Blockbuster Deals That Would Blow Up the NBA Trade Deadline
The buildup to the NBA trade deadline is often more entertaining than the event itself.
We're not saying that will be the case this season. But we are saying that we should all make sure to savor the buildup.
This is the time to let your imagination run wild.
You know that difference-making big man you've been eyeing from afar? Or that sharpshooting swingman who just so happens to double as a defensive dynamo? Or what about the offensive assassin with three-level scoring and brilliant ball movement? Even if they aren't technically available to your favorite team, you can fire up the nearest trade machine and get them there.
That's sort of what we're doing here, only we can't abandon the realistic realm completely. As much as we'd love to hypothesize about the trade value of Ben Simmons, Chris Paul, D'Angelo Russell or Russell Westbrook, we just can't picture any of them moving—at least not before the offseason.
But the following five swaps—several of them potential internet-breakers—would electrify this #TradeSZN and could even reshape the championship race.
Lakers Land Sniper, Wizards Add Kuzma
Los Angeles Lakers Receive: Davis Bertans
Washington Wizards Receive: Kyle Kuzma, Quinn Cook, Talen Horton-Tucker
The Lakers' plan to flood their supporting ranks with snipers hasn't worked. Despite owning the Association's 10th-best conversion rate, they're just 21st in makes and 23rd in attempts. Danny Green has been more good than great (1.9 triples per night, 38.7 percent), while Quinn Cook, Troy Daniels and Jared Dudley are all fighting for consistent minutes.
Davis Bertans would be a godsend. His blend of volume (3.7 threes per game) and efficiency (43.6 percent) was only previously reached by Stephen Curry. And remember, Bertans is doing that without a table-setter like LeBron James. Getting them on the same roster might ensure the 2019-20 championship road runs through Hollywood.
James creates more points off assists than anyone. Bertans splashes more catch-and-shoot threes than anyone, and he buries them at a 45.1 percent clip. The two would work wonders together, and the gravitational pull of Bertans' shooting would be just as beneficial for Anthony Davis.
A closing lineup of James, Davis, Bertans, Green and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope might not brim with versatility, but it features two superstars and three lights-out shooters. If James is locked in, then Bertans is the only defensive liability in that quintet, and there will almost certainly be somewhere to hide him.
The Wizards say they want to keep Bertans, and they probably do to some degree. But he's a 27-year-old who's set to enter unrestricted free agency. They're looking at their second consecutive sub-.400 winning percentage and an uncertain future beyond that. Does it make sense to keep this relationship going? What if he winds up collecting $15 million or more annually on his next contract?
Selling high seems the most prudent move. And if Washington is a Kyle Kuzma believer, this swap accomplishes that.
The third-year Lakers forward has proved an awkward fit alongside James and Davis, but he previously shined as a scorer (18.7 points per game last season) and a stretch forward (2.1 threes, 36.6 percent as a rookie). Compared with Bertans, Kuzma has youth, potential and contract control (signed for next season, restricted free agent after) on his side.
While the Wizards don't get a first-round pick out of this, that selection would likely come at the back end of the first round anyway if they're shipping Bertans to a contender. Their best-case scenario at that point is uncovering the next Kuzma. Why not take the sure thing instead, especially with the pot sweetened by intriguing 19-year-old Talen Horton-Tucker?
Blazers Snag Scoring Forward (Not That One)
Portland Trail Blazers: Danilo Gallinari
Oklahoma City Thunder Receive: Kent Bazemore, Nassir Little, 2022 second-round pick
A glance at the standings suggests the Thunder should be buying and the Blazers could consider selling. That's bogus on both fronts. Numbers do lie, folks.
Portland's best players are 29-year-old Damian Lillard and 28-year-old CJ McCollum. Each makes more than $27 million this season and will get progressively more costly over the following four years. The Blazers are 100 percent in win-now mode until that backcourt breaks apart.
Oklahoma City, meanwhile, has the beginnings of its post-Russell Westbrook rebuilding core in place. It also has a few pricey, place-holding vets on the roster. That group has shattered all realistic expectations, but it hasn't changed identities. The Thunder should still focus on the long game, of which 31-year-old free-agent-to-be Danilo Gallinari should not be a part.
This trade—or something close to it—needs to go down for both sides. Regardless of the rough start, Portland is ripe for a major move. The Blazers have glaring needs at the forward spots, plus the expiring salaries and prospect collection to broker a blockbuster. The Thunder should not envision a future with Gallinari and should instead treat this as another avenue to acquire rebuilding assets.
Gallinari, though, would be a good get for Portland.
He shines as both a spot-up shooter and a complementary scorer, so he could enhance the Blazers' stars or spell them. He could move Carmelo Anthony into the instant-offense role he probably should be playing at age 35. And if you can look past the narrative of Kevin Love taking the Oregon Trail back home, Gallinari is the better fit, especially as a frontcourt partner for Jusuf Nurkic.
In the modern NBA, Love is functionally a 5. If you want to buy him minutes at power forward, you better have someone else who can check 4s. Nurkic isn't doing that.
While Gallo is by no means a stopper, he's easier to deploy at the forward spots. The 48-win Los Angeles Clippers actually got away with primarily deploying him at the 3 last season. He probably shouldn't be chasing wings, but he's nimble enough to stick with most 4s.
The Blazers wouldn't be breaking the bank, but they would be shooting their shot at the postseason and perhaps adding a core piece in Gallinari.
With cap space at a premium this summer, his next contract could be more reasonable than his numbers—19.4 points on 45.4/42.1/90.3 shooting since the start of last season—say it should. If he is outside the budget, Portland could work out a sign-and-trade to bring something back.
Oklahoma City shouldn't let the allure of instant gratification divert it away from the long-term strategy. Gallinari isn't a keeper. Nassir Little could be. The 19-year-old is overloaded with natural gifts, and he fits the Thunder's vision of long, athletic, interchangeable forwards. He could prove quite the catch, and even that second-rounder might be decent if Portland pulls the plug between now and then.
Miami's Major Move
Miami Heat Receive: Jrue Holiday, Frank Jackson
New Orleans Pelicans Receive: Justise Winslow, Kendrick Nunn, Kelly Olynyk, Derrick Jones Jr., 2022 second-round pick (via Philadelphia 76ers or Denver Nuggets)
While the Heat have outpaced most realistic expectations, they may not be the juggernaut their third-place position in the Eastern Conference standings suggests.
Their plus-3.4 net rating is just 10th overall and fourth in the East, with the Indiana Pacers and Sixers right on their heels at plus-3.1. They lack established star power beyond Jimmy Butler, and even if Bam Adebayo makes his All-Star debut, the 22-year-old is still finding his scoring niche. The supporting cast looks surprisingly deep at times, but not everyone buys its sustainability.
"The Heat are winning with G Leaguers," a Western Conference executive told B/R's Eric Pincus. "It's impressive but won't get them all the way."
Miami could raise its ceiling several stories by dealing for Jrue Holiday. He'd be an almost ideal co-star for Butler. Each can run the offense, but they don't have to dominate the ball. Each is an absurdly effective defender, and with Adebayo in the mix, the Heat could spring from outside the top 10 and maybe into the top five of defensive efficiency.
If there's a hangup with Holiday, it's his $27.1 million player option for 2021-22 and what it might mean for Miami's grandiose plans for 2021 free agency. But maybe the Heat should be more focused on the now considering Butler is 30 years old and has some high-mileage seasons behind him. Holiday is on the same timeline and plays the same game. This might be a match made in hoops heaven.
Also, if Miami has a chance to add an elite talent in 2021 free agency, does anyone envision Holiday being difficult to unload? As long as his health holds up, he should have near-universal appeal. His blue-collar, two-way game would easily translate to any system, and he'd be a fine fall-back option for those who see their free-agency dreams come up empty.
The Pelicans, meanwhile, would get players closer in age to franchise cornerstone Zion Williamson.
If Justise Winslow can get healthy, he's still an intriguing add with do-it-all versatility. (Worth noting: New Orleans executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin is a Justise fan.) Kendrick Nunn could help fill the backcourt scoring void, and he's incredibly cheap both this season and next.
Derrick Jones Jr. is an explosive athlete who can guard multiple positions. Kelly Olynyk is primarily a money-matcher, but he's a good shooter and table-setter for his size.
The final pieces of the swap may not amount to anything, but Frank Jackson could prove more than a throw-in if Miami's player-development system brings out his best, and the future second-rounder would allow the Pelicans to say they didn't deal Holiday without getting a pick back.
Rockets Roll the Dice
Houston Rockets Receive: Robert Covington, Dewayne Dedmon, Treveon Graham
Sacramento Kings Receive: Clint Capela, Nene, Thabo Sefolosha
Minnesota Timberwolves Receive: Bogdan Bogdanovic, Danuel House Jr., Harry Giles III, 2020 first-round pick (lottery-protected, from Houston)
The Rockets feel more urgency than you'd think for a team that has won twice as many games as it has lost and owns the seventh-best net rating. But with James Harden and Russell Westbrook both on the wrong side of 30 and owed massive amounts moving forward, this is the time to throw caution to the wind.
"Houston is a buyer because general manager Daryl Morey exists in a perpetual state of buying, but also because this team remains a championship contender," Bleacher Report's Dan Favale wrote.
Since teams aren't taking Westbrook's money off the Rockets' hands, the only options for making a mega-move involve trading either Clint Capela or P.J. Tucker. Here, Houston decides Capela's interior presence and above-the-rim play are more expendable than Tucker's defensive versatility and shot-making.
The Rockets could go for broke with Robert Covington, an ace three-and-D swingman who's been on their radar since at least December, per The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor. Offensively, Covington is a floor-stretcher who's averaged nearly three triples per 36 minutes for his career. Defensively, he'll harass opposing forwards and can switch onto any position.
In other words, he's perfect for what Houston needs.
Dewayne Dedmon, who's seeking a new home, could be an interesting get. Before flat-lining in Sacramento, the 7-footer flashed a combination of shooting, rebounding and rim protection. Treveon Graham could address a need for wing depth, but he needs to rediscover his shot first.
The Kings, meanwhile, could decide they won't cover the cost of Bogdan Bogdanovic's restricted free agency, so they'd instead pounce on this chance to add a 25-year-old building block in Capela. If Sacramento sees Marvin Bagley III managing the 4, the Kings would have their frontcourt of the future, plus an electric backup as long as they can keep Richaun Holmes around.
Finally, the Timberwolves would turn Covington's appeal into a massive return.
Bogdanovic's comfort and skill on the ball would scratch nagging itches for Minnesota, which has enough funds to cover his restricted free agency. Danuel House Jr. is a younger and cheaper replacement for Covington. Harry Giles III would be the latest young big to slot alongside or behind Karl-Anthony Towns. The pick probably wouldn't be great, but it would be a first-rounder nonetheless.
Boston Gets Big, Dallas Gets Another Shot-Creator, Detroit Adds Assets
Boston Celtics Receive: Andre Drummond
Dallas Mavericks Receive: Gordon Hayward
Detroit Pistons Receive: Tim Hardaway Jr., Courtney Lee, 2020 second-round pick (via Golden State Warriors or Houston Rockets)
But their center rotation remains underwhelming. Enes Kanter can't defend in space, Daniel Theis is undersized, and Robert Williams III hasn't played 60 games at this level yet.
Size still matters in this league. Boston's road map out of the East might include playoff tussles with Joel Embiid, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Brook Lopez, Marc Gasol, Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis. A championship-round date with the Los Angeles Lakers would plant Anthony Davis as an obstacle to any parade route.
The Celtics don't have an answer now, but this deal would do the trick.
While they have reportedly made their "core wing players" off-limits, they've also "registered interest" in Andre Drummond, per Yahoo Sports' Vincent Goodwill. If Boston is doing even due diligence on Drummond, that must signal some level of willingness to part with Gordon Hayward, since a Drummond deal can't happen without him.
Put Drummond on the backline and Boston would have its answer to basketball's behemoths. Moreover, the Celtics would have their key to climbing up from 15th in defensive rebound percentage—making their fourth-ranked defense even more dominant—and a wrecking ball-screener to pair with Kemba Walker.
The Mavericks have also been linked to Drummond, but they could get more mileage out of a second shot-creator on the wing. The Luka Doncic Show has been amazing, but he can't shoulder a burden this heavy. He has a 37.2 usage percentage. Only six teams have ever featured a player with a usage rate that high; one missed the playoffs, four lost in the opening round and the other was bounced from the conference semis.
Dallas doesn't have a championship recipe now, but it might be one ingredient away. A healthy Hayward could be the missing piece. Plug him alongside Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis, and Dallas could dismantle defenses with any variation of the two-man game or watch any of the three dazzle as an isolation creator or spot-up sniper.
Detroit, meanwhile, could decide that escaping the possibility of Drummond picking up his $28.8 million player option is the best outcome of any exchange involving the center. Since no one is offering a first-round pick, per The Athletic's James L. Edwards III, this could be as good as it gets.
The second-round pick is the crown jewel, and since it's the more favorable pick between Golden State and Houston, there's a chance it opens the round. Former Wolverine Tim Hardaway Jr. is also a sneaky-good puzzle piece. His outside shot provides offensive breathing room, and if he picks up his $19 million player option, he could be a coveted commodity this time next year.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.