Bold Predictions 2 Weeks Before the 2023 NBA Trade Deadline
In another irrefutably valiant, never-ending effort to will a gloriously busy 2023 NBA trade deadline into existence, we have another fresh batch of bold predictions to disperse among—and for the sake of—the masses.
If you didn't check out the first package of—*sarcasm font*—courageous crystyal-balling, you can do that here. Some teams are making second cameos, but the predictions will be different. No double-dipping around these parts.
Just like last time, my stab-in-the-dark fortune-tellings are not designed to be inflammatory or outright wrong. They are predictions that journey at least slightly off the ad-nauseam path I actually believe, in my heart of hearts, will come true.
These convictions are not born, verbatim, from the rumor mill. They are more so inklings and (meant-to-be) educational guesstimates. That's what makes them bold.
And, frankly, at a time when Everyone In The Know is bracing us for a humdrum deadline, we could all stand to indulge our inner, step-out-on-a-somewhat-sturdy-limb hunches. I've already cannonballed into the mindset. Come join me, won't you?
There Will Be More Trades Than Last Year
Am I taking this "Will the trade-deadline tumult into existence!" bit a little too far. Potentially. But as Bleacher Report's resident live-trade grader person, it comes at the expense of my own workload and sanity. So, um, I think that makes it OK.
Last year, we had 16 deals go down during trade-deadline week. That number will be surpassed this season.
Believe it or not, actual forethought went into this prediction. I'm not saying we'll get something on the level of James Harden frowny-facing his way to the Philadelphia 76ers. I'm saying there will be trades, of all shapes and sizes, in droves.
Yes, the dearth of sellers poses an obstacle. But 24 teams are currently within three losses of a play-in spot. Plenty of business is inevitable when so many franchises can convince themselves that they have something to compete for this season.
Perhaps everyone winds up picking off the carcasses of the same four to six sellers. Whatever. There will be player movement, even if it's more geared toward odds and ends and finishing touches rather than landscape-shifting splashes.
And let's not forget the inevitable bookkeeping deals. The Boston Celtics already made one by offloading Noah Vonleh to the San Antonio Spurs. Philly is just over $1 million into the tax and looking to duck it. Underachievers like the Golden State Warriors and Phoenix Suns could try to cut their tax bills. The Spurs and Indiana Pacers have cap space. The money-is-no-object L.A. Clippers have a $9.7 million trade exception. The rebuilding-but-also-good-now Oklahoma City Thunder ($10.2 million) and Utah Jazz ($9.8 million) have sizable TPEs of their own.
Bank on, if not wish upon, a flurry of 17 or more deadline-week trades. They're totally coming. I think.
At Least 2 of Grizzlies, Knicks & Suns Trade Multiple 1sts (or Prospect Equivalents)
This doesn't sound too bold on its face. But then you start to poke around the league's draft commitments. So many squads have bankrupted their pick stash by outright dealing them well into the future or protected singular selections for all of eternity and prevented themselves from guaranteeing firsts before, approximately, the end of time.
Combine this with the shallow sellers market, and ticketing two relevant teams for multi-pick (or first-round prospect) trades is actually quite counterintuitive.
Especially when we're limiting ourselves to one of the Memphis Grizzlies and Phoenix Suns making something happen.
The Grizzlies are notoriously married to their internal development and have eschewed opportunities to consolidate picks and prospects. The smart bet is they'll do nothing or something teensy-tiny.
Forget that. The Grizzlies are second in the Western Conference and entering established-contender territory. That designation comes with expectations and casts a microscope on their flaws. Memphis still struggles to generate offense inside the half-court beyond cleaning up its own misses. With all its own first-round picks, Golden State's 2024 selection (top-four protection) and recent first-rounders like Santi Aldama, Jake LaRavia, David Roddy and Ziaire Williams, they have the ammo and incentive to wheel and deal on a meaningful level. Finally.
For their part, the Suns have also been inexplicably hesitant to swing higher-level trades under general manager James Jones. Sure, they acquired Chris Paul. But that was, first and foremost, an obvious move. It was also almost three years ago.
We know they will move the inactively employed Jae Crowder, because it would be ridiculous not to move him. Whether they can pull off something bigger when the sale of the team has yet to be finalized is a different story. Approval needs to pass through so many different people at this point.
The New York Knicks, meanwhile, are here
for clicks as the sensible option. They have a crap ton of lower- and mid-end firsts, some of which aren't especially likely to convey anytime soon or at all. (Looking at you, obligations from Detroit and Washington).
Giving up one of those assets without acquiring a star is hardly back-breaking. Keep your eyes peeled on Obi Toppin, too. He is extension-eligible this summer, the Knicks still refuse to trot him out at center, and he has no clear path to a purposeful role so long as Julius Randle is on the team and making an All-Star case.
1 of These Teams Will Join the (Short) List of Sellers
Ranking things is fun, so here is my official "Power Ranking of the Not-Yet-Definitive Sellers Most Likely to Become Sellers and Alter the Trade Landscape."
But first, clarity!
Here is every team that profiles as a should-be seller or is being routinely discussed as one: Charlotte Hornets, Detroit Pistons, Houston Rockets, Indiana Pacers, Orlando Magic, San Antonio Spurs and Utah Jazz.
To the surprise-seller rankings!
4. Chicago Bulls
Congratulations to the Bulls on their recent winning streak. That should shield them against a much-needed reality check. Chicago has neither the in-house upside nor blue-chip assets to bridge the galaxy separating it from contention. Starting over should be on the table.
Even if it's not, a half-baked renovation might be in play. Can the Bulls really reject overtures from desperate buyers willing to surrender the moon for DeMar DeRozan or Zach LaVine? Probably. But they loom as at least a slight wild card.
3. Toronto Raptors
Yes, the Raptors are getting billed as potential sellers with increasing frequency. But their top-end talent is so good they could be buyers. The rumors tying them to seller inclinations are also overwhelmingly theoretical and rarely sourced.
Still, gross underachievement has a way of shifting timelines. OG Anunoby vultures should find a new slant, but Gary Trent Jr., Fred VanVleet and even Pascal Siakam could all amble their way on to the block if the Raptors decide to rebuild. If they're looking at more of a gap-year retool, then any selling will probably be limited to GTJ.
2. Portland Trail Blazers
This runs contrary to what sources told Bleacher Report's Chris Haynes about the Blazers. They fancy themselves buyers who have identified "shooting, size and depth" as "areas of need."
Is spotlighting basically everything about basketball as your primary "areas of need" unintentionally comedic? Absolutely. And that's why the Blazers feel like a stealth seller.
Lakers-jersey photoshop specialists can chill. Damian Lillard isn't going anywhere. But Portland has a pair of desirable soon-to-be free agents in Josh Hart (early termination option) and Jerami Grant; could try to undo their Gary Payton II signing; and should kick the tires of Jusuf Nurkic's market so long as they remain firmly entrenched in the bottom of the Western Conference's middle.
1. Washington Wizards
Though the Rui Hachimura (restricted) trade seems like evidence the Wizards plan to pay Kyle Kuzma (player option) and Kristaps Porziņģis (player option) and maybe Deni Avdija (extension eligible this summer) and continue their reign as Almost As Aimless As The Hornets, their entire situation is extremely combustible.
What if Kuzma makes it clear he doesn't want to stick around? What if Washington has a revelation amid Porziņģis' latest absence that "Hey, maybe bankrolling his next deal isn't such a good idea?" What if honorary team governor/no-trade-clause owner Bradley Beal wakes up and decides he's tired of life in the sub-basement and tries leveraging his way out?
Some fans will take the Wizards' pole position in this exercise as an insult. Really, it might give them too much credit, since it suggests they may do what they should've done years ago and actually prioritize the bigger picture.
1 of These Teams will Trade an Unprotected 1st-Round Pick that Conveys *AFTER* 2026
How about another Ranking of the The Hypothetical?
3. Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers would have topped this pecking order before the start of the season. How could they not trade their 2027 and 2029 first-rounders to maximize LeBron James' window? That would be unfathomable.
General manager Rob Pelinka, as it turns out, is the undisputed czar of the unfathomable. The Lakers are pluckier than they were to start the year, but it's become pretty clear they're more than one trade away from title contention.
Maybe the Rui Hachimura acquisition is a precursor to parting with first-rounders and taking on money. I expanded upon that possibility here. Really, the Lakers crack the top three because LeBron not only exists but is still playing at an All-NBA level. Mortgaging the future remains a possibility by default, even if it's a foggy one.
2. Milwaukee Bucks
Limited reps at full strength will probably compel the Bucks to avoid big swings. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton need to play more than, like, eight seconds together before we declare Milwaukee's offense fatally flawed. This team is far more likely to forfeit roughly eight kajillion seconds in a convoluted Eric Gordon or Jae Crowder acquisition than cough up its 2029 first-rounder.
And yet, the Bucks have Giannis. Their title window is now. And their offense has been uninspiring, even by playing-shorthanded standards. And they still don't have a surefire fifth closer.
If attaching that 2029 first to salary can get them in the running for a Kyle Kuzma, Bogdan Bogdanović or Malik Beasley, they should at least consider it. Also: Don't rule out a scenario in which they acquire a lesser player and more imminent first-rounder while sending out their 2029 pick. That's one way to soften the future blow.
1. L.A. Clippers
Given the Clippers' track record of doing something semi-glittery at every trade deadline, it might be more surprising if they didn't flip their 2028 or 2029 first-rounder. But that's a preseason mindset.
L.A. has real concerns on its hands. Move past the load-management and injury bugaboos and you're still left with a bottom-five offense that's been only slightly better since the turn of the calendar, zero center depth and a much-talked-about-yet-nevertheless-glaring need to diversify the floor general minutes.
Risk-averse franchises wouldn't dare peddle a first-rounder six or seven drafts into the future. The Clippers are different. Their top-end talent is good enough, when actually available, to compete for a title. They won't let the "Potential Frauds" label continue bandying about without a fight.
At Least 1 Thought-to-Be Seller Becomes a Buyer
Another ranking? ANOTHER RANKING.
4. Oklahoma City Thunder
As I outlined in my "Buy, Sell or Hold?" primer, this is more wishful thinking than rooted in reality:
"Limited matching salary is one issue. Roster-spot limbo is another. The Thunder project to have one open slot this summer, which they will fill with their own first-round pick or the Clippers' selection. They're unlikely to complicate that situation—especially with so many additional firsts coming their way after this year.
The Thunder have a $10.2 million trade exception, plenty of second-rounders to which they needn't be attached and at least one or two dispensable players. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is tracking toward All-NBA honors, and play-in territory is within reach. This might be a team that complicates the competitive landscape by adding talent rather than standing pat.
3. Utah Jazz
Now that their hot start has settled into a tepid reality, the Jazz are expected to act like sellers at the trade deadline, according to NBA reporter Marc Stein.
Counterpoint: What if they don't?
Indeed, the Jazz might move Mike Conley or Jarred Vanderbilt or Malik Beasley. But what if it's part of a buy rather than sales gig? Or what if they just scoop up a quality player at his nadir like John Collins? They could target reinforcements on the wing in Josh Hart, Cam Reddish or Jae'Sean Tate.
Ponying up for a blockbuster is most likely off the table. But don't be surprised if Utah opportunistically buys without shedding any of its core players.
2. Indiana Pacers
Tyrese Haliburton's absence with knee and elbow issues should nudge the Pacers into sellers territory. With the exception of last season, though, they've never been that team. And even amid their 0-for-6-streak sans Hali, they remain close enough to the East's playoff bracket to keep on Pacers-ing.
Basically, you have to ask yourself, what's more on-brand for them: Finally, at long last, shipping out Myles Turner? Or keeping him, potentially renegotiating and extending him and leveraging some combination of their $27-plus million in cap space, 2023 first-rounders from Boston (top-12 protection) and Cleveland (lottery protection) and maaaybe Chris Duarte into a John Collins, Obi Toppin, P.J. Washington, Patrick Williams, Jae'Sean Tate, etc.?
1. Toronto Raptors
The Raptors appearing in both the "surprise sellers" and "surprise buyers" sections is a perfect encapsulation of their season, when you really think about it.
Toronto teardowns get discussed waaay more often than this alternative. That probably has something to do with the complete absence of sellers hocking title-tilting talent. But if the Raptors have so many of those players in OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Gary Trent Jr. and Fred VanVleet, they could theoretically buy.
Quadrupling down on this season would be quite the gamble and not in character for team president Masai Ujiri. That's fine. The current trade market isn't conducive to monster moves. But the Raptors have all their own picks and a handful of easy-on-the-gullet salaries. They are stocked enough to beef up their shot creation, functional shooting and overall depth—and still, at this moment, close enough to the East's playoff fracas to believe any upgrades, at all, can make a world of difference.