Realistic NBA Trade Ideas You've Never Thought Of
Imaginations ran wild during the NBA's near five-month hiatus.
With an insatiable appetite for content, hoop heads devoured anything that promised to break the monotony of an essentially sports-free existence. Talks naturally turned to trade speculation—a preferred pastime of any offseason—and given the inordinate time to speculate, trade machines were pushed to their limits.
By now, you probably feel like you've seen it all. At the very least, you've grown accustomed to the biggest names on the trade market (or within arm's reach of it) and the teams likeliest to land them.
But we're taking these talks outside the box (though, still within realistic limits) to pair the top potential trade candidates with clubs seldom (if ever) connected to them.
Jazz, Thunder Flip Floor Generals
Utah Jazz receive: Chris Paul
Oklahoma City Thunder receive: Mike Conley, 2022 first-round pick (top-five protected)
Paul's first season with the Thunder has obliterated all realistic expectations, yet it could still be his final go-round in the Sooner State. OKC securing a playoff spot might net Paul some MVP votes and made Billy Donovan a Coach of the Year finalist, but it doesn't change the fact that this franchise faces a long-term rebuild sooner than later.
Getting out of Paul's colossal contract ($41.4 million next season, $44.2 million player option for 2021-22) makes the process easier. Fetching an actual asset while shedding the money might make this swap a no-brainer for the Thunder, especially since Conley can help them compete for another postseason venture before his deal comes off the books in 2021.
The Jazz have found a better balance this season—their offense has climbed to 10th in efficiency—but it could use another shot-creator in the half-court. Even at age 35, Paul remains one of the best in the business.
He ranks in the 93rd percentile of pick-and-roll ball-handlers and sits in the 73rd percentile on isolations. He also plays Quin Snyder-approved levels of defense, and that two-way balance has netted him the sixth overall spot in ESPN's real plus-minus.
Paul would better weaponize Rudy Gobert as a lob threat and free Donovan Mitchell to further hone his attention on scoring. Whenever Bojan Bogdanovic or Joe Ingles broke loose on the perimeter, the ball would pop in their shooting pocket instantaneously. This might be Utah's ticket to jump from pesky playoff matchup to full-fledged contender.
Blazers, Pelicans Swap Starting Guards
Portland Trail Blazers receive: Jrue Holiday
New Orleans Pelicans receive: CJ McCollum
The one-for-one star swap is a rarity, but this has, "You scratch my back, and I'll scratch yours" win-win potential.
Both Holiday and McCollum have either been on the rumor mill or resided adjacent to it recently. McCollum's name might never be clear of it until Portland either ships him out or wins a title with its undersized, offense-focused backcourt. Holiday was available as recently as December, per Marc Stein of the New York Times, and remains the club's most logical trade chip to broker a blockbuster.
Get Holiday to Portland, and the Blazers finally have their multipurpose defender who doesn't sink the offense one clanged jumper at a time. He isn't the same caliber of scorer or as sharp of a shooter as McCollum, but Holiday works on or off the ball and could handle complementary duties alongside Damian Lillard. Perhaps Portland would slip a few spots from fifth in offensive efficiency, but if it launches up from 27th at the other end, it's a substantial net upgrade.
McCollum could give New Orleans a power-punching offensive trio with Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson, and the first two are true three-level scoring threats. McCollum's already impressive averages (22.4 points, 4.4 assists and 2.8 triples) could climb even higher as he jumps from the 13th-fastest attack to the second-speediest offense.
The Pels have the length and athleticism to better cover McCollum's defensive deficiencies, and in return, he'd give them a lethal pick-and-roll partner for Williamson. It'd be one pick-your-poison scenario after another for opponents, as McCollum's handles and pull-up jumper and Williamson's strength, finishing and sneaky-good vision could counter most any punch thrown by the defense.
Nets Go All-In for Embiid
Brooklyn Nets receive: Joel Embiid
Philadelphia 76ers receive: Spencer Dinwiddie, Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen, DeAndre Jordan, 2020 first-round pick (via PHI), 2021 second-round pick (via ATL), 2022 first-round pick (top-three protected)
Every NBA partnership eventually runs its course, and the Joel Embiid-Ben Simmons twosome might be on the doorstep of divorce.
"One executive who spoke with cleveland.com believes the Sixers will need to choose between Simmons and Joel Embiid—if Philly has an earlier-than-expected playoff exit," Cleveland.com's Chris Fedor reported.
With Simmons likely out for the season after undergoing knee surgery and Embiid exiting Sunday's tilt early with an ankle injury, Philly's premature ouster might be imminent. If the Sixers deem major change necessary, that could put Embiid on the trade block, since his lengthy injury history makes him shakier than most centerpieces.
But as the final piece to Brooklyn's Big Three, he'd be perfect.
Imagine having to chose between letting Embiid, Kevin Durant or Kyrie Irving going one-on-one with their defender. If the Nets bring back Joe Harris in free agency like he hopes, defenses also can't forget about him or his career 42.7 percent three-point stroke. This should be a top-five attack, and with Embiid on the back line, it might be a top-10 defense, too.
Even if the Sixers move on from Embiid, they won't want to hit the self-destruct button. Not when they have so much win-now talent on hand.
All four incoming players can be significant contributors. Dinwiddie and LeVert have the shooting and shot-creation to ease the burden on Simmons and juice the offense in their own right. Allen and Jordan can serve as the tag-team replacement for Embiid, and while they can't mimic his offensive contributions, they can similarly anchor the defense.
Tack on three draft picks (including two first-rounders), and the Sixers would set themselves up both for today and tomorrow.
Sixers, Suns Exchange All-Stars
Philadelphia 76ers receive: Devin Booker, Ricky Rubio
Phoenix Suns receive: Ben Simmons, Josh Richardson, Mike Scott
While the Suns are finally starting to rise, they might have questions about how high they can climb with Booker as their centerpiece. While the Sixers have one of the most talented rosters in the league, they might have doubts over whether it can all come together with Simmons running point.
Could that be enough kindling to spark this trade fire? It's at least an interesting mental exercise.
Booker is exactly the kind of dynamic shot-maker Embiid needs around him. While he seems like the potential missing piece for the Embiid-Simmons twosome, Philly doesn't have the trade chips to get him without giving back a star. The addition of Rubio—a clever creator who holds his own defensively and fires up a few threes per game—offsets some of the sting of Simmons' departure.
The symbiotic balance of Booker's perimeter game with Embiid's low-post proficiency is enough to spark bouts of insomnia in opposing coaches. A step down the scoring ladder could boost Tobias Harris' efficiency, and Al Horford might find new life playing the two-man game with Rubio.
Meanwhile, Phoenix would leave the exchange feeling like it's rostering a superstar for the first time since Steve Nash departed the desert.
Simmons' downhill attacking might make the league's best transition offense even more potent, and he could be the chess piece needed to elevate the Suns' 17th-ranked defense. He's an extreme version of a do-it-all stopper, and he'd give Phoenix some bite as the head of the snake. Between him, Josh Richardson, Mikal Bridges, Kelly Oubre Jr. and Cameron Johnson, the Suns would be uber-switchable around improving anchor Deandre Ayton.
Bucks Complete Big Three with Beal
Milwaukee Bucks receive: Bradley Beal, 2025 second-round pick (via IND from MIA)
Washington Wizards receive: Myles Turner, Ersan Ilyasova, Donte DiVincenzo, D.J. Wilson, 2020 first-round pick (via IND from MIL), 2024 first-round pick (top-five protected from MIL)
Indiana Pacers receive: Eric Bledsoe, 2021 second-round pick (via IND from MIL), 2022 second-round pick (via CHI, DET or LAL from WAS)
The Bucks can and should feel like the offseason's biggest winners if they can get Giannis Antetokounmpo's signature on a supermax extension. But they could open the door to dynasty potential by adding another star to slot alongside Giannis and Khris Middleton.
If there's a realistic concern with Milwaukee, it's having a consistent counter to opponents selling out on stopping Antetokounmpo. Beal might be the knockout punch the Bucks need. He has flirted with 50/40/90 efficiency as a co-star in the past (48.2/40.4/82.5 in 2016-17), and he utilized his fluorescent green light this season to obliterate his previous personal best with 30.5 points per game.
If Beal gets back to playing defense again—to be fair, no one on the Wizards bothered to do so this season—Milwaukee would have a three-headed monster of two-way stars. And while this swap would deplete some of the Bucks' depth, they still retain the likes of Brook Lopez and George Hill.
The Wizards accept that Beal as a trade chip is more valuable than Beal as a player given their current situation. While they don't abandon all hope of competing with a healthy John Wall next season, the real promise is having as many as five long-term keepers with the two draft picks and the under-25 trio of Turner, DiVincenzo and Wilson.
Meanwhile, the Pacers admit they have one too many bigs for the modern NBA—especially with T.J. Warren posting silly numbers as a small-ball 4—and give themselves flexibility going forward.
Indiana could deploy all three of Bledsoe, Victor Oladipo and Malcolm Brogdon together (a scary defensive trio if the shooting can hold up), or it could flip one of the first two in a future transaction. With Oladipo approaching free agency in 2021 and at least one suitor already surfacing, the Pacers could slot Bledsoe into their future backcourt plans if Oladipo won't be a part of them.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.