Trades to Rescue NBA Superstars Who Missed the Playoffs
Winning is among the main criteria for NBA stardom. If you aren't leading your team to success, typically in the form of playoff trips, you're going to face questions about whether you're really all that good.
That way of thinking is reductive, though. Plenty of elite, productive talents owe their 2019 postseason absences to factors beyond their control. Basketball is a team sport, after all. Failures to reach the playoffs often result from inadequate supporting casts or poor front office management.
The idea here is to extricate stars from suboptimal situations and get them to spots in which they'll fit better, win more and generally perform in ways that eliminate those concerns about diminished team success.
Usually when we put these things together, we're serving two purposes by trying to come up with trades upon which both teams would agree. The goal is something mutually beneficial. We'll still operate in a reality where both clubs could talk themselves into swinging the proposed deals, but we're mainly advocates for the stars in question during this exercise.
When we're arguing for these trades, we're doing it with the goal of advancing the players' interests first. Namely, we want them to land in better situations.
All these guys—unquestionable stars still under contract and in their 20s—deserve better. Just as importantly, we deserve to see how exciting the league could get if any of these trades came to pass.
Bradley Beal: He the North
Washington Wizards Get: Serge Ibaka, Norman Powell, Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, 2020 first-round pick (lottery-protected through 2021, then converts to two seconds)
Toronto Raptors Get: Bradley Beal, Ian Mahinmi
The Wizards would be reluctant to trade Beal after they watched him prove his mettle as a primary option, but this deal facilitates a semi-rebuild while also adding flexibility to a cap sheet in need of exactly that. Ibaka and VanVleet provide leverage in upcoming free-agent negotiations with Tomas Satoransky and Bobby Portis; if the Wizards have proven options at those positions, they might avoid overspending to keep incumbents out of desperation.
Powell is a rotation wing who'd play significant minutes immediately, and Anunoby, coming off a down year, is the high-upside, buy-low asset who pairs nicely with a lottery-protected first. Washington also gets off Mahinmi's expiring dead money, which leaves John Wall as the only sketchy long-term investment on the payroll.
Remember, though, that this is about helping Beal get to a better spot. And Toronto sure looks better than Washington.
Who's not intrigued by a starting five comprised of Kyle Lowry, Beal, Danny Green, Pascal Siakam and Marc Gasol? Yes, this assumes Leonard is gone. And yes, the Raps would have to re-sign Green and Gasol (should he turn down a $25.6 million player option) to make that happen. But this group would be good enough to contend as long as the Raptors could find two or three decent rotation players on the market to create some depth.
Beal's suspect defense would be minimized by the presences of Green and Siakam in this hypothetical, and the Raptors could stagger his minutes with Lowry's to have a quality creator on the floor at all times. Though Leonard is the superior overall player, Beal's game could fit into a free-flowing offense a bit better. He's comfortable zipping around off the ball, while Leonard's more isolation-based approach sometimes gummed things up for Toronto during the regular season.
Devin Booker Gets His Shot
Phoenix Suns Get: Jayson Tatum, 2019 first-round pick (via Los Angeles Clippers)
Boston Celtics Get: Devin Booker
In this scenario, Booker joins the Celtics in advance of Kyrie Irving's departure for the New York Knicks, forming a new starting five of Marcus Smart, Booker, Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward and Al Horford (who'd have to pick up his $30.1 million player option to stick around).
That's an intriguing first unit.
Boston would be selling low on Tatum, but shot creation would be a high priority if we're assuming Irving is gone. And as much promise as Tatum has shown, Booker has already delivered huge numbers with better efficiency. Plus, the guard is only a year older than the forward.
With a winning culture and a highly respected head coach in Brad Stevens, the Celtics would offer Booker the opportunity to quiet critics who claim he's a "good stats, bad team" guy. In Boston, he could prove he's capable of playing winning basketball. Imagine how his stock would soar if he played league-average wing defense for a successful team while continuing his historic offensive trajectory.
To justify swapping the cheaper Tatum for the already maxed-out Booker, Boston would have to believe the latter is the superior long-term option. That's a major financial commitment. If Tatum's 2019 postseason more closely resembles his regular-season work than last year's playoff breakout, it'll be easier to rationalize moving him for another up-and-comer.
Phoenix might not trade Booker for anything. But again, we're just trying to suggest a reasonably plausible swap that mostly benefits the star we're trying to extricate—Booker, in this case. You could see the Suns wanting Tatum and his cheaper deal, plus a first-rounder, if they think Booker's offense-only performance will be the norm for his career.
Karl-Anthony Towns Soars South
Minnesota Timberwolves Get: John Collins, Kevin Huerter, Taurean Prince, 2019 first-round pick, 2019 first-round pick (via Dallas Mavericks)
Atlanta Hawks Get: Karl-Anthony Towns
More than likely, this only happens if Towns makes a trade request. In the wake of a 2018-19 season that saw him average 24.4 points, 12.4 rebounds and 3.4 assists on 40 percent shooting from deep, he's just too good to move unless no other options exist.
But hey, if Anthony Davis can request a trade shortly after making the playoffs, so could Towns.
And anyway, stop fighting this hypothetical! Don't you want to see KAT and Trae Young confound opposing defenses for the next several years? Towns is the most dynamic offensive big man in the league, and he'd pair with Young in an unguardable pick-and-pop combination. Just as importantly, the attention Towns would draw in isolation and on the block would free Young to sprint around off the ball. Defenses would have to pay full attention to both, which would basically be impossible.
Obviously, the Hawks have to surrender a mint to get their superstar. And it's tough to imagine Atlanta short-circuiting its deliberate rebuild this early; it'd feel like skipping several important steps.
We (and the Hawks) get KAT and Young together for at least a half-decade. They'd be a top-five offense with a couple of shooters on the wing, and maybe the pairing would open the floodgates for free agents. Who wouldn't want to play with these guys?
Meanwhile, Towns escapes the cold, a franchise with a long history of losing and Andrew Wiggins. It's hard to top that.
Anthony Davis Is the Result
New Orleans Pelicans Get: Ben Simmons
Philadelphia 76ers Get: Anthony Davis
Who says the current iteration of the Sixers has to be The Result? The Process led Philly here, with Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris representing a pivot from patience to "win now, or else," but the Sixers could still tweak things if playoff disappointment confirms Simmons and Joel Embiid just won't work together.
Rich Paul represents both Simmons and Davis, which makes this trade highly unlikely. It'd be tough for Paul to sell Simmons on a destination from which he was actively trying to dislodge another client. At the same time, circumstances may change enough for this to work.
Davis and the Pels are done; this season's trade request burned that bridge. But with David Griffin now running basketball operations, it's fair to assume New Orleans will become a better place to play. Griffin has had immense success in the league, most notably in the form of three straight Finals runs with the Cleveland Cavaliers, and he's widely respected.
If Simmons isn't a long-term fit with Embiid in Philadelphia—let's face it, their compatibility will always be shaky, given Simmons' lack of a jumper—a fresh start with a revamped New Orleans organization could be appealing. Jrue Holiday is still there, the city is a delight and Simmons spent his brief collegiate career at LSU.
Procedurally, this deal would have to wait until July so the Sixers could renounce their rights to JJ Redick and Harris. Otherwise, fitting Davis doesn't really work financially. But adding AD wouldn't preclude the Sixers from keeping Butler, and the search for wing shooting was going to be a priority anyway.
In the end, Davis gets to a winning team and forms the scariest set of twin towers the league has ever seen. Like with KAT to Atlanta, we should all be rooting for this one to happen.
Jrue Holiday Elevates the Nuggets
New Orleans Pelicans Get: Gary Harris, Malik Beasley, Michael Porter Jr., Juancho Hernangomez
Denver Nuggets Get: Jrue Holiday
Let's say the skeptics' concerns are validated by a Nuggets playoff disappointment—one that suggests failure is the result of systemic flaws rather than the missteps of youth. If it appears Nikola Jokic can't engineer offense on his own and that Denver won't get star-level results from Jamal Murray and Gary Harris, Holiday makes sense as a veteran infusion of toughness, defense and demonstrated playoff success.
It'll be a long time before anyone forgets how he was clearly the best guard in the 2018 playoff series that resulted in a sweep of the Portland Trail Blazers, who happened to have Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum.
You'd almost hope Denver would be more restrained in its roster-building vision. Pivoting away from youth toward Holiday would feel impatient. But maybe it would rather have a core of Jokic, Murray, Paul Millsap and Holiday than one constructed around younger, less proven options.
For the Pelicans, this deal would represent several bites at the "young player who might develop into an All-Star" apple. Rebuilding outfits in small markets need to take a volume approach in their planning, and this would achieve that for David Griffin.
From Holiday's side, this move gets him onto a team that'll compete for a top-four spot in the West indefinitely. It'd be fun to see him working off the ball while Jokic facilitates, filling a glaring void as an elite wing defender and taking over as a creator when necessary. He deserves a fit this strong—and a chance at this much success—after he played like a star for a Pels team that disintegrated around him in 2018-19.