Brand-New Landing Spots for NBA's Top Trade Targets
The dog days of the NBA offseason are upon us.
While it's always a good time to talk hypothetical trades, the conversations can get monotonous. Whether because of sourced reporting, groupthink speculation or a combination of the two, top trade targets are linked to the same potential suitors over and over.
Let's dial up some new discussions by injecting creativity to formulate fresh ideas.
These aren't meant to function as predictions, instead we're connecting dots to form logical connections between the most discussed high-profile trade candidates and clubs that could (and, in some cases, arguably should) give chase.
Kristaps Porzingis: New Orleans Pelicans
Kristaps Porzingis should've sent a few gift baskets in Ben Simmons' direction this summer. The latter's public playoff flop became the focal point for talking heads, which spared the former from the scrutiny his own disappearing act warranted.
Porzingis was barely a shadow of his regular-season self. Despite averaging more minutes (33.3, up from 30.9), he lost seven points (13.1, 20.1) and nearly half of his rebounds (5.4, 8.9) per game. He shot just 29.6 percent from three and made the Mavs' defense 8.8 points worse per 100 possessions just by taking the floor.
In the process, he tanked his trade value. ESPN's Tim MacMahon reported executives and scouts view the $101.5 million Porzingis is owed over the next three seasons "as an albatross." The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor added trade interest in Porzingis "is minimal" with clubs "scared off by the money, the health and possibly his diminishing production," (h/t New York Post).
All of the above will send most teams running the opposite direction, but a desperate suitor might see bargain potential. The New Orleans Pelicans should be feeling that desperation after failing to upgrade the roster around Zion Williamson, whose camp is getting a little antsy in the Crescent City.
A low-cost dice roll on Porzingis could be just what the doctor ordered. You could go into a hoops factory and have a hard time assembling a more perfect frontcourt partner for Williamson than a healthy Porzingis. On offense, his shooting opens attack lanes. On defense, his 7'3" frame would provide protection against the nearly endless penetrations allowed by Williamson and his teammates.
The best-case scenario payoff is enormous, and the purchase price should be anything but. Starting a package with the expiring salaries of Jonas Valanciunas and Tomas Satoransky might interest the Mavs as paths to financial flexibility, and if Dallas required a first-round pick to complete the swap, New Orleans has plenty to pull from.
Pascal Siakam: Washington Wizards
While everyone sat and waited for the Washington Wizards to trade Bradley Beal this summer, they got busy upgrading the roster around him. They gave him a new backcourt mate (Spencer Dinwiddie), a rookie fire-baller (Corey Kispert) and a batch of new veterans (Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kyle Kuzma and Montrezl Harrell).
It's a refreshed, exciting supporting cast that Beal could steer to 45-plus wins. But he's not winning a championship with this group, and the knowledge of that fact could shape his willingness to extend his contract now or reach unrestricted free agency next summer.
Until he puts pen to paper on a new pact, the trade whispers won't go away.
The Wizards could dramatically increase their chances of securing that signature by dramatically improving their roster. All of their wheeling and dealing this summer didn't deliver a second star. They might find one north of the border.
Pascal Siakam, an All-NBA second-teamer in 2019-20, seems like he could be had. The Toronto Raptors might be veering toward a rebuild after Kyle Lowry walked in free agency, and they might've drafted Siakam's replacement with No. 4 pick, Scottie Barnes. Raptors president Masai Ujiri has received "numerous" calls regarding Siakam and is "listening like a good negotiator," per Jason Anderson of the Sacramento Bee.
The Wizards could start their offer with Kuzma and Harrell's expiring salary (or Thomas Bryant's), then sweeten the pot with two of Deni Avdija, Rui Hachimura, Daniel Gafford and Isaiah Todd. Washington could roll out a starting lineup of Dinwiddie, Beal, Caldwell-Pope, Siakam and Bryant or Harrell, which seems good enough for the second round and a well-timed break or two away from the conference finals.
Bradley Beal: Memphis Grizzlies
Sorry, Wizards fans, but we did say those Beal talks weren't going away.
Nothing has really fanned their flames, though B/R's Jake Fischer did report in July that Beal mulled making a trade request before the draft. And since the one thing that would stop the speculation—a contract extension—hasn't happened yet, the chatter shall go on.
But rather than mapping Beal's typical trade routes to Philadelphia, Boston or Golden State, why not get him a ticket to Beale Street?
Sure, this would run counter to the Memphis Grizzlies' summer strategy of taking short-term hits in exchange for long-term assets, but teams acquire assets in hopes of getting a talent like Beal. At 28 years old, the Grizzlies could still get plenty of good mileage out of him, and his arrival might mean nothing but good things for face of the franchise Ja Morant.
For starters, Beal could help Morant carry the offense. And since Beal is just as good off the ball as on it (career 37.7 percent from three), he could slide into Memphis' offense without stepping on Morant's toes.
Bigger picture, a blockbuster Beal deal might be just as big for Morant's psyche. Memphis' asset collection might be smart from a business sense given its position in the league, but a step away from the playoff picture probably isn't the kind of sequel Morant had in mind after an awesome postseason debut (30.2 points and 8.2 assists per game).
If Morant doesn't want to play the long game, he wouldn't have to with Beal on board. Memphis, meanwhile, should have the trade chips to interest Washington, building an offer around either Jaren Jackson Jr. and a few lower tier assets or Dillon Brooks and some top-tier trade chips like Desmond Bane, Brandon Clarke, Ziaire Williams, Xavier Tillman and future first-round picks.
Damian Lillard: Indiana Pacers
There's a world in which Portland Trail Blazers fans can laugh off Damian Lillard trade talks as the unrealistic hopes and dreams of rival fanbases.
We don't live in that world. In ours, trade fires continue to burn around Lillard, and he has done nothing to extinguish them. When pressed on his desire to leave Portland during an Instagram Live, Lillard offered this quarter-hearted endorsement, "I'm not leaving PDX—not right now at least."
That's surely not what Blazers fans wanted to hear, but it's also defensible on his part. He pressed the front office for "urgency" this offseason, and they responded by bringing in Cody Zeller, Ben McLemore and Tony Snell. If anything, Portland fans should probably be happy Lillard isn't screaming out a trade demand already.
If Lillard gets to the point, though, the Indiana Pacers should be ready to pounce. They've been stuck in the same pretty-good-but-definitely-not-great tier as the Trail Blazers, but Lillard could be the superstar piece that pushes them over the top. They have the defensive talent to form a two-way roster around him, and they're deep enough to land him without gutting the roster.
Think Blazers fans couldn't get behind the idea of acquiring Domantas Sabonis, a 25-year-old, two-time All-Star whose father, Arvydas, played the entire NBA portion of his Hall of Fame career in Portland? Sabonis is young enough to anchor a rebuild and established enough to work in a rapid reset, so the Blazers could go any number of different directions with him. The Pacers, meanwhile, could slot TJ Warren next to Myles Turner in a more modernized frontcourt.
Alternately, Indy could offer something along the lines of Malcolm Brogdon, Warren or Caris LeVert and picks, prospects (Goga Bitadze, Isaiah Jackson) or both.
Ben Simmons: Charlotte Hornets
No trade targets listed here have louder ticking clocks than Ben Simmons. The Philadelphia 76ers opened trade talks in early July, per The Athletic's Shams Charania, and Simmons just flexed the leverage he has in an attempt to speed toward a resolution.
"Simmons tells Sixers brass he no longer wants to be a Sixer and does not intend to report to training camp," Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
That isn't good news for Simmons' trade value, which probably wasn't in great shape to begin with. His refusal to even look at the basket this postseason sparked several big-picture questions about his offensive identity and ability to contribute to winning on the biggest stage. There was too much uncertainty for Philly to collect the king's ransom it reportedly sought.
Saying all that, he's a 25-year-old with three All-Star selections, two All-Defensive honors and one All-NBA selection on his resume. He is arguably the Association's most versatile defender and a top-shelf playmaker and a wrecking ball in transition.
He is, frankly, the type of talent a small-market franchise like the Charlotte Hornets doesn't have access to outside of the draft. That might be reason enough for Buzz City to bite, especially if the Hornets feel (as they should) Simmons could lift their ceiling higher than Gordon Hayward and some trade sweeteners can—which might be the best package Philly can find at this point.
But the basketball fit intrigues on multiple levels, too. Imagine Simmons working pick-and-roll magic as the ball-screener for LaMelo Ball. Imagine Simmons motoring down the floor to crush alley-oops or toss them to Miles Bridges. Imagine Ball and Terry Rozier being able to focus more on their own scoring thanks to Simmons' table-setting, which should weaponize them as bucket-getters even more.
Charlotte has the youth, energy and athleticism to be an exhausting matchup already next season, and if Simmons maximizes his development as the Hornets' other young players do too, there could be a long-term path to championship contention.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.