2017 NBA Trade Deadline: 10 Free-Agents-to-Be Who Could Be Dealt by the Deadline
This year's NBA trade deadline could be among the quietest in recent memory—for a variety of reasons.
For one, there are few teams with the means to disrupt a Finals three-peat between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors, with or without a major move. In the absence of such hope, even the most optimistic general managers have to wonder whether it's worth emptying their war chests.
There's also the matter of who is available. The league's new collective bargaining agreement will give teams expanded means to retain their homegrown stars. Where once the Sacramento Kings and Indiana Pacers might've trembled at the thought of trading their cornerstones (DeMarcus Cousins and Paul George, respectively) or risk losing them for nothing, now clubs can take comfort in knowing they can far outbid competitors with contracts in excess of $200 million.
That may be just one of many points in the new CBA that front offices around the Association are unpacking. The need to comb over those details in greater depth could deter some general managers from doing anything drastic.
The rest could be too busy deciding whether they're buyers or sellers. Every team out West is within five games of a playoff spot. In the East, all but four squads can claim to be in that range.
Still, that doesn't mean there aren't players who are ripe for new destinations, however temporary. The list of potential free agents in 2017 is long and chock-full of marquee names, but these 10, listed in alphabetical order, look like the best bets to make another pit stop prior to the Feb. 23 deadline.
Andrew Bogut, Center, Dallas Mavericks, Unrestricted
Andrew Bogut is under no illusions about what his future with (and without) the Dallas Mavericks might hold.
"I've been in this league long enough," Bogut told Scout's Mike Fisher in early January. "I'm an expiring contract. I haven't asked for a trade. But I know in this league with 11-24, I was being honest. There's a chance that I get traded. … The Mavs eventually have to start rebuilding. There's no point bringing back a 33-year-old center if you're in rebuild mode."
The Mavericks haven't improved much since then. At 15-29, Dallas has the fewest wins out West and would sit last in the conference if not for the Los Angeles Lakers' and Phoenix Suns' inferior winning percentages.
Bogut hasn't done a lot to boost his stock, either. He's missed the Mavs' last six games with a strained right hamstring. Back in December, he sat out 11 straight with a knee injury before averaging 1.0 points, 5.7 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 1.2 blocks in 19.7 minutes per contest over a six-game stretch.
In fairness to Bogut, counting stats have rarely, if ever, done justice to the impact he can have on a given game. He's long been one of the league's elite screen-setters and big-man passers on one end, and a tremendous defensive anchor on the other. According to ESPN.com, only Utah's Rudy Gobert has posted a better defensive real plus-minus than Bogut's this season.
Any near-contender in need of an enforcer up front (e.g., the Boston Celtics, Houston Rockets and, dare I say, Golden State Warriors) would do well to get ahold of Mavericks general manager Donnie Nelson's phone number. Dallas, though, shouldn't expect a haul for Bogut's services in light of his lengthy (and lengthening) rap sheet of injuries.
Jose Calderon, Point Guard, Los Angeles Lakers, Unrestricted
The Los Angeles Lakers are spiraling back into the basement. The Purple and Gold followed up a surprising 10-10 start by dropping 22 of their next 28 games to fall to last place in the West.
But in a conference where the No. 8 seed seems likely to be filled by a sub-.500 squad, the Lakers aren't out of it yet. As of Tuesday night, L.A. was just three wins and five games behind the eighth-place Denver Nuggets.
That doesn't mean the Lakers have the goods to leapfrog the six teams ahead of them—not with the league's worst defense in tow (per NBA.com), and certainly not after suffering a franchise-record 49-point defeat at the hands of the 13th-place Dallas Mavericks.
The Lakers roster, though, is such that they can shed a veteran or two while maintaining at least the appearance of earnest competition. So if front office executives Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss would rather hang on to Nick Young and Lou Williams for the sake of possible success, they can still slough off the expiring contract of Jose Calderon.
The sharpshooting Spaniard still struggles to defend his own shadow but has long been a reliable backup point with the long-range stroke to stretch the floor (41.1 percent from three for his career).
The Lakers can't expect much more than a second-round pick for the 35-year-old, if that. And moving him now might be tricky. With D'Angelo Russell down for the next week or two with an MCL sprain and calf strain in his right leg, L.A. will need Calderon to fill in as a floor general.
But Russell should return well before the trade deadline passes on Feb. 23. Once activity around the NBA picks up, Calderon could get a long look from teams (e.g., the Cleveland Cavaliers) in search of support at the point.
Taj Gibson, Power Forward, Chicago Bulls, Unrestricted
A recent report from the Chicago Sun-Times' Joe Cowley pegged Nikola Mirotic as the most likely to move among the Chicago Bulls' frontcourt players. But circumstances suggest Taj Gibson may be the better bet to get dealt between now and Feb. 23.
The Bulls may not care for Mirotic, whose stroke has been subpar from the field (38.4 percent) and from three (30.7 percent) this season. Mirotic, though, is six years younger than the 31-year-old Gibson.
And, more importantly, he'll be under team control this summer as a restricted free agent. Gibson, on the other hand, can walk away once his contract is up.
The USC product doesn't have the shooting range of his Montenegrin teammate, but what Gibson does well (rebound, defend, set screens, score inside), he excels at.
Among 76 players who have defended at least four shots per game at the rim, Gibson has allowed the 17th-lowest opponent field-goal percentage. On the other end, he's hit well over 40 percent of his mid-range jumpers and finished nearly two-thirds of his attempts within three feet of the hoop.
Those skills could put Gibson's name through the ringer come February, especially among Eastern Conference pseudo-contenders looking for toughness and tenacity up front.
Not that Gibson's going to let any of the chatter bother him.
"Being in trade rumors means other teams want you too so it's like half and half," he told ESPN.com's Nick Friedell. "It's part of our business."
Jeff Green, Small Forward, Orlando Magic, Unrestricted
Jeff Green is no stranger to trades. He was dealt on draft day in 2007 from the Boston Celtics to the Seattle SuperSonics as part of the Ray Allen trade. Less than four years later, after the SuperSonics moved to Oklahoma City, the Thunder sent him back to Beantown with Nenad Krstic in exchange for Kendrick Perkins and Nate Robinson.
The former Georgetown Hoya has found himself on the move prior to each of the last two trade deadlines. The Memphis Grizzlies and Los Angeles Clippers each gave up a first-round pick to see if they could turn his tantalizing tools into a consistent contributor, only to cut bait within the year.
Could there be another team out there that thinks it can unlock the secret to Green's success?
Other than the Orlando Magic, that is. They signed Green to a one-year, $15 million deal this past summer. For that, the 30-year-old forward has submitted his worst season to date, with career lows in minutes (23.9), points (9.6), rebounds (3.0), assists (1.2) and field-goal percentage (38.7 percent), among other areas of concern.
But Green has looked better of late, averaging 13.8 points over his last five games. If that trend continues, and Orlando slides further behind the playoff pack, perhaps a club desperate for a versatile forward will think the third straight deadline deal for Green will be the charm needed to unlock his true talents.
Serge Ibaka, Power Forward, Orlando Magic, Unrestricted
Of all the impending free agents on the Orlando Magic roster, Serge Ibaka is the most valuable. The former Oklahoma City Thunder stalwart has posted career highs in points (15.2), assists (1.0) three-point makes (1.5) and attempts (3.9) while grabbing 7.0 rebounds in his 30.3 minutes a night.
Any buyer, though, would have to beware that Ibaka isn't the same destructive force he was in OKC. Among 49 players who have faced at least five defensive field-goal attempts at the rim this season, he's posted the 12th-worst percentage allowed (53.2 percent). Meanwhile, the Magic, who dealt for Ibaka on draft day in 2016 to shore up their defense, remain among the bottom 10 in defensive efficiency.
It's no wonder, then, that general manager Rob Hennigan wouldn't commit to keeping Ibaka beyond the trade deadline, let alone re-signing him this summer.
"We have to go into the trade deadline looking to improve the team by any means necessary," Hennigan told the Orlando Sentinel's Josh Robbins. "So we're not in a position with our team right now to not explore and listen to any ideas or concepts that come our way or that we inquire about. So the goal's to improve the team any way we can."
If a franchise that believes it's a power forward away from title contention—like, say, the Toronto Raptors—comes calling with a palatable offer for Ibaka, don't be surprised if the Magic bite.
Paul Millsap, Power Forward, Atlanta Hawks, Player Option
According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Chris Vivlamore, the Atlanta Hawks are no longer looking to trade Paul Millsap: "The Hawks took a 'long, hard look' at trading Millsap but ultimately decided he is too valuable to the franchise and they want to keep him, according to one person familiar with change of decision. The new mandate may have come from Hawks ownership."
Except...well, that may not be the end of the story. As The Vertical's Adrian Wojnarowski recently told The Ringer's Chris Vernon: "There's no question that [Atlanta] may revisit it again here before the trade deadline and see how they want to go forward with this group."
For now, the Hawks are a top-four seed in the East. Prior to a dispiriting loss to the short-handed Los Angeles Clippers, Atlanta had ripped off 11 wins in 13 games, including a run of seven straight.
Success like that isn't easy to walk away from, even if it portends another second-round playoff ouster at the hands of the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Hawks' schedule over the next few weeks could dictate which way they swing with regard to their resident All-Star forward.
Atlanta has six games against teams currently in the postseason picture between now and the All-Star break. If the Hawks keep flying high, they'll be hard-pressed to sell off Millsap for parts.
But if they dip, perhaps teams like the Toronto Raptors, New Orleans Pelicans and Boston Celtics—where Al Horford, Millsap's former teammate, is entrenched—will start sniffing around again more seriously.
Nerlens Noel, Center, Philadelphia 76ers, Restricted
Nerlens Noel's earlier gripes about his role with the Philadelphia 76ers seem to have subsided now that he's become a steadier fixture in head coach Brett Brown's rotation.
"At this moment in time, I'm definitely satisfied with where I'm at and the team's rotation," Noel said in mid-January, per the Philadelphia Inquirer's Keith Pompey. "I think I'm able to go out there and still affect the game, change the game multiple ways."
On the defensive end, Noel's done just that. Among players who've faced at least four shots per contest at the rim, he's posted the third-lowest opponent field-goal percentage (42.5 percent), behind only Kristaps Porzingis and fellow Sixers big man Joel Embiid.
Noel's not exactly a world-beater on the offensive end, though he's shot a career-best 59.8 percent from the floor and ranks among the top half of the league in efficiency as a pick-and-roll finisher.
Noel and fellow backup big Jahlil Okafor have long been the subject of trade speculation. The former figures to have more value on the trade market, if only because he's a (much) more effective, versatile defender.
According to Sporting News' Sean Deveney, the Los Angeles Lakers have already kicked the tires on Noel. Expect any team that lacks consistent rim protection, regardless of record (e.g., the Dallas Mavericks, Boston Celtics, New Orleans Pelicans, Washington Wizards), to do the same.
Rajon Rondo, Point Guard, Chicago Bulls, Mutual Option
You didn't need to read Joe Cowley's report in the Chicago Sun-Times to at least infer that the Chicago Bulls are shopping Rajon Rondo. The kerfuffle surrounding his demotion—first out of Fred Hoiberg's rotation entirely, then into a backup role—should've been Exhibits A, B and C.
That Rondo has played some of the poorest ball of his career off Chicago's bench won't make him any easier to unload. In his first eight games as a reserve, the former All-Star averaged 4.0 points, 5.1 assists and 1.3 steals—decent enough in under 20 minutes a night—but hit just 32.6 percent of his field goals and two of 11 attempts from three, without a single trip to the charity stripe.
Sure, the Cleveland Cavaliers could use an experienced backup point guard, but at what cost to their war chest and their often fragile chemistry? Maybe the Memphis Grizzlies would take a look at plugging him in behind Mike Conley.
The real value for Rondo, though, is his contract. The second year on his deal is only partially guaranteed. If he's waived by June 30, his team will only be on the hook for $3 million of what would otherwise be a $13.4 million salary.
Thus, any team looking to clear its books ahead of what could be a free-agent bonanza this summer could wind up sniffing around the Windy City for a deal that could save some scratch.
P.J. Tucker, Small Forward, Phoenix Suns, Unrestricted
P.J. Tucker is anything but eager to leave the Phoenix Suns. After bouncing around Europe for five years, he's found a home in Arizona, where he's halfway through his fifth season with the Suns.
"I've made my life in Phoenix," he said, per AZCentral's Doug Haller. "I've been here so long. My kids are in school. I just feel part of the community. It's definitely a place that I love."
Neither does Phoenix sound all that keen to unload Tucker from its roster. As Suns general manager Ryan McDonough said during a recent appearance on sports radio in Arizona, per AZCentral:
We like P.J. He has a lot of value to our team. We have plenty of money available going forward. We don't have another player like him on the roster, so yeah, there's certainly a chance we could re-sign him. Obviously, we're open to any scenario. We'll look at whatever makes the team better in both the short and long term. But P.J.'s proven he's a very valuable player and that defensive versatility and ability to rebound at his size is unique, along with the toughness and fire and some of the other intangible things he brings to our team and our locker room.
Tucker's combination of defensive ability and sheer physicality could have everyone from the Los Angeles Clippers to the Atlanta Hawks beating down McDonough's door come deadline day. There aren't many guys with the chops to check the likes of LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard and DeMar DeRozan, but Tucker, 31, is one of them.
Deron Williams, Point Guard, Dallas Mavericks, Unrestricted
What matters more to Deron Williams: home or hardware? We might soon have an answer to that question, depending on how things shake out between him and the Dallas Mavericks.
In truth, it's not all on Williams to ask out of a team that's well on its way to the draft lottery at 15-29. As Basketball Insiders' Steve Kyler noted, Dallas might already have its sights set on a fire sale:
As for Deron Williams, it's possible he is moved, but he is so far removed from being "D-Will" the starting guard, it would be surprising to see him moved for very much in return. The Mavericks are looking towards the future, so it is more likely than not they are traders at the deadline.
Indeed, D-Will has long since left the ranks of the league's elite point guards. But at 13.7 points and 7.1 assists per game, he's much better than burnt toast. His skill and experience would make him a great backup for, say, the Cleveland Cavaliers, who've been craving support for Kyrie Irving since Mo Williams essentially retired prior to the season.
Whether Deron Williams would be willing to set aside his desire to start is unclear. What is clear, though, is that his days as a starter in the NBA might be numbered. At 32, with his troubles staying healthy, Williams might not be long for the league at all going forward.
All the more reason, then, for him to seize any opportunity he can to latch on to a contender, regardless of the role.