Who Will NBA's Worst Teams Unload Before the 2023 Trade Deadline?

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBAFeatured Columnist IVJanuary 17, 2023

Who Will NBA's Worst Teams Unload Before the 2023 Trade Deadline?

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    DETROIT, MICHIGAN - JANUARY 08: Bojan Bogdanovic #44 of the Detroit Pistons looks on against the Philadelphia 76ers at Little Caesars Arena on January 08, 2023 in Detroit, Michigan. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images)
    Nic Antaya/Getty Images

    The NBA's race for Victor Wembanyama, Scoot Henderson and the top prospects of the 2023 draft class is...well, less crowded than expected.

    Despite the allure of these potential fortune-changing talents, most teams have avoided the temptation to tank. Maybe that's due to flattened lottery odds or the chance to compete for a play-in tournament. Perhaps others think there's still enough season remaining to pull the rip cord later and hope the ping-pong balls bounce their way.

    Whatever the case, there are really only five clubs in the hunt right now: the Orlando Magic, San Antonio Spurs, Detroit Pistons, Charlotte Hornets and Houston Rockets. They are the Association's only teams with sub-.400 winning percentages. They are, not coincidentally, also the only ones with a net efficiency rating worse than minus-2.0 points per 100 possessions.

    It's possible more teams enter the race going forward, and we'll examine that possibility a bit here. However, the heart of our focus will be on these five cellar dwellers and the top trade candidates they could shop around to buyers leading up to the Feb. 9 trade deadline.

Potential Tankers

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    CHICAGO, IL - NOVEMBER 07: Toronto Raptors forward O.G. Anunoby (3) guards Chicago Bulls forward DeMar DeRozan (11) during a NBA game between the Toronto Raptors and the Chicago Bulls on November 7, 2022 at the United Center in Chicago, IL. (Photo by Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    Chicago Bulls

    Despite still being without Lonzo Ball and owing a top-four-protected pick to the Magic, the Bulls don't seem interested in racing to the bottom. A sleepy trade season is expected in the Windy City, per Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times, which is surely a bummer for buyers to hear. If Chicago blew it up, then Nikola Vučević, Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan would rank among the most coveted players on the market.

    Oklahoma City Thunder

    Thanks to MVP-caliber play by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, nightly triple-double pursuits by Josh Giddey and a supporting cast that is generally trending up, the Thunder, winners in 10 of their last 15 games, are playing more like buyers than sellers. Still, a rocky next month could leave the franchise to hunt draft assets, though Mike Muscala and Kenrich Williams might be the only realistic trade candidates in the Sooner State.

    Toronto Raptors

    The Raptors came into this campaign with at least a puncher's chance of escaping the Eastern Conference. Now, though, there's a chance this group won't even have a play-in invitation in hand when the deadline hits. Maybe that's not reason enough to dismantle the core, but if the front office feels otherwise, then O.G. Anunoby, Gary Trent Jr. or even Fred VanVleet might be obtainable at the right price.

    Utah Jazz

    Utah bulked up its asset collection in the offseason, so it may not see any need for additional wheeling and dealing. Still, the Jazz are just 12-21 since their surprising 10-3 start, so ruling out the possibility of more selling doesn't seem right. If Utah takes the plunge, then Mike Conley and Malik Beasley are the most obvious trade candidates with Jordan Clarkson and Jarred Vanderbilt potentially being on the move if the return is rich enough.

    Washington Wizards

    Statistically speaking, the Wizards come closest to our group of designated tankers, as they sit just 25th in winning percentage (.419) and net rating (minus-1.4). For whatever reason, though, Washington seems wholly disinterested in accepting its fate. For instance, Kyle Kuzma, its most obvious trade candidate (whispers: other than Bradley Beal), is someone the team doesn't want to move and actually hopes to re-sign this summer, per Marc Stein.

Charlotte Hornets

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    ORLANDO, FLORIDA - NOVEMBER 14: (L-R) Kelly Oubre Jr. #12, Terry Rozier #3, LaMelo Ball #1 and P.J. Washington #25 of the Charlotte Hornets return to the court following a timeout in the second half against the Orlando Magic at Amway Center on November 14, 2022 in Orlando, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)
    Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

    Trade candidates: Kelly Oubre Jr., Mason Plumlee, P.J. Washington

    B/R's Eric Pincus recently reported the Hornets have yet to engage the trade market. That should be a matter of when and not if that will happen, though.

    Charlotte might be able to convince itself that things aren't as bad as they appear. LaMelo Ball has missed more games than he has played, so there is some truth in that take.

    There is not enough of it to matter, though.

    This is not a good roster. The center rotation remains one of the league's worst. The scoring void created by the absence of Miles Bridges—who pleaded no contest to a felony charge of injuring a child's parent in November—has never been filled. The injury bug won't leave Gordon Hayward alone. Oh, and even when Ball has played, the Hornets have lost his minutes by 1.4 points per 100 possessions.

    You could keep a straight face while suggesting every Hornet other than Ball is a trade candidate. If Jalen McDaniels is up for grabs (suitors are making calls), it's hard to imagine anyone 25 or older is off-limits. Any remotely reasonable offer for Hayward or Terry Rozier would probably make the Hornets pounce.

    Still, the aforementioned Oubre, Plumlee and Washington separate themselves from Charlotte's other trade candidates for two reasons. First, all three are slated to reach free agency this summer. Second, each has enough ability to attract external interest.

    Oubre is rangy, athletic and a lightning bolt in transition. Plumlee is reliable around the rim and a good passer for his size (7'0", 254 lbs). Washington holds major glue-guy potential, and while he hasn't put it all together yet, he is still a 24-year-old lottery pick, so it isn't hard to believe a rival franchise (or a few) believes that leap is coming.

Detroit Pistons

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    DETROIT, MICHIGAN - DECEMBER 28: Bojan Bogdanovic #44 of the Detroit Pistons shoots a free throw against the Orlando Magic at Little Caesars Arena on December 28, 2022 in Detroit, Michigan. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images)
    Nic Antaya/Getty Images

    Trade candidates: Bojan Bogdanović, Saddiq Bey, Alec Burks, Nerlens Noel

    Despite having the Association's third-worst record and being without franchise centerpiece Cade Cunningham (shin surgery) for the duration of the campaign, Detroit holds a massive amount of influence over the direction of the league.

    While it's quite possible none of the aforementioned trade candidates immediately jumped off your screen, this trade market, which features way more buyers than obvious sellers, might hold some of them as difference-makers.

    Bogdanović is a 6'7" scoring forward with loads of experience (including 47 playoff games) and a killer combination of a career-high 21.2 points per game with a sizzling 48.7/41.5/88.5 shooting slash. There's a non-zero chance he's the best player moved this trade season. Detroit knows it has a gold mine on its hands and would only let Bogdanović go for "at the very minimum, an unprotected first-round pick," per James L. Edwards III of The Athletic.

    Bey appeared like a no-brainer keeper for the Pistons in the not-so-distant past, but he hasn't had a great season and surfaced in the rumor mill in November. He's shown high-level flashes of three-and-D play (with a little more scoring than the label implies), and he won't turn 24 until April. He still feels like a keeper, but not an untouchable one.

    Burks is a 12-year veteran who might be authoring his strongest season to date. His 18.8 player efficiency rating and 63.0 true shooting percentage are (easily) personal bests, as are his 22.8 points per 36 minutes. While Edwards reported "a team would have to vastly overpay for Burks' services," that feels like the kind of message relayed solely to elicit such an overpay.

    Noel hasn't received a ton of run in a crowded frontcourt (142 minutes over 12 games), but he still offers a good amount of defensive disruption. He can really muck things up for opponents, evidenced by the seven blocks and five steals he tallied over his three previous outings, all of which lasted fewer than 22 minutes. Teams in the market for paint protection could take a flier.

Houston Rockets

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 15:  Eric Gordon #10 of the Houston Rockets drives to the basket during the game against the LA Clippers on January 15, 2023 at Crypto.Com Arena in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2023 NBAE (Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

    Trade candidates: Eric Gordon, Kenyon Martin Jr.

    If the hashtag #FreeEricGordon isn't trending throughout the first week of February, the 34-year-old guard should be in the market for a new publicist.

    He can't possibly have more words of wisdom to share with the rebuilding Rockets that haven't been repeated ad nauseam since the January 2021 trade of James Harden. Forcing Gordon to spend the duration of his 15th NBA season preaching the importance of ball movement and defense to a young core that hasn't shown much interest in either might meet the legal definition of cruel and unusual punishment.

    Mercifully, though, the Rockets should be ready to end his Space City tenure. His contract is down to just a non-guaranteed $20.9 million salary for next season, and neither party should want this relationship to last any longer.

    Houston reportedly covets "a young player or a future first-round pick" in return for Gordon, per The Athletic's Kelly Iko. Gordon's numbers have declined this season (from 13.4 points per game on 47.5/41.2/77.8 shooting to 12.0 on 42.7/35.6/81.1), but he's still a decent source of shot-making, secondary distributing and serviceable defense.

    That should be worth something on the trade market, even if it's not quite as much as the Rockets hoped.

    Martin is the more interesting discussion.

    He requested a trade in the offseason, per Iko, then reversed course and had interest in an extension, per Iko. At 22 years old, Martin fits the team timeline and could be viewed as a role-playing building block.

    However, since the frontcourt congestion that made Martin question his long-term fit with the franchise remains in place, a trade still feels possible.

    In December, The Athletic's Shams Charania reported Houston sought "a very good first-rounder" for Martin. Given his elite athleticism, defensive versatility and budding offensive game (career highs of 10.9 points per game and 55.4 percent shooting), the right buyer could be willing to meet that price.

Orlando Magic

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    ORLANDO, FL - OCTOBER 11: Terrence Ross #31 high fives Mo Bamba #11 of the Orlando Magic during the game against the Memphis Grizzlies on October 11, 2022 at Amway Center in Orlando, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images

    Trade candidates: Mo Bamba, Terrence Ross, Gary Harris, R.J. Hampton

    While the Magic may have waited longer than needed to lean in to their rebuild, they've been crushing the project ever since. Turning Nikola Vučević into Wendell Carter Jr., Franz Wagner and a 2023 first-round pick was a stroke of genius. Same goes for taking cheap fliers on Markelle Fultz and Bol Bol.

    Bottoming out in time to land Paolo Banchero with the No. 1 pick is the kind of good-luck maneuver that could grant favorable fortunes to this franchise for years to come.

    And Orlando isn't done yet.

    Sure, the huge hauls aren't coming to the Magic anymore, but they have enough trade candidates to help fill in the cracks around their core.

    Mo Bamba, whose role has been reduced by Carter's presence and Bol's ascension, holds significant appeal for his combination of shot-blocking and perimeter shooting. Bamba's $10.3 million salary won't guarantee until late June, so Orlando doesn't have to move him now, but if anyone puts a first-rounder on the table, that should get a deal done.

    Ross, who was around for the Magic's teardown, is a quick-strike scorer who is pairing his 12.7 points per 36 minutes with a 37.3 percent splash rate from three. Harris has struggled with injuries (an unfortunate theme throughout his career), but he's a tenacious defender who is converting 38.9 percent of his long-range looks.

    Hampton, the No. 24 pick in 2020, had his fourth-year option declined in October, which moved him to the trade block. His numbers haven't been great (though two levels of his 43.9/34.0/83.8 slash line mark career highs), but his age (21), athleticism and pedigree could appeal to the right team.

San Antonio Spurs

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    SAN ANTONIO, TX - JANUARY 15: Jakob Poeltl #25 of the San Antonio Spurs shoots a free throw during the game against the Sacramento Kings on January 15, 2023 at the AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photos by Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Photos by Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images

    Trade candidates: Jakob Poeltl, Josh Richardson, Doug McDermott

    After serving as the sports world's model of consistency for much of the past several decades, the Spurs are finally embracing life at the bottom of the standings. If that doesn't sell you on the strength of this draft class, I'm not sure what will.

    San Antonio excised most of its veteran talent over the past year-plus, so there isn't a ton for win-now shoppers to mine in the Alamo City. Still, this trio of trade candidates should get front offices talking.

    Poeltl is the crown jewel, or as close to a crown jewel as you'll find in San Antonio. Despite offering zero spacing—he's a career 52.8 percent foul shooter—the 7'1" center could command "significant offers," per ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski.

    Poeltl is an elite paint protector who stays active on the glass, finishes from close range and keeps the ball moving when he doesn't have a look at the rim. Any team with an interior need will give him a look, and those with glaring gaps in the middle could pony up interesting offers.

    That's why it's hard to see him staying with San Antonio past the trade deadline, despite Wojnarowski's reporting that the Spurs would like to keep Poeltl. That feels like posturing to drive up his price tag. At 27 years old, he is a touch too experienced to fit this team's timeline, and unrestricted free agency awaits at season's end. The time to move him is now.

    Richardson, a free agent after this season, and McDermott, a free agent in 2024, might be even more logical trade candidates. Richardson turned 29 in September, while McDermott just celebrated his 31st birthday. Their future with the franchise is far more likely to end in weeks than years.

    They aren't stars, but they are reliable veterans with defined roles and enough experience to adjust to a new team quickly. Richardson is a pesky defender with a decent outside shot and a pinch of playmaking. McDermott is a lights-out shooter who moves well off the ball. They might not fetch first-round picks, but multiple seconds could be in the cards.

    Statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference and NBA.com and accurate through Sunday. Salary information via Spotrac.

    Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.