After the Detroit Pistons won the rights of having the first pick in a sensational 2021 draft, with one can’t miss prospect in Cade Cunningham right there for the taking, it is fair to imagine that their President of Basketball Operations Troy Weaver has gotten a load of calls from NBA teams doing everything they can to have the opportunity of landing a franchise talent like Cade Cunningham. And according to Jonathon Givony of ESPN and Draft Express, the Cavaliers, Thunder, Pelicans and Rockets are heavily interested in getting the first pick.
Because of these reports, there is of course going to be rumors that Detroit is open to trading the top pick. Even though I’m skeptical that there really is a real possibility the pick is dealt, after all there has only been six times in NBA history where a team traded the top selection and it is difficult for me to imagine it happening in a year where there is a talent like Cunningham available, but we have seen more unbelievable occurrences in the NBA so it’s hard to rule out anything.
In this piece, I will try to create proposals not with the expectation of these mock trade offers getting accepted by Detroit, but proposals that seem, to me, like what these teams will realistically offer. Here are mock trades from the teams that reportedly are trying to trade up to the first selection.
Trade #1: Cleveland Finally Gets a Franchise Player Not Named Lebron James
Pistons recieve: Colin Sexton, #3 pick, 2023 1st
Cavaliers receive: #1 Pick
The one advantage the Cleveland Cavaliers have over other teams that could pursue the top pick is they have a potential core young piece and a top three pick that would probably be on the table in a deal. The Pistons would receive one of the most talented and underrated young scoring guards in Colin Sexton, who would provide the offensive punch the Pistons lack in the perimeter. This is also a draft with three prospects that would go #1 In some other years in Jalen Green, Evan Mobley, and of course Cade Cunningham. The Pistons would still be able to land a player with franchise star potential. If the Pistons still landed a franchise player to go along with a gifted young scorer, even if Cunningham hits, Cleveland would still get strong value back.
For the Cavaliers, besides LeBron James, they haven’t had a true franchise player to build around. With Cade Cunningham, I am not saying he is Lebron James, but he does present some similarities as a 6’8″ wing with point guard skills who possesses franchise changing potential. The Cavaliers would be a fantastic fit for Cunningham too as they have a strong blend of playmaking with Darius Garland and athleticism with defense with Isaac Okoro and Jarrett Allen. Theoretically, Cleveland would have an ideal type of supporting cast for Cunningham to thrive
Trade #2: OKC Puts their Million Picks into Good Use
Detroit Pistons receive: #6 pick, #18 pick, 2023 1st, Lu Dort
Oklahoma City Thunder receive: #1 pick
The Detroit Pistons would probably want Shai Gilgeous-Alexander in a trade for a top pick (pure speculation), which would make it hard for the Thunder to outbid other teams since there is no reason to deal one of the most versatile and dynamic young guards in the game. But if Detroit took this deal, they would value the talent available this range and likely target a Scottie Barnes or Jonathon Kuminga, both prospects have much more upside than a typical prospect at this spot, as well as the flexibility more picks could provide them going forward. Lu Dort would also add more high-level defense and floor spacing to their treasure chest of young, talented wings.
The Thunder already have more draft capital than they can handle, 15 firsts over the next five years to be precise, so they wouldn’t think much about dealing three picks and a strong young piece in Lu Dort because of the opportunity of pairing Cade Cunningham with a young star in Gilgeous-Alexander. Between those two, the Thunder would have the most talented young back court in the league that can be a backbone of a contending team, if they reach their potential.
Trade #3: The Pelicans form the most exciting young duo in the league
Pelicans receive: #1 pick, Mason Plumlee, Rodney McGruder
Pistons receive: Branson Ingram, #10 pick, 2023 top 5 protected first round pick
The New Orleans Pelicans are already experiencing some scares due to circulating rumors about Zion Williamson’s family’s displeasure with how they have been treated by the Pelicans organization and would welcome the possibility with Williamson, that points to the idea that the clock is already ticking.
The Pelicans make a big sacrifice by dealing a young All-Star caliber talent in Brandon Ingram, but because they have a late lottery pick instead of a top pick, that’s a price they would need to pay. It is a risk to trade an established young player in the caliber of Ingram in a deal for a rookie, but to be a great team in the NBA, you often need to make gutsy moves. Cade Cunningham would be an awesome fit next to Zion Williamson for similar reasons as Brandon Ingram as a floor spacer and shot creator, but he also adds extra dimensions too as he would make life for Zion easier as a really good passer and he can defend multiple positions. Between Cade Cunningham and Zion Williamson, the Pelicans could have the best young duo in the league, ESPN broadcasters would need to get used to being in New Orleans since they would have to spend much more time covering games there.
If the Detroit Pistons took this deal, it would be because they were not comfortable making a guess on a young teenager, instead they would get a guarantee star and franchise pillar in Brandon Ingram, somebody that can be their primary shot maker and a player they build their entire offense around. He also still fits the timeline of their young, rebuilding core as well. Even though the 10th pick, doesn’t have nearly the value the top three picks do, there is a pleather of good players in that range that could help them out immediately and going forward. Plus, they add a first round that could present some value if the Pelicans don’t figure out how to maximize their franchise players.
Trade #4: Houston Gets the Texas Boy
Houston Rockets get: #1 pick, #42 pick
Detroit Pistons get: #2 pick, #23 pick, #24 pick
With the worst record in the league, surely the Houston Rockets were hoping to get their hands on the Texas kid with somewhat of a similar scoring package as James Harden in Cade Cunningham, but that was unfortunately not meant to be…. unless they do something about it.
As good as the top of the draft is this year, there seems to be a pretty big gap between the first and second slot in the class. If Houston wanted that pick bad enough, as hard as it is to deal three firsts in a good draft, I would speculate that being the asking point to get a deal done. But at the end of the day, if they deem Cade Cunningham to be the guy they can build the franchise around for a decade, they need to do it. Him and Kevin Porter Jr. In the back court would be super entertaining. Plus, they still get a mid second round pick, in a draft as deep as this, there is still a strong possibility they could get a gem there, a player maybe even better than who they would take with one of their later firsts.
There have been rumors that the Detroit Pistons plan on doing deep homework on prospects in the lights of Jalen Green and Evan Mobley as they are big fans of them. If they want one of those two bad enough and don’t want to risk dropping too far to miss the opportunity of getting that player, dropping back a spot and accumulating even more assets make a lot of sense. Plus, they nailed their two later first round picks last year by drafting Two All-Rookie teamers in Isaiah Stewart and Saddiq Bey, perhaps they could do that again and establish good depth on their young and talented roster? Having three firsts in a very good draft could be franchise altering, if they pick wisely.
Which Deal is the Best?
My choice: Cavaliers
If the Pistons were dead set on trading the first pick, multiple of these mock deals would be intriguing for different reasons, but the Cavaliers would be the deal I would personally accept. First of all, you would be getting one of the most underrated young scorers in the game in Colin Sexton, someone who is currently on a rookie deal and who knows? There may not be a market for him to get a max contract, so maybe they could keep him long-term on a good deal. Also, you still get a top three pick in the draft. In my eyes, there are three young talents that separate themselves from the rest in Cade Cunningham, Evan Mobley, and Jalen Green, you still get to pick between one of those three. Ideally, the Rockets would take Jalen Green so Evan Mobley would fall to their lap. With a lineup of Hayes at the one, Sexton at the two, Grant at the three, Stewart at the four and Mobley at the five with players like Saddiq Bey coming off the bench, you would have one of the most exciting young cores in the league. Lastly, with the Cavaliers, there is never a guarantee they become formidable, even with a Cade Cunningham, so a 2023 1st could have good value as well.