Let’s be honest, a big part of what’s so fun about being a basketball aficionado isn’t related to what goes on during games, but rather, what happens away from the action.
Besides the playful trolling and pettiness that has become so popular with many of the league’s younger stars, it’s the idea of players getting traded, and the chaos that surrounds every major (and even not-so-major) deal, that we’re talking about.
Because of the thirst that fans have for every single trade rumor, HoopsHype has an entire section of the site dedicated to covering the latest whispers permeating throughout the Association.
And it’s because of that thirst specifically that we decided to start a series where every so often, we rank the five players who have been mentioned the most over the prior 14 days in the trade-rumors section of HoopsHype. We’ll do this once every few weeks, with the frequency of the articles in this series dependent on how hot and heavy the trade scuttle is in any given month.
Without further ado, let’s get into our debut Top 5 NBA trade rumor rankings.
5. TJ MCCONNELL, PHILADELPHIA 76ERS
Philadelphia 76ers lead guard TJ McConnell hasn’t been a constant in trade rumors like some of the other guys coming up on our list, but his name did pop up a couple of times in mid-October.
First, Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer mentioned an offer for McConnell coming via the Phoenix Suns, who are in serious need of some experience at the point-guard spot. Pompey wrote:
“McConnell came into the NBA in 2015 as an undrafted rookie out of Arizona, battling for a final roster spot. But the reserve point guard has defied odds by becoming a major player in the 76ers’ turnaround. And opposing teams are taking notice. The Phoenix Suns approached the Sixers in recent weeks about acquiring McConnell in a trade, according to several league sources. The Suns offered a second-round pick and the Sixers declined the offer.”
Afterwards, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski added that McConnell has been a hot commodity on the trade market.
And it makes sense why.
The Arizona product may not post huge numbers, but his ability to run an offense and be a pest defensively have helped him make a strong impact in his role with Philadelphia. Last season, McConnell averaged 6.3 points, 4.0 assists and 1.2 steals per contest in just 22.4 minutes nightly. Per 36 minutes, those marks extrapolated to 10.1 points and 6.9 assists, proving just how solid McConnell was in limited action.
From a Philadelphia perspective, they may feel more inclined to move McConnell this year than they were in 2017-18 due to Markelle Fultz’s return to the rotation. He may not be lighting the world on fire just yet, but the former No. 1 pick has occasionally flashed moments of competency.
Fultz’s role as a lead ball-handler who doesn’t space the floor has made McConnell redundant on Philadelphia’s roster, and the fourth-year pro is seeing fewer than 15 minutes of action nightly thus far this season because of it.
Thus, it wouldn’t be surprising whatsoever to see McConnell get moved by this year’s trade deadline. It’s just going to cost more than the single second-round pick Phoenix offered.
4. KEVIN LOVE, CLEVELAND CAVALIERS
There haven’t quite been firm reports of a potential Kevin Love trade over recent weeks, but there has been some pretty reasonable speculation from a very well-connected source.
On his podcast, the Lowe Post, ESPN’s Zach Lowe, with Wojnarowski as a guest, asked his colleague whether he thought a Love trade could come to fruition at some point this year, with the Cleveland Cavaliers struggling so much to start the season. After tip-toeing around the question a bit, Wojnarowski finally said (at the 34:15 mark):
“I think it is too soon, the idea that they would trade him now, but is it probably inevitable? Yeah, because if you’re headed toward a rebuild, he doesn’t fit in there.”
As of Nov. 2, the Cavs are 1-7 and boast the NBA’s sixth-worst net rating (-9.3). Additionally, Love is set to miss at least the next few weeks with a left-toe injury, so things are about to get even worse before they get better.
Could this lead to a Love deal prior to the deadline? It’s still way too early to tell, but the team’s poor play has already caused Cleveland to initiate a youth movement (while costing Ty Lue his job), so it’s not totally inconceivable that Love does eventually get dealt. Though he’s owed a lot of money over the next four seasons, the fact Love’s contract is set up so that the annual cap hits get lower from year to year should help increase his trade value, too.
3. JOSH RICHARDSON, MIAMI HEAT
The main reason Miami Heat swingman Josh Richardson has popped up so often in trade rumors recently isn’t due to his or his team’s play, but rather, his potential inclusion in the blockbuster deal that has been brewing for weeks.
We’ll get more into it when we reach the No. 1 spot on this list, but here, Richardson talks about how he’s dealing with the rumors (via the Sun Sentinel):
“‘It’s a business,’ Richardson said during a private moment. ‘It is what it is. It’s a cutthroat business. I know that. I can’t get too up or too down about situations like that.’ ‘For like the first hour, I was hearing from everyone,’ he said of when his name initially was reported as [a] trade focus. ‘But after that, it is what it is. I don’t get too much into it. When it first came out a little bit, yeah, it was hard to ignore.'”
It shouldn’t come as a shock that Richardson is such a coveted trade asset, as the fourth-year ball-handler is no longer just an elite 3-and-D type. Empowered by heightened offensive responsibilities, the Tennessee product is currently putting up 19.1 points, 4.4 assists, 1.0 blocks and 2.7 triples per contest.
Furthermore, as if his impressive two-way play wasn’t enticing enough, it must also be noted that Richardson is on the first year of a four-year, $42 million deal. Simply put, that’s an insane amount of production to get on such a team-friendly deal through 2021-22, especially when considering the types of contracts being signed around the Association these days.
We’ll see if Richardson ends up getting dealt, but a return featuring the Heat wing and his extremely valuable contract would be a nice haul for any team, regardless of what they would have to give up in the process.
2. JR SMITH, CLEVELAND CAVALIERS
The most recent name to pop up in trade rumors is JR Smith. The veteran 2-guard reportedly wants out of Cleveland due to what he deems to be poor communication with the Cavaliers’ front office.
The aforementioned youth movement going on in Cleveland has hit Smith particularly hard, as he has seen action in just 48 minutes over four games thus far this season. Smith claims that he would have been all right taking a backseat to the young Cavs, but the lack of communication from general manager Koby Altman caused Smith to feel disrespected (via the Akron Beacon Journal):
“But Smith is still upset with what he perceives as a lack of communication, perhaps wanting to hear it directly from General Manager Koby Altman. ‘I don’t mind taking a back seat or sitting down or if you don’t want me to play, I don’t mind that. But at least communicate that to me,’ he said. ‘To feel like you’re going to play one day, and then you just don’t play, coming from four Finals appearances, starting, winning a championship, and doing all these things. Sacrificing your body and injury and fighting through all of that to be, you can’t even look me in my face and tell me, that’s disrespectful to me.'”
It’s hard to fault Smith for feeling that way, but with his poor play over the last two seasons (8.4 points per game on 38.2 percent shooting), and the two years and $30.4 million left on his contract, moving him may not be all that easy.
Then again, Smith’s contract for 2019-20 is only guaranteed for $3.9 million, so a contender in need of a three-point shooter with playoff experience could decide to take a flyer on him for a postseason run before waiving him at minimal cost next summer.
We’ll see if steam on a Smith deal picks up in the coming weeks, but as of right now, it doesn’t seem super likely.
1. JIMMY BUTLER, MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES
It’s felt like we’ve been on the verge of a Jimmy Butler deal multiple times since his original trade request became public over a month ago, and yet, one hasn’t come to fruition yet.
The likeliest landing spot at one point appeared to be Miami in what would have been a deal for Richardson, draft picks and salary filler, but that fell through at the 11th hour. Now, Butler’s eventual landing spot is completely up in the air.
With the Heat, the Sixers and the Houston Rockets all struggling to start the year, Butler’s trade value will continue to rise, as a team could get desperate for an immediate improvement and shell out multiple assets in exchange for the four-time All-Star.
Butler’s outstanding play thus far this season – 22.5 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.3 assists nightly over six games – also hasn’t hurt Minnesota’s cause.
Regardless, one way or another, Butler will be wearing a different uniform by the trade deadline. In fact, Wojnarowski recently mentioned that he expects a deal for the talented wing to come before Thanksgiving.
We’ll see if it happens that soon, but either way, it seems just about everyone is ready for this draining saga to be over.
You can follow Frank Urbina on Twitter @FrankUrbina_.