Playing Trade or Keep with NBA's Trade Block Stars
Should they stay, or should they go?
NBA teams with the most coveted players need to answer that question ahead of the March 25 trade deadline.
With the play-in tournament offering more postseason hopes than ever before, the group of obvious sellers is as shallow as a kiddie pool. On the other hand, the list of potential buyers is as deep as an ocean, though it's tough to tell how many have enough assets to broker a blockbuster since many are facing tight restrictions in terms of trading draft picks.
On the other other hand, the 2021 free-agent market seems like it will be flush with cash and light on impact players. That means major purchases that might normally be made in the offseason could instead go down midseason—provided major players are made available.
There are a decent number of notable names bouncing around the trade market, which makes it a perfect time to fire up a round of "Trade Or Keep" with the best players involved in that chatter. For clarity, this is advice on how these players should be handled, not a prediction of whether they will be moved.
Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards
The Washington Wizards are 7-2 in their past nine games, but they're still only 12th in the Eastern Conference at 13-19. Despite near nightly brilliance from NBA scoring leader Bradley Beal, Washington sits only 20th in offensive efficiency. Considering the club fares even worse on defense (27th), the Wizards are almost solely reliant on point production to put anything in the win column.
Beal is emptying his bag of tricks to make that happen, but he can only do so much when the rest of the roster provides inadequate support. To that end, Sunday's collapse against the Boston Celtics—a game the Wizards led by eight points in the final three minutes and five with 44 seconds to go—marked the fifth time this season that Washington has lost a game in which Beal has scored 39-plus points.
The next Wizards' win when Beal clears that threshold would be their first.
"I'm pissed off, man," Beal said afterward, per Chase Hughes of NBC Sports Washington.
Beal's frustration won't go away without a change of address. The Wizards don't have enough talent around him to change their fate, and there aren't enough up-and-comers rising through the pipeline to fill that void.
Washington won't fix its roster deficiencies without a serious upgrade in assets. Those assets can only make it to the District through a Beal trade.
Zach LaVine, Chicago Bulls
The arguments for trading Zach LaVine are plentiful and compelling.
His career stats say he's punching above his weight class—28.7 points on a 52.4/44.2/85.7 slash line—meaning his trade value has never been higher. If Beal is off the market, LaVine might be the best trade target available, so Chicago could name its price. And while the Bulls have shown more fight this year than they have in recent seasons, this isn't a championship contender by any stretch of the imagination (they're 15-17 and have the league's 18th-best net rating).
However, the arguments to keep him in the Windy City might be even stronger.
Having him around doesn't stunt the development of the Bulls' younger players. If anything, those players can breathe easier having a scoring, shooting and secondary playmaking threat like LaVine on the floor. Chicago is heavily invested in its youth, as five of its top six players in minutes per game are 25 and under. That includes LaVine, who turns 26 on March 10, meaning he's young enough to keep and develop with this core.
Because there are so many young guns getting major minutes, the arrow is pointing up for this franchise. That gives the Bulls some flexibility with LaVine. They can play out this campaign, see how far it goes—they currently have a ticket to the play-in tournament—and then reassess, if needed, over the offseason.
If Chicago likes where this is headed, it can factor a 2022 max contract for LaVine into its future financial plan, which is as flexible as they come. If it doesn't see its ceiling stretching quite high enough to justify that commitment, it could shop him next season, when he could have a robust group of suitors as an All-Star scorer with a modest (and expiring) $19.5 million salary.
If a deadline buyer wants to knock the Bulls' socks off with an eye-popping offer, they should plan on going sock shopping as soon as the deal is done. At a realistic price point, though, LaVine looks more valuable to the Bulls as a building block than a trade chip.
Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors
Sentimentality runs strong in the Association, but it has no place in the frigid business world that is the trade market. So, as hard as it might be when discussing the potential subtraction of a franchise icon like Kyle Lowry, we'll leave all the #Feelz out of the equation.
Lowry's name seemed likely to hit the rumor mill, as the 34-year-old is on the final season of his contract and the Raptors look a tier removed from full-fledged contention. ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski said "the possibility exists" for a Lowry trade, though he cautioned, "I would still be surprised to see Kyle Lowry in any uniform other than a Raptors' this season."
If Toronto loses faith in its 2020-21 outlook, then it might have to poke around to see what's available for its plucky point guard. If the Raptors are ready to hand their offense over to Fred VanVleet, who inked a four-year, $85 million pact this offseason, then they'd already have their succession plan at the position.
But abandoning the upcoming title chase might be premature. Sure, the Raptors don't look like tier-1 heavyweights, but they do have a top-10 net rating, and they went 9-5 in the month of February with wins over the Nets (in Brooklyn), the Bucks (in Milwaukee—twice) and the 76ers.
It's not like they're wasting VanVleet by putting him in the same backcourt as Lowry, and the more burden that Lowry carries, the less pressure there is on Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby and Norman Powell. Lowry's massive $30.5 million salary also isn't easy to move, and if a trade forced Toronto to take back any long-term money, that could tie its hands going forward.
The Lowry rumblings might be easily understood, but that doesn't make a trade advisable.
Victor Oladipo, Houston Rockets
This seems obvious.
Before Victor Oladipo even had time to settle in to Space City, The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor reported the 2-guard had "landed in another place he doesn't want to be." Oladipo has some control over his situation, too, since he's headed to unrestricted free agency at season's end after recently declining a two-year, $45.2 million extension from the Rockets, per Wojnarowski.
Houston is in the middle of an organizational transition. Since the end of 2019-20, the team has split from Russell Westbrook, James Harden, former head coach Mike D'Antoni and former general manager Daryl Morey. More movement feels imminent as the Rockets restructure around 25-year-old center Christian Wood.
The Rockets went on a mini-run after the Beard blockbuster, but that momentum halted in early February when Wood suffered an ankle injury. They're now stuck in a 12-game losing streak (with nine of those losses decided by double digits), and they have tumbled to 24th in net rating.
Oladipo, who wants a longer-term deal, per Wojnarowski, has had a choppy campaign after having most of the previous two seasons erased by a knee injury. He has worked around both rest and injuries this season, posting decent volume production (19.4 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.6 assists) but lacking his normal efficiency (40.3/32.3/74.7 slash line).
If there aren't many stars made available in trades, he might still be regarded as such by win-now clubs scrambling to add impact pieces. If Houston can bring back multiple assets to grease the gears of its reshuffling, that would almost certainly be the right move to make.
Kristaps Porzingis, Dallas Mavericks
Dallas Mavericks governor Mark Cuban said last week that the team has "not discussed" Kristaps Porzingis "in a trade at all," per Brad Townsend of the Dallas Morning News. ESPN's Marc J. Spears said otherwise.
"No matter what you're hearing them say, keep an eye on Kristaps Porzingis," Spears said on The Jump. "He is somebody that Dallas is shopping because of salary, injuries and, as one scout said, 'high-maintenance issues.'"
The Mavericks haven't lived up to expectations this season despite getting MVP-level play from Luka Doncic. They're almost assuredly gauging the trade market on several fronts. It just doesn't do them any favors to publicly admit that.
Porzingis had been limited to just 18 appearances heading into Monday, and his injury history is terrifying when combined with the massive money he's still owed ($29.5 million this season, $101.5 million over the next three).
When he makes it to the hardwood, he hasn't resembled a championship-level sidekick. He has mostly been himself offensively (20.4 points with a 57.6 true shooting percentage), but he's never been worse defensively. That's how the stat sheet sees things (112 defensive rating, minus-1.1 defensive box plus/minus), and the eye test sees the same through his lumbering movements and lack of mobility.
Perhaps this all sounds like incentive to seek out a trade, but any stock trader could tell you the Mavs need to hold. Selling Porzingis now could equate to trading him for pennies on the dollar. Unless they think he's permanently damaged goods, they have to give him time to get his legs back under him.
When that happens, they can then debate whether he's the right running mate for Doncic or not.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.