7 Blockbuster NBA Trades That Would Shake Things Up in 2020-21
Though the fate of this NBA season continues to hang in the balance, our noggins never stop turning. There will eventually be an offseason. With a draft. And free agency. And trades.
Ah, yes, trades. Remember them?
They always take a backseat this time of year. The league is usually gearing up for the playoffs. The rumor mill doesn't start to heat up again until the draft order is set. And this time around, we have know idea when that will be.
Once more, though: It will come. The rumors will follow. Promise. And we'll be poring over trade scenarios in no time.
Like right now.
This latest batch of ideas isn't meant to be unnecessarily incendiary. The goal is to shake up the league within reason. These hypotheticals are not bound by concrete rumors, but they're also not going to argue that the Houston Rockets should deal James Harden to cut costs. The centerpiece of every deal must have a more obvious and justifiable path to the auction block.
Certain projections will be made when cooking up packages. Player and team options will be picked up. Salaries will be guaranteed. Free agents will be renounced. Cap space will be used. And so on.
Select blockbusters will need to be completed 30 days after this year's first-rounders sign their rookie contracts and can be flipped as actual salaries. Order of operations will also matter in a couple instances. Special circumstances will be noted wherever necessary, as will alternative packages.
Basketball may have stopped, because it must, but armchair-GMing continues without interruption.
Phoenix Loads Up: Part 1
Orlando Magic Receive: Ty Jerome; Kelly Oubre Jr.; 2022 second-round pick
Phoenix Suns Receive: Aaron Gordon
Consider this an upgrade in fit for both the Magic and Suns.
Orlando tried hard to move Aaron Gordon at the trade deadline to no avail, per Heavy's Sean Deveney. His playmaking eruption gives him more value to the offense, but not quite enough. The Magic haven't entrusted him to direct the show independent of a point guard, and he's still not the face-up floor-spacer they need most.
Kelly Oubre Jr. is closer to being that player. He's a choppier passer, but not incapable. He can run a pick-and-roll, and his turnover rate is manageable relative to this year's usage. The coach who gets him to defer more when he dribbles into crowds around the rim will deserve some sort of award.
Trading away this version of Gordon stings but shouldn't cripple the offense. Orlando has Markelle Fultz and Nikola Vucevic and can use the non-taxpayer's mid-level exception to bring in another secondary facilitator. Keeping D.J. Augustin (unrestricted free agent) or Evan Fournier (player option) would help, too.
Oubre's own shot creation is worth the opportunity cost. His career three-point clip is unspectacular (32.9 percent), but this wouldn't be a lateral offensive move. Oubre can find his own looks in transition and the half-court and is sporting a more respectable off-the-bounce jumper. Among the 139 players who have at least 100 pull-up attempts to their name this season, his 51.9 effective field-goal percentage ranks eighth.
Transitioning from Gordon to Oubre shouldn't adversely impact the Magic's defense either. Gordon has more utility; he can guard 5s and has All-Defensive switchability. Oubre's wingspan is disruptive, but he takes too many chances and gets lost in the half-court. Orlando can deal. A healthy Al-Farouq Aminu, Jonathan Isaac and Chuma Okeke ensure that Oubre won't be overtaxed.
The Magic should be similarly unconcerned about his impending free agency. They'd have his Bird rights, and if he ends up commanding more than the $16.4 million Gordon is slated to make in 2021-22, something has gone very, very right. If this experiment flops, well, that's why Ty Jerome and a future second-rounder are included. They're a hedge against Oubre's right knee injury and his potential departure.
Phoenix might be hesitant to give up this much for Gordon. Oubre was in the middle of a career year prior to his knee injury, and dealing him threatens to downgrade the offense's spacing. Playing Gordon with Deandre Ayton and Ricky Rubio makes for tight working quarters.
Still, the Suns need a viable starting 4. It isn't Dario Saric (restricted). Gordon significantly beefs up the defense and can log minutes at the backup 5 spot. His playmaking progression should help Phoenix better withstand stints in which Devin Booker is on the bench.
Plus, Gordon's shooting might prove to be a non-issue. He put down 39.3 percent of his catch-and-fire threes over Orlando's last 25 games. The Suns can't bank on that remaining the status quo, but the combination of Mikal Bridges and Cameron Johnson allows them to offset some regression. So while Oubre is the more valuable offensive player, Gordon stands to have a larger all-around impact—and is exactly what Phoenix needs to hang tough in next year's playoff conversation.
Phoenix Loads Up: Part 2
Detroit Pistons Receive: Elie Okobo (contract must be guaranteed); 2020 first-round pick (30 days after he signs contract)
Phoenix Suns Receive: Luke Kennard
Almost identical framework was in play at February's trade deadline. Detroit and Phoenix talked about a deal for Luke Kennard assembled around Jevon Carter (restricted), Elie Okobo (non-guaranteed) and this year's first, per ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski. Discussions fell apart because the two sides couldn't hash out protection on the pick.
Neither team should have an issue revisiting this outline once the draft order is set. The Suns have the 10th-best lottery odds as of now. If they don't move up before the draft, they shouldn't hesitate to break bread. This draft is flush with guards but isn't teeming with high-end, immediate-impact prospects. Kennard is more of a sure thing.
Phoenix should aim to kick the can if it winds up with a top-four pick. Offering a 2021 first with top-10 protection to start and top-eight protection in 2022 that becomes two seconds if it doesn't convey feels like a good starting point.
Detroit would have the juice to demand more if Kennard wasn't recovering from tendinitis in his knees. He thrived while shouldering more off-the-bounce responsibility this season. Only three other players cleared 15 points and four assists per game while shooting as well from long range (39.9 percent): Khris Middleton, Terry Rozier and Karl-Anthony Towns.
Adding Kennard to the second unit would be a dream for the Suns. It also ups the appeal of Devin Booker-at-point guard lineups, with both playing in the backcourt. Balancing the defense during those minutes could be an issue, but not if Kennard is acquired in tandem with Aaron Gordon. Mikal Bridges and the latter can cover the two toughest assignments between them, almost irrespective of position.
Granted, the Suns' investment here would not be without risk. Kennard (and Gordon) do not assure them of a playoff spot. Nothing is guaranteed in the West.
Surrendering a first-rounder amid that uncertainty would be a fairly big ask—particularly with Kennard extension-eligible this summer. But the payoff from this two-trade scenario far outweighs the downside. Phoenix is much closer to win-now than rebuilding, and these deals, viewed together, give it better than a fighting chance to nab one of the West's playoff slots next season.
Philly Shakes Up the Core—Without Moving Embiid or Simmons
Philadelphia 76ers Receive: Buddy Hield; Cory Joseph
Sacramento Kings Receive: Al Horford; Josh Richardson; Oklahoma City's 2020 first-round pick (projected to convey with top-20 protection); Atlanta's 2020 second-round pick
This is definitely not what the Sixers had in mind last summer when they landed Al Horford and acquired Josh Richardson as part of the Jimmy Butler sign-and-trade. Alas, here we are.
Horford is expected to be on the chopping block this offseason, according to USA Today's Jeff Zillgitt. The stipulation: Philly wants to bring back shooting in any deal, which is, um, problematic.
Achilles issues have held Horford back, but that's not exactly a sales pitch. He turns 34 in June. Injuries are an inherent drawback of anyone on the back end of their prime who isn't LeBron James. No team is treating the $81 million he's owed over the next three years ($69 million guaranteed) as a net-neutral asset, let alone a positive one.
Offloading Horford into another squad's cap space is probably out of the question, if only because so few squads actually have cap space. Perhaps the Sixers can return an expiring-contract stroganoff, but it seems they want to move him as part of a value-added package, and their supporting cast isn't deep enough to burn roster spots on non-rotation players.
Baking in some sweeteners is the only way Philly nudges the needle upward—unless, of course, the team genuinely thinks Horford's exit would be addition by subtraction. Offering up Josh Richardson's expiring contract—as it stands, the Sixers may be too taxed out to re-sign him—and this year's Oklahoma City Thunder pick while taking on shorter-term unwanted money is their best shot at expanding prospective proposals to bring back impact names.
Sussing out opportunities will still be difficult. Counting on the Kings might even be a stretch. They could view another big as overkill with Marvin Bagley III, Nemanja Bjelica and Richaun Holmes all on the roster. But Horford can play beside all three if his three-point clip gets back above 34 percent, and he's more of a defensive anchor than any of them.
Jettisoning Buddy Hield would be a tough pill to swallow, but he and Sacramento aren't on the best terms. He's not thrilled coming off the bench, and his extension negotiations turned into a, let's say, contentious affair.
Speaking of which: Hield's four-year, $106 million deal ($94 million guaranteed) isn't a no-brainer keeper. He's a deadeye shooter, but that's a lot to pay someone who seemed overextended when head coach Luke Walton saddled him with more ball-handling responsibility. Paying him and Bogdan Bogdanovic, a restricted free agent this summer, is borderline untenable. Neither is fit to spend heavy minutes guarding wings.
Richardson isn't nearly as impressive on offense, but he's still a clean fit. He doesn't need pre-assigned volume on offense and can defend positions 1 through 3 and dabble in chasing around some 4s. Equally important: He'll cost less than Hield when he hits the market in 2021, no small benefit when De'Aaron Fox's inevitable max extension kicks in that following season.
Scooping up two additional picks and unloading Cory Joseph would be gravy for the Kings. Horford's contract is a spreadsheet-sore, but he and Richardson are both difference-makers at their best. Landing a first-rounder on top of them—Oklahoma City's selection is projected to convey—is a huge win, even in a weak draft.
Philly shouldn't rule out bolstering this offer if Sacramento presses. Hield is a perfect fit for a team trying to build around Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, two non-shooters. He can fly around screens, and his transition efficiency should skyrocket back to 2018-19 levels while throwing up bombs off passes from Simmons. If the Sixers need to attach one of their many other seconds to entice the Kings, then so be it.
Indiana, Orlando and San Antonio 3-Team Soiree
Indiana Pacers Receive: Aaron Gordon; Derrick White
Orlando Magic Receive: DeMar DeRozan (assuming he opts in)
San Antonio Spurs Receive: Khem Birch; James Ennis (assuming he opts in); Myles Turner
Yes, I'm double-dipping on the Aaron Gordon ideas. No, I'm not sorry. This one has enough going on that he's worth recycling. Besides, he's arguably the household name most likely to get rerouted over the offseason. (Kevin Love might like a word.) Alternative ideas aren't superfluous. They're responsible.
Let's begin in San Antonio. The Spurs aren't known for making substantive changes, but the roster is begging for a face-lift. Their 22-year postseason streak was in serious peril before the league suspended play, and they can't reasonably hope this exact core will climb up the Western Conference ladder.
Too many other teams are on the rise. The Golden State Warriors, Minnesota Timberwolves, New Orleans Pelicans, Phoenix Suns and Portland Trail Blazers all have clear paths to being much better next season. The same can be said for the Sacramento Kings, depending on how you feel about them with a healthy Marvin Bagley III in tow.
San Antonio cannot compete with that deepening field as currently constructed. It also may not be willing to completely rebuild. Head coach Gregg Popovich is 71 and won't want to oversee a reset (assuming he sticks around), and the Spurs will have a much easier time starting over in 2021, when a bunch of expiring contracts are scheduled to come off the books.
Myles Turner is a good in-between target. He is young enough (24) to be part of the long-term vision and good enough to boost San Antonio's immediate peak. The Spurs can roll four- or five-out even when he's playing with LaMarcus Aldridge, and he's used to defending as the titular power forward after spending so much time next to Domantas Sabonis.
Surrendering DeRozan and Derrick White is a relatively small price to pay for a matchup-proof 5. The former apparently isn't even happy in San Antonio, per CNBC's Jabari Young. DeRozan can throw a wrench in this hypothetical by not picking up his player option, but the free-agency market is so cash-starved it should take him more than two seasons to recoup the $27.7 million he's slated to make.
Two more things need to break in the Spurs' favor for this deal to make sense for everyone involved. First and foremost: The Magic have to value DeRozan enough to part ways with Gordon. That's not a stretch. They were interested in him earlier this season, according to The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor, and their offense will be even more hard-up for a primary perimeter scorer and playmaker should either D.J. Augustin or Evan Fournier (player option) leave in free agency.
Indiana is bound to be the harder sell. Floor-spacing defensive anchors don't grow on trees. But the Sabonis-Turner pairing remains awkward on offense. The Pacers rank in the 21st percentile of points scored per 100 possessions with both in the lineup. Injuries to the rest of the roster haven't helped, but they've incurred similar issues in years past. Indiana's offense has never rated higher than the 35th percentile (2018-19) with both bigs on the court.
Rival executives believe Turner is more likely to get traded, per Bleacher Report's Michael Scotto. That makes sense. His skill set is more scalable, so he'll yield a better return, and Sabonis has a bigger influence on the Pacers offense. It also doesn't hurt that rookie Goga Bitadze, another floor-spacing big, is waiting for his chance.
Indiana has shown interest in Gordon before, most recently at the Feb. 6 trade deadline, per SNY's Ian Begley. His so-so shooting isn't an ideal fit for the offense, but he can replace a lot of the positional malleability Turner brings on defense. White should carry this package into the red zone as a try-hard guard who defends some wings, offers secondary playmaking and is shooting closer to league average from deep.
Tossing more to the Magic—Khem Birch is an asset—or the Pacers shouldn't be off the table for the Spurs. Including first-rounders is tough without knowing where they're headed, but the Spurs can spice things up with Keldon Johnson or some seconds.
The Knicks Aim for a Turnaround: Part 1
Oklahoma City Thunder Receive: Kevin Knox; Dennis Smith Jr.; Julius Randle; Dallas' 2021 first-round pick
New York Knicks Receive: Chris Paul
Now feels like a good time to reiterate that these trade ideas are not endorsements. The Knicks are better off slow-playing their rebuild. But they have a history of trying to fast-track the process. Team president Leon Rose may be preparing to continue that trend. New York has been "gathering intel" on Chris Paul, a former Rose client, per The Athletic's Frank Isola.
Order of operations is everything here. Ditto for salary-cap projections. This hypothetical gets blown to smithereens if the league moves off its $115 million forecast.
The Knicks' first order of business would be juggling its own free-agent holds. They have the flexibility to carve out more than $40 million in space, but pulling off two blockbuster acquisitions is easier if they have money to send out, and it doesn't make sense to aim for two marquee veterans without players around them.
New York's initial steps are as follows: pick up Bobby Portis' team option; guarantee contracts for Reggie Bullock, Taj Gibson and Mitchell Robinson; carry Damyean Dotson's cap hold; renounce the rights to Allonzo Trier; and waive Wayne Ellington and Elfrid Payton, who are guaranteed $1 million apiece.
Figuring out what to do with Maurice Harkless comes next. The Knicks can renounce his free-agent rights to increase their cap space and then let him walk or hope he re-signs for the $5 million room exception. Or they can use his Bird rights to offer him a starting salary between $6 and a little over $7 million.
Sticking to that range would leave New York with more than $12 million in space—or roughly the amount it'd need to take on the balance of Paul's 2020-21 salary after sending out Kevin Knox, Dennis Smith Jr. and Julius Randle. This projection rests on the Knicks finishing no higher than fourth in the draft order, otherwise they'd need to renounce Dotson, reduce Harkless' salary or renounce him entirely, waive Bullock or send out more salary to make the math work.
Including a future first-round pick and Knox hurts a little bit. New York doesn't have the leverage to offer much less. Randle's contract isn't great, and Smith is valuable only as expiring-contract filler, with the potential to maybe, possibly be reprogrammed. Paul has played too well this season for the Thunder to move him strictly for cap relief.
Oklahoma City has enough future picks—as many as 15 between now and 2026—but putting another one in the chamber isn't a bad thing. Knox is a worthwhile project. His game might open up on a team that gives him a longer leash and some semblance of a consistent offensive role.
Randle's price point is tough to stomach, but he's guaranteed just $4 million in 2021-22. The Thunder would shave more than $12 million off next year's payroll and can save another $34 million-plus the following season by exchanging Paul's player option for Knox's team option.
The Knicks Aim for a Turnaround: Part 2
Cleveland Cavaliers Receive: Taj Gibson; Bobby Portis; L.A. Clippers 2020 first-round pick (after the draft)
New York Knicks Receive: Kevin Love
The Knicks could pull off this deal in tandem with the Chris Paul trade if it's done last. They wouldn't be using cap space to acquire Kevin Love. They'd be relying on the lofty expiring price points of Taj Gibson and Bobby Portis.
Do the Cavaliers push for more? Debatable. They turned down an expiring-contracts-for-Love offer from the Portland Trail Blazers at February's deadline, according to The Athletic's Jason Lloyd. But they can't expect to get much more. Love has three years and $91.5 million left on his deal and poses fit issues for teams that can't hide him defensively, be it at the 4 or 5.
Extracting any sort of first-round prospect would be a win. Taking on two bigs kind of blows, but Love would be on the way out, and conventional wisdom suggests at least one of Andre Drummond (player option) and Tristan Thompson (unrestricted) is a goner. Cleveland can push for a second-rounder or two if it's feeling especially inconvenienced or short-changed.
So...the Knicks. Tying up this much money in Love and Paul (two years, $85.6 million) is decidedly unsafe. Reckless, even. But it could be worse.
In our Land of Make-Believe, they're netting two All-Stars while holding on to RJ Barrett, Reggie Bullock, Frank Ntilikina, Mitchell Robinson, this year's first-round pick and all their own future firsts while retaining the flexibility to re-sign Damyean Dotson and, potentially, Moe Harkless. That's...not terrible.
Acquiring both Love and Paul would effectively remove the Knicks from 2021 free agency. That's not the end of the world. They'll have the assets to manufacture room should Giannis Antetokounmpo decide New York is the place for him, and the appeal of having cap space in 2021 diminishes dramatically if he signs a supermax extension with the Milwaukee Bucks.
Banking on Paul and Love to remain healthy and productive enough for the life of their deals is a bigger concern. Things could get rough, if not next year, then in 2021-22, CP3's age-36 season.
Even if both stars work out, New York would still be tasked with putting a quality supporting cast around them. Barrett and this year's draft pick may not turn into winning players that quickly—or at all.
Yet that's also the beauty of this two-trade pipe dream: The Knicks are preserving the heart of their war chest. Either they have a handful of higher-end prospects (Barrett, Robinson, this year's pick) who can grow alongside the star vets, or they have a collection of attractive assets they can use to reel in more established talent.
New Orleans Angles for Immediate Contention
New Orleans Pelicans Receive: Bradley Beal
Washington Wizards Receive: Nickeil Alexander-Walker; Lonzo Ball; Jaxson Hayes; New Orleans' 2020 first-round pick (30 days after signing his contract)*; L.A. Lakers' 2021 first-round pick (protected for Nos. 8 to 30; unprotected in 2022); Cleveland's 2021 second-round pick; Washington's 2021 second-round pick (via New Orleans); New Orleans' 2022 first-round pick (unprotected)
*Note: Deal must be expanded to include more salary from the Pelicans if they end up with lower than the No. 13 pick.
Let's be perfectly clear: This deal isn't borne from the behavior of Bradley Beal or the Wizards. He has said he wants to finish his career in Washington, and they're not expected to make him readily available this summer, according to ESPN's Tim Bontemps.
This idea has more to do with the superstar trade market in general. It is scarce, if not empty. Beal will incite interest by default. He's the best player semi-close to free agency who is on a team that lacks a concrete direction.
Washington has a path back to relevance if John Wall returns to form, but he will be coming off a devastating Achilles injury and has now missed at least half of the team's regular-season games in each of the past three years. The Wizards outlook implodes if he's significantly less than his former self. He's owed $132.9 million over the next three years. They need him to be a star.
Waiting until at least next season's trade deadline to figure out Beal's situation has its merits. He'll still have a year-and-a-half left on his deal and fetch a premium from prospective suitors. But his value will never be higher than it is now, ahead of his age-27 season, with two full summers separating him from free agency. The Wizards have an obligation to listen—and those who call have an obligation to blow them away.
The Pelicans have the tools to be that team. They turned Anthony Davis into quite the haul last year and can use a chunk of those assets to shore up this offer.
Plenty of people would be uncomfortable with New Orleans giving up this much. The final tally for Washington amounts to Lonzo Ball, Jaxson Hayes, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, three first-round picks and two seconds. This seems like a lot, because it is. But the Pelicans are facing certain constraints.
Ball's value to the Wizards is a question mark. He has once-in-a-blue-moon vision, and his jumper has improved. But he's due for a pricey extension, and Washington already paid Wall. New Orleans might need to find a third-party facilitator who would pony up big-time value for Ball.
It likewise doesn't help that the Pelicans are already pretty good and that Beal will only make them better. Their own first-rounders don't have much upside. The Wizards would be looking at a late-lottery choice this year (probably) and an even later selection next year. The Lakers' 2021 first isn't any sexier, and neither Alexander-Walker nor Hayes is a sure-thing cornerstone.
Sheer volume needs to be the Pelicans' antidote to these warts. They're sacrificing a ton, but they're also getting back an All-NBA candidate who can dominate the offense or play off their other ball-handlers. A core built around Beal, Derrick Favors (unrestricted), Josh Hart, Jrue Holiday, Brandon Ingram (restricted), JJ Redick and Zion Williamson is stupid-scary—and an eventual, if not immediate, title contender.