The NBA never goes too long without a superstar changing teams via a trade. The summer of 2017 saw Jimmy Butler traded to the Timberwolves and Chris Paul traded to the Rockets. In 2018, Kawhi Leonard was traded from the Spurs to the Raptors while Butler was dealt again to the 76ers. In 2019, Anthony Davis was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers, Paul George was traded to the Clippers, and Paul was traded to Oklahoma City for Russell Westbrook. Paul was on the move again to the Suns in 2020, while James Harden’s trade request hung over the season until he was mercifully sent from the Rockets to the Nets two weeks into January.
The biggest trade of this offseason so far is the five-team deal headlined by Westbrook’s arrival to the Lakers. Now that most of the player movement in free agency has settled, all eyes will again turn to the trade market as players consider their futures and teams assemble their best offers should a star fully hit the market.
Since star trade speculation is always one of the biggest topics in the league, here’s a look at the big names who are rumored to (maybe) be the next to move, and when it could happen.
5. Karl Anthony-Towns
When could it happen? Summer 2023 at the earliest.
There has been speculation that Towns wouldn’t sign a third contract with the Timberwolves from the moment he inked his super max extension in 2018. That deal has three years and $101.3 million remaining, and Minnesota remains far away from contention.
Can Minnesota build a winner before Towns is up for a new deal? For as promising as Anthony Edwards looked in his rookie season, the West remains a gauntlet and there isn’t a clear path for the Wolves to make a big jump up the standings. It isn’t hard to envision a scenario where Towns signals he’d like to change teams when his deal is up, and Minnesota not wanting to lose him for nothing.
Towns remains one of the best skilled offensive bigs in the league with the ability to unleash high volume and highly accurate three-point shooting from the center position. Even with question marks defensively, there’s no doubt the soon-to-be 26-year-old looks like he will eventually be in line for another max deal. He can’t become a free agent until the summer of 2024.
4. Bradley Beal
When could it happen? Summer 2023 at the earliest.
Trade rumors have swirled around Beal for years as the Washington Wizards have struggled to build a sustainable contender following John Wall’s Achilles tear. Washington swapped Wall for Russell Westbrook and earned the No. 8 seed in last year’s playoffs, and then flipped Westbrook to the Los Angeles Lakers for a bunch of depth pieces at the 2021 draft. Beal was reportedly considering his future with the franchise in the run-up to those moves, but Washington’s latest bold move of the offseason — a sign-and-trade for Spencer Dinwiddie — seems to have quieted speculation that Beal could be on the move soon.
The latest reports from insider Shams Charania said Beal now has no intention of leaving the Wizards, and is eyeing a five-year, $235 million max extension next summer.
While the Wizards still don’t look like a contender in the East, this report makes sense from two different angles: a) Beal wants to lock in his long-term money before seeking a new team, and b) he might be impressed with the way the front office has re-tooled the roster after the Wall trade. Washington still has lots of work to do, but it’s possible Beal is happy there for now. There will be plenty of interested suitors readying big trade packages if the Wizards ever do finally deal him.
3. Damian Lillard
When could it happen? Summer 2022 at the earliest.
Damian Lillard has been vocal about his loyalty to the Portland Trail Blazers over the years, but that might finally be changing as he enters his 31-year-old season.
Dame was vocal about his disappointment after the Blazers were knocked out in the first round of the 2021 NBA Playoffs by a Denver Nuggets team that didn’t have injured star Jamal Murray. There was plenty of speculation Lillard could demand a trade this summer, but instead he’s made public comments pressuring the team to improve quickly. What happens if they don’t?
Portland re-signed Norman Powell to a $90 million deal, but otherwise their “big” free agent additions this offseason were Tony Snell and Cody Zeller. If Portland doesn’t make an all-in move before the season starts, it’s easy to envision a scenario where the team has another early exit in the playoffs and Lillard demands a trade in the summer of 2022.
A Lillard trade demand would likely be similar to Harden’s in Houston, with a list of preferences informing the market. The rest of the league will be waiting anxiously to see if the Blazers can fix things before Dame wants out.
2. Pascal Siakam
When could it happen? Any moment.
The Raptors won 50 or more games for five straight seasons before missing the playoffs (and play-in tournament) during a disastrous 27-45 season last year. Toronto had an easy excuse with the pandemic forcing the team to relocate to Tampa Bay for the season, but the loss of Kyle Lowry to the Miami Heat this offseason has quelled any optimism that Toronto could be a contender again next season.
The Raptors drafted Scottie Barnes at No. 4 overall, re-signed Gary Trent Jr. and Khem Birch, and otherwise haven’t done much yet to reshape the roster. It’s hard to tell what the long-term vision for Toronto is right now, which makes the reports that Pascal Siakam is available on the trade market even more difficult to decipher.
Siakam trade rumors have been out there all offseason. A recent report from Jason Anderson of the Sacramento Bee states that the Sacramento Kings, Golden State Warriors, and Los Angeles Clippers are reportedly “enamored” with Siakam. The Warriors feel like the most tantalizing fit, with three lottery picks under 21 years old — James Wiseman, Moses Moody, and Jonathan Kuminga — potentially fitting the bill if Toronto is looking to rebuild.
It’s possible Siakam could be on the move later this offseason if the Raptors want to fully commit to a youth movement. There really shouldn’t be too much rush for Toronto, though. Siakam is coming off an underwhelming year by his standards and is under contract for the next three seasons. It’s certainly possible he could raise his trade value during the upcoming season if Toronto holds onto him, and there’s a more robust market for him at the deadline or in the summer of 2022.
1. Ben Simmons
When could it happen? Any moment.
The NBA has waited with bated breath for a Simmons deal to finally come to fruition ever since his immense offensive struggles contributed to a second round playoff flameout for the top-seeded Philadelphia 76ers in June. Doc Rivers and Joel Embiid both appeared to throw Simmons under the bus after Philadelphia’s series-clinching loss to the Atlanta Hawks, setting off a wild summer of speculation about the 25-year-old All-Star’s future.
The draft came and went with Simmons still in Philadelphia. The Sixers didn’t do much in free agency, either, signing Andre Drummond and re-signing Danny Green but otherwise opting to keep the same team intact while they wait for the right offer for Simmons. What we appear to have now is an old fashioned standoff.
Simmons and agent Rich Paul reportedly want to be sent to a new team. Morey is asking for the world for Simmons at the moment. The real goal for Philly is likely to wait it out, let Simmons recoup some value, and then make him the centerpiece of a package for Lillard or Beal, should they ask out. Is the relationship between Simmons and the Sixers too broken to get that far?
The Simmons situation sure seems like it will be a major distraction if Morey lets it bleed into the season. At the same time, the team wants to make sure they can get the absolute best return for him. Until this is resolved, the Simmons trade rumors will remain one of the biggest stories in the NBA.
Wildcard: Zion Williamson
Williamson was reportedly a little bummed out that the Pelicans won the lottery when he was the clear No. 1 pick in the 2019 draft. There are already rumblings he isn’t happy in New Orleans only two seasons into his rookie deal. He hasn’t been shy about expressing his love for New York. The Pelicans’ offseason — whiffing on Kyle Lowry, letting go of Lonzo Ball, adding Devonte’ Graham and Tomas Satoransky as their headline acquisitions — hasn’t been super encouraging.
Williamson still has two years left on his rookie deal. Before his fourth season, he’ll be offered a max extension by New Orleans. If he doesn’t sign it, his only move is to play on the qualifying offer that would allow him to become an unrestricted free agent after his fifth season. It’s extremely rare for a superstar to turn down the money and play on the qualifying offer because of injury risk, and Williamson’s own extensive injury history would make that route an incredibly bold choice.
If Zion really does want out of New Orleans, his only move might be to publicly pressure the front office to trade him. The fanbase has been through this before with Chris Paul and then Anthony Davis, and will pray the Pelicans can take a huge leap up the standings before that happens. Williamson was amazing in his second season, and will only get better if he can stay healthy. For now, this is a situation to monitor even if Zion doesn’t have a lot of easy options.