5 NBA Stars Who Could Demand a Trade Next

Andy Bailey@@AndrewDBaileyFeatured ColumnistAugust 27, 2021

5 NBA Stars Who Could Demand a Trade Next

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    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    The plight of the NBA's small-market fans is real.

    Some suffer through years of mediocrity or tanking before landing a franchise-changing talent in the draft. Then, they often spend the duration of that player's stay on their team on pins and needles, waiting for the moment he pushes his way to a glamour franchise.

    LeBron James, of course, is largely responsible for the advent of the player empowerment era. His 2010 "Decision" tipped the scales in favor of the players, but he was a free agent. Theatrics aside, he didn't have a ton of non-sentimental obligations to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

    Some of those who followed in his footsteps took an even more aggressive approach. We've seen plenty of moves spurred by trade demands. Paul George, Carmelo Anthony, Kawhi Leonard and Anthony Davis are recent examples that stars control the NBA. And they sometimes control their way right out of town.

    The trend doesn't seem to be changing either. In fact, the player-empowerment era may have accelerated it. The latest addition to the club appears to be Philadelphia 76ers point guard Ben Simmons, and there are a number of other potential trade demands currently floating in the rumor mill (or at least in the vicinity of it).

    The news cycle has calmed a bit, but a demand from any of the below would ratchet things right back up. And it wouldn't be terribly surprising in any of these cases.

Marvin Bagley III

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    Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press

    The relationship between Marvin Bagley III and the Sacramento Kings has seemed sour for months (maybe even years?). 

    During the 2020-21 season, there were rumors that Sacramento was shopping the big man, particularly for Detroit Pistons wing Saddiq Bey. Back in June, Bagley liked a tweet suggesting he should leave the team. And as recently as last month, The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor reported that the Kings were still "exploring the market for Marvin Bagley III."

    Bagley may not have the kind of leverage necessary to make a formal trade demand, and including him may require a fairly loose definition for "star," but we're not far removed from Sacramento using the No. 2 pick on him in 2018. And he could turn all this smoke into a fire by asking out.

    Injuries and inefficiency have obviously impacted his value, but Bagley still possesses an intriguing combination of size and raw talent. He's 6'11", can handle the ball a bit and has averaged 20.6 points, 10.5 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per 75 possessions over the course of his career. Last season, he shot an encouraging 34.3 percent from three.

    If some other organization can continue to hone that outside shooting and unearth some defensive consistency, Bagley still has decent upside.

Karl-Anthony Towns

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    Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

    The Minnesota Timberwolves have already made it into Karl-Anthony Towns' second contract, but they only have one playoff appearance during his career. And that came during Jimmy Butler's one full campaign there.

    Over the course of his six seasons (and one postseason), Minnesota is plus-0.4 points per 100 possessions with KAT on the floor and minus-6.2 with him off.

    If things don't look much different in 2021-22, he may start to wonder about his long-term prospects.

    "Several league sources have indicated their teams are looking closely at the Timberwolves' future," Bleacher Report's Eric Pincus wrote. "One noted: 'The KAT wanting to be elsewhere chatter increased drastically over the year.'"

    That probably won't quiet down if Minnesota stacks up a bunch more losses in the near future.

    Minnesota fans looking for hope can point to the three-man net rating of KAT, D'Angelo Russell and Anthony Edwards (the team was plus-6.5 points per 100 possessions when those three shared the floor in 2020-21), but even that probably needs a caveat.

    The Timberwolves should be competitive when the stars (or near stars) play, but that's far from enough in the ever-brutal Western Conference.

Zion Williamson

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    Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

    Another trade demand potentially creeping up really seems unfair for New Orleans Pelicans fans. After surviving the saga in which AD forced his way to the Los Angeles Lakers to play with LeBron James, New Orleans almost immediately lucked into the No. 1 pick and Zion Williamson.

    And over his first two years, Williamson has provided plenty of excitement, jaw-dropping dunks, some point-forward play and, unfortunately, sub-.500 records. After just two times missing the postseason, there are rumors that Williamson (or his family) may already be pining for New York.

    The notion of Zion wanting out first gained steam in June, when The Athletic's Shams Charania, Joe Vardon and William Guillory reported that the Pelicans "have been unable to make the All-Star forward and his family happy."

    Then, longtime NBA reporter Ethan Strauss dumped accelerant on that fire on Substack:

    "Creative Arts Agency (CAA) happens to represent key media personalities at ESPN NBA, which was by design, and accomplished with the subtlety and tack of the Red Wedding. When you combine that nugget with knowledge of CAA's influence over the New York Knicks (GM Leon Rose is a former CAA superagent, coach Tom Thibodeau is a CAA client), ESPN's reports of Zion Williamson (CAA client) having an interest in joining the Knicks gets put in a different light. The way it's presented to the consumer is the mere reporting on a rising star in New Orleans wanting to play in New York. You're not supposed to know that ESPN wants this to happen because ESPN is CAA and CAA is ESPN, which means that CAA is the Knicks, meaning that the Knicks are ESPN."

    Phew. You may feel a bit like Charlie Kelly trying to connect all those dots, but they're hard to ignore. And though Williamson would have to play on a qualifying offer in Year 5 to duck restricted free agency (in which New Orleans could match whatever offer he signs after his rookie contract), he's not without leverage.

    If Zion really wants out and proves he can stay healthy in 2021-22, the mere threat of playing on that qualifying offer and entering unrestricted free agency in 2024 would have to at least make the Pelicans nervous.

    Nervous enough to entertain a trade demand or move him for another boatload of picks and young players? Maybe not, but nervous nonetheless.

Bradley Beal

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    It feels like we've been on the verge of a Bradley Beal trade demand for years. Reporting seems to keep him in the rumor mill, almost in perpetuity, but that may not be the case in Beal's mind.

    As recently as July (in the wake of the Russell Westbrook trade), Charania reported, "Sources tell me Beal right now has no desire to leave the [Washington] Wizards."

    Of course, reality can sometimes look radically different than public posturing. Shortly before Charania's report, Bleacher Report's Jake Fischer wrote that Beal was considering a move:

    "Beal does not have a proverbial list of preferred destinations, but it was mentioned by multiple sources that he would welcome joining teams such as [the Boston Celtics, Golden State Warriors, Miami Heat or Philadelphia 76ers]—although Beal requesting a trade would all but guarantee an expansive bidding war across the league. The number of potential destinations and interested suitors could span a significant portion of the NBA."

    Conflicting stories are a staple of NBA offseasons. And the fact that Beal is still a Wizard doesn't necessarily rule out a demand.

    Washington's star (Westbrook) for depth (Spencer Dinwiddie, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kyle Kuzma and Montrezl Harrell) offseason makes it one of 2021-22's more intriguing teams, but if the Wizards stumble out of the gate, Beal might find himself thinking about those contenders again.

Damian Lillard

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Damian Lillard's situation is another one that has seemingly cooled off quite a bit over the course of the offseason. Back in June, following news of the Portland Trail Blazers hiring Chauncey Billups as coach, Yahoo Sports' Chris Haynes reported that Lillard might force his way "out the door."

    More recently, though, fellow Blazer CJ McCollum told ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski that Lillard is "all in" for Portland's 2021-22 campaign.

    There may not be much else you'd expect a teammate to say in that situation, but that vote of confidence is better than nothing.

    Like the situation with Beal and the Wizards, though, this one could change quickly. The Blazers didn't make any drastic moves this offseason. And it's hard to imagine this core sneaking into the tier of legitimate Western Conference contenders.

    If that's clear early on, Lillard may entertain the possibility of moving on. And perhaps more than anyone else on this list, his name being in the trade market would generate some monster offers for Portland.