Blockbuster NBA Trades We Want While Waiting out James Harden and the Rockets

Andy Bailey@@AndrewDBaileyFeatured ColumnistJanuary 9, 2021

Blockbuster NBA Trades We Want While Waiting out James Harden and the Rockets

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    For the moment, the James Harden trade front seems relatively quiet.

    After a late arrival to training camp, he's now with the team and averaging a Harden-like 33.0 points, 10.8 assists, 10.0 free throws and 4.5 threes. As long as he's there, the Houston Rockets will be, at the very least, pesky.

    Harden suitors are surely monitoring his situation carefully, though. If anything between the star and organization goes sideways, chatter would likely amplify again.

    However, there are potentialities that don't include trades in the near future.

    Those with interest in acquiring Harden—a list that includes the Boston Celtics, Philadelphia 76ers, Miami Heat, Brooklyn Nets, Toronto Raptors, Portland Trail Blazers and Denver Nuggets, according to ESPN's Brian Windhorst—may be fine with waiting till the deadline. Perhaps Houston's asking price might decline if the situation appears unsalvageable in March.

    Maybe they don't even trade him at all. The fit between Harden and Christian Wood, a big who can do damage both as a roller and shooter out of ball screens, feels right. Those two alone can be the foundation of a playoff-worthy offense. If John Wall can manage a little more efficiency as a scorer, Houston might talk itself into rolling this whole thing through 2020-21.

    And if the Rockets aren't able to satiate our appetite for trades, perhaps some other teams around the league might step into that void.

Bradley Beal to the Nuggets

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    The Deal: Gary Harris, PJ Dozier, Michael Porter Jr., a 2021 first-round pick and a 2024 first-round pick (top-five protected) for Bradley Beal

    Right now, the Washington Wizards and Denver Nuggets are both posturing as though there's no chance they'd trade the players who would be the centerpieces of this deal.

    In June, Stadium's Jeff Goodman reported the "...Wizards have no intention of dealing Beal." In November, general manager Tommy Sheppard backed that up.

    "Brad absolutely has been committed to us," Sheppard told 106.7 The Fan. "Last summer, he signed an extension with us. I think we're absolutely committed to him."

    Denver, meanwhile, has a young player who should at least make the Wizards think twice about that stance. The Nuggets, though, might not even offer him.

    "From Denver's perspective, trading for Beal means including rookie Michael Porter Jr.," the Denver Post's Mike Singer wrote in October. "That's a non-starter for the Nuggets, who are highly unlikely to part with Porter unless they get a superstar in return, according to a league source."

    Things can change quickly in the NBA. Quotes and reports like those above often wind up being smokescreens. And if Denver truly doesn't consider Beal a superstar, its definition might shift between now and the trade deadline.

    Beal is a 27-year-old wing coming off a season in which he averaged 30.5 points, 6.1 assists and 3.0 threes. In a winning environment, it's hard to imagine those numbers representing anything other than a superstar.

    And that's exactly the kind of environment he'd enjoy with the Nuggets.

    Beal could still create plenty of his own offense on that team, but he'd also have the luxury of many more open looks than he's used to, courtesy of Nikola Jokic, the best passing big of all time.

    With Jamal Murray as his backcourt counterpart, opposing teams wouldn't be able to focus as much perimeter defense on him, either.

    Defense has been a question mark for Beal in recent years, but those three would form the foundation of a nightmarishly good offense.

    The increase in star power might be exactly what Denver needs to squeeze into that next tier of contention. The deal would be costly, though. No question about that.

    As a rookie, the 6'10" MPJ averaged 21.0 points, 10.6 rebounds, 2.5 threes, 1.1 steals and 1.0 blocks per 75 possessions, with a true shooting percentage 5.2 points above the league average.

    At 22 years old, there's still plenty of time for Porter to develop. Denver's third star may already be there. Swapping him for Beal speeds up the timeline, but it's not a no-brainer.

    It isn't for Washington, either.

    Sure, Porter has loads of potential, but that isn't always realized. And Porter's history of back problems could come back to haunt him.

    But if the Wizards were looking for the kind of player who might make sense in a Beal trade, Porter could be it.

    Down the line, a switchy, rangy front line that includes MPJ, Rui Hachimura and Davis Bertans would be difficult to defend. And if you're going to give up a face-of-the-franchise-level talent, you probably want a prospect back with that kind of potential.

    As for Gary Harris, he's mostly in the deal to make the money work. After a promising 2017-18, his numbers have tailed off over the last two seasons, and his contract expires in 2022. That opens up some flexibility for Washington.

    PJ Dozier, a 6'6" playmaker, gives the Wizards another intriguing young(ish) prospect. And multiple firsts just may be the cost of acquiring big names right now, as evidenced by the monster haul the New Orleans Pelicans received for Jrue Holiday.

Andrew Wiggins for Aaron Gordon

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    The Deal: Andrew Wiggins for Aaron Gordon and Al-Farouq Aminu

    The Golden State Warriors certainly need more time to see how the wing combo of Kelly Oubre Jr. and Andrew Wiggins jells before doing anything dramatic. If it doesn't seem to be working, though, neither seems absolutely locked in as a member of the team's core.

    And if there's a possibility to unload Wiggins' contract (which guarantees him $33.6 million in 2022-23) without getting worse, the Warriors might have to think long and hard about chasing it.

    Last season, he came as close as he ever has to posting an average box plus/minus. As a 25-year-old, it's reasonable to think he might still be improving, but there's also a chance he's just a high-volume scorer who provides little else.

    Believe it or not, there's a team that might actually need that.

    The 2011-12 season was the last time the Orlando Magic had an above-average offensive rating. Their leading scorer was Dwight Howard. The top-grossing movie in America was the first Avengers. Things have changed over the last eight years. Orlando being bad on that end of the floor has been a constant.

    Despite posting below-average effective field-goal percentages in each of his six seasons, Wiggins' teams have always scored more points per 100 possessions with him on the floor.

    It's not hard to see how Wiggins' slashing might work alongside Nikola Vucevic's perimeter scoring and passing. With Vuc operating from the top, bigs have to leave the paint to respect his range. That opens up lanes toward the rim for Wiggins to cut or drive into.

    For the Warriors, this would be an offense-for-defense trade.

    With Draymond Green facilitating on the break or in the half court, and Stephen Curry commanding loads of attention off the ball, Oubre and James Wiseman should get plenty of open looks. Curry will do what Curry does when he gets the ball, and Wiggins' one-on-one game might not be necessary.

    Swapping Gordon into that mix makes sense. His field-goal-attempt-to-assist ratio over the last two seasons shows a greater willingness to move the ball than Wiggins' does.

    More importantly, it's reasonable to expect Gordon to guard three, maybe even four, positions. He's not a lockdown defender, but he's more reliable on that end than Wiggins.

    As for Al-Farouq Aminu, his deal is included to make the trade work under the collective bargaining agreement. If he's healthy, he adds some switchability too. If not, he and Gordon's contracts expire one year sooner than Wiggins', so at least he offers a shot at a little financial flexibility.

Ben Simmons for CJ McCollum and Picks

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    The Deal: CJ McCollum, a 2022 first-round pick and a 2024 first-round pick for Ben Simmons

    James Harden seems to be the more likely target for Philadelphia, but if it can't come to terms with Houston, CJ McCollum is another interesting option.

    Now, for the caveats.

    Philadelphia is off to a strong start. Joel Embiid is playing like an MVP candidate, and the influx of shooting from Danny Green and Seth Curry is making it easier to play him with Simmons.

    The majority of their wins have come against teams projected to finish under .500, though. Against stiffer competition, the not-so-seamless fit between Simmons and Embiid may be more visible. Trading the point guard for even more shooting could be on the table (despite Daryl Morey's repeated insistence that it isn't).

    McCollum is off to the best start of his career and is actually outplaying Damian Lillard. A dramatic uptick in three-point volume has led to what would be a career-high effective field-goal percentage. He's also creating more for teammates than ever before.

    Pick-and-rolls with him and Embiid, flanked by the shooting of Green, Curry and Tobias Harris, would be unstoppable. Go under the ball screen and McCollum would light you up. Go over or hedge it and Embiid has a mismatch rolling down the lane. And if you send too much help to that action, those shooters would be ready to strike.

    McCollum is smaller, worse at defense and five years older than Simmons, but it's not hard to imagine him being a better fit in Philly (at least on offense).

    The difference in long-term value between these two players is another reason this is interesting for the Sixers. Going all in for Harden might mean sending out draft picks. If Philadelphia sends Simmons elsewhere, it might actually be the team receiving draft compensation (as is the case in this hypothetical).

    For the Portland Trail Blazers, breaking up the Lillard-McCollum backcourt still feels unlikely, especially with McCollum balling the way he is. If they continue to play sub-.500 basketball, though, that idea could find new legs.

    Inserting Simmons into a lineup that includes Lillard, Gary Trent, Robert Covington and Jusuf Nurkic could give this team lightyears-era Warriors vibes. That group almost certainly wouldn't reach the same heights, but you can see the similarities.

    Lillard would be the gravitational force on offense, with Trent and Covington providing three-point shooting and switchy defense a la Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes (again, not on the same level). Simmons could be a bigger, more athletic version of Draymond Green. And Jusuf Nurkic's defense and passing could approximate what Golden State got from Andrew Bogut.

    This isn't to say that Portland should make this deal to try to become a carbon copy of that team, but you can see how it all fits on a philosophical level.

Buddy Hield for Victor Oladipo

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    The Deal: Buddy Hield for Victor Oladipo

    Social media sleuths may be onto something with Sacramento Kings sharpshooter Buddy Hield.

    On Nov. 25, BasketballNews.com's Alex Kennedy snapped a screenshot of one of Hield's "liked" tweets, which indicated he may not be thrilled to be a part of the Kings' core.

    Now, conclusions drawn from Twitter activity may not be the most reliable, but this isn't the first sign of trouble between this particular player and team. Back in September, The Athletic's Jason Jones and Sam Amick reported that Hield might even request a trade this offseason.

    That never happened, but it's not difficult to see this team's chemistry becoming more volatile over time, especially with two Kings dads (yes, dads) now chiming in.

    On the other end of this deal is the Indiana Pacers, a team that might also move on from its shooting guard, though with perhaps a bit more difficulty.

    "I'm going to say something, and this is not my opinion," ESPN's Brian Windhorst said on The Lowe Post podcast before the season. "This is based on conversations from all around the league at every level. Victor Oladipo and Russell Westbrook do not have trade value."

    A variety of factors play into that lack of value for Oladipo: the somewhat recent quad injury, his expiring contract and the fact that Indiana figured out how to win without him are chief among them.

    Last season, the Pacers were minus-0.4 points per 100 possessions with Oladipo on the floor, compared to plus-2.8 with him off. Domantas Sabonis is now an All-Star who can distribute. Malcolm Brogdon and TJ Warren (whenever he returns from injury) are quality starters too.

    Swapping out Oladipo (more of an on-ball threat) for Hield (a devastating catch-and-shoot option) may be a better fit in Indiana. And Hield's declining contract (the salary drops by about $2 million each season till 2023-24) makes it less of a burden on the salary cap.

    So, why would Sacramento do this?

    Perhaps the Kings get the 2017-18 version of Oladipo (and his start in 2020-21 suggests that's a possibility), which would certainly help them make a playoff push. If not, they can let him hit free agency in 2021, opening up some financial flexibility that would not have been there with Hield.

    Again, his salary isn't terribly onerous, but for a player who might not want to be there, it's not ideal. Opening up some room for the De'Aaron Fox extension that will kick in for 2021-22 and a possible Marvin Bagley extension is a plus.