1 Trade Target Every NBA Team Should Be Thinking About
It's never too early to plan for NBA trades.
And that's true for teams searching for the highest level difference-makers or end-of-the-rotation specialists.
Executives don't want to wind up on the least prepared side of the negotiating table. They need to have a firm idea of who (or what) they want, how badly they need him and what their walk-away trade cost is.
To help get the process moving, we're spotlighting one trade target who should already be on the radar of each NBA team.
Atlanta Hawks: David Nwaba
The Hawks are better than their 4-8 start suggests. Last season's run to the Eastern Conference Finals with largely the same personnel makes that pretty obvious.
However, while patience could cure a lot of this club's early ills, the same may not be true of its 27th-ranked defense. That's worse than expected, but it's not like this was some defensive juggernaut last season (18th).
Atlanta must improve its point-of-attack defense and stop giving opponents free passes to penetrate. If that's still an issue in mid-January when David Nwaba becomes trade-eligible, he'd be worth a phone call to the Houston Rockets. He doesn't fit their timeline at all, and his hustle and relentless on-ball defense could help him carve out a niche in Atlanta.
Boston Celtics: Dejounte Murray
The Celtics had eyes on Ben Simmons for a reason. Not a good enough reason to sacrifice Jaylen Brown, obviously, but they could get plenty of mileage from upping their size, distributing and defense in the backcourt.
Maybe Dejounte Murray could scratch those itches for a more reasonable price.
He was reportedly "gettable" around the draft, per The Athletic's Zach Harper, and while Murray has been good out of the gate, the rebuilding San Antonio Spurs might not be in a position to treat the 25-year-old as a centerpiece. Having him push the tempo, attack the basket and balance touches between Jayson Tatum and Brown might be the move that gets the Celtics to contending status.
Brooklyn Nets: Mike Muscala
Blake Griffin and Paul Millsap look like they aged in dog years this offseason. Nicolas Claxton was up and down before an illness forced him off the floor. James Johnson should be kept behind emergency glass. Rookie Day'Ron Sharpe is too raw to contribute.
The Nets need to address their frontcourt between now and the deadline. Their dream get might be Derrick Favors, who they once drafted third overall in 2010, but his $9.7 million salary doesn't fit the budget. Brooklyn could instead target his Oklahoma City Thunder teammate Mike Muscala, whose rebounding and outside shooting would be helpful to have.
Charlotte Hornets: Myles Turner
Charlotte's summer switch at center from Cody Zeller to Mason Plumlee was a step in the right direction, but the Hornets can and should go a step further.
Plumlee is fine, but Charlotte should aim higher than fine with LaMelo Ball and Miles Bridges doing everything they can to raise the ceiling. Giving this nucleus an impact 5 like Myles Turner, who, at 25 years old, might be the perfect age to both help lead and grow with this core, could allow Buzz City believers to let their imaginations run wild.
Turner, the Association's top shot-blocker for the third time in four seasons, could give the Hornets' 28th-ranked defense the backbone it lacks. The fact that he also happens to be a fire-baller from three (28 splashes at a 44.4 percent clip so far) means he could help keep the runways cleared for Ball and Bridges to take flight.
Chicago Bulls: Cam Reddish
Chicago's wing depth didn't look great even before Patrick Williams suffered potentially season-ending torn ligaments in his left wrist. Javonte Green might be exceeding expectations, but Troy Brown Jr. has fallen short of his, so consider that a wash.
The Bulls need more wings. And if they share the belief of some that Williams' ultimate NBA home will be the 4 spot, they might want to focus on finding someone who can stick on the wings now and moving forward.
Someone like Cam Reddish. The 22-year-old swingman was reportedly available "at the trade deadline and around the draft," executives told HoopsHype's Michael Scotto. Reddish might offer more potential than production, but that—plus his extension eligibility in 2022—could keep his trade cost under control. If he maxes out his natural ability, you're talking about multipositional defense, smooth outside shooting and shot-creation for himself and his teammates.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Terrence Ross
Collin Sexton's season wasn't going great before it was sidetracked by a meniscus tear in his left knee. His points and three-point percentage were both personal worsts, and his field-goal shooting was down to a three-year low.
But guess what? He was—and still is—Cleveland's high scorer: with 16.0 points per game. For everything the Cavs have gotten right so far, bucket-getting isn't one of them.
Enter Terrence Ross. The lone veteran left behind on the overhauled Orlando Magic, Ross has a fiery three-ball and explosive athleticism to offer whichever win-now shopper rescues him. Cleveland could really use his ignitable scoring, not to mention the depth he'd provide on the wing.
Dallas Mavericks: Mitchell Robinson
It's tempting to go with a second shot-creator here, since that might help bring the best out of Luka Doncic. However, finding and acquiring a substantial upgrade over what they have—Jalen Brunson is averaging 14.7 points on 49.6 percent shooting with 4.7 assists and only 1.5 turnovers—might totally tank the team's asset collection. And even that's assuming the Mavs could actually afford such a splurge.
So, Dallas instead might want to target a defensive-minded big man who can both ease the burden on Kristaps Porzingis and ease the impact of his many trips to the injury report.
Mitchell Robinson is an audacious aim as the starting center of a New York Knicks team trying for consecutive playoff trips. However, the Knicks learned they could live without him last season, and they know life with him will get pricey in the near future since he needs a new deal by next offseason. If New York stagnates or simply doesn't want to pay Robinson, Dallas should be ready to pounce.
Denver Nuggets: Danuel House Jr.
The Nuggets are theoretically fascinating on the big-fish front. Since Nikola Jokic looks ready to lead a championship run, and his supporting cast might be a half-step behind him, this front office has surely weighed the merits of moving all-in now or waiting for a few more developmental breaks. You could kill an entire afternoon mentally exercising your way through a Damian Lillard-for-Jamal Murray blockbuster.
Still, every sign out of Denver—namely, the wave of extensions that has showered over the roster—says all of its major maneuvers are in the books, and that further activity will only be made on the margins. There, the Nuggets could help themselves by finding a defensive-minded wing who isn't a zero on offense.
Danuel House Jr. fits that job description. He's a career 36.5 percent shooter from distance, and this is the second time in four seasons that he's converting better than 40 percent of his long-range looks. He also has the physical tools to hang with most guards and forwards defensively.
Detroit Pistons: Draft Picks
Rebuilding projects feel like they're taking forever in the moment, but the Pistons should remind themselves how new they are to the process. Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose aren't even a calendar year removed from this roster. It should be full speed ahead toward whichever draft picks are up for grabs this trade season.
The Pistons aren't as young as you think. There are really only four rotation players who have less than three full seasons under their belt: rookie Cade Cunningham and sophomores Saddiq Bey, Killian Hayes and Isaiah Stewart. Even if all four are keepers—fingers crossed for Hayes, but it's not super encouraging so far—the long-term nucleus still needs expanding.
Detroit faithful might disagree, but the front office should arguably take calls on anyone else. Yes, that includes Jerami Grant, who has mostly dazzled in the Motor City but isn't the cleanest timeline fit as a 27-year-old and is only signed through next season.
Golden State Warriors: Karl-Anthony Towns
Karl-Anthony Towns may not publicly endorse the idea, but we will: #FreeKAT. This is his seventh season with the Minnesota Timberwolves, and if their current six-game losing streak is any indication, it will be his sixth without a playoff trip.
"Just want to win. I can't elaborate too much on that," a dejected Towns said after Wednesday's 13-point loss in Golden State, per Chris Hine of the Star Tribune. "I just want to win."
The Warriors could make that happen, provided that putting Towns in the same offense as Stephen Curry and a (hopefully) healthy Klay Thompson wouldn't open up some sort of black hole in the basketball universe. Golden State would instantly have super-spacing, even if it filled out its closing five with Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala.
Some might argue that Golden State, the league leader with a 10-1 record, doesn't need to swing this big, but doing anything other than fully investing in the remainder of Curry's career would be a missed opportunity.
Houston Rockets: Whatever Teams Will Give Up for Eric Gordon
The Rockets need to keep putting the good Eric Gordon numbers in front of potential trade partners: 13.4 points per game on 50.6/51.3/73.1 shooting. Finding efficiency in the wasteland that is this rebuilder's 28th-ranked offense is no small miracle, and Gordon has enough outside-the-arc touch and inside-the-arc wiggle to perk up virtually any second unit.
Houston just has to be careful about his less flattering numbers getting out. You know, like how his 33rd birthday is approaching, or how he suited up just 63 times the past two seasons combined (and only topped 70 games twice in his 14-year career), or how he is owed $18.2 million for this season and $19.6 million for the next.
It's not impossible for someone to be desperate enough for a scoring spark to part with something remotely valuable for Gordon. The Rockets should probably pounce regardless of what it is, because if (when, really) his shooting cools off, no one will have reason to overlook his warts.
Indiana Pacers: Jerami Grant
The Pacers probably don't want to pull the plug this quickly into Rick Carlisle's coaching tenure, so if they do make changes to their core, they'll likely want win-now talent in return for whoever they send out.
Frontcourt adjustments seem likeliest, as the Myles Turner-Domantas Sabonis pairing has always been a curious combo for the modern game. It limits what this club can do at either end of the floor, as the extra size strips away some of the speed and versatility most of today's teams can get from the 4 spot.
Jerami Grant could deliver both while also giving the Pacers a better defensive option for throwing at big wing scorers. Conversely, the Pacers could help him restore his offensive efficiency by dramatically upgrading the playmakers and scoring threats he has around him.
Los Angeles Clippers: Tomas Satoransky
The Clippers have kept competitive enough that it should make sense to buy at the trade deadline, even if there's no clarity on Kawhi Leonard's return from the partial ACL tear he suffered during the 2021 postseason.
However, the playmaking need that predated Leonard's injury hasn't gone away. Paul George is the top distributor with just 5.4 assists per game, while Reggie Jackson and Eric Bledsoe are the only other players dishing three helpers a night.
Tomas Satoransky could provide some of the grease this offense needs to get going. He works as both a secondary distributor and a serviceable shooter, and he shouldn't be too hard to pry away from the going-nowhere-fast New Orleans Pelicans.
Los Angeles Lakers: Terence Davis
It's hard to get a good grip on the Lakers when their injury report reads more like a short story. Then again, injuries were arguably the biggest worry with fielding a roster this old, so it's possible similar problems persist throughout the season.
Having said that, there were preseason concerns about this group's perimeter collection, both for its shooting and its defense. None has been alleviated, and the Lakers roster has so many specialists that coach Frank Vogel is often left choosing between a spacer or a stopper on the wing.
Now, is it possible for a bargain shopper to find a two-way wing on the trade market? Probably not, but a dart throw at Terence Davis might make sense if he is obviously not a big part of the Sacramento Kings' plans by the time he becomes trade-eligible in mid-January. When he has it rolling, he brings athleticism, shooting and defensive versatility to the perimeter.
Memphis Grizzlies: Brandon Ingram
The Grizzlies don't need to do anything to accelerate their rebuild. Considering some of the forward-thinking moves they made this offseason, they're probably ahead of schedule with a winning record through the early going.
Still, Memphis should sense an opportunity to do something really special sooner than later thanks to the tremendous talent of Ja Morant. Give us control of this front office, and we would try to clear the explosive point guard for take-off by giving him a top-shelf co-star.
That a trade would also rescue Brandon Ingram from whatever is going down in the Crescent City is icing on the cake. Before a hip injury forced him off the floor, he was the one Pelican finding success amid the chaos. His reality isn't much different from the best-case scenario for Memphis rookie Ziaire Williams. Rather than waiting and hoping Williams one day becomes Ingram 2.0, why not make an aggressive move for the real thing right now?
Miami Heat: D.J. Augustin
Maybe the Heat have a different read on their situation, but from here, it looks like it should be marginal moves only this trade season.
Miami could search for more size and insurance behind Bam Adebayo, but it might get more mileage out of adding a veteran point guard to the second unit. That would let Tyler Herro focus even more on his individual scoring, and it could cover up the fact that Gabe Vincent may not be ready to perform on the stages this squad could grace.
D.J. Augustin might be up for the task, though, and the 34-year-old could even get some extra pep in his step by having a contender graciously end his run with the Rockets. He can run a second-team attack, but he doesn't need to play on the basketball, so Miami could still let Herro dominate as many possessions as he wants. Augustin's experience and trusty three ball (career 38 percent) could prove invaluable for Herro's ongoing development.
Milwaukee Bucks: Garrett Temple
The injury bug has mercilessly attacked Milwaukee this season, which has made it harder for the defending champs to mask their limitations with depth. We're just guessing the Bucks weren't planning on Justin Robinson logging more minutes than Jrue Holiday or Sandro Mamukelashvili seeing more floor time than Brook Lopez.
Milwaukee should already be on the hunt for reliable reserves, and adding a backcourt player who can defend and not destroy the offensive spacing would make a lot of sense.
That's basically the blueprint of Garrett Temple's NBA career, which has now spanned 12 seasons, including a nine-game stretch with Milwaukee in 2010-11. He brings more defense than offense, but he should be just threatening enough as a three-point shooter (career 34.6 percent) to keep opponents from completely collapsing on Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Ben Simmons
Small-picture, this might look like just another disappointing season for a franchise that has experienced plenty in Minnesota. Big-picture, though, this could be a fork-in-the-road moment with Karl-Anthony Towns. If the Wolves can't scratch his itch for success now, they could have major questions of whether it's even possible to do so before he reaches free agency in 2024.
Minnesota needs to swing for the fences this trade season, and winning the Ben Simmons sweepstakes could be an absolute moonshot.
This could be the perfect fit for both sides. The Wolves need his defensive excellence, and their young players would be elevated by Simmons' desire to push the pace. Simmons needs an offense better tailored to his game than the Philadelphia 76ers have constructed, and Minnesota has the athletes (ninth in pace) and shooters (second in three-point makes) to thrive with his preferred play style.
New Orleans Pelicans: Bol Bol
No team should envy New Orleans right now.
The Pelicans seemingly need a splash to impress Zion Williamson—and perhaps calm worries that New Orleans isn't the right place for him—but how could they justify sacrificing real assets? The team is objectively awful (last in winning percentage and net efficiency), and its only possible savior might be weeks away from his 2021-22 debut.
New Orleans needs a miracle find in the clearance bin. Maybe Bol Bol could do the trick. This is his third season in Denver, and he's still awaiting his first as a member of the rotation. Denver couldn't possibly ask for much and keep a straight face. Theoretically, though, Bol could bring the shooting and shot-blocking combo that would fit best next to Williamson up front.
New York Knicks: Damian Lillard
Small-market fans won't want to hear this, but the Knicks are right to dream as big as their imagination allows. The blue-and-orange brand will always hold weight with NBA elites when this team is winning, which it has been since the start of last season.
So, why not keep the wildest dreams alive and hope that Damian Lillard finally tires of the Portland Trail Blazers and seeks a split? Sure, that thinking runs counter to his recent professions of loyalty, but some are skeptical about the quick change of heart given what he said about his situation this offseason.
"[Damian Lillard] goes from making these vague comments about, 'Yeah, I don't know how long I'll be here' like weeks before the season to suddenly, 'I'm all in,'" The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor said (via HoopsHype). "There are front-office executives around the league who think this is a strategic choice by the Blazers, Dame's group and all that in order to create leverage for the organization."
The Knicks would be overjoyed if that's the case. Lillard is exactly the kind of superstar this organization has been waiting for, and his arrival could mark New York's ascension to true contending status. Obviously, the Knicks would cut into some of their roster to make it happen—RJ Barrett would almost certainly be involved—but a remaining core built around Lillard and Julius Randle should have at least a puncher's chance to escape the Eastern Conference.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Marvin Bagley III
Not going with a draft pick might be the most surprising selection of the lot, but OKC doesn't have enough established talent to pry a first-rounder away from a contender. While it's still worth working the market to try finding a second for someone like Derrick Favors or Mike Muscala, that wouldn't match the impact of uncovering an undervalued prospect like Marvin Bagley III.
Now, is it being generous to still label Bagley as a prospect? You could make that argument if you're a glass-empty pessimist. But our glasses are overflowing around here, and we aren't ready to bail on 2018's second overall pick just because he couldn't find traction in Sacramento.
If the cost is minimal—and given what's been going on with Bagley, it should be—the Thunder could get a clearance-priced close-up on a potential keeper. For his career, he has averaged 20.5 points and 10.6 rebounds per 36 minutes. OKC has nothing to lose by giving him the chance to show if that production could hold up with a substantially increased workload.
Orlando Magic: First-Round Pick
Most teams need some time to know whether they should buy or sell that particular trade season.
The Magic aren't one of them.
They've been in sell mode since the last trade deadline, and they still have at least one major piece to ship out in spark-plug swingman Terrence Ross. But they should also keep their ears open if anyone comes calling for Robin Lopez or Gary Harris (hey, fans are free to dream, right?), and they'll want to drive up a Mo Bamba bidding war if they aren't planning on paying him in 2022 restricted free agency.
Philadelphia 76ers: Damian Lillard
Skeptics will question the feasibility of Philadelphia turning Ben Simmons into Damian Lillard. That's fine. They might have a gap between them in trade value, though it's not cavernous by any means. Whether the Trail Blazers would be starting over without Lillard or trying to remain competitive with the rest of its core, Simmons could help as a 25-year-old All-Star who was Defensive Player of the Year runner-up just last season.
At the very least, the separation between them isn't wide enough to change Philadelphia's plans of trading Simmons for Lillard directly or flipping him for a package that pulls Lillard out of Portland.
If the Sixers were crashing and burning without Simmons, that would be one thing. Before multiple impact players wound up in the health and safety protocols, Philly was leading the Eastern Conference.
That gives the Sixers time to wait. Maybe enough of it for Lillard to get restless and really make things interesting. The promise of a Lillard-Joel Embiid partnership is sweet enough to see if this can happen before considering any Plan B's.
Phoenix Suns: Thaddeus Young
Phoenix has a drool-worthy collection of forwards. At least, it will once Jae Crowder and Cam Johnson start bagging their normal rate of three-balls. Once that happens, them and the perpetually improving Mikal Bridges will give the Suns most anything they could want from role-playing forwards.
Except for depth. Functionally, that's about all Phoenix has for forwards. Abdel Nader could stretch things out a bit, but he doesn't have the longest track record and has been brutal out of the gate.
The Suns could take this forward group next-level by bringing in Thaddeus Young, especially if the San Antonio Spurs are big enough Jalen Smith fans for him to headline the outgoing package. Young is a jack of almost every trade—his three-point shot is fading, but everything else is solid or better—and he would give Phoenix more lineup flexibility by comfortably sliding between the 4 and 5 spots.
Portland Trail Blazers: Harrison Barnes
If the Blazers take the nuclear option and deal away Damian Lillard, then they should lean all the way into liquidation mode. Take as many picks and prospects as the market will bear for CJ McCollum, Jusuf Nurkic, Robert Covington, Larry Nance Jr. and Norman Powell and then build the next core around Anfernee Simons, Nassir Little and whichever other up-and-comers stick.
If Portland isn't ready for that plunge, though, it needs to upgrade what Lillard has around him. As per usual, the Blazers should be in the market for two-way forwards, and Harrison Barnes would be a great get if the Sacramento Kings hold their own every-vet-must-go sale.
This is Barnes' age-29 season, and he has never looked better. Among his many career highs are 21.4 points, 8.6 rebounds and a 42.5 percent connection rate from three. Finding a path to him would be the kind of signal this front office needs to send Lillard.
Sacramento Kings: Ben Simmons
While the Kings haven't booked a playoff trip since 2006, they also haven't bottomed out much during this stretch. That means they haven't brought enough blue-chip prospects to town since they typically aren't drafting high enough to land them.
That, more than anything, is why Sacramento should consider making an aggressive bid for Ben Simmons. He is more accomplished than anyone on the roster, and while his strengths and weaknesses seem pretty defined at this point, it's worth noting he is 25 years old and has fewer than 300 career contests under his belt. It's not outside the realm of possibility that he becomes something greater than his current form.
Beyond that, the Kings aren't so married to a core or play style that they couldn't tweak things for Simmons. If he bought into fewer touches and more ball screens, he'd be a half-court helper and open-court acrobatic partner of De'Aaron Fox, Tyrese Haliburton and Davion Mitchell (or whichever ones weren't needed to complete a Simmons swap).
San Antonio Spurs: Deni Avdija
The Wizards have guessed right on the majority of their recent roster moves, but the jury is still out on them spending 2020's ninth overall pick on Deni Avdija. He didn't do much as a rookie, and he's doing even less as a sophomore, with his minutes, points and shooting rates all backtracking.
Washington could play it patiently with him, but with Bradley Beal's 2022 free-agency venture still hovering above this franchise, the Wizards might feel pressured to move him for more immediate help.
Avdija's statistical declines might scare off some potential trade suitors, but they could ring a distressed-asset alert in the Alamo City. The Spurs have a history out of finding value where others can't, and their long-term plans just so happen to need another forward or two. If their famed development system can get Avdija's shooting straightened out, they could have a 20-year-old, two-way playmaker on their hands.
Toronto Raptors: A Draft Pick from Dallas
It's too early to tell what direction Toronto should take with this team. The Raptors could win enough to warrant some present-focused deadline purchasing, but if they clearly aren't contenders, it might make more sense to shop Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet and reset around OG Anunoby and Scottie Barnes.
One thing seems certain, though: Goran Dragic doesn't fit. In five games, he went from being in the starting lineup to out of the rotation. Rookie Dalano Banton passed him in the rotation, and even if Banton falters, Toronto might prefer sophomore Malachi Flynn to Dragic.
This won't help Dragic's trade value, but the Mavs could still part with something to get him. He has a close relationship with fellow Slovenian Luka Doncic, who would also appreciate having Dragic's shot-creation and shot-making around.
Utah Jazz: Ben McLemore
The Jazz are a better shooting team than they've shown. They do, in fact, have players not named Mike Conley or Joe Ingles who can splash 33 percent of their long balls.
Having said that, they could arguably use some kind of lift for the right price (see: essentially free). They haven't replaced Georges Niang's shooting, and even when Rudy Gay returns from offseason heel surgery, he won't entirely scratch that itch. It's also possible Donovan Mitchell, Jordan Clarkson and Royce O'Neale won't all outshoot their career three-point percentages like they did last season.
This is all a long-winded way of saying the Jazz could probably do worse than kicking the tires on a sniping specialist like Ben McLemore. He's the kind of player they could hope to find on the buyout market, but given the competition they'd face among shooting-needy contenders, they might be better off moving early on a McLemore type—if not the veteran scoring guard himself.
Washington Wizards: Reggie Bullock
The Wizards have more size than they need. Or rather, they will once Thomas Bryant (ACL recovery) and Rui Hachimura (personal reasons) rejoin Montrezl Harrell and Daniel Gafford in the frontcourt.
Swapping out a center (and a sweetener, if needed) for a two-way swingman makes a lot of sense.
Reggie Bullock hasn't yet found his footing with the Mavericks—hence why he could be a realistic target—but just last season he was averaging 30 minutes and shooting 40 percent from three for the fourth-seeded Knicks. He plays both ends, he defends multiple positions and he can bury catch-and-launch shots. He'd be an easy fit in the rotation and one who should help make life easier for Bradley Beal and Spencer Dinwiddie.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.