Latest NBA Trade Buzz: Sourced Intel on Simmons, Kyrie, Lakers and More

Jake Fischer@JakeLFischerContributor IDecember 14, 2021

Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving reacts during the second half of Game 1 of the team's NBA basketball second-round playoff series against the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday, June 5, 2021, in New York. The Nets won 115-107. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)
Adam Hunger/Associated Press

The NBA’s annual December 15 buzzer has almost arrived, when the majority of players who signed contracts as free agents last summer become eligible for trade. Most teams have divided calls to rival front offices among their high-ranking personnel. And as usual, the league’s unofficial trade season figures to have a few major dominoes that could spur further movement. 

The looming possibility of Ben Simmons finally being traded by Philadelphia could have ramifications for the Lakers, Celtics, Nets, Pacers and many others. The Sixers have made it clear that any Simmons trade will still require an All-Star-caliber player from their wish list of some two-dozen dream partners for Joel Embiid during the prime of his career.  

Philadelphia has always operated with an expectation that a true star will ultimately become available. Damian Lillard has preached his unwavering commitment to the Portland Trail Blazers, but the Sixers and other teams around the league remain optimistic he could eventually request a trade prior to the 2022-23 season. Philadelphia just needs one other All-Star to seek a new team. Maybe it will be Bradley Beal, who has yet to re-sign in Washington. James Harden declined a contract extension with Brooklyn earlier this season and would certainly become a key target for the Sixers if he were to reach the open market next summer. 

The possibility of landing Harden has quietly hung over the Simmons dynamic all along. Philadelphia nearly shipped Simmons to Houston for Harden back in January, an outcome Harden was known around the league to have welcomed. If a strong enough deal for Simmons never comes Philadelphia's way this season, there have been ongoing whispers about a free-agency sign-and-trade for Simmons that would allow Harden to join forces with Embiid, and rejoin Daryl Morey.     

For now, Brooklyn stands atop the Eastern Conference, and moving Harden for Simmons makes little sense for Sean Marks’ braintrust, especially as Kyrie Irving remains inactive. Yet Brooklyn appears eager to upgrade its roster ahead of the trade deadline and Harden’s impending free agency. It’s clear these Nets are not the juggernaut title favorite that entered training camp.  

Brooklyn has been open to discussing trades for Irving, sources told B/R, although none of those calls have seemed to generate significant traction. But Brooklyn has expressed a surprising willingness to discuss sharpshooter Joe Harris, according to rival teams, though he would surely require a pricey offer. “It’s crazy to me; he’s their only real three-and-D player,” said one assistant general manager. “But his name keeps popping up.” One Brooklyn source did push back on that notion Tuesday, stating that Harris is not available. 

Rival executives believe Nic Claxton could become available, as the Nets quietly gauged his value during the 2021 draft. The third-year forward has performed well for Brooklyn, but ahead of Claxton’s restricted free agency this summer, rival executives believe he could be the outgoing player Brooklyn trades to take back a veteran into either the roughly $6 million trade exception from moving DeAndre Jordan or the $11.5 million trade exception from Spencer Dinwiddie’s sign-and-trade to Washington.

The only perceived contender with less flexibility than Brooklyn may be the Los Angeles Lakers. Amid the ongoing chatter of head coach Frank Vogel’s job security, Los Angeles has limited options for other significant changes. Only Talen Horton-Tucker and Kendrick Nunn are seen by rival front offices as Lakers role players on above-minimum salaries with legitimate trade value. 

The trio of LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook simply hasn’t blended as well as Lakers figures hoped, and Los Angeles has held internal discussions on trade scenarios for Russell Westbrook, league sources told B/R. But moving Westbrook and the two years, $91 million remaining on his contract does seem unlikely. 

Sources tell B/R the LA Lakers have had internal conversations about trading Russell Westbrook, but no serious talks have materialized with potential trade partners.
Sources tell B/R the LA Lakers have had internal conversations about trading Russell Westbrook, but no serious talks have materialized with potential trade partners.Ringo H.W. Chiu/Associated Press

Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio’s salaries would match Westbrook’s pricey deal, reuniting James with a former championship counterpart. But that structure would have little interest from the Cavaliers’ side and has not yet been discussed by the two teams, sources said. Outside of Love’s large number, there are simply few players aside from John Wall, for whom Westbrook was traded to Washington last summer, who are available for trade and come close to Westbrook’s earnings. 

One of those players is Ben Simmons. The Athletic reported Los Angeles’ interest in Simmons on Monday, and Westbrook’s salary, outside of James’ and Davis’, is the only number on the Lakers’ books that can match Simmons’ own lofty deal. Even then, Westbrook is not a player on the Sixers’ list of hopeful returns, league sources told B/R, and conversations with the Lakers never developed very far.

Celtics swingman Jaylen Brown is one of the All-Stars believed to be among Philadelphia’s wishful targets.

To be clear, Boston’s front office has yet to entertain the notion of splitting up Brown and Jayson Tatum during early calls with rival teams. “Talking to Boston, those are the only two untouchables,” said one assistant general manager. 

While the Celtics appear committed to building around Brown and Tatum, speculation about Brown’s availability has notably increased around the league. It is an ongoing topic of conversation among sources familiar with both players. Moving Brown would appear highly unlikely until after this season and seems more plausible ahead of 2022-23. But as long as Boston floats on the periphery of the Eastern Conference playoff picture, league personnel will monitor Brown’s status and if the Celtics inch closer toward pivoting in a new direction.  

“I think they’re starting to get to a place where they don’t think he and Jayson Tatum can coexist,” said another assistant general manager.

“I think there's pretty widespread belief that they don’t work together,” one general manager told B/R. “But unless ownership adds pressure on [Boston GM Brad Stevens], I don’t see them doing anything.”

Boston has seemed to value Marcus Smart and Robert Williams III in a second tier behind Brown and Tatum, but the two veterans stand as the most accomplished Boston players rival executives believe are available for trade this season. Dennis Schroder, who has produced both as a starter and Celtics reserve, is another strong trade candidate. His upcoming free agency next summer is shaping into a more lucrative stint on the open market than this past August, which could price him out of Boston’s roster construction. 

Rival executives expect the Boston Celtics to consider dispensing with Jaylen Brown if the team continues its run of mediocrity.
Rival executives expect the Boston Celtics to consider dispensing with Jaylen Brown if the team continues its run of mediocrity.Marta Lavandier/Associated Press

The team considered most likely to make a significant move is the Pacers, who have made their intentions of reshuffling their roster known around the league. There has been a notion that Indiana could become a true seller similar to Orlando last season. But with Rick Carlisle and his four-year, $29 million contract entrenching him as the Pacers head coach, there’s little expectation around the league that Indiana’s ownership and Carlisle would be on board for a full-scale rebuild. 

“Carlisle is not going to allow that to happen,” said one assistant general manager. “They’re going to ‘middle build.’ They’re going to go with a sense of competing.” 

Bringing in Simmons, who the Pacers have coveted throughout his ongoing trade saga, would certify as a move for the present and future. But Indiana doesn’t have an All-Star piece that would pair well with Embiid. For Indiana to acquire Simmons, the Pacers would likely need to send one of Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner, and maybe even Caris LeVert or T.J. Warren, to a third team that rosters a star Philly desires.  

Rival teams anticipate one of Sabonis or Turner will be traded ahead of February’s deadline. Which big man gets moved may simply depend on which player drives the highest price from interested suitors.

Despite ongoing questions of their positional fit, Indiana has always valued Turner quite highly on the trade market, rebuffing overtures from Charlotte and even turning down the Pelicans’ No. 4 pick in the 2019 draft that became De’Andre Hunter, sources told B/R. 

Sabonis’ value around the league seems mixed, but there are several teams in the playoff picture, such as the Blazers and Kings, team executives have pointed to as potential landing spots. The Trail Blazers have Jusuf Nurkic and Robert Covington available. Sacramento has weighed trade interest for each of Buddy Hield, Marvin Bagley and Harrison Barnes dating back to last season’s trade deadline, and Carlisle is known to have an affinity for Barnes from their time together in Dallas. 

Rival executives believe only rookie standout Chris Duarte and fellow first year Isaiah Jackson are untouchable in Indiana. Malcolm Brogdon cannot be traded this season following a contract extension in October. “Sabonis, Turner, Warren, LeVert all can be had at the right price,” said another assistant general manager. 

Other trade rumors from around the league: 

  • The Detroit Pistons are fielding calls for forward Jerami Grant, according to league sources. While rivals wondered whether the Pistons would move Grant last season, during the best campaign of his career, it’s now believed that Detroit is focused on trading Grant before the final year of his contract in 2022-23. 

  • The Portland Trail Blazers are expected to primarily gauge trade interest in Nurkic and Covington, but Larry Nance Jr. seems to be a target among rival front offices.

  • The Hawks have been searching around the league for a first-round pick in return for swingman Cam Reddish, sources said, as Atlanta faces a logjam at the wing. De’Andre Hunter will be eligible for a contract extension this offseason, but some rival executives believe the Hawks would entertain calls on Hunter for packages that would return an established impact veteran—something to keep in mind if Boston were to ever truly explore moving Jaylen Brown, an Atlanta native. 

  • The Utah Jazz have been interested in obtaining additional defensive-minded wing players dating back to this summer’s draft, according to league sources. The Jazz appear in search of a player capable of bolstering their starting lineup and are open to sending out a future first-round pick. Keep in mind, their next available first-rounder to trade doesn’t come until 2027. 

  • The Knicks have interest in trading 2018 first-round pick Kevin Knox, although it remains unclear what value the Kentucky product has on the open market. 

  • The Phoenix Suns are attempting to move Jalen Smith, and the San Antonio Spurs have been frequently linked as a suitor. Phoenix is rumored to have strong interest in acquiring Thaddeus Young from the Spurs. 

  • The Denver Nuggets are looking for upgrades on the wing, according to league sources. It appears JaMychal Green is available to that end.

  • The Houston Rockets are searching for trades that would clear a roster spot to convert two-way standout Garrison Mathews to their 15-man roster, according to league sources. Veterans D.J. Augustin, Danuel House Jr., Daniel Theis and Eric Gordon are all viewed around the league as viable trade candidates. Houston appears willing to listen to offers on Christian Wood, but that would require a first-round pick plus further capital.

  • The New Orleans Pelicans, while awaiting Zion Williamson’s season debut, are still expected to be buyers ahead of the trade deadline, with an eye toward competing for the play-in tournament. Third-year forward Jaxson Hayes, the No. 8 pick in the 2019 NBA draft, is now considered available for trade, league sources said.