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Kim Klement/Associated Press
Any major changes to the NBA landscape this offseason will almost certainly take place in the trade market.
The 2020 draft class is light on star power. Free agency underwhelms with limited spending money and difference-makers, especially if Anthony Davis and Brandon Ingram stay put as expected.
That should shift focus over to trades, and there’s a non-zero chance things could get wild. You can stay within the outskirts of reality and still picture scenarios in which any of the following stars are traded away: Giannis Antetokounmpo, James Harden, Paul George, Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, Jrue Holiday, Bradley Beal, Rudy Gobert, CJ McCollum and Gordon Hayward.
But while it’s possible basketball becomes overrun with blockbusters, our crystal ball doesn’t envision quite that level of wheeling and dealing. It does, however, see the following five players filling out change-of-address forms.
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Ashley Landis/Associated Press
History will remember San Antonio’s 2019-20 season as the streak-snapper, but the Spurs might see this inflection point in a different light. Rather than mourn the loss of their death-and-taxes consistency, they should be celebrating the new life afforded them by their young core, almost all of whom opened eyes inside the Florida bubble.
It’s a sneaky-exciting time for San Antonio—or at least it will be once the organization clears out the remaining veterans to open more opportunities for the up-and-comers.
DeMar DeRozan should be at the forefront of this transformation. He’ll be the highest-paid player on the roster whenever he picks up his $27.7 million player option and arguably the one who most interests the trade market. That status is due in equal parts to his impressive productivity (22.1 points and 5.6 assists per game this past season) and enormous expiring salary.
The scoring-starved Orlando Magic had interest last November. The Brooklyn Nets might picture him handling their third-star duties. The Milwaukee Bucks need another half-court scoring threat, and maybe they’ll convince themselves they can live with his lack of spacing. He’ll have suitors.
He might be open to a fresh start, too. An anonymous agent told The Athletic, “DeMar doesn’t like San Antonio and doesn’t want to be there.” That’s the same thing CNBC’s Jabari Young previously said on ESPN San Antonio’s The Blitz.
A DeRozan deal seems best for all involved parties.
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Eric Gay/Associated Press
Has Aaron Gordon plateaued, or are the Orlando Magic to blame for his lack of development? That’s hard to answer from the outside, but his tools and pedigree (No. 4 pick in 2014) could garner him interesting-project status elsewhere.
He’s had five different coaches in six years. The highest-ranked offense he’s played in ranked 22nd (2018-19 and 2015-16). Orlando’s overcrowded frontcourt has often pushed him out to the perimeter (33 percent of his career minutes have come at the 3), where his weaknesses become more glaring. Asking him to cook wing defenders off the bounce is setting him up for failure.
A different coaching staff might repurpose him as a small-ball big in the Draymond Green role. Gordon has the agility and quickness to cover significant ground defensively, and his athleticism could be better utilized in a screening role. In Orlando, though, he finished just 25 possessions as a pick-and-roll screener in 62 games this past season.
Gordon needs a fresh start, and Orlando seems willing to make it happen.
“They were really trying to deal him before the deadline but they weren’t getting the assets back they wanted,” an Eastern Conference executive told Forbes’ Sean Deveney. “… He’s probably the most likely big name to be traded.”
The Minnesota Timberwolves and Golden State Warriors, who own the first and second overall picks in the 2020 nba draft, respectively, are both fascinating fits for Gordon. The Brooklyn Nets, San Antonio Spurs and Portland Trail Blazers also rank among the many teams that should be eager to get him out of Orlando and into a more suitable role on a functional offense.
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Steve Dipaola/Associated Press
Hield’s demotion to the second team is responsible for multiple reasons.
For starters, he lost his opening gig in 2019-20, and his four-year, $88 million extension doesn’t start until 2020-21. How many teams are in a position where they can justify paying a $22 million annual salary to a spark-plug sub? Who knows, but the Kings are most certainly not.
Despite having not booked a playoff trip since 2006, their roster is pricey and will only get more expensive when Bogdan Bogdanovic gets a new deal and De’Aaron Fox is extended.
Then, the Kings must consider their best basketball of the season came after Hield’s ouster. Before making the move, they went 15-29 and ranked 24th in net rating (minus-3.5). After replacing Hield with Bogdanovic, they closed on a 16-12 stretch and jumped to 14th in net efficiency (plus-0.6).
Sacramento has to at least consider keeping Hield in the second unit going forward, which won’t make him happy. A February report from The Athletic said Hield “might request a trade” if his role didn’t change, and when pressed about continuing on in a bench role next season, he offered only a cryptic response.
“Y’all know me,” Hield told reporters in August. “Y’all know how I talk. Y’all know how I feel. Y’all can read me well, so I’ll let y’all answer that yourselves.”
A split seems inevitable, which should be music to the ears of every win-now team in need of extra shooting. The Philadelphia 76ers and Los Angeles Lakers, in particular, seem like natural landing spots if they can find the trade assets to interest the Kings.
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Kim Klement/Associated Press
Unrestricted free agency awaits Victor Oladipo in 2021, but he could escape the Circle City even sooner.
Despite what he told Fat Joe on Instagram Live—modern media over everything!—there are more than a few whispers about Oladipo wanting a way out.
The Athletic’s Jared Weiss reported that Oladipo is “looking to move on this offseason,” which the Indianapolis Star‘s J. Michael corroborated. The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor added hearing of the guard’s “openness to a trade” since January.
Increasing the odds of an offseason split is that Indiana may be hesitant about covering the cost of his next contract. He’s a two-time All-Star, sure, but he basically played one of his first seven seasons near an elite level. Plus, he hasn’t looked the same since suffering a serious knee injury in Jan. 2019. He could still get back to stardom, but do the Pacers want to bet a max contract on his chances?
If Indiana can get decent value from the trade market, this feels like a natural breaking point. Oladipo can get his money elsewhere, while the Pacers can quickly reset around 24-year-old All-Star Domantas Sabonis and new head coach Nate Bjorkgren.
Despite Oladipo’s recent inconsistency, Indy wouldn’t have trouble generating interest. If he gets back to 100 percent, he combines suffocating on-ball defense with off-the-dribble shot creation, rim attacks, secondary playmaking and enough three-point shooting to keep defenders honest.
The Bucks have already discussed an Oladipo deal, per O’Connor, and the Miami Heat, Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers and Philadelphia 76ers all loom as logical suitors.
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Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press
Chris Paul spent the 2019-20 campaign transforming the Oklahoma City Thunder and repairing whatever reputation damage he suffered during his two seasons alongside James Harden on the Houston Rockets. After he prepared to depart from the bubble, he was feeling reflective and hit Twitter to share his thoughts.
“I don’t know what the future holds,” he said during the two-minute clip. “… Oklahoma City will always have a special place in my heart.”
It sounded like a see-you-when-I-see-you sendoff, which feels notable for this reason: He’s still under contract next season and holds a $44.2 million player option for 2021-22 he’s almost guaranteed to pick up.
But the Thunder, who mutually parted ways with head coach Billy Donovan in September, are approaching a full-scale rebuild. And Paul, who turned 35 in May, can’t contribute more to that process than fetching a healthy return on the trade market.
His age and salary might diminish his value, but they won’t erase it. Not when he’s on a short list of the league’s top impact players.
He was one of eight players to average 17 points, six assists and five rebounds in 2019-20, and he tied for the second-best plus/minus in that group (plus-4.7 points per game). He paced the point guard position and ranked fifth overall with a 5.51 real plus-minus, per ESPN. Oklahoma City was a whopping 13.4 points better per 100 possessions with him than without.
Get him on the right club and his transformational talent might be the missing ingredient in a championship recipe. The Milwaukee Bucks, Los Angeles Lakers, Philadelphia 76ers and Los Angeles Clippers should all already be working the phones for the Point God.