Trades to Create NBA's Newest Big 3s for 2019-20 Season
The NBA's Big Three era is over.
Temporarily, at least.
When the Golden State Warriors' superpower split up this summer and Kawhi Leonard opted for L.A.'s "other" team, the league moved toward its first Big Three-less campaign in more than a decade. While parity and unpredictability feel as high as they have in years, it also seems likely clubs are maneuvering behind the scenes to build the next terrific trio.
We got the ball rolling on that process by putting together the five following swaps, each of which could give the Association its next All-Star triad.
Blazers' Big Three: Option No. 1
Portland Trail Blazers Receive: Kevin Love
Cleveland Cavaliers Receive: Hassan Whiteside, Zach Collins, 2022 second-round pick
Despite getting modest at best contributions from Al-Farouq Aminu and Maurice Harkless at the forward spots, the Blazers still had last season's third-most-efficient attack. When Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum are combining for 46.8 points, 9.9 assists and 5.4 threes on a nightly basis, it almost doesn't matter what happens around them.
But this core could climb to a higher tier if it had a high-level complementary contributor at one of those frontcourt spots. Plug in Kevin Love, who grew up in Oregon, and suddenly Portland would have the spacing and playmaking pick-and-choose partner for the guards who would blow the top off this offense.
While the Blazers won 53 games last season, they recognized that the status quo wouldn't cut it. They watched a slew of veterans head elsewhere, including Aminu and Harkless, and bet on the likes of Kent Bazemore, Hassan Whiteside, Anthony Tolliver, Mario Hezonja and Pau Gasol. Those players can all help, but none can transform the team the way Love might.
The Cavs reportedly covet a package of "young players and draft picks" in any Love exchange, per Cleveland.com's Chris Fedor. This might be the most valuable offer they can find. Zach Collins could be a long-term keeper, Hassan Whiteside's expiring deal offers instant relief, and the second-rounder lets Cleveland pat its back for checking both the pick and prospect boxes.
Blazers' Big Three: Option No. 2
Portland Trail Blazers Receive: Blake Griffin
Detroit Pistons Receive: Hassan Whiteside, Zach Collins, Gary Trent Jr., 2020 first-round pick (top-20 protected), 2022 second-round pick
Blake Griffin scratches most of the same itches as Kevin Love, only the former is more dynamic with the basketball and more recently productive.
Griffin authored arguably his most complete campaign in 2018-19. He was one of only eight players to average 24 points, five assists and two triples. His 4.2 offensive box plus/minus shattered his previous best, and his 4.6 box plus/minus matched the second-highest of his career.
Put him in Portland and he'd add another elite shot-creator to the mix, provide an above-the-rim element to this pick-and-roll game and, so long as his shooting holds up, give Lillard and McCollum more room to work. Griffin is a bit more ball-dominant than Love, so the acclimation process might take longer, but the ceiling would sit even higher.
If Rip City had a bit of a Lob City vibe added, that might be the Blazers' long-awaited ticket out of the West.
So, would the Pistons let Griffin go?
The Athletic's James L. Edwards III thinks it's possible if the team starts slow since the Pistons "are projected to have the easiest schedule before the All-Star break, and the hardest after it." If they're going nowhere with Griffin, they should be open to doing something other than paying a 30-year-old $110.2 million over the next three seasons.
Detroit would pounce on the financial relief in this exchange, but it would really want Collins and Trent to fill two positions on the rebuilding blueprint. Collins has the flexibility to either play alongside Andre Drummond or replace him, and Trent works anywhere as a fiery three-point shooter. Two draft picks, including a first-rounder, would sweeten the pot enough to justify taking the tear-down route.
Bucks' Big Gamble
Milwaukee Bucks Receive: Chris Paul, 2020 first-round pick (top-10 protected via Denver Nuggets)
Oklahoma City Thunder Receive: Eric Bledsoe, Ersan Ilyasova, Robin Lopez, D.J. Wilson, Donte DiVincenzo
Two years in Milwaukee, two playoff letdowns for Eric Bledsoe.
Is this a pattern or just an unfortunate coincidence? Given the massive stakes facing the franchise between now and Giannis Antetokounmpo's journey to 2021 free agency, maybe the Bucks shouldn't wait to find out.
Though rarely, if ever, mentioned in the Chris Paul sweepstakes, Milwaukee has reasons to be considered a dark horse.
This club could use a third shot-creator to slot alongside Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton, and Paul's career 37.0 three-point percentage would help him add value off the ball. Not to mention, putting Paul with George Hill would give the Bucks last season's top two finishers in defensive real plus-minus at point guard, per ESPN.
This would also make Milwaukee an active participant in the nearly Association-wide arms race. Without a deal, the Bucks are basically running it back, only without Malcolm Brogdon and Nikola Mirotic. Paul could be the kind of impact addition who not only forces the hoops world to take notice but also potentially buys some brownie points with Antetokounmpo by communicating a clear desire to win big.
Oh, and Paul would come with a future first-rounder since even win-now teams could have a hard time justifying the three years and $124.1 million left on the 34-year-old's contract.
OKC could decide cap relief is important enough to part with one of its many picks, and it would feel good about having Bledsoe as a mentor for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander now and as a trade chip later. The incoming prospects—D.J. Wilson and Donte DiVincenzo—could also look better by the time this blockbuster goes down since it can't happen before Dec. 15.
Pistons Make Their Push
Detroit Pistons Receive: Kyle Lowry
Toronto Raptors Receive: Reggie Jackson, Langston Galloway, Thon Maker, Khyri Thomas, Svi Mykhailiuk, 2020 first-round pick (lottery protected)
The Pistons are fast approaching crossroads territory. Blake Griffin turned 30 in March. Andre Drummond intends to enter 2020 free agency. If this franchise is going to make its move, the time is now.
While the wing is arguably the biggest position of need, point guard might offer the simplest path to an upgrade. The list of available names seemingly includes champion floor general Kyle Lowry, who ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski noted "is easier to trade" after he inked a one-year extension.
The jump from Reggie Jackson to Lowry could be a trajectory-changing one.
Lowry finished fifth among point guards and 15th out of everyone in RPM last season, per ESPN. Jackson's respective rankings were 31st and 130th. Lowry is the superior shooter, distributor, decision-maker and defender, by a substantial amount in some categories.
Building a modern contender around two bigs isn't easy. But with playmakers like Lowry and Griffin, it just might work. Either could operate pick-and-rolls with Drummond, or they could work ball-screen magic together. Given Lowry's spot-up sniping and Griffin's ability to launch or roll, head coach Dwane Casey—Lowry's old skipper in Toronto—could tap deep into his creativity with this combo.
For the Raptors, this would be about leaning into a rebuild that became inevitable once Kawhi Leonard skipped town. Jackson and Langston Galloway have more than $25 million in expiring salaries. Svi Mykhailiuk would bring needed spacing. Khyri Thomas would add another long-limbed defender to this collection. And who knows, maybe Toronto could be the team that figures Thon Maker out.
Tack on a first-round pick and it's not at all a bad return for a player who will turn 34 before the campaign closes.
Nets Go All-In
Brooklyn Nets Receive: Bradley Beal
Washington Wizards Receive: Spencer Dinwiddie, Joe Harris, Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen, 2020 first-round pick (top-20 protected via Golden State Warriors), 2022 first-round pick
The hoops world is waiting for the Wizards to make their move. There's no guarantee it ever comes.
"Bradley Beal's got two years left on his deal, and the Wizards have not given up hope of signing him to an extension," Wojnarowski said. "... They are nowhere near the idea of moving Bradley Beal."
Maybe they'll come around at some point. With John Wall potentially missing all of this season with a torn Achilles and free agency awaiting Beal in 2021, Washington doesn't have much time to show him it's possible to win in the District.
But just imagine him in Brooklyn with Kyrie Irving and (eventually) a healthy Kevin Durant. All three averaged at least 23 points, five assists and five rebounds last season. Only five other players did so, and none will team up this year.
The offensive potential here would be through the roof. Each is a three-level scorer, a willing passer and a knockdown shooter. Whenever Durant is back in action, this would arguably be the most efficient attack in basketball. It could be more than decent on defense, too, especially if DeAndre Jordan fully commits himself to the game's less glamorous end.
This might not help Brooklyn much for 2019-20 (depending on Durant), but this club could already be the favorite for 2020-21.
While the Wizards perhaps wouldn't be getting a great asset in return, they would nab a lot of good to really good ones.
Caris LeVert still has All-Star upside. Jarrett Allen might have a ton of blocks and triples in his future. Joe Harris' three-point cannon would have value in Washington or as a trade chip. Spencer Dinwiddie piles up points and assists in bunches. The first-round picks could be bridges to the team's next building blocks.
It's the kind of package that could help reset an organization, and Washington appears overdue for an overhaul.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.