5 NBA Players Who Should've Already Been Traded
The NBA trade deadline brings desperation, but the best time to act is often before urgency kicks in. Teams lose leverage when players they thought about dealing (but didn't) underperform or draw closer to free agency.
Some organizations hold off on moves because they want to see how the season unfolds. It's always possible that a young talent will develop or an ill-fitting piece will find his niche.
The players we'll cover here haven't validated their teams' decisions to stand pat. All of them are rumor-mill mainstays who've been the subject of trade speculation since at least the beginning of this season. Some of them have had to deal with trade chatter for much longer than that.
In some instances, impending free agency is sapping their trade value by the day. In others, championship windows are closing because the player in question—and not the help he could bring back via trade—is still on the roster.
Patience is a virtue, but so is decisiveness. Teams that hesitated have no choice now. It's time for them to make trade calls on these players as soon as possible.
John Collins, Atlanta Hawks
NBA teams typically don't include "let's give this guy a break" in their list of reasons for swinging a deal, but all of us—John Collins most of all—need a reprieve. Few players have spent more time in the rumor mill than he has, and it must be wearing on him.
Three-plus years of limbo might even explain Collins' dip in production, marked by the lowest true shooting percentage and box plus/minus of his career, not to mention his worst scoring average (13.3 points) since his rookie season in 2017-18. It can't be easy to stay focused on the floor with the specter of a life-upending deal hovering overhead for so long. Reported differences with Trae Young, the face of the franchise who arrived after Collins held that role, cannot have helped either.
Hypothetical return packages for Collins are all over the map. He's been relatively unproductive of late and is in just the second year of a five-year, $125 million deal, so some rumored trades include the Hawks giving up assets to move him. That implies he has negative value.
At the same time, Collins averaged 21.6 point and 10.1 rebounds per game while shooting 40.1 percent from three-point range in his age-22 campaign. He has also showed flashes of being a legitimate big-game defender. Although that high-end version of Collins has been hidden from view over the last few seasons, he'd be a bargain at $25 million per year and should have other teams adding assets to get him in a trade.
I fall into the camp that still values Collins as a tantalizing buy-low option. He seems like a prime change-of-scenery breakout candidate and shouldn't come cheap. However, the market will ultimately tell the Hawks what he's worth.
Bank on Collins playing much better if and when he dons another team's jersey, if only by default. He's never been worse.
Call it naive optimism, but it's hard to believe a 25-year-old with clear All-Star talent simply "lost it" from a skill perspective. A trade could help Collins rediscover his top form, end a saga in Atlanta that has gone on too long and finally remove him as the longest-tenured occupant of the rumor mill.
Eric Gordon, Houston Rockets
Seven of the rebuilding Houston Rockets' top eight players in total minutes this season are 22 or younger...and then there's Eric Gordon. The 34-year-old is the lone outlier, the all-time easiest pick in Houston's game of "which one of these doesn't belong?"
There's value in keeping a sage veteran around to model professional behavior for a roster composed of so many players who were amateurs until recently. The way the Rockets kick the ball around the gym in an undisciplined offense screams inexperience. An adult in the room matters in situations like this.
But Gordon has served his term. He's been with the Rockets since 2016-17, played in do-or-die conference finals battles and endured the teardown that began with James Harden's trade demand in late 2020. At a certain point, there's a risk in keeping a vet around for too long. It's not supposed to be a permanent position, and Gordon seems to be tiring of it.
Gordon's production is slipping, which is predictable at his age but possibly reversible if he lands with a team that's competing for something. Plus, a sturdy defender who can score in double digits and still scare a defense enough from deep to keep it honest will always be a hot commodity. Considering Gordon shot 47.5 percent from the field and 41.2 percent from deep while flashing his once-excellent defensive chops last season, contenders should have reason to believe he hasn't lost his touch overnight.
It wouldn't be shocking to see Gordon closing games as a three-and-D weapon for a good team. The Cleveland Cavaliers and Milwaukee Bucks could both use him, and the latter has reportedly offered four second-rounders for his services.
It's long past time for Gordon to get a shot somewhere else.
Jae Crowder, Phoenix Suns
Had the Phoenix Suns acted quickly when Jae Crowder made it clear he wasn't reporting to training camp, they could have avoided wasting a roster spot for nearly half of the season.
Right around that same time, the Detroit Pistons gave up Kelly Olynyk, Saben Lee and cash to get Bojan Bogdanović from the Utah Jazz. Maybe Crowder wouldn't have commanded a return quite as valuable, but that trade remains proof that Phoenix could have at least gotten a rotation player and filler for a desirable combo forward.
If nothing else, the fact that the Pistons had interest in a veteran at the time shows that hesitating to move Crowder diminished Phoenix's pool of suitors. Tankers and rebuilders like Detroit have less interest in acquiring vets now than they would have several months ago.
Now, the Suns can only realistically expect to deal Crowder to a contender. This complicates matters since Phoenix is a veteran-led, win-now outfit that should be seeking an experienced two-way combo forward just like Crowder. Part of the reason why no trade has materialized is because teams aren't lining up to trade like-for-like, especially when the player whom the Suns are offering hasn't exactly been the most committed teammate.
Crowder is sitting out despite still being under contract and fully healthy.
Bogdanović is now one of the hotter commodities on the market. Ironically, Crowder and the Suns could benefit by offering a lower-cost alternative to the Pistons forward. If Phoenix advertises its willingness to move Crowder for something less than a first-round pick, a deal could get done.
The Suns-Crowder situation calls to mind a folksy truism: The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second-best time is now.
The best time to trade Crowder was September. The second-best time is now.
James Wiseman, Golden State Warriors
Check back in 10 minutes, and this could change. But at this moment, it certainly seems like the Golden State Warriors have waited too long to trade James Wiseman.
That they've had to consider moving the 2020 No. 2 overall pick at all is a problem, but Wiseman's uncertain and volatile value on the market illustrates the depth of the issue. It's difficult to argue that his worth has ever been lower. He's hurt (again) and losing valuable developmental reps (again).
Even when healthy, Wiseman displayed the same concerning shortcomings that marred his truncated rookie season prior to his missed sophomore campaign: bad hands, poor timing on the boards, substandard anticipation on defense and minimal feel on offense.
So, does that mean the Warriors should hold fast and wait for what seems like it should be an inevitable increase in value? Staying patient would mean sacrificing an opportunity to improve a roster that needs immediate help, a mortal sin with Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson trying to chase their fifth title.
Practically speaking, trading Wiseman may be the only way for the Warriors to get better in the short term. They aren't likely to move any of their core vets midseason, Jonathan Kuminga has done enough to deserve keeper status, and nobody else on the roster is both a) dispensable) and b) on a contract big enough to match salary for a meaningful addition.
Wiseman, red flags and all, should still have significant appeal for rebuilding teams. He's a prime "second draft" acquisition, one whose inexperience makes him even more intriguing. Though this is technically his third season, Wiseman has played only 58 career games as a pro and three in college. If you view the 21-year-old that way, his rough edges are nowhere near as concerning. In fact, they're to be expected.
That argument favors Golden State keeping Wiseman, except that the Dubs can't wait for him to find his footing. He may very well develop into an All-Star years down the road, but the Warriors' window to contend might be better measured in months.
It'd be brutal to get back something like an eighth man and a conditional draft pick for a recent No. 2 overall selection with such obvious physical gifts. But that's where the Warriors are with Wiseman, and that's where they've been for most of the past few years. It may be time for them to take the "L" on the 2020 draft and move on.
Jakob Poeltl, San Antonio Spurs
It really comes down to price with Jakob Poeltl. He's a solid starting center just entering his prime, but he seems likely to be overpaid in free agency this summer.
If the San Antonio Spurs aren't convinced that Poeltl is worth $20 million annually, which rival executives told The Athletic's Shams Charania could be in the offing, it's better for them to deal him now. Waiting much longer brings two bad options to the table: Poeltl could sign elsewhere this summer and leave for nothing, or the Spurs could overpay to keep him.
Poeltl has value. He can defend the rim, he's a good passer for his position and he's a significant plus on both the offensive and defensive boards. But he's no star, and his offensive limitations mean the best teams probably can't envision him in high-stakes closing lineups.
Any team that pays Poeltl $20 million per season will have to do it knowing superior options—Wendell Carter Jr., Robert Williams III, Ivica Zubac, Nic Claxton, Kevon Looney—will all make far less than that on their current deals. All five of those players also happen to be younger than Poeltl, who's 27.
The Spurs are rebuilding and should be focused on youth and lottery tickets. Paying Poeltl, even if the cost only ends up being the four-year, $58 million extension that's been on the table for months, doesn't make sense. That's been true since before the season started, when it was clear the Spurs weren't going to field a competitive roster.
San Antonio has taken a hard line by asking for two first-rounders in Poeltl trade talks to this point, per Michael Scotto. Executives believe a single first-rounder and a young player is a more realistic possibility, according to Scotto.
If such a package is available, the Spurs should jump on it. Approaching free agency and nowhere close to fitting the team's young timeline, Poeltl probably shouldn't have started the year in San Antonio. Moving him as soon as possible is the logical move, even if it comes later than it should have.