Trades to Push NBA Title Contenders Over the Top
Less than a month away from the 2022 NBA trade deadline, we've already felt a few transactional tremors.
On Wednesday, Bryn Forbes headlined a three-team deal that landed him with the Denver Nuggets, where his three-point shooting should help stabilize a backcourt short on stretch. Before that, the Atlanta Hawks and New York Knicks swapped young wings (with pick considerations attached), exchanging Cam Reddish for Kevin Knox II.
Consider those foreshocks for the bigger earth-shakers ahead.
No offense to the Hawks, Knicks, Nuggets or any other members of the sub-contender class, but it isn't really trade season until teams with a real shot at a ring start dealing.
We have some fanciful suggestions on that front.
The Sixers Take a Volume Approach
Philadelphia 76ers Receive: Buddy Hield, Harrison Barnes and Tyrese Haliburton
Sacramento Kings Receive: Ben Simmons, Georges Niang and Paul Reed
The Sixers don't get their desired All-Star or heap of first-round picks here, but who knows whether the sky-high asking price for Simmons was anything more than posturing? You could forgive Philly for taking it down to the wire before softening its stance. Maybe that's been the plan all along.
What the Sixers do get here are substantial upgrades in depth, defense, shooting and playmaking.
You can count the number of snipers more dangerous than Hield. He's made more threes than anyone but Stephen Curry and James Harden since entering the league in 2016-17. Double-teams are a must when covering Joel Embiid, and no available upgrade would punish them more than Hield.
Barnes cannot legally be described without the term "solid," and he'd be an upgrade over Tobias Harris on defense, freeing the Sixers up to try to move their costly incumbent forward in a separate deal. Barnes is also drilling 41.9 percent of his threes this season and has bumped his career mark up to 38.0 percent. Both figures—season and career—are better than Harris'.
Haliburton doesn't have superstar upside, but he's a savvy two-way weapon who can disrupt plays off the ball on defense, drain threes (41.7 percent for his career), keep the rock moving and run a slick pick-and-roll with a big man. Just ask Richaun Holmes how nice it is to get spoon-fed by the 21-year-old combo guard every night.
Simmons is the obvious prize for the Kings, who should probably be in "get a superstar, figure out the rest later" mode if they're serious about ending their playoff drought.
While a non-star return for Simmons might feel disappointing for the Sixers, they'd be getting three starting-caliber pieces who can shoot for someone who hasn't played a second this season, plus salary-fillers in Niang and Reed. Rolling lately behind MVP-worthy work from Embiid and a hot week away from climbing atop the East, this might be all it would take to make the Sixers favorites to represent their conference in the Finals.
Golden State Cashes In a Blue Chip
Golden State Warriors Receive: Myles Turner
Indiana Pacers Receive: James Wiseman, Moses Moody and Nemanja Bjelica
The only way the Warriors can build a sustainable contender while constrained by the massive salaries of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andrew Wiggins and Draymond Green is to hit big on draftees and minimum signings. So while adding Turner would improve the Dubs' title odds this season, health permitting, it might not position them optimally for the next three years.
Trusting Wiseman and Moody will develop into quality starters is the safer play over a longer timeline.
This exercise is about the immediate future, though, and there's no disputing that Turner would give Golden State more in 2021-22 than Wiseman, Moody and Bjelica. Turner being under contract at $18 million for 2022-23 is a nice bonus as well, possibly giving the Warriors a two-year window as title faves.
The stress reaction in Turner's foot is a complicating factor, but as long as he's good to go by the postseason (ideally with a little ramp-up time down the stretch of the regular season), the payoff here is obvious.
Turner can spread the floor with his shooting and defend the rim, giving the Warriors the intimidating shot-blocker they lack. Golden State has always preferred to finish games with Green at center, but Turner would present the team with another option.
Wiseman could still develop into a foundational star, but the additional cleanup surgery he had on the torn meniscus he suffered early in 2021 means he's likely to go a full calendar year without playing a game. He also showed zero feel and struggled to catch the ball as a rookie, though it's hard to avoid the excuse that he played minimal college ball and didn't have a training camp before taking on a starting role last season.
Michael Scotto of HoopsHype reported "the Pacers are seeking two first-round picks or a promising young player and a first-round pick" for Turner. Wiseman went second overall in 2020, while Moody was viewed as a steal at No. 14 in 2021.
While that isn't technically what Indy is asking for, they're both young and recent first-round picks. It'll be hard for the Pacers to do better than this.
Cleveland Fills the Void on the Wing
Cleveland Cavaliers Receive: Eric Gordon
Houston Rockets Receive: Ricky Rubio and a 2022 first-round pick (lottery protected)
This is as clean and simple as deadline deals get. A potential contender adds a veteran scorer at a position of need, while a rebuilder gets salary relief and draft compensation. Done and done!
At 33 and under contract at least through next season, Eric Gordon doesn't make much sense on a Rockets team circling the drain as it gives big minutes to younger players. He's shooting 45.5 percent from deep on a healthy 8.5 attempts per 100 possessions, though, and the stocky guard is an underrated defensive option against wings and all but the biggest forwards.
In Cleveland, where the wing minutes have mostly gone to Isaac Okoro and Cedi Osman, Gordon would be a massive upgrade. He'd add toughness, shot creation and major stretch to one of this season's most surprising teams.
The Rockets might be able to get more for Gordon than a lottery-protected pick that will likely fall somewhere in the 20s, but the salary relief provided by Rubio's expiring contract is no small thing. With Gordon set to make $19.6 million next season plus a non-guaranteed $20.9 million in 2023-24, his absence could help the Rockets create enough room to take on more bad money with additional picks attached in future deals.
Cleveland might strike some as a curious choice for an exercise focused on contenders, but its defense continues to perform at a championship-caliber level, and the Miami Heat are the only East team with a better net rating. A proven scorer with playoff experience is just what the Cavs need to shore up an offense that may be the only thing holding them back from a deep run.
The Bulls Collect the Grand Prize
Chicago Bulls Receive: Jerami Grant
Detroit Pistons Receive: Patrick Williams, Coby White and Troy Brown Jr.
As long as Alex Caruso and Lonzo Ball are healthy when the postseason begins, the Bulls will be well equipped to handle opposing guards. Wings are another story, and that's where Jerami Grant, the purported "grand prize" of the 2022 trade deadline comes in.
Grant is recovering from surgery to repair a torn UCL in his right thumb. A six-week timeline on that mid-December operation would give him plenty of reps ahead of the playoffs. Once healthy, he'd give Chicago a versatile threat on both ends. The 27-year-old forward has evolved so dramatically over the past several seasons that the Bulls could deploy him in any number of roles.
Once a defense-only option, Grant added a reliable catch-and-shoot game in his final year with the Oklahoma City Thunder. He then carried that skill to the Denver Nuggets before developing surprisingly self-sufficient shot creation in Detroit. Now, Grant has a track record as a stopper, secondary scorer and high-usage offensive engine.
Chicago needs spacing, defense and athleticism on the wing. Grant can provide all that with ease, plus more if the situation calls for it. If you're most worried about the Bulls stopping opposing superstar wings, Grant is your guy.
"Take a peek at the matchup data from last season and you'll see that Grant spent time guarding a variety of different players, from Khris Middleton and Andrew Wiggins to Harden, LeBron James and Devin Booker," Scott Rafferty of Sporting News wrote.
The Pistons might prefer picks in the abstract, but it would be hard for them to pass on Williams and White, two recent high lottery picks who could develop alongside 2021 No. 1 overall selection Cade Cunningham.
Thaddeus Young Completes the Suns
Phoenix Suns Receive: Thaddeus Young
San Antonio Spurs Receive: Dario Saric, Abdel Nader and a 2024 second-round pick
The Phoenix Suns don't look any less like a potential champ than they did a year ago when they made the Finals, but another similarity also persists: They still don't have a great small-ball center option.
Dario Saric handled that role reasonably well prior to tearing his ACL last year, and Jalen Smith has shown signs of progress after a lost rookie season. But the former is still sidelined, and the latter doesn't have a large enough sample of success to trust in the high-stakes moments ahead.
Thaddeus Young's profile is lower this season in San Antonio than it was in a startlingly strong 2020-21 season with the Bulls. His minutes have predictably dipped with the Spurs prioritizing youth, but Young's effectiveness is undiminished. His per-36-minute averages of 15.4 points, 8.8 rebounds and 6.1 assists are reasonably close to last year's figures of 17.9 points, 9.2 rebounds and 6.3 assists.
The Suns' offense would hum even more sweetly with a facilitating 5 in the mix, and Young's smarts and experience at age 33 would help him develop quick chemistry with Chris Paul and Devin Booker.
Phoenix could technically send the Spurs a first-rounder in 2024, 2026 or 2028 by using "next allowable" language, as CBS Sports' Sam Quinn detailed, but it's unclear how the market will set Young's price. There's no reason for the Suns to overpay unless it's absolutely necessary.
Swapping Smith for Nader, who's only in the deal as salary filler, could also pique San Antonio's interest.