The first game of the NBA Finals served notice that the Miami Heat versus the Oklahoma City Thunder may be one of the most riveting matchups we've seen in years, but looming just on the horizon is the draft. If the Finals go seven games, there will be just a two-day gap between the crowning of the champion and the de facto start of the 2012-13 season, which will begin after the New Orleans Hornets presumably select Anthony Davis No. 1 on June 28. So we have to keep that in mind as we enjoy some tremendous on-court action.
The draft is the most exciting time of the year for fans who love to break down transactions, and the trade buzz that surrounds that day is the most interesting part of the process. That's when we learn how teams view themselves. Are they trying to fill a need that will allow them to take the next step as a franchise, or are they tearing down while building a new foundation? Successful franchises answer those questions correctly.
With that in mind, let's consider three possible pre-draft trades that would be mutually beneficial to the teams involved.
1. The Chicago Bulls trade C Joakim Noah and the No. 29 pick to the Sacramento Kings for G Tyreke Evans and the No. 5 pick.
The Kings are rumored to want another big man to pair with DeMarcus Cousins, and the unselfish, defense-oriented style of Noah would be a perfect on-court fit. The trade works financially because of the amount of cap space the Kings have, so there are no concerns there. The Kings would still have Marcus Thornton to play the 2 while hoping that Isaiah Thomas or, gulp, Jimmer Fredette turns out to be a long-term answer in the backcourt as well. And, who knows, perhaps the big numbers Terrence Williams put up at the end of last season were for real. It wasn't that long ago that he was a lottery pick.
A starting five of Thomas, Thornton, Williams, Noah and Cousins works well in terms of complementary skills. It's a jumping-off point for a group still searching for some kind of concrete identity. Noah would bring heart and soul to Sacramento, or wherever the Kings end up playing long-term. Frankly, those are qualities the Kings have lacked for quite some time.
The swap of picks is important from the Bulls' standpoint, as they would want to add another center to replace Noah, and Connecticut's Andre Drummond would fit in nicely, either as a starter or as a backup to Omer Asik. If Drummond is gone, then Thomas Robinson or, even, Jared Sullinger could be a possibility, or they could opt for Harrison Barnes as the eventual successor to Luol Deng at the 3.
When healthy, Noah is an All-Star type of player, while Evans has regressed during his NBA career, so the Bulls could hold out for the pick swap. The money the Bulls save from dealing Noah would help them keep Asik, a restricted free agent this summer, as well as Taj Gibson, who can become one next year.
Evans could run the point while Derrick Rose recovers from knee surgery, then play alongside him when he comes back. The Bulls desperately need a second shot-creator, and Evans could be that guy. Evans has underachieved defensively in the NBA, but Tom Thibodeau would cure him of that. He has the physical traits of someone that should be an elite defensive guard.
Evans will be a restricted free agent next year, so Chicago would get a season to evaluate him as an extension candidate, which they could pull off by amnestying Carlos Boozer. He's the kind of high-ceiling player that's going to be difficult for Chicago to obtain going forward, so if, as rumored, he's on the market, it's time to pounce.
[+] EnlargeRudy Gay
Joe Murphy/NBAE/Getty ImagesRudy Gay could become the go-to scorer that the Sixers need.
2. The Memphis Grizzlies trade F Rudy Gay and the No. 25 pick to the Philadelphia 76ers for F Andre Iguodala and the No. 15 pick.
Both of these players are rumored to be on the market and this would be a fascinating basketball trade. The Sixers are desperate for a go-to scorer, which Gay would give them. Gay is a better defender than he used to be and any shortcomings he still has on that end would be coached out of him by Doug Collins. If the Sixers amnesty Elton Brand, they'll have the flexibility to add even more to an exciting young core that features Gay, Evan Turner and Jrue Holiday.
Memphis, on the other hand, would have the fiercest defensive wing combo in the league in Iguodala and Tony Allen. They take a hit offensively, but the Grizzlies' attack is built around big men Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol anyway. With Michael Conley controlling the tempo, the Grizzlies could become an even better version of the kind of slug-it-out halfcourt team that would give even the powerful Thunder fits in the West next season.
The trade also would give Memphis some slight financial relief in the short term and more flexibility down the line, as Iguodala has just one year and an early-termination option left on his contract. It's not exactly a cost-slashing move, but that may be less of a factor for Memphis now that the Grizzlies have a new owner. The swap of picks may not be necessary, but Gay is the higher-ceiling player, so giving Memphis the better pick would help mitigate some of that disparity. It would also give Memphis a better shot at finding a bench scorer to replace O.J. Mayo in the draft.
3. Minnesota Timberwolves trade F Derrick Williams and the No. 18 pick to the Charlotte Bobcats for the No. 2 pick.
Williams was the second pick of last year's draft and played well in spurts for Minnesota during his rookie season. To become a true foundation player, he's going to have to improve the consistency of his outside shot, as well as his decision-making on offense. There is no question that the raw athletic ability is there for Williams to eventually become an All-Star-caliber player. But can he reach that ceiling in Minnesota?
Williams spent about half of his court time last season playing small forward, which is appropriate in a sense because he's a bit of a tweener. He needs the ball in his hands more, and that's not going to happen regularly playing alongside Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love.
The Timberwolves need a perimeter player who can score consistently from the perimeter, which makes Florida's Bradley Beal an ideal get. Beal is the exact kind of knock-down shooter you want to pair with Rubio on the backcourt. His size would be an issue on the defensive end for some teams, but the Timberwolves have one excellent backcourt defender in Rubio and with a big three of Rubio, Love and Beal, they could go after a rangy defensive specialist and stand-still shooter to play small forward. It's a combination that would put Minnesota a rim protector away from quickly moving up the ladder in the West.
Charlotte, on the other hand, is more or less building from scratch. They are hoping that Kemba Walker and Bismack Biyombo will evolve into legitimate starters, but Williams would give them another piece of the puzzle if he can become the kind of big-time scorer that he's unlikely to be with the Timberwolves.
The question the Bobcats have to answer is this: Is Williams a more desirable building block than Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, or Thomas Robinson, or anyone else not named Anthony Davis? It's a tough call, but Minnesota could also include the No. 18 pick to sweeten the pot. No matter what happens, the Bobcats will be in the running for the top pick again next year anyway, so the more bodies they get, the better.