In most sports, busy trade cycles are typically followed by periods of dormancy. There are only so many worthwhile players on the market at any given time. But the NBA has created an infinite feedback loop. Contracts are so short, circumstances change so quickly and so many players want to be traded at any given time that the moves that follow create demand for more trades. By the time all of the fallout of one blockbuster has been sifted through, that star is already back on the market.
Seven All-NBA players have changed teams in the past two offseasons, yet two more of them could be dealt for one another in the coming days, and a third is on a precarious expiring contract. Even after all of the movement of the past several months, the NBA trade block is still loaded with talent at virtually every position, so with opening night now at hand, let's take a look at five of the trades we want to see most this season.
1. James Harden to the 76ers
The Harden side of a Ben Simmons swap has been told thousands of times over. Philadelphia's post-Process kryptonite has been shot creation. James Harden is perhaps the best non-LeBron James shot creator this century. Trading in Simmons, a non-shooter, for Harden, the NBA's best one-on-one generator of offense, vaults the 76ers to the top of the league offensively. It creates more space for Joel Embiid. It makes Philadelphia's sudden surplus of shooting that much more dangerous. Whether Harden would be enough to make the 76ers Eastern Conference favorites is unclear, but at the very least, it would be the best version of this team that Embiid has played for.
Less discussed is the Simmons portion of the deal. While a 24-year-old All-NBA player is almost always a viable asset proposition, the long-term fit is better than most seem to realize. No, John Wall's shooting won't work alongside Simmons, but if he proves healthy, he'll become tradable. The real reason for excitement here is Christian Wood, the exact sort of center that Simmons didn't have in Embiid. Wood made over 40 percent of his 3-pointers on almost five attempts per game as a starter last season, and unlike Embiid, he's a willing roller having finished in the 95th percentile league wide in pick-and-roll points per possession last season. Surround that duo with three more shooters in their age range and Simmons would have infrastructure similar to what Milwaukee has given Giannis Antetokounmpo. Harden makes the 76ers the best version of themselves, but the Rockets could make Simmons the best version of himself. Few teams have a big man capable of doing so, and that's what makes this deal so enticing.
2. Kevin Love to the Heat
A side effect of December's rash of contract extensions? A whole lot of teams have future cap space burning a hole in their pocket. Contenders were scared of Kevin Love's contract when the opportunity cost of adding it looked like Paul George or Giannis Antetokounmpo, but now? The chance to add a former superstar for the low price of absorbing the $90 million remaining on his contract might become a worthwhile endeavor. You could do worse than snatching Love as a consolation prize, especially when Cleveland lacks the leverage to demand anything of value in return.
Miami stands out as the contender in question. The Heat already devoted over 2,300 minutes to inferior players in the Love archetype last season. Slot him into the minutes currently being spent on Kelly Olynyk and Meyers Leonard and the Heat not only diversify their half-court offense a bit, but add a sorely needed outlet passer to a roster that finished 24th in fast-break points last season. Miami has enough defensively to cover for Love. In two years, he'd become a hefty expiring salary they could flip in its next superstar trade (if one hasn't come already). It's an easy fit that makes a good team better and a bad team (intentionally) worse. The Cavaliers are doing the entire basketball-viewing public a disservice by wasting the remaining years of Love's prime with a point guard that isn't particularly interested in passing him the ball. It's time to get him out of Cleveland.
3. Aaron Gordon to the Celtics
The first Aaron Gordon trade rumors predate the big bang. Before creation, there were Twitter GMs trying to steer Gordon to a contender. Will 2021 finally be the season to get him to a winner? The odds seem better than ever. With Jonathan Isaac out for the year and D.J. Augustin now playing for the Bucks, Orlando's playoff hopes are slim, and if the Magic don't trade Gordon now, he could easily leave in 2022 free agency. The market will be strong. Aside from Gordon's own performance, the degree to which the Magic have failed to optimize him is almost criminal. Smart teams are salivating at the possibility of fixing Orlando's mistakes. Just make him a full-time power forward on a team with good ball-handling and spacing. It shouldn't be as hard as Orlando has made it.
The list of realistic suitors is almost endless. Brooklyn needs a power forward. Golden State loves reclamation projects. Denver could use a Jerami Grant replacement. But Boston's advantage comes with the trade exception it squeezed out of Gordon Hayward's departure. The Celtics can take on Gordon's salary without sending a penny back to Orlando, not a bad starting point as the Magic are currently flirting with the luxury tax. Throw in some draft capital and there's a framework here. Lineups featuring Gordon, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Marcus Smart and Tristan Thompson could switch practically anything defensively. Whether it's Boston or not, expect the noise surrounding Gordon to reach a fever pitch this season.
4. Buddy Hield to the Grizzlies
Buddy Hield won the battle against Bogdan Bogdanovic for the role of Kings' starting shooting guard but is well on his way to losing the war after Tyrese Haliburton surprisingly slipped to No. 12 in the NBA Draft. Haliburton thrived in preseason action, and his all-around game makes him a cleaner fit next to De'Aaron Fox for the long haul. Combine that reality with Hield's uneasy relationship with Luke Walton, and a trade is very much still in the cards. That is especially true if the Kings start slowly and inch toward a tank.
How about Memphis as a new home? The Grizzlies finished 23rd in 3-point percentage last season and 24th in attempts. Desmond Bane, Grayson Allen and Dillon Brooks offer some potential for internal improvement, but a Hield-caliber addition would open up so much space for Ja Morant that it would be well worth the hefty financial investment. Justise Winslow and Jaren Jackson Jr. could protect him defensively, and the Grizzlies have two extra first-round picks from 2019 trades ready to deal if necessary. The Grizzlies have most of their young core set. A Hield addition could solidify their starting lineup for years to come.
5. LaMarcus Aldridge to the Blazers
Yes, this one is sappy. It's also probably ill-advised in basketball terms. Carmelo Anthony serves the function Aldridge likely would in a return to Portland. But, darn it, 2021 owes us some sentimentality after the 2020 we just endured. Aldridge is on an expiring deal and playing for a non-contending Spurs team that should really start dedicating its shots and minutes to youngsters. Portland has Rodney Hood's unusual contract, worth $10 million this season but completely non-guaranteed for the 2021-22 campaign, to help grease the wheels. Enes Kanter could serve as the rest of the salary flotsam, and one of Portland's lesser youngsters like Anfernee Simons or Nassir Little could fill the value quota.
Does it help Portland's already questionable defense? No. But a team starting Aldridge, Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic would challenge for the NBA's best offense. If Portland thinks it can win almost exclusively on that end of the floor, there's hope for this sort of deal, and Lillard has already given it his blessing.