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Maximizing NBA Trades: The Benefits of 3-Team Trades

The world of basketball is thrilling and often unpredictable, especially given the wild nature of trades between teams. One of the most interesting trade scenarios in basketball is the 3-team trade.

In this article, we explore the definition of 3-team trades and how they help teams work around salary caps. What is a 3-Team Trade in Basketball?

A 3-team trade refers to an exchange that involves three different teams in the NBA. Typically, such trades are made through an intricate combination of players, draft picks, and cash.

The aim is usually to facilitate player movement between the teams more efficiently and ensure fair value for the teams involved. When it comes to the NBA, trades take place to help teams improve their play and overall performance.

Teams execute trades to acquire new players or to dispose of or trade away older players to free up cap space. In some cases, trades may even be made to help players manage their egos or to keep the salary cap at a reasonable level.

One of the essential aspects of a 3-team trade is the level of planning and strategy. Executing a trade involving more than two teams often requires a certain degree of collaboration, compromise, and long-term thinking.

All three teams involved in the trade must assess the potential value of their assets, including players who are to be traded, draft picks, salary caps, and future cap space. The primary benefit of a 3-team trade is that it provides more options for teams looking to make significant changes that ordinary trades can’t facilitate.

Since the trade typically includes multiple assets, the 3-team trade provides the chance for all the teams involved to get the most value out of the trade.

Salary Caps and 3-Team Trades

While the salary cap is an essential aspect of the NBA, it can pose significant challenges when it comes to trades between teams. A salary cap in its most basic form is the maximum amount of money a team can spend on its players.

The NBA introduced the salary cap back in 1984, and it has since gone through several changes. Nowadays, the salary cap is calculated as a percentage of the league’s total revenue derived from a combination of ticket sales, broadcasting rights, and merchandise sales.

The salary cap ensures teams are on a level playing field and promotes parity across the league. It is also designed to help smaller teams compete with larger teams that may have deeper pockets.

A 3-team trade helps leverage assets among the NBA teams and ensures each team maximizes the salary cap utility. One of the ways that 3-team trades help solve salary cap issues is by enabling teams to move players and salaries that wouldn’t otherwise be possible.

With more than two teams involved in a trade, teams can move contracts in a way that avoids a team getting stuck with too much money tied up in a specific player. For example, imagine that Team A needs to offload a player to free up salary cap space to sign a new player.

If Team B wants the player, but they don’t have the necessary cap space, it creates a challenge. However, if Team C, who isn’t interested in a player from Team A, has a high salary cap, they could take on the player and allow Team A to free up the cap space needed to sign the new player.

In conclusion, 3-team trades are an essential aspect of the NBA, providing teams with many benefits and greater flexibility than ordinary trades. By leveraging assets, 3-team trades ensure that all parties benefit from the trade, and the team outcome is optimized.

As the NBA salary cap continues to evolve, we expect to see more teams exploring the possibilities of 3-team trades to foster increased movement and maintain player parity.

3) Example of a 3-Team Trade

To understand the nature of 3-team trades better, let’s look at a simplified example. Suppose Team A has a promising young center that they are willing to trade.

However, they would also like to acquire a draft pick and a point guard. Along comes Team B, a team with a veteran point guard and in dire need of a center.

Team C offers a draft pick and has no immediate need for a center. Here’s how the trade could play out:

– Team A sends their center to Team B

– Team B sends their veteran point guard to Team C

– Team C sends a draft pick to Team A

This trade satisfies everyone’s needs.

Team A gets the draft pick they wanted and the point guard they needed. Team B gets the promising young center they need, while Team C’s position isn’t affected by the trade, letting them draft a promising player in the future.

Real NBA 3-Team Trade

The NBA saw a three-team trade involving the Los Angeles Lakers, Utah Jazz, and the Minnesota Timberwolves in August 2021. The trade focused on Los Angeles acquiring Russell Westbrook to strengthen their starting lineup and Minnesota obtaining some valuable young talent.

The deal started with Los Angeles trading Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell, and the 22nd pick in the 2021 NBA draft to the Washington Wizards for Russell Westbrook. The deal was a significant change of direction for the Lakers, with LeBron James excelling as the primary ballhandler, but an aging Rajon Rondo, who turned 35 in February 2021, the only other option.

Westbrook brings speed, athleticism, and the ability to operate with the ball outside of the hands of James. The Lakers had to give up three key players in the process, raising concerns regarding their depth.

In a subsequent move, the Lakers sent the 2021 draft pick’s 22nd overall pick, 2024 second-round pick, and a future second-round pick to the Timberwolves. In exchange, they received the 40th overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, Tennessee guard Jaden Springer, and 20-year-old Croatian wing Marin Bagaric.

The Timberwolves received guard Malik Beasley in return, giving them a valuable asset after his breakout season in 2020, averaging 19.6 points per game. The Jazz come into the picture as part of the deal taking on the contract of Mike Conley from the Grizzlies and sending back guard, Grayson Allen, and forward, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, to the Pelicans.

Overall, the trade met the primary goals of all the teams involved. The Lakers strengthened their starting lineup in a move to dominate the Western Conference while keeping an eye on the future by obtaining young talent.

The Timberwolves acquired some valuable young players and draft picks, and the Utah Jazz were able to stay under the salary cap with significant moves. The deal also gave the Pelicans an early second-round pick and added Allen’s depth, making it a win-win scenario for all parties concerned.


Three-team trades can be a tricky maneuver, but they offer teams numerous opportunities to reshape their rosters. Whether it is to stay under the salary cap, acquire young talent, or even satisfy player egos, 3-team trades have become an enticing option.

As we look forward to the coming NBA seasons, we anticipate more teams willing to explore the chances and challenge their counterparts for fair and effective trades. In summary, 3-team trades are becoming increasingly essential in the NBA, providing teams with flexibility and more ways to optimize their rosters.

They help teams work under salary caps, leverage player assets, and maximize trade outcomes. The recent NBA 3-team trade involving the Lakers, Jazz, and Timberwolves highlights the potential merits of these trades.

As the NBA continues to evolve, we can expect more teams to explore the possibilities of 3-team trades as a means to adjust their rosters and maximize their success.


Q: What is a 3-team trade?

A: A 3-team trade refers to a trade in which three different teams in the NBA exchange players, draft picks, and cash. Q: How do 3-team trades help teams work around salary caps?

A: 3-team trades help teams move players and salaries in a way that avoids a team getting stuck with too much money tied up in a specific player.

Q: What was the recent NBA 3-team trade?

A: The recent NBA 3-team trade involved the Lakers, Jazz, and Timberwolves. The Lakers acquired Russell Westbrook, the Timberwolves obtained some valuable young talent, and the Jazz added depth while staying under the salary cap.

Q: What are the benefits of 3-team trades? A: 3-team trades offer numerous opportunities to reshape rosters and satisfy the needs of all teams involved.

They provide more options for teams looking to make significant changes that ordinary trades can’t. Q: How do 3-team trades help leverage assets?

A: With more than two teams involved in a trade, teams can move contracts in a way that ensures each team benefits from the trade and the team outcome is optimized.

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