Trade Packages for NBA's Top 5 Available Stars
For the first time in a long while, the upcoming NBA offseason could come and go without a star changing teams in free agency.
But the trade market could be a different story entirely.
Conditions seem perfect for some landscape-shifting blockbusters. With free agency short on both present-focused buyers and high-level hoopers-for-hire, teams in search of major adjustments might need to orchestrate trades to make them happen.
Even if our crystal ball proves correct and Giannis Antetokounmpo, Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid and Bradley Beal all stay put, several notable names could still be on the move. We spotlighted the five best and brokered deals to get them onto new rosters.
John Collins to Golden State
Golden State Warriors receive: John Collins and Kevin Huerter
Atlanta Hawks receive: Kevon Looney, Jordan Poole and No. 2 pick
A worst-to-first leap is not out of the question for the Warriors. Next season's group will reunite Draymond Green with (hopefully) healthy versions of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, forming a trio that has already delivered three world titles to the Bay.
Of course, Golden State's three stars were younger and better supported back when they were taking annual trips to the Finals (2015-19). For this to work, the Warriors might need serious upgrades to the roster, and it's not realistic to ask that of whichever prospect gets selected second overall.
That's why they might simply ship it out for more immediate help. Collins and Huerter could provide just that.
Collins is already a nightly supplier of 21.6 points and 10.1 rebounds, and the 22-year-old's arsenal is bursting at the seams. He upped his rim protection and added a three-ball (which he hit at a 40.1 percent clip) this past season, and his explosive athleticism could have an even greater impact if he was able to play off gravitational forces like Curry and Thompson.
Huerter, meanwhile, would scratch a big itch for supplemental shooting. Atlanta brought him in to play the Thompson role in its Warriors East model, and the stat sheet can see the resemblance. Huerter has averaged 2.0 threes on 38.3 percent shooting through two seasons; Thompson was at 2.2 and 40.6 at the same stage of his career.
The Hawks could jump at the opportunity to find a high-ceiling backcourt mate for Trae Young (presumably Anthony Edwards or LaMelo Ball) while shedding Collins before he needs his first non-rookie contract. As productive as the bouncy big man has been, Atlanta is reportedly hesitant about giving him "significant money," per The Athletic's Chris Kirschner, and it created some skill overlap when it added Clint Capela at the trade deadline.
The Hawks would do this deal for the pick, but Looney and Poole could emerge as keepers, too. The 24-year-old Looney offers impressive defensive versatility when he can stay healthy, and the 21-year-old Poole might become a quick-strike scorer with an array of off-the-dribble finishing moves.
Buddy Hield to Philadelphia
Philadelphia 76ers receive: Buddy Hield
Sacramento Kings receive: Al Horford, No. 34 pick (via Atlanta Hawks), No. 36 pick (via New York Knicks)
The 76ers say they're stopping short of splitting apart Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, but they understand the need for change around their stars.
"I'm not looking to trade Ben or Joel," 76ers general manager Elton Brand said, per ESPN's Tim Bontemps. "I'm looking to complement them better. They are 24 and 26 years, respectively. You try to make that fit as long as you can."
Improving the fit means finding more shooting and shedding Horford, who never meshed after signing a four-year, $109 million deal last summer.
Speaking of huge 2019 commitments that didn't pan out, surely Sacramento would welcome a mulligan on Hield's four-year, $86 million extension since the contract hasn't even kicked in yet and he's already been demoted to the second team.
How does that old saying about one team's financial trash becoming another's basketball treasure go?
Hield is almost the ideal addition for Philly. The Sixers desperately need shooting, and he offers more of it than just about anyone. He has the sixth-most triples since entering the Association in 2016, and his 41.1 percent conversion rate ranks 14th-best among the 298 players with 100-plus threes over this stretch.
Horford seems a tougher sell for Sacramento, but the Kings coveted him in free agency last summer. He might make an excellent tutor for the team's young bigs like Marvin Bagley III and Richaun Holmes, and if Sacramento provides a cleaner fit for his talents, he could get back to being one of basketball's best glue guys.
There's real win-win potential for this swap.
Jrue Holiday to Denver
Denver Nuggets receive: Jrue Holiday
New Orleans Pelicans receive: Gary Harris, Monte Morris, Bol Bol, 2021 first-round pick (top-10 protected)
The Nuggets have a Tier 1 superstar in Nikola Jokic, but the question marks with this roster start right behind the super-skilled 7-footer. Can Jamal Murray find the consistency to be the No. 2 option on a heavyweight contender? Is stardom awaiting Michael Porter Jr., or will his weaknesses restrict him to spark-plug scoring duties?
The beauty of trading for Holiday is that he'd fit with this roster no matter how those questions are answered. If he needs to be a second option, he can pack a powerful enough punch. Only six players have averaged 18 points and six assists each of the past three seasons, and he's one of them.
But if Murray, Porter or both climb higher up the offensive hierarchy, Holiday could narrow his on-court focus to be one of the best complementary players in the Association. He's a two-time All-Defensive selection who can handle any perimeter assignment. Playing off the ball won't torpedo his offensive value, either, as he was a 91st percentile cutter in 2018-19 and a 39.5 percent catch-and-shoot three-point sniper the season before.
Denver could use the success of the past two seasons—during which only the Milwaukee Bucks and Toronto Raptors have more wins—as justification to search for its finishing piece. Holiday could make that kind of impact on the Nuggets, and they wouldn't even need to empty their asset collection to get him.
As well as Holiday played for the Pelicans, he's still 30 years old and therefore not on the same timeline as 20-year-old Zion Williamson and 23-year-old Brandon Ingram. If New Orleans, which hasn't completed its post-Anthony Davis rebuild, could swap out Holiday for a collection of young talent, that might be a move it has to make.
If Bol ever approaches his ceiling, his rim protection and outside shooting would make him a wildly intriguing frontcourt partner for Williamson. Harris, who's only 26, is a disruptive and versatile defender who has previously hovered around a 40 percent success rate from three. Morris would give the Pelicans another playmaker, and the pick would get New Orleans another opportunity in what looks like a strong draft.
Victor Oladipo to Minnesota
Minnesota Timberwolves receive: Victor Oladipo
Indiana Pacers receive: James Johnson, Jarrett Culver and No. 1 pick
Though the Timberwolves hit the draft-lottery jackpot, they don't have to collect their winnings in the form of an unpolished prospect. Instead, they can flip the selection for a player more capable of providing Karl-Anthony Towns and D'Angelo Russell with immediate assistance.
How good would Oladipo look as part of basketball's next Big Three? Assuming a return to full health—by no means a given considering he's still feeling the effects of Jan. 2019 knee surgery—he might enjoy synergetic stardom with his new running mates.
Oladipo is a better attacker than shooter. Towns and Russell are accurate enough from distance to keep defenders honest and open up attack lanes, but they are—how do we put this—not always the most willing defenders. Oladipo is a former All-Defensive first-teamer who can handle multiple positions and causes all kinds of havoc as an off-ball disruptor.
All three can create shots off the dribble, all three are willing passers, all three have at least one 20-point scoring average on their resume, and all three have been an All-Star within the past two seasons. If they click, and Malik Beasley returns from restricted free agency as potent as he was after the trade deadline, Minnesota could compete for a top-four seed in the West as soon as next season.
That potential payoff would make this worth the risks of Oladipo's injury history and uncertain future (unrestricted free agency awaits him in 2021).
For the Pacers, this would be a chance to reset on the fly. They're already making a coaching change, so they clearly aren't interested in the status quo. Oladipo might refuse to commit to their future—there have been "rumblings" he wasn't planning to re-sign, per The Athletic's Sam Amick—or Indy could opt against paying big for a 28-year-old with a major injury in his recent past and a relatively small sample of stardom.
Either way, the Pacers might prefer adding the No. 1 pick, plus last year's No. 6 pick in Culver. Johnson is a money-matcher in this exchange, but he could offer additional value to Indy if someone wants his expiring $16 million salary (player option) to increase their buying power ahead of 2021 free agency.
Chris Paul to Milwaukee
Milwaukee Bucks receive: Chris Paul
Oklahoma City Thunder receive: Eric Bledsoe, George Hill, Ersan Ilyasova, D.J. Wilson and No. 24 pick (via Indiana Pacers)
Milwaukee's best bet to convince Giannis Antetokounmpo to sign a supermax contract extension would've been to make a championship run. That didn't happen. The Bucks couldn't even make it out of the second round as their supporting cast showed its warts in a five-game series loss to the fifth-seeded Miami Heat.
Upgrading the roster is a must to make the new sales pitch, and Bucks governor Marc Lasry told Antetokounmpo the franchise would "spend into the luxury tax to deliver him a championship supporting cast," per ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski. This swap would put the organization's money where its mouth is as CP3's contract is colossal: $41.4 million for his age-35 season with a $44.2 million player option for 2021-22.
But the Point God could be exactly what this offense needs to avoid more playoff pitfalls. The Bucks, who ranked eighth in offensive efficiency this postseason, need Paul's shot-creation and shot-making to navigate critical half-court possessions.
He can finish plays on his own (76th percentile on isolations), but his passing would be the real needle-mover for Milwaukee. His quarterbacking could make Antetokounmpo unstoppble rolling to the basket, allow Khris Middleton to focus less on playmaking and more on his lethal pull-up game (third-highest effective field-goal percentage among players who averaged five-plus attempts) and weaponize every unattended Bucks' shooter.
As for the Thunder, this would send them further into the full-scale rebuild that's been inevitable since Russell Westbrook and Paul George sought one-way tickets out of town last summer.
OKC would accomplish three things here. First, it would hopefully find at least one long-term keeper between the pick and the 24-year-old Wilson. Second, it would make balancing the budget easier without Paul's mammoth money on the books. Finally, it would grease the wheels for additional asset-grabbing trades. Bledsoe, Hill and Ilyasova could all appeal to win-now contenders, who could send more picks or prospects to the Sooner State.