Realistic Offseason Trades NBA Fanbases Wouldn't See ComingMarch 12, 2019
Realistic Offseason Trades NBA Fanbases Wouldn't See Coming
The NBA offseason has become almost as exciting as the regular season itself.
With star players changing addresses at such a rapid rate, we'll likely see another flurry of activity this summer as more of the NBA's best move via trade or free agency.
For fans of teams welcoming a superstar, life is exciting, bursting with optimism and dreams of a hoisted Larry O'Brien Trophy. For those on the other side, YouTube highlights of college basketball's best and regular trips to Tankathon.com await.
We know New Orleans Pelicans superstar Anthony Davis will likely be dealt. Depending on how the 2018-19 season wraps up, more star players could ask out if their teams fall short of the playoffs or experience an early exit.
No matter which players are swapped in such marquee moves, at least one fanbase will be caught off-guard.
Franchise Cornerstone Swap
New Orleans Pelicans Receive: PF Aaron Gordon, PG D.J. Augustin
Orlando Magic Receive: PG Jrue Holiday, SG E'Twaun Moore
In a rare good-player-for-good-player trade, the Pelicans and Magic would be wise to swap two of their franchise cornerstones.
It's no secret Orlando needs a point guard and hasn't had one as good as Holiday since Steve Francis in 2006. No Magic player is even averaging five assists this season, while Holiday's 7.7 dimes per game rank sixth in the NBA. Yes, Markelle Fultz could conceivably return from his thoracic outlet syndrome and play that role, but getting Holiday lets him take his time recovering and gives Orlando a potentially lethal backcourt combo when he's ready.
Though losing Gordon hurts, Orlando has plenty of frontcourt depth to replace him.
Second-year power forward Jonathan Isaac carries star potential and should be ready to take on a bigger role. Nikola Vucevic is a first-time All-Star at center and should be offered a generous deal in free agency, while this year's lottery pick, Mohamed Bamba, also waits in the wings. Putting an All-Star-caliber point guard on the court with this collection of talented bigs would almost guarantee a playoff berth next season, even if they end up falling short in 2018-19.
Gordon, now in his fifth season but still just 23, fits into New Orleans' rebuilding plan and is under contract until 2022. He could immediately step in as a starting power forward and hold down the role for the next several seasons. A natural 4, his 15.9 points, 7.4 rebounds and 3.6 assists would only swell after eliminating his time at small forward—a spot he's been forced to play more and more as Orlando has tried to make room for Isaac.
Currently in the first go-round of his four-year rookie extension, Gordon wouldn't be able to leave New Orleans for a long time and actually carries a contract that decreases in amount every season, per Spotrac.com. During the 2021-22 campaign, a 27-year-old Gordon will only take up $16.4 million of cap space. That's huge for a small-market team like the Pelicans that will likely have to overpay free agents.
Who's Caught Off-Guard?
Poor Pelicans fans.
At this point, it's inevitable they'll lose Anthony Davis to a summer trade. Holiday is easily the team's second-best player and can't become a free agent until 2021, when he'd have to turn down a $27 million player option. But if they want a quick turnaround, he's the best piece they have.
Still, rebuilding on the fly shouldn't be the play here.
A Davis trade will likely net young players and draft picks, and Holiday will be 29 in June. His age doesn't fit into the rebuilding timetable. So while trading the team's two best players in the same summer won't make New Orleans fans happy, it's ultimately for the best.
Lonzo Ball Lands in the Desert
Los Angeles Lakers Receive: F Mikal Bridges, 2020 second-round pick
Phoenix Suns Receive: PG Lonzo Ball
While the Lakers and Ball seemed like a perfect match just two years ago, injuries and an awkward fit next to LeBron James may spell the end of the UCLA product's time in L.A.
Enter the Suns.
Phoenix, like Orlando, needs to find a point guard this summer, and Ball's playmaking and defense would give the team a perfect backcourt match for its star 2-guard. Devin Booker and DeAndre Ayton, the No. 1 pick of the 2018 NBA draft, both need the ball, while players like TJ Warren and Josh Jackson are score-first guys, as well.
Though Ball's shot needs a ton of work, his passing ability would improve all those around him.
Point guard isn't as big a need in L.A. with James. But collecting two trade assets that might interest the Pelicans could improve the Lakers' chances of putting together a compelling trade package and landing the star they've now been chasing for months.
Bridges doesn't carry the upside Ball does, but he can play three different positions and is one of the few Suns players who actually defends. He'll be a starter—or, at the very least, a rotation player—for a long time, whether with the Lakers or another team.
Who's Caught Off-Guard?
Suns fans? Lakers fans? Those who believed the Lonzo-LeBron combination would rekindle what the four-time MVP had alongside Dwyane Wade and Kyrie Irving?
Look, if news involves a Ball brother, the Lakers or anything even remotely related to James, someone has to be upset by rule—even if the proposed trade makes sense for both teams.
CJ McCollum and Kevin Love Swap Homes
Portland Trail Blazers Receive: PF Kevin Love, SG Jordan Clarkson, C John Henson, 2022 second-round pick (via Houston Rockets)
Cleveland Cavaliers Receive: SG CJ McCollum, SF Evan Turner
Now back in a starring role and no longer bothered by a toe injury, Love has returned to the Cavaliers lineup and is putting up 25.0 points, 14.4 rebounds and 3.1 assists per 36 minutes.
This puts Cleveland in a tough position. The team is supposed to be tanking but is instead 6-4 with Love back in the lineup. That's a little too good.
McCollum, 27, is almost exactly three years younger and would better fit the rebuilding plans while taking over Love's role as go-to scorer.
While Love's injury history might concern Portland, he can still produce when healthy. Now with championship experience, he can also help balance out the team and create some terrific pick-and-pop combinations with Damian Lillard.
Clarkson and Henson will both be on expiring deals next season, and the former is enjoying the best season of his career in Cleveland (17.0 points, 3.4 rebounds, 2.4 assists per game off the bench).
Henson is recovering from wrist surgery and recently had his cast removed, so he could be back by the end of this season. Before the injury, he had added a three-point shot to his game (35.5 percent on 2.2 attempts per contest), which would help him back up both Love and Jusuf Nurkic for the Blazers.
Who's Caught Off-Guard?
Either both fanbases for losing a franchise star, or neither for what they're getting in return.
If the Blazers lose in the first round again (or get swept for the second consecutive year), something will have to give, likely in the form of bringing in additional talent around Lillard. Portland fans would no doubt handle trading McCollum better than moving the point guard, especially if doing so netted them a five-time All-Star who gets to return home.
For the Cavaliers, losing Love would mean completing a purge of the Big Three that delivered them the 2016 championship. That's painful, even if the 30-year-old no longer fits into a rebuild.
Anthony Davis and Kyrie Irving Pair Up in Boston
New Orleans Pelicans Receive: SF Jayson Tatum, SG Jaylen Brown, G Marcus Smart, C Robert Williams III, 2019 first-round pick (via Sacramento Kings)
Boston Celtics Receive: PF Anthony Davis
If the Celtics want to convince Kyrie Irving he should stick around, a move for Davis would certainly help.
New Orleans already explored its trade options with Boston before the deadline, knowing it couldn't officially complete a deal until this summer, per Adam Himmelsbach of the Boston Globe:
"Sources said the Pelicans have sought guarantees from the Celtics surrounding specific packages, but the Celtics have been reluctant to make absolute promises, simply because so much can transpire in five months, such as injuries. Nevertheless, sources said, the Celtics have made it clear that they will be ready and willing to offer an explosive package when the time arrives, and that no specific player will be off limits in negotiations."
There can be no "explosive" package from Boston without including Tatum, the 21-year-old small forward putting up 16.1 points per game. Of course, no "explosive" package from Boston would be accepted with just Tatum, either.
Brown, now in his third year, remains a high-upside prospect, and Smart is enjoying a career year offensively. Williams would give New Orleans a shot-blocking big, and a first-round pick this offseason would certainly help kickstart the Pelicans' rebuild.
For Boston, the combination of Davis, Irving, Al Horford, Gordon Hayward and Terry Rozier (restricted free agent) should be enough to win the East next year, and they hold onto a 2019 first-round pick from the Memphis Grizzlies (protected 1-8 in 2019, protected 1-6 in 2020, unprotected in 2021) to further upgrade the team as needed.
Who's Caught Off-Guard?
The Lakers' front office, which offered Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart, 18 first-round picks and any future children of LeBron James to the Pelicans at the deadline...and were turned down.
This package from Boston doesn't live up to L.A.'s, but the Celtics are only getting Davis for one guaranteed season and the ensuing playoff run as well.
...Or Pelicans Trade Davis to Denver
Denver Nuggets Receive: PF Anthony Davis
New Orleans Pelicans Receive: PG Jamal Murray, PF Michael Porter Jr., SG Malik Beasley, C Mason Plumlee, 2021 and 2023 lottery-protected first-round picks
Denver has already become an elite NBA team, so why the need for Davis?
The Nuggets hold a $30 million team option on Paul Millsap for next season, which casts doubt that they'll bring back the 34-year-old forward no matter how effective he's still been. With this potential opening in the frontcourt and plenty of young talent to offer, trading for Davis makes sense.
We can only dream of a Nikola Jokic-Davis pairing, and surrounding it with Gary Harris, Will Barton and Monte Morris makes for a fantastic starting five. Putting lottery protections on the first-round picks would ensure Denver wouldn't crumble should Davis still decide to leave as a free agent in 2020.
New Orleans could get excited about Murray, who's enjoying a career year at the age of 22 with 18.2 points, 4.2 rebounds and 4.9 assists. He still has one more season on his rookie deal before entering restricted free agency.
Porter Jr. is playing three-on-three as he rehabs his back injury and could still turn out to be a star player with time. Beasley is just 22 and has averaged 15.9 points on 50.0 percent shooting from deep as a starter for Denver this season.
All three could start for the Pelicans next year.
Plumlee carries an expiring $14 million deal, and the pair of first-rounders could be used as either selections to keep or potential trade bait.
Who's Caught Off-Guard?
Lakers and Celtics fans could wallow in misery together as Denver swoops in and lands the biggest prize of the NBA trade market.
This would especially sting for Boston after celebrating the Lakers' failed attempt to trade for Davis before the deadline. Then again, Los Angeles would not only miss out on Davis, but also watch as the Nuggets solidified themselves higher up the Western Conference standings for another year.
Greg Swartz covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter.