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NBA trade season
Pacers All Star Domantas Sabonis. Photo: Grace Hollars/IndyStar

2021-2022 NBA Trade Season Primer

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! A time wonder, a time of giving, a time for a swapping of gifts. A ‘trade’, if you will. That’s right, folks. December 15th marks the unofficial start of NBA trade season. It’s the date that all the free agency signings form the offseason become trade eligible, making a little over 80% of NBA rosters potentially movable.

Whilst most deals won’t eventuate until much closer to the February 10th trade deadline, there will be deals done in the meantime. With big name players in Ben Simmons, Kyrie Irving, Domantas Sabonis and Damian Lillard very much a part of the rumour mill – all for vastly different reasons – this trade period could be one of the most explosive in memory.

Let’s take a look at some of the potential trades, both seismic and subtle, that could go down between now and the trade deadline.

Let’s kick things off with a three team blockbuster…

Sixers receive: Jaylen Brown; Torrey Craig

Pacers receive: Ben Simmons; Isaiah Joe

Celtics receive: Domantas Sabonis; Justin Holiday

Let’s get the small print out of the way: Craig, Joe and Holiday are all handy players that can help their new teams, but they’re not the story here. Let’s focus on the stars involved in this swap.

Boston’s tent pole stars seem to live in an uneasy truce. They’re both big wings who want to dominate the ball which, to this point, hasn’t really worked. Jayson Tatum is certainly the better thought of and probably better overall player. That makes Brown the more expendable of the two.

Sabonis gives the Celtic’s an unselfish offensive hub who can ping passes all over the floor from the elbow, sparking some much needed ball movement into Boston’s sluggish offense. He’ll also get to learn at the feet of veteran Al Horford, a player who’s style (at least offensively) is almost a perfect match to Domo’s.

Speaking of uneasy truces, Pacers centre Myles Turner has bristled at his reduced role in the offense to cater for Sabonis’ unique gifts. Until recently he’s kept his concerns in house but now that he’s gone on the record, surely the Pacers will have to make a call on their unconventional front court pairing.

Whilst Simmons isn’t the scorer that Sabonis is, he’s by far the better play maker and gives Indiana an open floor orchestrator that they haven’t had in years. He’s known as a point guard but it’s worth remembering that Simmons only started to play the one on a full time basis once he joined the pros. This move would see him return to his natural power forward position which, when combined with Turner’s shooting prowess, should alleviate Simmons own lack of shooting by allowing the Australian to operate closer to the basket.

For all that Tobias Harris can give the Sixers on his best nights, he’s not quite the offensive player that Brown is and he’s miles away from Brown’s impact on the defensive end. He could go some way to replacing the impact that Ben Simmons had defensively, whilst giving the Sixers a much needed boost in half court offense.

Blazers receive: Kristaps Porzingis

Mavericks receive: CJ McCollum

Credit to ESPN’s Zach Lowe for this gem of a challenge trade. It’s worth noting that this trade would require Portland to move on from Jusuf Nurkic to allow KP to play the five, but it’s a most interesting challenge trade, all the same.

Dallas coach Jason Kidd has prioritised making Porzingis a featured player this season. To this point it’s worked well for the Latvian big man, but hasn’t benefited the Mavericks as a whole. You can’t help but wonder if this change is at least in part to rehabilitate KP’s trade value?

KP would give Portland a genuine stretch big who can protect the rim. He would become the best pick and roll partner that Damian Lillard has ever played with. Moving Norman Powell into his natural shooting guard position would give Portland some modicum of defense in the backcourt for the first time in a decade. The ultimate benefit to the team, however, would probably come through what the Blazers could get back for Nurkic.

McCollum would be the best backcourt running mate that Doncic has enjoyed in his short career. He would give Dallas better play making than Jalen Brunson and better shooting that Tim Hardaway Jr, potentially turning one of them into trade pieces. With Dallas’ small army of centres – all better suited stylistically to playing alongside Doncic – they shouldn’t miss Porzingis too much.

Jazz receive: Marcus Smart

Celtics receive: Jordan Clarkson

(Some housekeeping: This trade can’t happen until Jan 25 due to Smart’s recent contract extension)

This is a trade where both teams offload something they have in abundance for something desperately needed.

For Boston, bench scoring has been an issue over the past few seasons. Payton Pritchard, Romeo Langford, Aaron Nesmith – none of them get hearts racing. Clarkson certainly has his flaws but he guarantees scoring, averaging 15.2 points per game through his career.

Utah’s glaring weakness – the one thing holding them back from genuine title contention – is their porous perimeter defense. Whilst Clarkson’s electric scoring outbursts will be missed, Utah’s record setting offense would be able to absorb his absence.

Smart might be the single best defensive guard in the league. Royce O’Neal is willing but not quick enough to stay with the genuine speedsters. Smart can do that as well as move up the positional spectrum due to his underrated strength.

Jazz receive: Jerami Grant

Pistons receive: Bogdan Bogdanovic

In a similar vein to the prior trade, this would allow Utah to stiffen its perimeter defense though this time with the focus on the bigger wings that are dotted throughout the Western Conference.

Grant bet on himself a couple of years back in joining Detroit to be the main man, turning down identical money to stay in Denver. To his credit, he’s proven many – this writer included – wrong by playing above his contract. He’s is a decent shooter (34% career from deep) though isn’t near Bogey’s class (40% on far greater volume). The Jazz’s phalanx of shooter could cover for Grant, whilst he would give the Jazz a genuine shot blocker on the wing (Grant averages over a block per game, whereas Bogdanovic has 43 blocks in 601 career games – both men stand 6’8”).

A model professional, Bogdanovic would provide a low maintenance stretch option that the Pistons don’t have. In turn opening up space for the Pistons young building blocks in Cade Cunningham, Isaiah Stewart and Killian Hayes.

Pelicans receive: Ben Simmons

Sixers receive: Brandon Ingram

On the assumption that Zion is out indefinitely, this trade makes complete sense for the Pellies. Ingram has shown that he’s not good enough to hold an offense together as a #1 option and he doesn’t provide enough defensively to compensate. Simmons, for all his flaws, is a skeleton key on defense and – when Joel Embiid has been injured, at least – has demonstrated that he can lead a successful up-tempo offense.

Ingram would be an ideal addition to the Sixers. He could play off of Embiid as a shooter or as a pick and roll partner, whilst taking over the offense when Embiid sits in a way that Tobias Harris is simply not able to. With Embiid, Matisse Thybulle and Danny Green around him, his defensive deficiencies are not a huge concern.

This is a trade that would depend greatly on how the Pelicans think Simmons would work alongside Zion Williamson. Given their offensive games overlap so much, if this trade happens what does that say about Zion’s future prospects?

Blazers receive: Ben Simmons

Sixers receive: CJ McCollum; Nassir Little; 2x 1st round draft picks

The trade that has been talked about since Simmons’ rather unsavory finish to last season’s playoffs, it’s understandable that the Sixers are holding out for more than just McCollum – fine player he undoubtedly is – for their 25 year old All Star.

What else would the Blazers have to throw into the deal in order to get the trade done?

Philadelphia would surely look to add to their wing stocks and Nassir Little fits the bill. The 21 year old isn’t a shooter but is an athletic 6’5” wing who can guard up and down the positional spectrum, centres aside.

Even that, though, wouldn’t be enough. Would a pair of future 1st rounders do the job? Has Simmons damaged his own standing so much that those picks don’t even come into the equation?

Blazers receive: Jaylen Brown; Dennis Schroder; Juancho Hernangomez; 1st round draft pick

Celtics receive: Damian Lillard

This would see Brad Stevens swinging for the fences in the same way that predecessor and mentor Danny Ainge did for Kevin Garnett all those years ago.

That ‘all-in’ move produced a championship and came awfully close to a second. Could this move have a similar impact? The 2007 trade (alongside the acquisition of Ray Allen) gave the C’s three complimentary superstars in a way that the Warriors emulated to great success years later. Paul Pierce as the go to scorer, Garnett as the defensive lynchpin and emotional leader, Allen in the Klay Thompson role.

Lillard and Tatum are both heavy usage primary scoring types. Whilst combining the pair would certainly make Boston a better team, this writer isn’t sure it would elevate the C’s into genuine title contention.

From a Blazer perspective, this would mark the beginning of the tear down. In Brown, Portland would have an ascendant young two-way wing to build around. Juancho remains a stretch big with untapped potential. Schroder is a fine stop gap at the point guard position.

If the Schroder/Juancho combination doesn’t float Paul Cronin’s (or whoever ends up running the Portland front office) boat then he could perhaps ask for the younger but less proven Payton Pritchard and Aaron Nesmith.

Pacers receive: Brook Lopez; Donte Divincenzo, 2x 1st round draft pick

Bucks receive: Myles Turner

Similar to the Bucks successful trade for Jrue Holiday last season (you can quibble over the price, but winning the championship makes that trade a win) this would be a move made with the playoffs in mind.

With Lopez unsighted since opening night with a back complaint and Divincnezo out since late last season after ankle surgery, the Bucks are really not trading anything except for the pair of picks (given the picks the Bucks traded out for Holiday, these would fall in 2022 and 2028 – for the sake of the argument, let’s assume they’re both lottery protected).

Turner would give Milwaukee a younger and frankly better version of Lopez. Whilst Divincenzo is a genuinely good player for a contender, he has been replaced somewhat by Pat Connaughton’s growth and by Grayson Allen, brought in from Memphis in the offseason.

From the Pacers’ perspective, Divincenzo is a quality add, especially given TJ Warren’s continued injury concerns. Once healthy, Lopez would likely start but given his age (34 when the playoffs start) he would come in as a mentor and placeholder for young big man Goga Bitadze. In addition, it would also allow the Pacers to separate their talented but cumbersome Sabonis/Turner frontcourt.

Lastly, we get into the #FreeThadYoung part of the article. The dependable veteran should be one of the most Spursy players in the NBA, but given the rebuild happening in San Antonio the offseason addition he has been buried on the bench, his 14 minutes per game the only time he’s averaged less than 20 throughout his 15 year career. You can bet your bottom dollar that literally every contender would love to add Young through this NBA trade season.

Here are a few potential trades.

Spurs receive: Dario Saric; Jalen Smith; 1st round draft pick

Suns receive: Thaddeus Young

A cinder block power forward who plays solid defense, can facilitate the offense hit the occasional three pointer? Yes, please!

Young gives Phoenix the option to play a genuine small ball line-up or the ability to spare their slightly built defensive ace Mikal Bridges from the pounding he’d receive against the West’s bigger wings.

San Antonio gets an intriguing young talent in Smith and an offensively versatile stretch five in Saric, as well as the pick.

Spurs receive: Eric Bledsoe; 1st round draft pick; 2nd round draft pick

Clippers receive: Thaddeus Young

Though he’s still a defensive monster, Bledsoe’s offensive struggles make him an overall liability come playoff time. Young would give LA another 5-out option to pit against Phoenix, Utah or Denver who is frankly better than Marcus Morris Sr, though the two could conceivably play together, as well.

The first rounder wouldn’t arrive until 2027 thanks to the Clips Paul George trade from a few seasons back and the most enticing 2nd rounder they have is Detroit’s 2025 pick. Given San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich is nearing the end of his career you could legitimately question if the Spurs would want those picks.

Spurs receive: Kemba Walker; Kevin Knox; 1st round draft pick

Knicks receive: Thaddeus Young

It’s so sad that Kemba’s career has come to this: a mid-season salary dump. Whilst he would be a fantastic mentor for Dejounte Murray (remember, Walker couldn’t shoot when he entered the league, either) and the Spurs other young guards, he’s just not a viable NBA player anymore.

Kevin Knox has regressed every season he’s been a pro and has to be considered a bust, but the Spurs have made NBA players out of lesser talents. Knox is an athletic wing with good size and a nice outside stroke. His basketball IQ is an insult to the term ‘IQ’ but if there is a staff in the NBA that can turn Knox into a long term rotation piece, it’s the Spurs.

Given the Knicks currently sit outside the NBA play-in, let alone playoffs, the draft pick would be most welcome in San Antonio.

This article also appears at leading independent media site FOOTYOLOGY.

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