Brand New Landing Spots for NBA's Most Rumored Trade Targets

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistJuly 23, 2021

Brand New Landing Spots for NBA's Most Rumored Trade Targets

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Tired of hypothetical trade discussions that regurgitate the same ol' landing spots for the NBA players generating the most rumor-mill engagement? Me too.

    So let's branch out.

    Only players recently linked to concrete trade rumors or interest will be eligible for inclusion here. But their most reported, likely or talked-about destinations are getting thrown out the window in favor of more creative suitors who still boast the assets to piece together competitive packages.

    To that end: These. Are. Not. Predictions.

    Proposed destinations are not guesswork. Nor does a player's inclusion mean he's definitely going to be on the move. Five names are making an appearance, and if you set the over/under on how many of them will don new threads next season at 1.5, you should take the under.

    This is instead an imaginative venture—an exercise that challenges us to put fresh spins on the ad nauseam trade banter and babble.

Damian Lillard: Toronto Raptors

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    Finding a "new" Damian Lilard destination verges on impossible. It seems like every squad is getting bandied about the Twittersphere as a potential landing spot, even if the superstar point guard remains a pipe-dream target for all of them.

    The Houston Rockets, Miami Heat, New York Knicks, Philadelphia 76ers and Sacramento Kings have "been the most aggressive suitors" in pursuit of Lillard, according to The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor. about the Toronto Raptors?

    Most have them pegged as teardown candidates. However, they are better than their impromptu tank job from this past season would suggest.

    Injuries and COVID-19 ripped through their roster, and they were playing in Tampa rather than Toronto. That matters. The Raptors also outscored opponents by 9.2 points per 100 possessions when OG Anunoby, Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet shared the floor. That matters, too.

    Going after Lillard is a genuinely on-brand proposition for a franchise that hasn't shied away from rolling the dice under team president Masai Ujiri (who, by the way, is a free agent). The Raptors have the No. 4 pick plus ready-made centerpiece options in Anunoby, Siakam and VanVleet. That isn't just a starting point; it's a versatile springboard. Toronto can build all sorts of packages depending on what Portland wants in return.

    No one scenario should be off the table for the Raptors. If Portland wants No. 4 and VanVleet on top of more future draft equity, Toronto can re-sign Lowry and deploy a Lillard-KLOE backcourt. If the Blazers prefer Anunoby or Siakam as the tangible headliner, the Raptors can renounce Lowry and create cap space, suss out quality frontcourt free agents and then complete the Lillard trade.

    Even if the Raptors don't land on Dame's inevitable list of desired destinations, it shouldn't be a deal-breaker. He has four years left on his contract (2024-25 player option), and Toronto has the goods to convince Portland that sending him outside his preferred scope is a worthwhile decision.

Collin Sexton: Golden State Warriors

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    David Dermer/Associated Press

    Collin Sexton just joined Jayson Tatum as only the second player in NBA history to average more than 24 points per game while knocking down over 50 percent of his twos and 37 percent of his threes before his 23rd birthday. The Cleveland Cavaliers are apparently worried what this will mean for his next contract, per Jason Lloyd of The Athletic. 

    League sources told Fear The Sword's Evan Dammarell that the Heat and Knicks have been Sexton's "most aggressive" suitors, with the Indiana Pacers and "a handful of other" teams looming on the periphery. The Golden State Warriors seemingly have yet to enter the fray, so let's instead go with them.

    In some ways, Sexton is an ideal target for the Dubs. Pretty much everyone wants them to aim for bigger splashes using their Nos. 7 and 14 picks and James Wiseman. But the market of gettable players worth that package is thin, if not outright barren.

    Sexton represents a nice middle ground if the Cavs are open to moving him. His next contract will push the Warriors' luxury-tax bill to the edge of the universe, but that's only a problem for the Future Dubs. Right now, his $6.3 million cap hold allows them to send out minimal money, making it so they don't have to unload Wiseman, Andrew Wiggins or even the No. 7 pick.

    Something along the lines of the No. 14 pick and Eric Paschall should at least be a conversation-starter. It all depends on how much Cleveland thinks it can get for someone who will likely cost his next team $18-plus million per year starting next offseason.

    The Warriors just need someone who can get buckets without interrupting the functional wonder that is Stephen Curry. Sexton checks that box. He isn't the deadliest off-the-bounce shooter, but he can knock down pull-up middies and canned a rock-solid 47.3 percent of his looks on drives this past season. He will put more pressure on the teeth of defenses with the ball in his hand than any secondary creator Golden State employed this year.

    Acquiring him wouldn't unequivocally nudge the Warriors into the championship clique. That'll rest on Klay Thompson's performance following his Achilles and ACL injuries as well as Draymond Green's offensive utility. But Sexton isn't supposed to be a cure-all. He'd simply be a notable upgrade Golden State can try to acquire without mortgaging a huge chunk of its future.

Pascal Siakam: Phoenix Suns

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    Welcome to the other side of the Raptors' offseason.

    Though they should not be viewed purely in blow-it-up terms, they also aren't above the most nuclear scenarios. Kyle Lowry could opt to sign elsewhere in free agency, and having the No. 4 pick might embolden team president Masai Ujiri (or perhaps his successor) to jump-start a more wholesale facelift should the best player in franchise history bolt for greener pastures.

    Gauging the market value of Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet would be part and parcel of any reset. Neither is ancient, but age-27 players aren't exactly rebuilding-team material.

    Siakam's name has already ambled into the rumor mill. The Athletic's John Hollinger cited him as someone to watch in the Warriors' search for marquee help.

    To whomever is currently pointing out that the Phoenix Suns are not the Warriors: Thank you. But if the Raptors are potentially open to flipping Siakam for some combination of James Wiseman and the Nos. 7 and 14 picks, they'd presumably weigh other overtures that significantly beef up their future-asset trove.

    Phoenix has the resources to meet that criteria. Mikal Bridges should be considered untouchable in any deal that doesn't net the team a top-20 player, but the Suns have Deandre Ayton, Cam Johnson, Jalen Smith (last year's No. 10 pick), the No. 29 selection (post-draft) and most of their future first-round picks to dangle.

    Toronto's view of Ayton determines the fate of this framework. He has shown the ability to anchor a strong defense if he isn't forced to play up too high, and he doesn't cannibalize touches on offense. Still, his flaws are well-documented. Giannis Antetokounmpo chewed him up and spit him out in the NBA Finals, and Ayton still needs to grasp the finer points of help-and-recover defense.

    Big whoop. Scant few players can hold their own against Giannis, and after just turning 22, Ayton has time to get a lot better. The specter of his next contract is hardly prohibitive unless the Raptors think he'll cost more than Siakam. (He probably won't.)

    Johnson glitzes up any package as a sweet shooter who can down looks off motion and has flashed the capacity to run the floor and put the ball on the deck. If he and Ayton are the starting point, it should spur a discussion. (Dario Saric and two of No. 29, Smith and Jevon Carter must go back to Toronto to make the money work.)

    The Suns can justify taking on the three years and $106.4 million STILL owed to Siakam almost regardless of what Chris Paul (player option) does in free agency. Devin Booker is a star. His window is both now and later, and they have an obligation to maximize it with or without CP3.

    Landing Siakam while keeping Paul would be the dream scenario. The former is overtaxed as No. 1 option but cash-money as a prospective third wheel. His outside shooting has waned since Toronto's 2019 title, but he'd give the Suns another secondary playmaker and could put some additional half-court pressure on the rim. He shouldn't have an issue sliding into Ayton's spot at center, but Phoenix could pair him with another big if it found the right fit in free agency.

Ben Simmons: Charlotte Hornets

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    Jacob Kupferman/Associated Press

    The Philadelphia 76ers have opened the Ben Simmons sweepstakes, according to The Athletic's Shams Charania, which has incited hypothetical leaguewide scenarios galore.

    Coming up with the right destination for Simmons is tricky. His market value is flirting with rock bottom after his offensive vanishing act in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, yet a source told Charania that Philadelphia wants "an All-Star-caliber player in return" for the 25-year-old.

    Striking the right balance between Simmons' present appeal and the Sixers' price tag automatically eliminates a bunch of suitors. Anyone peddling packages of mostly picks and prospects should be dunzo without a third-party facilitator. Philly is in win-now mode and has little use for a rebuilding special (hold the pickles).

    Meanwhile, squads that could be tempted (or forced) into shopping incumbent stars—think: Portland and Washington—seem less likely to value Simmons as a face for their reset without additional assets or seeing him expand his aggression and range on the offensive end. Hence our dilemma.

    The Charlotte Hornets profile as a happy medium. Between Gordon Hayward, Terry Rozier, Miles Bridges, P.J. Washington, the No. 11 pick and impending cap space, they have the tools necessary to field a cornucopia of Simmons offers. A Devonte' Graham sign-and-trade could even be part of their calculus.

    To be clear: This isn't kitchen-sink-and-then-some territory. Charlotte should only be putting a mix of these players and picks on the table.

    A deal in the vein of Hayward, Rozier and No. 11 for Simmons and George Hill feels like a good conversation-starter. Hayward's injury history and contract (three years, $91.5 million) render him a risk, but he would arm the Sixers with a viable crunch-time hub on the wings, and they'd get additional floor spacing and off-the-dribble flair from Rozier. The No. 11 pick would be a good flier or an asset they can reroute for more established help.

    Perhaps the final package winds up looking different. The Sixers could prefer Bridges or Washington over No. 11 or Hayward. Whatever permutation they prefer, the Hornets have the incentive to consider it.

    Simmons may be a somewhat dicey fit alongside the ball-dominant LaMelo Ball, but Charlotte has shown an inclination to play smaller and spacier under head coach James Borrego. Simmons could be unleashed as a screener in Buzz City, and the Hornets would instantly have the league's best one-two passing punch. 

    The Hornets should also be drawn to Simmons' defense. They figured out how to avoid a bottom-10 finish in points allowed per possession while giving extensive reps to small-ball arrangements and Bismack Biyombo. Just imagine what they could do with one of the league's most versatile stoppers.

Russell Westbrook: Los Angeles Clippers

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Russell Westbrook trade scenarios have been a rite of summer for a while, but he's a fresh entrant into the 2021 rumor mill. You can thank LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers for that.

    The Lakers are in the market for "veteran point guard help," and Westbrook is a "potential candidate to move back home to Los Angeles in a sign-and-trade deal that could include free agent point guard Dennis Schroder, forward Kyle Kuzma and guard Talen Horton-Tucker," according to The Undefeated's Marc J. Spears.

    That's it on the Westbrook front for now, which is to say: We can envision any alternative suitor we please. Said suitor just needs to be in championship-or-bust mode, be willing to pay Westbrook $91.3 million over the next two years and have the outgoing contracts to make the math on any trade work.

    Hello, Los Angeles Clippers.

    Upgrading the point guard position beyond Reggie Jackson just going kaboom already ranked near the top of their to-do list. It is arguably higher now that Kawhi Leonard will miss at least a majority of next season following surgery to repair a partially torn right ACL. The Clippers remain on an ultra-immediate timeline without him. They can't indulge a gap year even if they wanted to go that route, as Oklahoma City owns their unprotected 2022 first-rounders.

    Westbrook remains a divisive figure on Basketball Twitter, but he played an instrumental role in salvaging the Wizards' 2020-21 season after apparently playing through a torn quad. The Clippers should have an easier time than most integrating him into their offense, with or without Leonard. Their penchant for playing small ensures Westbrook would get plenty of run in lineups that surround him with four shooters.

    Sending out enough money to bring back his $44.2 million salary is challenging but not insurmountable. Patrick Beverley (one year, $14.3 million), Serge Ibaka ($9.7 million player option), Luke Kennard ($12.7 million in 2021-22) and Rajon Rondo (one year, $7.5 million) provide a workable financial baseline.

    Jettisoning Beverley, Ibaka (if he opts in) and Kennard would get the job done without needing any add-ons. This presumes the Wizards prioritize cap relief in exchange for their second-best player. They'll likely want something else even if they're moving Westbrook in the aftermath of a Bradley Beal trade request.

    Including the No. 25 pick (post-draft) would allow the Clippers to keep Ibaka and ship out Beverley, Rondo and Kennard. Is that enough for the Wizards? Not with Beal and the expectations that come with him. But they're probably only dealing Westbrook if they hit the reset button anyway.

    Picking up a first-rounder and more cap flexibility this summer and next, not to mention a young shooter with some off-the-dribble pizzazz in Kennard, is a sell-medium play at worst. And if the Wizards drive a harder bargain, the Clippers have three future Detroit second-rounders ready to offload as well.

    Unless otherwise noted, stats courtesy of NBA.comBasketball ReferenceStathead or Cleaning the Glass. Salary information via Basketball Insiders and Spotrac.

    Dan Favale covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter (@danfavale), and listen to his Hardwood Knocks podcast, co-hosted by NBA Math's Adam Fromal.


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