Five big trades that could shake up the NBA playoff picture

The NBA season is already one quarter of the way done, which means the trade deadline will be here sooner than you think. While there hasn’t been an in-season trade yet in 2021-22 — the last deals came on Oct. 6, when the Nets swapped players with the Rockets and Pacers in two separate deals — trade season could pick up in a couple of weeks. More than 100 players who signed contracts this past offseason will become eligible to be traded on Dec. 15, giving teams more flexibility when working deals and matching salaries.

The standings are bunched up at this early stage of the season. In the Western Conference, just half a game separates fourth place from 10th place, while the 11th-place Celtics are only four games back of the first-place Nets in the East. Making a deal sooner rather than later could be a difference-maker for a potential contender. With that in mind, we asked our NBA experts to come up with deals to put a team back into pole position in the playoff race.

Golden State Warriors add another All-Star

Golden State receives:

Indiana receives:

Andre’ Snellings: I’ve been a proponent of the Warriors holding onto their young lottery picks to secure the future, but this deal gives them an All-Star at a position of need. Sabonis is young enough (25 years old) to be a franchise player even after the Warriors’ current core starts to age. As Deandre Ayton and the Phoenix Suns just demonstrated, the Warriors can be exploited by certain matchups in the middle.

Sabonis would turn Golden State’s weakest position into a strength, and he has the game to do exactly what the Warriors need from their big men at a high level. He is an excellent passer and decision-maker on offense, making him an ideal pick-and-roll/pop partner for Stephen Curry. Sabonis is an elite rebounder, with the girth to bang with the big men and a skill set that fits perfectly next to Draymond Green on the front line. He doesn’t require volume touches or plays to be run for him, but Sabonis can score efficiently when called upon. In short, adding Sabonis to their current core would solidify the Warriors as championship favorites for the foreseeable future.

Because this is a 3-for-1 exchange, the Pacers would have to cut two players to complete the trade. This deal would signal that the Pacers don’t think they can contend with their current core and are ready to rebuild/reload. They missed the playoffs last season with a sub-.500 record, and this season, they’re winning less than 40% of their games thus far. Wiseman was the second overall draft pick in 2020, and both Kuminga and Moody were lottery picks this year. Wiseman and Kuminga, in particular, are seen as high-upside prospects who could grow into stars with proper development.

Dallas Mavericks bring back Barnes

Dallas receives:

Sacramento receives:

Ohm Youngmisuk: Until a foot injury slowed him down, Barnes was off to a hot start this season. He scored 21 points or more in nine of his first 13 games, and he is averaging 19 points, 7.2 rebounds and 39.8% shooting from behind the arc. Provided that Barnes’ foot issue isn’t serious, the Mavericks could use a reunion with Barnes — and add another big man to help Kristaps Porzingis inside and set screens and give Luka Doncic another potential scoring option inside.

While Dallas needs all the shooting it can get, Doncic and Porzingis can use another player who either can create his own shot, score and/or shoot. Barnes isn’t a playmaker, but he can score, rebound and shoot, although he doesn’t shoot as many 3s as Hardaway, who was signed to a four-year, $75 million deal this offseason (and therefore cannot be traded until Dec. 15).

Bagley, who was notably selected one pick ahead of Doncic at No. 2 overall in the 2018 draft, could use a change of scenery and benefit from Doncic’s superb playmaking.

If the Kings ever decide to trade Buddy Hield, Hardaway would give them a 29-year-old shooter on a cheaper deal. Sacramento would get two starters in this deal in Hardaway and Finney-Smith to complement De’Aaron Fox and Richaun Holmes. Finney-Smith and Cauley-Stein are also both on expiring contracts, and the Kings would add two second-round picks, as well.

Phoenix Suns bolster their frontcourt

Phoenix receives:

San Antonio receives:

Bobby Marks: The Suns have a league-best 18-3 record, but they should not take a conservative approach with their roster. Yes, it is important not to disrupt team chemistry, but Phoenix can find a working balance on improving the team without trading any of its starters or rotational players.

While Saric was a key component last year, the forward tore his right ACL in the NBA Finals, and he is likely out for the entire 2021-22 season. He is under contract for next season but on a team-friendly $9.2 million contract. Smith was taken in the top 10 of the 2020 NBA Draft but recently saw the third-year option in his contract declined.

Young would not only give Phoenix another veteran presence but one who can play either forward position and provides an insurance policy at the backup center position. He is averaging a career-low 15.7 minutes this season for the retooling Spurs, but he has still managed to average 7.3 points and shoot 59.6% from the field.

Considering that Young is the top trade target of playoff teams, the cost to acquire him is rich in draft assets and less in players. The Suns owe Oklahoma City a first-round pick in 2022 from the Chris Paul trade and cannot send out a first-round pick until 2024. The pick would have top-eight protection in the next three seasons (2024, 2025 and 2026) and would turn into second-round picks in 2026 and 2027 if it is not conveyed.

Portland Trail Blazers take a flier on Bagley

Portland receives:

  • Marvin Bagley III
  • 2022 first-round pick (top-14 protected, converts into 2022 Kings second-round pick and return of Portland’s second-round picks in 2024 and 2025)

Sacramento receives:

  • Robert Covington

Kevin Pelton: A Bagley-Covington swap makes sense for both teams. Kings general manager Monte McNair was part of the Rockets’ management when the team dealt for Covington ahead of the 2020 trade deadline, and Covington would fill an important need for versatile forwards with Sacramento, which is currently starting unproven Chimezie Metu alongside Harrison Barnes after Maurice Harkless struggled early in the season.

On the other side, trading Covington seems inevitable with Nassir Little pushing for a starting job and his contract expiring. Bagley fits with Portland, which has long collected lottery picks who didn’t stick with their original teams, including another one from Sacramento (Thomas Robinson). Swapping Covington for Bagley also would shave the Blazers’ tax bill, potentially allowing them to duck the tax entirely by trading away one of their minimum-salary players at the deadline.

The wrinkle here is what draft-pick compensation would be fair. Portland would surely want to recoup one of the two first-round picks sent out for Covington a little more than a year ago. I’d propose something of a conditional return. If the Kings were to make the playoffs, it would be evidence Covington helped substantially, and the organization would be so thrilled to end the NBA’s longest playoff drought that giving up a pick in the teens would seem reasonable.

Otherwise, the Blazers would get a pick that would land in the top half of the second round plus the return of the second-rounders they sent to Sacramento in the 2020 deal between these teams headlined by Trevor Ariza and Kent Bazemore.

Minnesota Timberwolves add high-flying Nance

Minnesota receives:

Portland receives:

  • Josh Okogie
  • Jake Layman
  • 2022 first-round pick (top-14 protected in 2022 and 2023; becomes 2023 and 2025 second-round picks if not conveyed by 2023)

Tim Bontemps: The Timberwolves have made the playoffs once without Kevin Garnett. This year, with the Western Conference falling off dramatically and Minnesota finally taking steps forward behind their young building blocks of Anthony Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns, they have a clear opportunity to get back to the postseason.

Nance would be an ideal fit in the frontcourt next to Towns as a starting power forward. Nance would give coach Chris Finch a versatile player at both ends of the court to slot in alongside Towns, one who could give Minnesota a more prolific small-ball attack than it currently has when Towns heads to the bench. And while Portland’s defense stinks this year (the Blazers currently rank 29th), Nance’s versatility at that end would benefit Minnesota, which is hoping to keep up its surprising success there so far (the Timberwolves are currently sixth in defensive efficiency).

Making the pick lottery protected for both this year and next — the two years Nance is under contract — gives Minnesota two shots at making the playoffs with Nance on the roster before he hits free agency. Otherwise, the Wolves would get a solid second-rounder in 2023 — and potentially another in 2025 — after Towns has become a free agent.

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