NBA Players Whose Trade Value Will Never Be Higher
That, or they just want to play exceptional basketball and are succeeding.
In succeeding, though, these players are, by chance or design, drumming up their value outside of incumbent digs. They have never been more desirable to the league's buyers; they have never been more certain to command the highest possible asking price in return for their services.
Our dive into the underbelly of climbing trade values is not without conditions. We're steering clear of those who obviously won't be making rumor-mill cameos. Stephen Curry's trade value has never been higher, and the Golden State Warriors have never been more likely to vomit all over the notion that they should move him.
Please also note that we're not predicting who will be dealt, just identifying players who could enter the speculation fray as the Feb. 18 cutoff nears.
Value is specific to this season only and will be determined by individual stat lines, importance to current teams, salaries and all that good stuff. Not all of those included are superstars. Very few of them are, in fact, since it's exponentially harder for the Association's best megastuds to build upon their stardom.
Assuming need, you should want these players on your favorite team.
You should also know it's going to cost a whole lot to get them.
Feast your eyeholes on these rumor-mill staples who, despite being available, will not be gifted with any forms of flattery.
Ty Lawson, Houston Rockets
Sources told ESPN.com's Calvin Watkins that Ty Lawson is "fine" with his role on the Houston Rockets...as a backup point guard who shoots under 40 percent from the field and isn't guaranteed even 20 minutes per game.
Another team will roll the dice on Lawson if he's available for the taking. He was a fringe All-Star with the Denver Nuggets and isn't being used properly in Houston*, where he was expected to thrive alongside the equally ball-dominant James Harden.
But Lawson is supposed to be better than an incalculable dice roll. This is the worst season of his career, and he has the rock-bottom player efficiency rating to prove it. His value has never been lower.
Kevin Martin, Minnesota Timberwolves
Per USA Today's Sam Amick, the Minnesota Timberwolves have been "trying to no avail" to move Kevin Martin to the Memphis Grizzlies in exchange for Courtney Lee.
Considering the 32-year-old Martin is fresh off a seven-game stint on the "Did Not Play" grind and is registering the second-lowest PER of his career, this is not surprising.
Markieff Morris, Phoenix Suns
Markieff Morris' irreparable lover's spat with the Phoenix Suns doesn't sound like it's going to end anytime soon.
“I’d say you never know if you’re close or not until something actually happens,” Suns general manager Ryan McDonough said, per Arizona Sports 98.7 FM's Adam Green. “I don’t think there’s any quantifiable way to measure that. We’re certainly looking at a number of things between now and the trade deadline, which is I think about five or six weeks away."
Scores of people seem to think that Morris holds serious value. Even if that's true, there's no way it's higher than it was last season when he was, you know, actually playing.
Plus, if we're so sure the 2013-14, 48-win Suns were an anomaly, what's to stop Morris' stellar efforts in each of the two previous years from being the same?
*I mistakenly thought the Harden-Lawson pairing held some promise. Don't worry; I'm pretty sure my writing privileges will be revoked any day now.
Honorable Mention: Thaddeus Young, Brooklyn Nets
Thaddeus Young initially wasn't supposed to be here.
Then Brooklyn Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov happened.
The Nets announced on Jan. 10 that they fired head coach Lionel Hollins and reassigned general manager Billy King, a move that should portend some noticeable change.
"Our approach helped us reach the playoffs three seasons in a row, but we have failed [to win a title], and it's important for us to go [further]," Prokhorov told reporters, per ESPN.com's Mike Mazzeo. "That's why we need a small reset for this year, and I hope we will be back as a playoff team and as a championship contender. It's my only goal."
Tackling Prokhorov's deluded pursuit of an insta-turnaround is an undertaking for another time. But if the Nets are smart about this, they'll sell off whoever isn't named Rondae Hollis-Jefferson for as many imminent first-round picks as possible. They don't have the rights to their own first-rounder until 2019.
Young still isn't a reliable three-point shooter, and his defensive stands visibly devolve when he guards offenses that run a ton of off-ball action. But he is clearly the Nets' second-best player, behind Brook Lopez, and can (at least try to) defend three positions.
This is also the fourth consecutive season that Young has averaged 15 points, six rebounds and 1.5 steals per 36 minutes. Just three other players are working on similar splits, and they're each an All-Star lock: DeMarcus Cousins, LeBron James and Paul Millsap.
Including this season, Young is owed just $36.2 million through 2017-18, with a player option worth $13.8 million for 2018-19. His balanced production, though assured to drop on a good team, will cost far more on the open market as the salary cap explodes.
So if it's picks and prospects the Nets crave, Young offers more of the necessary appeal than ever to help give their latest rebuild a functioning launch pad.
Ryan Anderson, New Orleans Pelicans
Do the New Orleans Pelicans have 27-year-old and free-agent-to-be Ryan Anderson on the trading block?
Head coach Alvin Gentry somewhat denied that Anderson was available, telling reporters, per the New Orleans Advocate's Brett Dawson: "We've not made one call about trading Ryan." But that doesn't mean other teams aren't calling the Pelicans, and league executives told Sporting News' Sean Deveney they expect any move New Orleans might make to include moving Anderson.
And that makes sense. Anderson is due for a lucrative raise this summer, and the Pelicans will have nearly $31 million committed to the frontcourt pairing of Omer Asik and Anthony Davis next season alone.
It helps, too, that those theoretical inquiring calls to Pelicans general manager Dell Demps won't soon cease.
Not only is Anderson earning a reasonable $8.5 million, but he's also one of just four Western Conference forwards clearing 18 points and seven rebounds per 36 minutes while shooting 36 percent or better from deep.
His statistical siblings?
Anderson isn't quick enough to defend opposing 3s or massive enough to guard rival 5s, nor is he someone who works as a tertiary playmaker. His value is strictly as a floor-spacing 4 who grabs rebounds and, at times, attacks off the dribble.
But that's a list of qualifications any win-respecting playoff or championship contender would love to have as a second-unit anchor or No. 3 scoring option. And while Anderson could end up being a half-season rental, his Bird rights transfer to wherever he lands, giving his next home the inside track on retaining him in the long term.
DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings
DeMarcus Cousins' trade value could be at an all-time high because he's a center shooting three-pointers.
It could be that, despite firing up threes with record frequency, his effective field-goal percentage—combined measurement of two- and three-point efficiency—between last season and now remains virtually unchanged.
It could be that he is reaching 25 points, 10 rebounds and 2.5 assists per 36 minutes for the third time in his career and isn't yet 26 years old, a feat only ever accomplished by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Or it could be that the final two years of Cousins' four-year, $62 million extension from 2013 will look like a steal once the NBA's salary cap nears or exceeds $90 million in 2016-17 and eclipses $100 million in 2017-18.
But truthfully, none of those reasons do primary justice to Cousins' rising value.
That honor belongs to the Sacramento Kings' surviving postseason hopes.
Owners of a top-10 offense, Sacramento is only two games outside the wild-turned-wacky Western Conference's playoff picture, and its candidacy won't soon fade. More than half of the Kings' losses have come by seven points or less, and their net rating with Cousins is nearly identical to a Miami Heat squad that's on pace to win 49 games.
Sneaking into the playoffs would mean suffering a first-round exit at the pleasure of the Warriors or San Antonio Spurs, but there is something to be said for ending a decade-long postseason drought and adding some platinum-gold linings to the DeMarcus Cousins era.
This, then, is the first time in recent memory that moving Cousins seems top-to-bottom crazy. Any general manager brazen enough to try and poach him would need to phone Sacramento's front-office admiral, Vlade Divac, offering the world.
Danilo Gallinari, Denver Nuggets
Danilo Gallinari cannot be traded until Feb. 1 after signing a two-year, $34 million extension over the summer. And the Nuggets probably didn't shell out money to lock down Gallinari with the intention of dealing him six months later.
Denver, to its credit, also isn't the throwaway seller from 2015-16, when everyone and their uncle's cousin's pet Chihuahua assumed Arron Afflalo (yes), Wilson Chandler (no) and Gallinari (no) would be flipped just because. But the emergence of Nikola Jokic and Joffrey Lauvergne means the Nuggets now have an overabundance of rotation bigs.
Jusuf Nurkic's 33-game absence kept the logjam at bay for a little while, but now that he's back, head coach Mike Malone has to juggle a frontcourt that includes Darrell Arthur, J.J. Hickson, Gallinari, Kenneth Faried, Jokic, and Lauvergne in addition to Nurkic.
Neither Arthur nor Hickson needs playing time, and the latter will presumably be cut loose in free agency. But Chandler will return from a hip injury next season and inevitably be inserted, even if slightly, into the power forward pool.
Someone eventually has to go, and Gallinari will be viewed as the most attractive asset outside Denver. He has way more offensive range than Faried and isn't subject to the same steep developmental curve of Jokic, Lauvergne and Nurkic.
Plenty of Gallinari's shot attempts are unwarranted, and his efficiency has suffered. His effective field-goal percentage has never been lower, and Will Barton has usurped him in Denver's offensive pecking order.
Still, Gallinari would be a phenomenal acquisition for a team that doesn't need him to be "the guy." He passes enough to play point forward, shoots better than 41 percent on catch-and-shoot triples and owns a better box plus-minus—which quantifies how much better the average team is with a given player on the floor—than Anthony Davis.
Trading Gallinari won't net the Nuggets a top-three pick, but he has the offensive chops to vault a good-to-great team over the top. The return on his services, knowing he won't be a flight risk until 2017 at the earliest (player option), will not be insignificant.
Taj Gibson, Chicago Bulls
Taj Gibson may—and perhaps should—become collateral damage of the Chicago Bulls' exceedingly stuffy frontcourt gridlock.
Rookie Bobby Portis has played his way into head coach Fred Hoiberg's rotation, and with both Pau Gasol and Gibson in arms, that's forced Nikola Mirotic, best suited at the 4, into small forward duty.
Quite predictably, the results have not been pretty.
According to NBA.com's John Schuhmann, the Bulls have been outscored by 20 total points with Mirotic at the 3. In the time he's spent at the 4, they're a plus-100.
That disparity has only worsened over the last 10 games, even as the offense has enjoyed a nice surge. The Bulls, per Schuhmann, are a minus-17 with Mirotic at small forward and a plus-58 when he's slotted at power forward during that time.
Finding burn at the 4 for Mirotic without cutting into Doug McDermott's and Portis' minutes will be next to impossible as Joakim Noah re-enters the swing of things. The Bulls could look to ship out Gasol or Noah, but they're not especially hot commodities. Gasol can become a free agent and, unlike Anderson in New Orleans, is on the wrong side of 35. Noah is on the unfortunate end of 30, is set for unrestricted free agency and has the structural integrity of Jell-O.
Which brings us back to Gibson and the unreasonably reasonable $17 million he's owed through this season and 2016-17.
At 6'9", he is undersized for a center but can soak up time at either the 4 or 5. Opponents shoot the same percentage against him at the rim as they do Hassan Whiteside, and his defensive box plus-minus, while inferior to those of Gasol and Noah, is the highest it's been since 2010-11.
Manufacturing a top offense with Gibson in the fold is something Chicago has failed to do, but it's possible. His absence of a post game is mitigated by deadly mid-range accuracy; he is shooting at least five percentage points above the league average between 10 and 16 feet and from 16 feet out to the three-point line.
For a Bulls team that needs to open minutes up front, Gibson is the only realistic bait that can guarantee a first-round pick or impact wing in return.
Terrence Jones, Houston Rockets
So, those Markieff Morris-for-Terrence Jones rumors are still a thing.
Since Jones alone isn't enough to match Morris' salary, the Rockets are, according to Marc Stein of ESPN.com, expected to pair him with Corey Brewer, who cannot be traded until Jan. 15.
Permission to speak freely?
Shame on you, Rockets.
There are legitimate hurdles to clear when it comes to Jones' salary situation. Houston won't find similar on-court value for his $2.5 million price point, and Jones, now 24, will become a restricted free agent this July. Any team that acquires him must be prepared to dole out north of $10 million annually to keep him.
Forward-centers who can stroke threes and block shots aren't grown on trees. They're hard enough to conceive in high-tech laboratories.
Among players to log at least 700 minutes and attempt five three-pointers, Jones is one of only four averaging 15 points, seven rebounds and one block per 36 minutes and shooting 36 percent from downtown.
The other three?
Kevin "I Still Got That MVP Form" Durant, Draymond "Gonna Be an All-Star" Green and Kelly Olynyk.
No one in his right frame of mind would dare place Jones in the same class as Durant or Green, and Morris, at his peak, is a playmaking 4 who will be making less than Jones by the start of next season.
Even with a career-low PER, shoddy rim-protection numbers and a rookie-scale salary, Jones should be able to headline a trade that snags the Rockets more than a disgruntled power forward with below-average three-point touch and the inability to remain part of a ridiculously bad Suns team's everyday rotation.
Isaiah Thomas, Boston Celtics
Here's a summation of Isaiah Thomas' season: different yet the same.
"Thomas has had impressive statistics before, but this year his strong play has coincided with team success," the Boston Globe's Adam Himmelsbach wrote. "This is his fifth NBA season and he has yet to play for a team that finished with a winning record."
The Boston Celtics continue to vacillate in and out of the Eastern Conference's playoff bracket, but they are good. They sit second in points allowed per 100 possessions, and Basketball-Reference's Simple Rating System—which sorts teams by taking into account point differential and strength of schedule—ranks them as the sixth-best squad in the league.
Thomas is a pivotal part of that success—especially on the offensive end, where the Celtics are lost without him, statistically speaking:
|Celtics...||MP||Off. Rtg.||Rank||Def. Rtg.||Rank||Net Rtg.||Rank|
A career-high usage rate has aided in Thomas notching a career-worst effective field-goal percentage, and his shot selection is peppered with inexplicable decisions. Jamal Crawford might actually be his spirit animal.
Nevertheless, Thomas, aside from being Boston's offensive lifeline, has a serious All-Star case. His per-36-minute benchmarks of 20 points and seven assists are matched only by Reggie Jackson, Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook, and he's just a hair behind Damian Lillard and Paul in offensive box plus-minus.
Under normal circumstances, Thomas would be costing the Celtics a fortune. But including this season, he's owed less than $19.8 million through 2017-18. Even knowing team defenses must be crafted around Thomas' slight, and often damaging, 5'9" frame, which buyer wouldn't want that kind of bang for its buck?
We're likely journeying into unnecessary territory there. Team president Danny Ainge has every reason imaginable to consolidate all of Boston's assets and isn't one for making players untouchable, but Thomas is, as of now, too indispensable to trade.
Or, more accurately, too good for even the most aggressive suitors to afford.
Dan Favale covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @danfavale.