Realistic Offseason Trades NBA Fanbases Wouldn't See Coming
Most NBA trades surface at the end of a trail of bread crumbs.
Follow the right rumblings, and you'll be keyed in on some portion of the transaction, if not the entire swap.
Every now and then, though, the basketball gods cook up a stunner. Maybe a player who no one knew was available gets traded. Perhaps a mystery team shocks the hoops world with an out-of-nowhere acquisition.
That's the kind of internet-breaking magic we're conjuring here by assembling four realistic summer swaps that no one could see coming.
Thunder, Hawks Swap Offense for Defense
Oklahoma City Thunder receive: John Collins
Atlanta Hawks receive: Lu Dort, Kenrich Williams, Derrick Favors and 2022 first-round pick (top-five protected, via LAC)
In one year, the Hawks nosedived from the Eastern Conference Finals to the play-in tournament. That's the kind of decline that, if punctuated by an early postseason exit, could spark sweeping change in Atlanta.
Of course, the Hawks were already barking up that tree. In January, B/R's Jake Fischer reported Atlanta was shopping Collins for "a valuable first-round pick and a starting-caliber player." This package could be close enough for the Hawks decision-makers to strike.
They need a shutdown perimeter defender in the worst kind of way. You know, the caliber of stopper who wouldn't let Jimmy Butler net 45 points on 25 field-goal attempts two days after Duncan Robinson tallied 27 on 10. (Too soon?)
Dort is that guy. This season, he handled the league's most difficult matchups, per Bball-Index.com, had zero rim protection behind him and still shaved 0.4 percent off his opponents' field-goal percentage. Get him on the wings with De'Andre Hunter and Kevin Huerter, and the Hawks could have a wall of long-limbed, active defenders, all backed by Clint Capela or Onyeka Okongwu. If there's a way for a Trae Young-led roster to have a functional defense, this is it.
The Hawks walk away with a lottery pick, which should meet their "valuable" criterion. Plus, they add a plug-and-play, three-and-D swingman in Williams, with Favors coming along for the ride solely as a money-matcher.
OKC, meanwhile, accelerates its rebuild a bit, but not recklessly so.
Collins, whose finishing and floor-spacing could shine alongside shot-creators Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey, isn't even a year older than SGA and is less than two years older than Dort. The Thunder have enough picks and prospects to sacrifice a few for an under-25 player who has posted near-All-Star numbers over the last four seasons (18.5 points, 8.7 rebounds and 55.6/37.9/79.5 shooting).
Mavericks Increase Scoring Punch, Sixers Seek Balance
Dallas Mavericks receive: Tobias Harris, Jaden Springer and 2023 second-round pick (via ATL, CHO or BRK)
Philadelphia 76ers receive: Reggie Bullock, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Dwight Powell
No matter where Philadelphia's playoff run ends, Harris should get a huge hat tip for his perpetually evolving role in it.
"This guy has given everything for this team," Sixers skipper Doc Rivers told reporters. "Like he started out as a second option, then Tyrese [Maxey] got going, and then we bring James [Harden] in. Tobias has had to make more changes than anybody on our team."
Again, Harris deserves a world of credit for morphing his game to suit this squad's needs. But, as Rivers pointed out, Philly's transformation has dropped Harris down to the No. 4 option. That's a testament to the team's talent but also probably an unworkable setup, since he's owed more than $76.9 million for the next two seasons.
If the Sixers think that's too much for a fourth scorer (they should), then they could use this deal to better balance the roster.
Bullock would be a clean, effortless fit as a three-and-D wing. Hardaway could either improve the starting five's spacing or lead the second unit as a quick-strike scorer. Powell would give Philadelphia a legitimate backup for MVP candidate Joel Embiid.
Should the Sixers decide that any (or all) of the pieces don't fit the puzzle, their salaries would be easier to move than Harris' monster.
The Mavericks, meanwhile, would snag a high-level scorer in Harris to ease the burden on Luka Doncic and perhaps lessen the blow should Jalen Brunson book it in free agency. Swapping out three rotation regulars for one is tricky, but that's why Dallas would also fetch Springer, the 28th pick of last year's draft, and a decent second-rounder (the most favorable of the three listed). This trade could also make it easier for the Mavs to expand the role of 2020 first-rounder Josh Green if they think he's ready for it.
Center Swap for Bulls and Jazz
Chicago Bulls receive: Rudy Gobert and Rudy Gay
Utah Jazz receive: Nikola Vucevic, Patrick Williams and Coby White
The Bulls shocked everyone when their revamped roster not only stormed out of the gate, but did so primarily on the defensive end. With newcomers Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso locking down the perimeter, Chicago cruised into 2022 with the Association's 10th-ranked defense.
Of course, Ball and Caruso were injured shortly thereafter, and Chicago's defense immediately disintegrated. From January to April, the Bulls were 27th in defensive efficiency. Now, that says something about the impact of Ball and Caruso, but it's more revealing about what the rest of the roster has—or doesn't have, rather. Chicago is woefully short on stoppers and too easily outmuscled in the middle. Only three teams allowed more field goals inside of five feet.
If the Bulls want to beef up their interior defense, it'd be hard to find a bigger upgrade than Gobert. The 29-year-old has already captured three Defensive Player of the Year awards and was the bronze medalist for this season's honor. Put him on the back line and healthy versions of Ball and Caruso on the perimeter, and Chicago's defense would likely vault back into the top third next season.
This swap would also deliver Gay, who couldn't quite find his footing in Salt Lake City but remains an otherwise reliable veteran who can bury open shots, play power forward or center and create offense against second-team defenses.
For the Jazz to do this deal, they must have decided that Gobert needs to go but a total tear-down isn't necessary. If they retain the rest of their roster, they could perhaps raise their ceiling above where the current core has plateaued.
Vucevic isn't a great defender, but he is solid in a team scheme and much more skilled offensively than Gobert. Vucevic can score from the inside and out, find shots for his teammates and function as a pick-and-roll screener. His offensive arsenal could simplify things for Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley, either by widening their attack lanes as a spacer, working two-man actions with them or providing a safety valve as a self-sufficient scorer.
Williams is the real crown jewel here, though, and potentially the big-wing defender the Jazz have sorely missed. He's still somewhat of a mystery with only 88 games under his belt, but he has already laid a three-and-D foundation and flashed the potential to become so much more. White is a spark-plug scorer who could team with Jordan Clarkson to give Utah a potent one-two punch off the bench.
Cavs Cash In Trade Chips, Jazz Start Over
Cleveland Cavaliers receive: Donovan Mitchell and Royce O'Neale
Utah Jazz receive: Collin Sexton (sign-and-trade), Lauri Markkanen, Isaac Okoro, 2022 second-round pick (via SAS), 2025 first-round pick and 2027 first-round pick
Want to get Cleveland really rocking? Bottle up all the good vibes from this season's leap and use them as the rocket fuel needed to win the Mitchell sweepstakes.
Perhaps you haven't heard about the Mitchell sweepstakes yet, but assuming the last stand in Salt Lake City ends as poorly as it is headed, the trade talks could erupt the second the final buzzer sounds.
"Other teams have been planning to make a run at Donovan Mitchell all season long," ESPN's Tim MacMahon said on The Lowe Post podcast.
The Cavaliers aren't the most obvious suitor, but why shouldn't they get in on the action? Cleveland had this season's 20th-ranked offense. Imagine how high that could climb if the team turbo-charged the backcourt by pairing Mitchell, a career 23.9-points-per-game scorer, with Darius Garland, who just secured his first All-Star trip by tallying 21.7 points and 8.6 assists on a nightly basis?
Could the fifth-ranked defense dip a bit after the deal? Sure, but it wouldn't fall off a cliff with O'Neale, Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen rounding out the starting five. There's a scenario in which the Cavs field top-10 units on both ends of the floor next season, and history holds that as the key to championship contention.
As for the Jazz, if Mitchell seeks the nearest exit this summer, then it's time to hit the self-destruct button. This escape hatch happens to feature two unprotected future firsts, a pick in the upper half of the second round and top-10 selections from 2017 (Markkanen, No. 7), 2018 (Sexton, No. 8) and 2020 (Okoro, No. 5).
A healthy Sexton is a fiery scorer who dropped 24.3 points per night in his last full season. Markkanen is an ignitable offensive threat who can shred nets from the paint to the perimeter, and he quietly offers a good deal of defensive versatility. Okoro is a defensive menace and making strides as a shooter and ball-mover.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.