Ideal Landing Spots for NBA's Top Trade Targets
But the trade-speculation business never stops booming, and the NBA is riddled with opportunistic front offices hoping to scoop up seemingly distressed assets.
The players here cover the full spectrum, from stars who could help any squad to near-washouts who need second chances to salvage their careers. We'll look for landing spots that provide these guys the best opportunity to succeed.
This isn't about finding a change of scenery for its own sake. This is about zeroing in on the most mutually beneficial situation for the league's top trade targets.
Marvin Bagley III: Oklahoma City Thunder
The way things are going, Marvin Bagley III would probably be happy with a trade to CSKA Moscow. But we can do better than that.
With his agent, Jeff Schwartz of Excel Sports, incinerating whatever splinters remained of the bridge between Bagley and the Sacramento Kings, it's crystal clear a move is imminent. That the Kings haven't already sent Bagley, the No. 2 pick in the 2018 draft, elsewhere is something of a miracle. Schwartz has been trying to liberate his client for over a year, according to ESPN's Brian Windhorst.
Bagley wants to play, but the Kings are within their rights to deny him a rotation role. Through three injury-hit seasons, Bagley hasn't earned the minutes he craves. Ineffective defense at the 4 and the 5, inefficient scoring and a general lack of feel have defined Bagley's time in Sacramento. While it might be a mistake to assume those shortcomings will disappear elsewhere, he is still just 22 and does possess undeniable athleticism.
This is an extreme buy-low opportunity, and the Oklahoma City Thunder are uniquely positioned to absorb whatever downside risk might come with a talented player who simply hasn't found his footing. Worst case, Bagley flops in OKC, and the Thunder let him walk in restricted free agency. Best case, the springy lefty shows flashes of offensive punch, figures out where he fits defensively and forces the Thunder to think about matching if he signs an offer sheet this coming summer.
Oklahoma City isn't interested in winning games any time soon, so it could let Bagley explore the studio space without worrying about the damage he's doing to its record. Plus, with so many other young and undeveloped prospects filling out the rebuilding roster, Bagley's growing pains wouldn't be so, well, painful. He'd fit right in.
The Thunder have spent the last couple of seasons hoarding first-round picks, hoping a few of them land in the high lottery. Bagley, devalued as he's become, was one of those in 2018. Playing for a glorified G League team, maybe he'll remind everyone why.
Goran Dragic: Dallas Mavericks
The Dallas Mavericks came into the year looking short on secondary playmakers, and their early offensive struggles suggest that preseason perception is reality. Any team with Luka Doncic is probably going to do just fine in the scoring department overall, but the Mavs can't let their franchise star wear down again under such a heavy load.
Goran Dragic is playing his age-35 season, so the wheels could fall off at any time. But he averaged 13.4 points last year and rated better than average at his position in points per shot attempt. His teams have scored more efficiently with him on the court in every year but one over the past decade, so the veteran guard would bring quite the track record of helpful offense to the table, addressing a key need.
And, yes, you should be issuing me congratulations for waiting until the third paragraph to note that Dragic, a friend of Doncic and a compatriot on the Slovenian national team, might be someone with whom the Mavs' cornerstone would like to play.
This one makes too much sense on every front. It feels more like a when than an if.
Buddy Hield: Denver Nuggets
"Buddy's going to be gone," an NBA executive told Michael Scotto of HoopsHype. "They already traded him and had a done deal."
When a franchise has already essentially dealt a player, only to have that deal fall through at the last second, there's a good chance a transaction that actually sticks is on the way. And in Buddy Hield's case, the fact that the sharpshooting wing has been displeased with his role more than once in recent years makes a trade even more likely.
Though he's a bit overpaid at $20.5 million per year through 2023-24, Hield's contract declines annually. And there's also the small matter of shooting being the league's universally sought-after commodity. If Hield is willing to come off the bench like he currently is for the Kings, he'd be a fit anywhere.
The Denver Nuggets stand out as a compelling option.
Though it wouldn't be ideal to slot Hield into a first unit with fellow suspect defenders Michael Porter Jr. and Nikola Jokic, he could effectively prop up reserve groups with his shooting. James Harden is the only player who's made more total threes than Hield since the start of the 2017-18 season. Denver was 15th in made threes last year and 19th the year before—not fatal, but perhaps not good enough if you're serious about contending.
It's also possible that if Porter gets his defense into "average" territory, Aaron Gordon could cover up for enough mistakes so Hield could see more time with the starters—or, more importantly, the closers.
The Kings have their three-guard rotation of the future in De'Aaron Fox, Tyrese Haliburton and Davion Mitchell. Though Hield's quick-trigger scoring plays anywhere, it would play better in Denver than Sacramento, where his exit has felt like a foregone conclusion for a while.
Kyrie Irving: Oklahoma City Thunder
We've made on-court fit a priority in choosing landing spots, but the Kyrie Irving situation is unique. It's unclear whether he'll see the floor at all this year. Maybe that's why the Nets have taken calls on him, according to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, but have yet to make a deal.
Irving, unvaccinated, certainly won't play for the Brooklyn Nets unless and until he gets the shot required by local ordinance. But he's taken time away from his team for personal reasons in the past, and it's difficult to know how he'd react to being dealt to another team. Based on his current status and track record, no one's availability is more dubious.
The uncertainty of his attendance complicates any hypothetical trade, and his potential free agency (player option for 2022-23) should make any suitor very nervous. How much should a team give up for a guy who might not want to wear its uniform this season, and who could choose another jersey in July?
From a purely practical standpoint, we have no choice but to bring the Oklahoma City Thunder back into the chat. They're the league's island of misfit toys, the franchise that takes on unwanted salaries and either flips them (Al Horford) or buys them out (Kemba Walker). All they want are draft picks, and the Nets could attach a heavily protected first-rounder to Irving, which might be all it'd take considering the understandably low interest in Irving around the league.
The Nets wouldn't be getting much for a player they thought was a cornerstone, but they're getting nothing at all for him as it stands right now. Brooklyn could create a $35.3 million trade exception, per ESPN's Tim Bontemps and Bobby Marks, which would at least give Brooklyn the means to bring in another high-salaried star should one become available later this season. That's a real asset for a title contender like the Nets.
Meanwhile, the Thunder could flip Irving if he has a change of heart about playing, let him walk in free agency or simply allow him to collect checks while doing nothing at all. To them, any deal would be all about the draft equity.
Let's hear it for the Thunder, the NBA's dumping ground.
Ben Simmons: Minnesota Timberwolves
The Minnesota Timberwolves need defensive help at virtually every position, and Ben Simmons can guard across all five spots.
Reciprocally, Simmons needs almost everything the Wolves can provide: dramatically lowered, non-championship expectations; reduced pressure; floor-spacing shooters from the other positions in the first unit; a clean slate.
This is a perfect match, so what's the holdup?
Oh, right. The fact that the Wolves don't have the trade ammo to make a decent offer for Simmons without involving a third team and adding layers of complication to the process. If Minnesota put Anthony Edwards on the table, it'd get the Philadelphia 76ers' attention. But that's not happening.
Even if a Simmons-to-Minnesota swap is logistically tricky, you have to acknowledge the theoretical fit. D'Angelo Russell has hit just over 39.0 percent of his catch-and-shoot threes in each of the last three years, so he'd be fine as an off-ball option whenever Simmons had the rock. Edwards is a foundational piece and needs his touches, but he's barely 20 years old and could benefit from a few easy reps as a second-side attacker against scrambling defenses. Plus, Simmons' relentless transition pushes would put Edwards' athleticism to great use, making him an even bigger nightmare on the break.
The synergy between Simmons, a multi-position defender who can't/won't shoot, and Karl-Anthony Towns, one of the best perimeter-sniping bigs in NBA history, is beyond obvious.
The on-court fit is a dream, and from a personal standpoint, Simmons could hardly find a more off-the-radar NBA locale than Minnesota. Philadelphia is the most notoriously intense sports town in the country. The noise and pressure are inescapable. A move to the Wolves, for Simmons, would feel like changing the station from death metal to NPR.