With less than three weeks until the trade deadline (February 23rd, 3 pm ET), the rumors are ramping up and teams, depending on their current situation, are looking the right moves to put them in a position to succeed either this year or further down the line.
Generally, the teams that are most likely going active before the trade deadline fall into a few different camps. There’s the group that’s chasing the Cavs, which includes the Celtics, Raptors, Wizards and potentially Hawks (who can go the other way by trading Paul Millsap as well). Another batch of teams who could use another rotation player to challenge the Warriors with the Cavs, Rockets and Clippers. The Nuggets and Jazz have more rotation players than there are minutes available. The Blazers are chasing the ceremonial eighth playoff spot to be destroyed by the Warriors and could use a rim protector, and no one could even begin to guess what the Magic, Kings, Bulls and Knicks are going to do. The Lakers and Suns could start offering their veteran players like PJ Tucker and Lou Williams to embrace tanking, and even with a nine-game winning streak going the Heat are willing to entertain offers for every player on the roster.
As always, the Sixers are under the salary floor and can take in salary in exchange for assets.
Based on the latest rumors and potential team needs, here are some of the most interesting trade scenarios that could happen over the next few weeks.
Since Anthony has a no-trade clause in his contract, he has the ability to veto any trade the Knicks could put him in, and according to reports that has narrowed New York’s options to three teams: Cavs, Celtics and Clippers.
The Clippers have nothing to trade for Anthony, and aren’t (and shouldn’t be) willing to trade any of their Big Three players. JJ Redick is an unrestricted free agent this summer, and a package built around two of the Austin Rivers, Jamal Crawford and Redick is not something the Knicks can accept. Anthony is too good of a player despite his flaws, and the optics surrounding such a deal would be terrible. The first pick the Clips could offer in any deal like that is over half a decade away as well.
For the Celtics on the other hand, dealing for Anthony makes little sense. The Celtics already have an elite offense, and their defense ranks 20th allowing 106.2 points per 100 possessions – Anthony wouldn’t help there. Jae Crowder is a better fit as the primary small forward and on the best deal in the NBA, making half the amount of money an average starter will for the next four seasons. The Celtics rank last in defensive rebounding, and playing a front line of Horford and Anthony could exacerbate that particular problem. While the Celtics have a war chest of assets, by 2018 they will have selected a player in the Top 3 or 4 of the draft three times in a row thanks to the Brooklyn Nets and it makes no sense to sacrifice that for a player who doesn’t put them right alongside the Cavs in championship contention immediately.
That leaves the Cavaliers and by extension Kevin Love. Love is a better player than Anthony, and any trade made would mean that the Cavs will be the team receiving extra goodies and not the Knicks. Potentially, that’s not a deal breaker for the Knicks. LeBron James has been vocally advocating for another big man and ballhandler, and with Anthony, the Knicks should considering moving a player like Kyle O’Quinn. Love and Kristaps Porzingis together could make a great offense, even though the two aren’t exactly on the same timetable with their primes. Defensively, Love makes up for some of Porzingis’ weaknesses on the glass although getting stops overall would be a question mark.
Expecting the Bulls to compete with the top teams in the Eastern Conference at the start of the season was always being beyond optimistic, and all the best projection systems had Chicago struggling to get to 40 wins. Based on the amount of angry noises Butler and Dwyane Wade have been making, however, the team seemed to internally have high expectations for itself.
Even so, the Bulls are seventh in the East with a record of 25-26 and have a high probability of making the playoffs, and they have enough young talent on the roster to see the next iteration of the team. Cristiano Felicio is a good player who should grow into being a lower-end starter. Nikola Mirotic and Doug McDermott can be helpful players when put in a position to succeed. Butler is one of the 10 best players in the league. Paul Zipser has surprised everyone and it’s too early to give up on Bobby Portis.
In the modern NBA, it’s hard to run a good offense without a point guard who can set up the action and run a decent pick-and-roll, and that has really been the biggest problem for the Bulls along with the fact that no one in the starting lineup is an above-average shooter. Getting a long-term option via trade, perhaps going after a high-upside player like Emmanuel Mudiay who hasn’t succeeded thus far in his career or in the draft should be the No. 1 priority, but otherwise there shouldn’t be a reason to overreact and just make a trade because the situation is unhappy right now.
It’s tough to get a player like Butler so any trade the Bulls make would need to include assets, and there are only a few teams who could offer the right deal. If the Celtics are willing to offer this year’s Brooklyn pick and one of their top young players, preferably Jaylen Brown, that’s the only deal the Bulls should be willing to accept. Surprisingly, the Sixers have some incentive to accelerate their timeline since Joel Embiid is 22 and the process could still take quite a while if you draft 19-year-olds. The Sixers could offer a monster package around multiple picks and Nerlens Noel. Reportedly, the Bulls have been interested in Jahlil Okafor, but Okafor doesn’t get you anywhere near Butler, and personally I don’t think trading Mirotic or McDermott would be a wise move.
Toronto Raptors and Good Power Forwards
Paskal Siakam started at power forward for the Raptors for about two months and has now been pushed out of the rotation. Jared Sullinger certainly isn’t the answer and playing Jonas Valanciunas and Lucas Nogueira together is a disaster. Toronto could desperately use an upgrade at power forward, and preferably for them a player who can play together with Patrick Patterson in closing lineups in the playoffs.
Paul Millsap is an unrestricted free agent this summer, turns 32 in a week, and will be getting at least a near-max contract. Any team looking to trade for Millsap wants the value now, and at most for the next two years after that. The Raptors fit that timeline well with Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan at the top of their games, and if there’s push all the chips in it would be now. The argument that no one can beat James and the Cavs in the East really doesn’t hold up to scrutiny since it’s impossible to know when the Raptors will be back to being a Top 3 team in the conference after Lowry and DeRozan start to decline.
The most likely package that makes sense is Terrence Ross, Norman Powell (or someone else) and a first rounder, and that’s probably a pretty fair deal. The Hawks would lose wins short-term but add some good young players along with the upside of getting a pick (with the added bonus of not paying Millsap on his next contract). At the start of January, with the Hawks coming off losing 14 out of their last 20 games a deal like this would have been a no-brainer, and the Korver trade was a signal for the rest of the league that Atlanta is considering moving to another phase. However, the Hawks will probably finish with a Top 5 seed in the East and with attendance issues moving on from Millsap may not be a viable option.
The Magic are now willing to listen to offers on Serge Ibaka, which would in almost every sense just be a worse version of the Millsap deal for the Raptors. Orlando would probably do anything right now to trade Ibaka for Domantas Sabonis and Victor Oladipo, but since nothing that good is on the table it’s a good sign the team is being realistic about the current situation – no matter how bad the optics are. Another interesting option would be the Nuggets’ Darrell Arthur, who is a good player very similar to Patterson.
Rubio has been in trade rumors since the Timberwolves drafted Kris Dunn as his long-term replacement. He’s a good player albeit flawed and can help a team that needs a good defensive point guard long-term.
The most exciting scenario would be with the Bulls and re-uniting Butler with Tom Thibodeau. The Bulls would get a point guard who can actually run an NBA offense, plus any deal would have to include either Zach LaVine or Andrew Wiggins. That could be a deal-breaker for Wolves fans, but the framework exists and is somewhat reasonable for both sides.
If the Knicks or the Kings like Rubio, both could offer decent packages that include young players (Willy Hernangomez, Willie Cauley-Stein).
Veterans Who Could Help a Contender
Since the Cavs already gave up a first-rounder for a wing, they don’t really have the assets to go for PJ Tucker, who could really help a championship-caliber team with his wing defense. Tucker is a versatile player who can defend both forward positions and most guards with only $1.5 million in guaranteed salary next season, and the Suns could make him available for a good second-rounder at any point. Almost every team could use another solid wing. Expect teams like the Clippers to go after Tucker.
On a longer contract that won’t return value at the back-end, the Knicks can offer Courtney Lee for a team that needs shooting guard defense and a 40 percent shooter from three. The Clippers can’t offer cap relief in a trade that would have to include Crawford, but Doc Rivers likes to throw around assets questionably and if New York gets any sweetener back that could be enough. A potential destination for Lee could be Indiana, who has a horrible bench Lee could help stabilize. The Pacers have Monta Ellis and Al Jefferson on the books, both of whom they’d be happy to move, and want to compete in the playoffs for the foreseeable future. They would have to move an asset to make this trade, and it’s hard to gauge what would be satisfactory for both sides. Even Wesley Matthews could fit the bill here, though that would require some first rounder to be viable.
The Mavericks could also look to move Deron Williams, and with the Cavaliers’ interest in a point guard, there’s an agreement here somewhere that which makes sense for both sides. Kay Felder and Jordan McRae (to an extent) are young players with the upside of being rotation players in the NBA.
Wilson Chandler had a great start to the season and even though he has somewhat taken a step back recently, a team that needs a versatile wing player should be targeting him. The Thunder will run into problems with teams sagging off Andre Roberson in the postseason, and Chandler is a good fit absorbing wing minutes from Kyle Singler and Anthony Morrow. To create space for Russell Westbrook to get into the lane, Chandler works well playing as a small-ball power forward next to Steven Adams.
You can find Mika Honkasalo on Twitter @mhonkasalo.