Let's make one thing clear from the jump: Zion Williamson is beyond unlikely to become trade bait. He is the NBA's consensus No. 1 pick by a galaxy-and-a-half, and whichever team wins the draft lottery will likely keep him for themselves.
Potential trades are fun to discuss—especially this year. Not only does Anthony Davis' future factor ever so heavily into our what-if exercise, but this season's batch of potential draft-lottery victors are also populated with a few franchises known for short-circuiting rebuilds or just generally making against-the-grain decisions.
Please, pretty please, with sugar on top, do not interpret inclusion as an endorsement for dealing the No. 1 pick or Zion himself. But if any teams are going to consider such a drastic measure, it'd be these squads.
Odds of Landing No. 1 Pick: 6 percent
Consolidating so many of their assets into Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis (restricted) puts a certain amount of pressure on the Mavericks to rejoin the postseason discussion posthaste. They can do that with Zion Williamson.
He fits the timelines of a 20-year-old Doncic and soon-to-be 24-year-old Porzingis, and Dallas will have a path to difference-making cap space even after accounting for the No. 1 pick's salary. The pull to use Williamson as superstar bait will be appreciably stronger for others.
Odds of Landing No. 1 Pick: 1 percent
Team president Pat Riley isn't one for rebuilds, and the Heat can cobble together some tantalizing Anthony Davis packages with Williamson. But they don't have enough in place to make that kind of all-in-now play.
Best-case scenario: The Heat enter next season with Davis and Josh Richardson as their two best players and a handful of undesirable contracts still on the books. They have designs on making a splash in 2020 free agency, but that summer's class isn't particularly deep. Miami cannot risk dealing Williamson for a potential rental.
Odds of Landing No. 1 Pick: 9 percent
If the Wizards weren't in the middle of a front office regime change and John Wall wasn't on track to miss most of next season, maybe they'd think about cashing in Williamson for another star.
As things stand, though, they're faaaaaar more likely to steer into a reset or run in place than they are to double-down on a nucleus that's down one superstar.
5. Chicago Bulls
Odds of Landing No. 1 Pick: 12.5 percent
Selecting a fifth team for this trip into the hypothetical vortex proved especially difficult. The Chicago Bulls "won" out by checking so many of the boxes that could prompt a franchise to make a surprising move.
Point guard woes are part of the equation, but not all of it. Kris Dunn shouldn't head up an NBA offense, and Zach LaVine is out of his depth as anything more than a second-wheel initiator. Ryan Arcidiacono (restricted) isn't the answer. Shaquille Harrison (non-guaranteed) and Walter Lemon Jr. (non-guaranteed), while keepers following some late-season bravura, are not starter material, either.
Plugging Ja Morant into the backcourt is a winning idea. Pairing his off-ball defense with LaVine's own spaced-outness would be a disaster early on, but he'll be just 20 when next season tips off. He'll get better. His change-of-direction handles and assaults on the rim open up the floor for everyone.
This is not worth punting on Zion Williamson. Nor is the would-be frontcourt logjam. Williamson is best with the ball in his hands unless he's running the break and shot just 2-of-12 on pull-up jumpers at Duke, per Bleacher Report's Jonathan Wasserman. He at least needs to become a reliable standstill shooter to play in tandem with Wendell Carter Jr.
Chicago shouldn't care in a vacuum. Taking Williamson and figuring out the rest later is still the best and safest play. He helps the Bulls' half-court playmaking, and they can sign a point guard. Renounce all their own free agents, and they cruise to more than $17 million in space even if they win the No. 1 pick.
And yet, the Bulls are nothing if not wild cards under general manager Gar Forman and executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson. Williamson gives them an opening to bring Anthony Davis home to Chicago. Maybe ownership has emboldened them enough to roll the dice on a one-year recruiting pitch.
Or perhaps the Bulls are seduced into trading down. Let's say the Atlanta Hawks end up with the No. 2 pick and the Dallas Mavericks' first-rounder, which is top-five protected and can convey as high as ninth overall. Do those two selections plus Taurean Prince and another protected first convince Chicago to fork over Williamson?
Probably not. The Bulls must be infinitely high on Morant and his fit beside LaVine to pull that trigger. But Atlanta itself passed on Luka Doncic, another generational prospect, last June. Chicago's incumbent talent and roster holes could empower the front office to do something similar if presented with the opportunity.
4. Phoenix Suns
Odds of Landing No. 1 Pick: 14 percent
Internetsmiths went wild over an out-of-context nugget from a piece on the Phoenix Suns penned by The Athletic's Sam Vecenie. So, with that in mind, let's actually consider what he wrote:
"Sources around the NBA are buzzing that [Ja] Morant is actually the player the Suns prefer to end up with. Particularly, [James] Jones is thought to be a fan of the dynamic lead guard. It’s not a surprise, given their need at the point guard position. But color me skeptical that the team would actually take him at No. 1. The financial windfall any team figures to experience by selecting [Zion] Williamson is real. He comes in ready-made not only as an elite level player, but also as a marketing tool that will bring fans out to games, create a large amount of merchandising sales, and likely even see commercial opportunities. It’s hard for me to see any owner passing that up, particularly when one is as meddlesome in basketball operations as [Robert] Sarver."
This is eons away from saying Phoenix definitely wants Morant over Williamson. The Suns are suckers for self-destruction. See: Their decision to fire head coach Igor Kokoskov after one year because they're rebuilding and initially hired him to coach a veteran roster they never actually had. But this Ja-over-Zion non-buzz is preliminary and was debunked by both Vecenie himself and John Gambadoro of Arizona Sports 98.7.