Last offseason saw Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis, Jimmy Butler, Paul George, Kyrie Irving, Kemba Walker, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook and Mike Conley change teams. This year's list figures to be much less exciting, thanks to an underwhelming free-agent pool, but if there is going to be star movement, it will happen via trade.
As the 2020-21 season rapidly approaches, this is a look at the trade market in 20 questions:
1. Strike now or wait for the deadline?
Everybody seems to believe the Washington Wizards intend to keep Bradley Beal and field a competitive team next season, but the assumption is that he might be made available before the trade deadline. Victor Oladipo's name is in trade rumors now, but the Indiana Pacers might be better off starting the season with him and hoping that he increases his value.
These are the same kind of decisions team face in a normal offseason, but this offseason is not normal. The NBA wants opening night to be Dec. 22 -- if that happens, then we should expect free agency to start about a month before that and training camp to start at the beginning of December. This means different things to different teams, as some haven't played competitive games since March, others had a short stay in the bubble and a few are still recuperating from playoff runs that ended in September and October. If the schedule is significantly compressed, there could be even less practice time than normal.
With this weird calendar, maybe teams will be more inclined to make their big moves now, given that it will be more difficult than usual to integrate a player midseason.
2. What can Bucks do to keep Giannis happy?
Eric Bledsoe made All-Defense this past season, but his $16.9 million contract would have to be involved in almost any meaningful trade. Milwaukee could use a switchable big and more shooters who can stay on the floor in the playoffs, and it clearly needs more playmaking. An upgrade at the point guard spot would make sense. Which brings us to …
3. Where will CP3 (and OKC's other vets) wind up?
Chris Paul had such a stellar season with the Oklahoma City Thunder that he could find himself on a contender again. Milwaukee makes sense in theory, but so do a bunch of other teams that are either already among the elite or think they would join the elite with Paul in the fold.
Dennis Schroder and Steven Adams won't get nearly as much attention, but they're worth thinking about. Schroder should interest all the same teams that want Paul, and, given that he's only 27 and much less expensive, some other ones, too. Adams' $27.5 million price tag isn't so scary now that he's entering the last year of his contract.
4. What happens in Los Angeles?
The defending champion Lakers need to come back even stronger because a bunch of their competitors will add reinforcements. One of those competitors is the Clippers, whose offseason picture is complicated. It's easy to say they could sign-and-trade Montrezl Harrell, but would they get enough back to justify hard-capping themselves? With all their draft-pick debt, it will be challenging to turn their spare parts into a real difference-maker. In a perfect world, they'd add a player or two who make plays for others and help them build a sturdier offensive system.
The Lakers don't have a ton of flexibility, but they do have Kyle Kuzma, who is making $3.6 million in the final season of his rookie deal. If they try to do something big, it would almost certainly have to involve Danny Green, who is also on an expiring contract and owed $15.4 million. Expect them to be linked to playmaking guards, just like they were before the trade deadline in February.
5. Who will actually pick first and second in the draft?
The Minnesota Timberwolves and Golden State Warriors hold the Nos. 1 and 2 picks, respectively, but nobody is convinced this will be the case on Nov. 18. This is partially because there is no consensus top player and partially because of the peculiar places these particular teams are in.
Would Minnesota really pair LaMelo Ball with D'Angelo Russell in the backcourt? Would it add Anthony Edwards to a core that is extremely deficient on defense? Trading down makes sense, but the Wolves would need to be compensated with a player who complements Karl-Anthony Towns and Russell and is on a similar timeline.
Golden State is even more interesting because it wants to be in the title hunt now. But this isn't just about a franchise weighing the possibility of drafting a player who could be a bridge toward its next era and trading the pick for a star that can increase its odds of winning the 2021 championship. If there are no real stars available, what would the Warriors consider a reasonable return?
6. Can anyone pry Beal away?
Washington has been consistent about its plan to build around Beal (and the returning John Wall), and presumably one of two things would have to happen for it to change gears:
- Beal tells the Wizards he wants out
- A too-good-to-turn-down offer emerges
The first scenario feels unlikely, but no one anticipated that George would ask the Thunder to trade him to the Clippers so he could team up with Leonard last offseason. The second isn't necessarily more plausible, but I could easily throw out some hypothetical trades that Washington would have to consider. Which brings us to …
7. Will Brooklyn consolidate?
Caris LeVert's trade value has never been higher, thanks to an impressive bubble run as the Nets' No. 1 option, a role he will never reprise as long as Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving are on the court with him. Jarrett Allen stretched his game in Orlando, too, and he's eligible for a rookie scale extension. Spencer Dinwiddie is heading into what will likely be a contract year (he has a $12.3 million player option in 2021-22).
Brooklyn could try to turn some combination of those three players and future picks into a third star. Beal is always the name that gets mentioned first, and there have also been rumors about Jrue Holiday. When you have Durant and Irving on your team, you're all-in.
8. Is New Orleans willing to take a step back?
The 30-year-old Holiday has a player option worth more than $27 million in 2021-22, which means New Orleans risks losing him for nothing if it keeps him around. JJ Redick, 36, is heading into a contract year, too, and there's a good argument that New Orleans should move them both, given that its cornerstones -- Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram -- are 20 and 23 years old, respectively.
This might seem like the obvious strategy based on how poorly New Orleans played in the bubble and how things worked out when the previous regime tried to build a playoff team around a young Anthony Davis. But I'm not sure Stan Van Gundy is the coach you hire if you're planning on punting next season, and VP David Griffin has repeatedly talked about wanting Williamson to play in meaningful games early in his career.
It is possible to try to win games and develop talent at the same time, but choices like these illustrate why it is a hazardous path to walk.
9. Will Denver find its missing piece?
Gary Harris' career arc is confusing, and I'm not sure what it means that Denver played so well without Will Barton in Orlando. I also wonder if Michael Porter Jr. is truly untouchable, given his injury history, particularly if someone of Beal's caliber were to become available.
10. What's happening in Indiana?
The Pacers have been a respected, resilient, defensive-minded team since trading George for Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis three years ago, but they're going to look different next season. This is a creative front office that signaled it wasn't satisfied with being a good regular-season story when it replaced coach Nate McMillan with Nate Bjorkgren, and the coaching change might be just the first of many moves that will define its next few years.
Oladipo's name will be on any list of players who could be traded. I would love to see the 2017-18 version of him next to Malcolm Brogdon, but nobody knows if that guy is coming back. I'd also love to see Indiana finally split up Sabonis and fellow center Myles Turner. Trading a highly paid big for a wing of similar talent is not easy, though, and Indiana is famously averse to tanking. Let's see what Kevin Pritchard has up his sleeve.
11. Can the Sixers sort themselves out?
Philadelphia should hope that its stars are determined to bounce back from a frustrating season. It should be optimistic that Doc Rivers is the right coach to get the 76ers on the same page. It not absolutely not, however, count on that being enough.
If we're assuming that Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons aren't going anywhere, then the Sixers need to make the ecosystem around them healthier. Is Josh Richardson, who is effectively on an expiring contract worth about $11 million, still part of the plan? Anyone can point to the enormous contracts of Al Horford and Tobias Harris, but reasonable people can disagree about what to do with the ones that have positive trade value. Should Philadelphia try to dump Horford? Try to dump Harris? Go after Paul? Go after Dinwiddie?
Maybe it can package some combination of Mike Scott, Zhaire Smith, Furkan Korkmaz and a future pick for a non-star who can reliably shoot, pass, dribble and defend. One way or another, the Sixers need to find a better mix.
12. Will Magic reject mediocrity?
Next season will be Aaron Gordon's seventh with the Magic if they don't trade him. It will be Nikola Vucevic's ninth if he is still on the roster. There's not much short-term upside with Jonathan Isaac rehabilitating a torn ACL, and there might not be much appetite for bringing back yet another team that will likely be first-round roadkill.
The 29-year-old Terrence Ross should have positive trade value because of his declining contract. Evan Fournier could be traded if he picks up his player option and signed-and-traded if he doesn't. Mo Bamba's name has come up in trade rumors essentially since he arrived in Orlando. All sorts of stuff should be on the table.
13. Can Boston make a real upgrade?
Keep an eye on Gordon Hayward, whose $34 million option puts him in an interesting spot. Should he return, Boston can still make trades on the margins -- it has four 2020 draft picks, including three in the first round, and a bunch of prospects are already taking up roster spots.
I assume the Celtics will be linked to just about any good center on the market. If they move Hayward, though, they'll need to replace his playmaking somehow.
14. Will the Gobert situation get weird?
Rudy Gobert is eligible for a supermax extension, and it's difficult to imagine the Utah Jazz offering it. If they can't agree on any type of extension, then the All-NBA center will be on an expiring contract. Small-market teams don't typically let stars walk.
In the summer of 2019, the Jazz made a series of win-now moves, headlined by the arrival of Mike Conley and Bojan Bogdanovic. Results were mixed, and it's difficult to judge them too harshly for blowing a 3-1 lead in the first round considering Bogdanovic missed the entire bubble and Game 7 came down to a Conley heave that rimmed out.
The most likely outcome is that Utah tweaks its formula and gives it another shot, but that could change if Gobert negotiations go sideways.
15. Are Rockets really running this back?
Like the Jazz, the Rockets can point to bad luck when accounting for the way their season ended: Russell Westbrook was clearly not himself, and Danuel House Jr. wasn't even with the team. In this case, though, there have already been consequences: General manager Daryl Morey and coach Mike D'Antoni are out.
Owner Tilman Fertitta said that James Harden and Westbrook aren't going anywhere. If that's the case, Houston isn't positioned well to change the supporting cast. The Westbrook trade cost the Rockets two first-round picks and two pick swaps, and, aside from the 27-year-old House, they don't have young-ish players that other teams want.
P.J. Tucker, 35, is entering the final year of a team-friendly contract, but trading him would almost certainly mean getting worse. Eric Gordon turns 32 on Christmas and is coming off a rough, injury-plagued season, so Houston might be better off hoping for a return to form than trying to shed his salary. I just wonder if Harden and Westbrook are on board with running it back.
16. What is Phoenix's timeline?
In 2013-14, everybody thought the Phoenix Suns were tanking, but they unexpectedly won 48 games. Expectations rose, and a series of transactions meant to keep them on an upward trajectory -- the Isaiah Thomas signing, the trade for Brandon Knight, the Tyson Chandler signing -- failed. These Suns have more young talent than that iteration, particularly if you believe DeAndre Ayton is on his way to stardom, but they are in a similar situation, right down to them missing the postseason by the smallest of margins. Will the front office try to accelerate their progress or give this group room to breathe?
If the front office is comfortable going forward with Mikal Bridges and Cameron Johnson as starters, like they were during the undefeated bubble run, then Kelly Oubre's $14.4 million expiring contract could be a trade chip. Ricky Rubio is owed $17 million next season and $17.8 million the year after that, and at 30 years old he might not be on the Suns' timeline … unless they plan to move Oubre and spare parts for another vet.
17. Is San Antonio at its pivot point?
The Spurs have been awkwardly in between eras for a while, and the restart gave us a glimpse of the future. Perhaps it is finally time to make the transition. This would mean trading DeMar DeRozan or LaMarcus Aldridge, or both of them.
The problem, as always, is their salaries. DeRozan has a $27.7 million player option, and Aldridge has a $24 million expiring contract. Patty Mills and Rudy Gay aren't big names, but logistically it would be much easier to trade them, since they're on $13.5 million and $14.5 million expiring deals, respectively.
Aldridge's midseason transformation into a true stretch 5 makes him an intriguing fit on a contender, even at 35 years old. DeRozan is coming off the most efficient season of his career, despite being allergic to 3s again. The question is how motivated the front office is to move on, given that San Antonio won't get all that much in return.
18. Are Knicks going to fast-track their rebuild?
In Minnesota, Tom Thibodeau spent one season at the helm of a rebuilding team before his front office traded for Jimmy Butler. These Knicks aren't as talented as the 31-win Wolves were, and while he isn't team president this time, they might not be willing to tolerate a slow and steady build.
New York could go in any direction. Outside of R.J. Barrett and Mitchell Robinson, there is no one on the roster who feels like a lock to stay, and they have an abundance of first-round picks in the next few years. Even if they are relatively restrained, they'd be smart to find a new home for Julius Randle, who was a terrible fit next to Barrett and Robinson. Thibodeau's offenses have overcome spacing issues before, but not spacing issues like this.
19. Something has to give in Cleveland, right?
Kevin Love is still (!) a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers, and he's owed more than $90 million over the next three seasons. Andre Drummond would be crazy not to pick up his $28.8 million player option. The Cavs also have Larry Nance Jr. on a declining and team-friendly contract for the next three seasons, and they have Tristan Thompson's Bird rights.
This is such a logjam that Nance played some small forward last season. Cleveland should be looking to sign-and-trade Thompson, and it shouldn't be picky when it comes to potential Love trades. The Cavs are in one of the strangest rebuilding situations in the league, especially because their backcourt of the future -- Darius Garland and Collin Sexton -- might not be viable.
20. Kings and Bulls have new GMs; now what?
The Kings and Bulls both have new people in charge after falling short of expectations. In Sacramento, Buddy Hield reportedly isn't returning Luke Walton's phone calls, and it would be something of a surprise if both he and Bogdan Bogdanovic remained teammates. Bogdanovic is a restricted free agent, though -- if he's too pricey, can Monte McNair find a sensible sign-and-trade?
There is a case to be made that the Bulls should treat next season as a do-over with Billy Donovan in place of Jim Boylen. There is also an argument that Arturas Karnisovas' front office should move the team's most productive player. Zach LaVine remains wildly divisive, and he's eligible for an extension. If he doesn't get one, he'll be a popular trade candidate, even though his contract doesn't expire until 2022.