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Inside one month of the NBA‘s trade deadline, the time has come to stop hemming and hawing and mincing words. What should your favorite team do leading into the Feb. 6 cutoff?
Ever the proponents of offering advice from the comfort of our armchair, we have some ideas.
Each squad will be sorted into one of the three following categories:
- Buy: Teams that should be on the prowl for a win-now move, be it the acquisition of a star or role player.
- Sell: Teams with timelines or failed playoff aspirations that need to prioritize the future above all else. This could include dealing impact players for picks and prospects, selling high on youngsters or offering to take on money in exchange for, you guessed it, more picks and prospects.
- Hold: Teams operating in a grayer area. No squad is perfect. Contenders will not fall under this umbrella. Instead, this subsection will be populated by those who have little or nothing to gain from chasing big-time acquisitions or unloading their best players.
Plans of attack are never cut and dry across the board. Context will be given for every team, and we will lightly fudge the classifications when a more accurate snapshot is needed.
These trade-deadline prompts are not predictions. Squads are sorted based on what they should do, which is often different from what they will do. Suggested trade targets and hypothetical deals are presented in the same vein and take into account championship proximity, rebuilding timelines, salary-cap situations and draft-pick obligations.
We must also acknowledge that this year’s deadline, amid a wider championship field and ahead of an uninspiring free-agent class, stands to unfold like a dud. Just because a team should buy or sell doesn’t mean the option will be available to them.
Let’s get cracking.
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Selling looks different for the Atlanta Hawks. They’re not flush with impact veterans they can peddle up and down the buyer’s market, and not one of their main youngsters, including Cam Reddish, is worth pulling the ripcord on just yet.
Taking on unwanted money attached to picks and prospects should instead be Atlanta’s game. Bigwigs won’t be as desperate to lop off salary ahead of a crummy 2020 free-agency class, but the Hawks are the only team with functional cap space right this second, making them an ideal third-party facilitator in other transactions.
General manager Travis Schlenk doesn’t have to worry about compromising offseason flexibility should the opportunity to swallow long-term money present itself. Atlanta has an effortless road to more than $65 million in space even if it wins the draft lottery. That’s enough of a cushion to liberally absorb what other squads don’t want—for a price.
In the event sponging up castoff money isn’t an option, the Hawks, at the very least, must resist the temptation to become buyers. That includes any and all Andre Drummond scenarios.
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski has them circling the Detroit Pistons big man, and the reported starting price isn’t obnoxious: an expiring contract and the Brooklyn Nets’ lottery-protected 2020 first-rounder. That’s still too much for the Hawks’ purposes.
Drummond would arm Trae Young with a magnetic roll man and beef up the team’s lackluster presence on the glass, but his fit still comes with plenty of questions. He isn’t the type of defensive anchor who can cover up for Young, John Collins and a slew of inexperienced players on the perimeter, and he’ll harsh Atlanta’s spacing unless any of the wings not named Kevin Huerter has a long-range epiphany.
More than anything, the Hawks can pursue Drummond, who holds a player option for 2020-21, over the summer without coughing up any picks or prospects. Going after him now would carry some weight if they were in the thick of the playoff picture, but they’re not.
And while Drummond wouldn’t noticeably compromise the draft position on his own, Atlanta shouldn’t be in the business of buying wins—or, for that matter, the right to pay a sub-superstar player a bundle of money in his next contract. If the Hawks are dead set on upgrading the center position now, more cost-effective options like Aron Baynes or Dewayne Dedmon should be on their radar.
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Most want the Boston Celtics to acquire a big man, predominantly for reasons that collectively amount to, “The Philadelphia 76ers have Joel Embiid, and we might have to face him in the playoffs.”
That makes sense. Expecting the Celtics to reel in one of the more expensive centers does not.
Linking them to a household name overstates their dilemma up front.
Daniel Theis is a smart defender with nice foot speed for his size who’s capable of holding down the fort against most opponents. Boston ranks in the 90th percentile of points allowed per 100 possessions with him on the floor, during which time opponent shot accuracy at the rim drops by a whopping 7.3 percent.
The defensive falloff from Theis to the rest is real. Robert Williams III is bouncy but not quite ready. He fouls a tad too often (like Theis) and has neither great hands nor range on offense. The Celtics have fared much better than expected on defense with Enes Kanter in the middle, but leaning on him in the postseason is always a risky gambit.
Grant Williams’ sample size is promising but not extensive, and he doesn’t have the conventional heft necessary to tango with burlier bigs for protracted stretches. (Still: More Grant Williams, please, Boston.) Semi Ojeleye needs to make an impact at either end with some semblance of consistency before earning votes of confidence, although he is shooting 37 percent from deep (17-of-46).
No-big lineups are fun in theory but have yet to become a staple.
Do not confuse the Celtics’ array of uneven options with desperation. They are second in defensive efficiency and seventh in opponent shot frequency at the iron. Center by committee is working for them. They may need an extra punch at the 5, but they can scour the trade and buyout markets for less splashy alternatives. (Marvin Williams would be fire if he gets bought out by the Charlotte Hornets.)
Anyway, the Celtics couldn’t go for a Steven Adams or Andre Drummond without dipping into their core. Jayson Tatum, Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown (poison pill), Marcus Smart and Gordon Hayward aren’t going anywhere, if only because flipping wings for bigs is shaky form.
Theis or Kanter (or both) is Boston’s best salary-matching anchor. That’s not enough to bring back a star-money big or even an extra playmaker to help navigate the Walker-less minutes. The Celtics are better off buying small if they’re compelled to strike a trade at all.
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Buying would be on the Brooklyn Nets’ menu if they were going to sniff full strength before the trade deadline. They’re not.
Kevin Durant is out for the year rehabbing his right Achilles, and now it seems as if Kyrie Irving might follow suit. He hasn’t played since Nov. 14 while dealing with a right shoulder injury and is currently exploring his last non-surgical option for recovery, as he told reporters, per SNY.tv’s Alex Smith:
“I’m in a better place now, now that there’s been some significant time. I tried to go without any anti-inflammatories, which is why it took so long, and now I’m at a place where the next step in any progression was to either get a cortisone shot or get surgery. That was the ultimatum I was fixed with, so now I’m just doing the best I can to live off this cortisone and move forward if I need surgery in the future.”
Caris LeVert’s return from right thumb surgery should shore up the Nets’ playoff stock in the Eastern Conference. It is not a license to consolidate assets into an impact acquisition. Brooklyn is dead last in offensive efficiency and 25th in net rating over the past month, and it doesn’t have a clear path to finishing with more than a seventh-seeded postseason berth.
Chasing an aggressive addition would be difficult even if the Nets’ record (or health bill) demanded it. They have Dzanan Musa, Rodions Kurucs and picks to sweeten any package, but they want for expendable salary filler.
Joe Harris is must-keep. DeAndre Jordan’s contract is blah. Taurean Prince is too difficult to move under the poison pill provision. Ditto for LeVert. Garrett Temple’s $4.8 million salary isn’t sizable enough.
Brooklyn can put together some decent higher-profile packages featuring Jarrett Allen and Spencer Dinwiddie, but why? And for who? The Nets’ immediate ceiling isn’t high enough without Durant and Irving to make that call. Nor do they have any idea what this nucleus can do at full strength.
All-in gambles should be saved for next year’s deadline. And no one should be calling for them to sell. Dinwiddie is the only non-star who earns enough to parlay into someone meaningful, and they don’t have the playmaking depth to even consider dealing him right now.
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If any of the NBA’s rebuilding franchises go rogue and look to buy at the deadline, it’ll be the Charlotte Hornets. They’re inside the bottom five of net rating, but with bad news piling up for Brooklyn (Kyrie Irving) and Orlando (Jonathan Isaac), they have an outside shot at falling backward into a playoff spot.
Accidental postseason contention still isn’t reason to buy. Devonte’ Graham is legitimately good, perhaps an actual cornerstone, but the Hornets are miles away from special. Dealing any future assets in exchange for win-now contributors should be viewed as a no-no
Feel free to make the argument for them to stand pat if selling rubs you the wrong way. They have enough time to bottom out in the Eastern Conference—just five losses separate them from the NBA-worst Atlanta Hawks—but short of jettisoning Graham, no one they move is going to significantly impact their fate.
Scouring the market for picks and cost-controlled prospects is the Hornets’ default anyway. For a team in their position, with so few franchise-pillar options, it has to be.
What selling actually looks like is another matter. The Hornets aren’t overrun with desirable veterans, and as one of the few teams with navigable routes to max space this summer, they shouldn’t be attaching themselves to long-term salary willy-nilly.
Marvin Williams retains his appeal as a floor-spacing big who can play some 5 but is on the books for a hair over $15 million. He feels more like a buyout candidate. Graham and PJ Washington should be off-limits. Giving up on Miles Bridges now is premature. No one’s giving them anything for Dwayne Bacon or Willy Hernangomez. Cody Martin is more valuable as a keeper.
Charlotte’s ambitions likely top out at gauging the markets for Malik Monk and Cody Zeller. Monk won’t return much, but teams are always willing to roll the dice on microwave-scoring potential. Zeller is owed a reasonable $15.4 million next season and could serve as a dirty-work alternative to suitors who won’t pony up for the more expensive (and probably less available) Steven Adams.
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Leave it to the Chicago Bulls to make my brain hurt. They were, by far, the hardest team to map out.
Urging them to flat-out sell will be a popular pick. That’s fine. They were pegged as potential darlings of the East leading into the season. They’ve since revealed themselves to be an aggressive, albeit still flawed, defensive amalgam with limited offensive upside. The playoffs aren’t yet out of reach, but they’re disappointing enough to favor pick- and prospect-heavy returns.
But the extent to which they should feasibly sell barely registers. Shopping core pieces like Wendell Carter Jr. and Lauri Markkanen is an issue best left alone until the offseason. Otto Porter Jr. isn’t netting them anything when he’s slated to return after the trade deadline. Coby White’s finishing is an issue, but he’s a rookie. Pump the brakes on any pessimism.
Zach LaVine is an interesting sell-high candidate but more valuable as a keeper. He continues to hit a steady number of absurdly difficult threes, and his contract has progressed from potential overpay to market value to possible bargain.
Dangling Thaddeus Young to a contender with better spacing and in need of quick hands on defense holds some merit, but he’s paramount to keeping the peace in the Bulls locker room. Tomas Satoransky can probably get Chicago a neat little haul, but he’s basically owed mid-level-exception money over the next two years, the last of which is only half-guaranteed. The Bulls could use his plug-and-play ball-handling and shooting if they intend to compete anytime soon.
Kris Dunn is a no-brainer trade candidate with restricted free agency on the horizon. He’s also a defensive workaholic and starting at small forward. Chicago isn’t getting a huge return for him and might be better off seeing where his price point lands over the summer. Some team will spin the wheel on Denzel Valentine’s up-and-down offense, but not in a way that renders him must-move.
This is all a roundabout way of saying the Bulls’ present, much like their future, remains complicated. They have no incentive to double down on the current core, but they also don’t know enough about it, without Porter, to be a certifiable seller.
Holding serve with an open mind toward opportunistic offloading is the play.
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Kudos to the Cleveland Cavaliers for already getting their sell job underway. They turned Jordan Clarkson into a distressed asset, Dante Exum, and two second-rounders, the exact sort of move a franchise in their situation should be making.
They need to keep that same energy heading into February.
Staying the seller’s course won’t take much. They have plenty of expiring contracts to use as unwanted salary magnets, and only one of their longer-term deals doesn’t mesh with their timeline.
Oh, hey, Kevin Love.
Speculation is flying in the aftermath of The Athletic’s Shams Charania and Joe Vardon reporting that the Cavaliers’ All-Star was fined $1,000 for a public display of midgame frustration on Dec. 31 and that he had contentious exchanges with general manager Koby Altman on two separate occasions. Love has since accepted responsibility for his poor body language and downplayed rumors of tension.
But as ESPN’s Brian Windhorst noted on The Hoop Collective podcast, he wants out.
Cleveland should grant his wish—within reason. It isn’t quite clear what Love can fetch on the open market. He has three years and $91.5 million left on his deal, his floor spacing isn’t as much of a singularity in the frontcourt, and very few teams have room for a big man who cannot serve as a defensive anchor.
Attaching an asset to Love is out of the question if it comes to that. It won’t. He’s clearing 19 points, 12 rebounds and three assists per 36 minutes while downing 38.5 percent of his threes. At least one team will talk itself into forking over assets, however minimal, for his services.
Not much else needs to be on Cleveland’s agenda.
Shopping Tristan Thompson’s expiring pact is a given, but he doesn’t have to be moved. He hasn’t devolved into a malcontent to start the rebuilding process and is the closest the Cavaliers come to a cultural touchstone.
Selling high on Larry Nance Jr. should be up for discussion, but he’s dealing with a left knee injury, and teams may be hesitant to trade for a non-shooting big best suited at power forward and in the first season of a four-year, $44.8 million contract.
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Note to hypothetical-trade connoisseurs: Stop sending bigs to the Dallas Mavericks. They maxed out Kristaps Porzingis over the summer, and both Dwight Powell and Maxi Kleber are serviceable secondaries who can play next to him.
Could Dallas use some more girth? Sure. Porzingis is battling a right knee issue and has never been the deadliest rebounder or post defender. But he’s having a career year on the glass, and the Mavericks can turn to Boban Marjanovic when they need more mass. Do not waste brainpower trying to get this team Andre Drummond or Kevin Love.
A ball-handling wing who can shoot and defend is the dream. Granted, that’s true for just about every team.
But the Mavericks are that player—or someone close to him—away from genuine title contention. They’re just a couple of games back from the Western Conference’s No. 2 seed, and though their offense has slipped over the past month, including since Luka Doncic’s return, they’re still first in points per 100 possessions overall.
Acquiring an impactful wing figures to be a chore. The earliest first-round pick the Mavericks can trade is in 2025, and Jalen Brunson is the closest they have to a blue-chip prospect. That puts possibilities like Robert Covington, Aaron Gordon and, probably, Andre Iguodala out of reach.
Bogdan Bogdanovic would be interesting, but Dallas should tilt toward the defensive end of the spectrum in its search, and he, too, may fall outside its asset range.
Offering Courtney Lee’s expiring deal and a second-rounder or two for Tony Snell or Thaddeus Young would be more up the Mavericks’ alley. Or perhaps they could glean more out of Trevor Ariza than the Sacramento Kings. Wings of this ilk are limited on offense, but they offer more optionality on defense. Dallas can make that trade-off so long as Doncic is healthy.
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The Denver Nuggets are an anomaly, the rare title contender with the assets to pull off a major in-season trade. This year’s first-round pick is off-limits, owed to the Oklahoma City Thunder, but they have a store of interesting young players (Malik Beasley, Juan Hernangomez, Monte Morris, Michael Porter Jr.) and salary-matching tools (Gary Harris, Mason Plumlee).
Nikola Jokic’s return to daily dominance has only clarified Denver’s position. Since failing to attempt more than 12 shots in five consecutive games, he’s averaging 23.4 points, 9.5 rebounds and 6.6 assists while converting 40.3 percent of his threes. The Nuggets are a so-so 11-6 during that time, but their offense is third in efficiency and has climbed to ninth overall on the season.
Here’s the catch: Jokic’s rise has coincided with a defensive free-fall.
Denver is 27th in points allowed per 100 possessions over this stretch and getting smoked at the rim and from the corners. Some bad luck is at play; the Nuggets are, by and large, forcing opponents into the right shots. But they could use someone who both handles the ball and promises another layer of perimeter protection.
Jrue Holiday is a majority favorite among people who think about this sort of stuff, but the New Orleans Pelicans are, at best, sending mixed signals about his availability, according to Heavy.com’s Sean Deveney. The Nuggets must also weigh the functional cost of surrendering Harris in any deal that doesn’t return a bigger wing.
Porter affords Denver some leeway there. Head coach Michael Malone still doesn’t deploy him with any real predictability, but he’s getting more run since a Christmas Day loss to the Pelicans.
Over his last six games, Porter is averaging 12.2 points in 18.4 minutes per game with an effective field-goal percentage of 80.2. Small samples can be misleading, but he’s hinted at advanced shot-making all year. He’s shooting 56.8 percent on off-the-dribble twos (21-of-37) and 66.7 percent on off-the-bounce threes (6-of-9).
Belief in his short-term shot creation would allow the Nuggets to seek out more of a defensive specialist who needs to be set up on offense. Holiday would still be a terrific get, but someone like Robert Covington or Jae Crowder more than suffices. Marcus Morris Sr., who’s hitting 44.1 percent of his pull-up threes, would be more of a middle ground between shot creator and three-and-D specialist.
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Major thanks to the Detroit Pistons for making this easy. They are among the NBA’s members to Club Nowhere, and they know it.
“Well, we have to look at everything because we’re not winning, so you’re not winning, to me, you have to assess everything,” team governor Tom Gores said after a Jan. 2 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, per the Detroit News‘ Rod Beard. “I think anybody would want to do that. And probably in the next month or so, we’re going to get together as an organization and just discuss things.”
Gores fell short of guaranteeing the Pistons would start over, but they’ve continued to travel (and be forced) down that path in the days since. Andre Drummond now appears readily available ahead of his presumed foray into free agency (player option), according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, and Blake Griffin is out indefinitely after undergoing left knee surgery.
Embracing a reset doesn’t stop with shopping Drummond and Griffin’s absence. Detroit needs to dive all the way into a fresh start. That entails soliciting offers for just about everyone.
Can they get a second (or more) for Langston Galloway’s shooting? What is Derrick Rose’s offensive renaissance worth? Is Markieff Morris’ 41.1 percent three-point clip worth something, anything, to anyone? Is Tony Snell an asset at his price point for next season ($12.2 million player option) in a market starved for available wings?
Sekou Doumbouya (I’m officially intrigued) and Christian Wood (Early Bird free agent this summer) should be the Pistons’ only untouchables. Luke Kennard’s absence is not a mistake. Detroit has to start thinking about his next contract this offseason when he’s extension-eligible. Looking at first-round picks or prospects under cost control for longer is part of the rebuilding gig.
So is taking on longer-term salary if it comes with buffers. The Pistons don’t have the wiggle room under the tax to tack on money this season, but they’re comfortably below it starting next year. They can stomach an unwanted season or two in prospective trades if it means scooping up an extra pick or prospect.
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From defining dynasty to deadline sellers. What a swift and stark fall it has been for the Golden State Warriors.
Conspiracy theorists are waiting on them to cash in D’Angelo Russell for a cache of role players or as part of another superstar arrival. They’ll have to keep waiting.
Fielding offers for Russell this season restricts the Warriors’ options. Sure, their first-round pick is more valuable than ever. Draft selections always peak before they turn into an actual player and, sometimes, a specific spot. But the league is light on to completely devoid of superstar trade options. Andre Drummond, Kevin Love and longer shots Jrue Holiday and Chris Paul are the mountaintops of potentially available talent.
That shouldn’t cut it for the Warriors. This isn’t to say Russell plus their pick and other stuff gets them into the discussion for Giannis Antetokounmpo, Ben Simmons or someone else over the summer. It isn’t even to say those players become available. But Golden State can only find out if it waits.
Playing the Russell card now confines the Warriors to lower-end scenarios. Maybe that’s their endgame. But even those options dim in number at midseason.
Angling for, say, a Robert Covington-centered return would tether them to him plus filler. This summer, who knows, maybe they’ll stumble into unforeseen three-team scenarios that expand the framework to net Covington and someone else commensurate to what they’d be giving up if both Russell and their pick are in play—Myles Turner, perhaps.
In the meantime, Golden State can sell on a smaller scale. Alec Burks and Glenn Robinson III are already on the block, per The Athletic’s Shams Charania. Willie Cauley-Stein and Omari Spellman are safe bets to join them.
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Jokes about selling Russell Westbrook are going to fly. Except, the thing is, they won’t really be jokes. Westbrook is having the worst three-point-shooting season in league history among anyone who has averaged at least three attempts per game, and the Houston Rockets are getting hammered in the minutes he spends without James Harden.
Check any “Trade Westbrook!” inclinations at the door. His relocation isn’t in the cards. He’s owed $131.5 million over the next three seasons, and if his partnership with Harden was purely about basketball fit, it never would’ve come to be in the first place.
Houston is a buyer because general manager Daryl Morey exists in a perpetual state of buying, but also because this team remains a championship contender. The Rockets hold the West’s third-best record and are within a fingertip’s length of the No. 2 seed. Their offense, forever driven by Harden and the wholesale impact he has on defense, is third in points scored per 100 possessions.
Three-and-D wings are universally coveted, but Houston has a larger need for them than most. P.J. Tucker, Danuel House Jr., Ben McLemore reborn and Austin Rivers can only get you so far.
Robert Covington has piqued the Rockets’ interest, per The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor. They’ll need to get in line—and also hope the Minnesota Timberwolves are open to moving him when he still has two reasonably priced years left on his contract.
Whether Houston has the assets to pull off a significant trade is a separate matter.
Expendable salary is hard to come by. Harden and Tucker are untouchably important. Eric Gordon cannot be traded after signing his extension. Capela’s pay grade is only useful in a blockbuster deal (and likely tough to move overall). The same goes for Westbrook.
Dangling a first-rounder—in 2020 or 2022—is the Rockets’ best play. One pick and filler won’t be enough for Covington and is too much for Andre Iguodala. Could Houston aim for an Iggy-Jae Crower mega-deal? Or nab Tony Snell without giving up a first? Might the Chicago Bulls budge on Tomas Satoransky? How gettable is Marcus Morris Sr.? Would the much cheaper Markieff Morris help?
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Every case that’s made for the Indiana Pacers to seriously buy is bound to fall flat. A high-volume outside marksman would be nice, but they’re 12th in offensive efficiency on a 29th-ranked three-point-attempt rate, and it is their defense that has tripped up in recent weeks.
Harping on their most glaring needs is ultimately pointless. They already traded this year’s first-rounder to the Milwaukee Bucks, and more importantly, they need to see what they look like with Victor Oladipo—and a healthier Malcolm Brogdon—before making any brash decisions.
Indiana isn’t getting that clarity before the deadline. Oladipo is scheduled to return from a ruptured right quad tendon on Jan. 29. Even if it doesn’t take time for him to find his bearings (it will), the Pacers won’t have the reps required to pass sweeping judgment on this core.
Calling for them to sell before seeing Oladipo in action would similarly miss the mark. They’re still in play for a top-four postseason seed, and their roster isn’t overrun with questionable long-term fits.
Choosing between Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner is their biggest headache, and now’s not the time to open that can of worms. The Pacers are comfortably outpacing opponents in their minutes together with an above-average offense, and they need to see how their dual-big setup fares upon Oladipo’s return.
Sabonis’ extension only complicates the matter unless Indiana has deemed this experiment futile and identified him as the keeper. Failing that, it’ll be easier to see who’s worth more on the trade market over the summer when both bigs are earning second-contract salaries.
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It may turn out that the Los Angeles Clippers do the most damage on the buyout and free-agent markets. The recently retired Darren Collison is contemplating a return with one of the L.A. teams, and an impact center or two always seems to broker a buyout after the trade deadline.
Landing Collison and a newly freed big would suffice for the Clippers. They don’t have to do anything else. But they have the ammo to get fancier.
Tethering this year’s draft pick—they don’t convey a first-rounder to Oklahoma City until 2022—to Moe Harkless’ expiring deal is their most obvious starting point. They can up the ante even further by including Jerome Robinson and either of the Detroit Pistons’ second-round picks they own in 2021 and 2023.
Andre Iguodala is a presumed target, but the Clippers’ best packages feel a little too rich for a soon-to-be 36-year-old who hasn’t played since June. Offering Harkless, a first and a second for Tomas Satoransky would check a few lineup boxes if they don’t win the Collison sweepstakes.
Leveraging the same package for Marcus Morris Sr. would fit the bill no matter what happens with Collison. Bolstering this framework with another second or Robinson might get the Clippers in the Robert Covington discussion.
Regardless, the focus leading into the deadline should be on securing an offensive upgrade over Harkless without damaging the defense or netting another playmaker—or someone who does both. Any inklings the Clippers have to add a big can be addressed on the buyout market.
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Bagging another shot creator has to top the Los Angeles Lakers’ trade-deadline to-do list. They are decidedly losing the minutes they play without LeBron James, even when the resulting lineups include Anthony Davis. They’re worse still when Rajon Rondo is left to run the show on his own.
No one on the roster is fit to pilot the offense in James’ absence. Davis is a worthwhile primary option and can score from face-up positions, but the Lakers need someone closer to a floor general or point forward.
Kyle Kuzma isn’t it. His offensive style is arguably better independent of LeBron when he can have more control of the ball, but Los Angeles is getting smashed during those stints. (Playing so many of those minutes with Rondo might have something to do with it.)
Pairing Kuzma with filler is the Lakers’ best shot at noticeably upgrading the rotation. That is unless Darren Collison chooses them to host his return.
The New York Times‘ Marc Stein reported that the Sacramento Kings would have interest in Kuzma as part of a Bogdan Bogdanovic deal, but general manager Vlade Divac and Co. pumped the brakes on such talk post-haste, per The Athletic’s Sam Amick. It may have also been Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka who initiated the Kuzma-Bogdanovic dialogue, according to the Los Angeles Times‘ Tania Ganguli.
If nothing else, this latest episode of Strategic Leaks at least shows the Lakers are targeting the correct type of player: a quality floor-spacer who can dabble in off-the-dribble shot-making and table-setting.
Andre Iguodala fits that bill, as well. But matching his salary is difficult without third- and fourth-party helpers to absorb extra bodies, and forfeiting Kuzma in that scenario should be a non-starter.
Tomas Satoransky would be a divine fit, but Los Angeles can easily be outbid for him unless the Chicago Bulls are smitten with Kuzma despite already having Lauri Markkanen, Thaddeus Young and, eventually, Otto Porter Jr.
Thinking smaller is in the Lakers’ best interests, especially because they have so many implicit no-trade clauses to navigate. They’re less likely to run into rival suitors they can’t out-offer for players like D.J. Augustin, Bryn Forbes, Shabazz Napier and, if they’re not concerned about the spacing implications, Derrick Rose.
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Congratulations to the Memphis Grizzlies for making this much tougher than it’s supposed to be.
They should be sellers. This is the first year they don’t have one of Grit-and-Grind’s founding fathers on the roster since 2007. They have a nice core with Brandon Clarke, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Ja Morant, but they’re in the infancy of a new era. That transition takes time.
Try telling that to the baby Grizzlies.
They’re 10-6 over the past month with a top-four offensive rating and top-two effective field-goal percentage. Though still comfortably under .500, they’ve clawed their way up to ninth in the Western Conference, a mere heartbeat away from the eighth-place San Antonio Spurs.
Steering into this unexpected rise remains taboo. The Grizzlies aren’t trying to rebuild themselves into a first-round steppingstone. This most recent ascent could be a flash in the pan, or maybe it’s a sign they’re ahead of schedule. Either way, they need to be prioritizing next season and beyond over what’s happening now.
That doesn’t mean they have to unload their asset clip. They’re sellers in the most literal sense because they’re trying to turn Andre Iguodala into a first-round pick. They’re not obligated to move anyone else.
The laws of due diligence mandate they measure Jae Crowder’s market value. He hits free agency this summer and is a lock to get mid-level money or more. And yet, if the offers aren’t there, they don’t have to force it. A surprise playoff push is worth more than a just-because return, and this isn’t Tyreke Evans circa 2018. Memphis has Crowder’s Bird rights.
Nobody else on the roster poses the same half-dilemma. De’Anthony Melton is set for restricted free agency but unlikely to land a lucrative contract. Kyle Anderson (26) and Jonas Valanciunas (27) haven’t aged out of the team’s timeline. The Grizzlies don’t have to worry about the implications of losing Solomon Hill or G Leaguer Josh Jackson in free agency.
Theirs is an enviable position heading into the trade deadline. They can sell or (mostly) stand pat. The choice is theirs, and there’s no wrong answer.
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Imagine a world in which the Miami Heat aren’t buyers under team president Pat Riley. You can’t, right?
Well, that’s not about to change now. ESPN’s Brian Windhorst said on The Jump that he thinks “they’re the most dangerous team going forward to make a deal.”
He did note they might not do anything huge this season because they have designs on leaving their mark in free agency. Acquiring long-term money now hamstrings them in 2021 when Jimmy Butler, Tyler Herro (team option), KZ Okpala and Justise Winslow (team option) are the only players on the books and when Giannis Antetokounmpo, along with many other stars, is scheduled to hit the open market.
This all becomes immaterial if an alpha on a shorter-term contract becomes available (Kyle Lowry). It may be inconsequential either way.
Riley proved over the summer he doesn’t need cap space to crash the free-agency party. Rigidly monitoring other future commitments between now and 2021 would also give the Heat avenues to max cap space even after landing a co-star for Butler.
Bringing in Chris Paul would torpedo that scenario, but Jrue Holiday or Kevin Love are different stories. Their 2021-22 salaries—Holiday’s is a player option—are more workable.
Miami could entirely abandon caution, as well. Butler puts the team in win-now mode, and so many superstars are traded to their next destination ahead of free agency. With the Heat in competition for a top-two playoff seed and in possession of salary-matching tools galore, they should be immediately aggressive.
Hunting for another star or high-end role player who can make shots off the dribble and defend the three-point line is their obligation. That doesn’t guarantee they’ll nab one, but they at least have to search for him.
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Campaigning for the Milwaukee Bucks to hold serve would be understandable. They have the NBA’s best record to go with a top-two offense and defense, and they’re annihilating opponents in the minutes they’re playing sans Giannis Antetokounmpo—more than half of which have also come without Khris Middleton.
Tinkering with a ridiculously good thing seems wrong. Not doing anything at all feels worse.
Antetokounmpo has one year left on his deal after this season and is eligible for the supermax over the summer. This isn’t an inference on his future in Milwaukee. It’s just a fact. The Bucks haven’t been on the clock since Antetokounmpo was born, despite what national coverage has implied, but they’re on the clock now.
Fishing around the league for roster upgrades in advance of their most important playoff run ever is an inherent responsibility.
It doesn’t matter how well their supporting cast has played, even with Brook Lopez bricking wide-open threes. Nor does it matter that Antetokounmpo is averaging just 31 minutes per game and that, as a result, head coach Mike Budenholzer will have carte blanche to limit, if not completely eliminate, the possessions without him and Middleton in the playoffs.
Last year’s offense wilted against the Toronto Raptors in the conference finals. The Bucks could use some insurance against that clunkiness derailing them again. They needn’t go nuclear, but they have Indiana’s first-round pick to use as bait.
Grabbing another shot-maker who can create from scratch in a pinch would go a long way. More ambitious targets should include JJ Redick, Tomas Satoransky and Bogdan Bogdanovic. Lower-tier options worth monitoring include Malik Beasley, Alec Burks, Bryn Forbes and Luke Kennard.
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Advanced apologies to anyone hoping that “sell” equates to the Minnesota Timberwolves dealing Karl-Anthony Towns. He might be unhappy, but he’s not going anywhere.
Pretty much everyone else should in play for buyers.
Rookie Jarrett Culver is among the potential exceptions. (Josh Okogie might belong there, too.) His free-throw shooting has been impressively bad, but it’s too early to sell high on a 20-year-old just months removed from being chosen at No. 6. He’s also been friskier since joining the starting five and, above all, is unlikely to draw interest from buyers shopping with this season in mind.
Robert Covington is, unequivocally, the Timberwolves’ most attractive trade chip. Shipping out an excellent team defender with two years and just $25.1 million on his contract would sting, but they’re far enough away from contention that retaining a 29-year-old wing contradicts their timeline.
Trading Covington for activity’s sake doesn’t need to be on the agenda. He’ll have similar value over the summer and into next season. But if the Timberwolves can get two or all three of a quality first-round pick, a prospect and the unloading of Gorgui Dieng’s deal, they should absolutely be open to sending him elsewhere.
Andrew Wiggins also needs to be readily available. The goodwill he built up earlier this year hasn’t yet totally faded, but his efficiency has plummeted over the last month-plus. Minnesota cannot rebuke interest from teams potentially willing to stomach the three years and $93.9 million left on his contract without getting a sweetener—assuming, of course, that level of intrigue exists at all.
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Endorsing a whole bunch of nothing from the New Orleans Pelicans took serious thought.
On one hand, they have the second-worst record in the Western Conference and are further away from party-crashing the playoff picture than offseason optimists projected. On the other hand, they are still waiting on Zion Williamson to make his debut and have just been generally banged up.
Losing so many games to injuries matters. The Pelicans have been a much tougher opponent as they approach full strength. They’re playing .500 basketball with a top-10 defense and net rating since Derrick Favors rejoined the rotation. And they’ve been even more dangerous over the past three(ish) weeks, a span that just so happens to coincide with Lonzo Ball going kaboom.
Short-circuiting this core now or in the near future would be unwise. Zion is nearing a return, we think, but he’ll have, at most, almost a month of regular-season basketball under his belt before the trade deadline. New Orleans needs more time to see what comes next.
Equally important: Selling doesn’t mean for the Pelicans what it does for certain other teams. It basically applies to JJ Redick and Jrue Holiday. (No one is giving up comparable value for Favors at his price point.) Both guards will be under contract next season and can be moved over the summer for similar, maybe better, returns if executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin decides to go full teardown.
New Orleans is free to reconsider this proposed do-nothing stance if the right deal arises. That’s not rocket science. Open phone lines are the responsibility of all rebuilding squads.
Barring monster offers for Holiday or Redick (or Ball), though, the Pelicans should commit to watching whatever chaos, or lack thereof, this trade deadline has in store from afar.
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Racking up picks and prospects, even if they come attached to lengthier contracts, makes too much sense for the still-rebuilding New York Knicks.
So, naturally, they don’t seem too keen on the idea, as SNY.tv’s Ian Begley reported:
“Something worth noting on the trade deadline: Several teams in touch with the Knicks recently came away with the impression that they aren’t solely focused on acquiring draft picks, expiring contracts or young players who have struggled with other teams in trades.
“Those teams say the Knicks have shown an interest in acquiring starter-level players who can help the team in the short-term and in future seasons, per sources.”
Taking this approach would be perfectly fine if the Knicks stumble into a young star on the front end of his prime. They won’t. Accepting calls on everyone except RJ Barrett, Mitchell Robinson and, maybe, Kevin Knox and Frank Ntilikina should be their plan of attack.
Marcus Morris Sr.’s future is a legitimate point of debate. He prefers to stay in New York, and the Knicks don’t have to do much to keep him beyond this season. They have the means to carve out the space required to re-sign him, but non-Bird rights on his salary are enough to retain him even if they decide to operate as an over-the-cap team.
Perhaps Morris is a more valuable trade chip on a longer-term deal. Or maybe the Knicks turn things around quicker than expected, in which case his scoring and cross-position optionality are a tidy big-picture fit. New York can hold onto him without it being franchise malpractice.
But he still needs to be available. If the Knicks cannot get at least a good first-round pick for his services, they’re free to keep him. Going into the deadline without the intention of starting a bidding war, though, would reek of shortsighted thinking from a front office that may be more concerned about keeping jobs than maximizing the franchise’s future-asset stores.
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Breaking up the Oklahoma City Thunder is officially criminal. This space will neither call for it nor suggest it…nor accept it even if it happens. And it might happen. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski said on SportsCenter the Thunder are “open for business” ahead of the deadline (h/t the OKC Dream Team podcast’s Andrew Schlecht).
Whatever. The initial point stands. Once the most painfully obvious of teardown candidates, the Thunder are at least playing themselves above that inevitability and into the realm of choice. The full-on re-do will come, but they’re making a case to delay it, as The Ringer’s Dan Devine wrote:
“The Thunder enter Thursday’s nationally televised matchup with Westbrook, James Harden, and the Houston Rockets as winners of 10 of their last 12 games, sitting seventh in the West at 21-16. Last season, through 37 games, with franchise linchpin Westbrook and an MVP-caliber George still in the fold, the Thunder were…24-13.
“There’s a bit more of a difference than those three wins would indicate. This year’s team has outscored opponents by 1.4 points per 100 non-garbage-time possessions, according to Cleaning the Glass, a just-above-average mark; last season’s squad was plus-7.3 points-per-100 at this stage, the same differential as the LeBron-AD Lakers. On balance, though, the Thunder have responded to the sea change in their construction by being just about as effective at winning games—while also having the rights to as many as 15 first-round picks between 2020 and 2026 burning a hole in Sam Presti’s pocket.”
More callous observers will implore the Thunder to go belly-up despite the plucky returns. Participation trophies are not handed out for first-round exits, and players like Steven Adams, Danilo Gallinari, Dennis Schroder and Chris Paul so very, very clearly don’t factor into Oklahoma City’s next iteration.
Still, there’s no harm in having some fun over the interim—not in this case.
Bottoming out has finite value ahead of a 2020 draft class that’s not garnering rave reviews. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is also already so good the Thunder cannot know what their nadir would actually feel like even if they aimed for it.
Plus, and most importantly, controlled demolition is not readily accessible.
Paul wouldn’t be on the roster if Oklahoma City had received a palatable offer over the past few months. He’s been surreal—he’s posting a career-high clip at the rim (79.2 percent) and owns a 66.9 true shooting percentage in clutch situations—but the two years and $85.6 million he’s owed after this season remain an obstacle.
Settling for whatever cap-relief package might be out there doesn’t do much for the Thunder. Oklahoma City isn’t some free-agency powerhouse, and again, if top-flight draft compensation were available to them, they would already have pounced.
Identical logic applies to Adams and Schroder (low-key shooting out of his mind from almost everywhere). They’re not hot commodities at their respective price points. The Thunder will have an easier time extracting value for their services as expiring contracts over the summer or into next season when they’re able to grease the wheels of any deal by offering to take back longer agreements.
Monitoring Gallinari’s market ahead of free agency is still the default, but Oklahoma City doesn’t face any real urgency with him, either. So few teams have cap space this summer that they could plausibly get more for him as part of a sign-and-trade.
Let the Thunder be as they are—for the rest of this season, at least.
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Our lone either-or nomination!
Re-investing in Terrence Ross (four years, $54 million) and Nikola Vucevic (four years, $100 million) binds the Orlando Magic to a buyer’s playbook. They treated their roster like a postseason shoo-in and don’t have unfettered access to a mulligan. Neither Ross nor Vucevic is a bargain, and teams won’t be hot for Al-Farouq Aminu, who’s recovering from a torn meniscus and most likely out for the year.
To be clear, this is not cause for the Magic to dig themselves deeper into the NBA’s middle.
Flipping first-round picks, the injured Jonathan Isaac or the red-shirted Chuma Okeke is prohibited. But Orlando is entrenched enough in the Eastern Conference playoff race to buy low on another shooter or, more likely, primary playmaker. Think DeMar DeRozan or Derrick Rose, two scoring forces on teams with ambiguous futures.
At the same time, selling needs to be on the table. Evan Fournier is having a career year ahead of free agency (player option), and Aaron Gordon’s declining salary continues to make him an attractive asset outside Orlando.
Confining themselves to one outcome at the deadline is not in the Magic’s best interest. They need to approach Feb. 6 with dual motives. Maybe selling Fournier or Gordon is part of a larger buy. Maybe they’re separate transactions. Maybe they end up simply buying. Or maybe they wind up just selling high.
Orlando is in a tricky situation, too much of a constant in the East to call it quits but not quite good enough to continue on the offensive it, perhaps mistakenly, entered over the offseason. Its trade-deadline approach should reflect that limbo.
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Seldom does a team on pace to win 50-plus games feel so unfinished. Depending on the day and who you ask, the Philadelphia 76ers are either in trouble or too cool for school in the regular season.
They need more shooting. No, wait, they need another player. Actually, hold on, trade Al Horford. Never mind, it’s Ben Simmons who needs to go. Oh, he’s on a poison pill? The Sixers are in trouble. Except, really, they’re not. They’re built for the playoffs and only the playoffs.
Figuring out the Sixers is a full-time headache. Their situation probably falls somewhere in between the most Negative Nancy and Optimistic Olivia takes. Their defense is a killer when the starting five plays together, which, by the way, has barely happened for 500 possessions, but they need to bake more variance into their offensive attack.
Spacing is the biggie, and it will remain a defining limitation unless Simmons starts banging in jumpers or Philly assembles the roster in the spirit of his finite range. The latter isn’t an option for now, which leaves the front office to comb the trade market for players who can not only space the floor but also make plays off the dribble—a search already underway, per ESPN’s Tim MacMahon.
Spotting the right target is difficult, in part because shooting for shooting’s sake isn’t all the Sixers need, but mostly because they’re confined to lower-salary options. Acquiring someone earning more than around $12 million dictates they trade one of their starters without concocting three- and four-for-one scenarios, and even that initial number requires them to include both Mike Scott and Zhaire Smith.
Hence why many of the usual and most fitting suspects—like Marcus Morris Sr., per the New York Post‘s Marc Berman—are out of reach. Cheaper options aren’t impossible to find, but they typically take semi-significant draft equity to land when comparable talent isn’t sent back in return.
Philly has that brand of ammo. The Brooklyn Nets own the team’s 2020 first-round pick, but the Sixers have the Oklahoma City Thunder’s selection (top-20 protection) in addition to a ton of extra seconds. General manager Elton Brand can throw in a 2022 first-rounder if he’s feeling extra gutsy.
Names worth keeping an eye on in Philly’s price range who shouldn’t require a first-rounder aside from Oklahoma City’s pick (or at all): D.J. Augustin, Alec Burks, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Bryn Forbes, Langston Galloway, Shabazz Napier, Tomas Satoranksy, Allonzo Trier and my personal favorite, Luke Kennard.
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The Phoenix Suns are getting the Chicago Bulls treatment. That’s not an insult.
Pushing for the playoffs is not outside the realm of possibility. Going 4-16 after a 7-4 start did the Suns no favors, but they’re still just a couple of games back from the eighth seed and as healthy as they’ve been all season. This is license enough to stand pat, if only because pivoting figures to yield unspectacular returns.
Soon-to-be free agents Aron Baynes and Dario Saric (restricted) are the lone players worth selling high on—leave Elie Okobo alone, dammit—and neither will incite premium offers. The Suns can, and should, shop them if they’re worried about how much their next contracts will run, but a cap-craven offseason landscape gives them more leverage than usual.
Assuming the playoffs-or-bust stance is the only way Phoenix can go wrong. And that’s not so much because of what might happen this season, but beyond.
Kevin Love may be an attractive target now—doubly so if he can be had for a lowball(ish) offer of Tyler Johnson and Saric (and filler). But adding money to the big-picture payroll does little to help the Suns when they’re still so much of a mystery.
Phoenix knows what it has in Devin Booker: an actual star. Everyone else, though? Not so much.
Can Ricky Rubio remain healthy enough? Hit enough of his threes? What will Baynes and Saric cost after this season? Is Saric’s jumper complementary enough to be part of the long-term plan? Is this career performance from Kelly Oubre Jr. his new normal? Is Deandre Ayton’s rim protection for real? Is “Bayton” a viable tandem over the long haul?
Bedlam at the bottom of the Western Conference gives the Suns options. They can play out this season or look past it. They should not, however, seek to reinvest in it.
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Injuries galore and the sub-40 percent playoff odds they’ve resulted in could convince the Portland Trail Blazers to remain idle. Then again, Damian Lillard‘s own timeline, apparently, won’t allow it.
As Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes told NBC Sports’ Tom Haberstroh on The Habershow:
“There will be a move made, for sure. It’s hard for me to believe that Hassan Whiteside and Kent Bazemore will still be there past the trade deadline. A move will be made. Look, this is Dame’s spot. He just signed his supermax this past summer. He didn’t sign up to be on a team like this. Nobody thought this was going to be the team, but he didn’t sign up for this. So this front office, it’s their call now. It’s their play.”
Extremist scenarios in which Portland reroutes CJ McCollum are best explored over the summer, if at all. It is much harder for the Blazers to decide the backcourt pairing has peaked when they’ve lost so much manpower to injuries, and no midseason move of that magnitude is going to transform them from a fringe playoff hopeful into a possible championship contender.
Pursuing additions on a smaller scale would be easier to digest if Portland cannot escape lottery territory. The smartest moves would be for players who improve this season’s playoff chances while fitting cleanly into whatever direction the Blazers go over the summer.
For those about to ask: Kevin Love doesn’t fall under that umbrella. He complements both Lillard and McCollum, but to what end does he actually improve the team?
Portland is fifth in offensive efficiency and 23rd in points allowed per 100 possessions since Carmelo Anthony’s first game. Love doesn’t help the defense, even if he is more playable at the 5 in head coach Terry Stott’s scheme. And while the Blazers are thin up front, they know they’re eventually getting Zach Collins and Jusuf Nurkic back.
Their wing rotation is much more desperate. Defensive aces who are bigger outside threats than Al-Farouq Aminu and Mo Harkless should be the primary focus.
The Blazers have the right combination of young players, picks and salary-matching tools to inquire about Robert Covington, who’s conveniently under contract for two more seasons. If he’s unavailable or too costly, they can shift their attention to stopgap options approaching free agency (Jae Crowder, Andre Iguodala, Marcus Morris Sr.) or try for players subject to more team control (Reggie Bullock, Aaron Gordon, Josh Hart).
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Sacramento King fans can take solace in knowing that general manager Vlade Divac (probably) isn’t so high on Kyle Kuzma, per The Athletic’s Jason Jones. Beyond that, well, they’ll have to forage through the muck for bright spots.
Look, the Kings’ future is not hopeless. They have De’Aaron Fox, who yours truly remains (perhaps too) bullish on. Marvin Bagley III isn’t Luka Doncic. That’s not his fault. He has a not-insignificant chance of developing into a major plus on offense.
Harrison Barnes’ contract isn’t great (four years, $85 million), but he’s a plug-and-play option in a faster-paced system that only occasionally calls on his from-scratch creation…and that head coach Luke Walton inexplicably isn’t running. Sacramento is 22nd in average possession time and dead last in the same category after forcing a turnover, according to Inpredictable.
Buddy Hield’s extension is plenty scary itself (four years, $106 million with $86 million guaranteed), but his shot-making should progress to less of a seesawing medium. It might already be back on the come-up.
Richaun Holmes. That’s it. That’s the analysis.
Skip ahead and the Kings have options. They’ll get awfully expensive as Fox and Bagley near their next contracts, but they’re not barren of genuine building blocks. In the interim, they need to be concerned with weeding out those who shouldn’t or might not stick.
Dewayne Dedmon already wants out. Trevor Ariza and Cory Joseph are sunk costs in that they’re not propelling Sacramento to the playoffs. Harry Giles III’s offense still intrigues (the passing, my goodness), but the Kings, for some reason, declined his $4 million team option. Bogdan Bogdanovic fits on any roster, but he’s speeding toward restricted free agency and a big-time payday.
Each one of these players should be on the table in trade talks.
If teams want buffers for Ariza, Dedmon or Joseph, then the Kings can balk. If the market for Bogdanovic is relatively bare, they can chance his offseason market value. And if they have the opportunity to soak up unwanted deals with their shorter-term fodder in exchange for extra picks and prospects, they better jump at the opportunity.
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My confidence in telling the San Antonio Spurs what to do is predictably waning. They’re playing like they’ve turned a corner.
Since their Dec. 3 double-overtime win over the Houston Rockets, they’re 11th in offensive efficiency, 11th in points allowed per 100 possessions and ninth in net rating. Where they were 2-9 in games that entered crunch time beforehand with a bottom-five offense and league-worst defense, they’re 5-4 over this span and posting top-10(ish) offensive and defensive ratings.
Lonnie Walker IV is actually in the rotation and playing well. Derrick White is hitting threes. Rudy Gay is hitting threes. Bryn Forbes is hitting threes. Marco Belinelli is still playing too much but also hitting threes.
LaMarcus Aldridge is—wait for it—taking threes. And making threes.
San Antonio’s long-range volume ranks in the top half of the league over the past six games, which include wins over the Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks. Tiny samples are the enemy of meaningful takeaways, but the Spurs were 30th in three-point-attempt rate before this stretch. Making such a big jump is noteworthy.
Also of note: The Spurs have been more than 10 points better 100 possessions without DeMar DeRozan on the court during this mini tear since Dec. 3—a team-worst swing—despite the starting five comfortably outpacing opponents. Aldridge, Forbes and Dejounte Murray are also net negatives, a testament to San Antonio’s bench, but their differentials are not nearly as pronounced.
Dealing one player won’t turn the Spurs into a powerhouse. Blaming DeRozan alone for their early-season hole is unfair. His numbers have basically gone unchanged during their revival, and he’s been a net positive since San Antonio started launching more freely from beyond the arc over its last six games.
Sometimes, though, certain players and teams aren’t a great match. Given the lengths to which the Spurs have traveled over the past few games to make the DeRozan marriage work, this is one of those situations. And rather than risk losing him for nothing in free agency or, equally damning, feeling a sense of obligation to pay him, they’re better off testing the trade waters. Talking to the Orlando Magic is a good place to start.
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Blowing it up should not be on the Toronto Raptors’ agenda. Like, not even a remote consideration.
Championship victory laps are fun. Toronto deserves its own. But this is more than that. The Raptors are legitimately good in the post-Kawhi Leonard era and have the bandwidth to get better without changing up the roster.
Toronto is first in wins lost to injury and tied for fourth in total games lost, according to Man Games Lost. Marc Gasol (hamstring) and Pascal Siakam (groin) are both sidelined without timetables for return. And still, somehow, the Raptors are positioning themselves for a top-four playoff seed with a mere three losses separating them from the East’s No. 2 spot.
Reaching full strength is hardly a guarantee, and Toronto does not appear to have the ceiling of a league-average offense. But this is a team that hasn’t yet hit its stride. Given time and better health, the Raptors can do serious damage in the East as currently constructed.
Forfeiting the chance to properly defend their title isn’t worth the assets they might get for Gasol, Lowry and Serge Ibaka. (Fred VanVleet is young enough to stick no matter what.) The Raptors can go through the housekeeping motions over the offseason.
Lowry has another year left on his deal and won’t net much less in the summer than he would now if they decide to move him. Toronto might find it can bring back Gasol or Ibaka on team-friendly, extremely movable contracts in a cash-poor free-agency market.
Make no mistake, the shelf life on these Raptors is finite. They can’t risk becoming buyers when so much of their core is impermanent, and they have 2021 free agency on the brain. A more significant transition is coming. Soon.
It shouldn’t come now.
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The Utah Jazz played their best hand when they turned Dante Exum and two second-rounders into Jordan Clarkson’s expiring deal. Any other move they make should come on the margins. They don’t have the salary-matching tools to do much else.
Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell are non-starters. Bojan Bogdanovic has been the Jazz’s second-best player for most of this season. Mike Conley makes a chunk of change that’s practically immovable while he’s recovering from a left hamstring injury. Joe Ingles cannot be traded after signing an extension before the season.
Repurposing Clarkson as his own centerpiece for a more expensive player would work. But who’s that player? And what else are the Jazz using to sweeten the pot? They have no picks to trade in this June’s draft and don’t employ any tantalizing prospects.
Utah could get something for Royce O’Neale if it’s afraid of what he’ll cost in restricted free agency, but his $1.6 million salary cannot bring back much on its own. He’s playing too well—shooting 43.6 percent on treys—to move just because of his future price point.
In lieu of more wheeling and dealing, the Jazz should hope their upsurge continues. They’re third in offensive efficiency since Clarkson’s debut with a positive point differential per 100 possessions from the bench.
Getting Conley back will be, if they’re lucky, the equivalent of a midseason addition. He’s a good bet to bump up his shooting percentages even if he doesn’t find his feel out of the pick-and-roll.
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Like many other teams going through some version of a rebuild, the Washington Wizards default to sellers. They just don’t have much to pawn off.
Bradley Beal cannot hit the chopping block after signing an extension. John Wall is in the first season of a four-year, $171.1 million pact and hasn’t played since December 2018 due to a torn Achilles. He’s staying. Rui Hachimura, currently dealing with a groin injury, should be the Wizards’ only untouchable.
Davis Bertans is their most attractive trade chip. He’s canning 43.4 percent of his threes on 10.4 attempts per 36 minutes. Stephen Curry is the only player to ever marry that level of volume and efficiency for a full season.
Title contenders—and the Atlanta Hawks—have naturally started calling about Bertans, per NBC Sports’ Chase Hughes. The Wizards prefer to keep him but have to be wary of his free agency. Shooters tend to get paid, and he might secure a bag amid a limited spender’s market.
Washington can pay him more than anyone else, but funneling long-term money into a 27-year-old is laden with risk when you can’t guarantee you’ll be ready to rejoin the playoff ranks next season.
Other players on the roster won’t drum up anywhere near the same amount of interest. Thomas Bryant might catch the attention of teams scoping out bigs who can’t afford any of the expensive heavyweights. But he’s recovering from a right foot injury, and the demand for centers is, generally speaking, not especially robust.
Ish Smith might get the Wizards a little something, but he doesn’t make enough to anchor a larger deal. Most of Washington’s other assets are in the same boat, only more so. Isaac Bonga, Troy Brown Jr., Admiral Schofield, Isaiah Thomas and Mo Wagner are on the books for under $4 million apiece.
Expiring deals for CJ Miles and Ian Mahinmi can be used to take back fatter salaries, but the Wizards aren’t far enough beneath the tax to inhale much more immediate money. Taking on longer deals could help them get a pick or prospect, but it’d then strain their already limited capacity to retool around Beal and Wall before next season (if that’s even the plan).
Washington should be on the lookout for the right seller’s opportunity. It just might not be out there.
Unless otherwise noted, stats courtesy of NBA.com, Basketball Reference or Cleaning the Glass and accurate entering games on Wednesday. Salary and cap-hold information via Basketball Insiders, Early Bird Rights and Spotrac.