Trade Deadline 2023: Wild Cards

  • 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.

    While the market is typically broken into buyers and sellers, this year there are some teams with plenty of compelling choices ahead of them. That group can swing the deadline by offering up some of the most talented players that could be on the move; some are legitimately worth a real asset haul as players that could put a contending team over the top. This collection of teams isn’t quite holding the league hostage, but they are controlling the top end of the trade market. Any team with legitimate title hopes and assets to spend will stop here first. What’s more, these teams largely don’t need to make moves, so deals may require some truly impressive offers. The overall excitement of this deadline may rest in the hands of the following organizations.

    Toronto Raptors

    The Raptors are infuriating. Last season you could see the end goal of Vision 6’9″, but for whatever reason the team is less than the sum of its parts this year, even with Pascal Siakam hitting new heights and O.G. Anunoby looking like he’s taken another leap. A lack of shooting and rim protection has hamstrung the Raptors, who have alternated long stretches of poor offense and defense all season, inching further away from the swarming attack they’re supposed to sport. Toronto sits at the controls of the entire trade market with no true untouchables outside Scottie Barnes, and although the front office likely still believes in their own long-term plan, the notion that this team just isn’t the group to get there coupled with the possibility that the Raptors may have multiple of the five best players who could move at the deadline means they’d be foolish not to entertain offers at high asking prices.

    The price on Pascal Siakam is said to be astronomical, and for good reason. He was snubbed from the All-Star game because of the team’s record but is a legitimate All-NBA contender. Just about any team that acquires him would be an instant title favorite, but they’d need to surrender major salary and futures in the process. Siakam also looks like the closest thing to untouchable outside of Barnes, so any deal likely comes at a price that makes you say, “they couldn’t have turned that down.”

    Slightly more attainable, though still incredibly impactful, is O.G. Anunoby. Connected to the Grizzlies, Pelicans, Suns, Nets and presumably many, many more teams behind the scenes, Anunoby could command a haul. One of the game’s best one-on-one defenders who’s on a below-market deal for multiple more seasons, Anunoby is a prototypical 3-and-D wing that any team could slot in seamlessly. He’s shown flashes of more offensive upside than he’s been able to show consistently with the Raptors, and rumors of unhappiness about his role are also driving some of the conversation here. If a bidding war breaks out over a player this year it’ll be for Anunoby, as teams not only want to acquire him for all of his positive attributes, but want to keep him out of the hands of competitors. He may still be a role player, technically, but is the kind that’s impactful enough to bring a team to another level. Multiple first-round picks plus a player is the starting point.

    Perhaps the most likely player to be dealt out of Toronto is Fred VanVleet, who is set to hit free agency this summer. He’s struggled to adjust to more of a complementary role as the Raptors try to give Barnes more playmaking work, and his shooting has abandoned him for long stretches of the year in addition to declining lateral quickness impacting his defense. The Raptors may no longer view FVV as a foundational player and could be unwilling to meet other teams’ offers in free agency, so he’s very much on the block. There are plenty of teams, from contenders to contender-hopefuls, who need PG help, and his experience as a key guy on a championship team certainly increases the asking price.

    Gary Trent Jr. may be the second-most likely player to go, as he, like VanVleet, seems set to hit free agency. The Raptors traded Norman Powell to acquire Trent under similar circumstances, knowing that they probably won’t be the highest bidder despite mutual interest in a new deal. A hyperactive wing defender with 3-point chops and a surprising mid-range game, Trent could shine playing a lesser role on a deeper team. He’d round out any wing group nicely and should be able to return either some reasonable picks or a younger prospect. A repeat of the Powell deal, or similar, is on the board.

    Aside from those top players, the Raptors could move off Chris Boucher, who brings a unique frontcourt presence to any roster as a springy rim protector who is eager to step into space and hit 3-pointers. A team looking for guard depth with some upside could roll the dice on Malachi Flynn. Thad Young would add depth to any frontcourt, with all kinds of experience to offer. Khem Birch is center insurance, and he and Juancho Hernangomez offer salary-matching potential. There are a lot of variables here and Toronto could emerge from a tough season with a dozen reasons for optimism if they choose to maximize their position atop the market.

    Utah Jazz

    It’s a credit to the Jazz that they’re here and not in our Sellers article, as the ragtag bunch keeps winning just enough to stay in the playoff hunt. Utah’s offseason activity suggested an incoming tank job but that was never in their plans; the Jazz have opted to let the new guys play and try to win while adding pieces to support the new core over time, knowing that they wouldn’t be bad enough to have strong odds at the No. 1 pick. Don’t expect that philosophy to change now.

    Veteran Mike Conley is on an expiring deal and despite his importance as the steadying force for a young team, it would be surprising if he wasn’t moved to a team that gives him a better shot at a title. The Clippers, Heat and Wolves all need guard help, and the odds of him returning to Utah in free agency are slim.

    The guy generating the most buzz is Jarred Vanderbilt, who would slot in beautifully on many rosters as a quality defender, secondary rim protector and athletic forward who fights hard on the glass and feasts on cuts. A player like Vanderbilt fits in a lot of spots and though the Jazz don’t need to trade him, he could be moved if it gets Utah either multiple futures or consolidates the rotation while bringing in a star-level player.

    Malik Beasley is another player who is in the rumor mill quite frequently thanks to desirable skills and a mid-tier salary. Any team looking for an infusion of scoring need look no further, and Beasley is a credible floor-spacer who can boost any team’s offensive ceiling. Like Vanderbilt, he could command some futures on his own but could just as easily be packaged into a deal for a star-type addition.

    Beyond that, the Jazz could choose from a variety of paths. Do they trade Kelly Olynyk? Brought in to be a starter, Olynyk is unlikely to be a long-term player in Utah and could be sent off now that Walker Kessler has found his footing. A crafty playmaker who can provide some excellent versatility up front, cost shouldn’t be prohibitive if another team wants KO. Jordan Clarkson‘s contract talks haven’t really moved anywhere and despite mutual interest in a new deal, the Jazz could get some nice return on a legitimate scorer who has experience as a starter and sixth man. Could the Jazz get wild, plug themselves in as a third party in a deal featuring big salary changing hands, and move Collin Sexton? Veteran Rudy Gay should be on the block, and the Jazz could also flip younger guys like Nickeil Alexander-Walker or Talen Horton-Tucker after rehabbing their value a bit this year.

    Chicago Bulls

    Whereas the Jazz are ahead of schedule and facing little pressure to make moves beyond the obvious, the Bulls are going nowhere fast without Lonzo Ball, whose left knee has totally betrayed him. This is an expensive, aging team that hasn’t met expectations, and it’s forcing a full reevaluation of where Chicago is headed.

    DeMar DeRozan is atop the trade board here, and though he’s still good enough to be considered a core player, would the Bulls want to hitch their wagon to DeRozan even if they can clear off other salary? We’ve seen what the ceiling is with him as the top dog, and he could just as easily opt out and leave in free agency.

    Right behind DeRozan is Zach LaVine, though his new gargantuan contract coupled with knee concerns means his value might not sniff DeRozan’s. If the absence of Ball (and a few other factors, to be sure) has the Bulls looking this out of sorts, the team should be trying to get off LaVine’s deal as soon as possible — though everyone else in the league can see what’s happening, too. Slotting him in as more of a dynamic secondary player on a deeper, better team could be the best for his long-term health, but it’s unclear if a contending team would want to absorb the risk.

    The player most likely to drum up interest around the league is Alex Caruso. He’s in his prime on an affordable salary and offers elite backcourt defense. If anyone generates a bidding frenzy off this roster it’s Caruso, who should be able to fetch at least a first-round pick if the Bulls want to strike while the iron is hot.

    Further down the roster, players like Coby White and Andre Drummond figure to be available, though perhaps a shift towards a rebuild makes White a little more difficult to acquire. Chicago’s moves will come from the top half of the roster if they want to shake this up.

    New York Knicks

    The Knicks are closer to buyers than most other teams here, but between their limited tradeable assets, a packed cap sheet and the rumors that they’ve had Julius Randle on the block for over a year and you can’t help but wonder. Trading Randle last season was a chore because of his play, but this year he’s an All-Star — if the Knicks are suddenly comfortable keeping Randle and his contract on the books, it means they’re too easily swayed by recent performance, but that’s another story for another day.

    Obi Toppin has never won the favor of Tom Thibodeau despite reasonable growth and solid per-minute production, and if the Knicks are to upgrade without emptying their draft pick cache then he figures to be one of the top guys other teams are asking about. Kicking the tires makes a ton of sense for a team that has less urgency to win immediately.

    One thing you should expect is a trade involving Cam Reddish, who went from inconsistent in Atlanta to being totally out of the picture in New York. His value shouldn’t be all that high but the Knicks will get something for him.

    If the Knicks can package their draft picks to get someone decent (O.G. Anunoby rumors are heavy here), someone like Evan Fournier might have to be going the other direction.

    Washington Wizards

    The Wizards are in the same spot as the Knicks — just not in the standings. They’ve got Bradley Beal on a huge contract but don’t look all that competitive, and it’s going to require more surgery to get this roster in a place that will keep Beal happy. Whether or not they should keep forging ahead with Beal is a reasonable question to ask, but the Wizards are going to keep trudging down that path for now.

    The big name to watch is Kyle Kuzma. He’s set for a big raise after making some big improvements in his game with the Wizards, and if the team would rather have flexibility going forward they could certainly strike up a frenzy for Kuzma. It doesn’t seem like he’s actually available, but the Wizards aren’t in a position to not pick up the phone.

    With so many teams needing guards out there, keep an eye on Monte Morris. He doesn’t move the needle on his own, but he’s exactly the type of player that would suit the Clippers or Wolves.

    Atlanta Hawks

    The Hawks are most certainly buyers in that they want this version of the team to be competitive, but evidence is mounting that the mix isn’t right. If they make a trade it’ll likely be a talent downgrade in an effort to reshape the roster, and once again John Collins is front and center in trade talks. We’ve already seen the media back-and-forth play out this season, with the first reports breaking that the new front office doesn’t value Collins as much as the old group, only to have it leaked that they probably won’t trade him for what’s currently being offered. So it goes with Collins.

    Bogdan Bogdanovic is another player that could be on the outs. With the Hawks now boasting two high-caliber ball-handlers, Bogdanovic feels a bit superfluous, and his skills could help other teams more than the Hawks.

    Justin Holiday is almost sure to be traded. Some contender looking for 3-and-D depth can get him on the cheap.

    The Hawks probably won’t take the nuclear option, but if some high-priced guys are out there and the team wants to get out of the Trae Young business…

    Oklahoma City Thunder

    Last but not least, a team that doesn’t have to do much of anything: the Thunder.

    They’re too good to be in the Wembanyama sweepstakes but not quite good enough to be a real playoff contender, though their trajectory is enviable with a massive stockpile of picks and a young roster. Sam Presti could be opportunistic and decide to cash in on some of those picks for present players that can help down the line, but he’s not going to mess with the core guys.

    The Thunder have shown in the past, with guys like Isiah Roby and Ty Jerome, that they’re not afraid to move off of young players who have been positive contributors, with a roster that’s deep enough to absorb those perceived losses. Darius Bazley is one player who seems likely to be traded off given how he’s been iced out of the rotation, but the Thunder could continue their pick-adding ways and cash in on guys like Lu Dort or Kenrich Williams, who should both be held in reasonable esteem around the league.

    OKC doesn’t need to deviate from the plan, but they can certainly pick a lane that benefits the future no matter what they choose to do.

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