NBA Trade Deadline: Team-by-team previews
After DeMarcus Cousins migrated south to New Orleans and Serge Ibaka flew north of the border, the two biggest names of the NBA trade season very well may have already changed teams. Even still, executives around the league are expecting a flurry of activity leading up to Thursday’s 3 p.m. trade deadline. With so many teams on the cusp of a postseason berth and entrenched in battles for playoff seeding, there is an unusual amount of potential buyers this February.
To examine the current trade landscape, here’s a team-by-team breakdown ahead of Thursday’s deadline.
The Hawks are clearly the fifth-best team in the East, having gone 11-8 since dealing Kyle Korver to the rival Cleveland Cavaliers. When Atlanta pulled Paul Millsap off the table following the Korver deal, it appeared the Hawks had committed to playing through the four-time All-Star forward. But he’ll likely opt of of his contract this summer to cash in on the rising cap. Atlanta’s front office could make an about-face just as Sacramento did with Cousins and decide offering a 32-year-old Millsap a five-year $150 million-ish contract isn’t what they want to do after all. Look for Tiago Splitter to potentially get moved. Splitter’s on an expiring contract that’s entirely covered by insurance this season, according to a league source.
The Celtics reportedly never had interest in adding Cousins to their prolific rebuild, which is too bad for Sacramento considering Boston had enough assets to blow away New Orleans’s offer. Many around the league expect Boston is sitting on their godfather offer to snag Jimmy Butler or Paul George. If GM Danny Ainge does pull the trigger, that clearly changes the entire landscape of the NBA and makes the East a true two-team race with Cleveland. That also likely would spark more moves from teams like Toronto and Washington to round out their rotations or make a larger upgrade as well. Smart money wouldn’t bet on Boston swinging for the fences. With the Celtics ranking No. 29 in defensive rebounding rate, targeting help on the glass is the plausible and expected outcome.
Owing their next 47 draft picks to the Celtics, the Nets are devoid of assets outside of Brook Lopez. Brooklyn engaged with New Orleans on dealing the 7-footer, a Pelicans source confirmed, but, as was the case with Philadelphia, talks stalled due to a disagreement on pick protections. The Nets can really move Lopez only for a legitimate first-round pick or promising young players. Trevor Booker should have some small value, too, but new GM Sean Marks won’t have many options.
Michael Jordan already moved Roy Hibbert and Spencer Hawes for Miles Plumlee and his expensive new contract. The Hornets’ only remaining move is to add a lead ball handler who can provide some juice in the team’s second unit. The Kings likely will make Darren Collison available, too.
As we discussed in Boston’s section, the deadline may hinge on the fate of Jimmy Butler. One league source noted larger trades of this magnitude often require several rounds of negotiations, and the Celtics and Bulls apparently were close to pulling the trigger on draft night. As of Monday night, several league sources expected the negotiations to continue up to Thursday’s deadline. It appears trading expiring contracts may be back in vogue as the new CBA looms. With that, Chicago could have sizeable markets for both Taj Gibson and Nikola Mirotic, who each provides the type of valuable frontcourt skill sets that contenders covet.
The Cavaliers remain active in their pursuit of adding a backup point guard. Should the Kings indeed waive Langston Galloway as has been widely rumored, Cleveland likely would look to pounce. But so, too, may the 76ers, who stand far higher on the waiver priority.
Dallas appeared to be destined to be a seller in December, but now that the Mavericks are back in playoff contention, the team appears interested in bolstering its rotation. Andrew Bogut and Deron Williams both are expiring contracts that could net some return. ESPN reported the Mavericks are interested in taking back salary if draft picks are attached. Dallas has frequently been rumored as a Jahlil Okafor suitor, as well.
After acquiring Mason Plumlee from Portland, the Nuggets probably are done buying this season. Denver’s phone lines are buzzing with offers for wings Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler, but they won’t truly listen without being offered a legitimate first-round pick. If the Nuggets are tantalized with making the playoffs, they very well could decide to keep this group together.
The Pistons are staring at a major inflection point in their franchise history after having their first-round, home-court aspirations fall flat. They’ve been discussing Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond possibilities for weeks, according to a team source. Aron Baynes almost certainly will waive his player option for next season and rival teams know Detroit won’t be able to afford him after throwing the Brinks truck at Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Suddenly, Caldwell-Pope has emerged as the team’s most valued player. There aren’t many sharpshooting wings who can create off the dribble and lock down defensively.
Golden State Warriors
The Warriors could create an open roster spot if they don’t offer Briante Weber a contract following his second 10-day deal. It’s more likely Golden State scours the buyout market. Should some rotation player strike their fancy ahead of the deadline, the Warriors can’t offer any draft considerations earlier than their 2019 first-round pick.
The Rockets have launched a surprising, feel-good start to the season, currently owning the No. 3 seed out West. But Houston has done so with a paper-thin wing rotation, platooning Trevor Ariza’s backup minutes with Sam Dekker and Corey Brewer. Dekker has shown some promising flashes this season, but is as behind the curve defensively as Brewer offensively. So the Rockets coughed up a first-round pick and are shipping it along with Brewer to the Lakers for Lou Williams. Will they stop there?
The Pacers reportedly are willing to to trade a first-round pick for help on the wing and frontline. Paul George has been surrounded by ball-pounding guards the past few years and Indiana has failed to build the run-and-gun offense Larry Bird envisioned. The Pacers are just average in pace and many around the league are growing skeptical of the regime’s ability to build a contender around George.
The future of the Clippers truly hangs in the balance. With Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and J.J. Redick all facing free agency, Los Angeles has to listen to any and all offers for each of its expiring core members. A Carmelo Anthony trade lurks in the shadows. But expect the Clippers to simply make a move to bolster their wing rotation. Doc Rivers has been pleased with Mo Speights’ contributions this season, but the Clippers continue to struggle to fill their void on the wing alongside their core four.
Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers called about Boogie, but ultimately valued Brandon Ingram too much to reel in the Kings center. Several league sources also suggested the Lakers aren’t offering Ingram as they chase other superstars (George and Butler), too. The Celtics boast deeper pockets to acquire either of those all-star wings, however, so no surprise the Lakers made a smaller move in sending Lou Williams to the Rockets. Nick Young is effectively on an expiring contract as he’ll likely opt out of his deal following a bounce-back season, making him a potential trade target, too.
Memphis can’t trade a first-round pick until 2021, making any move for greater wing depth unlikely. Should the Grizz intend to improve on the perimeter, the Memphis front office loved D-League All-Star Game MVP Troy Williams earlier this season, and could waive Toney Douglas to reacquire him.
Miami could sell high on Goran Dragic, but trading Hassan Whiteside isn’t realistic. The market on Boogie was so dry, it’s hard to imagine the Heat getting good value for their starting center. If the Heat look to rebuild further, they could deal Dragic and try and recover the two picks they sent out in the first place.
The Bucks have been hoping to unload Greg Monroe’s contract for some time. The plodding center very well could opt of his contract prior to next season. But in a league rapidly turning away from tactical, low-post scorers, you have to wonder if Monroe will be one of the few players around the league to exercise the final year of an existing contract rather than testing free agency. Don’t expect the Bucks to be buyers. Members of Milwaukee’s front office view Kris Middleton’s return like a midseason acquisition and feel confident in their playoff chances as currently constructed.
Ricky Rubio is by far the most likely Wolves player to be traded before Thursday’s deadline. You’d be hard pressed to talk to a team that hasn’t heard from Minnesota about the point guard. League sources confirmed the Wolves’ pursuit of Reggie Jackson, and the team is willing to attach Shabazz Muhammad to help move Rubio.
New Orleans Pelicans
League sources confirmed the notion that New Orleans is attempting to move Terrence Jones after acquiring Cousins. You can argue whether that’s a smart decision, but the Pelicans have made several calls gaging the Kentucky product’s value. New Orleans recognizes its lack of depth in the backcourt after moving Langston Galloway and will look to find help in that area as well.
New York Knicks
Barring an unlikely Carmelo Anthony trade, there isn’t much to expect out of New York. Should the Knicks embrace the tank, Courtney Lee likely would draw value in a market devoid of wings, although rival executives have noticed his decline on defense this season. He’s still shooting 41.8% from three.
Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder will continue their seemingly decade-long search for improvements on the wing, but OKC can’t trade a first-round pick until 2022, making either of Denver’s wings unlikely additions. The return of Cameron Payne offers Sam Presti a bargaining chip, but it’s unclear how much value Payne has around the league at this juncture.
Executives around the league widely expect the Magic to continue selling after shipping Serge Ibaka to Toronto. Orlando’s offseason signing spree did not result in a playoff push, and the Magic almost certainly will look to ship their veteran pieces to future assets. Nikola Vucevic is the most talented of Orlando’s veteran crop. C.J. Watson also could be of interest to playoff teams in search of more point guard depth.
Exactly a week before the Pelicans landed Cousins, a team source told SI.com New Orleans’ deal for Jahlil Okafor was “done,” and the teams simply were negotiating the protections on the Pelicans’ outgoing pick. The 76ers also reportedly came close to shipping Okafor to Portland before the Blazers acquired Jusuf Nurkic. The well appears to have dried up on Okafor suitors, but rival executives expect the Sixers to make a move regardless. Dallas and Boston are the most-rumored teams at this juncture. If any coaches can make a 1990s-throwback, low-post scorer work in a modern pace-and-space offense, they are Rick Carlisle and Brad Stevens. The Sixers also will receive plenty of calls about T.J. McConnell, but a league source suggested the team has no interest in parting ways with the point guard.
Right behind Minnesota and Rubio is Phoenix shopping Brandon Knight’s contract. Amid an extremely disappointing season, Knight has three more years left on his deal following this season, with an average salary of $14 million per year. The Suns should be able to find a trade partner willing to take a risk on Knight. The Suns will look to sell Tyson Chandler and P.J. Tucker as well, although it’s unclear how much value Phoenix really could net for either player.
Portland Trail Blazers
Rival teams will keep calling about C.J. McCollum and Allen Crabbe’s availability after the Blazers already swapped Mason Plumlee for Jusuf Nurkic to avoid their impending cap crunch. Teams will, and should, inquire about Damian Lillard as well, although they’ll likely be rebuffed, league sources say. Portland certainly will explore options to cut costs and avoid becoming a tax team next season.
After parting ways with Cousins, the Kings will continue to sell, sell, sell. When we polled league executives on Monday, Arron Afflalo appeared to draw the most interest, but teams also will make calls on Darren Collison as well. A team could talk itself into Garrett Temple or Anthony Tolliver, but those scenarios seem far more unlikely.
San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs always quietly explore moves on the margins. San Antonio’s biggest weakness remains frontcourt defense and there should be no shortage of bigs on expiring contracts that the Spurs could target. San Antonio has all of its picks besides a 2022 second-rounder owed to Utah to deal with as well. Could the Spurs be a sneaky candidate to chase Utah’s Derrick Favors? More on that in a minute.
League executives expect Toronto to try to make moves on the wing and in the frontcourt. As much as Toronto needs to find depth behind its current frontline, the Raptors also are still skeptical about Jonas Valanciunas. Before they acquired Serge Ibaka, the Raptors called the Pistons pitching a package centered around Valanciunas for Drummond, according to a league source. Toronto is in ultimate win-now mode. The Raps certainly will be interesting to monitor as the deadline approaches.
As ESPN reported, Derrick Favors has long been suspected as the odd man out in Utah, with Trey Lyles waiting in the wings and the uncertain success of his pairing with Defensive Player of the Year frontrunner Rudy Gobert. Favors would be an intriguing fit in Boston should the Celtics strike out on Butler or George. The San Antonio possibility would be fascinating, but how enticing are bottom-five first-rounders and Kyle Anderson? Utah faces a critical offseason with both Gordon Hayward and George Hill entering free agency. There moves at the deadline will signal the team’s intentions moving forward.
The Wiz failed to get Lou Williams, but Washington is one of the few teams that has made its first-round pick available in this perceived loaded draft, so don’t be surprised if another non-playoff team or one on the bubble coughs up a rotation player in order to snag an extra first-round pick. There’s no telling just how coveted a first-rounder may become on Thursday at 2:50 p.m. There’s a reason Williams isn’t headed to D.C. right now. The Wiz would be smart to wait this out.