Quick-Fix Trades for NBA's Worst Teams This Offseason
Between flattened lottery odds and an expanded postseason field by way of the play-in tournament, the NBA has made moves to limit its number of bottom-feeders.
Those efforts appear to be working.
Just six teams have a winning percentage south of .400, and only the James Harden-less Houston Rockets are below .300. Ten years ago, in 2010-11, the Eastern Conference alone had four clubs saddled with sub-.300 winning percentages, and the Western Conference had two more.
Most modern cellar-dwellers either planned to be in this spot or begrudgingly accepted their fate. That means they probably won't spend their summer in search of the fast-forward button.
But we aren't the most patient bunch, so we'll speed up the process with a quick-fix trade option for the bottom six that positions them for competitiveness next season or shortly thereafter. Since a big chunk of 2021-22 payrolls are unsettled, we're worried less about matching every dollar than we are about building the primary foundation for these get-better-soon swaps.
Cleveland Cavaliers receive: Andrew Wiggins
Golden State Warriors receive: Kevin Love and 2021 first-round pick (top-five protected)
That's right, folks, we're finally getting Andrew Wiggins back to Cleveland—and shipping out the player he was traded for too.
In 2014, the Cavs made Wiggins the first overall pick in June, signed LeBron James soon after and flipped Wiggins to the Minnesota Timberwolves for more win-now support in the form of Kevin Love. But now, Cleveland would pounce the chance to have Wiggins beef up its wing collection while dumping an apparently over-it Love—plus the $60.2 million he'll collect the next two seasons.
For Cleveland, this is about creating balance. The Cavs could reasonably decide they have 80 percent of their starting five assembled with Collin Sexton and Darius Garland in the backcourt, Isaac Okoro on the wing and Jarrett Allen manning the middle. Wiggins could fill the other forward spot, which could be more valuable to this franchise than a top-five-protected pick in a draft with a five-player tier at the top.
Cleveland could be speedy and electric in the open court and potentially ferocious defensively in the frontcourt. If the Cavs could squeeze enough shooting out of this quintet—Wiggins' career-best 37.7 percent connection rate is encouraging on that front—they'd be a plucky matchup.
For Golden State, the appeal is twofold. The first, and most important, is creating more avenues to another blockbuster. The Warriors need to give Stephen Curry more support than a 31-year-old Klay Thompson can provide after two serious leg injuries. The pick could bring back a bigger prize than Wiggins, so it increases Golden State's buying power on the trade market.
The other is Love's fit with the veteran core. If he's rejuvenated by returning to a contender, his long-range shooting and playmaking should fit right in with what the Warriors want to do. Curry needs more offensive help, and if the Dubs view this as Wiggins for the pick, they're basically getting it for free (well, free beyond Love's outstanding contract cost, at least).
Detroit Pistons receive: Buddy Hield
Sacramento Kings receive: Mason Plumlee, Sekou Doumbouya, 2021 second-round pick (via CHA) and 2021 second-round pick (via TOR)
The Pistons aren't good now, but star forward Jerami Grant has a crystal ball saying they will be soon.
"It's not a rebuild—it's not three or four years into the future; we're looking forward to doing something big next year," Grant said, per Rod Beard of the Detroit News.
If the Pistons want to prove Grant prescient, they need more shooting. They misfire at every level, ranking 24th from the field, 20th from range and 19th at the line.
Enter Buddy Hield. Mr. Buckets makes the short list of the league's elite snipers, splashing a career-best 4.0 triples per game at a 39.3 percent clip this season. Get him to the Motor City, and there would instantly be wider attack lanes for Grant, Josh Jackson and Killian Hayes to probe, plus more room in the post for Isaiah Stewart to throw his body around.
Bake in a healthy amount of development for Detroit's youngsters, and this squad could challenge for a play-in tournament ticket next season.
As for Sacramento, it's hard to tell how thrilled this club is about owing Hield $62.5 million over the next three seasons. That's a big chunk of change for essentially a one-skill specialist with an exactly average 15.0 career player efficiency rating.
This would get Hield's money off the books right before De'Aaron Fox's max extension kicks in, add stability at center with Mason Plumlee (either in tandem with or replacement of impending free agent Richaun Holmes) and fetch a physically gifted 20-year-old prospect in Sekou Doumbouya. Tack on a few second-rounders and a little extra—the Pistons aren't quite sending out enough financially—and maybe there's enough for Sacramento to bite.
Houston Rockets receive: Kelly Oubre Jr. (sign-and-trade)
Golden State Warriors receive: Eric Gordon
While it would behoove Houston to sink down the standings and fight like mad to keep its top-four protected pick, the Rockets aren't interested in racing to the bottom beyond this season.
"We'll be aggressive on the trade market, and we'll be aggressive on the free-agency market, but at the same time, trying to build really smart," general manager Rafael Stone told SportsTalk 790 (h/t Rockets Wire's Ben DuBose). "We do think we can be competitive very quickly."
Houston could try adding Kelly Oubre Jr. to its long-term nucleus. Throw him on the hardwood with John Wall, Kevin Porter Jr., Jae'Sean Tate and Christian Wood, and that's a ton of length, athleticism and two-way versatility to work with.
Oubre's first season in Golden State has been hit-or-miss, but he's only a year removed from giving the Phoenix Suns 18.7 points per night on 45.2/35.2/78.0 shooting. Get that version of Oubre to Space City—on an annual salary in the $12 million to $15 million range—and Houston could be a headache for opponents in 2021-22.
If Golden State isn't keen on keeping Oubre in free agency, this would ensure he doesn't walk for nothing and instead brings back the spark-plug scorer this roster needs.
Eric Gordon would scratch itches for support scoring, shooting and shot-creation. He's one of only four players to average at least 13 points and two triples every season since 2014-15, a distinction shared with Curry, Harden and Damian Lillard.
Minnesota Timberwolves receive: Jerami Grant and Josh Jackson
Detroit Pistons receive: Malik Beasley, Jarrett Culver and 2023 first-round pick (top-five protected)
The Timberwolves never saw this season's struggles coming. If they had, they wouldn't have dared part with the top-three protected pick they owe the Warriors.
Obviously, they don't intend to stay down for long. With Karl-Anthony Towns, D'Angelo Russell, Malik Beasley and Anthony Edwards, they shouldn't have to.
With this trade, they wouldn't.
Jerami Grant would fill the void at power forward, addressing a need for an athletic, big-wing defender while giving this attack another potent point-producer. Josh Jackson would add firepower on the second unit and increase the collective athleticism at the forward spots.
The Timberwolves have the weaponry to field a top-10 offense. They have almost played like one with Towns on the floor, posting a 112.9 offensive rating that would rank 12th overall. They could bump those numbers higher with Grant and Jackson, while also potentially giving a major lift to their 28th-ranked defense.
As for the Pistons, this would be an acknowledgement of the scope and length of their rebuilding project. They would shift their attention further into the future with the first-round pick and Jarrett Culver, 2019's sixth pick. They would also make life easier on Killian Hayes by giving him a safety valve in Malik Beasley and his 3.5 threes per game on 39.9 percent shooting.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Oklahoma City Thunder receive: Bradley Beal
Washington Wizards receive: Al Horford, Theo Maledon, Aleksej Pokusevski and multiple future first-round picks
This feels like the least likely of all of these swaps for a few different reasons.
For one, Oklahoma City might be playing the longest game of any rebuilder. Two, the word consistently coming out of Washington is that Bradley Beal is going nowhere.
Who cares. They can't ruin our fun.
Can you imagine the possibilities of Beal and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander in the same backcourt? Defenses could never contend with all of that shiftiness, shot-making and distributing. This team could lock down the other end, too, especially if OKC could keep Luguentz Dort and Darius Bazley out of the deal.
Since Beal is only 27 years old, he should have a healthy chunk of his prime left. That would give the rest of this roster time to catch up.
OKC could be play-in-tournament competitive next season, and if it catches enough developmental breaks, maybe substantially better shortly beyond that.
While Wizards fans are surely sick of seeing Beal trades, that still seems like the inevitable end to this partnership. A strong April—that still doesn't have this club's record within five games of .500—hasn't changed the fact that this roster needs serious retooling, and Beal is the trade chip who can make that happen.
Washington could ask for more, player-wise, in this exchange—although Aleksej Pokusevski is fascinating, and Theo Maledon shows real promise—but the Wizards should really look to maximize their draft-pick return from the team with the NBA's best collection. Taking on the remainder of Al Horford's salary ($27 million next season, $14.5 million partial guarantee for 2022-23) makes the money work and might net Washington another draft pick.
Orlando Magic receive: Kyle Kuzma
Los Angeles Lakers receive: Mo Bamba and 2022 first-round pick (lottery protected)
After refusing to even dip their toes in rebuilding waters in recent years, the Magic finally cannon-balled their way in at the trade deadline while moving on from Nikola Vucevic, Aaron Gordon and Evan Fournier. With presumed cornerstones Jonathan Isaac and Markelle Fultz working their way back from major knee injuries, the present and future of this franchise is clouded in mystery.
But our aim is to make the Magic competitive as quickly as possible, so let's tackle an offense that ranks 29th in efficiency despite having Vucevic for much of this season. Even the best-case-scenario versions of Isaac and Fultz are bound to need scoring help, and Kyle Kuzma could be the perfect player to provide it.
His output has been muted a bit the past two seasons by L.A.'s improved roster and his decreased role. After averaging 17.3 points per game over his first two seasons, he's at 12.8 exactly both this year and last. But his per-minute production is similar, and his shooting is way up (2.0 threes per game on 35.7 percent shooting). He is defending better than ever, which is also critical since that's likely to be Orlando's identity going forward.
Kuzma's three-level touch and ability to create his own shots could give him a ceiling as high as a featured option. Even better for Orlando, though, would be if he shared primary scoring duties with Isaac and Fultz. They're all long, athletic and versatile and should be easy to build the rest of the roster around.
While the Lakers would be trading the best player in this deal, Kuzma's isolation game has never been the cleanest fit with LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Mo Bamba would be an intriguing frontcourt option, though, as an above-the-rim paint protector at one end and a floor-spacer at the other. He wouldn't step on the stars' toes and would instead give them more room to dance.
The pick could be kept, invested and developed, but it would more likely be traded sooner than later as L.A. attempts to squeeze everything it can out of James' remaining prime years.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.