February 3, 2023, 5:56 pm
With the trade deadline barreling towards us and chatter heating up, it’s an exciting time to be thinking about hoops. The potential of this part of the year is invigorating; no matter where your team is at, they’ll be in the mix. Rebuilding teams can stockpile more assets for future seasons, contending teams can get that last missing piece, and the teams in the middle will be able to pick their lane. Transactions can rejuvenate a franchise and change the balance of power in the league, and while those are definitely in the minority, it’s always fun to dream.
There’s always fewer true title contenders out there than you think, but teams and managers know that life with top players can be fleeting; it only takes one short playoff run for your best player to nuke the roster and send you back to the start. Keeping those guys happy and loading teams up to win is the name of the game for the top half of the league. Given the strength of the West right now, “half” isn’t a literal word. There are a lot of teams that fancy themselves as only one or two moves away from being a real threat.
The Celtics are said to be in the market for another big man, with Jakob Poeltl on their radar. It would be a luxury pickup as the Celtics don’t really have an obvious area of need; they just need to stay healthy and let the chips fall where they may. As far as guys the team would be willing to trade that might have some value, it’s pretty slim pickings. Payton Pritchard and Danilo Gallinari (who’s out for the season) are probably the ones that would net them the most and the one they’d be most willing to move, respectively.
The Nuggets are healthy and humming along. Their big need is depth up front, as while they’re going to lean heavily on Nikola Jokic in the preseason, having a quality backup would be nice for Michael Malone. DeAndre Jordan and Zeke Nnaji aren’t going to cut it. The Nuggets could also shore up their depth in the backcourt and on the wings if they wanted to, though it’s unlikely that the team goes big-game hunting.
Bones Hyland may or may not be on the block depending on who you listen to, though he would be the team’s most appealing player trade chip. Aside from him, opposing teams might want to ask about rookie Christian Braun. Rumors that Denver could be in on O.G. Anunoby are extremely compelling, as he would put them in the true top tier of contenders, but the cost may be prohibitive considering how the return is likely to consist of a key rotation guy.
It looked like the Nets had found their groove, with a healthy Kevin Durant the only thing truly missing. Naturally, Kyrie Irving had to toss a grenade onto all of that. There’s pretty much only one spot where he’s going to end up given his overall toxicity and the lack of teams that would even want him to begin with, let alone offer up a huge contract extension. That’ll significantly change what the Nets do, with a ton of balls in the air as massive salaries are on the move. We might see them explore ways to get out from the Joe Harris contract if the team feels set enough without him, though obviously it all depends on what happens with Irving.
Here’s where things get interesting. The Suns have not had good vibes since their trip to the Finals. Chris Paul isn’t getting younger. Deandre Ayton looks to have plateaued. The Suns have a ton of picks they can trade. Phoenix’s title window with this group may be near-closed and James Jones could feel compelled to take a big swing (O.G. Anunoby? Paired with Mikal Bridges, that would be quite a defensive group). Perhaps Ayton is enough to entice a center-needy team like Toronto, though such a move would signal a pretty big shift in the team’s core, and perhaps not one that the Suns want to pull in the middle of the season.
Jae Crowder is sure to move, though potential suitors should be seriously asking why Jae Crowder was able to call his shot in a situation like this. He’ll help some other contender as the Suns build Cam Johnson back up for the playoffs. The Suns will be wise to get anyone that can contribute in an exchange for Crowder.
Speaking of teams that are supposedly after Anunoby, here are the Grizzlies. Memphis’ core is set and if they add it’ll likely be someone at the top of the market. Whether they pursue someone to add to their wing depth or a player who can unclog the halfcourt offense remains to be seen — ideally they find a player who does both. The range of outcomes is wide here, and it means anyone who isn’t one of the big guns could be on the block. Dillon Brooks is a key part of the team’s swagger, but they wouldn’t hesitate to swap him for Anunoby. Ziaire Williams would be on the wish list for any team in talks with the Grizzlies. Could Brandon Clarke be an option for the right upgrade? What about Danny Green and his expiring deal? The Grizzlies won’t necessarily be operating with a huge sense of urgency given their youth, but it certainly would sting to see the West’s other top teams upgrade without making a move.
Khris Middleton hitting full speed for the playoffs is the best thing that can happen for Milwaukee. Everything else will come at the fringes. Grayson Allen has been in trade rumors that would see Jae Crowder join the Bucks if they come to pass, while Serge Ibaka will definitely be off the roster one way or another. Pat Connaughton and Joe Ingles give the Bucks some solid wing depth, so we’ll see if they feel comfortable picking away at some of the other guys like Allen, George Hill or Jordan Nwora.
The Kings are riding high off last season’s win-win trade with the Pacers and are in a position to snap their lengthy playoff drought. Improving the team’s defense should be top of mind, but there won’t be any core shakeups. There have been rumors that the Kings have some interest in the expendable Spurs forwards/wings, and maybe there’s a desire to upgrade the depth behind Domantas Sabonis. You’d have to think that Richaun Holmes is on the block, but there won’t be any major moves that shed from the current roster.
The Sixers made their big move last year so any further changes will likely come at the fringes. Daryl Morey is nothing if not creative, however, so you can’t write the Sixers off from any big changes entirely. Still, Matisse Thybulle is the most likely guy to move, with other down-roster options like Furkan Korkmaz and Montrezl Harrell also possibly on the board. The Sixers could really use an upgrade at backup center but won’t play at the top of that market.
Golden State Warriors
The Warriors have the same group that won a title so it feels like they’re just waiting to flip the collective switch, as there’s no true obvious need besides the team hitting its stride. James Wiseman should be on the block as it looks like he won’t be in the mix, but the Warriors could be targeting a variety of player types to shore up their depth.
The Clippers are in dire need of a point guard. Their offense bogs down into iso play and while they have two elite players, it’s not something that will reliably work against the league’s best defenses. Fred VanVleet and Kyle Lowry have been mentioned as targets, but the Clippers aren’t exactly swimming in guys with a lot of trade value around the league. If the Clippers bring in a player of consequence, it may require the salary of Luke Kennard or Robert Covington heading the other way, and a real guard would open up the possibility for John Wall or Reggie Jackson to head elsewhere too.
The Cavs’ main area of need is on the wing, with all due respect to Isaac Okoro. The Cavs have a strong frontcourt and two fabulous guards, so rounding out the roster with some 3-and-D guys would elevate this team to another level. Does that mean that Isaac Okoro himself could be on the move? Maybe another team with less urgency can continue to develop his offensive game. Caris LeVert looks like a surplus player as a scoring-focused sixth man behind the starters; if he’s asked to start in the playoffs it means the Cavs are cooked anyway, so perhaps finding a way to turn him into better shooters could be worth exploring.
The Mavs need to add around Luka Doncic by hook or by crook. The Mavs should be looking for upgrades all over the roster, as the surrounding group simply isn’t good enough. It may require some bold thinking but the Mavs have to keep Doncic happy, and it makes Dallas a real wild card team at the deadline. Dorian Finney-Smith is probably the best player that Dallas would be willing to trade right now, and guys like Tim Hardaway Jr. and Reggie Bullock are also probably on the block for the right player. Christian Wood is on an expiring deal and could end up on the move if the Mavs swing really big and try to cobble a new group together on the fly. Kyrie Irving? Fred VanVleet? Cam Reddish? The Mavs need help, one way or another.
The Heat have been insistent that Kyle Lowry is not available for trade, but as his minutes dwindle and the team’s offense continues to look out of sorts, it’s hard to imagine that Miami will proceed with the status quo. The Heat could try and package Duncan Robinson with picks to get out of that deal and find a real upgrade, but there isn’t a ton for opposing teams to work with on the roster. Look for Dewayne Dedmon to head out of town as he’s fallen off the map since his outburst a few weeks ago; even Udonis Haslem is playing ahead of him these days.
New Orleans Pelicans
The Pelicans are a dark horse team that can really shake up the deadline. They’ve got a max salary guy that could be moved for a true superstar plus plenty of young players, some mid- and low-tier salaries and a deep rotation with picks to spare. Injury troubles have sent them careening down the standings and the front office may want to swing big to ensure a playoff berth while also adding a long-term contributor. If the Pels want to get in on the O.G. Anunoby sweepstakes they may have the best offer of a reasonable package, with Dyson Daniels, Trey Murphy, Jose Alvarado and Naji Marshall all names that they could include. The Pelicans also have the luxury of not needing to pull the trigger; this is a very strong team when healthy, and the collective youth of the group means that they won’t need to add a major piece right this second.
One trade that should be expected is that of Jaxson Hayes, who has fallen out of favor in New Orleans. Keep an eye on Devonte’ Graham as well, as his run with the Pelicans has been a major flop.
For all of the hand-wringing about Minnesota’s ugly start to the season, they’re in playoff position and still haven’t hit their stride. It’s fair to question whether this group has a stride to hit, but the Wolves are not in an awful situation. The team’s biggest weakness is undoubtedly in the backcourt, where D’Angelo Russell is delivering on-again, off-again play that has left the Wolves pretty disorganized offensively. A starting point guard should be able to keep things moving even when Kyle Anderson is off the floor. He may not have much value around the league anymore but will probably be heading the other way if the Wolves can find a deal for someone on serious salary. Keep an eye on Naz Reid and Jaylen Nowell, who are both headed for free agency this summer. Reid probably won’t be signing on to play behind Rudy Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns while it’s already been reported that Nowell is looking forward to a fresh start. Those could be two very solid adds for other teams, with Reid in particular showing well whenever he gets some extra opportunity.
Portland Trail Blazers
The Blazers are said to have only three untouchables: Damian Lillard, Anfernee Simons and Jerami Grant. They’re nowhere near close to good enough despite some serious offseason overhauling that has made them a little bit more competitive, and there’s a little pressure to at least show Lillard that a serious attempt is being made.
Jusuf Nurkic could be out the door if the Blazers can upgrade at center. Josh Hart looks pretty attainable for opposing teams and is an interesting player, but the fit has to be right — his lack of shooting is killing Portland’s halfcourt offense, and that problem won’t go away overnight. Those are the big chips on the table but further tweaking around the edges of the roster could impact Nassir Little or Trendon Watford.
Los Angeles Lakers
You might not think that a team so low in the standings is a clear buyer, but when you have LeBron James you’re trying to win a championship. The Lakers’ problem is that they don’t have any players that teams actually want in a trade. The Kyrie Irving situation might’ve thrown them a lifeline in that regard. The team has done a good job of pumping up the value for Russell Westbrook by moving him to a bench role, but other teams around the league still recognize that he’ll have to come with sweeteners in order to take that contract off LA’s hands. A Westbrook-Irving swap makes too much sense at this point, especially considering the limited teams that would actually put up with Kyrie.