Surprising NBA Offseason Trades to Start Thinking About Now

Andy Bailey@@AndrewDBaileyFeatured ColumnistMarch 14, 2022

Surprising NBA Offseason Trades to Start Thinking About Now

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    Jim McIsaac/Associated Press

    Even in the regular season's home stretch, the NBA's rumor mill never seems to stop churning.

    And for front offices that aren't in the thick of a playoff or title hunt, it's probably natural (and in many cases, wise) to look to the future.

    Who should we target in the draft? Which free agents might fit our culture, and can we afford them? What does the trade market look like?

    You can bet that plenty of teams are asking themselves these questions and more. What we'll focus on today is the last one. Every offseason, notable players are moved in trades, and even when we know something is coming, the deals themselves typically surprise us.

    Sure, the Los Angeles Lakers are going to try to move on from Russell Westbrook this summer, according to Bleacher Report's Jake Fischer, but who will take him? What will the return look like? That's where the surprise comes in.

Lakers End the Russ Era

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    The Trade: Russell Westbrook and a 2027 first-round pick for Derrick Rose, Evan Fournier and Alec Burks

    According to Fischer, "there is mutual interest in finding Westbrook a new home this summer." But even with him on an expiring contract (he has a $47.1 million player option for 2022-23), it won't be easy to find that home.

    The Lakers have been worse with Westbrook on the floor this season, as were the Houston Rockets in 2019-20. He hasn't had an above-average true shooting percentage since 2016-17, and his ball-dominant style isn't easy accommodate.

    The team that takes him on will likely have to be desperate, looking to shave salary with Westbrook's expiring deal or both. The New York Knicks might just check those boxes.

    Rose, Burks and Fournier are all under contract beyond 2022-23, though Burks and Rose are on team options for 2023-24. Moving them for Westbrook gives New York a bit more flexibility down the road, even if it's a gamble in the short term.

    This season, Westbrook has minus-0.3 wins over replacement player. Rose, Fournier and Burks have 6.8. Hence, L.A.'s inclusion of a first-round pick.

    This wouldn't be a pure money play, though. The past few years have made it difficult to buy Westbrook as a significant ceiling raiser, but he's still a draw. On a roster where he'd be allowed to go full Westbrook, he could be an exciting stopgap between now and whatever the next iteration of the Knicks looks like.

    For the Lakers, this deal almost certainly improves their chances to compete. At least according to box plus/minus, all three have been better than Russ in 2021-22.

    This doesn't make L.A. any younger, but they'd be deeper and have more shooters (with Fournier and Burks) to deploy around LeBron James.

    While you might think a partnership with him and Rose might have some of the same problems as this year's LeBron-Westbrook pairing, Rose has shown more of an ability to defer to a ball-dominant forward, as he's done with Julius Randle in New York.

Rockets Find a Home for John Wall

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    Michael Reaves/Getty Images

    The Trade: John Wall for Marcus Morris, Reggie Jackson and Norman Powell

    Like Westbrook, Wall has a contract that is nearly impossible to move. That's why the two were traded for each other in 2020 and why they were almost swapped again at this year's deadline.

    "The Houston Rockets offered the Los Angeles Lakers a deal that would have swapped John Wall for Russell Westbrook, but the Lakers declined to include a first-round pick," Chris Haynes wrote for Yahoo Sports. "The discussion ended because of the refusal to include the draft pick."

    That deal may present itself again this summer, but we'll operate under the assumption that the previously detailed Westbrook idea goes through. That leaves you canvassing the other 28 teams in the league for Wall suitors, though there just aren't many that leap off the screen.

    One potential landing spot could be the Los Angeles Clippers, who already have two superstar wings in Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. If they're both healthy next season, L.A. will be a juggernaut. Its wealth of like-sized wings and forwards provides a lot of flexibility on defense.

    An older-school table-setter like Wall could raise the ceiling on offense, though that's assuming he can return to anywhere near his pre-injury level of play. Wall can create a few more off-ball opportunities for the stars without dominating possessions himself. Even before what had to be a humbling four-year period packed with injuries and setbacks, Wall showed a willingness to occasionally defer to Bradley Beal.

    The bigger question here might be whether Houston would have any interest in this. Morris and Powell are both under contract beyond next season. That bogs up the books a bit, and both veterans (as well as Jackson) would almost certainly expect roles that would either increase their trade value or build their future free-agency resumes. That means fewer developmental minutes for young core players like Jalen Green and Kevin Porter Jr.

    Would all of that be worth a second-round pick? Could Houston finagle one out of L.A.? That may not be listed in the framework of the deal, but if veteran experience isn't enough for the Rockets, there may need to be a bit more of an incentive. 

Knicks Send Julius Randle Home

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    Justin Ford/Getty Images

    The Trade: Julius Randle for Tim Hardaway Jr. and Sterling Brown

    Let's assume we're still operating in the fantasy world in which Westbrook heads to the Knicks. In that world, a Westbrook-Randle pairing is probably even uglier than what we've seen from Westbrook and LeBron this season.

    In the latter scenario, at least LeBron can shoot well enough to force defenders to pay attention to him outside. If you take Randle's outlier 2020-21 numbers out of the equation, his career three-point percentage is 30.2.

    That and Randle's ball-dominance in the same lineup as Russ would lead to plenty of hair-pulling among Knicks fans. If anyone would be willing to take him on for a shooter, New York would be better-tailored for Westbrook.

    To that end, a reunion with Hardaway could make some sense. A flyer on Brown, who shot 42.3 percent from three in 2020-21, might help too.

    For Dallas, one might think that pairing Randle with Luka Doncic would lead to a lot of the same problems he might have with Westbrook. Randle has grown accustomed to dominating the ball, but there'd be little reason to humor that on a team with Luka.

    But if the Mavericks used Randle more as a roll man or a secondary creator who'd attack closeouts against defenses scrambled by Doncic, his size and athleticism could make him an intriguing weapon.

Bulls Go All-In (Again)

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    The Trade: Jerami Grant for Patrick Williams, Coby White and Javonte Green

    Ever since Artūras Karnišovas became the Chicago Bulls' executive vice president of basketball operations, win-now moves have become fairly common. 

    At last season's trade deadline, they landed Nikola Vucevic. This past offseason, they acquired DeMar DeRozan in a sign-and-trade. Yet, there may be enough left in the asset coffers for one more deal.

    Once thought to be the "grand prize" of this year's deadline, Jerami Grant wound up staying with the Detroit Pistons, but it's still hard to believe he's part of their long-term plans. Grant is 28 years old. By the time the Pistons are really competitive again, he'll probably be in his 30s. 

    It makes sense to send him to a team where he can push for a title during what's left of his prime in exchange for younger players who are closer to the respective timelines of Cade Cunningham and Saddiq Bey.

    Chicago is a potential destination that satisfies that criteria.

    A starting five of Lonzo Ball, Zach LaVine (assuming he re-signs), DeRozan, Grant and Vucevic, with Alex Caruso as a defensive specialist and ball-mover off the bench, would give Chicago a real chance to push Eastern Conference powers like the Milwaukee Bucks, Miami Heat and Philadelphia 76ers.

    For Detroit, again, the play is getting younger. Grant, who's averaged 20.8 points as a Piston, obviously helps more in the short term, but Patrick Williams shot 39.1 percent from three as a rookie and holds similar potential as a multipositional defender down the road.

    Surrounding Cunningham with young, reliable shooters (Coby White is a 36.8 percent three-point shooter for his career) should be a priority.