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5 Teams That Should Trade Out of the 2023 NBA Draft Lottery

June 7, 2023 USAWorld Sports

This year’s NBA draft could be littered with teams trading lottery picks.

Hypothetical scenarios involving high-end selections are always discussed, in droves, ahead of the incoming-rookie festivities. The overwhelming majority seldom come to fruition—especially near the top of the order, where rebuilding teams typically cling to picks, often treating them as organizational lifelines.

That will by and large still be the case on Jun. 22. But the potential for movement inside the lottery is greater than most years.

Motivation for wheeling and dealing will vary. Some teams are brushing up against more urgent timelines. Others simply need to show progress reflected in the standings. And a few could just stand to glean more value by trading out of the top 14.

Specific trade packages and targets will not be mentioned…for the most part. We cobbled together exact deals when looking at teams that should explore jumping into the top 14. This exercise will instead map out general possibilities among teams that should be most committed to gauging the value of their lotto choices.

1. Houston Rockets

James Harden reunion rumors are real-ish to real. And they loom large here. A soon-to-be 34-year-old isn’t signing on to follow a gradual timeline.

Every asset the Houston Rockets have should

be up for grabs if Harden comes “home”—Jalen Green, Jabari Smith Jr., Alperen Şengün, future picks, the whole nine.

The No. 4 selection in this year’s draft holds more value than anyone or anything. It is at once a known commodity with an it-could-be-anything outcome. That’s the best brand of star-trade magnet.

Houston’s appetite to wheel and deal shouldn’t wane too much in the event Harden is using #TheReturn as leverage. Oklahoma City controls the Rockets’ 2024 and 2026 first-rounders (top-four protection) and has the right to swap selections in 2025 (top-10 protection). The time for bold acceleration has arrived.

2. New Orleans Pelicans

The New Orleans Pelicans can go one of two ways here.

First and most aggressively, they can attach No. 14 to additional salary—like Jonas Valančiūnas’ expiring contract—in an attempt to bag rim protection and/or a functional shooter who at least flirts with cracking their preferred closing five.

That is both the hardest and more palatable route. The Pelicans are approaching luxury-tax territory, and who knows how long Zion Williamson’s prime will span. They’re built to juggle development with the urge to win now, but when prioritizing what’s more important, there’s no decision.

If New Orleans doesn’t have the stomach to swing big or the trade market isn’t cooperating with grander ambitions, the front office should consider breaking up No. 14 into multiple picks.

Approaching the tax limits both what the Pelicans can and what they’re willing to do. Grabbing two cost-controlled rotation fliers—does Utah trade Nos. 16 and 28 to jump up?—eases the burden of fleshing out the roster.

3. Orlando Magic

Having two lottery picks (Nos. 6 and 11) arms the Orlando Magic with options galore.

They can trade up. Or down.

They can use both to try acquiring a bigger name. Or peddle one as part of a middle-ground play. Their impending cap space ($20-plus million) opens even more doors.

Orlando can, of course, keep both selections. Meh. This team is too tantalizing for overt safety.

The Magic played well above .500 basketball for most of their schedule after starting the season 5-20 while turning in a top-10ish defense. Bake in another year of development from Paolo Banchero, Frank Wagner and the rest of the core, and they’re well positioned for a leap.

That leap potentially tilts toward galactic if Orlando adds functional shooting and/or a higher-end offensive organizer to the rotation. The front office has the assets and flexibility to make stuff happen. They should act like it.

4. Portland Trail Blazers

Most inclusions for this exercise are negotiable. The Portland Trail Blazers are obligatory.

Damian Lillard turns 33 in July. If they’re serious about optimizing his window, the No. 3 pick must be openly dangled in blockbuster packages for a genuine co-star.

Casting a wide net can culminate in settling. And there is an element of urgency here not present in Houston. But targeting marquee talent like Mikal Bridges, Jaylen Brown, Pascal Siakam and any other legit All-Star type taller than 6’5″ whose name ambles into the speculative ether isn’t tantamount to overpaying.

Surrendering No. 3 and Shaedon Sharpe is a different discussion. Prospective returns must reflect such a stark opportunity cost. The Blazers should be chasing a certified All-NBA candidate if traveling down the most nuclear path.

Pearl-clutching these assets are nevertheless inexcusable—unless Portland finally admits it can’t, and won’t try to, compete on Dame’s timeline.

5. Toronto Raptors

Pencil in the Toronto Raptors for whatever trade scenario involving the No. 13 pick you like. Their direction is choose-your-own-adventure ambiguous.

Given the rising cost of their core, though, the Raptors seem better off trying to deal down while scooping up an additional pick or player.

Jakob Poeltl, Gary Trent Jr. (player option), and Fred VanVleet (player option) are all free agents this summer. OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam are both extension-eligible and scheduled to hit the open market next year.

Luxury-tax concerns are officially on the menu if everyone stays. Toronto’s already top-heavy rotation could use all the cost-controlled extras it can get.

And unless the Raptors are planning to skew toward a longer-term outlook, they shouldn’t be too enamored with the idea of sticking at No. 13—or, for that matter, moving up.


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