Fresh Landing Spots for NBA's Top Available Trade Targets
If you subscribe to the theory that ball is life, then NBA trade talk might be your oxygen.
The only issue is it's such an overwhelming obsession that even hypothetical wheeling and dealing can get stale. Think of all the chatter you heard about James Harden and the Philadelphia 76ers. Or how often you're still hearing about Bradley Beal and the Miami Heat, Victor Oladipo and the New York Knicks or insert-big-man-here and the Boston Celtics.
Trades that aren't guaranteed to happen (and more often than not won't) are dissected from every angle until we're all analyzing in circles over one another. For as much as we all like breaking down hypothetical deals, the conversations can get mundane.
That's where this exercise comes in.
We're not just examining the best potentially available players—a label we'll apply rather liberally, although still within reason—on the market ahead of the March 25 trade deadline, but we're also finding fresh landing spots to put them.
Bradley Beal: Memphis Grizzlies
Let's get giddy, Grizzlies Nation.
We know the odds of a Beal deal aren't great—Fred Katz and Shams Charania of The Athletic reported Feb. 2 both the scoring leader and the Washington Wizards aren't interested in a trade—and even if one did go down, chances are he'd go somewhere other than Memphis.
Can you imagine Beal and Ja Morant in the same backcourt? The former is a premier point-producer who can also function as a primary playmaker. The latter is a top-shelf table setter who's also comfortable handling No. 1 scoring duties. Just stack their raw production on top of each other, and Memphis would have 52.7 points and 12.4 assists per game coming from its starting guard spots.
The Splash Brothers have never averaged that many points together. The Phoenix Suns are barely getting more assists out of Chris Paul and Devin Booker (13.2 per game).
And remember, we probably haven't seen Morant anywhere near his best. Add a healthy Jaren Jackson Jr. to the equation, and that could be a contending-caliber trio now with the chance to improve.
Should the Wizards field offers for Beal, the Grizzlies could make a compelling one. They can offer financial relief (Gorgui Dieng's $17.3 million expiring deal), draft considerations (any of their own firsts, plus incoming picks from Utah and Golden State) and any number of prospects (Xavier Tillman, Desmond Bane, De'Anthony Melton, Brandon Clarke).
Oh yeah, and the Grizzlies play on Beale Street. Seems like a signal from the basketball gods to get this done.
John Collins: Charlotte Hornets
Thanks to Rookie of the Year front-runner LaMelo Ball and worth-every-penny Gordon Hayward ($28.5 million for 2020-21), Buzz City has its buzz back.
What the Hornets still need, though, is a long-term answer at the 5. Cody Zeller and Bismack Biyombo will be unrestricted free agents at season's end, and Charlotte should be fine letting one or both move on. The Hornets have dabbled with the 6'7" P.J. Washington at center, but his lack of size can expose Charlotte on the interior, and he might work best as a do-it-all 4.
That would be especially true if he were logging minutes alongside John Collins, quite possibly the best-case-scenario solution to Charlotte's problem.
There might be ways to nitpick the fit, but why bother? The Hornets need a building-block big, and here's a 23-year-old, 6'9" combo big with career per-36-minutes averages of 20.7 points, 10.8 rebounds and 1.3 blocks. For context, four players possess a 20/10/1 stat line: Joel Embiid, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Christian Wood and Karl-Anthony Towns.
Collins has the bounce to finish lobs, the giddy-up to get out in transition and the three-ball needed to keep the middle clear of congestion (38.8 percent). There might be some defensive limitations, but the offensive ceiling for a Ball-Hayward-Collins-Terry Rozier quartet is the roof.
The Hawks are hoping for a "high first-round, lottery-level pick" if they move Collins, per Charania, and as long as the Hornets see the restricted-free-agent-to-be as a long-term keeper, they can justify that price.
Aaron Gordon: San Antonio Spurs
Free Aaron Gordon.
Whatever was supposed to happen between him and the Orlando Magic never did. They're buried in the Eastern Conference standings, and, when he's healthy, he's fighting off the notion he has already plateaued several tiers beneath stardom.
He has seemingly been on the trade block for years, and executives told ESPN's Tim Bontemps they think Gordon could find his way back there before the deadline.
If he does, the Spurs should have an aggressive offer at the ready. The explosive swingman could be the right developmental system away from making good on the promise that once made him the fourth pick of the 2014 draft.
"Gordon has shades of both Draymond [Green] and Blake [Griffin] in his skill set," The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor wrote. "The Magic have gone through so much organizational change since Gordon was drafted that it's not one person's fault he hasn't received enough opportunities to explore that part of his game. Another team should give him a chance."
San Antonio should be that team. The Spurs have substantial perimeter weaponry for their next chapter (Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, Keldon Johnson and Lonnie Walker IV), but they could use a difference-maker up front. If Gordon were used exclusively as a small-ball big shifting between the 4 and 5 spots, he could make that kind of impact as an athletic finisher, versatile stopper and sneaky-good secondary passer.
Victor Oladipo: Denver Nuggets
This probably wouldn't be the ideal deadline ending for Victor Oladipo or the Denver Nuggets. He's had eyes on South Beach for a while, per ESPN's Brian Windhorst, and the Nuggets would get the most mileage out of a Beal blockbuster.
But first choices aren't always on the table, and this could be a worthwhile compromise for both.
With Jamal Murray catching fire (28.5 points on 55.4/47.0/92.5 shooting his last dozen outings) and Michael Porter Jr. finally getting major minutes (30.8 his last 15 contests), the Nuggets are assembling their championship argument. But it still hits a soft spot at the wings. Gary Harris is constantly battling injuries and in a three-year shooting funk. Will Barton has regressed from last season.
The Nuggets need a spark at the 2, and while Oladipo wouldn't be Beal, he also shouldn't cost nearly as much. Between Oladipo's recent injury issues, shooting woes (39.7/32.6/77.3 since 2019-20) and upcoming unrestricted free agency, the Rockets probably aren't getting a good draft pick or a highly regarded prospect.
Would Harris and a few second-rounders get it done? Perhaps with PJ Dozier as a sweetener? If the cost isn't much more than that, the Nuggets should pull the trigger.
Oladipo would add another shot-creator and beef up their point-of-attack defense. In turn, his percentages should rise by handling a lighter workload and having better spacing for his off-the-bounce attacks. Use him as a fourth option behind Nikola Jokic, Murray and Porter (or maybe a 3A/3B situation with Porter), and Oladipo could shine—on a big stage, right before he hits the open market.
It could be a win-win, and if the Rockets aren't keeping Oladipo, they might be winners, too, for getting younger at the guard spot and adding draft considerations.
Nikola Vucevic: Chicago Bulls
The Orlando Magic haven't shown a willingness to move Nikola Vucevic, but several teams reportedly hope that happens.
"The Heat, Spurs, Celtics and Hornets have all expressed significant interest in acquiring All-Star center Nikola Vucevic," O'Connor wrote. "... Front office executives around the league are skeptical that the Magic will end up pulling the trigger on a deal, though, given that Vucevic has two more seasons left on his contract; if they do, the price would be high."
This is when some members of the Bulls fanbase might question the franchise's readiness to pay a high price in any trade. To them, we'd say, "Live a little."
OK, it's more complex than that, but aren't you curious where this group could go with another All-Star scorer? Vucevic is as productive as it gets at center. His per-game production is up to 24.6 points, 11.6 rebounds and 3.7 assists, and the former inside-the-arc scorer is now a full-fledged net-shredder from long range (2.7 triples per night at a 41.2 percent clip).
Get him in the same offense as Zach LaVine—a nightly contributor of 28.7 points, 5.1 assists and 3.5 triples—and the Bulls would already be forcing defenses into pick-your-poison scenarios. That's before factoring in Lauri Markkanen (19.1 points, 2.9 threes), Coby White (16.2 points, 5.0 assists) or whomever else Chicago could keep out of this blockbuster.
If the Bulls aren't going to sell LaVine at an astronomical price at the deadline, then they should focus on finding him more help. Vooch moves the needle in a way no one else on Chicago's roster does. Getting him could be the Bulls' ticket to bypassing the play-in tournament and securing a top-six postseason seed.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.