Fresh Predictions for NBA's Top 5 Trade Targets
If you thought the approach of the 2021-22 NBA season might slow down the trade-machine activity, think again.
It's always #TradeSZN in the Association, especially when a 25-year-old All-Star is eagerly awaiting a scenery change.
The Philadelphia 76ers withheld an $8.25 million payment owed to Ben Simmons, as B/R's Jake Fischer reported they would, in the latest installment of the ongoing Simmons saga. Philadelphia's point guard has yet to report to training camp with the franchise having yet to grant his wish for a trade.
While Simmons sits front and center on the trade market, he's not the only high-profile candidate with a chance to be traded this season. We'll spotlight five of them and plot out fresh trade ideas for each one.
Goran Dragic To Chicago
Chicago Bulls receive: Goran Dragic and 2023 second-round pick
Toronto Raptors receive: Coby White and Derrick Jones Jr.
The Bulls are built to win with offense, as defensive leaks are inevitable with Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic all penciled into the opening group. That's doable—it's not like the Brooklyn Nets are championship favorites for their defensive potential—but the attack needs to be elite.
Chicago's could be just that, but there's arguably a better chance it lands closer to really good territory. If that matches the Bulls' self-assessment, then the front office might seek more consistent firepower than Coby White has offered over a pair of up-and-down seasons to start his career.
Goran Dragic, a nightly supplier of 16.8 points on 46.9/37.0/77.8 shooting over the past eight seasons, could be the answer. Many—him included—felt his offseason move north of the border was merely a temporary relocation, as the Kyle Lowry-less Raptors might not be competitive quickly enough for the 35-year-old Dragic (notably, on an expiring contract) to help.
In Chicago, though, Dragic would find himself back in the Eastern Conference chase with a club built to maximize his impact. The Bulls' top offensive weapons work on or off the ball, just like the Dragon does, and they could easily slide point guards Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso over to the off-guard slot when they share the floor with Dragic.
The Raptors, meanwhile, aren't under the same time crunch as the Bulls, who need to win big enough this season to get LaVine's signature on a long-term contract. In other words, Toronto should have the patience to see what it could extract from the development of White and Derrick Jones Jr., who are just 21 and 24 years old, respectively.
Marvin Bagley III To San Antonio
San Antonio Spurs receive: Marvin Bagley III
Sacramento Kings receive: Thaddeus Young
Trade winds have swirled around Marvin Bagley III, the No. 2 overall pick in 2018, since his father tweeted a trade request to the team in January. The fact that he remains a Northern California resident hardly means he's locked in for the long haul, especially when the team nearly packaged him with the No. 9 pick for then-Memphis Grizzlies center Jonas Valanciunas in July, per ESPN's Brian Windhorst (h/t RealGM).
The Kings, who are trapped in a record-tying 15-year playoff drought, seem ready to wash their hands of Bagley and could give serious consideration to swapping him out for steady-as-a-rock veteran Thaddeus Young.
While Young can't match Bagley's ceiling, Sacramento might be done banking on potential. With No. 9 pick Davion Mitchell joining De'Aaron Fox and Tyrese Haliburton on the perimeter, the Kings could feel ready to make a serious push for the postseason. If that's the aim, they might value Young's stability over Bagley's upside.
As for the Spurs, they're more focused on the future than they have been in decades. They spent the No. 12 pick on the draft's youngest player (Joshua Primo) and then semi-splurged in free agency on Zach Collins, a 23-year-old with loads of potential and even more injury issues.
Just like with Collins, San Antonio could play the long game with Bagley, who might be a development boost away from becoming a versatile big man with the size, athleticism and face-up skills to become a matchup problem for most defenders.
Terrence Ross To Cleveland
Cleveland Cavaliers receive: Terrence Ross
Orlando Magic receive: Cedi Osman, Dylan Windler, 2022 second-round pick (via HOU) and 2022 second-round pick (via SAS)
Following Orlando's flurry of trade activity at last season's deadline, Terrence Ross is the last veteran standing in the Magic kingdom. He shouldn't occupy that space for much longer.
While Orlando technically has two more years to trade him, since he's signed through 2023, his presence could present some developmental problems for this young roster. The minutes he receives are ones that can't be given to the Magic's many young perimeter players, including Jalen Suggs, Markelle Fultz, Franz Wagner, Cole Anthony and Chuma Okeke.
It would behoove the Magic to move him now, particularly in a trade that nets them potential keepers on the wing.
The word potential is key there, since Osman is coming off a rocky 2020-21 campaign, and Windler has opened his career with two injury-riddled seasons. Still, they're young enough (26 and 25, respectively) to find their footing, and if they do, each has the off-ball movement and shooting skills needed to complement the Magic's young guards.
If that's not enough to sway the front office, then the pair of second-round picks could seal the deal.
The Cavs, meanwhile, are in dire need of more shooting after finishing 2020-21 29th in threes and dead last in three-point percentage. Ross, a career 36.7 percent shooter, can be streaky, but he's a flame-thrower when he has it rolling. He'd also scratch itches for perimeter scoring and athleticism in Cleveland and give this roster a boost toward the playoff berth it's eager to make.
Buddy Hield To Atlanta
Atlanta Hawks receive: Buddy Hield
Sacramento Kings receive: Cam Reddish and Danilo Gallinari
Over the past four-plus seasons, Buddy Hield has provided the Kings with a boatload of long-balls and seemingly just as many trade whispers. Just this summer, in fact, the sweet-shooting swingman appeared on the way to being traded to the Los Angeles Lakers, before the club reversed course at the last second and pivoted to the Russell Westbrook trade.
The talks were far enough along with Hield that L.A.'s change of heart reportedly "left Sacramento management steaming," per The Athletic's Bill Oram, Shams Charania and Sam Amick. So, while Hield still has three seasons remaining on his contract, forgive us for thinking he won't spend its duration in Sacramento.
Atlanta should get in on the bidding. The Hawks were just 17th in three-point makes last season, which seems impossibly low for a Trae Young-led attack. But they didn't have a bomber like Buddy Buckets, whose 4.0 threes and 10.2 attempts would've easily paced last season's Hawks.
There would be no comfortable way for opponents to handle a Young pick-and-roll with John Collins or Clint Capela (or, once he's healthy, Onyeka Okongwu) with Hield lurking as a catch-and-splash option. The perimeter defense might bleed a bit with Young and Hield in the backcourt, but a frontcourt featuring Capela or Okongwu and De'Andre Hunter could help limit the damage.
This exchange would give the Kings better roster balance by swapping out Hield, a natural shooting guard, for Cam Reddish, a 6'8" combo forward. Reddish could also help perk up Sacramento's dismal, league-worst defense. Finally, Danilo Gallinari would add scoring punch to the Kings' frontcourt and help widen attack lanes for De'Aaron Fox, Tyrese Haliburton and Davion Mitchell to penetrate.
Ben Simmons To Indiana
Indiana Pacers receive: Ben Simmons and Isaiah Joe
Philadelphia 76ers receive: Caris LeVert, T.J. Warren, Chris Duarte and 2022 first-round pick (top-three protected)
We'll be the first to admit that sending Simmons to the Circle City is hardly a novel idea. Indiana floated an offer of Malcolm Brogdon and a first-round back in July, per KRON4's Jason Dumas, and remains a "sleeper team" in this discussion, per ESPN's Brian Windhorst.
Saying that, the Simmons saga has lasted long enough to feel fairly certain about which teams are interested and which ones aren't. So, we're forced to either go with a discussed destination or throw out some off-the-wall suggestion that has little (if any) chance of coming to fruition.
The former sounded preferable, so we're sprinkling in the twist of not centering this around Brogdon, but rather scoring swingman Caris LeVert. When healthy, he's precisely the kind of perimeter shot-creator Philly has been missing since Jimmy Butler departed in 2019. LeVert can isolate or run pick-and-roll, meaning he can carry the offense in spurts or complement a Joel Embiid-centric attack.
Now, this only works if Philly is bullish about the health of T.J. Warren, who remains sidelined by the foot fracture that has kept him out since December. But if the Sixers see hope for a sooner-than-later return, then Warren could team with Tobias Harris as interchangeable forwards who can light up the scoreboard. Put those two with LeVert, Embiid and Seth Curry, and Philly might have the blueprint for a lineup with good size and tremendous scoring punch.
The Sixers would absorb some health risks, of course, which would necessitate the inclusion of both Chris Duarte, this summer's No. 13 pick, and a lightly protected 2022 first-rounder. Given how ugly the situation with Simmons is getting, though, this might be the best on-court return the Sixers can get.
While the Pacers would need to sort out some spacing issues between Simmons and Domantas Sabonis, they'd do well to keep their All-Star center and Brogdon. That's a formidable trio, plus Indy would still have sufficient depth and Myles Turner to keep anchoring the interior or broker a separate swap for a more offensive-minded player.
Not to mention, new head coach Rick Carlisle is one of basketball's best tacticians, so if anyone can tackle the spacing question, it's probably him.
The trade cost is not insignificant. Warren ranked among the bubble's top breakout stars. LeVert has long hinted at major point-production ability and just posted a personal-best 20.2 per night. Duarte was billed as one of the draft's most pro-ready prospects and looked the part at the Las Vegas Summer League, where he averaged 18.3 points on 45.6/48.3/100.0 shooting and 3.8 assists.
Still, the Pacers have never been a destination franchise in free agency and don't figure to lose enough to land a blue-chip draft prospect any time soon. In other words, they rarely have access to a star like Simmons, who is under contract for the next four seasons.
Snagging Simmons could be a fortune-changer for Indiana, and there's a chance Isaiah Joe provides a lot of the same three-and-D game the club expects to get from Duarte. This could elevate both the Pacers' floor and ceiling, and that chance might be too tempting to overlook.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.