Trade season and free agency are the best opportunities for teams, unsatisfied with their current roster, to find pieces that fit their build. Whether an organization is on the brink of contention, fighting to make the playoffs, or looking towards a bright future, there are always valuable assets to bring in. The challenge is figuring out which ones will perform the greatest and at the most favorable price.
These two periods are also a chance for players to find new homes, either chasing a championship, or a more meaningful role, or in some cases a place to revive their careers. Players young and old often have to re-establish themselves in the open market when their time comes, as a valuable piece that should be sought after by other teams in need of their services. When a player finally lands with the right team and at the perfect time, the outcome can be magical.
This offseason provided a special circumstance where teams could trade or sign players and achieve a highly profitable return. The global pandemic caused by COVID-19 has caused many organizations to restrict their spending, cut down on cost, and re-evaluate their positioning. If they played their cards right, franchises could walk away from this offseason with some important assets way undervalued, due to a less lucrative open market with a lot less communication and barely any in-person scouting.
Here are five recent examples of teams making brilliant moves and players being reborn:
1. Jrue Holiday on the Milwaukee Bucks
The point guard long ago was a terrific young scorer who elevated into an All-Star playmaker, but his success was viewed merely financial and he was shipped away by the tanking 76ers. Then restarting with the Pelicans, he took some steps back battling injuries and a lesser role. When he finally emerged into a devastating two-way threat and lifted the team back to the playoffs, New Orleans traded a disgruntled Anthony Davis and began another rebuild.
Highly performing at his peak on a supremely young team, Holiday was finally traded this fall to the contending Bucks for two points and a boatload of draft picks, to return to the point guard position and be the team’s third star. Through 15 games he’s playing at much higher efficiency and continuing his All-Defense pressure. The Bucks days ago were sitting first in the East thanks to his great shot creation, pick-and-roll, and chemistry alongside the reigning MVP.
The player who many call the most underrated player in the NBA still hasn’t made an All-Star team since his exceptional 22-year-old campaign, and it’s likely he won’t ever again. But Holiday wouldn’t rather some All-Star nods over a real chance to compete in the playoffs, and this year he’s finally going to get it. It goes to show that even with a high price tag, a terrific player will elevate their game and their team when they are finally being valued and called on for wins.
2. Andrew Wiggins on the Golden State Warriors
The small forward was a high school phenom emerging out of Canada and taken with the #1 overall pick back in 2014. His early days in Minnesota were very promising as he won Rookie of the Year honors, upped his offense each year, and became a big-time scorer at just 21 years old. Before his fourth year, management eagerly traded for Jimmy Butler to assemble a talented Big 3, but a conflict between the stars killed the team’s momentum and broke Wiggins’ confidence as a rising star the last two years.
Carrying a heavy contract and lots of potential on a team growing frustrated with him, Wiggins was finally dealt last February to the dynasty-driven Warriors along with two picks for D’Angelo Russell, to become a focal point of their new developmental wave. He flashed his skills right before the league shut down, but has taken a leap in his first full season in Golden State. The Warriors are back in the playoff picture in part due to his growth as a shooter and a defender.
“Maple Jordan” about eight years ago was said to be the future of the NBA taking the torch from LeBron James, and while that’s entirely gone out the window because of poor development and questionable motor, Wiggins is at long last coming into his own. He’s playing alongside two future Hall-of-Famers in Steph Curry and Draymond Green, who know how to exploit his athleticism and generate intense defense. The former #1 pick is having great success restarting his career at 25 years old, proving that some talents require a better foundation to unlock their potential in the league.
3. Seth Curry on the Philadelphia 76ers
The combo guard became a household name in college as an exceptional weapon for Duke, but his small frame at 6’2” and limited athleticism cost him a selection in the NBA Draft. He spent his first three seasons bouncing around and lighting it up in the D-League (now G-League), before finally earning a rotation spot for the Mavericks in 2016-17. After an injury held him out of the following season, he signed a one-year deal coming off the bench for the Blazers and then finally a long-term deal returning to the Mavs but in a lesser important role.
With years of awesome production coming off the bench, Curry was sought after this fall by the offensively-struggling 76ers in a deal for Josh Richardson, to play as a full-time starter needed desperately for floor spacing. Through 8 games, he’s logged the most minutes of his career because his super-strong offense is making up for his lapse in defense. Philadelphia started a red-hot 7-1, powered by the ridiculous shooting and scoring of Curry who’s leading the league in 3-point percentage at 59.5%.
The player widely recognized as “Steph’s younger brother” is truly making a name for himself now, as a real offensive threat and certified NBA starter. He’s been positioned in the backcourt next to 6’11” Ben Simmons who lacks any sense of range, making him an adequate complement who provides the scoring while Simmons provides the defense and playmaking. The undrafted sharpshooter has risen to become the league’s active leader in 3-point percentage, and his huge step forward this season proves that some talents just need to find the right system, which could do wonders for teams with a missing ingredient.
4. Nicolas Batum on the Los Angeles Clippers
The versatile wing was Portland’s swiss-army-knife making plays on both sides of the ball. He spent his first seven years developing with the Trail Blazers before signing a mega-deal with the Hornets in 2015, instantly launching him to the top of their game-plan and handing him the most puzzling contract in the league. Heavier usage helped give him a slight boost in production but he never improved like the team had hoped he would, leading to less scoring and playmaking opportunities as the years rolled on before flaming out in his final year with the team.
Coming off a miserable and shortened 2020 season, Batum signed a small one-year deal with the contending Clippers to provide a unique skill-set of all-around playmaking for the bench unit. He’s had to fill in to open the season with a starter injured, yet through his first 10 games, he’s been absolutely remarkable. Playing heavy minutes with All-Stars again around him, Batum has morphed into a fantastic stretch four, knocking down tons of 3’s and finishing with great efficiency while still actively rebounding. LA has the second-best record in the NBA and now they’re unsure if he’s leaving the unit.
The player most recognized for having the worst contract in the NBA over the last five years has redeemed himself as a highly-skilled pro. He’s currently spacing the floor and taking quick shots to help Kawhi Leonard and Paul George attack from all over successfully. The French wing has been a surprising story this year and is on his way back to starting in the playoffs, proving players with lots of tools and talent can always adapt to aid a team, just as long as the ask is within reason.
5. Christian Wood on the Houston Rockets
A solid sophomore in college might’ve left UNLV too early, as he dealt with several critics at the NBA level and found himself undrafted in 2015. He barely touched the floor his first two pro seasons so he left the States to play in China, but he never checked in to play with the team so he came back and stayed with the G-League. After that full season, he bounced around still waiting for meaningful minutes, and then in 2019 he signed with his fifth team and made a big impact coming off the bench for the Pistons.
Following a super-highly-productive season on Detroit, Wood signed a long-term big-money deal with the Rockets to be their starting center, who’d get tons of scoring opportunities and responsibility playing in the paint. Through 12 games he’s rapidly emerged into an All-Star candidate, leading the team as a 20 point-per-game scorer. Already showing a knack for scoring throughout his pro career, he’s now elevated into a supreme rebounder and shot-blocker. Houston’s fell to the bottom of the West because of the pitfall with Harden, yet their future is looking very bright with Wood filling in as a star.
A virtual unknown who couldn’t keep a roster spot is now one of the game’s best big men. He’s a truly-gifted scorer for a big, with tremendous inside-outside touch, and this year he’s showing he’s more than capable of holding his own down low. The UNLV product has been sensational in the last 12 months and he’s just getting started. Wood’s proving that bench players with an obvious strength should be given a real chance to perform, so they could work on rounding out their game and maybe develop into a starter.
Trades and free-agent deals grant teams new chances to configure their talent pool, but they also give NBA regulars a chance to start over, contribute in a different way, or in the best instances take a step forward. These five players are having terrific seasons on their brand-new teams, and management has to be pleased they’re heading towards their goals. Some talents in need of rebirth just need a change of scenery, and these examples have proven what’s possible when all the right moves are exercised in all the right places.