2022 NBA Trade Deadline Deals for the Next Wave of TankersDecember 27, 2021
2022 NBA Trade Deadline Deals for the Next Wave of Tankers
Two months of an NBA season is enough time to separate the haves from the have-nots.
In fact, you can already picture the advertisement texts surely being marketed to win-now shoppers.
Going out of business for the rest of 2021-22! Locker room liquidation! Every veteran must go!
While six teams sport a sub-.400 winning percentage, two will be spared from this exercise for now: the Indiana Pacers, who've said they aren't interested in tanking, and the New Orleans Pelicans, who might not be able to sell a race to the bottom to possibly unhappy star Zion Williamson.
That leaves the Detroit Pistons, Houston Rockets, Oklahoma City Thunder and Orlando Magic on the table, so let's cobble together a trade for each that will move them closer to the best draft-lottery odds they can get.
Detroit Pistons receive: Kemba Walker, Obi Toppin, Kevin Knox and 2022 first-round pick (top-five protected, via CHA)
New York Knicks receive: Jerami Grant
In the universe where top pick Cade Cunningham hit the ground sprinting and several of the Pistons' other young prospects popped, maybe they could justify keeping Jerami Grant beyond the deadline. But in this reality, where it seems Detroit could be several seasons away from any kind of relevance, it just can't happen.
The 27-year-old needs either an extension next summer or a new contract in 2023, and the Pistons should have zero interest in making a substantial commitment in a win-now player when they aren't positioned to win any time soon. Not to mention, his trade market is massive—dozens of teams have been in pursuit, per The Athletic's Shams Charania—which is an opportunity for Detroit to restock the shelves.
This swap would grant the Pistons a pair of recent top-10 picks—Obi Toppin (No. 8 in 2020) and Kevin Knox (No. 9 in 2018)—and a top-five-protected pick from a team currently in the lottery. Kemba Walker, who's had a strange start with the Knicks, could head to Motor City as a short-term offensive relief to ease the shot-creating pressure on Cunningham and, hopefully, as an eventual trade chip who fetches even more assets.
The Knicks, meanwhile, might manage to both stop some of the defensive bleeding and add another scoring threat to the mix. Grant could handle the toughest wing assignment on defense and take some of the scoring load off Julius Randle's hands. Grant's motor, versatility and defensive disposition should all endear him to Knicks skipper Tom Thibodeau.
Houston Rockets receive: Kira Lewis Jr., Jaxson Hayes, Tomas Satoransky and 2024 first-round pick (via LAL)
New Orleans Pelicans receive: Christian Wood and D.J. Augustin
The Rockets have some obvious veterans to trade (winks in Eric Gordon's direction) and a small army of prospects to keep and develop. Christian Wood exists in the gray gap between the groups: young enough to keep (26) but maybe too old to perfectly fit the young core's timeline.
Houston doesn't technically have to trade him, but there's a reason the Rockets "appear willing to listen to offers" for him, as B/R's Jake Fischer reported. Setting age aside, Wood needs a new deal by 2023 and already has visions of a max payday. Never mind if he's worth the money—it's debatable, at the very least—but it's almost impossible for his best basketball to coincide with that of his Space City teammates.
The Rockets should further their rebuilding efforts by trading him for top dollar now.
If the Pelicans are anxious about impressing Zion Williamson—or simply interested in seeing how he and Brandon Ingram would fit with a third star (or star-adjacent player)—they might be willing to part with multiple assets of value. Kira Lewis Jr. was a 2020 lottery pick. Jaxson Hayes was a top-10 pick the year prior. The future first-rounder is coming from a club that might be historically old; it could be a good one.
Tack on Tomas Satoransky as a money-matching expiring salary, and there should be enough for the Rockets to bite.
New Orleans, meanwhile, would have a multitalented center to pair with Williamson, as Wood's age, athleticism and versatility could make him a better frontcourt partner than Jonas Valanciunas. The latter would subsequently become a trade chip, while D.J. Augustin could serve in a similar capacity or, if the Pelicans finally gain traction, add experience and shot-making to the backcourt.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Oklahoma City Thunder receive: Marvin Bagley III, 2022 second-round pick (via CHI or DET) and 2024 second-round pick
Sacramento Kings receive: Kenrich Williams and Mike Muscala
The Thunder are the closest thing the NBA has to an unabashed tanker at the moment. From shutting down veterans to stockpiling picks like doomsday supplies, OKC is employing every tank tactic in the book, even if lead executive Sam Presti prefers to think of it as repositioning, replenishing and rebuilding.
The Thunder are no strangers to turning established talent into future assets, which this swap would accomplish.
Marvin Bagley III has stagnated in Sacramento, and free agency awaits him next summer, so he won't move the trade needle for most teams. For the Thunder, though, he's a 22-year-old flier worth taking as a former top prospect who has produced when given the opportunity (career 20.1 points and 10.7 rebounds per 36 minutes).
The second-round pick for 2022 is the less favorable of the two, meaning it could be pretty late in the round if the Bulls maintain their early momentum. The 2024 pick is too far into the future to really forecast. But if you're Presti, picks are mystery boxes, and you can never have too many of those.
If the Kings are anxious to snap their playoff drought (it seems like they always are), they could easily see enough value coming in to sign off on the sacrifices. Kenrich Williams could walk into a three-and-D role, and while Sacramento runs deep at center, it doesn't have a true stretch 5 like Mike Muscala. The incoming shooting and defense, both badly needed, could have a big impact for a relatively small cost.
Orlando Magic receive: Aaron Nesmith, Juancho Hernangomez and 2022 second-round pick
Boston Celtics receive: Terrence Ross
The Magic's checklist for the 2021-22 campaign should've been two items deep: develop young talent and trade Terrence Ross for rebuilding assets.
Orlando has aced the first half of that equation. Cole Anthony looks completely different from last season in the best kind of way. Mo Bamba and Wendell Carter Jr. are playing the best basketball of their careers. Franz Wagner hit the ground sprinting.
This trade would take care of the second half. Ross, the veteran left behind during last season's fire sale, looks like a fish out of water as the 30-year-old stranded on a rebuilder. He hasn't exactly greased his path out of town with his least productive effort in years, but trade suitors should give him the benefit of the doubt for his track record as an ignitable shooter, athletic finisher and microwave scorer.
Boston's offense needs that kind of jolt, especially off the bench. Celtics reserves rank 27th in scoring and 23rd in field-goal shooting, a big reason why their average plus/minus is in the red.
Should the Shamrocks build some momentum between now and the deadline, they might sense their ceiling is high enough to move future assets for instant-impact contributors. Aaron Nesmith holds significant potential as a shooter, but he isn't helping the Celtics right now. Moving him, Juancho Hernangomez and a second-rounder for Ross would effectively take nothing out of the rotation while adding a major weapon to it.
Statistics are accurate through Wednesday'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.