Realistic Trades to Rescue NBA's Top Young Stars
Some of the best individual performances in the 2021 NBA Playoffs have come from Jayson Tatum, Luka Doncic, Trae Young and Donovan Mitchell, all of whom are under 25 years old.
As dominant stars from the last wave of talent near or enter the final phases of their careers, these and other youngsters will take on the mantle of carrying the league.
A handful already look ready for that responsibility, but even they could use some more help.
For purposes of this slideshow, we're only looking at players under 25 (sorry Karl-Anthony Towns). And we'll also use a somewhat arbitrary cutoff to explain who needs rescuing: those who either didn't make the playoffs or who've already been eliminated.
What kind of deals are out there that could push these young stars and their teams to contention? Let's explore.
Zion Gets Some Floor Spacing
The Trade: Steven Adams and Eric Bledsoe for Kristaps Porzingis
Much was made of the fit between Zion Williamson and Steven Adams when the New Orleans Pelicans acquired the latter last offseason. And the final 2020-21 numbers show the concern was warranted.
The most commonly used non-Adams lineups featured Willy Hernangomez or Jaxson Hayes, so the improved differential may not be entirely about a lack of spacing, but adding shooting around Zion should still be the priority.
The rising superstar showed point center (or, at least, point forward) potential through much of the season. And flanking his drives with spacers would make the offense a theoretical nightmare.
Cue Kristaps Porzingis, who was supposed to serve a similar function with the Dallas Mavericks.
This season, there have been conflicting stories about whether he gets along with star Luka Doncic, and the Mavs were comfortably worse when was on the floor. On paper, KP and Doncic still make some sense, but there may be enough discord for Dallas to at least explore the market.
You might think that all of the spacing arguments used for Zion apply to Luka too. Maybe they do. But the Mavs star has had a better net rating with Dwight Powell than he has without him over the course of his career, and he offers next to nothing in terms of spacing.
Gravity doesn't always come from three-point shooters. A big man who rolls hard to the rim and can catch and finish in traffic drags defenders into the paint. And Adams checks all those boxes. With a playmaker like Luka engineering the pick-and-roll, he'd be far less likely to have a negative impact.
As for Eric Bledsoe, it's sort of hard to imagine that he's been relegated to CBA fodder this quickly, but that's almost what he is in this deal. His deal makes the salaries match up. And the fact that he's on the books for each of the next two seasons could be seen as sort of a tax for unloading Porzingis' injury risk on New Orleans.
A Secondary Creator for Luka
The Trade: Kristaps Porzingis and a 2022 first-round pick swap for CJ McCollum
The rumor mill will send Porzingis' name into plenty of fake trades this offseason. Despite a lackluster postseason and a growing injury history, it's not hard to see how a team might talk itself into him.
When he's right (which wasn't often in 2020-21), he's a three-and-D weapon unlike any other in the league. At 7'3", he can tally numerous blocks and multiple threes from five feet beyond the line in the same game.
And, not that Portland needs much help on offense, the idea of Porzingis pulling bigs away from the paint for Damian Lillard's slashing is intriguing. A swap for CJ McCollum, another player who's bound to be in plenty of rumors this summer, makes some sense.
Lillard and McCollum have shared the Portland Trail Blazers backcourt for six seasons, and it's reasonable to think that pairing may have reached its ceiling.
Trading small for big and moving Norman Powell (a free agent if he exercises his player option) and Robert Covington down a spot each could shore up Portland's defense a bit.
For the Mavs, adding a high-end secondary creator like McCollum would relieve Doncic of some of the immense pressure he's under. Right now, he's called upon to engineer the overwhelming majority of Dallas' possessions. Getting him a bit more off-ball action, and having someone like McCollum to run non-Doncic lineups would raise this team's ceiling.
He's the better and more durable player right now (though KP is four years younger), so Dallas could sweeten the pot just a tad with a pick swap.
LaMelo Gets a Rim Protector
The Trade: Terry Rozier and two 2020-21 second-round picks (one via Utah, and one via Milwaukee) for Myles Turner
This deal is largely contingent on whether the Indiana Pacers want to break up their Myles Turner-Domantas Sabonis frontcourt.
Over the past two seasons, having one or the other on the floor has been better than having both, and Sabonis' star has ascended a bit higher in the same span.
He's an All-Star who averaged an eye-popping 21.5 points, 14.0 rebounds and 8.8 assists over his last 15 games (when Turner was out of all but one game due to injury).
If that run leads to Indiana choosing Sabonis over Turner (again, it doesn't necessarily have to choose either), the Charlotte Hornets could be an interesting landing spot for the rim protector.
Losing Terry Rozier's grit and scoring is far from ideal, but LaMelo Ball may be on track to shoot more next season, and he and Devonte' Graham had a positive two-man net rating when Rozier didn't play.
If Charlotte can re-sign Graham, get Gordon Hayward healthy and swing a deal like this for Turner, it'd be in much better shape defensively. And with two floor-spacing bigs in Turner and P.J. Washington, there would be plenty of room inside for the slashing of Ball, Graham and Hayward.
More Shooting Around De'Aaron Fox
The Trade: Buddy Hield, Marvin Bagley III, a 2021 first-round pick and pick swaps in 2023 and 2024 for Bradley Beal
There has been no indication that the Washington Wizards are ready to entertain the idea of a Bradley Beal trade. In fact, general manager Tommy Sheppard continues to maintain it's off the table.
"Nothing's changing for me, for Bradley," Sheppard said. "We built this team around Bradley, and that's our intention moving forward."
Of course, things can change quickly in the NBA. And the whole reason Beal hasn't been able to stay out of the rumor mill for the past few years is because the Wizards haven't been able to contend. With the Brooklyn Nets, Philadelphia 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks in the East, that doesn't figure to change soon.
When you reach the kind of basketball purgatory Washington finds itself in, there's always a temptation to blow it up, especially if some other team is willing to unload the asset cupboard for your star.
If the Sacramento Kings did just that, they might be able to pair their dynamic young point guard, De'Aaron Fox, with a perennial threat to win the scoring title in Bradley Beal.
The allure for Sacramento on a deal like this is pretty obvious. Beal would immediately raise their ceiling. And he's a plug-and-play star who won't rob Fox of too many possessions.
The explanation is pretty obvious for Washington too, but again, it's dependent on whether the Wizards are ready to blow things up.
If the Wizards ever do decide to move Beal, incoming draft picks figure to be a big part of the package. What Sacramento can also offer is a flyer on Marvin Bagley III, the former No. 2 pick who hasn't been able to establish himself in his first stop.
The front office could probably sell the fans on a two-track rebuild with Buddy Hield coming back too, but that wouldn't be too hard to see through. Hield is a heck of a shooter, but his 2020-21 numbers fell well shy of Beal's.