Trade Packages for NBA's Top Stars Who Could End Up on the Block
Trade season is almost upon the NBA. Seriously. Look at the calendar. Its unofficial start, Dec. 15, is closer than you think.
Let's get a jump on workshopping some deals, shall we?
Concocting star trades this season comes with a colossal caveat: We have to stretch the interpretation of "star." The last player-movement tornado, coupled with a lackluster 2020 free-agency class and deeper field of playoff contenders, figures to take its toll on what is, traditionally, a rumor- and transaction-laden winter.
Whatever. That only means we get to focus more on the actual product. It also means we're forced to get more creative when brainstorming hypotheticals.
Household names with the most likely paths to the chopping block are our everything in this space. Established All-Stars are baked in, but the field has been opened to fringe stars, as well.
Proposed packages take into account all the gritty details: team directions, potential outcomes to this season, salary sheets, tax situations, roster spots, etc. They will be listed in order of increasing likelihood that the featured player(s) gets traded.
None of these ideas are meant to be gospel. Alternative deals will be discussed wherever appropriate. Please do not confuse this armchair general-managering for a predictive exercise, either. Some of these players won't be moved. All of them could stay put.
But every single one of them is, by all estimations, far from off-limits.
Blake Griffin to Miami
The Trade (After Dec. 14)
Detroit Pistons Get: James Johnson, Kelly Olynyk, Justise Winslow
Miami Heat Get: Blake Griffin, Thon Maker, Markieff Morris
Any Pistons fans rubbed the wrong way can rest assured this isn't trolling. Blake Griffin appears first on this list because he's the least likely of the star(ish) gaggle to get shipped out. Detroit will only consider moving him closer to the trade deadline, if and when the front office decides it's better off starting anew than doubling down on the current core.
Even in theory, jettisoning Griffin is tough to stomach. He's working off a massive year. Yours truly ranked him as the league's 17th-best player entering this season. He still has that ceiling.
Griffin also has a checkered health bill. He only recently returned from a left knee injury that hobbled him as far back as before the start of the 2019 postseason. Just a few months out from turning 31, with two years and $75.6 million left on his contract (2021-22 player option), he will not net Detroit the moon for his services.
Packages will get worse than this theoretical Miami offer. James Johnson is verging on a dud, but he'll be an expiring contract and intriguing trade anchor after this season (player option). Kelly Olynyk could come off the books this summer, as well (player option). If he doesn't, the Pistons would have a useful floor-spacing big who can play alongside Andre Drummond at a reasonable price point in 2020-21.
Justise Winslow is the meat and potatoes of this proposal. His jumper isn't falling at last year's promising clip; he's back to shooting under 30 percent from three. But he's a four-position defender who can run the offense and on a team-friendly contract that stretches through 2021-22 (team option). Still just 23, he fits whatever timeline Detroit opts for in the event this season goes belly up.
Miami's side of this deal is slightly harder to justify.
Winslow remains important to what it does at both ends. Reconfiguring the package around Goran Dragic's expiring pact makes some sense, but he cannot be viewed as the primary asset return for a team unloading a superstar who's not on an impossibly long contract.
Griffin offsets the orchestration lost with Winslow and is a much better shot creator and maker. He isn't anywhere near as valuable on defense, but the Heat can get by with their remaining wing depth and, hopefully, the addition of Markieff Morris.
Perhaps they'd balk at rocking the boat anyway. They're in the thick of the Eastern Conference's race for home-court advantage. It's also early, and the Heat's offense isn't exactly awesome. They rank outside the top 15 in points scored per 100 possessions and are so-so in half-court efficiency. A healthy Griffin would noticeably elevate their ceiling.
Expanding or rejiggering this framework is probably out of the question. Miami is hard-capped and cannot flip a first-round pick before 2025, and Detroit sits within $5,000 of the luxury tax. This exact deal keeps the Heat below the apron and the Pistons out of the tax.
You-Know-Who to You-Know-Where
The Trade (After Dec. 14)
Miami Heat Get: Mike Muscala, Chris Paul
Oklahoma City Thunder Get: James Johnson, Kelly Olynyk, Dion Waiters, 2025 first-round pick (top-seven protection, contingent upon Miami's 2023 obligation to Oklahoma City)
Chris Paul will be a staple in hypothetical trade confections until the February deadline passes or he's sent elsewhere. Don't bank on the latter.
Oklahoma City is feisty but doesn't have much indefinite use for a 34-year-old point guard. Paul must be considered nothing if not readily available, and his functional appeal has only mushroomed in the early going.
He's comfortably clearing 18 points and six assists per 36 minutes while splashing in 42 percent of his triples and posting his highest free-throw-attempt rate since 2005-06. The Thunder are winning the minutes he spends on the floor.
This does little to soften perception of Paul's contract. He has two years and $85.6 million left, and his $38.5 million salary this season is tough to scarf down for teams without handsomely paid expendables. The market might even dictate Oklahoma City bake in a sweetener of its own to wash off Paul.
General manager Sam Presti should punt on those situations. The Thunder are technically right around the tax, but they have other ways of ducking beneath it. They needn't shop Paul with any sense of real urgency.
Offers similar to this cooked-up Miami package may turn out to be overly ambitious. Teams aren't usually in the business of surrendering picks more than a half-decade into the future for a veteran who, while still effective, is on the back end of his career.
The Heat aren't most teams. They are perennial star-chasers. And with Jimmy Butler already in tow, they have even more incentive to try landing another.
Most packages will have them using Goran Dragic's expiring salary as the anchor, but his offensive output is so similar to Paul's this season it wouldn't make sense to execute the swap. The Heat should be trying to hold onto as many of their tangible assets as possible, including Justise Winslow, in hopes of upping the likelihood they can win the Eastern Conference.
Something along these lines balances what both Oklahoma City and Miami should want.
The Thunder aren't getting any immediate boons or cap relief—the outbound and inbound money lines up almost to the dollar—but they would escape the final year of Paul's deal, be in for even more savings if Kelly Olynyk opts out this summer and get a juicy first-round pick that conveys well after the primes of Butler and Paul.
The Heat's side needs almost no explanation. Dumping yet another first-round pick isn't nothing, but they'd be picking up one of the league's best all-around floor generals and getting off their two worst contracts (James Johnson and Dion Waiters) without sacrificing Winslow or even Dragic.
DeMar DeRozan and Aaron Gordon Trade Places
The Trade (After Dec. 14)
Orlando Magic Get: Marco Belinelli, DeMar DeRozan
San Antonio Spurs: Evan Fournier, Aaron Gordon
Including a Spurs player in this process feels dirty. They haven't pulled off a midseason trade since February 2014 when they flipped Nando de Colo to the Toronto Raptors for Austin Daye. That is both absurd and an anecdote I will never tire of reciting.
Still, DeMar DeRozan's situation might compel the Spurs to break character. He has a player option after this season, and while the two sides have talked about an extension, they've yet to come close on striking an agreement, according to The Athletic's Sam Amick.
Equally complicated, San Antonio is once again scoring more points per 100 possessions with him off the court. That is in part a testament to the bench, which ranks seventh in points scored per 100 possessions. It is also awkward at the very least and a red flag at its worst.
Rival teams are getting the sense DeRozan might be available. Orlando is among them.
"Multiple league sources say the Magic are scouring the trade market for scoring help and have already expressed interest in trading for DeRozan," The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor wrote. "It would surprise none of the front-office executives I've spoken with if the Spurs did move DeRozan."
Giving up Aaron Gordon for a potentially expiring contract wouldn't sit entirely right. Teams are already asking about his availability, and the Magic are reluctant to bite, according to The Athletic's Shams Charania.
But DeRozan could do more for Orlando's offense, even if he remains allergic to shooting threes. He runs pick-and-roll action better than any of the Magic's current ball-handlers, and his change-of-pace game inside the arc has real value, particularly to a team begging for a primary wing scorer.
Orlando could try extracting a pick or another young player out of San Antonio (Lonnie Walker IV?). Good luck with that. Gordon is an iffy offensive player, Evan Fournier isn't a clear net plus at his price tag, and the Spurs are trading an All-Star—one the Magic cannot afford to sign in free agency, mind you.
San Antonio would be taking its own risks. Gordon would form a tantalizing defensive combination up front with LaMarcus Aldridge, but he doesn't fit the Spurs' usual offensive profile. They tend to gravitate toward players who subsist on craft rather than physical tools.
At the same time, let's not pretend we wouldn't love the chance to see what he does under head coach Gregg Popovich. Ditto for Fournier. He's more of a Spursy player, but he's also someone who, not unlike Manu Ginobili, might frustrate Pop with some of his shooting and passing selections.
Kevin Love Goes Home
Cleveland Cavaliers Get: Nassir Little, Hassan Whiteside, 2020 first-round pick (top-10 protection), 2022 second-round pick
Portland Trail Blazers Get: Kevin Love
Kevin Love and the Blazers feel made for each other, if only because Portland has the most Kevin Love-ready trade package in the league. As Bleacher Report's Howard Beck said on The Full 48 podcast:
"One interesting theory on Whiteside I heard from somebody [is] not that he's just a stopgap until Jusuf Nurkic gets healthy, but also that he's a big salary number, and he's an expiring. So you get him now, because if you want to make a move later—let's say Anfernee Simons is the guy that you want to use as a big trade piece for some team that really needs a great dynamic young guard, but you can't match salary because he's on a rookie deal, well, Whiteside's big contract number allows you to now make that deal."
This tracks. Keeping Moe Harkless and Meyers Leonard might have done more for the on-court product, but consolidating them into a larger salary allows the Blazers to piece together packages that don't eat up as many roster spots for their partner.
Cavaliers general manager Koby Altman hasn't shown interest in trading Love, per Cleveland.com's Chris Fedor. That also tracks. Love isn't stunting the Cavaliers' rebuild. They have zero incentive to move him just for divergent timeline's sake. Love's contract, which has three years and $91.5 million left after this one, isn't shaking out as an albatross.
All this merely prevents prospective suitors from exploiting Cleveland's position. Love is still 31, and the Cavs are starting over. They should at least be open to moving him for the right price.
Bids from the Blazers still shouldn't include Simons or Zach Collins. Love's age and price tag remain potential drawbacks. But Portland can finagle a wing prospect in Nassir Little and an extra first-round pick. Cleveland needs both, and this package wouldn't vault it back into the tax.
For the Blazers, acquiring Love would no doubt be a major roll of the dice. He's a dream offensive fit, but the defense is tenuous as it stands, and they've yet to incorporate Carmelo Anthony. Using Whiteside to land Love would only put additional strain on the frontcourt rotation.
Portland shouldn't care. Collins and Jusuf Nurkic will be back eventually, although the latter's return this season is less certain. Love is a clean fit beside both. The buyout market also tends to yield a playable big or two in February, and Skal Labissiere has moved around well on defense when manning the 5.
Danilo Gallinari Moves to Disney World
The Trade (After Dec. 14)
Oklahoma City Thunder Get: Mo Bamba, Evan Fournier, 2020 second-round pick
Orlando Magic Get: Danilo Gallinari, Mike Muscala
Danilo Gallinari is perhaps the most obvious trade candidate in the league.
Though the Thunder have proved scrappy early on, they don't seriously figure into the Western Conference playoff discussion. Gallinari is a fringe All-Star at his peak (see: last season) speeding toward free agency and, more than likely, a contract Oklahoma City has no business bankrolling. The real surprise would be his staying put.
The Magic need Gallinari—or someone like him—more than any other team in the league. They are dead last in three-point accuracy, 29th in points scored per 100 possessions and 28th in overall half-court efficiency.
Gallinari would upgrade their attack across the board, and striking a trade is the only way they'd get him. While other teams might be reluctant to fork over value for a soon-to-be free agent, they don't have the cap sheet to sign him outright this summer, giving them every reason to push for him now.
Not that this suggested sticker price is obnoxious. Evan Fournier is a valuable secondary scorer but overpaid at $17 million. He might wind up exercising his player option for next season. Funneling that money into Gallinari's next contract is a lot easier to digest.
Shorting Mo Bamba's stock would sting, but only a little bit. The Magic paid Nikola Vucevic last summer, Khem Birch is better right now, and this trade would clear the way for Aaron Gordon and Jonathan Isaac frontcourt combinations that don't feature either of them playing the 3.
Oklahoma City probably prefers a first-round pick for Gallinari's services. It might be tough to get that from a non-contender, in which case attempting to reboot Bamba's top-six-pick stock has more long-term use than a draft selection in the 20s.
Having Steven Adams doesn't change the logic. He's a trade candidate himself, albeit tougher to move at his price point, and his contract comes off the books after next season. Bamba will be an equally, if not more, impactful offensive player should his three-ball ever settle in, and at just 21, he's the better fit for the Thunder's post-Russell Westbrook timeline.
Swallowing the last year of Fournier's deal wouldn't be a huge opportunity cost. Oklahoma City is forever in need of guys who can hit threes, and he'll either opt out this summer or enter next season as an eminently tradeable expiring contract. That this deal would also put some extra distance between the Thunder and the repeater tax is just a bonus.
Unless otherwise noted, stats courtesy of NBA.com, Basketball Reference or Cleaning the Glass and are accurate entering Monday's games. Salary and cap-hold information via Basketball Insiders, RealGM and Spotrac.