James Harden, Victor Oladipo and Caris LeVert are all headed to new teams, the latest in a never-ending line of household names to do so. It begs the question: Who got next?
As part of a four-squad blockbuster, Harden is joining the Brooklyn Nets, LeVert is off to the Indiana Pacers, and Oladipo is landing with the Houston Rockets, according to The Athletic's Shams Charania.
The league could be in for a transactional lull after such a massive deal. Harden was the one megastar who was readily available, and teams could be scared out of major moves during a season that has turned into a competitive crapshoot amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Then again, we know better. This is the NBA. Another notable trade is always around the corner. And with barely eight weeks to go before the March 25 deadline, the chatter should only heat up from here.
Nobody of Harden's caliber projects to get moved—as of now, anyway—but plenty of recognizable names have feasible paths to the chopping or auction block.
The likelihood of each candidate being unloaded varies. Could the Toronto Raptors ship out Kyle Lowry? Could the San Antonio Spurs flip DeMar DeRozan? Could the Philadelphia 76ers exchange Ben Simmons for a different star? Maybe. But those aren't the names we feel confident enough to fit for new uniforms prior to March 25.
These players are.
Will Barton, Denver Nuggets
Something needs to change with the Denver Nuggets. They're 26th in points allowed per possession and getting annihilated at the rim and from beyond the arc.
Their defensive struggles are, to some extent, the byproduct of bad luck. Opponents are knocking down 45.4 percent of their wide-open threes, and those are looks only the Rockets, Minnesota Timberwolves and Oklahoma City Thunder currently do a better job of limiting.
The Nuggets' overall defensive shot profile is really good. They're third in expected field-goal percentage allowed based on where opponents are generating attempts. Denver's defense shouldn't hover inside the doldrums forever.
This still isn't a group that's built to get stops. It lost two of its best perimeter defenders over the offseason in Torrey Craig and Jerami Grant, and Gary Harris isn't big or long enough to handle larger wings. Michael Porter Jr. did nothing prior to his time away from the team to show he's ready for that responsibility.
That leaves the trade market. Maybe the Nuggets decide to swing for the fences and lean further into their offense (Bradley Beal?). Or perhaps they just target a mid-end defensive wing. Whatever they do is bound to include Harris or Will Barton, their two most useful salary-matchers.
Barton forecasts as the most likely goner.
Harris' $19.6 million price point—$20.9 million in 2021-22—is valuable as part of blockbuster packages that need to match superstar salaries. It is much less appealing in smaller-scale deals. Barton makes just $13.7 million this year with a $14.7 million player option for next season in addition to bringing noticeably more offensive juice. Pairing him with picks—or maybe Bol Bol—could make for some intriguing offers.
Potential Destinations: Chicago, Houston, Orlando
Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards
Seeing James Harden and Victor Oladipo get moved in the same deal is a big blow for anyone hoping to skirt Bradley Beal trade speculation. He is now the sole focus of teams on the prowl for a gettable star.
The Washington Wizards haven't yet shown any inclination to move Beal. Nor have there been rumblings about his requesting a change of scenery. But other teams have already started circling, according to The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor.
This interest isn't going to wane. Again: The All-Star trade market is barren at the moment. Kyle Lowry profiles as the top prize—and that's only if the Raptors are open to offloading him.
Giving up Beal would be tough to stomach. He's a 27-year-old All-NBA candidate. But the Wizards have delayed what's felt inevitable long enough. The Russell Westbrook experiment is flopping. Thomas Bryant is out for the season with a torn left ACL. Washington is better than the third-worst team in the Eastern Conference on paper, but it's still, right now, the third-worst team in the Eastern Conference.
It may be the perfect time for the Wizards to move Beal, insofar as there is such a thing. He is under contract through this season and next, and the past two star trades—Harden and Jrue Holiday—have netted the selling teams a ton.
Washington holds a boatload of leverage to boot. Beal is both younger and more plug-and-play than either Harden or Holiday. The shrinking list of stars projected to be available in free agency only helps. A bunch of big names signed extensions, and the Rockets' decision to reroute Caris LeVert to Indiana suggests they're willing to pay Victor Oladipo long-term.
Prospective suitors should be even more desperate to complete a trade for Beal knowing they, for the time being, have no viable alternatives.
Potential Destinations: Miami, New Orleans, Philadelphia
Aaron Gordon, Orlando Magic
At long last, after flirting with the possibility before, this will finally be the year the Orlando Magic trade Aaron Gordon.
The Magic tried moving Gordon ahead of last season's deadline. And then they attempted to deal him again around the draft. Nothing that has happened in Orlando since suggests he's any less available now.
If anything, the Magic should be more emboldened to move him. They extended Jonathan Isaac, who needs to play the same position, and season-ending injuries to him and Markelle Fultz put a tighter cap on what the team can accomplish this year.
Finding a home for Gordon should be easy enough. He has always tried to play outside his wheelhouse on offense, in part out of necessity. But he is shooting above 35 percent from three this season, improved his passing last year and can guard both wings and bigs.
Put him on a team with more floor-spacers and Gordon's stock should explode. The prospect of him operating as a play-finisher and defensive nuisance continues to tantalize. His declining pay scale ($16.4 million next year) renders him even more attractive—as does the fact he's only 25.
Potential Destinations: Denver, Golden State, Minnesota
George Hill, Oklahoma City Thunder
Break up the Oklahoma City Thunder!
No, seriously: Break them up. They tore it down over the summer so they could begin anew with a high lottery pick in the 2021 draft (and their jillion other future firsts). They're instead floating around .500 and still firmly inside the postseason/play-in picture.
Sub-15-game samples are nothing, and the Thunder's offense can be brutal. It's still time to start wondering whether they're too good to be organically bad.
Jettisoning George Hill could help address this "issue." At 34 and with a $1.3 million partial guarantee for next season, he always profiled as a goner. He has only increased his value by canning 38.5 percent of his threes and 63.9 percent of his twos (not a typo).
Contenders in search of spacing, some secondary playmaking and stout backcourt defense should be foaming at the mouth to pry Hill from Oklahoma City. Bet on that assumed lust culminating in a trade prior to the March 25 deadline.
Potential Destinations: Boston, Dallas, L.A. Clippers
Julius Randle, New York Knicks
Julius Randle's trade value should be through the roof. His efficiency from the floor has come back down to solid ground, but he's still averaging around 22 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists. The playmaking uptick looks and feels legitimate.
And yet, his skill set doesn't translate to just any situation. He is best with the ball in his hands and cannot be counted on for consistent three-point shooting. His defense remains a net minus just about everywhere. He turns in the occasional one-on-one stop, but he's not going to keep pace with glorified wings at the 4, and teams need a specific set of personnel if they're going to use him at the 5.
Perhaps squads reeling from injuries and hoping to remain on the fringes of the play-in discussion can talk themselves into giving up value for Randle. He is an extremely useful offensive player if you have the bandwidth to give him touches.
His contract situation helps. He is on the books for $19.8 million next season but guaranteed just $4 million. Teams can acquire him as a form of both immediate help and eventual cap relief.
The New York Knicks should be open to either scenario.
They would ideally be able to move Randle on his own for assets while getting out from under his $4 million partial guarantee. But they're not hard-up for cap space this summer. Nor are they in position to win at a substantial clip this year or next. They can swallow longer, less-savory deals—Dwight Powell? Eric Gordon? Al Horford?—if it means returning a desirable pick or prospect.
Potential Destinations: Charlotte, Dallas, Houston
JJ Redick, New Orleans Pelicans
JJ Redick's name is a non-starter if the New Orleans Pelicans fancy themselves playoff contenders. He's too important to their floor balance. He may be shooting under 30 percent from deep to start the year, but he remains one of two or three players on the roster capable of downing his treys at an above-average clip for the entire season.
New Orleans' current place in the Western Conference doesn't offer any clarity. It's too early. The Pelicans' direction is also unreadable. They have the youth necessary to deem this a developmental year yet paid both Steven Adams (extension) and Brandon Ingram over the offseason. Both deals infer a commitment to chasing an immediate playoff bid.
Plans change, though. New Orleans is not immune to a letdown. It's arguably living through one. The defense has improved relative to last year, but the half-court offense ranks 26th in efficiency. Anything more than a play-in berth will prove out of reach if that standing doesn't climb.
Re-emphasizing the bigger picture would not necessarily make the Pelicans indiscriminate sellers. They shouldn't be attaching assets to Eric Bledsoe's contract and aren't about to rethink the Adams investment so soon. But Redick is more of a natural trade candidate. He's in the final year of his contract and a career sniper, both of which make him inherently appealing to contenders.
Possible Destinations: Boston, Golden State, Philadelphia
Derrick Rose, Detroit Pistons
Derrick Rose, who remains day-to-day with a left knee injury, isn't your typical veteran on an expiring contract destined to be dealt away from a bad team. The Detroit Pistons actually need him.
Rookie Killian Hayes doesn't have a timetable to return after suffering a labral tear in his right hip. The point guard rotation was fragile with him. It's decimated in his absence. Without Rose, as well, while he deals with a knee injury, Detroit is left to lean on Delon Wright and experiment with Frank Jackson and Saben Lee.
This might matter if the Pistons were angling to win now. They're not. They are tied for the Eastern Conference's worst record—cellar-dwelling that is entirely by design. Keeping Rose alleviates the pressure on Wright, Jerami Grant and Josh Jackson, but he's by no means make-or-break.
If Detroit holds on to him, it likely says more about his own declining value. Rose is shooting just 44 percent at the rim and remains a non-threat beyond the arc.
Still, the attention he draws off the dribble is real, and he continues to put pressure on the basket even when he's not converting those looks. Trade-deadline buyers in need of second-unit offense and general point guard depth would be wise to gauge the Pistons' asking price—provided Rose gets healthy.
Potential Destinations: Brooklyn, Houston, L.A. Clippers
Matisse Thybulle, Philadelphia 76ers
Consider this my way of saying the Sixers are going to do something, but I have no idea what it is.
Ben Simmons belongs in this space if you think they're going to make a run at Bradley Beal. I'm neither confident nor brave enough to think they'll win the sweepstakes for a star I've already predicted will get moved. Simmons is that good, and I am a coward.
Matisse Thybulle is the middle ground—the player who almost needs to be moved if the Sixers are doing anything significant without dealing Simmons or Joel Embiid.
Attaching him to other salaries and picks feels like a good baseline for less-aggressive upgrades or slightly splashier moves. Would the Sixers deal Thybulle as part of a package for Will Barton? Patty Mills? George Hill plus something else? Evan Fournier or Terrence Ross? Can they put together pitches for Kyle Lowry? Or Zach LaVine?
Anything they do figures to involve Thybulle. He remains intriguing as a potential lockdown defender who might be able to hit threes and, unlike Tyrese Maxey, isn't a prominent part of the Sixers' rotation.
Potential Destinations: Chicago, Oklahoma City Thunder, Washington
P.J. Tucker, Houston Rockets
Rival teams have already started calling Houston about P.J. Tucker's availability, according to The Athletic's Kelly Iko. His departure is the natural next step in the Rockets' pivot.
Granted, acquiring Victor Oladipo makes their direction a little fuzzy. They aren't built to tank with him, a spry-looking John Wall and Christian Wood. Treading water near play-in territory might actually be Houston's prerogative. It doesn't control its own first-round pick, so there is value in being not-terrible.
At the same time, Tucker is 35 and in the final year of his contract. Regardless of what the Rockets do this season, they aren't likely to re-sign him this summer. He'll either prove too costly or prefer to join a genuine contender. He also didn't seem too happy when he and Houston failed to reach terms on an extension.
For his part, Tucker is better off on a team with immediate title ambitions. For their part, the Rockets are better off capitalizing on his value as a near-positionless defender, small-ball superhero and corner-three assassin rather than losing him for nothing over the offseason.
It really is that simple.
Potential Destinations: Golden State, Milwaukee, Portland
Lou Williams, Los Angeles Clippers
Lou Williams' exit from the Clippers has felt like a fait accompli for a while now.
Williams is in the final year of his deal, and they signed the recently acquired Luke Kennard to a four-year, $56 million extension with a team option on the final season and $8 million in unlikely incentives. Los Angeles no longer has an urgent need for Sweet Lou.
Landing a pure floor general or more dangerous off-ball weapon is a bigger priority. The Clippers have already slashed Williams' minutes from last season, although he is dealing with some hip issues. He remains instant offense, but his foul-baiting doesn't translate to the playoffs, and he isn't a pass-first playmaker.
Sussing out prospective destinations for Williams or possible trade targets for the Clippers is a weird exercise. His $8 million salary is eminently movable, but non-contenders don't have much use for a 34-year-old walking bucket. That Los Angeles isn't flush with trade sweeteners only complicates matters.
This seems like a three-team scenario, or a situation in which he's moved to a squad that eventually ships him elsewhere. Maybe the Clippers, who are hard-capped, can hash out a Williams-for-George Hill framework. Or perhaps they have a path to a Patty Mills deal. Eric Bledsoe's name is worth monitoring if they're looking for someone who can put pressure on the rim. Ricky Rubio could be available if the Timberwolves keep fading and the Clippers piece together enough salary filler. You get the idea.
Potential Destinations: Minnesota, New Orleans, Oklahoma City
Unless otherwise noted, stats courtesy of NBA.com, Basketball Reference, Stathead or Cleaning the Glass. Salary information via Basketball Insiders and Spotrac.
Dan Favale covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter (@danfavale), and listen to his Hardwood Knocks podcast, co-hosted by B/R's Adam Fromal.