put in place by this handful of swaps.
Phoenix Suns Get Their Point Guard
Phoenix Suns Get: Semi Ojeleye, Terry Rozier
Boston Celtics Get: Troy Daniels, Elie Okobo, 2019 first-round pick (unprotected)
Perhaps trading for Patrick Beverley would be the easier solution if the Los Angeles Clippers get off to a slow start. He'd cost less, and his combination of perimeter marksmanship and defensive dominance would play nicely alongside Devin Booker, Josh Jackson, Mikal Bridges, Deandre Ayton and the other Phoenix Suns youngsters.
But we're talking about blockbusters here, which means we need the Suns to go after one of the league's more promising point guards while he's buried behind Kyrie Irving on a ridiculously deep Boston Celtics roster.
To be clear, Phoenix has already attempted this pursuit. It didn't work under the supervision of former general manager Ryan McDonough or the new man in charge (James Jones), as reported by Arizona Sports 98.7 FM's John Gambadoro. But that shouldn't stop the desert-based squad from trying once again as the season progresses, increasing the team's need for a quality floor general and making the Celtics more willing to part with a second-stringer who isn't vital to their title pursuits.
If Brad Wanamaker impresses as a 29-year-old rookie while Marcus Smart continues to showcase some shooting improvements, Rozier could be that much more expendable—expendable enough that a package built around Troy Daniels, Elie Okobo and an unprotected first-round pick might get the job done.
The Celtics, also parting with Semi Ojeleye for salary-matching purposes, would keep building for the present and future in simultaneous fashion. Phoenix would gain access to a potential franchise 1-guard whose presence would help complete the rebuilt core.
Kevin Love to the Charlotte Hornets
Charlotte Hornets Get: Kevin Love
Cleveland Cavaliers Get: Bismack Biyombo, Jeremy Lamb, 2019 first-round pick (unprotected)
Credit for this trade idea, which can't happen until late January because of trading restrictions on extended players, goes to ESPN.com's Zach Lowe:
"The Cavs signed Love to that fat four-year, $120 million extension because he is a very good basketball player. They also did it to increase his trade value. If the Cavs are too far behind the No. 8 spot around the trade deadline, it would be natural to pivot into tank mode and investigate Love's market. ...
"They should not expect great return. Love just turned 30. That salary is huge, even if it drops by $2.5 million in 2022-23 (provided Earth has not melted by then). But there will always be some desperate team willing to give up an interesting rotation guy and middling first-round pick for an All-Star. How about Bismack Biyombo, Jeremy Lamb, and an unprotected Charlotte first-rounder? That doesn't sound great, but there won't be a Love motherlode."
Assuming the Cleveland Cavaliers are falling out of the Eastern Conference playoff race by the time calendars flip to 2019 (a fairly safe assumption after losing LeBron James and failing to bring in any significant talents other than rookie point guard Collin Sexton), why would either side turn down this proposition?
Cleveland isn't making any noise with a core built around George Hill, Love and a mediocre collection of veterans. Even if Sexton pans out immediately and becomes a Rookie of the Year contender, that's not nearly enough talent to keep pace with the Eastern front-runners. But getting salary off the books two years earlier (Bismack Biyombo is only under contract for two more seasons), gaining access to an intriguing swingman in Jeremy Lamb and adding a 2019 first-rounder to the empty coffers could go a long way in the rebuilding process.
Charlotte, of course, would get the present-day All-Star to pair with Kemba Walker and Nicolas Batum. The move would also help sell the franchise point guard on the organization's commitment to competitiveness, which could potentially make a monumental final impression before Walker hits the open market as an unrestricted free agent.
Jimmy Butler Joins the Philadelphia 76ers
Philadelphia 76ers Get: Jimmy Butler
Minnesota Timberwolves Get: Robert Covington, Markelle Fultz, 2019 first-round pick (lottery-protected)
Forget about the Miami Heat and their package for Jimmy Butler built around Josh Richardson. Write off the Houston Rockets, who can't realistically offer any up-and-coming stars and/or top-tier draft picks. The time has come for the Philadelphia 76ers to get involved.
The City of Brotherly Love struck out in its pursuit of a star this offseason, failing to gain any traction in the LeBron James free-agency sweepstakes while Paul George chose to stay with the Oklahoma City Thunder. But it's not too late in the ongoing quest for added talent.
Parting with Robert Covington and Markelle Fultz would be painful, especially when the Sixers are also giving up a lottery-protected pick in the upcoming draft (something that only happens if Butler commits to signing an extension rather than departing as a free agent in the summer of 2019). That pain is still worth enduring when the benefits are so significant.
First, the loss of a draft pick is mitigated by what's left in the Philly war chest. The front office would retain access to myriad second-round picks and has an extra first-rounder coming via the Heat in 2021. Those aren't as exciting as a late first-rounder in the upcoming prospect pageant, but they help ensure future growth from a roster already stocked with contributing youngsters.
Second, Fultz may not have this much trade value if too much time passes. He's revamped his jumper enough that he can take deep looks in the flow of action, but his playing style remains altered. Rather than showcasing the pull-up aggression that made him the No. 1 pick in 2017, he's hesitating when greeted with space. That mentality change is a big deal and could depress his worth if it continues and becomes increasingly obvious.
The Minnesota Timberwolves can't hope to get a better package than this—one built around an intriguing, albeit devalued, point guard prospect, as well as a top-tier role player and a first-rounder. Should such an offer emerge from a squad desperate to gain established star power and make a legitimate run at supremacy in the Eastern Conference, they should accept without hesitation.
Los Angeles Lakers Land a Center
Los Angeles Lakers Get: Nikola Vucevic
Orlando Magic Get: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, 2019 first-round pick (top-25-protected), 2020 second-round pick (unprotected)
Though LeBron James-led squads have been known to engage in midseason alterations on more than a few occasions, the Los Angeles Lakers shouldn't do anything that prevents them from maximizing their cap space for the 2019 offseason. Whether they're pursuing Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Klay Thompson, Kemba Walker or some player whose name doesn't begin with the 11th letter of the alphabet, they need to maintain flexibility and continue treating this year as a stage-setting season.
But what if they could improve for the current campaign without holding back their future efforts?
That's the dream, and it may be possible if the Orlando Magic are ready to turn over the frontcourt reins to the Jonathan Isaac-Aaron Gordon-Mohamed Bamba troika. This deal can't happen until mid-December because Kentavious Caldwell-Pope signed a new one-year pact during the offseason, but that only buys more time for the downtrodden Eastern Conference franchise to accept the proper course of action: trading its veteran center.
Parting with KCP might hurt, given his two-way skills and his enduring status as an upcoming free agent. But Josh Hart is waiting in the wings, and a six-man core of Lonzo Ball, Hart, James, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and Nikola Vucevic should make a significant amount of noise in the Association's tougher half. Even if the incoming big man is a lackluster defensive presence with limited mobility and doesn't boast reliable three-point range, he's still a massive upgrade over the current crop of Tinseltown centers.
Ivica Zubac isn't ready for the big stage quite yet. Moritz Wagner is intriguing, but a knee injury threw off his rookie-year development at an inopportune time. JaVale McGee is talented within his role, but the Lakers shouldn't want him touching 30 minutes of action on any given night.
Though the acquisition comes at the expense of a late first-round pick (that would become a second-rounder if it doesn't convey in 2019) and Caldwell-Pope, the flier on Vucevic's fit is a worthwhile one. Worst case, it doesn't work, and the Lakers let him hit the open market without impeding their future spending frenzy.
Mike Conley Revitalizes San Antonio Spurs Playoff Streak
San Antonio Spurs Get: MarShon Brooks, Mike Conley
Memphis Grizzlies Get: Marco Belinelli, Davis Bertans, Pau Gasol, 2019 first-round pick (lottery-protected)
This is another move that can't happen until mid-December, at which point the San Antonio Spurs might have survived their initial onslaught of injuries by either getting Derrick White back on the floor or making lineups work with Patty Mills/Bryn Forbes to lead the charge. But if they're just hanging around while the Memphis Grizzlies are failing to climb the Western Conference standings, they might tempt the Beale Street franchise into parting with a franchise mainstay.
Exciting as Jaren Jackson Jr. may be, he's on a team with limited upside. Rebuilding is impossible with Mike Conley and Marc Gasol on the roster, both because they prevent the team from free-falling and because they eat up so much of the available cap space. Changes have to come at some point, or else the Grizz will simply remain on the mediocrity treadmill for a while longer.
Taking Pau Gasol off the San Antonio roster (and affording the Spanish siblings a chance to operate together) lets them decrease their payouts both monetarily and temporally. He's on the books for one year fewer than Conley's current contract, after all. The Spurs, meanwhile, could survive the loss of their starting center by handing more minutes to the underrated Jakob Poeltl, fresh off a strong season as a second-unit leader with the Toronto Raptors.
Marco Belinelli and Davis Bertans are both on reasonable two-year deals, and assuming that salary weight is fine when it comes with a lottery-protected first-round pick in the upcoming draft. This is the best way for Memphis to escape NBA purgatory and move toward a new era in the franchise's lackluster history.
As for the Spurs, Conley is the obvious prize. MarShon Brooks helps mitigate some of the shooting lost with the Belinelli departure, but this is all about finding an All-Star-caliber floor general who can set the table for DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge while patching up one of the many defensive holes.
With the current roster construction and rash of maladies that plague the already limited depth, the Spurs might be tracking toward the organization's first lottery finish since 1997—head coach Gregg Popovich's first year in charge, which resulted in the draft-day acquisition of Tim Duncan. A Conley-DeRozan-Rudy Gay-Aldridge-Poeltl lineup might be enough to stave off the drop for at least one more year.
Adam Fromal covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @fromal09.