Predictions for Chris Paul, Bradley Beal and Top Offseason Trade Targets
Free agency will dominate the thoughts and social media streams of NBA fans for the next several weeks, but don't forget about the other way to add or subtract talent from a roster.
Trade chatter gets overshadowed at this time of year, but a well-timed deal can make just as much of an impact as a marquee signing.
Here, we'll round up the players subject to trade rumors ahead of free agency and even climb out on limbs to predict where they'll end up—if they move at all.
These guys aren't free agents, but they might want to keep their bags packed anyway.
Chris Paul, Houston Rockets
When the Houston Rockets traded for Paul in 2017, concerns about how they'd coexist cropped up everywhere. The thinking: Paul and Harden, two historically ball-dominant guards used to running offenses themselves, couldn't possibly make this work. One of them would eventually get frustrated or resent taking on a lesser role.
For the better part of two seasons, Harden, Paul and the Rockets made those worries seem overblown.
Yet here we are now, with Vincent Goodwill of Yahoo Sports reporting the Paul-Harden relationship is "unsalvageable" and that Paul demanded a trade. CP3 and Rockets general manager Daryl Morey disputed talk of friction, but that's exactly what smart players and executives should do when they're trying to preserve leverage ahead of a potential trade.
Why advertise to the rest of the league that you have no choice but to move this guy? Please commence with the lowball offers!
Moving a declining 34-year-old player with durability concerns and $124 million incoming over the next three years is a massive challenge, even if it might be the best thing for the Rockets' future.
On the bright side, seemingly immovable players change destinations all the time. Blake Griffin went from the Los Angeles Clippers to the Detroit Pistons in the first year of his massive five-year max deal in 2018, so anything is possible.
Still, Paul's situation differs in important ways. He's older than Griffin and has a well-established history as an opinionated, sometimes overbearing personality. It's difficult to imagine the "right" team for him to land on.
Not only that, but the Golden State Warriors' injury and free-agency issues mean the West is more open than it's been in years. If Paul and Harden can find a way to coexist for another season, they might break through and reach the Finals.
For what it's worth, Morey sees his team as the conference favorite. He may not be wrong.
So while it seems that there's likely tension between Paul and Harden and a trade might make some sense, the difficulty of moving Paul and the upside of holding this thing together for another year should preserve the status quo for a while longer.
Prediction: Paul lasts in Houston until at least the trade deadline.
Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards
The latest on a potential Bradley Beal trade comes from Beal himself, via Ben Golliver of the Washington Post:
"Beal said that [team owner Ted] Leonsis, [interim general manager Tommy] Sheppard and Coach Scott Brooks have each independently told him in recent weeks that he would not be moved.
"'They've been very transparent and that's been great,' Beal said. 'They're not keeping me in the dark about anything, even about the trade rumors. . . . It's great having that peace of mind.'"
Nothing to see here then, apparently. Beal isn't going anywhere.
Except we've heard declarations like this from the Washington Wizards' decision-makers before. And the last time Leonsis made a pledge to keep certain players around, Washington dealt Otto Porter Jr. to the Chicago Bulls shortly thereafter.
So, let's not rule a Beal deal out yet.
John Wall's supermax contract has the Wizards in a tough spot. They have few paths to flexibility, and though Beal is clearly their most valuable on-court asset, he might also be their only ticket to longer-term wiggle room.
With that said, any potential Beal trade will likely come later in the 2019-20 season. By then, perhaps Beal will see the bleak future ahead in Washington and make it known to the team that he intends to explore free agency in 2021. That's how trade demands work in the modern NBA: give your current team a not-so-subtle note about your intentions so it can recoup some value for you while it still can.
Bet on Beal starting the season with the Wizards, but expect rumblings of a potential move to grow if the losses pile up and it becomes clearer that help isn't on the way.
Prediction: Beal stays...for now
Steven Adams, Oklahoma City Thunder
Unless they cut salary, the Oklahoma City Thunder are headed for the luxury tax again in 2019-20.
Hence the recent chatter surrounding a possible Steven Adams trade from Jake Fischer of Sports Illustrated and A.Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston, the latter of whom specifically mentioned the Boston Celtics as a possible landing spot for Adams.
Adams, who averaged 13.9 points and 9.5 rebounds during his age-25 season last year, is due $25.8 million in 2019-20 and $27.5 million in 2020-21 And while his toughness, rebounding and low-usage impact are valuable, it may be difficult for OKC to justify spending a star's salary on a role player, especially with the punitive tax looming.
Boston dealt Aron Baynes on draft night and seems likely to lose Al Horford in free agency, which would leave a huge void in the middle. The Celtics figure to build around young wings Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown on offense, so they could do worse than adding a defensive anchor and interior finisher in Adams.
Still, Adams is a bit of an anomaly: a $100 million conventional center in an era that decreasingly values players like him. That'll make him difficult to move.
There's always the possibility that a cash-rich team could take him into cap space with picks attached (think along the lines of the Sacramento Kings), but would the Thunder include future assets just to get off Adams' contract? As hard as that may be to imagine, the Thunder might do it, especially if they can backfill Adams' position by using the mid-level exception on someone like Dewayne Dedmon or Ed Davis.
Prediction: OKC moves Adams to the Boston Celtics.
JR Smith, Cleveland Cavaliers
JR Smith should be an attractive trade candidate.
An acquiring team could send out salary to match the $15.7 million Smith is owed for next year and then waive him before his guarantee date of June 30, paying him only $3.9 million instead. The Cleveland Cavaliers can also cut Smith and save $11.8 million, but it would behoove them to take on matching money with a pick or young player attached in the bargain.
Some team would assuredly part ways with an unwanted contract for $11.8 million in savings next year.
The problem may be on Cleveland's end, though.
The Cavs would be a projected taxpayer if they added money in exchange for Smith. That comes with a whole heap of future problems to solve, as GM Koby Altman explained to Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com:
"We're definitely going to investigate what we can do there. There's a pain threshold of doing it, going into the tax, which we would have to do in terms of taking back money and the rest of the NBA knowing that we're in the tax and my job would be getting us out of the tax. Is there enough value there to do that, to put ourselves out there like that?"
In the end, it might make the most sense for the Cavs to waive Smith, save what little money they can and give up on the idea of squeezing an asset out of a trade. The league has known about Smith's unusual contract for plenty of time. If there were a beneficial offer out there, the Cavs would have seen it by now.
Yahoo Sports' Chris B. Haynes likes Smith's odds to end up with the Los Angeles Lakers one way or another.
Prediction: No trade. Cleveland waives Smith and pockets $11.8 million in savings. Smith signs and reunites with LeBron James in L.A.
Jimmy Butler, Philadelphia 76ers
According to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski and Zach Lowe, the Houston Rockets are trying to trade Clint Capela, Eric Gordon and/or PJ Tucker into another team's cap space as a first step toward building a sign-and-trade package for Philadelphia 76ers free agent Jimmy Butler.
It's a bold strategy with a seemingly low chance of success.
The Sixers can offer Butler a fifth year and up to $189.7 million, but he could only collect $140.6 million over four years in Houston's preferred scenario. Unless Philadelphia thinks Butler is going to walk away from what amounts to an additional year and $50 million in salary, it has no incentive to play ball with Houston.
Sure, the Sixers could take on one or two of the Rockets' three available starters or carve out a major trade exception by shipping them to a third team, but why wouldn't they rather have the added flexibility created by Butler's departure instead?
Plus, we already know Butler can behave badly enough to get himself traded whenever the mood strikes. He just did it to get out of Minnesota last season. If he wants to play somewhere other than Philadelphia, he can take the Sixers' roughly $190 million and extricate himself later on. There's little incentive for him to embrace the Rockets' plan.
Credit the Rockets for getting predictably creative in trying to add star talent. You can always count on them for that. But unless there are some unreported shoes left to drop, it's hard to understand why the Sixers or Butler would have interest in engaging with Houston on its sign-and-trade plan.
Prediction: Butler re-signs with the Sixers for the five-year max.