Ahead of a typical offseason, the NBA is home to many obvious blockbuster-trade possibilities. Spotting the next potentially disgruntled or available star is easy—implicit, even. Rarely are we left racking our brains, reaching for theories and possibilities that border on conspiracy.
Except for right now.
Read More- How New York Knicks responded to Kristaps Porzingis' trade request
Many members of basketball intelligentsia have decided Bradley Beal is the next superstar on the move. But he has indicated, repeatedly, time after time, he doesn't want to leave the Washington Wizards. He defaults to one of those reaches until the words coming directly out of his mouth suggest otherwise.
After him, the star-trade field is without depth. The Chicago Bulls shooed away the vultures circling Zach LaVine (for now) by mortgaging part of their future to get Nikola Vucevic. The Karl-Anthony Towns talk is at least a year away—and may never genuinely start. Free agency offers zero alternatives unless you believe Kawhi Leonard (player option) will bolt the Los Angeles Clippers.
This comes off as a bummer for all the tradeniks. It is also somewhat immaterial. There is always a next star up on the chopping block, even if we cannot immediately identified. Star turnover is just as much a part of the game as the game themselves. Another marquee name or two or more will be up for grabs over the offseason.
And in the spirit of that inevitability, we've cobbled together a list of teams who need to be ready when they do.
Though the Hawks perked after getting healthier (go figure), they don't appear on the precipice of entering the championship discourse. Maybe they're a De'Andre Hunter mega leap away—he was making it before his injury earlier this season—but the dynamics of their roster are marching toward a certain awkwardness as of now.
John Collins is headed for restricted free agency and bound to get near-max, if not max, money. Trae Young is extension-eligible and a max-contract lock. They paid Bogdan Bogdanovic and Danilo Gallinari last offseason. They have fringe-star money invested in Clint Capela for another two years. Kevin Huerter is extension-eligible this year. Hunter and Cam Reddish will be up in 2022.
Some contracts will come off the books in the semi-immediate future, but the Hawks are still about to get pricey over the long haul. Without an undeniable line to title contention as presently built, they should consider asset consolidation in the form of a star trade—market-willing. They don't have the glitziest offers to roll out if Collins and Young are off limits, but a combination of Huerter, Hunter, Reddish, Onyeka Okongwu and picks is a viable starting point.
New Orleans Pelicans
Rushing rebuilds is dangerous. The Anthony Davis-era Pelicans know this all too well. But failing to capitalize on the window of a transcendent star is equally detrimental. The Davis-era Pelicans know this, too.
Zion Williamson transformed into an authentic tent-pole star this season. His body held up for basically the entire year, and he proved that he can handle the burden of being a primary ball-handler. He may only be 20, but he's ready to win now.
New Orleans already kind of acknowledged this urgency last offseason. It sent Jrue Holiday to the Milwaukee Bucks but also acquired and extended Steven Adams after maxing out Brandon Ingram. Viewed in totality, those are the actions of neither a rebuilding team nor calculated wins-chaser. The Pelicans positioned themselves somewhere in between. And it's time to get out.
That might entail taking a temporary step back. Perhaps they clear the runway for Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Kira Lewis Jr. by letting Lonzo Ball walk in restricted free agency. Maybe they do the same for Jaxson Hayes and find a taker for Steven Adams. They could go nuclear and gauge the market for Ingram.
Conversely, and more realistically, the Pelicans are built to buy. They have all their own first-round picks on top of controlling a large portion of the Los Angeles Lakers' future. Adams and Eric Bledsoe aren't must-haves, but their price points make for good salary-matching fodder. In the absence of a star-quality prospect, New Orleans has its trio of interesting mystery boxes with NAW, Hayes and Lewis.
A blockbuster pursuit aligns even more with the Pelicans' direction if they re-sign one or both of Ball and Josh Hart (restricted). They could hover around the luxury tax depending on how much either player fetches. Footing an extravagant bill for a core that flamed out of the play-in fracas the past two years won't sit too well. If they're going to reinvest in another portion of the core, they should also consider consolidating the less-integral parts of it.
Perhaps the Wizards do need to be prepared for a Bradley Beal trade this offseason or sometime down the line. They should also be ready to continue improving the roster around him.
Hitting home runs in free agency is out of the question. Beal, Davis Bertans and Russell Westbrook make nearly $80 million between them.
Washington instead should be open to seeing what some combination of Deni Avdija, Daniel Gafford, Rui Hachimura and future first-rounders can net if it plans on building a contender around its franchise cornerstone in the near term.
1. Dallas Mavericks
Circle back and drag this inclusion through the sludgiest mud you can find if the Dallas Mavericks win the 2021 NBA title. They have Luka Doncic and, therefore, a chance in any playoff series. Imploring them to make a seismic splash can be spun as some semblance of an insult.
Rest assured, this is just the opposite. It is more so a nod to Doncic's transcendence. He has the Mavs on the cusp of championship contention, but not quite there, not yet, not until he plays beside a viable No. 2.
Kristaps Porzingis is free to take that personally. It's not meant to be. The Doncic-Porzingis pick-and-roll is a nightmare to cover, and KP has shored up his intermittent post game, placing inside the 59th percentile of efficiency on those possessions. But he still doesn't profile as the secondary shot creator Dallas needs beside its megastar.
Maybe the playoffs will be Porzingis' great rebuke. More likely, though, the Mavericks are one star or fringe star shy of tussling with the league's heavyweights. This doesn't seem to be breaking news to them, either. They reportedly gauged Porzingis' market value around the deadline, though team governor Mark Cuban denied it.
Adding another marquee player and keeping Porzingis do not have to be mutually exclusive. Dallas can carve out more than $30 million in cap space over the summer. But hitting that number dictates they renounce the rights to their own free agents, including Tim Hardaway Jr. and Josh Richardson (player option). That's a steep opportunity cost when the star market is barren following this past year's extension frenzy.
Assuming Kawhi Leonard re-signs with the Los Angeles Clippers, the top free agent becomes one of John Collins, Mike Conley, Kyle Lowry or Chris Paul (player option). Lowry registers as the most gettable among that bunch; Conley and Paul play for the two best regular-season teams, and fringe-star restricted free agents like Collins are almost impossible to poach without pre-negotiating a sign-and-trade with his incumbent squad.
Does Lowry put the Mavericks over the top? Probably. But a realistic market of one star isn't much of a market at all. Dallas may be forced to explore alternative means of acquiring another bigwig.