Best Landing Spots for NBA's Most Rumored Trade Targets
By this point in the offseason, you've seen every shock, surprise and unexpected trade possibility a dozen times. With so much of that stuff whirling around in a tornado of offseason speculation, it's helpful to get back to basics by asking where top trade candidates should land.
To do that, we have to focus simultaneously on the benefits to team and player. We want win-win situations that maximize the trade target's best skills—skills that, hopefully, address the specific needs of his acquiring team. Basically, you have to ask, "What does the player need?" and "What does the team need?"
In the best outcomes, the answer is the same: They need each other.
We won't fixate on trade packages here, but assume the team landing the trade target is getting reasonable value and not selling off every asset in a way that fundamentally changes its character and creates more weaknesses than the incoming star can address.
No Melo to the New York Knicks in 2011 exchanges here.
Bradley Beal: Dallas Mavericks
Wait, Dallas? The Dallas Mavericks? Seriously?
Very little of the Bradley Beal trade chatter fixates on the Mavs, but maybe more of it should.
Assuming Dallas isn't in line to land Giannis Antetokounmpo in free agency next offseason, a scenario whose likelihood will gain major clarity once the Milwaukee Bucks slide that supermax across the table to the two-time MVP, Beal is the guy to grab now.
And even if Antetokounmpo hits the market down the line, does anybody really believe moving Beal to clear salary space would be remotely difficult? In fact, if Dallas ever had to trade for Giannis, Beal would be an awfully useful option. There's really no reason for the Mavs to set space aside for a year if they can get Beal, a super-duper luxury version of Tim Hardaway Jr., right now.
Though Beal averaged 30.5 points per game last season as a No. 1 option for a terrible Washington Wizards team, it's fair to argue he was a touch overtaxed in that role. His defense disappeared, his true shooting dipped a bit and his turnover rate nosed upward. In Dallas, the scoring demands on Beal would diminish, allowing him to produce points at elite rates without sacrificing quite so much in other areas.
Luka Doncic is a setup metronome; on every possession, with precise regularity, he could generate laughably clean looks for Beal. And with defenses scrambling to wrangle Doncic without leaving a threat like Beal wide-open, the latter's consistently improving facilitation would keep the ball moving and the great scoring opportunities trickling down to others.
Beal's assist percentage hit a career-high 28.5 percent in 2019-20, good enough to rank in the 99th percentile among wings. And he'd be Dallas' secondary playmaker. Better still, Beal addresses one of the lone relative weaknesses in the Mavericks' attack. He got to the line 8.0 times per game last season, which would bolster a Dallas free-throw attempt rate that only ranked 12th in the league for 2019-20.
The offense that NBA" target="_blank">set the record for scoring efficiency last season would get significantly better, meaning league-average defense would assure the Mavs legitimate contender status.
Beal would get the perfect role on a rising superpower, and the Mavs would get another star to electrify the offense. Not bad.
Aaron Gordon: Minnesota Timberwolves
As landing spots go, the Minnesota Timberwolves, a franchise with zero 50-win seasons and one playoff trip since 2004, are always a hard sell. But they have the perfect role just sitting there waiting for Aaron Gordon, so we'll overlook their recent history.
James Johnson's expiring $16 million salary and a future pick give the Wolves a clear path to trade for Gordon, a 25-year-old forward who's been the subject of trade rumors seemingly since the moment he signed a four-year, $84 million deal in 2018.
The 6'8" Gordon—a tremendous athlete who rebounds his position extremely well—still feels like a player with untapped potential. He isn't a great "get your own" shot-creator, but whether because he stubbornly wants to be that type of player or because the Orlando Magic need him to fill that void, he's spent too much of his career in a role that doesn't play to his strengths.
Gordon would be perfectly utilized as an off-ball slasher and transition weapon alongside the pick-and-roll/pick-and-pop attack of Karl-Anthony Towns and D'Angelo Russell. And though Gordon isn't best utilized as a primary creator, his assist rate, which checked in above the 86th percentile at his position the last two years, marks him as a capable secondary facilitator against a scrambled defense.
A deadly cutter whose scoring efficiency ranked in the 92nd percentile on such plays, Gordon could pierce the defense to his heart's content while opponents fixate on slowing down KAT and D-Lo. With the other team's full attention, Gordon is mortal. When he's an afterthought in the half court, and the defense has to hustle to recover to him on the catch, special things can happen.
Perhaps most importantly, Gordon's defensive versatility would be vital to the Wolves, who need all the help they can get with Towns and Russell as cornerstones.
Minnesota would allow Gordon to play to all of his strengths while keeping him out of positions that expose his weaknesses.
Jrue Holiday: Golden State Warriors
Jrue Holiday's chances of being traded took a hit when the New Orleans Pelicans hired Stan Van Gundy to be their next head coach. It's hard to imagine SVG would have considered the Pels job if any of the pre-hire interview processes included the terms "teardown" or "youth movement."
Still, Holiday spent much of this past season in trade talks, which accelerated following the Pelicans' disappointing close to the season. With one more fully guaranteed year on his deal prior to a $27.1 million player option in 2021-22, Holiday's contract status and age (he's 30 on a team built around prospects in their early 20s) mean he still belongs in this discussion.
At 6'3", Holiday may not seem like an ideal fit on a Golden State Warriors team in need of wing depth. Please broaden your positional thinking; Holiday is a proven shutdown artist against both guard spots and most small forwards, and a player's position is best defined by the matchups he can guard. Let's also not forget that Klay Thompson will make his return from an ACL tear this season. If he's not quite spry enough to stick with the point guards he used to check (saving the less taxing matchup for Stephen Curry), Holiday's services will be in demand for that role too.
Another glaring hole on Golden State's roster: backup point guard.
Holiday would obviously be a starter, but he could slide over to replace Curry at the 1 when the two-time MVP needs a break. The minutes with Curry off the floor would see Holiday running the show, but there would also be real value in letting Holiday spend more time on the ball with Curry, thus unlocking the NBA's most devastating off-ball threat.
The Warriors have posed many challenges to defenses over the years, but one they haven't had the opportunity to exploit often involves Curry and Thompson sprinting in circles away from the ball while a genuinely capable guard operates the offense.
Holiday would get a chance to win at the highest level with the Warriors, something he hasn't experienced in his career. He wouldn't be asked to function as a primary creator and could instead thrive as the highest of high-end glue guys, filling in the gaps wherever necessary. With free agency potentially coming as soon as next offseason, Holiday could inflate his value by standing out on a team that could reach the Finals.
A good fit absolutely anywhere, Holiday works best with the Warriors because they have the greatest need for what he provides. And the biggest platform to showcase his talents.
Victor Oladipo: Denver Nuggets
The best way to describe what Victor Oladipo could bring to the Denver Nuggets as they attempt to barge into the exclusive club of top-flight contenders is: imagine Gary Harris...except more.
There should probably be an asterisk alongside "more" to denote the massive "if healthy" caveat that will apply to Oladipo until he proves he's all the way back following a ruptured quad that shelved him for over a year. But if healthy, Oladipo would bring all of Harris' defensive value and then some while supercharging Denver's offense with an additional pick-and-roll and isolation scoring threat.
Back in 2017-18 when Oladipo made his first All-Star Game, earned All-Defense first-team honors and landed on the All-NBA third team, there were few more threatening sights for a set defense than him backing up slowly to the edge of the logo in preparation for a downhill isolation charge.
Nobody could stay in front of that version of Oladipo.
An additional benefit to adding him: Denver's athleticism at the four non-Nikola Jokic starting positions would be exceptional. Jamal Murray, Oladipo, Jerami Grant and Michael Porter Jr. would be among the speediest and most explosive 1-to-4 units in the league, giving Jokic nothing but good options on his three-quarter-court outlets and pinpoint pickouts in the half court.
More broadly, both Oladipo and the Nuggets could help one another in their efforts to prove detractors wrong.
Oladipo must demonstrate he's fit and capable of being an All-NBA talent ahead of free agency, while the Nuggets have to convince the league their magical 2020 playoff run was no illusion. Player and team need validation, so their incentives and mindsets should be aligned.
That's a recipe for a powerful partnership.
Chris Paul: Los Angeles Lakers
The how is hard, as getting Chris Paul to a Los Angeles Lakers team with few matching salaries and limited draft assets is tricky. The Oklahoma City Thunder would probably need to involve a third team to get their money's worth. We don't need to worry about specifics.
The why is the easy part.
Paul doesn't just address the Lakers' need for non-LeBron James playmaking. He totally eliminates it.
You think Rajon Rondo was a nice story in the playoffs? A surprisingly solid contributor to a team that badly needed passing and savvy? Paul is arguably the greatest pure point guard of the modern era. Just imagine what he could do in that same role.
He and Anthony Davis would feast in the pick-and-roll, forming a never-ending cascade of perfect lobs and can't-miss mid-range pull-ups from the right elbow. Opponents would have to pick their poison knowing both varieties were equally lethal.
In addition to filling the playmaking void, giving L.A. a perfect late-clock bailout scorer and juicing a shaky half-court offense with elite pick-and-roll craft, CP3 would also bolster the Lakers' already excellent defense. Alex Caruso, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Rondo performed effectively in Los Angeles' title run, but Paul is on another level. Smart, competitive and good for at least one baited foul call per game, he'd give the Lakers an almost unfair advantage on D.
Paul also hit 42.3 percent of his catch-and-shoot treys last season, so defenses wouldn't have the option of giving him the Rondo treatment away from the ball. And unlike Rondo or any of the other players L.A. employed at the point this year, Paul is a deadly three-point shooter off the bounce. He fired 3.4 pull-up triples per game in 2019-20, hitting those difficult shots at a 35.8 percent clip.
This feels like an oversell for a guy everyone already appreciates. Paul is a generational talent who proved last year he's still a top-end star. He and James would give the Lakers more combined basketball IQ than any pair of teammates in memory. And at the end of it all, Paul would have the best title shot he's ever had.
That can't be overlooked for a player entering his age-35 season.