1 Offseason Trade for Every NBA Lottery Team
These days, the NBA's trade season lasts all year long. Even during time periods in which deals aren't legal under league rules, the rumor mill never stops churning.
So, while much of the league battles for playoff positioning in Florida's restart bubble, let's explore some possibilities for the teams that are likely headed to the lottery.
To determine which 14 teams to detail, we'll use FiveThirtyEight's projection system. On top of the eight teams that weren't invited to the reboot, we'll look at the six most likely to miss the playoffs as of Sunday morning's prognostication.
One other note is that a few players mentioned below show up in multiple trades. Obviously, one deal going through could make others impossible, but these are all hypotheticals. Imagine you're entering the trade-idea multiverse.
The Trade: Buddy Hield and Nemanja Bjelica for Evan Fournier and Aaron Gordon
When Buddy Hield moved to a bench role following a loss to the Detroit Pistons on Jan. 22, the Sacramento Kings were 15-29. Their record since is comfortably above .500 and good enough to keep them in the mix for a playoff spot in the bubble. But Hield himself may not be thrilled with being a reserve.
"If Hield remains displeased with his role, a source with knowledge of his thinking said he might request a trade," The Athletic's Shams Charania reported. "He believes he is a starter in the NBA and there’s no guarantee he'll get that job back, given how the team has played lately."
If the situation doesn't improve, Sacramento could look to another team with a youngish player in the rumor mill.
With the rise of Jonathan Isaac, Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon could be on the way to a new team this offseason. His size and athleticism could give the Kings some interesting combinations in the frontcourt with Marvin Bagley III.
This particular deal adds a few more players to make the 2020-21 salaries match under the collective bargaining agreement, but they actually help functionally, too.
Evan Fournier, who can only be included in this deal if he picks up his player option, may not be quite as explosive as Hield, but he replaces much of what would be lost at the 2 for Sacramento. And Nemanja Bjelica doesn't bring the versatility of Gordon, but he would be a solid floor spacer off the bench for the Magic.
New Orleans Pelicans
The Trade: Jrue Holiday for Gary Harris, Keita Bates-Diop, Bol Bol and a 2020 first-round pick (via Houston Rockets)
Jrue Holiday is a key reason the New Orleans Pelicans are in the playoff hunt despite missing Zion Williamson for most of the season. Thanks in large part to his multipositional defense and steady hand on offense, they're plus-0.2 points per 100 possessions when he's on the floor, compared to minus-3.7 when he's off.
But this is still a rebuilding team, even if the record doesn't clearly reflect that. And if it can get a return that helps the future, it might be willing to deal the 30-year-old guard.
The Denver Nuggets can offer that. Derrick Favors is entering free agency, so there may be a role for the 20-year-old Bol Bol to fill alongside Zion in the frontcourt. Though 24-year-old Keita Bates-Diop is a bit older, he still has some untapped combo forward potential.
Gary Harris may be younger than you realize, too. The 25-year-old won't impact games quite like Jrue did, but he's five years younger, and his salary is necessary to make the math work under the cap.
Altogether, the rising Pelicans would get a veteran, a promising prospect, a bit of a question mark and a draft pick for Holiday.
For the Nuggets, losing Bol wouldn't be ideal. His three-and-D potential is tantalizing. But this team should be thinking win-now, and Holiday would help on that front.
He can take the more difficult point guard matchups away from Jamal Murray, and his ability to slash should work well in Denver's cut-heavy offense that revolves around Nikola Jokic.
San Antonio Spurs and Portland Trail Blazers
The Trade: LaMarcus Aldridge for Trevor Ariza and Rodney Hood
It no longer feels like a given, but if the Portland Trail Blazers renounce their free-agency rights to Hassan Whiteside, they could have a bit of cap space to work with this offseason.
Using it to reunite Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge could make some sense.
"I keep telling [Lillard] I'm going to come back and finish there," Aldridge told The Athletic's Jason Quick in 2019. "That's something him and I have talked about—playing together again.”
Being the third option behind Lillard and CJ McCollum might be the ideal role for the twilight of Aldridge's career, especially since he finally embraced the three-point shot this season. With him pulling bigs away from the paint, driving and cutting lanes would be more open for the two guards and Jusuf Nurkic's post game.
Of course, this move would hurt Portland's depth on the wings. But perhaps younger players like Nassir Little, Gary Trent Jr. and Anfernee Simons would see it as a vote of confidence and respond in kind.
For San Antonio, this move would mostly be about steering further into a rebuild. Removing Aldridge from the rotation would open up more minutes for Jakob Poeltl. Ariza's deal is only guaranteed for $1.8 million in 2020-21, so there's an opportunity for more flexibility there.
And though Hood is no spring chicken at 27, he's still eight years younger than Aldridge. He could bring a little shooting as a combo forward in lineups with two of Dejounte Murray, Derrick White and Lonnie Walker IV.
Washington Wizards and Phoenix Suns
The Trade: John Wall for Ricky Rubio
According to Yahoo Sports' Keith Smith, the Phoenix Suns can get to just shy of $28 million in cap space this offseason (though that assumes pre-hiatus cap projections hold).
It just so happens that the difference between John Wall's 2020-21 salary and Ricky Rubio's is $23.8 million, which means the Suns potentially have enough room to absorb Wall's monster deal.
Now, whether that actually makes any sense for Phoenix is a different story. It's been nearly two years since ESPN's Zach Lowe identified the Suns as a "plausible" trade destination for Wall.
Since then, they've acquired Rubio on a team-friendly deal. Despite his career-long shooting woes, he has posted a massively positive net rating swing this season.
But extended absences from the playoffs (Phoenix hasn't been since 2010) can spur impatience. And if he can even get close to his pre-injury self, Wall would raise the ceiling of the Suns. He brings similar length to Rubio on defense, and he's able to create much more chaos with his speed on the other end.
For Washington, this deal would give it a chance to get out from under one of the league's most onerous contracts. It would also put the team squarely in the hands of Bradley Beal.
Building around him, Davis Bertans, Rui Hachimura and Thomas Bryant makes sense, especially if a Wall trade creates some additional cap flexibility.
The Trade: Nicolas Batum and a 2020 first-round pick for DeMar DeRozan
It's time for the San Antonio Spurs to start fresh. They have some intriguing young talent in Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, Lonnie Walker IV and Jakob Poeltl, but they may not get the organizational push they need as long as DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge are there.
This season, DeRozan leads the team in total minutes, and the Spurs have been minus-3.0 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor, compared to plus-1.4 with him off. It will be the 10th time in 11 seasons that he posts a negative net rating swing.
So, if he opts in, moving him and opening up developmental minutes for the aforementioned guards and wings makes sense. If they can find a team willing to give up a pick for him, all the better.
The Charlotte Hornets might be such a team. They're 27th in the league in both offensive rating and effective field-goal percentage this season, and if there's an area in which DeRozan can help, it's on offense.
And with Nicolas Batum already out of the rotation, this move might functionally amount to little more than the pick for DeRozan. And given the perceived weakness of this draft class, now might be the time to spend a pick on some offense.
For the final year of DeRozan's contract, the Hornets can make a run at their first playoff appearance since 2016. If it works out, perhaps they could bring him back for the last long-term deal of his career. If not, they could simply let him go and pivot toward a future with P.J. Washington and Devonte' Graham.
The Trade: Spencer Dinwiddie, Caris LeVert, Dzanan Musa and a 2021 first-round pick for Zach LaVine and Cristiano Felicio
Shortly before the reboot, SNY's Ian Begley reported that the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets were "monitoring [Zach] LaVine's situation in Chicago."
A Big Three with Irving, LaVine and Kevin Durant may not be quite as splashy as one with Bradley Beal, but those aspirations might be a bit too lofty. Plus, LaVine is two years younger and was within shouting distance of Beal in box plus/minus.
A move like the one detailed above would impact the Nets' depth, but it would also raise the ceiling of the starting five, assuming the top three options can figure out how to share the ball.
For Chicago, this move only makes sense if LaVine puts out some kind of smoke signal that he's unhappy with the direction of the team and considering a departure when he hits free agency in 2022.
The Bulls were plus-2.0 points per 100 possessions in the limited minutes LaVine was able to share the floor with Otto Porter Jr. They could be solid next season, assuming relatively good health.
But if it looks like he might leave for nothing, getting two decent vets, a prospect with a little promise and a pick would be preferable.
Dinwiddie was a bit better in each of those categories with 23.5 points and 7.7 assists per 75 possessions. He too was below average in terms of scoring efficiency, but the combination of the two Nets guards would go a long way toward covering the loss of LaVine in the short term.
Looking forward, this move would shift more offensive responsibility to Coby White and Lauri Markkanen while giving the team another shot at a difference-maker from the 2021 first round.
New York Knicks
The Trade: Chris Paul for Wayne Ellington, Bobby Portis, Dennis Smith Jr., Frank Ntilikina, Kevin Knox and a 2023 first-round pick
Back in March, ESPN's Frank Isola reported that the New York Knicks might make a run at future Hall of Famer Chris Paul this offseason.
For the team with the league's worst winning percentage over the last 20 years, such a move would make sense, even if it seems a bit desperate.
Chris Paul is 35 years old and under contract through 2021-22 at an average of $42.8 million per year. Plus, he doesn't have the cleanest history when it comes to injuries.
But CP3 has proved in 2019-20 that there's still plenty left in the tank. He's averaged 20.4 points, 7.8 assists and 5.7 rebounds per 75 possessions with a 61.0 true shooting percentage. He's 15th in the league in box plus/minus, and the Oklahoma City Thunder have annihilated preseason expectations largely because of him.
He would instantly bring a level of competence to the floor that the Knicks probably haven't had since 2012-13. If they can get him without giving up their most promising young player, Mitchell Robinson, they should probably do it.
At first glance, the package detailed above—five players and a pick—may seem like a lot, but Wayne Ellington and Bobby Portis are mostly for salary-matching purposes. The remaining youngsters may have more flaws than potential (though there's still varying levels of intrigue with each).
The 2023 pick comes by way of the Kristaps Porzingis trade. So, with Luka Doncic on the Dallas Mavericks, that selection figures to be middling, at best.
But if OKC can get a hint of young talent and any pick for Paul and his big contract, it might have to think about going for it. Prior to the season, the notion that the Thunder would have to attach sweeteners to unload Paul's deal was fairly common.
New York is one of the few teams that could probably justify giving a pick of its own for CP3.
The Trade: Blake Griffin for Nicolas Batum and a 2020 second-round pick (via Cleveland Cavaliers)
The Detroit Pistons already found a taker for one of their onerous contracts.
"They dumped him," The Action Network's Matt Moore tweeted after the trade that sent Andre Drummond to the Cleveland Cavaliers for John Henson, Brandon Knight and a 2023 second-round pick. "...They put Drummond out there like you did with your futon when you were moving out of your college apartment after graduation."
Now, if they can locate a team willing to take a shot on Blake Griffin and his troublesome knees, the Pistons can truly build from the ground up.
A lot of potential trade partners might insist on Detroit adding a sweetener like a draft pick to Griffin's contract to take on the remaining two years and $75.6 million. Perhaps the Charlotte Hornets, who have Nicolas Batum's expiring contract, might be desperate enough to flip that table and send a pick of their own.
If he can provide even 25-30 minutes per game, Griffin would significantly raise the ceiling of a Hornets squad that has been the picture of mediocrity for years.
The Trade: Dewayne Dedmon for Eric Gordon and a 2020 second-round pick (via Memphis Grizzlies)
Atlanta Hawks general manager Travis Schlenk is no stranger to taking on bad money in exchange for picks or future flexibility during a rebuild.
Last summer alone, he picked up Allen Crabbe, Evan Turner and Chandler Parsons to those ends. And while Eric Gordon's deal isn't as ghastly as the ones any of the above was on, he's 31 and set to make an average of $18.9 million per year through 2023-24.
With that and the monster deals for both James Harden and Russell Westbrook in place, it'll be tough for the Houston Rockets to find any transactional wiggle room in the near future. Dewayne Dedmon's annual salary is over $5 million less, and his contract expires two years sooner.
When you're in the title hunt, every bit of flexibility helps. Houston may have just enough on the wings with Robert Covington, Ben McLemore and Austin Rivers to get by without Gordon. And who knows? Perhaps after this postseason, the Rockets might be ready for a center who gives them the option to move away from micro-ball from time to time.
For the Hawks, not only would they add a pick to their stash, but they would also get a veteran who can help steward the development of Trae Young, Cam Reddish and De'Andre Hunter. And if Gordon can stay healthy, he makes short-term sense on a team that could compete for a playoff spot as early as next season.
A Young-Gordon backcourt would be dynamic on offense, and Gordon could spare Young from certain defensive assignments on the other end.
The Trade: James Johnson and a 2020 first-round pick (via Brooklyn Nets) for Aaron Gordon
Just before the league's reboot tipped off in Orlando, rumors began to circulate about one of the stars of the local team.
"[The Orlando Magic] were really trying to deal him before the deadline, but they weren't getting the assets back they wanted," an Eastern Conference executive said of Aaron Gordon, per Forbes' Sean Deveney. "It will be easier to move that contract when it's only got two years left. He's probably the most likely big name to be traded. He's a good gamble—he is only 24."
That just happens to be the same age as both Karl-Anthony Towns and D'Angelo Russell. And as the executive says, there's still plenty of time for Gordon to live up to the potential that made him the No. 4 pick in the 2014 draft.
Those three would make for one of the league's more intriguing young trios. With Russell and Towns forcing both bigs and perimeter defenders to pay close attention to the three-point line, driving and cutting lanes would be pretty open for Gordon.
And though he hasn't always performed as such, Gordon has the physical tools to be a multipositional weapon on defense. KAT and Russell need all the help they can get on that end.
For Orlando, this is a move that gives it an expiring contract and opens up more minutes for Jonathan Isaac at the 4. He's two years younger, and over the last two seasons, he tops Gordon in both box plus/minus and net rating swing.
Unfortunately, he went down with another left knee injury in the bubble Sunday. And if it's a torn ACL, as the Magic fear it might be, a trade like this would certainly seem less likely.
The Trade: Mike Conley for Kevin Love
This move is all about flexibility going forward for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Kevin Love is clearly on a different timeline than the Cavs' young core of Collin Sexton, Darius Garland and Kevin Porter Jr., and he's set to make an average of $30.5 million per season through 2022-23.
Mike Conley, on the other hand, is on a contract that expires after next season. And while he would be headed to a backcourt that's crowded with young talent, the move could be good for him for a couple of reasons.
First, he could use a year on a team in need of production to boost his value just before entering free agency. Second, he could serve as a mentor for Sexton, Garland and the rest of a young roster that would benefit from his veteran savvy.
For the Utah Jazz, taking on one of the league's more cumbersome contracts is not a no-brainer, but it would help by bumping a number of other players down a position.
Utah is ninth in defense this season, which is actually a bit of a letdown for a team that boasts Rudy Gobert. Among the problems is having one of the league's smallest starting backcourts. Long term, Donovan Mitchell makes more sense as a 1 with a gritty defender like Royce O'Neale at the 2.
Bojan Bogdanovic and Love would naturally slot in at the forward spots after that.
Love, of course, is no lockdown defender himself, but he can help control the boards, and his height alone makes size mismatches less likely for the whole lineup.
Offensively, Love showed in 2019-20 that he still has plenty left in the tank. He averaged 20.2 points, 3.6 assists and 3.0 threes per 75 possessions. He, Bogdanovic and O'Neale spacing the floor around Mitchell-Gobert pick-and-rolls sounds like the makings of a top-tier offense.
Golden State Warrriors
The Trade: Aaron Gordon and a 2020 first-round pick for TBD acquired player with a salary similar to Gordon's and a 2020 first-round pick
With their cap situation the way it is, the Golden State Warriors might have to get creative to shake things up. Fortunately, Bleacher Report's Zach Buckley has gotten creative for them.
"This can't work as a straight-up swap, but we'll present it as such to avoid getting entangled in the salary-cap weeds," Buckley wrote. "The Warriors would first need to use the Andre Iguodala trade exception on a player in a separate deal and then attach that player to this deal to match the money owed to Aaron Gordon."
This trade seems like a long shot, but it makes sense on a few levels.
First, Golden State has a 52.1 percent shot to secure a top-four pick in the lottery. This draft may not be loaded, but adding someone like LaMelo Bell, Anthony Edwards or one of the other top prospects to a core that includes Markelle Fultz and Jonathan Isaac would be interesting.
(If Isaac's previously detailed injury costs him much of next season, it might be nice to have a top-four pick to develop while he recovers.)
And though Gordon was once seen as an integral part of the Orlando Magic's future, he struggled to make a positive impact this season.
That doesn't mean he wouldn't help the Warriors, though.
In a lineup with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, Gordon would generally be the fourth or fifth priority for opposing defenses. Less attention means the possibility of easier looks. And the defensive switchability of Thompson, Green, Gordon and Andrew Wiggins could resurrect the term "Death Lineup."
Cap flexibility would be next to nonexistent following such a trade, but after what essentially amounted to a year off, the Warriors may not be light-years ahead anymore. In fact, they might have to play catch-up.