Absurd NBA Trade Offers for Every Team's Most Untouchable Star

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistOctober 15, 2020

Absurd NBA Trade Offers for Every Team's Most Untouchable Star

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Brokering NBA blockbusters is hard for myriad reasons, not the least of which is a weighty reluctance—if not an outright refusal—to let go of a star.

    While you've probably heard that no one in the Association is truly untouchable, you also recognize there are players who functionally qualify as such. The top rung on the superstar ladder is occupied by players who would never be traded unless they forced it to happen.

    Well, that or they could find themselves included a hypothetical-trade hysteria like this.

    No one is untouchable here, and in fact, each team's player who best fits the label will be the one shipped out. This probably isn't a precursor to many (or any) actual real-world swaps, but it is a fun mental exercise to try to determine the trade value of players who aren't actually available in trades.

Atlanta Hawks: Trae Young

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    John Amis/Associated Press

    Atlanta Hawks receive: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Luguentz Dort, No. 25 pick (via DEN) and 2021 first-round pick (top-five protected)

    Oklahoma City Thunder receive: Trae Young

    Much like the initial trade that delivered Trae Young to Atlanta during the 2018 draft (at the expense of Luka Doncic), this deal would involve the Hawks flipping one star prospect for a slightly lower regarded one to fetch additional assets.

    Young is the brightest star involved and certainly the most lethal on offense. He just became only the fifth player ever to average at least 29 points and nine assists, and he's the second to hit those marks within his first two NBA seasons. But he's also literally the worst defender in the entire league, and Atlanta may see that as a fatal flaw.

    It could make sense, then, to swap him out for the more well-rounded Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. If Atlanta sees enough shooting and shot-creation between John Collins, Cam Reddish, Kevin Huerter and De'Andre Hunter, then it give some ground on offense in this deal while directly addressing its 28th-ranked offense. Gilgeous-Alexander can defend multiple spots, and Luguentz Dort could soon appear on All-Defensive rosters.

    Meanwhile, the Thunder can tailor their entire rebuild around Young, whose combination of off-the-dribble deep shooting and clever distributing is basically an offensive system all itself. The fact he played his high school and college ball in the Sooner State should also energize one of the league's smallest markets.

Boston Celtics: Jayson Tatum

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Boston Celtics receive: Jaren Jackson Jr., Dillon Brooks, 2021 first-round pick (top-five protected) and 2024 first-round pick (top-four protected via GSW)

    Memphis Grizzlies receive: Jayson Tatum, Enes Kanter and Vincent Poirier

    Celtics fans are probably screaming right now, since they are losing an ascending star in Jayson Tatum without bringing back an established star or someone guaranteed to reach that level in the future. The counter is that Jaren Jackson Jr. is everything this roster needs to complete the puzzle, and he just may make a run at stardom yet.

    The 6'11", 242-pounder brings the drool-worthy pairing of spacing (2.5 threes at a 39.4 percent clip) and shot-blocking (1.6 blocks in 28.5 minutes). He can be the defensive anchor the Shamrocks are missing, and he's even more fascinating at the other end. He just graded in the 87th percentile of pick-and-roll ball-handlers, the 74th percentile of pick-and-roll screeners and the 67th percentile on isolations.

    If Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown and Gordon Hayward can collectively cover for the perimeter scoring lost with Tatum, this trade could make Boston even deeper (and better loaded for another big move). Dillon Brooks can get himself into trouble with ambitious shot selection, but put him in a more specialized role in Boston, and he can shine as a three-and-D wing.

    The Grizzlies would do this deal to pair Tatum with Ja Morant, forming an electric 22-and-under tandem built to terrorize the Western Conference for years to come. While Memphis has never been a free-agent destination, a magnetic combo like this could make it happen. Enes Kanter is a money-matcher after picking up his player option, and Vincent Poirier would get tacked onto the trade so Boston can open a roster spot.

Brooklyn Nets: Kevin Durant

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    Mary Altaffer/Associated Press

    Brooklyn Nets receive: Joel Embiid, Josh Richardson and Zhaire Smith

    Philadelphia 76ers receive: Kevin Durant and DeAndre Jordan

    Even in this fantasy realm, it feels cruel to break apart Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving before they take the floor together, but this exercise demands it. So, rather than crossing their fingers and hoping Durant and Irving take off immediately, the Nets could cross their fingers and hope Joel Embiid stays healthy long enough to help Irving compete for his second championship.

    Durant is one of the game's all-time great mismatches, but he's also a 32-year-old returning from a torn Achilles. If he gets back to normal, he's a top-five talent (at least) who could form an absurd two-way connection with Ben Simmons. Both can operate either side of a pick-and-roll, each is a terror in transition, and their length-athleticism combos would yield incredible defensive versatility.

    If Durant can't recover and his best days are behind him, though, then Brooklyn would have flipped a declining stock for a 26-year-old Hakeem Olajuwon clone. Between Embiid's post-ups and Irving's isolations, the Nets would have two impossible-to-stop options in the half court.

    This deal would allow Al Horford first dibs at the starting center spot, which is another way to increase the Sixers' offensive oxygen. When DeAndre Jordan does see the floor, his rim-running could complement an open-court gazelle like Simmons. The Nets, meanwhile, would snag a three-and-D ace in Josh Richardson, and they would pick up a wild card with bouncy 21-year-old Zhaire Smith.

Charlotte Hornets: Devonte' Graham

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    Nell Redmond/Associated Press

    Charlotte Hornets receive: Ricky Rubio, Cameron Johnson, Ty Jerome and No. 10 pick

    Phoenix Suns receive: Devonte' Graham and Nicolas Batum

    The euphoria of uncovering a hidden gem is unlike many other experiences in the NBA. One day, Devonte' Graham is a forgotten second-rounder buried behind Kemba Walker. The next, he's suddenly a full-time starter and nightly source of 18.2 points, 7.5 assists and 3.5 three-pointers.

    The problem is when the receipts come due for these bargain ballers, and Graham's are looming around the corner in the form of his 2021 restricted free agency. Perhaps Charlotte is convinced he's worth what he'll receive. If not, the Hornets might want an escape route before making a massive commitment to a 6'1" player with limited explosion.

    That might make the Suns as a match, as they should continue hunting for upgrades around Devin Booker. Ricky Rubio was rock-solid during his first year in the desert, but there's a low-hanging ceiling above the soon-to-be 30-year-old. Phoenix would lose something defensively without Rubio, but its 12th-ranked offense could skyrocket with Graham and Devin Booker sharing a backcourt.

    The Suns also have several long-limbed wings to help hide any weaknesses, and Nicolas Batum would add to the collection (plus increase their 2021 flexibility with his expiring $27.1 million salary). Rubio should be a more natural backcourt fit with Terry Rozier, former Tar Heel Cameron Johnson would scratch an itch for more shooting in Charlotte, and maybe Ty Jerome discovers a long-term niche.

Chicago Bulls: Zach LaVine

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Chicago Bulls receive: Spencer Dinwiddie, Jarrett Allen and No. 19 pick (via PHI)

    Brooklyn Nets receive: Zach LaVine

    It'd be a great sign for the Bulls' rebuild if someone other than Zach LaVine stood out in this exercise, but the occasional pops from their prospects aren't enough to displace the dunk king. That's because he's proved so much more than a dunk king, most recently by being one of only six players to average 25 points, four assists and three three-pointers this past season.

    But his next playoff trip will be his first. Chicago is also 71-158 since his arrival. That isn't all on him, of course, but if the Bulls are waiting for him to lead them out of their rebuild, there's no evidence he makes that kind of impact.

    He'd be better off in a strong supporting role alongside bigger stars. Get him to Brooklyn—which has reportedly done background work on him to be ready for a possible trade, per SNY's Ian Begley—and LaVine could choose his spots while upping his efficiency next to Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. If everyone stays healthy, the LaVine-Durant-Irving-Caris LeVert quartet could steer the Nets to the No. 1 spot in offensive efficiency.

    Chicago needs better ball-movers to figure out what it has in its current prospect collection, and Spencer Dinwiddie can answer that call. Jarrett Allen could force his way into the starting center spot or at least form a potent young frontcourt trio with Wendell Carter Jr. and Lauri Markkanen. Give this group another top-20 pick to add to the roster, and the Bulls brighten their future without necessarily dimming their present.

Cleveland Cavaliers: Kevin Porter Jr.

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    Rusty Costanza/Associated Press

    Cleveland Cavaliers receive: Troy Brown Jr.

    Washington Wizards receive: Kevin Porter Jr.

    Kevin Porter Jr. lacks the name recognition of Kevin Love or Andre Drummond. Porter doesn't have the numbers of Collin Sexton or the predraft buzz of Darius Garland. But if you've kept an eye on the post-LeBron James Cavaliers—no hard feelings if you haven't; they've been awful—then you'd know Porter has already leapfrogged this entire roster in terms of long-term potential and importance.

    "Coaches, teammates and members of the front office rave about Porter," Cleveland.com's Chris Fedor wrote in September. "His talent, upside and growth as a rookie played the biggest role in Jordan Clarkson's December departure, as the Cavs were hoping to create a path to more playing time. Porter's viewed as the most promising of all the young pieces."

    The problem is Porter is better in theory than practice at the moment (he averaged 10.0 points and 2.2 assists), so the only kind of swap that sort of makes sense is a one-for-one trade for another intriguing prospect.

    The Wizards should be willing to gamble, since they need help to make the Bradley Beal-John Wall reboot work. Porter's shot would fit alongside them, and he could help guide the offense when they need a break.

    Troy Brown Jr. probably has a lower ceiling than Porter, but he makes things happen at both ends. He isn't as ball-dominant as Porter, which should make for an easier fit with Sexton and Garland.

Dallas Mavericks: Luka Doncic

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    Kim Klement/Associated Press

    Dallas Mavericks receive: Jayson Tatum and No. 14 pick (via MEM)

    Boston Celtics receive: Luka Doncic

    It was tempting to exclude the Mavericks from this exercise, as there's less than a zero percent chance they'll trade Luka Doncic. Michael Scotto of HoopsHype polled 15 front-office members and scouts to see which under-25 players they'd build around, and all 15 said Doncic.

    "Luka is the clear No. 1," one scout told Scotto. "... He's been a winner everywhere and will probably be a winner in this league."

    It would take a young centerpiece and more to even make the Mavs think, and that's exactly what the Celtics would pony up in this exchange.

    Doncic would become Boston's primary initiator, which would free up Kemba Walker to focus more on his scoring. Doncic's vision and creativity would bring even more out of Jaylen Brown and weaponize Robert Williams III on rolls to the basket.

    Tatum, meanwhile, would settle into the driver's seat in Dallas and might see his playmaking improvement accelerated with a greater responsibility in that role. But he'd have ample room to work his isolation magic in this enviably spaced five-out attack, and he could run a lot of the same two-man actions that Doncic does with Kristaps Porzingis.

Denver Nuggets: Nikola Jokic

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    Kim Klement/Associated Press

    Denver Nuggets receive: Domantas Sabonis, Malcolm Brogdon, Doug McDermott and 2021 first-round pick (top-five protected)

    Indiana Pacers receive: Nikola Jokic and Gary Harris

    Moving mountains might be easier than prying Nikola Jokic out of the Rockies. The point-center's passing, post-scoring and offensive genius just helped guide Denver to the Western Conference Finals, and considering he's only 25 and Jamal Murray is 23, the Nuggets could be a force for a while.

    But if Denver ever decided to field offers, this might get its attention. Domantas Sabonis is sort of Jokic-lite in his ability to set the table as a 6'11" center, Malcolm Brogdon bulks up any roster at both ends, and Doug McDermott is the kind of sharpshooter you want alongside an expert passer.

    Sabonis was one of two players to average 18 points, 12 boards and five assists this season, joining only Giannis Antetokounmpo. Brogdon hit the ground sprinting his first season in the Circle City, which he finished with new career highs of 16.5 points, 7.1 assists and 4.9 rebounds. McDermott just had his third straight season with 80-plus threes at a 40 percent clip; only three other players can say the same.

    If Murray makes his superstar leap and Michael Porter Jr. ascends to All-Star status, Denver could remain in the championship hunt while bringing back a lightly protected pick in a loaded draft.

    Indiana, meanwhile, would add a new best player without necessarily giving up its current one. If Victor Oladipo is healthy, he can still be a two-way terror. Perhaps the arrival of Jokic would convince Oladipo to stick around the Hoosier State. The Pacers could still be a power in the East, especially if Gary Harris rediscovers his three-point touch and T.J. Warren proves his bubble breakout was no mirage.

Detroit Pistons: Blake Griffin

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    Detroit Pistons receive: Nicolas Batum, Malik Monk and No. 32 pick (via CLE)

    Charlotte Hornets receive: Blake Griffin

    The Pistons went waist-deep into a rebuild when they jettisoned Andre Drummond at the trade deadline and cut ties with Reggie Jackson and Markieff Morris shortly thereafter. This would nearly submerge them in the refreshing waters of a youth movement, with only a Derrick Rose deal needed to complete the process.

    It would also clean up the franchise's future financial picture by shedding Griffin's pesky $39 million player option for 2021-22. But it would also involve trading away the best player in the swap for economic relief (with Nicolas Batum's $27.1 million expiring salary), a fringe prospect (Malik Monk) and a high second-round pick in a weak draft class.

    Still, if the Pistons think Griffin's best days are behind him—a distinct possibility with the oft-injured 31-year-old—then it's worth the risk. While consistency continues to elude Monk, he does show intriguing flashes of shot-making and aerial finishing. And the problems with this draft are centered more on the lack of top-level talent than a dearth of depth, so this pick could provide an eventual rotation player.

    The Hornets, meanwhile, are so starved for star power that they may be willing to bet on Griffin getting Buzz City buzzing again. As frightening as his history of knee problems is, he remains wildly skilled for a 6'9", 250-pounder. Even if he isn't taking as many flights as he did during his dunk-contest-champion days—he had five dunks in 18 games this season—his playmaking and expanded offensive range could still spruce up Charlotte's offensive attack.

Golden State Warriors: Stephen Curry

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    Golden State Warriors receive: Trae Young, Clint Capela and De'Andre Hunter

    Atlanta Hawks receive: Stephen Curry

    Have you ever watched Trae Young and thought you're seeing Stephen Curry 2.0? They aren't quite mirror images of one another—Young is a more natural passer, Curry has the edge in efficiency and close-range finishing—but the similarities include the off-the-dribble deep-range shooting that defines the offensive systems in Atlanta and Golden State.

    "There is that comparison that's made," Hawks advisor and former Warriors general manager Larry Riley said on the Papa & Lund podcast, via Warriors Wire's Logan Newman. "Everybody's going to make that comparison between he and Steph."

    If the Warriors see Young as a Curry-in-training, then they might pounce on the opportunity to add a similar player who's 10 years younger and not coming off an injury-riddled campaign. Clint Capela could shore up the interior, and De'Andre Hunter would help address a wing deficiency.

    For the Hawks, they'd be dealing a possible Curry for the real thing. It's never easy to scoff at the opportunity to add a two-time MVP and three-time champion. Plus, they could still field a formidable roster around him with John Collins, Cam Reddish, Kevin Huerter and whomever they add with the No. 6 pick.

Houston Rockets: James Harden

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Houston Rockets receive: Joel Embiid, Josh Richardson and Zhaire Smith

    Philadelphia 76ers receive: James Harden

    James Harden has paced the Association in points per game in each of the last three seasons. In 2016-17, he led the league in assists. He finished within the top three of the MVP voting in each of these campaigns, and he took home the hardware in 2017-18.

    What he hasn't done, though, is orchestrated a Finals run in Space City. With his 31st birthday behind him, the cap sheet effectively clogged and a harrowing number of unpaid draft debts, Houston's championship window might be closed.

    This trade would buy the Rockets more time, and perhaps a healthy Joel Embiid could be the piece that pushes this club over the top. He could double as the team's go-to scorer and defensive anchor, while providing just enough spacing (238 career threes at a 31.9 percent clip) to keep attack lanes open for Russell Westbrook. Josh Richardson would add another three-and-D wing to the equation, and Zhaire Smith could prove to be helpful yet.

    The Sixers' coaching change from Brett Brown to Doc Rivers shows a clear desire to win now, and Harden could perhaps make that happen. He's a cleaner fit with Ben Simmons, and the two could work wonders in transition and pick-and-rolls. This would also free up the center spot for Al Horford, who was miscast in a jumbo frontcourt with Embiid (that pairing was outscored by 0.5 points per 100 possessions over 619 minutes).

Indiana Pacers: Domantas Sabonis

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    AJ Mast/Associated Press

    Indiana Pacers receive: Chris Paul, No. 25 pick (via DEN) and 2022 first-round pick (from LAC)

    Oklahoma City Thunder receive: Domantas Sabonis, Jeremy Lamb and Aaron Holiday

    Surprised not to see Victor Oladipo listed here? You shouldn't be. The 28-year-old hasn't looked right since he suffered a ruptured quad tendon in his right knee in Jan. 2019. Tack on the rumblings about his desire for a change of address, and it's hard to paint him as anything close to untouchable.

    Domantas Sabonis is more easily cast as the Pacers' preferred centerpiece, as the 24-year-old is coming off his All-Star debut. But with Myles Turner still around and the team finding substantial success with T.J. Warren operating as a small-ball 4 in the bubble, perhaps Indiana would entertain overtures for its talented big man.

    Here, the Pacers would replace a plus-passing big with a historically proficient playmaker in Chris Paul, who has the seventh-most assists all-time and a minuscule 2.4 career turnover average. Slot him on the perimeter with Oladipo and Malcolm Brogdon, and Indy has a trio who can all initiate offense, space the floor and hold their own on defense.

    If Oladipo is healthy, there might be a best-case scenario in which Indiana escapes the Eastern Conference. If nothing else, this would give the two-time All-Star more reasons to consider sticking around the Hoosier State (assuming that's what the Pacers want).

    With Sabonis on board, the Thunder could continue playing multiple distributors together, and this would free them to trade their $27.5 million man in the middle, Steven Adams. Aaron Holiday would give OKC another long-term keeper, and Jeremy Lamb could emerge as a future trade chip once he returns from his ACL tear.

Los Angeles Clippers: Kawhi Leonard

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Los Angeles Clippers receive: Jaylen Brown, Robert Williams III, Romeo Langford and No. 14 pick (via MEM)

    Boston Celtics receive: Kawhi Leonard

    Anyone else feeling deja vu here? That's because the last time Kawhi Leonard was traded, the Celtics were a strong suitor and Jaylen Brown's name came up. The Shamrocks didn't pull the trigger that time, which immediately infected them with some non-buyer's remorse after watching Leonard lead the Toronto Raptors to the 2019 title.

    "I do know that there is some regret from some people within the Celtics organization about not pulling the trigger on a Kawhi Leonard deal last summer," Sports Illustrated's Chris Mannix said on The Crossover podcast in 2019.

    Brown has made a leap since then and merited All-Star consideration this season. He's still a weight class or two behind Leonard, but he remains a solid centerpiece in a theoretical Leonard trade. If the Clippers think their formula is flawed—they blew a 3-1 lead in the conference semifinals and could lose Leonard or Paul George to free agency next offseason—this would bring back multiple building blocks, plus a lottery pick.

    The Celtics, meanwhile, would seize the chance to rewrite history and add Leonard to a loaded roster that already features Jayson Tatum, Kemba Walker, Gordon Hayward and Marcus Smart. That quintet gives off legitimate Death Lineup 2.0 vibes and could key Boston's next run to a title.

Los Angeles Lakers: LeBron James

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Los Angeles Lakers receive: Ben Simmons, Matisse Thybulle, Furkan Korkmaz and No. 21 pick (via OKC)

    Philadelphia 76ers receive: LeBron James and JaVale McGee

    Anthony Davis might objectively deserve this spot due to his age, two-way ability and immense impact. But it's subjectively impossible to choose anyone other than four-time MVP and four-time Finals MVP LeBron James, which forces the Lakers to find a literal king's ransom.

    This might do the trick.

    Ben Simmons functions in a similar role as a jumbo playmaker and punishing finisher at the basket. He doesn't have James' bulk or offensive versatility, but Simmons has more tools on defense and is nearly a dozen years younger. This package also provides a lockdown defender (Matisse Thybulle), a sharpshooter (Furkan Korkmaz) and a first-round pick to flesh out the rotation around Simmons and Davis.

    If the Sixers decide they've taken the Simmons-Joel Embiid experiment as far as it can go, they'd rely on James' basketball genius to make sense of their roster. Every franchise that has employed him has collected at least one championship as a result, and if he found the sweet spots for Embiid, Tobias Harris and Al Horford, Philly could continue that trend.

Memphis Grizzlies: Ja Morant

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    Mike Ehrmann/Associated Press

    Memphis Grizzlies receive: Trae Young

    Atlanta Hawks receive: Ja Morant and 2021 first-round pick (1-7 and 15-30 protected, via UTA)

    Ja Morant gave Beale Street some bounce, and the presumably rebuilding Grizzlies nearly followed his lead into the postseason. Expectations were exceeded to such an eye-opening degree that even in an exercise like this, it's hard to get your mind around Memphis moving Morant.

    But that changes in a hurry if Trae Young is on the table. Morant might be an energizer, but Young establishes an organizational identity.

    Having Young and Jaren Jackson Jr. on the same floor would be like having an answer key for all of the problems opposing defenses can present. They'd have a devastating connection in the open court and endless opportunities on pick plays. Young's three-point cannon would also give Jonas Valanciunas and Justise Winslow more room to operate, hence the Grizzlies' willingness to ship out a pick in this deal.

    The Hawks, though, might envision more team-building opportunities with Morant than a one-way player like Young allows. There wouldn't be such a thing as playing too fast for this young Atlanta offense, and opposing defenses could be repeatedly humiliated with Morant, John Collins, Clint Capela and Cam Reddish all exploding to the rim.

Miami Heat: Jimmy Butler

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Miami Heat receive: Devin Booker and Kelly Oubre Jr.

    Phoenix Suns receive: Jimmy Butler and Kelly Olynyk

    Not all of the bubble trends will likely extend into the future, but the transformations of Jimmy Butler and Devin Booker should stand the test of time.

    Butler was a two-way superstar while steering the Heat to the NBA Finals. Booker was unguardable (30.5 points on 50.3 percent shooting) and made the Suns literally unbeatable. Neither team should be remotely interested in a change, but this framework would make them think.

    Butler seems tailor-made for Miami, and he was living and breathing the #HeatCulture before ever landing in South Beach. That doesn't change the fact that the 31-year-old swingman isn't on the same timeline as 23-year-old Bam Adebayo and 20-year-old Tyler Herro. Booker, who's about to celebrate his 24th birthday, is a perfect fit by age, and his long-distance shooting makes him a cleaner offensive fit with Adebayo.

    Meanwhile, Phoenix is obviously eager to snap a now decade-long playoff drought. It won only 19 games in 2018-19, then spent the summer chasing floors over ceilings in the draft (Cameron Johnson), the trade market (Aron Baynes) and free agency (Ricky Rubio). Butler would be the crown jewel of this win-now redesign, and the defensive magic he'd work with Mikal Bridges could move this 17th-ranked unit into the top 10.

    Kelly Oubre Jr. would deepen Miami's collection of wings. Kelly Olynyk would primarily work as a money-matcher in the trade, but his shooting and distributing would add different elements to the Suns frontcourt.

Milwaukee Bucks: Giannis Antetokounmpo

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Milwaukee Bucks receive: Jrue Holiday, Zion Williamson, No. 13 pick and 2021 first-round pick (8-30 protected via LAL)

    New Orleans Pelicans receive: Giannis Antetokounmpo and Brook Lopez

    If you're a Pelicans fan, you might be screaming "Overpay!" If you're a Bucks backer, you probably think this isn't enough for a once-in-a-generation talent. Under Goldilocks rules, that means the swap is just right.

    Giannis Antetokounmpo just won consecutive MVP awards and paired this season's honor with the Defensive Player of the Year award. He has played every position and can defend them all. His interior dominance makes him something of a modernized Shaquille O'Neal, and Antetokounmpo has doubled as the Bucks' assists leader two years running.

    How do you put a trade price on that? Well, you start with a young player who might become a generational great in Zion Williamson. The 20-year-old has plenty of dots to connect to reach that point, but his size-explosion combo is ridiculous, and it's enhanced by an advanced feel for the game. Then, the Bucks would keep themselves in contention by also adding a top two-way talent in Jrue Holiday, plus they brighten their future with a pair of draft picks.

    Sound steep for New Orleans? It shouldn't. The Pels would be getting Giannis Antetokounmpo. They'd also be filling their center void with stretch big Brook Lopez. With Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball and JJ Redick potentially comprising the rest of the starting five, New Orleans could enter the championship chase as soon as next season.

Minnesota Timberwolves: Karl-Anthony Towns

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    Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press

    Minnesota Timberwolves receive: Caris LeVert, Spencer Dinwiddie, Jarrett Allen and No. 19 pick (via PHI)

    Brooklyn Nets receive: Karl-Anthony Towns

    Minnesota's offensive upside is enormous after partnering 2015 draft classmates and close friends Karl-Anthony Towns and D'Angelo Russell. But the defensive downside is frighteningly low, and the Western Conference is intimidatingly deep.

    This model may not work, and if it doesn't, the Timberwolves could regret shipping out a top-three protected pick in a potentially loaded 2021 draft.

    This move would address Minnesota's need for depth and help balance the roster. Like Russell, Caris LeVert and Spencer Dinwiddie are both tough covers off the dribble who can run the offense. There's the foundation for a top-half attack, and when Jarrett Allen mans the middle while Josh Okogie roams the wing, Minnesota might even reach a respectable range on defense.

    The Nets, meanwhile, would shift the offense into overdrive and enhance their championship chances with Towns. He's a 6'11" center who can score from the paint (career 71.7 percent within three feet) to the perimeter (career 39.6 percent) and pick apart defenses as a secondary playmaker. There is no comfortable way for opposing defenses to try to contain Towns, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.

New Orleans Pelicans: Zion Williamson

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    Rusty Costanza/Associated Press

    New Orleans Pelicans receive: Deandre Ayton, No. 10 pick and 2022 first-round pick (top-five protected)

    Phoenix Suns receive: Zion Williamson

    Pelicans fans were partying as soon as their team drafted Zion Williamson first overall last summer, and that excitement reached a fever pitch when he was finally healthy enough to debut in January. He turned the electricity up another notch by lighting up the San Antonio Spurs for 22 points on 8-of-11 shooting, seven rebounds and three assists in just 18 minutes of action.

    "I haven't seen that. Nothing like that," then-Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry told The Undefeated's Marc J. Spears afterward. "And that ain't even scratching the surface."

    New Orleans would never consider dealing Williamson, whose predraft buzz reached levels unseen since LeBron James. But if the Pelicans had a sudden change of heart, this might be the kind of package they covet.

    Deandre Ayton, the No. 1 pick in 2018, just averaged 18.2 points, 11.5 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game as a sophomore. He has already made a massive leap on defense, and an offensive jump could be on the horizon if he stretches his shooting range past the three-point arc. Attach two draft picks to Ayton, and New Orleans has multiple avenues to keep growing its young core.

    Out in Phoenix, the Suns would bank on Williamson and Devin Booker helping them break into the championship conversation. It would take some time—each has defensive flaws to correct—but the twosome would share a skyscraper's ceiling.

New York Knicks: RJ Barrett

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    New York Knicks receive: Luke Kennard and No. 7 pick

    Detroit Pistons receive: RJ Barrett and No. 27 pick (via LAC)

    There are two ways for the Knicks to read RJ Barrett's uneven rookie season. They could dismiss the inconsistencies and inefficiency as the inevitable growing pains of a 19-year-old. Or they could panic over some of his most worrisome statistical trends, like the fact that the supposed scoring specialist put together a grisly 40.2/32.0/61.4 shooting slash.

    New Knicks president Leon Rose dubbed Barrett and Mitchell Robinson as "young core pieces," per Greg Joyce of the New York Post, which seems to suggest he's willing to give Barrett the benefit of the doubt.

    Then again, Barrett's shooting woes could quietly concern the Knicks enough to take offers. Would this be sufficient?

    Maybe not on first glance, but Luke Kennard was breaking out last season before knee tendinitis got the best of him (15.8 points, 4.1 assists and 2.6 threes at a 39.9 percent clip). More importantly, this would give the Knicks two picks in the top eight to add a pair of prospects—or maybe trade up for LaMelo Ball.

    The Pistons must decide Barrett is more interesting than anyone on the board at No. 7, which could easily happen. Even without a reliable jumper, he still became only the seventh player ever to average 14 points, five rebounds and two assists in his age-19 season. Detroit should also recognize that a team in its position shouldn't trade entirely out of a draft, so it would move down to No. 27 to shoot its shot from there.

Oklahoma City Thunder: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

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    Kevin C. Cox/Associated Press

    Oklahoma City Thunder receive: Jarrett Culver and No. 1 pick

    Minnesota Timberwolves receive: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

    Where will Shai Gilgeous-Alexander ultimately land on the league's superstar rankings? That's obviously impossible to answer right now, but even ballpark guesses are helpful. In building-block terms, there's a big difference between hovering around the top 25 and cracking the top 10.

    If OKC is convinced it won't be the latter, then it could make a proactive move to convert him into even more rebuilding assets. The Thunder will lose any hope of competitiveness once Chris Paul and Danilo Gallinari exit, which should happen this offseason. (That isn't sourced reporting, it just seems like the best outcome for everyone involved.)

    Leaning further into a rebuild and convinced Gilgeous-Alexander will stop short of superstardom, the Thunder could potentially turn one high-level prospect into two. Granted, Jarrett Culver needs a lot of work to be labeled that way, but last summer's No. 6 pick earned a Jimmy Butler comparison from B/R draft guru Jonathan Wasserman.

    Minnesota, meanwhile, would swap two trade chips for what it hopes will be an impact addition. Gilgeous-Alexander's game fits with anyone, since he isn't confined to one area and does most everything well. Next to Karl-Anthony Towns and D'Angelo Russell, Gilgeous-Alexander could dig in defensively, spot up from three and lead the offense when needed.

Orlando Magic: Jonathan Isaac

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    Orlando Magic receive: Lauri Markkanen

    Chicago Bulls receive: Jonathan Isaac

    If the Magic's future plans are wrapped around Jonathan Isaac, Markelle Fultz and Mo Bamba, they'll suffer even worse offensive shortages than the current core has. Maybe that, combined with the fact Isaac's torn ACL is expected to sideline him for all of next season, will make Orlando open to shopping its top prospect.

    Lauri Markkanen must look intoxicating to any team in need of a scoring lift. His first three seasons in Chicago have featured spurts of brilliance and agonizingly long disappearing acts. The latter, though, might at least be partially attributed to his supporting cast—there isn't a primary playmaker on the roster—and the fact both of his first two head coaches have been fired (Fred Hoiberg and Jim Boylen).

    Markkanen has enough question marks that Chicago's new front office could be open to a future without him and enough points of encouragement to attract Orlando. At his best, he's a 7-footer who's equally comfortable pulling from range and operating out of the post. When he puts it all together, it's spectacular to see (like an 11-game stretch during the 2018-19 season in which he averaged 26.5 points, 12.6 rebounds, 2.5 threes and 2.4 assists).

    As for Isaac, he has Defensive Player of the Year potential with the tools, talent and drive to defend all five positions. If the Bulls see a low ceiling for this core and choose to reset, they might be willing to reap the rewards of Isaac's return.

Philadelphia 76ers: Joel Embiid

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    Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

    Philadelphia 76ers receive: Bam Adebayo, Andre Iguodala and Kendrick Nunn

    Miami Heat receive: Joel Embiid

    Before Jimmy Butler found a roster of kindred spirits in South Beach, he found a lifelong friend—and potential championship running mate—in Joel Embiid.

    "That's my guy," Butler told The Athletic's Sam Amick. "Outside of basketball, I love that man to death. He knows that. ... I know that he still wanted me to be on his team. And I still wanted to be teammates with him."

    The Sixers aren't luring Butler back, but they could reunite him with Embiid. That only happens if they're collecting Bam Adebayo, a five-tool defender and legitimate point-center. He doesn't quite have the polish, scoring punch or range of Embiid—which is why the Heat might do this deal—but Adebayo is more versatile defensively. Pairing him with Ben Simmons would give Philly two elite, do-it-all stoppers.

    Fueled by this Finals run, Miami would move all-in for a championship run. It needed a second star to survive that series—its only two victories required 35-plus-point triple-doubles from Butler—and Embiid can fill the void going forward. Plugging him into the franchise's famed conditioning program should also bring out his best and have him better prepared for the rigors of postseason play.

    The Sixers would bring back Andre Iguodala to add another high-level passer and defender to the fold (and because the Heat may not move Adebayo without shedding Iguodala's $15 million salary). They would also bet on one of Shake Milton or Kendrick Nunn seizing the starting lead guard spot with shooting and off-the-dribble scoring and the other settling in as a spark-plug sub.

Phoenix Suns: Devin Booker

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    Kevin C. Cox/Associated Press

    Phoenix Suns: John Collins, De'Andre Hunter, Kevin Huerter and No. 6 pick

    Atlanta Hawks: Devin Booker

    Only 10 players have scored more points than Devin Booker since 2016-17, and that number would be even smaller had he not missed 46 games during the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons. That's the good news. The bad news is that Phoenix has gone a league-worst 98-221 during this stretch.

    That mountain of losses could be weighing on Booker (it's bugged him for years) and the franchise, which might necessitate a divorce.

    If the Suns did this deal, they'd be set to rebuild their roster around Deandre Ayton. He would get an explosive frontcourt partner in John Collins, an ace three-and-D wing in De'Andre Hunter and a net-shredding spacer in Kevin Huerter. Plus, Phoenix would add a second top-10 selection in this draft, so it can grab a pair of top prospects or package the picks for something else.

    The Hawks would leave this exchange with perhaps the most firepower of any backcourt—Splash Brothers included. What's the best way to defend a Booker-Trae Young backcourt other than cross your fingers and hope it's not their night? With Cam Reddish and Clint Capela still around, Atlanta should have more than enough to give Booker and Young their first taste of postseason hoops.

Portland Trail Blazers: Damian Lillard

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    Craig Mitchelldyer/Associated Press

    Portland Trail Blazers receive: Ben Simmons and No. 21 pick (via OKC)

    Philadelphia 76ers receive: Damian Lillard

    Damian Lillard is one of the best things ever to happen to the Blazers. But all good things eventually come to an end, right?

    Portland did make a run to the Western Conference Finals in 2019, but it has otherwise been knocked out in the first round three times in the last four years. At some point, franchises must ask themselves if it's worth it to keep running back the same core. Lillard turned 30 in July, and his backcourt mate, CJ McCollum, turned 29 in September. The Blazers might be ready to call it quits with this core.

    If that's the case, the Sixers should recognize opportunity's knock and add a running mate who's a much more natural on-court fit for Joel Embiid. Lillard ranked in the 87th percentile on isolations, while Embiid was in the 91st percentile for post-ups. Having them in the same half-court attack doesn't sound fair, especially when each can spread the floor for the other.

    The Blazers wouldn't abandon hope of competing right now, and they'd be better balanced with Simmons covering McCollum's defensive deficiencies. But this would also move Portland off the championship-or-bust timeline, since Simmons is only 24 years old. His unwillingness to shoot is a headache—and the reason the Sixers must part with a first-rounder here—but he brings enough else to compensate.

Sacramento Kings: De'Aaron Fox

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    Ashley Landis/Associated Press

    Sacramento Kings receive: Jarrett Culver, Josh Okogie, James Johnson and No. 1 pick

    Minnesota Timberwolves receive: De'Aaron Fox and Harrison Barnes

    Sacramento's financial books are off-balance.

    The Kings have $59.7 million committed just to Buddy Hield, Harrison Barnes and Cory Joseph next season. Only one of those three might be a starter. Bogdan Bogdanovic needs a new deal, and The Athletic's Jason Jones reported the Kings are ready to match any offer sheet he signs in restricted free agency. De'Aaron Fox is extension-eligible this offseason, too, in case the club can find max-contract coin in the couch cushions.

    This is where we should mention the Kings have missed the playoffs each of the last 14 seasons. It's the second-longest postseason drought in NBA history. Even if they're huge fans of Fox, they need to examine whether they're in position to make a max-contract commitment to anyone. If the answer is no, then trading him becomes an option.

    If they're enamored with someone in this draft—LaMelo Ball's passing might help make sense of this roster—they might favor this package. Josh Okogie is a disruptive defender, and Jarrett Culver has two-way potential. Both players are 22 or under. The Kings could have their nucleus going forward, and who knows, maybe a 2021 free-agency dreamer will want James Johnson's expiring $16 million salary at some point.

    The Timberwolves, in turn, would convert the No. 1 pick into a statistical star. Fox hasn't shown his fully finished form yet, and he's already at 21.1 points and 6.8 assists per night. He could add some zip to what should be a fiery offense. While Harrison Barnes is overpaid ($60.9 million over the next three seasons), he's still a solid source of defense and spot-up shooting.

San Antonio Spurs: Dejounte Murray

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    Ashley Landis/Associated Press

    San Antonio Spurs receive: No. 2 pick

    Golden State Warriors receive: Kelly Oubre Jr. and No. 11 pick

    Phoenix Suns receive: Dejounte Murray

    The Spurs' playoff streak is over, and they shouldn't rush to start the next one. They need to fully embrace the youth movement, which would become a lot easier to accept with an elite prospect on the roster.

    Dejounte Murray doesn't quite qualify. He can be a brilliant defender, and he showed progress with his shooting this season, but his offensive limitations might prevent him from ever becoming an average starting point guard. His floor is fine, but San Antonio needs to chase upside that it could find with the No. 2 pick.

    Golden State needs more immediate assistance than the No. 2 pick can offer, which puts Kelly Oubre Jr. in the crosshairs. The Dubs need an athletic two-way wing, and he cleanly fits the bill. This deal would also keep them in the lottery, which is key no matter if they want to use the pick or send it out in another trade.

    The Suns could decide Oubre has become replaceable with Mikal Bridges and Cameron Johnson on the roster. So, rather than cover the costs of Oubre's 2021 unrestricted free agency, they'd move him for what they hope will be Devin Booker's long-term backcourt mate. The strengths of Booker and Murray are powerful enough to cover the other's weaknesses.

Toronto Raptors: Pascal Siakam

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Toronto Raptors receive: Jaren Jackson Jr., Dillon Brooks and Brandon Clarke

    Memphis Grizzlies receive: Pascal Siakam

    Is Toronto's pitch to Giannis Antetokounmpo in 2021 strongest with Pascal Siakam at the center of it? Or might the Greek Freak prefer a deeper collection of contributors than the Raptors have to offer?

    Maybe it sounds asinine to base roster decisions about a player employed by someone else, but forward-thinkers are often the biggest winners in free agency. And when the target is a supreme talent like Antetokounmpo, it's worth the extra effort.

    Siakam might be better than Jaren Jackson Jr. now, but Jackson might be the better fit with the MVP. He's a more natural shooter from three and a more impactful defender. Whether Antetokoumpo defends the ball while Jackson roams or vice versa, the Raptors could cause all kinds of havoc on defense. They'd also be a blur in the half court as Dillon Brooks spots up on the perimeter and Brandon Clarke explodes to the basket.

    Is that enough to appease Antetokounmpo and, by extension, Toronto? If it is, Memphis would have to give this a look. Siakam is the best player in this exchange, and the Grizzlies would get to pair him with a soaring star in Ja Morant.

Utah Jazz: Donovan Mitchell

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    Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

    Utah Jazz receive: Devin Booker

    Phoenix Suns receive: Donovan Mitchell

    If Donovan Mitchell hadn't earned untouchable status before reaching the bubble, then he secured it during his stay at Disney. He'd been an All-Star before, but this was different. This was a pair of 50-point eruptions in the postseason different. This was meet the NBA's new superstar different.

    Devin Booker didn't get a chance to engineer any playoff outbursts, but it wasn't for a lack of trying. His three-ball wasn't even falling (31.3 percent), and he was still unstoppable. He averaged 30.5 points on 50.3 percent shooting, and he more than doubled his 2.5 turnovers with 6.0 assists. Tack on Phoenix's unblemished record, and it sure seemed like his star was rising.

    When both players left the bubble, they were further from the trade block than at any point in their career. That makes it tough to trade them for anyone—except maybe for each other.

    Booker's superior shooting could make life easier on Rudy Gobert. Deandre Ayton's ability to space out to the mid-range could bring even more efficiency out of Mitchell. Neither team would move the needle a ton, but you can see how the swap might move each squad's ceiling up a half-story or so.

Washington Wizards: Bradley Beal

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Washington Wizards receive: Tyler Herro, Kendrick Nunn, Kelly Olynyk and No. 20 pick

    Miami Heat receive: Bradley Beal

    All signs point to Bradley Beal staying in the District. But most projected outcomes for the Wizards see this situation spilling over into a mountain of frustration for the two-time All-Star.

    As the club was being buried under an avalanche of losses this season, a random defeat in Chicago sent the scoring guard over the edge. He was reported to be "as angry with and emotional about his team as he's ever been," according to David Aldridge of The Athletic.

    Does anyone believe all of these losses and all of this frustration vanishes once John Wall—a 30-year-old coming off a ruptured Achilles and a two-year absence—returns? The Wizards should reconsider their stance on trading Beal, especially if they can bring back a top prospect like Tyler Herro.

    Heat fans might scoff at his inclusion, but the Wizards aren't dealing Beal without getting Herro or Bam Adebayo—and Adebayo is going nowhere. So, Miami would convert Herro's Beal-like potential into the real thing, then watch Beal, Adebayo and Jimmy Butler chase the championship next season.

    The Wizards can't fully reset as long as Wall is on the books, but Herro would become their new centerpiece, and Kendrick Nunn could ideally cement himself as Wall's heir apparent. Kelly Olynyk is a money-matcher, but maybe he has some sage wisdom to share with young stretch bigs Thomas Bryant and Moritz Wagner.


    All stats courtesy of NBA.com and Basketball Reference unless otherwise noted. Salary information via Basketball Insiders.

    Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.