The Best Trade Every NBA Team Can Actually Make This Offseason
Despite this offseason's talent-deficient and cash-strapped free-agency period, NBA teams aren't just going to give up on trying to improve themselves. So the upside to what could be an uneventful set of signings is that trades, which are even more fun, could spike.
We won't see every team swing a deal, but we've got a favorable hypothetical swap ready for all 30 teams anyway.
A team's "best" trade depends on its circumstances—roster needs, financial motivators and where a club sits on the rebuild-to-contend continuum will all be factors. Win-now moves and large salary acquisitions aren't for everyone.
Though we'll certainly slant these deals in favor of the team in the section header, we can't just toss out suggestions of highway robbery. Proposed trades have to make at least some sense for both parties—even if it takes a little squinting and suspension of disbelief to get there.
Finally, we're excluding any trade involving Giannis Antetokounmpo because it doesn’t look like the Milwaukee Bucks are moving the two-time MVP. And also because you've seen 10,000 Giannis trade ideas over the last several weeks. We all need a break from those.
The Trade: Atlanta Hawks acquire Rudy Gobert and Joe Ingles from the Utah Jazz for Clint Capela, De'Andre Hunter, Kevin Huerter and the No. 6 overall pick in 2020
The Utah Jazz have to be convinced of two things for this deal to go down.
First, that Rudy Gobert isn't worth anything close to the supermax extension for which he's eligible this offseason. Second, that two playoff series wins in the four seasons Gobert has been a full-time starter suggest a team built around a costly conventional center can't cut it.
Gobert is an across-the-board upgrade on Clint Capela, and he would single-handedly correct the poor defensive performance in Atlanta. Maybe selling off so many assets for a veteran big man (who'll need a fat extension) seems extreme, but so are the defensive issues created by a starting unit that includes Trae Young and John Collins.
Joe Ingles is more than a throw-in here. He'd give the Hawks the quality secondary playmaker they've needed since Young's rookie year. Atlanta should still hunt for a backup point guard, but Ingles and Gobert's pick-and-roll chemistry could sustain the offense with Young off the floor.
Young, heading into his third season, looks ready to be the type of scoring threat that assures a top-10 offense on his own. Gobert has that same effect on the other end. If the Hawks are ready to start competing, this is how they get it done.
The Trade: Boston Celtics acquire Myles Turner and Jeremy Lamb from the Indiana Pacers for Gordon Hayward, the No. 14 pick in the 2020 draft and a 2021 first-round pick
If the current Boston Celtics roster has a weakness, it's the lack of a floor-stretching center with the ability to defend the rim and survive on switches. There's a good reason for that: Almost no team has a player who can do all those things.
Myles Turner is one of them, and if the Pacers decide to split up him and Domantas Sabonis, the Celtics should come ready with a hefty offer.
Gordon Hayward is duplicative in a Boston rotation that already has a trove of quality wings, but he'd give the Pacers some frontcourt playmaking and savvy. He and T.J. Warren would look good together.
Though the Celtics aren't usually in the business of surrendering first-rounders (they like to take them from other teams), they can justify the two-pick outlay for a fit as perfect as Turner.
The Trade: Brooklyn Nets acquire Joel Embiid from Philadelphia 76ers for Caris LeVert, Spencer Dinwiddie, Jarrett Allen, the No. 19 pick in the 2020 draft and a 2022 first-round pick.
The best move for the Brooklyn Nets might be no move at all, but it's long felt like the organization is fated to add a third star alongside Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Who needs depth and quality players outperforming their contracts anyway?
If Brooklyn is going to swing big, it may as well swing for a big. There aren't many bigger than Joel Embiid, who profiles as likelier to move than Ben Simmons if the Sixers shake things up. Note, too, that Mike D'Antoni is among the early candidates to take over as coach in Philly. If that hire happens, Simmons seems much more like a D'Antoni center than Embiid does.
Brooklyn would get its defensive anchor and third star while trusting (probably rightly) that Durant and Irving won't need the playmaking and shot-creation Spencer Dinwiddie and Caris LeVert would have provided.
The only hangup will be explaining to Embiid that DeAndre Jordan still has dibs on the starting center spot because he's friends with KD and Kyrie...
The Trade: Charlotte Hornets acquire Steven Adams from the Oklahoma City Thunder for Terry Rozier
The Charlotte Hornets have been smothered by bad contracts over the last several years, which makes it too cruel to suggest they use their cap space to take on more rotten multiyear deals with picks attached this offseason. The damage done by the 2016 offseason is still too fresh—and in Nicolas Batum's case, literally still present.
With Devonte' Graham proving his mettle as a lead guard, one logical move is flipping Terry Rozier for players who address needs elsewhere in the rotation. All the better if the Hornets can hoard extra cap space in the process.
Steven Adams is something of a dinosaur in today's NBA, but he'd offer toughness and defensive smarts to a frontcourt that needs some in Charlotte. His lack of stretch would also hurt less with P.J. Washington at the 4.
The bigger bonus here is financial. The Hornets can let Adams' deal expire after this season (Rozier's runs for two more years) and hit 2021 free agency with $17.9 million more cash than they would have had available with Rozier on the roster.
The Trade: Chicago Bulls acquire Tobias Harris, unprotected 2022 first-round pick and a 2020 second-round pick from the Philadelphia 76ers for Otto Porter Jr. (opt-in)
New management and a new head coach won't change the fact that the Chicago Bulls are still a ways off from contention. So this is the kind of deal a team in that situation should be looking to swing: bad money and picks for expiring deals.
Yes, Tobias Harris' contract is beyond cumbersome. He's due $147 million over the next four seasons. But if the Bulls aren't serious playoff threats in, say, the first two of those, maybe the exorbitant cost doesn't matter quite as much. The 2022 pick coming from the Sixers has massive upside, as the looming possibility of a Joel Embiid-Ben Simmons breakup could result in a far less competitive Philly outfit in two years.
Chicago could insist on Mattise Thybulle's involvement, but the 76ers are already surrendering a ton to get off Harris' deal.
Ultimately, Chicago gets a slight upgrade on Otto Porter Jr.—especially when factoring in health—and a pair of picks that could help make up for some of its recent draft misses. And though Harris will never be the top option his salary says he is, don't rule out improvement from a player who has made a habit of getting better year after year.
The Trade: Cleveland Cavaliers acquire Harrison Barnes, Jabari Parker and swap rights on a 2021 first-round pick from the Sacramento Kings for Kevin Love
It's a little ridiculous that the Cleveland Cavaliers view Kevin Love's salary as anything but a negative-value asset—one they won't trade without getting young players and picks in return, but let's go with it.
The Sacramento Kings have a new front office that might want to make a splash and chase a playoff trip (regardless of circumstances, making the postseason always seems to be the Kings' goal), and Love would be a clear upgrade over Harrison Barnes.
It might not be ideal to put another frontcourt player in the rotation ahead of Marvin Bagley III, but if the No. 2 pick in the 2019 draft is ever going to fulfill his potential, a little competition might be helpful.
Cleveland gets very little in Jabari Parker and swap rights it probably won't use in the 2021 first round, but this technically fulfills the "young player and pick" requirement. The big selling point here is exchanging Love for Harrison Barnes and trimming roughly $9 million per season over the next three years. The Cavs are still encumbered by Barnes' contract, but the burden won't be quite as heavy.
The Trade: Dallas Mavericks acquire Josh Richardson from the Philadelphia 76ers for Seth Curry and the No. 18 pick in the 2020 draft
The Dallas Mavericks can't take on long-term money without compromising their precious 2021 cap space—which may or may not be earmarked for Giannis Antetokounmpo. We're going to add a negligible amount ($3 million) by swapping Seth Curry and the Mavs' 2020 first-rounder for Josh Richardson, but the talent upgrade makes that sacrifice worth it.
Curry is one of the most accurate three-point shooters in league history, and he's long been underrated as a defender. That's the sales pitch Dallas will have to make to the Philadelphia 76ers if it hopes to extract Richardson in a buy-low move. J-Rich is only a year removed from a killer age-25 season with the Miami Heat in which he averaged 16.6 points, 4.1 assists and 3.6 rebounds while hitting a respectable 35.7 percent of his threes.
He did all that while playing some of the best perimeter defense in the league, proving he could wrangle point guards and all but the largest wings. Along with Dorian Finney-Smith, he'd give Dallas some serious shutdown potency on D. Considering his superior health record (Curry has lost multiple seasons to injury) and versatility, Richardson would he a huge upgrade in talent at minimal cost.
The first-rounder going from Dallas to Philly is a good sweetener, and the Sixers might be sour on Richardson after a down year in which he struggled to master a new role. In Dallas, he'll find better spacing and have Luka Doncic spoon-feeding him clean looks.
The Trade: Denver Nuggets acquire Jrue Holiday from the New Orleans Pelicans for Gary Harris, Will Barton and a 2020 first-round pick (via Houston Rockets)
Gary Harris has been useful since returning to the Nuggets rotation late in the first round of this year's playoffs, and his perimeter defense is key to a team that lacks backcourt stoppers. But while Harris is good defensively, he's not on Jrue Holiday's level.
The Pelicans vet will be tough to pry loose from New Orleans, as he's among the game's top two-way guards, a consummate pro and, critically, not angling to change teams. It's obvious the 30-year-old Holiday doesn't quite fit into the timeline of a team built around Zion Williamson (20) and Brandon Ingram (23), though, so there's a good reason he's been involved in trade chatter for the last 18 months.
The Pels might want to skew younger in their return package for Holiday, but Harris and Barton are both on reasonable deals and would address a need on the wing. Denver could easily throw in an additional protected first-rounder if draft assets became a sticking point.
The Nuggets' side of this is simple: Holiday would give them the option of playing two versatile, high-end defenders at a time. Between him and Jerami Grant, Denver could more easily cover for the shortcomings of Michael Porter Jr. and Nikola Jokic. Holiday is also a better shot-creator than Harris, and he could take pressure off Jamal Murray on both ends.
The Trade: Detroit Pistons acquire Andre Iguodala, Kelly Olynyk (opt-in) and the No. 20 pick in 2020 from the Miami Heat for Derrick Rose
We'll move Blake Griffin to another team shortly, but the return will be of questionable value. Frankly, it might be impossible to get away from his contract without surrendering future assets—something the rebuilding Pistons should avoid. There's a reason Detroit is unlikely to swing a Blake trade.
So we'll leave Griffin alone here and suggest a more certain value-add for the rebuilding Pistons, who don't have to use their cap space to sign a free agent. Instead, Detroit should use that room to add another team's unwanted money with a pick attached.
The Miami Heat are always shipping out firsts for win-now talent, and as a perennially desirable free-agent destination, the value of their cap space is higher than almost anyone else's. Here, the Heat clear nearly $20 million in salary and add a quality backup point guard in Derrick Rose (who might also be insurance for a Goran Dragic departure).
If the Heat intend to spend on this year's market, they've got some juice now. And if their pursuit of Giannis Antetokounmpo re-engages in 2021 free agency, the added flexibility might even allow them to pitch him on another star joining him.
Detroit might rather have Miami's 2022 first-rounder, but with the Heat likely to contend for a few more seasons—especially if they put their increased cap space to good use—the 20th selection in this year's draft is a good price for taking on around $27 million in salary. Andre Iguodala and Kelly Olynyk could also be flipped to contenders down the road.
Golden State Warriors
The Trade: Golden State Warriors acquire Robert Covington from the Houston Rockets for $17.2 million TPE and an unprotected 2022 first-round pick.
Most Warriors trade chatter you'll see focuses on Giannis Antetokounmpo (not happening) and packages involving the Dubs' more immediate first-round assets: this year's No. 2 overall selection and a 2021 first-rounder coming via the Minnesota Timberwolves. If Bradley Beal, Jrue Holiday or the available star of your choice is the target, Andrew Wiggins and those picks are how such an unlikely transaction would get done.
But if we're focusing on non pie-in-the-sky moves, it seems like Golden State's trade exception, which will disappear if it goes unused this offseason, is the chip most certain to wind up on the table.
The Houston Rockets are at a crossroads. Locked into enormous salaries for James Harden and Russell Westbrook and now in search of a new head coach after Mike D'Antoni basically said "thanks, but no thanks" to a new deal, this tax-averse organization might be looking for ways to save money and restock its picks. If GM Daryl Morey also departs, the Rockets might actually value first-rounders again.
Robert Covington can defend the rim as well as any 6'7" wing has a right to, switch across multiple positions, hit the open three and patrol the passing lanes as one of the handsiest and most intuitive off-ball defenders in the game.
That skill set plays anywhere, but it'd be particularly valuable on a Warriors team that needs more wing defense and spot-up shooting. If the Rockets go into full fire-sale mode, Golden State should consider expanding its draft offerings and finding a way to get P.J. Tucker included. But in the interest of keeping this semi-realistic, a swap centering on Covington and that valuable TPE feels like the best combination of quality and feasibility the Warriors can expect.
The Trade: Houston Rockets acquire Blake Griffin, a 2021 first-round pick (top-8 protected through 2023, converts to two second-rounders in 2024) and a 2023 second-round pick (via Portland Trail Blazers) from the Detroit Pistons for Russell Westbrook
There's a debate to be had about whether Blake Griffin or Russell Westbrook has the more crippling contract.
Griffin's extends until 2021-22 if he picks up his $38 million player option, while Westbrook's runs a year longer and includes an incomprehensible $47 million player option for 2022-23. Griffin's health is shakier, and it's possible he may not contribute anything meaningful over the life of his deal. Russ figures to be on the floor more, but his decline is already upon us. His shooting limitations and unwillingness to compromise his alpha style means he may do more harm than good over the next three seasons.
There's no question that from a dollars-to-production measurement, both players will be net negatives.
Let's assume Westbrook is the more "valuable" asset here. That's good news for Houston, which needs draft capital and a quicker path to financial flexibility than almost any other team. This move gets the Rockets off Westbrook's deal and returns modest future assets. Maybe it seems strange for a team that just lost in the second round to trade a veteran it surrendered so much to get, but it feels like significant change is afoot with the Rockets.
And hey, Griffin might do just fine as a small-ball center anyway. He's developed enough of a three-point shot to fit into the Rockets' schemes, and he might even be a better facilitator than Westbrook at this point.
Yes, this deal is a mess and hard to justify from both sides. But Houston has zero flexibility and should be thinking of any possible avenue to create some. This might be the best the Rockets can do.
Why is Detroit interested? That's tough, but Russ did make the All-NBA third team and has proven his ability to raise a team's floor to "first-round elimination" with minimal talent around him. Maybe the Pistons would rather have that than two more years of purgatory until Griffin's deal expires.
The Trade: Indiana Pacers acquire Jrue Holiday and a 2021 second-round pick (via Washington Wizards) from the New Orleans Pelicans for Myles Turner and Doug McDermott
Victor Oladipo has long felt like a trade candidate as he heads into the final year of his contract with no assurances the Indiana Pacers will extend him before free agency in 2021, but the Pacers would be wise to see if he regains All-Star form as he gets more distance from that devastating quad injury.
And now, with Jrue Holiday aboard as insurance, they should be less concerned about possibly losing Oladipo for nothing next offseason.
Indy surrenders Myles Turner, fulfilling two-plus years of speculation that it would have to break him and Domantas Sabonis up. Holiday's addition means the Pacers now have him, Oladipo and Malcolm Brogdon vying for minutes, but that's a feature, not a bug. Nobody's ever complained about a team having too many quality playmaking guards, and those three are good enough defenders to start and play heavy minutes together.
Plus, Indiana is assured of always having at least one defensively stellar lead guard on the floor.
New Orleans is doing backflips over this package, as Turner is the ideal floor-stretching, rim-defending big to pair with Zion Williamson. We'll give the Pels a little more in the way of youth and future assets when we get to their best deal, but this one is pretty close to optimal.
As an added bonus for the Pacers, this move basically assures Justin Holiday will re-sign for a reasonable number in free agency. With his two brothers on the roster, there's no way he's skipping town.
Los Angeles Clippers
The Trade: Los Angeles Clippers acquire Jalen Brunson from the Dallas Mavericks for Landry Shamet
We've got an old-fashioned challenge trade here, with two playoff teams swapping young guards in a one-for-one deal that, theoretically, addresses the specific needs of both parties.
This year's Clips lacked a true point guard on the roster. Reggie Jackson came closest to filling that positional void, but he ultimately didn't deserve postseason playing time and is a flight risk in free agency. Jalen Brunson averaged 6.6 assists per 36 minutes with the Dallas Mavericks this year, more than twice what Shamet managed for the Clippers.
At 40.2 percent from deep for his career, Landry Shamet is undeniably a better shooter. He's a better fit with the Mavs, whose entire goal should be surrounding Luka Doncic with spacing threats. Brunson, a more traditional ball-handler, is crafty and intelligent while also boasting a sneakily effective in-between game.
Dallas doesn't really need what he brings, but Los Angeles does.
Anyone who can take some of the playmaking load off Kawhi Leonard's shoulders while not operating as a total turnstile on defense will see time. As it is, Patrick Beverley is overtaxed as a ball-handler (and he fouls everything that moves, negating some of his defensive value), and Lou Williams becomes the opponent's pick-and-roll target the moment he steps on the floor.
This may feel like an unambitious deal for the Clips, but this team has no draft assets or movable mid-tier salaries. Unless you want them to move Ivica Zubac (which you should not), shopping Shamet is the best way to address the point guard dilemma.
Los Angeles Lakers
The Trade: Los Angeles Lakers acquire Dennis Schroder from the Oklahoma City Thunder for Kyle Kuzma
Even if you exclude Anthony Davis, whose return is a foregone conclusion, the Los Angeles Lakers still have four other players with a total of $19.2 million in player options this offseason. Depending on how the balance of the playoffs shake out, it's anyone's guess as to how those decisions resolve.
So yes, we need a third team or significant cap-clearing from the Lakers to make this deal workable. But with so much uncertainty ahead of L.A.'s offseason, it's best to just get the basics down and worry about the details later.
Dennis Schroder would give the Lakers a clear second-unit leader, and his energy and shot-making would make him a welcome addition to the closing five. Rajon Rondo's playoff resurrection is a nice story, but he's not up to the task of playing significant minutes over a full year. Seeding still matters, and Schroder is still at a point in his career where he'd be a bigger help during the slog of the regular season. And, let's just say it: Rondo surely won't be this effective in the 2021 postseason at age 35.
Los Angeles will miss Kyle Kuzma, but he's the team's only asset likely to generate a meaningful return. OKC would be glad to get a young piece for an expiring deal.
The Trade: Memphis Grizzlies acquire Patty Mills from the San Antonio Spurs for Kyle Anderson
The San Antonio Spurs drafted and developed Kyle Anderson, but decided he wasn't worth what the Memphis Grizzlies were willing to pay him in 2018 free agency. With two of the four years he signed for now in the rearview, maybe San Antonio will see value in the 26-year-old's slo-mo game again.
Memphis' bench didn't quite break even during the regular season, and it was a notable weakness in the bubble. Patty Mills is a verified firestarter off the pine, capable of scoring in bunches and changing a game's defensive tone with his frenetic perimeter pressure. He and De'Anthony Melton could wreak havoc together against backups—if the Grizz keep Melton in free agency, which they should.
Tyus Jones is already a fine backup, but Mills, in the last year of his deal, can play either guard spot, and Jones' health has never been reliable. Add to that the veteran guidance Mills could provide to Ja Morant as the young guard assumes further control of a team nearly ready to win, and the value to Memphis is obvious.
San Antonio should push for the Grizzlies to include Grayson Allen, Jones or a pick, but you'd think the crowded backcourt and six-year age-difference between Mills and Anderson would be enough to convince the Spurs this is a worthwhile move.
The Trade: Miami Heat acquire LaMarcus Aldridge from the San Antonio Spurs for Andre Iguodala, Kelly Olynyk and a 2022 second-round pick (via Philadelphia 76ers)
The Heat's roster is pretty close to perfect—both from a competitive standpoint and from a financial planning perspective. They've got the decks mostly clear for the free-agent bonanza summer of 2021, and taking on any money that goes beyond next season is a nonstarter.
They should stand pat.
If the Heat have to make a move, it must be for a veteran upgrade that doesn't compromise future flexibility. LaMarcus Aldridge is a more complete offensive player than Kelly Olynyk, and he'd add some punch to Miami's second-unit offense for a year before his expiring deal comes off the books.
Andre Iguodala fits anywhere and would give San Antonio a veteran to flip at the deadline. His $15 million salary for 2020-21 should still be attractive, especially with a team option giving whoever acquires him significant future flexibility.
The Spurs should ask for Kendrick Nunn instead of that 2022 second, but this trade is already debatably beneficial to the Heat. Nunn's inclusion would probably be a dealbreaker for Miami.
The Trade: Milwaukee Bucks acquire Chris Paul from the Oklahoma City Thunder for Eric Bledsoe, Ersan Ilyasova, Robin Lopez, Donte DiVincenzo and Milwaukee's 2020 first-round pick
It's a cop out, but the best trade the Milwaukee Bucks could make is whichever one Giannis Antetokounmpo wants most. An organization is always beholden to the desires of its best player, but the two-time MVP's uncertain future means the Bucks should be particularly focused on pleasing Antetokounmpo.
If he says to go out and get the moon, Milwaukee should take it literally and start looking into extra-long lasso technology and/or book a few fact-finding SpaceX flights.
Chris Paul is the obvious target here—a ball-handling orchestrator who'd give the Bucks a true pick-and-roll threat and crunch-time closer. His age (35) and salary (two more years and $85 million left on his deal) are concerns, but the Bucks are in extreme win-now mode. Governor Marc Lasry's willingness to pay the luxury tax suggests the cost won't preclude a Paul pursuit.
The Bucks don't have much in the way of draft capital, but with the rebuilding Thunder already flush with future picks from the Paul George and Russell Westbrook trades, a package including some young talent and matching salary might be enough to get this done.
The Trade: Minnesota Timberwolves acquire Dennis Schroder from the Oklahoma City Thunder for James Johnson (opt-in) and a 2022 second-round pick
The Minnesota Timberwolves could get more ambitious by adding more salary to James Johnson's outgoing expiring deal, possibly targeting pricier players like Buddy Hield. But the Wolves don't exactly need a third high-priced, offense-only cornerstone.
Dennis Schroder, like Johnson, is heading into the final year of his contract. Unlike Johnson, he's a valuable fringe starter who could join D'Angelo Russell in an undersized first-unit backcourt or reprise the supersub role he played with the Thunder. A tenacious defender when he wants to be, Schroder could save Russell from tough matchups and assure the Wolves' offense at least produces points in transition when its starters rest.
There's an outside chance OKC could secure a first-rounder for Schroder at the 2021 deadline, but it's hard to be sure whether a team will view renting a backup guard for a few months as worth that much draft capital. Plus, Schroder's value could decline as Oklahoma City strips off veteran talent around him during its likely rebuild.
The Wolves could certainly haul in something more significant than Schroder if they put their top pick in the 2020 draft on the table and/or made some of their younger talent (Jarrett Culver, Josh Okogie) available. But this trade, which lands Minnesota something for nothing, is tough to top.
New Orleans Pelicans
The Trade: New Orleans Pelicans acquire Tyler Herro, Kendrick Nunn, Kelly Olynyk (opt-in) and a 2020 first-round pick (No. 30 overall) from the Miami Heat for Jrue Holiday
If Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson do some fast-track growing over the next two seasons, the Pelicans' best move might be holding onto Jrue Holiday through the 2021-22 season. New Orleans could be playing meaningful postseason games during that window, which encompasses the final two seasons of Holiday's current deal, if its youth develops quickly. Considering the Pelicans were a fringe playoff contender without getting much from Williamson, a quick rise feels likely.
But if it becomes clear Holiday's time has come, the Pels could do a lot worse than adding a pair of young, low-cost guards who've already proved they can handle high-leverage playoff minutes. Tyler Herro (20) and Kendrick Nunn (25) have now spent over a full calendar year at Heat University, which means they've gotten the equivalent of four years of hardcore seasoning anywhere else.
They'll come ready to play. The real hangup might be convincing the Heat to part with Herro.
Think of this as a roster realignment, with New Orleans cutting costs, adding upside and grabbing talent that can age alongside the rest of its youth.
The Heat, meanwhile, add more veteran toughness and production to a roster built for success during Jimmy Butler's prime.
New York Knicks
The Trade: New York Knicks acquire Chris Paul from the Oklahoma City Thunder for Frank Ntilikina, Wayne Ellington and a 2020 first-round pick (via Los Angeles Clippers)
This package, the "best" for the Knicks, is much lighter than the one we'll toss out for a Chris Paul trade that's "best" for the Thunder in the next section. It's still within the realm of possibility, though, as it's difficult to know exactly what the market will be for CP3.
Paul and the Knicks wanting to work together might be likelier than you think, given Paul's relationship with former agent and current Knicks president Leon Rose, not to mention his status as head of the players union. With the league office situated in New York, it might behoove Paul to spend more time nearby—especially with so much uncertainty surrounding everything from the salary cap to the termination of the collective bargaining agreement.
The on-court justification is simple. The Knicks get a culture-setting veteran star who makes them relevant while surrendering very little. OKC should ask for more than this, perhaps insisting on an additional pick and more young talent. But it's also possible the Thunder would want to do right by Paul and get him to a team in a city he wants without stripping the roster bare.
Ascribing that kind of altruism to an NBA franchise is naive, but let's not forget the Knicks are taking on significant risk here. Paul is 35 and due to make over $85 million over the next two years. Viewed that way, New York's offer isn't so unreasonable.
Oklahoma City Thunder
The Trade: Oklahoma City Thunder acquire Kevin Knox, Frank Ntilikina, Dennis Smith Jr., 2020 first-round pick (via Los Angeles Clippers), 2021 first-round pick (via Dallas Mavericks) from the New York Knicks for Chris Paul.
We've already sent Chris Paul to the Bucks, and we're going to ship him to the Sixers momentarily, but this package is the best the Thunder can realistically expect from the handful of teams gunning for the veteran point guard.
The main benefit is the lack of high-dollar, long-term contracts coming back to Oklahoma City, a feature of the Knicks' substantial cap space allowing them to take Paul in without having to match his enormous salary. The other is draft capital which, while not overwhelming, at least includes a pair of first-rounders. If this deal were to go down, OKC would have a whopping three firsts in 2021.
Kevin Knox, Frank Ntilikina and Dennis Smith Jr. are wild cards. All three have underwhelmed relative to expectations and could continue to struggle. But if one of them pops, it'll be worth it to the Thunder, who love projects on the wing and have little use for Paul in a rebuild anyway.
The Trade: Orlando Magic acquire No. 2 pick in the 2020 draft from the Golden State Warriors for Aaron Gordon and the No. 15 pick in the 2020 draft
It seems like Aaron Gordon has been in trade rumors since the moment he signed his deal in 2018. With the Orlando Magic looking just as tethered to the mediocrity treadmill now as they did two years ago, it's time to turn those rumors into action.
Orlando gets a bit of a fresh start here, adding the second selection in the 2020 draft from Golden State, who'd technically have to swap its $17.2 million TPE for another player and then send that player to Orlando with the pick for Gordon. The Magic could find the backcourt or wing playmaker they've lacked at No. 2, restocking the young-asset cupboards that now look pretty bare in the wake of Jonathan Isaac's latest significant injury.
Gordon is a good player on a fair deal, but he'd matter more for a Warriors team that needs his defensive versatility and athleticism. Cast as the fourth option, Gordon could shine by focusing less on scoring and more on all of the other little things—switching, getting out in transition, rebounding, playmaking—he does well.
The Trade: Philadelphia 76ers acquire Chris Paul from the Oklahoma City Thunder for Al Horford, Matisse Thybulle, Mike Scott and 2020 first-round pick (via OKC)
The Sixers would probably prefer to get off Tobias Harris' money, but that contract is among the most untradeable in the league, and this package is already looking a little thin from the Thunder's end. Realistically, OKC should insist on Josh Richardson instead of Mike Scott and try to get an additional first-rounder in exchange for absorbing Al Horford's deal.
In this hypothetical, the Thunder would surely want to flip Horford to a third team or insist on involving another club in the original deal. Any CP3 trade would precipitate a rebuild, and Horford wouldn't have any place in one of those.
Chris Paul to Philly is the focus here, in a scenario where the 76ers keep stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons together (as GM Elton Brand professed they would) and finally address the playmaking void that has plagued the team for several years.
This doesn't entirely solve the spacing crunch that results from playing Simmons and Embiid together, but Paul thrived leading an OKC offense with Steven Adams and plenty of wings with shaky shots in Oklahoma City. He could handle the challenge in Philadelphia.
The Trade: Phoenix Suns acquire $17.2 million trade exception and No. 2 pick in 2020 draft from Golden State Warriors for Kelly Oubre Jr. and No. 10 pick in 2020 draft
The Phoenix Suns should be encouraged by their stellar bubble run, but they can't mistake that 8-0 achievement for evidence that their core is fully formed and ready to contend. They need another crack at a cost-controlled superstar, and though most believe this year's draft lacks such a talent, Phoenix is a lot more likely to hit the lottery at No. 2 than No. 10.
The cost of that move is Kelly Oubre Jr., a valuable player at a premium combo-forward position, but one who didn't participate in Phoenix's restart run. He might be the best Golden State can do with its trade exception, and the Warriors might also be convinced there's no difference in the impact they'd get from the No. 10 and No. 2 picks. The Dubs need quality rotation help if they're going to rejuvenate their contender status, and Oubre can provide it as either a starter with Draymond Green-at-center lineups or as a high-scoring sixth man.
Admit it: You're a lot more excited about the Suns with, say, Anthony Edwards or LaMelo Ball alongside Devin Booker than you are about Oubre and whoever's there at No. 10.
Portland Trail Blazers
The Trade: Portland Trail Blazers acquire Aaron Gordon from the Orlando Magic for Trevor Ariza, Anfernee Simons and a lottery-protected 2022 first-round pick (converts to two future seconds if not conveyed)
Aaron Gordon isn't a true shutdown defender, but he'd fill a void in a Portland Trail Blazers frontcourt that has struggled to get consistent stops since moving on from Al-Farouq Aminu and Moe Harkless in the 2019 offseason. Added bonus: Gordon would add transition speed and bounce to a squad short on athleticism at most positions.
Simons is a promising prospect who took a bit of a step back in his second season. But he's only 21, and while his minutes will forever be capped playing behind Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, he'd get a real opportunity to develop in Orlando's less impressive backcourt.
If 2022 winds up being the year of the double draft, the Blazers might not want to give up a first-rounder from that offseason, even with lottery protections on it. Still, the chance to slot Gordon into an obvious position of need should make this a relatively easy trigger to pull.
The Trade: Sacramento Kings acquire Jarrett Allen, Rodions Kurucs and Taurean Prince from the Brooklyn Nets for Buddy Hield and a 2022 second-round pick
The Kings may appear to only be getting three second-unit players for someone they inked to a pricey four-year extension just last offseason, but note that Buddy Hield himself was a backup by the end of the 2019-20 campaign—and a mostly disgruntled one at that.
When you also consider he's the oldest player in this deal (he's got a whopping half-decade on both Jarrett Allen and Rodions Kurucs), this is actually a terrific return.
Allen is a long-term solution at the 5, Kurucs has real potential as a perimeter 4 who can make things happen off the dribble, and Taurean Prince's deal comes off the books in 2022. Considering all signs point to the Kings retaining Bogdan Bogdanovic in restricted free agency, it's an added bonus that this swap would save them about $3 million in 2020-21 salary. Every little bit helps.
Hield probably isn't the third star Brooklyn wants, but it wouldn't have to surrender most of its top-end assets to get him. Caris LeVert and Spencer Dinwiddie could still wind up in packages for a bigger name. And though Hield's desire to be a first option might complicate things, he's also good insurance in the event Joe Harris, Brooklyn's resident sniper, leaves in free agency.
San Antonio Spurs
The Trade: San Antonio Spurs acquire Gordon Hayward (opt-in) and Robert Williams III from the Boston Celtics for LaMarcus Aldridge
Gordon Hayward is a better player who occupies a more in-demand position while also being five years younger than LaMarcus Aldridge. The San Antonio Spurs would do well to make this swap straight up, but perhaps the allure of the full-on five-out offense Aldridge would allow in Boston would put the Celtics on tilt and coax them into including the promising and athletic Robert Williams III.
Aldridge and Hayward are each entering the final year of their deal, so there's no concern over long-term money here.
San Antonio could use more playmaking on the wing and would benefit from the flexibility of putting Hayward, a better shooter and passer than Rudy Gay, at the 4. Aldridge added stretch this past season, hitting 38.9 percent of a career-high 3.0 long-range tries per game, and that skill set would unlock ample spacing for Boston's guards and wings—not to mention give Boston another bailout option when the offense gums up.
Those turnarounds from the left mid-post are going to fall until Aldridge is 50.
The Spurs would be just fine in the middle without Aldridge, as Jakob Poeltl looks like a starting-caliber 5 they'll keep in restricted free agency. Williams' ceiling might be even higher than Poeltl's if he picks up the nuances of pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop defense.
Hayward, still only 30, would be worth an extension in San Antonio, as he could reduce the playmaking load on the Derrick White-Dejounte Murray backcourt tandem. Aldridge, in contrast, is too near the end of his career to make sense as anything but a trade asset for the Spurs.
Toronto Raptors get: Eric Bledsoe, Ersan Ilyasova and a 2023 first-round pick (via Milwaukee Bucks), the No. 15 pick in the 2020 draft (via Orlando Magic) and Khem Birch
Milwaukee Bucks get: Kyle Lowry
Orlando Magic get: Donte DiVincenzo and the No. 24 pick in the 2020 draft (via Milwaukee Bucks)
It's blasphemous to send Kyle Lowry away from Toronto, where he'll surely have a statue built someday. But all things come to an end, and with the Raptors potentially losing Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka and Fred VanVleet to free agency, the end may be here...at least until they inevitably rebuild their next contender around Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby.
This move would speed up that transition.
Three reasonable deals (two of which expire after 2020-21) and a pair of first-rounders is quite a haul for a 34-year-old point guard entering the final season of his own contract, and that 2023 pick from the Bucks has considerable upside if a certain MVP decides he doesn't want to play in Milwaukee beyond this season. The Bucks should insist protections be placed on that pick, but Toronto should hold firm, knowing Milwaukee is desperate to add playoff-proven talent, which Lowry has beyond measure.
In fact, this trade might be just as good for the Bucks as the "best" one we concocted that sent them Chris Paul—if you believe Lowry is at least Paul's equal in a playoff setting, which he is.
Orlando is involved here to get another pick to the Raptors, but its side of the bargain is solid, too. Moving down nine spots in a weak draft to add Donte DiVincenzo would be a win.
The Trade: Utah Jazz acquire Wendell Carter Jr., Otto Porter Jr. (opt-in), the No. 4 pick in 2020 draft and a 2021 top 5-protected first-round pick (unprotected in 2022) from the Chicago Bulls for Rudy Gobert
We already sent Rudy Gobert to the Atlanta Hawks for a slightly less valuable package, but this one would really help Utah reset itself for a run built around Donovan Mitchell.
The Jazz would only think along these lines if Gobert isn't willing to sign a four-year extension for something in the neighborhood of $100 million. He's worth that price, but the supermax is a nonstarter.
If Utah has to move the perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate, a package that returns no long-term commitments and loads of valuable future assets is the way to go. Wendell Carter Jr. has plenty of defensive potential and, in theory, might not limit the Jazz's postseason ceiling in the same way Gobert, a purely conventional big, has. This is a weak draft, but the No. 4 pick should return value, and the possibility of getting another unprotected first-rounder in 2022 is a fine sweetener.
This is far from a no-brainer for Chicago, which would surrender a mountain of future value for a star it can't be certain will stick around for more than a year. But if Zach LaVine, Coby White and Lauri Markkanen are cornerstones, the defensive need will always be dire.
Otto Porter Jr. has to opt in for this to work, but he's not leaving $28.5 million on the table in this market. And then his contract comes off the books after 2020-21, right when Mike Conley's similarly hefty salary disappears. Utah would probably take a step back in 2020-21 without Gobert, but this trade positions it to have lots of cash (admittedly less valuable in a destination free agents typically avoid, but still), a maxed out Mitchell, a potentially high-end starter in Carter, a tantalizing rookie from the 2020 class and a shot at another one in a year or two.
Note, too: The Jazz haven't been contenders with Gobert in a major role. If they want to keep entering the playoffs with a second-round ceiling, they should keep their big man around. But if Utah has grander ambitions, a move such as this gives it a better shot at achieving them.
The Trade: Washington Wizards acquire Andrew Wiggins, Eric Paschall and No. 2 pick in 2020 draft from the Golden State Warriors for Bradley Beal
The Washington Wizards have to come to the understanding that they're not going anywhere over the next few seasons with their roster. Otherwise, they're not doing this and will instead cling to the notion that the Bradley Beal-John Wall partnership will, for some reason, produce better results than the frequently short playoff trips it generated several years ago.
Andrew Wiggins' salary is an albatross, but Wall's is already dragging the Wizards' prospects down. The theory here is that the Wizards are going to be bad regardless and that getting a high lottery pick and an all-rookie first-teamer is worth the price of acknowledging this is a rebuild—albeit one made more difficult by Wall's contract.
The alternative is holding on to Beal, losing games and watching his value diminish over time. He's appealing as a trade asset now because his contract runs through 2022-23. The longer Washington waits, the less Beal's acquiring team will offer. As great as Beal is, there's a scenario in which his price drops to dead salary and a first-rounder. This is a much better deal.
Washington can insist on the Warriors adding the 2021 first-rounder they've got coming from Minnesota, and the Dubs might throw that in if it closed the deal. It'd be malpractice for the Wizards to turn that down, but the above-proposed bargain is nothing to sneeze at.