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2021 NBA trade market: Who’s got next?


Dec 10, 2019; Charlotte, NC, USA; Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal (3) looks on late in the fourth quarter against the Charlotte Hornets at Spectrum Center. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Dec 10, 2019; Charlotte, NC, USA; Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal (3) looks on late in the fourth quarter against the Charlotte Hornets at Spectrum Center. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

NBA trade market: Who’s got next?

More than any other pro league, the NBA is driven by star power. The trading of James Harden to the Brooklyn Nets – and his teaming up with fellow mega stars in Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving solidifies that. The ultimate goal for all teams is to eventually win a championship. To do that in the short term, getting as many stars as possible is generally accepted as the best method.

The Harden trade caps a period of unprecedented movement among the league’s elite. Over the past 30 months, we’ve seen five of the seven active MVP’s move, as well as half of the 2018 All-Star participants. With all those moves, surely the wheel has to stop spinning at some stage? Right?

So, Harden is off the market. Giannis Antetokounmpo, LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Rudy Gobert, and Paul George are all signed long term. It seems highly unlikely that Jimmy Butler or Steph Curry would look to move in the immediate future. There are, however, still quite a few big names, as well as a few well-credentialed known role players, that still have question marks hanging over their heads.

Bradley Beal

Washington Wizards

The clear starting point for a discussion like this is Washington’s star guard and the alternative target for Brooklyn. Arguably, Beal doesn’t get the recognition he deserves. He certainly doesn’t receive the recognition he believes he deserves, though toiling for a perennially underachieving Wizards team certainly doesn’t help.

Beal averaged 30.5 point per game last season and this campaign is leading the league at 34.9 points, a full 3.6 clear of the second placed Durant. Alongside the gaudy scoring numbers, Beal gives you around five rebounds, over five assists, and about 1.5 steals per game. He’s the rare superstar that thrives both on and off the ball – thus Brooklyn’s interest in him – and, when engaged, he provides serviceable defense.

Despite being in his ninth professional Beal is still only 27 years old. He’s right at the start of his prime. His current contract has him locked in for around $35 million per year up to the 2023 season. If a team trades for Beal and is able to re-sign him, they will be getting a borderline All NBA level player through the entirety of his prime and post-prime years.

The constant question about a Beal trade is that unlike most superstars, he hasn’t openly pined for a move. Sure, he’s vented his frustrations, but has always stopped well short of an outright trade demand. However, with the team yet again struggling, does Washington look to make the most of Beal as an asset right now, before he makes any public proclamations? Can the Wiz get a swag of draft picks and some potential young stars? Given Miami’s reported interest in Harden, do the Heat now turn their attention to the capital?

Ben Simmons

Philadelphia 76ers

Before taking the Brooklyn deal, it seemed that a Harden-Daryl Morey reunion in Philadelphia was on the cards, but for the Sixers haggling over what pieces to include alongside Ben Simmons. Houston’s interest was understandable: the Australian is an ascendant, though completely unique superstar.

Simmons is already a defensive force, leading the league in steals last season whilst being named first-team All-Defense. He’s arguably the most malleable high level defensive player in the league, able to guard everybody from Damian Lillard to LeBron James through to Nikola Jokic at an elite standard. He’s without doubt a defensive centrepiece.

The paradox of Simmons is that he also needs to be an offensive centrepiece. To get the most out of him, a team needs to cater to his particular skill set, and surround him with specific types of players. Like Harden, Simmons is quick, strong, able to get to the rim seemingly at will, a strong finisher, and truly elite at setting up three point shooters. Except that unlike the free-scoring Harden, Simmons maxes out as a high teens scorer. That impediment makes trading for him exceedingly difficult. A team needs to have a certain ecosystem to accommodate the 24 year old and few teams – outside of Houston, ironically – possess that environment.

Ultimately, the Sixers have dangled Simmons in trade talks. That fact alone might open the door for other teams to talk themselves into trading for the enigmatic star.

PJ Tucker

Houston Rockets

By no means a star, PJ Tucker’s future in Houston has been thrown into doubt by the Harden trade. The veteran bowling ball was the perfect complement to Harden – frankly, it’s a mystery as to why Brooklyn didn’t insist on getting him in the trade, as well. Tucker has made his thoughts very public and would fancy a move to a contender sooner rather than later.

Tucker is an ideal role player for practically every contender. As well as the Nets desperately needing him, he’s better than either of the Morris twins, better than Kelly Olynyk. If there were infinite parallel universes, there still wouldn’t be an existence in which he’s worse than Bobby Portis.

Expect Tucker to be moved before the deadline.

Victor Oladipo

Houston Rockets

‘But….Dipo’s just been traded!’, I hear you say. True, but a middling, Harden-less Houston was not the destination Oladipo had in mind when forcing his way out of Indiana. Oladipo may find quarterbacking on each an every down 0 which he’ll get in Houston – to his liking, but there is still the lingering suspicion that he’ll end up in Miami, now that Harden is off the market.

The fact that he’s on an expiring deal – top work again, Mr Fertitta – can only increase the odds of the former Hoosier being moved on again this season. To that end, his relatively small deal (a tick over $17 million this season) and the fact that he finally looks 100% healthy make him an intriguing trade target. Of course that expiring deal also makes him a flight risk.

Al Horford/George Hill

Oklahoma City Thunder

Upon acquiring the veteran pair of Horford and Hill in separate transactions, it was expected that they would merely be short term holdovers in Oklahoma City. With general manager Sam Presti seemingly intent on holding all of the draft picks from here to eternity, expect to see them shipped for more draft capital before the deadline.

Horford is looking so much more sprightly as a full time centre that he did in Philadelphia playing the four. He can still be a contributor as a fifth starter or main backup big for a contender.

Hill has made a career out of being a role player for contending teams and Sacramento. Even at aged 34, he’s still a very good defender and high level – if a touch streaky – outside shooter.

Both would look great in Miami black.

Zach Lavine

Chicago Bulls

With a new coach and front office, the Bulls playing roster is under evaluation this season. That might mean that nobody is on the trade table until the off season. But what if new general manager Arturas Karnisovas decides that Lavine and Coby White are just too similar to succeed as a back court? Surely the Bulls keep the younger man and move on from the spectacular but ultimately flawed Lavine.

Aged 25, armed with a striking array of offensive moves and a possessing relatively cheap contract ($19.5 million through to the end of the 2022 campaign) there will surely be a team on the fringes of contention that can convince itself that it can harness Lavine’s offensive gifts whilst hiding his numerous defensive shortcomings.

If Josh Richardson doesn’t work out in Dallas, would a swap be viable? Do Miami or the Lakers want to make a splashy acquisition? Does New York lose patience and bring in yet another b-grade star in the hope that he can flourish?

DeMar DeRozan/LaMarcus Aldridge

San Antonio Spurs

The veteran Spurs duo have seemingly been on the #NBATwitter trade market for about three decades, yet there is every chance the Spurs themselves have not even entertained trade talks regarding the pair. Given that the Spurs have seemingly – finally – embraced a youth movement and that both are on expiring deals, this season seems like the time when one, if not both, will ultimately be dealt.

Despite his age, Aldridge is still a viable bench option at the four/five for a contender, thanks to his outside shooting. DeRozan, meanwhile, is putting up numbers as a play making wing and/or small ball four, despite never developing an outside jump shot. DeRozan would feast running a second unit for a contending side.

One way or another, this will spell the end of an era for the Spurs.

Kevin Love

Cleveland Cavaliers

Speaking of eras ending, Kevin Love is the final remaining player from the clubs 2016 championship run. The 32 year old forward has spent most of this campaign on the sidelines with a torn calf. It’s not a coincidence that the team has carved out a defensive identity with Larry Nance Jr playing his old power forward position. With Andre Drummond and the newly acquired Jarrett Allen on board, there’s no room for Love to play centre, either.

If a team makes a move for Love, they know he’ll be around for the longer term, being contracted through to the end of the 2023 season, though the dollars – $91 million still remaining – are eye watering.

The crux of the issue with Love is this: who would trade for him? He’s still capable of feasting upon poor defenders in the post, and of course can stroke it from beyond the arc, but his defensive limitations and injury concerns are more pronounced with each passing year.

If a contender was to trade for him, look for the Bucks to make something happen, as the backup/offensive alternative to Brook Lopez. Along with the Clippers and perhaps Miami and the Lakers, the Bucks are the only squad with the defensive personnel to be able to cover for the five time All-Star.

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