Ranking the Most Attractive Trade Targets in the NBA
Answer: Eggnog and the unofficial beginning of the NBA's trade season.
Question: What are two things synonymous with the month of December?
Most players who signed contracts and extensions over the offseason become legal trade bait beginning Dec. 15. Naturally, this has given way to talk of which assets are worthy of being targeted.
Many of these players can be dealt now. The question of how attractive they are is just more pertinent with the pool of eligible assets soon scheduled to increase in depth.
Curb appeal for every potential target takes into account a vast array of factors.
First, they all need to be realistic names. The Cleveland Cavaliers aren't trading LeBron James, the Golden State Warriors aren't dealing Stephen Curry, the New York Knicks are less likely to trade Kristaps Porzingis than the Cavaliers are to trade James, etc.
Rumor mills will be a baseline for consideration, as it doesn't get more realistic than players who are reportedly available, but sourced reports aren't everything.
Those selected will be ranked according to how valuable they can be to their next team. Individual stat lines, improvement and career trajectory will take priority, but the cost of each player—contracts, trade packages, etc.—will matter as well.
Now, go grab your mugs full of eggnog. Since we're bringing trade season to you—slightly early, I might add—you're in charge of procuring your own wintery beverages.
Consider this your one-stop shop for assuredly or potentially available names that just aren't valuable or likely obtainable enough to make our cut.
Solomon Hill, Indiana Pacers (Obligatory Mention)
Indiana has put Hill on the chopping block, according to ESPN.com's Marc Stein.
Last I checked, though, the market for tweener forwards who have never shot 33 percent from deep and can't earn consistent playing time on the team they've spent their entire career with isn't what you would call aggressive.
Jordan Clarkson, Los Angeles Lakers (Honorable Mention)
Should we buy into the Lakers dealing Clarkson, the best player on their team right now? Not at all.
But Clarkson is streaking toward restricted free agency, and if the Lakers aren't prepared to throw tens of millions of dollars at him this July, that's cause enough to gauge his market.
Roy Hibbert, Los Angeles Lakers (Honorable Mention)
Does the worst Lakers team in franchise history actually have two assets worth an honorable mention? It sure does.
What should I do with my hands? I have no idea what to do with my hands.
Anyway, Hibbert's expiring pact is a tasty treat for teams looking to cut bait with a long-term deal. The Lakers might be able to extract a first-rounder out of the equation if they're willing to serve as a glorified dumping ground.
Kevin Martin, Minnesota Timberwolves (Honorable Mention)
With so many youngsters on the Timberwolves roster, Martin looks out of place. His shooting percentages are down across the board, but he's owed just $7.1 million this season and $7.4 million in 2016-17 (player option). Contenders in search of an outside scoring punch should certainly be giving Minnesota a call.
Nick Young, Los Angeles Lakers (LOL Mention)
Sources told DYSTnow.com's Mike Ortiz Jr. the Lakers would like to move on from Young, who is basically what J.R. Smith would be if he didn't have LeBron James.
Godspeed, general manager Mitch Kupchak. Godspeed.
7. Ty Lawson, Houston Rockets
Months after acquiring Ty Lawson for what amounted to contractual scraps from the Denver Nuggets, the Houston Rockets are apparently open to shipping him elsewhere, according to Basketball Insiders' Steve Kyler.
That is, unless you actually ask Lawson. The point guard said the Rockets are looking to trade him, per Calvin Watkins of ESPN.com, adding that, "It happens every day even if you’re playing well, teams are shopping you."
Lawson isn't playing well at all. He has been relieved of his starting duties and seen his playing time fluctuate since the team canned former head coach Kevin McHale. His shooting percentages are at an all-time low, he's turning the ball over more than Rajon Rondo—which, you know, yikes—and the Rockets are pumping in nearly eight points more per 100 possessions with him on the bench.
In other words: Lawson is only attractive because he's available. He's nary a season removed from fringe All-Star production, and his $13.2 million salary next season is non-guaranteed.
Any team looking to cut costs has the opportunity to send long-term money Houston's way in exchange for taking a flier on Lawson, whom they can discard for next to nothing over the summer—a low-risk gambit any flexibility-starved or -addicted suitor would do well to consider.
Absorbing salary isn't Rockets general manager Daryl Morey's style, but as Zach Lowe recently penned for ESPN.com, Houston is an "underachieving contender desperate to win before Dwight Howard can bolt."
And in the still-sort-of-wild Western Conference, desperate times call for uncharacteristic measures.
6. Jamal Crawford, Los Angeles Clippers
Looking for a 35-year-old gunner who can oftentimes score like a 25-year-old chucker?
Jamal Crawford is your guy. And he's the Los Angeles Clippers' guy to move.
"The Clippers are not ready to blow things up," explained Kyler, "but there is a growing sense that the Clippers are willing to make a deal and that move may involve the ending [sic] contract of swingman Jamal Crawford."
If the Clippers are indeed willing to negotiate a buyout on Crawford's $5.6 million salary, that nukes his trade value. Teams genuinely interested in obtaining his services could just wait out Los Angeles and hope to claim him on waivers.
Most contenders, however, don't have the scratch to put in midseason claims. They would have to hope he clears the waiver wire and then sign him for a few shekels as an unrestricted free agent.
Pursuing a trade is much easier. The Clippers, like the Rockets, are desperate to win now. Their Big Three of Blake Griffin (26), DeAndre Jordan (27) and Chris Paul (30) isn't exactly young, and they've spent most of the season struggling to keep their heads above .500.
Should a rival general manager come calling with a lengthier contract that promises the Clippers an impact player, they'll have to listen. Even with the impending salary-cap eruption this summer, they won't have the coin to shell out deals left and right.
That renders them prime contract-dumping ground—not to the extent of the Philadelphia 76ers, but a viable place for teams to pawn off mid-level deals in return for the expiring pact of an aging veteran who is still capable of lighting up the scoreboard in a hurry.
5. Taj Gibson, Chicago Bulls
A clunky frontcourt rotation has not thrust the Chicago Bulls into "Seller" territory.
To the contrary, head coach Fred Hoiberg has endorsed standing pat, telling reporters, per CSN Chicago's Vincent Goodwill: "We're obviously very happy with the roster that we have. We'll grow with group we have."
There is some method to this proposed inaction. Both Pau Gasol (player option) and Joakim Noah are scheduled to be free agents over the offseason, and neither Doug McDermott nor Nikola Mirotic has succeeded in making Chicago's veteran frontcourt tricycle obviously expendable.
But accommodating Gasol, Gibson and Noah has proved damning on the offensive end—especially with Derrick Rose turning in another "So Derrick Rose really isn't ever going to be Derrick Rose again" performance.
Hoiberg was supposed to reinvent the offense, and though the Bulls are shooting 37-plus percent from beyond the arc, they're still struggling to create space and rank in the bottom five of points scored per 100 possessions.
Gibson is the easiest to move of Chicago's three traditional bigs. Both Gasol's and Noah's deals can be viewed as expiring contracts, and soon-to-be flight risks seldom fetch pretty pennies on the trade market. Gibson is making just $8.5 million this season and owed less than $9 million in 2016-17.
While his offense is forever a work in progress, Gibson does have a higher offensive rating than Gasol and Noah. He doesn't wield three-point range, but he has incorporated a deep jumper into his arsenal. Almost one-third of his looks are coming between 10 feet and just inside the three-point line, where he's shooting north of 40 percent.
Standing 6'9", Gibson has shown time and again he'll play either power forward or center, substantially increasing his appeal. He ranks among the best seven rim protectors to make at least 10 appearances and face three point-blank looks per game.
Serviceable offensive players able to shut down opponents at the iron are marquee finds. And with plenty of frontcourt firepower already in tow, the Bulls have the flexibility necessary to find Gibson a new home.
4. Markieff Morris, Phoenix Suns
Markieff Morris is available—for real this time.
Allow ESPN.com's Marc Stein to explain:
Sources told ESPN.com the Rockets are in the market for roster upgrades in the wake of their disappointing 10-11 start and have Morris on their list of targets, amid a growing belief around the league that the Suns are indeed prepared to finally move Morris.
The [Phoenix] Suns initially rebuffed Morris' summer-long quest to be dealt, with both sides pledging to try to find common ground at the start of training camp. But Morris received a DNP-Coach's Decision on Sunday, when the Suns lost 95-93 in Memphis, which will undoubtedly signal to interested teams that Morris can be had.
Phoenix won't have any issues establishing a market for Morris. He's a playmaking big who can jump to center in a pinch, and his current contract will pay him no more than $8.6 million in any one season through 2018-19.
Still, Morris' summer soap opera hardly checks the "plays nice with front offices" box, and his efficiency has plummeted to start his fifth season. He's notching career-low shooting clips and losing minutes to Jon Leuer and Mirza Teletovic—two lesser-know stretch forwards who, unlike Morris, are draining three-pointers with above-average frequency.
Short of believing that the 26-year-old Morris has peaked, though, it's difficult to find reasons not to want him.
Cheaply priced contracts like his will be impossible to negotiate on the next side of this summer's cap explosion, and the right team—as in, the one that didn't trade his brother, Marcus Morris, as part of a salary dump—might be able to sell him on a more specialized frontcourt role.
There's no guarantee Morris can develop into a more passing-prone version of Ryan Anderson, but given how little he makes relative to the rising costs of other players, it's certainly worth a try.
3. Channing Frye, Orlando Magic
By no means are the Orlando Magic dominating the trade rumor mill, but they have both the means and motive to start talking turkey with the NBA's buyers.
As Kyler put it:
Orlando faces some choices. While a ballooning salary cap will allow them to retain anyone they’d like to keep long-term, the question becomes: is one of these promising pieces that are part of the log-jam more valuable in trade than as a long-term piece?
The Magic have yet to find a meaningful role for forward Aaron Gordon, and as the young guys start to require more time can a team that’s focused on winning now manage the need for young guys to grow and blossom while at the same time keeping the players that can truly win games on the floor?
Dealing Frye helps simplify the Magic's rotation. It opens up minutes for sophomore Aaron Gordon and makes finding time for the Evan Fournier-Mario Hezonja-Victor Oladipo triumvirate easier by letting head coach Scott Skiles slot Tobias Harris at the 4 even more than he already is.
Actually moving Frye won't be a problem. Including this season, he's owed around $23.4 million through 2017-18, so he's beyond digestible. He's also the ideal big man for today's pace-and-space NBA.
More than 70 percent of Frye's field-goal attempts are coming from deep, where he's shooting better than 40 percent. He's even more dangerous off the catch. Most of his triples come as catch-and-shoot opportunities, and he's shooting 44 percent in those situations.
Thirty-something forward-centers who can't stay on the floor for a fringe playoff contender, even as a starter, won't shift the fate of a desperate franchise. But Frye is just the type of sweet-shooting role player a contender might want to bolster its offensive attack for a deep postseason push.
2. DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings
Well, well, well. DeMarcus Cousins and the word "trade" meet again.
All indications point toward the Sacramento Kings keeping the emotional All-Star. Kyler answered with a "flat no" when asked if Cousins could be traded this season, while the primary basis for his departure—a rocky relationship with head coach George Karl—is losing steam.
Cousins, Karl and Rondo had what the latter called a "powerful" meeting, according to Yahoo Sports' Marc J. Spears, and the thought of Sacramento cutting ties with its only star (Sorry, Rajon) when he's under contract through 2017-18 is crazy, even if we are talking about the Kings.
To be clear, that doesn't mean Cousins and the Kings are off the hook. The injured Willie Cauley-Stein, a top-seven prospect, plays the same position as Cousins, and Sacramento, as reiterated by the Boston Herald's Steve Bulpett, has "sought" to deal its big man in the past.
Really, Cousins' inclusion isn't up for debate. He's hot trade property. End of story. Why isn't he the league's top target? That's the real question.
And there is a very real answer: The Kings will want the world for him—and then some.
Rumors have circulated in the wake of three straight subpar efforts from Cousins. According to ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst, scouts seem to think he's out of shape or injured. Cousins, who missed 23 games last season and has already sat for eight this year, even criticized his own play.
"I've been playing like s--t, man," he said following a loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, per Windhorst. "That is our problem. It is me. I've been playing like absolute s--t."
Those apparent revelations in mind, Cousins' trade stock is through the roof. He's on pace to clear 20 points, 10 rebounds, 2.5 assists and one block per game for the third time in his career—all before his 26th birthday.
Cousins is one of the most attractive trade targets because he's that good. And yet, because he's so attractive, he may be unobtainable—and that's pretty unattractive.
1. Terrence Jones, Houston Rockets
This is a "Terrence Jones isn't yet 24 years old and is going to be really good" thing.
Stein has the Rockets willing to include Jones in a package for Morris, but his market value stretches beyond Phoenix. Per Watkins: "Several NBA teams want the Rockets' Terrence Jones in a trade package. As of now Rockets holding on to him."
There is no discernible reason why teams on the hunt for really good basketball players wouldn't want Jones.
Yes, he will be a restricted free agent this summer. And sure, he's thus far missed nearly 50 percent of all possible regular-season games for his career. But that's all of little concern.
Restricted free agents are still at the mercy of their incumbent employers. A team that trades for Jones will have the right to match any offer he receives. And as far as injuries go, Jones has more than out-performed his absences.
He is one of just 10 players this season to log a minimum of 400 minutes and average 15.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and one block per 36 minutes. And of those 10 players, only four are shooting 35 percent or better from downtown: Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard, Kristaps Porzingis and Jones.
Through each of his first four seasons, Jones has seen his three-point success rate climb, so his efficiency is not to be dismissed. And although he's only listed at 6'9", the Rockets have liberally used him at the 5.
Outside-shooting forward-centers are quickly becoming all the rage. Veterans LaMarcus Aldridge and Serge Ibaka have both reinvented their shot selections; Davis is now journeying beyond the arc; and two of the first five picks in this year's draft—Porzingis and Karl-Anthony Towns—are touted for their ability to stroke perimeter missiles.
In many ways, then, Jones is the future of NBA big men. Not only is he fully capable of hitting threes, but he can protect the house. Opponents are shooting 9.1 percentage points below their season average when challenging him inside six feet of the hoop.
Retaining Jones past this season does demand his next team make a significant investment in his future. But he can undoubtedly be pried out of Houston for less than it will take to get Cousins out of Sacramento. The cost of his next contract is merely part and parcel of any trade package.
Plus, given what he's done, as well as the player he could one day become, Jones is worth whatever that next contract will cost.
Dan Favale covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @danfavale.