Trade Packages to Break Up NBA's Worst Star Pairings
Collecting star players is usually the key to success in the NBA.
But while pure talent typically wins out, some star pairings are destined to fail due to skill overlap, chemistry issues or roster fit. While superstars such as LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard could pair seamlessly with any player, others come with asterisks next to their names.
A handful of teams could still justify performing major roster shakeups while trying to get the most out of their players or chasing another star to join their existing one. Rather than going through another season with an underperforming tandem, here are six squads that need to move one of their best players to maximize their overall performance.
John Wall and Bradley Beal
New Orleans Pelicans Receive: SG Bradley Beal
Washington Wizards Receive: SF Brandon Ingram, PG Lonzo Ball, SG E'Twaun Moore, 2020 first-round pick (top-10 protected, via Cleveland Cavaliers), 2021 first-round pick (top-seven protected, via Los Angeles Lakers)
Why Split Up?
Even if John Wall weren't likely to miss the entire 2019-20 season with an Achilles injury, the Wizards should still look to split him up from Bradley Beal.
In seven years together, the Wizards' backcourt duo has yet to make it out of the second round, and their last appearance resulted in a 2018 first-round exit.
Over 977 minutes last season, Beal combined with Wall for a net rating of minus-5.1, a figure that ranked 13th among the 16 teammates with whom the 2-guard shared the court. He put together a better offensive rating with Austin Rivers than Wall and a better defensive rating alongside Jabari Parker than with his five-time All-Star point guard.
Wall has essentially no trade value given the injury suffered before the beginning of a four-year, $171.1 million deal. The Wizards would likely have to give up assets just to get off his contract, which means Beal is the obvious trade choice.
His value is quite high coming off a 25.6 points-per-game season, especially since he just turned 26 and has a reasonable two years and $55.8 million left on his contract. He could be one of the hottest names to come up on the trade market this year, and Washington could get some significant rebuilding pieces back.
The Pelicans are a natural trade partner for the Wizards. They have a treasure trove of young talent and draft picks stemming from the Anthony Davis deal and should be motivated to make the playoffs with veterans Jrue Holiday, JJ Redick and Derrick Favors.
Getting Beal would push them from fun offseason story to serious contender for home-court advantage, especially when factoring in Zion Williamson, Jaxson Hayes, Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Nicolo Melli. He and Holiday would become one of the NBA's best backcourts while taking a ton of pressure off Williamson, who would no longer need to be an offensive focal point right away.
For the Wizards, a 21-year-old Ball (9.9 points, 5.3 rebounds, 5.4 assists) and 22-year-old Ingram (18.3 points, 5.1 rebounds, 3.0 assists) could be two building blocks to complement center Thomas Bryant and power forward Rui Hachimura.
Washington could also collect on a pair of first-rounders from New Orleans, which could afford to part with some of its vast collection of picks to get a star like Beal.
Stephen Curry and D'Angelo Russell
Orlando Magic Receive: PG D'Angelo Russell
Golden State Warriors Receive: F Aaron Gordon, C Mo Bamba
Why Split Up?
It may be unfair to say the pairing of Stephen Curry and Russell won't work out, but the fit does feel a bit awkward for now.
We're used to seeing Curry play next to Klay Thompson, who's primarily a catch-and-shoot guard and does most of his work without the ball in his hands. Thompson's usage rate last season was just 25.6 percent, fourth-highest on the Warriors. Russell's usage rate of 31.9 percent not only led the Brooklyn Nets, but it was also an even higher mark than Curry's 30.4 percent.
The two must learn how to coexist, especially without the ball. While Curry got a taste of that playing alongside Kevin Durant the past three seasons, almost everything ran through Russell in Brooklyn. The first-time All-Star not only led the Nets in scoring (21.1 points) and assists (7.0), but he also took 6.5 more shots per game than any teammate.
According to Marc Stein of the New York Times, Russell "does not fit there whatsoever" and "it's just a matter of when" the Warriors trade him, not if they will.
While Russell may be needed for extra offense until Thompson can return from a torn ACL, don't be surprised to see the Warriors move on from their newest star as early as this season.
Plenty of teams could use Russell's scoring and playmaking, especially since he's only 23 and is under contract for the next four seasons.
Orlando is heavy at power forward and center and needs some thunder in its backcourt to make any noise in the playoffs. Markelle Fultz, the 2017 No. 1 overall pick, was brought in at the 2019 trade deadline from the Philadelphia 76ers, although he didn't play a game while rehabbing from thoracic outlet syndrome.
With Fultz's availability and overall skill set still in the air, the Magic could use a sure thing in Russell to orchestrate their offense. Even if Fultz can come back at full strength, he's spent 70 percent of his court time at shooting guard and could start alongside Russell in a suddenly dynamic backcourt.
Losing Gordon and Bamba would hurt, but a frontcourt pairing of 2019 All-Star Nikola Vucevic and 21-year-old Jonathan Isaac is more than enough for Orlando to get by, especially after it signed veteran power forward Al-Farouq Aminu this summer.
However, the Warriors' biggest weaknesses are at small forward and center, as they've still got All-Stars at the three other positions.
Gordon could play small forward or move to the 4 when they go small. He's an uber-athletic 23-year-old who averaged 16.0 points, 7.4 rebounds and 3.7 assists last season. Bamba, the No. 6 overall pick of the 2018 draft, is just 21 and has flashed elite defensive potential while also showcasing the ability to hit threes.
With Curry set to turn 32 in March, this would be an excellent way for Golden State to plug its roster holes and insert some youth into a new and still championship-worthy starting lineup.
Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner
Boston Celtics Receive: PF/C Domantas Sabonis, F Doug McDermott
Indiana Pacers Receive: G/F Jaylen Brown, PF Semi Ojeleye
Why Split Up?
Myles Turner and Sabonis are two budding stars who the Pacers have primarily kept away from one another. Turner served as the team's starting center last season, while Sabonis put up 14.1 points, 9.3 rebounds and 2.9 assists in 24.8 minutes per game off the bench.
The plan is now to start the pair together, which could be tricky since Sabonis has spent 79 percent of his court time with the Pacers at center. Spacing could also be an issue as he made just nine three-pointers all of last season.
Trying to squeeze Sabonis into the starting lineup and opening up a larger role makes sense given his All-Star potential, but cramming him into an unnatural position doesn't seem like the best way to do so. With Turner showing Defensive Player of the Year upside, it may be best to move Sabonis for a high-upside wing.
The Celtics need big men after they lost Al Horford and Marcus Morris in free agency, and Sabonis would thrive in a starting role. He'd be a big upgrade over Enes Kanter as the team's starting center given his superior defensive and passing skills, and would push Boston a little closer to the top of the East.
That's worth it for a Celtics team loaded with wings.
The Pacers' offseason trade for TJ Warren means they've already got a starting power forward in place if they choose to move Sabonis. Jaylen Brown could start at shooting guard while Victor Oladipo finishes his recovery and slide to small forward upon his return.
Brown put up 13.0 points and 4.2 rebounds as a starter and reserve last season in Boston, and his time off the bench came while head coach Brad Stevens was trying to find the best combination of all his guards and wings. The third overall pick of the 2016 draft, Brown (22) is even younger than Sabonis (23) and should be a terrific two-way swingman for the next decade or more.
This trade would give Indiana one of the league's best set of wings with Brown, Oladipo and Malcolm Brogdon, allowing it to play smaller and faster with Warren swapped in for Sabonis.
DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge
Miami Heat Receive: G/F DeMar DeRozan
San Antonio Spurs Receive: G/F Justise Winslow, PF/C Kelly Olynyk
Why Split Up?
In their lone year together, LaMarcus Aldridge and DeRozan led the Spurs to 48 wins—just one more than the previous season when Kawhi Leonard suited up for only nine games.
DeRozan should have had a far greater impact, but San Antonio was 5.0 points per 100 possessions worse with him in the game. In 2,242 minutes together, he and Aldridge posted a net rating of just plus-0.5, which is a low number for a pair of stars.
Both are considered throwbacks who don't possess reliable three-point shots, thus shrinking the court for others around them.
While the Spurs lack quality big men, they now have a surplus of guards and wings. Point guard Dejounte Murray is back after tearing his ACL before last season. Derrick White looked like a star during the 2019 postseason. Bryn Forbes, Lonnie Walker IV, Marco Belinelli, Keldon Johnson, Rudy Gay and DeMarre Carroll will need minutes, as well.
While DeRozan is still a productive wing (21.2 points, 6.0 rebounds, 6.2 assists), the Spurs should be looking for someone who can complement Aldridge better while creating more shots for Murray, White and Walker.
Finding a suitor for DeRozan shouldn't be difficult. He's in the prime of his career, is a four-time All-Star and is on a $27.7 million deal with a player option for the same amount in 2020-21. For teams seeking some extra star power, he'd be a solid fit.
Enter the Heat, who traded for Jimmy Butler this summer but still shouldn't be considered one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference.
Miami is a known star-hunting organization, and adding DeRozan for a moderate price seems like a move team president Pat Riley would be in favor of. It would also give the team a higher ceiling and remove Kelly Olynyk's inflated two-year, $23.9 million deal from the books.
For the Spurs, this would be addition by subtraction, and they'd also add two quality role players. No more DeRozan would open up 17.1 shots per night for some hungry young guards and give them a chance to add more three-point shooting.
Winslow is the main piece coming back, as the 23-year-old forward flashed point guard skills by putting up 12.6 points, 5.4 rebounds and 4.3 assists last season. He's on a team-friendly three-year, $39 million deal, as well.
Olynyk is one of the better three-point-shooting bigs in the league, which the Spurs could use next to Aldridge. He could start at center or come off the bench and play either big position.
Chris Paul/Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Karl-Anthony Towns/Andrew Wiggins
Minnesota Timberwolves Receive: PG Chris Paul, PF Danilo Gallinari
Oklahoma City Thunder Receive: SF Andrew Wiggins, PG Jeff Teague, C Gorgui Dieng, 2020 first-round pick (lottery-protected)
Why Split Up?
Gilgeous-Alexander was one of the main prizes the Thunder received in the Paul George trade, and he should immediately be given the ball and a starting job after an impressive rookie season. That's unlikely to happen with Paul on board.
Not wanting to attach a collection of draft picks to offload Paul's contract, the Thunder should be searching for trade partners that could use a veteran point guard and have a sizeable contract to send back. Moving him would clear the way for Gilgeous-Alexander to establish himself as one of the faces of the franchise and maximize his development right away.
For the Timberwolves, the pairing of the 2014 and 2015 No. 1 overall picks has resulted in a 143-185 record and just a single playoff win over the last four years. That's not good enough for someone of Towns' talent, especially since we've seen little real improvements in Wiggins' game.
At this point, a change of scenery may be best for the 24-year-old.
The best way to move a bad contract is to trade it for one that's worse. Between Paul (three years, $124.1 million) and Wiggins (four years, $121.2 million), it's tough to say which is which.
Paul is the better player and on the shorter deal, but the 34-year-old has missed at least 21 games each of the past three seasons. Wiggins is a decade younger and on a smaller annual deal, but his contract won't run out until 2023, a year after Paul.
Getting Paul and Gallinari would give the Wolves the two best players in the deal. If Paul's body can hold up, he'd be an excellent pick-and-roll facilitator for Towns and should draw some untapped potential out of the 23-year-old. Gallinari would give them a floor-spacing 4 who averaged 19.8 points and nailed 43.3 percent of his three-pointers last year.
While taking on Paul's contract is a tough sell, they'd be getting rid of their own worst contracts (Dieng is owed $33.5 million over the next two years) and would be opening up significant cap space a summer earlier.
Just by moving Paul, the Thunder would be doing Gilgeous-Alexander a big favor by putting the ball in his hands more often. Jeff Teague could serve as a mentor for a year before his $19 million salary expires next summer.
Oklahoma City would have to hope its culture and front office would allow Wiggins a fresh start and that he could still develop into a high-level starter. If the Thunder could get anything close to the budding star everyone saw at Kansas, his contract wouldn't seem that bad. Wiggins did tell Kevin Garnett he would be an All-Star this coming season, of course.
In the end, the Thunder would be doing something no one thought possible. Not only would they be getting rid of Paul's deal, but they'd actually get back a draft pick in the process.