NBA Trade Matchmaker: Predicting Where Stars Will Land

Will Kyle Lowry, Andre Drummond, and John Collins be on the move? The Crossover plays NBA trade matchmaker.
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The biggest blockbuster of the 2020–21 season already occurred when James Harden left Houston in January, but that doesn’t mean we won’t see a flurry of activity before the March 25 trade deadline. A championship point guard could be on the move, as could a mercurial All-Star center. A flood of Eastern Conference contenders are likely to be hunting for veteran upgrades, while likely lottery teams could look to secure a young piece before free agency. The Harden deal changed the championship landscape in an instant. Perhaps the right move could have a similar impact next month.

So who are the most likely high-profile names on the move in the coming months? Check out The Crossover’s list below:

Kyle Lowry

Lowry is the best available piece on the market if Toronto is in fact willing to ship him. And based on recent reports, that very well could be the case in the coming weeks. Lowry doesn’t provide the long-term upside of someone like John Collins, but for a title contender, Toronto’s point guard could put them over the top. Lowry is one of the brightest point guards in the game. He’s a defensive bulldog, and he has a penchant for making a clutch three in a big spot. The 2019 playoffs erased any ‘Playoff Lowry’ criticism. He delivered in the Finals alongside Kawhi Leonard just two summers ago. He could do the same across the continent in 2021.

The field of contenders for Lowry is pretty clear. The 76ers–Lowry's hometown team–have been reported as a preferred destination for Lowry, joined by the Clippers and Heat. All three destinations make sense. Philadelphia still needs a late-game initiator to avoid their patented clogged-toilet offense in fourth quarters. The Clippers shortcomings at point guard were painfully obvious in last year’s playoffs. Goran Dragic’s scoring has dipped for Miami, and Kendrick Nunn is more of a microwave scorer than a lead playmaker. Add Lowry to any of the aforementioned teams, and their title odds will surely jump.

Matching money is the most complex issue regarding a Lowry trade. He makes $30 million in 2020–21, creating a similar situation to Andre Drummond in Cleveland. But it’s not impossible to make a deal work. The Clippers can quickly package Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams and additional filler (likely including young center Ivica Zubac). Philadelphia could offer a combination including Danny Green and Mike Scott’s contracts as well as young guards Tyrese Maxey and Matisse Thybulle. The Sixers also have a trade exception over $8 million. Miami has a collection of expendable contracts, most notably Kelly Olynyk’s expiring deal. Figuring out the financials isn’t too difficult. Making a deal worth Toronto’s while is the hard part.

Zubac could be an intriguing piece for Toronto’s scuffling frontcourt, though ultimately, Philadelphia is likely in the pole position if it’s willing to part with at least one of Maxey and Thybulle. Is the Lowry era in Toronto over? Not just yet. His departure could come after the season. But if Toronto pulls a trigger on a deal, it would be fitting to send Lowry back to where his basketball journey began.

Andre Drummond

The Drummond situation is a bit of a quagmire with less than a month before the trade deadline. His value is a bit in the eyes of the beholder. There’s a case to be made that while a bit of a career disappointment, Drummond is still an immense talent who just hasn’t been in the right situation. He’s somehow just 27, and now in a contract push, you’ll likely get some of the most engaged play of his career. Considering Drummond's sheer size and athleticism, you’d assume teams are inclined to take a shot on the two-time All-Star.

An engaged Drummond could make a legitimate impact on a contender, though frankly, finding a home isn’t as simple as one would assume. The Celtics are the most natural spot considering their $28 million trade exception. But Boston isn't getting steamrolled at the rim on most nights. Danny Ainge would be best served pursuing a more versatile player in the frontcourt, one who could add some scoring punch as Kemba Walker and the bench continue to struggle. Toronto is playing its best basketball of the season behind a small-ball group. It’s hard to see Nick Nurse pivoting after what we’ve seen of late. The first options under consideration for Drummond may not be the most sensible ones.

One option that could make sense: Dallas. The Mavericks found success using a twin towers lineup of Kristaps Porzingis and Dwight Powell last season, but Powell's minutes and efficiency have dipped in 2020–21 after returning from an Achilles tear suffered last January. Porzingis is used primarily as a pick-and-pop threat. His defensive struggles this year have been glaring. Drummond isn’t a magical answer to Dallas’s issues, but he could serve as a nice complement to Porzingis in limited minutes.

Cleveland may ultimately fail to find a trade partner before the deadline, sending Drummond to what could be a very-crowded buyout market. And in what could be a common theme this year, perhaps the Nets will land him as they look to fortify a shaky interior defense. LeBron James teams have feasted in the buyout market in recent years. Perhaps the Nets will find similar success with the league’s newest superteam.

P.J. Tucker

It’s hard to parse whether the Rockets will ship Victor Oladipo before the trade deadline. The same doesn’t exactly apply to P.J. Tucker. The Rockets’ interior anchor failed to come to an extension agreement with Houston in the offseason, an issue that clearly bothered him as opening night approached. Houston's Harden trade and subsequent shaky season have dampened both Tucker’s spirit and his impact on both ends. A fresh start before the trade deadline is likely the best option for both parties.

Tucker’s scoring has absolutely plummeted this year. He has more than twice as many zero-point games (nine) as double-digit scoring efforts (four), and he’s 0-17 from three in his last nine games. Should that deter any potential trade bidders? Not really. Tucker is still close to elite on the defensive end (he may be the smartest defender in the game) and he's not currently receiving a flood of open looks like he did alongside Harden. Pair Tucker with an elite offensive initiator, and he’ll hit plenty of open corner threes. This is a sad way for Tucker’s Rockets career to end after serving as the franchise’s heartbeat for the last four seasons. Let’s hope he can play meaningful basketball again in 2020–21.

The usual crop of contenders emerge when assessing the market for Tucker. He’d be a major frontcourt piece in Brooklyn, though there isn’t exactly a treasure trove of pick capital on hand for the Nets. Poaching Spencer Dinwiddie off a torn ACL would be a fitting move for Houston’s Island of Misfit Toys. Would Brooklyn pull the trigger on such a proposition? Perhaps not.

Boston could acquire Tucker and still have a significant portion of its trade exception, though Ainge and Co. could be turned off by the forward’s scoring limitations. Dallas could use some more defensive strength, and while the Knicks have more than enough forwards, has there ever been a player more fitting for Tom Thibodeau? Tucker’s contract is modest and his reputation is sterling. I’d be surprised if he’s in Houston in April.

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J.J. Redick

Like Lowry, it’s not a mystery as to who could pursue Redick at the trade deadline. New Orleans’s sharpshooting guard has noted a quartet of northeast teams (Brooklyn, New York, Boston and Philadelphia) as his preferred options, and considering his relationship with Stan Van Gundy, it’s likely his wish is honored. So which is the most sensible home for Redick? The Celtics sit ahead of the pack.

Brooklyn doesn’t need any more poor defenders. The Sixers’ backcourt is relatively crowded, with Seth Curry filling the second guard spot in crunch time minutes. Perhaps there’s some interest from New York, though from a pure fit perspective, Boston is the runaway winner. The Celtics are dedicating far too many minutes to Payton Pritchard, Jeff Teague and Aaron Nesmith. They’re a middling three-point shooting team. Like Tucker, Boston could use part of its trade exception for Redick, then continue to hunt for pieces on the trade market. It’s hard to find a single move changing the Celtics’ fortunes in the East. But add Redick and a frontcourt piece, and we may not write Brad Stevens’s team off after all.

John Collins

The situation with Collins is different than the rest of the names on our list. The likes of Lowry, Drummond and Tucker are veteran players on the downswing of their earnings potential, likely playing a half season with a contender before entering an uncertain market in free agency. Collins doesn’t face a similar fate. Whoever acquires Atlanta’s forward will want to re-sign him over the offseason, likely giving out a nine-figure deal. Such a proposition likely limits Collins’s market. But Atlanta could still have a minor list of suitors.

Let’s start with a pair of postseason teams. The Celtics could acquire Collins with its trade exception, then hope to retain him in the summer. Does Boston have the assets to pull off a deal? They are pick neutral at the moment, but if Atlanta wants current talent in return, the pathway narrows. A Porzingis-for-Collins blockbuster is quite intriguing. It’s also more of a trade-machine fantasy than a likely deal. I still feel as though Dallas isn’t quite ready to end the Porzingis experiment, and with extensions looming for DeAndre Hunter, Cam Reddish and Kevin Huerter, perhaps committing to Porzingis’s contract isn’t the most prudent move for the Hawks.

Houston is one lottery team that could make for a match. Pairing Collins and Christian Wood would be an enticing combo for Houston (albeit a shaky defensive one) and perhaps Atlanta is intrigued by pairing Victor Oladipo with Trae Young. Oladipo is also a free-agent this summer, though will he really get over $100 million like Collins? I’m not so sure. At the right price, Atlanta could re-sign Oladipo and keep some semblance of flexibility. Collins has the best skill-set of any player on our list. If the right franchise acquires him, they could quickly have a bargain.

Blake Griffin

Blake Griffin’s relatively rapid decline is a real disappointment. The insane athleticism of his Lob City days faded years ago, but even in his first seasons with Detroit, Griffin was still an underrated valuable player. He expanded his range with relative ease, and Detroit leaned heavily on his playmaking skills. Point Blake was a truly dynamic weapon. It’s a shame we may never see it again.

Griffin is firmly on the trade market at the moment, tethered to the Pistons bench as they search for a trade partner. But it’s likely such a partner never emerges. Perhaps this is a different story if Griffin is an expiring contract, but assuming he opts into $39 million for 2021–21, it’s hard to find any suitor unless Detroit attaches significant pick capital. We’ll likely see Griffin and the Pistons work toward a buyout after the deadline, where an uncertain crop of landing spots awaits. Griffin’s decline has been precipitous. Let’s hope to see him making an impact on a team at least one more time before the end of his career.