NBA Teams Best Positioned to Pull Off Blockbuster Trades
With the NBA's Feb. 6 trade deadline just weeks away, several teams are still walking the line between buyer and seller.
The last playoff spot in each conference appears like it can be claimed with a losing record, meaning even the 11-23 New Orleans Pelicans are just 3.5 games out of the Western Conference's eighth seed.
Teams looking to shake up their rosters don't necessarily have to be contenders, either. A team with blockbuster trade potential has to have a fair share of young talent or a disgruntled star who wants out. A cupboard full of draft picks helps, as does desperation to appease a fanbase or make a playoff push.
Given these parameters, the following five teams stand out as contenders to pull off a major trade.
5. Atlanta Hawks
Best Trade Assets: PF John Collins, SF De'Andre Hunter, F Cam Reddish, SG Kevin Huerter, 2020 first-round pick (via Brooklyn Nets)
The Atlanta Hawks own the NBA's worst record (7-27) but could become playoff contenders in the Eastern Conference as early as next season. They might not wait that long to make some serious moves.
"The Atlanta Hawks may be a sneaky buyer," one former executive told Bleacher Report's Eric Pincus. "They haven't gotten the results they expected so far this season."
Trae Young isn't going anywhere and should be the franchise cornerstone's. Atlanta's own 2020 first-round pick should be off-limits as well.
Surrounding Young is a fantastic collection of young talent that could be developed or packaged for a run at a player such as Karl-Anthony Towns or any other star who may hit the market. John Collins, 22, is the most ready at this point, averaging 18.3 points, 9.9 rebounds, 2.0 blocks and 1.6 three-pointers per game on 36.8 percent accuracy.
De'Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish have star potential on the wing, and Kevin Huerter is a playmaking 6'7" shooting guard who could develop into an elite shooter.
Atlanta is also armed with some hefty expiring contracts from Chandler Parsons ($25.1 million), Evan Turner ($18.6 million) and Allen Crabbe ($18.5 million) that would be attractive to teams in salary-cap trouble.
The front office has done an excellent job stockpiling draft picks as well. The Hawks own all their own future firsts as well as first-rounders from the Nets (2020, protected 1-14) and Oklahoma City Thunder (2022, protected 1-14). They have six additional second-rounders from 2023 to 2026 as well.
Atlanta may choose to stand pat and let its young talent develop, but it has the opportunity both now and in future years to pull off something big.
4. New Orleans Pelicans
Best Trade Assets: G Jrue Holiday; G Lonzo Ball; 2021, 2023 and 2024 first-round picks (via Los Angeles Lakers)
The New Orleans Pelicans can go in one of two very different directions.
Despite being 12 games under .500, the playoffs are still in reach with over half a season to go. The Pelicans can look to add to a veteran core of Jrue Holiday, JJ Redick and Derrick Favors by using Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart and Jaxson Hayes as trade bait.
If New Orleans feels like selling part of its future to make a run at an eighth seed isn't worth it, then those same vets may find themselves in trade talks.
Zion Williamson is off-limits, and Brandon Ingram (team-leading 25.3 points per game plus 7.0 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 40.9 percent three-point shooting) is playing himself into a max contract this summer from the Pelicans. Other than those two, the roster could change significantly.
Holiday would garner the greatest return should they choose to shop the 29-year-old. Due a reasonable $53.4 million over the next two seasons, Holiday is averaging 19.9 points, 4.9 rebounds, 6.5 assists and 1.8 steals per game in his 11th year.
New Orleans also has some added first-rounders in 2021 and 2024 from Los Angeles thanks to the Anthony Davis trade, with the option to swap firsts in 2023. The Cleveland Cavaliers owe their first-rounder in this draft to the Pelicans, but it's top-10-protected, and the Cavs' 10-22 record means the pick will likely convert to second-rounders in 2021 and 2022.
David Griffin and Co. should take the next few weeks to decide the best course of action while monitoring the progress on Williamson's injured knee.
The talent and draft picks are there for them to pull off a major trade in a number of different ways.
3. Portland Trail Blazers
Best Trade Assets: SG CJ McCollum, G Anfernee Simons, C Zach Collins
While the Portland Trail Blazers don't have the stash of young talent and draft picks of some other franchises, they should be motivated to pull off a major trade.
Damian Lillard should be the only untouchable on a 14-20 team that needs a shakeup.
CJ McCollum, 28, would bring back another star. He's averaging 22.4 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game while shooting 37.3 percent from three and can play either guard position. He's under contract for the next four seasons at $129.4 million—a lot of money for sure, but he's been worth it.
If the Blazers are hell-bent on keeping their backcourt together, Zach Collins, Nassir Little and Anfernee Simons headline their list of prospects. Simons would be the toughest to part with, as he's become the team's backup playmaker behind Lillard.
Kevin Love would be a strong fit, as would Marcus Morris Sr. or Danilo Gallinari. The Blazers should have interest in anyone who can play forward, and an upgrade from Hassan Whiteside at center would be welcome as well.
Portland has held on to all its future first-round picks as well.
In terms of teams desperate to make a deal, the Blazers are high on the list.
2. Oklahoma City Thunder
Best Trade Assets: F Danilo Gallinari; C Steven Adams; 2022, 2023, 2024, 2026 first-round picks (via Los Angeles Clippers)
After entering the season looking like sellers, Oklahoma City (17-15) sits comfortably in the West's seventh seed.
Trading Chris Paul should still be on the table if a team is willing to take on his contract without a draft pick, but OKC shouldn't be in a hurry to get rid of him. The 34-year-old has been a valuable contributor (16.6 points, 6.5 assists, 1.6 steals per game) and mentor to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, the new face of the franchise.
If Oklahoma City still wants to gain draft assets and young talent, Danilo Gallinari (18.0 points, 5.7 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 39.5 percent three-point shooting) and Steven Adams (11.6 points, 9.7 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.2 blocks) would be welcomed starters on a contender. Dennis Schroder (18.4 points, 3.8 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 46.9 percent shooting) could draw interest as well.
Should the Thunder want to stay in the playoff race, they have many more first-round draft picks than anyone thanks to trades of Paul Geroge, Russell Westbrook and Jerami Grant. Oklahoma City has a whopping eight first-rounders coming in the next seven drafts plus a pair of pick swaps.
The Thunder get to keep their first-round pick this season if it falls in the top 20, which may affect how much talent they want to add. They would have pick No. 18 if the season ended today.
Thanks to a mini-rebuild, Oklahoma City has the draft capital to be in on any blockbuster trade for years to come.
1. Boston Celtics
Best Trade Assets: F Jayson Tatum, G/F Jaylen Brown, 2020 first-round pick (via Memphis Grizzlies)
The Boston Celtics have the best combination of young talent, valuable draft picks and desire to make a roster improvement.
Boston owns one of the most valuable draft picks in the league, the 2020 Grizzlies' first-rounder (protected 1-6), which turns to unprotected in 2021. With Memphis just starting a lengthy rebuild, it should be viewed as a top-five pick in next year's draft. The Celtics also own the Milwaukee Bucks' first-round pick this season and can trade any of their own firsts as well.
While Kemba Walker is likely staying put after signing a four-year deal this summer, Boston can use the 21-year-old Jayson Tatum (21.2 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 1.3 steals per game) or 23-year-old Jaylen Brown (20.6 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 40.0 percent three-point shooting) as the centerpiece in a deal.
The Celtics have plenty of other young players to offer as well, with Marcus Smart, Robert Williams III, Carsen Edwards, Romeo Langford and Grant Williams sure to attract interest. Gordon Hayward (16.2 points, 5.9 rebounds, 4.4 assists) can match a lot of money with his $32.7 million salary this season and $34.2 million next and would be a valuable piece on a contending team.
While Boston is one of the NBA's top teams and doesn't need to make a blockbuster trade, it faces plenty of competition at the top of the East from the Bucks, Miami Heat, Toronto Raptors and Philadelphia 76ers. Swapping some wing talent and draft picks for a player such as Karl-Anthony Towns would make the Celtics the favorites to reach the Finals.