Ranking Every Top Rumored NBA Trade Target

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistDecember 22, 2021

Ranking Every Top Rumored NBA Trade Target

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    Every NBA #TradeSZN has the chance to be epic.

    They don't all deliver on that promise, of course, but there are reasons to believe the 2021-22 campaign could live up to the hype.

    The championship race feels wide open. The playoff chases already look like they'll go down to the wire. Cap space will be at a premium next offseason, so teams eyeing major adjustments might need to finalize their transactions by the deadline.

    And, oh yeah, there are several notable names already bouncing around the rumor mill.

    What caliber of player could be available? Well, it's funny you should ask, since we're here to assemble the top eight names in trade talks and rank them based on trade value, which encompasses everything from age and ability to contract cost (and length) and ease of adjustment to a new situation.

Notable Exclusions

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    Jaylen Brown, Boston Celtics

    Not even a week after Brown's name surfaced in a potential swap for Ben Simmons, as The Athletic's Shams Charania reported, Celtics president of basketball operations Brad Stevens hurried to extinguish that flame.

    "I just walked up to Jaylen and said, 'Your name is all over the place as you know. Obviously, from our standpoint, you're a Celtic and obviously a guy that we think exceptionally high of. Nothing doing,'" Stevens relayed on 98.5 The Sports Hub's Toucher and Rich (via Celtics Blog).

    Sure, executives maybe aren't the most revealing people at this time of year, but Stevens using "obviously" twice in the same sentence feels noteworthy, if for no other reason than it should be obvious that Brown is off the table.

    The 25-year-old booked his first All-Star trip last season and has generally dazzled on both ends of the floor. While his theoretical trade value is through the roof, he makes much more sense as a building block for Boston, not a trade chip—at least not until there is indisputable evidence that the Brown-Jayson Tatum partnership isn't working.


    Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers

    Apologies to everyone hoping for a Dame deal—chief among them, Philadelphia 76ers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey—but it just doesn't seem like it's happening.

    The Blazers don't want to lose their leader. In fact, ESPN's Brian Windhorst reported Lillard is the only untouchable in Portland. That means the six-time All-Star would need to force the issue, and he couldn't sound less interested in rocking the boat.

    "I am frustrated with losing and not playing my best. But that doesn't mean I'm sour on my team and I'm looking elsewhere. ... That has never been me," Lillard said recently, per The Undefeated's Marc J. Spears.

    It's possible Lillard could change his tune if the losses keep piling up, but until that happens, his only connection to the trade market is in the dreams of opposing decision-makers.


    Russell Westbrook, Los Angeles Lakers

    The Lakers have reportedly mulled a Westbrook deal, per B/R's Jake Fischer, and some could be surprised to see the former MVP excluded given his name recognition.

    But have you seen his contract? He's making $44.2 million this season and might as well lock in his $47.1 million player option for 2022-23 right now, because there is less than a zero chance that he's leaving that kind of cash on the table.

    Matching the money alone is almost impossible, but who would even want to stomach that salary? His 16.0 player efficiency rating is barely above the league-average mark of 15.0, and the Lakers have fared 4.1 points better per 100 possessions without him.

    Barring a swap for an equally colossal financial misfire—i.e., another Westbrook for John Wall deal—the Lakers aren't likely to move the polarizing point guard. 

8. CJ McCollum, Portland Trail Blazers

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    The cut-off for our rankings nearly forced a coin flip to decide between CJ McCollum and Caris LeVert, two scoring guards who can create for themselves and their teammates and play average defense on their best days.

    LeVert could make an argument for this spot, since he's younger, has more size and is significantly cheaper (this season and next for $36.3 million compared to the $100 million McCollum will collect between now and 2023-24). With that said, it's McCollum by a hair, since his injury history is much cleaner—his currently collapsed lung notwithstanding—and his scoring features more volume and superior efficiency.

    The trade winds have swirled close enough to McCollum for him to address them. His offensive firepower is potent enough to attract a slew of defenders, but his limitations—beyond the defense, he's sort of a scoring point guard without enough playmaking for the position—are concerning enough to make him expendable.

7. Myles Turner, Indiana Pacers

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    Myles Turner is no stranger to the rumor mill, but when his name resurfaced in a report of the Indiana Pacers "moving toward a substantial rebuild," per The Athletic's Shams Charania and Bob Kravitz, Turner apparently decided he'd had enough.

    "It's clear that I'm not valued as anything more than a glorified role player here, and I want something more, more opportunity," Turner told The Athletic's Jared Weiss.

    It will be interesting to see whether the trade market agrees with his take that he can be "more than a glorified role player."

    Turner is an elite paint protector—he's pacing the NBA in blocks for the third time in four seasons—but his offensive volume has never climbed above complementary levels. He has never averaged 15 points and only twice averaged double-digit shots (peaking at 10.7 in his sophomore season).

    Turner doesn't look like a two-way star, hence the relatively modest ranking. Maybe there are, in fact, more layers to his offensive game, but we can't just take his word for it.

    So, while he gets a boost for being easy to fit on most rosters—any team with an opening at center would love a floor-spacing shot-blocker—his limited offensive impact won't let him climb any higher.

6. Jerami Grant, Detroit Pistons

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    Would Jerami Grant rank higher on this list if he wasn't sidelined for at least the next six weeks by thumb surgery? Probably.

    The bigger detriment to his trade value, though, is a stat sheet sagging in virtually all relevant areas.

    Grant's eye-opening 2020-21 campaign, when a slew of personal bests yielded a runner-up finish in the Most Improved Player voting, warranted some skepticism. Prior to last season, he had never been anything close to that caliber of offensive weapon.

    His efficiency also took a hit with last year's volume increase, and it has fallen further this season. 

    Grant just isn't built to be a No. 1 option on a good team. Combined with the fact that he's only signed through next season, that might be why the Detroit Pistons are "fielding calls" for him, per B/R's Jake Fischer.

    Get Grant on a win-now roster, and his defensive efficiency would shine. His scoring rate would fall—he's probably the third option on a great team—but that should coincide with better shooting percentages.

5. Harrison Barnes, Sacramento Kings

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    The Sacramento Kings have multiple trade chips to attract suitors—Buddy Hield for anyone hunting for shooting; Marvin Bagley III for anyone wanting a crack at his development—but Harrison Barnes is the one who should have teams talking the loudest. (De'Aaron Fox or Tyrese Haliburton would take that claim if either were available, but that doesn't appear to be the case.)

    Barnes, whom the Action Network's Matt Moore reported is "expected to be on the market," lands in that gray area where he's not quite a star but is overpowered as a role player. Maybe that sounds like a knock, but it's meant in the most complimentary fashion.

    Barnes can power up to a star's level, but he doesn't cost as much as one ($38.6 million owed through the end of next season) and won't step on the toes of any full-fledged stars on the roster.

    There are a few better players on this list, but Barnes would offer one of the simplest transitions to a new team. Between his defensive versatility, three-point cannon (39.0 percent since the start of 2018-19) and solid-or-better supplementary skills, he's the type of two-way, big-forward every elite team either wants or already has.

4. Christian Wood, Houston Rockets

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    Christian Wood is tricky to rank, since this is only his third season as a rotation player and they've all been spent with atrocious teams. That doesn't mean he's automatically a good-stats-on-bad-team kind of player, but there are questions about how his defense would hold up while anchoring a squad with win-now intentions.

    Having said that, he lands fourth overall on this list, so he clearly boasts some highly intriguing qualities.

    Wood moves like a perimeter player, but he has size for the paint (6'10" with a 7'4" wingspan). He can block shots, bury long-range looks and even create offense off the dribble.

    This season, he's holding opponents to a lower shooting percentage at the rim than Anthony Davis and is averaging more points per isolation possession than Bradley Beal.

    Wood is only signed through next season, which might be why the Houston Rockets "appear willing to listen to offers" for him, per B/R's Jake Fischer, but his contract is one of the NBA's best bargains ($28 million over this season and next). He should have extensive appeal on the market, as he could make instant contributions as a ball-screener who can roll and pop and as an active help defender.

3. Domantas Sabonis, Indiana Pacers

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    Domantas Sabonis' style isn't for everyone. He's neither a rim protector nor a floor-spacer, so teams will have to trust that they have the right frontcourt pieces around him.

    However, those equipped to bring in Sabonis could land the most productive player on the market.

    Last season, he was the league's only player to average 20 points, 12 rebounds and six assists. This season, he's down to 18.3 points, 11.8 boards and 4.2 dimes, meaning he's no longer in a statistical company of his own. Instead, he's settling for having reigning MVP Nikola Jokic be the only other player clearing those marks.

    Sabonis can serve as a ball-moving offensive hub on the elbow, and he's a blowtorch on the low block. He's also signed through 2023-24 and won't cost $20 million in any of those seasons, which is an absurdly good value for a 25-year-old All-Star.

2. Kyrie Irving, Brooklyn Nets

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    It's tempting just to drop a shoulder-shrug emoji here and call it for the analysis, since Kyrie Irving is effectively impossible to rank.

    On one hand, he's the most talented player in these rankings, which has to matter. He might have the best handles in hoops history, his soft touch just yielded a 50/40/90 splash rate, and few players can match his combination of points and assists (26.9 and 6.0, respectively, last season).

    On the other hand, he hasn't suited up at all this season due to New York City's vaccination requirements, doesn't have the cleanest injury history, and he could opt out of his contract this summer ($36.5 million player option for 2022-23). There were even rumblings Irving could retire if the Brooklyn Nets trade him, although he refuted them.

    The Nets can't even seem to calculate his value. Before reversing course on an earlier decision and allowing him to return as a part-time player, they were reportedly "open to discussing trades for Irving," per B/R's Jake Fischer.

    There are ways this ranking looks way too high and others where it doesn't seem high enough. Using some Goldilocks logic, that should mean it's actually just right.

    Irving could have the single biggest impact on this year's championship race if he gets moved, but the lack of long-term security leaves him a rung below No. 1 here.

1. Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers

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    Ben Simmons' lengthy stay on the trade market shouldn't be held against him. His skill set is unique, and so is this situation, as in-prime, 25-year-old All-Stars almost never even approach the rumor mill.

    Simmons is basically a one-of-a-kind 6'11" playmaker. He's among a very exclusive group of stoppers who can defend all five positions, but he's such a reluctant shooter that he squeezes his team's spacing and is problematically passive.

    In other words, you get why the Philadelphia 76ers are asking for the moon. There are reportedly roughly 30 players they'd accept in a deal, per The Athletic's Sam Amick, but it's also understandable why they shopped him even before he requested a trade.

    Simmons loses some points in these rankings for ease of adjustment, since his strengths and weaknesses both need to be accounted for in his supporting cast. Teams trading for him need to clear a ton of touches for him, even if they hope to move him into a ball-screening frontcourt role. They also need to have adequate spacers around him so the offense can breathe and willing runners so his transition game can shine.

    It won't be a low-maintenance move, in other words, but more than a few teams will think he's worth the effort. Flaws and all, he's still a No. 1 overall pick who captured Rookie of the Year honors, booked three All-Star trips, earned a pair of All-Defensive first-team selections and even snagged All-NBA honors. He's also under contract through 2024-25, which means he could hold centerpiece status for the foreseeable future.


    Statistics are accurate through Monday's games and courtesy of NBA.com and Basketball Reference, unless otherwise noted.

    Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.