Predicting NBA's Most Active Teams on the Trade Market This Offseason
Nobody knows what the 2020 NBA offseason will look like, but it's bound to be an even less eventful free-agency period than anticipated.
The coronavirus pandemic has already caused massive financial losses throughout the league, and the 2020-21 season doesn't look any rosier. It would be a surprise if teams handed out many nine-figure deals.
However, the show must go on. If franchises can't afford to hand out big deals to free agents, then they'll deal with existing contracts and try to make trades. It didn't look like many major trades would occur this offseason, but if the other main avenue to roster reconstruction is largely closed, then another year of big transactions may lie ahead.
Today, we're predicting which teams will be the most active on the trade market this offseason. You could make a case that most of the league should be searching for big moves, but these eight stick out.
Whether or not it's a good idea for the Nets to pursue a trade for a big name, it's more than likely what they'll do this offseason.
In January, Kyrie Irving stated that Brooklyn needs more talent, even though the team's final form remains undiscovered because of Kevin Durant's Achilles tear. Given how comments from Irving were received in Boston, this may not be great for the Nets' immediate future. However, general manager Sean Marks has admitted Durant and Irving have a say in the team's coaching search, so it would make sense for him to consider their perspectives on roster personnel too.
Despite a disappointing 2019-20 campaign, Brooklyn can assemble a good star trade package with a combination of Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen and Spencer Dinwiddie to headline any deal. The Nets must figure out what kind of big name could function well alongside Durant and Irving.
Given that both are ball-dominant scorers, the team's new addition should excel off the ball. This criterion casts a wide net, including stars like Devin Booker, Bradley Beal and CJ McCollum. It would also be a bonus if this player excelled on defense, adding Rudy Gobert, Jrue Holiday or even Ben Simmons (let Nets fans dream!) to the mix.
Brooklyn may not be able to pull off a deal of this caliber, but bringing in somebody like Beal or Holiday would make this team a serious title contender.
The Nuggets have been one of the deepest teams in the NBA for nearly a decade through multiple roster iterations. However, they've yet to make a splashy trade since acquiring Andre Iguodala in 2012. That could change this offseason.
Denver still goes 12-deep on its depth chart, but in addition to role players, it claims two high-upside young players with little access to playing time in Michael Porter Jr. and Bol Bol. And unlike many youngsters, both have flashed their sky-high potential in game action.
Porter has scored at least 15 points in a game nine times this season (and was quite efficient as well), while Bol burst onto the scene by recording 16 points, 10 rebounds and six blocks in the Nuggets' first scrimmage last week. Though neither Porter nor Bol has had sustained opportunity yet, both have shown enough in limited action to be integral parts of a blockbuster trade.
Thanks to the Nuggets' laundry list of quality role players, endless trade packages are possible, and the list of stars the team can pursue is almost as long. Bradley Beal and Jrue Holiday are often mentioned as gettable backcourt partners for Jamal Murray, while potential deals for big men like Kevin Love and Ben Simmons have been thrown around as well.
Some of those ideas are more possible than others, but they all make sense for Denver. It's up to GM Tim Connelly to make one of them happen.
Even during the best years of the Daryl Morey era, the Rockets GM has tried to chase stars, so imagine what the upcoming offseason will be like.
The 2019-20 campaign was an adventure before it even began for Houston. Mike D'Antoni has more or less been a lame-duck coach the entire year, Morey's support of protesters in Hong Kong nearly caused an international incident, and owner Tilman Fertitta makes questionable decisions with some regularity.
On the court, James Harden and Russell Westbrook have spent most of the season on alternating hot streaks and failing to establish consistent offensive balance.
With D'Antoni likely gone after this season, a natural end point for this era of Rockets basketball is approaching, but at the same time, it's tough to see where the team goes from here.
Flipping Westbrook after one season (let alone this season) seems rash even for Morey, and the nuclear option may not attract many takers either. Harden has had every aspect of the organization built around him for eight years, so other teams may worry that he won't fare well as a new co-lead or second banana after such freedom.
Perhaps Morey will pull another rabbit out of his hat and trade for a major star. Nobody expected him to trade for Westbrook or Chris Paul, yet both players have donned the red and white. At the very least, he'll rearrange the deck chairs around Harden and Westbrook this offseason.
The typically even-keeled Pacers wouldn't have appeared on this list two months ago. But recent events have made an offseason trade seem more possible.
As Victor Oladipo's free agency grows closer, extension talks have stalled. With Malcolm Brogdon, Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner set to earn a total of $58 million in the 2021-22 season as Oladipo comes off a major injury, Indiana's hesitation is fair, but the best version of the former Hoosier is worth a max deal, so his perspective makes sense too.
Oladipo's performance in the bubble could convince the Pacers to pay him the max. The shooting guard has been playing well in recent scrimmages. But SNY's Ian Begley thinks the Knicks could pursue Oladipo if he becomes available, and there may be mutual interest between him and the Heat, per Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald.
It might anger local fans to trade an Indiana alum who's also the team's most talented player, but the Pacers played well without him this year and may want to move on from a potentially troublesome situation.
For Indiana to cough up significant money to bring in Brogdon, TJ Warren and Jeremy Lamb last summer, only to have the team's ostensible star depart, would be cruelly ironic. But that's the reality of being a small-market NBA team and the sensible path in a post-COVID-19 world for many clubs.
When Pat Riley brought in LeBron James and Chris Bosh in 2010, we all took note to never underestimate the Armani-clad Heat president again.
Miami hasn't made nearly as much news post-Heatles, largely because it overpaid for a mediocre group of players in 2016 and 2017, but the team might be on the rise again soon. Jimmy Butler joined the Culture™ last summer, and the Heat's salary-cap sheet is looking clean for the 2021 offseason, when everybody from Giannis Antetokounmpo to Paul George to Victor Oladipo potentially becomes available.
Riley and GM Andy Elisburg have cleared cap space in order to sign two max-level free agents and can highlight the numerous advantages to playing for the Heat (living in Miami, lack of income tax, etc.). But don't be surprised if they change course slightly this offseason, setting their sights on one free-agency target and trying to trade for the second star. Miami was briefly in the mix for both Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul last summer and has been a long-rumored destination for Bradley Beal and Jrue Holiday.
Overpaying the likes of Dion Waiters, Tyler Johnson, Hassan Whiteside and James Johnson in the span of two years would doom most front offices and send their teams into the lottery for the better part of a decade. For the Heat, it could be the minor setback before a major comeback.
Since arriving in Orlando, the Sixers have made a lot of noise about their personnel changes, and they deserve credit for those moves. Brett Brown didn't have to shift Shake Milton into Al Horford's place in the starting lineup and make Ben Simmons a full-time power forward, but he recognized that such a lineup would be a smoother fit.
However, there's a downside to these changes. After all this talk, Philly is still likely to lose before the conference finals, and if it does, GM Elton Brand would be right to break up this group.
If the Sixers decide to pursue a trade this offseason, the question remains which level of the roster they'll uproot. Since the summer of 2017, Philly has brought in numerous high-level starters or full-blown All-Stars, from JJ Redick to Jimmy Butler to Tobias Harris to Josh Richardson and Horford, but it's kept the two-man core of Simmons and Joel Embiid intact.
Perhaps Brand executes an acceptable trade for a player of similar caliber this offseason. However, considering the tenuous on-court fit between Embiid and Simmons and the fact that the team hasn't made the conference finals in their three years together, you couldn't blame Brand for trying to move one of the Sixers' two centerpieces.
Philly could catch fire in the bubble and challenge the Bucks for Eastern Conference supremacy. But don't be surprised if this is the Process' last stand.
Portland Trail Blazers
It's understandable the Blazers have been clamoring for Zach Collins and Jusuf Nurkic to return, but it's ironic too. While both players are talented, each is a natural center, and they shouldn't play together, let alone make up a starting frontcourt for a playoff contender.
Because most of the conversation around Nurkic over the past year has focused on his health, there hasn't been much talk about trading him. However, now that he's back and playing well, it wouldn't be a surprise to see such rumors start.
Collins is younger and a more modern player, so he's likely to stick around, but Nurkic could be an excellent addition to many teams. He's skilled around the basket, a solid secondary distributor and a master of screening, box-out technique and other minutiae. Just because Nurkic isn't a proficient shooter doesn't mean he's obsolete in 2020.
Portland fans reading this are probably furious, and that's fair. After a year-plus of hoping Nurkic can be the same player he was pre-injury, it looks like he might be, and we're immediately telling the Blazers to trade him.
But Collins might be just as good as (if not better than) the Bosnian, and GM Neil Olshey can find a minimum-salary wing replacement through free agency or the draft (a suggestion: start watching Devin Vassell, Saddiq Bey and Aaron Nesmith film immediately).
What may seem like a bad idea right now could be best for all parties going forward.
Even before Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert contracted the coronavirus, the Jazz faced internal turmoil.
While Mitchell and Gobert are widely recognized as top-30 NBA players, they've never been the smoothest fit together. As a slashing guard who can jump out of the gym, Mitchell is reminiscent of a young Dwyane Wade, but his ability to get to the basket is neutralized by the paint-bound Gobert.
They've been able to co-exist well enough since Mitchell entered the league, leading Utah to three straight playoff appearances, but as both near extensions, the Jazz may need to choose one or the other.
On top of a fit issue between the team's two best players, Utah has to deal with a post-prime Mike Conley. Though he improved as the season progressed, the 32-year-old appears to have lost a step, and his skill set overlaps with Mitchell's.
What Conley thought he was getting with a trade to Utah—true competition for an NBA title—might occur if the team admits its mistake and finds another suitable location for him, like Dallas, Milwaukee or Philadelphia, where he won't need to be a primary initiator.
Given that Bojan Bogdanovic is sitting out the bubble after undergoing wrist surgery, it may not be fair to judge the Jazz's future based on the results of these playoffs. But a disappointing showing this summer and fall could be an excuse to turn the roster over.