Blockbuster NBA Trades That Would Blow Up the 2021 Deadline
It may seem like we'll have to satisfy our NBA transaction fix by wondering about Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond buyouts (which...meh). But if this season has demonstrated anything, it's that we never really know when a big move is coming.
James Harden is on the Brooklyn Nets, for crying out loud. Do you really think that's where this season's earth-shaking moves will end?
Of course not.
The criteria here are simple. These trades have to work under cap rules, be at least remotely plausible and satisfy the blockbuster description. That means big names with landscape-altering potential switching teams.
All these guys have been the subject of rumors, but we don't need to tie these deals to a report. These are mostly speculative, which is the fun stuff we're all here for, right?
Bradley Beal to the Dubs
Golden State Warriors Get: Bradley Beal and Jerome Robinson (to match salary)
Washington Wizards Get: Andrew Wiggins, James Wiseman and a 2021 first-round pick (top-three protected, via Minnesota Timberwolves)
The Warriors don't seem likely to throw their top two trade assets—Wiseman and the Wolves' pick—into a win-now move. Head coach Steve Kerr was explaining his decision to remove Wiseman from the starting unit when he gave the following quote to the Athletic's Tim Kawakami, but it also applies to what seems like an organization-wide plan to stay as competitive as possible right now (so as not to waste Stephen Curry's prime) while still setting themselves up for the future:
"And the understanding from the very beginning has been, let's try to do both, why not? Let's try to be a playoff team, let's try to be as competitive as possible, and let's develop James because he's talented enough for us to do both. The trick is, you kind of have to thread the needle a little bit and you have to pick your spots."
The Warriors would remove the "have it both ways" option by giving up so much for Beal. But they would also get Bradley Freaking Beal, easily the best wing on the market and a player young enough (27) to give the team a boost now without foreclosing on some future glory years.
Imagine a 2021-22 closing group that includes Curry, Beal, Klay Thompson, Kelly Oubre Jr. (re-signed in this hypothetical) and Draymond Green. That's a scary bunch that could compete with anyone.
The Wizards' side of this is also complicated.
Per The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor: "Unless something changes between now and the deadline, Bradley Beal won't be available. All indications are that he and the Wizards front office will wait until the offseason to sort out their future."
Well, would the Dubs putting Wiseman and that blue-chip pick on the table count as something changing? It sure seems like it.
This would give the Wizards a way forward, allowing them to rebuild around Wiseman and another potential superstar in a loaded 2021 draft. And if the Wolves keep their top-three-protected selection, it becomes unprotected and potentially even more valuable in 2022. If anything, Washington might insist on Golden State building a package around Oubre's expiring deal and filler rather than taking on Wiggins' money.
Either way, the Warriors have the ability to make Washington a compelling offer.
And finally, since we're focusing on this particular deadline (and, by extension, this season), the jolt Beal could put into Golden State's offense would be massive. Curry is playing at an MVP level despite every opponent's scouting report basically saying "let anyone but this guy shoot." Imagine what he could do with the freedom Beal's presence would provide.
Myles Turner Lands in Miami
Miami Heat Get: Myles Turner
Indiana Pacers Get: Tyler Herro, Kelly Olynyk and a 2025 first-round pick (top-eight protected)
This amounts to the Pacers dealing Turner at what might be the peak of his value—painful, but perhaps the shrewdest move. Indy's big man leads the league in shot-blocking and should wind up among the top handful of candidates for Defensive Player of the Year if he keeps this up.
Indiana is thrashing opponents in the minutes Turner plays without fellow frontcourt star Domantas Sabonis, and it is losing the minutes those two play together. When Sabonis plays without Turner, the Pacers are also getting outscored. That might be the result of some noise as Indiana was very successful with Sabonis on and Turner off in 2019-20.
The point here is that the Pacers haven't exactly put concerns about allocation of positional resources to bed. It's still fair to wonder whether Indiana would be better off splitting up its two bigs via trade.
The Heat should jump on this as a Bam Adebayo-Turner pairing would have all the best elements of the occasionally clunky one between Sabonis and Turner in Indy, but with none of the drawbacks. Adebayo is a defensive menace—mobile, agile, intuitive and eminently switchable. That's basically the opposite of Sabonis.
Bam and Turner would snuff out everything between the arc and the rim. You'd be hard-pressed to find a better pair of defensive bigs anywhere in the league. Miami's stopping power would go through the roof, and Turner's ability to stretch the floor would only add punch on the other end. The Heat play Olynyk for his spacing; Turner offers that and so much more.
The price would be Herro, one of Miami's prized young players and a guy who, at least in terms of confidence and early success, could become a star. The Pacers have Malcolm Brogdon's steadiness and Caris LeVert's playmaking (eventually), but Herro's ability to play off the ball and create his own shot would give them a new dimension. He'd inevitably have clean dribble-handoff chemistry with Sabonis, too.
That 2025 first-rounder might not be enough of a sweetener (Olynyk's expiring deal is just filler), so the Pacers could be justified in asking for more. Kendrick Nunn or additional draft compensation from the Heat may have to be involved.
You run into this a lot with Turner, an excellent defensive big who doesn't clog the lane on offense, but his fit in Miami feels perfect. If the Pacers want to capitalize on his awesome start by balancing out their roster and turning the center minutes all the way over to Sabonis, Herro would be a great get who could quickly become the young face of the franchise.
Nikola Vucevic Slots in as Celtics' Center
Boston Celtics Get: Nikola Vucevic and a 2023 second-round pick (top-40 protected via New York Knicks)
Orlando Magic Get: 2023 first-round pick and 2025 first-round pick (unprotected via Boston Celtics)
New York Knicks Get: Daniel Theis
There are other ways to get Nikola Vucevic to the Boston Celtics that don't involve using Boston's massive $28.5 million trade exception, but this is the cleanest.
Orlando would get a pair of unprotected first-rounders for its 30-year-old center. Sure, Vooch is in the midst of a brilliant offensive season, posting averages of 24.1 points and 11.7 rebounds while hitting 40.5 percent of his threes on real volume. But step back from that and reconsider the first sentence of this paragraph.
Orlando is sinking to the bottom of the standings, has no clear path to success with its top two young talents (Jonathan Isaac and Markelle Fultz) facing serious health concerns going forward and has the opportunity to add a pair of firsts for a guy who isn't going to get it to the playoffs this season and is way too old to feature in any long-term winning plans.
Maybe Orlando can find a better offer somewhere else, but trading Vucevic for draft capital is objectively the right decision given where this franchise is right now.
We pulled the Knicks in because they're one of the only teams with cap space that can take in salary without sending any out, and Boston has to cut cash in order to fit Vucevic into the portion of the TPE it's allowed to use. The Celtics are hard-capped and can't actually take back a player making as much as Vucevic ($26 million) without shedding salary in another move.
Hence Theis and his expiring $5 million to the Knicks for a second-rounder that almost certainly won't convey. Technically, the Knicks-Celtics portion of this would have to be a separate transaction; New York and Orlando would have to exchange something so all parties involved would satisfy the "touching" requirement of three-team deals.
Theis is a quality big man, but Vucevic would obviously be the starter in Boston, and Robert Williams III should get the backup minutes. Grant Williams still gives the Celtics a small-ball 5 option, so Theis is expendable. Tristan Thompson should probably be atop Boston's list of trade candidates, as well. He's been a disappointment.
Big picture, Boston needs a jolt. It's 15-15 and owns a ho-hum offense that continues to stagnate in the clutch. Throw Vucevic in there and suddenly Boston would have a stretch option who can also work as a hub at the elbows. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown would have several new and exciting late-game scoring avenues with a true All-Star-level offensive weapon at the 5.
Boston would run into defensive issues against the best teams in the playoffs, but let's not get ahead of ourselves. If the Celtics want to play meaningful games deep into the postseason, they've got to get themselves in a better position right now. That'll require an offensive boost, and Vucevic would provide it in a big way.
Zach LaVine Puts Nuggets Offense over the Top
Denver Nuggets Get: Zach LaVine
Chicago Bulls Get: Gary Harris, Bol Bol, RJ Hampton, a 2021 first-round pick (unprotected) and swap rights with Denver on 2022 and 2024 first-round picks
It's tough to get anything consequential done with the Nuggets if you keep Michael Porter Jr. out of the transaction, but this is our best shot.
Zach LaVine is in the midst of a career season (so far) and now has to be regarded as one of the best pure scorers in the league. He's on pace to be one of six players in league history to average at least 28.0 points with a true shooting percentage north of 64.0 percent. He's also in his age-25 season and only makes $19.5 million in 2021-22, the final year of his deal.
That's why, without Porter involved, Chicago needs a pretty hefty package in return. Bol Bol and RJ Hampton are Denver's next-most-intriguing prospects, but they're a far cry from MPJ. The addition of an unprotected first and swap rights down the line might not be enough. Maybe the Nuggets would have to add another pick or two, though that'll be complicated by their obligations to the Oklahoma City Thunder, to whom they owe a protected 2023 first.
We're banking on the idea that Gary Harris has special appeal to Bulls president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas. He was the general manager in Denver when Harris signed his four-year, $84 million extension. Harris has lost the offensive game that helped earn him that extension, but he's still a good defender on the wing. Maybe a change of scenery and a reunion with an executive that clearly believed in him would get him going.
As great as LaVine's numbers have been, Karnisovas has to be aware of the fact that the Bulls' net rating has been worse with LaVine on the floor than off in three of the past four seasons. This year, the damage has been uglier than ever at minus-8.3 points per 100 possessions.
LaVine's potential impact on Denver is obvious: He'd turn one of the league's better offenses into one that could compete with the star-laden trio in Brooklyn for the offensive efficiency title. The Nuggets defense would take a hit, but that's already a weak spot.
Why not double down on scoring? That's working just fine for the Nets.
And yes, part of the appeal of this trade is the possibility of seeing Denver and Brooklyn face off in the Finals as both try to become the first team to score 200 points in a game.