It’s inevitable. NBA team makes a move to help support their star, it doesn’t work, star becomes unhappy, star eventually gets traded. That cycle occurs on a regular basis in the league, with the latest trade deadline leading to the death of the ‘hypothetical Brooklyn Nets’ as Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant both found new homes. Naturally, the discussion has now shifted to who will ask out next, with similar names emerging in those chats. We won’t see any of them playing for a new franchise until next season, but inevitably, someone will kick up a fuss and end up playing for a different franchise.
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No. 6 – Damian Lillard
I felt obliged to include Damian Lillard on this list, but let’s make one thing abundantly clear. Dame isn’t going anywhere, anytime soon. Regarded as the greatest player in Portland’s history, both Lillard and the franchise appear to be on the same page about finishing his playing days in a Blazers uniform. Contracted until the end of the 2024-25 season, there’s a scenario where Lillard reaches the end of that deal and opts to leave Oregon to spend the final chapter of his career chasing a ring; although, that appears highly unlikely. Loyal to a fault, Lillard has gone on record multiple times saying how important being a one-club player is to him as he continues the quest of bringing another title to Portland.
The Trailblazers seem to be on the same page, rebuffing trade talks around their offensive maestro for the past few years. Teams like the New York Knicks and Philadelphia 76ers have previously pushed hard to acquire the 7x All-Star and just as recently as last week before the trade deadline expired, Portland reiterated that Lillard is not available to be discussed in trade talks. That may mean he and the Blazers are destined to flirt with mediocrity for the rest of his tenure, while Lillard works his way up the all-time lists and hopefully makes a few more postseason appearances. If they tumble and make consistent lottery appearances over the next few years, Lillard and/or Portland may change their tune and look at a potential trade, but I expect him to spend his entire career as a Trailblazer.
No. 5 – Joel Embiid
2023 is the best chance Philadephia has ever had to ‘complete the process’. Their raging beast in the paint Joel Embiid seems poised to finish in the top-2 of the MVP race for a 3rd consecutive year as he continues to pace the league in scoring at 33.2 PPG. Having made five consecutive playoff appearances, the Sixers have failed to reach the Conference Finals since Allen Iverson was in town and if they continue to fall short of seriously contending, it might not be long until Embiid becomes fed up with Philly. A new extension will kick in for Embiid this offseason, leaving him contracted to the 76ers until the end of the 2026-27 season, but as we just saw with Brooklyn’s two stars, all you need is one willing trade partner and suitors would cue up quickly.
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There’s no immediate pressure on Philadelphia despite their lack of a deep postseason run. Once again, they find themselves as one of the best teams in the East and they’re poised to be a formidable force this season. Their shortcomings haven’t entirely fallen on Embiid’s shoulders either, with the colossus center averaging 24 PPG and 11 RPG in the postseason and featuring in 44 of a possible 50 playoff games. If they embark on another failed playoff quest and James Harden once again looks like a shrinking violet under the bright lights, you’d imagine that Embiid will continue to contemplate the idea of taking his talents elsewhere. Time is still on Philadelphia’s side, but they’re running out of excuses.
No. 4 – Draymond Green
Draymond Green has been an essential part of the Warriors for over a decade. He, Klay Thompson, and Steph Curry have joined forces to win four rings in 11 years as teammates, with a chance they defy the odds and capture a 5th championship this season. Green’s influence in Golden State measures far greater than his per-game stats, serving as their fierce, and at times polarizing leader who has ruffled plenty of feathers in the process. Nearing the age of 33 and with one more big payday on his mind though, we could see a divorce between Dray and Dub Nation in the summer if they can’t agree on a number.
We all know about the infamous punch Green threw at Jordan Poole during training camp earlier this season, with palpable tension still evident between the two Warriors teammates. That doesn’t mean that we won’t see Draymond finish his career in the Bay, but it does make a long-term deal unlikely; especially given the financial constraints facing Golden State after they opted to resign Poole and Andrew Wiggins in the preseason. GM Bob Myers could also be on the way out and if a new general manager enters the fray, you’d think they won’t be as loyal to Draymond. These factors could pave the way for Green to turn down his $27.5M player option this offseason as he looks to secure the bag one last time.
Hailing from Michigan, he could look at signing with the Detroit Pistons, or perhaps a team on the rise like Orlando, OKC or Indiana will have interest in throwing him a hefty contract. If he is going to leave Golden State though, it appears like the Lakers will be the team with the greatest interest in signing Green. Whether that’s a smart route to go down for L.A. remains to be seen, as the rumours about him and LeBron teaming up continue to do the rounds. A complex sign-and-trade could be the way Dray makes his way to Los Angeles, although his fate will largely be defined by how the Warriors’ postseason run unfolds in a few months’ time.
No. 3 – Bradley Beal
Only the reigning two-time MVP Nikola Jokic has more dollars committed to him than Bradley Beal, with Washington’s star guard signing a gargantuan contract this past offseason. No one can blame Beal for re-committing to the Wizards and securing a quarter of a BILLION in the process – I know I’d find it hard to turn down that amount of money if I was in his shoes. However, in doing so Beal is now tied to an inept franchise that hasn’t won more than 50 games since the 1970s! From a basketball standpoint, it was a move that made little sense, however, securing life-changing money by signing this deal and adding a no-trade clause (another gut punch for Wizards fans) means that he can have more of a say in how his next half a decade will unfold.
Hypothetically speaking, if Beal was to demand out in the offseason or two years from now, I do wonder how many teams would seriously consider trading for him. This season the Wizards guard has only appeared in 36 games and remains a fringe All-Star candidate at best. You’d think a squad with title aspirations wouldn’t be ecstatic with him as their second-best player, and paying him $50M annually to be third in line doesn’t make a ton of sense either. On the flip side, Washington has half-heartedly tried to find a running mate for Beal, trading for both Russell Westbrook and Kristaps Porzingis in recent times and continuing their annual tradition of losing more games than they win. Could a desperate team throw him a lifeline? Maybe. Until that point, both parties seem set to hover in the middle, incapable of escaping the situation they have trapped themselves in.
No. 2 – Trae Young
The writing is on the wall for Trae Young to be the next disgruntled star forcing his way from one team to another. We’ve already seen the first domino fall with Travis Schlenk demoted and head coach Nate McMillan may be the next one to lose his job if the Hawks continue to underachieve. Trading for Dejounte Murray in the offseason was meant to vault the franchise into the top-tier of teams out East and at the time of writing they find themselves fighting to stay above .500. Eyebrows were raised about the on-court fit of these two uber-talented guards as soon as the trade went through, and with Murray’s deal expiring in 2024, the clock is ticking for Atlanta to make this work.
With a lot of pressure on the Hawks to experience success within the next 18 months, they have remained active in the trade market in an effort to find the best-supporting cast for their All-Star backcourt. Instead of building around that duo, perhaps the best solution is to abort this iteration of their team and entertain offers around the stat-stuffing Young. Whether you believe the gossip or not, Trae Young is falling into the ‘Russell Westbrook’ category as a teammate you’d rather not play with, but thanks to his offensive excellence and lofty per-game averages, other teams will quickly talk themselves into trading for Young should he become available.
Atlanta could recoup a boatload of draft capital if he were to hit the open market. A franchise with a previous track record of success like the Miami Heat, Chicago Bulls, or, maybe even the San Antonio Spurs could make a play for Trae; adamant that they will be able to turn around his shortcomings and get the most out of the dynamic guard. With career averages hovering around 25/10, Young may benefit from a fresh start as well, continuing to thrive as the primary and sole playmaker for a franchise. One thing is for sure, if they keep trending the way they currently are then it’ll only be a matter of time before Trae and ATL decide to part ways.
No. 1 – Karl-Anthony Towns
I know that Karl-Anthony Towns has been sidelined since late November, but it wouldn’t shock me if the Minnesota center was wearing a different jersey 12 months from now. After being drafted first overall by the Timberwolves back in 2015, KAT has established himself as one of the best – if not the best – shooting big men in the entire association. That hasn’t translated into a lot of success in Minneapolis though, with Towns and Co winning 43% of his games since he joined the franchise and qualifying for the playoffs just twice. Their postseason appearance last year gave T-Wolves fans optimism for the future, only to see that hope dissolve over the offseason.
Minnesota sent every decent asset not named Anthony Edwards to Utah to land Rudy Gobert in an offseason trade that was meant to vault the franchise up the standings. Instead, the fit seemed clunky and awkward even before Towns got hurt and despite the small sample size, I’m convinced that KAT and Gobert can’t co-exist. While the Timberwolves would rather ditch the former 3x Defensive Player of the Year, they could certainly fetch a lot more on the open market if they were willing to deal Towns. He hasn’t shown any interest in bailing from the franchise yet, but just like Kevin Garnett before him, it might not be long before we see a talented big man depart Minneapolis.
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Despite his statistical brilliance, I don’t view Towns as a winning player and cashing him in would be a wise pivot for the Timberwolves franchise. A trade can’t be made until early July thanks to the supermax extension he signed prior to the season beginning; and you’d think there won’t be too many teams who are eager to cough up a lot in a trade to pay Towns $56M annually through to the 2027-28 season. However, time and time again we see teams talk themselves into making a move for the distressed star who needs a clean slate and a change of scenery.
If Minnesota really wants to get rid of KAT and instead focus on building around Ant Edwards, they may have to settle for taking 50 cents on the dollar in a trade. Getting Towns’ upcoming $224M off their books provides the T-Wolves with extra flexibility moving forward as they aim to recapture the vibe that helped them qualify for the postseason. Towns may become a casualty of the Rudy Gobert trade, a deal that already is viewed as one of the worst trades in NBA history. Ripping the bandaid off though for the greater good of the team appears like the closest thing they have to a solution.
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