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The NBA’s next Big Three could arrive this offseason.
Market conditions are ripe for a busy trade market. Teams are crunched for cap space, and the free-agent player pool is shallow. And with so much attention already being paid to a loaded 2021 class of hoopers-for-hire, clubs could be looking to move money, grab expiring contracts or even make big purchases now if they aren’t bullish about signing a star.
While we don’t yet have a star who’s openly seeking a trade, several could reasonably be available. We’re firing up the trade machine and negotiating with ourselves to find these players new homes—and big-name teammates.
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Golden State Warriors receive: John Collins, Kevin Huerter
Atlanta Hawks receive: Jordan Poole, Kevon Looney, Alen Smailagic, 2020 first-round pick
Collins sees himself as a max-contract candidate. The Hawks aren’t so sure and are hesitant about giving him “significant money,” The Athletic’s Chris Kirschner reported.
If that nudges the bouncy big man onto the trade block, Golden State should be ready to pounce.
The team has major buying potential with an early first-round pick burning in its pocket, and Golden State—which would get a Big Four out of the deal more than a new Big Three—needs more of an immediate impact than the typical rookie would provide. Collins could scratch that itch. He’s basically been a nightly supplier of 20 points and 10 boards since the start of last season, all while expanding his offensive range and increasing his rim protection.
He looks like the perfect pick-and-roll (or pick-and-pop) partner for Stephen Curry. Collins’ lob threat could draw in defenders and give Klay Thompson more breathing room, and Collins’ athleticism could help him complement Draymond Green on the defensive interior. Tack on Huerter, a Thompson clone on catch-and-shoot threes with a 42.4 percent success rate, and the Dubs could be reloaded for a run at the title.
If the Hawks decide Collins isn’t worth the cash—or not a great fit with Clint Capela—they flip someone they don’t want to pay for one asset on top of the next.
The first-rounder is the crown jewel, as it could give Atlanta two selections inside the top five. That means finding Huerter’s replacement (maybe Anthony Edwards or LaMelo Ball) and either replacing Collins (with Obi Toppin?) or just grabbing the best prospect available.
Beyond the pick, Poole can help the offense avoid collapses without Trae Young if he can build off his late-season success (14.3 points on 47.2 percent shooting his final 13 outings). Smailagic has flashed intriguing potential. Looney has championship experience—and two-way ability if he can ever get healthy—and at 24 years old, he’s still young enough to lock in as part of Atlanta’s long-term core.
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Philadelphia 76ers receive: Zach LaVine
Chicago Bulls receive: Josh Richardson, Matisse Thybulle, Mike Scott, 2020 second-round pick (via New York Knicks)
Conference-finals-or-overhaul doesn’t have a great ring to it, but that’s apparently life for the 76ers. If they can’t advance beyond the second round, it could put coach Brett Brown and general manager Elton Brand on the chopping block or even make them consider splitting up Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, per ESPN’s Tim Bontemps.
A Simmons or Embiid deal is too dramatic—the pair has proved unstoppable before—but Philly might have to rethink its formula again. This team is desperate for another dynamic shot-maker and more outside shooting, and LaVine is among the few players who could satisfy both demands. Plug him into the Sixers’ Big Three, and that slides Tobias Harris down into the super-support role his skill set fits best.
LaVine just cooked to the tune of 25.5 points, 4.8 rebounds and 4.2 assists per night, while splashing a career-high 3.1 triples per game at a 38.0 percent clip. Reroute him to Philly, and he’s a transition running mate for Simmons, a spacer and safety valve for Embiid and a pick-and-roll partner with both. It sounds an awful lot like the ideal situation LaVine described during a February appearance on ESPN’s First Take.
“I’d like to play [with] a point guard who can get up and down the floor, and pass the ball up like that,” LaVine said. “And, sometimes playing with a dominant big man is great, too. Because if you get the double-team, you get the kick-out.”
The Bulls deal away the most talented player in this exchange, but the new front office may not see LaVine as the most valuable. His offensive production rings a bit hollow because it has never been attached to team success, and he’s by no means cheap ($39 million over the next two seasons).
If Chicago deems him expendable, this trade might do the trick. Richardson fits with anyone as a three-and-D swingman, and Thybulle is on a short list of the league’s best young defenders. Add an early second-rounder to the pile, and the Bulls leave the deal with three assets in hand.
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Milwaukee Bucks receive: Chris Paul, Isaiah Roby
Oklahoma City Thunder receive: Eric Bledsoe, George Hill, Ersan Ilyasova, Robin Lopez, Donte DiVincenzo, 2021 second-round pick (via Indiana Pacers)
Giannis Antetokounmpo’s handling of his impending supermax decision isn’t the only reason the Bucks are in championship-or-bust territory. There’s also the fact that there are few internal avenues to improvement, beyond whatever the Greek Freak’s next level might entail.
If Milwaukee falls short of a title, it might have to rock the boat. Based on previous playoff flops, the primary culprit might be half-court offense that doesn’t involve Antetokounmpo or Khris Middleton. This attack needs another initiator to find his own shots and create them for his teammates.
It needs the Point God, who might welcome a relocation to the Badger State.
Paul is (wildly) overpaid, but the 35-year-old remains a top-tier floor general. He sits seventh overall and third at the position in ESPN’s real plus-minus. He’s one of only three players averaging at least 17.0 points and 6.0 assists and fewer than 2.5 turnovers per game. He makes the Thunder 12.2 points better per 100 possessions just by hitting the hardwood.
“He is always striving, how to improve and get better as a player, how he can do that,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said, per Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle. “I also think philosophically, with a guy like Chris, it’s not just for him, it’s for the rest of the group. As a point guard, he’s been a great leader and a great facilitator his entire career.”
OKC has surely enjoyed having Paul around, but he can’t change that this franchise is facing a top-to-bottom rebuild. Shedding his colossal contract makes that easier, and getting back actual assets makes this a no-brainer.
DiVincenzo could be a building block alongside Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and Bledsoe can hold down a starting spot until OKC flips him to a point guard-needy contender. Ilyasova has a non-guaranteed contract, Lopez has a player option for next season and Hill’s pact is only partially guaranteed for 2021-22.
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Brooklyn Nets receive: Bradley Beal
Washington Wizards receive: Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen, Spencer Dinwiddie, Dzanan Musa, 2020 first-round pick (via Philadelphia 76ers), 2021 first-round pick, 2021 second-round pick (via Atlanta Hawks)
The Nets struck twice in 2019 free agency for the home run signings of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. One year later, they might be poised to win the race to basketball’s next Big Three. After cultivating a quietly impressive nucleus in recent years, Brooklyn is positioned to cash in those trade chips for a major return.
Beal looks perfect. He plays both ends. He works on or off the ball. He is at his apex (30.5 points and 6.1 assists per game, both personal bests). And, despite his assurances that he’s happy in the District, even he’ll admit Brooklyn has its appeal.
“When you hear that Kyrie and KD want you, s–t, that’s amazing,” Beal told ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan.
The Nets would be top-heavy, but they’d have an incredible first five with that trio, DeAndre Jordan and Joe Harris (assuming he’s re-signed with his Bird rights). They’d also have a ceiling so towering it would be sure to attract at least a couple of ring-chasing veterans for cheap.
The Wizards have no interest in trading Beal, per The Athletic’s Fred Katz, but they probably should. Other than the return of John Wall—who hasn’t played since Dec. 2018, is coming off a torn Achilles and turns 30 in September—there are no obvious ways of improving a team that has gone 24-40 with the second-worst defense since 1973-74.
Washington looks overdue for a rebuild, and this is quite the starter kit.
LeVert is a slippery scorer off the dribble. Allen is a defensive anchor who will make it easier to give major minutes to offense-first forwards such as Davis Bertans and Rui Hachimura. Dinwiddie is a dynamic combo guard who works in featured or supporting roles. Musa is a raw, but he’s a natural scorer. None of the draft picks is especially great, but each is another scratch-off that could yield a jackpot prize.
The Wizards brighten their future and still have a chance to compete with Wall next season. It’s tough for a team trading away a star player to do much better than that.
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Los Angeles Lakers receive: Victor Oladipo
Indiana Pacers receive: Danny Green, Kyle Kuzma, Talen Horton-Tucker, 2020 first-round pick*
It’s tough to know exactly what to make of Oladipo. He was good—but nowhere near great—across his first four seasons, before erupting in his fifth to claim the Most Improved Player award, an All-Defensive first-team honor and an All-NBA third-team selection. He has since endured two injury-riddled campaigns, most recently appearing especially rusty across 13 contests this season.
How does one put a price tag on all of the above? Because that’s the challenge for the Pacers. Oladipo will be extension-eligible this offseason, and if no deal materializes, he’ll hit unrestricted free agency next summer. There might be too much risk to pay him and too much risk to keep him around without an extension. That puts the franchise right at the intersection of Rock Road and Hard Place Avenue.
The Lakers should keep close tabs on the proceedings, since Oladipo would be a perfect complement for LeBron James and Anthony Davis. A healthy Oladipo is an elite athlete with few holes in his game. During his 2017-18 breakout, he became just the 14th player ever to average 23 points, five rebounds, four assists and two steals per game.
If L.A. learns in this postseason it’s one piece short of a title, the reward of landing Oladipo far outweighs whatever risk there is of his walking in 2021. Even if he has other options, it’s hard to think of many better situations than chasing a title with the King and the Brow in Hollywood.
Between Oladipo’s injuries and contract uncertainty, Indiana could encounter a more tepid market than his pedigree would suggest. This might scratch enough itches for the Pacers to accept.
Kuzma is the crown jewel as a 24-year-old who has already displayed a powerful scoring punch. His game could be a snug fit alongside either Myles Turner or Domantas Sabonis, allowing Indy to trade the other to balance the roster. Green’s three-and-D game fits with anyone, so the Pacers can keep him to compete next season or see what the market would offer for him and his expiring $15.4 million contract ahead of 2021 free agency.
The first-round pickcan’t technically be traded outright, but the Lakers could select someone with the intention of moving him to the Pacers. Pair that prospect with Horton-Tucker, a 19-year-old with handles, shot-making and defensive versatility, and Indy has decent odds of getting at least one long-term keeper out of the two.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.