Bizarro World NBA Trades for Bizarre Times
Strange times call for strange NBA trade suggestions.
That's how the saying goes, right?
Maybe our imagination is running wild during this quarantine, but almost anything feels possible whenever basketball returns. When playing out the season with all 30 times residing in Las Vegas is on the table, it's hard to say what qualifies as outlandish at this point.
To be clear, that doesn't mean we're here to throw out not-in-a-million-years type of trades. There's no purpose in analyzing an obviously lopsided exchange. It's also little value to throw out trade candidates who have no chance of reaching the open market.
But we will bend the normal rules of realism and see what might happen if clubs opt to shop players who could conceivably be up for grabs at some point.
Blazers Break Up Backcourt, Magic Find No. 1 Option
Orlando Magic receive: CJ McCollum, Gary Trent Jr.
Portland Trail Blazers receive: Aaron Gordon, Terrence Ross, 2020 first-round pick (top-10 protected)
Yearslong concerns with the Blazers' undersized, defense-averse backcourt could bubble over after an injury-riddled Blazers bunch (presumably) limped to its first lottery finish since 2013. With Damian Lillard's 30th birthday coming this summer and CJ McCollum's arriving in 2021, Portland might be past the point of patience.
If the Blazers make a change at guard, McCollum is the odd man out, and forward is the obvious focus for the return package, particularly someone who can stop the bleeding of the NBA's fourth-worst defense. Aaron Gordon, ranked 25th overall in defensive real plus-minus, could be the exact kind of versatile stopper Portland needs.
He's a five-tool defender with the strength to battle bigs and the quickness to keep in front of guards. His offense remains a work in progress, which might give the Magic reasons to move him with two years and $34.5 million left on his deal. But Portland could see untapped potential in his abilities as a pick-and-roll screener (72nd percentile) and secondary playmaker (3.7 assists against 1.6 turnovers).
Orlando greases the wheels of this offer with an upcoming first-round pick, but eases some sting from that sacrifice by offloading Terrence Ross' deal (three years, $37.5 million remaining). Portland does well enough to get off McCollum's money (four years, $129.4 million) while bringing back a draft pick that it has no hesitations about paying Ross or losing Gary Trent Jr.
The Magic get the lead shot-creator they've been missing. They didn't have anyone average 20 points; McCollum hasn't averaged fewer than 20.8 since becoming a full-time starter in 2015-16. They had the league's fourth-worst isolation offense; McCollum has only been assisted on 25.1 percent of his career two-pointers. And while he tends to be overly generous on defense, his leaks can be better covered with the skyrocketing Jonathan Isaac behind him.
Raptors, Nuggets Swap Lead Guards
Toronto Raptors receive: Jamal Murray, Jerami Grant
Denver Nuggets receive: Kyle Lowry, OG Anunoby
When the season was suspended, each of these teams held a top-three seed in their respective conference. But they might be closer to an organizational crossroads than you think.
Toronto's proximity is most apparent. Fred VanVleet, Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Chris Boucher are all headed to free agency this offseason. Kyle Lowry, who turned 34 in March, will head there next year. The Raptors have grandiose visions for 2021, but they have little in their long-term plans beyond breakout All-Star Pascal Siakam.
Acquiring the 23-year-old Jamal Murray, who hails from Ontario, would paint a clearer picture for the future. If Toronto saves money elsewhere—moving on from most of the known free agents—it could still have the funds to chase Giannis Antetokounmpo and feature him in the NBA's next Big Three with Siakam and Murray.
Why would Denver pull the trigger? Because it might have reasons to wonder whether Murray is worth the five-year max he signed last summer (and won't start collecting until next season). His good nights are brilliant—he's almost unguardable when his off-the-dribble threes are falling—but he's streakier than most max-money recipients.
Moreover, the Nuggets might feel an urgency to make an all-in push.
The budget has tightened enough that they've already had to sell off depth pieces, but this should be a time for buying given Nikola Jokic's rise as a full-fledged superstar. Making a bold move for Lowry—the No. 5 point guard in real plus-minus—could be what nudges them atop the conference. Adding a 6'7" stopper with a three-ball in OG Anunoby also addresses one of this roster's biggest needs.
If the Raptors view Murray as a potential superstar and the Nuggets peg Lowry as their missing piece, this could be a win-win swap.
Boston, Philly Trade Building Blocks
Boston Celtics receive: Ben Simmons, Josh Richardson, Mike Scott
Philadelphia 76ers receive: Gordon Hayward, Jaylen Brown, Romeo Langford, 2020 first-round pick (top-six protected, via MEM)
Let's. Get. Wild.
The Sixers don't necessarily have a Ben Simmons-Joel Embiid problem, but they're an awkward on-court pairing that requires the perfect kind of supporting cast. The current crop is imperfect at best, plus absurdly expensive. They're spending nearly $125 million over the next two seasons on Al Horford and Tobias Harris alone, effectively locking them into a core that is far from dominant (11th in winning percentage, 12th in net rating).
Moving Horford or Harris might require a sweetener to pull off, and the best-case scenario is still only addition by subtraction. The only way for substantial change is by splitting Simmons and Embiid apart, and here Philly does so in dramatic fashion.
The Sixers reset their wing rotation with Gordon Hayward and Jaylen Brown, who can wreak havoc in the open court but are also capable of playing at a more controlled pace. Their ability to downshift will let Embiid get comfortable, and their shooting threat—both cleared 38 percent from deep this season—will give him more room to operate, a scary thought when he's already a 91st percentile post-up player while working in tight quarters.
Since the Sixers are shipping out a 23-year-old All-Star, they also fetch a first-round pick in the upcoming draft and a lottery pick from the previous one. If either pops, they add to what's already a strong haul.
The Celtics snag the best player in the deal with Simmons, who is already a defensive menace and an advanced creator (career 8.0 assists per game). Slot him alongside Jayson Tatum and Kemba Walker, and Boston just won the race to assemble basketball's next Big Three. The pick-and-roll potential of all three is tremendous, especially since Simmons—already an elite interior finisher—will have a much clearer runway.
Josh Richardson fills a complementary three-and-D role, and while Mike Scott is primarily a money-matcher, don't be surprised if Brad Stevens finds some utility in a power forward with an above-average outside shot.
Nets Add Third Star, Sixers End The Process
Brooklyn Nets receive: Joel Embiid
Philadelphia 76ers receive: Spencer Dinwiddie, Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen, 2020 first-round pick (via PHI), 2021 second-round pick (via ATL), 2022 first-round pick (top-three protected)
If we're breaking down a hypothetical Simmons swap, it's only right to examine an Embiid megadeal. Correct or not, the rumblings are growing of at least an expectation for Philadelphia to explore its options. While some might assume Simmons' refusal to shoot would put him on the chopping block, Embiid's medical history might be the biggest sticking point for the Sixers.
"League execs think that if the Sixers do explore a trade, Embiid is more likely to be moved—health being the determining factor in building around Simmons," ESPN's Tim Bontemps reported.
Considering the Nets just maxed out Kevin Durant less than a month after he ruptured his Achilles, they might be willing to roll the dice on Embiid staying upright. They'd do so knowing that if he did, they would have three of the best five players in the conference (along with Kyrie Irving) and the Association's top trio.
The Nets are in the market for a third star, per ESPN's Brian Windhorst, and few shine brighter than a healthy Embiid. He's only the second player ever with career averages of 23 points, 11 rebounds, three assists and 1.5 blocks. His Sixers teams have been 9.7 points better per 100 possessions with him than without. If he's doing that while cramped for space, imagine what he'd do with the gravitational forces of Durant and Irving.
Rather than search for a returning star, the Sixers opt for three players who should complement Simmons and a trio of draft picks, two of them firsts.
Spencer Dinwiddie and Caris LeVert can help with shot-creation. Jarrett Allen is a high-floor rim-runner with the chance to become more. All three can motor in the open court, so Simmons can play as fast as he wants. Philly establishes a clearer offensive identity than perhaps it has ever had during Brett Brown's tenure, and the Sixers' second team transforms from liability to strength.
Teams almost never improve when trading away a superstar, and one could argue Philly doesn't here, either. But if the Sixers think the Simmons-Embiid experiment has reached its natural conclusion, this isn't a bad haul for someone who has suited up 202 times in nearly six full seasons.
Giannis to Golden State
Golden State Warriors receive: Giannis Antetokounmpo
Milwaukee Bucks receive: Andrew Wiggins, 2020 first-round pick (unprotected), 2021 first-round pick (via MIN, top-three protected), 2022 first-round pick
This is what being light-years ahead looks like. In a single deadline deal, the Dubs may have effectively built their Giannis Antetokounmpo blockbuster trade kit. By turning D'Angelo Russell into Andrew Wiggins and a lightly protected future first (that's unprotected in 2022), Golden State is ready to pounce the moment Antetokounmpo informs Milwaukee he won't sign a supermax and plans to sign elsewhere in 2021.
"The Warriors just rebuilt their dynasty for like six years," a former team executive told B/R's Eric Pincus. "No one can beat Golden State's lottery picks, a solid starter [in Wiggins] and all of their picks for the next [several] years."
If needed, the Dubs could flesh this out with more future picks, but this might be enough for the Bucks to bite, especially if Antetokounmpo scares off other suitors with an unwillingness to commit beyond next season. Wiggins is overpaid, but he's still a physically gifted 25-year-old with a career scoring average of 19.7 points per game. The 2020 first-rounder might land No. 1 overall, and the 2021 pick could be a top-10 selection in a good draft.
As for the Warriors, they suddenly become the unfairly stacked juggernauts again. Giving Giannis the spacing provided by the Splash Brothers is a cheat code. Letting he and Draymond Green tag-team the defensive frontcourt is another. Having Stephen Curry is anything other than the first order of business for opposing defenses adds to the pile. Ditto opponents having to treat Klay Thompson like a third option.
If Antetokounmpo spends the next five seasons in Golden State, this club could be the odds-on favorite in every one.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.