The 2019 offseason only confirmed what we already knew about the modern NBA: Lucrative contracts for the league's top stars, regardless of the years and dollar amounts attached, can be quickly rendered irrelevant if a general manager wants to make a move — or if a player is ready to request a trade.
Anthony Davis and Paul George wanted out of New Orleans and Oklahoma City, respectively; they both landed in Los Angeles. Russell Westbrook seemed like a lock to be a Thunder player for life; he is now a member of the Rockets. Team situations can change in the blink of an eye, and the constant worries about roster turnover are unlikely to dissipate. (At least David Griffin and Sam Presti control the NBA Draft for the next century).
It's a fool's errand to predict the major trades that will be completed once the NBA returns for another year of drama, but it wouldn't come as much of a surprise if these four stars spark lively conversations over the next few months.
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Bradley Beal, Wizards
2018-19 season stats: 25.6 points, 5.5 assists, 5.0 rebounds, 47.5 percent shooting, 35.1 percent 3-point shooting
A two-time All-Star, Beal is a perfect fit on just about every roster. He's a threat off the ball as a 3-point shooter, and he displayed improved playmaking with John Wall out for 91 of a possible 164 games over the last two seasons. His production and efficiency in 2018-19 has only been matched by some of the greatest players in hoops history. And Beal is also just 26 years old.
Would the Wizards actually consider trading Beal? So far, the answer has consistently been something along the lines of "no, shut up about it." Washington would prefer to sign Beal to a three-year, $111 million max extension prior to the 2019-20 season. Wizards general manager Tommy Sheppard told ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski there are no plans to begin trade discussions should Beal decline that extension.
Beal has two years left on his current contract, so Sheppard's strategy is fine. But the clock is already ticking. Beal doesn't have much help with this Wizards roster, and Washington is looking like a lottery team. That could be a major factor as he decides what to do with that extension.
"I’d be naive to say I wouldn’t be (interested in extension talks)," Beal told The Washington Post's Candace Buckner in June. "Washington is where I’ve been the last seven years, going on eight. It would be great to play in one place forever.
"But at the same time, you want to win and make sure you’re in a position to do so."
Kevin Love, Cavaliers
2018-19 season stats: 17.0 points, 10.9 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 38.5 percent shooting, 36.1 percent 3-point shooting
The veteran power forward struggled with injuries last season, missing 60 games for a bad Cavs team. Love signed a four-year, $120 million extension in 2018, so there may be health concerns for the soon-to-be 31-year-old. Still, Love can be a terrific complementary player and elevate the right team from really good to great.
Cleveland reportedly wants both young players and picks in any Love trade. That asking price feels too high at the moment. Perhaps a contender sees Love as the missing piece, but the bet here is he remains in a Cavs jersey to start the year before trade talks intensify closer to the deadline.
Chris Paul, Thunder
2018-19 season stats: 15.6 points, 8.2 assists, 4.6 rebounds, 41.9 percent shooting, 35.8 percent 3-point shooting
After sending Westbrook to Houston, the Thunder were hoping to flip Paul for more assets with Miami emerging as the top destination. Unfortunately for Oklahoma City, the market for Paul is essentially nonexistent because of trade limitations following free agency and Paul's massive contract. It seems Paul has accepted he will start the 2019-20 campaign with the Thunder.
Paul is no longer in "Point God" territory, but he did average 15.6 points, 8.4 assists, 5.2 rebounds and 1.8 steals after the 2019 All-Star break. He also scored 27 points (11 of 19 from the field), grabbed 11 rebounds and dished out six assists in the Rockets' Game 6 loss to the Warriors, which eliminated Houston from the 2019 playoffs. Let's not pretend overpaid means bad.
If Paul shows a little bit more of his old self in OKC (and doesn't annoy his new teammates), he could become an intriguing in-season trade target. Salary-matching will be tough, but as Kevin Garnett once said, "Anything is possible!"
D'Angelo Russell, Warriors
2018-19 season stats: 21.1 points, 7.0 assists, 3.9 rebounds, 43.4 percent shooting, 36.9 percent 3-point shooting
Golden State unexpectedly acquired Russell in a sign-and-trade with the Nets, allowing the Warriors to get something in return for Kevin Durant. As soon as the deal was completed, though, there were already reports the Warriors were simply treating Russell as a trade asset.
"They got a 23-year-old All-Star, and they will trade him," Marc Stein of The New York Times said back in July. "It's just a matter of when. ... (Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson) aren't going anywhere. There really isn't room for Russell. Obviously Klay is going to miss the rest of next season, so in the shortterm, yes. But this was really about the Warriors protecting themselves for the future."
Warriors general manager Bob Myers has rejected that idea, saying the team "didn't sign (Russell) with the intention of just trading him" and wants to "just see what we have." That's an understandable approach, but will Myers change his mind once Thompson recovers from the ACL injury he suffered in the 2019 NBA Finals?
How Russell works next to Curry could dictate how Golden State handles this situation. There might not be room in the family for a "Splash Cousin."