NBA Superstars Who Should Be on Trade Watch This Offseason
With player movement seemingly drawing just as much interest as the games themselves, NBA trade watch never really stops. But with postseason participants dwindling and most organizations already shifting into offseason mode, the focus on the league's transactional side is revving up.
Case in point: The biggest topic of discussion over the past several days has been Giannis Antetokounmpo's future with the Milwaukee Bucks.
He's not the only big name commanding attention, though. Several others ended their seasons and quickly found themselves swept up in trade chatter. Such is life in the NBA churn.
There's no such thing as an untradeable player, and these superstars are the ones to watch most closely this offseason.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
Mere hours after Giannis Antetokounmpo's Milwaukee Bucks made their disappointing second-round exit from the playoffs, the 25-year-old MVP told Yahoo Sports' Chris Haynes there was no chance he would force his way to another team.
"It's not happening," Antetokounmpo said. "That's not happening."
And yet...here we are. Despite the clearest possible refutation directly from the source, we have to start here. Sorry, but we just do.
This is about which superstars should be on trade watch, and the fact that one of the very first post-elimination questions Antetokounmpo faced was about the possibility of a trade means there's at least something to watch here.
Skeptics might be right to say this is all media-driven. Maybe Antetokounmpo really is committed to sticking it out with the Bucks despite a second straight year of proof that their personnel and tactical inflexibility aren't cut out for postseason success.
But we've seen so many iterations of this scenario before. LeBron James wasn't going to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers until he did. More recently, Anthony Davis professed clear intentions to stay with the New Orleans Pelicans. You've probably noticed AD doesn't play for the Pels anymore.
Superstars change their minds. We know this.
So if Antetokounmpo doesn't sign the supermax extension when the Bucks slide it across the table, expect the speculation to increase. The Golden State Warriors, Toronto Raptors and Miami Heat could try to pounce on a Milwaukee organization that may only be a year away from losing him for nothing.
In all likelihood, Giannis will play out the 2020-21 season with Milwaukee—extension signed or unsigned. The Bucks would be wise to take one more crack at a title run, and Antetokounmpo is in the rare position of risking almost nothing by pushing his contract decision down the road a year; Kevin Durant, a half-decade older and having just suffered a devastating Achilles tear, got max money this past offseason.
The cash will be there for Antetokounmpo no matter what.
Still, keep those eyes peeled. A trade isn't likely, but it's far from impossible, and no offseason move would more severely alter the NBA landscape.
Chris Paul, Oklahoma City Thunder
Former head coach Billy Donovan's departure was a dead giveaway that after a "look what we found!" competitive season, the Oklahoma City Thunder are angling for a rebuild.
The veteran coach turned down a two-year offer prior to the resumption of play in the bubble, according to The Athletic's Shams Charania, and you have to assume he would have hung around if OKC had made clear its intentions to keep a veteran, playoff-ready roster together.
Chris Paul, 35, has no business participating in a rebuild. So we can essentially revive all the same trade speculation that started immediately after his move to the Thunder prior to the 2019-20 season. Now, though, Paul has one fewer costly year on his contract and is fresh off a season in which he proved he can still elevate a team on his own.
Despite another trip around the sun nudging him closer to the end of his career, CP3 is a more attractive trade target than he was a year ago.
The New York Times' Marc Stein reported rival teams believe the Bucks will pursue a Paul deal. He'd give Milwaukee the pick-and-roll maestro it lacks and create the easy looks Antetokounmpo has been missing since he became a superstar.
Count the Philadelphia 76ers in as rumored suitors, as well, per The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor. And don't forget the New York Knicks, perennial seekers of a splash who happen to have installed Paul's former agent, Leon Rose, as team president.
The trade that felt inevitable from the moment Paul joined the Thunder didn't happen during the year. But it will this offseason.
You can book this one.
Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers
Philadelphia 76ers general manager Elton Brand said he's not looking to trade Joel Embiid or Ben Simmons, citing an intention to make the pairing fit "as long as possible."
But how long are we really talking? Some might say after two disappointing playoff runs and copious reels of film that show a clunky partnership, it's been long enough. Add to that Embiid's injury history and persistent failure to get himself into top physical shape, and you could excuse the Sixers for wondering whether a move is worth pursuing.
Sure, Brand tried to shut that idea down after the 76ers got swept out of the first round. But how often do executives traipse up to the podium in the wake of defeat and say, "Man, that was a disaster, right? Hop in the bunker because we're gonna nuke this thing!"?
It doesn't happen because there's never any benefit to telegraphing true intentions when the league smells blood in the water, but teams do move on from star players. So view Brand's comments, which had the added benefit of signaling it'll take a hefty offer to sway him, with the requisite skepticism.
Back in February, ESPN's Tim Bontemps reported that most league executives believed Embiid, not Simmons, would be the one to go if Philly opts to break up the band. That still feels like the wiser choice today because of the big man's inconsistent effort level and—yes, again—that health history.
Landing spots are tricky to find, but the Sixers could do a lot worse than, say, Andrew Wiggins and a pair of first-rounders from the Warriors.
Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards
For more than a year, the Washington Wizards have been uniformly on-message that they don't intend to trade Bradley Beal. This reluctance apparently stems from a desire to see what Beal will look like alongside a 30-year-old, post-Achilles-tear John Wall, who hasn't played an NBA game since December 2018.
It may also have something to do with the fact that Beal just averaged 30.5 points per game in his age-26 season. He's young enough to be Washington's go-to star for another half-decade, though he'll have a hard time collecting wins for much of that stretch with Wall due to collect $131.5 million between now and 2022-23.
The Brooklyn Nets want a third star, and every team with assets earmarked for an Antetokounmpo offer could knock 20 percent off and use them to make a fallback play for Beal. If Giannis signs that supermax, Beal would immediately ascend to the top of the "potentially gettable star" list, driving up the price and making it harder than ever for the Wizards to stick to their guns.
Beal and Wall want to play together again, and while it's nice to see a brotherly bond that strong, circumstances could quickly change if success doesn't come on the court. These two never made Washington anything close to a title threat. Why believe they can now?
Beal improved substantially during Wall's absence, but his growth might be offset by Wall's likely decline. On balance, there's not much reason to think the Wizards will reach even the modest heights of 2016-17 when they won 49 games (Wall and Beal's highest total together) and exited the playoffs in the second round.
If Washington is being realistic, it has to view this offseason as the best time to move Beal. Waiting until the 2020-21 season goes south and Beal understandably starts agitating for a move will only cost them negotiating leverage.
Now is the time to strike.
Jrue Holiday, New Orleans Pelicans
Though he's not quite in the fuzzily defined "superstar" tier of the previous four players, Jrue Holiday is close enough to make the cut. He was robbed of a deserved All-Defensive selection this year, and you can't find a teammate or opponent who won't gush about his impact.
More importantly, Holiday feels like a lock to be moved.
Start with his age, 30, which is way outside of the New Orleans Pelicans' Zion Williamson-Brandon Ingram timeline. Then note his extremely movable contract, which will pay him $26.1 million next year with a $27 million player option for 2021-22.
Holiday may not be a transformative player when thrust into an alpha role, but any veteran team in search of a second or third star to put it over the top should be falling all over itself to land a guy who can run an offense, get you 20 points per game if you need him to and, above all, shut down the opponent's most dangerous perimeter threat.
ESPN's Tim Bontemps tabbed Holiday as a Warriors target (there they are again), and New Orleans would look pretty good with Wiggins and the No. 2 pick in the 2020 draft in its stable of assets.
The Dallas Mavericks always have grander ambitions and should wait to see if they can sign Giannis Antetokounmpo outright in 2021, but they could easily pivot to a Holiday pursuit if it becomes clear the Bucks star isn't in the cards.
Really, it'd be easier to list the teams for which Holiday wouldn't be a great fit. There might be a half-dozen of them, tops, and the only reason for them to pass on him would be because they're too young or not interested in trying to win yet.
This has turned into a Holiday love letter, but that's fine. There's a lot to love.