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Be wary of anyone predicting a sleepy 2019 NBA trade deadline.
While they could be correct, those aren’t the vibes we want to be sending to the basketball gods in the heart of #TradeSZN.
We want fireworks. We want drama. We want axis-tilting, internet-breaking blockbusters with the capacity to change fortunes or even reorder the Association’s hierarchy.
We want…well…something like the following five theoretical swaps, all of which put a high-level realistic trade candidate into a new situation with significant growth potential.
Due to that realistic tag, we’re keeping Anthony Davis on the New Orleans Pelicans, due to their continued insistence they’ll be doing the same. He might be a trade candidate at some point later on, but it’s almost impossible to picture that happening before they know how he’ll respond to the supermax offer awaiting him this summer.
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Los Angeles Clippers Receive: Nikola Vucevic
Orlando Magic Receive: Jerome Robinson, Marcin Gortat, 2019 second-round pick (most favorable of Cleveland, Houston, Portland or Orlando)
Nine of the NBA’s 10 best offenses have at least one All-Star centerpiece. The logic-defying Clippers are the exception, as Doc Rivers has created a potent point-producing machine out of what’s essentially a place-holding, cap-preserving roster of non-stars.
The 28-year-old has orchestrated a perfectly timed breakout, joining Joel Embiid and Karl-Anthony Towns as the only players averaging at least 20 points, 11 rebounds and one triple. Vucevic has never been a better outside shooter (38.3 percent) or distributor (3.8 assists). He’s also made dramatic strides as a defender and ranks among the top 15 leaguewide in real plus/minus, per ESPN.com.
Vucevic might be stretched thin as a No. 1 option, but he’d be perfect in the Clippers’ equal-opportunity attack that keeps defenders off balance with three co-No. 1s. Between Vooch, Tobias Harris, Danilo Gallinari and Lou Williams, the Clippers would have four players averaging more than 18 points.
The Clippers likely come out ahead in this exchange, but this is hardly a fleecing.
Remember, Vucevic is on an expiring contract and is blocking Mo Bamba and Jonathan Issac. Plus, there aren’t many win-now buyers in need of a new starting center. If Orlando places lottery value on Jerome Robinson (last summer’s No. 13 pick) and views what almost assuredly will be Cleveland’s second-rounder as a late first, those are two future assets for a rental.
This all hinges on the Magic’s valuation of Robinson. The Clippers have barely given the rook any run, but he was electric at Boston College—he averaged 20.7 points per game and shot 40.9 percent from deep in his final season with the Eagles—and he has continued throwing flames in the G League (20.1 points, 51.4 percent from deep).
For a club lacking backcourt building blocks, the Magic could easily envision the 21-year-old as such.
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Charlotte Hornets Receive: Marc Gasol
Memphis Grizzlies Receive: Nicolas Batum, Willy Hernangomez, 2019 first-round pick (lottery protected)
With team owner Michael Jordan reportedly “hell-bent” on re-signing Kemba Walker, per Shams Charania of Stadium and The Athletic, the Hornets might want to give their All-Star point guard some fonder memories of Buzz City. While Walker has said he wants to stay in Charlotte beyond this season, one wonders if his loyalty would be tested by missing the playoffs for the sixth time in eight years or failing to make his second-round debut.
The Hornets can’t take that risk. They must find ways to strengthen their anemic supporting cast, and even a potentially declining Marc Gasol would qualify as a massive upgrade.
The soon-to-be 34-year-old is no longer a perennial All-Star, but he could immediately slide into the roles of defensive anchor, No. 2 scorer and secondary playmaker. Charlotte’s 18th-ranked defense needs more muscle in the middle, and it must find more relief for Walker, who’s one of six players averaging at least 34 minutes and shouldering a usage percentage above 31.
When SI.com’s Michael Shapiro mapped out Charlotte’s path to the postseason, it was just “letting Walker cook like he’s back at UConn.” That’s probably true, but it’s no less depressing.
So, would the Grizzlies play ball? Let’s just say things look bleak in Memphis at the moment.
After a 12-5 start, the Grizz have gone a woeful 7-22 with the Association’s second-worst offense and fifth-lowest net rating over that stretch. Memphis mainstays Gasol and Mike Conley recently met with owner Robert Pera to discuss “the state of the team,” per Charania, and Marc Stein of the New York Times reports there’s “a growing belief” that Gasol will decline his $25.6 million option for next season to enter the open market this summer.
If there’s a legitimate risk of the Grizzlies losing Gasol for nothing, this package at least adds some assets for the future. The pick is a clear path to another prospect, and Willy Hernangomez is young enough to keep alongside Jaren Jackson Jr. Nicholas Batum’s bloated deal is a drag, but it isn’t as burdensome for a non-destination franchise facing a lengthy rebuild.
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Portland Trail Blazers Receive: Kevin Love (can’t be traded before Jan. 24), David Nwaba
Cleveland Cavaliers Receive: Evan Turner, Anfernee Simons, Caleb Swanigan
After surprisingly fielding a top-10 defense last season, the Blazers had an offensive slant to their summer. While those moves have yet to make a big impact, the desire to avoid a repeat of last year’s opening round—when the Pelicans correctly gambled that no one other than Damian Lillard or CJ McCollum could beat them—is obvious.
Portland’s offense has jumped from 13th to eighth this season, but it still lacks shot-creators and explosive scorers beyond its high-powered backcourt. Kevin Love, who grew up in Oregon, could check both boxes whenever he’s recovered from his November toe surgery.
His outlet passes can fuel Portland’s transition game, his post-ups would add another bail-out option in the half court and his range would widen attack lanes for Lillard and McCollum to exploit. Love has also been an All-Star as a first option, a Finals participant as a No. 2 and a champion as a third wheel, so he’d fit wherever head coach Terry Stotts placed him on the pecking order.
And don’t discount David Nwaba as merely a throw-in. Play him with either Maurice Harkless or Al-Farouq Aminu and Portland’s new Big Three, and that’s a ton of length, athleticism, energy and versatility coming from the supporting spots.
While the Cavs are in no rush to move Love, per Cleveland.com’s Chris Fedor, his price tag and their timeline suggests they should be. Rival executives already feel Love “is available for the proverbial right price,” per Stein, and that might not be as much as you’d think. As one executive told Bleacher Report’s Ken Berger: “You’re not getting an asset for him under any circumstances.”
This isn’t an asset-free offer, of course. Anfernee Simons has significant potential if a team is willing to wait, and why wouldn’t the LeBron James-less Cavs be? Caleb Swanigan is a 21-year-old with a high hoops IQ and a bag of scoring tricks. Evan Turner is only signed through next season and might interest a wing-needy contender at the 2020 deadline as a veteran rental.
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New Orleans Pelicans Receive: Bradley Beal, Dwight Howard
Washington Wizards Receive: Julius Randle, E’Twaun Moore, Frank Jackson, Wesley Johnson, 2019 first-round pick (top-five protection), 2020 second-round pick, 2021 first-round pick (top-10 protection)
Wizards owner Ted Leonsis recently told reporters that his team “will never, ever tank.” That stance seems…well, let’s be nice and just call it silly.
If the goal is having a second-round ceiling, then sure, keep paying exorbitant amounts for the Bradley Beal-John Wall-Otto Porter Jr. trio. If a greater goal exists, then the Wizards must be torn down to the studs, which they were reportedly considering in mid-November, per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
While the ideal solution would involve shedding mostly everything around Bradley Beal, the All-Star scoring guard is the only player capable of bringing back a rebuilding starter kit.
“There are so many teams in the mix trying to make that extra push that want Beal,” a Western Conference executive told Berger.
The Pelicans should have more motivation than most. They not only need fuel for their playoff push, but they’re also looking for bargaining chips capable of convincing Anthony Davis to sign a supermax extension this summer. Beal might be as good as it gets, as he would assume secondary and spacing duties right away while forming a frisky defensive combo with Jrue Holiday on the perimeter.
Bleacher Report’s Dan Favale, the original architect of this exchange, notes this likely comes down to Washington’s assessment of Julius Randle.
“He’s playing like a fringe All-Star this season, but he’s expected to decline his 2019-20 player option, and he doesn’t come with Bird rights,” Favale noted. “Non-Bird rights allow the Wizards to pay him a starting salary just north of $10 million this summer. That might be in his ballpark.”
If Randle is a keeper, he’s a 24-year-old nightly 20-point, 10-rebound threat. Two future firsts feel like a ton in this trade market, and Frank Jackson pairs loads of athleticism with three-point potential. Wesley Johnson is an expiring contract, while E’Twaun Moore has one season left and could attract buyers this time next year.
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Philadelphia 76ers Receive: Bradley Beal
Washington Wizards Receive: Markelle Fultz, Wilson Chandler, Furkan Korkmaz, 2019 second-round pick (from Chicago), 2021 first-round pick (from Miami)
Despite subtracting multiple assets to acquire Jimmy Butler, the Sixers haven’t unloaded all of their trade bullets. (*Pouring one out for Sam Hinkie.*) In fact, they might have enough to meet Washington’s reported asking price: two firsts, a young asset and another player, per Rod Beard of the Detroit News.
We’ll get to Washington’s return in a second. First, let’s dream about the havoc a Beal-Butler-Ben Simmons-Joel Embiid-JJ Redick quintet could wreak on the East. That might be the closest anyone gets to the Golden State Warriors in terms of the volume and quantity of offensive triggers together. Given Philly’s needs for outside shooting and supplemental playmaking, Beal seems to be the ideal acquisition.
“There’s no question the idea of adding a player like Beal would give [general manager Elton] Brand’s squad a loaded roster,” Paul Hudrick wrote for NBC Sports Philadelphia. “If you add Beal to Jimmy Butler, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, the Sixers could make serious noise.”
The Sixers could get expensive quickly with Redick and Butler both likely headed to free agency this summer, when Simmons will also be eligible for an extension. But that core should be on a short list of contenders, and Sixers ownership has said it would spend big for a winner.
What are the chances Washington signs off on this? That depends how the franchise feels about Markelle Fultz.
While Fultz’s NBA career is admittedly off to a rocky start, Bleacher Report’s Jonathan Wasserman called him “the ideal floor general to build with” heading into the 2017 draft. He also said Fultz’s game “resembles James Harden’s.” The best version of Fultz works on or off the ball, which means he could share a backcourt with John Wall or assume control of it without him.
The unprotected 2021 first from Miami is as intriguing as future selections get. The Heat are a mediocre team now and could be much worse by then. Chicago’s 2019 second-rounder should be early enough to function as a late first, and Furkan Korkmaz is a 21-year-old shooting prospect. If Washington could flip Wilson Chandler quickly for extra picks, that would only add to its asset collection.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @ZachBuckleyNBA.