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Every now and then an NBA trade comes together in a matter of hours, but generally deals happen in stages. Teams have ongoing internal talks about opposing players they’d like to get. Then they move on to casual external conversations to find out if those players are gettable and what it might cost to get them.
Finally, there is a proposal—which begets another round of internal and external conversations.
With the trade deadline less than a week away, Round 2 normally would be well under way.
Not so this year, several league executives say, because the list of gettable players is not as firm as it appeared at the start of the season. So, for now, here are some of the teams rival executives are relatively certain would like to make a deal and what they’d like to get—along with the teams whose intentions may have changed with their fortunes since last summer.
The Battle of L.A.
The Los Angeles Clippers might have made the biggest splash last summer and have the third-best record in the Western Conference, but they do not appear to be content.
Several opposing league executives are convinced that the Clippers, despite being considered by many as the deepest and most talented team in the Western Conference, are committed to making several upgrades before the NBA’s Feb. 6 trade deadline.
“They’ll do something,” one Eastern Conference executive says. “Their second team is great. They’re nervous about their first team. Is [Ivica] Zubac a playoff player and can [point guard Patrick] Beverley stay healthy? That’s what they don’t know and that’s what makes them nervous.”
As currently constructed, though, both Beverley and Zubac have been solid contributors in the Clippers’ starting lineup. Zubac is the only player listed as a center on the roster, while Beverley and seldom-used Derrick Walton Jr. are the only listed point guards. The Clippers have several other players who can initiate their offense—Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Lou Williams—and only a handful of quality teams have dominant centers, but if there’s any doubt about the team’s championship potential, it starts with the unproven Zubac and volatile Beverley.
Another motivation for the Clippers to make a move is the fact that they have a deal-making edge over their crosstown rivals, the Lakers, that won’t exist next season. Not only do the Clips have their 2020 first-round pick to dangle, but they also have Maurice Harkless and his expiring deal that pays him $11 million this season. The Lakers aren’t eligible to trade their 2020 first-round pick because they potentially owe next year’s pick to New Orleans, and league rules prohibit going without a first-round pick in consecutive years. Reports have them fielding offers for power forward Kyle Kuzma as a potential trade chip, but his modest rookie salary-scale contract, which pays him less than $2 million this season, makes it challenging to flip him for a more talented, proven player. (A source familiar with the team’s thinking disputes that the Lakers are aggressively shopping Kuzma after he appeared to co-sign disparaging remarks made by his personal trainer about LeBron James.)
Where the Lakers may have an advantage is after the trade deadline, when retired point guard Darren Collison is expected to make a return. A source close to Collison says he’d like to play for one of the L.A. franchises. Collison was already a Clipper once, playing 80 games in the 2013-14 season, but league insiders say he and coach Doc Rivers did not part on good terms, presumably making the Lakers his first choice. The source close to Collison, however, says his prior experience with Rivers would not preclude him from rejoining them.
Another potential backcourt target for both L.A. teams is Detroit Pistons point guard Derrick Rose, but sources close to both Rose and the Pistons don’t see a move as likely. With Rose playing at a near All-Star level and signed through next season on a modest two-year, $15 million deal, it would most likely take a first-round pick and a quality young player to pry him away from the Pistons.
Derrick Rose played himself into All-Star Game contention as well as onto the radar of the Clippers and Lakers for the upcoming trade deadline.Brian Sevald/Getty Images
Will they or won’t they?
Add Knicks forward Marcus Morris Sr. to the list of players rumored to be available that are more likely to stay put. While Morris is on an expiring one-year, $15 million deal, a league source says the Knicks are confident they can re-sign him and, already laden with draft picks and young players, consider the 30-year-old veteran more valuable than anything they could acquire at the trade deadline.
Morris qualifies as a power forward but also has the size and strength to provide spot duty defending centers—more so, say, than Harkless. Even with him off the board, the Clippers should have options to acquire a center or a power forward capable of defending centers. How many options is the question, because several teams with big men that would be attractive have not posted fire sale signs. Most notably, the Oklahoma City Thunder.
At the start of the season, it was anticipated that general manager Sam Presti would be prepared to flip both center Steven Adams and forward Danilo Gallinari for future assets, but with the Thunder unexpectedly entrenched as a playoff team, rival executives could see Presti limiting his activity to moving Andre Roberson and his expiring $10.7 million contract, primarily for cap relief with the Thunder currently edging over the luxury tax threshold.
Another big man with playoff experience on an expiring contract (worth $5.5 million this season) who bears watching is Aron Baynes. It’s not clear if the Suns, currently standing 3.5 games out of the eighth playoff spot, are ready to concede and snare an asset for Baynes rather than risk losing him for nothing this summer.
There are fewer questions about the availability of the Pistons’ Andre Drummond, but with a player option to play next season for $28.8 million or become a free agent, uncertainty over what Drummond might do has teams hesitant to deal for him, league sources said.
Andre Drummond has been the subject of trade rumors much of this season, but the expensive player option for next year has made trading him complicated.Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images
If the current trade buzz is accurate, the general market for young frontcourt players is robust, with league executives saying both the Indiana Pacers’ Myles Turner and the Atlanta Hawks’ John Collins, big men with the ability to switch between power forward and center, are on the trading block.
Much of the other trade buzz falls into the tire-kicking category, with teams floating what they’d like for a player who they’d make available for the right price.
The Minnesota Timberwolves, several league executives say, are looking for the lofty price tag of two first-round picks for versatile forward Robert Covington. And one league source says the Memphis Grizzlies offered Andre Iguodala to the Milwaukee Bucks for the 2020 protected first-round pick they acquired from Indiana in the deal that sent point guard Malcolm Brogdon to the Pacers last summer. While adding Iguodala’s playmaking ability, postseason pedigree and defense to the team with the league’s best record is tantalizing, it would be a Rubik’s Cubesian challenge to construct a deal that would allow Milwaukee to absorb his $17.2 million contract.
Reports have had both the Clippers and Lakers also interested in Iguodala, but the Grizzlies catapulting themselves into the eighth playoff spot adds an unanticipated wrinkle. Iguodala didn’t exactly ingratiate himself with the Grizzlies, league sources said, after he spurned their request to join the team in training camp until they could work out a deal for him. Some rival executives are convinced the Grizzlies are not eager to do him any favors and have no intention of buying him out, thereby allowing him to join the team of his choice—especially when that team could end up being the Grizzlies’ first-round opponent.
But back to the Clippers, whose internal dialogue about adding pieces also involves what it may cost to keep one—super sub and pending free-agent power forward Montrezl Harrell. He is likely to command at least triple his current $6 million salary this summer, which, as it stands now, would push the Clippers into the luxury tax. While Harrell embodies the hard-nosed ethos owner Steve Ballmer grew to admire as a Detroit Pistons fan in his youth, the prospect of having him leave for nothing in return or being financially handcuffed for the foreseeable future could influence the Clippers’ deadline strategy, several opposing executives say.
Though Andre Iguodala has spent the season choosing not to play for the Grizzlies, he has garnered a lot of interest around the NBA among Finals contenders.Jonathan Devich/Getty Images
“The Clippers have a real dilemma,” one Western Conference scout says. “Montrezl wants to get paid, but he does most of his damage against backups. If you already have Paul [George] and Kawhi [Leonard] on your books, can you pay him what he’s going to want?”
The Clippers dominated the headlines last summer with the roster moves that brought Leonard and George on board while keeping their playoff team from the previous season intact. It’s not likely that they can match that cache of talent with what they do at the trade deadline—then again, no one predicted them landing the last one.
Ric Bucher covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @RicBucher.
Bucher hosts the podcast, Bucher & Friends, with NFL veteran Will Blackmon and former NBA center Ryan Hollins, available on iTunes