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Who Is Entering the NBA Trade Zone?

Breaking down the players who may not be with their current teams after this summer

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to NBA Blog Boys (and Girls). It is a dimension as vast as J.R. Smith’s contract and as timeless as Manu Ginobili. It is the middle ground between Victor Oladipo and Paul George, between advanced analytics and superstition, and it lies between the pit of Sam Presti’s fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of a GM’s imagination. It is an area which we call the Summer Trade Zone.

Kawhi Leonard

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich wants Leonard kept away from the team, according to Peter Vecsey’s sources. (I’m sure Leonard, who hasn’t been to a game since March 31, skipped out on attending the playoffs, and only returned for picture day, replied “K.”) The friction between the team and Kawhi’s camp has endured all season, to the point that there have been more “Sources: Leonard unhappy” headlines than “Sources: LeBron unhappy” headlines. The latest rumor is that the reports of Leonard’s mangled rehabilitation and the team forcing an early comeback were a ploy by Kawhi’s camp so Leonard would have an out to join another franchise.

San Antonio doesn’t have much to look forward to in its future without Leonard. Dejounte Murray is a bright spot, but LaMarcus Aldridge is 32 years old, Tony Parker is coming off the bench, and their 2018 playoff stud, Manu Ginobili, was contemplating retirement before this season began. (Even Popovich is two years past when he originally said he would retire, which was alongside Tim Duncan.) Competitively, the franchise is a non-topic without Leonard. But the messy, season-long dramatics leave the Spurs little choice but to shop their star.

C.J. McCollum

After a strong end to the regular season, these playoffs were supposed to be different for the Blazers. Or as America’s beloved Tyra Banks once said …

McCollum was being mentioned as a trade piece even before the Pelicans swept the Blazers. If a backcourt made of him and Damian Lillard can’t make it to the next round—as we saw soon enough, it cannot—then a major shake-up of the roster is called for. (Maybe not a full-out Kevin O’Connor blow it up, since Lillard is in his prime, but something between that and dropping Mentos into a Coke.) Portland hardly seems the type of team to want to start from scratch; remember the signing-happy summer after LaMarcus Aldridge left?

”[The Blazers] have a lot invested in [Lillard and McCollum],” league executives told Sporting News, “and if they’re not making progress, they’re going to get a lot of good offers. [...] Everyone likes C.J. McCollum.”

Steven Adams

The Thunder exiting the playoffs in the first round (again) didn’t kill Thunder GM Sam Presti’s vibe. “The opportunity to potentially have [Russell] Westbrook, Paul George, and Steven Adams,” he said Wednesday, “all three of those guys in their prime years, is extremely exciting for us.” (Note the name Presti did not include, a 33-year-old forward most definitely not in his prime.)

Whatever hope OKC has to keep George, who will almost certainly opt out of his current contract this summer to become a free agent, seems to shrink by the hour. Multiple reports have already surfaced that George is “gone” and wants to be Playoff P somewhere else. (After averaging 24.7 points on 20 field goal attempts, 36.5 percent from 3, and four turnovers per game—was he really Playoff P at all?)

If George goes, Billy Donovan will have a similar issue on his hands as he did during Westbrook’s MVP season: Russ will be the only star on the team. (Conveniently, that potential reality is already Westbrook’s default mind-set.) Adams is the most attractive piece OKC has to offer in a rebuild around Westbrook. If you’re Adams, look at the bright side: Now you might win a Most Improved Player or MVP award!

Multiple Cavaliers

If the Thunder had gone all the way, the money would lean toward George staying a Sooner. With LeBron, either outcome—title, or no title—makes his departure feasible. He can give Cleveland another championship, and still leave, but on good terms. Or he can dip, and because the front office has fallen short in so many ways with this roster, can’t be entirely blamed for it.

So let’s assume LeBron is gone. The Cavs own the 2018 Brooklyn pick; they’re going to want to hold onto that. But Cleveland could shop the rest of its assets like an overpriced yard sale: There’s Kevin Love, who has two seasons left on his max contract, and Kyle Korver, whose shot could be of use to a contender, and Tristan Thompson, whose $82 million guaranteed is really what TMZ should be focusing on, and J.R. Smith. None of the players who have become known as “LeBron’s guys,” perhaps outside of Cedi Osman, are safe.

Andrew Wiggins

I’ve written before that Minnesota isn’t a fast-acting franchise. So the past season (or more) of disappointment with Wiggins might not be enough for the team to alter its course.

But since his arrival in the front office, Tom Thibodeau has been far more reactive. He orchestrated the trade for Jimmy Butler last summer, bailing on his no. 5 overall pick, Kris Dunn, after a year, and the promise of Zach LaVine. Thibs is also feeling heat after Minnesota’s weak finish to the season. Wiggins is now a maximum-contract player of the worst degree—one that’s unproven. What the Wolves could get for him is uncertain. How much less that return could be after another lackluster year, though, is enough to convince a coach-president hybrid to act sooner rather than later.