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Jim Mone/Associated Press
Like potato chips past their expiration or fashion trends a few seasons behind, NBA stars can get stale when they’re stranded in non-contending situations.
But that’s not a permanent status for the heroes of the hardwood. A simple scenery change can be all that’s needed to perk them up and increase the significance of their elite statistics.
Since Thursday’s trade deadline is fast approaching, we’re crossing our fingers that the following six players will soon be filling out change-of-address forms. Each top-tier talent here is overdue for a move, due to his club’s inability to contend in the present and clear challenges to change its fortune in the future.
We’re also taking the next step and examining potential landing spots that would be much better fits than their current digs.
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Nick Wass/Associated Press
The Washington Wizards aren’t tanking. In fact, they’re offended by the idea, which we suppose is their prerogative, even if it sounds like they’re going to use their top-10 payroll to chase one of the East’s last playoff spots.
But what’s the long game in the District?
John Wall‘s supermax hasn’t even kicked in yet and already looks like the league’s biggest albatross. Otto Porter Jr. is a role player collecting All-Star coin. Dwight Howard can’t find the court, which might be a good thing. If there’s a long-term building block on the roster, it’s either former Los Angeles Lakers castoff Thomas Bryant or Troy Brown Jr., who can’t snag a rotation spot on the East’s No. 10 seed.
Can we free Bradley Beal already?
He has all the makings of a championship-level sidekick, serving as both a dynamic off-ball weapon or a stand-in offensive leader. His numbers all improve (including efficiency) when Wall isn’t playing, and sharing the floor with an explosive frontcourt scorer might blow the top off Beal’s production.
Imagine what he could do with actual help. While Beal would be a buzzsaw next to LeBron James, his best fits might be the Milwaukee Bucks and Toronto Raptors, who’d have an easier time getting him enough touches to maximize his talent.
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Brandon Dill/Associated Press
The grit-and-grind Memphis Grizzlies are dying an agonizingly slow death. Can’t the hoop gods show some mercy here and pull the plug already?
We might be finally heading in that direction. The Grizzlies are open to fielding offers for their franchise mainstays, league sources told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, and even the players sound ready (or at least open) to accept the idea this has run its course.
Memphis has the West’s second-lowest winning percentage and second-worst net rating. The Grizzlies’ most intriguing player is Jaren Jackson Jr., a 19-year-old rookie who might peak after Gasol (34 years old) and Conley (31) have called it quits. Better to move the longtime building blocks now while there’s still some value left, even if the transaction is long overdue.
“For too long there has been this narrative that it’s sacrilegious to consider trading Gasol and Conley, and the Grizzlies clinging to the limited success the two franchise stalwarts offer has cost them,” Chris Mannix wrote for SI.com. “In sports, it’s better to be proactive than reactive when it comes to rebuilding, and Memphis right now is in full reactive mode.”
Conley’s list of possible landing spots is extensive, although reported talks with the Utah Jazz, per Marc Stein of the New York Times, are fascinating. The Jazz need a support scorer who can play a Quin Snyder-approved level of defense; Conley checks both boxes with ease.
Gasol isn’t as easy to move. Age has limited his mobility, and the NBA’s ongoing shift to a more perimeter game exploits that deficiency. But he’s tailor-made for Gregg Popovich’s system, and maybe a trade with the San Antonio Spurs would bring Gasol’s brother, Pau, back to Memphis.
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Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images
Two voices are better qualified to explain this than ours.
First, Anthony Davis’ agent, Rich Paul, via Wojnarowski: “Anthony wants to be traded to a team that allows him a chance to win consistently and compete for a championship.”
And now, Davis himself, via NOLA.com’s Andrew Lopez: “It’s my time. I feel like I gave this city all I could.”
That’s a (colossal) bummer for the New Orleans Pelicans, but this is already past the point of no return. Just going public with the trade request cost Davis $50,000, which admittedly isn’t a huge sum to an NBA megastar.
Maybe there are market forces working against New Orleans, but there are also basketball reasons for Davis to want out. While he’s blossomed into a full-fledged NBA elite over six-plus seasons with the Pelicans—third-highest career player efficiency rating in history!—they haven’t even become playoff regulars. If the campaign closed today, they’d miss the cut for the fifth time during Davis’ tenure.
So, where should The Brow take his talents? The Boston Celtics are interesting in theory, but they can’t trade for him before this summer and don’t have a huge fan in Davis’ father. The light-years-ahead Golden State Warriors should never be ruled out of a star pursuit, but it’d too big an in-season disruption for a team eyeing its third title in four seasons.
As much as small-market teams won’t want to hear this—in part because they already know it—the Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks might be Davis’ two best bets.
Pairing Davis with LeBron has cheat-code potential, and the Lakers would have the financial flexibility to add another impact piece. While the Knicks have little more than cap space to offer at the moment, that could change in a major way this summer if they can lure one (or more) of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard or Kemba Walker to Gotham.
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Paul Sancya/Associated Press
Is there a better example of how incredibly fast life moves in the NBA than Blake Griffin?
In July 2017, he was labeled a Los Angeles Clipper for life and handed a five-year, $175 million max deal as proof. Almost immediately, the oft-injured big man seemed at risk of becoming an untradable burden. But the Detroit Pistons debunked those myths by snagging the then-five-time All-Star in January and positioning him as a potential savior.
Fast-forward to the present, and the Pistons are back to floundering outside the playoff picture while Griffin looks like a stranded star.
He’s potentially playing the best basketball of his career, and it hasn’t mattered. Detroit’s roster underwhelms in most non-Griffin areas, and it’s tough to tell what could turn that around. The Pistons don’t have high-ceiling prospects, have never been a destination for free agents and don’t have the flexibility to sign them if they suddenly took an interest in the Motor City.
“It’s apparent Griffin has adjusted to the Pistons,” Vince Ellis wrote for the Detroit Free Press, “but it’s also apparent the franchise wasn’t ready for Griffin.”
Rather than shop for pieces it can’t afford, maybe Detroit opts for the same organizational reset L.A. took with last season’s Griffin trade. There probably aren’t many interested parties given his contract and medical history, but if the Charlotte Hornets are keen on keeping Kemba Walker, Griffin could provide the All-Star the support he’s always needed.
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David Zalubowski/Associated Press
But how much more must they see to realize this formula isn’t working? All the Hornets have proved over Walker’s seven-plus seasons in Buzz City is that they can sometimes build a one-and-done playoff participant—and spend an exorbitant amount to do it.
Walker will turn 29 before he hits unrestricted free agency this summer. Other than loyalty, what would be his reason for staying? The Hornets’ second-best player is…Jeremy Lamb? Cody Zeller? The financial books say it should be Nicolas Batum, but the $120 million man’s 12.0 player efficiency rating vehemently disagrees.
Could the answer to that question eventually be Malik Monk or Miles Bridges? It’s possible, but will Walker be anywhere near his current form by that point? That seems like a big enough stretch for him to consider looking for the nearest exit.
“If Kemba wants to win a championship, a clear-eyed assessment would say that he has a much better chance if he joins a superstar-laden team elsewhere,” Scott Fowler wrote for the Charlotte Observer. “Why wait for Charlotte to build something? It’s like moving into a shiny house that’s already built vs. waiting for building permits to start a long-delayed construction project.”
A Big Apple homecoming for the Bronx native could be all kinds of fun if he’s the second (or third) big fish the ‘Bockers catch this summer. He also has the tools to thrive alongside King James in L.A. as both a slippery shot-creator and a capable spot-up sniper.
The Indiana Pacers, though, seem perfect for Walker. Once Victor Oladipo (ruptured quad tendon) gets back to full strength, he and Walker would shoot up the list of the Association’s best backcourts. Tack on Myles Turner as a defensive monster in the middle and Domantas Sabonis as a do-it-all glue guy, and the Pacers might have the conference-contending pieces the Hornets have never provided.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.