NBA Stars Who Should Demand a Trade
Rare is the trade request by an NBA star that goes ungranted.
Sure, players can't always pick their next teams outside of free agency. But as Paul George, Kawhi Leonard and Anthony Davis can attest, taking a trade demand public usually yields some kind of scenery change.
The following players—ranked by likely trade value—should take note.
Their situations aren't the best utilizations of their talents, and only a relocation request would either unlock their full abilities or increase their impact.
Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns
If Booker starts running out of patience with the Suns, who could blame him?
Over his four seasons in the desert, he's gone from being a specialist sniper to a top-shelf offensive hub. In 2018-19, he was one of three players to average at least 26 points and six assists; James Harden and LeBron James were the others.
During this same stretch, the Suns have gone from bad to...well, still bad. They have 241 losses over Booker's tenure; the next-worst team has 219.
For all the losing this organization has done, its assets are unimpressive. It lacks financial flexibility to the point it was forced to salary-dump the productive T.J. Warren at the cost of an early second-rounder. The Suns had a busy draft night, but a fairly forgettable one in terms of upside. Booker wants his close friend, and All-Star, D'Angelo Russell to fill the point guard void, but the Suns are hesitant to oblige.
So, why isn't Booker on our actual list? Because he's 22 years old, and Deandre Ayton is 20. If those two become special—a possibility no one should rule out—it may not matter what else happens around them. Until we get a better grasp of Ayton's ceiling, it's hard to tell Booker to walk away from a possible Kobe-Shaq reboot.
Mo Bamba, Orlando Magic
Bamba would be perfect for this exercise if not for two things. One, he's a star not by production but merely potential. Two, it's not certain he's in dire need of a deal, but he could be depending on how the Magic play their hand in free agency.
The 21-year-old's potential is enormous. He looks the part of a traditional anchor as a 7-footer with a gargantuan 7'10" wingspan, but he also checks contemporary boxes for agility and outside shooting. He could be a unicorn-in-training. His best-case scenario involves becoming the Association's best defender and ideal pick-and-roll partner, someone who can pop to the perimeter and finish above the rim.
He's nowhere close to that ceiling, of course, which creates a funky dynamic in Orlando. The Magic just followed first-time All-Star Nikola Vucevic's lead to their first playoff appearance in seven years. While Vooch is now a free agent, Orlando has prioritized keeping him around, probably on the type of long-term deal that would threaten to bury Bamba for the foreseeable future.
Provided Vucevic re-signs on a long, rich contract, Bamba's search for greener grass should start immediately. He's too talented to spend the bulk of his early 20s doing bits and pieces of developmental work. His massive wings need to fly, and he'll never have the necessary airspace as long as both he and Vucevic call Orlando home.
4. Hassan Whiteside, Miami Heat
With his playing time trapped in a two-year tumble, Hassan Whiteside is getting anxious.
He debated declining his $27.1 million player option but thought better of it, which makes sense given the depressed market for interior bigs. There was also talk of a trade request, but it's all quiet on that front.
"There's been nothing like that," Miami Heat president Pat Riley said, per Anthony Chiang of the Miami Herald. "Everything that you read like that—I read a comment or something, a blurb in the paper the other day about that. There's nothing going on."
What's the holdup?
The Heat seemed to second-guess their four-year, $98.4 million commitment to Whiteside in 2016 almost immediately. The following summer, they spent the 14th draft pick on Kentucky center Bam Adebayo and then spent $50 million on free-agent stretch big Kelly Olynyk.
Whiteside's floor time has evaporated ever since. He averaged 29.1 minutes per game in 2015-16 and 32.6 in 2016-17, seasons in which he led the NBA in a statistical category (blocks in the former, boards per game in the latter). He was held to 25.3 minutes per game two seasons ago and logged the lowest mark of his five-year tenure with the team in 2018-19, managing just 23.3 per night.
While the Heat can divide their frontcourt minutes however they see fit, Whiteside needs a bigger opportunity. He's by no means a perfect player for today's game, but his production speaks for itself: 19.4 points, 17.0 rebounds, 2.7 blocks per 36 minutes over the past two seasons. Some team needs those numbers, but not the one in South Beach.
3. Domantas Sabonis, Indiana Pacers
While possibilities for lineup combinations seem endless in this increasingly positionless league, the twin-towers model is nearing extinction.
That doesn't speak well for the long-term future of Domantas Sabonis with the Indiana Pacers.
The 23-year-old deftly handled his reserve role last season and wound up among the three Sixth Man of the Year finalists. His per-36-minute averages included 20.4 points, 13.5 rebounds and 4.2 assists. For context, only nine players have ever averaged a 20/13/4 line. Eight are Hall of Famers, and the ninth (Kevin Garnett) will join them shortly.
Sabonis might be too good for the second team, which makes things tricky for the Pacers. They already have their big man of the present and future in Myles Turner, whom they inked to a four-year, $80 million deal in October and seemingly have zero interest in trading. They also further crowded their frontcourt on draft night by spending the 18th pick on 6'11" Goga Bitadze, a walking definition of the word "redundancy."
"The things he can do, he's very similar to Sabonis, a player we currently have," Pacers coach Nate McMillan told reporters.
So...should Sabonis be flattered that Indy is apparently a big enough fan of his game to add a second version of himself or worried that it just drafted his replacement? Given his already poor fit with Turner—they were steamrolled over 32 atrocious minutes together in the postseason—it's time for Sabonis to start thinking beyond the Circle City limits.
2. Blake Griffin, Detroit Pistons
A healthy Blake Griffin is an NBA star.
We've known that for a while, but 2018-19 was a welcome reminder after a couple of injury-riddled campaigns. The six-time All-Star was tremendous and in some ways arguably as good as ever. His multiple career highs included 24.5 points and 2.5 threes (converted at a 36.2 percent clip), and he joined fellow elites Giannis Antetokounmpo and LeBron James as the only players to average 24 points, seven rebounds and five assists.
But Griffin's masterful effort was wasted by his Motor City brethren. The Detroit Pistons finished just 41-41 and were swept out of the first round with four double-digit losses to the Milwaukee Bucks. Detroit's perimeter collection was such a mess that its most memorable moment might've been Reggie Jackson's terribly timed videobomb.
That probably isn't changing this summer. The Pistons lack the funds to court impact free agents, and while they did good to nab Sekou Doumbouya with the 15th pick, he hasn't even celebrated his 19th birthday.
Growing pains are unavoidable, which might guarantee more on-court frustration for Griffin. As of January, he wasn't forcing his way out, but what can Detroit do for him? A Griffin-Andre Drummond frontcourt is clunky, and it's the best thing the Pistons have going.
His ideal frontcourt partner can space the floor better than Drummond. His perfect point guard is a better shooter and decision-maker than Jackson. The supporting cast that works best for him has more perimeter stoppers and catch-and-fire snipers.
With his 30th birthday behind him, Griffin is running out of time to find another winning situation. Waiting for Detroit to become one isn't a viable option.
1. Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards
The Washington Wizards can wait as long as they want, but a rebuild is inevitable.
So far, they've half-stepped into a reset by trading Otto Porter Jr. and Kelly Oubre Jr. But they've stopped short of further tinkering even though their prospect collection is severely lacking and they might have the league's worst contract on their books in John Wall's albatross supermax.
They won't be a winner in 2018-19. This group had some concerning voids before Wall ruptured his Achilles tendon. There's no reason to believe its fate will greatly change. Getting back a five-time All-Star point guard would theoretically help, but by then he might be an athleticism-dependent 30-year-old who forever lost some of his burst.
Why would the Wizards keep Bradley Beal, their only ticket to an asset-replenishing trade? Why would he, an in-prime two-time All-Star, want to spend his peak years on a non-contender? Maybe if they could give him a supermax it might make sense, but his All-NBA omission took that option off the table. Rather than spend the next year in limbo, waiting to see how post-injury Wall looks, Beal should search for the nearest exit now.
Any contender would be glad to have him. He's coming off a career campaign in points (25.6), assists (5.5), rebounds (5.0) and steals (1.5) per game. He's signed for the next two seasons at a relatively reasonable rate ($27.1 million and $28.8 million). For all the free-agency dreamers who miss out on their targets, he'd be quite the consolation prize.
He just needs to force his way out, because Stadium's Jeff Goodman reported the Wizards "have no intention of dealing Beal." Given how badly they need the assets Beal would fetch, perhaps it wouldn't take much pestering for them to reconsider.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.