The Brooklyn Nets went all-in on James Harden, surrendering control of their first-round picks through 2027 and sacrificing depth in exchange for superstar talent that (they hope) will give them a better shot at a championship.
It was a bold bet. Maybe even a desperate one. The Harden trade presents several unknowns and risks—not the least of which is that it might not even make the Nets objectively better this season, because: defense. But on some level, you've got to admire the commitment.
As a result of various future draft encumbrances, most of the top-flight championship-chasing squads cannot trade a first-round pick. The Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers, Miami Heat and Milwaukee Bucks all have their hands tied, so they can't realistically put together a package for a superstar.
The Utah Jazz belong in the next tier down, but they're already vet-heavy, won't trade Donovan Mitchell and can't offer a first-rounder until 2026. They're out, too. The Phoenix Suns can't move a first until 2027 and basically already swung their win-now move by adding Chris Paul.
A few other secondary title threats have the assets to go big.
Let's see what's possible if those organizations were to be overtaken by a Nets-ian level of win-now-at-all-costs conviction.
Boston Celtics: Nikola Vucevic
Boston Celtics Get: Nikola Vucevic
Orlando Magic Get: Marcus Smart, Payton Pritchard, Tristan Thompson, Robert Williams III, unprotected 2022 first-round pick
The Boston Celtics' $28.5 million trade exception, generated in the Gordon Hayward deal over the offseason, isn't actually worth that much. Because Boston used its taxpayer mid-level exception, it's hard-capped this year, which means it can only use $21.8 million of its TPE.
That rules out using it on pricier trade targets, but it's still one of Boston's most valuable tools. The Celtics could use it to get Aaron Gordon from the Orlando Magic, for example.
Dreaming bigger would require the Celtics to package a bunch of salary and attach it to draft compensation. Maybe their trade partners would rather have picks and salary relief than a wad of unwanted cash, but the Celtics could acquire a higher-end piece this way. And they have the assets to pull it off.
Nikola Vucevic is one of the best offensive centers in the game, and he's been part of quality Magic defenses for several years now. Boston head coach Brad Stevens has a track record of conjuring schematic magic to produce strong defenses with less-than-ideal personnel up front, so we should trust him to make it work with Vooch.
To get him, the Celtics would need to surrender Marcus Smart, Payton Pritchard, Tristan Thompson (can't move until Feb. 28) and Robert Williams III, plus at least one unprotected first-rounder.
That sounds like a lot, especially with Pritchard and Smart involved. But this raises the Celtics' offensive ceiling with a spacer and scorer at the 5 like they've never had before. Daniel Theis could slip into the reserve role for which he's better suited, still providing defensive optionality against the right matchups. Meanwhile, Vucevic could produce a supercharged version of the bygone Al Horford era with his high-volume scoring.
It's risky, but that's kind of the point here.
Dallas Mavericks: Victor Oladipo
Dallas Mavericks Get: Victor Oladipo
Houston Rockets Get: James Johnson, Tyrell Terry, Josh Green and a lottery-protected 2026 first-round pick
The Dallas Mavericks will have to wait until Feb. 2 to test the waters on this one, as league rules preclude Victor Oladipo from being traded again (as part of a multi-player package) until 19 days after he was last dealt.
That's no big deal. Dallas can wait until then.