3-Team NBA Trades Where Everybody Wins
One of the best ways to solve an NBA trade problem is to make it more complicated.
Strange as it sounds, adding a third team to a tricky trade proposal often makes the whole process cleaner. For example, when a rebuilding team has a costly veteran to move, it's easy to find a win-now organization that is willing to take on a big talent. But what if the winner interested in the vet doesn't have the draft picks the rebuilder wants in exchange, which is often the case?
That's when a third party comes in with just the right assets to get a deal over the goal line.
No one interlopes on a trade out of a sense of charity. Third teams need to get something for their trouble.
Here, we'll fire up the trade machine and push it to the limits by concocting, exclusively, three-team trades. The cap math has to work, each team must get something it wants and the whole operation has to make sense in the real world. We're going for the rare win-win-win exchange.
Wish us luck.
The Warriors Find Their Center
Golden State Warriors Receive: Myles Turner, Charlotte Hornets' 2021 second-round pick (via Brooklyn)
Indiana Pacers Receive: Nicolas Batum (opt-in), No. 3 pick in the 2020 draft, Golden State Warriors' 2020 second-round pick (via Dallas)
Charlotte Hornets Receive: Andrew Wiggins, No. 2 pick in the 2020 draft, Indiana Pacers' 2020 second-round pick
I'm increasingly of the opinion that the Golden State Warriors should keep their No. 2 pick and use it to select James Wiseman. If they're not as convinced Wiseman is their best shot at landing a difference-making star (once he matures, of course) with their pile of assets this offseason, they should pivot to a deal like this one.
Myles Turner's stretch shooting and shot-blocking pair perfectly with Draymond Green up front, creating a five-out look absent the size compromise Golden State has had to make when using various iterations of the Death Lineup over the years. With Turner, the Warriors get all the spacing they need without sacrificing rim protection or length.
Offloading Andrew Wiggins' contact is also critical to a franchise guaranteed to pay a hefty tax bill for the next several years. The Warriors can be all-in and save some money.
Turner's departure won't sting the Pacers nearly as badly with the No. 3 overall pick in return. That selection could net Indy a playmaking guard in LaMelo Ball or Anthony Edwards or a prized center prospect in Wiseman, or it could create optionality with trade-down possibilities on draft night. Nicolas Batum's $27.1 million salary comes off the books after the 2020-21 season, and though he'll cost the Pacers $9.6 million in additional salary compared to what Turner would have made, the difference shouldn't push them into the luxury tax. The Pacers are tax-avoidance ninjas; they'll figure a way to duck below the line if things get tight after free agency.
Charlotte won't want any part of this exchange if it thinks it can snag Wiseman at No. 3. Nobody should rule out the possibility that the Hornets trade up to No. 1 if they believe Wiseman is the generational prospect they need.
This scenario splits the difference. Assuming the Minnesota Timberwolves don't intend to force a fit between centers Wiseman and Karl-Anthony Towns, the Hornets can slot in at No. 2 confidently. They'll get their man there. In addition, Charlotte dumps Batum's dead salary and replaces it with Wiggins', which is, at worst, comatose.
At 25, Wiggins makes more sense in the Hornets' timeline and will only cost them about $2 million more than Batum would have in 2020-21. With $31.6 million headed his way in 2021-22 and $33.6 million in 2022-23, Wiggins represents a longer-term investment. But remember, he's coming with the No. 2 pick that should net Wiseman for Charlotte, and he plays a position of desperate need.
It's difficult to argue Wiggins has been a positive value since he signed his max deal, but given Charlotte's specific roster holes, the possibility that he could improve in his mid-20s and the added bonus of improved draft position, the Hornets do very well here.
Washington Blows It All the Way Up
Brooklyn Nets Receive: Bradley Beal and Taj Gibson
New York Knicks Receive: John Wall, Rodions Kurucs, Washington Wizards' No. 9 pick in the 2020 draft, Washington Wizards' top-five-protected 2024 first-round pick
Washington Wizards Receive: Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen, Taurean Prince, Kevin Knox II, New York Knicks' 2020 first-round pick (via Los Angeles Clippers), Brooklyn Nets' 2020 first-round pick (via Philadelphia 76ers)
There's a case to be made that Caris LeVert, earning an average of $17.5 million over the next three seasons, is close to having as much bang-for-buck value as Bradley Beal, who'll earn an average salary of $33.5 million during that span. LeVert, though, isn't a no-questions-asked star. Beal is, and that seems important to the Nets—important enough to surrender LeVert, a young center in Jarrett Allen, plus two more rotation-adjacent players and a late first-rounder to get the deal done.
The New York Knicks bite the bullet here, banking on John Wall's post-injury return to stardom. If he's anything less than his former self, which should be the expectation following an Achilles tear, Wall's will be the most onerous contract in the NBA. That's why the Knicks are getting two first-rounders for their trouble, plus Rodions Kurucs, who's only a year older, significantly cheaper and arguably better than Kevin Knox II.
This trade is most consequential to the Wizards, who demolish their current roster and pivot to asset-accumulation mode—insofar as that's possible when offloading Wall's deal requires an outlay of draft capital. That said, nobody seems to believe the 2020 draft is any good, so that No. 9 pick might be better viewed as a late first-rounder in a normal draft. And the 2024 pick features protections that should avoid catastrophe.
LeVert is the centerpiece of the exchange, a high-end on-ball first option paid like a quality sixth man. It's possible his 2020-21 production is on par with Beal's and superior to Wall's, and it'll come at a massive discount. Allen would immediately become Washington's starting center, sending Thomas Bryant to the backup role he's slightly overqualified to hold. Taurean Prince has generally disappointed by resembling a three-and-D wing without producing like one, but he's not without value. Prince shot 39.0 percent from deep in 2018-19 on 5.7 attempts per game and has a manageable $25.3 million coming his way over the next two seasons. At worst, he's a useful matching salary for a future trade.
Finally, the Wizards recoup some of their lost draft assets by bringing in the 19th and 27th picks in the 2020 draft. If they don't wind up conveying that 2024 selection (let's say it converts to lottery-protected in 2025 and two seconds in 2026), the Wizards haven't lost much in the way of picks overall.
Giannis Gets All the Help He Could Want
Milwaukee Bucks Receive: Victor Oladipo and Robert Covington
Indiana Pacers Receive: Eric Bledsoe, Ersan Ilysasova and their own 2020 first-round pick (returned from Milwaukee)
Houston Rockets Receive: Donte DiVincenzo, Doug McDermott, Milwaukee Bucks' top-eight-protected 2024 first-round pick and Milwaukee Bucks' 2022 second-round pick (via Indiana)
The Milwaukee Bucks' starting five gets biblically awesome with the additions of Victor Oladipo and Robert Covington. Though Oladipo comes with concerns thanks to his expiring contract and the possibility he may never get all the way back to All-Star form following a ruptured quad, Robert Covington's reliable three-and-D contributions offset much of the risk.
Already highly disruptive and long, the Bucks defense would be even more fearsome with Oladipo and Covington to roam the passing lanes. And for a team that prizes rim protection above all else, Covington's unsurpassed shot-blocking as a wing would fit in perfectly. Scoring inside was already tough against Milwaukee; this group might make it impossible.
Malcolm Brogdon, who prefers to play the point, might not be too enthused to see former teammate Eric Bledsoe in the same backcourt again. But the Indiana Pacers could do much worse than adding a defensive stalwart who has started and performed well for a winner over the last two seasons. Bledsoe's playoff woes are undeniable, but maybe he'd shake them playing for a team with lesser expectations than the Bucks had. With Ersan Ilyasova as expiring salary filler and their own first-rounder also coming back in the bargain, the Pacers do well here to extract legitimate assets for Oladipo, a serious free-agent flight risk in 2021.
The Houston Rockets' side of this three-way exchange is toughest to justify, but we should expect them to consider any and all cost-cutting measures. Perhaps the Rockets could use the picks they receive from Milwaukee to send Eric Gordon into somebody's cap space. In that scenario, Donte DiVincenzo could slide into a sixth-man role at a fraction of what Houston would have paid the injury-plagued Gordon.
Boston Ponies Up Picks to Save Cash as Chris Paul Lands in Phoenix
Phoenix Suns Receive: Chris Paul, Enes Kanter (opt-in), Vincent Poirier and Boston Celtics' 2020 first-round pick
Oklahoma City Thunder Receive: Ricky Rubio, Kelly Oubre Jr., Phoenix Suns' 2021 lottery-protected first-round pick and Boston Celtics' 2020 first-round pick (via Milwaukee)
Boston Celtics Receive: Hamidou Diallo and Oklahoma City's 2023 first-rounder (swap rights with Los Angeles Clippers)
The Boston Celtics already have a nearly full roster and a frightening tax bill looming over the 2020-21 season, which means they can't use all three of their first-round picks without incurring costly penalties. The same goes for paying Enes Kanter, who has a $5 million player option he'll surely exercise, and fourth-string center Vincent Poirier, who's on the books for $2.6 million next season. Few players are more likely to be traded this offseason than those two.
The Oklahoma City Thunder likely want draft assets to augment their post-Chris Paul rebuild, so Boston steps in as a willing facilitator that can spare the picks the Phoenix Suns can't. It adds fringe prospect Hamidou Diallo and essentially replaces the late first-rounder (No. 26 overall) it sends to Phoenix with one in 2023.
Obviously, Phoenix hauls in the big fish here, adding Chris Paul to the Devin Booker-Deandre Ayton core and immediately upping its profile from "hopeful" to "very, very serious" playoff threat. If Paul could guide last year's Thunder to the West's fifth seed, imagine what he could do for the significantly more talented Suns.
Phoenix admittedly surrenders some of that talent to get Paul. But Ricky Rubio would be an overqualified backup with Paul on the roster, and Kelly Oubre Jr. is expendable as Mikal Bridges and Cameron Johnson look like the Suns' frontcourt of the future. Even if injury limits Paul, Phoenix got good enough late-season and bubble work from Jevon Carter and Cameron Payne to survive at the point. OKC will happily give Oubre a one-year audition before free agency while also benefitting from Rubio's veteran leadership.
The Sixers Shake It Up
Philadelphia 76ers Receive: Zach LaVine and Otto Porter Jr. (opt-in)
Chicago Bulls Receive: Tobias Harris, De'Andre Hunter, Atlanta Hawks' 2020 first-round pick, Atlanta Hawks' lottery-protected 2021 first-round pick and Philadelphia 76ers' 2020 first-round pick (via Oklahoma City)
Atlanta Hawks Receive: Josh Richardson, Matisse Thybulle, Cristiano Felicio and Philadelphia 76ers' 2021 first-round pick
The Philadelphia 76ers get a major offensive boost with Zach LaVine and Otto Porter Jr., a pair of perimeter marksmen with career three-point percentages of 37.5 and 40.4, respectively. The Sixers add much-needed shooting and spacing at the cost of wing defense and two first-rounders. That's a price they should be willing to pay considering Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons provide enough stopping power to offset the losses of Josh Richardson and Matisse Thybulle, while the outgoing picks are the penalty for moving Tobias Harris' bloated contract.
The Chicago Bulls take on that burden, but they earn three first-rounders for their trouble—the most intriguing of which is the No. 6 overall selection in 2020, via the Atlanta Hawks. They also get De'Andre Hunter, who disappointed as a rookie in Atlanta but whose draft pedigree as the fourth selection in 2019 indicates significant upside.
Losing LaVine and Porter isn't ideal, but the former was miscast as a top option, and the latter could easily have left in 2021 free agency. It's possible Harris and Hunter provide just as much value as LaVine and Porter (whose health history is alarming) would have in 2020-21. Throw in those three firsts, and Chicago is looking good.
The Atlanta Hawks are shopping their No. 6 pick for immediate help, according to The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor, and they get it here in the form of defensive stoppers Richardson and Thybulle. With those two on the roster, opponents will find it much harder to exploit Trae Young's defense, and both are capable standstill shooters—a must in any offense with Young as the ball-dominant focal point.
If the Hawks hope to make the playoffs, this deal gives them that opportunity. If they still fall short, they'll have the Sixers' 2021 first-rounder to add to their own. Those could be used for a similar win-now trade next offseason or as part of a more deliberate approach to team-building through the draft.
One final note: This deal would have to be completed after the 2020 draft. Both Atlanta and Philly are technically giving up 2020 and 2021 first-rounders, which is prohibited by the Stepien rule. That's no biggie; the Hawks and Sixers can make their picks based on who the Bulls tell them to take and then complete the trade with those draftees involved.