Bold NBA Trade Ideas for Damian Lillard, Ben Simmons, Kemba Walker and More
NBA trade machines are running at full tilt.
The 2021 offseason has already arrived for 26 teams, and in a matter of weeks, it will feature all 30 squads. From restless fanbases to forward-thinking front offices, just about everyone is firing off hypothetical swaps that could reshape the basketball landscape.
That makes it tricky to drum up potential deals you've never seen before.
But we aren't ones to shy away from a challenge, so we threw on our thinking caps, doused them in creativity and played matchmaker to conjure up realistic fake trades that haven't come across your radar a thousand times.
Heat Gamble on Kemba; Thunder Add Another Pick to the Pile
Miami Heat receive: Kemba Walker and Kenrich Williams
Oklahoma City Thunder receive: Goran Dragic, KZ Okpala and 2025 first-round pick (lottery-protected)
Despite carefully cultivating salary-cap space for this offseason, the Heat almost assuredly won't land a difference-maker in free agency. Kawhi Leonard is the only superstar on the market, and considering he's back at home with the conference finalist Los Angeles Clippers and alongside his handpicked co-star, Paul George, it's tough to see Leonard wanting out.
But Miami, which just fell from a Finals appearance to a first-round sweep in one year's time, needs to do something to shake up this roster, improve its 18th-ranked offense and try to open a championship window with Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo.
Lacking the trade ammo to fetch a Damian Lillard or Bradley Beal, the Heat could shift their sights to a discounted Kemba Walker. The 31-year-old is admittedly clearance-priced for a reason, as a lengthy battle with his balky left knee limited his availability and, at times, his effectiveness this season.
Even then, though, the four-time All-Star averaged better than 19 points and four assists for the sixth consecutive season. Only six other players have matched that streak. Butler was Miami's only player to clear both marks in 2020-21.
Walker's shot-creation could scratch perhaps the Heat's biggest offensive itch. They landed outside the top 50th percentile on isolations (45th) and plays finished by a pick-and-roll ball-handler (28th). A healthy Walker can carve up defenders on the ball, and he's a sharp enough shooter from distance (career 36.0 percent) to spot up alongside Butler and Adebayo.
This trade would force Miami to lift its lottery protection on the 2023 first-rounder it already owes to OKC, so it could put the 2025 pick in play. That's a steep concession given Walker's knee problems, which is why Kenrich Williams enters the equation. Nicknamed Kenny Hustle, he'd be an easy fit with the Heat's famed #Culture, describing himself as "no maintenance" to ESPN's Zach Lowe.
Unofficially, this would be draft pick gazillion collected by the Thunder, who'd effectively get a pair of draft assets out of the exchange with the removed protections. They would also get a dice roll on KZ Okpala, a raw 22-year-old with enviable length and athleticism. They should also have enough shots to let Goran Dragic run wild and perhaps elevate his value to unlock a deadline deal to a contender that nets OKC yet another asset.
Sixers Add Hayward; Simmons to Buzz City
Charlotte Hornets receive: Ben Simmons
Philadelphia 76ers receive: Gordon Hayward and No. 11 pick
Gordon Hayward helped the Hornets get their buzz back. Now, he could help bring back a 24-year-old All-Star to bulk up what has quietly become one of the Association's better young cores.
Charlotte could give Ben Simmons the freedom he needs not just to bounce back from a brutal postseason, but also to evolve into something greater than his current form. Repurposed as a small-ball big man, he would be a creative solution to the Hornets' search for an interior upgrade and a fascinating co-star for Rookie of the Year LaMelo Ball.
Charlotte would become a blur in the open court, as Ball, Simmons or Terry Rozier could lead the break with shooters and athletes sprinting alongside. Once the game slowed down to half-court offense, Simmons could set screens for Ball (or vice versa) and either explode to the basket or feed open shooters once defenses collapse on the short roll.
It would be a risk for the Hornets, who got a ton of mileage out of Hayward and saw, as everyone else did, Simmons shrink on the playoff stage. But it would also be a wager that they could create an environment more conducive to growth than the win-now, Joel Embiid-centric Sixers could.
If the gamble paid off, Charlotte would suddenly have two young stars leading its roster and a slew of complementary role players around them. The success could be higher reaching and more sustainable long-term than anything the Hornets can achieve with the 31-year-old Hayward.
For Philly, though, this would swap out Simmons for a better fitting Embiid co-star. Hayward may not have a go-to elite skill, but that's kind of the point. His ability to shape-shift between secondary scoring, playmaking, shot-creating and shooting roles would allow him to complement Embiid however needed and coexist with the likes of Tobias Harris, Seth Curry and whomever else the Sixers retain on their roster.
Netting the first-round pick—largely accounting for the age gap between Simmons and Hayward—would give president Daryl Morey a potentially critical trade chip to help make this roster championship-ready around Embiid.
Surprise Winner of Damian Lillard Sweepstakes
Minnesota Timberwolves receive: Damian Lillard and Robert Covington
Portland Trail Blazers receive: Anthony Edwards, Malik Beasley, Ricky Rubio, Leandro Bolmaro, 2022 first-round pick (top-five protected), 2024 first-round pick (top-three protected) and 2026 first-round pick
Brace yourselves, Portland. Damian Lillard, the rock-solid centerpiece of the Blazers franchise who is loyal to his core, might be ready to scope out a scenery change.
"The enormous backlash from the Portland Trial Blazers' process to hire a new coach and his concerns on whether a championship contender can be built have become factors that may push the franchise player—Damian Lillard—out the door," Yahoo Sports' Chris Haynes reported.
The Timberwolves won't be mentioned often (if at all) during Lillard trade talks, because they haven't won in recent history and aren't a destination team. But maybe Minnesota has a pulse in this race. With 2020 top pick—and Rookie of the Year runner-up—Anthony Edwards leading the charge, the Wolves could put an awfully enticing trade package on the table.
With free agency awaiting D'Angelo Russell in 2023 and Karl-Anthony Towns the following summer, Minnesota should be looking to win sooner than later. To that end, the team reportedly has an interest in trading for Ben Simmons, per SKOR North's Darren Wolfson (h/t NBC Sports Philadelphia). Simmons might be fun in the Gopher State, but Lillard would be transformational.
He is an all-caps SUPERSTAR who could team with Towns and Russell to turbo-charge this attack into a top-five unit. Either guard can pick-and-roll or pick-and-pop with Towns while the other shreds nets as a catch-and-shoot sniper. The defense wouldn't be great—though reuniting with Robert Covington, who was in the Gopher State until February 2020, would help a little bit—but if the offense hits its ceiling, that may not matter much.
The Timberwolves may not be a tier-one contender after the trade, but if Towns and Russell time their hot streaks just right, this club could score its way into the conference finals.
Portland, meanwhile, would embrace an inevitable post-Lillard rebuild with Edwards front and center of the redesign. Leandro Bolmaro could be a long-term keeper, Malik Beasley is a productive 24-year-old, and Ricky Rubio can help either push for next season's playoffs or be flipped for someone or something that helps with future postseason pursuits. Throw in the draft picks, and the Blazers should be set to start their next chapter on solid ground.
Warriors Build Big 4; Heat Hit Reset Button
Golden State Warriors receive: Jimmy Butler and Andre Iguodala
Miami Heat receive: Andrew Wiggins, James Wiseman, Eric Paschall, No. 7 pick, No. 14 pick and 2026 first-round pick (top-three protected)
Would Heat president Pat Riley, 76 years young and competitive as all get out, ever sign off on a rebuild? Probably not.
But if he was ever open to the idea, this might secretly be the right summer to explore it. Miami has just five players with guaranteed contracts for next season. Bam Adebayo is the second-oldest of that group at 23 years old. In that context, the 31-year-old Jimmy Butler—32 before next season tips—stands out as the proverbial "one of these things is not like the others."
Butler can contribute to a championship run right now, but the Heat aren't necessarily positioned to make one with their cap-space situation.
Get Butler to Golden State with Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and a healthy Klay Thompson, though, and the Dubs could be on the light-years expressway to title contention. Butler and Green burn the same hypercompetitive fire, and they could extinguish opposing scorers of all sizes and styles. While there might be spacing concerns with that pairing, those could be alleviated by deploying one more sniper with the Splash Brothers.
This wouldn't be without risk for the Warriors, since their core four would all be on the wrong side of 30, and both Curry and Butler can hit unrestricted free agency in 2022. But considering the reward is a world title, that might be a risk worth taking.
For the Heat, they'd pivot into a rebuild around Adebayo, Tyler Herro, Andrew Wiggins, James Wiseman (or whatever he'd bring back in a trade if they don't like his fit with Adebayo) and a suddenly strong asset collection. That core could also include restricted free agents Duncan Robinson and Kendrick Nunn, though the organizational shift would surely spell the end of Victor Oladipo's short tenure in South Beach.
Eric Paschall could inject some second-team scoring, the picks could be developed or traded, and the cap space could be splurged on an up-and-comer who fits the core like John Collins, Lonzo Ball, Gary Trent Jr. or Talen Horton-Tucker.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.