NBA Trade Packages to Create the Next Big 3
By trading for James Harden, the Brooklyn Nets are the latest team to build its championship hopes around a Big Three. So, naturally, we have to ask: Who's got next?
Possibilities are in short supply. Marquee trade candidates are not available in droves, and identifying a squad with both two incumbent stars and the assets necessary to acquire another one is huh-ard.
We're still going to give it the ol' college try.
The criteria for what constitutes a Big Three varies. We're going to interpret it as any trio of players that qualifies as All-Star-level across the board.
Ready or not, let's futz around with some big names.
Bradley Beal to Philadelphia
Charlotte Hornets Receive: Vincent Poirier, most favorable 2023 second-round pick (more favorable of their own, Atlanta's and Philadelphia's, via Philadelphia)
Philadelphia 76ers Receive: Bradley Beal
Washington Wizards Receive: Danny Green, Tyrese Maxey, Shake Milton, Matisse Thybulle, Philadelphia's 2021 first, New York's 2021 second (via Philadelphia), Philadelphia's 2023 first, 2024 first-round swap (via Philadelphia), Charlotte's 2025 second-round pick (top-55 protection), 2026 first-round swap (via Philadelphia; conditional upon 2025 obligation to Oklahoma City)
Tired: The Sixers should trade Ben Simmons for Bradley Beal.
WIRED: Philly should figure out how to snag Beal without giving up Simmons or Joel Embiid.
Actualizing the latter won't be easy. This Sixers package has the look of a pupu platter at first glance. Dig deeper and the Wizards are getting a lot.
Tyrese Maxey appears to be a genuine multilevel scorer who works his butt off guarding on-ball. Matisse Thybulle is a legitimate defensive nuisance, and his stock will skyrocket if his three-pointer ever starts falling. Shake Milton has scored his way into the Sixth Man of the Year discussion. None of these players are older than 24, and they will all be under team control for at least the next two years.
Getting two first-rounders and two swaps is a big deal. Shorting the Sixers' future isn't great business when they have Beal, Embiid and Simmons, but the latter two have a checkered injury track record, and Beal can become a free agent in 2022 (player option). It matters that the Wizards are bagging a first and two swaps in 2023 or later. They might also be able to get something else for Danny Green's expiring contract later.
Charlotte is here to tone down the lopsidedness. Five-for-one trades are ridiculously difficult to complete midseason. The Hornets turn this into a four-for-one for the Wizards while scooping up a big body and a second-rounder to rent out minimal cap space.
Philly is taking a swing. The bench is already thin and gets obliterated in this scenario. There's no way around it without including Simmons. Tobias Harris may be playing well, but the three years and $112.9 million left on his contract don't add to Washington's value.
Beal is worth the steep cost. His offense translates to anywhere, alongside anyone. It will always be a tighter squeeze with Embiid and Simmons on the court, but his mix of from-scratch pressure and ability to play off the ball is the perfect complement to both.
Bradley Beal to Toronto (After Feb. 22)
Toronto Raptors Receive: Bradley Beal, Moritz Wagner
Washington Wizards Receive: OG Anunoby, Fred VanVleet, 2021 first-round pick, 2023 first-round pick, 2024 first-round swap
Another Bradley Beal scenario! It's almost like every team should be circling him with Washington sitting 15th in the Eastern Conference.
This is a different kind of return for the Wizards. They'd be acquiring more established players in OG Anunoby and Fred Vanvleet, both of whom will hold expensive pay grades at the start of 2021-22.
That's typically a no-no for any team about to initiate a rebuild. But Anunoby is just 23, and VanVleet doesn't turn 27 until late February. Their timelines do not diverge entirely from a Beal-less Wizards squad. The relative plug-and-playness of both at either end of the floor also renders them seamless additions.
Gaining control of three Toronto first-rounders in the process is a rock-solid bonus. The 2021 first shouldn't be great. But the 2023 first and 2024 swap both postdate Beal's entry into 2022 free agency. Washington could wind up striking gold if he bolts.
For their part, the Raptors would be stepping out on a limb. The idea of playing Beal beside both Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam tantalizes but does not come without concessions. Anunoby and VanVleet are two of their most important defenders, and executing an all-in play after such an uneven start from Siakam and when Lowry turns 35 in March is nothing if not rife with downside.
But let's not pretend Beal doesn't substantively, and immediately, elevate the Raptors' ceiling. He puts far more pressure on half-court defenses. Anunoby and VanVleet can play off anyone, but neither compares as an attacker or off-the-dribble jump-shooter.
Worrying about Lowry's age—and free agency this summer—is futile. At 27, Beal is on the exact same timeline as a 26-year-old Siakam. As long as the Raptors still believe in the offensive peak of the latter, they have the incumbent talent to justify an aggressive play for another star.
Zach LaVine Ends Up in the Bay
Chicago Bulls Receive: Kelly Oubre Jr., Eric Paschall, Minnesota's 2021 first-round pick (top-three protection), Minnesota's 2021 second-round pick, 2022 first-round swap, 2023 first-round swap
Golden State Warriors Receive: Zach LaVine
Anyone who hasn't yet boarded the Zach LaVine bandwagon—or is still bellowing about empty calories—has time to change course. He's really good.
LaVine's scoring is the same as ever: divine.
He can bury jumpers off the catch or earn his living by swishing astoundingly difficult off-the-bounce looks. Even more importantly, he is coming into his own as a table-setter. His head is up when he's putting the ball on the floor, and he's making better decisions when defenses collapse. He's gone from averaging 8.5 potential assists last year to 11.3 this season without a significant increase in passing volume. That's huge.
It also helps explain why the Bulls aren't looking to move him, per NBC Sports' K.C. Johnson. They have to start thinking about his next contract and the max salary he'll probably command in 2022-23, but self-reflection is no longer a scare tactic. LaVine doesn't turn 26 until March and is playing better than All-Star-level basketball.
Golden State should have the asset juice to tempt Chicago anyway. The Minnesota Timberwolves' 2021 first-round pick is probably the single most valuable draft selection that could feasibly find its way onto the trade market. It has top-three protection, and the Timberwolves are bad enough to retain it. That's fine. It becomes completely unprotected in 2022.
Fleshing out the rest of the package is harder.
Andrew Wiggins' salary would demand more assets get baked into it, and it's still a net negative despite how well he's playing. The Warriors aren't flush with intriguing youngsters beyond James Wiseman and shouldn't be moving both him and the Minny pick without getting back a top-15/top-20 player. They make things even more difficult with the protected first they owe the Memphis Grizzlies in 2024.
Settling on Eric Paschall and two swaps feels like a good middle ground. The Bulls get a crafty role player who currently deserves to be on the Sixth Man of the Year periphery, and controlling the fate of two Warriors first-rounders at a time when Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson will all be borderline ancient by NBA standards is a massive victory.
Kelly Oubre Jr. hasn't fared well on offense this season, but he's an expiring contract who can give Chicago minutes across all wing spots.
LaVine's fit in Golden State should be close to instant. He might end up spending more time without the ball, but he is a lethal standstill shooter, and the jump he's made as a passer would no doubt embolden head coach Steve Kerr to try playing Curry off him. Regardless of how they'd use him, they need his offensive juice—the from-scratch creation, secondary playmaking, three-point shooting, all of it.
Kyle Lowry Lands in Dallas
Dallas Mavericks Receive: Kyle Lowry
Toronto Raptors Receive: Josh Green, James Johnson, Dwight Powell, Tyrell Terry, 2025 first-round pick (top-four protection; conditional upon Dallas' 2023 obligation to New York)
Let's say the Raptors decide to write off this season as a gap year. Kyle Lowry's future then surges up their to-do list.
Trading the best player in franchise history cannot be taken lightly. But if Toronto opts for a rebuild, or even a quasi-reset, it's the right thing to do. Lowry turns 35 in March and will be a free agent over the offseason. He deserves to be on a contender.
Dallas is an ideal landing spot. Just ask roughly anyone on basketball Twitter. The Mavericks still need that second shot creator around Luka Doncic who won't actually knife into their megastar's volume and who will also give them quality defensive minutes. That describes Lowry to a T.
Cobbling together a workable package gets hairy right away.
Lowry is making $30.5 million, and Dallas doesn't have a boatload of mid-end assets or an immediate first-round pick to unload. Going out further into the future might get the job done, but it's a lofty price. Lowry isn't an All-Star in his prime, and if the Mavericks want him beyond this season, they'll have the cap flexibility to make a run at him without Toronto's help.
Expanding the deal to include the final two years and $22.2 million on Dwight Powell's contract unlocks more ambitious scenarios. Dallas' distant first won't be enough on its own because Doncic is a walking playoff berth who torpedoes its draft stock to the outside shopper. Giving the Raptors a flier on Josh Green and Tyrell Terry might be enough to get the green light.
Truthfully, this may look like an overpay for the Mavericks. It's not. Lowry is still an asset on the floor, and grabbing his Bird rights while wiping Powell's money from the ledger carves out a ton of different avenues to explore over the offseason. In the meantime, Dallas vaults up the Western Conference's championship hierarchy with a fits-like-a-glove trio of Doncic, Lowry and Kristaps Porzingis.
Victor Oladipo Gets Rerouted to New Orleans (After Feb. 2)
Chicago Bulls Receive: Lonzo Ball
Houston Rockets Receive: Lauri Markkanen, JJ Redick, 2021 L.A. Lakers first-round pick (protected Nos. 8-30; unprotected in 2022), New Orleans' 2022 first-round pick (lottery protection)
New Orleans Pelicans Receive: Victor Oladipo, P.J. Tucker
Allow us to begin with the Pelicans. Does a Brandon Ingram-Victor Oladipo-Zion Williamson troika count as a Big Three? We're going to say yes. Is it one New Orleans should want to forge? Debatable.
Oladipo arms the Pelicans with another body who can attack set defenses and deliver secondary playmaking. He historically isn't the cleanest off-ball fit and has seen his efficiency drop in Houston, but he's converting 42.1 percent of his spot-up triples on the season. New Orleans also needs more bodies to throw at wings on defense, and he's exactly that, albeit in pint-size form.
Surrendering actual value for a soon-to-be free agent incites all sorts of questions for the Pelicans. Chief among them: How much will he cost to keep? Does it make sense to pay him, a maxed-out Ingram, Steven Adams and Josh Hart, a restricted free agent this summer? Are they even good enough this year to justify a win-now play for someone who isn't Bradley Beal?
Again: This is all debatable. But Oladipo isn't costing the Pelicans a ton of equity here.
They are already shopping Lonzo Ball and JJ Redick, according to The Athletic's Shams Charania, and it'll be a legitimate shock if that bound-to-be-2022 Lakers pick conveys earlier than No. 23. Including a protected 2022 first of their own is hardly overkill when they're getting P.J. Tucker, too. They can rework the deal to potentially save a first if they don't want him, but he's a utopian fit up front next to Zion.
Chicago's position comes down to whether it'll flip one restricted-free-agent-to-be for another. It's not an easy decision. Lauri Markkanen has yet to meaningfully deepen his offensive bag, but he's been better than Ball this year.
Still, Lonzo gives the Bulls a third playmaker to monitor alongside Zach LaVine and Coby White. And unlike both, he's a pass-first floor general.
He doesn't put traditional pressure on defenses in the half court, but that's where LaVine and White come in. Chicago can mitigate any potential awkwardness by pinky-swearing to get out in transition more often when Ball is running the show. That he's already a highly disruptive defender should count for something.
Two firsts, Markkanen and an expiring salary should be enough for the Rockets to part with Oladipo. They clearly chose him over Caris LeVert in the James Harden blockbuster for a reason. Maybe it was to keep him. But shelling out near-max money to re-sign him doesn't make much sense when they're miles outside the contender clique.
This package amounts to selling high on him and Tucker, two players who may just leave for nothing over the offseason. Houston might even be able to extract value out of another team for Redick's services.