NBA Stars Who Could Unexpectedly Request a Trade
Player movement is at an all-time high in the NBA. There were 29 in-season trades in 2018-19, headlined by stars like Jimmy Butler, Tobias Harris, Marc Gasol, Harrison Barnes, Otto Porter Jr., Kristaps Porzingis and Nikola Mirotic. Anthony Davis' midseason trade demand torpedoed two franchises' seasons, and New Orleans Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry later called it a "dumpster fire."
Not to be outdone, the offseason featured deals involving Davis, Kevin Durant, Butler (again), Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Mike Conley and D'Angelo Russell, showing that trade interest remained strong throughout the NBA calendar year. The 2018 offseason transaction between the San Antonio Spurs and Toronto Raptors involving Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green and DeMar DeRozan ultimately decided the NBA title. Many believe Paul George's shocking trade request to join Leonard in L.A. this summer has done it again.
So, which stars could unexpectedly but understandably exercise their pre-agency and request a move to a new organization during the 2019-20 season?
No Wall, No Hope
Bradley Beal has yet to express a desire to leave the Washington Wizards despite that they won just 32 games in 2018-19.
"Washington is where I've been the last seven years, going on eight," Beal told the Washington Post. "It would be great to play in one place forever."
The Wizards don't have a lot to sell to Beal considering they haven't escaped the conference semifinals in 40 years. Worse still, this team has dealt with endless bouts of off-court drama overshadowing any on-court success that has come its way.
Recent history has been cruel to the Wizards, culminating in the ruptured Achilles John Wall suffered in January. Wall still keeps four years and $171 million on the Wizards' books through 2023, and his injury history suggests that the Achilles isn't the only thing that should keep the organization up at night.
"I think a lot of times we have a tendency to dislike each other on the court," Wall once said of Bradley Beal to Chris Miller of CSN (via NBC Sports Washington).
The Wizards' books are tied to Wall throughout the remainder of Beal's contract, which only extends through 2021. Beal can sign a contract extension worth three years and $111 million, but he might wait an additional season to agree to an extension—he can sign for about $253.8 million over five seasons next offseason if he makes an All-NBA team ("supermax" extension). More so than even the money, waiting a year would give Beal the flexibility to determine if Washington is where he wants to spend his best seasons.
Beal's commitment to the team has been stated, but he also recognizes he has to do what's best for his career. Immediately following his quote about playing in one place forever, he added, "But at the same time, you want to win and make sure you're in a position to do so."
From all indications, Beal wants to be a Wizard. But if he hopes to escape mediocrity and the infighting that has crippled Washington in the past decade, he'll likely need to do it somewhere else.
Magical Frontcourt Logjam
Ever the team player, Aaron Gordon has turned himself into one of premier two-way players capable of locking down some of the greatest wings in the game. Better still, the 23-year-old's stroke has continued to improve in recent seasons, and he remains one of the game's most explosive players.
The problem lies with the Magic's error in assembling talent.
Jeff Weltman and John Hammond were brought to Orlando to return the franchise to its 2009 glory under Stan Van Gundy, and recent evidence suggests they're trending in the right direction. But the Magic inexplicably continue to shore up the power forward and center positions without addressing the wing and point guard positions.
In 2019-20, the Magic are spending nearly $72 million of their $125.4 million payroll on the 4 and 5 positions on Gordon, Al-Farouq Aminu, Jonathan Isaac, Mo Bamba, Khem Birch and Nikola Vucevic. The Magic even spent their first-round pick on Chuma Okeke at 16th overall, another big wing who could translate as a 4 in the NBA.
The Magic are overcrowded at the position, and Gordon's descending contract with three years remaining is appealing. If Gordon requested out, his contract would not be difficult to move.
Orlando is resting all of its backcourt hopes on D.J. Augustin, a suitable backup point guard who came up big in the Magic's lone playoff victory in 2019, and in Markelle Fultz, a question mark (to be kind). If Fultz doesn't get his career back on track, it's difficult to imagine Orlando taking any kind of significant step forward with the roster as currently constructed.
Moving on from Gordon makes sense from the Orlando Magic's perspective. He brings the most value and can afford them the greatest return and give a bit of financial wiggle room with it. For Gordon, a move to a team like the Golden State Warriors (D'Angelo Russell) would give him a much better chance to win games and improve the value of his brand.
Mistimed Career Arcs
Jrue Holiday and Zion Williamson's career arcs simply do not share the same timelines.
The Pelicans are diving headfirst into the honeymoon period. But think long term. Holiday is 29 years old and has totaled over 21,500 regular-season minutes in his 10-year career. He is in the prime of his career.
But can the Pelicans win in a Western Conference with playoff-caliber squads like the Warriors, Rockets, Clippers, Lakers, Blazers, Nuggets, Jazz and—to a lesser extent—the Spurs, Mavericks, Kings and Thunder?
Brandon Ingram is recovering from shoulder surgery. Can Jahlil Okafor and Jaxson Hayes step up if Derrick Favors misses significant time? Is Nicolo Melli ready for the NBA? Lonzo Ball has missed over 30 games in each of his two seasons and the Pelicans only have Holiday to supplement the position. Last season, the Pelicans went just 15-25 in games with Holiday in the lineup in which Elfrid Payton didn't play.
Holiday is in prime position to take advantage of the best years of his career. Playing alongside the Lakers' rejected youth, Zion and Hayes may make the Pelicans the most exciting League Pass team in the NBA. But should Holiday don title aspirations, he may seek to join a team a little closer to matching his timeline.
Holiday would make a marvelous backcourt partner for Jamal Murray in Denver, and the Nuggets have plenty to entice the Pelicans with in Monte Morris, Malik Beasley, Michael Porter Jr, Gary Harris and additional draft compensation.
Portland and Philadelphia are intriguing landing spots as well in transactions centered around CJ McCollum or Ben Simmons.
A Raptor Reload
Kyle Lowry is entering the 14th season of his career and maybe the last in his prime.
At 33 years old and with nearly 27,000 regular-season minutes played, Lowry scored fewer points in 2018-19 than he has since 2013 and shot with less efficiency than he has since 2015. However, his on/off numbers and assist totals remain high, and he remains a difference-maker on each end of the court. In ESPN's real plus-minus, he placed fifth among point guards and 15th in the entire NBA.
Lowry has tasted championship glory, and he did it the right way. After expressing his distaste in a trade that saw DeMar DeRozan head to San Antonio, Lowry fought side by side with Kawhi Leonard through a dogfight with the Philadelphia 76ers and beyond, earning the city of Toronto its first NBA title.
But what now? Lowry faces the final season of his three-year deal and undeniable regression with an organization that replaced Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green with Stanley Johnson and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.
Many could point to third-year swingman and dogged defender OG Anunoby as a player capable of taking the next step alongside Pascal Siakam, pushing forward the next generation of Raptors talent.
But like this current Raptor roster, Anunoby has a long way to go. Averaging just seven points per game in 67 contests, Anunoby made the Raptors 12 points per 100 possessions worse when he saw the floor.
The Raptors don't have the talent to contend in the Eastern Conference, and with the expiring contracts of Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol at hand, the fire sale could be coming sooner rather than later.
Lowry can take the 82-game championship tour, or he can anticipate the inevitable, find another place to contend and seek his second consecutive title.
Long Shot: Ben Simmons Asks for Fresh Start
Ben Simmons and the Philadelphia 76ers agreed to a five-year, $170 million max-level extension a month ago. So, why would Simmons be interested in moving?
Simmons needs the ball and he's getting it less and less. Those touches are going to Joel Embiid and even tertiary entities like Tobias Harris, JJ Redick and others.
The fit between Embiid and Simmons has always been a touchy subject. The two young superstars are similar in a variety of ways. Both began their careers as highly touted prospects with injury concerns, both need the ball to succeed offensively, and both have failed to develop any kind of shot from three-point range. Embiid has done his best to improve in that respect extending his volume to 4.1 shots per game, albeit at a rate of 30 percent, far below the league average of 35.5 percent.
"I've witnessed this now for 13 years, why do players have to be best friends with each other? I don't think it matters," Redick said to ESPN's Zach Lowe on his podcast (via Enrico Campitelli of NBC Sports Philadelphia) in September 2018. "But Ben specifically, you really have to surround him with shooting and allow him to just be who he is."
Embiid's usage rate reached 32.7 percent in 2018-19, keeping Simmons' at just 21.5 percent. Simmons' rate (16.3 percent) even fell below that of Redick's (16.8 percent) and Tobias Harris' (18.7 percent) in 12 playoff games.
Beyond touches, the 76ers' squad will always struggle to space the floor with both Simmons and Embiid occupying it. Both would be better served when surround by four shooters.
Redick, who signed with Pelicans in July, gave the 76ers the shooting they desperately lacked. Josh Richardson should help mitigate the perimeter shooting concerns, as he shot 35.7 percent from three last season. But he's no Redick (39.7 percent last season) in three-point shooting or off-ball movement.
So, where is the shooting going to come from?
As Yaron Weitzman wrote, "The Embiid-Simmons pairing might not be a traditional one, but that doesn't mean it can't thrive and do so in even more dynamic ways. But that doesn't mean the Sixers should spend years waiting."
So, when will the clock run out on this experiment?
Simmons might and probably should prefer a destination willing to let him dictate the offense. But that won't be in Philadelphia. With his usage rate precipitously having dropped in the playoffs just last season, it seems reasonable to expect that Simmons will never reach the level of stardom in Philadelphia he and his agent may project. And, while the 76ers may contend for the Eastern Conference crown in 2019-20, NBA stars have continually shown us that winning may not be as important as we previously thought.
We've already seen his superagent, Rich Paul of Klutch Sports Group, exercise his client's midseason desires before, and it could only empower him to do so again. If Simmons' offensive workload continues to decrease in the presence of Al Horford and Richardson, Paul may exercise his midseason options once again.