Brand-New Blockbuster NBA Trade Ideas

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistJanuary 7, 2021

Brand-New Blockbuster NBA Trade Ideas

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Tired of combing through theoretical NBA blockbusters? Of course not. The Association's exchange market can be just as exhilarating as the on-court action, and if hoops history has taught us anything, it's that we should dare to dream big when it comes to wheeling and dealing.

    What could be getting drab, though, is seeing an endless supply of the same hypothetical swaps.

    So, let's do something different. Let's shift the conversation out of the box entirely to broker potential blockbusters that you haven't seen a thousand times already.

    While the financial elements will eventually work for the following five trades, some can't be executed until later dates based on contracts signed this offseason. Considering the 2020-21 campaign is just two weeks old, though, it'll probably be a while before we see any landscape-altering trades entered into the official transaction log.

    For now, let's daydream about some new megadeals that could become a reality sometime down the line.

Mavericks Find Third Star, Bulls Become More Flexible

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    Sam Hodde/Associated Press

    Dallas Mavericks receive: Zach LaVine and Thaddeus Young

    Chicago Bulls receive: Tim Hardaway Jr., James Johnson, Tyrell Terry and 2025 first-round pick (top-seven protected)

    With 21-year-old Luka Doncic at the forefront of the franchise, the Mavericks wouldn't appear in a rush to chase their missing-piece third star. But if you think the organization wants to take the long road to relevance, then you don't know Dallas.

    "[We're] never 'patient,'" Mavericks president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson told Dallas Basketball's Mike Fisher. "Because we want to be as good as we can be...yesterday. ... We're always working phones, looking for every angle."

    It's like the Mavericks spent months at a time atop a diving board waiting for the perfect opportunity to make a splash. The conditions could finally be right when the new Bulls brass perhaps isn't married to the idea of having Zach LaVine lead the roster.

    If Dallas could snag LaVine, it could address a quietly urgent need for non-Doncic shot-creation. LaVine's combination of off-the-bounce explosiveness and perimeter sharpshooting could make him the perfect copilot for Doncic. Put both around a healthy Kristaps Porzingis, and the Mavericks might make the jump from frisky first-round opponent to full-fledged Western Conference contender.

    LaVine is on course to average 23 points, four assists and four rebounds for the third consecutive season. Only six other players can make that claim, and they're basically all perennial All-Stars. LaVine could add a new layer of athleticism to the Mavericks attack, and if their offseason focus on defense continues paying dividends—they're already up from 18th to 10th in efficiency—they could become a two-way power.

    Dallas could also get good mileage out of Thaddeus Young, a plug-and-play veteran with playoff experience and flexibility in the frontcourt.

    As for the Bulls, this would give their new front office the flexibility to remake the roster in their preferred design. Tim Hardaway Jr. and James Johnson have expiring salaries totaling a combined $35 million, so Chicago could increase its buying power for 2021 free agency. The Bulls would also net intriguing 20-year-old point guard Tyrell Terry, plus a future first-round pick in the exchange.

Pacers, Blazers Swap Shooting Guards

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    Portland Trail Blazers receive: Victor Oladipo, Doug McDermott and 2021 first-round pick (lottery-protected)

    Indiana Pacers receive: CJ McCollum and CJ Elleby

    Both the Trail Blazers and Pacers reside in the shadow-contender tier that keeps them in the top half of the league but denies them elite status. A swap based around their starting 2-guards might help each climb the ladder.

    First, Portland could reshape its backcourt to address an otherwise fatal flaw. For all the offensive fireworks that Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum can create, the Blazers are winning nothing of substance so long as they're sitting 29th in defensive efficiency. Swapping out McCollum for Victor Oladipo, who was angling for a scenery change this offseason, could prop up Portland in the critical point-prevention department.

    A healthy Oladipo—he certainly looks like himself so far—is a menace on defense, and the 2017-18 All-Defensive first-teamer can check either backcourt position. Working alongside Robert Covington and Derrick Jones Jr., Oladipo could give this group enough versatility to cover for the score-first sieves on this roster.

    Portland would also add a three-point marksman in Doug McDermott and fetch a first-round pick to cover for the fact that Oladipo is unsigned past this season.

    While Indiana is off to a smooth start, it could still be ready for life after Oladipo. An executive recently told The Athletic's Bob Kravitz that Oladipo is "gone" and the Pacers will "move him" before the deadline.

    In this swap, Indiana would bring back an offensive fireballer in McCollum, who's cooking to the tune of 27.7 points and 5.4 assists per night in the early going. Letting him play with and off of Domantas Sabonis and Malcolm Brogdon could push the Pacers into the highest levels of offensive efficiency, and they have enough sturdy stoppers to cover for McCollum's shortcomings at the game's less glamorous end.

    To help offset the sting of losing the 2021 first-round pick, Indiana would also collect CJ Elleby, this past draft's 46th overall selection. He's a 6'6" guard with some shooting potential, but his lack of polish could mean he's a ways away from contributing.

Hawks Add All-Star, Raptors Get Younger and Deeper

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    Tami Chappell/Associated Press

    Atlanta Hawks receive: Pascal Siakam, Aron Baynes and Matt Thomas

    Toronto Raptors receive: John Collins, Clint Capela, De'Andre Hunter, Kevin Huerter and Tony Snell

    The Hawks have surrounded skyrocketing superstar Trae Young with a slew of solid-to-good players, but they can only dream so big without a second star on the roster.

    Enter Pascal Siakam, a two-way wrecking ball when he's on his game who could sneakily become available (for a substantial price) amid a turbulent start.

    The All-Star forward and 2018-19's Most Improved Player has stumbled out of the starting blocks and might be in over his head as a No. 1 option, especially as the league might've found the defensive adjustment to contain him.

    "After seeing Jaylen brown shut Siakam down in the playoffs, the rest of the NBA has started putting smaller defenders on Toronto's 6'9" forward," The Ringer's Jonathan Tjarks wrote. "The result has been a significant drop in points (from 22.9 to 17.6 per game) and field-goal percentage (45.3 to 40.7) from last season."

    The falling figures might have the Raptors worried enough about the massive money still owed to Siakam ($136.9 million through 2023-24) to consider a swap, and the Hawks should be ready to pounce. Any issues he has with shot-creation might be swept under the rug if he were added to a high-powered Atlanta attack with Young, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Danilo Gallinari, Rajon Rondo and Cam Reddish all keeping the scoreboard moving.

    Aron Baynes can handle spot starts at center or move into a depth role if Onyeka Okongwu eventually forces his way into the opening group. Matt Thomas and his career 47.7 percent connection rate from three has spark-plug potential as a catch-and-launch gunner.

    Toronto, meanwhile, might see its sluggish start and future uncertainty—the books were wiped clean for a Giannis Antetokounmpo pursuit that can't happen now—as a reason to retool. The incoming package might be slightly focused on the future, but it could be more of a reload than a rebuild.

    John Collins is 23 years old and last season was one of just four players to average 20 points and 10 boards. De'Andre Hunter is suddenly scorching on offense and could form a ferocious defensive combo with OG Anunoby. Kevin Huerter is a net-shredder. Clint Capela can control the interior. Tony Snell is...well, an expiring $12.2 million salary.

Surprise Winner of the Harden Sweepstakes

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Chicago Bulls receive: James Harden and Ben McLemore

    Houston Rockets receive: Zach LaVine, Coby White, Lauri Markkanen, Cristiano Felicio, 2021 first-round pick, 2023 first-round pick (top-three protected) and 2025 first-round pick (top-five protected)

    With James Harden scoring at rates unseen since Michael Jordan, why not send his talents to the city in which His Airness once reigned supreme?

    Sure, this doesn't automatically thrust The Beard into the championship conversation, as Chicago doesn't meet his desired request as a ready-made contender. But it's not like the cupboards inside the United Center would be stripped clean prior to his arrival.

    Chicago could still divvy up its forward minutes between Otto Porter Jr., Patrick Williams, Thaddeus Young and Chandler Hutchison. Wendell Carter Jr. and Daniel Gafford would still man the middle. Harden would grab one starting guard spot, and the other could go to Ben McLemore, Tomas Satoransky or Garrett Temple, with the other two slotting in behind them for depth.

    This roster could be formidable sooner than later—maybe not best-in-the-East good but perhaps in the tier right behind if Chicago can fast-track the development of its remaining youth. Harden could play all the hero ball he wants, and the Bulls would provide enough floor-spacing safety valves to give him distributing options. If their frontcourt's length and athleticism deliver respectable defense, Chicago could realistically set its sights on a trip to the second round.

    Get there, and it might be a few fortunate breaks away from the conference finals. Maybe that will ring uber-optimistic to some, but it's James Freakin' Harden. He's a walking top-10 offense and never more than 48 minutes away from an unbelievable stat line.

    The Rockets, meanwhile, pick up a 25-year-old borderline All-Star in Zach LaVine, a pair of recent top-10 picks in Lauri Markkanen and Coby White, plus three first-round picks. (Even Cristiano Felicio sort of has value as an expiring $7.5 million contract.) A LaVine-White-John Wall trio around the perimeter could be all kinds of fun, and if Markkanen can stay healthy, Houston would have optimal versatility up front with him and Christian Wood.

Three-Team Frenzy and Scenery Changes for Harden, Simmons

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Philadelphia 76ers receive: James Harden and Bol Bol

    Denver Nuggets receive: Ben Simmons and Matisse Thybulle

    Houston Rockets receive: Gary Harris, Michael Porter Jr., R.J. Hampton, 2021 first-round pick (via DEN), 2023 first-round pick (via PHI) and 2025 first-round pick (top-three protected via DEN)

    The most logical outcome to the James Harden sweepstakes involves a swap built around him and Ben Simmons. Harden's offensive brilliance in the half court should make him a cleaner fit with Joel Embiid, and Simmons offers the perfect blend of stability and potential to anchor a superstar swap.

    But you've surely heard the Simmons-to-Space City angle dissected dozens of times. So, this would instead route him to Denver, where he'd first be tasked with upgrading the club's 28th-ranked defense. But he could also find more transition opportunities as the downfield receiver for Nikola Jokic's outlet passes and encounter more favorable driving conditions in a better-spaced attack.

    Since Jamal Murray is more scorer than table-setter, he could kick over to off-guard on offense and handle the easier backcourt assignment on defense. But he'd still have ample opportunities to run the offense, and he could even trigger some pick-and-rolls with Simmons functioning as the hyper-explosive roller.

    Between Simmons and the relentless Matisse Thybulle, the Nuggets might finally have the wing stoppers needed to help them escape the West.

    The Sixers would immediately have two borderline unstoppable go-to options on offense. Harden isolated more than anyone last season and ranked in the 91st percentile on those plays. Embiid paced the league in post-ups and was a 90th percentile finisher on them. Opposing defenses would have a pick-your-poison scenario on every trip, and that's before exploring all of the two-man possibilities or factoring in the wide-open looks their teammates would see.

    Philadelphia could also diversify its frontcourt should Bol Bol prove he's rotation-ready.

    For Houston, this would restock the shelves with a potential future star in Michael Porter Jr.—a prospect who's already had the Rockets' attention, per Mike Singer of the Denver Post—and possible avenues to several others. R.J. Hampton is an athletic 19-year-old overloaded with upside, and the Rockets would get three more throws at the draft dart board.

    Should Gary Harris ever rediscover his three-point stroke, he'd be worth having either as a keeper (he's only 26) or a trade chip to flip in a future deal.


    All stats current through games played on Jan. 5 and courtesy of and Basketball Reference unless otherwise noted.

    Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.