We are three weeks from the NBA draft on Nov. 18 and even closer to the league lifting its transaction moratorium, so trade speculation season is upon us. Terrible takes are coming in droves, and I may have come up with a few here, but surely you will be as reasoned in your responses as I was in my analysis.
The goal was to run through all 14 lottery picks and concoct the five trades that make most sense for all parties involved. I tried sending Blake Griffin to Golden State, Chris Paul to New York and Gordon Hayward just about everywhere, but these trades felt far more interesting to me. Hopefully to you, too. Disagree? Send along your own terrible trade ideas, for many will be better than those that actually get done. Now ...
The Devin Booker Hail Mary
To Minnesota: Devin Booker
To Phoenix: No. 1 pick, 2023 and 2025 first-round picks, Jarrett Culver, Josh Okogie, James Johnson
After what Phoenix Suns star Devin Booker did during the regular-season restart in Orlando, he is borderline untouchable as an asset. He is also close friends with Timberwolves teammates Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell, the latter of whom went on record last year with the trio’s desire to play together. Signed through 2024, Booker would have to force his way out of Phoenix, which is entirely plausible at some point.
What if that point were in the weeks leading up to the draft? The Wolves own the No. 1 overall pick, quite possibly the best trade piece for Booker they will have while Towns is under contract, even in a down draft. They have their first-round picks from the past two years, Jarrett Culver and Josh Okogie, and future first-rounders in 2023 and 2025 to package with the rights to Anthony Edwards, James Wiseman or LaMelo Ball. James Johnson’s expiring $15.8 million contract and salary filler could make the money work to get Booker.
There are worse deals the Suns could make if Booker forced their hand, especially if they love someone at the top of the draft, but there may also be better ones. Booker’s performance in Orlando made his max deal one of the league’s most valuable contracts, and there would be a bidding war if he ever requests a trade.
A Third Splash Brother
To Golden State: Bradley Beal
To Washington: No. 2 pick, top-three protected 2021 first-round pick (via Minnesota), Andrew Wiggins
We have heard so much about who the Warriors want in the draft that it feels like a ploy to make the No. 2 pick seem more valuable. Golden State is in win-now mode, and neither the No. 2 pick nor Andrew Wiggins are in the same mode. Pair them with the pick the Warriors acquired along with Wiggins in the Russell deal, and they enter conversations for a star to team with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.
In an ideal world, the Washington Wizards would build around 27-year-old two-time All-Star Bradley Beal and his 30 points per game. But the Wizards do not live in an ideal world. They live in a world where John Wall is scheduled to make $133 million over the next three years, severely limiting their roster-building flexibility. They have a few promising prospects and this year’s No. 9 pick, more than they did under the older front-office regime, but still not enough to land the third star they have been searching for since 2013.
The second pick in this year’s draft, a likely top-10 selection next year and a 25-year-old former No. 1 pick who has averaged 20 points in his career is a decent rebuilding starter pack. That is the best the Warriors can put together, and Beal is their best hope for potential returns on that package. There is not a defense alive that could stretch to defend against the 2,000 three-pointers Curry, Thompson and Beal would unload.
The Art of Trading Down
To Charlotte: No. 6 pick, John Collins
To Atlanta: No. 3 pick, Miles Bridges and Cody Zeller’s expiring contract
If anyone knows the value of a No. 3 pick, it is Charlotte Hornets owner Michael Jordan. There is little consensus on this year’s draft, but we can agree Charlotte is more likely to land a Sam Bowie with its pick than a Jordan or Hakeem Olajuwon. The Hornets may be better off dropping in a draft rife with role players, adding another piece in the process, especially if their top target is off the board when they’re on the clock.
Charlotte has any number of potential trade partners, many of whom might have different thoughts about how much value that third pick holds. The Hornets also have a slew of expiring contracts to match money. Would Andre Drummond or Luke Kennard be worth Charlotte swapping picks with the Cleveland Cavaliers or Detroit Pistons? Is anyone on the New York Knicks interesting enough to warrant dropping to eighth? How high can the Boston Celtics climb with three first-round picks (Nos. 14, 26 and 30) and other assets?
The Atlanta Hawks make the most sense as a trade partner. The frontcourt fit between John Collins and Clint Capela is an awkward one, and Collins is a year from restricted free agency. The Hornets have so many needs, it is hard to know where to begin, but a walking 23-year-old double-double is not a bad start, so long as they believe they can still get a player they like with the sixth pick. Meanwhile, the Hawks would have greater assurance they get their guy at No. 3, adding Bridges as a better wing fit next to Trae Young.
A Four-Team Blockbuster
To Indiana: Jrue Holiday, Zach LaVine
To Chicago: Rudy Gobert
To New Orleans: Victor Oladipo
To Utah: No. 4 pick, Myles Turner
The longer you look at potential draft-day trades, the more you run into the names in this proposal, so we might as well figure a way to move them all in the same deal. The Milwaukee Bucks, Los Angeles Clippers and Philadelphia 76ers all make sense as landing spots for Holiday or Oladipo, but all three teams lack assets to go star-hunting, unless they include one of their own, which makes either move less attractive.
The Chicago Bulls need a roster shakeup, and the other three teams are in search of pieces that will raise their ceiling from good to great. Both Oladipo and Gobert can become unrestricted free agents next year. Neither is guaranteed to re-sign with his current team. The Indiana Pacers also have an awkward frontcourt fit between Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis to solve. And Jrue Holiday is on a different timeline than the young New Orleans Pelicans. The veteran leader could fetch them another star for their bright future.
Gobert would give the wayward Bulls an identity. If Chicago signs him to a long-term deal, the franchise has an anchor to keep them competitive on the defensive end while their recent first-round picks continue to develop offensively. Gobert and Kris Dunn could be the foundation of a defensive monster, or the Bulls can put shooters around Gobert, including Lauri Markkanen in two-big lineups. At least new head coach Billy Donovan would have options beyond the hope that Zach LaVine can outgun his opponent on a given night.
The Pelicans get Oladipo, a 28-year-old two-time All-Star almost two years removed from a serious knee injury. He is not the defensive ace that Holiday has been, but he is a more dynamic pick-and-roll playmaker and positionally fits just as well as a third star in versatile lineups with Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram.
The Pacers nab a pair of wings who operate just below All-Star level, both of whom can play with Sabonis. Holiday would be teamed with his two younger brothers in a historic development process. He can help mask the defensive limitations of LaVine, and the two of them can match the scoring losses of Oladipo and Turner in a modern offense. Three-guard lineups with T.J. Warren at the four and Sabonis manning the middle would pose defensive challenges for opponents, so long as they could hold their own on that end.
The Jazz downgrade defensively from Gobert to Turner, who finished fifth in the 2019 Defensive Player of the Year voting behind the Frenchman. But Turner’s ability to space the floor would allow Utah to play five-out lineups, opening up driving lanes for both Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley. In the process, the Jazz pick up the No. 4 pick — a low-cost building block for a team that has trouble luring stars in free agency.
The Buddy System
To Brooklyn: No. 12 pick, Buddy Hield
To Sacramento: Caris LeVert, expiring contracts
Caris LeVert is the best player in this trade, but because he is most effective with the ball in his hands, he is also an odd fit around Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant. The Brooklyn Nets will surely be looking to flip LeVert for a third star, perhaps in a package with Spencer Dinwiddie, but third stars often require the ball, too.
Buddy Hield is already an elite marksman, but he could be explosive in the space provided by Irving and Durant. And that only opens the floor up more for the two superstars, much the same way Klay Thompson stretched defenses thin for Durant and Curry in Golden State. Hield is nowhere near Thompson as a defender, but neither is LeVert, and the Nets get a pick to split the difference. A second first-round pick, packaged with Dinwiddie and/or Jarrett Allen, could still fetch a player of value, or Brooklyn could secure a fixed low-cost asset on an expensive team by taking someone at No. 12 in a draft rich with role players.
LeVert would give the Sacramento Kings a secondary playmaker alongside De’Aaron Fox, one capable of running the offense as a pick-and-roll partner to their various bigs. More importantly, he is a better fit on and off the court than Hield, who has reportedly stopped taking head coach Luke Walton’s phone calls.
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