It doesn't take long for the NBA rumor mill to get churning once the season begins.
But before reports and sources start putting the full-court press on your timeline, we thought we'd examine the NBA trade landscape ahead of the madness. The Crossover asked its writers which star they would like to see traded during the 2016–17 season.
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The list of candidates is deep. DeMarcus Cousins has been trapped in Sacramento for years. Brook Lopez is in limbo in Brooklyn. Players like Paul Millsap, Eric Bledsoe and Gordon Hayward could be the missing pieces for contenders. And youngsters like Jahlil Okafor could blossom if they get a change of scenery.
So who do we want to see switch teams this season? Find out below.
Andrew Sharp: DeMarcus Cousins, Kings
Please. Come on. Let's stop spending every NBA season deciding how much blame DeMarcus Cousins deserves for what's happening in Sacramento. Because honestly, it's hard to say. He's not the biggest problem the Kings have had over the past five or six years, but he hasn't been part of the solution, either. Cousins spaces out on defense, his offense ranges from “total dominance” to “checked out and taking lazy 18-foot pull-ups”, and he's clashed with almost every coach he's ever had (/lights a lone candle for Mike Malone).
This is a plea for a fresh start for everyone involved. The Kings can move on and likely recoup decent assets to rebuild around, and Cousins can inherit a team that might actually have a chance to win. Who knows whether a stable situation would take him to a different level as a player, but after all these years, I'd like to find out.
First, he split the point guard duties with GoranDragic. Then, he split them with Isaiah Thomas and GoranDragic. Finally, he split them with Brandon Knight. Now, the Suns are paying Knight $70 million, and they have wisely stationed marksman Devin Booker at shooting guard. There has never been a lot of room in the Phoenix backcourt for Bledsoe, and that’s especially true now. You can argue whether he is truly a star—Bledsoe, oft-injured, is good for about 18/6/4 when healthy—but there has to be a better spot for him.
Ben Golliver: Paul Millsap, Hawks
When Millsap re-upped with the Hawks in July 2015, he was coming off a 60-win season and a trip to the East finals. He was also re-signing with a roster that had all the necessary pieces to make its unique offensive function at an elite level, a center in Al Horford who paired with him perfectly, and a proven point guard in Jeff Teague to run the show. Needless to say, a lot has changed over the last 15 months: Atlanta took a noticeable step backwards in the standings last season, Horford bailed for greener pastures in Boston, Dwight Howard was brought in to plug the hole in the middle, Teague was traded for a draft pick, and Dennis Schroder was handed the reins. This year’s Hawks should still be respectable, but their short-term and long-term ceilings aren’t especially high, Millsap will be 32 before the All-Star break, and the Millsap/Howard pairing could be headed for some complications and fit issues.
It's easy to see the logic forming for a trade, particularly if Atlanta hits some first-half speed bumps. From Millsap’s side, a Horford-like exit next summer in pursuit of a team with better winning prospects would make a lot of sense at this point in his career. From Atlanta’s side, it would be tough to lose two versatile and complete All-Star bigs in back-to-back summers without some form of compensation. A trade deadline move could therefore satisfy both parties: Millsap could join a more serious contender, Atlanta could stockpile a few prospects and picks, and a team like Boston or Toronto could add a legitimate difference-maker in preparation for a playoff series with Cleveland. After a decade of being one of the NBA’s most overlooked and underrated players, Millsap deserves another shot at some serious postseason stakes.
Rohan Nadkarni: Brook Lopez
Lopez has no place on the rebuilding Nets, who may be able to recoup some of their lost draft picks by trading the former All-Star center. Lopez, 28, certainly still has some value. He put up 25 points in 26 minutes against the Pacers last week, and he’s played in over 70 games in back-to-back seasons, quelling some past injury concerns. A pseudo-contender or up-and-coming team would be wise to gamble on Lopez—particularly a team that struggles luring All-Stars in free agency. It’s possible it would be an awful fit, but I wouldn’t hate to see Lopez in New Orleans, where Anthony Davis is in desperate need of help. It’s also possible Orlando swoops in and nabs Lopez so they can play a lineup of five centers/power forwards, so other teams better act quickly.
DeMarcus Cousins will get a dose of sanity this season via Kings head coach Dave Joerger, yet in the larger sense he is still parked squarely within one of the most dysfunctional ventures in sports. Sacramento is perpetually in its own way. It emits such an odor that Rudy Gay pines to leave. It puts itself in positions where Ty Lawson, who nearly flamed out of the league last season, seems like the best possible option. It makes confused draft decisions that give little regard for team structure. It is a franchise so obsessed with zagging when others zig that it has ended up lost in its own design. Cousins has a way of fanning the flames a bit, but it’s hard to feel as if the first six years of his ultra-productive career have been anything other than a waste amid these circumstances.
Jeremy Woo: Jahlil Okafor, 76ers
Okafor may not be a star yet, per se, but I’ve never seen a more talented young player written off as quickly as he was last season. He turns 21 in December and scores the ball on the block as well as just about anybody. I’m convinced if you get him out of Philadelphia, commit to covering for his defensive issues and let him play, Okafor would get you 20 and 10 easily. The best is yet to come for him, but it’s not happening given the Sixers’ current logjam. Someone needs to swoop in and liberate him.