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.
However, the biggest mistake he made during his rookie campaign came off the court. Russell filmed teammate Nick Young talking about cheating on his fiancée and the video somehow got posted online. This caused a major rift in the Lakers locker room and officially sunk what was already a rebuilding/Farewell Kobe year. While Russell has major potential, the Lakers would be wise to move on from the Ohio State product. Repairing the fractured relationships and lack of trust in L.A. is going to be difficult, especially with so many young players on the roster. Los Angeles could likely still net solid value in a trade thanks to Russell being such a recent number two pick. Trading him to a team with a dearth of young talent would make a lot of sense and could expedite the rebuilding process in Los Angeles.
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.
Now, Okafor is not useless by any means, but Philadelphia has one of the more crowded frontcourts in the league. With Nerlens Noel, Joel Embiid, Dario Saric and Ben Simmons also in the mix, there simply isn’t room for Okafor in The City of Brotherly Love. One of these guys should be moved in an effort to shore up things on the perimeter, and Okafor is the top candidate.
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.
Booker lit it up when given the opportunity, looking like one of the league’s rising stars. The UK product deserves a starting spot, which means trading either Knight or Bledsoe, as we can’t imagine one of those players accepting a bench role. Bledsoe, when healthy, is the superior player of the two and the Suns could probably get at least one legitimate asset in return for Knight from a point guard-needy team.
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.
While Monroe is a skilled offensive player, defense has never been his calling card. He did not seem to mesh well with Milwaukee’s uber-athletic roster last season and there is plenty of doubt that he ever will. As odd as it might sound, the Bucks are probably better off with Miles Plumlee starting at center than they are with Monroe manning the paint. Milwaukee could definitely get value for a player that just averaged 15.3 PPG, 8.8 RPG and potentially return to being the defensive stalwart that they were two years ago.
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.
My how things have changed since then for the Heat. Dwyane Wade is gone, Chris Bosh’s long-term health is in question and Dragic now finds himself surrounded by young players. With guys like Hassan Whiteside and Justise Winslow established as the cornerstones of this organization, it would be wise to move a veteran like Dragic to add to the well of young talent in South Beach. Dragic has never really thrived in Miami with head coach Erik Spoelstra’s system and would likely play better if traded to a team that implements more pick-and-roll.
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.
However, it probably did not make the team much better. It’s likely that this deal was made with the idea that Ibaka would help protect the rim for a team that has not been able to do so. Ibaka is not the defensive beast that he was in his younger days, styling himself as more of a stretch four in recent seasons. His presence also pushed up-and-comer Aaron Gordon to the small forward position when he’s really better-suited at power forward. Sure, Orlando just traded for Ibaka, but the best move would be to move him as quickly as they acquired him.
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.
Also, a backcourt of Rondo and Wade provides very little threat from three-point range in a league that emphasizes shooting from deep.
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.
Trading Brook Lopez, probably the only veteran with legitimate value on the roster, would at least help the process. The Nets are not going to be good this season and shipping Lopez for young talent would be much better for this franchise. The skilled center is coming off a season in which he stayed healthy for most of it (73 games played) and his value won’t be higher. Right now Brooklyn has little more than potential role players to build around and Lopez could bring back a better future asset via trade.
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.
Instead the team has a young backcourt and a veteran frontcourt, which sounds like a recipe for mediocrity, the worst place to be in the NBA. The Hawks won’t contend for a title with Howard; heck, they probably won’t even earn home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Moving Howard to a team with some young big men with upside would give this organization a better long-term outlook.
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?
Toronto looks like a huge regression candidate this season and the Boston Celtics appear to have hurdled them in the East hierarchy with the acquisition of Al Horford. Lowry would fetch a fine price from a team in need of help at the one and Toronto even has a steady replacement candidate already on the roster in Cory Joseph. The team seems content being one of the second-tier teams in the Eastern Conference, but that is not a great long-term plan.
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.
LeBron James and Kyrie Irving brought the title to Cleveland, and it would behoove the team to trade Love if they want to repeat as kings of the NBA. Love has had two up-and-down seasons in Cleveland after being a stud in Minnesota, but surely a team without a star (Boston always comes to mind) would still assemble a fine package for him. Cleveland could shore up their weaknesses with role players while potentially getting a little younger and set for another run at the league crown.
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.
The Clippers title window is not closing; it’s closed. Chris Paul has an early termination option in his contract following the 2016-17 season and could legitimately walk. A team desperate for star power and looking to sell tickets would probably give up a lot to get a name like Griffin.
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.
The Kings have been disastrous in recent years and a Cousins deal could mean an influx of new talent to give the Kings fan base hope. Failed draft picks, odd signings and ill-advised trades have made this a roster of no direction and committing to a full teardown is precisely what this organization needs.
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.
Outside of a fluky 2012-13 season that saw the team win the Atlantic Division, the Melo era in New York has been a flop. Before the 2014/15 season, it looked like time to let Anthony walk, but the team re-signed him to a long-term deal. After a 2015-16 season that saw Kristaps Porzingis look like one of the future stars of this league, a Melo trade seemed inevitable. It did not come. The smart move for New York would be to trade Melo for some combination of draft picks and young assets while showing the kind of patience the organization has lacked for so long.
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.