Realistic Trades to Rescue NBA's Top Young Stars

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistMay 25, 2022

Realistic Trades to Rescue NBA's Top Young Stars

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    The hardest part of building an NBA roster is finding a young cornerstone. But even when that job's complete, the work is far from finished.

    Teams have to surround their franchise players with supporting talent—ideally the kind that maximizes the young star's game in ways that contribute to winning on a big stage. The quickest way to lose buy-in from a key piece like Trae Young or LaMelo Ball is to make little progress in the pursuit of playoff success.

    These trades will highlight prominent young stars who need some help.

    We could have framed "rescue" in a different way and focused on getting said star to a new destination. But there's enough of that happening around the league as it is. Better to save fanbases the unnecessary anxiety of "Free Player X" angles.

    We're going to send help in, rather than try to get a young star out.

Trae Young Plus Defense Equals Success

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Atlanta Hawks Receive: Rudy Gobert

    Utah Jazz Receive: Clint Capela, Bogdan Bogdanovic, No. 16 pick, 2024 first-round pick (top-five protected)

    The Atlanta Hawks followed up their 2021 trip to the Eastern Conference Finals with a 43-39 record and a thorough first-round thrashing at the hands of the Miami Heat. Anyone who watched the Heat defense fixate on Trae Young and dare any other Hawk to score could rightly conclude that Atlanta's dynamic lead guard needs help from a second star on offense.

    The greater, more foundational need is on the other end of the floor. Atlanta has ranked in the bottom five on D in four of the last five seasons, with 2020-21's No. 17 ranking the lone just-barely-respectable outlier.

    In moving Bogdanovic to solve their defensive issues, the Hawks get into Whac-a-Mole territory. Bogdanovic was key to alleviating another longstanding issue with the team, its lack of a reliable creator with Young off the floor. This deal presumes replacement secondary playmakers are easier to find than a transformative interior force with three DPOY trophies on his mantle—which seems like a safe bet.

    The Hawks might have to sweeten the deal, and Utah should insist on De'Andre Hunter's inclusion. The Jazz are as low on quality wing defenders as Atlanta is, and the downgrade from Gobert to Capela will only make that shortcoming more damaging. The Hawks should respond to requests for additional assets by floating Kevin Huerter or more draft equity instead.

    Both teams' feelings about Gobert's contract will be key. He's owed $169.7 million over the next four years (player option in 2025-26), a hefty sum for a guy who'll be 33 in the last season of the deal. But with the Gobert-Donovan Mitchell rift such a constant source of chatter, maybe the Jazz would be less inclined to carry that contract than the Hawks.

    If Utah is set on splitting its stars, it could do a lot worse than adding legitimate draft equity and two cheaper starting-caliber players—and that's if it can't convince the Hawks to add some throw-ins. Plus, how can you turn down the chance to corner the market on Bogdanovics?

    Atlanta has alternatives. It could bank on Onyeka Okongwu being ready to slide in as a superior defensive replacement for Capela. Dealing Capela and/or Huerter for a defensive upgrade on the wing would be an option in that scenario. But Young is one of the game's elite offensive engines, and the Hawks need to support him on the other end—right now.

    There might not be a single player in the league who'd elevate Atlanta's defense as quickly and substantially as Gobert.

Get This Man a Center

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    Rusty Jones/Associated Press

    Charlotte Hornets Receive: Richaun Holmes

    Sacramento Kings Receive: Kelly Oubre Jr., 2022 second-round pick

    There are plenty of ways to build a good offense that don't involve a pick-and-roll center. The Golden State Warriors, Memphis Grizzlies and Boston Celtics proved that by ranking in the bottom four in percentage of plays finished by the roll man last year.

    But if you're trying to facilitate the development of a lead guard, give him clear passing lanes and open up the perimeter for cutters and spot-up outlets, a quality dive man is a must.

    The Charlotte Hornets desperately need a center, and while the clamoring for pick-and-popper Myles Turner is a lot of fun, the best thing for LaMelo Ball's progress (and his team's offense) is a vertical-spacing threat who can draw in the defense, cram lobs and finish on short rolls. A little rim protection sprinkled on top would be even better.

    That's Richaun Holmes in a nutshell.

    In three seasons with the Sacramento Kings, the 28-year-old has been a high-frequency roller with scoring efficiency on those plays that has never dropped below the 70th percentile. Among the best in the league at converting floaters, Holmes doesn't even need to get all the way to the bucket to produce points.

    For comparison's sake, also note that Holmes held opponents to a 53.7 percent conversion rate inside six feet last year. Turner, the much more heralded paint-patroller on D, allowed a 55.9 percent figure. Rim defense isn't all about blocked shots, folks.

    Factor in Holmes' relatively low cost at $12 million per year through 2024-25 (player option in the final season), Domantas Sabonis' position above him in the Kings' center hierarchy and the possibility that Sacramento might draft another big with its No. 4 pick, and the Hornets wouldn't have to surrender much to land exactly the type of interior presence they need. 

    Ball and the Hornets are the focus here, but the Kings' end of the deal is important. This is a team with perhaps the ugliest wing/forward rotation in the league. Kelly Oubre Jr. has his flaws, but he's a hyper-athletic combo forward who can disrupt on defense, stay in front of smaller guards and hit an open three. Given the Kings' needs and the general view that wings are more valuable than bigs, Charlotte might even be able to coax an extra asset out of Sacramento in this exchange. 

Darius Garland Gets Real Help on the Wing

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    Nick Cammett/Associated Press

    Cleveland Cavaliers Receive: OG Anunoby

    Toronto Raptors Receive: Jarrett Allen

    Darius Garland is an ace playmaker whose best outlets were bigs during his breakout 2021-22 campaign. In addition, the 22-year-old point guard's 6'1" size left him vulnerable to dangerous opposing scorers. A big two-way wing who'd provide supplemental scoring and defensive assistance on the perimeter is exactly what he needs.

    Caris LeVert isn't a good enough shooter or stopper. Restricted free agent Collin Sexton can score, but he's got tunnel vision and isn't big enough to wrangle wings or larger point guards. Isaac Okoro could develop, but Garland needs someone who can help him take the Cleveland Cavaliers to the next level quickly.

    He's ready. His teammates need to be, too.

    Yep, it's time for an old-fashioned, straight-up, one-for-one challenge trade.

    Jarrett Allen is a terrific interior defender and was a justifiable All-Star pick this past season, but Evan Mobley has a DPOY ceiling and a level of versatility better suited to the modern game. He should be capable of stepping into the anchor role, and his superior mobility and shooting range would better space the offense for Garland. By moving Allen, the Cavs would be abandoning the off-trend, triple-big lineups that worked so well in 2021-22. But the juice OG Anunoby would provide is worth the squeeze.

    The 24-year-old has looked for long stretches like one of the best individual stoppers in the league. He has the heft to guard centers with the length and foot speed to stay in front of guards. Not only that, but he's also shot at least 39.0 percent from three in two of the last three years while increasing his long-distance volume and scoring average in every season of his career.

    The Toronto Raptors leaned into like-sized lineups last season, but the lack of a true center hurt them on the boards and left them powerless against potent interior forces like Joel Embiid. Allen is precisely the type of big man they need, and he proved with Cleveland that he's no stiff. The 24-year-old holds up well enough as a perimeter defender to fit with the Raps' next-generation switching style.

    Both teams trade from positions of strength in this deal, but you could argue Garland and the Cavs benefit most profoundly by adding exactly the type of three-and-D wing (with upside) they lack.

Taking the Pressure off RJ Barrett

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    Brandon Dill/Associated Press

    New York Knicks Receive: D'Angelo Russell

    Minnesota Timberwolves Receive: Evan Fournier, Alec Burks, 2023 first-round pick (via Dallas Mavericks)

    Ball-handling and facilitation are among RJ Barrett's strengths, as evidenced by the 21-year-old lefty's stellar assist rates. He ranked in the 70th percentile in that stat as a rookie and has steadily improved in his three seasons, reaching the 81st percentile in 2021-22.

    Barrett can be a playmaker on the wing, but he shouldn't have to do it quite so frequently. A point guard who can reliably create offense for himself and teammates would go a long way toward preventing Barrett from being overtaxed, with the added benefit of preserving his energy for work on defense—where he also shoulders a heavy load.

    Ideally, Barrett will become the New York Knicks' main source of efficient offense and top wing defender. But it's a little early to ask so much of him right now.

    D'Angelo Russell is a classic pick-and-roll point guard with a career three-point hit rate right at the league average. Considering the high volume with which he fires off those treys (8.0 per game last season with the Wolves), he's exactly the type of high-usage burden-sharer Barrett needs.

    This deal would depend on Minnesota having little interest in extending Russell at star rates after his $31.4 million salary for 2022-23 expires and sends him into free agency. With Anthony Edwards increasing his assists-per-game average from 2.9 as a rookie to 3.8 in 2021-22, you could imagine the Wolves seeing him as their lead guard going forward.

    Plus, Edwards is already a lock for a rookie max extension next offseason, and Karl-Anthony Towns is eligible for a four-year extension that could be worth up to $210.9 million this summer. Inking Russell on a market-rate deal could vaporize future flexibility.

    With that financial reality, the Wolves could much more easily talk themselves into moving Russell now (rather than losing him for nothing in a year) and putting the ball in the hands of a guy who can do all this.

    Fournier and Burks can both make plays as secondary ball-handlers (Burks even spent time at the point for the Knicks), and they add wing depth to the Wolves' rotation. Minnesota is still giving up the best player in the bargain, and you could imagine the club asking for more draft compensation. But Russell is expiring and saw his minutes decrease in the playoffs. The package here might be enough.

    If the Knicks view Russell as their point guard of the future, this is extremely easy on their end. But even if we're just talking about a stopgap to give Barrett a break with no promises of anything beyond this year, the move still makes sense.

Donovan Mitchell and RJ Barrett Save Each Other

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    Seth Wenig/Associated Press

    New York Knicks Receive: Donovan Mitchell

    Utah Jazz Receive: Evan Fournier, Immanuel Quickley, Obi Toppin, No. 11 pick, 2023 first-round pick (via Dallas Mavericks), 2024 first-round pick (top-eight protected)

    I know we promised earlier not to make this about extracting players from situations they may not want to be in, but this is a double rescue!

    Barrett saves Mitchell. Mitchell saves Barrett.

    The links between Donovan Mitchell and the New York Knicks are almost too plentiful to list at this point. He's represented by CAA, the same agency that used to employ Knicks president and former top agent Leon Rose. Another Knicks exec, William Wesley, was a controversial courtside presence at Game 1 of the recent playoff series between the Jazz and Dallas Mavericks.

    And just for fun, Mitchell's father is a New York Mets executive, and the star guard, a New York native by the way, was spotted talking with shortstop Francisco Lindor during a game at Citi Field.

    So let's rip the Band-Aid off and send Mitchell to the team he so clearly (OK, possibly) loves, getting him out of a situation that seems to be souring in Utah, and at the same time giving Barrett a much better playmaking guard than the one he got in the last made-up trade we suggested.

    The Knicks may well have to sweeten their package with additional pick swaps, but Quickley and this year's No. 11 pick are real assets, while Toppin would add athleticism to a Jazz team that basically has none.

    Barrett would get to take on more of a secondary role until he's ready to be 1B to Mitchell's 1A, the Knicks would add a young star who (again, maybe) wants to play for them and we can finally stop speculating about whether Mitchell and Gobert can ever coexist on a postseason winner.


    Stats courtesy of, Basketball Reference and Cleaning the Glass. Accurate through 2021-22 season. Salary info via Spotrac.


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