The astronomical map of NBA stars is constantly being redrawn.
This is partly due to the ever-changing arrays of both falling and rising stars. It’s also because star moves across the basketball galaxy are anything but uncommon.
Just ask Damian Lillard and James Harden, the league’s latest stars to request — and now wait — for a change of scenery. Or ask the countless elites before them who made their desire to relocate known.
Or you could even ask the following five players who loom as the most likely name-brand ballers to be the next to stars demanding a ticket out of their current digs.
Back in April, ESPN’s Tim McMahon brought word of a “fear” that existed within the Dallas Mavericks organization that Luka Dončić “could consider requesting a trade as soon as the summer of 2024 if Dallas doesn’t make significant progress by then.”
It’s conceivable that the 24-year-old might not even wait that long, as the Mavericks, who didn’t even make the play-in tournament last season, could once again fight to gain ground in the competitive Western Conference.
Dallas’ offseason has been a bit of a mixed bag. Re-signing Kyrie Irving was a must, but anyone who claims to know what Uncle Drew’s future holds is willfully ignorant of his past. The Mavs got Grant Williams in a good deal, but he’s more of a utility role player than a difference maker. Signing Seth Curry was puzzling; he’s a good player, but this team desperately needed defense, not an undersized scoring guard.
What is Dallas’ plan to enter the championship conversation? Mavs left 5-11 since Dončić and Irving played together last season, so it’s a lot to count on them alone to figure it out. Can they afford to wait for the growth of Josh Green, Jaden Hardy, Dereck Lively II and Olivier-Maxence Prosper, or will they trade what little youth they have for established talent?
Dallas is in a difficult situation that no team with a megastar of Dončić’s ilk should ever end up in. The Mavs have rarely looked like a championship contender during his five-year tenure — they have as many streak wins as lottery trips (two apiece) — and if he can’t see their vision coming together, he may soon want out.
Alarm sirens may be approaching a deafening pitch around the Philadelphia 76ers. If that wasn’t bad enough with Harden wants outthey may have switched to red-alert status based on recent comments from reigning MVP winner Joel Embiid.
“I just want to win a championship, whatever it takes,” Embiid said at the Uninterrupted Film Festival (h/t) Philly voice). “I don’t know where it’s going to be, whether it’s in Philly or elsewhere.”
The first sentence is about an NBA star. The other, however, could shake this franchise to its core.
While that doesn’t automatically mean Embiid is making an exit strategy, it at least puts pressure on a front office already feeling the heat from Harden’s trade demand. If nothing else, it should silence any talk of next season being a gap year for the franchise. Maybe the Sixers’ decision makers are willing to wait an uncomfortably long time for a resolution to Harden’s situation, but Embiid clearly isn’t.
He wants to fight right now, as he absolutely should. While he struggled at times in the playoffs — while navigating a knee injury — his work during the regular season was extraordinary. He captured a second straight scoring title with a career-high 33.1 points per game. match. He became that too first player averaged 30 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists and 1.5 blocks over multiple seasons. (Hall of Famers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bob McAdoo are the only other players to ever hit those marks.)
He belongs in the championship race. If he doesn’t think the Sixers can get him there, he’s going to have to start looking for a club that can.
Trade winds swirling around Zach LaVine would be nothing new. However, being the one to initiate these conversations would be a new twist.
In June, Yahoo Sports’ Jake Fischer reported that the Chicago Bulls were “quietly gauging” LaVine’s trade market. With some knee problems in his past and a boatload of money tied to his future, he is a logical trade candidate should Chicago ever decide to pull the plug on this core.
Then again, he might want to force the issue before this front office is ready to make that concession.
The same presumably low cap that could give the organization pause could also be motivation for LaVine to want out. He is an extremely skilled player – one of the only seven averaged at least 23 points, four assists and four rebounds each of the past five seasons – but a lack of team success tarnishes his stat sheet in the eyes of many.
He has played nine NBA seasons, and only one of them included a postseason trip. And that trip (taken with the 2021-22 Chicago Bulls) spanned all five games. For some, that’s reason enough to label LaVine with the “good numbers on bad teams” label. Maybe it has some benefit, or maybe he just hasn’t sniffed out the right situation yet.
Things look bleak enough for the Bulls, who have gone 59-65 since Lonzo Ball last suited up, that LaVine’s reputation could be further damaged by extending his Windy City stay. Asking out of Chicago may be his best chance to find team success that has eluded him thus far.
It wasn’t that long ago when it looked like Karl-Anthony Towns had over 10,000 lakes at his disposal as the epicenter of the Minnesota Timberwolves franchise. But those days are officially behind the top pick in the 2015 draft.
Anthony Edwards, who recently penned a max extension, is now the unofficial governor of the Gopher State. Rudy Gobert, Towns’ ill-suited frontcourt partner, will collect more coins than Byer this season, which he did last season. One could even argue that Jaden McDaniels means more to Minnesota’s long-term future than Towns.
Times have changed for the Timberwolves, and possibly in ways that cities may be less than thrilled about. Since 2020-21 – Edwards’ rookie season – Towns has seen significant reductions in his field-goal attempts (17.5 to 14.8) and field goal percentage (29.1 to 25.6). He was also kicked out of the center spot to make room for Gobert and immediately posted the worst net differential of his career (plus-1.4his first grade below plus-4.0 since 2016-17).
The Timberwolves are clearly focused on doing what they think is best for the franchise, and that is absolutely their prerogative. But that doesn’t mean Towns has to agree with the decisions or want to be a part of this plan anymore.
Like LaVine, a former teammate of Towns, his reputation has taken a hit due to a lack of playoff success. For someone with such a tall (distorted?) view of his own heritagemay he conclude that he can’t take these reputation hits any longer.
Trade winds have been swirling in the immediate vicinity of Trae Young for quite some time now.
Last December, Rivals executives speculated aloud whether the prolific point guard would be “the next player on a rookie max extension to request a trade if the team doesn’t make postseason inroads,” according to B/R’s Chris Haynes. So in April, Ringeren’s Kevin O’Connor reported that the Atlanta Hawks front office had been given the go-ahead “to do whatever it wants with the roster,” including trading Young.
Atlanta’s second straight first-round exit could have done nothing to quiet any trade talks. The Hawks have struggled to find their footing since their 2021 Eastern Conference Finals breakthrough, and that’s rarely a situation that lends stability.
Atlanta is trying to rebuild on the fly. In the last calendar year, the franchise has paid a fortune to acquire Dejounte Murray (three first picks and a first round pick trade), changed head coaches (Nate McMillan out, Quin Snyder in) and let go of longtime rumor mill resident John Collins for dirt cheap (Rudy Gay and a future second-rounder).
And the Hawks might not be done. They have been trying to pave a way to Pascal Siakam, but no trade has taken place yet. If one ever does, the cost is numbers significantand since Siakam has an expiring deal, it might just be a rental.
If that’s not the answer though, what is? The Hawks have some exciting young players, but is Young ready to wait for their development? More importantly, is he sold on Murray as his co-star? Both work best with the ball in their hands, and neither had a great shooting season in 2022-23.
Atlanta’s outlook is somewhere between bleak and mediocre. It takes a lot of optimism and a great deal of imagination to envision the Hawks crashing the championship conversation this coming season. If Atlanta has wondered if this mix is right, it’s fair to assume Young could be having the same thoughts.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.