Trade Ideas to Get NBA's Best Players Out of League's Worst Situations
Not every NBA star lands in an advantageous situation.
Jimmy Butler is (begrudgingly) still a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves, who originally traded for him prior to the 2017-18 campaign. Aaron Gordon, who the Orlando Magic extended at the conclusion his rookie contract, is stuck on a roster that isn't maximizing his talents. The Washington Wizards are falling apart.
So let's free the stars.
The goal here is to remain realistic while placing five of the league's most prominent figures in scenarios that would lead to more success. Some of it would be immediate, coming in the form of playoff pushes and runs at multiple rounds of postseason victories. In other cases, the long-term benefits would be immense.
Either way, the following five players would invariably be better off after these proposed moves.
Jimmy Butler to the Houston Rockets
Houston Rockets Get: Jimmy Butler, Gorgui Dieng, Tyus Jones
Minnesota Timberwolves Get: Eric Gordon, Brandon Knight, PJ Tucker, 2019 first-round pick, 2021 first-round pick, 2023 first-round pick, 2025 first-round pick
According to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, the Rockets' initial offer of four first-round picks wasn't enough to pry Jimmy Butler away from the Timberwolves. Minnesota remains insistent on packaging Gorgui Dieng with Butler in any transaction (or set of transactions), per Kelly Iko of The Athletic:
"Whenever Butler is dealt, Minnesota is hell-bent on moving off the salary of Gorgui Dieng, league sources told The Athletic.
"A few weeks ago Houston called up to six teams, looking for a third partner to facilitate a deal in some fashion, league sources told The Athletic. However, nothing materialized and negotiations went back to square one . ... The whole premise of looking for outside help is moving Dieng's contract, but Minnesota receiving a number of future firsts gives it the flexibility owner Glen Taylor needs moving forward. Attaching a pick or two to Dieng's salary makes it easier to move, and can also be utilized in future roster-building."
Let's do the whole two-birds, one-stone thing.
By including Eric Gordon, Brandon Knight and PJ Tucker, who should by no means serve as a hindrance in the pursuit of a fringe top-10 talent like Butler, the Rockets can absorb Dieng's salary and turn him into a useful commodity under head coach Mike D'Antoni. The big man might not have three-point range, but he's a mid-range artist who could add a different element for Houston in sporadic minutes. Plus, Tyus Jones would be coming aboard as a sweetener, ready to serve as a viable backup behind James Harden and Chris Paul.
This is still about Butler, though.
Just imagine him operating alongside the Paul-Harden tandem. Think of him playing perimeter defense with Clint Capela behind him, allowing him to gamble even more frequently and start having a Paul George-esque impact away from the primary action. It's a situation in which he'd truly blossom, rather than sitting out for "general soreness."
This may be one of the few ways to put a legitimate scare into the Golden State Warriors during their inevitable postseason run.
Aaron Gordon to the Utah Jazz
Utah Jazz Get: Aaron Gordon
Orlando Magic Get: Derrick Favors, Georges Niang, 2019 first-round pick (lottery protected)
At some point, Aaron Gordon has to escape from the Magic's perpetual rebuild.
Orlando still has a frontcourt logjam with him, Nikola Vucevic, Mohamed Bamba and Jonathan Isaac. He continues to fill an unorthodox role that doesn't maximize his efficiency levels, in large part because the Magic can't find a respectable starting point guard to make life easier on the bigs. Worst of all, Orlando remains flat-out bad, earning the league's No. 24 score in Basketball Reference's simple rating system (based on margin of victory and strength of schedule) to date.
Meanwhile, the Utah Jazz might need to make some changes to their frontcourt.
Though the two have worked well together in previous seasons, the results haven't been there for Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors during a disappointing start in 2018-19. According to PBPStats.com, the Jazz have been outscored by 7.6 points per 100 possessions with both bigs on the floor. Neither the 111.1 defensive rating nor the 103.5 offensive rating looks respectable, especially in contrast to last year's respective marks of 100.3 and 108.9.
Gordon's high-flying athleticism and ability to operate on the perimeter should play nicely alongside Gobert, assuming both teams' trends continue through the middle of January, when recently extended players are eligible to be dealt. Orlando's should. Utah's is the bigger question mark, given this frontcourt duo's previous success.
But if Favors continues his decline and doesn't look capable of making a two-way impact for a Jazz squad expected to compete for the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference, shipping a lottery-protected first-rounder and a flier (Georges Niang) to Orlando to facilitate a power forward swap could benefit both sides.
Kevin Love to the Charlotte Hornets
Charlotte Hornets Get: Kevin Love, 2021 second-round pick, 2022 second-round pick
Cleveland Cavaliers Get: Bismack Biyombo, Jeremy Lamb, 2019 first-round pick (unprotected)
Though this trade can't happen until the second half of January (the six-month anniversary of Kevin Love signing his extension), it still takes inspiration from the original idea ESPN.com's Zach Lowe posed in mid-October:
"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."
Granted, some aspects have changed since then.
The Charlotte Hornets look more competitive (6-5 with an 8-3 Pythagorean record that indicates underachievement), while the Cleveland Cavaliers have morphed back into a dysfunctional organization replete with (a now-resolved) coaching controversy, trade demands and veterans sniping at rookie point guard Collin Sexton. Oh, and Love is out for at least six weeks after undergoing surgery on a troublesome toe.
If healthy for the playoff push and subsequent postseason battles, Love would be a tremendous asset for the Hornets, providing them with floor-spacing prowess and another go-to scorer to complement Kemba Walker. But his value is lower than it was a month ago, which leads to the inclusion of two future second-round picks for the Hornets, who would be giving up Bismack Biyombo, Jeremy Lamb and an unprotected first-rounder in the coming draft.
That's still a fairly minimal return for a player of Love's caliber, but Cleveland doesn't have much leverage. Meanwhile, Charlotte needs to make some sort of move to validate its rising status in the Eastern Conference; otherwise, it may drive away its star floor general when he hits the open market this summer.
Kemba Walker to the San Antonio Spurs
San Antonio Spurs Get: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Kemba Walker
Charlotte Hornets Get: Davis Bertans, Pau Gasol, Derrick White, 2019 first-round pick (lottery protected), 2019 second-round pick
On the flip side, the Charlotte Hornets could sell high.
Calling Buzz City one of the NBA's "worst situations" is admittedly a stretch. The Hornets are ranked Nos. 4 and 11 in offensive and defensive rating, respectively. Tony Parker looks at least partially revitalized, Malik Monk is making progress, Willy Hernangomez is effective and the team as a whole seems far less dependent on Kemba Walker's one-man show, as evidenced by the 4.6 net rating when he's off the floor.
Then again, the sample is still small, and Charlotte has consistently demonstrated an inability to escape from the NBA's version of purgatory. Remaining marginally competitive year in and year out can be detrimental to long-term hopes, even if chasing after low-end playoff spots at the expense of better lottery picks can seem tantalizing in the moment.
Does anyone want to bet on Walker, Hernangomez, Nicolas Batum, Cody Zeller, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Miles Bridges and Jeremy Lamb (the only rotation members with positive box plus/minuses) leading a charge up toward the top of the Eastern Conference standings over the course of a full season? Despite the promising start, that remains a tough sell.
The Hornets would have until Jan. 15 to evaluate their situation before this trade is even legal. But if they regress and want to deal Walker before he hits unrestricted free agency this summer, the point guard-hungry San Antonio Spurs could become a viable option.
Even after losing Dejounte Murray for the season to a torn ACL and with Derrick White yet to work his way back to full health, the Spurs are somehow still remaining competitive in the Western Conference. Adding an All-Star point guard alongside DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge would make them an intriguing dark horse in the NBA's tougher half.
Parting with White, another intriguing prospect in Davis Bertans, Pau Gasol (as salary filler) and a lottery-protected first-rounder might be painful. But the Walker addition, especially with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist also involved as a defensive ace ready to break free under the supervision of head coach Gregg Popovich, would virtually guarantee the extension of the franchise's interminable playoff streak.
John Wall to the Phoenix Suns
Washington Wizards Get: Ryan Anderson, Elie Okobo, 2019 first-round pick (via Milwaukee Bucks)
After a 119-100 loss to the lowly Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday night, the Washingon Wizards have sunk to a 2-8 record. Based on margin of victory and strength of schedule, their minus-7.7 SRS leaves them at No. 27 in the overall hierarchy, right between the Mavericks (minus-7.13) and Phoenix Suns (minus-10.99). With a minus-10.1 net rating, they're outplaying only the Cavaliers (minus-10.9) and Suns (minus-13.0).
And that's just from a purely objective standpoint. The situation is bad enough without diving into any chemistry concerns or organizational malfeasance that could be plaguing the nation's capital.
As ESPN.com's Zach Lowe wrote, a specific change might be necessary:
"The Wizards' problems go way beyond [John] Wall. He didn't trade all those picks. [Otto] Porter has been a nonentity through nine games. They have gotten nothing from their centers outside of [Dwight] Howard. [Head coach] Scott Brooks isn't at the root of any of this, but he hasn't been able to shake Washington out of it yet, either...
"Trading Wall might be Washington's only get-out-of-jail card. Trading [Bradley] Beal would hurt the team. Porter wouldn't bring enough return to make a difference."
This is almost impossible before the season ends because of Wall's 15 percent trade kicker, which Lowe covers at length. But let's pretend the situation grows so dire for Washington that it's forced to bite the proverbial bullet. Combined with the Phoenix Suns' inevitable desire to add a talented point guard, that could make this suggested transaction at least somewhat viable.
Pairing Wall, a talented distributor and scorer who can function as a solid off-ball defender when properly motivated, with Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges and Deandre Ayton would be a dream for the Suns. Though the five-time All-Star would be joining a squad even less successful than his current outfit, he'd be helping form a new, promising nucleus with legitimate hope of rising up the Western Conference ladder.
Washington, meanwhile, would get to add another first-round draft pick (via the Milwaukee Bucks) and a high-upside replacement at the point in Elie Okobo. Phoenix can afford to give up both assets (along with Ryan Anderson, who has played only 22.2 minutes per game thus far in 2018-19), especially because it still owns its own first-rounder.
Again, the finances make this unlikely. But good luck finding a better destination for Wall if he isn't going to remain in a Wizards uniform.
Adam Fromal covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @fromal09.