As NBA trade season nears, the buyers are still trying to identify the sellers.
Some are obvious if you look at the bottom of the standings. Among the league's worst teams, league sources believe the Detroit Pistons may be open to trading shooter Bojan Bogdanović, the Orlando Magic are expected to shop Gary Harris, Terrence Ross and Mo Bamba, and the San Antonio Spurs (Jakob Poeltl, Josh Richardson and Doug McDermott) and the Houston Rockets (Eric Gordon) may part with veterans.
The market will determine prices, but the names shouldn't be a surprise.
Additionally, buyers are eager to see what happens to the league's middling franchises, primarily in the Eastern Conference. Will teams like the Washington Wizards, Chicago Bulls and Toronto Raptors stay the course and chase the postseason or part with valuable players?
From those teams, keep an eye on players who may headline the free-agent class of 2023.
Kyle Kuzma's Future
The Wizards (11-15) have plenty of offense with Bradley Beal, Kristaps Porziņģis and Kyle Kuzma, but the team is neck-and-neck with the Bulls in the standings.
Kuzma (27), however, is a flight risk and precisely the kind of player many rebuilding teams would covet in free agency. He could be a top-five free agent this offseason—at worst, top-10. "He wants out," an NBA source said. "He's looking for over $20 million a season and in a big market [or with a contender]."
Kuzma is believed to still be on the Sacramento Kings' radar after they missed out on him in 2021 when the Los Angeles Lakers traded him to Washington instead of Sacramento. The Kings can't trade a first until 2028 (due to protections on their obligation to the Atlanta Hawks for Kevin Huerter), but they could build a deal around Harrison Barnes with that distant pick and/or prospects like Davion Mitchell.
Another team to monitor would be the Lakers, knowing Kuzma has championship experience playing alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Giving up a first to both part and reunite with Kuzma would fit the Lakers' track record. Los Angeles might have Kuzma on its list, but the Bulls may present an alternative option—more on that later.
Meanwhile, the Suns may also see a path to Kuzma via Cameron Johnson (currently recovering from knee surgery) and Jae Crowder.
"I don't think [Phoenix] can commit to anything long-term until a new owner is in place," one source said, but that may only be an issue if the Suns have to give up first-round compensation.
Johnson will be a restricted free agent next summer, which could appeal to the Wizards, who would have the right of first refusal on any competing offer.
Another team to keep a close eye on with Kuzma is the New York Knicks. Kuzma is represented by Austin Brown of CAA, who worked closely with colleague Leon Rose before Rose left the agency to join the Knicks as president. New York has several CAA clients, including Jalen Brunson, Julius Randle, Isaiah Hartenstein and Obi Toppin.
Toppin, who scored his career high (at the time, 35) in Washington in April, could be part of a package for the Wizards that includes young players like Immanuel Quickley and Cam Reddish, among others. Through a series of trades, the Knicks have several 2023 first-round picks from the Dallas Mavericks, Pistons and Wizards (heavily protected through 2026). New York has all of its firsts and one from Milwaukee in 2025.
The Knicks add a more polished scorer, while CAA gets Kuzma to one of his preferred destinations on a new, sizable contract and Toppin to a team that may have a greater role for him. The Wizards could get their own first back and negotiate a price given how much New York has to offer.
Wherever Kuzma lands, if he's not going to stay with the Wizards, the team needs to seriously weigh the opportunity cost of letting him leave without anything in return.
Maybe the Wizards see this team through. Beal's recent hamstring strain doesn't appear to be serious, and the team still has a realistic shot at the play-in.
Also, several rival executives believe the Wizards will not lose Porziņģis, who is having a strong season. He can opt into his $36 million salary for 2023-24 with the Wizards or re-sign on a longer deal at a lower annual price.
All Eyes on the Bulls
"Everyone is watching Chicago very closely," one NBA source said. "They're so poorly constructed, they need to blow it up."
The Bulls made more sense last season when Lonzo Ball was healthy. The unselfish, defensive-minded tandem of Alex Caruso and Ball helped offset the offense first/defense optional Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vučević.
Chicago gave up a lot to get Vučević (32) and needs to win the lottery (top four) to avoid giving its selection to the Magic. The decision to blow it up must come quickly while the Bulls (10-14) are in range of a high pick. Five teams sit on just seven wins—a good week or two could push Chicago entirely out of range. The Bulls also owe the Spurs a heavily protected first to the Spurs for DeRozan.
According to NBA sources, the Lakers are interested in both Vučević and DeRozan. If L.A. is willing to give up two first-round picks (2027 and 2029) along with Russell Westbrook as a buy-out candidate, the Bulls may end up in a better lottery position to retain their pick in June. This is the draft to do it.
Chicago could also look to move LaVine (after Jan. 15), who re-signed on a five-year, $215.2 million contract this summer. His name hasn't buzzed yet on the rumor mill, but Chicago could find willing suitors if it made the two-time All-Star available.
The alternative is losing its first to Orlando—barring a low-percentage lottery miracle—and re-signing Vučević in July. The team would have its mid-level exception (likely in the $11 million range) and smaller trades to try to perfect what many around the league believe to be a low-ceiling roster.
Or Chicago could divest itself from everything that isn't nailed down (outside of its young, developing prospects) and start over, which is precisely what many others believe it should do.
Raptors Building Around Scottie?
Toronto snagged the Rookie of the Year in Scottie Barnes with the No. 4 pick last year. At 21, he's the centerpiece of the team's future. But how many of his teammates will be around for the ride?
Of the three discussed teams, the Raptors are the most likely to keep their roster together. Despite that, several NBA sources were clear that interested parties will monitor Toronto's situation closely.
"The timeline of their players don't match," one source said. "They have good players, but it will be interesting to see how they navigate with OG [Anunoby] and Fred [VanVleet]."
The Raptors (13-13) could have the best package (without Barnes) to offer the Brooklyn Nets if Kevin Durant demanded a trade again. They could also make smaller deals to improve, probably around Gary Trent Jr.
"I don't think they want to keep Trent," one source said, suggesting he's the player they shop at the deadline. Trent is earning $17.5 million this season with an $18.8 million option for 2023-24.
The bigger question is VanVleet, who turns 29 in February. With his experience, some sources believe he could be a target of some of the younger teams with cap space, like the Magic. Orlando could even offer a package before the deadline with one of its younger guards like Cole Anthony, a center in Bamba and perhaps a veteran like Harris to the Raptors.
Additionally, Pascal Siakam and Anunoby are under contract through 2023-24 (Anunoby can opt into 2024-25). If the Raptors are to change direction, some around the league believe now would be the time, as players tend to draw less in return when they are on expiring contracts.
The list of teams interested in Siakam, Anunoby (especially Anunoby), VanVleet and Trent is varied, likely including the Golden State Warriors, Miami Heat, Minnesota Timberwolves, Indiana Pacers, Lakers, Suns, Kings and Nets, among others.
But giving up core pieces that won a championship in 2019 is a lot to ask of Toronto.
The Utah Jazz may be more of a buyer than a seller after their impressive start to the season. Similarly, the Indiana Pacers are winning too much to part with Myles Turner, who may re-sign with the team after multiple trade deadlines on the block.
The Hornets didn't intend to tank this season, but injuries and roster composition have done the job. Teams are keeping an eye on the availability of players like Terry Rozier, Kelly Oubre Jr. and Mason Plumlee. Gordon Hayward was on that list before his shoulder injury. Additionally, P.J. Washington (a pending restricted free agent) could be available as he's believed to be seeking a larger payday than the Hornets are willing to offer.
Finally, the Suns are believed to have interest in both Kenyon Martin Jr. and Gordon from the Rockets.