- Paul George to the Cavaliers? DeMarcus Cousins to the Celtics? We examine NBA trades that should happen... but won't.
We're fresh off an insane NBA offseason full of trades, with big names switching coasts at an alarming rate. But not even this summer's movement can stop us from concocting a number of what-if scenarios. The Crossover's writers took the time to think of the best NBA trades that won't happen, focusing on trade rumor veterans like DeMarcus Cousins and C.J. McCollum. Without further ado, NBA trades that should happen... but won't.
Ben Golliver: Paul George to the ... Cavaliers
Why it should happen: For the same reasons it made sense immediately after the 2017 Finals, plus a few new reasons that have surfaced in the months since reported trade talks between the Cavaliers and Pacers fell through. The Cavaliers need to go all-out to placate LeBron James in hopes of re-signing him next summer. They need to add an A-list wing defender to counter Kevin Durant. They need another athletic scoring option to help replace Kyrie Irving. They need a hedge against Isaiah Thomas coming back later than expected, being limited by lingering health issues, or getting played off the court in the Finals. They need a prime talent to reduce their dependence on fading stars like Dwyane Wade and Derrick Rose.
On the flip side, George is a clear light risk due to his expiring contract and his ongoing ties to the Lakers in rumors. Any team that isn't a genuine championship contender—like Indiana in June 2017 and possibly like Oklahoma City in February 2018—is best served by trading him rather than losing him next July for nothing.
Why it won't happen: The Thunder have gone all out to make George feel welcome, throwing him a lavish party following the trade and doubling down with the Carmelo Anthony trade in pursuit of title contention. In so doing, Oklahoma City has proven to Russell Westbrook that it is philosophically and financially committed to fielding a winner around him, steps that may or may not have played a role in the 2017 MVP’s decision to re-up on a massive contract extension in September.
For Oklahoma City, early-season ups and downs are to be expected and GM Sam Presti is likely to remain patient. Bringing together three alpha scorers is no easy task, and the Thunder continue to possess major depth issues despite their busy off-season. The natural tendency in this situation is to hope for the best: To hope that Westbrook, George and Anthony continue to gel after the trade deadline, to hope that George likes Oklahoma City enough to re-sign next summer, and to hope that fixes to the smaller rotation problems emerge over time.
Trading George before the deadline would represent an abrupt change of direction, it would generate real public blowback, it would throw Anthony's future into question, and it would require another round of patience from Westbrook. But if Oklahoma City hasn’t climbed firmly into the West’s top three seeds by February, Presti should move George and launch his next retooling plan with haste. Oklahoma City's payroll is too big and its risk exposure to a George departure is too great to settle for a second-round exit, especially if Presti could pry Brooklyn’s first-round pick from Cleveland.
Rob Mahoney: George Hill to the … Bucks
Why it should happen: The connecting of dots between Eric Bledsoe and the Bucks stirred conversation about what kind of point guard fits best next to Giannis Antetokounmpo. Hill checks every box: he shoots well, he handles proficiently (but can work off the ball), he defends across multiple positions, and he plays with a calm to balance out the Bucks’ wilder swings. Everything that you like about Malcolm Brogdon, Hill does better.
Why it won’t happen: Even though Milwaukee has the pieces to peak Sacramento’s interest, parting with them would be a tough sell. The reality is implicit in proposing this deal: Hill is a very good, experienced player who can make young teams better. Sacramento signed him to a three-year deal for just that reason and won’t be looking to give him away. Among even conceivable trade candidates, Thon Maker is too unique a talent—and too perfect a fit next to Antetokounmpo—to give up in a deal like this.
Brogdon might appeal to the Kings, but part of their motivation doing such a deal would be to clear the way for De’Aaron Fox. That foundation only works if the Kings would indulge the thought of Fox and Brogdon playing together as a long-term pair. A future first might otherwise intrigue Sacramento, but making the finances of a deal work would require sending back either Greg Monroe (a helpful big for this year’s playoff push) or multiple players with less palatable, multi-year deals that the Kings would be reluctant to take on. There’s the outline of a trade here—if only both teams didn’t have just enough motivation to stand pat.
Rohan Nadkarni: DeMarcus Cousins to the ... Celtics
Why it should happen: The Celtics jump back to the top of the East race after the Gordon Hayward injury. Boston is potentially set up for the future with a Kyrie Irving-Hayward-Boogie big three. And Al Horford, who is a little older than the promising core, becomes expendable.
Why it won’t happen: There are so many reasons for the Celtics not to trade for Boogie. First and foremost, Cousins is in the last year of his contract, which means Boston could part with assets and then lose Cousins in the offseason for nothing. And we know how precious Danny Ainge is about his assets. In Ainge’s defense this time (and this time only!), parting with someone like Jayson Tatum for a one-year rental wouldn’t be prudent. (Also, if you want to trade for a Pelicans big man, shouldn’t it be Anthony Davis?)
Beyond that, the Celtics already came into this season a little top heavy. Boston lost key role players to acquire stars over the summer. The C’s can’t get rid of everyone who fills the gaps. Sending away a player like, say Marcus Smart, could zap some of what make’s Boston special—a collective that’s greater than the sum of its parts thanks to great coaching and clearly defined roles for players who fit them. And can you take a risk on Boogie? Sure, he can explode and give you 40 and 20 on any given night. But he’s yet to prove he can carry a team to success, and Boston already has its hands full trying to make sure Irving becomes franchise-on-the-back guy. Oh, and perhaps most importantly, Aron Baynes is going to be the next great Celtics center anyway.
Andrew Sharp: Eric Bledsoe to the ... Spurs
Why it should happen: Listen. I have spent several years of my NBA writing life trying to get Eric Bledsoe out of Phoenix and onto a fun, young team that could use his talents to vault themselves to meaningful winning. We're closer than ever to seeing Eric Bledsoe on the Nuggets or Bucks, so this should be easy, right?
But see, it's not easy. The days of Bledsoe to the Bucks dreams were a simpler time, a time before the KD Warriors roamed the earth, and before Kawhi Leonard had turned into an offensive and defensive death machine just as the rest of the Spurs core got old. So with apologies to Milwaukee and Denver, we can't afford to put Eric Bledsoe on a hipster team that will probably top out as a fifth seed.
Bledsoe is not a perfect player, but San Antonio gets the best out of everyone, and the Spurs would unleash the best basketball of career. Throwing him on the perimeter next to Dejounte Murray's 8-foot arms and Kawhi Leonard would make San Antonio better equipped than anyone in the NBA to harass the Warriors on the perimeter. Kawhi needs help, and the Warriors need competition. Offensively, he'd inject some athleticism that's been missing at the guard spots since Tony Parker's early days. Pop would use Bledsoe in all kinds of strange ways, and it would work really well, and it would be as baffling as watching the Rudy Gay renaissance that's clearly coming over the next few months.
Now... Would any of this be enough to help the Spurs actually beat the Warriors in a playoff series? Probably not. But it would be fun as hell to watch them try.
Why it won't happen: 1) It's tough to make the salaries work without including Tony Parker, 2) the Suns wouldn't want any young Spurs asset besides Dejounte Murray, and 3) the Spurs are not trading Dejounte Murray.
Jeremy Woo: CJ McCollum to the Wolves ... and Andrew Wiggins to the Blazers
Why it should happen: C.J. McCollum and Damian Lillard are similar. Andrew Wiggins and Jimmy Butler are similar. Breaking up both pairings would conceivably round out both teams!
Why it won’t happen: Financial difficulties aside (the Blazers are in the tax and Wiggins’ big extension doesn’t kick in until next year), both teams are in position to be patient here.
McCollum trade rumors seem to crop up every year, but as a dynamic low-maintenance, still-improving scorer, Portland shouldn’t be ready to punt. That backcourt poses defensive issues, but the ability to have Lillard or McCollum on the court at all times is still a luxury. Whenever the weight of both contracts saddles the Blazers more than the value of two All-Star caliber guards is when this gets real, and I don’t think we’re there yet—especially not when it would mean eating even more long-term money with Wiggins’s deal.
Minnesota could really use the added backcourt punch, and McCollum’s ability to play off the ball would fit nicely next to Jimmy Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns, but Wiggins is still just 22. His world-class athleticism leaves room for optimism that his game has plenty of growth left in it. Although they added Butler and are playoff hopefuls, the Wolves’ true contention window is tied to Towns, who is conveniently still just 21 and gives them an opportunity to contend beyond whenever it is the Warriors start to slip (that could be awhile). Accelerating their timeline further with a guy like McCollum would be a gamble that doesn’t justify the potential on-court improvements.