After two game 7s which we saw the Boston Celtics defeat the Milwaukee Bucks and the Cleveland Cavaliers defeat the Indiana Pacers we are officially on to the semifinals. That means that 8 more teams are on vacation joining the 14 teams that missed the postseason. For those teams, some are still a few seasons away from being truly competitive. Others are only a piece or two away from being on a level playing field with the NBA's elite. In order to close that gap, there are three ways outside of player's individual development that can change the landscape of the NBA. The NBA draft, free agency, and trades allow for franchises to drastically improve. This season has been an outlier as we have seen a few rookies lead their teams to playoff runs but traditionally rookies don't have that kind of impact from day 1.
Free agency limits team's options as they are either appealing due to the city they play in or how close they are to winning a championship. This leaves us to off-season trades. Last season we saw the Oklahoma City Thunder crowned as the winners of the off-season. The Thunder made separate trades and acquired G Paul George and F Carmelo Anthony. The expectations were they would at least compete for the right to play in the conference finals. On paper, there was no reason that OKC would not be able to make it out the first round of the playoffs but here we are.
This summer there will be several more trades that win the off-season but whether it translates to victories next season won't be determined until this time next year. With that being said, next we'll breakdown 15 trades that will shake up the landscape of the NBA next season.
15 Serge Ibaka To The Rockets
The Toronto Raptors are in the midst of a battle with the Cleveland Cavaliers. After the knee injury to Kyrie Irving that sidelined him for the rest of the season, the Boston Celtics slipped out of the top seed and for the first time in franchise history, Toronto finished at the top of the conference. Sure, the Raptors have closed the gap between them and the Cleveland Cavaliers, but they are no closer to being truly competitive against the western conference elite than they were last year. The improved bench for the Raptors may allow them to shakeup their starting lineup.
Serge Ibaka has been a great defender for Toronto since his arrival from the Orlando Magic in February 2017.
Still, the Raptors will have to play faster and become a better three point shooting team going forward to contend in the Eastern Conference with the Cetics and Sixers. The goal for Toronto cannot be how do we beat Cleveland anymore. They have to consider Boston and Philadelphia as true threats. DeMar DeRozan has improved his shooting this season from behind the arc, but he still needs to continue that improvement this summer. That opens the door for a trade sending Serge Ibaka to the Rockets.
14 Damian Lillard To The Cavs
The Portland Trail Blazers were not seen as a legitimate contender in the western conference heading into the season. The moves made by the Minnesota Timberwolves and Oklahoma City Thunder were certainly going to put them in position to have home court advantage in the playoffs. Kawhi Leonard would be healthy again and maybe Portland finishes 6th or 7th at best? That turned out to be false and the play of the Portland back court was at a high level all season long. When Portland was streaking in the second half of the season, Damian Lillard was playing at an MVP caliber level. We saw enough from Lillard and McCollum this season that there is no argument about whether they are one of the best back courts in the league.
Then came the matchup with the New Orleans Pelicans. DeMarcus Cousins went down with injury before the All-Star break, so maybe this would be somewhat a lost season for the Pelicans. That was also false. The Blazers were shell shocked against New Orleans as the underdog team swept Portland and did so in emphatic fashion. This team can only go so far with so much of a burden on their two guards being great game in and game out.
13 DeAndre Jordan To the Wizards
The Los Angeles Clippers were known as "lob city" ever since Chris Paul was traded from the New Orleans Pelicans in 2011. In the last calendar year we saw the Clippers trade Chris Paul to the Houston Rockers after he informed the team he was not planning on resigning. A few weeks later the Clippers signed Blake Griffin to a super max contract extension as the face of their franchise going forward. Griffin was shockingly traded to the Detroit Pistons after the team jumped through hoops to prove to Blake that the team wanted him to retire in Los Angeles.
That leaves DeAndre Jordan as the only one left on the roster from the team's best stretch of basketball in their team’s history. Jordan was the same guy that Chris Paul and teammates locked in a room until he backed out of his deal with the Dallas Mavericks and came back to Los Angeles. During the trade deadline, DeAndre was the talk of several trades and nothing came to fruition. This summer, I expect that option to be revisited as Jordan is not the type of player that can lead a franchise without another star accompanying him. That leads me to the deal sending Jordan to the Wizards in exchange for Bradley Beal.
12 Ryan Anderson To The Raptors
The Houston Rockets finished this season as the number one seed in the western conference, a feat no other team has been able to accomplish since Steve Kerr began coaching the Warriors in 2014. Let General Manager Daryl Morey tell it, the number one goal for the Rockets is to figure out a way to beat Golden State. The goal is not to win a championship, but they have made it very clear that they want to and lose sleep over beating Golden State. That does not sound like the best strategy in my opinion but I do not have to worry about building the roster for Houston either. The saying goes, that history repeats itself. For the Rockets, they have made trades every off-season in recent memory to try to aggressively improve their roster.
Last season it was acquiring Chris Paul from the Los Angeles Clippers. I can almost guarantee that the Rockets will be aggressive again this summer and will make moves. If you have watched the way this team has played this postseason, they are starting PJ Tucker for Ryan Anderson and making an effort from a personnel stand point to have defense on the floor. Anderson is being paid a lot of money and with a head coach that does not specialize in defense; the GM must bring in players that have a defensive mentality. Serge Ibaka likes to hang around the three point line on offense and on defense he likes to defend the rim. Coupled with Clint Capela, the Rockets can have a defensive front line that can mask some of their liabilities of the defensive end.
11 Kevin Love To The Blazers
After trading Kyrie Irving to the Boston Celtics, the Cleveland Cavaliers were clearly in a transition phase. Last season, there were reports that the Cavs agreed on a trade that would have potentially sent Kevin Love out of town in exchange for Paul George. As we all know, that trade fell apart and the rest is history. The fact that the Cavs were already entertaining the idea of Kevin Love makes me believe they won't be against revisiting this idea in the summer. If you have watched the Cavs performance in the postseason, the Cavs clearly need to do a better job of taking the workload off of LeBron James. LeBron is great and we all know this.
In today's NBA, you cannot legitimately compete for a championship with so much responsibility on the shoulders of one player.
That leads to the idea of Kevin Love being shipped to the Portland Trail Blazers. In the right situation, Kevin Love can be effective if he is not asked to do too much. Love has his limitations but a player who can occasionally score on the block and stretch the floor would be a great piece in Portland. CJ McCollum as the main guy with Kevin Love and Jordan Clarkson off the bench should be more than formidable.
10 Bradley Beal To The Clippers
The Washington Wizards' season is a tale of two different teams. When the season started, the Wizards were one of those teams that started out very slow. Expectations were that Washington would be in the conversation with the Toronto Raptors as a potential three seed in the eastern conference. Then, John Wall suffered his injury and the Wizards were without their superstar guard for an extended period of time. Lead by Bradley Beal, the Wizards gained traction and looked like a completely different team than what we were accustomed to the past few years.
With John Wall sidelined players like Marcin Gortat began to take subliminal shots at him in reference to how they were now playing as a "team." When John Wall returned, the team made the 8th seed and if you were a fan of the Wizards, you had to be disappointed in how the season ended. After two blowout losses in Toronto, the Wizards looked like they should not have been on the same floor together. At home, the team had two back-to-back showings that proved they were not the team we saw the first two games. The question remains, how the Wizards will figure out how to improve their team with limited flexibility. The answer to that question is trading Bradley Beal to the Los Angeles Clippers.
9 Jaylen Brown To The Bulls
The Boston Celtics are in prime position to be one of the most dominant NBA franchises for the foreseeable future. The team overachieved in 2017 and captured the number 1 seed in the Eastern Conference led by Isaiah Thomas. If you have watched Isaiah before he was in Boston and after, he was clearly not the same player. Whether that can be attributed to injury or not is still to be seen. With a superstar point guard in Kyrie Irving along with All-Star Gordon Hayward, the Celtics are built to win now and in the future. The development of the young players on this team does not get the credit that it deserves.
One of the most promising rookies this season has been Jayson Tatum. With the injury to Kyrie Irving the Celtics have been forced to start their backup Terry Rozier, and he looks like everything but a backup. When Oklahoma City had to pay max contracts to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, the team had to part ways with their other star James Harden in 2012. This is a similar problem that may eventually play a part in breaking up this core in Boston. Jaylen Brown looks like a future all-star and with a lot of players with similar skill sets it may be beneficial to trade a piece or two for more roster balance. This leads Jaylen Brown being dealt to the Chicago Bulls.
8 Lauri Markkanen To The Celtics
The Chicago Bulls drafted Lauri Markkanen with the 7th overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. With the talent that was on that roster last season, there weren’t thoughts in Chicago that they would be in position to take a player that high in the draft. The deal sending Jimmy Butler to the Minnesota Timberwolves allowed them to take a big man they felt really strong about. Chicago is far away from being in the conversation from making the playoffs so this NBA Draft will be pivotal for their growth going forward.
This upcoming draft class may allow the Chicago Bulls to draft a transcendent player that will give them a cornerstone piece that they have not had since Derrick Rose won MVP in 2011. Finding that type of talent is extremely important for a team that you would consider "tanking," If the Bulls are able to draft another big man this June than that opens up the possibility of dealing Markkanen for a wing player. If both players project as All-Stars which I believe they do, a deal involving Jaylen Brown and Lauri Markkanen makes sense for both teams. For Boston, acquiring a player that can play big and stretch the floor in today's NBA is extremely valuable. For the Bulls, a defensive minded All-Star that mirrors Jimmy Butler may be what they need to get really good, really fast.
7 Josh Jackson To The Nuggets
The Phoenix Suns' season for the most part was laughable all year. They began the season by losing by 48 points, that's right 48 POINTS to the Portland Trail Blazers on opening night. Eric Bledsoe who was their second best player at the time was traded deactivated for seemingly taking shots at the team by tweeting "I don't want to be here." Later on Bledsoe referenced being at a salon as the inspiration of the tweet, but he was still traded away and fined $10,000.
This summer the Suns will have a high pick in the upcoming NBA lottery.
That may put the team in position to draft DeAndre Ayton from the University of Arizona. Ayton may be the best big to enter the league since Joel Embiid and if he can have similar impact on both ends as Embiid did, the Suns will not hesitate. This scenario would open up the opportunity for the Suns to add a player to pair with Devin Booker. The pairing of Booker and Ayton can be very lethal and give Phoenix two future All-Stars that will keep them relevant for a long time. The Suns will decide to pull the trigger on a trade sending Josh Jackson to the Denver Nuggets.
6 Jamal Murray To The Phoenix Suns
The Denver Nuggets have Gary Harris and Jamal Murray in the backcourt to pair with their future All-Star Nikola Jokic. Jokic is a very skilled big man that has the ability to create for his teammates and facilitate from the high post. Traditionally 7-footers aren't known as three point shooters and play makers but Jokic can do both in the mold of a true center. Denver missed the playoffs this season but their style of play should put them in contention next season to be a top 8 seed if they can keep Paul Millsap healthy.
The Nuggets can find another point guard and that makes it easy for them to part ways with Jamal Murray via trade this summer. The Nuggets would be acquiring Josh Jackson and his defensive abilities make Denver a more formidable team. With the departure of Jamal Murray, this will also allow Gary Harris to take on a bigger role offensively as he often took turns with Murray shooting and making plays. There is an opening on this Nuggets team for someone to effectively step into the small forward spot. That player can be Josh Jackson as he has shown flashes in his rookie year as having the upside to be a really good player sooner than later.
5 Reggie Jackson To The Magic
The Detroit Pistons did not make the playoffs this season after trading for Blake Griffin. The Pistons have a new arena in downtown Detroit and have had trouble filling up the seats in the stadium. Something has to change in Detroit and the management has gone on to say they want changes in the front office. This is a direct indictment on head coach and President of Basketball Operations Stan Van Gundy. The moves that the team has made have not translated directly to winning.
The Pistons have paid a healthy contract to G Reggie Jackson and injuries and production has not been worthy of the dollars he demands. Detroit has played better as a whole with backup point guard Ish Smith starting and the team should part ways with Jackson this summer. That leads me to a potential trade with the Orlando Magic. The Pistons would acquire guards Terrence Ross and Shelvin Mack to give them more depth and scoring to replace what they lost with the departure of Tobias Harris. Terrence Ross gives them scoring from their backcourt and athleticism to complement the two bigs they have in the front court. This roster will have to change in Detroit now that they have Blake Griffin and Reggie Jackson being traded is step one.
4 Hassan Whiteside To The Denver Nuggets
The Miami Heat signed Hassan Whiteside to a max contract in the summer of 2016. That summer was when the television contracts kicked in and the NBA gained a ton of new revenue. The NBA Players Association did not agree to a "smoothing" of sorts so the cap space jumped exponentially. A lot of players were paid more money than they would have the summer earlier because the teams had to spend the money and would not be able to save it. Whiteside was a beneficiary and the Miami Heat was presumed to be building around him for the future.
If you watched the first round playoff series against the Philadelphia 76ers, Whitside did not see much time early on because the Sixers had no Joel Embiid. Once Embiid returned, you thought they would be able to matchup against each other because the floor wouldn't be as spaced. That turned out to be false and Whiteside looked like he was a man on the outs in Miami. Whiteside even went on to voice his frustration with how he was being utilized. I am not sure there is a remedy with this ball club and the Heat may be more comfortable with Bam Adebayo at their center of the future. This opens up a trade with the Denver Nuggets.
3 Paul Millsap To The Miami Heat
Earlier in this article I listed a scenario involving the Denver Nuggets trading one of their promising young guards for a wing player in Josh Jackson. Now, I have them sending away their prime 2017 free agent signing one year after the deal. Millsap was dealing with injuries this season and when he was healthy he did not look like their franchise player. That title belongs to Nikola Jokic. Going into the season there was hope that Jokic could improve on his 2017 campaign, and he did all that and more. The Joker as he is called in Denver has solidified himself as one of the top 5 best young bigs in the entire NBA.
With only two years left on his contract, Millsap doesn't exactly have to be in the picture going forward for the Denver Nuggets.
The Miami Heat will be desperate to part ways with Hassan Whiteside and a trade for Paul Millsap makes sense. For Denver, you have a defensive minded center who can patrol the paint and mask some of the defensive liabilities of Jokic. For the Miami Heat, you know have a talented power forward that can score and give Goran Dragic someone to facilitate for. This is another trade that makes sense for all parties involved.
2 Kawhi Leonard To The Sixers
The drama unfolding in San Antonio is one of the most bizarre stories that we have seen this season. These types of stories and back and forth between organization and superstar player do not usually happen with a Greg Popovich led team. Even so, here we are. The discontent with Kawhi Leonard and the Spurs organization has stemmed down to the misdiagnosis of a quad injury. Kawhi and his team led by his uncle who has taken over his business operations, have reportedly been interested in taking Kawhi to a bigger market. Leonard does not seem like the type of player from the outside looking in that would be hell-bent on playing in front of the bright lights but for his brand they may feel that is necessary.
The teams that Kawhi's team would be interested in are both Los Angeles teams, the New York Knicks, and the Philadelphia 76ers. This summer, Leonard would qualify for the super-max contract extension which could pay him $219 million over 5 years. If he were to be traded, that deal would not be possible right away and assets would have to be returned to make this happen. Winning does not seem to be the motivation here which is weird, but to grant his wish Kawhi would be going to Philly to join Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid.
1 Markelle Fultz To The Spurs
The Philadelphia 76ers are in position to acquire one of the best two-way players in the NBA. That type of scenario does not present itself often. The downside of acquiring a player like Leonard is that you will need to fork up some serious talent in order for Gregg Popovich to agree to any type of deal. Kawhi Leonard is under contract and after missing all but nine games this season, cannot afford to threaten to sit out the season. That means if the Sixers want a chance to land a player that you would feel comfortable guarding LeBron James, you have to give up star power.
Last year, the Philadelphia 76ers traded with the Boston Celtics to move from three to one to put them in position to draft Markelle Fultz.
The story of Markelle Fultz is another bizarre story line this season as a shoulder injury kept him out for the majority of his rookie season. When Fultz was filmed working his way back from injury, his shot was completely broken, and he did not look the same as he did as a freshman at Washington. That means the Sixers will have to include Dario Saric in a deal to possibly entice the Spurs to pull the trigger. In order to make the salaries work, Philly could opt to throw in Jerryd Bayless who fits in perfectly in the San Antonio system.