Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press
The upcoming NBA offseason might not have as many fireworks as last year, but several notable players could still change teams before the 2020-21 season.
Changes to the salary cap and the COVID-19 pandemic will likely reduce spending league-wide, while there are limited superstars available in free agency compared to last season, when Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and others changed teams.
This could force organizations to get creative through trades, upgrading the roster without having to spend big on the open market.
Here are some notable players and assets that could be moved in the coming weeks.
Kyle Kuzma, PF, Los Angeles Lakers
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Despite being the third-leading scorer on a championship team, Kyle Kuzma’s future with the Los Angeles Lakers is far from secure.
The forward has one year remaining on his contract, and it’s unknown whether he would sign an extension with the team.
According to Shams Charania of The Athletic, there are “several interested clubs” if the Lakers were to trade the forward.
There has long been speculation about a Kuzma trade, with the team even having “exploratory conversations” with the New York Knicks in February, per Charania. He was also mentioned as a possible part of the trade that brought Anthony Davis to the Lakers and sent Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball and other assets to the New Orleans Pelicans.
“I could have been at home enjoying myself right now,” Kuzma joked during the NBA finals, per Christian Rivas of Silver Screen and Roll. “That’s the biggest thing for us, to be here obviously. Like you said, big trades, having AD come here, and decide to put me in the mix to try to win a championship and be a part of a championship team, you know, I’m just very thankful for it.”
The 25-year-old was able to enjoy the Lakers’ championship run, but he averaged just 10.0 points and 3.1 rebounds per game during the postseason after averaging 12.8 points per game during the regular season. It was a steep drop for a player who averaged 18.7 points and 5.5 rebounds during the 2018-19 season.
A trade could allow Kuzma to re-establish himself as a go-to option, potentially leading to a big new contract when he hits free agency in 2021.
Los Angeles could also find someone who better fits in the rotation as the squad tries to defend its championship.
Russell Westbrook, PG, Houston Rockets
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The small-ball experiment has seemingly failed, and it seems Russell Westbrook could be on the move for the second time in two years.
The Houston Rockets are “likelier” to trade away Westbrook after Daryl Morey stepped down as general manager, per Marc Berman of the New York Post.
Berman also notes the New York Knicks would be interested if the point guard does hit the trade market.
Ian Begley of SNY added the Knicks would “poke around” on a trade for Westbrook, noting the player saw New York as a “welcome landing spot” last offseason when the Oklahoma City Thunder were considering trades.
Westbrook fared well playing second fiddle to James Harden, averaging 27.2 points, 7.9 rebounds and 7.0 assists per game last season. However, the team was eliminated by the Lakers in five games during their second-round playoff series.
Morey and head coach Mike D’Antoni are out, and the organization could start fresh.
A trade to New York could allow Westbrook to again produce huge numbers after three straight seasons of averaging a triple-double. He could also be the star attraction the Knicks have been seeking for years.
The team is still far from contention, but this type of trade could generate enough excitement at Madison Square Garden to make it worth it.
Chris Paul, PG, Oklahoma City Thunder
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Most thought the Oklahoma City Thunder would trade Chris Paul shortly after acquiring him last season, but he stayed and played extremely well, helping the team make a surprising run to the playoffs.
The 35-year-old averaged 17.6 points, 6.7 assists and 5.0 rebounds per game, finishing ninth in the NBA in win shares.
The raise in value means Oklahoma City could benefit from a trade beyond just clearing salary.
“Instead of adding an asset to shed what is owed, the Thunder now are in the market to flip Paul only if draft picks or young players are coming back,” Bobby Marks of ESPN reported.
Marks previously indicated the Thunder don’t need to trade Paul because of his play and their balanced finances.
With that said, Oklahoma City could benefit from more assets as it moves forward with a roster led by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Luguentz Dort in the backcourt. Paul also likely wouldn’t mind spending the end of his career with a title contender.
According to Bleacher Report’s Eric Pincus, NBA executives expect LeBron James to push the Lakers to add another star this offseason.
“Chris Paul would love to come back to L.A.,” an Eastern Conference executive said. “I know it would be a dream come true for Chris. I know LeBron loves and trusts him, and he would be a good fit.”
Los Angeles would be top-heavy in the salary cap if it also re-signs Anthony Davis, but a top three of James, Davis and Paul would be good enough to keep them as the favorites for the title in 2021.
No. 1 Draft Pick
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While top players have a chance to be moved in the coming weeks, there also could be a lot of activity involving draft picks. This includes the No. 1 overall spot controlled by the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Jonathan Givony of ESPN reported the Timberwolves have been “active in trade discussions” regarding the No. 1 pick. General manager Gersson Rosas is reportedly looking at mid-round prospects, which could mean the team is looking to trade back.
Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer also reported the team prefers to trade the pick and bring in a “win-now player.”
Minnesota should be better than last season’s 19-45 mark thanks to the combination of Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell. Adding a third top player could help the squad contend for a playoff spot and potentially build a future contender.
The team could also stay patient in its rebuild, selecting a player like Georgia’s Anthony Edwards No. 1 overall to help create a winner down the line.
If the Timberwolves do trade the pick, the return likely won’t be as big as it would have been with a true star available at the top of the draft, such as Zion Williamson last year. Teams certainly like Edwards, LaMelo Ball and James Wiseman, but the uncertainty might be too much for interested parties to give up a king’s ransom.
This could keep the top pick on the market right up to draft night.