B/R NBA Fantasy League: Ranking Every Team's Top Trade ChipsMay 11, 2020
B/R NBA Fantasy League: Ranking Every Team's Top Trade Chips
Bleacher Report's NBA Fantasy League is up and running, and the fireworks are already starting.
Trade negotiations are ongoing and happening in abundance. Rumors are leaking. Blockbuster agreements will be struck soon, perhaps by the time you finish reading this sentence.
In the interest of keeping you informed, we've compiled a big board that ranks the top three assets for every team. Context is king, and with that in mind, here's everything you need to know about this trade-chips pecking order:
- Our league is still operating in the 2019-20 cap year, so anyone on an expiring contract or with a player option for next season will not be included. Those with team options and non-guaranteed salaries for 2020-21 are fair game, since our GMs have the (hypothetical) power to keep them.
- Players finishing up rookie scale contracts who have signed extensions are also ineligible for this exercise. They're not immovable, but the poison-pill provision makes it so they're more valuable and easier to ship out in the next cap year.
- The number of a team's own future first-rounders that can be listed is capped at one. Picks from other squads have no limits.
- We have simulated a lottery order for the 2020 draft, so exact positions are attached to each 2020 draft pick that makes the cut. Teams that didn't have a first-round pick in 2019 are precluded from dealing a 2020 first, because, again, we're treating this as a predraft process.
- General managers have absolute control over what they do to their rosters, but this big board will be assembled based on each franchise's real-life direction. Stars will only count as assets if their teams have ample motivation to move them. Ergo, Giannis Antetokounmpo is not an asset for the Milwaukee Bucks, but Bradley Beal is for the Washington Wizards. In this space at least, we're not endorsing the exits of players that organizations have little to no business trading.
- Likewise, lottery teams that probably won't consider flipping this year's pick will have it atop their big board. (Examples: Cleveland and Chicago.) Squads that profile as wild cards might. (Examples: Charlotte, Detroit and New York.)
Imagineering hats on? Great. Let's see what your favorite team has to offer.
Adam and Craig Malamut, creators of B/R's Game of Zones animated series, return to The Full 48 with Howard Beck to discuss GoZ's final season, how COVID-19 and Kobe Bryant's passing affected the last episodes, their favorite moments and storylines, and NBA and fan reaction to the series.
- John Collins
- 2020 first-round pick (No. 6)
- Kevin Huerter
The Atlanta Hawks have to take a long look at the John Collins situation regardless of whether they're acting as buyers or sellers. He wants a max extension this summer, a price tag they can only afford if they believe it isn't impossible to assemble a league-average defense around him and Trae Young.
Flipping players on rookie-scale salaries who are nearing big paydays is always complicated. They don't make enough to bring back premium returns on their own, and interested teams are reticent to fork over much for players about to broker new contracts.
Atlanta is still in a position of leverage should it choose to enter trade talks. Restricted free agents are hard to poach, so suitors cannot bank on signing him outright in 2021. The Hawks also have Dewayne Dedmon's $13.3 million salary to use as an anchor. Offering him and Collins in the same deal allows them to take back a player—or combination of players—earning more than $21 million.
This year's first-round pick is neither a throwaway asset nor should it be off limits. The inbound draft class is light on potential star power, but top-six selections are top-six selections. Atlanta shouldn't be moving it outside a blockbuster.
Insert the wing of your choice at the No. 3 slot if Kevin Huerter doesn't do it for you. De'Ande Hunter and Cam Reddish haven't done nearly enough to remain untouchable. But Huerter is more valuable in a vacuum. He is slightly cheaper, has just as much experience as a secondary ball-handler and is more comfortable firing shots off the dribble.
- Marcus Smart
- Memphis' 2020 first-round pick (No. 17)
- Grant Williams
Hunting down a big splash shouldn't be in the cards for the Boston Celtics. They're already an Eastern Conference contender as currently constructed, and more importantly, they're almost bereft of expendable salary fodder.
Jayson Tatum and Kemba Walker aren't going anywhere. Gordon Hayward cannot be traded during this exercise because we don't yet know whether he's going to pick up his player option (he probably will). Jaylen Brown is a poison-pill asset after signing an extension, and Boston shouldn't be looking to move off a 23-year-old, fringe-star wing anyway.
Listing Marcus Smart might even push the bill too far. He is mission critical to the C's defense in smaller lineups and has a certain confidence about him on offense that actually helps, even if only by virtue of ungoverned volume sometimes.
If Boston does want to swing for the fences, though, Smart has to be on the table for his $12.6 million salary alone. Beyond him, the Celtics have only a bunch of smaller chips to dangle.
This year's Memphis Grizzlies pick is close enough to the lottery to be semi-intriguing, and Grant Williams has flashed high-IQ play at both ends as a rookie. Alternative assets include Carsen Edwards, Romeo Langford, Daniel Theis (2020-21 salary must be guaranteed), Robert Williams III, Milwaukee's 2020 first-rounder (No. 30) and Boston's own pick (No. 26).
- Spencer Dinwiddie
- Caris LeVert
- Jarrett Allen
Finding a third star to pair with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving next season tops the Brooklyn Nets' to-do list, per ESPN's Brian Windhorst. And while identifying that player might be easy—it should be a combo forward—acquiring him is a different story.
Brooklyn's asset hierarchy is unique in that a draft pick doesn't crack the top three. This year's No. 20 selection (via Philly) isn't worth much, and any teams that prioritize first-rounders in later years would be betting the KD-Kyrie duo goes belly up.
The Nets are instead sitting on a small trove of active assets. Caris LeVert has the highest ceiling of the bunch, but he loses ground to Spencer Dinwiddie, a more proven primary scorer and playmaker who doesn't share his recent checkered health bill. LeVert is only more attractive than Dinwiddie to suitors terrified of the latter's 2021 free agency (player option).
Some will be inclined to vault Jarrett Allen to the top of the pecking order. That would certainly be a decision. Allen, 22, is substantially younger than his two teammates, but he showed minimal progress on the offensive end this season, and teams aren't as inclined to build around bigs who, at this moment, neither space the floor nor generate their own scoring opportunities.
In truth, though, the order here may not matter. For the type of player the Nets are after, they might have to give up all three of Allen, Dinwiddie and LeVert, if only because they don't have much else to offer.
- Devonte' Graham
- 2020 first-round pick (No. 8)
- Miles Bridges
Jotting down Devonte' Graham and Miles Bridges feels counterintuitive to the Charlotte Hornets' situation. Why would a rebuilding squad shop around two of its three best youngish players?
They wouldn't under normal circumstances. The Hornets are not working under normal circumstances. They don't have a clear first-option building block. Graham's off-the-dribble creation is invaluable to their offense, even when his shot doesn't fall, but he's overstretched as a systemic lifeline. He's also 25 and scheduled for free agency in 2021. Bridges hasn't made enough of a jump at either end to warrant hands-off status. It makes some sense to gauge his market value before he's extension-eligible in 2021.
P.J. Washington is the closest Charlotte gets to untouchable, and that's purely because he's barely into his rookie contract and proved more plug-and-play than expected. He is absolutely on the table if it means landing a franchise cornerstone. The Hornets just shouldn't be opening talks with his inclusion.
Subbing out their 2020 first-round pick for Washington is perfectly fine if they're taking an ultra-conservative stance. But in this year's draft, which is both guard-heavy and short on star possibilities, Charlotte would be lucky to nab a player with Washington's trajectory.
Besides, in reality, the actual ultra-conservative route is holding onto Bridges, Graham, Washington, this year's pick and peddling only veterans like Terry Rozier and Cody Zeller. That is, without question, the preferred route. But the Hornets, as ever, are wild cards.
- Wendell Carter Jr.
- Zach LaVine
- Lauri Markkanen
Don't bother admonishing the absence of the Chicago Bulls' 2020 first-round pick (No. 4 in our hypothetical draft). It doesn't belong here.
New front office regimes always look to leave their own imprint. Draft picks are the easiest way to do that. Dealing away leftover talent from the previous era is the second-easiest. Executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas is most likely going to tap into both methods.
Coby White should be safe. He closed 2019-20 on a tear and is only entering his sophomore season. Everyone else is fair game—though a Denver alum like Karnisovas could have a soft spot for Wendell Carter Jr.
Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen, at the very least, should be readily available. LaVine is best suited on a good team that deploys him as a No. 2 or No. 3 scorer rather than the whole kit and caboodle. Markkanen has yet to broaden his offensive game, and even if that's more on injuries and the rigid head coaching of Jim Boylen, his extension eligibility should have Chicago trying to parlay him into a pick or attaching him to one of its larger salaries (LaVine, Tomas Satoransky, Thaddeus Young) as part of a bigger-time acquisition.
- Collin Sexton
- Kevin Porter Jr.
- Darius Garland
Two exclusions stand out right off the bat: Kevin Love, and the Cleveland Cavaliers' 2020 first-round pick, which sits at No. 3 in our hypothetical endeavor. Their absences are deliberate.
Love remains a very good basketball player, but his contract is bound to scare teams away. He's owed $91.5 million over the next three years—money that becomes much harder to stomach if the league's salary cap shrinks as a result of the extended work stoppage. The Cavaliers will be lucky to deal him for a feel-good pick or prospect. (The Portland Trail Blazers offered only expiring contracts for him at the 2020 trade deadline, per The Athletic's Joe Vardon.)
Leaving off Cleveland's first-rounder is more about the franchise's fickle stock of young players. This draft isn't particularly awash with superstar hope, but the Cavs don't have that singular pillar around which to build. They're more likely to get that with the No. 3 pick than they are to find such utility in their current guard-heavy prospect pool.
Collin Sexton and Kevin Porter Jr. might beg to differ. That's fair. They'll both be way cheaper over the next couple of years than whoever Cleveland takes at No. 3. The Milwaukee Bucks' 2022 first can be dropped in place of one (top-10 protection). But the Cavs need to be focused on mining long-term value. If they can cash out one of their prospects for a higher-end pick down the line, they should consider it.
- Dorian Finney-Smith
- Seth Curry
- Jalen Brunson
Hashing out the Dallas Mavericks' asset pyramid is a chore. Their top three can unfold in any number of ways.
Dorian Finney-Smith is the lone non-negotiable inclusion. He's now typifying the three-and-D archetype. He buried 38.8 percent of his catch-and-shoot treys this year and offers four-position bandwidth at the other end. Bake in a budding ability to attack closeouts and the paltry $8 million he'll cost over the next two years, and Dallas has one of the league's best-value role players on its hands.
Granted, his availability should be subject to the Mavericks' return. He is a blockbuster sweetener, someone they can use to complete the search for an upgrade on the wings. Moving him for what might be a better player but inferior defensive fit is a non-option.
Everything is wide open after him. Dallas' 2025 first-round pick, pending its 2023 commitment to the New York Knicks, deserves consideration. So does Maxi Kleber. But Seth Curry just dropped in 45.3 percent of his threes and can hang on defense better than you'd expect, and Jalen Brunson is a two-way try-hard with two more cost-controlled years left on his deal.
- Michael Porter Jr.
- Gary Harris
- Monte Morris
Michael Porter Jr. was declared untouchable by the Denver Nuggets at the trade deadline. That's not the type of hard-line stance built to last.
Denver is in win-now mode and has already struggled to get Porter the requisite reps to solidify his development. What limited action he has seen bodes well for his stock. He put down 12-of-25 pull-up three-point attempts (48 percent) and hit a bonkers 15 of his 26 two-pointers inside seven seconds of the shot clock. Showing that level of creation as a rookie while maintaining a strong touch off the catch amounts to a plug-and-play prospect with potential-star upside.
Flipping Porter for a marginal upgrade is a no-go. He is worth more to the Nuggets' future than, say, Jrue Holiday. Things change if Denver can attach him to a loftier salary and bring back a proven high-end wing or top-20 player. (Free advice: The Nuggets should monitor the Giannis Antetokounmpo situation in Milwaukee. His potential departure would presumably put Khris Middleton, an ideal fit, on the chopping block.)
Gary Harris is rather easily Denver's second-best trade asset. His offensive impact has waxed and waned—particularly from beyond the arc—but he can still sizzle on cuts to the basket and tussle with wings on defense despite below-average size and length. The two years and $39.6 million left on his deal is at once steep and eminently digestible.
Smart teams will try to get their hands on Monte Morris. He will make under $2 million next year and can preside over an efficient offense with top-shelf ball control and rock-solid touch around the rim and from long distance. Please don't try arguing that the Houston Rockets' 2020 first-rounder (No. 21) or a maxed-out Jamal Murray (poison pill) is a more valuable trade asset. They're not.
- 2020 first-round pick (No. 7)
- Luke Kennard
- Derrick Rose
Our hypothetical lottery didn't make it any easier to map out the Detroit Pistons' direction. They're decidedly caught in the middle. Dealing Andre Drummond for expiring contracts and a second-round pick suggests they're prepared to start over. A healthy Blake Griffin, Luke Kennard, Derrick Rose, Tony Snell (player option) and max cap space gives them some license to chase an immediate turnaround.
Winding up with the No. 7 pick should mean every scenario is in consideration. It is a high-enough selection for the Pistons to steer into a rebuild, but not so high that they shouldn't see whether it can be used to reel in a star via the trade market.
Griffin's future is part of this calculus. He's a top-20 player at full strength, but a left knee injury ruined his 2019-20 season. Getting off the final two years and $75.8 million of his deal will be difficult, if impossible. He's neither a trade asset nor someone Detroit can simply write off.
Luke Kennard could technically be more valuable than this year's pick. He's a reliable shooter who has dramatically improved his touch off the dribble and his feel out of the pick-and-roll. But tendinitis in his knees and extension eligibility knock him down a peg.
Injuries yet again messed with Derrick Rose's year—he was dealing with an ankle issue when the league shut down—but he offers great offensive value on a soon-to-be expiring contract. Luka Doncic, LeBron James and Russell Westbrook are the only players who assisted on more corner threes this season, per PBP Stats.
Detroit's trade-asset rankings will shift depending on what route management takes. This version assumes total open-mindedness—and an attachment to Sekou Doumbouya. The Pistons also have Bruce Brown and Svi Mykhailiuk to use as inexpensive buffers in a blockbuster or as a means to restock their (second-round) draft-pick cabinet.
Golden State Warriors
- 2020 first-round pick (No. 1)
- Minnesota's 2021 first-round pick (top-three protection)
- Andre Iguodala trade exception ($17.2 million)
Embrace the chaos that comes with the Golden State Warriors winning the No. 1 pick. Their urgency to reopen the title window for Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson ensures they'll at least contemplate moving it for a high-impact player.
Get Giannis Antetokounmpo off the brain. It won't be him. The No. 1 pick isn't enough of a centerpiece on its own, and the Milwaukee Bucks are better off letting his future ride into 2021 free agency even if he turns down a supermax extension. Lesser stars like Bradley Beal and Jrue Holiday are more realistic options, albeit not exactly a solution to Golden State's vacancy on the wing.
Trade exceptions are typically more valuable in theory than practice. This year should be different. Teams have to be concerned with footing the bill on larger salaries against a potentially declining cap and definitively slumping revenue. The Warriors will have options if team governor Joe Lacob is amenable to breaking open his piggy bank.
Adding on the Minnesota Timberwolves' 2021 first-rounder broadens the Warriors' trade-market reach. Hawking both the No. 1 choice and that selection in conjunction with salary filler (Andrew Wiggins) or the Iguodala exception properly arms them to acquire a star—insofar as the right one becomes available.
- 2022 first-round pick
- Robert Covington
- P.J. Tucker
Talk about your tough spots. The Houston Rockets have largely exhausted their asset pool.
Draft-pick obligations—both swaps and outright commitments—prevent them from dealing a first-rounder before and after 2022. That selection is either worthless or tantalizing depending on your faith in the long-term viability of the James Harden-Russell Westbrook dynamic.
Tethering that pick to matching money won't be effortless. Eric Gordon's $14.1 million salary is their sole source of dispensable fodder. Robert Covington ($11.3 million) and P.J. Tucker ($8.3 million) help, but the Rockets better be getting back a damn good player if they're completely draining their well of first-rounders and surrendering one or both of their two most important defenders.
Extremists—and, let's say, Tilman Fertitta skeptics—will want Harden on this list. The Rockets' situation isn't yet that dire...as far as we know. If they become convinced they need to hit reset or can't afford this core, then we'll talk.
- Myles Turner
- Victor Oladipo
- Aaron Holiday
Sounding the "Victor Oladipo shouldn't be untouchable" alarm might seem a little spicy. Rest assured, it's not.
Oladipo isn't yet all the way back from a ruptured right quad injury that cost him most of last season and this year. The Indiana Pacers would ideally have a larger sample off which to work before making this call, but they have to deeply consider whether they can afford him beyond the 2020-21 season. A four-year, $80 million extension offer already wasn't enough to lock him down, per SNY's Ian Begley. Paying him much more will be difficult with Malcolm Brogdon, Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner all on the books for major money through at least 2022-23.
Among the Pacers' best trade assets, Turner is both the most valuable and likeliest to get dealt. Indiana cannot justify paying both he and Sabonis second-contract money when their frontline partnership is such a huge drain on offensive floor balance. Sabonis is the better player in a vacuum, but Turner will be in higher demand. Floor-spacing rim protectors are more universally translatable than playmaking brutes.
Sticking Sabonis in the third spot is justifiable since the Pacers are facing an either-or bind. But again: He's more valuable to them than he would be elsewhere. He needs ample touches to be at his most useful, and few teams are running their offense through big men at the moment. That he's yet to extend his range beyond the three-point line doesn't help. (He's also a poison-pill case.)
Rolling with Aaron Holiday just feels right. He plays a position of greater need and has two more years left on his rookie-scale deal. Attaching him to a higher salary (or two) is the Pacers' best shot at operating as impactful buyers.
Los Angeles Clippers
- Landry Shamet
- Patrick Beverley
- Lou Williams
No team in the league has less of an incentive to strike a trade than the Los Angeles Clippers. They boast perhaps the most complete roster, top to bottom, and don't have much to bring with them to the bargaining table.
Acquiring Paul George and Marcus Morris Sr. over the past year has washed out their first-rounder stash. Any big-time deal they're looking to swing starts with Landry Shamet, a nifty complementary shooter with some playmaking chops, and the Detroit Pistons' 2023 second-rounder. It will end with some tough decisions.
Both Morris and Montrezl Harrell are slated to hit the open market. Los Angeles has the flexibility to keep both—Morris' non-Bird rights are valuable given his high salary—but the resulting luxury-tax bill won't be pretty. The Clippers also have to figure out whether Harrell, Ivica Zubac and their small-ball combinations give them enough juice at the center position. Zubac is a stingy rim protector, but neither he nor Harrell is matchup-proof at the defensive end.
Inquiring about the availability of Rudy Gobert or Myles Turner is worth a try. It usually takes more draft equity to land players of their ilk, but both hail from win-now teams. Building a package around some combination of Shamet, the Detroit pick, Zubac, Patrick Beverley and Lou Williams has sway given the roster needs of the Utah Jazz and Indiana Pacers.
Filling out the asset rankings behind Shamet is a toss-up. Zubac won't be as coveted leaguewide, so he's out of the top three. Beverley is probably more intriguing than Williams because he's younger, under contract for longer and actually plays defense. The Clippers would miss either one, but between keeping Morris, Paul George, Kawhi Leonard and whoever they'd be trading for, they'll have more than enough ball-handling, scoring and defense to stand by the opportunity cost.
Los Angeles Lakers
- Kyle Kuzma
- Danny Green
- Alex Caruso
Player options for Avery Bradley, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, JaVale McGee and Rajon Rondo limit what the Los Angeles Lakers can use for salary-matching purposes. Not that it especially matters. They exhausted their blockbuster-trade assets for Anthony Davis. They don't have another one in them.
Baiting teams with Kyle Kuzma should get them into some interesting, smaller-time discussions. Perception isn't reality when it comes to him, but he has another low-priced year left on his contract, can create his own offense and tends to hold his own on defense against smaller wings and skinnier bigs.
Moving him for anyone of substance still requires a sweetener or two. Kuzma doesn't make enough to bring back serviceable talent on his own, and the Lakers have no need for draft equity when they're operating on LeBron James and Anthony Davis' joint timeline. Including Danny Green increases their trade possibilities, but they'll need to broker one helluva return when sacrificing their most reliable wing defender.
Alex Caruso is in the same boat as Kuzma. Outside interest should be there. Caruso works his behind off on defense, is a decent set three-point shooter and can serve as the primary ball-handler in bench units that have enough shooting. He'd hold more value if he made over $2.8 million, but the Lakers can pair him with a higher-salaried player to boost how much money they take back in return.
- 2022 first-round pick
- Kyle Anderson
- Utah's 2021* first-round pick (top-seven and bottom-15 protection)
(*This pick was initially for 2020 but protected for the top seven and bottom 15, so it will be deferred to 2021.)
Process of elimination dictates the Memphis Grizzlies' asset appeal.
Brandon Clarke, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Ja Morant are all presumably untouchable. Memphis not only sacrificed a ton of cap space to get Justise Winslow at the trade deadline, but his value is on the lower end after suffering a back injury from which he has yet to return. De'Anthony Melton (restricted free agent) and Dillon Brooks (signed extension in February) aren't eligible to be moved. Grayson Allen had some moments this season but hasn't played since January while recovering from a hip injury.
Cobbling together buy-now packages centered around that 2022 first-rounder—the Boston Celtics own the team's 2020 pick—carries weight if the Grizzlies are sold on this year's postseason flirtation. On the flip side, rival squads should be more inclined to bet that they're a flash in the pan. They weren't supposed to make a playoff push and don't have the clearest path to title contention unless Jackson explodes.
Kyle Anderson is Memphis' next-best asset. He is basically Joe Ingles without a three-point shot. A team with cleaner spacing shouldn't hesitate to take on the $19.4 million he's owed over the next two years—especially if they're on the sellers end of the deal and getting back a first-rounder.
Jonas Valanciunas deserves an honorable mention. He has added some stretch to his offensive bag, can still pulverize smaller defenders down low and is a runaway freight train when rolling off screens. The Utah Jazz's (thoroughly protected) first-rounder only wins out because Valanciunas plays the league's most oversaturated position and the $29 million he'll earn over the next two years will be too arduous for more than half the league to bite on.
- Tyler Herro
- Duncan Robinson
- Kendrick Nunn
Various ending contracts and draft obligations don't leave the Miami Heat with many asset options. What few choices they do have, though, are pretty darn good.
Tyler Herro and Kendrick Nunn are each locks to make one of the All-Rookie teams. Duncan Robinson established himself as a top-100 player this season with functional shooting and fewer defensive limitations. Herro only outranks him because he's under team control for longer and has more ball-handling potential.
Striking a blockbuster trade in the lead-up to the draft will be tough for the Heat. Herro, Nunn and Robinson don't even make enough combined to match the salary of a starter-caliber target. Miami will be more flexible once the cap resets, when it'll have space to burn and after Kelly Olynyk has exercised his player option.
Andre Iguodala's salary is their only money-matching anchor in the meantime (extension restrictions don't apply to him). Whether the Heat are open to moving him is a separate matter. The return has to be worth it, and they'll need to be up against competing offers. Otherwise they're better off holding serve until the new league year begins.
Miami's $7.5 million James Johnson trade exception increases in internal value if it's unwilling to deal any of the kiddies. That, too, is still more useful in the 2020-21 calendar. The Heat are hard-capped for this current season and already slightly over the luxury tax. They wouldn't be able use the full exception, diminishing their potential return. And even if they could, they don't have an open roster spot.
- Donte DiVincenzo
- Indiana's 2020 first-round pick (No. 19)
- Eric Bledsoe
Offers will inevitably roll in for Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Golden State Warriors did win our lottery, after all. The Milwaukee Bucks won't listen. Not in real life, and not here. I am insanely confident in the latter stance, mostly because yours truly is acting GM for the Bucks.
Milwaukee doesn't have to do much of anything after playing at a 67-win pace this year. Scouring the market for another impact wing or significant upgrade over Eric Bledsoe is its default position. Emphasis on significant upgrade.
Bledsoe's contract isn't viewed in glowing terms. He's on the books for $54.4 million over the next three years. But only $38.9 million is guaranteed. And while his recent playoff struggles are a matter of fact, he just turned in a fringe-All-Star campaign.
Packaging him with Donte DiVincenzo and/or the Indiana Pacers' first-round pick will be tempting. The Bucks should, and will, be choosy about what that framework is worth. DiVincenzo is a genuine Sixth Man of the Year candidate after filling in an array of gaps at both ends. Milwaukee will not be shipping out him and a top-15 point guard for a negligible uptick. Surrendering both for Jrue Holiday may not even move the needle enough for this team (though it's debatable).
Aside from that, the Bucks won't be at their most flexible until after the draft. They're hard-capped for the 2019-20 season and already inside $3 million of the luxury tax. Can't-miss opportunities are their benchmark. Nothing less will suffice.
- 2020 first-round pick (No. 5)
- Jarrett Culver
- Josh Okogie
Making a major move isn't out of the question for the Minnesota Timberwolves. They burned one of their best assets in the D'Angelo Russell trade (2021 first-rounder), but retaining ownership of the Brooklyn Nets' 2020 selection (No. 20) allows them to flip their No. 5 pick without violating the Stepien Rule.
Putting this year's first on the auction block should be enough to start some intriguing dialogues. Finishing them off will be harder. The Timberwolves aren't flush with salary-matching tools. Russell and Karl-Anthony Towns are non-starters, and neither Evan Turner (expiring) nor James Johnson (player option) can be included in predraft deals.
Jarrett Culver's $5.8 million salary is Minnesota's biggest movable financial anchor. That's...not ideal. He isn't helping the Timberwolves land a much more expensive player without being attached to multiple contracts, and his rookie-year performance wasn't impressive enough to ensure he'll garner centerpiece interest. His offensive efficiency perked up in the New Year, but he remains a wild-card jump shooter and converted just 38.8 percent of his looks on drives while tallying more turnovers than assists.
Josh Okogie is comfortably in the No. 3 spot. He's under team control at a beyond affordable rate for the next two years and provides more known value than Brooklyn's No. 20 pick. His toughness on defense and the frequency with which he reaches the rim on offense might even, for now, warrant favor over Culver.
New Orleans Pelicans
- Jrue Holiday
- L.A. Lakers' 2024 first-round pick (option to defer until 2025)
- Nickeil Alexander-Walker
Constructing the New Orleans Pelicans' asset big board is a matter of preference and perspective. They have so many options and face a great deal of questions.
Jrue Holiday will join Zion Williamson in the off-limits section for others. That's fine. But he's a free agent in 2021 (player option), and the Pelicans are faced with paying Brandon Ingram this summer (restricted) and both Lonzo Ball (restricted) and Josh Hart (restricted) the following offseason. They shouldn't write off moving Holiday unless they're firmly committed to semi-immediate title contention and willing to swallow the expenses that come with it.
Ranking the rest of their assets is a mental labyrinth. Do they project as buyers? Sellers? It could go either way. The Los Angeles Lakers' 2024 first-round pick wins out relative to that duality. They're good now, but who knows where they'll be in 2024 and or 2025. LeBron James will be in his age-39 or -40 season by that point, if he hasn't decided to retire. Even if he's playing, it might not be with the Lakers.
Figuring out third place is the real challenge. Ball is a tough sell when he'll need a new deal by 2021-22. The same goes for Hart, who also doesn't earn enough ($1.9 million) to help match incoming salary. New Orleans' own 2020 first-rounder is attractive, as is the Lakers' 2023 pick swap. (Los Angeles' 2021 first is mostly blah.) Jaxson Hayes and JJ Redick are in contention, too.
Selecting any one of the alternatives is mostly a can't-lose proposition. Yours truly merely buys into Nickeil Alexander-Walker's upside, even after his wildly inefficient debut season. The Pelicans would be lucky to land someone with his shot-creation ceiling in this year's draft, and the three years remaining on his rookie-scale pact give him a leg up over other candidates on shorter-term deals.
New York Knicks
- RJ Barrett
- 2020 first-round pick (No. 2)
- Mitchell Robinson
Rebuilding teams normally have at least one untouchable asset. News flash: The New York Knicks are not most rebuilding teams.
RJ Barrett, Mitchell Robinson and this year's pick could all easily be no-gos. This trio represents New York's entire core, unless you're unreasonably bullish on Kevin Knox (sure), Dennis Smith Jr. (godspeed) or Frank Ntilikina (*raises hand*). Hoarding young players and picks isn't just acceptable. It is, in most cases, the standard.
And yet, the Knicks are notoriously star-obsessed. Real-life team president Leon Rose reportedly has interest in Chris Paul, his former client, and the organization at large believes it's "incredibly well positioned to trade for a disgruntled star if one becomes available," according to SNY's Ian Begley.
What qualifies as a star to New York remains to be seen. But if 35-year-old Chris Paul is on its radar, we can't rule out prospective pursuits of any big name. Bradley Beal, Jrue Holiday, Kyle Lowry, Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert, even Kevin Love—the Knicks are more likely than most to indiscriminately chase whatever stars or marquee-ish names have remotely feasible paths to the trade block.
Cost will vary by the target. New York should not be forking over Barrett, Mitchell or this year's pick for Paul, Love or a year of Lowry. All bets are off if the Knicks stumble onto a star in or nearing his prime. The order of their assets is arguable. (Is Barrett better than this year's No. 2 pick?) Their potential availability is less so.
Oklahoma City Thunder
- Houston's 2026 first-round pick (top-four protection)
- L.A. Clippers' 2026 first-round pick
- Darius Bazley
Immediate assets aren't the Oklahoma City Thunder's thing right now.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is their only long-term cornerstone; he shouldn't be eminently available. Chris Paul is an All-NBA cinch, but there's no getting around his age and contract. He's 35 and owed $85.6 million through 2021-22, a commitment that figures to look even steeper if and when the salary cap drops off.
Danilo Gallinari won't be sign-and-trade eligible until after the draft. Steven Adams and Dennis Schroder come off the ledger after next season, but their price points won't be assets until the offseason officially begins, if at all. They're both overpaid relative to where they stand at their position, and Oklahoma City won't use them to sponge up bad money whiles it's already in the luxury tax.
These limitations don't much matter. The Thunder are drowning in future first-rounders—as many as 15 between now and the 2026 draft. Way-down-the-line selections from the Houston Rockets and the Los Angeles Clippers are the best of the best. Their current cores aren't built to float title contention that long. One or both of them could be super-high lottery picks.
Houston's protected 2026 first beats out Los Angeles' unprotected selection for obvious reasons. Its present window is both more finite and tenuous, and Clippers team governor Steve Ballmer has thus far shown more of a willingness to spend than the Rockets' Tilman Fertitta.
Oklahoma City should only make these picks available in win-now blockbusters. It isn't yet clear whether that's the plan—or even a remote possibility. Starting over has always been the expectation. But the Thunder are a Western Conference irritant as presently assembled, and Gilgeous-Alexander is already closer to stardom than not. They have the immediate ceiling and salary fodder necessary to pivot into a more aggressive timeline if the trade market invites it. (Think: Bradley Beal.)
- Aaron Gordon
- Mo Bamba
- 2020 first-round pick (No. 15)
Jonathan Isaac slingshots to the top of the Orlando Magic's list if he's gettable. The bet here is that he won't be. He was an All-Defensive shoo-in before a left knee injury ended his season. His offense lacks depth—it doesn't seem like he'll ever develop a workable floor game—but he is, to date, Orlando's best cornerstone option.
Aaron Gordon grabs the No. 1 spot in a landslide with Isaac out of contention. The Magic tried moving him at the trade deadline to no avail, according to Heavy's Sean Deveney, but outside interest should be higher now. Gordon has established himself as an operable pick-and-roll maestro and was hitting more of his set threes when the league shut down. He's not better than Nikola Vucevic, who is still Orlando's best player, but he's far more affordable with two years and $34.5 million remaining on his deal.
Mo Bamba slides into No. 2 thanks to lackluster alternatives. Vucevic and Terrence Ross are owed too much money, and Evan Fournier's player option makes him ineligible. Redshirt rookie Chuma Okeke is a reach coming off a torn left ACL. Bamba at least retains his mystique as a possible floor-spacing rim protector.
Orlando is better served holding onto this year's pick than dangling it in trade talks. But last summer's reinvestment in the roster suggests an urgency to remain relevant in the Eastern Conference. Tossing the No. 15 selection into a larger package advances whatever buy-now aspirations the Magic might have.
- Matisse Thybulle
- Josh Richardson
- Oklahoma City's 2020 first-round pick (No. 22)
Let's tackle the Philadelphia 76ers' most notable exclusions first.
Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons don't belong here. Philly needs to surround them with more functional shooting and ball-handling before deeming their partnership a failure. (Simmons is a poison-pill asset anyway.) Al Horford (three years, $81 million; $69 million guaranteed) and Tobias Harris (four years, $147.3 million) should be in play, but the balance on their contracts renders both net-negative trade chips.
Matisse Thybulle's rookie-scale deal and Josh Richardson's soon-to-be-expiring contract, along with future picks, are the Sixers' bread and butter. To what end, though, we're not quite sure.
Should Philly use its best assets to clear off Harris or Horford? To pursue a better-fitting ball-handler and shooter? Are these directives mutually exclusive? Or even possible before the league calendar resets? Does it make sense to move Thybulle without getting back a star (a la Bradley Beal)? Is it unrealistic for the Sixers to do anything meaningful right now? When they're inside $3 million of the luxury tax? And they're on the verge of cannonballing into it next year?
Answers are coming.
- Mikal Bridges
- Kelly Oubre Jr.
- 2020 first-round pick (No. 10)
More conservative versions of the Phoenix Suns' best trade tools exist. They're not close enough to the title-contention bubble to view the all-in play it should take to part with this year's first-rounder and Mikal Bridges as an obligation.
Then again, Devin Booker is really good. And they signed Ricky Rubio last summer. And they might pay one or both of Aron Baynes and Dario Saric (restricted) this year. And Kelly Oubre Jr. reenters free agency in 2021.
The Suns are not on a competitive course devoid of urgency. Fortunately for them, they have the salary filler and cost-controlled assets to go on the offensive if they so please.
Bridges is probably too important to move unless he's part of a package for a Khris Middleton-type star, but combining the No. 10 pick and/or Cameron Johnson with Oubre or Rubio is a good starting point in the Jrue Holiday and Kyle Lowry divisions. (Aside: Johnson might be more valuable than this year's first-rounder. His age, 24, makes it a coin-toss call.) Phoenix might be able to get away with moving Oubre and lesser assets (Ty Jerome, distant seconds) if it aims lower, somewhere around Aaron Gordon territory.
Portland Trail Blazers
- Anfernee Simons
- Zach Collins
- 2020 first-round pick (No. 14)
Assuming Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum are unavailable, the Portland Trail Blazers have the pieces to aim for a fairly significant addition alongside them.
Anfernee Simons cooled off after a blisteringly hot start, but his offensive outlook is still through the roof. Players with his breakneck release and off-the-bounce escapism don't grow on trees. Zach Collins needs more than three games of sweet shooting under his belt to be considered a floor-spacing rim protector who can guard 4s and 5s, but that's very much his ceiling. End-of-lottery picks are never nothing.
Matching salary gets a little prickly with the Blazers' top assets. Collins and Simons are on their rookie-scale deals, and that first-rounder counts as zero dollars ahead of the draft. Portland can guarantee Trevor Ariza's $12.8 million salary for next season to make him trade-eligible, and that'll drum up the money they can take back.
Throwing in Jusuf Nurkic's contract has the same effect, but he's yet to make his return from last season's compound leg fracture. The Blazers would be selling low on his services by treating him strictly as salary filler. They do have the $7.1 million Kent Bazemore trade exception, but that can't be combined with another player and is of minimal utility when they're already in the luxury tax for the 2019-20 season.
- Marvin Bagley III
- Richaun Holmes
- Nemanja Bjelica
Please holster the "What about Buddy Hield?!?" outrage. His extension turns him into a poison-pill contract, rendering it incredibly difficult to move before the new salary-cap year takes effect. He instantly makes the cut if teams are brokering trades that go through after the draft.
Marvin Bagley III is the Sacramento Kings' most interesting asset in the interim.
Moving him two summers after drafting him over He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named wouldn't be the best look, but now might be the time to sell high, even though he's coming off an injury-plagued sophomore campaign. He has two years left on his rookie contract, and the Kings have options galore in the frontcourt—Nemanja Bjelica, Harry Giles (free agent), Richaun Holmes, Harrison Barnes-at-the-4.
Shopping Bagley, a more expensive salary (Barnes or Cory Joseph) and future picks (Sacramento can't trade this year's selection until after the draft) could invite some interesting discussions. If that framework doesn't get the Kings access to someone who beefs up their standing in the playoff discourse, they should look to open minutes on the frontline by making Bjelica (2020-21 salary must be guaranteed) and Holmes available.
San Antonio Spurs
- Derrick White
- Lonnie Walker IV
- 2020 first-round pick (No. 11)
Taking stock of the San Antonio Spurs' trade assets feels sacrilegious. They get their jollies on continuity. Making trades goes against their very essence.
It doesn't help that their future is so up in the air. In the event they do make a move, will they lean into the crossroads their roster is fast approaching and consider a full-tilt rebuild? Or will they attempt to reopen their playoff-lock window?
This big board defaults to the latter. Head coach Gregg Popovich is 71. The Spurs are more likely to buy—or stand pat—while he's manning the sidelines.
Anyone looking for LaMarcus Aldridge or DeMar DeRozan needs to chill. Neither is a prime-time asset at their current salary, and DeRozan's player option renders him ineligible. Derrick White and Lonnie Walker IV are two of San Antonio's three best young players and non-stars. They are expendable if the Spurs seek to use picks, prospects and salary ballast (Aldridge, Rudy Gay, Patty Mills) to bag a bigger name.
(Dejounte Murray would fall under this umbrella as well if not for his poison-pill status. Ditto for Jakob Poeltl if he wasn't about to hit restricted free agency.)
- Kyle Lowry
- OG Anunoby
- Terence Davis
Kyle Lowry's inflated price point isn't enough to move him down the Toronto Raptors' asset board. He is still a top-25 player, and his offensive game is decidedly more scalable than those of many other stars. Toronto can unload his money—he makes $30.5 million next season—while extracting a pick or prospect, if not both.
Removing him from the conversation is also an option. The Raptors should hold onto him if they intend to keep contending next season. But that's not a given. Chris Boucher (Early Bird restricted), Marc Gasol, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Serge Ibaka and Fred VanVleet are all entering free agency, and Toronto, like many other franchises, fancies itself a potential Giannis Antetokounmpo hot spot in 2021.
Preserving flexibility will come at the cost of talent unless Gasol, Ibaka and VanVleet are all open to signing bloated one-year deals. And if the Raptors lose more than one of them, they'll be staring down a possible gap year, in which case it is their obligation to test Lowry's market. Free agency comes after the draft, which complicates matters for our fantasy league, but the acting front office has to at least acknowledge this potential outcome.
Conversely, though, Toronto can try doubling down and roll the dice on a buy-now trade that bolsters next year's roster and, depending on what happens this summer, makes it a more appealing destination in 2021. That's where OG Anunoby and Terence Davis (and future draft picks) come in. They don't make enough to bring back high-end talent, but attaching one or both to Norman Powell's salary significantly ups the ante.
- Donovan Mitchell
- Joe Ingles
- Rudy Gobert
Plenty of Utah Jazz fans will maintain neither Donovan Mitchell nor Rudy Gobert belongs on this list. They are the core, and the Jazz are close enough to title contention that they shouldn't be selling off one of their two best players.
But recent rumors must be taken into account. The Jazz were "growing weary" of Gobert before his devil-may-care attitude toward the coronavirus, according to The Athletic's David Aldridge. Though both stars are apparently interested in "moving forward," per ESPN's Tim MacMahon, the amount of smoke emanating from Utah cannot be ignored.
Gauging the market for either Gobert or Mitchell is, at the bare minimum, within the realm of possibility. And while Gobert remains the Jazz's most impactful player, Mitchell is the top trade asset. His decision-making and efficiency have a ways to go, but he's just 23 and still on his rookie-scale deal, and teams are inherently more interested in players with primary-scorer ceilings than all-world defensive hubs who don't space the floor or generate their own offense.
Slotting Joe Ingles ahead of Gobert seemingly goes a touch too far. Except, actually, it doesn't. Buyers aren't tripping over themselves to acquire non-shooting bigs earning over $25 million per year, and Gobert's next team will be responsible for re-signing him in 2021, when there could be more cap space than sense on the open market.
Including Ingles at all is yet another divisive move. But Utah can stand to get more athletic on the wings, and Bojan Bogdanovic's shot-making is of greater importance so long as Mike Conley cannot be counted on to be the Mike Conley the Jazz thought they acquired. If Ingles gets the hands-off treatment, Georges Niang or the team's 2023 first-round pick, pending obligations to Memphis, is the next asset up.
- Bradley Beal
- Rui Hachimura
- 2020 first-round pick (No. 9)
The Washington Wizards' asset big board reads like a tale of two teams. This is to say, it fits them.
Bradley Beal is their most valuable chip by a light year. It isn't often teams can get their hands on a top-20 player with at least two more years left on his contract. He's also only someone the Wizards can look at moving if they're ready to begin anew.
Having John Wall works both for and against calls to blow it up. On the one hand, he's working his way back from an Achilles injury and missed at least half of the year through each of the past three seasons. Washington does not have an idiot-proof path to title contention even if he makes a full recovery. And if he's anything less than his former self, well, they're dunzo. Moving Beal is an admission that it's safer to play the long game.
On the other hand, Wall is owed $132.9 million over the next three years. The Wizards aren't getting out of the contract for at least another two seasons. They could trade Beal and then find out Wall is too good for them to wallow in the NBA's basement. Even if he's not, the idea of shelling out superstar money for even one player without competing for a playoff spot doesn't sit well. Catering to an immediate timeline may be the more attractive route.
Enter Washington's other top assets. Rui Hachimura and this year's pick will be off-limits if the team emphasizes the big picture. But keeping Beal obligates them to be more aggressive now. Without cap space to tout, the Wizards have to see whether Hachimura and/or their No. 9 selection, along with some salary fodder, can improve the roster in a meaningful way.
Unless otherwise noted, stats courtesy of NBA.com, Basketball Reference or Cleaning the Glass. Salary and cap-hold information via Basketball Insiders, Early Bird Rights and Spotrac.
Dan Favale covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter (@danfavale) and listen to his Hardwood Knocks podcast, co-hosted by B/R's Andrew Bailey.