We can say pretty safely that the San Antonio Spurs won’t be trading the No. 1 overall pick. After Victor Wembanyama, however, virtually every pick in the NBA Draft is up for grabs. There has already been plenty of reporting about teams trying to trade up to draft Scoot Henderson, other teams are looking to turn their picks into veterans, and then of course, there are teams with rosters that aren’t designed to accommodate a handful of rookies.
But perhaps more importantly than anything, we’re about to enter a new world when the collective bargaining agreement is finalized. Draft picks are more valuable than ever now that the league is squeezing top spenders. The 30 teams are still sorting through the fallout, and they all have different ideas of how to value these picks. Add all of that up and we should have a very active trading night on Thursday. Here are the five likeliest teams to trade their picks.
You’ve all heard the rumors by now. Portland wants veteran help around Damian Lillard. Lillard doesn’t want to wait for a teenager to develop. If Brandon Miller goes No. 2 overall, the likely pick would be Scoot Henderson, who plays Lillard’s position (and would share a backcourt with two other promising youngsters in Anfernee Simons and Shaedon Sharpe). Add all of that up and a trade seems almost guaranteed.
It’s just a matter of what that trade is. The Blazers are hoping that they are the team getting the star in this scenario, but theoretical fits like Jaylen Brown and Mikal Bridges don’t seem to be available at the moment. Perhaps Zion Williamson or Brandon Ingram could be a fit as New Orleans reportedly covets Scoot Henderson, but it is unclear at this time how serious those talks have been. Could there be a surprise star in this slot? Never say never in the modern NBA, but those are the names most frequently linked to Portland. Perhaps one of Toronto’s wings (Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby) are both available enough and good enough to grease the deal wheels.
Of course, there’s a large segment of the NBA hoping that Portland can’t make this sort of deal. That would make it even likelier that Lillard seeks a move. According to Bleacher Report’s Chris Haynes, the Miami Heat are waiting for exactly that scenario. One way or another, the Blazers are likely going to look different as a result of Thursday’s draft.
Speaking of Anunoby, there isn’t an easier trade fit in basketball right now than his return to Indiana, where he played college basketball for the Hoosiers. The Pacers have a glut of guards, but almost nothing at either forward position. The Raptors have reportedly been interested in moving up in the draft (albeit for a higher pick than No. 7), and if they plan to re-sign Fred VanVleet, they’ll likely need to save a bit of long-term money, as their books are otherwise looking stuffed.
Even if it isn’t Anunoby, reports have indicated that the Pacers want to land a proven wing player. Even if they don’t use the No. 7 pick to get one, they still have No. 26, No. 29 and No. 32 to dangle in trade talks. The Pacers are not prone to lengthy rebuilds. This is a team that expects to be competitive most years, and in a perfect world, they’d like to take a step back into the playoffs next season. Their draft assets are one path there.
No team is facing greater urgency to win right now than the Mavericks. Luka Doncic may have four years left on his contract, but the NBA moves much faster than that nowadays. Reports have already surfaced suggesting that Dallas is worried about Doncic forcing his way out after another down year. The Mavericks took a big swing by adding Kyrie Irving at the trade deadline, but it cost Dallas its defense. Now the Mavericks need to rebuild it if it plans to win with Doncic and Irving this season, and the No. 10 pick is their best asset.
Dallas has been linked to Atlanta in a trade down involving the No. 10 pick and Atlanta’s No. 15 slot, but Dallas reportedly wants Clint Capela in that deal, not John Collins as Atlanta would prefer. The No. 10 pick probably isn’t enough to get into the Anunoby sweepstakes, but that’s a call Dallas should probably make. Any defensive-minded veteran on the market is a possible Mavericks candidate. Dallas can’t afford to wait for a rookie to develop. It’s now or never.
One way or another, the Pelicans simply aren’t situated to accommodate a late-lottery prospect. If they do in fact trade up for Henderson, there’s a good chance this pick is in the deal. After all, Williamson’s injury history limits his trade value, and if the Pelicans were to build a package exclusively around draft capital, this pick’s inclusion would obviously be required.
But let’s say the Pelicans don’t get Henderson. The entire Pelicans starting lineup from last season is already under contract: Williamson, Brandon Ingram, Jonas Valanciunas, C.J. McCollum and Herb Jones. So are key reserves Larry Nance Jr., Trey Murphy, Naji Marshall and Jose Alvarado. Dyson Daniels, the No. 8 overall pick in last year’s draft, is due more minutes this season. In other words, there’s not a lot of playing time available to a youngster, and with so many young players well on their way to hefty contracts, the Pelicans would likely have a hard time paying to keep a successful pick at No. 14 anyway.
In other words, if there’s a “kick the can down the road” team in the lottery, it might be the Pelicans. If they could turn this No. 14 pick into future assets, that would likely make things a bit easier moving forward.
Nobody quite knows what the Lakers plan to do this offseason. There are scenarios in which they create upwards of $30 million in cap space and pursue a high-level free agent. There are also worlds in which they simply re-sign everyone on last year’s team and just run it back. Something resembling the latter appears to be the likeliest option for now, but even if the Lakers do want to emphasize continuity, there is one pretty straightforward path to an upgrade.
The Lakers have two non-guaranteed contracts they could easily let go of: Mo Bamba and Malik Beasley. However, they could also package those two salaries, which combine at around $27 million, with the No. 17 overall pick to add an impact veteran. As Beasley and Bamba weren’t part of the playoff rotation, moving them would allow the Lakers to add a significant piece without disrupting what worked last season.
So who could they target here? Point guard has been the position they’ve reportedly emphasized all offseason, but whether it’s a big swing (Fred VanVleet, Kyrie Irving) or a ring-chaser (Chris Paul), their best bet on that front is probably free agency. More likely, they look for shooting or a wing. Dorian Finney-Smith and Buddy Hield are two names that make sense, but as we speak, the Lakers are likely canvassing the league to see what’s available.