Playing Trade or Keep with NBA's Most Rumored Trade Targets

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistJuly 16, 2021

Playing Trade or Keep with NBA's Most Rumored Trade Targets

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    Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

    The NBA's trade rumor mill is buzzing loud enough to draw a noise complaint.

    Since free-agency options are mostly limited around the league because of shortages of both salary-cap space and available talent, clubs appear increasingly focusing on the trade market to find a difference-maker.

    Several household names are being bandied about, so let's sift through the rumors and sort out which players should be kept and which can be sent packing.

Kyle Kuzma, Los Angeles Lakers

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    Ashley Landis/Associated Press

    The Los Angeles Lakers entered this season with a championship to defend and exited it with the only first-round series loss of LeBron James' career. Even if injuries can explain the squad's struggles, falling that short of expectations often sets the wheels in motion for some kind of change.

    Lacking cap space and draft assets, L.A. doesn't have many avenues to improvement. But it is reportedly trying to sniff out suitors for fourth-year swingman Kyle Kuzma, per B/R's Jake Fischer.

    On the surface, this doesn't seem like the ideal time to trade Kuzma.

    He debuted as an All-Rookie first-teamer in 2017-18 and followed that up by averaging nearly 19 points per game as a sophomore. His counting categories have backtracked since, as he hasn't averaged 13 points or 30 minutes in either of the past two seasons.

    But the declining production is tied to a role change (or several of them, really) that shifted him away from being a volume scorer who handled significant touches to a complementary player forced to round out his game accordingly. His numbers may not pop as much as they used to, but he's arguably a more complete player who has improved as a defender, rebounder and outside shooter.

    As a result, trade interest could be twofold in Kuzma. Future-focused clubs might buy him for the upside he showed in the past, while win-now shoppers could be more interested in his team-friendly developments.

    Either way, he should have enough trade value to bring back something worthwhile for the Lakers.

    Verdict: Trade

Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers

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    Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

    While Damian Lillard has elevated to NBA elite status, the Portland Trail Blazers have never been able to make the same leap.

    In each of the past four seasons, he's earned first- or second-team All-NBA honors. During that same stretch, Portland has a pair of playoff series wins and three first-round exits. After the most recent one, against a Denver Nuggets squad missing starters Jamal Murray and Will Barton, a dejected Lillard declared it was "back to the drawing board" for the Blazers.

    Now, a report suggests he wants no part of Portland's redesign. According to True Hoop's Henry Abbott, Lillard will "request trade in the days to come."

    If that request happens, it will rock the Blazers to their core. Lillard is a franchise icon. More than that, he is the organization's key to relevance. He makes this offense go with in-the-arena shooting range, the burst to blow by the best defenders and a three-level scoring arsenal as potent as any. He gives this club a puncher's chance every time it takes the floor with an incredible (and contagious) coolness in the clutch.

    That's why Portland should do nothing until Lillard forces its hand. Even if a trade demand goes public, his trade value will remain enormous. He is 31 years old and under contract for at least three more seasons—he has a $48.8 million player option for 2024-25—so it's not like the Blazers would be fighting a ticking clock.

    If they ever need to act—which isn't entirely certain—they can do it on their time and wait until a godfather offer comes across the table. For now, though, their focus should be on improving what they have around Lillard and giving him reasons to stay.

    Verdict: Keep

Collin Sexton, Cleveland Cavaliers

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    Ron Schwane/Associated Press

    Three years ago, the Cavs made Collin Sexton the eighth overall pick of the 2018 draft.

    Now, they're reportedly making him "very available" on the trade market, per The Athletic's Jason Lloyd.

    What changed? A bunch of things, but two stand out as the most important.

    Cleveland spent the fifth pick of the 2019 draft on Darius Garland, another 6'1" guard who works best with the ball in his hands. That effectively locked the pair into a "this town ain't big enough for the both of us" battle to become the franchise's long-term point guard.

    While Sexton scored a boatload of points, Garland displayed more layers to his game. The latter is the superior playmaker, shooter and defender. Sexton has better scoring numbers, but Garland's contributions are more meaningful. To wit, the Cavs fared 3.8 points better per 100 possessions with Garland than without, but they were 1.9 points worse when Sexton played than when he didn't.

    That isn't to diminish Sexton's talent. He's one of only 15 players in NBA history to average at least 24 points by his age-22 season. In this campaign and the last one, he shot better than 47 percent from the field, 37 percent from three and 81 percent at the line. That all has value, and soon it will be economically reflected, as he's extension-eligible this offseason and needs a new deal by next summer.

    Cleveland doesn't seem interested in paying that next contract, so it should seek out a trade partner that does. With his age and upside, Sexton should command something decent—and surely better-fitting with Garland.

    Verdict: Trade

Pascal Siakam, Toronto Raptors

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    While some players are swirled up in trade winds, it's a more a slight gust for Pascal Siakam.

    The 2018-19 Most Improved Player and 2019-20 All-NBA second-team honoree is the logical next face of the Toronto Raptors if Kyle Lowry leaves in free agency. But The Athletic's John Hollinger singled out Siakam as "one name to watch" in the Golden State Warriors' efforts to upgrade their roster.

    A Siakam trade certainly seems possible. The Raptors might view the combination of Lowry's free agency and their lottery luck (jumping to No. 4) as a sign from the basketball gods that it's time to start their next chapter.

    Siakam is 27 years old and owed $106.3 million through 2024. He's a "right now" player, and if Toronto is focused on anything other than the present, it's time to move on.

    But why would the Raptors rush into a rebuild? With or without Lowry, they should be plenty competitive next season. Siakam, Fred VanVleet and OG Anunoby are a talented two-way trio, Nick Nurse already coached his way to a title, and up-and-comers like Gary Trent Jr. (restricted free agent) and Malachi Flynn could up their production levels next season.

    Throw in the No. 4 pick—a bridge to someone like Jalen Suggs, Evan Mobley or Jalen Green—and Toronto might be challenging for a No. 4 seed in 2022. That's a rich enough reward to hang onto Siakam.

    Verdict: Keep

Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    It's all too easy to interpret Ben Simmons' postseason vanishing act as the point of no return. In Games 5 through 7 against the Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, he averaged 6.3 points and 4.7 shots in 33.2 minutes per game.

    Joel Embiid spotlighted Simmons' passivity as the turning point of the Philadelphia 76ers' Game 7 defeat. After the contest, Sixers head coach Doc Rivers was asked if Simmons could be the point guard of a championship team and responded, "I don't know the answer to that right now."

    Tack on the yearslong skepticism surrounding the fit of Simmons and Embiid, and a trade might seem like the only solution.

    It isn't. Not for now, at least.

    If the Sixers can snare an impact piece who better fits with the supporting cast, they should absolutely pull the trigger. That offer doesn't seem to be out there, though.

    The Indiana Pacers reportedly came calling with an offer including Malcolm Brogdon and a first-round pick, per Jason Dumas, but the Sixers declined. The Sacramento Kings might try to offer a package built around Buddy Hield, Marvin Bagley III and draft considerations, per Jason Anderson of the Sacramento Bee.

    If that's where shoppers are setting Simmons' price point, Philadelphia shouldn't even answer the phone.

    He doesn't shoot, but he does defend five positions, keeps his teammates well fed and obliterates the rim in transition. He turns 25 this summer, has already made three All-Star rosters (plus two All-Defensive first teams) and is signed through 2025.

    Until the market bears something befitting his age, ability and upside, the Sixers should plan on having him. If that means training camp is a little extra awkward this year, so be it.

    Verdict: Keep (for now)

James Wiseman, Golden State Warriors

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    The Golden State Warriors are ready to compete for a title next season.

    Let's revise that, actually. Certain Warriors are ready to rejoin the contending ranks in 2021-22.

    That includes Stephen Curry, who is fresh off his second scoring title and finished third in MVP voting. It also includes Draymond Green, who was third in Defensive Player of the Year voting and earned his sixth All-Defensive selection. It hopefully also includes Klay Thompson, who hasn't played in two seasons but was a 20-point scorer, All-Star and All-Defensive choice the last time he suited up.

    All three players are on the wrong side of 30. Curry turned 33 in March. Green and Thompson are 31. That means none of them have time to wait around for James Wiseman to figure things out.

    They shouldn't have to, as the front office is reportedly ready to flip some long-term assets for instant upgrades.

    "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," The Athletic's John Hollinger wrote.

    It's the logical move for Golden State to make. For every flash of face-up offense or unfair athleticism for a 7-footer that Wiseman displayed as a rookie, there were multiple reminders that he isn't ready to contribute to winning yet. His offense is slightly less raw than farm-to-table produce. His defensive instincts are lacking. He looks like a 20-year-old who lacks polish, because frankly, that's who he is.

    Some clubs can live with that, knowing that the right mix of patience and player development might one day turn him into a star. The Warriors aren't one of them. They need help today, so Wiseman's tomorrow is only as valuable as whatever it can bring back in a blockbuster trade.

    Verdict: Trade

                    

    Stats courtesy of NBA.com and Basketball Reference unless otherwise noted. Contract information via Basketball Insiders.

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

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