Surprising Offseason Trades for NBA Lottery Teams
The 2020 NBA offseason will be unique for myriad reasons, and a hyperactive trade market might be one of them.
The transformational powers of free agency will be significantly limited. Cap space is at a premium for almost everyone, and there aren't many difference-makers on the market anyway.
For clubs eyeing a substantial change—a description that fits most lottery teams—the trade market might be the best place to make that happen. While trade machines have long been working full tilt, we're adding five more surprising swap ideas to the conversation.
Warriors Trade for James Johnson—But Not Really
Golden State Warriors receive: James Johnson and 2020 second-round pick
Minnesota Timberwolves receive: 2022 second-round pick (protected for picks 31-55)
There was a time when Johnson's two-way versatility might've attracted the Dubs, but those days are behind the 33-year-old. He hasn't had even an average player efficiency rating the past two seasons, and unless he's on the Benjamin Button plan for anti-aging, his decline will only worsen.
With the Timberwolves franchise up for sale, it probably doesn't want to be saddled with Johnson's $16 million player option for next season. For that matter, neither does Golden State, but in this case, the money is simply a means to an end.
The Warriors are still holding a $17.2 million trade exception from last summer's Andre Iguodala deal. That's their ticket to expanding the roster with a win-now addition, and it's enough to afford some interesting players, like Rudy Gay, Evan Fournier or Kelly Olynyk. But, since the exception can't be packaged with a player, it's not quite enough to deliver the Dubs' dream targets: Aaron Gordon or Myles Turner.
With some cap creativity, though, Golden State can get there. By converting the exception into Johnson (and an early second-rounder as an added bonus), the Warriors can then use his salary to find the wiggle room needed to chase Gordon or Turner. The former offers loads of defensive versatility and explosive finishing at the basket. The latter adds shot-blocking without sacrificing spacing.
While the Warriors have trade assets (namely, the No. 2 pick in this draft and the Timberwolves' top-three protected 2021 first-rounder), they need to be paired with a big salary to increase their buying power. Johnson's pact could be the perfect way to scratch that itch.
Knicks Move Up for LaMelo; Hornets Find Their 5
New York Knicks receive: Malik Monk, 2020 No. 3 pick
Charlotte Hornets receive: Mitchell Robinson, Reggie Bullock and 2020 No. 8 pick
As per usual, the Knicks were gut-punched at the lottery. They not only failed to climb the ladder, but they slipped from sixth to eighth. This reverses their fortune—at the expense of Robinson, who's loaded with upside but hasn't averaged 24 minutes in either of his first two NBA seasons.
This deal wouldn't go down until draft night, because it's contingent on LaMelo Ball getting past the first two picks (as he does in the latest mock from B/R's Jonathan Wasserman). The 6'7" point guard caught the eye of the Empire State, and the interest may be mutual.
"Multiple teams believe Ball and those in his circle prefer that he lands in New York," Ian Begley of SNY.tv reported.
Ball is a risk-reward prospect, but he might be the best player in this draft. He's a preternatural passer, and his aggressiveness in pushing the pace could give this young team an identity. He needs work with his shooting, shot selection and defensive motor (if anyone can keep it revved, maybe it's Tom Thibodeau), but those can theoretically be coached up. If Ball hits, he's going to be a marquee star.
The Hornets, who already have Devonte' Graham and Terry Rozier in the backcourt, might opt against gambling on the young guard, especially if it means adding a building-block big man and retaining a top-10 pick.
Robinson can transform the frontcourt (career 14.0 points, 11.1 rebounds and 3.6 blocks per 36 minutes) as a two-way, above-the-rim force. The Hornets only have one center under contract for next season, and it's the decidedly average Cody Zeller (career 16.0 player efficiency rating—worlds removed from Robinson's 22.8 mark). The No. 8 pick could answer Charlotte's need for an impact wing with Devin Vassell or Isaac Okoro.
Hawks Win Victor Oladipo Sweepstakes
Atlanta Hawks receive: Victor Oladipo
Indiana Pacers receive: Dewayne Dedmon, Kevin Huerter, Cam Reddish and 2020 No. 6 pick
The dismissal of head coach Nate McMillan could be the tip of the iceberg for an offseason overhaul in the Circle City. With Mike D'Antoni reportedly on the radar, per ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, a potential shift to small-ball might finally break apart the Myles Turner-Domantas Sabonis frontcourt. Plus, Victor Oladipo is approaching the final year of his contract and has no financial reasons to extend it.
"I bet they trade him" a former Eastern Conference executive said of Oladipo, per B/R's Eric Pincus.
If Oladipo hits the trade market, Atlanta should be ready with an aggressive bid. The Hawks think their young nucleus is ready for its first playoff flight, and the same win-now mindset that drew them to Clint Capela at the trade deadline could now put Oladipo in the crosshairs.
If he retains his old All-Star form, he might be the perfect backcourt complement to Trae Young. Oladipo is a disruptive defender (15th-most steals since 2013-14, 10th-most defensive win shares among guards over that stretch), a shot-creator (for himself and his teammates) and a capable shooter (career 35.0 percent from three). He can thrive alongside Young and prevent the pitfalls this offense suffered when he took a seat.
As Pincus noted, Atlanta also has the cap space needed to potentially put an extension in play for Oladipo. If the cap stays at $109.1 million, the Hawks could renegotiate his 2020-21 salary to $32.7 million and then extend him two additional seasons for about $70 million.
Indiana, meanwhile, goes from risking Oladipo leaving for nothing to restocking the shelves with three rotation players and an early draft pick. Assuming the Pacers want to perk up their perimeter game—why else would they be eyeing D'Antoni?—Huerter and Dedmon can both help with that. Reddish is a bit of a wild card, but his flashes of significant upside came more regularly late in the season.
Or Atlanta Goes All-In for Embiid
Atlanta Hawks receive: Joel Embiid
Philadelphia 76ers receive: Clint Capela, Kevin Huerter, De'Andre Hunter, 2020 No. 6 pick and 2022 first-round pick (top-three protected)
To be clear, this runs completely counter to the direction Sixers general manager Elton Brand said he wants to go.
"I'm not looking to trade Ben [Simmons] or Joel," Brand told reporters. "I'm looking to complement them better."
Brand might sincerely feel that way, but he could soon discover this roster is broken beyond repair. It's easy to say the Sixers should keep Simmons and Embiid together and just fix the supporting cast around them. It's far more difficult to bring those improvements to light. Tobias Harris and Al Horford are borderline untradeable on their colossal contracts. Josh Richardson might have modest trade value, but he's not landing a difference-maker.
The Sixers might need to sacrifice one star to save themselves. That's the only way they're replenishing the cupboards, which this deal definitely does. Capela is the athletic rim-runner Simmons needs at his side, as the two could do damage in transition and pick-and-rolls. Huerter steps into the spot-up sniper role JJ Redick used to fill. Hunter adds another three-and-D option. The picks either lead to high-upside prospects or facilitate another trade.
The Hawks, meanwhile, find perhaps the best accelerator on the market. Embiid is this era's Hakeem Olajuwon, a dream-shaking 7-footer with elite paint protection and enough of an outside shot to keep defenses honest. Put Embiid with Young, and Atlanta's offense has a skyscraper's ceiling. Put John Collins alongside them, and that ceiling jumps a few more stories.
Simmons gets his own roster of open-court athletes, and Embiid finds an offensive co-star who has the gravitational pull to keep defenders away. The Sixers and Hawks can both come out ahead.
Warriors, Bulls Lure Thunder into 3-Team Frenzy
Chicago Bulls receive: Chris Paul, 2020 No. 25 pick (from DEN via OKC) and 2020 No. 51 pick (from UTA via GSW)
Golden State Warriors receive: Thaddeus Young, Tomas Satoransky and Mike Muscala
Oklahoma City Thunder receive: Zach LaVine and Andrew Wiggins
Are the Thunder thrilled about the prospect of paying the 35-year-old Paul $41.4 million for next season and covering his $44.2 million player option for 2021-22? Are the Warriors content with owing Wiggins $94.7 million over the next three seasons? Do the new decision-makers in Chicago want to pay LaVine, Young and Satoransky a combined $43 million next season?
Every answer feels iffy enough to think each club would consider a shake-up.
The Bulls get the floor general their 29th-ranked offense so desperately needs. It's a risk, given Paul's age, but if his body holds up, this is how Chicago turns playoff dreams into reality. Coby White gets the perfect mentor in Paul, with whom he already shares a deep connection. Paul connects the dots with this roster and helps identify Lauri Markkanen's comfort zone, and for taking the financial risk, the franchise adds two picks in the process.
The Dubs might've had bigger plans for Wiggins' contract, but if Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green still constitute a championship core, this club might need depth more than another star. They'll be lucky if a handful of players from last season's roster can contribute in a meaningful way to next season's championship chase. Young, Satoransky and Muscala (who would need to exercise his $2.3 million player option) can all find a niche, and the Dubs still have their pick collection to go star-chasing if they choose.
The Thunder might be the toughest sell, since they're arguably giving up the best player in this deal and sacrificing the only first-round pick. But this makes OKC younger and more explosive without steering the small-market squad into a total teardown.
LaVine and Wiggins are both 25 years old and essentially on the same timeline as the Thunder's 22-year-old centerpiece, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. LaVine can help carry the scoring load without dominating the basketball, and Wiggins checks all the physical boxes general manager Sam Presti typically seeks in a wing. The Thunder can keep themselves in the playoff race and raise their future ceiling here.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.