Most Intriguing Landing Spots for NBA's Top Trade Targets
Where oh where will the NBA's top offseason trade targets land? Er, well, we have no idea. It could be nowhere. It could be anywhere. It could be with your team.
Where should the most sought-after trade candidates go if they do in fact go anywhere at all? Now that's an entirely different question—and one I'm fully prepared to answer.
Determining which players qualify for this exercise is a dance between ambition and availability. Household names are the focus, but only if they'll have an ultra-deep market in the event they hit the chopping block. This rules out Blake Griffin, Tobias Harris, Al Horford and Kevin Love—heavyweight difference-makers on less-than-desirable contracts.
At the same time, throwing out any ol' star won't fly. They need to be plausibly gettable. It doesn't matter if they're popular relocation candidates in the "Their team needs to blow it up!" discussion. We need more than that to go on, particularly if their incumbent squads have steadfastly refuted their availability. This nixes the likes of Bradley Beal, Joel Embiid, Kyle Lowry and Ben Simmons.
That leaves us with...a whole bunch of intriguing names. Hooray for us.
As ever, suggested destinations are neither formal predictions nor, in every case, officially rumored landing spots. They are merely new digs that I, and I alone, believe are great and realistic fits for players who may meander onto the trade block before next season.
Aaron Gordon: Minnesota Timberwolves
Aaron Gordon's name is on the trade block in perpetuity. That does not appear on the verge of changing.
"They were really trying to deal him before the deadline, but they weren't getting the assets back they wanted," one Eastern Conference executive told Forbes' Sean Deveney. "It will be easier to move that contract when it's only got two years left. He's probably the most likely big name to be traded. He's a good gamble—he is only 24."
Jonathan Isaac's torn left ACL could leave the Orlando Magic inclined to keep Gordon. They have already ruled out the former through next season, and busting up the wonky Gordon-Isaac partnership on offense is part of any trade appeal. That won't be an issue for at least another year, and hanging on to Gordon would allow Orlando to hedge against a potential defensive drop-off from Isaac upon return.
Still, the Magic are in a position to think bigger picture. Isaac's absence through next year makes it difficult to envision the team significantly climbing up the Eastern Conference ladder. He was the swing piece. Without him, the Magic don't have that perspective cornerstone ready to pop. The Markelle Fultz resurrection is nice, and real, but not to that degree.
Orlando's enduring interest in scrapping for a middle-rung playoff berth could make for tough negotiations. The club might not be tempted by packages built almost squarely around win-later assets. Does that stance survive a return that includes the No. 1 pick?
This assumes the Minnesota Timberwolves would offer it for Gordon. They should. They need to figure out how to construct a league-average-ish defense around D'Angelo Russell and Karl-Anthony Towns. Gordon is a good start.
His range basically runs the positional gamut; he can take spot possessions on a Russell Westbrook and rumble with Giannis Antetokounmpo and Pascal Siakam. Minnesota could get away with handing him backup 5 minutes when Towns is off the floor.
Giving up the No. 1 pick would be a lot, even by this draft's standards. Pairing that selection with James Johnson makes for a clean transaction, but the Timberwolves can try to expand the deal and work in Terrence Ross or, perhaps, the No. 15 pick.
It shouldn't be a total deal-breaker if the Magic won't sweeten the pot. Gordon drilled 36.1 percent of his catch-and-shoot threes after Jan. 1 and has improved his passing in the half court. If his long ball keeps falling at a reasonable clip, he'll be the quintessential fit at both ends for the Russell-Towns partnership.
Alternatively Intriguing Destination: Golden State Warriors
Jrue Holiday: Atlanta Hawks
Jrue Holiday's future with the New Orleans Pelicans is difficult to read.
During an appearance on Complex's Load Management podcast (h/t Lonzo Wire's Jacob Rude), The Athletic's Shams Charania said the 30-year-old asked the team not to move him at February's trade deadline. He has yet to express any public sentiments to the contrary, and New Orleans, despite its inexperience at the top of the roster, remains well positioned to make immediate noise in the Western Conference.
Then again, the Pelicans' stint in the Disney World bubble could be interpreted as a cry for tempered expectations. They so clearly didn't have the defensive consistency or offensive firepower to navigate bogged-down stretches. It makes sense to shop an over-30 star at the peak of his powers who is one year out from free agency (player option) if they're not hellbent on chasing a postseason bid next season.
Suitors will come out in droves if Holiday becomes available, and the Atlanta Hawks should be among them.
Their roster is begging for someone who can get Trae Young moving off the ball—or just off the ball in general. Holiday checks that box. And Young, for his part, would do wonders for him. Holiday is a smidgen overburdened as a primary offensive engine. He doesn't have the luxury of a consistent hierarchical spot in New Orleans. Lonzo Ball doesn't look for his own shot nearly enough off the dribble, and the Pelicans haven't entirely handed the keys over to Brandon Ingram, at least not yet.
Holiday is an even tidier fit on the Hawks at the defensive end. They're not saddled with solely covering up for Young. They need a mainstay who can go punch for punch with the opposing team's No. 1 option almost every night. Holiday more than qualifies.
That he can juggle such Herculean assignments and still churn out something like 20 points and seven assists per game is mind-melting. Ben Simmons was the only player this past season who spent more time guarding No. 1 options and registering as his own squad's No. 1, according to BBall Index's Krishna Narsu.
If the Pelicans are open to talking shop, the Hawks are trade-partner nirvana. They could carve out more than $40 million in cap space depending on how they handle incumbent free agents; own the No. 6 pick in this year's draft; have young wing prospects to spare with Kevin Huerter, De'Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish; can dangle John Collins; and aren't yet good enough that their future first-rounders want for "Imagine where they could land!" mystique.
Atlanta also has some nice salary-filler deals should New Orleans be in the market for a big. Clint Capela—who, just so we're clear, is more than salary filler—is a non-fit with Zion Williamson, but Dewayne Dedmon could (maybe) provide some stretch at the 5 position if the Pelicans don't prioritize cap savings. Regardless, any proposal with the Hawks should begin with the No. 6 pick, Huerter or Reddish and then be fleshed out as needed from there.
Alternatively Intriguing Destination: Los Angeles Clippers
Victor Oladipo: Golden State Warriors
Something feels off about Victor Oladipo's future with the Indiana Pacers—and it isn't just his continued recovery from the right quad injury he suffered in 2018. He announced his decision to sit out of the Disney World restart through The Athletic's Shams Charania, rather than the team, and then ended up playing anyway. The benefit of hindsight hasn't rendered that any less awkward.
Perhaps the weird vibes being observed from the comfort of my armchair—it's actually a stepper desk—are nothing. Less than nothing, even. His contract situation still invites speculation. He is slated for free agency during the 2021 offseason and might be leaning toward leaving Indiana, according to The Athletic's Sam Amick.
Vultures were beginning to circle the situation long before now, per SNY's Ian Begley. The idea, however preliminary, that he already knows what he'll do roughly one year in advance will only embolden those looking to make overtures.
The Warriors would be wise to join that fray. They have enough question marks on their roster without adding Oladipo's post-injury trajectory into the fold—Draymond Green's aging curve, Klay Thompson's return from a torn left ACL—but their own timeline mandates taking a star-sized swing.
No one they draft at No. 2 is going to help them contend for a title next season. Perhaps that someone can be the vessel through which the Warriors make a seamless transition into the post-Stephen Curry era, but that rests on their having the voltage necessary to win a title as currently constructed.
That's debatable. They're not working with a whole lot after their three stars. A supporting cast consisting of Andrew Wiggins, Eric Paschall, Marquese Chriss (non-guaranteed), Damion Lee, Jordan Poole, Ky Bowman (non-guaranteed), a will-he-ever-be-healthy-again Kevon Looney, whoever they draft and whoever they sign with the mini mid-level exception leaves an awful, awful lot to chance.
Ditto goes for bringing in Oladipo. He has far more reps as a non-star than an All-NBA player, and his foray into 2021 free agency will prove costly. But he's much more admirable of a risk than standing pat or mortgaging the future for a collection of mid-end depth. He doesn't add size to the perimeter carousel, but he'll allow Thompson to take the easier of two wing assignments on most nights. His offensive fit shouldn't be a problem. Curry and Thompson can play off anyone, particularly those who can still put pressure on the rim, and Oladipo should have an easier time remaining effective after deferring ball control when surrounded by two masterful passers (Curry and Green).
Whether Golden State has the trade chips to engage Indiana is a fair question. The No. 2 pick is fine, but this draft is seemingly devoid of star intrigue at the top, and the Pacers won't likely be looking to start over as part of an Oladipo deal. They were on course to make the playoffs without him, so maybe they value the addition of a top-two prospect. Even then, though, matching money would remain an issue.
The Warriors' Andre Iguodala trade exception isn't large enough to take in Oladipo's salary by itself. They can try acquiring a player with a large enough salary to send back out, but options are in short supply if the Pacers demand an expiring contract. James Johnson's money isn't enough. Gorgui Dieng is an odd fit in Indiana, even only for a year.
Using Wiggins' salary would at once help and create another roadblock. The Pacers have done a good job upping the utility of wings in the middle of their careers—Bojan Bogdanovic, Justin Holiday, TJ Warren, Thaddeus Young—but this is different. Wiggins will earn $94.7 million over the next three years. They need more if they're taking him. (They also have to send out another player to make the money work.)
Golden State has Minnesota's 2021 pick to throw in (top-three protection), but two primo first-rounders is a lot to surrender for a might-be All-Star on an expiring contract. Would the Pacers consider also giving up Myles Turner if the Warriors send out both those picks, Wiggins, Looney and Poole? And maybe another one of their own firsts? Do both sides just say Wiggins, No. 2 and Golden State's 2021 first for Oladipo and Doug McDermott and call it a deal?
Failing an obvious middle ground, this is an idea that may require a third-party facilitator. That's fine. Oladipo is a tantalizing enough addition for the Warriors to kick around any and all scenarios.
Alternatively Intriguing Destination: Denver Nuggets
Chris Paul: Milwaukee Bucks
Chris Paul's most intriguing landing spot is also the most obvious: the Milwaukee Bucks.
Really, this makes too much sense not to happen. The Oklahoma City Thunder appear headed for the rebuild they were supposed to enter following the Paul George and Russell Westbrook trades. The Bucks need to add another creator to fortify their half-court offense and, by extension, their championship viability.
Poof! We have a match.
Trades don't work like this, unfortunately. Little itty-bitty hangups like money and package logistics get in the way. Sources "with knowledge" of the Bucks' thinking have already told The Athletic's Sam Amick and Eric Nehm they consider Paul-to-Milwaukee scenarios unlikely.
Bleck. Let's allow speculation to persist anyway. Giannis Antetokounmpo is eligible for a supermax extension this offseason and will hit unrestricted free agency in 2021 if he doesn't sign it. The Bucks don't have the luxury of playing it safe—or cheap.
Constructing a workable package is the larger wart if we assume Milwaukee's governors are willing to spend, spend, spend...which, yeah. Fake-trade authors have generally oversimplified parameters by including Eric Bledsoe and then one or both of George Hill and Brook Lopez. That's (probably) not going to do it for either side.
Bledsoe, Hill and Lopez are all critical parts of the Bucks' rotation. Paul is a friggin' stud, but he's 35 and his incoming salary would leave Milwaukee with almost no flexibility to replace the departing minutes. Oklahoma City also has little use for so many veterans on multiyear contracts.
The Bucks can try going the pu pu-platter route instead. Combining Bledsoe, Ersan Ilyasova (non-guaranteed), Robin Lopez (player option) and D.J. Wilson meets the outbound-money threshold. They can then sugarcoat the package from there with Donte DiVincenzo and/or a 2024 first-rounder.
Does that framework pique the Thunder's attention? I'm honestly not sure. Only one of the incoming deals stretches beyond 2020-21 (two if DiVincenzo is included), but they're still not getting a red-carpet prospect or pick. They'd assuredly prefer subbing out some of the money for Hill or Lopez, either of whom they could try rerouting later. Four- and five-for-one trades may also be tough for them without creating a roster spot or two.
Milwaukee can glitter up the proposal by finding a third-party helper to take on Bledsoe. He's not a draw for Oklahoma City unless it's trying to tread water near the bottom of the West's playoff picture. If the Bucks can get a team to absorb him into cap space—mainly Atlanta, Charlotte, Detroit or New York—the financial incentives for the Thunder begin to offset the absence of an imminent selection or high-end prospect.
Alternatively Intriguing Destination: Phoenix Suns
Myles Turner: New Orleans Pelicans
"Break up the Domantas Sabonis-Myles Turner frontcourt!" is a common refrain among people outside of Indiana—some of whom want their favorite team to acquire one of them.
Insisting the Pacers deal either is a matter of preference. Sabonis and Turner have shown they can work together. Indiana outscored opponents by 2.5 points per 100 possessions this season when they shared the floor. Its offensive rating placed in the 19th percentile during those minutes, but the roster spent the entire year at less than full strength.
Harping on the limitations of a Sabonis-Turner partnership is fair. The offense isn't going to fully open up without more three-point volume. Either Turner needs to launch far more than the 4.9 triples per 36 minutes he attempted this year or Sabonis has to actually start firing treys—or both.
Holding serve, again, becomes a lot more palatable if Mike D'Antoni gets tapped as the next Pacers head coach. He wouldn't be a panacea, but as Indy Cornrows' Caitlin Cooper so astutely explained, he runs offensive actions conducive to extending, if optimizing, the shelf life of the Sabonis-Turner dyad.
It would still be prudent of the Pacers to gauge the latter's market. He has inherently more value as the floor-spacing rim protector who doesn't need direct control over offensive possessions. He's also probably their best trade asset, with Victor Oladipo on an expiring contract and not yet all the way back from his right quad injury.
To that end, Indiana doesn't need to look at his departure as divestment. He can be the anchor around which they try to net a bigger piece. Or they could go the pick-and-prospect route. Or they could try to straddle both sides of the fence.
The Pelicans have the asset variety to fit whatever vision the Pacers are attempting to actualize. Just as Indiana doesn't have to view Turner's departure as a fire sale, New Orleans needn't treat his arrival as entry into win-now mode. He's only 24, under contract for the next three years and an idealistic match for Zion Williamson.
Put another way: the Pelicans don't have to acquire Turner while keeping Holiday. They can use him to get Turner (and another salary). Granted, this rests on the Pacers wanting Holiday. That's up in the air. He adds more shot-creation swerve to the offense, but the wing rotation may run a little short with he (6'3"), Oladipo (6'4") and Malcolm Brogdon (6'5") monopolizing minutes at the 1 through 3 spots.
New Orleans can offer Lonzo Ball and JJ Redick, but Indiana may not be swayed by two soon-to-be free agents. The Pelicans can spice up the package with some blend of Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Josh Hart, Jaxson Hayes and picks galore, but at some point they'll be conceding too much perimeter talent to plug a 5 spot that, as of now, has last year's No. 8 pick (Hayes) to develop.
These hurdles are not deathblows. New Orleans has the breadth of assets to futz and fiddle with their offers. If Indiana is serious about moving Turner, chances are there's a workable deal to be ironed out.
Alternatively Intriguing Destination: Sacramento Kings