Trade season is upon us in the NBA.
The NBA’s trade deadline is less than three weeks away (Feb. 9) and while there hasn’t been much action on the trade market yet, we are destined to see it heat up soon.
This week, our panel of NBA reporters — Ric Bucher, Melissa Rohlin and Yaron Weitzman — takes a look at what to expect ahead of the trade deadline, including which teams are in a spot where they have to make a move.
1. We’re in January and playoff spots in the NBA are far from secure. How do you expect that to shape this year’s trade market?
Weitzman: More teams in “it” means fewer sellers which means a deflated market, or at least that’s what they taught me in Economics 101. That doesn’t mean there won’t be any deals; it does, however, mean the prices for those few players on the market are going to be inflated. So, for example, if a team wants to pry Bojan Bogdanović — a 6-foot-7 sharpshooter who can create off the bounce — away from the flailing Detroit Pistons, you can be sure they’re going to have to outbid competitors.
Bucher: Two ways to look at it: No playoff spots are secure, but few teams are out of contention as well. Which has made more teams reluctant to see themselves as sellers just yet, other than the Detroits and Houstons. And, yes, the quality of players available is not particularly high or plentiful right now, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a quasi-star or two appears on the market closer to the deadline. And then it’s going to be a matter of whether one of the title contenders is willing, or feels the need, to meet the asking price.
Rohlin: It means there’s a lot of parity, so there’s less likely to be blockbuster deals. Teams are going to want to take fewer risks, believing that they’re just a tweak or two away from competing. That being said, we’ve seen trades involving stars that have greatly benefited both teams, such as the deal last year that sent Tyrese Haliburton to Indiana and Domantas Sabonis to Sacramento. But, you’d think if there were any franchise-altering deals in the works, we would’ve caught some rumblings of them by now. Then again, that’s why this time of year is interesting. You never know what could happen.
2. This is the first year in a while that a star hasn’t requested a trade ahead of the deadline. Do you expect that to change before Feb. 9? Why or why not?
Weitzman: That’s not something that’s going to change over the next few weeks, unless you want to extend your definition of “star” into, like, Zach LaVine territory. Too many teams are either comfortable where they are or afraid to hit any sort of reset button. What that does mean, though, is that this offseason, we might see lots of frustrated teams and/or players (maybe the Mavericks, Timberwolves or Hawks) looking to make moves.
Bucher: Star? No, for the same reason I gave in the first answered question: No stars are on teams that see themselves as completely out of it. Even the Lakers think they could climb back in the playoff picture when AD returns. The only candidate I see — if we’re not counting John Collins, whose desire to get out of Atlanta has been rumored for months — is Kyle Kuzma. Rumblings are that all is not well in the Wizards’ locker room and Kuz is at the heart of it somehow.
Rohlin: I doubt a star is going to request a trade at this point. Heading into this season, my eye would’ve been on the very obviously disgruntled Russell Westbrook and his $47 million salary at this time of year. But he has settled into his role as a reserve and there are even whispers that he should be in contention for Sixth Man of the Year. The Lakers are very actively looking for ways to improve their roster, but it’s looking more likely that they’re going to pursue a 3-and-D player than a blockbuster deal, considering Westbrook’s play has improved, he seems much happier in his current role, and the Lakers are clearly very reluctant to part with their first-round draft picks unless there’s a deal that would make them instant contenders.
3. Which team is facing the most pressure to make a win-now trade? Why?
Weitzman: The Phoenix Suns. If the season ended today, they’d be out of the play-in. They’ve been mediocre on both ends of the floor and have played like a lottery team without Devin Booker, who’s out with an injury. They also have Jae Crowder just sitting there, waiting/asking/needing to be dealt. It already seems like this group’s championship window has closed. James Jones, their top basketball executive, needs to do something to salvage the season, especially with a new ownership group coming in.
Bucher: The Golden State Warriors. I know GSW fans believe the team can win as is because the playoffs are the franchise’s happy place lately, but I don’t see them surviving the slog without adding some dependable veteran depth to the bench. The only question is how many of their young assets do they spend on the upgrade, and will it be enough? Steph and Draymond are defying their mileage if not their age, and Klay has made a miraculous recovery from two major injuries. But are those three, plus the ever-steady Kevon Looney and the currently inconsistent Jordan Poole, capable of carrying a team with less depth than last year’s to another title? It’s a lot to ask, and the results so far say no.
Rohlin: The most pressure? Definitely the Lakers. I would not want to be Rob Pelinka right now. They missed the playoffs last season and are currently in 13th place in the Western Conference despite having three future Hall of Famers on their roster in LeBron James, Davis and Westbrook. Not only is L.A. a win-now city, but James’ historic MVP-caliber season at age 38 is being squandered. Regardless of his platitudes, it’s obvious that the most powerful player in the league is losing patience.
4. Which team has the most to gain from blowing it up before the trade deadline? Why?
Weitzman: The Lakers? I kid, I kid. The answer is the Toronto Raptors, who are in this weird space where they sort of stink (21-25) while also having a bunch of players who other teams would want. I’m not saying trade Fred VanVleet, and Gary Trent Jr, and OG Anunoby, and Pascal Siakam, but I also think they should be fielding calls on these players. This season’s a lost cause. Make some trades, tank the second half of the season and then rebuild around Scottie Barnes, a lottery pick, and whatever else is left.
Bucher: What are we blowing up? And are we talking to smithereens or just the porch and the master bedroom? I like Yaron’s choice of the Raptors, but I’d look to remodel, not blow it up, because it’s still a chore to convince talent to come north of the border. Both the Utah Jazz and Minnesota Timberwolves should be hitting the reset button. The Jazz have been an unexpected surprise, but now it’s time to get back into the Wembanyana-Scoot sweepstakes. They have a few solid frontline foundational pieces in Lauri Markkanen and Walker Kessler, but everything else should be in the display case — if they indeed aspire to be more than the previous iteration built on Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert. Jordan Clarkson, Malik Beasley, Mike Conley — all priced to go.
Rohlin: Believe it or not, I’m beginning to think the Clippers. Sure, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George have been in and out of the lineup all season, but things just aren’t looking good over there. Their effort has been lackluster. Their focus has been waning. For a team that was supposed to finally make some real noise this season, they have been one of the league’s biggest disappointments. Perhaps they need a big shake-up.
5. If you managed a team, which player would you be calling about over the next few weeks and why?
Weitzman: OG Anunoby. He’s young (25), long and versatile (6-foot-7 with a 7-foot-2 wingspan), can shoot (career 36.9% 3-point shooter) and even create a bit off the bounce. He’s exactly the sort of player you want to slot in alongside stars. I don’t think the Raptors want to trade him. But if I was, say, the Memphis Grizzlies — a championship contender with a secure future and a need on the wing — I’d call and see if I could pry him away.
Bucher: It all depends on what I already have on my team, but I would be calling about both Cam Reddish and — I can’t believe I’m saying this — James Wiseman. The biggest reason: The asking price on both is as deflated as it’s ever going to be. If the Knicks are asking for two second-round picks, I can probably talk them into one and swap rights for a second. Reddish wouldn’t be the first NBA-caliber talent who needed the right coach and system to flourish (Chauncey Billups is the first that comes to mind.) If the Knicks are willing to trade what I’ve had one GM describe as their best pound-for-pound talent, I’m going to scoop him up. As for Wiseman, if you had offered him to me a year ago, it would’ve been a hard pass. But he is athletic enough to be a big in today’s game, has the unique ability to catch a pass and finish from inside 7-feet in motion, and is a big man who appears to love the game (as opposed to a big man who loves what the game can provide.) He grew so much in the short time he got consistent playing time this year, particularly in the G League, that I’m thinking he simply needs the chance to play outside the white, hot spotlight on the Warriors.
Rohlin: I’d be calling about Kuzma. He has made it clear that he plans to decline his player option for the 2023-23 season to become an unrestricted free agent. So, the Wizards should be trying to make darn sure they get something in exchange for him, instead of potentially risking him walking and them getting nothing in return. I talked to Kuzma last month, and he has learned a lot from both winning a championship with the Lakers and expanding his wings with the Wizards. He’d be a great addition to any team and is averaging career-highs in points (21.7), field goal percentage (45.7%) and assists (four), as well as playing strong defense. He’s worth a call. And the Wizards, I’m sure, are down to listen.
Yaron Weitzman is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. He is the author of “Tanking to the Top: The Philadelphia 76ers and the Most Audacious Process in the History of Professional Sports.” Follow him on Twitter @YaronWeitzman.
Ric Bucher is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. He previously wrote for Bleacher Report, ESPN The Magazine and The Washington Post and has written two books, “Rebound,” on NBA forward Brian Grant’s battle with young onset Parkinson’s, and “Yao: A Life In Two Worlds.” He also has a daily podcast, “On The Ball with Ric Bucher.” Follow him on Twitter @RicBucher.
Melissa Rohlin is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. She previously covered the league for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Times, the Bay Area News Group and the San Antonio Express-News. Follow her on Twitter @melissarohlin.
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