Blockbuster Deals That Would Blow Up 2021 NBA Trade Deadline
Calling all Woj bombs, Shams wows and NBA internet-breakers of all varieties.
We're playing Let's Make a Deal: Association Style, with an aim at blowing up the 2021 trade deadline through megadeals that would reverberate across the entire basketball world either through their own execution or the subsequent arms races they could spawn.
Will all of these come to fruition? Definitely not. Is there a chance we go 0-of-4 on our blockbuster bets? Absolutely.
And guess what? That could not matter less. Half the fun (at least) of NBA #TradeSZN are the bold predictions and trade-machine sorcery of #SpeculationSZN.
Let the speculating commence.
The Notable (Bearded) Exclusion
It's impossible to talk 2021 NBA blockbusters without a mention of The Beard.
Say what you want about the aesthetics of James Harden's game or his extracurriculars away from the hardwood, he's still a former MVP and three-time scoring champ who puts up absurd numbers on a nightly basis. Rostering him all but guarantees a top-10 attack and gives a team a power puncher's chance on any given night.
If—or, more accurately, when—Harden changes locales, it almost certainly will shift around the tectonic plates of the NBA landscape.
But we're here projecting deadline deals. And for the love of all things basketball, Harden cannot still reside in Space City leading up to the March 25 trade cutoff date. Not after he ethered the Houston Rockets on Tuesday night after their second consecutive double-digit defeat and fourth loss in five games.
"We're just not good enough—chemistry, talentwise, just everything," Harden told reporters. "... I love this city. I literally have done everything that I can. I mean, this situation is crazy. It's something that I don't think can be fixed."
Consider the comments Harden's emergency flare with a clear directive for all potential suitors: Get. Me. Outta. Here.
This relationship will only grow increasingly uncomfortable the longer it's kept on life support. Hopefully, the Philadelphia 76ers, Brooklyn Nets, Miami Heat, Denver Nuggets, Toronto Raptors or insert-team-here gives Houston a reason to pull the plug sooner than later.
Blazers Get Their 2-Way Wing
Portland Trail Blazers receive: Otto Porter Jr.
Chicago Bulls receive: Derrick Jones Jr., Rodney Hood, Anfernee Simons and 2023 first-round pick (lottery protected)
With CJ McCollum pushing his production into absurdity and Damian Lillard being Damian Lillard, Portland should be dreaming of a path to the NBA Finals. But the franchise can't dream nearly that big without correcting its 23rd-ranked defense.
As the Blazers learned during the Al-Farouq Aminu and Maurice Harkless days, though, they can't shift their forward spots too far to the defensive end or they'll create a fatal offensive flaw playoff opponents can exploit.
Enter Otto Porter Jr.
If he's healthy—and, save for a recent round of back spasms, he has been—he's exactly the kind of pliable defender and offensive floor-spacer who could scratch Portland's itch for a two-way wing. Pair him with Robert Covington and the Blazers might finally have the right blend of offensive competence and defensive versatility at the forward spots to realistically contend for the crown.
The Bulls, meanwhile, should know they're on borrowed time with Porter. He's unsigned beyond this season, and unless the front office feels differently, this sure feels like the right time to hand the frontcourt keys over to Lauri Markkanen and rookie Patrick Williams.
In this swap, which can't be completed until Feb. 20, Chicago could also address a need for wing depth with the bouncy Derrick Jones Jr. and a buy-low candidate in Rodney Hood, a smooth scorer finding his way back from an Achilles injury. Speaking of bargain buys, Anfernee Simons might be in the middle of a disappointing year-plus, but he's still a 21-year-old with athleticism and a fiery three-ball.
Tack on a future first and it'd be a robust return for a player the Bulls may not plan on keeping anyway.
A Canadian Reunion...in Tampa Bay
Toronto Raptors receive: DeMar DeRozan
San Antonio Spurs receive: Norman Powell, Aron Baynes, Malachi Flynn, Matt Thomas and 2022 first-round pick (top-10 protected).
#Feelz don't play a part in the cold-business world of blockbuster trading. But in this case, they might be a sensible place to start the discussion.
DeMar DeRozan, the Raptors' all-time leader in games, minutes and points, was furious when the franchise traded him away for Kawhi Leonard in 2018, but maybe time—and the knowledge Toronto turned that transaction into a title run—has healed the wound.
Even if it hasn't, maybe DeRozan would still welcome the scenery change. There's been talk he isn't happy in the Alamo City, and this swap would reunite him with close friend Kyle Lowry, plus exponentially improved versions of former teammates Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby and Fred VanVleet.
DeRozan, a free agent after this season, isn't competing for a championship with the Spurs, but maybe the jolt of his offense—currently yielding 21.2 points and 7.0 assists per game—would be just what the Raptors need to right the ship.
Do this deal, which can't be orchestrated until Feb. 22, and Toronto, which sits 16th in offensive efficiency, would have four players averaging at least 19 points (DeRozan, Lowry, VanVleet and Siakam), plus two more clearing 12 (Anunoby and Chris Boucher).
San Antonio is already loaded with high-upside youth on the perimeter, to the point DeRozan is now splitting his minutes between the forward spots (and predominantly playing the 4). This offseason offers San Antonio the chance to go all-in with its youngsters—DeRozan, LaMarcus Aldridge, Rudy Gay and Patty Mills are all impending free agents—and this swap would not only give that project a head start, but it would also turn DeRozan into multiple assets.
Norman Powell might be young enough for the Spurs to keep (27), or they could flip him in a separate transaction. Rookie Malachi Flynn seems worth developing, and head coach Gregg Popovich could surely find a use for the net-shredding Matt Thomas. Aron Baynes kick-started his NBA career in San Antonio, and maybe the Spurs want more veteran insurance on the interior.
Finally, the future first-round pick could prove a sneaky-good get since both DeRozan and Lowry are headed for unrestricted free agency this offseason.
Miami Makes Its Finals Push
Miami Heat receive: Victor Oladipo and Myles Turner
Indiana Pacers receive: Tyler Herro, Kendrick Nunn, Kelly Olynyk, Andre Iguodala and 2025 first-round pick (top-10 protected)
Miami might have dreamed bigger than Victor Oladipo recently, but there are two reasons to think he might become the team's primary target.
For starters, there might not be realistic avenues to Plans A, B and C. The bubble burst on the free-agent pursuit of Giannis Antetokounmpo once he put pen to paper on a supermax to stay in Milwaukee. James Harden and Bradley Beal are natural targets, but unless the Heat decide to dangle Bam Adebayo (which they won't—and shouldn't), they don't have enough to get a deal done.
Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald reported the Houston Rockets want "more significant assets" than Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson. He then opined Miami might still come up short even it put everything and the kitchen sink on the table: Herro, Robinson, Precious Achiuwa, KZ Okpala, Andre Iguodala, Kelly Olynyk and first-round picks in 2025 and 2027.
But Oladipo, a free-agent-to-be who's finally knocking off the rust of a two-year recovery from a torn quad tendon, should have a more affordable price tag. He could be almost as impactful, though, by upping Miami's point-of-attack defense and diversifying the offensive menu as either the alpha or one of three copilots with Adebayo and Jimmy Butler.
Some in South Beach might question the logic of sacrificing assets for a player who could be signed outright this offseason. Here's the reason: The Heat could enter the championship race right now, and they shouldn't exactly be playing the patient game when the 31-year-old Butler is the face of the franchise.
The thought of a defensive quartet featuring Butler, Oladipo, Adebayo and Myles Turner is terrifying. And even if the team gets squeezed for spacing—it shouldn't be disastrous with Duncan Robinson still around, especially if Turner regains his touch—head coach Erik Spoelstra has the tactical intelligence to work around that.
As for the Pacers, they'd be selling high on a player they may not keep and moving toward a modernized frontcourt with Turner out of the equation.
Herro has a sky-high ceiling, Kendrick Nunn has more utility than Miami has allowed him to show this season, and Olynyk and Iguodala are both serviceable veterans and paths to financial relief. Throw in a future first-rounder and Indiana would almost certainly give this serious consideration.
Bradley Beal to the Big Easy
New Orleans Pelicans receive: Bradley Beal and Robin Lopez
Washington Wizards receive: Lonzo Ball, JJ Redick, Jaxson Hayes, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, 2021 first-round pick (top-seven protected), 2023 first-round pick (top-three protected) and 2024 or 2025 first-round pick (via LAL)
If the Bradley Beal sweepstakes are ever held this season, keep close watch on the Crescent City's finest.
The Pels are sitting on a boatload of assets, many of which were collected during the 2019 Anthony Davis megadeal. They also have a pair of 23-and-under rising stars in Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson who need more offensive support in the worst kind of way.
That's why six of 14 executives polled by The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor identified New Orleans as their sleeper for a blockbuster trade: "Execs from other teams don't believe Pelicans executive vice president David Griffin will sit on his assets for long considering how good Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson already are."
New Orleans, which ranks fifth on defense but just 22nd on offense, has glaring needs for shot-creation, outside shooting and support scoring. Beal, who's averaging a league-best 34.9 points along with 5.0 assists and a brilliant 49.4/37.5/87.4 shooting slash, could masterfully check all three boxes. As a 27-year-old with at least one more season on his contract, he's also someone who could grow with this core.
Throw in Robin Lopez as a proven insurance policy behind Steven Adams and this is the kind of exchange that could push the Pels into this postseason and elevate their ceiling several stories going forward.
So, would the Wizards bite? They should at least be gauging Beal's trade market since they're in dire need of an asset collection that could address the many holes on this roster, and his value will never be higher.
This particular swap should net them at least three keepers in Lonzo Ball, Jaxson Hayes and Nickeil Alexander-Walker, plus three darts to throw at the draft board in search of others. If Washington did this deal early enough, it could quickly flip the sharpshooting JJ Redick to a spacing-challenged contender and perhaps throw another future pick on the pile.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.