NBA Trade Deadline 2017: 10 Trade Targets Who Could Shape Playoff Picture
The NBA playoff picture is as murky as it's been in a long time.
Heading into Thursday's action, all but one team (the Brooklyn Nets) stood within seven games of a playoff spot.
With so many teams in spitting distance of the postseason, it's tough to suss out who will be buying and who might be selling ahead of the Feb. 23 trade deadline—though we've already tried.
Nonetheless, there are plenty of players who could tilt the balance of power one way or another, were they to actually move within the next three weeks. It will be up to those seeking roster upgrades to force the issue on those with reinforcements to spare, considering how few of the latter you'll find around the Association.
If there is any significant movement before the end of the All-Star break, these 10 players, listed in alphabetical order, could be the ones to dictate whether we see any real differentiation between those teams below the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers or if the league's have-nots stay smushed together until mid-April.
Carmelo Anthony, Small Forward, New York Knicks
Carmelo Anthony doesn't want to leave the New York Knicks. Not so much because he thinks the team is awesome—it's not, and he's smart enough to understand that—but rather because his family is happy in the Big Apple.
"That's more what I care about, my family," Anthony told Newsday's Al Iannazzone. "My son being comfortable in New York at an age now where he's really getting an opportunity to understand being in New York and having a home there and having friends there. My wife working there and having her opportunities there. I think about that more so than my decision for my career."
Anthony doesn't have to move if he and his family aren't inclined to do so. The no-trade clause in his contract isn't subject to Phil Jackson's incessant needling.
Not that those circumstances have stopped the Zen Master from shopping his most established star. According to ESPN's Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne, the Knicks have dangled Anthony in front of the Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Clippers and Cleveland Cavaliers, though there's been no significant movement on any of those fronts just yet.
Per the Boston Globe's Gary Washburn, the C's front office isn't keen to acquire Anthony, though that hasn't stopped New York from scouting Boston's roster. Doc Rivers, meanwhile, refuses to respond to rumors that he had discussed sending his son (Austin Rivers), Jamal Crawford and Wesley Johnson to New York to bring Anthony back to L.A.
"I'm not going to answer that stuff," he told Bleacher Report. "All of it's hearsay. None of it's coming from us. So why should I answer it is the way I look at it."
As for the Cavs, they're interested in Anthony but not at the expense of sending Kevin Love to Madison Square Garden, per ESPN.com's Stein and Chris Haynes.
Each team would benefit from adding such an experienced scorer to their respective rosters. Boston could use another option come playoff time when defenses will devise ways to bottle up Isaiah Thomas during a seven-game series. Anthony could lighten the loads shouldered by LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Love while helping Cleveland further consolidate power atop the Eastern Conference.
L.A. would be better able to compete with the Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs and Houston Rockets out West with a legitimate starting small forward in place of the improved (but still largely harmless) Luc Mbah a Moute. And in the Clippers' case, bringing on Anthony, a close friend of Chris Paul, would presumably help them retain their superstar point guard when he opts out of his contract this summer.
Jimmy Butler, Small Forward, Chicago Bulls
The Boston Celtics would much sooner give up the farm for Jimmy Butler than they would for Carmelo Anthony. And for good reason.
Butler is five years younger, a superior two-way player and operating on a more cap-friendly contract that will keep him in place through at least the 2018-19 season.
There's no indication that Butler is on the block just yet, though according to the Chicago Tribune's K.C. Johnson, some rival executives expect the Bulls and Celtics to revive their previous talks at some point.
Chicago had considered sending Butler to Beantown in a trade around the 2016 draft that would've brought back a package built around Jae Crowder, Marcus Smart and the Brooklyn Nets' lottery pick. That selection, No. 3 overall last year, has since settled in as Jaylen Brown. But the Celtics still own swap rights with Brooklyn this year and the Nets' unprotected pick in 2018, in addition to Crowder, Smart and other players of their ilk.
Whether the Bulls are prepared to part ways with their best player at all is a thornier matter. Relations between Butler and the team have long been rocky, marked by threats and discontent. Through it all, the All-Star swingman remains a favorite of team president Michael Reinsdorf, per Johnson.
In truth, there's no great rush for either side to budge right now. The C's own the second-best record without Butler, and the Bulls, for all their foibles, remain in the playoff hunt with him. It wouldn't make sense for Chicago to rush such a decision with a great player in his prime, especially one who could be eligible for a massive extension come 2018.
Odds are, this deal will happen closer to draft day in June if it happens at all. But if Boston can snag Butler before then, it might have the means to challenge the sleepwalking Cavaliers come playoff time.
DeMarcus Cousins, Center, Sacramento Kings
According to Arizona Sports' John Gambadoro, the Phoenix Suns have talked to the Sacramento Kings about taking DeMarcus Cousins off their hands with a package built around T.J. Warren, Alex Len and at least one first-round pick as the starting point.
Such a swap would impact the playoff picture only on the periphery. Technically, Phoenix and Sacramento are both in the hunt, with fewer than seven games separating them from the West's No. 8 seed.
Practically, though, neither looks like much of a threat. The Suns have sunk into the conference's basement, while the Kings are running low on reinforcements after losing Rudy Gay to a torn Achilles. The best either of these teams could hope for this season is a first-round showdown against—and a likely sweep at the hands of—the Golden State Warriors.
The deal reportedly discussed would make much more sense for Phoenix, and not just because it would be getting the best asset involved, by far. The Suns would get to keep their two best players (Eric Bledsoe and Devin Booker) while beefing up their hodgepodge frontcourt with arguably the top big man in basketball.
In theory, adding a talent of Cousins' caliber, even to a roster as young and jumbled as Phoenix's, could make the Suns a postseason threat during the second half of the season.
The Kings wouldn't be left empty-handed, either. Len, when healthy, has flashed fantastic footwork and all-around interior skill. Warren was on a scoring tear (20.0 points per game) until a head injury derailed his roll in mid-November.
If the Suns still stink with Cousins, their pick could give Sacramento another shot at an elite point-guard prospect (i.e., Washington's Markelle Fultz, UCLA's Lonzo Ball, North Carolina State's Dennis Smith Jr.) to fill a position that's been such a black hole of late in California's capital.
Goran Dragic, Point Guard, Miami Heat
The Sacramento Kings seem more likely to be buyers than sellers at the trade deadline. They last made the playoffs in 2006 and came into this season keen to christen their sparkling new Golden 1 Center with a triumphant postseason return.
Adding a point guard of Goran Dragic's caliber would go a long way toward nudging the Kings back up the standings. According to The Vertical's Chris Mannix, Sacramento engaged the Miami Heat about a deal for Dragic earlier in the season that would've sent Rudy Gay to South Beach.
Since then, Gay's been shelved by a torn Achilles, and the Heat have gone on a tear to pull within striking distance of the East's eighth playoff spot.
That doesn't mean Miami won't put Dragic back on the block before Feb. 23. Nor will Sacramento stop pushing for an upgrade at the point so long as the postseason is within reach.
Whether the Kings have the goods Miami would want is unclear. They can't send out a first-round pick any sooner than 2021, thanks to a disastrous salary dump during the summer of 2015 that sent 2017 swap rights and an outright 2019 first-rounder to the Philadelphia 76ers.
Perhaps a pair of distant future picks along with Darren Collison, Arron Afflalo's partially guaranteed contract and a youngster (Willie Cauley-Stein? Malachi Richardson?) would be enough to push Pat Riley to part ways with Dragic.
Taj Gibson, Power Forward, Chicago Bulls
For all the talk about the Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers potentially adding a scoring wing, what the East's top two teams really need is another big body who can rebound and defend. According to NBA.com, the Cavs sit in the middle of the pack in both defensive efficiency and defensive rebounding percentage, while the C's have settled into the bottom 10 in each category.
If either squad wants to engage the Chicago Bulls in trade talks, it should probably start not with Jimmy Butler but with Taj Gibson instead. The 31-year-old has been tremendous in the defensive frontcourt throughout his eight seasons in the Windy City—a run that could be done once he hits free agency this summer.
Gibson wouldn't have to leave town if he's seeking a starting spot. Since spending five seasons as a superb sixth man, he's started 55 out of 73 games during 2015-16 and has been the primary power forward in every game he's played this season while averaging 11.6 points and 7.1 rebounds.
As Sporting News' Sean Deveney noted, the Bulls could add Gibson to one of its less attractive veterans, like, say, Rajon Rondo:
A Rondo trade should be coming, but in order to pull off such a deal, the Bulls likely would have to include another player, and while Nikola Mirotic and Bobby Portis are popular names, Gibson is the guy potential playoff teams want most.
The Cavs could use Rondo's playmaking, too, assuming they don't find a satisfactory backup point guard from their recent round of tryouts. And if that's merely the "price" to be paid for Gibson, all the better for the defending champs, even if making the dollars work to acquire both veterans would be the real trick.
Serge Ibaka, Power Forward, Orlando Magic
Those teams seeking a rebounding, shot-blocking big who can also stretch the floor would do well to kick the tires on Serge Ibaka. According to Sporting News' Sean Deveney, the Orlando Magic are open to unloading the former Oklahoma City Thunder stalwart:
League sources told Sporting News that the Magic have picked up their attempts to move Ibaka ahead of next month's trade deadline, eager to ensure that they come away with some return for a player who does not figure to be in Orlando long. Ibaka will be a free agent this summer.
The Magic acquired Ibaka via a draft-day deal that sent Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova and 2016's No. 11 pick (Domantas Sabonis) to OKC. In terms of individual production, Ibaka has largely delivered. He's poured in 14.6 points on 48.5 percent shooting (38.4 percent from three) with 6.9 rebounds and 1.6 blocks for Orlando.
But his presence hasn't kept the Magic out of the league's bottom 10 in defensive efficiency and field-goal percentage allowed at the rim, per NBA.com. Nor has he lifted Orlando into legitimate playoff contention. Most importantly, he's part of the logjam that's keeping high-flying Aaron Gordon grounded at small forward.
So rather than lose Ibaka en route to the lottery, the Magic figure to see what value they can squeeze out of him on the trade market. Per Deveney, the Toronto Raptors have eyed Ibaka to fill their gaping hole at power forward, though they're unwilling to give up Terrence Ross in the process. The Houston Rockets would also likely find him to be a nice fit between his outside shooting, interior defense and past partnership with James Harden.
Ibaka might not be the guy to tilt the East's tables toward Toronto, but out West, he could help fortify Houston into more than a regular-season phenomenon.
Brook Lopez, Center, Brooklyn Nets
Whether it's coming from RealGM's Keith Smith, SB Nation's Anthony Puccio or just about any reporter with insight into the Brooklyn Nets, the message is the same: Brook Lopez is available but might not bring back as much as the Nets want.
According to ESPN's Marc Stein, Brooklyn is looking for two first-round picks in return for its former All-Star. That seems like a reasonable ask for a 7-footer who's averaging more than 20 points per game, knocking down nearly 35 percent of his 5.3 three-point attempts per night and logging a career-high 2.6 assists.
Surely, a contender that could use some size and skill—think the Boston Celtics or Houston Rockets—would have to consider springing for Lopez.
Except, there's at least one glaring hole in his repertoire: rebounding. The 28-year-old has never been particularly prolific on the boards (7.2 rebounds per game for his career) but has seen his game dip to a new low in that regard this season.
Among 83 centers who have played at least 10 games this season, Lopez ranks second-to-last in rebounding percentage, per NBA.com.
That doesn't mean there isn't or won't be a market for Lopez's services or that it would be a bad idea for Brooklyn to lower its asking price. The Nets need all the rebuilding assets they can muster, what with their next two draft picks ticketed for Boston's back pocket. If they can recoup at least one first-rounder and bring in a prospect or two, they could strengthen their own future while helping a better-off squad shape-shift the balance of power in either conference.
Ricky Rubio, Point Guard, Minnesota Timberwolves
It's no secret that the Minnesota Timberwolves are looking to offload Ricky Rubio and clear a path for rookie Kris Dunn. According to ESPN's Brian Windhorst, the Wolves were the ones who initiated the since-scuttled talk of a swap with the Detroit Pistons involving Rubio and Reggie Jackson.
In some respects, the San Antonio Spurs would be a better landing spot for Rubio, as Sports Illustrated's Jeremy Woo considered:
Aside from the obvious basketball fit as an unselfish, unorthodox player and capable defender, not to mention his European roots, Rubio would be the best pure passer to come through Gregg Popovich’s Spurs program. Whether or not his shooting percentages enjoy an uptick, it’s all just too philosophically perfect not to work. This is the outcome fans should want, and the exact brand of career resuscitation Rubio needs. And hey, Pau Gasol is already there.
Moreover, Scott Layden—Tom Thibodeau's guy as Minnesota's general manager—passed through the Spurs system on his way to Minneapolis, so he knows San Antonio's front office well enough to open up a real dialogue.
The biggest stumbling block? The store of point guards already on offer in the Alamo City. Tony Parker is still productive (11.2 points, 4.7 assists, 38.5 percent from three) at 34, Patty Mills might be basketball's best backup at that position, and Dejounte Murray has ample promise as, perhaps, Parker's eventual successor.
But with Kawhi Leonard among the NBA's elite at any spot and LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol both into their 30s, the Spurs are looking to contend right now. Parker, Mills and Murray are no slouches but will look like ones against the likes of Stephen Curry, Chris Paul and James Harden come playoff time.
Rubio could shore up that spot for the Spurs even further with his preternatural passing and above-average defense. It's unclear, though, what it would cost San Antonio, let alone whether Pop would sign off on such a transaction.
Nikola Vucevic, Center, Orlando Magic
Teams seem more keen to talk to the Orlando Magic about Serge Ibaka, but Nikola Vucevic is the better long-term buy. He's not nearly the defensive presence Ibaka can be, but he's a year younger and under a reasonable contract ($12.5 million per season) through 2018-19.
Oh, and Vucevic is plenty productive in his own right. If not for Orlando's logjam up front, he'd probably be averaging more than the 14.0 points, 9.7 rebounds and 2.9 assists he's poured in this season.
According to Basketball Insiders' Steve Kyler, the Magic and Boston Celtics have discussed a deal involving Vucevic, though nothing close to concrete materialized from those conversations.
Those talks could always start anew if the C's don't find a solution to their glaring weakness on the glass. Boston ranks dead-last in league defensive rebounding percentage, per NBA.com.
Vucevic could help the Celts fill that gap at a reasonable rate while allowing Al Horford to move to power forward, where he's rarely played as a pro but has the size and skill set to be a more natural fit.
Deron Williams, Point Guard, Dallas Mavericks
The circumstances surrounding the Metroplex, though, suggest otherwise. The Mavs are about equidistant between last place and eighth in the Western Conference standings. They're not exactly thirsting for Williams' playmaking like they once were, what with Yogi Ferrell off to a scorching start since getting called up from the D-League.
And as Price pointed out, Dallas could get younger and stronger elsewhere on its roster if it were to consider moving D-Will to, say, the Cleveland Cavaliers for Iman Shumpert:
Yes, the Mavs like Shumpert, who, counting this season, is owed $31 million over the next two seasons and has a player option for the 2018-19 campaign. And yes, the Cavs do need a veteran to back up All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving.
Williams wouldn't put Cleveland over the top, in large part because the defending champs are already there. What he would do, though, is fortify the Cavs for the rest of the regular season and, with Shumpert heading to Big D, create at least a sliver of salary breathing room on the NBA's most expensive roster.