With the NBA’s trade season under way and over a week left until the February 23 deadline, teams are positioning themselves for success both now and in the future. In the most recent big move, the Nuggets added a solid big man in Mason Plumlee in exchange for a first-round draft pick and Jusuf Nurkic to try and make a run for the playoffs, while the Blazers now have three first-round draft picks in the summer to pick up cheap young players to surround an expensive team which hasn’t performed up to expectations this season.
In addition to the moves teams may still want to make before the deadline – the Clippers are always looking for that elusive 3-and-D wing, Toronto still has a huge hole at power forward, Indiana could use a backup big, the Magic have come to terms with not making the playoffs and are willing to move Ibaka, etcetera – it’s interesting to look at the contracts teams may want to move both now and at a later date. This includes expiring contracts that may be moved before the deadline and other longer term deals that are likely to pop up in trade rumors in the summer and next season.
The Nuggets are loaded with players who do the same things and it’s tough to find minutes for all of them, which has led to coach Mike Malone shifting the rotation and starting lineups quite a bit in-season. Nikola Jokic has emerged as the star to build around, and in addition to wanting to make the playoffs this season, all the big moves they make should be geared towards improving around Jokic long-term.
Danilo Gallinari is a good starting caliber player but he’s not the versatile defender the Nuggets need next to Jokic, and he’s going to be pushed towards the power forward position as he ages. With a player option for next year Gallinari is going to decline, spending big money on the 28-year-old doesn’t make sense for the Nuggets right now.
Despite a 31-23 record, Atlanta currently has a negative -0.2 scoring differential, which typically is a much better indicator of future success than just wins and losses. Interestingly, if they had played to that level the Paul Millsap trade rumors would be out of control right now and it’s likely Hawks would have moved him already. Millsap is 32 years old, and any team looking to trade for Millsap wants the value now and in the first year or two of his next contract, which makes the Raptors a great fit.
According to reports, the Magic have come to grips with the fact that trading for Serge Ibaka and pushing for the playoffs has failed. The optics around trading Ibaka aren’t great since Orlando gave up two talented young players in Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis, but in a vacuum trading Ibaka for whatever they can get is a good move, since re-signing Ibaka to a near-max deal during the summer makes no sense for a team that can’t compete for a playoff spot.
On the lower end of forwards with expiring contracts who could help teams wanting to make a playoff push are Anthony Tolliver (non-guaranteed for 2017-18), PJ Tucker and James Johnson. Sacramento is just two games behind Denver for the eighth seed in the West and Tolliver is a good fit next to DeMarcus Cousins. Unless the Kings lose every game before the deadline, he’s likely to stay put. Johnson has been key to Miami’s recent 13-game win streak, but he’s the type of versatile combo forward every contender could use, and the same goes for Tucker, who should be available for a late first-rounder. If the Suns don’t get that offer keeping Tucker seems likely.
Dante Exum has been playing better for the Jazz, making Shelvin Mack a potential trade candidate. Mack is probably the type of ballhandler LeBron James has been asking the Cavaliers to trade for, but with George Hill struggling with nagging injuries, the Jazz could still need Mack. Deron Williams also fits the bill for a team looking to add a point guard, and after guaranteeing Yogi Ferrell’s spot on the team with an option for next year, Williams has become more expendable.
Among rim protecting backup bigs, Andrew Bogut and Aron Baynes could be easily lured for next to nothing and both could help a team down the stretch.
Contracts almost too good to trade
Jimmy Butler will be mentioned in trade rumors every year until his contract expires in 2020 (or in 2019 if Butler declines his player option) if the Bulls are struggling to make the playoffs. While the temptation to trade Butler continues to grow, it’s a move the Bulls should probably hold off on. Butler is one of the 10 best players in the NBA and he’s on a five-year $95 million deal, which is a bargain for a star with the current salary cap.
Any trade for Butler would have to include multiple blue chip assets, and it doesn’t make sense engaging Boston in trade talks before the summer to make sure that if a trade for Brooklyn’s first-round pick is made, it’s actually the first pick in the draft. The expected value of the first pick isn’t as good as the player Butler is now, and Chicago would have to get back more.
A player the Bulls should ask for in that potential trade scenario is Jae Crowder. Crowder is a very good two-way player at a position of need for most teams, making less than half the salary of an average starter.
The Raptors have two very good assets to trade in Terrence Ross and Norman Powell. Ross’ rookie extension is at $10.5 million annually for the next two seasons after this one, and Powell will be under team control making the minimum next season. Kyle Lowry will be up for an extension this summer, meaning the Raptors will be capped out for the foreseeable future if they re-sign him. Having Ross and Powell as cheap contracts and contributors becomes extremely valuable at that point, so any deal one or both would be involved in would have to put Toronto in a position where they could seriously contend with Cleveland in the East.
Good players on good contracts
The next group includes players who are on relatively good longer-term contracts, but for some reason may not fit their respective team’s plans going forward.
Will Barton, Wilson Chandler and Darrell Arthur by themselves may not be enough to snatch an asset the Nuggets really want, but combined Denver has good players to throw in any two-for-one or three-for-one trade. All three are versatile players who can switch defensively between assignments and do multiple things on offense for a team. The Pacers want to compete in the playoffs with Paul George and have been very good with their starting lineup on the floor but horrible with the bench units, in particular with their backup bigs Al Jefferson, Lavoy Allen and Kevin Seraphin. Arthur and Chandler would tremendously improve those units.
The Bucks are in a pretty depressing situation with Jabari Parker out for a long time with a torn ACL, and some of their older players on good contracts could provide value for another time while the Bucks re-stock their war chests and make a run later down the road. Mirza Teletovic is a fine option for a team looking for a floor-spacing big and Matthew Dellavedova is on a fair contract for a second unit point guard who can play bigger minutes with starters as well. The Bucks can get quite a bit over a max slot during the summer if they move both Dellavedova and Teletovic, and if Greg Monroe declines his player option.
Among teams that are going to be capped out for the foreseeable future, the Pistons and Blazers both have players on reasonable contracts any of whom could be open for trade. Moe Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu are valuable contributors, and Harkless is just 23. There are only a few contracts in the NBA right now that are probably just too big to be dumped, and that includes Evan Turner , who limits Portland’ flexibility quite a bit. Reggie Jackson hasn’t played well this season, but there are teams who could still talk themselves into a point guard swap.
The Suns have two first-round draft picks coming from the Heat that are super valuable, first a Top 7 protected 2018 pick that turns unprotected the next summer and then again in 2021. Devin Booker is their top prospect right now, and there’s quite a bit of uncertainty around what kind of players Dragan Bender, TJ Warren, Marquese Chriss and Tyler Ulis will develop into. Eric Bledsoe is right in the middle of his prime, in a career year, and moving Bledsoe could get the Suns that one extra blue chip prospect that turns them into the next young and exciting team with a high ceiling.
From Miami’s perspective, they could go either way during the summer. To recoup draft picks and start the rebuild trading Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside makes sense, but if they are able to get a big-time player during free agency to put them back in the playoff picture, the Heat could become buyers instead of sellers quickly.
There’s a group of players who are somewhat negative assets on their teams but could be moved in deals that center around other players. The Wizards’ Andrew Nicholson and Ian Mahinmi are both on the books long-term and players the team may look to move to clear space since Otto Porter is about to get somewhere near a $20 million per year extension next summer. The Suns would trade Brandon Knight for any asset at this point, though it’s likely they won’t be offered a suitable deal, and the same goes for Kenneth Faried in Denver.
The Nets are holding out indefinitely for two first rounders in exchange for Brook Lopez, but if they drop that number to one pick it’s likely a deal gets done at some point.
In a pretty wild scenario, if the Cavaliers don’t want to make Kevin Love available but LeBron insists on trading for Carmelo Anthony, it’s possible to construct a deal around Iman Shumpert and Tristan Thompson without giving up Love. That probably doesn’t make sense for the Cavaliers unless they receive a big man back, but crazier things have happened in the NBA.
The Magic are probably willing to trade any player on the roster, and perhaps a team will talk itself into Mario Hezonja for a pair of second rounders or late first. Nikola Vucevic and Elfrid Payton have been coming off the bench for parts of the season, and the Magic are clearly not in love with either.
You can find Mika Honkasalo on Twitter @mhonkasalo.