The NBA Draft’s order may be determined by lottery, but ultimately any team can pick in any slot if it wants to badly enough. Sure, getting to the top of the draft might cost you your entire roster, but with rare exceptions, no pick is truly untradeable. The team that holds a draft pick when the card is handed in will ultimately be the team that values that pick more than any other.
So let’s put that theory to the test. The draft is almost upon us. There will surely be several deals at the top of the board. So let’s go through all 14 teams in the lottery and try to find a trade for their picks. Some of the trades will be more realistic than others, but all of them will attempt to re-home picks with teams that value them enough to give up real capital to get them.
Spurs get: Luka Doncic
This is a purely hypothetical exercise on both ends, and a pretty laughable one at that. Obviously, there is no realistic pathway to a Victor Wembanyama trade… but who is the most valuable player San Antonio could feasibly ask for? Nikola Jokic and Giannis Antetokounmpo, as Finals MVPs in their primes, are untouchable. Stephen Curry likely is as well due to his status as a Warriors icon.
That leaves Doncic, who, to be clear, is not actually available. But reports have indicated that Dallas is afraid that another disappointing year could lead to Doncic, already on a max contract, asking out. If the Mavericks wanted to get out ahead of that possibility, Wembanyama would top any offer any other team could feasibly make. For the Spurs, they’d be exchanging a question mark for a surefire All-NBA player. Doug McDermott is here for cap purposes.
It’s not going to happen, but it’s a fun hypothetical. If these two teams have their way, Doncic and Wembanyama will be the two biggest stars in Texas for a long time, and they’ll hold those titles with their original teams.
Pelicans get: No. 2 overall pick, Gordon Hayward
Here’s where we go from completely unrealistic to unlikely, but plausible given the reporting, circumstances and general craziness of the modern NBA. The Pelicans reportedly want to move up to draft Scoot Henderson. They are most often cited as a possible trade partner with the Portland Trail Blazers at No. 3, but the Hornets can scoop them with the No. 2 overall pick. If the Pelicans are essentially willing to deal Williamson for Henderson, Charlotte effectively has the right of first refusal.
So the question then becomes… would the Hornets give up the right to draft Henderson (or Brandon Miller for that matter) in exchange for Williamson? Well… we don’t exactly know. Remember, Michael Jordan officially sold his stake in the team less than a week ago. If Mat Ishbia’s recent splurge has taught us anything, it’s that new owners typically like to make a splash. Even if the current front office wants to make the pick, there is the chance that ownership would prioritize the proven star in Williamson, who would fit perfectly next to LaMelo Ball.
So why is the No. 14 overall pick in this deal as well? Williamson’s injuries have to be taken into account here, obviously, but there’s also the matter of leverage. Charlotte is perfectly comfortable making a pick at No. 2. These talks were theoretically born out of David Griffin’s interest in Henderson. If he wants to move up, he has to pay the premium to do it.
3. Portland Trail Blazers
Blazers get: Paul George, 2028 first-round pick (top-8 protected, top-4 protected in 2029)
The Blazers are certainly in the running for Williamson if Henderson makes it to No. 3 and the Pelicans ultimately decide to move him, but what’s their alternative? Let’s look at some reporting by. The Clippers, it seems, are quietly gauging the market on Paul George. Only teams interested in winning now that have a need on the wing would trade for him, and the package would likely have to be substantial for the Clippers to pull the trigger.
That describes the Blazers to a tee. George is older than Williamson, yet, despite his own injuries, more reliable. He plays the wing, which has been a hole for Portland for Damian Lillard’s entire career. Ironically, George could be traded for a player very similar to the one he was dealt for four years ago: a bigger, explosive point guard. It was Shai Gilgeous-Alexander in 2019 and it would likely be Henderson now.
So what about the rest of this deal? Portland has very little flexibility in terms of what matching salary it uses. Simons and Nurkic almost have to be in this deal, and considering the risks associated with George, the No. 3 overall pick alone is a fair return. If the Clippers are getting the young and explosive Simons, they not only have to eat the Nurkic contract, but they have to send out a lightly-protected pick of their own. Remember, in this scenario, they’d hope that by 2028 their pick at No. 3 would have matured into a star himself, so the risk of trading a pick that far away is lighter.
Cavaliers get: No. 4 overall pick
Rockets get: Jarrett Allen
The last two trades were at least grounded by some reporting. This one is pure speculation, and fairly flimsy speculation at that. Cleveland is in no rush to break up its core, and the Rockets already have Alperen Sengun at center. Both teams would likely need to be convinced here.
For Cleveland, it’s a financial reset of sorts. Evan Mobley’s long-term contract is coming up, and turning the $20 million Allen into a draft pick not only gives them a chance at the wing they’re missing, but also gets them four years of cost control at a critical slot. That probably isn’t enough to justify breaking up this team after only one year together, but realistically, if the Cavs lose a few more times and decide they need to invest in a high-end wing, Allen is their likeliest trade chip. This idea just accelerates that process.
And if Houston lands James Harden? Suddenly Sengun is a fairly awkward fit. Houston desperately needs defense somewhere on this roster, and Allen provides far more of it than Sengun. He’s a more traditional Harden pick-and-roll partner as a lob-finisher than Sengun, who is at his most valuable with the ball in his hands. Houston would have to flip Sengun elsewhere to justify this sort of move, but it would at least give them a somewhat sensible roster around Harden. At this point, it’s worth wondering if the Rockets should be tailoring their roster around a soon-to-be 34-year-old, but we abandoned reality long ago where this trade is concerned. If the Rockets are doing this Harden thing, why not really commit to it?
5. Detroit Pistons/9. Utah Jazz
Jazz get: No. 5 overall pick
Pistons get: No. 9 overall pick, No. 16 overall pick
OK, we’re back to the real world now. This one is straightforward, and even has some reporting behind it thanks to Yahoo’s Jake Fischer. The Jazz are stuffed to the brim with future draft capital after trading Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell last summer. The Pistons don’t have an asset surplus. Utah wants to jump ahead of Orlando to take guard Anthony Black, according to Fischer. Detroit seems to be targeting wings in a draft filled with them. This feels like a pretty classic case of one team needing quality and another needing quantity. Easy trade. Let’s move on.
Hawks get: No. 6 overall pick, No. 11 overall pick
Magic get: Dejounte Murray, No. 15 overall pick
We’re back to the realm of speculation here, but it’s slightly more informed. Atlanta has reportedly sought to move up in the draft, but their target isn’t clear. Meanwhile, Murray’s contract is uniquely difficult for the Hawks. He was extended at so far below market-value that even with the league’s new 140% raise rule, he essentially cannot get an extension for a fair price. That means that he is virtually guaranteed to become a free agent next offseason, and the Hawks didn’t exactly light the world on fire with him last season.
Orlando has plenty of young guards, but Markelle Fultz, Jalen Suggs and Cole Anthony are all still projects at this stage of their career. Murray is a sure thing, a mid-range master to help their late-game offense and a top defender to help cover some of the gaps their offense-centric front-court will create. The Magic have so much young talent at this stage that picks really don’t need to be a priority for them. Murray is proven enough to lift them into the playoffs now, but young enough to help them win moving forward. If the Magic want to pursue a veteran like Fred VanVleet in free agency, this could be a way to get that player early and without a bidding war.
Pacers get: OG Anunoby
Indiana reportedly wants a veteran wing in exchange for its lottery pick. The Raptors are a notoriously difficult trade partner to deal with, as they have reportedly turned down several hefty offers for Anunoby in the past. But he is only a year away from free agency, and to this point, there has been little reported progress on an extension. Perhaps this offer would be enough to pry him loose.
Toronto gets one premium pick in No. 7. They help the Pacers ease their roster crunch by taking No. 29, leaving Indiana with No. 26 and No. 32 to play with. The 2025 pick has upside, but hopefully, a Pacers team built around Anunoby, Tyrese Haliburton, Myles Turner and Benedict Mathurin is contending by then. Duarte is a flier on a former lottery pick that has shown promise but struggled last season. Toronto has turned down three first-round picks before, but this offer exceeds that price. It’s three picks, but one is a premium selection, and the package comes with another former high draft pick. If this isn’t prying Anunoby out of Toronto, it’s likely that nothing will.
Thunder get: No. 8 overall pick
Wizards get: No. 12 overall pick, No. 50 overall pick, 2024 first-round pick (via Utah)
Another relatively simple swap. We’ve already seen the Thunder flex their asset muscles in the late lottery, as they gave up three future picks to land Ousmane Dieng in a trade with the Knicks last season. This deal follows a somewhat similar concept: the Thunder have more picks than roster spots, so they use one of their future selections to jump up and pick a preferred target. If Washington’s ideal pick is on the board, the Wizards will just stay put. But if they are targeting, say, Black, and Utah has already moved up to grab him? Then a move down makes sense, as the Wizards are still so early in their rebuild that every asset counts.
10. Dallas Mavericks
Dallas desperately needs to use its No. 10 overall pick to improve defensively. Boston has seemingly explored the trade market, and its guards have been frequently mentioned in the rumor mill. Marcus Smart is a realistic Dallas target. He’d do wonders for their defense and culture, but he also likes to have the ball in his hands. That isn’t exactly possible on a team with Doncic and Kyrie Irving. Here’s an alternative.
Williams, when healthy, is a legitimate defensive anchor. The “when healthy” qualifier is key here. Boston would essentially be giving up on a possible Defensive Player of the Year by making this trade, but after dealing with his health issues for five years now, they might be willing to swallow that loss for a lottery pick and four years of cost control. The Celtics won’t be cheap once Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum start their super max contracts. They have to find savings somewhere, and by trading Robert Williams, they might buy themselves enough financial flexibility to keep Grant Williams in restricted free agency.
13. Toronto Raptors
Raptors get: No. 25 overall pick, Tyus Jones
After fake-trading several All-Stars in this space, we close with a relatively modest trade involving high-end backups. In theory, Memphis should be holding onto Tyus Jones with Ja Morant set to miss the first 25 games of next season. However, there’s been plenty of reporting suggesting that he’s available. He’s probably the best backup point guard in the NBA, but he’s also a perfectly serviceable starter.
The Raptors have a point guard far better than that in Fred VanVleet, but there’s a good chance he’s about to walk in free agency. If he does, and the Raptors want to remain somewhat competitive next season, they are going to have to replace him. Jones is a relatively affordable way of doing so in the short term while the Raptors weigh their long-term options. Memphis, meanwhile, would pick up a better asset to use in its endless search for a wing. Given their draft history, a late lottery pick would be pretty valuable in the hands of the Grizzlies. Boucher is not only matching salary, but a useful backup as Brandon Clarke works his way back from a torn Achilles.