'Tis the season for identifying the glitziest trade assets around the NBA, fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la.
Perhaps you're laughing, but hopefully it's at my inability to sing in key. The unofficially official start of NBA Trade Season (Dec. 15) is just around the corner. Teams have now played out between 15 and 20 percent of their schedule. We know who most squads are—or, equally important, what they aren't.
The time for self-discovery, reflection and patience is quickly expiring. The window for action is about to open. This warrants a look at the top blockbuster magnets with feasible paths to the trade block.
That last part is an important distinction. Franchise directions and intentions will be massive parts of this process. Paolo Banchero could net the Orlando Magic a galaxy's worth of unprotected picks or a more entrenched star right this season, but there's a sub-zero chance he's actually available. Stephen Curry should probably ask the Golden State Warriors for a trade if they won't cater to his timeline, but he remains ridiculously low-maintenance, and we're not journeying into the Land of Never Going to Happen.
This exercise will instead focus on players and picks who have the most appeal as centerpieces in aggressive blockbuster buys. Maybe Kevin Durant wakes up tomorrow and decides "Hey, no disrespect, but I don't want to play with the dude whose last name I thought was 'Summer' until, like, three weeks ago, or anyone else on this roster. I'd like to be traded." This scenario is totally feasible…and already basically played out once. But his departure would not constitute a buy-now move for the Brooklyn Nets.
Draft picks are fair game, but we're not just going to identify the juiciest potential 2029 first-rounders because they're so far off into the distance. There has to be an airtight reason for why selections more than a half-decade out will trickle onto the auction block.
Finally, and like always, Please do not interpret inclusion as a "Team X should trade Player Y or Pick Z!" endorsement. This is more of a "Which teams are both equipped and most likely to monitor the blockbuster trade market, and what is the best asset they have to flesh out prospective packages?" situation.
John Collins, Atlanta Hawks
Atlanta has once again made Collins available, according to The Athletic and Stadium's Shams Charania. His offensive usage has declined so starkly that the three years and $78.5 million left on his deal will be treated as an albatross to some.
Let's all agree, right here and now, not to be among those people. Collins' offensive armory is infinitely scalable, translating to screening or spot-up duty with room for situational floor-game exploration. He needs touches to be effective, but, er, that's not really an insult. And since he's only 25, he fits any timeline—rebuilding, win-now, gray-area windows, whatever.
L.A. Clippers' 2029 First-Round Pick
Do the Clippers believe in this core—and Kawhi Leonard's long-term health—enough to auction off their 2029 first-rounder in a consolidation? I'm skeptical.
I'm also confident their front office is resourceful enough to resolve the worst-case scenario before this pick ever conveys if that's the route they go. Even so, the sheer distance of this pick inflate its value in consolidation-trade efforts.
Bones Hyland, Denver Nuggets
Bizzy Bones would make the meet and potatoes of this list if he were less pivotal to the Nuggets. Their hope of managing minutes without Nikola Jokic go up in flames if they suddenly have to bank on Michael Porter Jr. to do the heavy lifting on his own. They could stagger Jokic and Jamal Murray more often, but the latter isn't all the way back from his ACL recovery, and more importantly, separating perhaps the greatest personification of symbiosis in the league is basketball heresy.
It helps that the Nuggets don't look like a team that needs to make a big-time trade. But if they sense an opportunity to enter the running for another star or go from title hopeful to championship favorite, the 22-year-old Bones is their ticket to the bargaining table—and not just because they can't convey a first-round pick until 2029.
Though Bones has a long way to go as a defender and primary playmaker, he is offensive-engine material. At his core, he is a caps-lock, italics-text SHOOTER. The functional pressure his range puts on defenses belies his age—and a certain logic. He can uncork mega-deep threes, down standstill triples and rain hellfire from the perimeter off the bounce, and his live-dribble incision puts defenses on tilt even when he's not finishing or shooting well.
2024 or 2025 Los Angeles Lakers First-Round Pick (via New Orleans)
The New Orleans Pelicans own the Lakers' 2024 first-round pick with the right to defer until 2025. Given the current state of affairs in L.A., this selection looms as an A+++ asset.
Then again, the in-betweenness of this pick almost works against its value. It's not immediate enough to capitalize on a sinking-ship season (more on this shortly), and it's not far enough down the line to exploit a post-LeBron James and/or post-Anthony Davis era (more on this shortly, too).
Yet, it is valuable. And the Pelicans are frisky enough to consider moving it for instant help as part of a medium-sized deal (Myles Turner? OG Anunoby?) or home-run swing (rhymes with Schmevin Schmurant).
2023 Lakers 1st-Round Picks (via New Orleans)
New Orleans has the right to swap its 2023 first-rounder with the Lakers' pick. And, uh, they're on pace to totally do that.
This selection is so valuable I almost considered nixing its inclusion. If the lottery were held today, L.A. would be one of the three teams with a 14 percent shot of landing the No. 1 choice. Would New Orleans really punt on the chance, however slim, to add Victor Wembanyama to a core of Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram, CJ McCollum, Dyson Daniels, Trey Murphy III, Herb Jones and Jose Alverado?
It's a tough call. In the end, the Pelicans are good enough—and deep enough—now to consider all of their options. Their record doesn't necessarily reflect it, but they have a top-four point differential per 100 possessions, with top-six offensive and defensive ratings.
Mind you, this is all with Zion missing time and not always looking like himself, McCollum only just starting to find nylon from the floor and Ingram sitting out four games earlier this season while in concussion protocols. The fully healthy version of New Orleans will be terrifying and possibly a contender if it's ever available for protracted stretches.
Dangling the Lakers pick gets the Pelicans into whatever splashy negotiations materialize between now and the trade deadline—in no small part because they have plenty of other assets to peddle, including L.A.'s pick outright in 2024 (with the option to defer until 2025).
Granted, with great trade value comes great particularlity. New Orleans shouldn't just be flipping what could be a primetime lottery pick for a rim-protecting center like Myles Turner.
But if Kevin Durant meanders his way back onto the market? Or if Jimmy Butler gets the itch to play for a better-than-mediocre team? Or the unthinkable Stephen Curry trade demand comes? Or another surprise name like Pascal Siakam or Paul George spills into the rumor mill? Then, yeah, the Pelicans' window is immediate enough to sniff around.