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David Zalubowski/Associated Press
It’s the most wonderful time of the (hoops) year.
NBA trade season is upon us, meaning we might be mere seconds away from the next Woj Bomb detonating or a Shams Wow sending basketball Twitter into a frenzy.
Because of a combination of expert reporting and a thick cloud of smoke screens ahead of the March 25 deadline, many trades are telegraphed to some degree. But the true internet-breakers are the blockbusters that come together in silence—”G”-in-lasagna style.
These aren’t just out-of-the-box transactions; they’re off the grid entirely. They’re the megaswaps we’re out to make courtesy of the trade machines that earn their keep this time of year.
We’ll liberally apply the definition of “realistic” in terms of availability, but we’ll strictly adhere to it when it comes to the value of incoming and outgoing trade packages. The stars listed seem unlikely to need change-of-address forms, but if they were to fill one out, these are the kinds of offers that could be the reason.
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Jacob Kupferman/Associated Press
Charlotte Hornets receive: Zach LaVine, Thaddeus Young and Luke Kornet
Chicago Bulls receive: Terry Rozier, Miles Bridges, Malik Monk, Cody Zeller and 2021 first-round pick (top-five protected)
Between LaMelo Ball’s rapid ascension and Gordon Hayward earning every penny of his $120 million pact, Buzz City is buzzing again. I’m writing from South Florida, and even down here you can catch traces of the Hornets’ hum.
Charlotte could play out the campaign as constructed to gauge exactly where the club’s ceiling sits, but where’s the fun in that? Why not throw caution to the wind with the kind of aggressive offer that might pull first-time All-Star Zach LaVine out of the Windy City?
The Hornets’ 18th-ranked offense could get a turbo boost from LaVine, a nightly supplier of 28.7 points, 5.0 assists and 3.6 triples. If it’s possible to elevate his efficiency any higher—he already has an immaculate 52.4/44.2/85.7 shooting slash—he could benefit from lining up alongside shot-creators like Ball (6.1 assists), Devonte’ Graham (5.7) and Hayward (3.7).
Tack on Thaddeus Young as a do-it-all forward and Luke Kornet as…well, a break-glass-in-case-of-emergency big man, and Charlotte could feel confident about not only securing its first playoff trip since 2016 but also potentially skirting the play-in tournament to get there.
For Chicago, this only works if the front office doesn’t want to cover the costs of LaVine’s 2022 free agency, which sure seems like it’ll land in max-money territory. This regime isn’t the one that brought him to the Bulls, so maybe it’s less married to the idea of keeping him than the previous one would’ve been.
If that’s the case, the Bulls can cut the cord while adding multiple assets. Miles Bridges offers a nice blend of floor and ceiling—not to mention gravity-defying hops—and Malik Monk, a restricted-free-agent-to-be, shows flashes of knockout-power scoring punch. Terry Rozier can be a backcourt fit with Coby White, and Rozier’s 2022 free agency shouldn’t be nearly as costly.
A lightly protected pick in a potentially loaded draft from a team not guaranteed to make the playoffs is a nice pull. Finally, Cody Zeller offers financial relief by way of his expiring $15.4 million salary, and he’s serviceable enough to step in should Chicago follow this trade by sending out one or more of its young frontcourt players.
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Craig Mitchelldyer/Associated Press
Portland Trail Blazers receive: Nikola Vucevic, Evan Fournier and Michael Carter-Williams (after March 3)
Orlando Magic receive: Jusuf Nurkic, Anfernee Simons, Zach Collins, Derrick Jones Jr., Rodney Hood (after March 3) and 2023 first-round pick (lottery protected)
Damian Lillard is a magician. Except where other illusionists wow by making a person disappear, Portland’s All-Star (and MVP candidate) is dazzling by making a Blazers team that’s missing several disappeared persons seem whole.
Portland sits sixth in the Western Conference despite: not having Zach Collins (ankle) all season and losing both Jusuf Nurkic (broken wrist) and CJ McCollum (broken foot) in consecutive contests. That warrants a huge tip of the cap to Lillard—but he’d rather have healthy teammates than a hat tip.
“You always see moments where they can help the team and impact the game,” Lillard said, per The Athletic’s Jason Quick.
Waiting on McCollum makes sense. The scoring guard was playing the best basketball of his career before he went down in mid-January. But Nurkic is a different story. He wasn’t exactly setting the world ablaze before his injury, and even at his best, he tops out as a slightly above-average center.
Imagine if the Blazers had an All-Star in Nurkic’s spot. That’s what they’d be getting in Nikola Vucevic, who earned the honor for the second time in three seasons. He’s becoming mind-numbingly good on the offensive end. His 24.1 points and 2.5 threes per game and 40.0 three-point percentage are all easily career highs. His spacing and secondary playmaking would both perk up what’s already the Association’s seventh-best attack.
Portland could double-dip into the offensive end by also nabbing Evan Fournier, whose quick-strike scoring and complementary shot-creating would be perfect in a sixth-man role. Add Michael Carter-Williams for defense and a pinch of playmaking, and Portland could give Lillard the help he needs to enter the West’s elite and perhaps capture that MVP honor.
As for Orlando, this would be an overdue shift toward the future. Collins is 23, Anfernee Simons is 21 and Derrick Jones Jr. is only 24. All three could be keepers. If the Magic rebound sooner than later—they could be interesting with healthy versions of Markelle Fultz and Jonathan Isaac next season—the 26-year-old Nurkic could work his way into the core too.
Rodney Hood is primarily a money-matcher, but if he could ever regain his scoring touch, he’d give help where Orlando’s 28th-ranked offense needs it. With Lillard and Vucevic on the wrong side of 30 and McCollum getting there in September, the Magic might have an interesting gamble with the incoming future first-round pick.
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Sam Hodde/Associated Press
Boston Celtics receive: Kristaps Porzingis and Trey Burke
Dallas Mavericks receive: Kemba Walker, Robert Williams III, Grant Williams, 2021 first-round pick (top-10 protected) and 2021 second-round pick
The Mavericks could use a shake-up, so much so they’ve poked around for Kristaps Porzingis trades, per B/R’s Jake Fischer. The Celtics are scuffling in a bad way and previously “tried like hell” to move Kemba Walker, per FS1’s Ric Bucher.
Could Dallas and Boston scratch each other’s itch?
The Celtics need a center, having left their Al Horford-sized hole on the interior unfilled since the big man bolted in 2019. A healthy Porzingis—admittedly, something seen only slightly more often than Bigfoot—is more interesting than anyone in Boston’s center rotation. He still offers the unicorn blend of shooting and shot-blocking as the only player with career averages of 2.0 blocks and 1.5 triples in NBA history.
Porzingis seems over his head as a second star, but the Celtics could slide him down a rung behind All-Star swingmen Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. That could be a ferocious triumvirate for the rest of the roster to follow, and all three players contribute at both ends. Tack on Trey Burke to give the second unit a needed dose of consistent scoring, and maybe the Shamrocks have what they need to rejoin the East’s elite.
The Mavs, meanwhile, might do good to turn Porzingis—a 7’3″ center with a frightening injury history and a massive contract—into a pair of prospects and two draft picks. And, oh yeah, a four-time All-Star in Walker, who, when he’s right, offers enough scoring, table-setting and outside shooting to coexist with and complement Luka Doncic.
Robert Williams III could fit the athletic, rim-running role that has so often worked in coach Rick Carlisle’s offense. Grant Williams would increase the frontcourt’s flexibility as a small-ball big with a sky-high hoops IQ. Throw in the draft consideration, and that might be enough for the Mavs to swap out their 25-year-old, high-priced injury risk for an equally expensive 30-year-old with lingering knee concerns.
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David Zalubowski/Associated Press
Denver Nuggets receive: Pascal Siakam
Toronto Raptors receive: Michael Porter Jr., R.J. Hampton, Gary Harris and 2021 first-round pick (lottery protected)
With the Raptors lagging behind the East’s elite and trade winds swirling around franchise icon Kyle Lowry, it’s fair to wonder whether they might be ready for a direction change. If they are, it’s fair to question whether they’d want to remain on the hook for the $106.3 million owed to Pascal Siakam for the next three seasons.
The 26-year-old forward (27 in April) failed to secure a return trip to the All-Star Game, and he hasn’t looked too convincing as an organizational centerpiece. Get him to Denver, though, and he could share second-fiddle duties with Jamal Murray in support of all-galaxy center Nikola Jokic. The Nuggets should immediately have a championship-caliber Big Three, and this wouldn’t gut their supporting cast.
Despite flashes from Michael Porter Jr., the trademark consistency of Paul Millsap and some two-way assistance from JaMychal Green, the Nuggets miss Jerami Grant. Siakam could be a super-charged replacement. He can defend multiple positions, score from inside and out and supply some shot-creation.
Denver should hear a championship opportunity knocking with Jokic’s rise as a top-three MVP candidate. The time to swing for the fences is now, and a trade for Siakam could be a moonshot.
If Toronto is ready to think about the future, this trade would brighten its outlook.
Porter might be the Association’s most coveted young trade chip. The 22-year-old is a walking bucket and a matchup terror as a 6’10” forward who can shred nets at every level. His rise to stardom (or offensive stardom, at least) seems more a matter of when than if. He hasn’t even played 100 career games, and he’s already averaging 19.4 points per 36 minutes on 49.8/40.5/81.3 shooting.
The Raptors could probably have their pick of Zeke Nnaji or R.J. Hampton, but the latter gets the nod here for his sky-high ceiling. The bouncy 20-year-old plays the game faster than most and reads it faster than most rookies. Gary Harris would get the money to match, but Toronto could also see value in a relentless 26-year-old defender who once shot 39-plus percent from deep in back-to-back seasons.
Throw a first-round pick into the mix, and maybe this is enough for the Raptors to build a new blueprint for their next chapter.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.