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David Zalubowski/Associated Press
Maybe this is the offseason optimism talking, but the NBA‘s championship race looks as wide-open as it has in years.
The Association no longer runs through Oakland, California. A frenetic offseason reshaped the basketball landscape several times over, resulting in uncharacteristic congestion at the top of the food chain.
We’re here to help alleviate the traffic by suggesting one swap for every could-be contender that might help it separate from the pack.
While some of the players involved can’t be traded until mid-December or later, all of these moves are worth exploring at some point during the upcoming campaign.
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Michael Dwyer/Associated Press
Boston Celtics Receive: Bradley Beal, Ian Mahinmi
Washington Wizards Receive: Gordon Hayward, Jaylen Brown, Carsen Edwards, 2020 first-round pick (via Milwaukee)
The Wizards offered Bradley Beal a three-year, $111 million max extension in late July, per The Athletic’s David Aldridge. Nothing has moved on that front since, and it quite possibly never will. The two-time All-Star guard can make more money by waiting—an All-NBA selection would make him supermax-eligible next summer—and he may want a better feel for this franchise’s future before committing to everything.
That’s reasonable for him but perhaps a source of anxiety for the Wizards. If they sense a risk of losing him for nothing, they could pounce on a deal that returns value. This package in particular would net them three long-term assets plus an All-Star in Gordon Hayward, who could be trade bait at a later date if he rediscovers his form.
As for the Shamrocks, they would join the discussion of the NBA’s best backcourts by pairing Beal with Kemba Walker. Each was among the nine players to average 25 points and five assists per game last season, and none of the other seven share a roster. Add Jayson Tatum to the mix, and Boston boasts an ignitable scoring trio, especially if the 21-year-old makes his anticipated leap.
While Ian Mahinmi is mainly a money-matcher, it’s possible the veteran big man becomes more than a throw-in. Boston is young and unproven behind Enes Kanter at the center spot, and while Mahinmi lacks excitement, he has averaged nearly a double-double per 36 minutes over his 11-year career.
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David Zalubowski/Associated Press
Denver Nuggets Receive: Bradley Beal
Washington Wizards Receive: Gary Harris, Michael Porter Jr., Juancho Hernangomez, 2022 first-round pick (top-10 protected)
While nearly every other Western Conference power swung for the fences this summer, the Nuggets put their chips in the continuity basket. Considering they just won 54 games while being paced in points by a 24-year-old (Nikola Jokic) and 22-year-old (Jamal Murray), it’s understandable why they’d bank on internal development to get them over the hump.
But this is a league controlled by squads with multiple stars, and Denver doesn’t measure up. Deal for Beal, though, and the Nuggets could have their key to championship contention.
“He could form a one-two punch with Joker fully capable of trading blows in the playoffs with the Warriors’ Stephen Curry and Draymond Green, the Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard and Paul George or the Lakers’ LeBron James and Anthony Davis,” Mark Kiszla of the Denver Post wrote. “Add Beal … and Denver pries open its championship window for the next five years.”
Beal can control contests as a scorer, distributor or spot-up shooter, which could make him the perfect fit in the Mile High City. Jokic’s passing could elevate Beal’s efficiency, Beal’s scoring punch could cover for Jokic’s occasional lack of aggressiveness, and Beal’s off-the-ball comfort could allow Murray to shine on his human-fireball nights.
Gary Harris is a strong three-and-D player, but since he doesn’t have the upside of a Jaylen Brown, Denver would have to sweeten the pot with the wildly intriguing Michael Porter Jr. Last summer’s 14th pick hasn’t been healthy in almost two years, but when he was, his size-plus-skill combo made him the top prospect in what already appears like it was a loaded draft class.
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Matt Slocum/Associated Press
Golden State Warriors Receive: Aaron Gordon, D.J. Augustin
Orlando Magic Receive: D’Angelo Russell
The Warriors seem open to a future with D’Angelo Russell. As general manager Bob Myers put it, “We didn’t sign him with the intention of just trading him,” per Mark Medina of the Bay Area News Group.
Russell will get a trial run with his new team, as he can’t be traded before Dec. 15. That works just as well for the Warriors, who might be without Klay Thompson until February or March. That could be enough time for Golden State to realize Russell can’t scratch its biggest itch. He’s more ball-dominant and less efficient than the ideal player in Steve Kerr’s system or the ideal running mate for Stephen Curry.
Russell, who secured his first All-Star spot while averaging 21.1 points and 7.0 assists per game last season, fits best on a team more in need of shot-creation. The Magic, who were dead-last in backcourt offensive rating in 2018-19, could be that club.
In Orlando, Russell could provide some offensive pep to a team that already sports a top-10 defense. He could find his own shots, work pick-and-choose wonders with Nikola Vucevic or break down defenders to free the Magic’s shooters or above-the-rim finishers.
Golden State, meanwhile, would get a near-perfect roster fit in Aaron Gordon. A frontcourt featuring him and Draymond Green could be as versatile as they come. Gordon is expanding his game as a secondary playmaker and capable shooter. Plus, he would even help its future finances, as his deal decreases in value over the next three seasons.
D.J. Augustin would become the potent backup Curry hasn’t had in years. Golden State’s second unit ranked 28th in scoring last season. Augustin could address that problem. He averaged 11.7 points per game with a pristine 47.0/42.1/86.6 slash line in 2018-19.
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Lynne Sladky/Associated Press
Houston Rockets Receive: Kevin Love
Cleveland Cavaliers Receive: Clint Capela and Eric Gordon
Mike D’Antoni digs the long ball. Each of his three seasons as skipper of the Houston Rockets has resulted in an NBA record for three-pointers.
Kevin Love would be a dream get for Houston’s top decision-makers.
Few bigs are in his class as a shooter—he has the third-most threes among all forwards and centers since 2013-14—which makes him a premium spacer. The offense would grow even harder to handle if he could run pick-and-pops with Harden and Westbrook, hit them on the run with pinpoint outlet passes and simply drag defenders away from their isolation attacks.
The five-time All-Star might not be the highest-profile player Morey has acquired, but he could be among the most important. Love’s arrival would give Houston a legitimate Big Three, which arguably no team has right now after all the offseason activity. He’s been a championship-winning third wheel before, and maybe he could play the same role in the Space City.
This would only work if the Cavs are interested in dealing Love, and they keep swearing they aren’t. But it’s easy to connect the dots. They’re rebuilding, while he’s expensive and approaching his 31st birthday. Cleveland may be making a leverage play to maximize his trade value—which admittedly isn’t great—and this deal might be as good as it can get.
The 25-year-old Clint Capela has building-block potential. His vertical spacing and rim protection would make life easier on young Cavs guards Darius Garland and Collin Sexton. Eric Gordon, meanwhile, would be relatively easy to flip to a contender as a proven performer with playoff experience and an expiring contract.
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Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press
Los Angeles Clippers Receive: Andre Iguodala
Memphis Grizzlies Receive: Maurice Harkless, Jerome Robinson, 2021 and 2023 second-round picks (via Detroit)
The Clippers don’t want to part with Maurice Harkless in a trade for Andre Iguodala, per Stadium’s Shams Charania. The Grizzlies are seeking a first-round pick in exchange for the veteran stopper, per Marc Stein of the New York Times.
So, how does a deal like this get done? Because concessions are often a critical part in negotiations, and this swap would allow the two sides to meet in the middle.
While Harkless is a solid stopper, Iguodala is an all-timer. His defensive effort against LeBron James in the 2015 Finals put a Finals MVP Award in Iguodala’s trophy case. Even if he’s lost a half-step at age 35—an effect he minimizes by pacing himself for the playoffs—his intelligence and hand speed remain elite.
“To me, he’s on par with Scottie Pippen as a defender,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr told NBC Sports’ Tom Haberstroh. “Unbelievably smart. He understands the game as well as anyone I’ve been around—Scottie included.”
A trio of Iguodala, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George would all but guarantee the malfunction of any opposing offense. The upside is too great to let a solid-but-nowhere-near-spectacular player such as Harkless get in the way.
As for the Grizzlies, Jerome Robinson, last summer’s 13th pick, might be as close to a first-rounder as they can fetch in an Iguodala deal. Robinson’s rookie year was quiet, but he didn’t have much of an opportunity. If he finds his NBA footing, his scoring and outside shooting could be long-term assets alongside Ja Morant.
Don’t discount the Detroit selections, either. Each has a chance to fall in the round’s upper half, and the latter could land especially high since the roster will turn over almost entirely by the time it changes hands.
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Steve Dipaola/Associated Press
Los Angeles Lakers Receive: Al-Farouq Aminu
Orlando Magic Receive: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Talen Horton-Tucker
The Lakers already cashed in their best trade chips in the Anthony Davis deal. Kyle Kuzma is still around, but if they didn’t want to trade him for Davis, he could be effectively off-limits.
With only Talen Horton-Tucker—a raw but intriguing 18-year-old—to sweeten the pot, L.A.’s budget is limited. But if it packages Horton-Tucker with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, that could be enough to land Al-Farouq Aminu, a multipositional defender who’s been a full-time starter for the West’s No. 3 seed each of the past two seasons.
His offense is as low-maintenance as it gets. As long as his three-ball is falling (36-plus percent two of the past four seasons), he can pull a defender out to the perimeter or punish those who leave him alone as a spot-up shooter.
But the defensive end is where he cashes his checks—and would increase the Lakers’ championship chances. He can lock up at least three positions and handle switches on all five. That versatility could be critical in helping L.A. manage some potentially massive closing groups. Get him out there with Davis, Kuzma, LeBron James and Danny Green, and the Lakers would be loaded with size and athleticism.
Aminu would make his mark as a hustler, much like he did alongside Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum on the Portland Trail Blazers. Aminu’s willingness to do the dirty work would allow James, Davis and Kuzma to bring their best at basketball’s more glamorous end.
For Orlando, which just inked Aminu to a three-year deal, this swap would better balance its jumbo-size roster and possibly brighten the future with Horton-Tucker. The Magic could use Caldwell-Pope to bulk up their wing rotation, or they can flip him to a team closer to contention in exchange for a pick or prospect.
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Nick Wass/Associated Press
Milwaukee Bucks Receive: Tim Hardaway Jr.
Dallas Mavericks Receive: George Hill, Ersan Ilyasova, Donte DiVincenzo
While not every team might see Tim Hardaway Jr. as an all-in acquisition, the Bucks could be the exception.
For starters, they may quietly be in need of scoring.
After ranking fourth in offensive efficiency last season, they struggled with consistency around Giannis Antetokounmpo in the playoffs. Khris Middleton averaged fewer points per game on worse shooting, while Brook Lopez and Eric Bledsoe morphed into sub-30 percent three-point shooters. Not to mention the shallower roster after the offseason departures of Malcolm Brogdon and Nikola Mirotic.
Hardaway wouldn’t erase that concern, but he’d be another ignitable option to throw at the problem. He averaged at least 17 points and two triples per game in each of the last two seasons. Only 15 other players can say the same.
He also has a history with Bucks skipper Mike Budenholzer, as the pair spent two campaigns together on the Atlanta Hawks. Not coincidentally, those were Hardaway’s two best seasons by true shooting percentage. That offensive success not only netted him a four-year, $71 million deal with the New York Knicks, it also endeared him to his coach.
“He’s so much more than a shooter,” Budenholzer said in July 2017, per Brian Lewis of the New York Post. “He can score at all three different levels: He can score at the rim, he can score in the mid-range, get to the line, threes, transition. He’s just really a dynamic young player.”
Maybe Hardaway isn’t a traditional needle-mover, but Milwaukee isn’t looking for a massive lift. It was a 60-win conference finalist last season. It’s only tweaking minor issues, and he could help at a modest price.
George Hill and Ersan Ilyasova are solid, but they’re replaceable. It would sting a bit to give up Donte DiVincenzo already, but that’d be the only way to get Dallas to bite. Plus, he’s an unknown commodity coming off an unconvincing rookie season. The Bucks could stomach his exit if they think it will bring them closer to a championship.
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Nell Redmond/Associated Press
Philadelphia 76ers Receive: Trevor Ariza
Sacramento Kings Receive: Mike Scott, Zhaire Smith
The 76ers lost shooting, defensive malleability and veteran leadership when Jimmy Butler and JJ Redick headed elsewhere this summer. Adding Trevor Ariza would help restore all three.
The 34-year-old has 102 playoff games under his belt. He’s taken nine different trips to the big dance, winning a championship with the Lakers in 2008-09 and twice reaching the Western Conference Finals with the Rockets. He’d be a plug-and-play option for any contender.
The Kings aren’t that. They might be young, up-and-coming and interesting, but they won’t compete for the crown in the near future, which could make Ariza available next season.
Philly must be ready to pounce if that happens. It needs all the shooting it can get around Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, and Ariza would help. Over the past six seasons, he’s averaged 2.3 triples per game on an above-average 36.1 percent shooting from deep. In 2017-18, when he shared the floor with gravitational forces James Harden and Chris Paul, he hit a blistering 39.9 percent of his catch-and-shoot triples.
At the opposite end, Ariza could make a potentially elite defense even more daunting. While the Sixers finished a middling 14th in defensive efficiency last season, expectations should be sky-high with Al Horford and Josh Richardson joining Simmons and Embiid. That quartet has switch-almost-everything ability, and Ariza would only increase its versatility.
While the Kings may optimistically see Ariza as an accelerator of their rebuild, they likely aren’t ready to take flight. Rather than try to force the issue, they should be open to adding another asset in Zhaire Smith, last summer’s 16th pick. He’d be yet another electric piece in what should be an explosive transition attack.
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Portland Trail Blazers Receive: Kevin Love
Cleveland Cavaliers Receive: Hassan Whiteside, Zach Collins
The Cavs won’t deal Kevin Love without getting back a combination of young players and draft picks, Cleveland.com’s Chris Fedor reported. Given his age (31 in September), injury history (most recently a toe ailment that necessitated surgery and wiped out three-plus months of last season) and colossal contract (four years, $120.4 million), that’s an egregiously high asking price.
In fact, five different executives told The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie they wouldn’t do a Love deal if Cleveland didn’t provide some kind of sweetener (salary relief, draft pick, etc.).
The Cavs need a desperate team, not to meet their preferred rate (no one will), but simply to provide something valuable in return. The Blazers might be that team.
They’re at or nearing now-or-never time with Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum at their peak. They’re also limited in ways of adding help since their financial books have been bloated the past few years.
Love would lock Portland into its core, but if it sees championship potential, that wouldn’t be a problem. Maybe it’s a reach, but a glass-half-full projection is that Love would liven up an already elite offense as a multitalented screener, a floor-spacer, an outlet passer and a slithery post scorer. That could give Portland the NBA’s highest-scoring trio and enough offense to shoot its way through any series.
“If you put a playmaking screen-setter who can shoot next to Dame and CJ, that’s a problem,” ESPN’s Zach Lowe said on Woj and Lowe (via Tim Brown of the Oregonian). “… I would like to see that a lot.”
If Cleveland is honest with itself, it should pounce on this swap.
Once Hassan Whiteside is trade-eligible, his salary would be needed to make the money work. But it’s also expiring, meaning the Cavs would have a clean escape from Love’s big deal.
Portland could put any one of its assets into play—Zach Collins, Anfernee Simons, Nassir Little or a future pick—but Collins might be its preference. With Love and Jusuf Nurkic locked into starting frontcourt spots, Collins, the 10th pick in 2017, would need a change of address to spread his wings.
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Jim Mone/Associated Press
Utah Jazz Receive: Robert Covington
Minnesota Timberwolves Receive: Dante Exum, Tony Bradley, 2021 second-round pick (via Golden State), 2022 second-round pick (via San Antonio)
It took just two NBA seasons for Donovan Mitchell to convince the Jazz their time is now. One Mike Conley trade here, a major-money deal for Bojan Bogdanovic there, and suddenly Utah looks as ferocious as any Western Conference team based outside of Los Angeles.
But the Jazz aren’t in position to rest on their laurels. The conference’s midsection is so tightly packed that one move could have a major influence. For instance, if Utah brokered a deal for three-and-D ace Robert Covington, it might find the missing piece to take it from good to great.
The Jazz have almost everything. Mitchell is an electric force at both ends. Rudy Gobert is the best rim protector in the business. Conley is an ideal sidekick, as he’s comfortable in the spotlight but just as productive outside it. Bogdanovic and Joe Ingles are the sure long-range shooters who keep opposing defenses honest, and they’re also capable of making plays off the dribble.
Still, it’s hard not to envision another opening for a shutdown perimeter stopper. And since Gobert isn’t a spacer, said stopper should shoot the three at a high clip.
Covington can scratch both itches. He’s averaged 2.3 triples per game and hit 36.0 percent of them for his career. In 2017-18, his last full season, he held top-five rankings in defensive win shares (4.5, fifth) and ESPN.com’s defensive real plus-minus (4.24, third).
That could make him a keeper for Minnesota, but the Wolves might prefer to use this trade to get players who better fit the timeline of Karl-Anthony Towns.
Given the club’s question marks at point guard—Jeff Teague’s contract expires next summer—it could be a bigger fan of Dante Exum than most. It might also see Tony Bradley as a suitable long-term backup for Towns. Add a couple of second-rounders to the pot, and Minnesota’s future would brighten a bit.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.