Much of the National Basketball Association is about talent. Star power has ruled the day for many years, from the Bill Russell-led Celtics to the Big Three of Miami to the Warriors Superteam of today. However, unless a team has enough to truly contend for a title, it’s often wiser to blow it up and build from the bottom. The NBA is not a league that rewards being mediocre, or even just pretty good. A team either wants to be the best or the worst, with little in between. This is the kind of thinking that got Sam Hinkie fired in Philadelphia, but look at that roster right now and you’ll see a collection of young talent that could do big things a few years from now.
Patience is difficult to find around the league, but it’s what can turn a franchise into a true winner and possibly a champion. The Warriors would not be where they are today without trading Monta Ellis and taking a chance on a skinny mid-major guard with ankle problems. The Spurs would not have Kawhi Leonard had they not had the guts to trade George Hill, one of Greg Popovich’s favorite players at the time.
Fans, coaches and even executives can get attached to star players or players with loads of potential, sometimes to the detriment of the organization. The ultimate goal of every NBA franchise should be to win the league championship, to capture the Larry O’Brien Trophy and not merely contend for a playoff spot. Trading your star player can be a good option when looking at the big picture. Here are 15 NBA teams that should trade their star players.
15 Los Angeles Lakers – D’Angelo Russell
D’Angelo Russell may not be a star yet, but the Lakers drafted him to be one. The young guard started slowly last season but showed flashes of the immense upside that convinced the team to make him the second selection in the 2015 NBA Draft.
14 Philadelphia 76ers – Jahlil Okafor
This is another case of a team trading a recent top pick. Okafor was selected one pick after Russell in the 2015 Draft and he had a decent statistical rookie season. The former Duke player, however, is an old-school big man in a new-school world. His back-to-the-basket game is not as valuable as it once was in the big man-dominated NBA and his subpar defensive play is a glaring weakness in a league that now emphasizes that end of the court more than ever.
13 Phoenix Suns – Brandon Knight
The Phoenix Suns made a curious move in 2015 when they traded for Brandon Knight. The team had just gotten a lesson in what can happen with too many guards on their roster, but it seems they did not learn from that lesson. Knight felt really redundant with Eric Bledsoe on the roster, as they’re both essentially shoot-first guards. Both players missed time last season due to injury, which paved the way for playing time for then-rookie Devin Booker.
12 Milwaukee Bucks – Greg Monroe
When Greg Monroe signed with the Bucks in the 2015 offseason, it came as a surprise to many. Monroe had suitors in major cities, yet bucked the trend and decided to take his talents to Milwaukee instead. The Bucks were coming off a resurgent campaign that saw them turn into one of the better defensive teams in the league.
11 Miami Heat – Goran Dragic
When Miami landed Goran Dragic in February of 2015, it seemed to make a lot of sense for both teams. Phoenix had a glut of point guards and a talented youngster in Eric Bledsoe that needed more playing time, while Miami seemed on the verge of competing for a top seed in the Eastern Conference if they could add one more major piece.
10 Orlando Magic – Serge Ibaka
The Orlando Magic seemed to make a panic trade during the night of the 2016 NBA Draft. Orlando sent Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova and the rights to Gonzaga forward Domantas Sabonis to the Oklahoma City Thunder to land Ibaka. Orlando has struggled to win games since trading Dwight Howard several years ago and this was obviously a win-now, playoffs-or-bust kind of move.
9 Chicago Bulls – Rajon Rondo
The Bulls are a bit of a mess right now outside of the luxury of having Jimmy Butler on the roster. Their offseason was one of major changes, as they traded Derrick Rose and let Joakim Noah walk via free agency. Both of those moves made sense and a quick rebuild around Butler seemed imminent.
The signing of Rondo felt like a move made by a team that didn’t know what to do with their cap space. Rondo may have led the NBA in assists last season, but a ball-dominant point guard did not make sense with Butler needing the ball in his hands to succeed. Chicago only compounded this issue with the signing of Dwyane Wade. With Butler, Rondo and Wade all now calling The Windy City home, there are simply not enough basketballs to go around.
8 Brooklyn Nets – Brook Lopez
The Nets will continue to be haunted by the infamous trade that brought Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to Brooklyn, as the team mortgaged their future in an ill-advised attempt to contend with the aging stars. With Boston owning some of Brooklyn’s draft picks, as well as the right to swap other picks, Brooklyn faces the seemingly insurmountable task of rebuilding a mostly bare roster without high draft picks.
7 Atlanta Hawks – Dwight Howard
Here is another case of a summer of 2016 signing gone bad. Someone was going to pay Dwight Howard, everyone knew that. However, many people thought it would be a team more like Charlotte, a young club on the rise desperate to win a playoff series. Howard may be an Atlanta native, but signing the aging big man did not make much sense for this organization. The dream regular season Atlanta had two years ago seems like a distant memory and the offseason departures of Al Horford and Jeff Teague should have sparked a rebuild in Atlanta.
6 Toronto Raptors – Kyle Lowry
This may seem odd at first given the Raptors are coming off a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals. However, dig a little deeper and you’ll see that Toronto’s road to the NBA Finals is one riddled with pitfalls. 2015-16 saw the Raptors play as well as they possibly could throughout the regular season, earning them the second seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs.
Toronto did not resemble a top team in the playoffs, though. They needed seven games to get past the Indiana Pacers in the first round, just as they did to take down an under-manned Miami Heat team in the second. Toronto did take two games from the eventual NBA Champion Cleveland Cavaliers, but did anyone ever doubt Cleveland was going to book a trip to the NBA Finals?
5 Cleveland Cavaliers – Kevin Love
Trade the third-best player on the reigning NBA Champions? Crazy, right? Not in this case. Anyone that watched the NBA Finals saw that Kevin Love simply does not fit with what the Cleveland Cavaliers are trying to do. Outside of a gritty Game seven performance, one that cast Love as more of a lunch pail player, the former star looked like a shell of himself.
4 Los Angeles Clippers – Blake Griffin
Blake Griffin is coming off a rough season. The headline of the year for the former number one pick was that of punching a Clippers equipment manager at a restaurant and breaking his own hand as a result. But put aside the gossipy headlines for a second and look at his numbers, especially games played. Griffin was already out with a partially torn quad when he broke his hand, and he appeared in just 35 regular season games on the year. Griffin would suffer another quad injury in the first round of the playoffs, ending his season. The former Sooner also played in just 67 regular season games in 2014-15. Could we be looking at a guy that is becoming more and more injury prone? Sure, the broken hand is a fluke, but one can’t deny that Griffin is a player that desperately needs his athleticism to be fully effective.
3 Sacramento Kings – DeMarcus Cousins
It’s time for the DeMarcus Cousins era in Sacramento to come to an end. Has a franchise ever enabled an athlete more than the Kings have enabled Cousins? This team has consistently chosen Cousins over his coaches and sent the big man a message that he’s the most important piece of the puzzle. There is no denying the incredible talent and ability of Cousins, but this is a guy that simply doesn’t get it. He could be the kind of player that needs to be traded as a wake-up call, but he’s not going to take Sacramento where they want to go.
2 New York Knicks – Carmelo Anthony
Carmelo Anthony has a no-trade clause, but that should not stop New York Knicks executive Phil Jackson from trying to trade the aging star. Bringing Melo to New York was botched from day one. The Knicks simply couldn’t wait a few more months for Anthony to become a free agent in the summer of 2011 and surrendered their best young talent for him instead.
1 Oklahoma City Thunder – Russell Westbrook
Russell Westbrook is about to have one heck of a statistical season. There is no better bet to lead the league in scoring in 2016-17. However, some are afraid to see how many shots per game he averages. With Kevin Durant choosing to join the Warriors, Westbrook is officially the big man on campus in OKC. With few other offensive threats on the Thunder roster, Westbrook may soon be channeling his inner Allen Iverson.
However, flashy totals don’t tell the whole story and we’re likely about to see an inefficient and wild season from one of the most explosive athletes to ever step foot onto a basketball court. The Thunder can’t win with Westbrook playing this way and we saw exactly that during the stretch run in 2014-15 when Westbrook racked up triple-doubles but ultimately saw his team fall short of the playoffs with Durant sidelined. OKC could get a king’s ransom for Westbrook and add some young studs to a youthful core that includes Victor Oladipo, Steven Adams and Cameron Payne.
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