NBA Starters Likeliest to Be Traded This Offseason

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistJuly 11, 2021

NBA Starters Likeliest to Be Traded This Offseason

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Change is coming to the NBA. It happens every offseason.

    Sometimes, the roster restructurings are so dramatic and unexpected, they can break the internet—or at least send NBA Twitter into a frenzy. Other times, they are signaled days, weeks or even months in advance.

    We'll focus on the former by identifying the likeliest starters to be traded this summer weighing everything from contract situations and roster fits to their team's perceived willingness to make a deal.

Notable Exclusions

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    Ron Schwane/Associated Press

    Every once in a while, the NBA will remind us there are no untradeable contracts. When all else fails, clubs can simply swap their albatross pact for someone else's, like December's Russell Westbrook-for-John Wall deal.

    Having said that, two contracts appear particularly burdensome. So, as ready as the Cleveland Cavaliers might be to split from Kevin Love (two years, $60.2 million remaining) and as eager as the Houston Rockets probably are to remove Wall (two years, $91.7 millionegads!), it's tough to see a trade coming together for either team.

    Love will turn 33 before next season. In two of the past three years, he has played fewer than 30 games and shot below 41 percent from the field. Defensively, he defines the term liability, lacking the foot speed to keep pace with forwards and offering nothing as a rim protector (career 0.4 blocks in 31.7 minutes per contest).

    Who is taking that contract off Cleveland's hands? Apparently no one. Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle reported there is "growing sentiment around the league that Love will negotiate a buyout with Cleveland." He could easily don different threads next season; he just won't exit Northeast Ohio by way of a trade.

    Wall, meanwhile, is an athletically dependent lead guard with a ruptured Achilles in his recent past and his 31st birthday in his near future. His per-game averages seemed fine on the surface this season (20.6 points and 6.9 assists), but his shooting rates were awful (40.4 percent from the field, 31.7 from three-point range). Good luck finding anyone willing to cover his $40 million-plus salary without serious sweeteners to do so.

    To a lesser extent, Kristaps Porzingis probably belongs in this bucket too. He's had major injury issues, just disappeared this postseason (13.1 points and 5.4 rebounds in 33.3 minutes per game) and is owed an enormous amount of money ($65.5 million the next two seasons with a $36 million player option for 2023-24).

    The Dallas Mavericks might want to move him, but The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor reported there is "minimal" interest on the trade market (h/t Jeremy Layton of the New York Post).

Kyle Kuzma, Los Angeles Lakers

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    Ashley Landis/Associated Press

    Kyle Kuzma has spent much of his Los Angeles Lakers tenure within arm's reach of the rumor mill. But after L.A.'s supporting cast flatlined during the team's first-round playoff loss, the swirling trade winds might finally swoop up the scoring swingman and carry him out of town.

    Status quo won't cut it for the Lakers. Not when they're fighting against the clock to make another title push with 36-year-old LeBron James at the helm. Their roster needs bulking up, and given their limited collection of assets—among other issues, they only have two first-round picks to put in trade talks (this year's No. 22 and the 2027 selection)—Kuzma might be their best bridge to an impact addition.

    While he has worked to improve his defense and outside shooting (36.1 percent this season), he's still an isolation scorer at heart. He could put that skill to use elsewhere, but it lacks utility in Laker Land, as coach Frank Vogel would not (and absolutely should not) take touches from James and Anthony Davis to get Kuzma going.

    But he's still young-ish (26 later this month) and reasonably priced ($13 million this season and next with a $13 million player option for 2023-24), so other teams could have interest. While he won't anchor any blockbuster offers for Damian Lillard or Ben Simmons, Kuzma might help fetch Kemba Walker or grease the gears of a sign-and-trade for Kyle Lowry.

    In other words, Kuzma's salary and theoretical upside hold more value to the Lakers than his on-court contributions.

CJ McCollum, Portland Trail Blazers

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    Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

    For years, any trade rumblings around CJ McCollum have emanated from areas outside Portland. While the Trail Blazers weren't expressing interest in dealing their talented 2-guard, many did the speculating for them under the presumption that Portland's ceiling was capped by the lack of size and defense in its McCollum-Damian Lillard backcourt.

    To be clear, the Blazers still aren't publicly talking McCollum trades. But what they're saying about the 6'3" guard—or, really, no longer saying—has changed.

    After his team was swept out of the opening round in 2017, team president Neil Olshey put the "untradeable" label on McCollum. Four years and three more first-round exits later, Olshey is now saying, "Nothing is ever off the table," per NBC Sports Northwest's Dylan Mickanen.

    On a related note, Lillard, who has never shied from declaring his loyalty to Portland, recently said his thoughts on the Blazers will be shared "directly to Neil... [and] with my team," per ESPN's Brian Windhorst.

    Portland has already changed coaches this offseason from Terry Stotts to Chauncey Billups. More alterations may lie ahead with Lillard's 31st birthday fast approaching and these nearly annual early postseason exits.

    McCollum, a 20-point scorer each of the past six seasons, is the trade chip that can bring back a difference-maker. He isn't quite a star, but he resides in the next tier. Not to mention, his $30.9 million salary will go a long way toward making the money work in any blockbuster deal.

Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    Among the NBA's many enigmas, Ben Simmons stands out as its most perplexing.

    On one hand, he's a 24-year-old No. 1 pick who has made three All-Star rosters and a pair of All-Defensive first teams. On the other, he's an unwilling and unable shooter who became so fearful of the foul line this postseason he wouldn't even look at the basket when he had an open dunk—in the final four minutes of a closely contested Game 7, no less.

    After that season-ending loss, Philadelphia 76ers All-Star center Joel Embiid pointed to Simmons' passivity as the "turning point" of the contest, per Des Bieler of the Washington Post. When pressed if Simmons could be the point guard of a championship team, Sixers skipper Doc Rivers said simply, "I don't know the answer to that right now."

    None of this helps Simmons' trade value, though his playoff woes are far more damaging than the public critiques. It's tough selling him as someone else's centerpiece when he just averaged 11.9 points in 33.5 minutes per game and shot 34.2 percent—not a typo—across a dozen postseason contests.

    And yet, his age, defensive versatility, positional size and growth opportunity still tantalize the mind. Get him on a team with more shooting and a faster pace than Philly's, and he could thrive (especially if he ever gets his shooting straightened out).

    The Sixers won't sell him for 50 cents on the dollar. They want "an All-Star-caliber player" in return, per B/R's Jason Dumas. Simmons' ceiling remains high enough to think that type of player could surface in trade talks. Given Philly's proximity to a title, it should pounce on a Big Ben blockbuster when that happens.

Andrew Wiggins, Golden State Warriors

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    A season-plus in the Golden State Warriors' system helped Andrew Wiggins, the top pick in 2014, bring out his A-game. In 2020-21, he shot a personal-best 38.0 percent from distance and set a new career high with 1.9 combined blocks and steals per contest.

    But it's possible—if not probable—none of this will extend his stay with the Dubs. And it all comes down to economics.

    Even if Klay Thompson returns to full strength, which is not a given after the 31-year-old had the past two seasons erased by injury, the Warriors might still need one more piece to build a contender around him, Stephen Curry and Draymond Green. They have the assets to add one, too, with a pair of lottery picks (Nos. 7 and 14), plus last season's No. 2 overall selection, James Wiseman.

    To get an established star, though, they need to use Wiggins' $31.6 million salary to make the money work. Their next biggest salary (excluding the core three) is Wiseman's at $9.2 million.

    For a package like this, Golden State would need something major in return. But any team with a disgruntled star or one who simply no longer fits the timeline (Bradley Beal? Pascal Siakam?) should place its first phone call to the Dubs.

    The Warriors just watched Curry prove he's still capable of leading a championship charge, as he took home the scoring title and was the bronze medalist in the MVP voting. They watched Green land in the same spot in the Defensive Player of the Year race. They hope Thompson's sweet shooting and pesky perimeter defense can make it back from an ACL tear in his left leg and a ruptured Achilles in his right.

    If anyone can justify an all-in consolidation of its trade chips, it's this team. That, more than anything, places Wiggins squarely on the trade block.

                   

    Stats courtesy of NBA.com and Basketball Reference unless otherwise noted.

    Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.

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