In the next month or so, the NBA trade mill should start churning along at full speed, as a number of contending teams look for ways to improve their rosters in preparation for a postseason run.
Below, we'll take a look at two of the players who have already found themselves in trade talks.
Nerlens Noel, C, Philadelphia 76ers
Everyone knows that Nerlens Noel is on the trade block at this point. Even that guy at work who always makes the same "I only start watching in the fourth quarter" joke whenever he hears you talking about basketball knows that having Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor and Noel at center is an untenable situation for the Philadelphia 76ers.
Noel has certainly acknowledged as much throughout the season.
"I think it's just silly...this situation that we are in now with three starting centers," the 22-year-old said in late September, per ESPN. "With the departure of [former general manager and president] Sam Hinkie, I would have figured that management would be able to get something done this summer."
No such luck.
Noel has yet to play, as he's been recovering from knee surgery. When asked whether he thought the center position could be worked out in Philly upon his pending return, Noel was hardly optimistic.
"I don't think the roster's changed," he said on Thursday, per Marc Narducci of Philly.com.
But Noel and those Sixers fans who desperately want to see either Noel or Okafor moved to bring in other assets will be pleased that all indications suggest the Sixers are trying to deal Noel.
Marc Stein of ESPN reported in late November that "word is [Noel would] still prefer to be shipped to a new address with so many big men to battle for playing time in Philly. Count on the Sixers to accommodate him eventually."
And basketball writer Sam Amico also reported that the Sixers "are attempting to accommodate him," adding that they've had talks with several teams about Noel, including the Portland Trail Blazers.
Certainly, a number of teams would likely love to have an excellent defensive and rebounding center like Noel with elite athleticism. Noel's offensive game may need a lot of development, but his impact on the defensive end and in transition certainly makes up for his offensive shortcomings, at least in the short term.
And he was good in 2015-16, averaging 11.1 points, 8.1 rebounds, 1.8 steals and 1.5 blocks in 29.3 minutes per game.
Boston Celtics play-by-play announcer Mike Gorman even told 98.5 The Sports Hub’s Toucher & Rich show that he'd be willing to give up potentially lucrative draft pick for Noel (via CBS Boston):
I like Nerlens; he’s a nice kid with New England ties. The strength of his game is what Boston could use right now: A rim protector and a shot blocker. He’s a bit of damaged goods, so it’s up to the doctors to determine if he can get back to 100 percent. But I would definitely look at Noel as a possibility for this team. I would give up one of those [Brooklyn] picks for him. I wouldn’t package anyone on the Celtics roster with one of those picks to get him. But that pick we can swap, I would do that.
In a draft expected to be loaded with top talent, it's hard to imagine the Sixers wouldn't flip Noel for Boston's first-round pick, which could be swapped with the first-round pick of the Brooklyn Nets. Yes, those same Nets that are 5-14 and in the running to end up with a top-three pick.
The Sixers may even be willing to take Brooklyn's 2018 first-round selection, which Boston also owns, though Philadelphia would likely rather have more assets in what is shaping up to be a deep draft.
The question is whether Celtics GM Danny Ainge would be willing to make such a move. Noel would be a great fit given Boston's needs, and he's only 22, so Ainge wouldn't be mortgaging the future. On the other hand, he might be giving up the No. 1 overall pick in next year's draft depending on how the lottery shakes out.
Is Noel worth that price—especially when his trade value is pretty low?
Remember, everyone knows the Sixers need to move either Noel or Okafor, which hurts them from a leverage perspective. Noel also hasn't played yet this year and has a history of injuries, so teams will likely want to see him on the court before they make any decisions. And he's set to be a restricted free agent and will command a pricey offer sheet, so teams either need to account for his salary-cap implications or prepare for the fact he might be a rental.
Yes, teams like Portland, Boston or perhaps even the Chicago Bulls could use a player like Noel. Few teams would balk at adding a young, athletic rim-protector. In the long term, Noel probably makes more sense for the Sixers behind Embiid than Okafor does. But Noel obviously wants out, and the Sixers have no reason to keep him if they can get fair market value for him and interest in Okafor fails to develop.
Noel is going to get traded at some point. But when—and for what—remains quite the mystery.
Brandon Knight, PG, Phoenix Suns
One interesting potential trade partner for the Sixers not listed above could be the Phoenix Suns, who have a guard in Brandon Knight who doesn't appear to have a future with the organization. The Sixers certainly could use upgrades at both guard positions—even if Ben Simmons does settle into the point guard role on offense, it's hard to imagine him regularly defending the position.
It's unclear whether the Suns would have any interest in either Noel or Okafor, but it isn't hard to imagine them dealing Knight. As Stein wrote:
Suns general manager Ryan McDonough recently went on the Burns & Gambo radio show in Phoenix and proclaimed (A) that he isn't actively trying to trade Knight and (B) that he'd prefer to take at least two months to evaluate his team before seriously considering trades. None of that, however, has stopped interested rivals from believing that the struggling Knight -- who started two games this week with TJ Warren out but mostly comes off the bench for the Suns -- will be made available.
Indeed, Knight doesn't appear to be a player the Suns are interested in building around.
Matt Moore of CBSSports.com speculated that the Orlando Magic, New Orleans Pelicans, Brooklyn Nets and Sixers would all make sense as Knight suitors. Eric Bledsoe, Devin Booker and T.J. Warren all start ahead of Knight and earn bigger minutes than he does, while rookie Tyler Ulis is available at point guard behind Bledsoe.
The Suns seem to be building around Bledsoe, Booker, Warren, rookie power forwards Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender and perhaps center Alex Len. So Knight is another player on borrowed time. But given the chance to start, Knight has flashed the potential to offer teams more than his 13.1 points and 2.8 assists from this season.
You can follow Timothy Rapp on Twitter.