With the calendar flipping to 2022 and the holiday festivities dying down, the focus around the NBA is about to shift to two of the most exciting parts of the regular season.
The NBA All-Star Game is set for February 20, with the voting for the game’s starters ending three weeks from now. However, before the stars gather in Cleveland for the league’s annual showcase, each team’s front office executives will step into the spotlight for the flurry of transactions leading up to the trade deadline on February 10.
Ben Simmons and Kyrie Irving, although now to a somewhat lesser extent, are two of the most likely to be shipped off to new teams at this year’s deadline following a controversial last few months. Even more players may find themselves with new franchises next month, given how open this year’s title race seems to be, which may convince a handful of teams to make win-now moves.
On the other end of the spectrum, a group of teams has found themselves underachieving and might pull the trigger on sending away one, if not two, of their stars. The Washington Wizards, now reverting to the mean following an inspired start to the season, and the ever-confounding Boston Celtics are among these teams.
It is believed that they have been seeking new homes for their respective stars, Bradley Beal and Jaylen Brown, and there are even rumblings that they are discussing an outright swap involving these two.
Beal has a player option for next season but is expected to opt out and look for greener pastures this coming summer. Meanwhile, Brown is still on his rookie extension and will be under contract until 2024.
The trade makes sense for the Wizards, since the 28-year-old Beal may very well walk away from the team in a couple of months and leave them with no compensation for losing him. In exchange, they will acquire a new perimeter star who is three years younger and locked up for two more seasons after this one. While the 6’6 Brown’s offensive arsenal is decent, it is nowhere near Beal’s, though he makes up for it with a much more formidable defensive game.
The risk-takers in this scenario are the Celtics. They will acquire an older guard, playing with a contract that expires at the end of this campaign, who is also having one of the worst seasons of his career. The main reason–or more precisely, person—that this deal could work for Boston is their two-time NBA All-Star forward Jayson Tatum.
Picked a year after Brown and two years his junior, Tatum has emerged as the favored star of the franchise although it remains to be seen whether this is the right decision. The fit of these two together on the floor has always been lacking, given their preference to play an isolation-heavy style and lack of intuitive playmaking. While they have made improvements over the years, it is difficult to imagine it getting better beyond the incremental gains that they have already made.
Beal solves the problem here, having already proven to be a more than capable facilitator despite his score-first approach over the past few years. He has averaged over six assists in two of the last three seasons and could help oil the gears of the Celtics’ sputtering offense.
Beyond the statistics and the on-court product, Beal’s well-documented relationship with Tatum, which traces its origins to their childhood days in St. Louis, is an underlying factor that may be the most valuable one. The depth of their preexisting relationship can help smoothen out any potential chemistry issues and may convince Beal to re-sign with the team this coming offseason. Beal could also help mentor Tatum and give the Celtics’ star a presence on the team who can command his respect.
Given how poorly Boston has played so far, they have been involved in other rumblings which include Jerami Grant and Myles Turner, among others. These players could make sense for the Celtics, though other situations seem to offer a better fit.
Grant, still recovering from thumb surgery that will keep him on the sidelines at least until the end of the month, does not figure prominently in the Detroit Pistons’ current rebuilding program given that he is a few months away from his 28th birthday. He does, however, look like a perfect fit on pretty much every other team in the league that is not tanking.
His versatility and mobility at 6’8 together with his defensive acumen make him a perfect fit in the modern NBA. Grant has emerged as a first option, albeit an inefficient one, in his two seasons with the Pistons following six years of establishing himself as a top-notch role player in the league. He would unquestionably have to take a step back on another team that has higher aspirations than Detroit, but less usage coupled with his newfound offensive game could theoretically be a boon for his efficiency.
The Chicago Bulls, the Los Angeles Lakers, the Utah Jazz, and the Memphis Grizzlies have been floated as the strongest pursuers of Grant. He could also end up on literally any of the other teams that are not blatantly playing for better odds in the NBA Draft Lottery, which further proves his value. A package centered on a young prospect, such as Chicago’s Pat Williams and the Lakers’ Talen Horton-Tucker, or a trove of draft picks will likely be the price to pry Grant away from the Pistons.
Meanwhile, the current situation of the struggling India Pacers makes it likelier than ever that Turner, perennially involved in trade rumors, will finally find a new home. The Charlotte Hornets, the New York Knicks, the Portland Trail Blazers, and even the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks have interest in the 6’11 center who has the potential to immediately address their defensive woes.
Still only 25 years old, the seven-year veteran once again leads the league in blocked shots with 2.9 per game. If he can remain ahead of the competition, this will be the third time that he finishes a season as the league’s top shot blocker. In addition to his elite ability to protect the rim, Turner is a mobile defender with an ability to keep in step to an extent when switched on to speedier guards.
On the other end of the floor, he has a developing post game and an improving three-point shot, but the biggest sign of his progress has been in his field goal percentage. It has jumped from 45.7% two seasons ago and 47.7% last year to 52.9% through 34 games this season which is reflective of his refined shot selection and finishing ability.
Turner will command a similar package to that of Grant, though the Pacers may be a bit more hesitant to let go of their prized big man, given that they are also looking to move Domantas Sabonis and Caris LeVert.
The trade deadline is still six weeks away, but it looks like it has the potential to be one of the busier ones in recent history. Given the trend of teams going all-in in one direction (Title contention) or another (Tanking) and forgoing a middle-of-the-pack existence, it paves the way for more deals that look to exchange draft assets and prospects for a chance to consolidate talent.
The next few weeks will be a roller coaster ride and, given the league’s rich history, could very well tilt the balance of this year’s race to the championship.