It’s trade season in the NBA and, as usual, the rumor mill is spinning. De’Aaron Fox, Ben Simmons and Jerami Grant are only some of the names mentioned in the daily as parts of trade talks, as teams around the league look to improve their rosters in significant ways.
Not all trades are blockbuster or even game-changing ones, though. Some trades are more on the fringes, moves where teams neither concede nor receive much which maybe tackle on a very specific minor problem or are made for financial reasons. Others are, well, barely consequential at all. That’s the kind of trades we’re going to focus on.
So no, Dame Lillard will not be traded in this article.
1. The “Why Not, Right?”
Udoka Azubuike was picked 27th overall in the 2019 draft, the last in which Dennis Lindsey was responsible for the Utah Jazz’s selections. Utah’s other selection in that draft, Elijah Hughes, has shown some really interesting flashes in his limited playing time this past one and a half season, but Azubuike has been quite underwhelming for a 1st-round pick. The Jazz’s rotation at C is pretty full right now, since thanks to the arrival of Hassan Whiteside and Eric Paschall they have options to rest Rudy Gobert in both more traditional and small-ball schemes, but their wing rotation is much less so. Tony Snell could add some depth there as a deep bench guy, while the 2nd-round pick would refresh a bit the severely depleted Jazz pick tank.
The Blazers are in a pretty weird situation right now, but a rebuild seems imminent. If Portland does decide to blow it up, 22 year old Azubuike could be an interesting bet for them, especially if it comes at the next-to-nothing price that Tony Snell and a 2nd is for them. If they can convince themselves that Azubuike’s poor luck when it comes to health is to blame for his underperformance so far, this could be a move for them.
Neither team loses much here, but is either gaining anything? Maybe. In reality, neither of the two players would get much playing time, if at all, but hey, that’s what you came here for.
2. The “All This For Mike Muscala?”
Since the off-season of 2020 the Thunder have been a seller and, though the Wizards haven’t gotten much love in trade rumors lately, the really close race to avoid a play-in spot in the East could potentially make them a buyer. Washington is 28th in the league in 3-pointers attempted and 27th in 3P% per game. Meanwhile, Mike Muscala is currently shooting 3s on the best efficiency he’s ever had, and he’d be a solid alternative to non-shooting Montrezl Harrell and Daniel Gafford. Aaron Wiggins has been balling out for the Thunder this season but he’d mostly be an add-on here, a low-risk prospect for the future. Don’t get me wrong; Mike Muscala isn’t nearly a catch-all solution for the Wizards’ offense, but he’s a cheap rental who could give them a few good minutes each game to try something different.
While Muscala is the centerpiece of the trade for the Wizards here, the Thunder would be more saddened to see Wiggins go. However, in Todd and Ayayi they get two low-risk, high-reward prospects who’d see meaningful playing time for the rebuilding Oklahoma, and they add a 2nd-rounder to their evergrowing collection of draft picks. Anthony Gill is mostly here to make the money work but he could fill the Muscala void decently enough until his contract expires.
3. The “Give Tre Jones A Chance To Shine”
Coach Pop has played Tre Jones only when he has to, as the Spurs’ roster is filled with guards. Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, Lonnie Walker IV, Bryn Forbes and Josh Primo are all ahead of him in the rotation, so he really hasn’t gotten much time to breathe outside of games where the Spurs were majorly short-handed. Admittedly, this trade’s biggest winner is Tre himself, but I think it benefits both teams too.
The Spurs would lose a small part of their rotation but that could open up minutes for their other aforementioned young guards, while the 1st-round pick in 2023, when they are presumably going to be in the process of a full-on rebuild, will most probably convey and prove valuable.
The Raptors, on the other hand, are facing a point guard issue. Their rotation at the 1 is razor-thin, as after Fred VanVleet their only choices are Malachi Flynn going through a sophomore slump and, in theory, Goran Dragic who, in practice, has played 5 games for them and has been away from the team since November. This results to FVV (who’s playing in an All-Star level) being a part of their 13 most used lineups and playing career-high minutes per game. Tre Jones could fill the back-up PG role for Toronto, as his defense-first skillset completely matches the Raptors’ philosophy, and relieve some of the pressure in VanVleet’s shoulders playing time-wise.
4. The “Let’s Get Both Teams Into The East Playoffs”
Similar to the Raptors, the Hawks are also facing a back-up PG problem when their star player is not on the court. Their only choice to run the offense when Trae Young is not playing is Delon Wright, which isn’t doing it for them, as he has been pretty underwhelming in that role. Ish Smith would be an immense improvement coming off two really nice seasons with the Wizards but half of one less so in Charlotte. To get him they would have to concede Cam Reddish, who is a player they have invested on but has been subject to trade rumors lately. If the Hawks are looking to flip Reddish, this move could be very interesting for them.
While he would be very useful in Atlanta, Ish Smith hasn’t really found a role in Charlotte. While originally intended as a LaMelo Ball substitute, he’s underwhelmed enough for James Borrego to sometimes opt in favor of playing without a real PG rather than play him. As Charlotte fans want to see more playing time for rookie James Bouknight, after half a season it may be time for the Hornets to move on from Smith, and in that case Reddish would be a really nice return.
5. The “Both Guys Deserve Better”
A glance at the Mavs’ roster is enough to see the issue: they have a lot of bigs and few wings. Moses Brown, after a season in Oklahoma where he got plenty of playing time and showed really promising sings of becoming a more than serviceable big, was part of the Al Horford trade and went to Boston, only to be dropped a few days later. In Dallas he has struggled to find minutes as well but has produced quite a lot of value in this limited playing time (18.0 PPG and 12.7 RPG per 36′). The Mavericks clearly have no use for him, and clearly need some more depth in the SG – SF positions. Acquiring Josh Okogie, also underutilized by Minnesota this season, only makes sense for them.
The Timberwolves don’t exactly have an issue when it comes to their C rotation, since Naz Reid has excelled as Karl-Anthony Towns’ back-up. They could use some relief to their wing depth chart, though, as they have too many guys to play and some unavoidably get lost in the mix. One of them is Josh Okogie, who has been getting a career-low minutes per game this season and, as a result, has been underperforming. Just as the Mavericks with Moses Brown, the Wolves don’t have anything to do with Josh Okogie. The question here is: why would they go after a big man, when both their star and their back-up 5 have been impressing? My answer is that a few minutes for Brown can always be found, and betting on him to develop to something good isn’t a bad bet. Minnesota can afford to take this minor risk; after all, even if he gets no playing time, how much worse will that be than his current situation?
6. The “Is This The Game-Changer For The Bulls?”
Oddly enough, during the off-season there was a trade containing the Bulls, the Blazers and Larry Nance Jr., only it was one which sent Derrick Jones Jr. to Chicago instead of the veteran big man. The Bulls should really go after Nance, though. The team is deep enough in most positions, except that of center, as they have struggled to find a good replacement for Nikola Vucevic. What they chose to go with was lineups featuring 6′ 5” DJJ or 6′ 4” Javonte Green at the 5, which grants them switchability on defense but takes away rim protection. Larry Nance Jr. would be the solution to one of the Bulls’ biggest problems. If he could come at the cost of Troy Brown Jr., who has not delivered what was expected of him, Tony Bradley, who could be sold as a prospect capable of producing value if given enough time and a 1st-round pick, he would be a really nice get for them.
This is a win for Portland too. As mentioned above, the Blazers don’t know exactly what they are doing right now, but if they move towards a rebuild or even a retooling around Damian Lillard, then Larry Nance Jr. would be one of their hottest assets. Having no depth at the 5 they would be a nice landing spot for Tony Bradley, who could play the role he played in Philly and OKC last season, and they could definitely use TBJ’s defense or even flip him later. Lastly, they’d get their own 1st-round pick for the upcoming draft back, along with a silver lining to their massively underwhelming season.
7. The “Let’s Give Denver A Break”
The Nuggets are going through a hellish season when it comes to injury luck, missing 2 of their 3 best players. Thankfully, the one that remains is Nikola Jokic, whose MVP-caliber season has been carrying them to a fighting chance to avoid the play-in tournament. However, when Jokic isn’t playing, the Nuggets don’t have a lot of solutions, as so far they’ve used Jeff Green to fill the gap. Now, I get that Trey Lyles has never been a name to salivate over, but he could be just p what the Nuggets need here. Lyles has been having himself a pretty nice season for the Pistons and there’s no reason for that to not be the case in a potential lesser role for Denver. As a plus, he could give them some free throw shooting, which they desperately need (the Nuggets are dead last in the NBA when it comes to going to the line). Austin Rivers would be somewhat missed but he is no reason to pull the plug on this deal, at least not when Saben Lee could try and fill that void a bit.
As a rebuilding team, the Pistons don’t much care how good what they get is now, but rather how good it will be in a few years. Rivers is a flippable asset and Markus Howard is a low-risk bet who hasn’t gotten a real chance in the league yet. Along with the picks, they are a nice return for Trey Lyles, who’s existence is clashing with that of Isaiah Stewart, a guy the Pistons are heavily betting on, and Saben Lee.