It can be tough to make a sacrifice for the better of a franchise. It’s even more difficult when you’re considering trading a player that transcends a sport or seems to be the franchise.
However, as good as one athlete can be, one player never makes a team. The days of one NBA superstar carrying their team to the playoffs are for the most part gone. Even the best NFL quarterbacks can’t do it all on their own. Star MLB hitters and pitchers can put up their own gaudy numbers, but at the end of the day they’re still handcuffed to the rest of their team.
At some point, having a marquee player can’t mean sacrificing the future of a franchise. Eventually, an organization needs to look at themselves and answer the painful question, “Might we be better down the road without this player?”.
A number of teams could be facing that exact dilemma this year or in the near future. Here’s a look at the biggest stars who are the lone bright spot on their respective teams and why it may be a good idea for their team to trade them away while the getting is good.
Mike Trout, OF, Los Angeles Angels
As the Halos stand, they’re a wounded MLB team in the competitive AL West. They don’t have a good enough defense to fend off elite Texas and Seattle offenses in the division, while an anemic offense stifles too often to allow them to keep up with said offenses on the other side.
Mike Trout has done his very best, but the 24-year old can’t do it all on his own. He gets sporadic help from the likes of Kole Calhoun and Albert Pujols, but the Angels have largely missed throughout the rest of their offensive lineup and lack the top shelf defensive pieces to make up for their weak offense.
It’s true that Trout is still very young and he could be a key part of a rebuild. He also could be the reason the Angels get back to a prominent level a lot faster. Trout is an MVP-caliber player and in the right situation, could be the missing link to a World Series title.
— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) July 20, 2016
So far, though, that hasn’t been the case with the Angels. Despite big numbers and consistent, reliable play, Trout hasn’t been able to push the Halos over the hump. Since coming into the league in 2011, Trout has helped the Angels to the MLB playoffs just once.
That doesn’t mean Trout can’t be part of a turn around that eventually ends with a title. He’s just 24 and arguably is the best overall player in the entire league. The Angels could command a huge haul for him in a trade, however, one that could supply them with key assets, pitching help and some attractive young offensive talent. Of course, nothing is ever guaranteed when it comes to huge trades. The Angels could be sacrificing one of the league’s best players just for a mere chance to get a head start on starting over. Or they could be giving away their best player, only to watch it blow up in their face.
Russell Westbrook, PG, Oklahoma City Thunder
Trout’s name is huge when it comes to trade rumors, largely because he’s come up a few times in the past couple of years and because the MLB trade deadline arrives on August 1st. There might be an even more high profile player that could/should be dealt, however, with the Oklahoma City Thunder unsure of their future with superstar point guard, Russell Westbrook.
With the departure of Kevin Durant this summer, OKC is officially on high alert, knowing that if they don’t plan things just right, they could lose a second mega star for the second consecutive season.
— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) July 13, 2016
Plan A has to include rebuilding without Durant and focusing on keeping Westbrook happy, dialed in and most of all – loyal. That would require some type of commitment out of Westbrook, who to this point has not appeared open to signing a contract extension prior to the end of the 2016-17 NBA season.
For one, he has to wonder, just like Durant did, if OKC is the place he wants to be. Are the Thunder going to add the right pieces around him in order to compete for NBA championships? Is the draw of going back to Los Angeles (he went to school at UCLA) more tempting and potentially more rewarding?
Westbrook’s take isn’t known, plus with the NBA CBA, he stands to lose a ton of money if he signed a long-term deal before next summer. Instead, one way or another, he’s going to break the back once he becomes a free agent and the league salary cap rises even higher.
That doesn’t mean Westbrook can’t or won’t stay in Oklahoma City. But it might mean the Thunder can’t take the chance he’ll do what Durant didn’t do.
Because of the uncertainty with the franchise and with Westbrook’s thinking, the Thunder don’t have a choice. Unless they’re privy to information no one else is, they have to deal Westbrook for the best possible offer and start over. That could mean someone like the New York Knicks go all-in on a one-year rental. It could also be someone like the Dallas Mavericks or Boston Celtics. Or maybe a Los Angeles based team (more than likely the Lakers) knows they can get Westbrook to sign long-term and they’re willing to give up assets to make the deal happen.
Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings
Two problems arise when you start thinking about Adrian Peterson trade rumors. For starters, it doesn’t sound like the Minnesota Vikings would ever actually trade him. He also is a guy that seems content where he is, especially after a new deal in 2015 proved just how much he meant to the team. Secondly, it’s tough to gauge the exact value of a 31-year old running back at a position that is constantly devalued by fans and experts, alike.
That being said, the Vikings are being held hostage by an aging entity. Peterson is still a top shelf feature back in the league, but he’s slowly inching past his prime and is arguably one more big injury from being a lost cause. Meanwhile, Minnesota has a very talented young rusher in Jerick McKinnon, who is just chomping at the bit to see increased action.
Minnesota, at the moment, is a fun sleeper to make a run for their first NFL title in league history. Peterson is a big reason why and barring some shocking development, there is no reason the Vikings actually would trade him.
.@AdrianPeterson believes this team has the pieces to win it all in 2016.
— Minnesota Vikings (@Vikings) July 18, 2016
However, shipping off Peterson would accomplish two things: it would open up Minnesota’s offense and make it less about one guy and more about spreading the ball around in a balanced attack. As the offense sits, it’s about giving Peterson the ball and hoping for the best when you don’t.
The other key advantage is whatever the Vikings can get in return for Peterson. At this age and due to his position, it probably wouldn’t be a whole lot. Still, any amount of draft picks or an upgrade at any position where Minnesota lacks strength could be worth it.
It’s not actually going to happen. If it was going to happen, Minnesota would have pulled the trigger when teams like the Dallas Cowboys had serious interest shortly after his child abuse scandal. They didn’t, and now they’re tied down to him more than ever. Peterson was strong again in 2015 and he played a big hand in getting the Vikings back to the playoffs. He’s probably the second reason (after their improved defense) for the high level optimism going into 2016, as well.
An Adrian Peterson trade won’t happen, but for the sake for Minnesota’s future, it probably should.
Kevin Love, PF, Cleveland Cavaliers
The Cleveland Cavaliers might not have just won their first ever NBA title if it weren’t for Kevin Love. Not only did he grab 14 huge rebounds in their game seven win over the Golden State Warriors, but he also played surprisingly excellent defense against Stephen Curry in the waning seconds.
While Love certainly still has value in Cleveland, he shrunk in some of the bigger moments – specifically the NBA Finals – and is now more than ever third in the pecking order behind LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. He is still a valuable player for a team shooting for a repeat title, but it’s worth wondering if he’s more valuable as a trade chip that could bring back even more help.
The Cavs are in an interesting spot, as they just won the title with little help from Love and mostly on the shoulders of James and Irving – who both played at an insane level in three straight games to come back from a 3-1 hole.
Trading Love could get the Cavs assets they otherwise would never get, it could get them a solid backup point guard, extra scoring off the bench or another quality big to help make up for the loss of Love. The reality is the team lost two decent bench guys in Matthew Dellevadova and Timofey Mozgov, and for a team that already lacked bench depth, they could be in a tough spot suddenly.
Love isn’t completely expendable, but depending on what Cleveland could get back for him, he also isn’t untouchable.
Emmanuel Sanders, WR, Denver Broncos
Denver just won a Super Bowl because of their defense, rather than their offense. They also watched as Peyton Manning retired and Brock Osweiler opted to head to Houston. A regressing offense has only gotten worse, yet in just a year’s time, the Broncos will need to decide whether or not Emmanuel Sanders is going to be part of the rebuilding process on that side of the ball.
The team has put a lot of money into their defense in the past few years – the most of which being a massive contract extension for rush linebacker, Von Miller.
Emmanuel Sanders figures to be Denver’s next main focus, but it’s possible the Broncos don’t want to invest a ton of money in the 29-year old receiver. It’s quite arguable they shouldn’t, either.
— theScore (@theScore) July 18, 2016
The most obvious reason for Denver to move on is the money. Sanders is a top shelf #2 receiver, but he wants around $10 million per year. That might be a bit too rich for Denver’s blood, especially when they have talented waiting behind him in Cody Latimer.
None of this necessarily puts Sanders on the trading block right now, but if a deal doesn’t get done and the defending champs come out of the gates slow to start 2016, Emmanuel Sanders trade rumors could quickly become a thing.
The harsh reality is Sanders never found real success until he teamed up with Manning and at 29, it becomes increasingly dangerous to hand him a fat contract. Manning is gone and the Broncos may have to endure some rebuilding in the next couple of years. They already have a ton of money wrapped up in fellow receiver Demaryius Thomas and we’ve seen them be judicious in the past about money (see: Eric Decker and Julius Thomas).
The likely result here is Sanders walks as a free agent after the season. That, or he actually sticks to his guns about wanting to retire a Bronco and gives the team a hometown discount. The other option is a trade – an idea that isn’t too crazy for a solid talent and a team that needs more than one piece to get their offense back on track.
Ricky Rubio, PG, Minnesota Timberwolves
Rubio’s days in Minnesota have to be numbered. The team did just hand him a massive contract extension not too long ago, but with the drafting of Kris Dunn and the presence of Zach Lavine, Rubio has never been more expendable.
Rubio still provides value and is just 25 years old, but the guy cannot shoot and doesn’t have the defensive upside Dunn does. Long-term, Dunn belongs at the one, running Minnesota’s offense and stifling the elite point guards in the NBA. The Timberwolves are already inching back to a playoff appearance, and it surely would be a shame to not have Rubio be a part of that.
However, Rubio is still an appealing talent and a franchise point guard in the right situation. It’s still possible that remains in Minnesota. However, he is no longer needed with the talent the Wolves have accrued and they could use help elsewhere – namely future assets and their bench depth. Rubio could return a solid haul depending on who triggers a deal, and his three remaining years on his deal would keep him locked in to his next team.
So far, a Ricky Rubio trade hasn’t come to fruition and ownership suggests it won’t.
— HoopsHype (@hoopshype) July 18, 2016
Keywords being “for now”.
The reality is Rubio’s value hinges to a starting role where he runs the offense, attacks the paint and sets other guys up. Unfortunately, his presence hinders the development of some of the other guys and his shooting hurts the team’s offensive upside. The Timberwolves probably want to make sure Dunn can handle the reigns before making such a big move, but it could ultimately only be a matter of time before a Ricky Rubio deal goes down.
Alshon Jeffery, WR, Chicago Bears
Jeffery is the last big NFL name on our list, as he could soon follow in the footsteps of former teammate, Brandon Marshall. Much like Marshall, the Bears could soon view Jeffery as expendable, especially with 2015 prospect Kevin White poised to enter the team’s starting lineup.
More importantly, Jeffery struggled to stay healthy in 2015 and reports suggest that the team may not see Jeffery as a true #1 receiver. Should they see him as more of a strong number two option, the two sides may never come to an agreement on a new deal. With Jeffery schedule to hit free agency following the 2016 season, that could quickly make him a trade candidate.
The other issue is the Bears don’t seem necessarily close to competing for a playoff spot. They’re at best the third team on paper inside their own division, while they have some intriguing talent that could fill in for Jeffery should a trade make sense.
Alshon Jeffery’s long-term Bears future uncertain after deadline expires https://t.co/wDcPWDirXI
— ESPN NFL Nation (@ESPN_NFLNation) July 15, 2016
From here, the Bears will either get Jeffery to agree to the number they want and keep him on a long-term deal, they’ll budge and pay him what he thinks he’s worth or they’ll let him walk in free agency. If they don’t see a deal being met and don’t want to lose their star receiver for nothing, however, a blockbuster NFL trade could be in the cards.
Brook Lopez, C, Brooklyn Nets
There hasn’t been much talk around a Brook Lopez trade, but maybe there should be. The Nets liked Lopez enough to hand him a massive contract, one that doesn’t expire for another two NBA seasons. However, given Lopez’s sketchy injury history and the fact that Brooklyn turned on their commitment to Thaddeus Young (traded to Pacers this summer), Brook Lopez’s future in Brooklyn could still be tenuous.
The Nets have maintained that Lopez is a building block and won’t be traded, but for a team that absolutely is not competing for the playoffs anytime soon, it’s tough to see that sticking for long.
The Nets have a good amount of young talent, but they need more. Jeremy Lin running the show as the starting point guard probably tells us all we need to know, and it’s possible the team simply hasn’t seen the right deal yet for Lopez. It’s also possible they’re biding their time, as the star center does have two more seasons on his current deal.
There is enough here to speculate a looming trade, however. Lopez is 28 and has feet issues and he’s on a non-playoff team that is light years away from making serious noise in an increasingly competitive Eastern Conference. If the Nets are smart, they search for the right deal and unload Lopez before he gets hurt again and becomes a waste on their books.
DeMarcus Cousins, C, Sacramento Kings
Why not save the best for last, right? Few star athletes have been involved in trade rumors more than Boogie, who seems to be on the go about every other week.
It’s tough to go against the notion, either, seeing as Cousins is either hurt, sick, upset or stuck on a losing Kings squad at all times during the year. A lot of the negativity around Boogie is out of his control, but he doesn’t seem to be totally content in his current situation and it would probably benefit the Kings in a big way to find a big deal to ship him out of town.
Cousins isn’t the only Kings player that could be on the move, either. With Rudy Gay trade rumors heating up, it stands to reason that the team could blow their current squad up in an effort to bring in young talent and assets. From there, the Kings could finally focus on rebuilding the right way.
The issue is Sacramento has done everything wrong up until this summer. They finally did the right thing by hiring a sound head coach in David Joerger and then turned around and had an odd draft – one that brought in two center prospects. You know, the position Boogie plays.
— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) July 19, 2016
The decision-making in Sac-town has been troubling at best and there is no denying that a divorce would probably be best for both sides. Of course, the Kings still value Boogie at a high level and would likelt demand a king’s ransom to make a deal go down. That keeps the DeMarcus Cousins trade rumors from blowing up, but nothing the Kings have said or done to this point at all makes them go away.
Think any of these players will be on the move this year? Think some are locks to stay or have other athletes in mind for our list? Tell us in the comments below!