Every year, it seems like the NBA’s biggest trade candidates are attached to many of the same teams.
Marquee franchises like the Los Angeles Lakers can be attached to a trade rumor for seemingly no better reason than to simply exist.
But every once in a while, a star will surprisingly end up at a team with smaller markets or one that wasn’t a rumored destination.
While something like the 2017 trade of Paul George from the Indiana Pacers to the Oklahoma City Thunder may not be likely, we still have some possible surprise destinations for some of this rumor cycle’s biggest names.
If the Portland Trail Blazers end up moving Damian Lillard, it will almost certainly be for a draft-rich, rebuild-ready package.
And while he has at least been one of the teams connected to (the Brooklyn Nets) can offer such a deal, small-market clubs like the Utah Jazz or Thunder could raise some over-the-top moves.
Thanks to the trades that unloaded Donovan MItchell and Rudy Gobert in 2022, Utah has more choices beyond their own over the next several years. Four or five with salary fillers might make Portland think (again, if Dame actually asks).
And while it’s hard to imagine plenty of superstars wanting to stay in Utah, Lillard has already spent over a decade in a smaller market. He played his college basketball at Utah’s Weber State University and is open to playing for the Jazz.
Perhaps most importantly, if Lillard ends up on a Utah roster with Lauri Markkanen (an All-Starter in 2023) and Walker Kessler (one of the game’s best up-and-coming rim protectors), the Jazz could push for home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs as early as in 2024.
The Phoenix Suns have already shared a desire to see how Deandre Ayton looks alongside the trio of Devin Booker, Kevin Durant and Bradley Beal.
That news came via Bleacher Report’s Chris Haynes.
But it feels a lot like “we measured Ayton’s value around the league and didn’t like what we were told,” rather than “we’re eager to pay 162.9 million dollars to four players in a season where the salary cap is 136 million dollars and the luxury tax threshold is $165 million.”
Filling out the rest of the roster from that starting point would be nightmarish, and the Suns almost have to take any decent offer that makes Ayton a little more depth between now and the trade deadline.
One team that could offer a more cost-effective big (like Chris Boucher) and perhaps another wing is the Toronto Raptors.
And while they were big on positionless basketball under Nick Nurse, now he’s gone, the midseason addition of aging big Jakob Poeltl improved the Raptors dramatically in 2022-23.
A long-term trio of Scottie Barnes, OG Anunoby and Ayton could lead to an exciting soft restart for Toronto.
Under the incoming and more restrictive collective bargaining agreement, expiring contracts may have more value over the next few years.
Paying a big sum now for someone whose production might not live up to the money could make sense if it means you don’t have to keep him on the books after the single season.
That’s probably why several teams (including the Suns, Jazz, Dallas Mavericks, Cleveland Cavaliers, Indiana Pacers and Detroit Pistons) have already been connected to Tobias Harris.
His $39.3 million salary and expiring deal could come in handy for many of the above, and they’re not alone.
The Charlotte Hornets are another organization that could benefit from taking on that money for just 12 months as they embark on a potential rebuild around LaMelo Ball and incoming rookie Brandon Miller.
And Charlotte’s Terry Rozier might make sense as a second or third guard for the Philadelphia 76ers in the event James Harden leaves in free agency.
Buzz about Paul George potentially being moved picked up some steam recently, after a FnA Podcast appearance by veteran NBA reporter Howard Beck, where he said the eight-time All-Star is “definitely available.”
“They’re not trying to give him away, but they’re trying to pivot, and they have, I think, a franchise-wide frustration with the way this era has gone,” Beck added.
Lack of availability is an issue for George, and there’s a good chance it affects his trade value, but he could still be a difference-maker for a number of teams.
Over the last five seasons, he ranks 16th in the NBA in box plus/minus (“BPM is a basketball box score-based metric that estimates a basketball player’s contribution to the team when that player is on the court,” according to Basketball Reference Daniel Myers).
And in the same stretch is his team plus-7.3 points per 100 possessions when he’s on the floor compared to minus-2.3 when he’s free.
His outside shooting (he is 12 all-time in career threes per game), underrated playmaking (5.3 assists over the last three years) and perimeter defense could go a long way for the Atlanta Hawks if the Trae Young-Dejounte Murray experiment may not have gone quite as smoothly as desired.
A PG-centered deal for Murray and De’Andre Hunter would give the Hawks another star who might be a better fit with Young, while giving the Clippers a wing to replace a little bit of PG’s production and a better setup man for Kawhi Leonard.