Fresh NBA Trades to Shake Up Stale Rosters
Summertime is the season of change across the NBA, but some teams need to hit refresh a little more than others.
Whether they've fallen short of expectations or have simply been together too long, the rosters we'll examine here are ripe for revitalization. The trick is finding moves that fundamentally alter the team's makeup. It's easy to make small tweaks on the margins, but true invigoration only comes with more significant change.
We'll deal with franchises that have enjoyed varying levels of success in recent years, which proves a win-loss record isn't the only indication a roster has gotten a little stale. Contenders and perennial lottery participants may have different goals, but they can stagnate and fall short of them all the same.
Let's shake a few of them up, hopefully unlocking new levels of success.
The Pacers and Kings Revamp Each Other's Rosters
The Trade: Indiana Pacers send Domantas Sabonis to the Sacramento Kings for Harrison Barnes, Delon Wright, Nos. 9 and 39 in the 2021 draft
Without going through and counting them all up, it feels like Myles Turner trade rumors outnumber the ones featuring Domantas Sabonis by something like a 5-1 ratio. That might even be conservative.
It's possible that disparity owes to a collective belief that Turner is less valuable than Sabonis, a two-time All-Star who closed out the 2020-21 season with averages of 20.3 points, 12.0 rebounds and 6.7 assists per game. It'd be tough to begrudge the Pacers for being more willing to surrender Turner and his zero career All-Star nods than Sabonis whenever the topic of splitting up the two big men arises.
Then again, maybe Turner shows up in rumors more frequently because, while less decorated, his game fits anywhere. It's difficult to find a team that couldn't immediately get better by slotting a floor-spacing, shot-blocking Defensive Player of the Year candidate into its center spot. He's the basketball equivalent of a universal remote; Turner just works with whatever kind of roster you've got. That's an argument for the Pacers to keep him.
Sabonis is a trickier piece to integrate as a floor-raising, offense-first center whose defensive shortcomings are tough to paper over. He's a lot like Nikola Vucevic in that way, the guy the Orlando Magic sent to the Chicago Bulls after two All-Star nods and two playoff wins in eight-plus seasons. Sabonis has been a part of just three postseason victories in his four years with Indy.
The Sacramento Kings haven't visited the playoffs since 2006. They wish they had Orlando or Indiana's modest success in that regard.
Sabonis would give the Kings a dangerous interior option whose feel and passing could prove deadly in pick-and-rolls alongside De'Aaron Fox. The speedy point guard could also pile up easy layups and free-throw attempts by leveraging his downhill burst (and foul-drawing acumen) as a cutter. Sabonis is much more likely to set him up for bunnies than Richaun Holmes, Sacramento's impending free-agent center.
Indy gets a package headlined by a plug-and-play stretch 4 in Harrison Barnes, plus that intriguing No. 9 overall pick. Wright and Barnes would also help address the potential free-agent departures of Doug McDermott and T.J. McConnell.
In this hypothetical, Turner would move to center full time, while Barnes and a hopefully healthy T.J. Warren (January foot surgery) man the forward spots. The shooting, spacing and defensive versatility in this updated Pacers starting five would be formidable.
The Kings get a guy who can help haul them back to the postseason for the first time in forever, and the Pacers embrace a five-out look that could actually improve their defense.
Most importantly, both rosters would look significantly different than they have over the past several seasons.
The 76ers and Trail Blazers Find Better Balance
The Trade: Philadelphia 76ers send Ben Simmons to the Portland Trail Blazers for CJ McCollum
Closing in on one month since Ben Simmons' offensive flameout contributed to the Philadelphia 76ers' playoff elimination, we seem no closer to pinning down the three-time All-Star's value in trade.
It doesn't feel especially bold to say, at least in terms of a straight-up swap, Simmons is much more likely to return secondary scorer CJ McCollum than frequent MVP candidate Damian Lillard. Maybe that wouldn't have been the case a year ago, but the whole league watched as Simmons struggled in the most consequential games of his Sixers tenure, including Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
That's a tough thing to forget.
The good news is that Simmons could rehab his value and be put to much better use in Portland, where Lillard would handle all the heavy offensive lifting. That would leave Simmons free to distribute and, most critically, defend.
The Blazers seem to have hit their ceiling with two smallish guards in the same backcourt, routinely fielding elite offenses that can't get enough stops on the other end. While Portland would need to find itself another shot-creator to play behind Lillard, it could alter its overall makeup for the better by injecting Simmons' DPOY-caliber stopping power.
He and Robert Covington could cause some real trouble, with the former flying around deflecting passes and the latter locking up ball-handlers at any position.
In Philly, McCollum would provide the self-sufficient shot-creation that has been lacking for all of the Joel Embiid era. Those bogged-down late-game possessions that so often resulted in poor looks would be a thing of the past with McCollum in Simmons' place. Suddenly, the Sixers would have a bucket-getter who, at the very worst, could bail them out with slithery mid-range jumpers.
That McCollum is also a career 39.8 percent three-point shooter on steadily increasing volume (up to 8.9 attempts per game last year) is a bonus. Good luck doubling Embiid when McCollum, Seth Curry, Danny Green (or his free-agent replacement) and Tobias Harris are spotted up around the arc.
Here, we have two teams trading from positions of strength to address glaring weaknesses. The Blazers give up a valuable shot-creating guard from their consistently top-three offense to shore up a defense that has so often let them down. Meanwhile, Philadelphia sacrifices a key piece of its excellent defense to finally add some dynamism to its attack on the other end.
Ultimately, we get a pair of demonstrably altered but more balanced rosters. Both look different, and both would be better than they were a year ago.
The Lakers Upgrade Their Offense
The Trade: Los Angeles Lakers send Kyle Kuzma to the Orlando Magic for Terrence Ross
On average, the Lakers have finished 20th (24th, 11th and 24th) in offensive efficiency during LeBron James' three seasons with the team. That number is noisy; L.A. has shuffled personnel substantially in each offseason of James' tenure, and it has also played long stretches without the four-time MVP in two of those three years.
Still, the Lakers were the league's No. 1 defense this past season, third the year before and 13th in James' debut campaign. It's fair to say their other mainstays over the last couple of seasons—James, Anthony Davis, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kyle Kuzma and Alex Caruso—need a lot less help on defense than they do on the other end.
So, freshening up this Lakers roster requires a focus on offense.
Ross and Kuzma are both score-first operators, but the former owns the higher three-point hit rate, true shooting percentage, offensive box plus/minus and PER over the last three years. The veteran wing's fifth-place finish in the 2018-19 Sixth Man of the Year voting is a fair indicator of his game and value. Ross is already the kind of get-your-own scorer Kuzma aspires to be.
Last year, Ross was assisted on 48.5 percent of his twos and 77.5 percent of his threes, while teammates set up Kuzma with 54.5 and 92.7 percent frequency, respectively. The combination of greater self-sufficiency and superior accuracy makes Ross an upgrade over Kuzma, and that's without mentioning the latter's not-so-secret desire to expand his role—which simply may not be possible on a team that already has two superstars.
Fully freshening the Lakers roster will take more than swapping one wing for another, but this team doesn't have much to trade with so many players—Dennis Schroder, Montrezl Harrell (player option), Wesley Matthews, Caruso, Markieff Morris and Andre Drummond—likely hitting free agency.
Kuzma for Ross would only be the beginning.