Playing 'Trade or Keep' with NBA's Top Trade Assets

Greg Swartz@@CavsGregBRCleveland Cavaliers Lead WriterMarch 23, 2021

Playing 'Trade or Keep' with NBA's Top Trade Assets

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    With the NBA trade deadline just days away, teams that own some of the league's most coveted assets will have to decide on exactly who or what is untouchable.

    Trade assets can be a number of things, from players to draft picks to even large exceptions. Anything that can be a team's key to obtaining a superstar, typically.

    For the teams lucky enough to employ or own the following assets, it's time to sift through which ones are worth parting with this season for win-now help vs. holding on to in order to use at a later date.

Gary Trent Jr., SG, Portland Trail Blazers

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    Craig Mitchelldyer/Associated Press

    While proving to be an enticing talent during his first two NBA seasons off the Blazers bench, the chance at a starting job this season should have put Gary Trent Jr. near the top of every young team's wish list.

    Just 22, Trent started 23 games for an injured CJ McCollum and played beautifully next to Damian Lillard. He put up 18.0 points, 2.5 rebounds, 1.2 steals and 0.8 turnovers per game while shooting 39.7 percent from three and looked like one of the league's up-and-coming scorers who's got a terrific pair of role models to follow.

    Now with McCollum back, however, Trent has moved back to the bench, an area he'll likely remain if he re-signs with the Blazers in restricted free agency this offseason. McCollum, 29, is under contract until 2024.

    As much as Portland can use his scoring off the bench, Trent should definitely be on the table in trade talks if the Blazers can acquire a star forward or center to help their backcourt win now. Lillard is 30, and like McCollum, playing the best basketball of his life.

    Using Trent, Anfernee Simons or Nassir Little to help bring in a third star has to be under consideration, especially if Portland can land a player like John Collins, DeMar DeRozan, Nikola Vucevic or Aaron Gordon. The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor reported that the Blazers have already talked about a Gordon trade with Orlando.

    Keeping Trent means giving him a big contract extension this offseason, something the Blazers may not want to do for a reserve. Moving him now would help bring in a star, one who better fits the team's positional needs.

    Verdict: Trade

James Wiseman, C, Golden State Warriors

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    The No. 2 overall pick in the draft, James Wiseman has put together the kind of rookie season most would expect from a 19-year-old. While he's done little to help the team win now, it's easy to see his potential as a two-way force for the next decade-plus with more experience.

    Unfortunately, this is a Golden State team that can't afford to be patient for too long.

    Stephen Curry just celebrated his 33rd birthday, with Draymond Green and Klay Thompson both turning 31 earlier this year. The title window is closing, and a 22-21 record has the Warriors currently outside of the playoffs altogether.

    Golden State has actually been better with Wiseman off the court this season, as evidenced by the rookie's minus-10.6 on/off rating. The Warriors are under .500 (15-16) in games Wiseman starts, compared to 7-5 when he comes off the bench.

    As tempting as it would be to trade Wiseman for veteran help now, the Warriors should at least wait until they get a healthy Thompson back. This current team has no chance of winning a championship without Thompson, meaning developing Wiseman and getting his stock up as either the franchise's center of the future or trade bait for the offseason is the right decision.

    Verdict: Keep (at least until the offseason)

Boston Celtics $28.5 Million Trade Exception

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    Charles Krupa/Associated Press

    While a trade exception is actually quite common, the one the Celtics created via the Gordon Hayward sign-and-trade is unique given that it's the largest in NBA history ($28.5 million).

    Boston can either use all or part of it now, or choose to wait until this offseason or even into next year. The exception won't expire until Nov. 29, 2021, so the Celtics have options before it expires completely.

    Given that Boston is hard capped this season, however, only $19.9 million of the exception can be used if the Celtics don't send any salary back in return.

    So who to target? President of basketball operations Danny Ainge has gone on record saying that he's looking for "shooting with size" to upgrade a Celtics team that have woefully underperformed with a 21-21 overall record this season.

    Harrison Barnes, Jerami Grant and Taurean Prince are all combo forwards who stand 6'7" or taller and shoot 35.4 percent or better from three this season. LaMarcus Aldridge can play power forward or center and has developed into a three-point threat, and while JJ Redick doesn't have the size, he should be available and is knocking down 39.8 percent of his catch-and-shoot threes still at age 36.

    No matter who the Celtics target, it's clear they need some help at the deadline.

    Boston is just 20th in defense this season (112.1 rating) after finishing fourth last year and are in real danger of getting jumped by the New York Knicks, Charlotte Hornets and Indiana Pacers in the standings.

    The Celtics don't need to spend every penny of the exception, but not using at least a significant chunk to bring in talent at the deadline would be a mistake.

    Verdict: Trade

Tyler Herro, G, Miami Heat

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    While Tyler Herro looked untouchable as he was torching opponents as a rookie in the bubble last year, his play has cooled as a sophomore (while still looking like a future star).

    Now 21, Herro is averaging 15.3 points, 5.5 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 0.7 steals in 32 games, 14 as a starter. While the raw numbers are terrific for someone his age, Herro's true shooting has actually gone down in Year 2 (55.0 percent to 52.5 percent), and the Heat continue to be worse with him on the floor (minus-5.1 on/off rating).

    Miami is good enough to win now with Jimmy Butler, 31, leading the way, but it also possesses a nice collection of young talent with Herro, Bam Adebayo (23), Kendrick Nunn (25), Duncan Robinson (26) and Precious Achiuwa (21).

    This puts the Heat in a difficult position. Wait too long for players like Herro to hit their prime and risk Butler falling out of his, or trade Herro for win-now help and risk him turning into a superstar in a different jersey.

    Miami needs to draw a line in the sand with who it would be willing to part with Herro for. While The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor reported the Toronto Raptors would require either Herro or Robinson in a trade for Kyle Lowry, that's far too high a price to pay for a soon-to-be 35-year-old point guard who will hit free agency in a few months.

    Miami should only trade Herro for Bradley Beal, or another star of his level should they become available.

    If none hit the market, keeping Herro and letting his game develop is the right choice.

    Verdict: Keep (unless you can get Bradley Beal)

Aaron Gordon, F, Orlando Magic

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    Gordon is perhaps the most interesting prospect who has popped up in trade rumors this deadline.

    Despite now playing in his seventh season, Gordon is somehow just 25 and playing the best basketball of his career. There's still plenty of upside there, despite his value as a win-now piece who contenders should be targeting.

    Gordon is someone the Magic could use as a trade piece to try to get a bigger star or simply recoup picks and/or young players for.

    As ESPN's Brian Windhorst noted on SportsCenter:

    "Aaron Gordon is the name I'm hearing most often as the top guy out there. A number of teams have contacted the Magic with offers and their ask is pretty high here. They're looking for multiple first-round picks or a first-round pick and another young player. It's not 100 percent certain that Gordon is going to get moved, they could move him this summer, but keep an eye on this guy because he could make a difference for some teams. With one year left on his contract too, he would also be in line for maybe getting a contract extension if he gets traded."

    Despite becoming one of the better all-around forwards in the game, Gordon hasn't helped transform Orlando into a winner. Since he was drafted in 2014, the Magic have won two total playoff games, finishing with a record above .500 (42-40 in 2018-19) just once.

    Part of the reason Gordon is thriving this season (14.7 points, 6.8 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 40.2 percent from three) is his ability to play power forward on a regular basis since Jonathan Isaac is missing the season with a torn ACL. The two have never been a great fit on the floor together, meaning next season will once again present a logjam in the frontcourt when Isaac returns.

    Gordon's value has likely never been higher, meaning the 14-28 Magic need to move him now.

    Verdict: Trade

Minnesota Timberwolves 2021 First-Round Pick (Owned by Golden State Warriors)

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    Robert Franklin/Associated Press

    The second top trade asset owned by the Warriors, Golden State has the rights to the Minnesota Timberwolves' 2021 first-rounder (top-three protected), one that turns into a 2022 unprotected pick if not conveyed this year.

    As it stands, Minnesota has the worst record in the NBA. That means a 14.0 percent chance at the No. 1 overall pick and a 52.1 percent likelihood that it falls in the top four overall, according to Tankathon.

    The Warriors had the worst overall record a year ago and ended up with the No. 2 overall pick. The year before, the New York Knicks were last and finished with the third selection. If Minnesota finishes with a bottom-three record (which looks extremely likely), there's a good chance the Warriors won't get to collect the pick until next year.

    So what does this mean for the trade deadline?

    Teams willing to move a star player in return for the Wolves' pick would have to accept that Cade Cunningham, Evan Mobley and one other young star won't be available, even though this draft has plenty of remaining talent at the top. There's always a chance at the No. 1 overall pick in 2022 as well.

    For the Warriors, many of the same principles surrounding the James Wiseman dilemma apply here.

    This isn't a team ready to win a title this year without Klay Thompson, so going all-in now seems questionable, especially when there are no superstars seemingly on the trade market.

    Waiting for this offseason would be far more beneficial, when the next wave of disgruntled stars (Karl-Anthony Towns?) may emerge.

    For now, the Warriors should keep the pick and reevaluate their options in the offseason.

    Verdict: Keep

Michael Porter Jr., F, Denver Nuggets

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    Associated Press

    Having only just surpassed a full NBA season in experience (87 games), Michael Porter Jr. is becoming the third star that Denver has needed alongside Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic.

    Porter's recent play (20.3 points, 9.7 rebounds, 61.6 percent shooting overall, 49.0 percent from three over his last nine games before Sunday's defeat to the New Orleans Pelicans) has his stock at an all-time high, especially given that he won't turn 23 until this summer.

    If the Nuggets wanted to make a serious run at Bradley Beal or any other established star, Porter would be the piece to build an offer around.

    As tempting as that may be, however, Denver doesn't need to be in a hurry to make major changes to its core.

    Jokic is 26, Murray is 24 and players like R.J. Hampton (20) and Bol Bol (21) have a lot of upside that may take years to reach. All are under contract for multiple seasons, so there's no worry about anyone bolting in free agency.

    The Nuggets star trio is working together as well, posting a devastating net rating of plus-15.1 in 564 total minutes together this season before Sunday's matchup with the Pelicans.

    Porter is getting more comfortable and has room to grow with his playmaking and defense. Holding on to him at least until next year should only send his stock higher, thus allowing Denver to give up less in any potential superstar trades. The Nuggets are playing well lately (8-2 in their last 10), so there's no reason to part with Porter now.

    Verdict: Keep