With the NBA trade deadline less than three weeks away, teams will use this time off to figure what direction they should go and what kind of deals they’d like to do.
This upcoming trade deadline will be the first to precede the newly implemented playoff play-in. By virtue of automatically having two more teams from each conference have an opportunity to make the potseason, in theory, more teams should be disincentivized to trade their good players.
Despite early indications that there won’t be as many sellers as buyers, that doesn’t mean that we won’t see a busy trade market. It mostly suggests that the price to acquire good players is going to higher than usual.
By now, each team should have a good idea of who they want to keep, what moves they should consider next, and what they could accomplish. Here is a breakdown of each team’s situation ahead of the trade deadline and whether we can expect them to be active or not.
Should be aggressive
Love them or hate them, the Nets have to be the most fascinating team ahead of the trade deadline and buyout market. After consolidating Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen, and their first-round picks over the next seven seasons for James Harden, they could further go all-in by maximizing every last asset and exception at their disposal.
One divisive move the Nets can consider is trading Spencer Dinwiddie ($11.4 million). After having a 2019-20 season worthy of All-Star consideration, he is out for the season with a partially torn ACL. Dinwiddie is currently extension-eligible and has the option to enter free agency this summer if he declines his $12.3 million player option.
Despite his injury, there could still be a strong market for Dinwiddie that pays him $15-20 million annually. If the Nets decide they don’t want to pay him that, which is reasonable given how loaded their backcourt is, then it makes sense to trade him for a healthy player who can contribute to the Nets now. Dinwiddie should be most valuable to teams that aren’t projected to have cap space this offseason and wouldn’t be able to make a competitive offer for him. One such team who is reportedly interested in him, according to Ian Begley of SNY, are the Pistons who could trade for him now and re-sign him with his Bird rights this summer.
The Nets also have their $5.7M Disabled Player Exception (DPE) they were granted because of Dinwiddie’s injury. They could use it via trade to acquire one player on an expiring contract that fits within the exception. They could use it to acquire a veteran front-court rim protector to provide additional depth behind DeAndre Jordan, Nicolas Claxton, and now Blake Griffin.
The Nets also still have $5.3 million of their Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception (MLE) completely unused. It is now decreasing every day by $39,164. Despite the daily proration, they’ll still have the financial advantage over other contenders for top veterans that get bought out. The deadline for players to get waived and remain eligible for the postseason is April 9. If the Nets still haven’t used their MLE by then, it will still be worth just over $4 million.
Brooklyn has the means to be extremely aggressive in their pursuit of improving their championship odds. If they maximize their options, they could look as aggressive as the Cavaliers were in the 2014-15 season after they brought back LeBron James.
Should be aggressive
The Hornets are having a fun season filled with growth and success beyond their expectations. Gordon Hayward has played like peak Utah Jazz Gordon Hayward, Terry Rozier can’t miss, and LaMelo Ball is already looking like an All-Star. They should be a lock for the play-in if they continue this level of play. At only 1.5 games behind the 4-seed, they could look to make an upgrade and make a run at the 6 seed to clinch a playoff spot.
Making a trade is challenging for the Hornets since most of their players with the highest tradeable salaries are all so important. They could use an upgrade at center and are reportedly interested in Nikola Vucevic. There’s no indication that he’s available so they could also pursue Andre Drummond or Al Horford. But it’s hard to see how they improve if it means trading a player like Rozier ($18.9 million) to help match salaries. Even trading a role player like Malik Monk ($5.3 million) seems steep with the way he’s been playing. But with his contract expiring this offseason, now would be a good time to get value for him if they don’t plan on re-signing him.
If the Hornets feel confident about their playoff hopes this year and don’t want to move any core players, now could be a good time to trade a lottery-protected pick. With the trajectory of their core, and particularly Ball, it might be a low-risk move for the right player.
Should be aggressive
Before the season started, the Bulls were one of the most difficult teams to evaluate in terms of which players to build around and who to move. It’s probably a big reason why their front office has been so patient and chose to see how everyone does under Billy Donovan first. It’s safe to say the Bulls now have a better idea of where to go from here.
Had the Bulls traded Zach LaVine before the season started they’d probably be kicking themselves. It’s really hard to put a price tag on LaVine, but even in this odd season where the Bulls are trying to figure out what they have, it’s safe to say that LaVine is a foundational piece that they can build around. Who knows when Chicago will get a player as good as him again.
Lauri Markkanen is having a strong season, though he continues to be limited by injuries. This complicates both his trade value and what his next contract will look like. All these complicating factors should keep Markkanen in Chicago for the rest of the season. Fellow young players Coby White, Wendell Carter, and Patrick Williams are likely completely off the table.
Thaddeus Young ($13.5 million) has been a revelation for the Bulls as their backup power forward and point-center. His versatility allows him to fit on virtually any team and his production could net the Bulls a good first-round pick. Trading him will probably negatively affect them in the standings, but they aren’t going to contend this year anyway. It’s very rare to be able to get a first-round pick for a 32-year-old role player.
Tomas Satoransky ($10 million) and Otto Porter ($28.5 million) are other names to watch ahead of the trade deadline, but it’s unclear what they could get for them. Porter’s high salary makes a deal difficult for other teams. With the play-in still in reach with or without Young, and with no pressure to reduce expenses, it also doesn’t hurt the Bulls to keep everyone.
Should be aggressive
The Nuggets sure miss Jerami Grant, but their defensive issues have always been present with this core with and without him. Nikola Jokic being their center by itself welcomes all sorts of challenges to Denver defensively. It’s really tough to see how the Nuggets improve the defense around him.
If they are looking to make a significant change, Gary Harris ($19.6 million) and Will Barton ($13.7 million) could be the salaries to move. Harris in particular has been out for almost the entire month of February and has struggled when available. With one more year left on his contract, there should be teams willing to take on his salary with the right incentive attached.
With Michael Porter Jr., Denver naturally has one of the most appealing trade packages for Bradley Beal. Those discussions, if they happen, will likely be in the offseason as it makes little sense for the Wizards to trade him now. For the short-term, the Nuggets could pursue a shooting guard such as Victor Oladipo, Evan Fournier, or Buddy Hield with Harris’ salary. They can offer their 2021 first-round pick or young players such as RJ Hampton, Zeke Nnaji, or Bol Bol as incentives.
Golden State Warriors
Should be aggressive
The first-round pick they’re owed by the Timberwolves is looking very valuable right now. Even if the Timberwolves finish with the worst record in the NBA, the pick still has a 59.9 percent chance of falling outside the Top 3 and conveying to the Warriors. If the mid-season coaching change improves them, they could at least finish better than teams such as the Pistons and Rockets, giving the Warriors an even better chance at getting it.
It is probably safer to assume that the pick will convey this year which would make it heavily sought-after, especially in a draft class that is considered top-heavy. They will probably listen to offers, but unless the return is an All-NBA player, the Warriors should keep the pick. The pick will likely have even more value come the draft, which is also a more ideal time for star players to get moved.
What Golden State decides to do with Kelly Oubre ($14.3 million) will also be important. He’s played a lot better as of late, but a report from Shams Charania that the Warriors and Pelicans have discussed an Oubre trade could suggest they are not sold on re-signing him this offseason. If they don’t see a long-term fit with him, they could look to recoup a first-rounder for him, reduce their luxury tax bill, and create a trade exception (TPE).
The Warriors have had a lot of injuries this season and could look to move Marquese Chriss ($1.8 million) and Alen Smailagic ($1.5 million) and replace them with healthy players who can contribute this season. They could use a new backup point guard and an additional center. They still have their $9.3 million DPE that they could use to acquire an expiring contract. They also still have about $3.4 million left of their taxpayer MLE which could come in handy to pursue a bought-out veteran.
Should be aggressive
The Rockets seem like a team that is certain to make at least one trade. While a rebuild was inevitable after trading James Harden, their slide down the standings will motivate them to move their veterans.
Victor Oladipo is set to be one of the best available free agents this offseason. Although he’s been OK with the Rockets, he’s been inefficient shooting-wise and often unavailable due to various injuries. They took a bet that they could get more value by passing on Caris LeVert for him, but there’s no guarantee that they’ll get a player or value in the form of draft picks or young players that is equal to LeVert.
PJ Tucker is also available and his $7 million salary makes him easy for most contenders to acquire. Both Adrian Wojnarowski and Shams Charania listed the Lakers, Heat, Nets, and Bucks as teams interested in Tucker, with Charania adding the Nuggets’ interest as well. Tucker’s numbers have declined this season, but his trade value might be limited by his age more so than his skill. A reasonable package for Tucker could include one or two second-round picks with expiring contracts in return.
Eric Gordon should also be available for the right price. He is playing extremely well this season and might be playing up to the value of his newly signed extension. He is owed $37.8 million over the next two seasons with a non-guaranteed 2023-24. That extension raised some questions initially but there should be plenty of teams interested in Gordon. He’s having his best statistical season since 2017-18, so now would be an ideal time to get as much value for him as possible.
Should be aggressive
The Heat are looking at all their options now that Giannis Antetokounmpo will be staying in Milwaukee. They are still projected to generate close to $30 million in cap space this offseason while being able to re-sign Duncan Robinson and Kendrick Nunn afterward. With many of the top players set to become free agents all coming off the board by signing extensions, Miami could pass on free agency and acquire a good player on a long-term deal now.
If they are interested in Victor Oladipo, they can probably sign him outright this offseason assuming Miami remains his top preference. Trading Robinson or Tyler Herro to get Oladipo or any other great player now is probably out of the question. They’re probably more willing to trade a future first-round pick but they would need to remove protections on the first-round pick they owe to Oklahoma City if they want to trade one.
In the short term, their biggest need to address is the starting four. Kelly Olynyk has been very productive but they’re clearly missing Jae Crowder’s shooting and defensive versatility. PJ Tucker, for example, could be their stop-gap power forward who could slide nicely into the needed Crowder role. They could also pursue Nemanja Bjelica for a similar price if they strike out on Tucker,
They have the expiring salaries of Olynyk ($12.6 million) and Andre Iguodala ($15 million) to offer if they want to acquire a player with a very high salary. They’d probably prefer to move Meyers Leonard first ($9 million), who is out for the season and, and Maurice Harkless ($3.6 million), who hasn’t fit in and is out of the rotation. They could also include Avery Bradley ($5.6 million) who has been injured and is a luxury at guard when the Heat are fully healthy.
They have plenty of flexibility to make a splash before the trade deadline as they’re currently $8.7 million below the luxury tax and $14 million below the hard cap. They also have a $7.5 million TPE and a $4.7 million DPE available.
Should be aggressive
The Timberwolves seem like they’re stuck but don’t sleep on their front office. They were very aggressive last trade deadline, turning Robert Covington into Malik Beasley, Juancho Hernangomez, and the first-round pick that became Aleksej Pokusevski (whom they later parlayed with James Johnson for Ricky Rubio, Jaden McDaniels, and Leandro Bolmaro). Unless Beasley is available, they probably won’t be able to extract a lot of value from anyone not named Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell, or Anthony Edwards.
They are reportedly interested in John Collins and Aaron Gordon and have held discussions with Orlando on Gordon. They can offer Rubio ($17 million) and Ed Davis ($5 million) to match salaries for Gordon. As far as draft equity, they’re probably out on trading future first-round picks until they are a playoff-caliber team. They’re more likely to trade some of their youth which could include players such as Jarrett Culver, Josh Okogie, and Jake Layman for a veteran like Gordon.
It’s important to keep in mind that Minnesota is currently $2.8 million below the luxury tax but is effectively $3.3 million below thanks to the luxury tax credit they received from the Beasley suspension. That tiny $555,554 in relief can make a huge difference and allow them to take in more incoming salary in a trade..
New York Knicks
Should be aggressive
The Knicks should be open for business this month with $15 million in cap space still available. They also have plenty of expiring contracts they could exchange for players who could better fit the team. They could improve the roster for this season while simultaneously taking on bad contracts with draft picks attached. They could talk to a team like the Bucks and Jazz who are slightly over the luxury tax that could look to get under, or the Warriors who are deep in the luxury tax and could use some relief.
New York has a logjam at guard and could spare players like Austin Rivers ($3.5 million) and Elfrid Payton ($4.8 million). They could also offer Frank Ntilikina ($6.2 million) and Kevin Knox ($4.6 million) to a team interested in their upside for a significant upgrade. The Knicks have the luxury of not needing to match salaries, which makes trading for expensive players such as Victor Oladipo or Andre Drummond easy to accomplish.
If they want to make a major splash, they could offer one of their own first-round picks, or one they’re owed by Dallas. With the Mavericks potentially looking like a play-in team, their 2021 first-round pick could look enticing to another team.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Should be aggressive
The Thunder have been wheeling-and-dealing and they are primed to make another trade this month. They have the most flexibility in the league and most possibilities with their several huge trade exceptions, big expiring contracts, and seemingly endless supply of future first-round picks. They can facilitate any type of deal that comes their way. Like the Knicks, the Thunder can give salary relief to teams in the luxury tax.
George Hill ($9.6 million) and Trevor Ariza ($12.8 million) are veterans that could be acquired for the right price. Oklahoma City has gotten sufficient draft value for every good veteran they’ve traded. Al Horford ($27.5 million) has rehabilitated his value after his strange season in Philadelphia and could help many competitive teams right now. His high salary and the Thunder’s high price demand could delay a trade involving him until the offseason.
They have enough draft equity to acquire a foundational player. For example, they could easily meet Atlanta’s demands for John Collins and, if they want him, could make the best offer on the market with multiple future first-round picks. While it’s arguably too early for the Thunder to make a consolidation trade like that, they also can’t possibly keep and make a selection with every single draft pick they’re owed. If they could turn some of those picks into a great player they covet who is very young, they should consider it.
Could go either way
After a promising start to the season, the Hawks have slid to 16-20 and are out of the play-in. It’s hard to see how replacing Lloyd Pierce with Nate McMillan improves things in the long run, but the return of Bogdan Bogdanovic and eventually DeAndre Hunter will help tremendously. If the Hawks front office has a strong conviction about the strength of their roster, it seems unlikely that they’ll make any significant moves with the expectation that McMillan will turn things around.
All eyes will be on John Collins ($4.1 million) this month. His future in Atlanta has been on watch since not coming to an agreement on a rookie-scale extension with them. According to Shams Charania, the Hawks are seeking a lottery pick for him, which they could reasonably get. But in a season where there is pressure to make the playoffs, that type of move would surely make them worse.
There is still value to playing out the season with him and having him as a restricted free agent this offseason. Collins could easily be one of the two or three best free agents on the market who could move teams. The Hawks could very well get that lottery pick later for him in a sign-and-trade, should both sides choose to part ways. If the Hawks trade him during the season, they better be sure there won’t be a better offer for him coming this summer.
Could go either way
The Celtics’ struggles have been thoroughly dissected from their lack of experienced depth, to not having a definitive answer at center, and to Kemba Walker not playing to expectations. The return of Marcus Smart should immediately improve things, but it’s hard to see the Celtics as currently built able to keep up with the Sixers, Nets, or Bucks.
Their $28.5 million trade exception is their biggest chip to adding a significant upgrade to the team. After having an embarrassment of riches that included Gordon Hayward, Kyrie Irving, Al Horford, and multiple first-round picks in future drafts, the Celtics are down to two All-Stars and are no longer owed first-round picks from other teams. Any incentive would have to come from their own draft chest and their young players.
Despite all the help needed, don’t be surprised if Boston stands pat. As Tim Bontemps noted, the Celtics haven’t made a mid-season trade since trading for Isaiah Thomas in 2015.
Could go either way
After a strong start to the season, the Cavaliers find themselves headed for the lottery again. They already made a big move for Jarrett Allen to be their starting center. Now they need to focus on integrating him with Darius Garland, Collin Sexton, and Isaac Okoro and developing them.
The only available players on the Cavaliers are their veterans. Kevin Love ($31.2 million) could be had but his salary and injuries make a deal virtually impossible. Taurean Prince ($12.3 million) could help a playoff team but his high salary and the additional year on his contract also make a deal involving him difficult.
Andre Drummond is being shelved as he awaits a resolution on his future, ideally via a trade. Although it’s expiring, his $28.8 million salary makes matching salaries for him complicated. The Cavaliers traded nothing to get him, so it won’t hurt them to give him away. But even if they’re just trying to move him for the sake of moving him, the matching salaries part is what’s holding things up.
Because Cleveland agreed to not play Drummond anymore, that effectively puts the buyout option on the table. It seems unlikely they’d reintegrate him if he’s still on the roster after a month of not playing. The Brooklyn Nets jump out as a team who could really use Drummond and have the financial advantage with their unused taxpayer MLE to offer. Even though it’s prorating daily, if Drummond is bought out around April 9, the deadline for players to be waived and retain playoff eligibility, the Nets’ MLE will still be worth just over $4 million. That is a lot more money given up in buyouts than usual and could be worth it for the Cavaliers, who are only $3.9 million below the luxury tax, as it could allow them to take in more incoming salary in a trade.
Could go either way
The Mavericks are finally making up ground for their poor start to the season, though they’re 7-12 against teams over .500. The Mavericks currently have a full roster with a set 9-10 man rotation. James Johnson ($16 million) is out of the rotation and could be their biggest salary filler in a trade. They can also add on Boban Marjanovic ($3.5 million) or Willie Cauley-Stein ($4.2 million) if they need more. Tim Hardaway Jr. ($19 million) can also be discussed for the right package.
Although they have plenty of expiring contracts to make a deal work, they lack draft equity. Due to the Stepien rule, they cannot trade any future first-round picks unless they alter or remove the protection of the 2023 pick they owe to the Knicks. They could include young players such as Jalen Brunson, Josh Green, or Tyrell Terry as incentives.
Kristaps Porzingis’ name has been floated around but him getting moved is unlikely for many reasons. For starters, his durability or lack thereof will immediately dissuade most teams. Also, although he’s playing well on the offensive end, he’s struggling defensively. He’s currently earning $29.5 million and will earn $36 million in the last year of his deal. If they trade Porzingis now, they’ll likely be selling low and might not recoup the two first-round picks they offered.
They are projected to have between $24-34 million cap space this offseason but with no clear available target to pursue, they could look to forgo having cap space and acquire players on long-term deals. If the Mavericks cannot capitalize on adding to their core and choose to pursue talent in free agency, Dwight Powell could be moved. Getting off his contract would free up an additional $11 million in cap space.
Could go either way
After trading Derrick Rose, the Pistons might be done making trades this season. They don’t want to move their young players and their role players are good but don’t have a tremendous amount of trade value. Unless they want to accumulate more second-round picks, they might get more value from the on-court production of their role players.
The one player that probably should get moved for such a package is Wayne Ellington ($1.6 million) since they could probably get that from a contender for him. Jerami Grant ($19 million) has been mentioned as a player the Celtics are interested in pursuing but he and Detroit seem very happy with their union. He’s not untouchable by any means but it would take a ridiculous overpay to convince Detroit to trade him right now.
New Orleans Pelicans
Could go either way
The Pelicans have a lot of good players that don’t all necessarily fit together. Eric Bledsoe ($16.9 million) in particular is someone they would probably love to move for a solid wing player or good backup big man. It’s hard to identify any team that needs Bledsoe as most teams have their point guard situation figured out, especially with an additional $18.1 million owed for 2021-22.
JJ Redick ($13 million) has played a lot better as of late but a trade still makes sense for both sides. Even if the Pelicans make the play-in, he still provides more value for a contender, and likewise they shouldn’t drop off without him. The Sixers, Nets, and Celtics have been linked to him.
Since it was reported that the Pelicans were listening to offers for Lonzo Ball, he responded by having the best stretch of his career. Ball averaged 16.5 points per game and 3.7 threes per game on 45.9 percent shooting from three. Denying a rookie-scale extension from the Pelicans is looking like a good bet on himself. His salary floor should be in the $15 million range, but he could command between $20-25 million now. If he continues to play this way, the Pelicans will be happy to pay him that much.
Could go either way
After striking out on James Harden, the Sixers naturally might be monitoring other All-Stars who could potentially become available. Bradley Beal and Zach LaVine would be excellent fits, but it’s hard to see the Sixers making a strong offer without including Ben Simmons. Given how well the Sixers are playing, that seems like a decision that could be discussed in the offseason rather than now.
Philadelphia has over $30 million in expiring contracts they could use as salary filler for a significant upgrade. They could specifically look to move expiring contracts that aren’t in the rotation such as Mike Scott ($5 million), Terrance Ferguson ($3.9 million), and Vincent Poirier ($2.7 million) with draft picks to improve their depth. They also have an $8.2 million TPE. Kyle Lowry is a name that has been rumored, but role players such as JJ Redick are more realistic targets.
Portland Trail Blazers
Could go either way
The biggest thing the Blazers need is to get healthy. Despite the injuries to CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic, the Blazers have been very resilient with Gary Trent Jr. and Enes Kanter stepping up. After a rough start, Robert Covington is starting to look like the player the Blazers traded two first-round picks for, and Derrick Jones Jr. looks very confident. They could make a run for home-court advantage once they get fully healthy.
With Nurkic out most of the season, he will miss out on an incentive that will open up a little more wiggle room below the luxury tax. They are $1.9 million below it, giving them some flexibility to take on a bit of salary. If they do want to make a significant trade, the salaries of Rodney Hood ($10 million) and Zach Collins ($5.4 million) could be involved. The only draft picks they could offer in a trade this season are their second-round picks in 2022, 2026, and 2027, and a Hawks 2024 second-rounder.
Could go either way
The Magic are in a difficult spot. They’re having a bad year and a huge part of it is due to health. But even if fully healthy they’re likely looking like a play-in team at best. This might be an opportunity for the Magic to take a step back, trade some of their veterans, and bottom out for a high lottery pick.
Nikola Vucevic ($26 million) is having a monster season and his trade value should be at an all-time high. It seems unlikely that he will stay in this form by the time the Magic become relevant again. Despite their recent struggles, there still is no rush for them to trade Vucevic right now as his value should remain this high during the offseason, especially since he has two more years left on his deal. There’s a good chance they could get more value for him later.
Aaron Gordon ($18.1 million) is another name that could be available mainly because of his questionable long-term fit with Jonathan Isaac. Both players are primarily fours, but Isaac is the future of the team and the Magic are building around him, Markelle Fultz, and Cole Anthony. There are plenty of teams who lack an answer at four who would love to have Gordon such as Minnesota, Houston, and San Antonio. Like Vucevic, there’s not a lot of urgency to move Gordon right now, but the right deal should be considered.
Evan Fournier ($17.2 million), on the other hand, is expiring after this season. He and the Magic must make a decision on their future together soon. He’s been extension-eligible since the offseason started but the lack of one so far, as well as the Magic’s reversal in the standings, could push him away to a more competitive team. There aren’t many good high-level shooting guards available on the trade market besides him, Victor Oladipo, and Eric Gordon, which could drive up his price. The Magic should be able to get a mid-to-late first-round pick for him.
The Magic have a $6.1 million and $3.7 million DPE but they are unlikely to use them since they’re $2.8 million below the luxury tax. Their luxury tax space is something to consider in the trade deadline as they’re unlikely to take in significantly more incoming salary in a trade that puts them over the tax.
Could go either way
The Kings might have a deal or two up their sleeves but by no means do they need to do a complete fire sale. After half a season of evaluation, the new Kings front office should have a good understanding of who they have and who to build around. It goes without saying that De’Aaron Fox and Tyrese Halliburton are untouchable, and it would take a massive overpay to pry Richaun Holmes away from them.
Harrison Barnes ($22.2 million) is an interesting player to keep an eye on. He’s having a very strong year and all of a sudden his contract which seemed burdensome a year ago now looks like a great value, especially since it’s declining annually. With so many buyers, now may be a great ‘sell-high’ moment for the Kings, especially since there’s no guarantee Barnes maintains this level of play next season. They could probably get a good first-round pick and a prospect or a good veteran for him.
Buddy Hield ($24.7 million) will have some great nights from time to time but for the most part, he is very inconsistent this year. His numbers and efficiency are down and he’s at the beginning of his four-year $94 million extensions he signed in 2019. If they trade him now they probably won’t get too much value for him. They are better off holding onto him and letting him rehabilitate his value. Like Barnes, his contract also descends, making it potentially look much better down the line especially if he bounces back.
Nemanja Bjelica ($7.1 million) has been available since the beginning of the season. There should be a strong market for Bjelica who could net the Kings multiple high second-rounders. Teams such as the Heat, Sixers, Warriors, Bucks, and Celtics are all interested in him. He and PJ Tucker are linked to similar teams, so one being traded could lead to the other immediately being traded as well.
San Antonio Spurs
Could go either way
The Spurs are likely are gauging the market on DeMar DeRozan ($27.7 million) and LaMarcus Aldridge ($24 million) but that due diligence still might not lead to a deal. Even if both players were to make it known that they do not intend on re-signing with the Spurs this offseason, they could still opt to keep them for a playoff run.
The high salaries of DeRozan and Aldridge could make them difficult to trade right now. It’s tough to identify suitors for Aldridge in particular because of his recent stretch of injuries and his sharp decline in performance compared to last season. DeRozan, meanwhile, received All-Star consideration and could be attractive to teams that won’t have cap space this offseason.
However, the Spurs are in a great situation heading into the offseason. While remaining competitive over the last few seasons, they have drafted a strong young core to build around and are set to have $50 million in cap space this offseason. While the ages of DeRozan and Aldridge might drive down their price, the Spurs’ desire to compete and lack of urgency to trade since they already set up a bright future will likely drive up the price on their end. It’s not a matter of whether or not the Spurs should trade them, but if they do, they won’t do it out of desperation and will get exactly what they want. Even if they keep them past the trade deadline, their Bird rights could be used in a sign-and-trade this summer.
Patrick Mills ($13.5 million) and Rudy Gay ($14.5 million) are more likely to become available, but both players are playing very well. Mills is having statistically the best season of his career and Gay continues to be very reliable. Any team that acquires them is getting significant upgrades, so if the Spurs plan on competing, then why trade them? Before the season started, both players were considered buyout candidates should the Spurs underperform. Now that seems out of the question.
The Spurs have one of the most fascinating situations to monitor, but their history around the trade deadline would suggest not to get too excited.
The Pacers already answered their biggest trade deadline and upcoming free agency question by trading Victor Oladipo for Caris LeVert. LeVert is under team control for the next two seasons earning a team-friendly $17.5 million and $18.8 million. Now they need to wait for him and TJ Warren to get healthy so they can properly evaluate their core. No point in making any major changes until they know what they have.
They are $4.2 million below the luxury tax, so any improvement could come in the form of a role player who makes around that much. They have a $4.8 million TPE they could use to acquire such a player.
Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers are $538,605 below the apron, so any trade they do either has to be for equal or less incoming salary. With the way they’re playing, there may not be as much urgency to make a trade as there was before the season started. Any deal they make will likely be for a role player, making it hard to identify whether they’re getting an upgrade for the role player they send out.
One of the Clippers’ obvious holes is their lack of a traditional point guard. Kyle Lowry would be an awesome addition for the Clippers but their hard cap limitations and his $30.5 million salary make a trade unrealistic since it would gut their depth. More realistic options include George Hill and Tomas Satoransky, whom the Clippers can get for Lou Williams ($8 million) and a salary filler like Mfiondu Kabengele ($2 million) or Patrick Patterson ($3 million). As mentioned earlier, the lack of clarity on whether that is a significant upgrade or not could convince the Clippers to stand pat.
Los Angeles Lakers
After waiving Quinn Cook and signing Damian Jones to a 10-day contract, the Lakers are now $1.63 million below the hard cap. They could hold off from signing anyone to a rest-of-season contract until late March/early April which is considered “buyout season”. By then the prorated veteran minimum will be small enough for the Lakers to sign two players outright.
The additional hard cap flexibility makes a potential trade more feasible for the L.A. What that trade could be is hard to imagine given their lack of draft equity as well as the unlikelihood that they trade any rotation player given how well they’ve played together when fully healthy. It feels like any trade they do will be a minor one. For example, they could trade Alfonzo McKinnie ($1.8 million) for Hassan Whiteside, whom they reportedly are interested in, if he doesn’t get bought out.
It’s hard to gauge what type of trade they should make, especially when they’re just $1.3 million below the luxury tax. Most of their roster is filled with young players whom they probably don’t want to move. They’re competitive despite being so young but at the same time, trading for veterans who can improve them probably won’t move the needle. They could look to trade the $17.3 million expiring contract of Gorgui Dieng for a veteran upgrade, but that’s about it.
For the most part, the Grizzlies should continue on their path of development. They have a lot of their work cut out for them from the 2019 offseason after drafting really well and have a healthy cap sheet going forward. Ja Morant is looking like a generational star and they’re getting great returns from all their young players such as Brandon Clarke, Desmond Bane, and Xavier Tillman. If they remain patient, they will soon become an attractive destination and should accumulate enough assets to make a big trade.
The Bucks have the least flexibility in the league towards making a trade and can’t sign anyone until April 8. They are just $441,539 below the hard cap, meaning they can only bring in equal or less incoming salary in a trade, like the Clippers. DJ Wilson ($4.5 million) is probably their best salary ballast for either swapping for a player who can contribute or converting into a TPE while creating more flexibility for a different trade later. Like the Nets, the Bucks could use a backup rim protector whom they could parlay Wilson into.
Any trade will likely be incremental as it doesn’t make sense to tinker with any of their core players right now. Chris Paul, Devin Booker, DeAndre Ayton, and Mikal Bridges are all unavailable, and Cameron Johnson is pretty close to that list. Jae Crowder ($9.3 million) and Dario Saric ($9.3 million) are their most tradeable salary, but both players have been very effective within their roles. Without a big trade exception, they could be a bigger player in the buyout market with their Bi-Annual exception unused.
The Jazz have a healthy lead over for the top seed in the West. It seems inconceivable that they would trade any of their top-8 players. They could get a little aggressive and acquire a role player with one of their TPEs ($5 million and $3.5 million). After waiving Shaquille Harrison, the Jazz are about $4.3 million below the hard cap, so they could add another role player within that budget.
The Jazz could alternatively make a cost-cutting move. They are going to be a taxpaying team over the next five years now that they have Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert locked into maximum contracts during that span. They are currently $1.2 million above the luxury tax. There is a path for them to get below the luxury tax without trading their Top 8 players but it would require trading away some of their young prospects. Getting under the luxury tax this year would delay the repeater tax, giving the Jazz tens of millions in luxury tax savings three years from now.
The Raptors are back in the playoff mix after struggling to start the season. As currently constructed, they’re a very competitive team who will make the playoffs but might not make it out the first round. Their uncertain trajectory and unidentifiable targets with their projected $25 million make it difficult to figure out what the Raptors should do next.
The idea that Kyle Lowry ($30.5 million) could be traded should be taken seriously because for the Raptors to generate significant cap space, they would have to renounce his cap hold. They would be unable to re-sign him to a market value deal after spending their cap space since they would no longer hold his Bird rights. If they plan on spending their cap space on new talent and don’t plan on re-signing Lowry to a big contract, they might as well trade him to a team of his choice and extract some value for him.
Norman Powell ($10.9 million) is having a career-best season and will certainly opt out of his $11.6 million player option for 2021-22. They may need to make a decision on him as well ahead of the trade deadline. Their cap space projection doesn’t include him either. If they prioritize their cap space for someone else in free agency, like with Lowry, they might as well trade him. But with top target Giannis Antetokounmpo out of the picture and no clear maximum player available, the Raptors might be better off re-signing Powell to a long-term deal. This would eliminate most of their cap space, making it easier to re-sign Lowry as well.
The Raptors are reportedly interested in Andre Drummond, but his salary is too high for a deal to make sense. It would require Lowry straight up, or a combination of Powell, Aron Baynes ($7 million), Stanley Johnson ($3.8 million), and Patrick McCaw ($4 million) to match salaries. Both those frameworks would probably make the Raptors worse. They’re better off pursuing a cheaper upgrade at center that doesn’t require them trading one of their Top 5 players or getting over the luxury tax (they’re just $2.8 million below the luxury tax).
By all accounts, the Wizards won’t trade Bradley Beal this season. With that out of the way, their other options are pretty limited. They are just $747,869 below the luxury tax so they’re unlikely to want to take on significant salary for a team that is fighting to get to the play-in. With Beal, Russell Westbrook, Deni Avdija, and Rui Hachimura more or less untouchable, the rest of their roster doesn’t look quite enticing to other teams. Any trade they make probably won’t be very exciting.