Realistic Trades Post-NBA Lottery: Finding Homes for Ben Simmons and More
And now that the 2021 NBA draft lottery is done, we present to you the latest and greatest batch of trade ideas.
Another blockbuster is always around the corner in the Association—even, apparently, during the playoffs. (Thank you, Boston and Oklahoma City.) And with most of the league already in offseason mode, it makes more sense than ever to imagineer some splashy transactions.
Assume every deal will be completed during the new league year, even if terms are agreed upon before or during the draft. This allows teams to use picks as actual salary and, in certain situations, flip 2021 and 2022 selections without violating the Stepien Rule. It also permits us to make use of impending cap space.
OKC Goes Full Sam Presti with Dallas
Oklahoma City Thunder Receive: Kristaps Porzingis, Dwight Powell, 2022 first-round swap (top-six protection), 2025 first-round swap (top-six protection, pending Dallas' obligation to New York)
Dallas Mavericks Receive: Kemba Walker
Oklahoma City did not acquire Kemba Walker with the intention of keeping him. It swallowed two years and $73.6 million on his deal to get the No. 16 pick from the Boston Celtics, and because rebooting the value of veterans it can trade later for better value has become its schtick.
This package follows a similar formula, albeit with the gargantuan caveat that the Thunder would be shipping out Kemba before he ever plays a minute for them.
Snaring two first-round swaps is different from netting tangible picks. General manager Sam Presti might lose sleep over it. But the Celtics just needed to surrender a top-16 selection to get off Walker (they bagged Moses Brown, too). Kristaps Porzingis has more intrinsic value. His checkered health is a concern, and he's owed $101.5 million over the next three years, but he is still 25, capably stretches the floor and, at full strength, remains a defensive game-changer.
Contrary to their situation with a 31-year-old Kemba, the Thunder can view Porzingis as part of their longer-term plan. If they don't, they can easily talk themselves into buoying his trade value over the next year or two. Porzingis looked overmatched defensively during the playoffs, but he should regain some of his explosive mobility over his first injury-free offseason in roughly forever.
Pick swaps are also uniquely valuable to the Thunder. They control first-rounders from the Los Angeles Clippers and Phoenix Suns next season—two teams that, provided they remain intact and healthy, should have better records than Dallas. They will have 2025 first-rounders from the Philadelphia 76ers and either the Houston Rockets or Clippers, in addition to their own, to use as swap magnets, too.
Dallas' side of this trade is more straightforward. It saves $6.5 million off this offseason's cap sheet, $7.3 million in 2022-23 and $36 million in 2023-24 while bringing back a high-end shot-creating partner for Luka Doncic.
Yes, the state of Kemba's knees are a red flag, but he's an All-Star scorer if healthy. This was the first time he converted under 35 percent of his off-the-dribble threes since 2015-16—and he still put them down at a fine-not-great 34.7 percent clip. He is, in all likelihood, better than any player the Mavs will sign during free agency.
Speaking of which: They wouldn't be out of the cap-space game with this deal. They are saving money by offloading the two years left on Dwight Powell's pact, a haircut that allows them to be semi-major players on the open market while re-signing Tim Hardaway Jr. should Josh Richardson decline his player option.
Orlando and Sacramento Both Shake It Up
Orlando Magic Receive: Marvin Bagley III, Robert Woodard, No. 9 pick, 2022 first-round pick (lottery protection)
Sacramento Kings Receive: Jonathan Isaac
Jettisoning Jonathan Isaac seems like a ludicrous move by the Magic on its face. Missing all of this season with a torn left ACL no doubt nukes his market value, they just signed him to a four-year, $80 million deal that takes effect in 2021-22, and he's the closest they come to a blue-chip cornerstone following their trade-deadline teardown.
That's sort of the point. A healthy Jonathan Isaac is defensive-system-unto-himself material, but he's not going to anchor a contender as the best player. His offensive game is too undefined. Without a sudden, surprising expansion of his ball skills, he projects as more of a play-finisher than shot creator. Orlando is more likely to secure its North Star through one of this year's picks (Nos. 5 and 8) or future selections, the latter of which become substantially more valuable if Isaac isn't on the roster helping them scrap and claw their way back to the NBA's middle.
Marvin Bagley III is an interesting dice roll if he stays healthy. He runs the floor, can crash the offensive glass, has hinted at some outside shooting and wields a quaint floor game if given enough room to operate. Robert Woodard gives the Magic a three-and-D prospect with the versatility to guard basically any position who's under team control at under $2 million per year for the next three seasons.
Neither player represents the main draw in this deal. Sacramento's No. 9 pick is the headliner. Having three lottery selections in the same draft is excessive, but it gives the Magic three desirable bites at the building-block apple. They can also try dangling two of them to move up (the trades, in this scenario, would still go through in the next league year). Would the Rockets consider moving off No. 2 for No. 5 and No. 8?
Failing interest in another top-10 pick this year, this frameork can be rejiggered to feature a loosely protected pick in 2022 and another protected one further out. It isn't clear how appealing that would be when, in theory, Isaac makes the Kings a lot better.
Paring him with De'Aaron Fox and Tyrese Haliburton arms Sacramento with three viable pillars. Isaac will bolster the defense from its league-worst nadir on his own and should fit like a glove on offense with Fox and Haliburton to tee him up. He is also partial insurance against Richaun Holmes pricing himself out of town. The Magic never rolled him out at the 5 in high volume, but small-ball combinations with him in the middle and Harrison Barnes at the 4 should hold up on defense.
Whether the Kings want to angle for asset consolidation is debatable. They're in this weird space between rebuilding and chasing a playoff spot. Isaac isn't a superstar by any means, but he does transform Sacramento into an operable win-now candidate.
Ben Simmons Trade No. 1: Portland Changes It Up
Philadelphia 76ers Receive: Robert Covington, CJ McCollum
Portland Trail Blazers Receive: Ben Simmons, Anthony Tolliver (non-guaranteed)
Ben Simmons trade scenarios are a dime-per-100 right now after his postseason vanishing act on offense. And among the many, many hypotheticals are plenty of CJ McCollum-to-Philadelphia iterations, a huge collection of which amount to straight-up swaps.
Going the direct route might be fine. McCollum is a caps-lock, bolded-text, italics bucket-getter whose offensive bag has been tested in the postseason pressure-cooker and subsequently, for the most part, passed with flying colors. His in-between game remains fire, and he drilled 36.7 percent of his pull-up threes this season on top-five volume. Philly's offense gets muuuch better with him in the fold, particularly during crunch time.
Still, McCollum is a soon-to-be 30-year-old about to kick off a three-season, $100 million extension who compromises the Sixers perimeter defense—especially in tandem stretches with Seth Curry. For all his offensive faults and foibles, Simmons will be just 25 when 2021-22 tips off and is an all-world passer on top of the league's most versatile defender. A straight-up swap feels like Philly is getting slightly short shifted, even after Simmons' postseason implosion.
Including Robert Covington helps offset that talent gap. He doesn't replace Simmons' defensive range or playmaking, but he's a net-positive team-stopper who can knock down open threes and unlock wing-plus-Joel Embiid lineup combinations.
Portland needs to believe Simmons has more to offer on offense to green light this deal. That doesn't require much of a leap. Damian Lillard can work off the ball in motion, and the Blazers shouldn't be above trotting out Simmons at the 5 for stretches. Re-signing Norman Powell and having Anfernee Simons also renders McCollum a hair more expendable.
Acquiring Simmons with Jusuf Nurkic on the roster makes for wonky spacing, but Portland has generated high-powered offense with a questionable-shooting wing and traditional big on the floor in the past. This wouldn't be much different. Simmons should also prove capable of carrying Dame-less lineups if he's surrounded by enough shooters, and the five-position defense he brings should guarantee the Blazers become more of a genuine playoff threat.
Ben Simmons Trade No. 2: San Antonio Comes out of the Woodwork
Philadelphia 76ers Receive: Dejounte Murray, Devin Vassell, No. 12 pick
San Antonio Spurs Receive: Ben Simmons
Multiple Ben Simmons trades are a prerequisite of any "Who says no?" exercise these days. His future is among the NBA's most fascinating offseason topics, right up there with Bradley Beal entering a contract year (2022-23 player option) and Frank Ntilikina's restricted free agency. The Simmons discussion gets even more intriguing when journeying off the beaten path and visiting non-obvious teams.
Perhaps no franchise is less of an obvious Simmons suitor than the Spurs. Blockbuster trades aren't their thing, at least not voluntarily. (See: Leonard, Kawhi.) Hell, making trades at all isn't their organizational vibe. Going after Simmons would be wildly out of character. But it does make sense.
San Antonio is currently approaching a fork in the road. Most of its key veterans—DeMar DeRozan, Rudy Gay, Patty Mills—are hitting the open market. Their foray into free agency suggests an organic reset point. Preserve flexibility, use the No. 12 pick and rebuild around Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, Keldon Johnson and Devin Vassell.
None of those guys, though, profile as a tent-pole star. The Spurs also aren't working with prospects in the traditional sense. They already gave new deals to Murray and White (who will be 27 in July and can't really be considered a prospect), and head coach Gregg Popovich is 72. Slow-paying a rebuild seems out of the question for now.
Simmons enables San Antonio to straddle two timelines. He is ridiculous enough on defense and as a playmaker to prop up win-now hopes, but he's young enough, going on 25, and under contract for long enough, with four years remaining, to help headline a total overhaul if the Spurs eventually opt for one. His fit beside Johnson, White and Jakob Poeltl isn't perfect, but San Antonio's defense will sing, and it has the cap space necessary to add floor spacing.
Spinning a return of Murray, Vassell and the No. 12 pick is tough for the Sixers on its face. Vassell is a defensive workaholic already, and his three-point clip should climb. (He canned 41.3 percent of his triples, on modest volume, before the trade deadline). But he and the No. 12 pick are very much long-term plays. That's a tough sell to Joel Embiid, who's just two years away from free agency, and a fanbase that expects to contend for a title.
Murray offsets much of the thorniness. He doesn't have the same defensive range as Simmons, but he is better equipped to harass smaller, quicker, slippery guards like Trae Young and can cover some wings. His shooting isn't breaking any records, but he does, you know, actually shoot—from both mid-range and beyond the arc. He will open up Philly's offense by default.
This doesn't have to be the Sixers' only move, either. Vassell and whoever the Spurs send to them at No. 12 would give them two tantalizing trade chips to work with—especially at next year's deadline if team president Daryl Morey winds up signing some medium-money deals he can attach to them.
Charlotte Capitalizes on Houston Moving Up the Lottery Ladder
Charlotte Hornets Receive: Christian Wood
Houston Rockets Receive: P.J. Washington, No. 11 pick
Landing at No. 2 in the lottery is a boon for the Rockets' rebuild, in large part because they have the pick at all. It would've gone to Oklahoma City had it fallen outside the top four.
Houston is now tasked with deciding between Jalen Green, Jalen Suggs and Evan Mobley. If it's at all interested in the latter, then shopping Christian Wood should be on the offseason to-do list. He will only turn 26 in September, but his value is at an all-time high. Unless the Rockets think they'll be contending by the time he re-enters free agency in 2023, capitalizing on his ascension makes all the sense in the world.
P.J. Washington is very much plug-and-play on offense, and he showed the capacity to take on heavy reps this season as a small-ball 5. Houston could play him both with and independent of Mobley. Getting the No. 11 pick as well is huge. It's also potentially superfluous.
The Rockets already have No. 2, No. 23 and No. 24. Housing a quartet of first-round picks risks inflexibility. Then again, Houston is in the early stages of its rebuild. Burning four roster spots on first-round selections, two of which would be lottery prospects, is hardly irresponsible. It can try to peddle some combination of 11, 23 and 24 to move up the board, too.
Charlotte, meanwhile, needs to strengthen its center rotation. Continuing to rely on Washington-at-the-5 arrangements isn't sustainable on defense. Free agents Bismack Biyombo and Cody Zeller are not the answer long term, and Vernon Carey Jr. is too offense-first.
Wood has developed into one of the league's most dynamic bigs. His 21.0 points per game came on 58.1 shooting on twos and a 37.4 percent clip from beyond the arc. He is comfortable fanning out in transition, finding seems in the middle and from the outside after setting screens and has a mismatch-inducing floor game. The Hornets aren't assured of fielding a top defense with him in the middle, but he has the mobility around and away from the rim to augment the ecosystem. At 6'10", he's also properly sized for the position.
Forking over what amounts to two lottery picks is a lot. Wood is worth it. His offensive progression clearly isn't a flash in the pan. Everything he did in Houston this season he did with the Detroit Pistons last year after the Andre Drummond trade. Charlotte will be hard-pressed to find someone as good on a friendlier deal. Wood is owed just $28 million over the next two years; it'll probably cost more to poach Richaun Holmes in free agency. Having a player that talented, at the price point, would allot the Hornets ample flexibility to make other moves.
Golden State Swings for the Fences
Golden State Warriors Receive: Bradley Beal
Washington Wizards Receive: Kelly Oubre Jr. (sign-and-trade), James Wiseman, No. 7 pick, 2022 first-round pick (unprotected), 2026 first-round pick (top-eight protection, pending 2024 obligation to Memphis)
Obligatory disclaimer: The Wizards are not planning to entertain Bradley Beal trade offers over the offseason, according to The Athletic's Fred Katz. Beal has also indicated, repeatedly, time after time, that he wants to stay with the Washington.
That doesn't make this proposal unreasonable. Beal is entering a contract year (2022-23 player option) and was noncommittal about his future during his exit interview. This is how pre-agency works: Stars on the verge of hitting the open market have a feasible path to the auction block.
The Warriors' top-dollar offer took a hit during the draft lottery. Having pick Nos. 7 and 14 is valuable, but the absence of a top-four selection makes it impossible for them to go after Beal without including both James Wiseman and the seventh-overall selection.
This package is prided upon Kelly Oubre Jr. being open to a sign-and-trade that lands him in Washington. He might not be. But the Warriors need an extra mid-end salary to use in any blockbuster unless they're including Andrew Wiggins. Oubre could be swayed to spurn other suitors if he's given an inflated short-term deal that pays him above market for the next two years.
Golden State doesn't have to defend unloading the asset clip. It has an obligation to go all-in so long as Stephen Curry is a top-five player. Adding Beal's shot creation and scoring to Curry, Draymond Green and a healthy Klay Thompson gives them a plausible, if not automatic, path back to title contention.
Washington's end of the spectrum is more complicated. This package is competitive if it decides to move Beal, but some of the details are fuzzy. How much do the Wizards value Wiseman if they're enamored with Daniel Gafford? Do they have the stomach to short the Warriors' long-term future by accepting a 2026 first-rounder as a centerpiece? Does No. 14 also need to be included?
Tossing in No. 14 (post-draft) shouldn't be a deal-breaker for Golden State if Beal plans to re-sign. He's that good, and title windows are that precious. The Wiseman dilemma is harder to work around. If the Wizards don't see a future All-Star, a third team will need to help grease the wheels. Something along these lines could fly if that's the case:
- Charlotte Hornets Receive: James Wiseman
- Golden State Warriors Receive: Bradley Beal
- Washington Wizards Receive: Kelly Oubre Jr. (sign-and-trade), P.J. Washington, No. 7 pick (via Golden State), No. 11 pick (via Charlotte), 2022 first-round pick (unprotected via Golden State), 2026 first-round pick (top-eight protection via Golden State)
Accepting the 2026 selection shouldn't be treated as a concession in either scenario. Curry, Green and Thompson are all on the wrong side of 30. Beal will be in his 30s by the time that pick conveys. It has serious value if Washington's front office feels empowered to prioritize the super-big picture.