NBA Superstars on Trade Watch This OffseasonJuly 1, 2021
NBA Superstars on Trade Watch This Offseason
Stardom doesn't always bring stability in the NBA. You can get your numbers and your All-Star nods, followed by a max-contract payout, and think you're all set. And then circumstances change dramatically. Hypothetically, you might quit shooting in fourth quarters, hit just 32.4 percent of your free throws and help engineer the collapse of your top-seeded playoff team.
Ben Simmons isn't the only big name with an unsettled situation this offseason. Other stars and superstars are floating around the rumor mill—whether that's because their teams no longer value their contributions in quite the same way, or because the player in question is the one feeling the itch to part ways with his organization.
These guys don't necessarily need to pack their bags yet, but they should at least locate their luggage just in case.
Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers
It feels like a million years ago we were obsessed with the clunky fit between Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. How could the point forward who needed the ball to be effective and couldn't space the floor coexist with the skillful and physically overpowering center?
Now, after Simmons flamed out in the postseason, the concern is far broader. It's not just about his fit with Embiid; it's about whether Simmons fits on a contender at all. Max-salaried players can't be nonfactors (or worse, liabilities) in the postseason, but that's exactly what Simmons was in the second round against the Atlanta Hawks.
Mere days after the Philadelphia 76ers' playoff run ended, Simmons' agent, Rich Paul, discussed the possibility of a trade with the front office. Though Simmons' value is at its nadir, "possibility" seems like the wrong word. A trade feels inevitable.
The Sixers can talk all they want about working with Simmons on his shot. The last several years of exactly that kind of chatter—with no results whatsoever—make those assurances ring hollow.
The only real question is where Simmons will land. The Minnesota Timberwolves "badly" want the 24-year-old, according to Darren Wolfson of 5 Eyewitness News in Minneapolis, and Karl-Anthony Towns' shooting actually makes Minnesota one of the more sensible fits.
If you had to bet on one big name changing teams this offseason, Simmons is the guy.
Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers
Damian Lillard has made six All-NBA teams and finished among the top 10 in MVP voting five times during his nine-year career with the Portland Trail Blazers. Those accolades and his unwavering loyalty to to the organization make him one of the rare superstars who'd incur no ill will by asking for a change.
For nearly a decade, he's done absolutely everything possible to make the Blazers a big-time winner. That Portland hasn't ever been a serious contender in that span is everyone's fault but his.
Lillard is nowhere near the trade certainty Simmons is, but we're at least in "conflicting reports" territory, which is still significant.
Yahoo Sports' Chris Haynes reported Lillard might ask to be moved due to the backlash over the Blazers' hiring of Chauncey Billups and "concerns on whether a championship contender" could realistically emerge in Portland.
Then, ESPN's Brian Windhorst reported on The Hoop Collective that Lillard isn't seriously angling for a breakup.
Whichever side you believe, it's fair to conclude Lillard's relationship with the Blazers is more tenuous than it's ever been. Portland has already changed coaches and should be looking hard at other deals to improve the roster around Lillard. If those efforts fall flat or the superstar point guard simply wakes up one morning with his mind set on a move, get ready for a world-class bidding war.
Zion Williamson, New Orleans Pelicans
The likelihood of Zion Williamson going anywhere this offseason is exceptionally small, but he's a big enough name to at least warrant mention here.
The Athletic's Shams Charania, Joe Vardon and William Guillory reported certain members of Williamson's family want him on another team. If that desire extends to Williamson himself, there's really not much he can do about it right now. A trade demand carries less weight when the player making it can't sign with another team until at least 2023.
That said, the New Orleans Pelicans have already seen the two best players in franchise history—Anthony Davis and Chris Paul—force their way out of town. More than any other franchise, the Pels should take any rumblings of discontent seriously. If that means getting out ahead of the situation by moving Williamson sooner than later, well, desperate times call for desperate measures.
Williamson doesn't hold many cards here. He could threaten to sign the qualifying offer ahead of the 2022-23 campaign, which would make him an unrestricted free agent the following offseason. But doing that would delay his first major payday by a year, a seemingly unwise decision for someone who already has a concerning injury history. Zion should want to lock in long-term money at the first opportunity. The Pelicans will be able to pay him more—and sooner—than anyone else.
File this one away, though. Historically, New Orleans hasn't retained top talent.
Kemba Walker, Oklahoma City Thunder
At best, Kemba Walker will get a year to rehabilitate his value with the Oklahoma City Thunder, a franchise that has recently specialized in getting multiple first-rounders (on the way in and on the way out) for distressed veteran assets.
It worked with Chris Paul and Al Horford, and now it's Walker's turn in the OKC turnstile.
Kristian Winfield of the New York Daily News reported the Thunder don't view Walker as a long-term fit, though any potential trade could occur during the 2021-22 NBA season.
The Thunder might be wise to wait, hopeful Walker will improve his stock much like Paul and Horford did. Then again, there's always a chance that the point guard's knee troubles affect his performance to an even more significant degree than they did over the past two seasons. If the Thunder aren't confident a health-related turnaround is realistic, they might conclude holding off on a Walker trade could cost them.
The other tricky part is finding a contract worse than Walker's to acquire with a pick attached. John Wall heads a short list that could also include Kevin Love or Russell Westbrook (don't bet on that one), but none of the Houston Rockets, Cleveland Cavaliers or Washington Wizards should be in the business of sacrificing first-rounders to get off bad money.
The logistics are complex, but OKC didn't add Walker because it sees him as part of the team for the life of his contract. He's a piece to be flipped. The only question is when.
Pascal Siakam, Toronto Raptors
The Golden State Warriors seem committed to winning in the short term, a defensible position that acknowledges the debt owed to Stephen Curry and the rest of the remaining championship core.
Until recently, we didn't have any inclination as to how they'd achieve that goal, but The Athletic's John Hollinger provided an option in his dispatch from the NBA Draft Combine: "The Warriors now have the seventh and 14th picks plus last year's second overall pick, James Wiseman, and there is a widespread expectation that the Warriors will use No. 7 and Wiseman, in particular, to seek more immediate upgrades to the roster. One name to watch: Pascal Siakam."
That Siakam is a possible target of another team doesn't necessarily mean the Toronto Raptors are shopping him. But Toronto tanked with gusto down the stretch, and it earned the No. 4 pick for its trouble. That sort of future-focused thinking, along with the fact that the Raps at least considered moving Kyle Lowry (now a free agent) at the 2021 deadline indicates a soft rebuild could be in the offing.
Siakam is 27, hardly the sort of past-prime star that rebuilders try to get rid of. But the 2019-20 All-NBA second-teamer disappointed this past season and may not be a great value on the four-year, $130 million extension he signed in 2019.
If I'm the Raptors, I at least hear the Warriors out. Same goes for anyone else offering lottery picks and cost-controlled young talent.
Stats courtesy of NBA.com, Basketball Reference and Cleaning the Glass. Salary info via Spotrac.