How Every NBA Team Can Trade Its Worst Contract This Offseason
Few things are more relative in the NBA world than every team's worst contract.
Some franchises have colossally awful deals on the books. Whether ill-advised from the start or undone by injuries, these are the cap-space killers that make building a functional roster difficult.
With other clubs, though, nit-picking is a must to determine the least reasonable deal after a stretch of smart spending. You can (and we did) still find one that stands out from the rest, but it's worth noting that not all bad contracts are attached to bad players. And not all of these are even bad contracts.
Let the salary scrambling commence, then, as we lean on the trade machine to help rid each club of its least valuable pact.
Atlanta Hawks: Clint Capela
The contract: Three years, $51.3 million
The trade: Clint Capela to Boston Celtics for Romeo Langford, Daniel Theis, Enes Kanter and No. 14 pick
Capela had this pact when Atlanta acquired him in February, so there's no reason to think it will scare off the Hawks for next season. Still, they probably shouldn't be hyper-focused on the present when they're coming off a 20-47 campaign (and haven't cleared 30 wins since 2016-17) and their best player, Trae Young, recently turned 22 years old.
The Hawks wouldn't abandon hope of competing for the 2021 playoffs here, as they potentially add four rotation players. But the top prizes are the 21-year-old Langford and the draft pick, which would be their second of the lottery. This should further brighten the future, plus it makes it easier to commit to John Collins, which feels like a no-brainer when he's 23 years old and getting 20-point, 10-board double-doubles in his sleep.
The Celtics, meanwhile, would decide they are one big man—more specifically, one Capela (whom they discussed at the deadline, per ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski)—away from a title. They could still liberally switch assignments on defense, he'd add muscle in the middle and the offense would benefit from having a more reliable vertical spacer than Robert Williams III. Boston would also increase its offseason flexibility by thinning out its crowded roster.
Boston Celtics: Gordon Hayward
The contract: One year, $34.2 million
The trade: Gordon Hayward and Marcus Smart to Indiana Pacers for Victor Oladipo and Myles Turner
If the Boston Celtics opt for a shake-up following their third Eastern Conference Finals defeat in four years, they might seek more size and find a succession plan for Hayward. This would check both boxes and potentially give them two more building blocks with the 28-year-old Oladipo and 24-year-old Turner.
Oladipo is down to his final season under contract and might seek a path out of the Circle City before then, per The Athletic's Jared Weiss. If Oladipo can get healthy after his quad injury, he could replace both Smart's tenacious defense and Hayward's shot-creation, all while giving Boston four legitimate closing options in him, Jayson Tatum, Kemba Walker and Jaylen Brown.
Turner sits a tier or two beneath stardom, but he could feel like that caliber of acquisition given the massive upgrade he'd offer the frontcourt. His 6'11", 250-pound frame would give Boston a physical answer for Bam Adebayo, Joel Embiid, Anthony Davis and Nikola Jokic, and Turner wouldn't even spoil the offense's spacing since he's a career 35.7 percent splasher from distance.
The Pacers, meanwhile, might be ready to embrace change after five consecutive first-round exits. They've already swapped skippers (Nate McMillan out, Nate Bjorkgren in), and some in the front office favor a move for Hayward, an Indianapolis native, per SNY's Ian Begley. If Oladipo wants out and the frontcourt needs reshaping, this would alleviate those issues with a former All-Star wing (Hayward) and an elite stopper (Smart).
Brooklyn Nets: Taurean Prince
The contract: Two years, $25.3 million
The trade: Taurean Prince, Spencer Dinwiddie and Jarrett Allen to San Antonio Spurs for LaMarcus Aldridge
For all of the money on the Brooklyn Nets' books, most of it was sensibly spent. The only two possible exceptions are the $30 million headed DeAndre Jordan's way the next three seasons and the money owed to Prince. There might normally be a debate between the two, but Jordan's close connection with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving renders that moot in Brooklyn.
That puts Prince on the chopping block, or here, in the Alamo City. The Spurs would have little to lose by seeing if they can turn the 26-year-old into an impact two-way forward. More importantly, they'd have plenty to gain by letting Allen anchor their interior for the foreseeable future and Dinwiddie either helping chase another playoff berth or bringing back a rebuilding asset in a later exchange.
The Nets, meanwhile, would have their third star in Aldridge, who continues churning out double-doubles even with his 35th birthday behind him. Ideally, he'd get the starting center spot in Brooklyn and inject it with the complementary abilities of spacing, shot-blocking and emergency-valve scoring.
Charlotte Hornets: Nicolas Batum
The contract: One year, $27.1 million (player option)
The trade: Nicolas Batum and Malik Monk to New York Knicks for Julius Randle, Dennis Smith Jr. and Reggie Bullock
The good thing with Batum's contract is that it's expiring. But that's the extent of the sales pitch. The Hornets went 23-42 in 2019-20 and still decided they were better without him. He only hit the hardwood 22 times and shot 34.6 percent from the field and 28.6 percent from deep when he did.
There isn't much for Charlotte to shop here, but maybe New York would take back the money in hopes of reviving Monk. The 6'3" scoring guard hasn't shown much since being made the 11th overall pick in 2017, but he's still a 22-year-old with hops and a sometimes-fiery three-point stroke.
The Knicks might also just be ready to rid themselves of Randle, who reportedly frustrated RJ Barrett with overdribbling, per Marc Berman of the New York Post, and Smith, who failed to consistently crack a bad point guard rotation. The Hornets, though, could consider kicking the tires on Randle to see if he can force his way into their frontcourt plans and trying to get Smith, a North Carolina native, back on track.
Chicago Bulls: Otto Porter Jr.
The contract: One year, $28.5 million (player option)
The trade: Otto Porter Jr., Cristiano Felicio and No. 44 pick (via MEM) to Oklahoma City Thunder for Chris Paul
If Porter could ever stay healthy, he might help shore up some of the Chicago Bulls' weaknesses on the wings. Saying that, did anyone look at the 22-43 Bulls and think they were an Otto Porter Jr. away from relevance? Plus, it's not like they can wave their wand and make him healthy. He's played 70 games the past two seasons combined. Chicago can't rely on that for a critical evaluation season for the new front office.
Instead, the Bulls should want to discover how this roster looks with a legitimate floor general running the show. Paul would be perfect. He can rally the team at both ends, play on or off the ball and mentor Chicago's many young players (including Coby White, who already has a rich relationship with him). He could also reconnect with head coach Billy Donovan after bonding with him last season in the Sooner State.
"The thing I love about him is he can talk about [basketball] 24/7," Donovan said, per Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle. "Even away from the court, to be able to talk about things, talk about our team, talk about what he's seeing out there, as a coach, you really enjoy that."
The Thunder have a perfect opportunity to go head-first into their rebuild this offseason, and this swap would get the ball rolling. OKC could shed Paul's $44.2 million player option for 2021-22 without taking any money back for that campaign. The Thunder might also find out Porter is someone they want to keep (or flip in a different deal), and they get another dart throw with the mid-second-rounder.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Kevin Love
The contract: Three years, $91.5 million
The trade: Kevin Love to Golden State Warriors for Andrew Wiggins
Hey, this looks familiar. In 2014, Love and Wiggins were traded for each other when the Cleveland Cavaliers needed to load up around LeBron James and Irving. Now, the Warriors need someone who can hit the ground sprinting alongside Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, and Love's polish, passing and perimeter shooting are easier to trust than what Wiggins brings.
This would make Golden State's core precariously old and expensive, but this does deliver an impact piece without costing the club the No. 2 pick, the 2021 first-rounder from the Minnesota Timberwolves or even its $17.2 million trade exception. The Dubs could use those assets to upgrade their wing defense and athleticism while watching Love, 32, send this offense into overdrive.
This doesn't meet Cleveland's reported asking price of "a combination of picks and players" for Love, per Cleveland.com's Chris Fedor, but that deal likely doesn't exist. This would, however, perk up the Cavs' underwhelming wing rotation, give their 26th-ranked offense a career 19.7-point scorer and put more open-court athleticism alongside Collin Sexton, Kevin Porter Jr. and Darius Garland.
Dallas Mavericks: Dwight Powell
The contract: Three years, $33.2 million
The trade: Dwight Powell, Delon Wright, Justin Jackson and No. 31 pick (via GSW) to Cleveland Cavaliers for Andre Drummond
Injuries are the worst. One minute, Powell was a reasonably paid rim-runner working two-man magic with Luka Doncic on pick-and-rolls. The next, he had a torn Achilles that wiped out the remainder of his 2019-20 season and threatens most (if not all) of the upcoming campaign.
Just like that, Powell's contract became the worst on the Dallas Mavericks' tidy books. (Kristaps Porzingis' max may not age well if he can't get right, but it still receives the benefit of the doubt.) And if the Mavs want to compete next season, it's one they might need to shed for immediate relief.
A low-cost flier on Drummond might do the trick. He's never quite been what we all want him to be, but he is a four-time rebounding champ who cleared 17 points per night both this season and last. He has the physical tools to be a great pick-and-roll screener, and maybe he could be if he was running them with Doncic instead of Sexton or Reggie Jackson.
Cleveland would decide its future is more interesting without Drummond and with the incoming pieces. The draft pick is by far the most intriguing, but a healthy Powell would be a close second. Wright's defense would be an asset if Cleveland kept him, and the Cavs might be desperate enough for wing help that it could deem Jackson a project worth undertaking.
Denver Nuggets: Gary Harris
The contract: Two years, $39.6 million
The trade: Gary Harris, Michael Porter Jr. and Monte Morris to Washington Wizards for Bradley Beal
There's actually an amendment on Colorado ballots to outlaw Porter trade talks, so let's tread quickly and carefully here.
Mike Singer of the Denver Post labeled the inclusion of Porter a "non-starter" and characterized any trade of the young scorer as "highly unlikely." But this caveat is worth nothing: "unless they get a superstar in return."
Does Beal qualify as a superstar? Let's see: The 27-year-old is an in-prime, two-time All-Star who just became the 12th player ever to average 30 points and six assists per game in a season, so yeah, the credentials look legit from this angle. Put him in the same backcourt with Jamal Murray and let both guards play off Jokic, and the Denver Nuggets' ceiling rises—after a season that finished just three wins shy of an NBA Finals trip.
The Nuggets need Beal's impact more than Porter's upside, but it's the opposite for the clearly in-need-of-an-overhaul Wizards. Washington can pretend like John Wall will be its difference-maker, but this team needs more than a 30-year-old point guard on the wrong side of an Achilles injury to compete at a high level.
If given this opportunity, the Wizards should pounce on the chance to reset around Porter. He needs several coats of polish, but we could be talking about a 6'10", three-level scoring, matchup nightmare. Tack on a lockdown defender (and formerly capable shooter) in Harris plus an heir-apparent point guard in Morris, and Washington has a strong enough package to show fans why it willingly parted with its best player.
Detroit Pistons: Blake Griffin
The contract: Two years, $75.8 million
The trade: Blake Griffin and No. 7 pick to Golden State Warriors for Andrew Wiggins and No. 2 pick
Contract values aren't universal. While Griffin and Wiggins might be objectively overpaid, the money might be easier to stomach if they swapped jerseys.
Early reports sound promising on Griffin's knee, which is a development every win-now shopper should note. He's just one season removed from averaging 24.5 points, 5.4 assists and 2.5 threes across 75 games. If the Warriors could get anywhere near the neighborhood of that production, that's probably more helpful than whatever they expect out of Wiggins, hence the draft-night slide down five spots.
The Detroit Pistons, on the other hand, won't be relevant even if Griffin is. They're staring down the barrel of a lengthy rebuild, and that would be a less daunting challenge with the 25-year-old Wiggins and the second pick than it is with a 31-year-old Griffin and the seventh selection.
Golden State Warriors: Andrew Wiggins
The contract: Three years, $94.7 million
The trade: Andrew Wiggins, No. 2 pick and 2021 first-round pick (top-three protected via MIN) to Washington Wizards for Bradley Beal
The Golden State Warriors' championship chances aren't so automatic that the team should part with these two picks for almost anyone. But Beal makes the short list of exceptions.
If the Warriors are going to contend again with Curry, Thompson and Green, the window is now. Beal could help them break through it.
He wouldn't retain the same volume he displayed in the District, but the trade-off might be better efficiency and the defensive versatility he previously flashed. Putting Curry or Beal in pick-and-rolls with Green while the other two spot up could be the most extreme pick-your-poison scenario for opposing coaches to tackle next season.
If the Wizards are going to trade Beal, they have to bring back a home run package. This might be the one. Wiggins is the name, but the draft picks are the draw. This would give Washington two top-10 picks in this draft and, depending how the campaign plays out, maybe another two top-10 choices in the next.
Houston Rockets: Eric Gordon
The contract: Four years, $75.6 million
The trade: Eric Gordon and Danuel House Jr. to Philadelphia 76ers for Al Horford and No. 21 pick (via OKC)
It's no minor miracle this distinction doesn't go to Russell Westbrook's supermax, as that's already looking shaky and still has three seasons to go. But at least the Houston Rockets can bank on All-Star numbers from Westbrook. Gordon just delivered his worst season (career-worst 10.3 player efficiency rating), and reversing his decline could be tricky with his 32nd birthday approaching.
The 6'9" Horford might have more to offer Houston. He could increase the team's size without sabotaging its spacing or switchability on defense. His contract might make Space City queasy, but at least it's only fully guaranteed for two more seasons and would come attached to a first-round pick in a quietly deep draft.
The 76ers would admit their jumbo experiment isn't working and pivot away from it to address needs for shooting and shot-creation. If the good Gordon ever resurfaces, he'd bring with him off-the-dribble attacking, spot-up sniping and defensive pliability. House's three-and-D game is subtle, but Philly doesn't need flash alongside its stars.
Indiana Pacers: Jeremy Lamb
The contract: Two years, $21 million
The trade: Jeremy Lamb and Aaron Holiday to New Orleans Pelicans for JJ Redick
The Indiana Pacers have a handful of contracts that hover around being slight overpays, but that can be par for the course in a non-destination market, and not one looks egregious. Even Lamb's deal is fine; it's just been compromised by his torn ACL.
Indiana may not want to wait on his recovery, especially if it wants to give Oladipo reasons to stick around. Giving its 19th-ranked offense more oomph would be a start, and the focus should be on the perimeter after the Pacers sank last season's second-fewest triples. Few players are better equipped to fill a shooting void than Redick, who holds top-20 career ranks in three-point makes and percentage.
New Orleans might be more patient, though. While the hiring of Stan Van Gundy could indicate a desire to win sooner than later, it doesn't change the fact that this club's most important players are 20 (Zion Williamson) and 23 (Brandon Ingram, a restricted free agent) years old. Turning the 36-year-old Redick into 28-year-old Lamb and 24-year-old Holiday would better align the timelines.
Los Angeles Clippers: Patrick Beverley
The contract: Two years, $27.7 million
The trade: Patrick Beverley to Atlanta Hawks for Dewayne Dedmon and No. 50 pick (via MIA)
The Los Angeles Clippers gave Beverley a three-year, $40 million deal last offseason and then spent the ensuing campaign running short on playmaking. This roster might be ready for a change at the lead guard spot.
This deal wouldn't address the point guard problems, but it would beef up the frontcourt. Assuming this would bump free-agent Montrezl Harrell out of town, L.A. would get bigger, longer and more versatile at center. Dedmon may not have Harrell's scoring punch, but Dedmon's shooting and shot-blocking would better complement Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.
The Hawks need more perimeter depth and defense of any kind. Beverley wouldn't entirely turn around Atlanta's 28th-ranked defense, but he's versatile enough to help hide the Hawks' most generous stoppers.
Los Angeles Lakers: Danny Green
The contract: One year, $15.4 million
The trade: Danny Green, Kyle Kuzma and Talen Horton-Tucker to Indiana Pacers for Victor Oladipo
The Los Angeles Lakers have three eight-figure salaries. Two belong to LeBron James and Anthony Davis. That would've made Green the worst contract by default even if he hadn't authored a spotty first season in L.A.
His trade value shouldn't be tanked, though, as he's a career 40.0 percent three-point shooter who can handle most defensive assignments. Plus, he's a three-time champion with 145 playoff contests under his belt, so a team in need of a postseason guide—say, a squad that hasn't seen the second round since 2014—might see him as a viable trade target.
That's doubly true if the Pacers don't feel good about a future with Oladipo, due either to the buzz about his wanting out or perhaps a reluctance to cover the cost of his next contract. Indiana wouldn't necessarily decline next season—Oladipo rarely looked right last season, and the team fared better without him—and its future would undeniably brighten with the arrivals of Kuzma and Horton-Tucker.
The Lakers would follow their world title by winning the Association's race to build the next Big Three. Even if Oladipo never gets all the way back to his previous production levels, he would only have to do so much heavy lifting around James and Davis. And if Oladipo does flash his old All-Star form, L.A. would have a dynamic shot-maker and lockdown defender to support the league's top twosome.
Memphis Grizzlies: Gorgui Dieng
The contract: One year, $17.3 million
The trade: Gorgui Dieng to Miami Heat for Kelly Olynyk
The Memphis Grizzlies might be tempted to chase a 2021 playoff spot after their surprisingly successful 2019-20 effort, but the Grizzlies shouldn't rush to compete. The Western Conference will be claustrophobically crowded next season, and Beale Street's finest might be best served by sitting out the rat race.
Instead, Memphis could take an evaluation-based approach. Rather than scrambling to construct a winner around Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr., the Grizzlies could experiment with which ancillary pieces work best around them. Since they already have a low-post banger in Jonas Valanciunas, they won't glean much information out of Dieng.
But throwing an offensive weapon like Olynyk into the mix could be interesting. He's a better shooter and passer than Dieng, and if nothing else, he could keep the paint completely cleared for Memphis to learn the full power of the Morant-Jackson pick-and-roll.
Miami, which sat Olynyk twice in the conference finals and once in the Finals, could get more mileage out of the 6'10" Dieng's size, physicality and interior activity. He wouldn't fill a major role, but you could see his number getting called when an AD or Embiid matchup looms.
Miami Heat: Andre Iguodala
The contract: Two years, $30 million (team option 2021-22)
The trade: Andre Iguodala, Kendrick Nunn and No. 20 pick to Philadelphia 76ers for Josh Richardson and Zhaire Smith
The Miami Heat's worst contract comes down to Olynyk's $13.2 million player option and the remainder of Iguodala's contract. Since Iguodala's final season is a team option, it's almost a wash financially. This becomes a preference pick, then, and Iguodala's age (36) and sinking shooting rates (43.2/29.8/40.0) are a touch more worrisome than Olynyk's defensive deficiencies.
But maybe Philadelphia would have a different view of Iguodala. That's where he spent the first eight seasons of his career, ascending to All-Star status and briefly serving as their post-Allen Iverson face of the franchise. Iguodala doesn't offer the shooting the Sixers need, but his championship experience could be invaluable to a talented team that's struggling to find its way in the playoffs.
Nunn could alleviate some of the shooting woes. It's hard to say whether he or Shake Milton would win a starting spot, but either way, they'd tag-team the position to provide spacing and off-the-bounce shot-making. The draft pick would give Philly the 20th and 21st selections, which could be two chances to add rotation players or trade chips to broker a different deal.
Miami, meanwhile, would reunite with Richardson, who anchored last summer's sign-and-trade for Jimmy Butler. Richardson could immediately address the Heat's pressing concern for point-of-attack defenders, and his efficiency should be elevated by not needing to do as much offensively as Miami previously asked. If anyone can mold Smith's natural tools into something interesting, it's probably the Heat's developmental staff.
Milwaukee Bucks: Eric Bledsoe
The contract: Three years, $54.4 million
The trade: Eric Bledsoe, Donte DiVincenzo, George Hill, Ersan Ilyasova and No. 24 pick (via IND) to Oklahoma City Thunder for Chris Paul
A Milwaukee Bucks deal for Paul is reportedly "highly unlikely," per The Athletic's Eric Nehm and Sam Amick. But hopefully that's some kind of smoke screen or maybe a mistimed April Fool's joke, because the Point God is exactly what Milwaukee needs.
For two straight seasons, the Bucks have seen their league-best win totals wilt during pre-Finals collapses. Both times, Bledsoe's performances have underwhelmed and their non-Giannis Antetokounmpo scoring options have been unimpressive. Paul could change everything—and just in the nick of time, since Antetokounmpo could reach free agency in 2021.
"They're on the clock with Giannis," an agent told The Athletic. "... They have potential championships hanging in the balance if you lose this guy, and I think he's going to want to see some kind of improvement from them. I think Chris Paul, financially they'd have to figure it out, but he's exactly what they need there."
Considering Paul's value had tanked to the point he was attached to multiple first-round picks just last offseason, OKC would do well to flip him for a solid prospect (DiVincenzo) and another first-rounder. The Thunder may not have long-term interest in the rest of the package, but all three veterans might be exchanged for assets in future trades.
Minnesota Timberwolves: James Johnson
The contract: One year, $16 million (player option)
The trade: James Johnson and No. 1 pick to Orlando Magic for Aaron Gordon and No. 15 pick
The Minnesota Timberwolves weren't focused on the future when they joined Karl-Anthony Towns and D'Angelo Russell at the trade deadline. They're anxious to ascend the standings, and they'd prefer to move the top pick for a "win-now player," per The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor.
Gordon is exactly the kind of player Minnesota should be after. He's not a blank slate like an incoming prospect would be, but he also isn't a finished product. Should the Wolves discover they need to wait longer than anticipated, then Gordon, who turned 25 in September, can grow with this core. This deal would also keep Minnesota in the first round, so the team would still walk away with a prospect.
The Magic, meanwhile, have to be close to pressing the self-destruct button. This nucleus can't get over the first-round hump, and it may not be contributing much when (or, really, if) Jonathan Isaac, Markelle Fultz, Mo Bamba and Chuma Okeke are ready to lead the charge. This would allow Orlando to reset around a high-ceiling prospect, be that a prolific playmaker like LaMelo Ball or a wing scorer like Anthony Edwards.
New Orleans Pelicans: Jrue Holiday
The contract: Two years, $53.4 million (player option for 2021-22)
The trade: Jrue Holiday and No. 13 pick to Minnesota Timberwolves for Jarrett Culver, James Johnson, Naz Reid and No. 1 pick
It seems unlikely the New Orleans Pelicans would hire Van Gundy, 61, and immediately ship out one of their best players, but the hiring doesn't necessarily lock the Pels into win-now mode. When the new skipper discussed his decision with B/R's Sean Highkin, Van Gundy made multiple references to the team's "young talent" and described it as "an exciting team to think about."
Maybe New Orleans isn't married to a future with Holiday, then. Or at least, perhaps the Pels aren't so laser-locked on the idea that they'd pass up a chance to add the No. 1 pick in back-to-back drafts. Plus, this would yield last summer's sixth overall pick, Jarrett Culver, and 21-year-old big man Naz Reid. That's a hefty haul for a 30-year-old with a single All-Star selection.
But Minnesota could think Holiday is worth it. He'd scratch that win-now itch as a seamless complementary fit. He's a brilliant on-ball defender, which the Wolves desperately need, and a rock-solid source of secondary scoring and distributing.
New York Knicks: Julius Randle
The contract: Two years, $38.7 million
The trade: Julius Randle and No. 38 pick (via CHO) to Charlotte Hornets for Terry Rozier
The New York Knicks and Hornets discussed a deadline deal involving Rozier and Randle, per SNY's Ian Begley. It made sense at the time and feels worth revisiting.
New York needs a point guard, a phrase echoed so often it long ago reached broken-record status in the Big Apple. Rozier isn't perfect, but perfection isn't needed to upgrade this position group. The Knicks created the sixth-lowest potential assists per game, and it wasn't because they were such a brilliant one-on-one team that they didn't need to share the rock. In fact, only two offenses were less efficient on isolations.
If the Knicks don't swing a big trade for Paul or ink a big deal with Fred VanVleet, they'll need a new floor general. Rozier can hold that position long enough to build a bridge to the future, be that a prospect in this draft (cough, Ball) or someone who lands later down the line.
Randle gets dinged a lot for posting empty numbers, but the Hornets may welcome numbers of any kind after averaging 2.9 fewer points per game than last season's second-worst offense. Plus, this might be one of the only frontcourts in which he'd qualify as a clear upgrade—assuming Charlotte thinks he could stick at center. The Hornets need a long-term option there with only Cody Zeller signed through next season.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Chris Paul
The contract: Two years, $85.6 million
The trade: Chris Paul and No. 25 pick (via DEN) to Phoenix Suns for Ricky Rubio, Kelly Oubre Jr. and No. 10 pick
As massive as the money owed to Paul is, it's not limiting the Oklahoma City Thunder. Even if they had the cap room, they wouldn't be in a position to buy and might have trouble attracting talent if they were. So, if OKC brokers a CP3 deal, it must be one that serves a real purpose for the franchise, which this would.
The Thunder need wings for their rebuild, and the 24-year-old Oubre fits the bill. He long intrigued with length and athleticism, and when he finally put all the pieces together in 2019-20, he produced nightly contributions of 18.7 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.9 threes and 1.3 steals.
OKC could plug Rubio into Paul's vacated spot and possibly remain competitive if that's the aim. If it isn't, Rubio should emerge as a decent trade chip before his contract expires in 2022. This would also gain OKC entry into the top 10, where it should add an interesting piece to its young nucleus.
Paul makes sense in Phoenix for a lot of reasons—which we'll discuss further on the Suns slide in a slightly different deal—and this draft is deep enough to still offer something potentially interesting at No. 25.
Orlando Magic: Nikola Vucevic
The contract: Three years, $72 million
The trade: Nikola Vucevic to Sacramento Kings for Buddy Hield, Nemanja Bjelica and No. 35 pick (via DET)
Does the Orlando Magic's core still have a carrot at the end of the stick? Can this group come together and chase anything more substantial than a first-round cameo? Two straight seasons have suggested that's as good as it will get, so the Magic should be open to a redesign.
How about one that fetches an elite shooter, a stretch big and an early second-rounder? Hield is overpaid for a specialist, but at least he's elite in his craft (career 2.8 threes per game at a 41.1 percent clip). His three-ball (and to a lesser extent Bjelica's) would also move the Magic to more workable spacing around Gordon, Isaac and Fultz.
For the Kings, they'd be converting an overpaid sparkplug into a cornerstone center. Vucevic is a bucket from the paint to the perimeter, so he could diversify Sacramento's half-court offense and widen attack lanes for De'Aaron Fox and Marvin Bagley III.
Philadelphia 76ers: Al Horford
The contract: Three years, $81 million
The trade: Al Horford and Ben Simmons to Oklahoma City Thunder for Chris Paul, Dennis Schroder, No. 25 pick (via DEN) and 2021 first-round pick (via OKC, MIA or HOU)
The Philadelphia 76ers don't want to split up Simmons and Embiid, but what if that's the only way to fix this flawed roster? It's one thing to want to "complement them better," as general manager Elton Brand stated in August, per ESPN's Tim Bontemps. It's quite another to find anyone who'd take back Horford or Tobias Harris without several sweeteners attached, unless someone owes Brand a massive favor.
This is the alternative. It's a near-nuclear option, of course, but surely the Sixers have at least considered it given the perpetual questions about the Simmons-Embiid fit. If Philly doesn't envision its stars forming a championship picture together, then this would become a route worth exploring.
Paul is the dynamic half-court creator this offense needs to get out of the mud. Schroder is kind of fire-starting spark the bench unit has lacked. The two first-round picks present Philadelphia with paths to cheap contributors or tools for another trade. This is a championship-or-bust-level all-in push, but wasn't head coach Doc Rivers a championship-or-bust hire?
As for OKC, it would slice a little off the top of its draft pick pile and take on Horford's bloated deal for the chance to add Simmons, a 24-year-old with almost limitless potential. No matter if he keeps operating as a 6'10" point guard or gets repurposed as a do-it-all big, he'd be a fascinating fit with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander for years to come.
Phoenix Suns: Ricky Rubio
The contract: Two years, $34.8 million
The trade: Ricky Rubio, Kelly Oubre Jr. and Elie Okobo to Oklahoma City Thunder for Chris Paul
The Phoenix Suns have the resources to take a win-now swing, and they might have the motivation too. Whether buoyed by their 8-0 bubble breakout or they're simply eager to end their decadelong playoff drought, they could see this summer as their chance to accelerate.
Paul would be perfect. He's a turbo-charged version of Rubio, who helped double the Suns' winning percentage from .232 to .466 and paced their rotation with a plus-6.8 points per 100 possessions net differential. Paul checks the same distributing and defending boxes while adding a tighter handle and a more reliable outside shot.
Phoenix also has the funds to supplement this signing with a major move at power forward in free agency. Add a Jerami Grant or Danilo Gallinari alongside Paul, Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges, and this could become at least a playoff team, if not a club capable of advancing beyond the opening round.
OKC would avoid completely bottoming out—always a tricky proposition in a small market—and having Rubio around would ensure Gilgeous-Alexander could continue developing at his own pace. But Oubre is the primary target as an athletic, two-way wing, and Okobo would have time to grow into a regular reserve role.
Portland Trail Blazers: CJ McCollum
The contract: Four years, $129.4 million
The trade: CJ McCollum to Philadelphia 76ers for Tobias Harris and No. 21 pick (via OKC)
The Portland Trail Blazers run a little heavy in the backcourt and have been light at the forward spots for years. The Sixers are congested in the frontcourt and spotty at guard. Could these teams help each other by swapping complementary scorers?
It's an interesting concept, especially if the Blazers could squeeze a first-rounder out of Philly. That wouldn't be the easiest sell, as Harris' 6'8" size alone makes him less of a defensive liability, but McCollum's sniping and table-setting should have a bigger impact than any of Harris' secondary skills. Plus, Harris is a little more pricey (four years, $147.3 million), so it could happen.
Portland would have a lethal three-man mix up front with Harris, Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins, and it could even buy minutes here or there with all three on the floor together. This would also free up more floor time for Gary Trent Jr. and Anfernee Simons.
Philadelphia would find its perimeter shot-creator without having to break apart Simmons and Embiid or sacrificing Matisse Thybulle. If McCollum proves to be the Sixers' missing piece, then the first-rounder becomes a small price to pay.
Sacramento Kings: Buddy Hield
The contract: Five years, $107.1 million
The trade: Buddy Hield and Nemanja Bjelica to Memphis Grizzlies for Dillon Brooks, Gorgui Dieng, Marko Guduric and 2021 first-round pick (top-10 protected)
Want to know a foolproof plan for identifying regrettable contract extensions? Just look for any nine-figure pacts in which the player gets benched before the extension even starts.
That's the case for the Sacramento Kings and Hield, who lost his starting job to Bogdan Bogdanovic in late January and never wrestled it back. Trade whispers have swirled around the situation ever since, and Hield didn't exactly calm them when pressed about whether he'd be content returning to a reserve role next season.
"Y'all know me," Hield said, per Jason Anderson of the Sacramento Bee. "Y'all know how I talk. Y'all know how I feel. Y'all can read me well, so I'll let y'all answer that yourselves."
It sounds like a fresh start could be welcomed by all, and Sacramento would do well in the exchange by grabbing a two-way 2-guard in Brooks, a future first and Dieng's big expiring contract. Memphis, meanwhile, could look to continue its climb by addressing a pressing need for perimeter shooting and diversifying its frontcourt with a multipurpose weapon like Bjelica.
San Antonio Spurs: Rudy Gay
The contract: One year, $14.5 million
The trade: Rudy Gay to Golden State Warriors for No. 48 pick (via DAL) and No. 51 pick (via UTA)
The most exhilarating part of the San Antonio Spurs' 2019-20 season was by far its bubble run. While the Spurs couldn't extend their legendary playoff streak, their shift to a developmental focus showed just how much this club quietly has in store for its next chapter. With a slew of veterans approaching their final season under contract, the Silver and Black should be eager to turn the page.
Gay might attract the Warriors as they scramble to fill the roster with plug-and-play veterans. He could soak up second-team minutes and maybe even be its featured scorer. That might be the best way for Golden State to utilize its massive trade exception.
The Spurs would pounce on a pair of draft picks with firsthand knowledge of how valuable those selections can be. San Antonio might also have an opportunity to swing a separate-but-related deal for Kevon Looney (using the exception created by this swap) if it believed its medical staff could help finally put his injury woes behind him.
Toronto Raptors: Kyle Lowry
The contract: One year, $30.5 million
The trade: Kyle Lowry to Miami Heat for Kendrick Nunn, Andre Iguodala, Kelly Olynyk and No. 20 pick
Before diving into the analysis, we'll start by begging Canada for forgiveness. But don't blame us; blame Masai Ujiri. He's the one who compiled such a clean cap sheet that we're left pointing at the expiring salary of a six-time All-Star and key cog on a recent champion as the worst of the lot.
The Raptors can't seek the stars and the moon for Lowry, given his uncertain future and the fact that he'll turn 35 next season. But this would deliver a pick and a prospect (Nunn), plus capable veterans who can either help Toronto chase a postseason berth or facilitate future trades. None of the players are owed guaranteed money beyond next season, so nothing disrupts the 2021 Giannis dream.
Miami is fueled by its Finals appearance to accelerate the process and snag a two-way star—all without spoiling team president Pat Riley's next whale hunt, of course. Lowry could elevate the Heat's half-court offense, improve their spacing and plug some of their point-of-attack defensive leaks. If Miami senses a chance to contend—and why wouldn't it?—this deal would improve its odds of doing just that.
Utah Jazz: Mike Conley
The contract: One year, $34.5 million (early termination option)
The trade: Mike Conley and 2023 first-round pick (top-seven protected) to Oklahoma City Thunder for Chris Paul
It's tempting to go with Rudy Gobert's next contract (he's heading into the final year of his deal), because that thing could get unsightly on the back end if the Utah Jazz get carried away. But since we're talking existing contracts, it has to be the $34.5 million headed toward Conley, a 33-year-old who just averaged 14.4 points on the second-worst field-goal percentage of his career (40.9).
Paul could land in Salt Lake City and immediately be what Utah thought it was getting in Conley. CP3 might be 35 years young, but the next time he shows his age will be the first. He just paired a 17.6 per-game scoring average with a 48.9/36.5/90.7 shooting slash while nearly tripling his 2.3 turnovers with 6.7 assists per night and landing fifth (first among point guards) with a 5.51 real plus-minus, per ESPN.
Get Paul to town, and that would immediately relieve a burden carried by Donovan Mitchell and possibly create a more efficient version of the explosive scoring guard. This would also better weaponize Gobert on the offensive end after he landed in the good-not-great 72nd percentile of pick-and-roll screeners.
For OKC, the rationale would be simple. The Thunder save nearly $7 million this season and all of Paul's $44.2 million player option the next. They also throw another future first into the war chest.
Washington Wizards: John Wall
The contract: Three years, $132.9 million (player option for 2022-23)
The trade: John Wall and No. 9 pick to Phoenix Suns for Ricky Rubio and Kelly Oubre Jr.
The Washington Wizards are jam-packed between the proverbial rock and hard place with Wall. He's a 30-year-old coming off an Achilles tear who has long been dependent on his athleticism. If he appears anything close to his worst-case version, this contract is catastrophic. The mere possibility of that should have Washington exploring the trade market—even if it might require parting with its first-round pick.
But the Wizards must tread carefully. If they want to trade Wall but keep Beal, they can't neglect present needs. That's why in this exchange they would trust Rubio to fill a similar two-way role at point guard and determine that Oubre, whom they traded in 2018, is now a keeper. Washington must like Rubio and love Oubre for this to work, and even then, it probably needs to be down on this draft class too.
If the Suns could leave this exchange with the good Wall, history may remember it as a heist. His best version covers some of Devin Booker's weaknesses and vice versa. Wall almost certainly won't be worth the money, but Phoenix can hold its nose while writing his checks and remember that a top-10 pick arrived with him. There's a non-zero chance the Suns would be getting the best player in the deal and an early draft pick; that's hard to shoot down.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.