The NBA offseason is a time for grand plans and endless optimism. As teams lay out their goals and draw up vision boards, they should operate as if no potential acquisition is too far-fetched.
That’s the approach B/R’s Dan Favale and Grant Hughes are taking anyway, and it’ll produce some outlandish (but at least technically plausible) trade targets—one for each of the league’s 30 teams.
As financial realities creep in and trade proposals go unaccepted, front offices around the league quickly realize they need to set their sights lower. We’ll let them deal with that disappointing realization on their own.
Here, we’re laying out the player every team should put atop its most fanciful trade-acquisition list.
If we operate under the assumption that the Atlanta Hawks are married to the Trae Young-Dejounte Murray duo, they can then justify chasing substantial upgrades at every other position. Settling on the wing spot is an easy decision.
Jaylen Brown impacts the game at both ends unlike any other player on the roster. He provides sturdy wing defense, three-point volume and efficiency and an additional layer of shot creation.
His future in Boston becomes a non-issue if he puts pen to paper on the supermax extension for which he’s eligible. It will be open season if he rejects it. The Celtics cannot risk him getting to unrestricted free agency in 2024 should he turn down nearly $300 million.
The Hawks backed up the asset truck to land Murray last summer but are not without other chips to play. They have the No. 15 pick in this year’s draft and a lottery-protected Sacramento first in 2024, and they can still trade their own 2029 selection.
Other squads can cobble together spicier draft equity. But the Celtics won’t be going full-tilt rebuild if they move Brown. They’ll need actual contributors on top of first-rounders to keep optimizing the Jayson Tatum window. Atlanta can—and should—unload all the draft capital possible while dangling any combination of A.J. Griffin, De’Andre Hunter, Onyeka Okongwu, Jalen Johnson, John Collins and even Murray.
The idea of the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers breaking bread at the transaction table when they’re both vying for Eastern Conference supremacy is comical. But hey, we did say these were “ambitious” ideas.
Plus, everything changes in Philadelphia if James Harden (player option) leaves as a free agent. The Sixers could try instantly recalibrating around Joel Embiid. But the strip-it-down path becomes more palatable if they lose their second most important player. Talking shop with Boston isn’t as painful—or unlikely—if Philly isn’t operating on an immediate timeline.
P.J. Tucker just turned 38 and is extremely shot-volume shy. He’s also exactly what the Celtics need.
Boston has seen Robert Williams III struggle to stay on the floor against certain lineups this postseason. Tucker lets the Celtics downsize to one big without significantly harming their defensive presence near the basket and on the glass. He doesn’t come close to matching RW3’s rim pressure, but opposing teams have to respect his corner three when he’s actually firing away.
Landing Tucker opens up even more micro-lineup options, as well. Boston can use him as the de facto 5 in all-wing arrangements. He’s also great insurance against a suddenly harsher Al Horford aging curve, RW3’s injury history and Grant Williams’ potential departure in restricted free agency.
Many will be waiting for the Brooklyn Nets to tear it down and begin anew as they continue to navigate the post-Kevin Durant and -Kyrie Irving era. What if they do the exact opposite instead?
Mikal Bridges isn’t an A-plus-plus-plus superstar, but his on-ball offensive leap and contract (three years, $69.9 million) offer the Nets a directional alternative. Rather than rebuild, they can look to reload around him and another star—preferably an advantage creator.
Enter Trae Young.
Rumblings about his future in Atlanta persisted through the end of the season. The Hawks aren’t obligated to trade him. He has another three years before he’s eligible to hit free agency. But if they do decide to shop him, Brooklyn has a gaping hole at the point of attack and plenty of assets to peddle.
Whether the Nets can poach Young without forking over Bridges himself is debatable. Atlanta presumably won’t be looking to start over. But the Nets have other players who can keep immediate expectations afloat: Dorian Finney-Smith, Spencer Dinwiddie, Royce O’Neale, Nicolas Claxton, Cameron Johnson (restricted), perhaps even Ben Simmons and Cam Thomas.
Brooklyn can also overwhelm the Hawks with draft capital. The Nets have forfeited control of four straight drafts starting in 2024, but they’re armed with four Phoenix first-rounders (2023, 2025, 2027, 2029), Philadelphia’s 2027 pick, Dallas’ 2029 selection and the ability to bake in some swaps.
Holding onto the No. 2 pick is the safest play for the Charlotte Hornets. They aren’t nearly good enough to aggressively go the win-now route.
And yet, the clock is ticking. LaMelo Ball is bound to get a max extension this summer. P.J. Washington should receive a handsome payday in restricted free agency. Miles Bridges, who must serve the balance of a 30-game suspension for pleading no contest to felony domestic violence charges, is still up for a new contract, as well.
Charlotte has already paid Terry Rozier, too. It isn’t some rebuilding squad without urgency. Prioritizing the bigger picture would take a fundamental shift in organizational operations.
Packaging the No. 2 pick in a deal for Brandon Ingram would represent the best of both worlds. The Hornets not only get a star wing who can self-create and table-set, but he doesn’t turn 26 until September. This is a move that juggles present and future.
Will the New Orleans Pelicans engage on proposals built around the No. 2 pick? It’s tough to say.
They’re on an even more urgent timeline themselves. But their payroll is rapidly approaching luxury-tax territory, and there’s real overlap between Ingram, C.J. McCollum and Zion Williamson when they’re all healthy. They could also use a truer floor general like Scoot Henderson to steady offensive possessions and overarching rim pressure when Zion’s not on the floor.
A lack of spacing and shooting plagued the Chicago Bulls all season long. Myles Turner takes care of that.
The 6’11” center just drilled 37.8 percent of his triples this season. His 4.9 attempts per 36 minutes could stand to come up, but coaxing more outside volume from him is hardly out of the question. Turner’s rim protection and mobility beyond the paint would also be a welcomed addition to a defense that needed to insulate Nikola Vučević from the outside in.
Chicago’s middling asset collection could scuttle this hypothetical. It can prowl for a bigger splash by moving DeMar DeRozan or Zach LaVine, but neither is a conventional blockbuster magnet. You’d normally deal them to rebuild, not as part of a star acquisition. (Does Minnesota consider a Karl-Anthony Towns-for-LaVine swap?)
Draft-pick obligations only complicate matters. The Bulls will convey this year’s pick to Orlando and owe their 2025 selection to San Antonio (top-10 protection). They can offer the Indiana Pacers a first-rounder before 2027—and it wouldn’t be guaranteed.
Patrick Williams and/or the lottery-protected Portland pick Chicago owns must do some serous lifting in prospective talks. Using Vučević as sign-and-trade salary filler would help simplify the process, but the Bulls need the cooperation of both he and the Pacers.
The Cleveland Cavaliers will be extremely limited on the trade market if Jarrett Allen, Darius Garland, Donovan Mitchell and Evan Mobley are all off limits. They cannot move any first-round picks this summer, and Isaac Okoro is their most intriguing non-core asset.
But the Cavs are more flexible than many of their win-now peers. They don’t have overly confining luxury-tax concerns. That affords them the opportunity to surf the sign-and-trade market without worrying about maneuverability below the hard cap.
Gary Trent Jr. would instantly shore up the fifth-wheel vacancy that only grows larger if Caris LeVert leaves. He is a proven three-point marksman, can be a shot of adrenaline on straight-line drives and provides ample defensive disruption away from the ball. He is also a serial gambler at the less glamorous end and slightly undersized, at 6’5″, when guarding certain wings. But Cleveland has the bigs to clean up blow-bys.
Figuring out viable sign-and-trade packages gets a little thorny. Toronto can streamline the process if it’s interested in a LeVert dual sign-and-trade.
More likely, the Cavs will have to pair Isaac Okoro with two of Dean Wade, Ricky Rubio and Cedi Osman (non-guaranteed). And even then, they’ll need to hope that’s enough combined money to meet GTJ’s salary demands.
It’s hard to argue a player with a $133 million contract is a buy-low candidate, but Deandre Ayton is coming off his second straight postseason marred by late-stage relegation to the bench.
The Dallas Mavericks need a defensive anchor (and help on the wings) to give their Luka Dončić-Kyrie Irving experiment any chance of working, and they have limited resources to build out the roster. So if Ayton is gettable at a discount—and ESPN’s Tim MacMahon reports he is, at least, gettable—Dallas should absolutely set its sights on him.
Other than his rookie year, Ayton has posted positive Defensive Estimated Plus/Minus figures in each season of his career. He’s been a top quartile defensive rebounder for his position across a half-decade, moves well in space and rarely fouls. Good enough inside to man the 5 for a Phoenix Suns team that was up 2-0 in the 2021 NBA Finals and won 64 games the following season, it’s safe to say Ayton would represent an upgrade over last season’s purported interior savior, JaVale McGee.
And that’s all assuming Ayton is topped out developmentally. At 25 and clearly gifted with great touch and mobility, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him level up in a new situation.
The Denver Nuggets will have a hard time re-signing Bruce Brown Jr. if he hits free agency via the early termination option in his contract. Unless they clear cap space, the most they can offer him using non-Bird rights is a starting salary of $7.8 million in 2023-24.
Brown has dramatically outperformed that figure, which means Denver is likely to need a replacement. Christian Braun and Peyton Watson could mimic Brown’s defense, but neither has shown the ball-handling, shooting prowess or offensive instincts to cover for Brown’s 11.5 points and 3.4 assists per game.
There aren’t many comps for Brown, a former point guard who has also played as an undersized roll man and a three-and-D wing during a constantly evolving career. But Gary Payton II comes pretty close.
Like Brown, GPII is a reformed point guard who plays big. Payton is probably an even better defender, particularly on the ball, and he’s quietly become a respectable shooter, especially from the corners. He’s at 36.8 percent from deep across the 88 games he’s played for the Golden State Warriors since 2020-21.
The Warriors love Payton; they traded former No. 2 pick James Wiseman to get him back after losing him in free agency a year ago. But the Dubs are also facing a massive financial crunch and might be willing to accept a package lead by Braun if it offers enough salary relief.
Tumbling to No. 5 in the draft is a bummer for the Detroit Pistons. But adding a top-five prospect to an asset base featuring Cade Cunningham, Jaden Ivey, Jalen Duren, Isaiah Stewart and Bojan Bogdanović is far from a worst-case scenario.
Using the No. 5 pick to reel in a marquee name may represent an even better scenario. And if the Pistons don’t have the stomach—or faith in the current core—to attach gobs of other assets to this year’s first-rounder, they can always strive for a happy medium.
Mikal Bridges is the mother of all happy mediums.
Going on 27, he doesn’t jibe with a conventional rebuilding timeline. That’s fine. Detroit wouldn’t be following one with him in the fold. His on-ball leap would appreciably juice up their half-court offense, and he’s already shown he can contribute on the margins as transition jet fuel, a cutter and spot-up shooter.
At the same time, prying Bridges from the Brooklyn Nets won’t tether the Pistons to intense urgency. He has three guaranteed years left on his deal. Slow-playing the process after his arrival isn’t the correct call, but time would be on their side. Especially when he shouldn’t cost them everything.
Then again, perhaps the Nets ask for everything. They won’t get it. Bridges is worth more than the No. 5 pick in a vacuum. The Pistons can sweeten the pot with future firsts (pending obligations to New York). But this isn’t a No. 5-plus-Ivey situation.
If last season taught the Warriors anything, it was that they may have won the 2022 title in spite of their two-timeline plan, and not because of it. If it taught them anything else, it was that they were short on offensive shot creation and couldn’t trust Jordan Poole to provide it in relief of or next to Stephen Curry.
That’s why a trade that sends out virtually all of Golden State’s youth—Poole, Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody—along with a future first-rounder or two for Paul George should be this team’s pie-in-the-sky goal.
George comes with injury concerns. He’s 33 and hasn’t played more than 60 games since 2018-19. And don’t forget a price tag that actually adds money to the Dubs’ bloated books.
The eight-time All-Star is also an elite defender who’d supercharge Golden State’s stopping power alongside Draymond Green and Andrew Wiggins. Better still, George has years of proof that he can run an offense as a first option or deferential distributor, roles in which Poole and every other Warrior failed last season.
Maybe the Clippers would laugh at the idea of trading George for a trio of youngsters, even if some executives believe his value isn’t actually all that high due to missed time, and maybe they’d insist on Wiggins being involved. Perhaps the Warriors wouldn’t even place a call on a potential deal that shoved them even further into the tax. But these are ambitious targets, and George fills basically every need this past season exposed.
The Houston Rockets want to get better in a hurry, but we can’t fall into the trap of believing a second go-round with James Harden is the only way to do that. Why not add a much younger shot-creating cornerstone instead, maybe one who’s already made an All-Star roster and led a team to a winning record as a 20-year-old?
That’s what LaMelo Ball did in 2021-22, his last healthy season.
The Rockets could send Jalen Green or Jabari Smith Jr. and the No. 4 pick in this year’s draft to the Charlotte Hornets in a package for Ball. If Charlotte asks for more, Houston could give it the choice among any two of Green, Smith and Tari Eason.
The Hornets’ receptiveness to any of this depends on a belief that Ball is a flight risk who’ll seek a bigger market at his first opportunity, which isn’t a ridiculous assumption. From there, it’d be about the Rockets selling Charlotte on a future that includes two promising young talents and a pair of top-four picks in the 2023 draft.
The Hornets could do a lot worse than entering next season with Green, Smith Jr., Scoot Henderson and Amen Thompson—especially if Ball isn’t going to stick around long-term.
If you’re a believer that Green’s athleticism will someday translate into efficient, winning play, or that Smith’s rough rookie year will be remembered as a blip in a great career, this doesn’t make much sense for Houston. But Ball has already established a superstar trajectory and plays an unselfish style that elevates the quality of his teammates’ play. Green and Smith (and maybe even Henderson and Thompson if we’re being thorough) will be lucky to ever post a season as good as the one Ball already logged two years ago.
Though the Indiana Pacers have the materials to go bigger-name hawking, we must take into account that isn’t their style. It’d be genuinely shocking if they gave up Bennedict Mathurin, No. 7 and unprotected or loosely protected future firsts for a superstar who hasn’t specifically request a trade to them.
In the event they break character, the limits to what they can do may not exist. They have the assets to rope off Tyrese Haliburton and pursue just about anyone.
There’s a difference between uncharacteristically reckless and ambitious. OG Anunoby meets the latter criteria.
Indiana needs combo wings and perimeter defense. Anunoby checks all three boxes. Any self-creation he provides is a bonus. And make no mistake, with Myles Turner in tow, the half-court offense boasts the spacing to let Anunoby explore his floor game more thoroughly than he has while on the Toronto Raptors.
Giving up serious value for a soon-to-be free agent (2024-25 player option) isn’t the Pacers’ style, either. But Anunoby’s future seems low risk. He attended college in Indiana, and non-superstars aren’t as likely to window shop when they’re coming off not-so-lucrative second contracts.
Fleshing out a package that piques Toronto’s interest isn’t too difficult. The No. 7 pick is a good place to start—and perhaps finish. Indiana has Nos. 26 and 29 if the Raptors require more sweetening. Toronto can propose expanded scenarios in which they send back No. 13 if it’s looking for loftier returns than just No. 7.
If the Los Angeles Clippers decide they can’t endure a fifth straight year torpedoed by injury to Paul George, Kawhi Leonard or both, they should offer one or the other up to Daryl Morey and the perpetually star-hungry Philadelphia 76ers.
Because Leonard and George have matching $45.6 million salaries for next season, taking Tobias Harris and his expiring $39.2 million back in the exchange is one of the only ways to make the money work. For the Clips, this is mainly about landing Tyrese Maxey, an up-and-coming potential star who’d give them the backcourt scoring and offensive dynamism they’ve lacked during the PG-Kawhi era.
If Philly retains James Harden on the four-year deal he’s seeking, a potential trio of him, Joel Embiid and either Leonard or George would be a handful in the playoffs. This assumes any of those three can manage to stay healthy, a significant stretch based on their recent history. That uncertainty is the reason L.A. might make George or Leonard available in the first place.
Perhaps the Clippers would be lowering their ceiling by swapping one of their stars for Harris and Maxey. But they’d also be adding depth and better health records. A ceiling matters a lot less when you’ve got almost a half-decade of evidence indicating it’s not actually reachable.
The Los Angeles Lakers are limited in their trade options. Unless they put LeBron James or Anthony Davis on the table, the team’s main matching salary belongs to Malik Beasley.
The $16.5 million he’s owed next year comes via team option, with a decision deadline of June 29, 2023. The flexibility of that option could have some appeal to a cash-strapped franchise, preferably one with an expensive asset it no longer wants.
Beasley and Mo Bamba’s $10.3 million non-guaranteed 2024-25 salary are a solid match with John Collins’ $25.3 million salary. Perhaps a draft night deal of Beasley, Bamba and the Lakers’ 2023 first-rounder would be enough to finally get Atlanta to cut bait on Collins. Considering the Hawks moved Kevin Huerter to duck the tax last offseason, they might be more amenable than most to saving $20 million or so (subtracting the contract for their newly acquired Lakers first-rounder) next season.
Collins is a distressed asset, which makes it hard to call him an ambitious target. His three-point shot abandoned him this year, and he has yet to prove he can survive as a small-ball center. But if Los Angeles wants someone who can sop up frontcourt minutes so Davis and James can rest next season, he’s a better candidate than anyone currently under contract. Plus, the 25-year-old isn’t far removed from a two-year stretch from 2019-20 to 2020-21 in which he averaged a combined 19.2 points and 8.5 rebounds while shooting 40.0 percent from long range.
It might take four first-rounders to get the job done, but the Memphis Grizzlies have the assets to start a conversation with the Brooklyn Nets on Mikal Bridges.
The Nets already added a quartet of the Phoenix Suns’ future first-rounders (plus a swap) in the Kevin Durant deal that brought Bridges to Brooklyn last February, which means they could ultimately claim they dealt KD for eight first-round picks (plus that swap, plus Cam Johnson) if this made-up exchange were to happen.
Brooklyn would be dealing Bridges close to the peak of his value. He shot the lights out and showed never-before-imagined levels of self-sufficient offense with the Nets. Regression feels imminent, but the Grizzlies shouldn’t care. The Suns version of Bridges would be worth plenty to them, especially with Dillon Brooks’ small forward spot vacated.
Bridges would cause exponentially greater levels of panic than Brooks as a spacer, could perhaps run second units on his own (or with ace backup Tyus Jones) and might be one of the few wings in the league who could claim to be an even more suffocating stopper than Brooks. Better still, Bridges’ personality and reputation as a teammate are about as far from Brooks’ antagonistic bluster as it gets.
The Grizzlies need this guy on the floor and in the locker room. If they serve up enough picks, they might even be able to get him.
Urging the Miami Heat to make a seismic trade is a tad awkward when they’re within striking distance of the NBA Finals. But just a tad.
Miami could win the friggin’ championship and would still need to fortify the frontline and half-court offense. Lauri Markkanen’s outside stroke, play-finishing and dab of a floor game does just that. And much more.
Rolling out a frontcourt headlined by him, Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo would be genuinely terrifying for 29 other teams. They all complement one another so well, at both ends, it’s stupid.
Stupid awesome, that is.
The Utah Jazz might agree—so much so they deem Markkanen off limits. And who could blame them?
Markkanen turns 26 on May 22 and has two more team-controlled years left on his deal. And he just earned an All-Star bid while spitting out one of the most efficient seasons in NBA history. Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and LeBron James are the only other players to average over 25 points while shooting as well on twos (58.5 percent) and threes (39.1 percent).
This matters. It isn’t everything. The Jazz are in the infancy of their rebuild. As ESPN’s Zach Lowe alluded to, anything could be on the table. If they’re not prepared to accelerate their position around Markkanen, that could include trading him.
Between Tyler Herro and the ability to deal up to three firsts (2023, 2027, 2029) and three swaps, Miami has the goods to make a competitive pitch should he become available.
Now is the time for the Milwaukee Bucks to strike if they’re going to significantly improve the nucleus via trade. The new collective bargaining agreement already impedes their spending tools in free agency. Harsher trade rules kick in after next season.
Of course, the Bucks don’t have the chips necessary to go thermonuclear. MarJon Beauchamp is their best non-core asset, and they can flip only one first-round pick this summer (2029 or 2030).
Milwaukee can get more aggressive if sign-and-trades for Khris Middleton (player option) and Brook Lopez are in play. They can shop Jrue Holiday, too. But constructing deals involving any of these three that actually elevate the final product verges on impossible. Would Holiday-for-Zach LaVine framework even qualify?
Aiming for a fifth- or sixth-best player who can populate some of the Bucks’ best closing lineups is more realistic—and still ambitious.
Bojan Bogdanović is perfect. Milwaukee desperately needs spacing and safety valves in the half-court. Bogdanović just shot over 40 percent on threes and 48 percent from mid-range, and he’s among the few non-stars who effectively blend hints of self-creation with accessory scoring.
Detroit punted on moving him at the trade deadline. It might hold to that party line this summer. But offering some combination of Beauchamp, Pat Connaughton, Grayson Allen and a first should get the Bucks in the door.
They might want to consider moving Mike Conley in a separate deal, but the trade that sends Karl-Anthony Towns and Taurean Prince to the Chicago Bulls for Zach LaVine and Alex Caruso features nearly matching money.
Even better, the talent exchange makes sense.
Minnesota is pot committed to Rudy Gobert at center, and the team belongs to Anthony Edwards offensively. That makes Towns a max-salaried second-option big man with minimal defensive value and a history of postseason shakiness. LaVine is far more scaleable and would offer more shot creation as an Edwards counterpart. Caruso would give the Wolves a fourth dominant defensive piece in its top six alongside Edwards, Jaden McDaniels and Gobert.
Towns’ talent is undeniable, and it might be unfair to give up on his partnership with Gobert after so few reps together this past season. But the Wolves’ future may have too low of a ceiling with two players whose best position is center combining to make $77 million next year and $92.5 million in 2024-25. Better to balance things out by paying for proven All-Star scoring from the wing and another rugged defender.
We could suggest a constellation of moves for the New Orleans Pelicans. From finally reeling in Myles Turner to finding a taker for CJ McCollum’s remaining three years and $99.8 million in salary, the Pels have no shortage of action items.
But this is about thinking big, so a deal for Portland’s No. 3 pick and at least one of its other high-end assets is where we have to start. If the Pelicans put Brandon Ingram on the table, he alone might be enough to bring back No. 3 and Anfernee Simons. Moving McCollum elsewhere would leave New Orleans in an an even better position.
Simons (38.7 percent for his career) and McCollum (39.5 percent) share comparable three-point accuracy, but the former offers significantly more volume (8.5 attempts per 36 minutes to McCollum’s 6.8) and the upside of youth and a cheaper price tag. If Zion Williamson is to spend the lion’s share of time on the ball, Simons’ quick-trigger sniping might add more value than McCollum’s dribble-heavy game. And with that No. 3 pick replacing Ingram on the roster, New Orleans could quietly add a potential cornerstone for the worst-case scenario of Zion never staying healthy.
Trying to have it both ways is ambitious by definition.
Scoot Henderson would be a tricky fit due to his suspect outside shot, but he has the upside to top Ingram’s single All-Star appearance in seven seasons. Plus, the athleticism of Williamson and Henderson on the floor together could quickly make New Orleans the most dangerous transition team in the league.
Adding more shooters is Priority No. 1 for the New York Knicks this offseason. But as The Athletic’s Fred Katz expertly outlined, it isn’t actually that simple. Whatever shooting the Knicks acquire must come from someone good enough to close games, otherwise the floor-spacing infusion won’t mean nearly as much.
Put another way: New York still needs to be in the star-hunting game.
Paul George would be ideal. His outside shooting is equal parts high volume (almost nine attempts per 36 minutes since 2018-19), super efficient (38.8 percent) and scales to many forms. He can generate his own triples but has experience playing off more ball-dominant teammates.
Durability is an issue here. George is 33 and hasn’t missed fewer than 18 games since 2018-19. But he’s not dealing with chronic injuries, and his game will age well. It has aged well.
The Knicks, more than most teams, needn’t fear George’s 2024 player option, either. It might benefit them. He may end up signing a longer-term deal at lower average annual value than the $48.8 million he’s owed in 2024-25.
Successfully pulling George off the L.A. Clippers is the tougher dilemma. They’re not on the precipice of rebuilding. A package built around some combo of Immanuel Quickley, R.J. Barrett, Obi Toppin and a caps-lock DRAFT HAUL won’t wow them. But three-team trades exist for a reason, and the sheer breadth of assets the Knicks can unload will start conversations that otherwise wouldn’t take place.
The Oklahoma City Thunder ranked 18th in accuracy and 20th in three-point attempt frequency, so any target—ambitious or otherwise—needs to contribute from beyond the arc.
It’s tough to overstate the value of adding more dangerous shooters to this roster. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander gets to the bucket whenever he wants with help defenders sucked into the lane as it is. How high might his already league-leading drive frequency climb if opponents had to stay attached to their matchups 25 feet from the bucket?
The words “layup parade” come to mind.
Patrick Williams has mostly disappointed, partly due to injury, in his three seasons with the Bulls. Quietly, though, he’s hit 41.4 percent of his career triples. Combine that with rugged defense and apparent comfort occupying a fourth-option spot in the pecking order, and the mobile power forward would look perfect as a change-up for Josh Giddey alongside SGA, Lu Dort, Jalen Williams and Chet Holmgren in OKC’s 2023-24 lineup.
The No. 4 overall pick in 2020 still has significant upside. A change of scenery might be all it takes to unlock it.
Damian Lillard turns 33 in July, the Orlando Magic are still young, the Portland Trail Blazers haven’t indicated a willingness to start over, blah, blah, blah. Let’s all agree not to care.
Changes happen fast this time of year. Dame’s future with the Blazers gets murky AF if they don’t parlay the No. 3 pick (and other stuff) into a blockbuster acquisition.
And sure, the Magic are young. They also played over .500 basketball for more than half of the season, going 29-24 after starting the year 5-20 before closing out the schedule on a four-game losing streak. With a defense that already ranked 11th in points scored per possession, they have the license to chase a mega leap.
Lillard’s bonkers shot-making immediately vaults Orlando into a different stratosphere. And if he’s available, the Magic have the assets to get him. Whether they’ll part with them is a different story.
Surrendering Paolo Banchero is a non-starter. The same is true for Franz Wagner. Talks get dicey if both are off limits. But the Magic have two lottery picks in this year’s draft (Nos. 6 and 11) to go along with Denver’s 2025 selection (top-three protection) and all of their own first-rounders moving forward.
Portland should be on the prowl for draft-heavy returns when shipping out Lillard. And if it’s jonesing for intriguing youngsters beyond Orlando’s 2023 lotto picks, the Magic have Jalen Suggs and Wendell Carter Jr. cards to play.
Completing this exercise for the Philadelphia 76ers is brain-bendingly difficult, if not a little futile, until we know whether they re-sign James Harden (player option).
Let’s soldier onward anyway.
Philly must lower its sights on the trade market with or without Harden. Jettisoning Tyrese Maxey doesn’t make sense unless you’re netting a big-time star, and the Sixers can only move one first-round pick as part of any package.
Nicolas Batum might even be too ambitious. Seriously. His role diminished with the L.A. Clippers around the trade deadline, suggesting his offensive and defensive connectivity is gettable. Philly needs bench depth and versatility. But it’s not teeming with middle-salaried assets who match Batum’s $11.7 million pay grade.
Forking over P.J. Tucker or De’Anthony Melton for Batum feels a touch too aggressive. Ditto for including a first-rounder. Times 50. This idea necessitates expansion.
Convincing the Clippers—or a third team—to soak up the final year and $39.3 million on Tobias Harris’ contract is the way to go. L.A. could be looking to cut its tax bill by offloading expiring deals for Robert Covington and Marcus Morris Sr. And Norman Powell’s contract (three years, $57.7 million) is steep enough that the Clippers might prefer pivoting to shorter-term commitments in advance of a more punitive collective bargaining agreement.
The idea of reuniting Kevin Durant and Draymond Green might trigger a double-take, but the former teammates squashed their beef long ago. Besides, if we couldn’t send Green to teams that employed players with whom he’d had a verbal or physical altercation, we’d run out of destinations in a hurry.
With Warriors team president Bob Myers looking more and more like a flight risk, it gets easier to imagine the Dubs breaking up their dynastic core. Maybe if Myers walks away, Green picks up his option, back-channels extension discussions with the Suns and joins up with the understanding that a new deal would be in place for 2024-25.
Deandre Ayton would provide the matching salary, and Green would give the Suns far greater defensive versatility than the former No. 1 pick. Phoenix would still need help on the wings and more overall depth, but perhaps a subsequent Chris Paul trade could provide some of that.
Mostly, a Suns team that posted mail-in efforts in its last two playoff eliminations needs someone who’ll never go down without a fight. That’s Green in a nutshell.
Armed with the No. 3 pick (plus the Knicks’ first-rounder), Shaedon Sharpe, Anfernee Simons and no shortage of urgency to build a winner around Damian Lillard, the Portland Trail Blazers can dream as big as any trade-seeking team in the league.
ESPN’s Zach Lowe reported the Blazers are expected to shop their lottery selection and bring back free agent forward Jerami Grant on a new deal. Retaining Grant is a step in the right direction, but last season proved his defensive versatility and supplementary scoring weren’t nearly enough to get Portland where it wants to go. The Blazers need more of both, and they can get it from two-time All-NBA honoree Pascal Siakam.
Coming off a career-high 24.2 points and 5.8 assists per game, Siakam would give Lillard his most decorated and productive teammate since LaMarcus Aldridge—one who could man the small-ball center spot, create his own shots and work some matchup-hunting magic in the high screen game.
Toronto may lose both Fred VanVleet and Gary Trent Jr. in free agency. Adding Simons and/or Sharpe would reset the team’s timeline and add much-needed athleticism from the guard spots. Whether Portland would be willing to part with both Sharpe and the No. 3 overall pick is unclear; Sharpe enjoyed a little-noticed leap down the stretch for a tanking Blazers squad last year and may have the best physical tools of anyone in the 2022 draft class.
Then again, if Portland is as serious about supporting Dame as its email to fans suggests, it might be willing to give up almost anything.
The Sacramento Kings ramped up the defensive effort and intensity in their first-round series with the Warriors, but even then it was clear the personnel was wanting.
Herbert Jones could change that.
With elite steal rates and Defensive EPM figures that ranked in the 92nd percentile as a rookie and the 98th this past season, the lefty wing is among the game’s most smothering individual stoppers. Rangy, quick and gifted with great hands and two-steps-ahead anticipation, Jones is exceptionally disruptive on and off the ball.
In 2022-23, Jones’ most frequent defensive assignments read like an All-Star roster: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander at the top, followed closely by the likes of LeBron James, Luka Dončić, Anthony Edwards, Kawhi Leonard and Trae Young.
The Kings desperately need someone with that level of versatility to throw at the opposing team’s most dangerous scorer, particularly with Harrison Barnes hitting free agency.
The New Orleans Pelicans won’t part with Jones easily, but the Kings can package up this year’s No. 24 pick, a future first and a young player (probably not Keegan Murray) to get talks started.
If Victor Wembanyama is as otherworldly as the hype suggests, maybe he won’t need much in the way of teammate support. The very best players make life easier for the guys with whom they share the floor and don’t need reciprocal help. It’s entirely possible Wemby won’t need someone to set him up.
But why not make things easier on him anyway?
Mike Conley is one of the league’s ultimate game-managing, “get the ball where it needs to go” point guards—exactly the kind of unselfish, by-the-book facilitator who could ensure Wembanyama is positioned for success.
Minnesota is already on the hook for heaps of money to Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert, with Anthony Edwards and Jaden McDaniels due for huge extensions this summer. One would imagine trimming Conley’s $24.3 million salary from the payroll would be a priority, especially with Edwards coming into his own as a primary on-ball option.
Even if it’s just for a year, Conley would be the ideal guard to pair with Wembanyama in his debut season.
No, the Toronto Raptors aren’t nabbing the No. 1 pick from San Antonio and the privilege of housing Victor Wembanyama that comes with it. But could they make a play for Nos. 2, 3 or 4?
Toronto must first warm up to a less-immediate window. Team president Masai Ujiri doesn’t sound like someone preparing to take a step or two back and reorient the roster and future around Scottie Barnes. But plans can change when high-end draft selections are at stake.
Teams in the top three aren’t typically looking to starkly accelerate their timelines. This year is different.
The Charlotte Hornets are always candidates to chase instant gratification, and their impending roster reinvestments (LaMelo Ball, P.J. Washington, Miles Bridges) could prompt them to shop No. 2. OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet (player option) are all great fits and legitimate needle-nudgers, and Charlotte has the matching salary tools to bring back at least two of them.
The Portland Trail Blazers, meanwhile, must aggressively pursue blockbuster additions using the No. 3 pick. That is their obligation so long as they’re beholden to the window of a going-on-33-years-old Damian Lillard. Siakam qualifies.
And then, of course, we have the Houston Rockets. The Oklahoma City Thunder control their next three first-rounders. Oh, and more critcally, the James Harden rumors persist. Going after someone like Siakam—and Anunoby, too—morphs into a necessity if Houston shells out max or near-max money for a soon-to-be 34-year-old.
The Utah Jazz are primed for a consolidation trade. Perhaps the Pistons, who disappointingly fell out of the top four, could oblige.
With the No. 9, 16 and 28 selections in the 2023 draft, Utah might have the assets to move up without dipping into its stash of future picks. It it’s more distant draft capital Detroit wants, the Jazz could easily build an offer around some of the first-rounders coming from Cleveland and Minnesota via the Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert trades.
Utah has so many incoming firsts, it could trade a few without even noticing they were gone.
Villanova’s Cam Whitmore could be available at No. 5, as could either Amen or Ausur Thompson, a pair of huge, athletic guards with immense potential and questionable shooting range. Utah already has its center of the future in Walker Kessler and a scaleable All-Star in Lauri Markkanen at power forward. The next steps are adding high-ceilinged players, with dynamic athleticism and versatility at the other positions.
Maybe such talents will be available at No. 9 or 16. But the Jazz have such a surplus of draft capital that they can afford to spend some on a shot a transformative star in the top 5.
Installing a fresh face in the front office after firing general manager Tommy Sheppard may suggest the Washington Wizards are open to smashing the reset button.
We know better.
Team owner Ted Leonsis cuddles, exclusively, with the bottom of the middle. Washington is more likely to emerge as a nuclear buyer than seller.
Granted, it won’t be easy. The Wizards owe a first-round pick to the New York Knicks that’s protected through 2026. They cannot guarantee one to another team before 2028. Washington could try compensating the Knicks to remove the protections. Would they play ball?
Deni Avdija and the No. 8 pick loom large in any negotiations. Even so, the Wizards aren’t built to bag a megastar.
Stepping down to the “Potential All-Star” tier is more fruitful. And Fred VanVleet is the perfect fit.
Washington needs another offensive organizer who won’t cannibalize possession time. FVV is that dude. He is intimately familiar with playing away from the ball and offsets shaky interior finishing with attention-grabbing outside volume and gritty defense.
Acquiring FVV via sign-and-trade would hard cap the Wizards, who are already brushing up against the tax. Getting rid of Kyle Kuzma (player option) or Kristaps Porzingis (player option) as part a of dual sign-and-trade fixes those concerns. The bigger question: Can you build a package without including the No. 8 pick, or must the deal be expanded, perhaps to include OG Anunoby, to adequately reflect the draft equity leaving Washington?