Today at 3 pm Eastern marks the 2016 NBA Trade Deadline. There is much talk and little action so far, but usually these things go right down to the wire. As recently as a month ago it looked like this would a quiet deadline, as so many teams held playoff dreams, realistically or not. As we enter the second half of the season, however, some teams have fallen off and others are a move or two away from being serious contenders. What every deadline needs is a fairly balanced mix of Buyers and Sellers. So today, I will outline who I see as Buyers this deadline and who needs to sell, sell, sell. Then I’ll identify possible trades that make sense for each team involved.
First, a few words about the trades that have already gone through this week.
On Tuesday Detroit traded Brandon Jennings and Ersan Ilyasova to Orlando for Tobias Harris. This trade probably makes more sense for the Pistons, as Harris brings needed depth and versatility to their roster. He can team with Marcus Morris to surround Andre Drummond with shooting, opening up another option for Reggie Jackson in the pick and roll. The Magic are essentially coronating Aaron Gordon to starting 4 with this move, but one wonders if they couldn’t have gotten more value for Harris. Jennings is coming back from a serious injury and becomes a free agent soon. Ilyasova is a solid fill in, but won’t be part of Orlando’s long term plans.
The other deal – a three teamer – saw Courtney Lee go to Charlotte, Chris Andersen/P.J. Hairston and 4 second rounders sent to Memphis and Brian Roberts to Miami. Lee is a stable wing to join the rotation in Charlotte and ease the loss of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Miami’s goals here were purely financial, as they lower their luxury tax burden. With Dwyane Wade and Hassan Whiteside needing to get paid, and Kevin Durant a free agent this offseason, the Heat need all the cap relief they can get. For the Grizzlies, I’d be surprised if they don’t follow this up with another move. The four second-rounders may be a stockpile they can flip into a first rounder down the road. They figure to fall in the playoff race without Marc Gasol, Mike Conley can leave in free agency, and they do not have a great future draft pick situation. This may be the beginning of the end of the Grizz as we know it.
Buyers – teams that have incentive to add talent, either because of cap space or a looming playoff run
Portland – A pleasant surprise at 27-27, and in a four team race for the final three playoff spots in the West. Look for Damian Lillard to play like a madman after being snubbed yet again for the All Star game. Dame with a chip on his shoulder will be scary. C.J. McCollum of Lehigh has been a revelation, forming a potent mid-major backcourt with Weber State product Lillard. Blazers GM Neil Olshey has done a fantastic job of finding hidden talent through the draft. This is important because Olshey will lose his first round pick if the Blazers make the playoffs, as they owe their 2016 first rounder to Denver (unless it’s a lottery pick). Here’s a fundamental question for a rebuilding team: if we’re unexpectedly ahead of schedule, do we jeopardize our long-term rebuild plans to make a push for a low playoff seed? Is it more valuable to add another lottery pick to our stable of young players, or to earn some playoff revenue – while exciting our rabid fan base – while probably getting swept in the first round? My tone might suggest I’m dubious about the latter scenario – that’s just me being scarred by Milwaukee’s rushing their rebuild after some nice playoff moments last year. We know how that turned out.
Anyway, if Portland is going to be active at the deadline, they have a couple needs and can help some capped out teams. Portland has around $20M in cap space and can absorb large contracts that teams are trying to get out of. They definitely need a rim protector or two, since their backcourt is very suspect defensively. One rumor that’s been bandied about is Cleveland dumping Anderson Varejao’s contract on Portland, which seems to make more sense for the Cavs than for the Blazers. Varejao can protect the rim, but he can’t stay on the court. A guy like Hassan Whiteside would be very interesting in Portland – he’s cheap now but they’d have to pay him a max deal in the summer. That opens up cap room for the Heat to chase Durant and gives Portland the inside presence they lack. I doubt it happens, however.
Utah – Here’s a hot take: the Jazz are on their way to becoming the zig to the rest of the NBA’s zag. With everyone trying to emulate the Warriors and play small-ball, pace and space basketball, the opportunity is there for a team to go the other way and build a glitch in the system. With Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors, the Jazz are big and defense-oriented. Dante Exum looked to be an elite-level defensive point guard in his rookie season. Gordon Hayward and Rodney Hood provide toughness and just enough shooting to help the Jazz go on a recent tear now that their big men are healthy. The problem remains the point guard situation. Exum tore his ACL, and will probably need half a season to get back onto the development path he was on. They need a stopgap solution at the point. Their situation is somewhat similar to Portland in that they have a solid foundation of young guys but an opportunity to add talent for a playoff run. The GM’s devil’s bargain. However, I believe Utah has more incentive to go for it this season, since their 2016 first round pick isn’t in jeopardy and they are solid enough to make a push for the five or six seed. Should they jump Dallas and Marc Gasol-less Memphis they can get to the coveted five seed. The difference between playing the Clippers in the first round vs. the Thunder is astronomical. The Jazz could conceivably push the Clippers to seven games, which will be valuable playoff experience for their young core.
The point guards that may be out there for the taking include Jeff Teague and Jrue Holiday. If they can swing a move for either guy with a package built around Alec Burks and Trey Burke, I feel like they have to do it.
Boston – Everyone is waiting on Boston to make a move. They are loaded with assets, both in player form and draft picks. They own Brooklyn’s next two first rounders, their own future first rounders and the Mavericks’ next first round pick. They currently have a roster chock full of good players but desperately need a big name star. The Celtics are sitting at third in the East playoff race, but may not have the best player on the floor in any playoff series, which spells trouble.
So what’s their big move? Unfortunately it may not be out there right now. Dwight Howard is available but doesn’t make sense for them. They have courted Kevin Love for years but Cleveland seems determined to try and make the Love thing work with a new coach. Al Horford might be out there, if Atlanta is crazy enough to trade their best player to the team that is one seed ahead of them in the playoff race. Horford and Howard would also be “rentals”, who can be free to sign elsewhere this summer. The ideal star for Boston to swing a trade for is one that’s under contract for multiple years. That player may not exist, an unintended consequence of shorter player contracts may be fewer big trades. Boston may be best off trying to make a smaller trade with Brooklyn that makes the Nets worse this year, making the 2016 Brooklyn pick they own more valuable. Add a potential star in the draft and sign a free agent or two this summer. If Boston doesn’t make noise at the deadline, the rest of the league may remain quiet as well.
Detroit – The Pistons have already made one nice move, with the addition of Harris. They are currently on the outside looking in, 9th in the playoff race. They desperately want to make the playoffs after seven long years without a postseason berth. With Harris in tow to play small-ball power forward and shot-creator/matchup nightmare, their prospects look good for jumping into the playoff fray. But they may have another move up their sleeve to bolster their position even more. Stan Van Gundy is savvy and has found a way to get young core players that are in need of a bigger, clearer role. Is there another one out there? Probably not, but they can add a rotation player using Joel Anthony’s expiring contract. This will be a fun team to watch in the stretch run.
New Jersey – Hey, the Nets have a GM! Sean Marks comes from the San Antonio system, and is a native of New Zealand, which contrasts nicely with the brash Russian in the owner’s chair. Marks has his work cut out for him, as Brooklyn has traded its first round picks for the foreseeable future and doesn’t have a foundational young player on the roster. They’re paying the price for years of ill-advised win now moves made in the Billy King era. To be fair to King, the Russian owner had a gun to his head. (Figuratively). (I think).
The Nets’ only move may be to take on risky, expensive guys with talent. They have no incentive to tank since they don’t have their picks. They can take on other teams’ unwanted former stars for short-term contracts in order to fight for respectability, which will hopefully lure a free agent or two. The only guys they have that other teams might want are Joe Johnson, Thad Young, Brook Lopez and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. The latter should be somewhat untouchable as he is their only true valuable young player. They need to develop him. The Nets desperately need a point guard and may be able to dangle Lopez or Young to New Orleans for Holiday.
New York – Another Big Apple team in dire need of a point guard. The problem is the only real trade chips they have are Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis, both of whom they aren’t trading (especially not Zinger). They may be able to get something for Lance Thomas, but they’ll be hard-pressed to make a move that will get them into the playoffs this season. The Zen Master is playing the long game. Will Knicks fans have the same zen-like patience? They don’t really have a choice.
Cleveland – Though capped out, the Cavs have a trade exception, meaning they can try and grab a much-needed perimeter defender or another shooter without using cap space. They’ve been rumored to be looking at Orlando’s Channing Frye or even Joe Johnson. Frye may give them the flexibility they need to compete with smaller lineups that the Warriors would throw at them in the Finals. Love has been talked about ad nauseum, but again, I don’t think they move him yet.
Sellers – tanking teams, capped-out non contenders and teams looking to change direction
Chicago – The Bulls’ first season post-Thibs has turned disastrous, as injuries to Joakim Noah, Nikola Mirotic, Mike Dunleavy and Derrick Rose have marred their continuity, as the team has struggled to pick up a new offensive system. Jimmy Butler is the lone bright spot but he is also injured and the Bulls will potentially fall out of the playoff race in his absence. They are shopping Pau Gasol, yet will likely not get good value back for the 35-year old should they move him. Same for Rose, who Bulls brass may be eager to rid themselves of, but takers are few.
The Bulls may be of the mind that their future is Butler and a core of Doug McDermott, Bobby Portis, E’Twuan Moore, and maybe Mirotic. The old guard – Rose, Noah, Taj Gibson – would be out the door in that scenario at some point. I just can’t see it happening at the deadline. Their best bet may be to tank and salvage some talent out of the Lottery. Detroit is eager to take their playoff spot after all.
Denver – I’m a big fan of the Nuggets’ roster, something I would never have guessed I’d be saying back in November. But Nikola Jokic and Jusuf Nurkic look to be real NBA big men, Emmanuel Mudiay is improving as a rookie PG and Will Barton and Gary Harris have been revelations on the wing. This still leaves Danilo Gallinari and Kenneth Faried as trade pieces, which Denver can flip for either a big name or more future draft assets. GM Tim Connelly has done a magnificent job rebuilding this team and I’m excited to see what his next chess move is. To have a surplus of assets is a wonderful thing.
Phoenix – I’m not going to waste much time on the Suns. They need to end the Markieff Morris charade already. He can help a contender and get his career back on track with another team. And the Suns can finally move on. They have a decent enough group of young guys in Devin Booker, Archie Goodwin, Alex Len and Mirza Teletovic, and will have a high draft pick this year. Flip Morris for whatever value he can bring you, and maybe try to find a team dumb enough to take on Tyson Chandler’s huge contract. Maybe shop Teletovic. That’s it.
New Orleans – Boy oh boy. Dell Demps is a disaster. Before the season started I worried in a post that Anthony Davis may be reliving LeBron’s first few years in Cleveland and it looks to actually be worse than that. Demps has done such a bad job of surrounding the young stud with sidekicks, sure, but in the process of failed acquisitions he’s mortgaged the future by selling off draft picks. It’s sad but I think Davis may be irrelevant for the next couple years and that’s just not right. The Pelicans are desperate to move Omer Asik’s poison pill contract, they would have loved to move Tyreke Evans but his season-ending injury kills that dream and they’ve been shopping Ryan Anderson for weeks without finding a deal. They may need to move Holiday if they can get any first rounder in return.
One thing’s for sure…give up any illusions of making a run at the 8-seed, tank, and make a good pick in the Lottery. And don’t let Demps anywhere near that 2016 first rounder.
Atlanta – An interesting situation, as they are the 4-seed in the East, a year removed from winning 60 games, yet they are in an unenviable position of needing to extract value from soon to be free agent stars. Horford, Teague and Kyle Korver have all been rumored to be on the trade block. They don’t really want to get rid of these guys but are so scared of losing them for nothing in free agency that they may make a panic trade. I’d be dangling Teague to the Jazz pretty hard, and there are plenty of teams that would like to try to revive Korver. But hold on to Horford and hope you can appeal to his loyalty in the offseason to remain a Hawk, or orchestrate a sign-and-trade. That’s my advice, anyway.
Washington – The Wiz are still selling themselves the Kevin Durant dream. Problem is, they’ve been terrible this year on the court. Good luck persuading KD to leave a perennial championship contender in OKC to join a group that can’t make the playoffs in the East. John Wall is a great selling point, but Bradley Beal can’t stay on the floor and the head coach is likely to be fired after the season. So if Wall is your only carrot for Durant, you do know he already plays with Russell Westbrook right? And Serge Ibaka?
The Wiz may try to move Marcin Gortat to open up cap space. It’s not a very rosy situation regardless.
Houston – Congratulations are in order for the Rockets, who beat out the Pelicans, Wizards, Bucks and Bulls as the most underachieving team this season. Great job fellas. The Rockets are always a player in free agency and expect them to go hard after Durant in the summer. The need to clear cap space in addition to their underwhelming play means just about everyone is available. James Harden is the only untouchable guy on the roster at this point. Expect them to do everything they can to move Ty Lawson and Dwight Howard. A team like the Nets might make sense for Howard, but they don’t really have anything that Houston wants. The market for a 30-year old center who will command major money this summer is unsurprisingly cool.
Browsers – teams that aren’t compelled to make a move, but will do so if the right offer presents itself
Oklahoma City – The Thunder are perpetually looking for a reliable 2-guard that can shoot AND play defense. They have a small trade exception and Steve Novak’s expiring contract, which they will be taking calls on. But they’re on a roll, so don’t expect any big shake-up.
Toronto – Another team that’s rolling right now. Toronto needs to win a playoff series this year and should have an inside track to their first ever Conference Finals. So any move they do will be to bolster their chances this season. They have some draft assets they can move, and potentially James Johnson or Patrick Patterson. But they’re in no hurry if nothing materializes that makes them better right away.
Milwaukee – Their three core players are not going anywhere – Giannis, Jabari Parker, Khris Middleton. The right offer should make them listen on Greg Monroe. He doesn’t fit their future scheme, but they may be hesitant to admit failure on that signing so quickly.
L.A. Clippers – In search of depth and maybe, just maybe you can pry away Blake Griffin with an amazing offer. They are in the bidding for Frye, and are eager to dump Lance Stephenson.
Wild Cards – teams that play things close to the vest, or are crazy
Sacramento – They’re nuts. Wildly unpredictable. Chances are even if they find a move they like, Vlade Divac will forget to file the right paperwork to get it done. It seems like they won’t trade DeMarcus Cousins, but then again who knows? They are rumored to be interested in Pau Gasol, which makes zero sense considering their biggest problem is their sieve of a defense, and Gasol might actually make them worse. Maybe they’ve decided to punt on defense? Hey, it’s only half the game. Again, who knows.
Indiana – Larry Bird doesn’t gossip. They like their team and could maybe move George Hill or Ian Mahinmi, but we won’t know until it happens.
San Antonio – The Spurs could find someone to overpay for Jonathan Simmons, who has been a productive player they got for nothing. Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili are showing their age, so a move to increase their depth might happen. They will play it close to the vest, and at 45-8, aren’t compelled to do anything.
So that about wraps it up. We are just under four hours away from the deadline, and the biggest name moved has been Tobias Harris. If some juicy trades occur, we’ll be back with some analysis. In the meantime, keep refreshing Twitter!