5 Star NBA Trades You've Never Thought Of
With only the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat still in pursuit of the 2020 NBA title, the offseason is officially on for the other 28 teams.
That means #TradeSZN is rapidly approaching, although for the trade-machine enthusiasts among us, it never really stops.
Because there's such a wealth of activity among all the fantasy general managers out there, it feels tricky to come up with new, but realistic, trade ideas. You've surely seen a dozen variations of roughly the same deals—Chris Paul to Milwaukee, Bradley Beal to a contender, a third star to Brooklyn, Giannis Antetokounmpo to a big dreamer near you—but we're taking the conversation in new directions. Again.
From surprising star swaps to internet-breaking three-team blockbusters, we have five more marquee trades you haven't thought of but could totally work.
Philly Finds Playmaker; Utah Adds Stretch 4
Philadelphia 76ers receive: Mike Conley, Georges Niang
Utah Jazz receive: Tobias Harris, Shake Milton, No. 21 pick (via OKC), 2022 unprotected first-round pick
It's shake-up time for the 76ers, and a coaching change isn't enough to get this group where it needs to go. No matter which skipper arrives, the jumbo-sized roster still runs problematically light on playmaking and shooting.
Mike Conley could change that—and provide a way out of Tobias Harris' pricey pact (four years, $147.3 million remaining).
The veteran floor general might be slowing down, but he's capable of perking up an offense that doesn't need him in a featured role. He took a while to find his form during his first season with the Utah Jazz, but by the playoffs, he was all the way back (19.8 points, 5.2 assists and a 48.4/52.9/86.4 shooting slash).
He can run with Ben Simmons or slow down for Joel Embiid, plus Conley holds his own defensively. If the fit doesn't work, his $34.5 million salary comes off the books next summer. Georges Niang has only a non-guaranteed $1.8 million salary, which seems a reasonable number for a shooting-needy team to pay a career 38.7 percent sniper from deep.
For the Jazz, they might fear they've already bumped into their ceiling with the soon-to-be 33-year-old Conley, so they widen their contending window by swapping him out for the 28-year-old Harris. The scoring swingman is overpaid, but that's less concerning for a non-destination market like Salt Lake City. Plus, he can help Donovan Mitchell carry the scoring load and maintain floor spacing around Rudy Gobert.
Utah also has three paths to long-term improvement, which some would argue should be the focus given that Mitchell is only 24 years old. That's the same as Shake Milton, who raised his ceiling several stories with a late-season surge. The picks mostly speak for themselves, though that unprotected 2022 first-rounder looks extra tantalizing coming from a team with ill-fitting stars who might have to be split up sooner than later.
Wizards Get Defensive; Jazz Get Younger and Deeper
Washington Wizards receive: Rudy Gobert
Utah Jazz receive: Thomas Bryant, Troy Brown Jr., Ish Smith, Moritz Wagner, No. 9 pick
Most teams might subscribe to the notion that patience is a virtue after posting sub-.400 winning percentages in back-to-back seasons. The Wizards aren't one of them.
Their aim is maximum competitiveness in 2020-21, which is why Bradley Beal remains on the roster and Davis Bertans wasn't dealt at the deadline. Right or wrong, Washington thinks the return of a (hopefully) healthy John Wall gets it back on the playoff track. That needs to be the case since Beal is tired of being buried under a mountain of losses.
"I don't like losing," he told reporters following a January loss to the Chicago Bulls. "I'm sorry—especially winnable games. ... I don't like losing, so [my frustration is] gonna keep building up for me until we start winning and changing our culture."
Fixing the historically generous defense is step one of that process, and Rudy Gobert is the best possible solution to that problem. The two-time Defensive Player of the Year is one of only 14 players to average 10 rebounds and two blocks in five seasons. He also graded as a 72nd percentile pick-and-roll screener, so he could work some two-man magic with Beal or Wall.
The Jazz are worried less here about Gobert's relationship with Donovan Mitchell than they are the big fella's 2021 free agency. If Gobert wants max money, then Utah might decide it's best to move on and flip him for players who better fit Mitchell's timeline. Given the oppressive depth of the Western Conference, taking a small step back now to make a bigger leap forward later might be the optimal strategy.
Thomas Bryant can man the middle and add a stretch element to the center spot. Troy Brown Jr. has Swiss Army knife upside and addresses a lack of depth on the wings. Moritz Wagner spaces the offense, and Ish Smith fills the void at backup point guard. The crown jewel might be the No. 9 pick, which could bring back a three-and-D ace (Devin Vassell), a new defensive anchor (Onyeka Okongwu), an elite shooter (Aaron Nesmith) or whatever else Utah wants to target.
Pacers Add Point God; Nets Get 3rd Star; Thunder Embrace Youth
Indiana Pacers receive: Chris Paul, No. 25 pick (from OKC via DEN)
Brooklyn Nets receive: Victor Oladipo, Jeremy Lamb
Oklahoma City Thunder receive: Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen, Taurean Prince
Chris Paul had an incredible run in OKC, but his biological clock, combined with the Thunder's imminent rebuild, makes a divorce feel highly probable. Victor Oladipo is only signed for next season, which he reportedly doesn't want to spend in the Circle City, per The Athletic's Jared Weiss. Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving should elevate Brooklyn to the contending ranks next season, but a third star might be required for a championship breakthrough.
That, folks, is the recipe for our first three-team frenzy.
The Pacers target Paul here because they don't want to tear down after witnessing the Miami Heat's rise to the NBA Finals. Indy banks on Paul's competitive fire to ignite the franchise the way Jimmy Butler's did in South Beach. The Pacers also smartly trade back into this draft knowing they'll need some cheap contributors around Paul, Malcolm Brogdon, Domantas Sabonis, Myles Turner and T.J. Warren.
The Nets follow their third-star search to Oladipo knowing they can ease him into the offense since Durant and Irving alone might be enough to field a top-five attack. In return, Oladipo fully commits himself to the defensive end and becomes the club's designated star stopper. Brooklyn gains a potent bench scorer once Jeremy Lamb returns from his ACL tear, plus it does well to snag that third star without sacrificing Spencer Dinwiddie.
The Thunder turn an overpaid 35-year-old and a late first-round pick into a pair of building blocks in Caris LeVert and Jarrett Allen. The former could become a dynamic scoring partner for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, while the latter serves as the heir apparent to Steven Adams. Taurean Prince is a money-matcher, but he's young(ish), long and athletic, so maybe Sam Presti is a fan.
Suns Go Big; Blazers Rebuild; Warriors Add Wing
Phoenix Suns receive: Damian Lillard
Portland Trail Blazers receive: Ricky Rubio, Mikal Bridges, Alen Smailagic, Jordan Poole, No. 2 pick (from GSW), 2022 first-round pick (top-three-protected from PHX), 2024 first-round pick (unprotected from PHX)
Golden State Warriors receive: Kelly Oubre Jr., No. 10 pick (from PHX)
Let's start in the desert, where Devin Booker's All-Star ascension and a perfect run through the bubble still weren't enough to snap the Suns' decade-long playoff drought. The progress was encouraging (especially the two-way development of 2018's top pick, Deandre Ayton), but the clock's ticks are getting louder. It's been two seasons since Booker declared he was "done with not making the playoffs." It's time to make that happen.
Enter Damian Lillard. The five-time All-Star is among the most feared offensive assassins in all of basketball. He just averaged 30.0 points and 8.0 assists while splashing 4.1 triples at a 40.1 percent clip. The stat line was the first of its kind.
Putting him in the same backcourt with Booker shouldn't be legal. Maybe it's just me, but there's a hint of Splash Brothers 2.0 vibes, with a little less efficiency but more on-ball creativity. If Ayton surfaces as a third star and stops some of the inevitable defensive bleeding, the Suns are at least shadow contenders as soon as next season.
Would the Blazers ever do this? Between Lillard's loyalty and their proximity to success—they were conference finalists just last season—probably not. But should they consider this? That's a different discussion.
The West will be obnoxiously deep next season and for the foreseeable future. Portland won't be the pick of many (or any) outside the Moda Center to win the conference at any point. Resetting now, while Lillard's trade value remains enormous, could be a sneaky (though admittedly sad) way to eventually move into contention.
The Blazers need to love two top 2020 prospects to sign off on this swap, plus see major potential in Mikal Bridges and at least one of Jordan Poole and Alen Smailagic. That's not impossible to imagine, especially when the whole package is enhanced (if not highlighted) by two future firsts (one lightly protected, the other unprotected) from a franchise with a ton of losing in its recent history.
The Warriors, meanwhile, get the two-way wing they need to compete next season in Kelly Oubre Jr. for trading back eight spots in a draft that impresses more for its depth than its star power.
Milwaukee Moves All-In; Minnesota Adds Star; Houston Resets
Milwaukee Bucks receive: James Harden
Houston Rockets receive: Jarrett Culver, Donte DiVincenzo, D.J. Wilson, James Johnson (opt-in), No. 1 pick (from MIN), No. 24 pick (from MIL via IND), 2024 first-round pick (top-three-protected from MIL)
Minnesota Timberwolves receive: Khris Middleton, 2022 second-round pick (from MIL via IND)
While the trade machine can map a dozen ways out of Milwaukee for Giannis Antetokounmpo, the two-time MVP sounds like he has no interest in leaving—as long as the Bucks give him a reason to stay.
"As long as everybody's fighting for the same thing ... which is to be a champion, I don't see why not to be in Milwaukee for the next 15 years," Antetokounmpo told Turner Sports' Ernie Johnson (via ESPN).
The Bucks can't send that message by standing pat. The most convincing argument they can make is a blockbuster move for an elite co-star, and few (if any) are more enticing than James Harden.
The three-time scoring champion is a point-producing machine like we haven't seen since Michael Jordan. Like Antetokounmpo, Harden has come close to leading a championship charge but hasn't reached the Finals since handling sixth-man duties for the 2011-12 Thunder.
Pair Harden with Antetokounmpo, though, and the Bucks have the NBA's best scorer and its most disruptive defender. Not to mention, these two could be magical pick-and-roll partners. Each has an incredible gravitational pull on defenders, and neither could be crowded when they both share the floor.
This deal only gets done if the Rockets are ready to launch into a rebuild, but they may be closer to that point than you think. Mike D'Antoni already bolted, Harden can hit free agency in 2022, and Houston has so much money invested in this roster that it's tough to find avenues to significant upgrades.
But if the Rockets are worried their championship window has closed, then their focus should shift to reopening it in the future.
Maybe Daryl Morey sees his next focal point in this draft and considers the No. 1 pick a substantial get. The Rockets get two other intriguing prospects—three if they're believers in D.J. Wilson—another first-rounder in this draft, plus a lightly protected future first that could convey in 2024 or beyond, depending on when the Bucks send a protected first to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Finally, the Timberwolves are convinced Karl-Anthony Towns and D'Angelo Russell can compete at a high level, so they bring in the star two-way wing needed to make that happen. Khris Middleton sits a tier below superstardom, but his do-it-all game is perfect for the co-star role and should allow for quick assimilation. The Wolves could collect this second-rounder in 2022, 2023 or 2024 based on the protections of a different deal.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.