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Over the next few weeks, NBA Draft picks will be made and dozens of players will be changing teams. But which potential moves will have the biggest effect on next year’s title race?
5. Are the Philadelphia 76ers really ready to trade Ben Simmons?
As we’ve gotten more distance from the 76ers’ latest playoff collapse, the Ben Simmons conversation seems to have cooled off a bit. What seemed like a must-trade situation now looks a bit murkier. If the 76ers trade Simmons right now they’ll be selling when his stock is low but they also run the risk of keeping him on the roster and losing even more trade leverage if he or the team struggles at the start of next season. Simmons for CJ McCollum is everyone’s favorite trade idea but it’s not clear that it improves the Blazers enough to get the deal done and while McCollum would be a big offensive upgrade, Philadelphia would also be losing one of the best and most versatile defenders in the league. There aren’t a ton of clear-cut contenders who are likely to be interested in Simmons so whatever happens probably has a bigger effect on Philadelphia’s championship odds than anyone else’s. But he’s one of the best players who could change teams this offseason.
4. Where does Kyle Lowry want to play next season?
It seems likely that Lowry’s time in Toronto is over and depending on his willingness to take a pay cut for another chance at a ring, Lowry could have his pick of contenders. The 76ers, Lakers and Heat were all reportedly interested in him around the trade deadline and he’d be an enormous upgrade for all three of those teams, even if he’s playing a smaller offensive role and limiting his minutes to preserve his legs for the playoffs. There will be other “better” free agents who could switch teams this offseason but with his skill set and the teams he’ll likely be choosing from, no one has the potential to make a bigger impact in the championship race than Lowry.
3. What can the Golden State Warriors swing on NBA Draft night?
The Warriors are the only team in the draft lottery who realistically seems like a move away from becoming a championship contender. With the No. 7 and No. 14 picks, as well as Andrew Wiggins’ contract and maybe even James Wiseman they have the pieces to put together a big deal. There were rumors about an interest in Pascal Siakam a few weeks ago and they’ll likely be linked to all the other big names who could be on the market — Ben Simmons, CJ McCollum, Damian Lillard, etc. Of all the teams who will be looking for an upgrade this offseason, the Warriors have the most assets to make a big deal work and the most potential upside if they can find the right player.
2. Will the Phoenix Suns re-sign Chris Paul?
Our own Gerald Bourguet is pretty confident that Paul will be back and, all due respect to LeBron James, it’s not clear there’s any other team that gets Paul closer to a title next season than Phoenix. But if Paul decides not to come back to the Suns, it seems like the Lakers would be the next likeliest candidate. I’m sure you can imagine the breathless media coverage and preseason hype around that scenario. Maybe they can pick-up Carmelo Anthony on a minimum and let Anthony Davis complete the Banana Boat, 2.0.
1. What do the Portland Trail Blazers do with Damian Lillard?
The Trail Blazers find themselves at a no unavoidable fork in the road. To be fair, there are three conceivable paths, but the middle one — stand pat this offseason, run it back and hope for a better result — seems increasingly absurd. That means they’re essentially choosing between trading Lillard and jumpstarting a rebuild or swinging for the fences with some other personnel moves (probably trading CJ McCollum) in an effort to keep Lillard happy.
There are not a ton of scenarios where Lillard ends up in a clearly better scenario for winning a title. The Warriors would be interesting but so weird, the Knicks would have to empty the cupboard to make a deal work, a Lillard for Ben Simmons swap seems incredibly unlikely and Tyler Herro seems like a woeful centerpiece for a deal with Miami. None of that really affects the likelihood of the Blazers trading him but Lillard with Team X doesn’t really change the championship picture for next season anymore than him staying in Portland.
However, if the Blazers decide to keep him it seems much more likely that McCollum could be on the move, a far more realistic trade possibility for someone like the Heat or 76ers, which could have real implications for the power structure of the Eastern Conference. Whether they’re trading McCollum or Lillard, the Blazers are at the center of a spiderweb of possible moves involving at least a half-dozen teams. What they decide to do could be the biggest factor, by far, in shaping this offseason.
This week on The Long Two, Ben Ladner breaks down how the Bucks fought back to a win a title, using Giannis to overpower the competition and taking the Suns out of their offensive rhythm.
Some things are bigger than championships, like the impact Chris Paul made over his Hall of Fame career.