The NBA trade deadline is now nine days away, and while we can
safely assume that all 30 teams want to get better, we must proceed
expecting two teams --the Boston Celtics and New York Knicks -- to
play big roles in dictating what the market will look like.
There are lots of big men available, and anybody who tells you
that Andre Drummond or Hassan Whiteside or JaVale McGee would not
make a difference in an Eastern Conference playoff series has not
been paying attention. Or as Gregg Popovich would say: “Living in a
Also, those who assume the Knicks (with $15.7 million in cap
space) are not in win-now mode do not understand Tom Thibodeau. The
guy is married to a basketball, and he is anxious to do in New York
what he was unable to do in Minnesota and, to a lesser degree, in
And then we have the Celtics, who are sitting on the largest
trade exception ($28.5 million) in NBA history and are worse off
that they were a year ago when they made the Eastern Conference
Finals. Danny Ainge cannot stand pat and expect to get past the
Nets, Sixers, Bucks or Heat.
The rumor mill will be churning between now and March 25, and
every contending team in the East will be scheming to make an
addition that attacks the weaknesses of Brooklyn and Philadelphia,
while every Western team will try to find a way to compete with the
three-point shooting of the Utah Jazz and the depth and experience
of the Los Angeles Lakers.
So let’s go through the league alphabetically and assess each
team’s needs, expectations and expendables.
ATLANTA HAWKS: Nate McMillan is 5-0 as head
coach, and the most active team in the weeks leading up to training
camp remains built (if fully healthy) to advance if all of the
pieces can fit together with almost zero practice time. John
Collins is entering restricted free agency and is not as productive
as he was a year ago, but he makes just $4.1 million. Put him in a
deal with Tony Snell, though, and those combined salaries equal
$16.3 million, which can get you a nice player.
BOSTON CELTICS: What made them special a year
ago was the ability to get offensive production from three All-Star
caliber starters: Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Gordon Hayward.
But Hayward is gone, Enes Kanter is doing big things in Portland
(remember how he was a game-changer for Boston in the postseason a
year ago?) and Kemba Walker is shooting 38% in his 10th season.
Standing pat is not an option.
BROOKLYN NETS: At some point they will need a
third center to join DeAndre Jordan and Nicolas Claxton, but the
buyout market or the China market (the CBA season ends before the
NBA playoffs) may be the easiest way for Sean Marks to add an extra
big body if they cannot get a big man whose contract fits into
their $5.7 million disabled player exception. Spencer Dinwiddie is
the only superfluous player on the roster, but he is out for the
remainder of the season, and the Nets have no future draft picks to
throw into a deal. They used them all in the Harden trade.
CHARLOTTE HORNETS: Michael Jordan’s team is
100-1 to win the East despite having the lock for Rookie of the
Year, a four-game winning streak and a roster chock full of young
and hungry players who, for the most part, lack postseason
experience. At a certain point, they have to realize they could
have done better than Cody Zeller ($15.4 million) with the fourth
pick of the 2013 draft. It might be time to sacrifice a future
first-round pick or two to upgrade at center. Malik Monk has been
playing well lately, otherwise, we would predict his imminent
departure. The Hornets have an open roster spot and $4 million in
CHICAGO BULLS: It would be delusional of them
to think they can advance beyond the first-round of the playoffs,
which is why they have to consider getting a good young player from
a contender in exchange for Thaddeus Young ($13.5 million), who is
the leading candidate to finish a distant second to Jordan Clarkson
in Sixth Man of the Year voting. Tomas Satoransky ($10
million this year and next year) is 29 years old and could be
combined with Young to bring in a good young player. Here is an
CLEVELAND CAVALIERS: Aside from the inevitable
Drummond and McGee moves (best offers arrive at 2:59 p.m. on
deadline day), Koby Altman will probably keep quiet after acquiring
Jarrett Allen from the Nets and sending Kevin Porter Jr. to the
Rockets. Kevin Love is going to be dead money for two more seasons
and Cedi Osman is looking like he will be in the same category,
though not quite as expensive. It’ll be a long road back.
DALLAS MAVERICKS: They should be better than
their record (20-18), but the West is tough. Dwight Powell ($11
million this season and the next two) is not worth what he is being
paid and could be packaged with more future No. 1 picks (the Mavs
can’t trade their own first-round draft pick until 2025 because
they owe the Knicks their 2021 and 2023 picks), if mortgaging the
future is something Mark Cuban is cool with. Powell and James
Johnson for Drummond works cap-wise.
DENVER NUGGETS: A rumor is out there that the
Nuggets have spoken to the Magic about acquiring Aaron Gordon, and
the price would include Bol Bol. They currently do not look like
they have enough to come out of the West, and JaMychal Green has
not been an adequate replacement for Jerami Grant. To a lesser
degree than Boston, standing pat does not seem like the most
prudent option. They have a $9.6 million trade exception, so expect
them to make some sort of acquisition that improves the roster.
They are one player away from being one player away.
DETROIT PISTONS: Troy Weaver might have already
made his “deadline deal” in getting Hamidou Diallo from the
Thunder. Wayne Ellington is superfluous, and one would think teams
might like a 14-year veteran who shot 42% from three-point range
with a manageable $1.6 million salary… But the Knicks couldn’t find
a taker for him a year ago.
GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS: Limbo sucks, but Klay
Thompson will be back next season. In the meantime, the best they
can do is hope that the Wolves’ pick is not top three and they can
get another high lottery pick to put next to James Wiseman for the
years ahead. Kelly Oubre Jr., Kent Bazemore, Brad Wanamaker and
Marquese Chriss are all on expiring contracts. Their combined
salaries total $20.6 million. The Warriors can acquire a player
into Thompson’s $9.25 million disabled player exception.
HOUSTON ROCKETS: We are seeing a flurry of
Victor Oladipo trade rumors, which is strange because he was the
biggest piece they got in the Harden trade. If they are
disappointed in him (and his expiring $21 million contract) they
must not have been watching Pacers playoffs games the past few
seasons. Kevin Porter Jr. was a nice pickup, and Rafael Stone is
probably on the hunt for another player who has worn out his
welcome for non-basketball reasons. P.J. Tucker is headed
somewhere. Dante Exum (expiring $9.6 million contract) didn’t quite
work out for a fifth overall pick, eh?
INDIANA PACERS: Acquiring Caris LaVert for
Oladipo as part of the Harden trade will go in Kevin Pritchard’s
trophy case, so the question now becomes “What next?” aside from
waiting for T.J. Warren’s broken foot to heal. They are in 10th
place, which wasn’t exactly what they had in mind for this season.
Still, Indiana has a nice mix of players in their mid-to-late 20s.
Doug McDermott (expiring $7.3 million) and T.J. McConnell (expiring
$3.5 million) could be a useful shooter and pest duo for a playoff
team willing to give up a draft pick and a matching expiring
salary. Indiana is probably better off keeping both and rolling the
dice in the play-in postseason.
LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS: They have everything they
need except the Lou Williams they had gotten used to over the past
three seasons. His scoring average is down almost six points. Serge
Ibaka (scoring average down 4.5 points) is showing his age at 31
and has a 15% trade kicker. Both still have plenty of playoff
experience, but Jerry West likes to make trades when he can find
the right ones. The Clippers are an interesting team to watch at
the deadline because they have an open roster spot, but they are
also within a $500,000 of the hard cap, which limits their
LOS ANGELES LAKERS: They need nothing except
for Anthony Davis to be healthy, so the Lakers are the winner of
the “Most Unlikely To Make A Trade” award. They are option No. 1
for pretty much everybody getting a buyout after the deadline.
MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES: More than a year later, we
are still trying to figure out the Justise Winslow acquisition.
Taylor Jenkins’ rotation goes 10 deep, not including the team’s
highest-paid player in Gorgui Dieng -- $17.2 million. They are
young and they are not a good team, yet they are still in
contention for a play-in spot, so that incentivizes them to get
MIAMI HEAT: The rule of thumb used to be “Pat
Riley hates making midseason trades,” but he went out and got Andre
Iguodala and Jae Crowder last season and built an NBA Finals team.
So you would think they would be predisposed to tinker despite
their recent run of 11 victories in 12 games. Kelly Olynyk ($12.6
million) and Moe Harkless ($3.6 million) are on expiring deals, and
Avery Bradley is gathering dust. They can take on long-term money
if the incoming player is worthy of it, but that would likely
involve trading a starter (Olynyk). They also have a $7.5 million
trade exception but owe Oklahoma City two first-round picks.
MILWAUKEE BUCKS: Veteran Bucks writer
Gery Woelful said on my most recent podcast that he fully
expects the Bucks to try to find an upgrade from Donte DiVincenzo
at shooting guard. The salaries of DiVincenzo and D.J. Wilson add
up to $7.5 million, and it is hard to see Jon Horst moving anyone
else on this roster. They are not last year’s Bucks, but they
theoretically have enough to get to the NBA Finals. They are very
close to the hard cap and cannot trade any more picks after using
so many in the Jrue Holiday acquisition.
MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES: The team is for sale,
so do not expect Gersson Rosas to take on any long-term money. They
have already changed coaches, and they have nothing anybody would
want except for Karl Anthony-Towns, who isn’t going anywhere. Okay,
they have Ed Davis, who may be somebody’s consolation prize as
contending teams search for bigs. Nominations for the Dumpster Fire
Award are now closed.
NEW ORLEANS PELICANS: Zion Williamson and
Brandon Ingram are not available. You can safely assume that
everyone else is, and David Griffin does not need to hold anybody
else up because he already did that to Horst. This was not supposed
to be a throwaway season, but it is. The Pelicans would like to get
J.J. Redick closer to his family, who live in Brooklyn. Exactly how
close? Well, when Redick played for the Sixers, he commuted to
Philadelphia. So “close” is a relative term. Boston is drivable
NEW YORK KNICKS: As mentioned above, they are
the team to watch most closely. They can take on long-term money if
the incoming player is someone who can tolerate Thibodeau’s
coaching style, and they would bring in a player on an expiring
contract if they believed that player’s Bird rights would be of
value over the summer. Leon Rose is one year away from having a
top-three team in the East if he plays his cards right a week from
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER: Sam Presti likely has
George Hill, Trevor Ariza and Mike Muscala available to the highest
bidders. Hill was an important piece of the Bucks last season and
could help a playoff team needing a bench shooter and veteran voice
in the locker room. At a certain point, Presti is going to have to
package together some of the 20 extra first and second-round picks
he has accumulated through trades, but that point is probably a
couple of years away as the rebuild runs its course. Important: If
Houston’s pick is in the top four, the Thunder get it. Also, Presti
has three trade exceptions; the largest is $27.6 million.
ORLANDO MAGIC: Aaron Gordon trade rumors
are everywhere, which makes sense because the time to cash in on
their seven-year investment is now. They need to get younger and
acquire assets to build around Markelle Fultz, Nikola Vucevic and
Jonathan Isaac. Their ceiling should not be the kind of first-round
exits they have been producing the past two seasons, and they have
not won a single playoff series since 2009-10. So, it would be
shocking to see them keep Gordon, who is only 25 years old and can
bring a lot in return. Gordon is a good guy who needs a change of
scenery and deserves one. Same goes for Evan Fournier.
PHILADELPHIA 76ERS: They wanted James Harden
and did not get him, and Doc Rivers still somehow kept Ben Simmons
committed to the team. That is pretty huge, because players who
know they have been shopped usually resent it. They are in first
place in the East and have a roster with the proper pieces to match
up with Brooklyn. Mike Scott’s expiring $5 million deal and the
Knicks’ 2021 second-round pick are Elton Brand’s most movable trade
assets, but Scott has been playing well lately. Terrence Ferguson,
Vincent Poirier and Tony Bradley are on expiring contracts but
would bring little in return.
PHOENIX SUNS: Acquiring Chris Paul checked the
“monster trade” box, and the NBA’s most overachieving team will
likely abide by the “If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It” rule. That
being said, if an on-the-ball defender capable of defending LeBron
James is out there somewhere, you kick the tires on just about
anything that does not include Devin Booker, DeAndre Ayton and
Chris Paul. Ariza would seem to be a fit.
PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS: Like Dallas, they
should be better than their record… and would be if C.J. McCollum
and Jusuf Nurkic had not gotten injured. At full strength, they are
going to be a tough out in the postseason. Gary Trent Jr. is on an
expiring contract and they may fear losing him, so keep that in
mind with these guys. They are sleepers.
SACRAMENTO KINGS: What they can get for
Whiteside will be interesting to see, because he was killing it for
the Blazers last season. Then, Nurkic returned in the bubble.
Whiteside does not exactly have the best reputation around the
league, which is why he played in Lebanon and China before
resurrecting his career. There are also a lot of Harrison Barnes
rumors out there, and like the Magic and Gordon, it may be time for
the Kings to cash in on the three-year investment they made in
Barnes after acquiring him from Dallas. He makes $22.2 million.
Does Nemanja Bjelica have any value? Same question has to be asked
of Jabari Parker.
SAN ANTONIO SPURS: The LaMarcus Aldridge era is
in its final days, and you have to wonder if the Patty Mills era
is, too. Derrick White is signed long-term and Dejounte Murray is
damn good. The expiring contracts of Aldridge and Mills add up to
$37.2 million, and if you include Rudy Gay’s expiring deal that
number becomes $51.2 million. They are 20-16, yet, as currently
constituted, not good enough to do much in the postseason. R.C.
Buford wins the award for the league executive most overdue to make
TORONTO RAPTORS: The name that is out there now
is Kyle Lowry, who has spent nine seasons of his 16-year career
playing for the team that now calls Tampa its home. Having lost
five in a row and sitting in 11th place in the Leastern Conference,
Masai Ujiri must determine whether it is time to turn Lowry’s
expiring $30.5 million contract into something of value. At 35
years old, Lowry can still play and, percentage wise, is hitting
threes, twos and free throws better than he has over the past four
seasons. But this would not be a giveaway, and a sign-and-trade in
the offseason is still possible.
UTAH JAZZ: Like Phoenix, the “If It Ain’t Broke
, Don’t Dix It” rule applies. They are in first place in the West,
are making threes better than anybody and have Rudy Gobert finding
new and incredible ways to never, ever be mentioned in the MVP
debate. None of their nine rotation players is going anywhere, and
no one else on the roster has either a big contract or much trade
value. Still, someone on the team could be a giveaway because the
Jazz are $1.9 million over the luxury tax line. They have already
traded five of their next seven second-round picks (they don’t have
one until 2025).
WASHINGTON WIZARDS: You’ve got to feel bad for
Tommy Sheppard, one of the best guys and better GMs in the league
-- he was able to turn John Wall into Russell Westbrook but then
lost Thomas Bryant and had his team put on ice because of COVID
issues. They are now playing the busiest second-half schedule of
any Eastern Conference team, and they theoretically have a
puncher’s chance against practically anyone in the conference if
Westbrook keeps triple-doubling (he leads the league with 11). But
they have lost four in a row and rank 12th. Robin Lopez and his
expiring $7.3 million contract is their best trade asset. If they
combined Lopez with Ish Smith’s expiring contract, that totals