NBA Trade Deadline Insider: Teams Likely to Deal and the Players They'd Move

Ric Bucher@@RicBucherNBA Senior WriterFebruary 18, 2015

Rocky Widner/Getty Images

Whether or not teams will make a flurry of transactions before this year's NBA trade deadline—Thursday, 3 p.m. ET—remains up in the air. But rest assured at least a couple of players will be moved, and franchises who are still hunting a playoff spot and those ready to fall back will reveal themselves.

Here's a quick run through the league on what to expect:

Most Likely to Move

The likeliest players to be wearing different uniforms this weekend are Denver Nuggets shooting guard Arron Afflalo and Boston Celtics small forward Tayshaun Prince. Afflalo has the ability to opt out of his contract for next season and is fully expected to do so. The Nuggets will want to get something in return for Afflalo before he leaves for nothing. Sources say the Sacramento Kings are eager to reunite Afflalo with former Nuggets and newly hired Kings head coach George Karl, but Sacramento is not the only team in pursuit.

Boston is unlikely to include Prince in a deal before Thursday, but those close to him are confident the Celtics either will let him go or buy him out. A host of playoff-caliber teams, league sources say, are interested in picking up Prince once he's free if they don't fill their need for defensive wing help in some other way. The Los Angeles Clippers and Portland Trail Blazers are both looking to bolster their depth and ability to play small, and Prince certainly would help on those fronts.

Shooters on the Market

Gerald Green (left) and Isaiah Thomas (No. 3) could move as part of a Suns attempt to keep Dragic (right).
Gerald Green (left) and Isaiah Thomas (No. 3) could move as part of a Suns attempt to keep Dragic (right).Noah Graham/Getty Images

Afflalo and Prince aren't the only perimeter players potentially available for teams seeking wing help. The Phoenix Suns are expected to break up their logjam of three point guards—Eric Bledsoe, Isaiah Thomas and Goran Dragic—one way or the other. 

The Suns' initial hope was to move Thomas and shooting guard Gerald Green to improve their chances of re-signing Dragic, who can opt out of the last year of his contract and become a free agent this summer. But sources say that the Suns now question whether or not they'll be able to keep Dragic even if they have the financial wherewithal to do so.

It's no secret that a half-dozen teams or more would love to land Dragic, including both the Los Angeles Lakers and the New York Knicks. Asked whether Dragic would be inclined to stay with the Suns if Thomas were moved and he could resume the role he had last season, a source close to Dragic said, "Don't think so."

The Los Angeles Clippers and Miami Heat also have shown interest in acquiring Dragic, with sources saying the Clippers are dangling Jamal Crawford and the Heat offering Luol Deng.

The Minnesota Timberwolves have two veteran sharpshooters, Kevin Martin and Gary Neal, who would love to join playoff teams for the stretch run. Neal, one source said, is on the Atlanta Hawks' radar, which would make sense in light of head coach Mike Budenholzer's familiarity with Neal from their days together with the San Antonio Spurs.

Small Selection of Bigs

The market for teams seeking big-man help is not quite as robust. Milwaukee Bucks forward/center Larry Sanders is expected to reach a buyout with the team in the coming days, although it may not be until after the deadline passes. In any case, he is unlikely to play again this season as he deals with undisclosed personal issues.

Question marks surround Denver's JaVale McGee.
Question marks surround Denver's JaVale McGee.USA TODAY Sports

The Nuggets are open to moving center JaVale McGee as well, but he has made only four appearances since late November because of an unspecified leg injury. And while several teams would be interested in acquiring an agile shot-blocking center, they can't be sure exactly what they're getting.

If the Nuggets are still interested in moving McGee this summer and he gets significant playing time between now and then, they'll have a better chance of finding a team willing to trade for him. McGee's four-year, $44 million deal he signed with the Nuggets expires after he makes the final $12 million next season.

"He's a shot-blocker and he can change a game," said one league executive who would have interest. "He hasn't played. That's the problem."

Pacers See Dragic in Their Future

The Indiana Pacers are looking to move one of their high-priced veterans, league sources say, in order to create salary-cap room to pursue Dragic, should he be available this summer. Power forward David West and point guard George Hill have been mentioned as available, and although center Roy Hibbert has not, the Pacers' interest in Dragic is believed to be strong enough that they'd move anyone other than Paul George to create the necessary cap space to get him.

Reggie Jackson Leads List of Familiar Rumor Fodder

Four names that have been tumbling in the rumor mill for most of the season—Thunder guard Reggie Jackson, Charlotte Hornets shooting guard Lance Stephenson, Nuggets swingman Wilson Chandler and Brooklyn Nets center Brook Lopez—are as likely to stay where they are as to move right now. The most likely to be moved among them is Jackson, one league executive speculated, because he will be a restricted free agent this summer and the Thunder will not be inclined to match any offer sheet he receives.

The Milwaukee Bucks are among those who have discussed Jackson, a league source said, but are more than likely to stand pat. The Bucks have pieces that would work contractually: either undersized scoring guard Jerryd Bayless, whose contract runs through next season at $3 million a year, or willowy power forward John Henson, who still has two years on his rookie contract, topping out at $2.9 million the second year.

Jackson, meanwhile, would make sense for the Bucks in their up-and-down style under Coach Jason Kidd and would add a player with postseason experience to a roster that has little and yet has hopes of being a force this spring. With 30 playoff games under his belt, Jackson has seen more postseason action than everyone on the Milwaukee roster except big men ZaZa Pachulia and Kenyon Martin. Not having Sanders, however, does thin their frontline ranks, making Henson less dispensable.

In the case of Chandler and Lopez, sources say their teams are asking for more than the market will bear. Teams interested in Stephenson are asking for an additional asset to take the guard off Charlotte's hands and financial books.

The Nuggets apparently are less urgent to move Chandler before Thursday's deadline than Afflalo because they hold the option on extending Chandler's contract through next season.

Lopez, one executive noted, is the only truly valuable asset the Nets have right now. So even if they're trimming their player payroll to make the team more buyer-friendly, as front-office executives from a variety of teams believe is the case, unloading him without a healthy return in young talent or draft picks wouldn't make the franchise more attractive. The tricky part, of course, is that Lopez can opt out of the final $16.7 million of his contract this summer and become a free agent.

Sixers, Rockets Always Ready

Of course, it wouldn't be trade season without the Philadelphia 76ers and Houston Rockets being in the mix.

The Sixers, several teams said, have offered to be a depot for anyone needing to dump an expiring contract to make a deal work. The Rockets are looking to deal for a first-round pick, presumably to bolster their chances of landing a starting-caliber point guard. The Rockets are well aware, sources say, that there is considerable competition for their desired No. 1 target, Dragic, and that the Suns want a first-round pick included in the trade should they feel forced to deal Dragic.


New Free-Agent Landscape on the Horizon

In the last few years, teams with presumptive free agents and restricted free agents felt less pressure to move them at the trade deadline because they could still deal them around the draft or in a sign-and-trade maneuver. However, the Lakers and Knicks (along with several other teams) have room this summer to offer maximum-salary contracts, and that has moved up the clock.

That cap space will almost certainly prompt some fat offer sheets for the restricted free agents, and it allows pending free agents to simply anticipate signing with a big-market team without negotiating a sign-and-trade. The influx of TV revenue in 2016 also has teams less cautious about spending liberally on the free-agent market.

"With as much money as there's going to be on the market, the need for sign-and-trades is going to be less," one Western Conference general manager said. 

Ric Bucher covers the NBA for Bleacher Report.