The NBA trade deadline is only 10 days away, and with a robust middle class trying to separate itself from the pack, the league is flush with buyers. Short of an intelligent decision from Rob Pelinka, anything and everything feels possible.
In no particular order, here’s a look at six trade recommendations for five organizations that can’t afford to let this deadline pass without some type of action.
Phoenix gets: OG Anunoby
Toronto gets: Jae Crowder, Dario Saric, and three unprotected first-round picks (2024, 2026, and 2028)
Even with all their own draft capital and a top-15 player locked up through his prime, the Suns might be the most desperate team in the league right now. Coming off two incredible seasons that included a 2-0 lead in the NBA Finals and a franchise-best 64-18 regular-season record, they’re currently just over .500 as the sun (sorry) finally appears to be setting on Chris Paul’s Hall of Fame career. But somewhat realistic championship expectations remain (despite having the worst offense in the league this month) for a confident core that’s led by one of the game’s finest coaches.
With Mat Ishbia reportedly set to become Phoenix’s majority owner sooner than later, a splash feels imminent. Would trading three first-round picks for someone who’s never made an All-Star team represent a wild overpay? Of course. But for a franchise that’s built to win now and has little regard for the draft, why not be über-aggressive?
Paul, Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, OG Anunoby, and Deandre Ayton are a championship-caliber starting five. Anunoby is an upgrade over Crowder in just about every way and is capable of playing some small-ball five against teams in the West that will downsize during the postseason. Depending on the matchup, lineups that plug Cam Johnson in for Ayton or Paul could be diabolical in a playoff setting.
And not that the Suns should be looking to trade Bridges this offseason, but Anunoby can be viewed as insurance in the event that this new ownership group wants to go big-game hunting and add another star. (Phoenix wouldn’t have any picks, which may take it out of any negotiation before it begins, but no other team could match the level of talent Ayton and Bridges bring as a package. Their combined salary nearly matches what Jimmy Butler, Paul George, and LeBron James—nobody should rule this one out!—will make next year.)
The Raptors would do this Suns trade because … come on. It’s three unprotected first-rounders for someone who’s never made an All-Star team!
Los Angeles Clippers: Part I
Los Angeles gets: Fred VanVleet
Toronto gets: Luke Kennard, John Wall, and an unprotected 2028 first-round pick
VanVleet to the Clippers is too logical not to happen. He’d be rejoining Kawhi Leonard and Norman Powell in an attempt to recreate the magical run Toronto had back in 2019. Right now, Los Angeles’s starting five has no point guard. There’s no settle-down presence who can initiate offense and make life easier for the two stars. VanVleet can do that and then some.
The main issue here comes after this season, when VanVleet can become an unrestricted free agent in a market flush with cap space. Steve Ballmer may not see an issue with paying VanVleet more money than any other team can, but there will be competition for his services (don’t sleep on the Rockets throwing a bag at him), and losing VanVleet for nothing after surrendering a first and Kennard would sting.
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L.A.’s offer to Toronto may seem low, but if Raptors president Masai Ujiri doesn’t necessarily want to blow his roster to bits, the 26-year-old Kennard is an ideal complement to Scottie Barnes and Pascal Siakam.
Kennard is simultaneously a steep price to pay and, despite what was written in the previous paragraph, probably not enough to appease the Raptors’ front office. He’s been one of the NBA’s most accurate 3-point shooters for a couple of years and can hit deep shots on the move, standing still, or off the dribble while creating space with a gravity that defenses have to respect, even when Paul George and Kawhi are sharing the floor.
His defense is another question, though. How many minutes can Kennard log in the playoffs when being relentlessly targeted in ball screens? Terance Mann is the Clippers’ more popular trade target but is (1) harder to involve in any deal because of his contract, (2) secretly the same age as Kennard, and (3) guaranteed more money over the next two years.
Los Angeles Clippers: Part II
Los Angeles gets: Mason Plumlee
Charlotte gets: Moses Brown and second-round picks in 2024 and 2025
As far as the Clippers should be concerned, the Western Conference goes through Nikola Jokic. Adding Jokic’s former backup as he enjoys a quietly impressive season (Plumlee is averaging career highs in points, rebounds, and assists while no longer being a total embarrassment at the free throw line) would be a convenient way to use the $9.7 million trade exception the Clippers received from last year’s Serge Ibaka trade.
Plumlee can be the connective tissue in second units that Isaiah Hartenstein once was, initiating dribble handoffs—Reggie Jackson would love this trade—making plays out of a short roll when defenses double Kawhi or PG, and creating second-chance opportunities on the offensive glass (Plumlee is a tip-out artist).
Since Plumlee is an unrestricted free agent—who plays the same position as his 2022 lottery pick—with limited trade value this summer, the Hornets would likely be fine getting a couple of second-round picks for him. It’s better than losing him for nothing. And the sooner he departs, the better it will be for Charlotte’s short-term tanking efforts. Finishing with a bottom-three record is critical. (Michael Jordan will love saving a few million dollars too.)
Related: If the Clippers can’t land VanVleet, don’t be surprised if they try to fill this trade exception with a point guard from somewhere else, like T.J. McConnell.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Oklahoma City gets: Jakob Poeltl
San Antonio gets: Mike Muscala, OKC’s lottery-protected 2023 first-round pick, and LAC’s unprotected 2024 first-round pick
At a stunning 24-25, 0.5 games out of the play-in, and 9-4 in January, the Thunder are low-key coming up to a major crossroads on February 9. Do they stand pat? Do they add to their war chest of assets? Or, you know, do they try to win some games, make the playoffs, and let Shai Gilgeous-Alexander cook on a stage that befits his immaculate skill set?
For a team that’s struggled to grab defensive rebounds and may need a long-term interior presence who can help streamline Chet Holmgren’s responsibilities and free him from taxing dirty work as a full-time center, the 27-year-old Poeltl makes a ton of sense. His poise as a pick-and-roll partner will make life easier for SGA, Josh Giddey, and Jalen Williams. His rim protection and reliable drop coverage will also help OKC limit attempts at the rim and the corners (where they currently bleed shots).
The Thunder can go one of a few ways. But coming off a January in which they led the league in net rating, it might be time for them to take a step forward and reenter the competitive landscape.
Los Angeles Lakers
Lakers get: Bojan Bogdanovic
Pistons get: Pat Beverley, Lonnie Walker IV, and an unprotected 2027 first-round pick
Everyone has an opinion about what the Lakers should do. Let’s just phone this one in and get it over with. Los Angeles needs to stop pretending it has a chance to add a third superstar, stop wasting LeBron’s genius, and go with the happy medium. Trade one pick, keep the other, then (probably) lose in the first round. Everybody (who hates the Lakers) wins.
Even though Bogdanovic has some positional redundancy with James, the two forwards can definitely share the floor. Bogdanovic would immediately be L.A.’s best 3-point shooter by a mile. Surround him with a rotation of Anthony Davis, Austin Reaves, Russell Westbrook, Rui Hachimura, Dennis Schröder, and Thomas Bryant, and the Lakers would resemble a decent team.
New Orleans Pelicans
Pelicans get: Alex Caruso and Andre Drummond
Bulls get: Jaxson Hayes, Kira Lewis Jr., New Orleans’s top-four protected 2024 first-round pick, and Chicago’s 2024 second-round pick
You know you’ve made a good trade if the rest of your conference lets out a collective groan when they hear about it. The Pelicans getting Alex Caruso would provoke that reaction and then some.
Caruso sows chaos into every basketball game in which he’s on the court. When its volume is played at a whisper, he steps on the floor and punctures your ear drum. Throw him in the starting five or let him wreak havoc in smaller lineups that befit postseason play—everything works. The Pelicans are already built to score in the playoffs. Point Zion is unstoppable—Caruso is a perfect inverted pick-and-roll partner—while Brandon Ingram and CJ McCollum are elite shotmakers who can read the floor. But upgrading the defense with someone who can create turnovers, communicate, guard multiple positions, and generally invigorate everyone around him is still necessary.
Caruso checks all those boxes. He can hit corner 3s. He can also thrive without ever touching the ball or taking shots better reserved for New Orleans’s stars. The Pelicans already have Jose Alvarado—another pesky guard who forces a ton of turnovers and is near the league lead in deflections—but Caruso is a taller, more versatile irritant who can handle his own against any position or player type. I would go out of my way to watch every second they share the floor.
Drummond is also someone worth taking a flier on. He can gorge on the offensive glass whenever Zion forces help defenders to step up and contest him at the rim.
A lightly protected first plus two recent lottery picks are a lot to fork over for someone who only averages 5.6 points per game. But Caruso is under contract for the next two years at a comically team-friendly $19.4 million total.
(New Orleans could get in on VanVleet and pretty much outbid any suitor, but the future financials there would likely turn the Pels off.)
Through 2027, New Orleans is still due three firsts from the Bucks and Lakers. If the Pelicans can add Caruso to what they already have and get the exact type of player who complements their best players and can log huge minutes in the fourth, they absolutely should!