5 Blockbuster NBA Trade Ideas That Should Happen This Offseason
A chaotic 2019 offseason gave way to one of the most uniquely difficult regular seasons in NBA history.
From declining television ratings to the tragic death of Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven others in a helicopter crash to the coronavirus-induced hiatus, the league has dealt with unprecedented challenges heading into the summer of 2020.
But even as the games themselves are put on hold, teams—or at least elements of their front offices—likely remain focused on their goals and long-term potential.
This offseason, when the floodgates of player movement reopen, we're sure to see a wave of rumors regarding some of the game's stars.
Here are a handful of blockbusters that would prime the NBA for a bounce-back campaign in 2020-21.
The Spurs Aim to Stay Relevant
In the wake of the Kawhi Leonard-for-DeMar DeRozan (and others) trade that straddled a win-now approach and a rebuild, The Ringer's Danny Chau wrote that the San Antonio Spurs were "decidedly uncommitted to [their] future..."
Kawhi had just finished second in 2016 and third in 2017 in MVP voting. He was coming off his age-26 season. He already had a Finals MVP to his name. And when he demanded out, the Spurs traded him for a player whose career box plus/minus was barely above average and whose teams were better with him on the floor in exactly one season.
One would think that trading Kawhi and Danny Green together, perhaps the best defensive combo on the wing since Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, could've yielded a package with numerous picks and prospects.
All San Antonio got was DeRozan (who still only has one season with a positive net rating swing), Jakob Poeltl (a solid defensive big) and a first-round pick that eventually turned into Keldon Johnson.
San Antonio wanted to stay competitive in the short term, even if that meant adding a player who might not move the needle too far toward that goal in today's NBA.
Perhaps the last two up-and-down seasons may have convinced San Antonio to think more about the future, but if the front office is still committed to relevance over the next two or three years, Kevin Love is an interesting option.
Love is three years younger than LaMarcus Aldridge, which should keep the window for playoff contention open just a bit longer. He can replace some of what the Spurs forfeited when they moved Davis Bertans last summer with Love's shooting. And he would provide the kind of big-man passing the Spurs haven't had since the Boris Diaw era.
Love engineering possessions from the high post or top of the key while young slashers like Dejounte Murray, Derrick White and Lonnie Walker IV cut around him could help to instantly modernize San Antonio.
For Cleveland, this is 1,000 percent a money-saving, flexibility-attaining move. Love is under contract through 2022-23, when he'll be paid $28.9 million. Aldridge's deal will expire after next season. Given the divergent paths of the veteran big man and the rebuilding Cleveland Cavaliers, a buyout might even be in the cards there.
OKC Leans into the Rebuild
In terms of on-court value, the Oklahoma City Thunder aren't receiving anywhere near what they're sending out in this hypothetical. Let's just get that out of the way at the outset.
But as we know, plenty of NBA trades are about far more than on-court value. OKC was a feel-good story with a shot at home-court advantage in the first round of the 2020 playoffs. But few, if any, would comfortably place the Thunder in the title contenders' tier.
Even with the short-term success Chris Paul brought from the Houston Rockets, Oklahoma City's collective eye should still be fixed on the future and the treasure trove of assets it has. If that means taking a reasonable offer for CP3, the club should.
With Paul's age (he'll turn 35 before next season) and contract ($41.4 million next season, followed by a player option for $44.2 million in 2021-22), it'll be difficult for the Thunder to get a ton in return for him. The Ringer's Rob Mahoney explained in December:
"The hope, in potentially trading for Paul, is that he could do for a new team something similar to what Jason Kidd once did for the Mavericks: take an already capable squad and make their operations that much more fluid. When Dallas traded for Kidd in 2008, he was roughly the age that Paul is now. The differences, however, are crucial. Part of what gave Kidd staying power was size, which Paul won't have working in his advantage. And by the time the Mavericks won the title in 2011, Kidd's contract took up only about 15 percent of the salary cap. As it stands now, Paul accounts for more than 35 percent of the cap—and counting."
It's a daunting contract, but one team that has reportedly given at least a passing thought to trading for it is the New York Knicks, who are now run by CP3's former agent, Leon Rose.
"The Knicks, according to NBA sources, have been gathering intel on All-Star Chris Paul and could make a run at him this summer," SiriusXM's Frank Isola wrote. "Paul, 34, carries a huge contract, but he's had a resurgent season in OKC and is [a] proven leader."
New York has the salary-matching deals necessary to get close enough to CP3's cap hit and satisfy the league's trade rules.
Julius Randle and Bobby Portis' inclusion is more about that than what they can give the Thunder. Dennis Smith Jr. just had a historically bad season, but he's still just 22, a former lottery pick and would fit OKC's new timeline. Redirecting the first-round pick received from the Los Angeles Clippers in the Marcus Morris trade shouldn't hurt too much. It'll be outside the lottery in a weak class.
This deal saves OKC a boatload of money, opens up cap space (especially in 2021-22, when Randle is set to make over $24 million less than Paul) and adds to their stockpile of picks and young players.
For New York, it gives an organization that has languished below mediocrity for two decades a veteran presence who can theoretically expedite the development of youngsters like RJ Barrett and Frank Ntilikina in much the same way he did for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. It also gives one of the league's biggest markets a star as it works through this rebuild.
The Knicks aren't going to be title contenders any time soon. The assets they are giving up in this deal don't break the bank. At this point, what do they have to lose?
Orlando Finds Some Scoring
The Trade: Aaron Gordon for Kelly Oubre Jr.
The Orlando Magic were on track for their second consecutive playoff appearance before the league suspended play, but they were still a below-.500 team with a far-from-inspiring attack.
The Magic need offense. Badly.
One team that was reportedly interested in Gordon may be able to provide them that.
"The [Phoenix] Suns also made a late push for Orlando’s Aaron Gordon," Shams Charania wrote for The Athletic. "Gordon ... has had a strong second half of the season. He is expected to be pursued in the offseason by multiple teams."
The Suns' marquee young players, Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton, both finished 2019-20 with positive offensive box plus/minuses and negative defensive box plus/minuses. Gordon, in theory, can be the Shawn Marion-esque defender at the 4 to complement Booker's Steve Nash and Ayton's Amar'e Stoudemire. Yes, I know the comparison is a stretch, but positionally, it's fun.
Giving up a near-20-point-per-game scorer in Kelly Oubre Jr. stings a bit, but Phoenix has plenty of scoring from Booker and Ayton. And Mikal Bridges appears ready for a bigger role. Gordon's 2019-20 assist percentage more than doubled Oubre's as well. And passing from the 4 could open up even more opportunities for the stars.
For Orlando, Gordon was the No. 4 pick in the vaunted 2014 draft class. He's shown flashes of versatile defense and playmaking, and his net rating swing over his career is comfortably positive. But after six years, it's clear he's not the offensive weapon the Magic need.
Oubre is the same age as Gordon and a better scorer. He may offer slightly less as a passer or defender (though that second one may be up for debate), but Orlando has players like Nikola Vucevic and Jonathan Isaac who can cover for those deficiencies. What the Magic need are buckets.
The Sixers Break Up the Core
The Trade: Ben Simmons for CJ McCollum, Anfernee Simons (or Nassir Little), a 2021 first-round pick and a 2022 second-round pick
There are three camps, all with legitimate arguments, that emerged with respect to the Philadelphia 76ers this season: those who...
- think they should trade Ben Simmons and build around Joel Embiid.
- think they should trade Embiid and build around Simmons.
- think they surrounded the two stars with players who simply don't fit their games and that they should continue building around both.
The debate over which of those philosophies carries the most weight can be saved for another day. For now, let's assume Philly flames out in the postseason and leans into the first option.
Over the course of their time together, the Sixers are plus-8.3 points per 100 possessions when Embiid is on the floor without Simmons. The idea of surrounding a generational, foul-drawing post threat with shooting is enticing and backed up by those numbers. When scanning the trade market for potential Simmons suitors, shooting should be a motivating factor for Philadelphia.
The Portland Trail Blazers, who seem to face this "Should they break up the core?" question every year, might be the ideal partner.
CJ McCollum isn't as impactful as Simmons (the latter has nearly twice as many wins over replacement player over the last three seasons), but he actually shoots the ball. And he shoots it well. If Philadelphia decides to focus its rebuild on Embiid, it needs players who won't crowd him inside.
This season, McCollum shot an absurd 51.1 percent on two-pointers from 16 feet and out. He's just a shade under 40 percent from three for his career. He's also shown an ability to generate his own offense from nothing on the perimeter.
He's not nearly as big as Simmons (6'3" vs. 6'10") and may not have the same wide-ranging skill set, but there's a decent chance he'd fit better.
For Portland, acquiring Simmons would mean moving him from the 1 to the 4 (at least, generally speaking). No one's taking that role from Damian Lillard, though Simmons may be able to make Lillard's life easier by setting up more catch-and-shoot opportunities.
But if Simmons is a playmaking 4 (or, dare I say, a playmaking 5), he instantly becomes perhaps the game's most versatile big man. Think of a taller and more athletic prime Draymond Green. That's the potential we'd be looking at there.
The Blazers would still need their version of Klay Thompson, but Lillard and Simmons would be a pretty interesting facsimile of Stephen Curry and Draymond. As far as foundations go, it wouldn't get much better, which is how the team could justify giving up its No. 2 scorer, a promising young player and multiple picks.
A Different Scoring Option for the Magic
The Trade: DeMar DeRozan for Aaron Gordon and Khem Birch
Kelly Oubre Jr. is younger and brings a little more defense to the table, but DeRozan would likely provide a higher ceiling as a scorer to Orlando.
In November, The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor reported the "Magic are scouring the trade market for scoring help and have already expressed interest in trading for DeRozan."
San Antonio was 5-6 at that time. The season was still young. And after pushing the Denver Nuggets to seven games in the previous postseason, it was a bit more difficult to fault the Spurs for thinking they could make the Aldridge-DeRozan pairing work.
But after nearly two full seasons, it's clear this top two isn't going to return the once-great dynasty to title contention.
In nearly 4,000 playoff and regular-season minutes, the Spurs are minus-1.2 points per 100 possessions when those two are on the floor, compared to plus-4.9 per 100 possessions in the 1,534 minutes they're both off.
If DeRozan is willing to do an opt-in-and-trade, a la CP3-to-Houston, he would make some sense with the Magic. They'd still struggle to space the floor, but there's no question DeRozan would do more for the offense than Gordon. Scoring hasn't been San Antonio's biggest problem over the last two years.
Defensively, the Magic can deploy plus players like Markelle Fultz and Jonathan Isaac to help cover for DeRozan's issues. He'll still get beat plenty on the perimeter, but Steve Clifford has a knack for scheming in ways that help notoriously bad defenders.
For the Spurs, this is more of a forward-looking move than the Kevin Love idea detailed earlier.
Gordon hasn't quite lived up to his potential, but he's still just 24. As far as young cores go, Gordon, Jakob Poeltl (24), Dejounte Murray (23), Derrick White (25) and Lonnie Walker (21) aren't bad. That five-man lineup offers positionless possibilities around the 5 that San Antonio hasn't had in years. Defensively, that group could put opponents in clamps as early as next season.
Ultimately, this might just be about the front office forcing Gregg Popovich's hand, though. Those three guards need to be playing together, if for no other reason than to see what the team has in its most promising young players. This season, Murray and White only shared the floor for 102 minutes. Add Walker to the mix and the sample drops to six minutes.
For a team that probably never could've been viewed as a realistic contender, that's inexcusable.
Trading DeRozan could open up more minutes for that trio (or, at least two of the three). Getting a once-promising combo forward as part of the deal doesn't hurt.