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Likely candidates for next blockbuster moves

January 21st, 2021

In the NBA, stars drive everything. To win a championship, you need at least one star player, and ideally you have two or three. Because of that, as quickly as one star player is traded, we immediately begin looking for who’s next.

Often, these players come from downtrodden franchises. Places where players have lingered long past any hope of a championship remains. These players are often in the middle of their careers, under contract for at least two to three more seasons and, most importantly, true difference makers. On occasion, they’re slightly older, but with plenty left in the tank to put a team over the hump.

With James Harden now in Brooklyn to seek glory with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving on the Nets, who is the next star to be moved?

The Mid-Career Superstars

Bradley Beal is almost always on the list of players likely to be traded. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Bradley Beal

The Washington Wizards star guard headlines any list like this. He’s terrific, despite never quite getting the recognition he deserves. He’s signed through 2021-22, with a player option for 2022-23. And he’s languished in Washington on teams that have never been more than slightly above average. That checks all the boxes for a star deal.

Beal is in his ninth season somehow, but he’s only 27 years old. After dealing with injuries throughout the early part of his career, Beal’s gotten and stayed healthy for several years running now. Beal scored over 30 points per game last season and is set to easily top that this year.

Because he’s on his second contract, his deal hasn’t reached that difficult-to-move barrier of $40+ million. Because he’s an excellent shooter, and comfortable both on and off-ball, Beal is easy to fit in alongside any other star player or players. Combine it all, and it’s easy to see why he’ll be high on the list of those seeking to add a star via trade.

Karl-Anthony Towns

Towns has spent the entirety of his six-year career with the Minnesota Timberwolves and has been on an over-.500 team just once. That success was short-lived, as Jimmy Butler forced his way out of town and Minnesota went back to its perpetual rebuilding ways.

Towns leaves a lot to be desired as a defender, but on that one successful Wolves team, he showed signs of being a capable defensive big man. In the right scheme, with the right teammates, he’s probably fine. But no one is trading for Towns to anchor their defense.

Trade for Towns and you get arguably the league’s most versatile offensive big outside of Nikola Jokic. For his career, Towns has averaged 22.7 points per game and done so on 53.3%/39.6%/83.3% shooting splits. He has 50/40/90 potential as a 7-footer.

Other attractive reasons to trade for Towns are that he’s 25 years old and he’s signed through 2023-24 with no options. Get him and you’ve got your center spot filled for years to come.

Ben Simmons

Simmons is in a bit of a weird spot. He’s in his fifth season and most of them have been successful. Philadelphia is, and projects to stay, a good team for a while. And Simmons is locked up through 2024-25 with no options.

So … why include him here? Two main reasons. First, we know he’s already been mentioned in trade talks with Houston and rumored to have been discussed a couple of other times, too. That says he’s gettable and that matters.

Second, until they get the 76ers in a spot where they are true Finals contenders, there will be questions about Simmons’ and Joel Embiid’s fit together. Given Embiid’s status as one of the game’s best big men and the jewel of The Process years for Philadelphia, he seems less likely to be moved. That leaves Simmons with his non-shooting, league’s-biggest-point-guard game.

Because of his varied and unique skill set, Simmons is a player opposing teams will easily talk themselves into trading for. Put the right cast of shooters around him, and maybe you can contend for a title. And because he’s 24 and signed long-term, the Sixers will have no shortage of suitors if they have put him on the block.

Expiring All-Stars

Victor Oladipo passes between Chicago Bulls forward Thaddeus Young and guard Zach LaVine.
Even though Victor Oladipo just got traded to the Rockets, his deal is expiring and he could be on the move again soon. (AP Photo/Matt Marton)

Victor Oladipo

Oladipo just got traded from the Indiana Pacers to the Houston Rockets, but there is a sense he may not be long for Houston. If the Rockets fall out of the playoff race at any point over the next two months, leading up to the NBA trade deadline, look for Oladipo to be flipped.

A team acquiring Oladipo would be making a somewhat risky bet. He’s seemed healthy this year, after two lost seasons due to injury. With that health has come a bounce back in his game. He again looks like the guy who was an All-NBA performer in 2018.

The challenge, if Oladipo continues that strong play, comes when he’s a free agent this summer. That means committing to a big contract or watching him leave with nothing to show for it. That’s the risk involved with making a deal for Oladipo.

On the plus side, Houston is probably only looking to add to its growing stash of draft picks vs. acquiring top-end young talent. And because Oladipo makes $21 million, his salary is easily movable. Any number of contenders could convince themselves that he’ll put them over the top, making him a player to keep an eye on.

Andre Drummond

Drummond’s inclusion here is a bit odd, given he was just traded at last season’s deadline for only a second-round pick and some expiring contracts. But a lot has changed since then.

This season, Drummond looks like he’s on a mission. He’s averaging 19.3 points and a league-leading 15.8 rebounds. He’s also playing defense better than he has most years. For teams looking for a big, Drummond makes sense.

Why would the Cleveland Cavaliers deal him? They just traded for their center of the future in Jarrett Allen. Drummond is set to be a free agent this coming summer. This is a chance to get something for him before losing him for nothing.

The other thing to keep in mind is that because he’s now on an expiring deal, Drummond should fetch more for the Cavs than they gave up to get him. That’s always a win for a front office. Expect to hear Drummond’s name mentioned a lot leading up to the trade deadline.

Aging Duos

Miami Heat guard Kendrick Nunn shoots the ball against San Antonio Spurs guard DeMar DeRozan and center LaMarcus Aldridge.
Have we seen the last of DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge in San Antonio? (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan

Aldridge and DeRozan aren’t getting dealt together in tandem. They make too much combined money for any one team to take both of them on. But both are on expiring contracts and seem to be playing out their final year in San Antonio.

If the Spurs fall out of the playoff/play-in race, look for them to at least see what they can get for either former All-Star. San Antonio rarely gets involved in midseason trades, but this could be one time where you see them look to capitalize.

Aldridge fits as a four/five for most contenders. DeRozan is a playmaking and scoring wing, despite his lack of outside shooting. Both have contracts that are relatively easily movable. This is a spot to watch, as odd as it would be to see the Spurs get active in-season.

Al Horford and George Hill

When the Oklahoma City Thunder acquired Horford and Hill this summer, they were expected to be a way station to another destination for both veterans. The Thunder are in the middle of an impressive teardown, and Horford and Hill are both a means to adding to Sam Presti’s impressive pile of picks.

Because Horford can fit in as a stretch-five who can play a little bit at the four (alongside the right center), he’s a solid fit for most contenders. That his contract for 2022-23 is only partially guaranteed helps, too.

Hill has been an off-the-bench contributor/spot starter for years for good teams. His contract is just $9.6 million this year and very lightly guaranteed for 2021-22, making him easily tradable, as well. It would be a minor surprise see the Thunder finish the season with both Horford and Hill on the roster.

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