The next big NBA trade is coming soon.
That's truer now than it is on most points of the hoops calendar.
Why? Two reasons. First, the further teams get into the 2021-22 campaign, the clearer they can view their rosters' strengths, weaknesses and upside (or downside). Second, the pool of trade candidates substantially deepens in mid-December, when most players who inked free-agent pacts this summer start to become eligible to be moved.
With #TradeSZN almost upon us, it's the perfect time to inspect the cupboards of all 30 clubs and identify which trade candidates will have the league's movers and shakers...well, moving and shaking.
We'll restrict this list to players only, as even though draft picks and financial flexibility have their appeal, this path offers the easiest apples-to-apples comparisons. We'll also include only players with a realistic path to the trade market, since unobtainable trade chips aren't really trade chips at all.
All squared away on the fine print? Good, let's get going.
Mo Bamba, Orlando Magic
Now three-plus seasons removed from being the sixth overall pick in 2018, Mo Bamba might finally be realizing his destiny.
His unicorn promise as a theoretical shot-blocker and shot-maker has manifested as full-fledged unicorn production. He is one of only three players—along with fellow single-horned hoopers Myles Turner and Brook Lopez—averaging at least 1.5 threes and 2.0 blocks while shooting 39.0 percent from range.
One might assume that the 7-footer has cemented himself in the Orlando Magic's long-term plans given his age (23) and the franchise's rebuilding state, but a wide-angle view of this roster puts him in an awkward position. The Magic might already have their center of the future in Wendell Carter Jr., and once Jonathan Isaac gets healthy (knee), their frontcourt combo of the future too.
Both Isaac and Carter got contract extensions before their rookie deals were up. Bamba did not. He'll have a chance to cash in as a restricted free agent next offseason, and if he keeps up his level of play, the cost of that contract will rise. Orlando will have a tough time justifying that expense after heavily investing in other frontcourt options.
Center-needy teams should already be phoning the franchise on Bamba's behalf. He has the size, length, mobility and bounce to thrive as a rim-runner, and the growth of his outside shot could allow him to go beyond that label.
Jerami Grant, Detroit Pistons
The Detroit Pistons are nine games into this season and have already been outscored by 111 points. Some might say this is to be expected given the franchise's rebuilding state, but this isn't what Jerami Grant had in mind when he signed in free agency.
"It's not a rebuild, as [Pistons general manager] Troy [Weaver] always says," Grant said in April, per Omari Sankofa II of the Detroit Free Press. "It's not three or four years into the future. We're looking forward to doing something big next year."
The Pistons have admittedly drawn one juggernaut after the next to start this season—save for the Magic, who gave them their only win—so maybe things will improve once the schedule relents. But Detroit is starting one rookie and three sophomores. Barring some generationally great work on the player development front, this is not a roster built to compete anytime soon.
And that begs the question: What's the end game with Grant? The 27-year-old is in the heart of his prime, but he almost certainly won't be there when his teammates catch up. That's assuming he is even still in Detroit when that happens, which is not a given with only this season and the next on his contract.
If the Pistons are OK taking a step back now—and, really, how far can you fall from 1-8?—for multiple steps forward down the line, they should at least field offers for Grant, if not place a few calls themselves.
He wouldn't be a featured scorer on virtually any other roster, but handling the role out of necessity in the Motor City showcased some previously unseen offensive creation. Couple that with his defensive versatility, and he lands somewhere between a star role player and a full-fledged star who plays both ends.
Detroit could request and receive multiple picks, prospects or both by turning its best win-now contributor into win-later tools.
Buddy Hield, Sacramento Kings
The challenge in an exercise like this is usually determining whether a team would actually trade the player. That's not a question here, as the Sacramento Kings effectively traded Buddy Hield this offseason, only for the Los Angeles Lakers to back out and acquire Russell Westbrook instead. The change-of-heart reportedly "left Sacramento management steaming," per Bill Oram, Shams Charania and Sam Amick of The Athletic.
With the Kings once again hovering a hair below .500, a Hield deal is overdue. Every team in the market for a long-range sniper should bombard Sacramento's decision-makers with calls, texts and emails about the 28-year-old guard.
His game might run a little one-note, but it happens to be the note every modern NBA team is trying to hit. He makes the league's very short list of top snipers, as only Stephen Curry is averaging more makes than Hield's nightly allotment of 4.4 triples. And Hield has the upper hand on Curry in three-pointers with a 40.3 percent clip to the reigning scoring champion's 38.8 percent mark.
So far this season, Hield is largely feasting on catch-and-shoot chances (43.3 percent), but in 2020-21, he was nearly as lethal off the bounce (38.4 percent). That should give him far-reaching appeal, as he can operate both with a ball-dominant table-setter or within an offense needing more off-the-dribble verve.
He isn't cheap ($22.5 million base salary this season), but he isn't prohibitively expensive either, since his salary will decline roughly $2 million over each of the next two campaigns.