5 Blockbuster Trade Ideas as 2020 NBA Free Agency Begins
If the 2020 NBA offseason has taught us anything since the transaction moratorium was lifted, it's that the trades will stop for nothing.
The draft, sleep, free agency—nothing.
Sure, the onrush of trades might slow down a little bit. So many have already gone down, and priorities will shift now that free agency is (officially) upon us.
Still, that's no reason to expect that the transaction tumult will stop. It won't. Plenty of players continue to be bandied about the rumor mill, and the Association is always good for a surprise blockbuster or seven once the clock strikes free agency.
Fortunately, in preparation for the inevitable, we've left our general manager hats on. And as it turns out, we've got trade ideas to spare even after the flurry of predraft, mid-draft and post-draft action.
The Beard Gets to Brooklyn
Brooklyn Nets Receive: James Harden
Houston Rockets Receive: Jarrett Allen, Spencer Dinwiddie, Rodions Kurucs, Caris LeVert, 2022 first-round pick, 2023 first-round swap, 2024 first-round pick, 2025 first-round swap
James Harden wants to be in Brooklyn, per ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski. So, let's get him to Brooklyn.
Seldom do player wish lists align with destinations that can offer the best return to incumbent teams. This situation may be no exception. Houston is looking for "a proven, young star as a centerpiece along with a massive picks package," according to ESPN's Tim MacMahon, and Brooklyn cannot offer that to a T.
Then again, who will?
The Philadelphia 76ers don't appear ready to bust up the Ben Simmons-Joel Embiid pairing. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is hardly an option given the Oklahoma City Thunder's newly revamped timeline. Jamal Murray is a cleaner fit next to Nikola Jokic in Denver (though that scenario is interesting). Harden isn't netting youthful franchise everythings like Ja Morant, Zion Williamson, Trae Young, et al. Do the Sacramento Kings even consider moving the extension-eligible De'Aaron Fox?
Expanding the focus beyond Harden's singular mandate makes sense if much better offers are easy to solicit. They aren't.
Caris LeVert doesn't fit the "proven, young star" mold at 26 years old, but he comes fairly close and is on an ultra-team-friendly contract. Spencer Dinwiddie (2021-22 player option) and Jarrett Allen may require raises soon, but they're helpful rotation pieces the Rockets could use if they're not also moving Russell Westbrook, or they could be rerouted later for more assets.
Getting the Nets to commit far-out first-round picks is the key. Front offices don't always think in the longest terms—minimal job security doesn't permit it—but any team that acquires Harden will be appreciably better in the interim. The Rockets have to think bigger picture.
Harden, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving all have player options for 2022-23. Both of the swaps and the 2024 first-rounder in this deal postdate those decisions. Brooklyn might end up retaining all three of Durant, Harden and Irving and be just fine, but given their ages, Durant's Achilles recovery and Irving's overall injury history, betting against their future isn't an unreasonable gamble.
The Nets have little to negotiate here. Maybe they can rejigger the framework to spare Allen. Depending on Houston's demands, they also might need to decide whether they're willing to dig deeper into their first-round well. The Rockets could insist on pushing commitments to 2026 or 2027. Avoiding that scenario is a victory.
If Brooklyn isn't open to paying this price—or a similar one—it says more about its faith in a Durant-Harden-Irving trio. That's fine. Funneling that much superstar shot creation into one rotation is equal parts daunting, tantalizing and terrifying. But if the Nets want to make this exact Big Three a reality, it's tough to imagine Harden coming much cheaper.
Golden State's Blockbuster Swing 1.0
Chicago Bulls Receive: Alen Smailagic, Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota's 2021 first-round pick (top-three protection), Golden State's 2023 first-round pick (top-seven protection)
Golden State Warriors Receive: Zach LaVine, Thaddeus Young
Klay Thompson is scheduled to miss the entire 2020-21 season after suffering a torn right Achilles tendon. This news is gutting for myriad reasons. Thompson just missed all of last season recovering from a torn left ACL. This latest setback robs him of another year of his prime.
It also potentially cripples the Warriors' championship window. Some already wondered whether they had the requisite depth to regain title form before now. Thompson's Achilles injury is a blow to not only this season's push but also the long-haul view.
Golden State doesn't appear to be going anywhere without a fight. Acquiring Kelly Oubre Jr. from the Oklahoma City Thunder in exchange for a protected 2021 first-round pick proves the team's willingness to spend out the wazoo and infers a continued commitment to winning.
Mortgaging more of the future to go after Zach LaVine and Thaddeus Young follows that line of thinking.
LaVine doesn't begin to replace Thompson's defensive utility, but he's a dangerous spot-up shooter who can knock down looks off the bounce. His empty-calories label, though not entirely unearned, should dissipate when he's moved to second- or third-option status behind Stephen Curry and Draymond Green.
Young doesn't do much to protect Golden State's offensive floor balance, which is suddenly on the clumpier side when considering a potential starting five that includes Green, Oubre and 2020 No. 2 overall pick James Wiseman. But he's an incredible help defender who can take on some of the wing matchups that would've fallen to Thompson and unlock various small-ball lineups.
Whether the Bulls can talk themselves into this depends on how they feel about Andrew Wiggins. He is alarmingly important to the Warriors right now, but that doesn't make his contract any easier to stomach. He's owed $94.7 million over the next three years, an exorbitant price to pay even if Chicago is open to a longer rebuild.
Acquiring the Minnesota Timberwolves' 2021 pick should help grease the wheels of contemplation. The Wolves are trying to win now, but the Western Conference remains brutal. Only the Thunder have shown an inclination to bow out of next season's playoff race. The Bulls could be looking at a top-seven-or-better selection in what's considered a deep draft class.
Landing a mildly protected, further-out first from Golden State is comparably valuable. Curry, Green and Thompson are all under contract for the preceding 2022-23 season, but the Warriors' title stock is teetering now. It may be in even worse shape a couple of years down the line even if the Wiseman pick pans out. The Bulls can try to push for more—Eric Paschall, a pick swap, etc.—but would not be unwise to make this bet.
Golden State's Blockbuster Swing 2.0
Golden State Warriors Receive: James Harden, P.J. Tucker
Houston Rockets Receive: Kevon Looney, Eric Paschall, Andrew Wiggins, James Wiseman, Minnesota's 2021 first-round pick (top-three protection), 2022 first-round swap, 2024 first-round pick, 2025 first-round swap, 2026 first-round pick
Exploring nuclear scenarios shouldn't be off the table for the Warriors in the wake of Klay Thompson's injury. Moments like this reemphasize the fragility of title windows—and, specifically, Golden State's window.
Some will argue the Warriors should think about blowing it up and starting over. That's unrealistic. Whatever you think of Draymond Green and James Wiseman, they still have Stephen Curry. Teams don't throw away opportunities to win with a top-five player unless their hand is forced, and Curry isn't among the stars on trade-demand watch.
James Harden has already thrown himself into that conversation. And while his fit with the Warriors is dubious, Curry allows Golden State to acquire whomever. His superstardom is infinitely scalable. He can play beside anyone. Harden's ball domination would need to be adjusted but isn't unnavigable for a team that has Curry (and, eventually, a healthy Thompson).
The bigger question is whether the Warriors' best offer gets the Rockets thinking. It might not.
Including a young, proven star is off the table. Golden State doesn't have one. But it can build a Wiseman-plus-all-the-picks package that extends Houston's asset collection out to 2026. The latter may be a trounce card relative to what other teams offer. So few can justify throwing away firsts that far into the future. It's not even a no-brainer on the Warriors' behalf, which is why P.J. Tucker's expiring deal was worked into the equation.
Asking the Rockets to take on the $94.7 million owed to Andrew Wiggins over the next three years could be the deal-breaker. Emphasis on breaker. The Warriors don't have the matching salary to make the money work without him unless they're sending out Curry, Green or Thompson.
Curry is really the only player who should be off-limits when talking about the acquisition of another top-five star. But Thompson's injury torpedoes his value, and moving either him or Green defeats the purpose of an all-in play without sparing Golden State at least three of the first-round commitments included here.
This package holds more water if the Rockets warm up to a gradual rebuild. Almost no other team can guarantee two top-end firsts—Wiseman and the 2021 Minnesota pick—with the potential to get more. And landing Eric Paschall isn't akin to getting an afterthought.
Houston can futz with the framework of this deal to remove Tucker or try extending Golden State's pick obligations out another draft or two. The Warriors shouldn't be entirely opposed if they think Harden assures them another three or more years of title contention (he has a player option for 2022-23).
Houston and Washington Swap Stars
Houston Rockets Receive: Isaac Bonga, John Wall, 2021 first-round pick (top-16 protection)
Washington Wizards Receive: Russell Westbrook
John Wall-for-Russell Westbrook is a trade-machine special if there ever was one, but it's also been discussed by Houston and Washington, according to The Athletic's Shams Charania.
Many will see this as an exchange of two overpriced point guards, almost to the dollar. It's not just that.
The Rockets would be trying to forge a better backcourt partnership with James Harden. They're still hoping not to move him, per ESPN's Tim MacMahon, and a healthy Wall profiles as a tidier fit next to him than Westbrook. He, too, is at his best on-ball, but he's a more enthusiastic table-setter. He attacks to pass, not necessarily to score. Harden would have more of an incentive to do, well, anything off the ball.
Wall should also register as a meaningful upgrade from the outside. He has three years in which he's cleared 35 percent shooting from long distance, compared to zero for Westbrook. Wall is converting 38.7 percent of his catch-and-fire triples over the past three seasons in which he's played (2015-16, 2016-17, 2017-18). Westbrook is knocking down just 31.6 percent of his spot-up treys since 2017-18.
Houston is no doubt saddling itself with extra risk. Wall hasn't played in an NBA game since December 2018 after rupturing his left Achilles. Expecting him to be his old, explosive self out of the gate—or ever—opens up the Rockets to all sorts of issues. Westbrook has numerous knee surgeries under his belt, but he's been eminently more available.
Acquiring Isaac Bonga and another protected first as part of this deal may not be enough to offset Houston's risk. It's hard to say what will be. Washington isn't in position to deal unprotected firsts, and including Deni Avdija or Rui Hachimura goes way too far when Westbrook is two years older than Wall and on a supermax contract himself.
But the Wizards would have to give up something. Westbrook, for all his flaws, just made an All-NBA team and isn't working his way back from a career-altering injury. Even if Wall recaptures his form, it most likely won't happen right away. He may need a year-long buffer.
Washington doesn't have that kind of time. Bradley Beal is a free agent in 2022 (player option) and already the league's most popular hypothetical trade target. Westbrook sends the message that the Wizards care about now, and he ensures they won't have to wait for Beal's co-star to gradually work his way back. Getting him isn't quite a championship move, but it punches Washington's ticket back to the playoffs in a way Wall cannot yet guarantee.
Atlanta Soups Up Its Backcourt
Atlanta Hawks Receive: Eric Bledsoe
New Orleans Pelicans Receive: Oklahoma City's 2022 first-round pick (lottery protection; turns into 2024 and 2025 seconds if not conveyed)
Between Lonzo Ball, Eric Bledsoe, George Hill, Kira Lewis Jr., JJ Redick and Nickeil Alexander-Walker, the Pelicans have guards galore. One or more of them is bound to be moved.
Atlanta is the perfect landing spot for Bledsoe. It has the cap space to absorb his entire $16.9 million salary and is more likely than most to treat his entire contract—three years, $54.4 million ($38.9 million guaranteed)—as a net-positive asset.
Backup point guard continues to be among the Hawks' biggest holes. Bledsoe gives them someone to put serious pressure on the rim and run the offense in Trae Young's stead, and they can justify shelling out so much money for him knowing he also works in tandem with Young.
At 6'1", Bledsoe isn't blessed with size, but his All-Defensive chops span both guard spots. He can help cover up for Young as much as anyone.
Looking at Bledsoe's last three trips to the postseason might make the Hawks queasy. He shrinks the floor considerably, and they finished the 2019-20 campaign as the league's worst three-point-shooting team.
Atlanta can worry about playoff spacing when it, you know, gets to the playoffs. Adding another high-end guard to the rotation—Bledsoe is fringe-All-Star material in the regular season—should be the primary concern now. Especially at this price.
Maybe that Oklahoma City Thunder first-round pick conveys. Maybe it doesn't. It isn't a huge opportunity cost for the Hawks either way, and the Pelicans shouldn't have a hard time getting on board even if they believe the 2022 first will divest into two seconds. They're still getting out from under Bledsoe's entire salary while opening up more minutes in the backcourt for their youngsters.