Offseason Trade Ideas for NBA's Most Hopeless Teams
Hope is fading for many NBA teams, as losses pile up and dreams of even making the play-in tournament start to feel far-fetched.
Hope springs eternal each offseason, of course, with franchises already dreaming up deals that can improve their outlooks.
For the six teams with the worst records in the NBA (excluding the Oklahoma City Thunder since those 34 draft picks in the next seven drafts carry a LOT of hope), the following moves can get them a little closer to playoff contention or at least lay a better foundation for a rebuild.
Cleveland Cavaliers and Minnesota Timberwolves
Cleveland Cavaliers Receive: G/F Jarrett Culver, PG Ricky Rubio
Minnesota Timberwolves Receive: PF Taurean Prince, SF Cedi Osman, 2022 second-round pick (via Houston Rockets)
Can two of the NBA's worst teams actually help each other?
For the guard-heavy Wolves and the talent-needy Cavs, yes they can.
The Cavs were "doing due diligence" on Culver before the March 25 trade deadline, per The Athletic's Jon Krawczynski, and Cleveland previously brought him in for a private workout and dinner before the 2019 NBA draft.
The 22-year-old guard/forward's playing time has been slashed to just 15 minutes per game in his sophomore season because of the Wolves' newfound depth on the wing, headlined by star rookie Anthony Edwards. In Cleveland, Culver would have a bigger role backing up both Collin Sexton and Isaac Okoro, especially with Osman and Prince now gone.
Rubio would fill the veteran backup point guard role for the Cavs behind Darius Garland, running the second unit offense. As beloved as Matthew Dellavedova is in Cleveland, Rubio would be a huge upgrade.
For the Wolves, Prince is good enough to win the starting power forward job. The 27-year-old is averaging 10.3 points on 42.5 percent shooting from three in 26 games with Cleveland and can defend multiple positions.
Osman is a versatile backup who can play anything from shooting guard to power forward. His upside isn't as high as Culver's, but he can play a big role off the bench from Day 1 for a Minnesota team that needs to start winning.
The Cavs own three second-round picks in the 2022 NBA draft, so sending one to the Wolves to help facilitate the trade isn't a big deal.
Detroit Pistons Receive: C Jaxson Hayes, G Eric Bledsoe
New Orleans Pelicans Receive: G/F Josh Jackson, C Mason Plumlee, PG Cory Joseph
Jerami Grant would bring the most return in a trade, but Detroit shouldn't be in any hurry to part with its leading scorer and 2020 free-agent prize.
Building up the young talent base is priority No. 1. The Pistons need players who can complement point guard Killian Hayes and small forward Saddiq Bey.
Hayes is a raw, high-upside center who's destined for a backup role with the New Orleans Pelicans as long as Steven Adams is around. With Plumlee moved, Hayes could compete for the starting center job in Detroit. Still just 20, Hayes was the No. 8 overall pick in the 2019 draft and has averaged 15.6 points, 8.9 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per 36 minutes for his career while shooting 66.7 percent from the field.
Bledsoe can play a mentor role for Hayes and is only under contract for one more season ($18.1 million in 2021-22), as his $19.4 million salary in 2022-23 is only has $3.9 million guaranteed.
For New Orleans, Bledsoe has become an unnecessary part of a backcourt that's trying to get younger. Moving him saves some money and opens up more playing time for guys like Kira Lewis Jr. and Nickeil Alexander-Walker.
Plumlee is enjoying the best season of his career (10.3 points, 9.1 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 60.5 percent shooting overall) and would help New Orleans win immediately as the backup center.
Jackson is averaging 13.0 points per game for Detroit this season and can guard multiple positions, while Joseph is on an expiring deal (only $2.4 million out of $12.6 million is guaranteed if he's waived before June 30).
The Pistons will get a high-upside prospect, while New Orleans will add some win-now pieces.
Houston Rockets Receive: SF Kelly Oubre Jr. (via sign-and-trade)
Golden State Warriors Receive: G/F Eric Gordon
The Rockets are diving headfirst into a rebuild, one that can be accelerated with a top-four pick in this year's draft and some smart offseason trades.
While Gordon has enjoyed a successful five-year run in Houston (including a Sixth Man of the Year Award in 2016-17), at 32, he no longer fits the team's timeline. Moving off his contract (two years, $37.8 million in guaranteed money) would be a smart move for the Rockets as well.
Oubre, 25, is an athletic scorer who would form a dangerous combo with Kevin Porter Jr. on Houston's wing. A deal that averages around $15 million in annual salary would match up closely with that of Gordon's and allow a sign-and-trade to go through. While Oubre may have hesitations about jumping from a playoff contender to a rebuild, the Rockets can offer him a far bigger role (especially with Klay Thompson returning to Golden State), and the move offers him a homecoming of sorts (Oubre spent parts of his childhood in Texas and Louisiana).
While Oubre hasn't been a perfect fit for the Warriors, losing him for nothing in free agency would be devastating to Golden State's roster flexibility. The Warriors need a base salary to match money in any future star trades, a role Gordon's contract could now fill.
Gordon would also be a usable rotation piece for a Golden State team that's been stripped of its depth over the past few years. In 27 games this season, he is averaging 17.8 points in just 29.2 minutes, splitting his time between starter and reserve.
Houston will add to its young talent base while shedding the team's second-worst contract (outside of John Wall), while the Warriors will get a good sixth man and no longer have to worry about losing Oubre for nothing.
Orlando Magic Receive: SF Devin Vassell
San Antonio Spurs Receive: C Mo Bamba
Trading Nikola Vucevic was supposed to finally free Bamba, but the Magic have kept him on the bench in favor of Wendell Carter Jr. Both Carter and Bamba will be restricted free agents after next season, so it's highly unlikely the team will want to pay both.
With Carter as the starter, it's time to look to move Bamba for a better-fitting prospect, especially one at small forward.
Enter Vassell, the 11th overall pick in the 2020 draft by San Antonio. A two-way star at Florida State, Vassell has received limited playing time (16.5 minutes per game) behind the Spurs' plethora of talented wings (Keldon Johnson, Lonnie Walker IV, Derrick White).
Just 20 years old, Vassell could become Orlando's franchise small forward, as he's already hitting threes at a 39.2 percent clip and has outstanding defensive potential.
After buying out LaMarcus Aldridge and with Rudy Gay becoming a free agent this offseason, San Antonio will suddenly be thin up front.
Bamba has been productive in limited time (19.5 points, 12.4 rebounds, 2.8 blocks per 36 minutes this season), shooting 25-of-65 (38.5 percent) from three.
Both players have better chances at thriving in their new locations thanks to the makeup of the rosters.
Washington Wizards Receive: C Myles Turner
Indiana Pacers Receive: F Deni Avdija, C Thomas Bryant, right to swap 2021 first-round picks (top-five protected)
If the Wizards hold on to Bradley Beal (which they probably will) and don't receive any trade interest in Russell Westbrook (which they probably won't), then they need to look at upgrading the roster around them, even if it means giving up on some young talent.
Washington has been held back for years by a lackluster defense (26th this season with a 113.1 rating), an area Turner would certainly improve. The 6'11" center is an elite rim protector who can also keep the floor spread with his three-point shooting.
Getting Turner out of Indiana won't come cheap, of course. Washington has to hope the Pacers (26-29 overall) miss the playoffs and decide to shake up the roster.
Avdija would be the centerpiece of the return. The No. 9 overall pick in the 2020 draft can play either forward position, and at just 20 years old, he is a high-IQ forward who can guard multiple positions at 6'9". And he can play in big and small lineups, with Domantas Sabonis moving back and forth between power forward and center.
Bryant, 23, gives the Pacers a center to help partially fill the shoes of Turner. While currently out for the season with a torn ACL, Bryant was averaging 14.3 points and 6.1 rebounds per game while shooting 64.8 percent from the field and 42.9 percent from three.
The Pacers would also receive the right to swap first-round picks (top-five protected), as the Wizards sit five spots higher in projected draft position (seventh to 12th).
Washington would go all-in for a shot at the playoffs, while Indiana would reload with some younger talent and a better first-round pick.