Superstar Trades to Help Contenders Catch LeBron and the Lakers
The Los Angeles Lakers are NBA royalty.
Maybe that was always destined to happen when they picked up LeBron James, crowned basketball's king long before his hike to Hollywood, or when they doubled their superstar count with Anthony Davis.
But they still had to endure the longest marathon in league history to finally wrap their fingers around the Larry O'Brien NBA Championship Trophy.
While the Lakers have some interesting calls to make this offseason—or they might, depending on how Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Avery Bradley and Rajon Rondo handle their player options—the bigger challenge is for the rest of the league to catch up to the champs.
That'll be no small task with L.A. rostering a dynamic duo for the ages, but the following superstar swaps can help narrow the gap.
Paul to Milwaukee, Assets to OKC
Milwaukee Bucks receive: Chris Paul and Abdel Nader
Oklahoma City Thunder receive: Eric Bledsoe, Donte DiVincenzo, D.J. Wilson, Ersan Ilyasova, Robin Lopez and No. 24 pick (via Indiana Pacers)
This probably isn't the first time you've come across some variation of this deal, but that's only because it might be the most logical of all the fake offseason swaps.
At least, it makes sense to everyone but Milwaukee, for some reason.
"As for the reported prospect of the Bucks pursuing Oklahoma City point guard Chris Paul as a possible solution to the roster deficiencies, sources with knowledge of ownership's thinking said it is highly unlikely," The Athletic's Eric Nehm and Sam Amick reported.
Hopefully, that's an attempted leverage play by the Bucks because the Point God is precisely what this roster needs to transform from regular-season juggernaut to world champion.
Milwaukee's half-court offense has malfunctioned at the worst time the past two postseasons. Paul can be the antidote with shot-creation (fourth-highest career assists average), floor-spacing (career 37.0 percent from three), pick-and-roll wizardry (93rd percentile among ball-handlers) and expert decision-making (career 2.5 turnovers per 36 minutes).
The Bucks would lose little if anything defensively replacing Bledsoe with Paul. They could shift Khris Middleton from a good-not-great costar into maybe the league's best No. 3. They would communicate a clear commitment to winning to Giannis Antetokounmpo and hopefully get his signature on a supermax extension. Maybe they even squeeze some extra shooting out of Nader.
The Thunder, meanwhile, would turn a 35-year-old with an atrocious contract into multiple assets and trade chips. Bledsoe, Ilyasova and Lopez are all paths to salary relief, and maybe one or two would catch the attention of a contender at some point.
The real prizes would be DiVincenzo, a potential long-term running mate for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and the draft pick, though there's a chance the 24-year-old Wilson becomes a rotation player yet.
Oladipo to Boston, Hayward to Indiana
Boston Celtics receive: Victor Oladipo, Myles Turner and T.J. Leaf
Indiana Pacers receive: Gordon Hayward, Marcus Smart, Daniel Theis and No. 14 pick (via Memphis Grizzlies)
The Celtics just made a conference finals run, so maybe they aren't super eager to rock the boat. Then again, this was Boston's third appearance there in four years, and none have ended with a Finals trip. This might be the perfect time to shake things up, especially with Hayward reportedly wanting out of Boston, per The Ringer's Ryen Russillo (h/t Mollie Walker of the New York Post).
The Shamrocks might have to bite if this offer comes across the table.
A healthy Oladipo is a more dynamic player than anyone the Celtics would be parting with in this deal. When he's right, he has no major weaknesses and several top-shelf strengths (on-ball defense, slashing and shot-creation). Then, Boston would also get Turner to shore up its center rotation, and his 35.7 career three-point percentage ensures he wouldn't spoil the offense's spacing. Leaf would make the money work, and maybe he can prove worth developing.
This could effectively take what Boston already does well and elevate it, all while addressing its biggest need for more resistance at the rim. It'd be a costly core for the Celtics, but that will be the case regardless of how they surround Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Kemba Walker.
The Pacers, meanwhile, might be bracing for a change of direction. Oladipo is down to his final season under contract and is reportedly "looking to move on this offseason," per The Athletic's Jared Weiss. Indiana might also be rethinking its jumbo-sized frontcourt after watching T.J. Warren thrive as a small-ball 4 in the bubble.
Indiana probably doesn't want a total tear-down, though, as this roster still runs heavy on good (and pricey) veterans. Hayward, an Indianapolis native, could team with Warren, Domantas Sabonis and Malcolm Brogdon to lead an egalitarian attack. Smart might be one of the few players who could actually be a defensive upgrade over Oladipo, plus he's finding ways to extend his impact to the offensive end.
Theis could slot in behind Sabonis and allow Goga Bitadze to continue developing at his own pace. Indiana would also gain entry into the opening round after it parted with its first-round pick (which landed 24th) in last summer's sign-and-trade for Brogdon.
Lowry to Clippers, Prospects and Picks to Raptors
Los Angeles Clippers receive: Kyle Lowry and Norman Powell
Toronto Raptors receive: Ivica Zubac, Lou Williams, Patrick Beverley, Landry Shamet, Rodney McGruder, 2022 second-round pick (via Atlanta Hawks) and 2023 second-round pick (via Detroit Pistons)
The Clippers constructed 2019-20's second-most efficient offense almost solely on the strength of one-on-one basketball. L.A. had four different players average more than 18 points and still produced the fifth-fewest potential assists per game.
There isn't a primary playmaker on the roster. With no one bringing all the pieces together, the club all too easily fell apart while blowing a 3-1 lead in the Western Conference semis. The Clippers can't let that void go unfilled any longer, especially when both Kawhi Leonard and Paul George can enter free agency in 2021.
Why not add the point guard who Leonard teamed with to win the 2019 title?
Lowry could be perfect for the Clippers. On the court, he'd scratch the itch for distribution while adding more shooting and another scoring threat, plus he'd pester point guards at the other end. Off the court, he could serve as the emotional leader of a team that former head coach Doc Rivers felt lacked toughness at times.
Tack on Powell to increase L.A.'s three-and-D collection and this could become the most talented roster in basketball.
Toronto might be hesitant to reset given its huge dreams for 2021, but Lowry isn't necessarily a part of those plans anyway. And if Giannis Antetokounmpo inks his supermax, the dream disintegrates.
The Raptors, who will watch Fred VanVleet, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka enter free agency this offseason, might want to lay some foundation for the future. Zubac is a sturdy two-way anchor. Shamet is a net-shredder from three. Both are 23 years old. Couple them with a pair of potentially high second-rounders and that's a good get for a package headlined by a 34-year-old on an expiring contract.
Plus, all five incoming players could help Toronto compete next season if that's the aim. And if it's not, Williams and Beverley could possibly be flipped to contenders for assets.
Beal to Miami, Herro to Washington
Miami Heat receive: Bradley Beal
Washington Wizards receive: Tyler Herro, Duncan Robinson, Kelly Olynyk, Derrick Jones Jr. (sign-and-trade) and No. 20 pick
This needs to happen. It probably won't, but it should.
Beal has no business sticking around the District. The Wizards aren't a championship team. Give them a healthy John Wall—a 30-year-old post-Achilles injury version—and they still aren't contending. All arrows should be pointing away from another go-round with the Wiz, and yet...
"The Wizards have shown no inclination to trade Beal, sources say, and might do so only if Beal—under contract through at least 2021-22—indicates he would prefer to play elsewhere," ESPN's Zach Lowe wrote.
Washington might have legitimate interest in seeing what Beal and Wall can do together, but Miami could bypass that interest by putting both Herro and Robinson on the table. The Wizards could then walk with three long-term keepers—a top-shelf shooter (Robinson), an elite athlete (Jones) and an off-the-dribble shooting threat with featured-scorer potential (Herro)—plus a first-round pick.
Olynyk is a money-matcher, but maybe he'd generate interest at the trade deadline as a shooting big with a $13.2 million expiring salary.
Miami, meanwhile, would win the race to assemble the Association's next Big Three. Beal would be the perfect complement to Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo. All three move the basketball, all three can attack the rim, Beal would give the others breathing room as a quantity-plus-quality spacer, and they'd return the favor by defending at such a high level Beal would forget he was just part of a historically bad defense.
The Heat might be tempted to run it back after their surprise Finals appearance, but their current roster still reads more good than great. Beal could help make that switch just in time for Butler's age-31 season.
Harden to Philly, Simmons to Houston
Philadelphia 76ers receive: James Harden
Houston Rockets receive: Ben Simmons, Matisse Thybulle and No. 21 pick (via Oklahoma City Thunder)
This might be the farthest-fetched idea, but sheesh, it would be fun. And given how this year has gone, don't we all deserve a fun-filled blockbuster?
Shortly after the ink dried on Daryl Morey's deal with Philadelphia, Stadium's Shams Charania reported, "Philadelphia is expected to be interested in and pursue James Harden."
If the deal could happen—for the record, Charania also said Harden trade talks draw "an emphatic no from the Rockets side"—it might be the final puzzle piece that helps the Sixers made their championship run.
Harden is a much cleaner on-court fit with Joel Embiid than Simmons. Those two could both thrive in a controlled, half-court game. With Harden isolating on the wing and Embiid posting up on the opposite block, it'd be a pick-your-poison scenario for opposing defenses. That's even before unraveling all the pick-and-roll possibilities between them.
Swapping out Simmons for Harden would obviously hurt the defense. But remember, Embiid would still be around to clean up a lot of the mistakes at the back end. The Sixers could still throw suffocating size and length at almost everyone, so any defensive decline could be more than made up for by the offensive gains.
It's a harder sell for Houston since Simmons probably makes the short list of the worst possible pairings with Russell Westbrook. But if the Rockets traded Harden, they'd almost surely be moving to a different timeline than Westbrook's. In that case, Houston would be turning a 31-year-old offensive specialist into a 24-year-old dominant defender who has some special offensive skills if surrounded by the right players.
Houston would also get another young, dynamic stopper in Thybulle and a first-round pick to start retooling around Simmons.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.