• Cameron Tabatabaie

Three NBA Teams That Are Ripe For a Blockbuster Trade

All is quiet on the NBA trade front, at least for now. Philadelphia and Ben Simmons are locked in a staring contest, Dame Lillard appears content in Portland, and John Wall’s massive contract makes any forthcoming trade pretty complicated.

With the coming free agency class shrinking by the day, however, future moves are to come. A few teams are sitting on locker room or salary cap powder kegs, and slow starts to the regular season could help topple some dominoes and open up the market.

Let’s take a look at a few clubs that might trigger the next set of NBA trade rumors and buzz:

Indiana Pacers At first blush, the Pacers have a number of incredibly valuable contracts. Domantas Sabonis will make just $18.6 million this upcoming season, for example, an absolute bargain considering his immense upside. Malcolm Brogdon and Caris LeVert are also on pretty team-friendly deals.

In totality, though, Indiana’s financial situation is unsustainably top-heavy. The Pacers are, at present, $25 million over the salary cap. Not a huge number, but for a rather stingy ownership, this might not be a tenable solution given the team isn’t quite built to contend.

The Pacers aren’t in line to pay any meaningful tax bill this season, but their expensive roster doesn’t really allow for making any meaningful additions in free agency. Selling off one of Sabonis, Brogdon, LeVert, or Myles Turner could help open things up in Indy and the team could bring in some much needed depth.

By the same token, there’s a world where, when finally healthy, Indiana surprises in a big way. Adding Rick Carlisle to the sideline certainly helps. In this scenario, perhaps the Pacers could look to flip one of their four key players for a better fit. (Speculation of breaking up Sabonis and Turner has swirled for quite a while.)

Indiana will in all likelihood elect to roll the ball out and see what it can do to start the season. But at a certain point, for better or for worse, the rubber might meet the road. This is an exciting roster but one that can’t really compete with the big dogs. Making a move for this season or next will help the Pacers muscle their way into a crowded Eastern Conference.

Sacramento Kings

Buddy Hield basically had his bags packed for Los Angeles before the Lakers pivoted and traded for Russell Westbrook. Pandora doesn’t just go back in the box.

All things considered, Sacramento has a pretty nice starting five, and a little bit of depth to boot. But, you know, this is the Kings we’re talking about.

The Hield thing might not just go away. Harrison Barnes is always a popular name in the NBA trade rumor mill. Is Luke Walton finally going to get fired?

Like Indiana, there’s a chance Sacramento hits the ground running and actually looks to become buyers this season rather than sellers. Just is likely, though, the Kings could disappoint and questions and concerns could quickly create the need for change.

The Kings aren’t bad enough to smile through the pain of an open tank job. Likewise, they’re probably not good enough to compete in the West. It’s a recipe for some turbulence down the road, especially given the above.

San Antonio Spurs

San Antonio has enjoyed a remarkable amount of stability since the departure of Kawhi Leonard and its hopes of contention. Under head coach Gregg Popovich, the Spurs have been feisty and competitive, even if they’ve mostly come up short.

What happens next for SA is unclear. Like the Kings, they have a nice but underwhelming group of starters. Odds are some unknown player will make a name for himself off the bench for Popovich, too. The Spurs have just as much a right to the Western Conference play-in tournament as anyone else.

But is that really good enough? Realistically this is the twilight of Pop’s career. Between Popovich and general manager RC Buford, is there really an appetite for mediocrity?

Dejounte Murray, Bryn Forbes, or Derrick White could make for intriguing trade assets for more competitive teams in the league. Bundled with a number of first-round picks, could San Antonio be a dark horse Ben Simmons candidate?

Per usual, don’t expect the Spurs to be a beacon of dysfunction or agitation. But quietly it’s fair to wonder what San Antonio might be considering if the goal is to return to contention in the West.

Honorable Mentions

The above teams are neither at the bottom of the barrel nor are they summiting the mountain. They’re right in the middle - the perfect place to find an NBA team looking to make a trade.

We would be remiss, however, if we neglected a few other teams worth mentioning.

Philadelphia obviously is going to make a move sooner rather than later; the Ben Simmons thing is going to resolve itself one way or the other. If they’re smart, they’ll maybe try and get off of Tobias Harris’ monster contract as well.

Cleveland and Minnesota feel desperate. They have young star players chomping at the bit to actually go out and win some games. I’d expect them to make a move in some capacity.

Teams like the Clippers or the Nuggets, missing some of their most important players for most or all of the season, could become sellers eventually. That’s not a today problem.

And then there’s Chicago and Washington. Bradley Beal and Zach LaVine (and Dame Lillard) have the keys to the proverbial nuclear briefcase, and could ignite a very interesting trade season if they want to. Hold on to your butts.