5 NBA Trades That Would Change Everything Next Season
For four years, a LeBron James vs. Golden State NBA Finals was as inevitable as death and taxes. Since James' defection to Los Angeles and Kevin Durant's departure from Golden State, the title window for many franchises swung wide open. But the NBA has hardly reached parity.
For the ninth time in 10 seasons, a LeBron-led franchise battled for supremacy in the NBA Finals. Still, his absence in the Eastern Conference has inspired back-to-back MVP campaigns from Giannis Antetokounmpo, the 2019 championship run of the Toronto Raptors and the unlikely emergence of Jimmy Butler from regular-season star to NBA Finals superstar. LeBron's departure from the Eastern Conference may very well cement Butler's place in the Hall of Fame.
In the Western Conference, things promise to shake up as well. The Los Angeles Clippers should bounce back after blowing a 3-1 lead to the Denver Nuggets. On the other hand, the Nuggets have the contracts and assets to make a big splash and take another step toward the Finals. So do the Warriors, with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson healthy and assets to add even more help.
The league is ripe for a takeover. All it will take is one trade to change everything.
Bradley Beal to Denver
Denver receives: Bradley Beal
Washington receives: Gary Harris, Michael Porter Jr., Monte Morris, 2020 first (via Houston), 2024 first (top-10 protected)
The Washington Wizards loom as a dark-horse candidate to challenge the Eastern Conference in 2020-21. A healthy John Wall alongside Bradley Beal was enough for three second-round playoff appearances between 2014 and 2017. Add Davis Bertans, Rui Hachimura and another top-10 selection in 2020, and the Wizards could surprise the Eastern Conference.
That perfect storm of circumstance may be too much for newly appointed general manager Tommy Sheppard to count on. With three years remaining on his deal, Beal's value is immense. Dealing Beal would give Sheppard a rich collection of picks and young players who can grow alongside this year's first-rounder and Hachimura.
If the Wizards are brave enough to pull the trigger, no trade partner sits in a better position to acquire him than the Denver Nuggets. The Nuggets have both the motivation and the resources to make a strong run at acquiring the two-time All-Star. Moving Porter and Morris will sap them of the depth that made them such a fully formed unit. But if we've learned anything from the Los Angeles Lakers' run in 2020, if you can acquire a superstar without giving one away, there is no price too high to pay.
The title window in Denver is now. If the Nuggets can add someone of Beal's caliber, they'll be strong enough to take the Western Conference.
James Harden to Philadelphia, Ben Simmons to Houston, Westbrook to New York
Houston receives: Ben Simmons, Julius Randle, Mike Scott, Wayne Ellington, Dennis Smith Jr.
Philadelphia receives: James Harden
New York receives: Russell Westbrook
The Houston Rockets have little to no means of improving their roster around James Harden and Russell Westbrook. They've exhausted their assets, and Rockets governor Tilman Fertitta may not be interested in paying the luxury tax for a team that isn't likely to win a title.
The Rockets can continue their charade of a faux contender or they can cash in what little value they have left and rebuild around one of the league's brightest young stars in Ben Simmons. The fit in Houston couldn't suit Simmons better. His ability to defend alongside Eric Gordon, Danuel House, P.J. Tucker and Robert Covington would make them a force to be reckoned with on the defensive end. Plus, their spacing would be the complement to his game he's been missing in Philadelphia.
The Rockets lose Westbrook but save themselves from his exorbitant contract and gain back flexibility. While moving him for picks one season ago hurts, living with that mistake would prove the greater error.
The Knicks get their superstar via trade, as SNY's Ian Begley reported they would. Chris Paul might be the target given his relationship with Leon Rose, but Westbrook would bring the electricity Madison Square Garden has been missing.
For the Philadelphia 76ers, this is a no-brainer. Acquiring the 2018 MVP while still in his prime immediately elevates them to title favorite and puts the rest of the Eastern Conference on notice.
Jrue Holiday, Aaron Gordon to Brooklyn
Brooklyn receives: Jrue Holiday, Aaron Gordon
New Orleans receives: Spencer Dinwiddie, Taurean Prince, Jarrett Allen and Brooklyn's 2021 first-round pick
Orlando receives: Caris LeVert
Let's start with Orlando. Jeff Weltman and John Hammond's three-year front-office tenure in Orlando has been far from flashy. After one failed season under Frank Vogel, the Magic hired Steve Clifford, who earned 17 more victories than his predecessor (and the seventh seed) before a five-game gentleman's sweep at the Toronto Raptors' hands in the 2019 playoffs. The Magic then finished eighth and lost in five games in the first round of the bubble playoffs.
The group is peddling mediocrity and is overcrowded in the frontcourt. With the catastrophic injury to Jonathan Isaac, Hammond, Weltman and Clifford seem likely to get fired in the offseason of 2021. They need to shake things up, and Caris LeVert is the perfect wing to add the scoring punch they desperately lack.
From Brooklyn's point of view, this deal is a slam dunk. The Nets will get plenty of scoring from Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant. They need high-end complementary players who can defend. Arguably no one does that better or offers more versatility on that end than Holiday or Gordon. And each can create on the offensive end when forced to do so. Moving on from Jarrett Allen immediately alleviates the uncomfortable logjam between him and DeAndre Jordan. With a unit of Kyrie-Jrue-Gordon-Durant-Jordan, the Nets would inarguably become the title favorite.
New Orleans does this because Holiday doesn't fit its timeline and is up for an extension this summer. If the Pelicans retain him, they risk losing him for nothing next offseason or being forced to deal him at the deadline. Dealing a team's leader midseason almost promises to damn any hopes of a playoff run. Teaming up with his brothers in Indiana in a deal for Myles Turner is the alternative, but if Holiday wants a real shot at championship contention, Brooklyn may be his best bet.
Victor Oladipo to Milwaukee
Indiana receives: Eric Bledsoe, Donte DiVincenzo
Milwaukee receives: Victor Oladipo
The consecutive postseason failures of the Milwaukee Bucks prompts a shake-up. While many could argue Giannis Antetokounmpo should force his way to Miami or Golden State, his reaction to Malika Andrews' story in 2019 coupled with Adrian Wojnarowski's recent report indicates he's not ready to move on just yet.
That of course is contingent on the Bucks finding a star capable of alleviating that pressure and getting the Bucks over the postseason hump.
Victor Oladipo fits the bill of a disgruntled superstar who may be willing to team up with Giannis. Despite his status as a two-time All-Star, Oladipo's value has plummeted. After rupturing a quad tendon in January 2019, it appeared Oladipo was going to miss the second half of the 2018-19 season and most of the 2019-20 season. In 19 regular-season games this past season, Oladipo saw career lows in nearly every category, including field-goal percentage (39.4 percent). Given his disappointing performance and the nature of his expiring contract, the Bucks shouldn't have to unload much to acquire him.
Taking on Eric Bledsoe's three remaining years may be difficult to swallow, but Bledsoe is still a high-end defender, as evidenced by his All-Defensive second-team selection. Adding Donte DiVincenzo to the deal would make his addition more palatable. At just 23 years of age, DiVincenzo ranked in the 98th percentile in efficiency differential per 100 team possessions. His ability to put the ball on the floor makes him a worthwhile secondary creator, and as a scorer he graded in the 82nd percentile in effective field-goal percentage and in the 95th in long mid-range twos.
If he can push that skill to the three-point line, he may serve as the ideal replacement to Jeremy Lamb, who will likely spend part of the 2020-21 season on the shelf with a torn ACL he suffered on Feb. 23.
Nikola Vucevic to Golden State
Golden State receives: Nikola Vucevic, Terrence Ross, Orlando 2020 first-round pick (No. 15)
Orlando receives: Andrew Wiggins, Kevon Looney, Jordan Poole, Golden State's 2020 first-round pick (No. 2), Minnesota's 2021 first-round pick
Finishing with the league's worst record proved fortuitous as it earned the Dubs the NBA's second overall pick in the 2020 draft. That, along with the first-round pick acquired in the D'Angelo Russell deal (Minnesota), should be enough to get the Warriors a difference-maker that can spring them right back into title contention.
The Orlando Magic are stuffed in the frontcourt with Nikola Vucevic, Aaron Gordon, Jonathan Isaac, Chuma Okeke, Khem Birch and Mo Bamba. While Isaac will likely be sidelined for the entirety of the 2020-21 season following a torn ACL injury, he is undeniably a part of the future.
Magic president Jeff Weltman and general manager John Hammond have had three years to produce and have earned nothing more than one win in each of the last two playoffs. It's time for a shake-up, and their best player should fetch the richest reward.
Vucevic, a 2019 All-Star, was sensational in the opening round of the bubble playoffs against Milwaukee, averaging 28.0 points, 11.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists on 50.5 percent shooting from the field and 40.9 from three. He did this despite being matched up against All-Defensive second-teamer Brook Lopez. That kind of complementary playmaking and shooting should help lift the burden from Steph Curry and Klay Thompson as they regain their footing.
Terrence Ross suffered a setback in efficiency in 2020 after a career-best season in 2018-19. The Dubs would bet that the open looks they'd be able to generate could help return his shooting stroke. In addition, the Warriors keep a pick in 2020 sliding back to 15th where they can acquire help on the wing in the form of Aaron Nesmith or Saddiq Bey.
Andrew Wiggins showed plenty of improvement in 2019-20, achieving career highs in effective field-goal percentage, rebounding and assists. The Magic would need him to provide scoring on the wing, especially if Evan Fournier opts to exercise his option and become a free agent. A high-volume shooter is something the Magic have lacked, as evidence by their 23rd and 22nd finishes in offensive rating in the past two seasons. Losing Ross hurts, but moving up to second in the draft from 15th would be good enough to replace him with Anthony Edwards or LaMelo Ball.
Also, the Magic snag the highly coveted Minnesota Timberwolves pick in 2021. Moving Vucevic would allow the Magic to embrace small-ball lineups with Aaron Gordon operating at the 5 and Isaac alongside him. While losing Vucevic's steady hand would test the unit, the versatility and spacing should only improve in his absence.
Preston Ellis covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @PrestonEllis.