NBA Stars Who Should Demand a Trade
Every NBA season seems to spawn a new batch of #FreePlayerX tweets.
What you never see, though, is said player sending out a #FreeMe plea.
Publicizing a trade request is bad for business. It fractures a locker room, alienates a fanbase and, maybe most importantly, draws a massive fine for violating the Association's collective bargaining agreement.
Players can't vocalize their request for a scenery change. So, we're here to do it for them.
Before the 2019-20 campaign even tips off, we can already spot five stranded stars who no longer fit with their franchises. Some are on different timelines than their teammates. Others don't have the necessary talent around them. All of them should consider seeking a change of address.
Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards
The Washington Wizards lost 50 games this past season and then put a clear priority on youth over the summer. John Wall's recovery from a torn Achilles will likely cost him most or all of the upcoming campaign.
Bradley Beal can read the writing on the wall.
"We know that this is probably gonna be a development year," Beal told The Athletic's Fred Katz. "It's gonna be one of those types of years. So, does Bradley Beal wanna be a part of that ultimately?"
No, you don't, Bradley. And maybe consider ditching the third-person thing.
Beal is either in the heart of his prime or steps away from his ceiling. In 2017-18, he was one of a dozen players to average 22 points, four assists and four rebounds. Last season, he was one of six to clear 25, five and five. He plays both ends, he works on or off the ball, and his old leg problems are a distant memory, as he's played all 82 games each of the past two seasons.
As a rival front office member told Katz, "Beal fits on every team."
He shouldn't spend his peak years waiting on Wall to return and the rest of this roster to speed through the maturation process. If Beal joined a solo star elsewhere (maybe Jimmy Butler?), he might add another contender to this season's collection. If Beal helped someone complete the next Big Three (maybe in Brooklyn?), he could be key in developing the league's next juggernaut.
Blake Griffin, Detroit Pistons
Blake Griffin's first full season with the Detroit Pistons was incredible. The 30-year-old turned back the clock with numbers on par or even better than those from his best days in Lob City. He cleared averages of 24 points, seven rebounds and five assists. The only other players to do that were Giannis Antetokounmpo and LeBron James.
Guess what kind of love Griffin received for his work: a reserve spot on the East All-Stars, a place on the All-NBA third team and zero MVP votes. Like a tree falling in an unpopulated forest, big numbers don't make much noise on a .500 team with a negative net rating.
Why would this season—or the other two left on Griffin's deal—be any different? Does anyone see Derrick Rose, Tony Snell or Markieff Morris as difference-makers? Is there any reason to believe Luke Kennard makes a massive leap or Sekou Doumbouya develops at a rapid rate?
If mediocrity reigns supreme in the Motor City again, why would Griffin or the Pistons want to keep this relationship going?
"Griffin, for as terrific as he's been in Detroit—there's no point in keeping him if the team isn't going anywhere," The Athletic's James L. Edwards III wrote. "Despite his age and injury history, his All-NBA play last season makes him a valuable trade chip."
Griffin can only hope that's the case. His ideal running mates look nothing like Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson. Give Griffin better complements to his game, and his elite production could help shape the hoops landscape.
Kevin Love, Cleveland Cavaliers
What is happening here, exactly? Kevin Love is 31 years old, super-pricey and capable of supporting a contender in the right role. The Cleveland Cavaliers are in the infant stage of their post-LeBron James rebuild with no designs on winning now or even in the near future.
Logic says both parties should be begging for a split. Instead, they continue insisting they're right for one another. Love swears he wants to stay. The Cavs claim they'd only move him for a "combination of young players and draft picks," per Cleveland.com's Chris Fedor, and a brief scan of Love's trade market says that isn't happening.
It's time to get realistic. Unless Love is content playing out his career contributing empty stats to a cellar-dweller—not unlike his Minnesota Timberwolves tenure—he must demand a ticket out of the Buckeye State.
The Cavs' on-court issues are too numerous to detail, but think about this: They've spent back-to-back top-10 picks on point guards, and both might be worse passers than Love. The big fella's career-best mark of 4.4 assists per game—which, for context, would have tied for 48th last season—betters Collin Sexton's rookie mark and the college averages of him and Darius Garland.
Even if Love is no longer a top-tier elite player, he might turn a really good team into a great one. Add his shooting, scoring and playmaking to the Portland Trail Blazers, for instance, and the top of the West gets even more crowded. But if he's stuck in Northeast Ohio, his relevance won't reach beyond the fantasy ranks.
Chris Paul, Oklahoma City Thunder
Here's why we don't believe him.
His former teammate, PJ Tucker, said Paul "wants to win everything," per ESPN's Tim MacMahon. Paul has acknowledged as much, telling The Ringer's Jordan Ritter Conn, "No matter what it is, whether it's Uno or Connect Four at the house or some type of shooting game, I just have to win."
While Paul's postseason resume lacks the game's ultimate prize, he's done a ton of winning in his career. He has been to the playoffs 11 of the past 12 seasons, and the only one he missed in that stretch followed a campaign in which injuries limited him to 45 appearances.
Ring or not, the nine-time All-Star is a winner. So, what's going to happen when the Oklahoma City Thunder don't do much winning with him? They might optimistically feel they can outperform expectations, but no one else is convinced. Oddsmakers set their win-loss over/under at just 31.5, per Caesars Sportsbook.
Paul needs out. He's a fish out of water, as a 34-year-old with a $38.5 million salary on a club with zero championship hopes. Let him chase a title in Milwaukee, find a kindred competitive spirit in Miami or even help Orlando try taking the next step. There must be a higher calling for the Point God than warming Shai Gilgeous-Alexander's seat.
Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
This feels a bit harsh, but we're fine with that. We're not picking on the Minnesota Timberwolves, we're just less than convinced this team can maximize the impact of Karl-Anthony Towns.
He should've been an All-Star in his second season, and he made the cut in both his third and fourth. Minnesota averaged 38 wins over that stretch and only made the playoffs once, a trip that lasted just five games.
He might be the best offensive big man in the entire league. Last season, he became the first player to average 24 points, three assists, three offensive rebounds and 1.5 triples. He played 77 games, flirted with a 50/40/90 slash line and contributed the eighth-most offensive win shares overall. Despite that, Minnesota finished only 13th in offensive efficiency and lost 46 games.
None of this has made Towns search for the nearest exit. In fact, it doesn't sound like it will any time soon.
"I love the culture we have here," Towns told The Athletic's Jon Krawczynski. "If you want to leave, you have to be miserable somewhere. I am not there. I'm planning to be in Minnesota for a long time."
Basketball would be better off with Towns playing meaningful games in late April and into May. That's almost certainly not happening with the 2019-20 Timberwolves. They shipped out Jimmy Butler without bringing a star back. They still don't know what they're getting from Andrew Wiggins (or, if they do, it isn't much). They have some intriguing youth, but it could be years before the youngsters consistently contribute at a high level.
Towns deserves a chance to see if he can anchor a contender. It's almost impossible imagining he'll get that in the Gopher State any time soon.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.