Star NBA Trades Nobody's Thought of Yet
NBA trade machines are getting worn out.
It's sort of an annual pastime, but like most everything, it's a bit extreme in 2020.
The offseason is officially almost three weeks old, but for the non-bubble participants, it's nearly been eight months. It feels like a decade has passed since anyone swapped jerseys and a century since we all were able to unpack a blockbuster.
Constructing theoretical exchanges helps whet the appetite, but at some point it feels like we're all discussing the same fake deals over and over. Not here. We're back (for a third round) to bend your brains in new directions with star swaps you haven't seen a thousand times.
Kings Add Anchor, Jazz Get 2-Way Forward
Sacramento Kings receive: Rudy Gobert and Ed Davis
Utah Jazz receive: Harrison Barnes, Richaun Holmes, Justin James and No. 12 pick
The Kings operate with a perpetual impatience. Considering their last playoff appearance came prior to the first iPhone's drop (2006), that sort of makes sense.
They've tried accelerating their development ad nauseam, but they need a bigger jolt than what you'd receive from, say, throwing $89 million at the 2017 versions of George Hill, Zach Randolph and Vince Carter—or shelling out $102.2 million for Dewayne Dedmon, Cory Joseph and Trevor Ariza two years later.
Enter Rudy Gobert. The 7'1" center is almost an elite defense by himself, which should obviously appeal to Sacramento considering its 19th-placed finish in defensive efficiency last season was its best since 2005-06. Considering how much ground De'Aaron Fox and Marvin Bagley III can cover, the backbone of a good-to-great defense could quickly come together.
The offense might be a little squeezed for spacing, but growth from Fox and Bagley in that department would alleviate that concern. Plus, the offense could still come out ahead, as Gobert's screens would immediately rank among Sacramento's best weapons. And hey, if the Kings still encounter the occasional clunkfest, at least they could let Ed Davis loose on the offensive glass.
The Jazz, meanwhile, might not want to cover the cost of Gobert's next contract, which he'll need to ink between now and the 2021 offseason. He's supermax-eligible, and while he almost assuredly isn't getting that much coin, a new deal won't be cheap. Even a league that increasingly devalues the center spot can probably make an exception for a two-time Defensive Player of the Year.
If Gobert goes, this would be a smart way for Utah to remain competitive but still add pieces for the future.
Harrison Barnes might be overpaid, but his support skills are needed on a good team, and his contract features annual salary declines. Richaun Holmes would keep a bouncy big man in the middle, and Justin James could prove a project worth developing. The lottery pick would let the Jazz tap into this draft's depth and deliver a cheap contributor ahead of Donovan Mitchell's max and a possible new deal for Jordan Clarkson.
Blazers Find Forward, Celtics Add Depth and Youth
Portland Trail Blazers receive: Gordon Hayward and No. 26 pick
Boston Celtics receive: Zach Collins, Anfernee Simons, Rodney Hood and Trevor Ariza
The Blazers have been hunting for a multitalented forward since at least the 2015 trade of Nicolas Batum. If Gordon Hayward gets back to full strength, he could be an upgraded version of Portland's former Swiss Army knife.
Remember all those three-balls Al-Farouq Aminu and Maurice Harkless used to misfire? Those become a distant memory with Hayward, a 38.3-plus percent shooter from deep two of his last three healthy seasons, headed to the Pacific Northwest. Those questions about the identity of Portland's third bucket-getter? Answered, as he's been at least a 17-point scorer four times.
He defends multiple positions. He rebounds. He moves the basketball. He looks like he could be Portland's missing piece, and with the clocks ticking loudly for this team—Damian Lillard is 30, CJ McCollum is 29—the Blazers are running out of time to jolt themselves into championship contention.
While this deal would require the Celtics to split with Brad Stevens' prized pupil at Butler, the ball might already be rolling that direction. Hayward's deal is down to a $34.2 million player option, and if he picks it up, that wouldn't guarantee the relationship extending beyond next season.
Boston already has massive money committed to Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart. Jayson Tatum will add to that whenever he puts pen to paper on a max extension. Even if the C's wanted to keep Hayward, it might not be financially feasible, so ditching that deal while adding current contributors and long-term prospects might be the move to make.
Boston would need to picture Zach Collins as a building block big for this package to work, but it doesn't require much imagination to see that kind of potential in 2017's No. 10 pick. Anfernee Simons has the talent to scratch the Celtics' itch for shot-making and distributing on the second team. Rodney Hood and Trevor Ariza can both soak up wing minutes next season, and their best-case scenarios put each one into the postseason rotation.
Pels Make Their Push, Pacers Shift Gears
New Orleans Pelicans receive: Victor Oladipo
Indiana Pacers receive: Lonzo Ball, Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Darius Miller
There's been plenty of chatter about whether Victor Oladipo, extension-eligible this offseason or an unrestricted free agent the next, wants to spend his future with the Pacers. Multiple reports have said he's ready to leave now, while Oladipo has denied them (publicly, anyway).
The more interesting conversation, though, might be about Indiana's desire (or lack thereof) for a new deal with the two-time All-Star. It seems easy to assume that would be a no-brainer given his previous highs, but he still doesn't look all the way back from a January 2019 knee injury. Plus, his flirtation with stardom was fleeting. His track record includes many more average-to-above-average moments than really-good-to-great ones.
It's impossible to read either side of the coin, but you can see how both might be open to a split. If that's the case, the Pelicans should already be on the horn in hopes of adding an All-Star for less than an All-Star price.
A (healthy) Oladipo and Jrue Holiday could make the short list of the league's best backcourts. They could silence scorers at the defensive end and share the controls at the other. The Pelicans would have Zion Williamson and a presumably re-signed Brandon Ingram at the forward spots, and no shortage of interesting options at center through the draft (Jalen Smith?), free agency (Serge Ibaka? Derrick Favors?) or internal development (Jaxson Hayes).
That starting group could be special, and remember, it would all be overseen by Stan Van Gundy. Maybe that's enough for Oladipo to stick around, giving New Orleans a chance to compete at a high level now and well into the foreseeable future.
As for Indiana, an openness to a break from Oladipo would deliver two 23-and-under guards with the game to handle rotation roles and the rookie-scale wages to alleviate what's quietly becoming a costly payroll. Add a shooting specialist in Darius Miller to perk up an offense that averaged the second-fewest made triples, and this might be enough for the Pacers to sign off.
Mavericks Go Big, Sixers Find Spacers
Dallas Mavericks receive: Joel Embiid and Mike Scott
Philadelphia 76ers receive: Tim Hardaway Jr., Seth Curry, Dwight Powell, Jalen Brunson, No. 18 pick, No. 31 pick (via GSW) and 2025 first-round pick (top-three protected)
If you take Sixers general manager Elton Brand's words at face value, this trade won't happen. While the executive sounds open to change, that change won't include the removal of cornerstones Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons.
"I'm not looking to trade Ben or Joel," Brand said, per ESPN's Tim Bontemps. "I'm looking to complement them better."
That sounds reasonable given the talents and ages of Embiid (26 years old) and Simmons (24). But that assumes Philly has the trade chips to correct its roster imbalances without sacrificing a star. Color me skeptical. Tobias Harris and Al Horford might require multiple sweeteners just for teams to take on their salaries. Josh Richardson is solid, but he's not anchoring a blockbuster.
So, if Philadelphia is open for business, it should be open to parting with one of its stars. The Mavs just so happen to be in the market for a third star, per Brad Townsend of the Dallas Morning News, and their historically efficient offense would grow even harder to contain with Embiid, basically a modern Hakeem Olajuwon, added to the mix.
Embiid could attack the Mavericks' biggest weakness, their 18th-ranked defense, and work two-man magic with Luka Doncic. After watching the jumbo-sized Los Angeles Lakers take home the title, Dallas could see enough mobility and shooting between Embiid and Kristaps Porzingis to think this twin-tower model might work (even if the injury risks are significant). Mike Scott would be a money-matcher, but he could also help replace some of the outgoing shooting.
Speaking of which, the Sixers could now give Simmons the keys to a properly spaced offense and see if the 6'10" floor general can run wild. Tim Hardaway Jr. and Seth Curry both averaged better than two threes per game and shot north of 39 percent from distance. Philly's oft-congested attack would finally have room to breathe.
Once Dwight Powell recovers from his ruptured Achilles, he'd plug in as a rim-runner and pick-and-roll partner for Simmons. Jalen Brunson, a Villanova product, could fill a void at the reserve unit's lead guard spot. Finally, the picks could either up the prospect count or be used in separate swaps for more win-now assistance.
Dame Goes Back to Cali, Blazers Rebuild
Golden State Warriors receive: Damian Lillard, Trevor Ariza
Portland Trail Blazers receive: Andrew Wiggins, Jordan Poole, Eric Paschall, Kevon Looney, No. 2 pick, 2021 first-round pick (top-three protected via MIN) and 2026 first-round pick (top-three protected)
The Blazers need an active offseason. If they want to blame their turbulent 2019-20 season on all their injury issues, that's fine, but running it back isn't enough. They need to either aggressively chase talent—like in the previous Gordon Hayward deal—or they should start over.
Status quo isn't cutting it in what will be an outrageously overloaded Western Conference. That depth should make the organization at least consider the doomsday option of a Damian Lillard deal, even if the mere suggestion might be grounds for a permanent ban from Portland.
If Lillard goes, the return would have to be ridiculous: like 2014 No. 1 overall pick (Andrew Wiggins), a current No. 2 pick, two future firsts that might fall inside the top half of the top 10, an All-Rookie first-teamer (Eric Paschall), a 24-year-old with championship experience (Kevon Looney) and a recent first-rounder (Jordan Poole). That's a haul, folks.
The picks are the top prizes, but the Paschall-Poole tandem could be a key part of Portland's rebuild. If Looney ever gets his health woes behind him, he's a versatile defender with perhaps more offense than he's been able to show in Golden State. And for all the heat Wiggins has taken, he's still a 25-year-old with elite physical tools and a scoring average of 19.7 points per game.
As for Golden State, the Warriors would take on the positional questions of a Lillard-Stephen Curry backcourt and bet on talent to win out. There would be obvious (and significant) defensive question marks, but what exactly is the defensive method for slowing down Lillard, Curry and Klay Thompson? ...Exactly. If Draymond Green and Trevor Ariza meet their typical standards, why couldn't this be the latest Death Lineup reboot?
It seems a little ludicrous, but you don't stay light years ahead of the competition by thinking inside the box. Having Curry or Lillard run endless pick-and-rolls while the other spots up opposite Thompson would be a living nightmare for opposing coaches. While this effectively drains the Dubs' resources, what better way to chase a final dynastic run than with an Oakland native who'd be a seamless (and superpowered) fit in Steve Kerr's system?
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.