The 10 Best Trade Chips in the NBA Right Now
The next big NBA trade is coming soon.
That's truer now than it is on most points of the hoops calendar.
Why? Two reasons. First, the further teams get into the 2021-22 campaign, the clearer they can view their rosters' strengths, weaknesses and upside (or downside). Second, the pool of trade candidates substantially deepens in mid-December, when most players who inked free-agent pacts this summer start to become eligible to be moved.
With #TradeSZN almost upon us, it's the perfect time to inspect the cupboards of all 30 clubs and identify which trade candidates will have the league's movers and shakers...well, moving and shaking.
We'll restrict this list to players only, as even though draft picks and financial flexibility have their appeal, this path offers the easiest apples-to-apples comparisons. We'll also include only players with a realistic path to the trade market, since unobtainable trade chips aren't really trade chips at all.
All squared away on the fine print? Good, let's get going.
Mo Bamba, Orlando Magic
Now three-plus seasons removed from being the sixth overall pick in 2018, Mo Bamba might finally be realizing his destiny.
His unicorn promise as a theoretical shot-blocker and shot-maker has manifested as full-fledged unicorn production. He is one of only three players—along with fellow single-horned hoopers Myles Turner and Brook Lopez—averaging at least 1.5 threes and 2.0 blocks while shooting 39.0 percent from range.
One might assume that the 7-footer has cemented himself in the Orlando Magic's long-term plans given his age (23) and the franchise's rebuilding state, but a wide-angle view of this roster puts him in an awkward position. The Magic might already have their center of the future in Wendell Carter Jr., and once Jonathan Isaac gets healthy (knee), their frontcourt combo of the future too.
Both Isaac and Carter got contract extensions before their rookie deals were up. Bamba did not. He'll have a chance to cash in as a restricted free agent next offseason, and if he keeps up his level of play, the cost of that contract will rise. Orlando will have a tough time justifying that expense after heavily investing in other frontcourt options.
Center-needy teams should already be phoning the franchise on Bamba's behalf. He has the size, length, mobility and bounce to thrive as a rim-runner, and the growth of his outside shot could allow him to go beyond that label.
Jerami Grant, Detroit Pistons
The Detroit Pistons are nine games into this season and have already been outscored by 111 points. Some might say this is to be expected given the franchise's rebuilding state, but this isn't what Jerami Grant had in mind when he signed in free agency.
"It's not a rebuild, as [Pistons general manager] Troy [Weaver] always says," Grant said in April, per Omari Sankofa II of the Detroit Free Press. "It's not three or four years into the future. We're looking forward to doing something big next year."
The Pistons have admittedly drawn one juggernaut after the next to start this season—save for the Magic, who gave them their only win—so maybe things will improve once the schedule relents. But Detroit is starting one rookie and three sophomores. Barring some generationally great work on the player development front, this is not a roster built to compete anytime soon.
And that begs the question: What's the end game with Grant? The 27-year-old is in the heart of his prime, but he almost certainly won't be there when his teammates catch up. That's assuming he is even still in Detroit when that happens, which is not a given with only this season and the next on his contract.
If the Pistons are OK taking a step back now—and, really, how far can you fall from 1-8?—for multiple steps forward down the line, they should at least field offers for Grant, if not place a few calls themselves.
He wouldn't be a featured scorer on virtually any other roster, but handling the role out of necessity in the Motor City showcased some previously unseen offensive creation. Couple that with his defensive versatility, and he lands somewhere between a star role player and a full-fledged star who plays both ends.
Detroit could request and receive multiple picks, prospects or both by turning its best win-now contributor into win-later tools.
Buddy Hield, Sacramento Kings
The challenge in an exercise like this is usually determining whether a team would actually trade the player. That's not a question here, as the Sacramento Kings effectively traded Buddy Hield this offseason, only for the Los Angeles Lakers to back out and acquire Russell Westbrook instead. The change-of-heart reportedly "left Sacramento management steaming," per Bill Oram, Shams Charania and Sam Amick of The Athletic.
With the Kings once again hovering a hair below .500, a Hield deal is overdue. Every team in the market for a long-range sniper should bombard Sacramento's decision-makers with calls, texts and emails about the 28-year-old guard.
His game might run a little one-note, but it happens to be the note every modern NBA team is trying to hit. He makes the league's very short list of top snipers, as only Stephen Curry is averaging more makes than Hield's nightly allotment of 4.4 triples. And Hield has the upper hand on Curry in three-pointers with a 40.3 percent clip to the reigning scoring champion's 38.8 percent mark.
So far this season, Hield is largely feasting on catch-and-shoot chances (43.3 percent), but in 2020-21, he was nearly as lethal off the bounce (38.4 percent). That should give him far-reaching appeal, as he can operate both with a ball-dominant table-setter or within an offense needing more off-the-dribble verve.
He isn't cheap ($22.5 million base salary this season), but he isn't prohibitively expensive either, since his salary will decline roughly $2 million over each of the next two campaigns.
CJ McCollum, Portland Trail Blazers
Portland avoided a DEFCON-1 scare this summer, as Damian Lillard came dangerously close to wanting out before recommitting to the team. The trade winds around the Blazers superstar haven't disappeared, though, as The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor reported some rival executives view Lillard's change of heart as nothing more than "a strategic choice ... to create leverage for the organization."
The only way for the Blazers to silence skeptics would be to win a boatload of games and finally flash an actual championship ceiling. Portland has quieted no one with its choppy 5-5 start.
That's how CJ McCollum could wind up in the trade crosshairs, a place he has frequented any time someone questions the ceiling of a Lillard-McCollum backcourt. McCollum isn't quite as potent as his longtime running mate, and while his scoring can be close (the shooting guard actually has the edge so far this season), he is a few tiers back as an offensive organizer.
Having said that, McCollum should have massive appeal for those in the market for a No. 2 scorer and secondary distributor. His handles are slippery enough to create separation in a phone booth, and his cashmere-soft shooting touch works on the move or off the catch. He eviscerated one-on-one matchups last season and landed in the 89th percentile on isolations.
He doesn't have much size (6'3") or great explosion, both of which limit his defensive impact, which is why the Blazers could explore a literal changing of the (shooting) guard. But his offense is near-elite, and that's enough to attract any scoring-starved shoppers.
Cam Reddish, Atlanta Hawks
Cam Reddish ranked among the most intriguing players of the 2019 draft class, and two-plus seasons into his career, intriguing remains his best descriptor.
He seems like he might only need a chance to spread his wings (pun only partially intended), but the Atlanta Hawks are so loaded on the wing, they can't quite give it to him. Their starting roles belong to Bogdan Bogdanovic and De'Andre Hunter, and Kevin Huerter commands some of the backup minutes, which has left Reddish clinging to a career-low 22.4 minutes of floor time per night.
That's not enough to see if he can turn his flashes of hyper-versatility into something more. If he could, though, he might offer everything from multipositional defense and perimeter splashing to shot creation and more than a pinch of playmaking.
"He fits the mold that teams have a need for right now," an NBA executive told HoopsHype's Michael Scotto. "He's a 6'8", athletic and versatile player that can make shots. ... Right now, he doesn't have a good sample size of being consistent. It's just been flashes. He's definitely somebody I'd be going after."
According to Scotto, Atlanta made Reddish available both at the trade deadline and around the draft. He will be extension-eligible next summer, so the Hawks would be wise to explore his market once again, especially if they aren't keen on covering the cost of his next contract.
Terrence Ross, Orlando Magic
The NBA may not have a more logical trade candidate than Terrence Ross, one of the oldest veterans in the Magic kingdom.
The 30-year-old clearly doesn't fit with Orlando's rebuilding timeline. He should have far-reaching interest as an athletic shot-maker who can ignite in an instant. And while Ross' contract runs through 2023, the Magic could maximize their return by moving him now and giving contenders an offensive weapon they can use for their next two playoff runs.
"He'll be moved," an executive told Scotto. "They were trying to move him at the draft. They wanted to put him in a place where he could win."
The Magic might take the patient route with Ross, since his offense has been uncharacteristically cool. Both his 38.4 percent field-goal rate and his 27.7 percent three-point rate would be the worst of his career, and his 8.9 points per game are the third-fewest he has ever produced.
Trade suitors may not hold those marks against him, though. His potency has long been established—he's averaged 14-plus points per night in each of the past three seasons—and there are plenty of growing pains occurring around him.
Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers
At some point, the Philadelphia 76ers will grant Ben Simmons' wish for a trade out of town. The situation could drag on—perhaps for four years if you want to take president Daryl Morey's words at face value—but the fact that Simmons remains in Philly for now hardly indicates a lack of desire around the league.
In fact, B/R's Jake Fischer reported at least 10 teams "remain engaged" in Simmons talks, including the Boston Celtics, Portland Trail Blazers and Toronto Raptors. The issue is compensation, as the Sixers are hoping to bring back an All-Star when they send out their own. As Charania reported, a blockbuster with Boston, for instance, "would have to include" Jaylen Brown.
That's an enormous price—almost assuredly too much unless the Sixers have other sweeteners the C's want—but Philly is within its rights to set the bar so high.
Simmons might have his shortcomings (basically, anything connected to shooting), but he's a 25-year-old star who can create shots for teammates, perform aerial acrobatics in the open court and defend as well as (if not better than) anyone. He is at least the Association's most versatile stopper, having spent at least 10 percent his 2020-21 minutes guarding each position, per BBall Index.
He should arguably have universal appeal, or something close to it, since he has proved he can bulk up a contender but is young enough to entice a forward-thinker. Players like him are rarely up for grabs so early in their careers.
Myles Turner, Indiana Pacers
Myles Turner has spent much of his Pacers tenure in proximity to the rumor mill. He is good but not great, the same is typically true of the team, and Indiana never seems to escape the treadmill of mediocrity.
This could be the year in which Indiana makes the (overdue) decision to break apart its jumbo frontcourt combo of Turner and Domantas Sabonis and pivots into the 21st century.
Why now? Well, the Pacers, who are off to a 4-7 start, might soon find their hiring of coach Rick Carlisle isn't enough to move them up a tier. Also, whenever they get T.J. Warren back—potentially late December or January, per Charania—they can modernize their frontcourt by sliding him to the 4 spot (where he engineered his bubble breakout) and letting Sabonis hold down the 5.
Not to mention, Turner might be helping the Pacers strike while the iron is hottest. His 8.5 rebounds per game are a career high, his 14.5 points match his personal best and his 2.9 blocks once again lead the league. If he had a surer shot from the foul line, he could even make a run at 50/40/90 enshrinement, since he's bagging 53.4 percent of his field goals and 41.4 percent of his long-range looks.
James Wiseman, Golden State Warriors
The Warriors aren't hurrying to unload James Wiseman. But they aren't making him off-limits either.
They simply need "a home run type" of trade to pull the trigger, The Athletic's Anthony Slater said on the HoopsHype Podcast.
That's a reasonable stance, since Wiseman, the second overall pick in 2020, remains overloaded with potential. He's a bouncy 7-footer who can rock the rim and protect it, and his flashes of outside shooting hint at an incredible upside.
But will the Warriors to continue to wait for him to realize it while 33-year-old Stephen Curry is power-lifting his way through the remainder of his prime? Golden State has reasons to let the Chef cook—when someone can go for 50 points and 10 assists, you kind of have to let him—but it probably didn't plan on him spending his 30s by logging the three highest usage rates of his career.
Curry needs more ready-to-contribute help, and Wiseman is the key to go find it. Long-term rebuilders should be drooling over his best-case scenario, which could feature focal-point scoring and elite paint protection.
Christian Wood, Houston Rockets
There are 11 players averaging at least 12 shots per game and shooting worse than 37 percent from the field. Only two teammates are on that list: Houston's starting backcourt combo of Kevin Porter Jr. and Jalen Green.
Such is life in Space City post-James Harden, whose departure in a four-team trade in January sent the organization into a top-to-bottom overhaul. Christian Wood, who turned 26 in September, holds a curious position in the process, as he's technically young enough to keep but arguably more valuable as a trade chip, especially if the Rockets aren't 100 percent certain he'll stick around when his contract expires in 2023.
Speaking of which, his discounted deal ($13.7 million this season, $14.3 million next year) could help him vault near the top of the trade markets if the Rockets made him available. His production is hard to find from anyone, let alone from a player on a clearance contract. Only he, reigning MVP Nikola Jokic and reigning MIP Julius Randle are averaging at least 17 points, 11 boards and 1.5 threes per game—let alone from a player on a clearance contract.
Oh, and Wood's numbers are mostly down from this point in last season, when the Rockets hadn't leaned so heavily into a youth movement. Back then, only he and Karl-Anthony Towns had averaged at least 21.0 points, 9.0 rebounds, 1.5 threes and 1.0 block. Wood's field-goal percentage was also nearly five points higher (51.4) than it is now (46.5).
Suitors should give Wood the benefit of the doubt with efficiency, since the erratic play around him has brought more defensive attention in his direction. He is a special talent on offense with scoring range that reaches from the paint to the perimeter, and while his defense lacks discipline, his length and athleticism help him challenge shots at the rim and keep him from getting cooked too often away from it.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.