It’s the time of year when NBA trade rumors really pick up speed. We now have a clearer picture of where every team stands in the league’s hierarchy, so the bad teams will realize they have no chance at winning this year and will turn their focus to the future. Every once in a while, this leads to these teams trading away their stars in huge blockbuster deals that can change the power balance in the NBA. Here are the four that I found most intriguing.
Note: I’m not predicting that these trades will happen, or even saying that they’re all plausible. This is a hypothetical exercise. Please don’t get angry at me based on anything in this article.
Bulls trade Jimmy Butler and Isaiah Canaan to the Wolves for Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn, Gorgui Dieng, Wolves 2017 first round pick.
Despite great offensive numbers from their young trio of Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, and Zach LaVine, and the best supporting cast on paper they’ve had in years, the Wolves aren’t winning games. They’ve struggled horribly defensively, despite the hire of defensive mastermind Tom Thibodeau as head coach, and people are starting to freak out that the Wolves aren’t developing as projected. The problem is that Thibodeau’s signature defensive scheme, while it can be stifling, requires veteran leadership to organize and communicate to the rest of the team. Karl-Anthony Towns has the potential to be a Defensive Player of the Year down the line, but he’s too young to be able to decipher NBA offenses and run a defense.
Jimmy Butler might be the answer to the Wolves’ problems. He’s a veteran star who can teach some of the Wolves’ young guys about succeeding in the league, not only as an individual, but as a team. He’s become a very effective offensive player who can take some pressure off of Wiggins and Towns when they are struggling. And he’s a premier defensive wing who thrived in Tom Thibodeau’s defense when the coach was in Chicago. He can help the Wolves understand and work within Thibodeau’s defensive scheme, and be the veteran leader of a young and talented team.
Wizards trade John Wall and Sheldon McClellan to the Magic for Serge Ibaka, Mario Hezonja, and Elfrid Payton, 2017 and 2018 first round picks.
John Wall is unhappy in Washington, and he wants out. I’m not saying he would be any happier in Orlando, but at least he wouldn’t have to deal with Bradley Beal and whatever the issue is between those two. Washington is going nowhere, and when hopeless teams have agitating stars, it can be a good idea to trade them. We saw how the Nuggets turned Carmelo Anthony into a bunch of assets for the future, but you don’t have to wait until the trade deadline of the player’s contract year. If they can get a lot of assets out of Wall, it’s worth it to start the rebuild now. They can do that with Ibaka, who has played well this year after leaving Oklahoma City, Hezonja, a talented young player who was never given a chance in Orlando, and Payton, who could find a second wind on a new team. The Wizards could start to rebuild with those picks and craft a better future for themselves.
Meanwhile, the Magic desperately need a point guard. The Elfrid Payton experiment didn’t work for them, and they need a star to lead their young core. Wall can get the ball to Nikola Vucevic, Aaron Gordon, and Evan Fournier, and possibly attract future free agents. It seems like it could be a similarly disappointing situation for Wall, but he’ll be the undisputed leader with less locker room turmoil. He can continue to put up huge numbers on a bad team until his free agency comes up and he can choose where to go.
I realize that there are a lot of things about this trade that don’t make sense. Wall is frustrated with a lack of production fro his teammates in Washington, but if this trade went through he’d probably get less support from his new supporting cast. From the Wizards’ side, Elfrid Payton is hardly capable of replacing anything that John Wall provided at the point guard position. But like I said, this is a hypothetical exercise. I just want to get Wall out of D.C.
Kings trade DeMarcus Cousins and Ben McLemore to the Celtics for Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, Amir Johnson, 2017 Brooklyn pick swap and Brooklyn’s 2018 unprotected first round pick.
Cousins has been linked to the Celtics for a few years now. There’s certainly no team with more or better assets to use in a big trade than Boston. That trade with the Nets during the 2013 draft, along with other moves, has set them up with a ton of first round picks leading all the way up to 2019. In addition, they’ve done a great job of getting productive, unselfish players on inexpensive contracts, such as Jae Crowder, Avery Bradley, and 2016 All-Star Isaiah Thomas. With the signing of Al Horford over the summer, the Celtics seemed poised to ascend to the level below Cleveland in the Eastern Conference’s rankings.
However, they’ve sputtered somewhat to start the season, and it’s due to the same reason that everyone ranked them outside the NBA’s elite: they don’t have a superstar. They could remedy that with a Cousins trade. He’s put up some incredible numbers in his career, including this season: 29.3 PPG, 10.8 RPG, 46% FG, 37.5% 3PFG, 9.7 FTA, 76.8% FT. He’s simply the best all-around big man in the league. He’s the type of guy you can run an offense around, not only for his post and isolation scoring, but using his underrated passing gifts. He’s also the right combination of strong, mobile, and smart to anchor a great defense as a rim protector. And he helps the Celtics with their biggest personnel problem: rebounding.
As a Celtics fan, I’m very conflicted on this one. Yeah, Boogie is a force to be reckoned with, the most talented big man in the league. But is he worth all that we would have to give up for him? His reputation as a hothead and coach-killer is well-deserved after numerous incidents with coaches, teammates, management, and media members. Coach Brad Stevens seems to be weary of bringing in a player who could ruin Boston’s carefully crafted chemistry, no matter how talented he is. In addition, the only reason the Celtics should bring Boogie in is to put them in title contention, but is he enough to even make it possible that the Celtics beat the Warriors or Cavaliers, especially when they would have to give up so much to get him?
It’s certainly a tough decision to make, because it could go either way, as Bill Simmons wrote for the Ringer a week ago. Boogie could go to Boston and find his place as the star in a strong, supportive environment, or he could rip down everything that Boston has worked so hard to build. The decision has huge implications for the future, but choices like these are why Danny Ainge gets paid the big bucks. We’ll see how it plays out.
Pelicans trade Anthony Davis and Tim Frazier to the Lakers for Jordan Clarkson, Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, 2020 first round pick, 2021 first round pick.
This might be the most implausible and most interesting idea at the same time. It seems impossible that the Pelicans would trade a talent like Anthony Davis away, especially when they have him locked up through 2021. But we have to save Davis from the Pelicans, even hypothetically. It’s not fair to him that such a great player should be stuck in a losing situation because the front office can’t put productive, or even NBA-level, players around him. When you look at New Orleans’ roster, the only players you could get excited about are Jrue Holiday and Buddy Hield. He may have an intriguing front court mate in the ascending Chieck Diallo, but it remains to be seen whether he can thrive at the NBA level continuously. We need to get Davis out of New Orleans.
And we know that the Lakers are always looking for their next superstar. They have built a great young nucleus with their draft picks, so they might be the perfect team to supply the Pelicans with the talent they need to start a rebuild. Davis can showcase his talents in the second biggest market in the country, with the most skilled point guard he’s ever played with in D’Angelo Russell. And once the Lakers have a player like Davis, they can attract more big name free agents who will see Davis as the key to a deep playoff run.
In Ingram, Clarkson, and Randle, the Pelicans would have depth of exciting young players, and they can use the picks to build on that further. Like I said, the Pelicans really just need NBA-level talent in multiple spots. They’re not going anywhere with Davis as long as they run a supporting cast out there that can only be described as “disappointing.”
There are plenty of other opportunities for mind-bending trades out there. The Blazers have thought about trading C.J. McCollum, Nerlens Noel is agitating to leave the 76ers’ crowded front court, and Blake Griffin could be the odd man out for the Clippers if they play well in his absence. Many New Yorkers have called for a Carmelo Anthony trade to hand the keys over to Kristaps Porzingis. All I’m asking for, as a fan, is that some team pulls the trigger on a huge trade such as the ones detailed above, because there aren’t many things in basketball more exciting than pondering a trade that could change the balance of power in the league.
Oh yeah, I forgot. Do you remember how close the Celtics were to landing Kevin Durant this offseason?
Warriors trade Kevin Durant to the Celtics for Amir Johnson, Jonas Jerebko, and Jae Crowder.
Ah, what could have been. A Celtics fan can dream, can’t he?
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