Nine questions at the start of the NBA trade season

Nine questions at the start of the NBA trade season

Nine questions at the start of the NBA trade season

The dumb NBA season unofficially kicks off on Thursday when 74 players who signed contracts this summer become eligible for trade. That doesn’t mean anyone will be moved immediately — according to ESPN’s Bobby Marks, there hasn’t been a trade on Dec. 15 in a dozen years — but it does trigger a smoother market.

And while there aren’t many new needle promoters in the pool today – James Harden is among them, but he has the ability to veto any trade and, um, that’s not going anywhere – 21 other players will be available in a month. And That the group is littered with much juicier names, like Bradley Beal, Deandre Ayton and Zach LaVine.

With all of that in mind, here’s a primer that seeks to answer the most relevant questions as we set our sights on the February 9 trade deadline.

Who are the best players who can technically be traded on Thursday?

As mentioned, this list isn’t deep. Here are some noteworthy that I could be on a different team in a few months: Danilo Gallinari, Patty Mills, JaVale McGee, Donte DiVincenzo, John Wall, half of the Lakers, Kyle Anderson and Collin Sexton.

Will all this parity catalyze or stifle trade negotiations?

A lot can happen between now and February. Injuries, collapsing shooting, win-loss streaks, other injuries, etc. But right now, the standings are fuzzy: In the Eastern Conference, just six games separate the third-seeded Cavaliers from the 11th-seeded Bulls; out west, the 11th-seeded Timberwolves are just 5.5 games behind the top-seeded Pelicans.

Such an uneven landscape makes it difficult to separate rich and poor. And, to date, well over half of the league still have no idea what direction it will take in a month, let alone two. The Jazz represent this dilemma better than anyone else. They have a lot of choices, some young talent, and a group that’s outgrown just enough to complicate (in a good way) the plan their front office probably had a few months ago. Approaching the deadline, they have a trade exception big enough to send them into the luxury tax. Would they be willing to do that if they were still above 0.500?

Speaking of the tax, how does it affect things?

There are several teams just under the fee who, despite a sense of urgency, may be reluctant to improve what they have as quickly as possible. The Heat and Blazers are two good examples.

Miami was one shot away from making the Finals last year. Jimmy Butler is 33 years old. Kyle Lowry turns 37 (!) in March. And they have spent zero days with a winning record this season. Should the Heat be active or sit in their current group and believe their outside shots will eventually come through? (According to Second Spectrum, Miami ranks 28th in production of quantified footage.)

Prior to any potential transactions involving Victor Oladipo (which cannot be transacted until January 15th And can veto any deal), Max Strus, Duncan Robinson, or another position player, there’s a good chance Miami will make sure they don’t make them pay taxes.

It can be argued that Portland owes it to Damian Lillard, who is 32, to win now. But some may also consider the imminent return of Gary Payton II as the midseason upgrade he needs. With the Blazers an eyelid under the fee, it will be hard for ownership to see any trade that makes enough of a difference to be worthwhile.

Which teams could be sellers in the next couple of months?

It is difficult to know who will make an intentional step towards the lottery as some of the worst teams in the league are loaded with young talent that could enable them to turn things around quickly. But the Pistons, Rockets, Hornets, Magic, Spurs and Thunder are definitely not takers. Most have skilled, productive players who make more sense in the postseason than on a draft-focused team.

Here are some names to watch: Bojan Bogdanovic, Alec Burks, Eric Gordon, Josh Richardson, Jakob Poeltl, Doug McDermott, PJ Washington, Kelly Oubre Jr., Gary Harris, Terrence Ross and Mo Bamba could be in the move.

What will the Lakers do?

The Lakers are 11-16 with the 21st net score, two points under the Pacers, a team that should get Russell Westbrook off their backs. Saving this team using draft picks in 2027 and 2029 would be like hiring an interior designer two weeks after your house blows up.

Some of the more popular commercial scenarios involving the expensive Los Angeles backup point guard would bring back centers (like Myles Turner and Nikola Vucevic) playing the same position that Anthony Davis has finally embraced.

It would be a mess. Still, Davis is playing like an MVP candidate and LeBron James is 37 years old. There’s a now-or-never sentiment that’s worth exploring if you’re of the mindset that it’s a shame to waste a season when these two are still top 10 players.

The Lakers can try to thread that needle by holding one of those picks and guarding the other (or bundling a bunch of second-round picks together), then attaching that to a lower salary and calling some of those obvious salesmen mentioned above. They are rumored to have an interest in Bogdanovic, but the best deal may be Patrick Beverley, Lonnie Walker IV and some kind of draft pay for Eric Gordon, whose salary next year is not guaranteed. Gordon knows how to round out superstars (including Westbrook, during his last days as one in Houston), and he has playoff experience, a gun, and the defensive means to close out big games.

This move wouldn’t make the Lakers the favorites in the league, but Westbrook, Gordon, Austin Reaves, LeBron and Davis are a lineup that can do some real damage.

Which team is low profile the less predictable before the deadline?

The Raptors are a strange team in a strange position. They have a league-average offense, a top-10 defense, and very little reason to believe that either metric accurately evaluates how their 13-15 season went. Scottie Barnes didn’t make the All-Star jump expected by at least one idiot; Fred VanVleet shoots 37% from the field; they dominate the possession game (ranked first in turnover rate on both sides of the ball) but cannot shoot or distance the floor; and they dirty a ton.

The versatility is great. Positionless basketball is the future, if not the present. But the downside of having so many interchangeable parts is that it complicates role definition. And NBA players who don’t have clearly defined roles tend to get frustrated when their team is losing. The Raptors are feeling both sides of that coin right now.

There are many reasons to feel optimistic about a rebound. Injuries have gutted this team in recent months. Precious Achiuwa and Otto Porter Jr. can help when they are healthy. When Pascal Siakam (who is as good as ever and on his way to making another All-NBA team) is on the court, he outscores opponents by 6.7 points per 100 possessions (for reference, the best net mark in the league by Boston is +7.0). And OG Anunoby could win Defensive Player of the Year.

But there are also several reasons why Masai Ujiri explores a variety of trade options, whether to get better or worse if he doesn’t believe this current iteration is capable of winning a playoff series, let alone make it.

So what happens next? Do they relax, heal, believe the shots will eventually drop, and hope Barnes develops even faster than he does? Or is it worth taking a step back in the hope of possibly taking two steps forward? For a team that owns all of their first-round picks but none of other teams, would they include any in a deal that makes them slightly better/deeper?

There are multiple timelines here. Barnes is seven years younger than FVV and Siakam. Will one generation take precedence over the other? VanVleet can back out of his contract this summer and Anunoby can do the same next offseason. The need to make long-term commitments one way or another has put Toronto in a tough corner.

And if the Bulls (a team that is generally desperate and also in need of a healthy general) decide they can no longer wait for Lonzo Ball’s knee to recover, then offer Patrick Williams, Coby White and Derrick Jones Jr. for VanVleet? It’s fun to consider if Toronto’s up-and-down game continues and Chicago’s brain breaks. Related:

Will the Bulls please blow it up?

Hopefully! I covered this sad situation late last month, and since that story was published Chicago has gone 2-5, with a pair of wins against the Brad Beal-less Wizards and the Luka Doncic-less Mavericks. The Bulls are very bad. Please make some trades.

Can Bradley Beal finally, please, for God’s sake, request a trade?

The most frustrating dead-end relationship in the entire NBA is Beal and the Wizards. Who could have seen his whopping $251 million five-year deal become an instant albatross the moment it was signed six months ago?

Washington is 1-11 from the day before Thanksgiving. They aren’t good, but they aren’t even bad enough to safely warrant a potentially franchise-altering top-four draft pick. (Washington owes the Knicks a lottery-protected first-round pick in 2023; Beal has a no-trade clause in his contract.)

Beal has already missed 11 games this season and the most recent update on his hamstring was unsure when exactly he will return: “His future state will be determined by his clinical evolution,” law.

As someone who once averaged over 30 points per game in back-to-back seasons, Beal has surpassed the 30-point mark in only two games this season despite making an absurd 59.2% of his two-point shots. He’s still just 29, one of the 36 best players in the league and someone who could really help a certain struggling offense in South Beach.

Unfortunately, Tyler Herro is supposed to be involved in that transaction, and his deal is poisoned thanks to the extension he signed in October. Any trade involving that contract this season is exceptionally difficult to execute. As a playmaker who has spent his entire career operating off the ball, Beal would also be a perfect match alongside Luka Doncic. But building a deal that sends him to Dallas is next to impossible.

Is John Collins on the move? Where is it?

Nobody knows. Please stop asking.

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