NBA Youngsters Who Could Be Traded for a Star This Offseason

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistMay 6, 2021

NBA Youngsters Who Could Be Traded for a Star This Offseason

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Young talent is the hottest commodity in the NBA.

    It's cheap, it has upside (which means hope for the fanbase), it's easier to control for long periods of time, and it comes with built-in retention advantages—like larger raises on new deals and matching rights in restricted free agency.

    That's why its acquisition is an end goal for every team. In some cases, though, it's also a means.

    Organizations that feel they're one piece away from contention rarely have the patience or the inclination to wait for a 20-year-old to develop. Timelines at the top are compressed, and the cost of going for it in the present is often surrendering a valuable piece of the future. Contending teams dangle draft picks, but younger prospects that would otherwise be untouchable also find themselves on the table.

    Under normal circumstances, none of the players we'll list here would be available. But their teams have good reason to chase instant gratification, and even more importantly, they don't have better paths toward improvement.

    This offseason, we'll see some veteran teams close ranks and prepare to make a run. They'll need help, and you'd better believe they'll use their young players to get it.

James Wiseman, Golden State Warriors

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    James Wiseman has every chance to become a star two-way center worthy of the No. 2 selection in the 2020 draft. But he didn't help the Golden State Warriors win games this season, a fact clearly revealed by a glance at his horrendously negative on-off splits. And now that his recovery timeline from meniscus surgery will cost him the offseason development and summer-league reps he so desperately needed, odds are he won't be helpful next year, either.

    The Warriors could wait this out. They might still believe a Wiseman trade wouldn't improve the roster enough to make it a true contender. Honestly, they might be justified in thinking that. Golden State is painfully undermanned behind Stephen Curry and Draymond Green. Klay Thompson's return should help, but nobody can possibly be sure what he'll provide in his comeback from ACL and Achilles tears.

    No wonder the current vibe is one of impatience, a feeling tied directly to Curry's prime—which he's still in now but won't be for many more years.

    "[Curry's] so damn good we need to maximize him this stretch," head coach Steve Kerr told ESPN's Ramona Shelburne. "You have to enjoy what he's doing as a fan, and appreciate what he's doing organizationally—then do everything we can to build the best team around him. It's not like that's what we owe him, it's more like that's what we need to do."

    Between Wiseman and the Minnesota Timberwolves pick they control (which will convey in this draft if it's outside the top three before becoming unprotected in 2022), the Warriors have legitimate artillery to fire into a star-hunting trade. Few teams could top the offer of a juicy first-rounder from a historically unsuccessful franchise and a 20-year-old with supreme athleticism who averaged 19.3 points and 9.7 rebounds per 36 minutes as a rookie.

    If a star becomes available over the offseason, the Warriors have both the will and the way to get him.

Pick a Sixer

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    The Philadelphia 76ers took a conservative path to improvement this year, opting to add steady veteran George Hill rather than the much glitzier names on the trade market.

    That's a defensible approach, and the Sixers have a great chance of entering the playoffs as the East's top seed. It doesn't seem like they needed to make a splash.

    But if this postseason run ends in disappointment, expect Philadelphia to go cannon-balling off the high dive. And if the 76ers want to add to their current talent base without sacrificing any of their core, they'll have to consider moving Matisse Thybulle, Tyrese Maxey and/or Shake Milton.

    We already know Philly's open to the idea.

    Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer reported Thybulle (and Ben Simmons, who'd qualify both as a youngster and a star) was in a deal for James Harden that many thought was done—until it wasn't. And league sources told Michael Scotto of HoopsHype that Thybulle's and Maxey's names were swirling around in negotiations for Kyle Lowry at the deadline.

    Some of the same urgency that could fuel a Warriors trade is present here. Joel Embiid is 27, smack dab in the middle of his prime but toting one of the league's more troubling injury histories. There's no telling how long he'll hold up, and the Sixers would be wise to capitalize while their best player is in MVP form.

    Simmons would fetch the largest return and can't be ruled out as trade bait, especially if the postseason suggests his and Embiid's fit issues contribute to elimination. But the Sixers' younger role players are the more likely movers.

Tyler Herro, Miami Heat

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    Mike Stobe/Associated Press

    Tyler Herro's second season didn't include the leap his playoff debut suggested was in store, and the Miami Heat have long been concerned with the high-scoring guard's off-court celebrity.

    Here's Ethan Skolnick on his Inside the Paint podcast (h/t Dan Feldman of NBC Sports):

    "Everybody is entitled to their own personal life, and we don't try to bring it up. ... But ultimately, the team starts to get a certain level of concern. In this particular case, the team has been concerned now for months. And that's kind of where it's at. But they were concerned with players during the Big Three era. But this one is different, because this kid is 21."

    Underwhelming performance on the floor and some red flags off it aren't an ideal combination. Add to that Miami's notorious no-nonsense "militaristic" philosophy, the urgency to make the most of Jimmy Butler's remaining prime and the team's relentless pursuit of big names, and Herro's ticket out the door seems pretty well punched.

    Herro has undeniable talent, but it's difficult to understand any theory of him as a star. He can get his own buckets and create difficult jumpers, but he's point-guard-sized without a point guard's team-first mentality. His defense is substandard at any position. Taken together, those characteristics describe a sixth man.

    At 21, Herro could easily improve and blow that modest forecast away. But the same idea arises here as it did for the Warriors and Sixers: There's no time to wait on possible progress. 

    Other franchises will talk themselves into Herro's game and personality. Teams that aren't winning could use his floor-raising offense and box-office marketability. Moxie sells, and Herro has plenty of that.

    The Heat, in a position where substance and success matter more than swag and potential, should explore the market for Herro this offseason.

Donte DiVincenzo, Milwaukee Bucks

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    Morry Gash/Associated Press

    The Milwaukee Bucks already traded Donte DiVincenzo once, but the deal ran afoul of the league's tampering rules and didn't stick.

    If things don't go as planned during the 2021 playoffs, expect the Bucks to move DiVincenzo...again.

    The third-year guard's counting stats are up as a result of a new starting role, and he's hitting his threes at a 36.9 percent clip. But he's struggled badly to finish at the rim, which has knocked his true shooting percentage well below last year's level and the league average. DiVincenzo has more broadly failed to make a consistent impact on both ends.

    On good nights, he's a defensive pest who can also change the game with his aggression and shot-making. It's just that the 24-year-old hasn't had enough of those nights.

    The Bucks exhausted most of their trade options in the deal for Jrue Holiday, and moving any of their other four veteran starters would do the opposite of bolster a win-now roster. If the Bucks want to make a significant change via trade, the package they put together will have to include DiVincenzo.

Deandre Ayton, Phoenix Suns

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    Elsa/Associated Press

    Deandre Ayton is a good NBA center, which is a hard thing to be at age 22. Despite his youth, he's a positive force on both ends who currently starts for a genuine title contender.

    For those reasons, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 draft is highly unlikely to be traded. He's easily the least plausible candidate on this list.

    But!

    The Phoenix Suns are already committed to a max deal for Devin Booker, Chris Paul seems increasingly likely to decline his player option and re-up for a massive two- or three-year contract, and Mikal Bridges has already shown enough three-and-D value (plus burgeoning skill in other areas) to indicate the annual pay rate on his next deal will be north of $20 million per season.

    The Suns' future payroll is already looking bloated.

    Ayton, who doesn't stretch the floor on offense and doesn't thrive as a switchable, five-position defender, simply isn't the kind of center who warrants a major investment. However, top overall picks who perform well, which Ayton is and has, tend to get paid.

    That means a decision is looming for the Suns. 

    It's not that they have to choose between Ayton or Bridges right this second, but both will be eligible for extensions this offseason. If Phoenix doesn't commit to Ayton, it could create discord—particularly if Bridges does get a new deal—and signal to the league that the big man will be obtainable in 2022 restricted free agency.

    We're way down the hypothetical rabbit hole here, but it's not that ridiculous to say the Suns either need to move Ayton this summer or risk losing him for nothing a year later.

    Yes, Phoenix would have match rights on any outside offer sheets for Ayton. And yes, trading him for a veteran star would bring back significant salary. But a market-rate contract for a player with Ayton's production, potential and draft slot would likely exceed $100 million, putting the Suns well into the luxury tax for several years—somewhere the historically stingy franchise hasn't been since the 2009-10 season

    Given the choice, the Suns might prefer to get Paul short-term veteran help, rather than tying themselves to Ayton for a half-decade. Few teams seem less likely to tangle with the dreaded repeater tax than this one. 

    It'd be quite the trick to thread the needle by getting star-level value for Ayton without clogging the books long-term, but general manager James Jones has an impressive, if short, track record. Stranger things have happened.

               

    Stats courtesy of NBA.com, Basketball Reference and Cleaning the Glass. Accurate through games played Wednesday, May 5. Salary info via Basketball Insiders.

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