There were high expectations for the Atlanta Hawks coming into the 2022-23 campaign after an Eastern Conference Finals appearance two seasons ago and notable roster additions this past offseason. However, the team has been mediocre so far and is nowhere near having championship contender status. On top of that, the Hawks were in the headlines for the wrong reasons earlier this month because of drama reportedly brewing between star Trae Young and coach Nate McMillan.
Rumor has it that Young's time in Atlanta could potentially be coming to an end, as some NBA executives believe the two-time All-Star guard might be the next superstar to request a trade if the Hawks don't find playoff success.
The report had The Ringer writer Kevin O'Connor speculating on which teams would consider trading for the playmaker despite his offensive and defensive shortcomings.
Only time will tell if Young even requests a trade when it seems that he is intent on helping the Hawks win. Even his father said as much.
But let's play the what-if game and explore the best realistic trade partners for the Hawks.
Some might be expecting to see the Los Angeles Lakers on the list. But even though he checks everything that LeBron James is looking for in a teammate, there doesn't appear to be a way for L.A. to land Young without giving up Anthony Davis.
Without any more ado, here are a few teams that can potentially make a play for Trae.
How about a swap between star players reportedly frustrated with their respective organizations? The Bulls appear to be dealing with their own drama, as Zach LaVine is allegedly disgruntled with the organization.
The rumors are that LaVine is keen on making his way to the Lakers.
But the fact that the shooting guard has several years left on his contract means that the Bulls front office has more leverage in any trade request scenario. Even so, I'm betting that LaVine wouldn't mind getting sent to the Hawks, where he would make a formidable backcourt partnership with fellow Klutch Sports client Dejounte Murray.
A straight swap between Young and LaVine is obviously not a fair trade. But Chicago has several other trade pieces, such as DeMar DeRozan, Nikola Vucevic, and Lonzo Ball, that it can add to the package or move around to find assets the Hawks like. Or maybe Atlanta might also be interested in any of those players, particularly DeRozan.
The question is if Trae would welcome a trade to the Bulls, which have a weaker roster than Atlanta. However, leading a franchise with a rich NBA history to return to its former glory presents a one-of-a-kind opportunity.
If Young does become available in the trade market, expect the perpetually star-hunting Heat to enter the discussion. Incidentally, Miami is another East team that has fared worse than expectations this season.
The 6-foot-1 floor general would be a dream acquisition for the Heat. He is everything the proud franchise is looking for - a star ball-handler who can score in bunches and has no trouble having the ball in his hands in crunch time.
Playing in South Florida could also bode well for Young because his limitations will be covered by Miami's plethora of defenders and enforcers. Furthermore, the famed Heat culture could do wonders for his career.
A likely problem for the Heat is that the trade packages they can offer may not be that attractive compared to what other franchises can offer. Would a package of Tyler Herro, Kyle Lowry, and a combination of young prospects and draft picks move the needle for the Hawks? Maybe. After all, Herro could prove to be a great backcourt partner for Murray, and Lowry would provide Atlanta with a backup point guard with a championship pedigree.
Miami's chances of landing Trae don't seem that high. But it's never wise to count out the legendary Pat Riley.
If the Hawks want to remain contenders even without Young, they should look north and gauge the Raptors' interest.
Toronto is reportedly listening to trade offers for its core players, which might include one-time All-Stars Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet, as well as Defensive Player of the Year candidate O.G. Anunoby.
Any combination of those players can help shore up Atlanta's defense and make up for the shot creation the team would be missing if Trae is shipped away. For instance, imagine a starting lineup of Murray, VanVleet, Anunoby, John Collins, and Clint Capela. Floor spacing might be a bit of a problem on offense, but that could be an elite defensive unit.
As for Young, he would have the opportunity to reset his career playing under a player's coach in Nick Nurse and a successful basketball executive in Masai Ujiri. He would also have the rabid support of an entire country behind him.