Because of roster flaws, every team currently projected to make the playoffs (except the Golden State Warriors) could be listed in the buy category heading into the Feb. 7 NBA trade deadline. However, because the market is saturated with more buyers than sellers, finding a deal will be challenging.
Also consider that every playoff team is looking for a 6-foot-7 wing who can defend, not disrupt chemistry and make an occasional 3. Sounds easy, but those players are rarely available in trades.
“Last year, there were at least 12 teams who were proposed sellers, not including Cleveland, who felt pressure to make a trade to appease LeBron [James],” one general manager told ESPN. “This year, that number is half. Factor in also that the deadline is pushed up two weeks from the last Thursday in February, so more teams think that making the playoffs is obtainable.”
Let’s look at six sellers and four buyers, including how the news that Anthony Davis won’t re-sign changes things for the Pelicans.
The obstacles of selling
New Orleans Pelicans
Originally on the buy list, New Orleans moves to the sell list after Anthony Davis’ agent, Rich Paul, informed the team that the All-Star will not sign a supermax extension in the offseason and has asked to be traded. The question now is if Pelicans GM Dell Demps has the patience to wait until the offseason for the best possible offer.
Although the Los Angeles Lakers should put together an enticing trade package of everyone not named LeBron James, Boston has the right mix of draft picks and young players, plus controllable/expiring contracts to get a deal done. Because of the rookie designated extension rule, the Celtics cannot acquire Davis at the deadline as long as Kyrie Irving is on the team. Once Irving becomes a free agent on July 1 when he (as expected) doesn’t pick up his player option, Boston will become an attractive trade partner for the Pelicans.
Also, keep an eye on what the future holds for Jrue Holiday. With Davis likely to be dealt in the next six months, Holiday all of sudden becomes an attractive trade asset.
We had the Hawks in the sell category last year, only to see the team receive financial savings as Ersan Ilyasova and Marco Belinelli were bought out of their contracts after the deadline. Will the same happen this February with Jeremy Lin and Dewayne Dedmon? If the Hawks learned their lesson, it shouldn’t … but still could.
After missing most of two seasons with an injury, Lin has reverted back to a solid presence off the bench. The challenge for the Hawks is finding a team that is need of a backup guard and can send back $7.8 million in (likely expiring) salary. The Kings might fit. The Magic have been in search of point guard depth and have the expiring contracts of Jarell Martin and Jonathon Simmons (partially guaranteed in 2019-20).
A Lin for Courtney Lee swap also works, but it would require the Hawks taking back $12.8 million in salary for next season for a player that they don’t need. The only reason for Atlanta to consider is if there is a future draft pick attached. Remember that the Hawks are already projected have five selections in the June draft.
Unlike Lin’s $13.8 million cap hit, Dedmon’s $7.2 million deal is more manageable. The Hawks would have to take back only $4.1 million in salary. (Kyle O’Quinn and a second-round pick from Indiana works.)
It’s likely that Robin Lopez and Jabari Parker will be bought out of their contracts after the deadline if not traded. However, even that is not guaranteed, following the thumb injury to Wendell Carter Jr.
Taking back $15 million in salary that does not extend past the 2018-19 season in a Parker deal is complicated, leaving few clear solutions. Certainly, Chicago can swap Parker for a player such as Enes Kanter, fill the hole at the center position and buy out Lopez. But what would that accomplish except for appeasing the agents for all three players? (Ironically, Kanter and Parker both are represented Mark Bartelstein.)
The Kings can acquire Parker for the expiring contract of Zach Randolph, but even that makes little sense for the team to lose cap space on a player who would likely be waived prior to July 1. Plus, Sacramento has an overload at power forward with Nemanja Bjelica and rookie Marvin Bagley III.
Since the start of the season, there has been six trades, and Cleveland has been involved in two. When most of the league was evaluating rosters, the Cavaliers took advantage and went into sell mode. Now, with two weeks to the deadline, does GM Koby Altman have another deal to make?
The aggregate restriction for Alec Burks is set to be lifted Tuesday, meaning that the guard and Rodney Hood could be packaged together to a team starved of backcourt depth (such as Houston). Does a pick in the 20s offset the cost of taking back the $30 million owed to Brandon Knight over the next two seasons? Not unless that pick starts in 2021, when there is uncertainty about how the roster in Houston is constructed.
Also, don’t forget about JR Smith. Cast aside since November, Smith has not seen a market materialize. The best solution for Cleveland is to circle back in the offseason, when Smith’s value would be greater based on his partially guaranteed $15.7 million salary.
Things have developed rather quickly in Memphis. A buyer back in early January, Memphis has now made it clear that no player except for Jaren Jackson Jr. is off limits at the deadline.
The reason? A 7-25 record since starting the season 12-5 for a team at a crossroads with an older roster (25th in average age) that features cornerstone players Mike Conley and Marc Gasol. Because of their high salary — Conley at $30.5 million, Gasol at $24.1 million — any trade discussions involving the two would likely require multiple players (and possibly additional teams), similar to how the Blake Griffin trade was structured last year. In that deal, Detroit had to send three players to the Clippers to fit within the $29.5 million salary of Griffin.
Both Conley and Gasol present unique challenges.
Conley has the most value on the court now (he ranks ninth among PGs in ESPN’s real plus-minus) but is owed $34.5 million in 2020-21, when he will be 33. That amount takes up nearly 25 percent of a team’s cap space for one player who will likely be on the downside of his career.
Gasol, 33, is under contract for two seasons but has a $25.6 million player option for next season. Despite the high number, the center has earned $155 million in his career and could prioritize winning over finances. Interested teams would need to have a conversation with his agent, Steve Heumann, before giving up significant assets for a possible four-month rental.
Expect veterans Garrett Temple, JaMychal Green and newly acquired Justin Holiday to garner interest from playoff teams. Because Holiday was recently picked up, he cannot be packaged with another player.
New York Knicks
Can the Knicks find a team willing to part with a $13.6 million expiring contract in an Enes Kanter deal? That’s the issue in trying to move the center, who is owed $18.6 million this season.
There are currently just 11 players on expiring contracts that would work in a trade for the center. Those names include Klay Thompson, Tobias Harris and Eric Bledsoe. This shows you how hard it will be to move Kanter’s contract.
Sacramento is the most logical choice because of its expiring contracts and remaining cap space. However, the Kings acquiring Kanter could cost them $6 million to $7 million in offseason room.
In a season that’s focused on player development, New York can take solace in refurbishing the on-court value of former first-round picks Emmanuel Mudiay, Trey Burke and Noah Vonleh. While the aim is finding a new home for Kanter, New York would be smart to hold onto Vonleh and Mudiay past the deadline. Despite both players being on expiring contracts and possible cap casualties if the Knicks sign a max player, these young pieces are a nice insurance policy if New York strikes out.
Tim Hardaway Jr. and Courtney Lee are likely to remain on the roster through the deadline. It is no secret that New York would like to move either player and create the necessary cap space to go after a max. But New York is faced with the reality that teams are reluctant to take back contracts that extend past this season if there is not a first-round pick attached. (Hardaway also has a $3.8 million trade bonus)
The Knicks can preserve their draft assets and simply waive and stretch Lee this summer if they need the room to sign a player such as Kevin Durant.
Four potential buyers
General manager Mitch Kupchak should not be content that a 23-25 record and possible playoff berth will be enough to convince Kemba Walker to re-sign in the offseason. The All-Star guard has made it clear that he expects improvements to the roster either at the trade deadline or before the start of free agency. The current roster is stuck in neutral and will return 11 out of 14 players next season.
Would Marc Gasol be considered an upgrade? Certainly, but outside of Malik Monk, Miles Bridges and the Hornets’ own first-round pick, the rest of the Charlotte roster is filled with undesirable contracts. Yes, Memphis can attach Chandler Parsons (owed $24.1 million this season and $25.1 million next), but both teams are hovering right around the luxury tax and have made it a priority to stay under. Also, Gasol has a 15 percent trade bonus that would add $1.3 million to his current salary.
In any proposed deal that includes Gasol and Parsons, Memphis would have to take back a combination of Bismack Biyombo, Nicolas Batum, Cody Zeller, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist or Marvin Williams to make the salary work. Does that sound appealing to Memphis? I don’t think so.
While it’s likely that Gasol opts into his $25.6 million player option, what if he doesn’t? Next season, Charlotte would be on the hook for Parsons, out long-term pieces and still at risk of losing Walker.
The Pacers can do nothing at the trade deadline, win close to 50 games and secure a top-five seed in the East. However, with Victor Oladipo now lost for the season, Indiana will be challenged just to get out of the first round. But to become a buyer at the deadline, Indiana also will need to sell.
Taking Oladipo, Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner off the table leaves GM Kevin Pritchard with a pool of expiring contracts that includes starters Darren Collison, Bojan Bogdanovic, Thaddeus Young and key reserves Cory Joseph and Tyreke Evans.
As ESPN’s Kevin Pelton wrote, the Pacers had the right mix of expiring deals and draft picks to go after Mike Conley before Oladipo was injured. Although the production of Oladipo cannot be replaced, don’t expect Pritchard to waive the white flag at the deadline. The Pacers do have the $4.4 million expiring contract of Kyle O’Quinn to use for a player such as Memphis’ Justin Holiday or Garrett Temple (Indiana would need to add a minimum contract), Miami’s Wayne Ellington and Sacramento’s Ben McLemore. Because of a prior trade with Brooklyn, Indiana can send out only a second-round pick that would fall between Nos. 45-60 for the next four seasons.
The Pacers have their own first-round pick to use in a trade, but recent history has shown a reluctance to trade out of the first round at the deadline.
Oklahoma City Thunder
In most seasons, an open roster spot and a $10.8 million trade exception would be a driving force for the Thunder to be in position to add some shooting off the bench. But with a league-high $73.4 million tax bill (not including $145.6 million in salary), using the exception will come at a significant cost.
How expensive? Adding a player would cost Oklahoma City between $4.75 to $5.25 for every $1 spent. Targeting a player such as Garrett Temple would cost the team an additional $40 million toward the tax — all for a likely four-month rental.
OKC also can’t treat the eventual return of Andre Roberson as its big trade-deadline acquisition. After rupturing in his left patellar tendon last January, Roberson has had numerous setbacks and is still not cleared to play. Even if he does return this season, it will likely take time for the defensive stopper to regain the form he showed prior to his injury.
For years, the Kings have been a dumping ground for contracts. But this season is different.
Sacramento has a 25-25 record, $11 million in cap space and expiring contracts in Zach Randolph and Kosta Koufos. The Kings could use some of their cap space and Randolph to target a player such as Enes Kanter, or they could do nothing and use the $11 million in room closer to the draft. The ability to use cap space will expire June 30.
There also is no incentive to improve their lottery position, since the Kings owe their first-rounder to either Boston or Philly.