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Imagining The Best NBA Trade Of All Time

Six teams. Nineteen players. A boatload of draft picks. We cooked up the best NBA trade of all time, solving a host of problems around the league.

Earlier this week, you could have found me kicking my feet up, gazing out over the Chesapeake Bay and calmly choosing not to watch local Wizards telecasts that I assume reached the coast of Maryland. But The Crossover’s editors then tasked me with imagining one trade that could save the NBA, restoring competitive balance, relocating elite talent, involving at least one-fifth of the league and ruining my vacation. So, yeah.

There are a few provisions we’re accepting from the get go, the first being that this deal would have to technically go down near the trade deadline, allowing newly-signed players to be moved after the no-deal period that follows free agent contracts. 

Two, I admittedly did not crunch every single contract number, but the basic math adds up so that none of the teams adds or sheds more than one million net dollars in salary, placing this entire, muddled transaction in the realm of technical possibility. When over the cap and under the tax and trying to match salaries, teams can’t absorb back anything significantly more than what they are trading away. (Explained further: Every team in our deal is giving away a ton of money, so they aren’t allowed to take back more than 125% of what they gave away, plus $100,000. But, I bet you wish you didn’t know that.)

Third, I reserved the right to trade draft picks and rights, because it makes everything ten thousand times more entertaining. I also really wanted to write “the rights to Ante Zizic” in an article.

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Since there’s nowhere remotely close to a logical place to begin or end when explaining a ficticious six-team mega-deal, let’s not mince too many more words. Basically, I knew I wanted to free Boogie Cousins and Anthony Davis, help the Hornets and Celtics contend in the East, and ensure that all the other teams had a legitimate chance at being much better three seasons from now.

Let's dive in.

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Charlotte Hornets

Receiving: Anthony Davis (Pelicans, $22.12 million in salary), Tyler Zeller (Celtics, $8M)

Trading away: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (Kings, $13M) Marvin Williams (Wizards, $12.25M), Cody Zeller (Celtics, $5.31M), a 2017 unprotected first -round pick (Kings), a 2019 unprotected first-round pick (Pelicans) 

Projected Lineup:Kemba Walker, Marco Belinelli, Nicolas Batum, Davis, Roy Hibbert/Frank Kaminsky

The Hornets are far and away the easiest piece of this thing to explain. It’s hard to have qualms about acquiring Davis in literally any context. He’s the perfect fit for what Charlotte likes to do, offering a defensive backbone, a pick–and–roll partner for a burgeoning star in Walker, and, most importantly, a generational talent. Though it hurts to lose Kidd-Gilchrist (and mortgage picks), this positions the Hornets better for this year and the next decade. Also, Zeller for Zeller!

New Orleans Pelicans

Receiving: Bradley Beal (Wizards, $22.1M), Jonas Jerebko (Celtics, $5M), Brooklyn’s 2017 first-round pick first (after Boston inevitably swaps), Washington’s top-10 protected 2017 first-rounder, Charlotte’s unprotected 2019 first-round pick

Trading away: Anthony Davis (Hornets, $22.12 million), Langston Galloway (Wizards, $5.2 million)

Projected Lineup:Jrue Holiday, Beal, Tyreke Evans, Solomon Hill, OmerAsik

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I admit there’s really not much logic in dealing Davis at age 23, but he definitely gets injured a lot and could be a misstep away from a big hit to his trade value should he get seriously hurt. I feel grimy even writing that as justification. But anyway, the Pelicans get a strong haul here (as they should), receiving three first-rounders and Beal, who’s a proven scorer and also just 23 years old. New Orleans can go in any number of directions with potentially three lottery picks in this year’s top-heavy draft and contracts coming off the books. If you have to deal the best player in a six-team deal, at least you‘re getting the power of choice.


Washington Wizards

Receiving: DeMarcus Cousins (Kings, $16.95M), Marvin Williams (Hornets, $12.25M), Matt Barnes (Kings, $6.12M), Langston Galloway (Pelicans, $5.2M)

Trading away: Bradley Beal (Pelicans, $22.1M), MarcinGortat (Kings, $12M), Otto Porter Jr. (Knicks, $5.89M), a top-10 protected 2017 first-round pick (Pelicans)

Projected Lineup: John Wall, Tomas Satoransky, Barnes, Markieff Morris, Cousins

A John Wall/Boogie Cousins reunion is the stuff of dreams, and that’s what we’re going to get here, with the Wiz now able to deploy a number of stretchy lineups and maximize their star duo. That pick and roll with shooters all around...I mean, you’d totally try it in a video game. More importantly, maybe it’s enough to reset the chemistry and give Scott Brooks a soft reboot. Wizards fans can’t get any lower right now, anyway, and it’s almost definitely enough to get them back to the playoffs next season. They’ll shed young assets in Beal and Porter, but with the way things are headed right now, it could be worth it. BOOGIE!

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Sacramento Kings

Receiving: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (Hornets, $13M), Marcin Gortat (Wizards, $12M), Avery Bradley (Celtics, $8.26M), Marcus Smart (Celtics, $3.57M), the rights to Ante Zizic (Celtics), Charlotte’s unprotected 2017 first-rounder

Trading away: DeMarcus Cousins (Wizards, $16.95M), Rudy Gay (Knicks, $13.3M), Matt Barnes (Wizards, $6.12M)

Projected Lineup: Darren Collison, Bradley, Kidd-Gilchrist, Willie Cauley-Stein, Gortat

I really just want to see a lineup with Smart, Bradley, Kidd-Gilchrist, Willie Cauley-Stein and literally anyone, just to watch them play defense. But burying the lede, the Kings finally shed Boogie and deal an unhappy Rudy Gay, and get several talented parts to work with going forward. I don’t hate this collection of talent as much as you probably do. Maybe they’re getting a little bit shafted, and no, they aren’t dealing any more of their 77 extra big men (they’re actually adding another one)...but these are also the Kings. They're the most likely team in this deal to get fleeced. Gotta be realistic.


Boston Celtics

Receiving: Carmelo Anthony (Knicks, $24.55M), Lance Thomas (Knicks, $6.19M), Cody Zeller (Hornets, $5.31M)

Trading away: Amir Johnson (Knicks, $12M), Avery Bradley (Kings, $8.2M), Tyler Zeller (Hornets, $8M), Jonas Jerebko (Pelicans, $5M) Marcus Smart (Kings, $3.57M), the rights to Ante Zizic (Kings), Brooklyn’s 2017 first-rounder (to Pelicans, Boston has swap rights)

Projected Lineup: Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Anthony, Al Horford, Zeller

Boston’s probably the most unrealistic piece of this deal, but there’s at least an argument for the Celtics going for it and moving a lot of good-not-great parts to win now. Earlier versions of the deal had them moving Jaylen Brown, but in our alternate universe, they get to keep their most promising wing piece and let him learn from Anthony. Melo may be trending downhill, but Boston just invested heavily in Al Horford, who we know can blend in with just about any lineup. This Celtics team remains in the playoff conversation and now has the scoring punch to hang around more consistently with better teams. They can play small and dangerous with Brown, Crowder, and Anthony together. They can re-sign Isaiah Thomas if they want, or make a convincing case for Chris Paul in the off-season. And plus, they still have next year’s Nets pick. 

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New York Knicks

Receiving: Rudy Gay (Kings, $13.3M), Amir Johnson (Celtics, $12M), Otto Porter (Wizards, $5.89M)

Trading away:Carmelo Anthony (Celtics, $24.55M), Lance Thomas (Celtics, $6.19M)

Projected Lineup: Derrick Rose, Courtney Lee, Gay, Porter, Kristaps Porzingis

Sure, the Knicks just sunk a ton of money into Joakim Noah, but they really, really need to start getting younger and building around Kristaps Porzingis. This deal accomplishes that, finally dealing away Anthony and letting this roster build a new identity. The Knicks would have $33 million coming off the books next season with Rose and Amir Johnson alone, giving them the necessary flexibility to try and add a real long-term piece. Porter’s in the middle of a real breakout in D.C. and Rudy Gay is an ostensible stopgap that also allows them to play small around Porzingis. It’s kind of sensible, right? Right?

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Did we just save the NBA? Eh, almost surely not. But who’s ever regretted a little wishful thinking? Sometimes, that’s all we have. Well, that, a top-five protected 2020 first rounder, a 2021 pick swap and the rights to Guerschon Yabusele. Pick up the damn phone, Danny Ainge.