Bold Predictions for 2021 NBA Trade Deadline
Playing it safe ahead of the NBA's trade deadline is boring. Then again, throwing out baseless scenarios is equally tired and futile.
So, let's get audacious without junking rationality.
These trade-deadline predictions are as official as things on the Internet get. Developments that have yet to unfold can always shift the line of thinking, but I am not presenting you with bold scenarios for the sake of clicks or out of contractual obligation.
As of this writing, I absolutely believe every single one of these predictions will come true in some form.
And in my opinion, at a time when smokescreens and anonymous sources are running amuck, nothing beats that kind of almost-wholehearted authenticity.
Bradley Beal or Zach LaVine Gets Traded
This year's star trade market can be viewed through one of two lenses following the James Harden blockbuster: Now is not the time to go all-in on a deal for marquee names when the season has been subject to so many twists and turns and a topsy-turvy competitive landscape, or the pool of available heavyweights is so bone-thin that one reluctant seller will be coaxed into moving its star for a king's ransom-and-a-half.
As someone who roots for chaos and counts himself as an optimist, I'm rolling with the latter.
Only two players currently fit the "next star available" bill: Bradley Beal and Zach LaVine.
Feel free to spout some alternatives. None of them will be at the level of two All-Star-quality guards in their mid-20s with another season left on their deals. Anyone who tries to explain why Andre Drummond belongs in this discussion is encouraged to find the exit. Victor Oladipo comes close but is a tick below given his expiring deal, offensive efficiency since arriving in Houston and past and present right quad issues.
Predicting a LaVine trade is the safer of our two bold scenarios. The reporting in favor of Beal sticking with the Washington Wizards remains too damn strong. Still, his disposition at times this season speaks for itself. And he's on record saying he wants to win.
The Wizards are nowhere near ready to win.
Maybe Beal doesn't force Washington's hand out of sheer allegiance, but the market might. Jrue Holiday netted the New Orleans Pelicans three first-rounders and two swaps on an expiring contract (2021-22 player option). Beal is younger with another year left on his deal. The Wizards may get an offer closer, if not equal, to what the Rockets received for James Harden: essentially Oladipo, four first-round picks and four swaps.
LaVine's status with the Chicago Bulls doesn't seem as daunting to potential buyers. Teams are monitoring his situation for a reason, as ESPN's Brian Windhorst noted on an episode of The Jump. The Bulls aren't obligated to move him; age-25 players can be part of a rebuilding process. But he's due to hit free agency in 2022 and, despite his scoring and playmaking exploits, isn't a no-brainer max investment like Beal.
Perhaps both LaVine and Beal get moved. I wouldn't bet on it. Hell, I wouldn't bet on one getting moved. But I'd absolutely predict it because this trade deadline needs it.
Victor Oladipo Gets Traded to Dallas, Memphis or Toronto
Forecasting another Victor Oladipo trade isn't the least bit spicy. The Houston Rockets have no business footing the bill on what should be a near-max contract over the summer, and league executives told ESPN's Tim Bontemps they could reroute him prior to the March 25 deadline.
Bake in a destination or three for Oladipo and now we're cooking with a Carolina Reaper.
Including the Dallas Mavericks is obligatory. They have the capacity to carve out tons of cap space over the summer, and the offense has already climbed to eighth in points scored per possession. But they still need another shot creator to pair with Luka Doncic, particularly down the stretch of close games. Leaning on a hodgepodge of Jalen Brunson, Kristaps Porzingis and Trey Burke-on-a-heater doesn't seem like the answer.
Getting Oladipo's Bird rights should also have some value. Other teams will presumably be targeting him in free agency. Cap space currently projects to be rampant, while the pool of high-impact players is incredibly shallow and could lose even more of its nonexistent depth if Jrue Holiday signs an extension with the Milwaukee Bucks and Kawhi Leonard (player option) doesn't consider leaving the Los Angeles Clippers.
It likewise helps the Mavericks that Oladipo shouldn't cost as much as typical All-Stars, mostly because he isn't one. They don't have the asset equity to go after Bradley Beal—or probably even Zach LaVine. Their soonest available first-rounder won't convey until 2025, and that's contingent upon their 2023 obligation to the New York Knicks (top-10 protection).
Looping the Memphis Grizzlies into this conversation is 100 percent, without question, a personal preference and based entirely on a gut feeling.
On one hand, they shouldn't enter the trade deadline as big-time buyers. They're not a heartbeat away from contention, and they've yet to see Jaren Jackson Jr. this season or Justise Winslow ever.
On the other hand, they're hovering around the top 10 in points allowed per possession, and adding another shot creator next to Ja Morant stands to weaponize their offense in a way that would allow them to make real noise in the playoff race and the postseason itself.
Meanwhile, taking a flier on Oladipo feels exactly like the type of dice roll the Toronto Raptors might make. Too many people are treating them as potential sellers. News flash: They don't suck, and Kyle Lowry is the best player in franchise history. Proposals featuring late first-rounders and salary filler aren't convincing Toronto to blow up what's still a playoff-bound core.
The Raptors need a true center and another bigger wing if they're going to act as buyers. Oladipo doesn't check either box. At 6'4", though, he'll stand up to some opposing 3s, and they could acquire him purely as an upgrade from Norman Powell, who would presumably be part of any package.
At Least 1 of Andre Drummond, Blake Griffin and Al Horford Gets Moved
The Cleveland Cavaliers have removed Drummond from the rotation as they work to hammer out a trade, according to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski and Brian Windhorst. The Detroit Pistons are doing the same with Griffin, per Wojnarowski. And the Oklahoma City Thunder are just straight open for business, as reported by The Athletic's Sam Amick.
However, before you take to the comments with words that hurt me more than sticks and stones, consider that expensive big men operating well outside their primes are not highly sought.
Horford is the cheapest of the trio, and he's on the books for $27.5 million with another two years and up to $53.5 million coming to him ($14.5 million guarantee for 2022-23). Griffin's name should probably be bounced from this small gaggle altogether. He's making $36.8 million this season and $39 million next year. A buyout or waive-and-stretch is much more likely given how many knee injuries are in his rearview.
Drummond is functionally the easiest to move. His $28.6 million take-home is not readily digestible, but his expiring contract provides long-term cap relief if interested teams have multiyear deals they're looking to offload.
But this presumption rests on a robust salary-dumping market. That's not a given. The 2021 free-agency class has lost too much luster to bank on could-be shoppers forking over picks and prospects to clean up their cap sheets.
Any trade featuring an expensive big—the right calf strain that has sidelined Kevin Love for most of this season precluded him from consideration—will be done for the theoretical on-court value he provides. Probably.
In which case the official prediction here is a team like the Charlotte Hornets, Dallas Mavericks, San Antonio Spurs or Toronto Raptors talking itself into Horford. I think.
Brooklyn Trades Spencer Dinwiddie
Nobody needs to worry about the Brooklyn Nets offense after the formation of their Big Three. Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving haven't played much in tandem (383 possessions so far), but they'll get buckets together. And separately. Lots and lots of buckets.
Brooklyn's defense is another story. It's 23rd in points allowed per possession and not built to be much better. (Its defense has actually been stingier with the three superstars on the court.) The rebounding, in particular, figures to remain a huge issue.
Acquiring another center or combo big who can sponge up reps at the 4 is a must. The Nets might count on the buyout market for frontcourt upgrades. Additions via the waiver wire always pan out better in theory than practice, but they may have a crack at Andre Drummond, Robin Lopez or someone else if they wait long enough.
Brokering a meaningful trade after all they gave up for Harden is ultra-difficult. It's not impossible. Spencer Dinwiddie's $11.5 million salary arms them with semi-sizable matching power.
I know what you're thinking: Dinwiddie is out for the season after tearing his right ACL and is expected to reach free agency this summer (player option). That does, in fact, limit Brooklyn's options. But some teams will see utility in landing Dinwiddie's Bird rights.
He turns 28 in April, which is a sweet spot for squads that plan on being competitive without any guarantee of contending for anything special—not too old, not too young. And though his offensive efficiency can be up-and-down, he's a capable playmaker who spent each of the past two seasons producing at a near-All-Star level.
Moving Dinwiddie now would equate to selling low. The Nets can accept that. It beats (probably) losing him for nothing in free agency. He has become superfluous following Harden's arrival. They can't reasonably invest another semi-massive contract into an offense-first player with Durant, Harden, Irving and Joe Harris all on the ledger.
What Brooklyn can get using Dinwiddie—plus second-rounders and potentially Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot or Landry Shamet—is anyone's guess.
Would an injured, soon-to-be-free-agent Dinwiddie be enough to anchor a package for an eventually healthy Aaron Gordon? Is it enough for Thaddeus Young? Too much? Is there a deal for Nemanja Bjelica and Richaun Holmes here somewhere? How much foresight is Memphis operating with? Would Jonas Valanciunas be on the table?
Take your pick of scenarios. Or add another one. The Nets are win-now enough for this prediction to stand.
Minnesota Trades Malik Beasley
Props to anyone who can figure out in which direction the Minnesota Timberwolves are traveling.
Surrendering this year's first-rounder (top-three protection) in the D'Angelo Russell trade last season suggests the organization tilts toward immediacy. But it currently has the league's worst winning percentage. Karl-Anthony Towns' return is already sparing the Wolves some pain. It won't suddenly turn them into a playoff threat.
And yet, having Towns at all obligates the Timberwolves to remain aggressive.
Does that entail trying to load up on more picks and prospects? Or going after a blockbuster-type acquisition or high-impact player who fills a painfully obvious void even though this season is likely lost? Do they dare throw the kitchen sink at the Washington Wizards and try to make a play for Bradley Beal? Are young players like Jarrett Culver and Anthony Edwards even interesting enough for their best offer to register?
Predicting that Malik Beasley will finish the year on another team is justifiable regardless of what the Timberwolves have in mind. His value is at an all-time high. He's clearing 20 points per game while downing 51.6 percent of his twos and 41.0 percent of his pull-up threes.
Just like that, Beasley's four-year, $60 million deal doesn't seem so steep. He is absolutely someone good teams should want on the roster—completely scalable on offense but with some off-the-bounce pizzazz to his game.
Minnesota might feel the same way. Except, it's not good. And Beasley isn't the answer to its biggest problem: defense. He can hold up versus some wings, but his physical tools have never fully translated to the less-glamorous end. He is also far from untouchable if the Timberwolves are at all married to Culver, Edwards and Josh Okogie over the long term.
Dealing Beasley would align with whatever type of approach is taken by Minnesota. Enter the deadline as sellers and he should command a first-round pick and semi-interesting young player. Opt to go after a star or idealistic Aaron Gordon-type fit and his salary would be money-matching divinity.