NBA Offseason Trade Ideas You've Probably Never Thought of
The NBA trade market could erupt this offseason.
The need for roster reinforcements is seen almost everywhere, from championship hopefuls looking for the finishing piece to playoff disappointments deciding they've had enough of their core. As per usual, there's also a class of bottom-feeders in asset-accumulation mode who have a willingness to deal.
While the upcoming draft class looks loaded at the top, it probably won't give many win-now teams much assistance. Free agency usually does, but this offseason, few clubs will have meaningful cap space, and there will be fewer high-level players to spend it on.
So, if teams are interested in adjustments, they're probably willing to talk swaps. While there is already ample speculation on what could happen this summer, we went into the trade-machine lab and cooked up four fresh ideas the hoops world would never see coming.
Knicks Add Scoring, Cavs Add Assets
New York Knicks receive: Collin Sexton
Cleveland Cavaliers receive: Obi Toppin, Kevin Knox II, No. 21 pick (via DAL) and No. 32 pick (via DET)
The Knicks need more scoring. Even with Julius Randle's All-Star ascension, RJ Barrett's sophomore leap and Immanuel Quickley's ahead-of-schedule contributions, New York finished 22nd in offensive efficiency. Through two playoff games, the Knicks are averaging four fewer points per 100 possessions than they did in the regular season.
The Cavaliers could have a dynamic scorer up for grabs. Collin Sexton just ranked as this season's 18th-best scorer (one spot ahead of Randle) with a career-high 24.3 points per game. The scoring guard also paired that production with a personal-best 57.3 true shooting percentage.
And yet, an NBA executive told Terry Pluto of the Plain Dealer the Cavs could consider trading Sexton as opposed to giving nine-figure contracts to both him and Jarrett Allen.
If Sexton is available, the Knicks should make the call.
They need his scoring punch and secondary playmaking. They also should have enough touches to go around where Randle, Sexton, Barrett, Quickley and, assuming he returns in free agency, Derrick Rose aren't stepping on one another's shoes. Sexton, a career 38.5 percent three-point shooter, can log minutes on or off the ball, a skill he has honed as Darius Garland has come into his own.
Cleveland fans might scoff at the return here, but it's important to remember two things. One, Sexton is extension-eligible this offseason, so he's about to get expensive. Two, the trade market might be skeptical of some of his stats, since the Cavs have been the NBA's worst team (by a healthy margin) during his three-year career.
If Cleveland isn't planning on keeping Sexton anyway, this would convert him into essentially two late first-round picks, 2020's No. 8 selection (Obi Toppin, who starred down the road in Dayton) and 2018's No. 9 pick (Kevin Knox II, who might be a scenery change away from getting his stalled career on track). The Knicks have additional draft picks to play with if that's not enough.
Spurs Get Centerpiece, Pacers Get Flexibility
San Antonio Spurs receive: Domantas Sabonis
Indiana Pacers receive: Lonnie Walker IV, Jakob Poeltl, 2022 first-round pick (top-10 protected) and 2024 first-round pick (top-three protected)
The basketball gods are effectively pointing the Spurs toward a youth movement this summer, as DeMar DeRozan, Rudy Gay and Patty Mills are all entering unrestricted free agency. But with head coach Gregg Popovich still in charge, it's hard to envision San Antonio chasing anything other than competitiveness.
Perhaps that pushes the Spurs toward re-signing one or more of those vets, but they're better off chasing a talented player on the same timeline as their young core. Domantas Sabonis would be perfect.
The 25-year-old has already booked a pair of All-Star trips on the strength of a Spurs-ian blend of skills and smarts. While he has dabbled more with a three-ball of late, he largely operates from the elbows in as a passer, post scorer and interior finisher. This season, he was the league's only player to average 20 points, 12 rebounds and six assists.
Assuming the Spurs are done with DeRozan, they'll need a new offensive focal point. Sabonis can be that centerpiece.
The Pacers, meanwhile, might be ready to change things up after missing the playoffs for the first time since 2015. They haven't decided the future of first-year coach Nate Bjorkgren, and they reportedly fielded calls on Sabonis and Malcolm Brogdon at the trade deadline, per Yahoo Sports' Vincent Goodwill.
Indiana could decide to deal Sabonis for two different reasons: either to initiate a full-scale teardown or to rework the frontcourt around Myles Turner and T.J. Warren. If they opt for the latter, then the incoming package would become either depth pieces or trade chips for additional deals.
Pelicans Make Push, Timberwolves Focus on Future
New Orleans Pelicans receive: Karl-Anthony Towns and D'Angelo Russell
Minnesota Timberwolves receive: Brandon Ingram, Steven Adams, Jaxson Hayes, 2021 first-round pick (top-three protected) and 2024 or 2025 first-round pick (via LAL)
The Pelicans were supposed to be better than this. So were the Timberwolves.
But despite carrying playoff hopes into this season and rostering an NBA elite, neither could score even a ticket to the play-in tournament. Both could now be open to a mega-move if the price is right.
The Pels need to level up around all-galaxy phenom Zion Williamson. They can't half-step the effort like last summer, when they spent big on Steven Adams but also sold off Jrue Holiday. It's never too early for a non-major market to show a young superstar its commitment to winning, and frankly, Williamson is such a dominant force already, New Orleans needs to be an annual playoff participant sooner than later.
Making an aggressive move for former All-Stars (and close friends) Karl-Anthony Towns and D'Angelo Russell would not only get Williamson's attention, it should also give the Pelicans a direct path to a top-10 offense (if not a top-five attack). The pick-and-roll options between the three are endless, and there isn't a frontcourt out there with defensive answers for both Williamson and Towns.
Brandon Ingram is a really good player, but he doesn't help Williamson the way Towns would as a stretch center who can unclog the middle on offense and protect the paint on defense. Tack on Russell as the third scorer and shot-creator, and this attack would be a nightmare—and that's before baking in the possibility of impending restricted free agent Lonzo Ball's return and the development of Kira Lewis Jr. and Nickeil Alexander-Walker.
As for Minnesota, it would be resetting around the 23-year-old Ingram, 19-year-old Anthony Edwards and whatever it can find on draft night (ideally two lottery picks—this one and the top-three protected one it owes Golden State). The Wolves could try to be relatively competitive with vets like Adams, Ricky Rubio and Malik Beasley around, or they could broker more deals for additional rebuilding assets.
Clippers, Blazers Reshuffle Around Stars
Los Angeles Clippers receive: CJ McCollum, Jusuf Nurkic, Robert Covington and 2023 first-round pick (top-five protected)
Portland Trail Blazers receive: Paul George, Ivica Zubac and Luke Kennard
There's plenty to unpack here, starting with a few this-only-happens-if caveats. This only happens if...
- The Clippers and Blazers are both bounced in the first round and become convinced major roster moves are needed.
- Kawhi Leonard stays put in free agency (after presumably declining his player option) and gives his blessing for L.A. to trade his hand-picked running mate.
- Damian Lillard really has moved past his old rivalry with Paul George and OKs the trade of longtime backcourt mate, CJ McCollum.
Those are some massive ifs, but if every box is checked, this could be a fascinating attempt by both franchises to capitalize on their championship windows.
The Clippers collectively improve their shot-creation and playmaking around Leonard with McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic. Even if neither matches up to George individually, together they could offer more offensive relief to Leonard and help get the ball moving. L.A. would miss George on defense, but it could still blanket opposing wings with Leonard, Robert Covington and Marcus Morris Sr., plus it would have Nurkic as insurance on the back line.
L.A. would also add a first-round pick for trading the best player in this deal.
The Blazers would give overdue attention to their fatally flawed 29th-ranked defense. Their yearslong search for two-way wings might be over in an instant with George in town and Norman Powell potentially back in free agency (after a presumed opt-out). Between Zubac and another big (maybe a re-signed Enes Kanter or Zach Collins), Portland may not lose much on the interior, and it would gain a perimeter scorer in Luke Kennard.
This is, admittedly, a ton of moving parts for a pair of top-six seeds, but if each is prematurely ousted from the postseason, it might be open to substantial retooling. Leonard turns 30 in June, and Lillard's 31st birthday follows in July. The time to make all-in moves around them is now.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.