By Alex Kurpeski
As much as we love the on-court product of the NBA, oftentimes the most interesting aspect of the sport is the transactions that occur behind the scenes. Personally, the team-construction aspect of basketball is easily my favorite to follow, as the decision-making behind personnel changes is always so fascinating. Though this has been a strange season, the offseason may be even stranger. As it stands right now, several star players appear restless in their current situations and could attempt to escape before the 2020-21 season tips off. With that being said, here are a handful of situations that could be combust when NBA Bubble closes.
C Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers
Trade Likelihood: 50%
Following another early exit from the postseason, the Sixers must make a move this offseason to become unstuck from the Big centric lineup that was exposed by Boston. The signings of Al Horford and Tobias Harris have put this team in a major financial bind, with the only out being a trade centered around Embiid or Ben Simmons. While Embiid did play his heart out for most of the series against the Celtics, his poor conditioning once again undermined what could have been a huge breakout series for the All-Star big man. Yes, Simmons missed the series, but the Sixers were talented enough to take at least a couple games from a Boston squad that was without Gordon Hayward for half of the series. Throughout the series, Embiid seemed disassociated with his teammates, oftentimes appearing flustered with the situation at hand.
I’m still really unhappy
— Joel “Troel” Embiid (@JoelEmbiid) September 2, 2020
Unless some suitor steps up to take Horford or Harris off of Philly’s hands, trading Embiid could be the only viable maneuver to retool this lineup. Choosing between Embiid and Simmons is a very tough call, but the two-way upside of Simmons in combination with his uncanny playmaking ability makes him a much better fit with the likes of Horford and Harris. An Embiid deal could also fetch the Sixers an ungodly package composed of either draft picks and players or a certified star (Bradley Beal, Zach Lavine) plus some lesser picks & prospects. I get that trading a true superstar is almost always going to make a team worse. However, in Philly’s case, they have to get worse if they ever want to get better.
PG/PF Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers
Trade Likelihood: 40%
If Embiid is made untouchable by the Sixers, one has to imagine Simmons will be available in talks. Before injuring his knee, Simmons was averaging his typical near triple-double line of 16.4 PPG, 8.0 APG, and 7.8 RPG along with a league-leading 2.1 steals per game. Yet as talented as he is, Simmons once again failed to develop a three-point shot, continuing to hold back the offensive ceiling of Philadelphia with his limited arsenal. We keep waiting to see the Giannis Antetokounmpo-Esque breakout for Simmons that has been promised since he entered the league. Simmons’ tentative nature combined with injury issues — that always flare up at the most inconvenient times — have stymied the former No. 1 overall pick’s development in the last few seasons. While a Simmons trade package could fetch a haul similar to the one that could be had for Embiid, his potential ceiling far outweighs that of Embiid. It will certainly be intriguing to see how Philly’s front office handles the situation. One thing is for certain: there’s no longer room for both Embiid and Simmons in the Sixers lineup. It would be very surprising if both players were in the lineup for Philly next season.
I would trade both Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons for Jayson Tatum and honestly not even think twice about it
— Eliot Shorr-Parks (@EliotShorrParks) September 1, 2020
SG/SF Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards
Trade Likelihood: 50%
Beal has to be traded at some point. The All-Star two-guard has been the only good thing for Washington since John Wall’s injury in 2018. Despite averaging 30.5 PPG on 45.5% shooting, the Wizards won only 25 games this season, looking helpless against some of the better teams in the East. Even if Wall returns to form — if he ever returns from his injury, that is — the upside of this Wizards team is barely one resembling a playoff contender. The potential return that could be had for a scorer of Beal’s caliber would immediately contribute to the Wizards’ rebuild, as one has to imagine the team could fetch at least a trio of first-round picks as well as some decent players. With teams like the Sixers, Nets, Thunder, and Mavericks in possession of both the draft capital and proven talent necessary to pull off a deal for Beal, Washington could push the former third overall pick’s price as high as they damn well please. In a league where you need to score in order to win, acquiring a player like Beal who can operate comfortably as both an on and off-ball scorer while also playing decent defense is a championship-winning move. The Wizards can leverage that narrative to get anything they could possibly desire in exchange.
SG Buddy Hield, Sacramento Kings
Trade Likelihood: 65%
Hield was relegated to bench duty only a few months after signing a lucrative extension to remain with the Kings through 2024. Hield clearly did not intend to be a sixth-man when he signed that extension. With Vlade Divac no longer employed as GM for Sacramento, Hield could be a name to monitor in trade talks this offseason. Call him one dimensional if you’d like, but Hield is an elite three-point shooter in a league dominated by players who excel in that area. On the right team, Hield could be an incredibly dominant tertiary scorer. While it’s a bit of a stretch to call him a superstar, he could fit nicely as the third piece for a team like the Lakers or Sixers who could use a high-volume shooter like Hield. Though his shooting percentage from three-point range dipped below 40% last season, he was over that threshold in each of the previous two campaigns, operating as a particularly dangerous offensive weapon alongside De’Aaron Fox in 2019. With Hield, what you see is what you get. He’s a mediocre defender and a “meh” playmaker but what he lacks in those departments he more than makes up for with his scoring prowess.
NBA exec tells me Sacramento Kings interim GM Joe Dumars should:
– Trade Buddy Hield
– Keep De’Aaron Fox, Bogdan Bogdanovic
– Clean up culture after years of bad drafts, imprudent spending and a pernicious environment where mistakes were not admittedhttps://t.co/O9SeOm2kA9
— Jason Anderson (@JandersonSacBee) August 17, 2020
PF Kevin Love, Cleveland Cavaliers
Trade Likelihood: 75%
Both Kevin Love and the Cavs want this divorce to happen. The only problem is that trading Love and his massive contract may not return the haul the Cleveland might be expecting. It was reported earlier this season that teams were asking Cleveland to package a future pick with Love in order to take on his contract. While Love is no longer the All-Star version of himself, his value is much greater than that, even with such a hefty contract. A big man who can shoot the deep ball and net a double-double on a nightly basis will always be valuable somewhere. Though he has his shortcomings as a defender, Love is still an above-average player who could excel for a team that he fits with properly. The Cavs could use some draft capital and youth to accelerate their own rebuild. Love will be traded eventually, but his contract may delay his departure well into next season.
PF Blake Griffin, Detroit Pistons
The 2018-2019 version of Griffin was truly outstanding. Viewed for a long time as simply a dunker, Griffin shot 36% from three-point range while taking 7 treys per game. His revamped offensive game carried Detroit to the playoffs, where they were quickly dispatched by Milwaukee. Fast forward a year and Griffin is no longer relevant after playing in only 15 games for the Pistons due to injury. Andre Drummond is gone and Griffin might have been dealt too if he wasn’t injured at the trade deadline. Where Griffin fits as a 30-year-old power forward with average defensive skill is unclear. Perhaps a team like the Celtics would be willing to take on his contract in a trade for oft-injured SF Gordon Hayward. Griffin is an excellent playmaker for a big man and is capable of dominating on the boards when he’s healthy. Though his health and contract are a bit sketchy right now, something tells me that a team will talk themselves into making a move for the 18-19 version of Griffin this offseason.
SG/PG C.J McCollum, Portland Trailblazers
The undersized backcourt duo of McCollum and Damian Lillard has been fun while it lasted. Yet this season, Portland’s lack of defense and wing talent sunk them to the 8th seed, where they were dismantled by the Lakers. Trading Lillard after his spectacular run in the bubble would be inexcusable, so McCollum is the odd man out in this retool. A lowercase star on his best days, C.J may also benefit from a change of scenery, as his scoring and playmaking ability could make him a household name on a team of his own. In looking for some potential matches, Portland could definitely improve by dealing McCollum and some of their prospects for a proven wing like Khris Middleton, Ben Simmons, or Bradley Beal who could hold their own on defense while adding a different element of scoring to Portland’s offense.