NBA Power Rankings: Every Team's Likelihood of a Summer Blockbuster Trade

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistMay 31, 2019

NBA Power Rankings: Every Team's Likelihood of a Summer Blockbuster Trade

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    Summertime in the NBA is all about reinvention.

    The draft and free agency offer hope for fresh futures (or at least slight pivots from a less pleasant past), but change can come in the form of trades, too. The bigger, the better.

    Here, we'll scan all 30 teams and rank them according to how likely they are to revamp their roster with a major deal this summer.

    Rumored trades help, but just because a team has been circling a swap for months doesn't necessarily qualify it as a blockbuster. The assets involved have to fit that description. We're talking big names, valuable picks and (usually) significant salary.

    If a team has all of that and an inside track on a deal, perhaps forged during a season of whispered rumors, it'll do well here. If it doesn't, well, there's always summer league to look forward to.

30-26: No Way, No How

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    30. Golden State Warriors

    Barring an acrimonious breakdown in extension talks for Draymond Green, the Warriors won't be motivated (or even capable) of swinging a big deal. Stephen Curry's going nowhere—ever—and Kevin Durant, DeMarcus Cousins and Klay Thompson will be free agents this summer.

    Andre Iguodala's deal will expire following the 2019-20 season, but he's far too valuable to the Warriors' ongoing pursuit of rings to move.

    If Golden State adds pieces, it'll be through free agency.

            

    29. Denver Nuggets

    The Nuggets should view their playoff defeat as a necessary step in the process of improving. Blowing things up would be a mistake.

    Denver's entire rotation remains under contract through 2019-20. The Nugs could decline their $30 million team option on Paul Millsap and either re-sign him or let him walk if Michael Porter Jr. appears ready for a major role after he spent his rookie season on the sidelines. But other than Will Barton, whom the Nuggets may not need with the emergence of Malik Beasley, it's tough to see how or why a blockbuster could take shape.

    Patience, Nuggets. You already have everything you need.

            

    28. San Antonio Spurs

    The Spurs tend to avoid major trades unless they have no other alternative, with last summer's Kawhi Leonard deal standing out as the exception to the rule. Generally speaking, this is a draft-and-develop organization that adds veteran talent via free agency.

    DeMar DeRozan is set to make $27.7 million next year with a player option for 2020-21, so San Antonio should at least look into moving him, especially since it was better with him off the floor in both the regular season and playoffs. At this point, though, a DeRozan deal would feel more like a salary dump than a blockbuster.

            

    27. Milwaukee Bucks

    Eric Bledsoe's second straight postseason collapse would seem to make him the likeliest Bucks trade candidate, but it's hard to imagine him going anywhere after agreeing to a $70 million extension in March. Front offices shouldn't let optics dictate decisions, but it'd be a bad look to dump a player so quickly after committing to him. Plus, he can't even be traded until September, six months after the date he signed his extension.

    The Bucks' attention will be focused on free agency this summer, with Malcolm Brogdon, Brook Lopez, Khris Middleton and Nikola Mirotic all likely to hit the market. In the wake of a conference finals disappointment, expect Milwaukee to focus on talent retention and stylistic tweaks more than bringing in new players from the outside.

    Plus, Giannis Antetokounmpo wants the core back, according to ESPN.com's Malika Andrews. What he says, goes.

            

    26. Orlando Magic

    Nikola Vucevic was Orlando's only All-Star last season, and he's a free agent, which means he won't be involved in a trade. If he sticks around on a new contract, the Magic might try to alleviate their frontcourt logjam by moving Aaron Gordon. But the better play would seem to be trusting in his and Jonathan Isaac's abilities to keep expanding their games—perhaps to the point that they'll eventually work well together on offense.

    If Vucevic leaves, the Magic would have even greater incentive to empower Gordon and Isaac as part of a pivot toward a soft rebuild.

25-21: Don't Bet on It

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    25. Portland Trail Blazers

    With the Blazers extending head coach Terry Stotts' contract through 2021-22 and Damian Lillard expected to ink a supermax extension of his own this summer, change isn't afoot in Portland. Though many have suggested that breaking up the Lillard-CJ McCollum backcourt core is the best way to lift the Blazers to a higher level, it appears stability will continue to reign.

    That's probably the wise move. Portland reached the Western Conference Finals and has worked hard to build culture and continuity. A big deal—though possible given the Blazers' high-end, high-dollar talent—would be off brand, ill-advised and unlikely.  

            

    24. Oklahoma City Thunder

    Get used to this Thunder roster, because it isn't going to change for a while.

    Russell Westbrook is the face of the franchise, Paul George is its best player and Steven Adams almost certainly can't be traded for equal value. Conventional centers, even effective ones, aren't worth $53.4 million over the next two years. An Adams deal would almost certainly be centered around cap relief, not talent acquisition, and it'd likely cost OKC additional assets to foist him on another team.

    Oklahoma City is committed to this core, for better or worse.

            

    23. Phoenix Suns

    Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton are the only players noteworthy enough to be part of a blockbuster trade, but neither is going anywhere. Booker's massive extension kicks in next season, while Ayton is only a year removed from being the top pick in the draft. Although Phoenix could get significant returns for both (especially Booker), it's nearly impossible to imagine either being dealt.

    The Suns became known for organizational chaos last season, but even they wouldn't initiate another reboot so abruptly. Plus, Monty Williams likely wouldn't have taken the head coaching gig without assurances that his best young players would be there for the long haul.

            

    22. Sacramento Kings

    The Kings have been too bad for too long to break up the young talent that earned them 39 wins (their most since 2005-06) this past season.

    De'Aaron Fox made a leap in his second year and could easily make another in his third. He'd net Sacramento the biggest return in a trade, but when you pass on Luka Doncic at least partially because you want to keep the ball in Fox's hands, and you turn down a Fox-for-Kristaps Porzingis deal, it suggests an almost incomprehensible level of commitment.

    General manager Vlade Divac has long prioritized patience, culture-building and trust in his team's youth. The Kings have the ability to make a major deal, but they've passed on plenty of chances already. Expect that to continue.

            

    21. Atlanta Hawks

    Though they lost the deal they struck with Dallas last summer, which is now officially Trae Young and the No. 10 pick in 2019 for Doncic, at least the Hawks proved they weren't afraid to take bold gambles.

    With that selection from the Mavs and their own pick at No. 8, the Hawks have a few interesting assets to attach if they want to dump Kent Bazemore or Miles Plumlee's expiring contracts for a bigger name on a longer agreement.

    But unless the Hawks try to move Young, Kevin Huerter or John Collins, they don't have the pieces to swing something that'd qualify as a blockbuster. And they won't trade any portion of that trio.

20-16: Getting Warmer

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    20. Dallas Mavericks

    Dallas got Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis via trade, and there's no way it'd deal either player this summer. Part of the cost of adding those two: The Mavericks can't send out a first-round pick until 2025.

    So while the Mavs have a penchant for generating headlines during trade season (or any season, really), they don't have enough available ammo to take another big shot.

    Mike Conley is almost certain to end up on a new team, and Sean Deveney of Sporting News listed the Mavs as a potential suitor. But Dallas doesn't have the goods to get the Grizzlies point guard if Doncic, Porzingis and first-rounders are off the table.

          

    19. Brooklyn Nets

    Maybe the Nets' priorities will change if they make a major splash in free agency, but they already have so many players on below-market contracts that most hypothetical trades wouldn't be cost efficient.

    Joe Harris ($7.7 million next year), Spencer Dinwiddie ($10.6 million), Caris LeVert ($2.6 million), Jarrett Allen ($2.4 million) and even Rodions Kurucs ($1.7 million) compose a ridiculously cheap core of quality starters and rotation pieces, all of whom either improved significantly last year or figure to get better in 2019-20. That's exactly the kind of support staff you want around a superstar.

    The Nets may move Allen Crabbe, but it'll be a salary dump. If Brooklyn jettisons his $18.5 million salary, it can get close to two max slots.

            

    18. Cleveland Cavaliers

    Kevin Love is a big name with a bigger contract, so the Cavs technically have a player who, if moved, might earn the blockbuster stamp. Then again, The Athletic's Sam Vecenie asked several league executives about Love's value in a trade, and the overarching conclusion was "that it would be difficult to move him on this contract for a positive return."

    Love aside, Cleveland has JR Smith's partially guaranteed contract and the No. 5 pick in June's draft. The former won't fetch a star, and the latter is too valuable to a rebuilding team to trade.

             

    17. Chicago Bulls

    The Bulls have a positional need and a movable asset that could produce some action on the trade market. Though a hypothetical deal involving this year's No. 7 overall pick heading to the Los Angeles Lakers for Lonzo Ball might not measure up to true blockbuster status, it comes close.

    Ball was the No. 2 overall pick in 2017 and still has star potential (mostly because of his vision and defensive impact) if he can stay healthy for a full year.

    Chicago is going to address its point guard issue one way or another, and the Chicago Tribune's K.C. Johnson reported Ball "intrigues" the Bulls. Maybe there's something brewing here.  

            

    16. Miami Heat

    The Heat don't have a star, and their highest-paid player, center Hassan Whiteside, isn't going to draw much interest on the trade market. He's a non-spacing center who deservedly lost his starting job to 21-year-old Bam Adebayo this past season, and he'll earn $27.1 million if he picks up his player option for 2019-20.

    Whiteside may also be impossible to trade because he didn't handle his reduced role particularly well. In April, he told Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun Sentinel: "It's bulls--t. It's bulls--t, man. There's a lot of teams that could use a center. S--t. That's bulls--t."

    A number of teams may need a center this summer, but not this one at this price with this attitude.

    The only reason the Heat rank this high is their reported interest in Mike Conley, which shouldn't be a surprise for a franchise that somehow winds up mentioned whenever a star is available. However, interest and the assets to make a deal work are two different things.

15-11: OK, It Could Happen

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    15. Minnesota Timberwolves

    Andrew Wiggins didn't sign his max extension on new team president Gersson Rosas' watch, which would seem to increase the possibility of Minnesota trying to rid itself of that ridiculous deal. Rosas could take pennies on the dollar for Wiggins without losing face, framing a trade as an effort to clean up someone else's mess.

    If the return stinks, he's just making the best of a bad situation, right?

    Wiggins is by no means a star, but he's a huge name, and moving him would require significant assets and a lot of salary coming back. So you could at least imagine a hypothetical Wiggins-ectomy as brushing up against the "blockbuster" category.

            

    14. Philadelphia 76ers

    Few teams have made bigger transactional splashes over the last few seasons than the Sixers. Philly traded up to the No. 1 overall pick to select Markelle Fultz in 2017 (and then dealt him to Orlando in February), added Jimmy Butler from the Timberwolves in November and sent Landry Shamet and a pair of first-rounders to the Los Angeles Clippers for Tobias Harris at the trade deadline.

    That recent history suggests Philadelphia is unafraid to swing big. But all of those trades put the Sixers in a different position now. Butler and Harris are due to hit free agency, and the offseason focus will be on keeping them—possibly with matching max contracts.

    There's been some opining on the possibility of a Ben Simmons trade, but moving him for fair value would be complicated. Simmons is going to make only $8.1 million next season, which makes it tricky for Philly to get fair value in a trade. The Sixers should demand a superstar in return, and assuming said superstar is paid like one, the Sixers would have to include more salary to make the deal work. Right now, they don't have the secondary pieces to do so.

            

    13. Detroit Pistons

    Spoiler alert: We're going to endorse an Andre Drummond trade in the upcoming Charlotte Hornets section. And more broadly, the Pistons should be looking to get something for their two-time All-Star center before age and the NBA's increasing devaluation of conventional bigs further diminishes his value.

    Likewise, the Pistons might want to consider moving Blake Griffin while his worth is relatively high. The three years (player option on the third) and $110.2 million left on his contract are daunting, but Griffin was a complete offensive force this past season, leading the Pistons in total points and assists while expanding his three-point game. Now's the time to sell high.

    However, there have been no indications Detroit is willing to move Griffin, and the franchise has notoriously resisted tanking, which would be a natural next step after dealing a star.

    Oh, and no, Reggie Jackson isn't enough to make a trade a blockbuster. If the Pistons move him, it won't generate national headlines.

            

    12. Charlotte Hornets

    The Hornets always seem to be in win-now mode (which, for them, means "win around 38 games"), but if Kemba Walker re-signs, they'll have even more reason to focus on the present. In that scenario, they should be into the hypothetical deal proposed by B/R's Zach Buckley, which would send Andre Drummond to Charlotte for Nicolas Batum, Malik Monk and the No. 12 pick in June's draft.

    Walker wouldn't necessarily have to make his intentions known ahead of free agency to spur a deal like this. The Hornets could make this move preemptively to entice Walker to stay.

    The 12th pick might not be enough of a sweetener to offset Batum's sour deal, but this is just one possible configuration. Overall, the Hornets have the capacity and motivation to add talent. And if Walker bolts, Charlotte could initiate a rebuild via trade, too.

            

    11. Toronto Raptors

    Trades for Kawhi Leonard and Marc Gasol got the Raptors to their first-ever NBA Finals, and team president Masai Ujiri has as strong of a dealmaking reputation as anyone in the league. So we can't rule anything out for Toronto this summer.

    Still, Gasol and Leonard are all but certain to opt out of their deals to become unrestricted free agents, and Danny Green will be on the market as well. Given the good vibes associated with Kyle Lowry finally reaching the championship round, it's difficult to imagine the franchise moving him unless the roster falls apart and he requests a trade.

    OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam should have immense value, but if the Raps lose veterans, those two become cornerstones.

    The Raps should (and probably will) do whatever they can to bring back as much of this core as possible. But because of Ujiri's bold history and the possibility of Leonard bouncing, there's still a surprisingly high chance of a shakeup here.

10-6: Means, Motivation and Probable Moves

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    10. Utah Jazz

    For each of the next three teams, you have to accept the premise that Mike Conley is a good enough player to represent the best piece in a blockbuster deal. Though he's never been an All-Star, Conley averaged a career-high 21.1 points per game last year, and no non-All-Star has more win shares since he came into the league.

    That seems close enough to count.

    Utah is expected to make a push for Conley this summer after failing to land him at the February trade deadline, according to The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor. If the Jazz add Conley, that'll constitute a major deal. Utah's void at the point also puts other possible trade candidates like Jrue Holiday peripherally in play.

            

    9. Indiana Pacers

    The Pacers check in marginally ahead of the Jazz because in addition to their own potential Conley pursuit, they have Domantas Sabonis' extension eligibility to consider. ESPN.com's Tim Bontemps covered the dilemma of playing (and paying) Sabonis and Myles Turner together in April, and if Indy isn't convinced the pair can work long term, it won't make sense to give Sabonis what he's worth.

    Rather than let restricted free agency sort this out (a scenario in which Indiana could lose Sabonis for nothing) in 2020, the better move might be trading him now. Such a deal could involve Conley coming to the Pacers, but either way, Indiana seems slightly better primed to swing a significant trade than the Jazz.

            

    8. Memphis Grizzlies

    Considering the last two teams ranked this high because of their interest in Conley, it stands to reason the team that currently has the point guard on its roster should slot in ahead of them. While we don't know where Conley might be going, we know the team he'll leave.

    The Grizz also have the No. 2 pick in the draft. Though Ja Morant feels like the safe bet at that spot, an asset like that is also highly tradable.

    One way or the other, Memphis seems well-positioned to make a major move.

            

    7. Washington Wizards

    This is all about Bradley Beal, perhaps the best player we've covered so far with a decent chance of being dealt.

    Washington's cap sheet is crippled because of John Wall's supermax contract, and though moving Beal would subtract the team's best player, it may also be the only way to get assets and create meaningful flexibility. ESPN's Brian Windhorst discussed Beal as a good option for the Lakers if they can't connect on a big free-agent swing, with their No. 4 pick heading to Washington with a young player attached.

    The Toronto Raptors reportedly had interest in Beal in January, and perhaps they'd engage the Wizards again if Kawhi Leonard's departure in free agency creates a void on the wing.

    Any team in need of a star should be on the phone with Washington. Beal is a legitimate All-Star stuck on a bad team that may have no choice but to move him.

           

    6. Houston Rockets

    No team has given the Warriors a tougher time over the last two seasons than the Rockets, so it's difficult to counsel a shakeup, no matter how easy it is to cry for change after two straight postseason disappointments. Nonetheless, there's an obvious way for Houston to alter its roster makeup if it believes transformation is the only way forward.

    The Rockets could trade Chris Paul.

    This is less about the reported verbal altercation between Paul and James Harden after Houston's elimination in Game 6 of the conference semifinals, as Shams Charania of The Athletic relayed, than it is about resource allocation. Paul is 34 and is in clear decline. He's missed 69 games over the last three years and is due to collect $124.1 million over the next three seasons.

    Possibly motivated by playoff failures, owner Tillman Fertita's habit of avoiding the luxury tax, interpersonal rifts or a combination of all three, Houston could be in position to make a big move.

    According to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, Rockets general manager Daryl Morey has made the entire roster and every asset available. We'll see if anyone bites.

5-1: Your Grade-A Wheelers and Dealers

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    5. Los Angeles Clippers

    Over the last two years, the Clippers have traded Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and Tobias Harris. They clearly have no problem striking deals.

    Mainly viewed as a free-agent destination because of ample cap space, heaps of young assets and their long-known interest in Kawhi Leonard, the Clippers should also be viewed as a serious threat to make a blockbuster trade. Danilo Gallinari's expiring contract is one valuable chip, and incoming first-rounders from Philadelphia in 2020 and Miami in 2021 are two more.

    Throw those together with some young talent—like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and/or Landry Shamet, as ESPN's Bobby Marks outlined—and the Clippers could put together a real package for Anthony Davis.

    The Clips are ambitious, laden with desirable pieces and clearly positioning themselves to add stars. It'll be surprising if they don't make a bold move.

            

    4. Boston Celtics

    Much depends on Kyrie Irving's free-agency decision. If he bolts, the Celtics may be less incentivized to deal for Davis, as the cost might be too great for a potential rental. In a vacuum, AD would clearly be worth Jayson Tatum and/or Jaylen Brown and future picks. But if Davis would only be a one-year stopgap because he might not stick with a Kyrie-less version of the team, the deal makes less sense.

    Still, the Celtics are among the front-runners to add Davis. They've been linked to him for months, they have the ability to offer a good return and they should be motivated to change the narrative surrounding the team after a disappointing and semi-dysfunctional season.

    Though Gordon Hayward would be tough to move on his current contract, and though Al Horford (if he opts in) might be too valuable to lose, trades involving those two could also warrant blockbuster status.

            

    3. New York Knicks

    The No. 3 pick (which seems likely to be Zion Williamson's Duke teammate, RJ Barrett), incoming first-rounders from the Mavs in 2021 and 2023, Mitchell Robinson, Dennis Smith Jr., Kevin Knox and even Frank Ntilikina give the Knicks a whole lot of blockbuster ammo.

    And that's before considering their potential free-agent haul, which might attract certain superstars who have a modicum of control over where they're traded because they can broadcast where they might be willing to re-sign in 2020. You know, superstars like, say, Anthony Davis.

    No wonder Brian Windhorst said on ESPN's The Jump that the Knicks had moved ahead of the Lakers and Celtics in the Davis sweepstakes. That's good enough for a No. 3 ranking here, even if the Celtics can offer more current NBA-caliber talent in Tatum and Brown.

            

    2. Los Angeles Lakers

    We've already discussed the possibility of the Lakers adding Beal as a fallback option if free agency goes sideways (as it so often has for them in recent seasons), and the Lakers were more entangled with Davis this past season than any other team.

    With LeBron James' prime coming closer to its end every second, the Lakers should be desperate to add established, star-level talent. Otherwise, they'll risk wasting yet another season of near-peak LeBron. Squandering one was bad enough; blowing two would be unforgivable.

    The Lakers are going to do something big, and while the pervasive chaos within the organization may only mean "something big" is a massive mistake, they're inevitably going to shuffle this deck.

    Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma and the No. 4 pick give Los Angeles the pieces it needs to swing a trade or two. Coupled with desperation, Klutch Sports connections and a long pursuit of Davis, we'll see a deal get done somehow.

            

    1. New Orleans Pelicans

    By now, the reason New Orleans ranks first should be obvious: We spent the last four sections discussing Davis trade possibilities.

    Though new executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin is doing his best to project confidence in the organization's ability to keep Davis, that stance is likely posturing. If suitors believe Davis might stay beyond 2020, it may cause them to improve their trade offers.

    Had Griffin rolled into his introductory press conference and shouted, "Guys, we're not going to keep AD. He's ignoring my calls and changed his location on social media to 'not New Orleans,'" interested teams would have known they had the Pels over a barrel. The lowball offers would have poured in.

    Considering all the ugliness and awkwardness that followed Davis' trade request last season, it's nearly impossible to imagine him reversing course. And we've had no indications that he will.

    AD is the safest bet to move, and he's the biggest name on the market. That makes the Pelicans the easy pick for No. 1.

           

    Stats courtesy of Basketball ReferenceNBA.com and Cleaning the Glass unless otherwise indicated. Salary information courtesy of Basketball Reference and Spotrac. Pick obligations via RealGM.