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NBA Players Whose Trade Value Will Never Be Higher

Bryan ToporekFeatured ColumnistJanuary 18, 2014

NBA Players Whose Trade Value Will Never Be Higher

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    The trade value of Blake Griffin and Kevin Love has reached an all-time high in 2013-14.
    The trade value of Blake Griffin and Kevin Love has reached an all-time high in 2013-14.Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

    With the NBA's Feb. 20 trade deadline rapidly approaching, the league could be in for some major surprises over the next month. 

    The Toronto Raptors and Chicago Bulls already shipped out high-profile players (Rudy Gay and Luol Deng, respectively) with the future in mind. As teams jostle for playoff positioning during the next few weeks, some will be forced to confront an unwelcome reality—that they're going nowhere fast. 

    Upon reaching that conclusion, those squads' front offices will face a major decision: Should they blow up their current rosters for long-term flexibility or stay the course and hope things turn around? 

    Some surefire playoff teams might even jump into the trade foray, looking to strike while the iron is hottest on certain players. If a player appears to have maximized his trade value and is unlikely to re-sign with his current squad (think Deron Williams in 2010-11), his team would be wise to explore all possible angles before ruling out any potential trades. 

    Here, let's look at seven players whose scalding-hot play this season has their trade value at an all-time high. This list excludes players on their rookie deals and those with only one year remaining on their current contracts, as their respective contractual situations distort their trade value. 

     

    Note: All salary information comes from Spotrac.com. "Current contract" information starts with the 2013-14 season. "ETO" stands for early-termination option; "UFA" stands for unrestricted free agent.

    All advanced statistics, unless otherwise noted, come from Basketball-Reference. All statistics and records are current through games played on Jan. 17.

Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Current contract: Five years, $94.5 million (ETO in 2017-18) 

    2013-14 per-game stats: 22.5 PTS, 10.2 REB, 3.3 AST, 1.2 STL, 0.7 BLK, 22.4 PER

     

    Based on his scorching play over the past month-and-a-half, few players have done more to boost their trade value than Los Angeles Clippers power forward Blake Griffin.

    However, per B/R's Ric Bucher, the Clippers won't seek to trade Griffin, even if it makes sense for the franchise to do so. Why? Team owner Donald Sterling is reportedly terrified of shipping out a potential superstar.

    "Sterling is not going to do anything with Blake because he's terrified they're going to say, 'See, you screwed it up again,'" an anonymous general manager told Bucher. "Donald understands dunks and star power, not spacing the floor."

    As Bucher explained, Griffin's most unique strengths for a big man—ball-handling and passing—become somewhat irrelevant given the presence of Chris Paul. While Griffin has significantly expanded his shooting range since coming into the league, he's still not a stretch 4 in the mold of Kevin Love or LaMarcus Aldridge.

    If the Clippers did decide to explore trades for Griffin, they should expect nothing short of a superstar in return. From Dec. 1 through Jan. 15, he averaged 22.9 points, 9.8 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 1.1 steals and 0.6 blocks per game while shooting 51.1 percent overall and 76.1 percent from the charity stripe. 

    With Griffin locked up through the 2017-18 season, a team desperate for a legitimate offensive post presence may soon come calling the Clippers. Per ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard, both Clippers and New York Knicks officials have mulled a potential swap of Griffin and Carmelo Anthony, who can become an unrestricted free agent this summer.

David Lee, Golden State Warriors

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    Current contract: Three years, $44.4 million (UFA after 2015-16) 

    2013-14 per-game stats: 19.1 PTS, 9.9 REB, 2.3 AST, 0.6 STL, 0.4 BLK, 19.8 PER

     

    The Golden State Warriors must be thrilled that they didn't pull the trigger on a David Lee trade back in the offseason. 

    Per Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, the Dubs explored trade opportunities for Lee in early July, including a package deal for then-Toronto Raptors forward Andrea Bargnani or Portland Trail Blazers forward LaMarcus Aldridge. After seeing how the team performed in the playoffs once Lee went down with a hip flexor injury, the Warriors were naturally curious to see what they could get for the two-time All-Star power forward. 

    Six months later, the decision not to trade Lee appears to be wise. In the Warriors' 16 games since Dec. 15, the power forward shot at least 50 percent from the field in all but three of them.

    Lee is averaging a career-high 20.0 points per 36 minutes, along with 10.4 boards per 36. In the Warriors' 41 games this season, Lee has 22 double-doubles, which ranks ninth in the league, per ESPN.com

    The $44.4 million remaining on Lee's contract won't necessarily be easy to trade, considering his reputation as a lackluster defender. However, his recent hot shooting and his 10-game string of double-doubles in December may be enough to distract potential trade partners from his struggles on defense.

Joakim Noah, Chicago Bulls

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    Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

    Current contract: Three years, $36.7 million (UFA after 2015-16) 

    2013-14 per-game stats: 11.4 PTS, 10.8 REB, 3.8 AST, 1.2 STL, 1.3 BLK, 18.7 PER

     

    Derrick Rose's season-ending meniscus tear ended up being the final nail in the coffin for the Chicago Bulls' current core, which could bode poorly for Joakim Noah's future with the franchise. 

    The Bulls traded Luol Deng to the Cleveland Cavaliers for a handful of future draft picks back on Jan. 6, and Noah might not be far behind. 

    In a Jan. 8 SportsNation chat, ESPN's Chad Ford suggested that there's been "lots of [trade] talk" about both Noah and Kirk Hinrich. Ford says that "management has made the decision to tank this season," and trading away Noah would be the quickest route to Tank City. 

    Chicago's front office likely wouldn't struggle to find willing trade partners for the wily center. He earned an All-Defensive First Team nod in 2012-13, and the Bulls allow only 96 points per 100 possessions while he's on the court this season. 

    Given the NBA's dearth of elite interior defenders and Noah's reasonable contract, the Bulls could easily ship him out if so desired. The team would eventually recover, but given the way the city rallies around Noah, it might not be worth the public-relations hit.

Kevin Love, Minnesota Timberwolves

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    Eric Gay/Associated Press

    Current contract: Three years, $47.2 million (Player option in 2015-16) 

    2013-14 per-game stats: 25.3 PTS, 13.0 REB, 3.9 AST, 0.8 STL, 0.4 BLK, 27.2 PER

     

    When it comes to Kevin Love, the Minnesota Timberwolves find themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place. 

    The Wolves signed Love to a four-year, $62 million extension back in January 2012, but the fourth year of the deal is a player option. If Love isn't pleased with the direction of the franchise 18 months from now, he's fully allowed to decline that option and become an unrestricted free agent.

    As he told Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski in December 2012:

    I'm looking at my contract in the eye of two years from now, and if I haven't been to the playoffs—or it's been one playoff berth—well, it's going to be tough to say, "Oh well, I'm going to stay here and continue to rebuild."

    The Wolves, at 18-21, currently sit four games out of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, which doesn't bode well for Love's long-term future with the franchise. As B/R's Zach Buckley laid out, there's a real argument for Minnesota to sell high on the big man in the next month before losing him for nothing. 

    If Minnesota does decide to part ways with Love, there should be no shortage of suitors for him. After all, he currently ranks fourth in the league in scoring (25.3 PPG) and second in rebounding (13.0 RPG). Only four players in NBA history have ever averaged at least 25 points, 13 rebounds and four assists per game; Love is threatening to become the fifth this year.

LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland Trail Blazers

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    Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

    Current contract: Two years, $30.9 million (UFA after 2014-15)

    2013-14 per-game stats: 23.9 PTS, 11.2 REB, 2.9 AST, 0.9 STL, 1.0 BLK, 22.9 PER

     

    Right off the bat, let's make one thing clear: Of all the players featured here, LaMarcus Aldridge is the least likely to be moved by the Feb. 20 trade deadline.

    The Portland Trail Blazers, at 30-9, currently hold the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference. There's zero reason to believe they would consider shipping off their most established star.

    Even before the start of the season, Blazers general manager Neil Olshey shot down any potential trade talk involving Aldridge. "Oh dear God, would you guys get over it?" he said to reporters during the team's media day, per Ben Golliver of Blazers Edge.

    Still, hypothetically, were the team open to trading Aldridge, now would be the time to do so. The 28-year-old is in the midst of his best season as a professional, averaging career highs in points, rebounds and assists per game. His PER of 22.9 is also a personal best.

    As B/R's D.J. Foster writes, Aldridge has shown this season that "he can be [worthy of a max contract] in the right situation." Since he's likely due to receive said max contract following the 2014-15 season, this would be the last chance for a team to acquire him on the (relative) cheap.

Paul Millsap, Atlanta Hawks

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    Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

    Current contract: Two years, $19 million (UFA after 2014-15)

    2013-14 per-game stats: 17.3 PTS, 8.3 REB, 2.8 AST, 1.6 STL, 1.1 BLK, 19.5 PER

     

    The Atlanta Hawks pulled off one of the major heists of the 2013 offseason by signing Paul Millsap to a two-year, $19 million deal. Now, it's time for the team to take advantage of said heist.

    Since losing Al Horford to a season-ending pectoral injury on Dec. 26, the Hawks have won only four of 10 games and were blown out by the Brooklyn Nets in London, 127-110, on Jan. 16. Atlanta did beat the Eastern Conference-leading Indiana Pacers sans Horford on Jan. 8, but that was the Pacers' fourth game in five nights.

    In other words, when Horford went down for the year, the Hawks' chances of making any noise in the playoffs went up in flames. Atlanta wasn't getting past Miami or Indiana in a seven-game series anyway, but now, the team looks like first-round knockout fodder.

    Since Millsap's contract only runs through the 2014-15 season, the Hawks don't have much time to generate a return on their investment. If they don't pull the trigger on a trade by Feb. 20, he'll lose some value due to his impending free agency in 2015.

    With Millsap posting personal bests in made three-pointers (1.0) and assists (2.8) per game, along with per-game averages of 17.3 points and 8.3 rebounds, his trade value won't ever be higher than it is right now. Given the Hawks' lack of incentive to make the playoffs, it wouldn't be a total shock to see Millsap moved in the next month.

Thaddeus Young, Philadelphia 76ers

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    Sam Forencich/Getty Images

    Current contract: Three years, $28.2 million (ETO in 2015-16)

    2013-14 per-game stats: 17.4 PTS, 6.5 REB, 1.8 AST, 1.9 STL, 0.5 BLK, 17.9 PER

     

    If Thaddeus Young isn't playing for a new team by Feb. 20, it will qualify as a massive surprise.

    Young reportedly asked for a trade from the Philadelphia 76ers back in December, per Liberty Ballers' Jake Fischer. Although he steadfastly denied the report, per CSN Philly's Dei Lynam, he wouldn't be the first professional athlete to say one thing publicly and do another behind closed doors.

    Assuming Young does want out of Philly, his outstanding play this season should help the cause. He's setting personal bests in points (17.4), made three-pointers (0.9), three-point attempts (2.4), steals (1.9) and assists (1.8) per game, along with three-point shooting percentage (.391).

    Throw in his 6.5 rebounds and 0.5 blocks per game, and the 25-year-old Young appears to be wholly capable of helping a team with its eye on the playoffs. Since he's able to opt out of his contract following the 2014-15 season, Philadelphia would be wise to move him within the next month to maximize its return on him.

    And wouldn't you know it, the team appears to be doing exactly that. Per Grantland's Zach Lowe, the Sixers "amped up their feelers on Thaddeus Young in the last week, per several league sources." Expect Young to be moved by the trade deadline.

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