Ranking the Most Attractive Trade Targets in the NBA

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistDecember 20, 2016

Ranking the Most Attractive Trade Targets in the NBA

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    Some NBA trade targets are (much) more appealing than others.

    We already looked at the players who hold the most auction value. The focus there was on the potential return teams could generate from certain names. But priorities shift to outside suitors when considering the most tempting trade options.

    Superstars remain the cream of the crop from this perspective, but they seldom reach the chopping block. Studs like Paul George and John Wall aren't readily available, so they're not as attractive because of what it would take for their respective squads to answer the phone.

    Team situations impact player values as well. Terrence Ross is balling and on a bargain-bin contract, but the Toronto Raptors aren't in a position to move someone of consequence without a blockbuster return of their own. That detracts from Ross' curb appeal.

    Buyers aren't looking to overhaul their entire roster most of the time. Failing the acquisition of a legitimate All-Star, they want quality talent that won't break the asset bank.

Notable Exclusions

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    The Boston Celtics' Brooklyn Nets Draft Picks

    Between now and the February trade deadline, any team open to moving a star in anticipation of a full-fledged rebuild should begin by asking the Boston Celtics about the Brooklyn Nets' next two draft picks.

    Boston has the right to swap first-rounders with Brooklyn this year and owns the team's 2018 selection free and clear. Both choices could end up landing in the top five and yielding a franchise cornerstone—making either selection an ideal building block.

    Getting even one of these picks, though, will cost a star. So while they're both appealing, the circumstances under which they would be dealt aren't especially attractive to would-be recipients.


    Jusuf Nurkic, Denver Nuggets

    Bleacher Report's Adam Fromal touched upon the Denver Nuggets' frontcourt logjam in November, and his words hold true now:

    Nikola Jokic and Jusuf Nurkic are two of the most exciting talents on the upside-laden Denver Nuggets. However, it's proved difficult to play them together, to the point that the former even asked to be taken out of the starting lineup, per BSN Denver's Harrison Wind.

    Add Kenneth Faried into the mix, and you have a triumvirate of bigs who all need more playing time but can't receive those accommodations unless one is shipped away.

    Jokic is the best of the bunch and won't be going anywhere, while Faried profiles as salary-matching fodder. Nurkic, in turn, should be a sought-after man. There will be no shortage of interest in a 22-year-old 7-footer who can score in the post, drop dimes and should eventually be a serviceable rim protector.

    But the Nuggets aren't in the market for more picks and prospects; they have enough of those. Any trade they make, whether it involves Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari and/or Nurkic, needs to be about consolidating current assets into a star.

    Nurkic's rookie-scale salary and NBA ceiling aren't enough to rake in blockbuster returns on their own. He must be included as part of a bigger package for star-level talent—a scenario that'll most likely be initiated by Denver, not a gaggle of outside admirers. 


    Omri Casspi, Sacramento Kings

    Omri Casspi has regained some of his outside swagger since returning to the Sacramento Kings rotation. He is shooting 38.5 percent from long distance and continues to be an adequate defender when playing the 4.

    Earning just $3 million, Casspi won't cost the world once the Kings fall out of playoff contention. But he will be a free agent this summer, at which time he'll triple or quadruple his salary. 

    Dealing a prospect or pick in exchange for a complementary shooter speeding toward a huge raise is dangerous territory. Casspi misses the cut if only because the Kings will probably be hunting for first-round compensation so long as the Western Conference's No. 8 seed is within sight.

10. Nerlens Noel, Philadelphia 76ers

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    Nerlens Noel's ties to the Philadelphia 76ers are getting tense. He is not an official part of the rotation after missing the team's first 23 games following left knee surgery, and the sentiments coming out of Philly are weird.

    "I think this has been decided a long time ago," Noel said of his rotation ouster, per Philly.com's Keith Pompey. "I think it had nothing to do with it. It's something that's been set in stone."

    Surely now the Sixers will move him, right? 

    "I will not make a bad deal for this organization," general manager Bryan Colangelo said, per CSN Philly's Jessica Camerato.

    Colangelo, also per Camerato, added that Noel's situation cannot be classified as a benching, and that the Sixers intend to test out his fit alongside Joel Embiid.

    Philly can spin this however it wants, but Noel will be up for a fat raise in restricted free agency and doesn't fit into this team's big picture. That's not changing.

    Mix this obvious need to dump him with his injury and attitude problems, according to The Vertical's Adrian Wojnarowski, and Noel's trade value has never been lower. That's great news because, again, the Sixers have to deal him, even if it means selling low.

    And it's not every year suitors have the chance to snatch a 22-year-old defensive anchor with rim-running potential on the cheap.

9. Tony Allen, Memphis Grizzlies

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    Sources told the Commercial Appeal's Ronald Tillery that rival teams are making inquiries into Tony Allen's availability. And the Memphis Grizzlies are, apparently, listening. 

    This is interesting, borderline surprising, and yet totally duh.

    Allen is going on 35, with a scheduled foray into free agency this offseason. The core of Mike Conley, Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and Allen, though resilient as hell, is years removed from its Western Conference Finals ceiling. With Randolph also slated to hit the open market in July, this summer will be a good time to pivot.

    Capitalizing on Allen's value now, rather than letting him walk or overpaying him in free agency, is an intriguing option—especially when the Grizzlies have moved beyond his individual defense.

    Memphis allows fewer points per 100 possessions with Allen on the bench. There is some noise there, given all the injury-ravaged lineups he's played in, but he's a statistical wash at best when you account for his offensive irrelevance.

    Another team with a surplus of surrounding shooters will have more use for Allen. He plays bigger than his 6'4" frame and has saved about as many points on the defensive end as Dwight Howard, according to NBA Math.

    Best of all: The Grizzlies cannot reasonably command a king's ransom for Allen's services. He is old, a flight risk and can't shoot—and just what a contender that's light on perimeter defense needs to reach its next level.

8. Rudy Gay, Sacramento Kings

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    There is a case for Rudy Gay, who's dealing with a right hip flexor strain, to be higher on this list.

    He's averaging 18.6 points per game, shooting 45.5 percent from the field and posting the second-best assist rate of his career. His 35.9 percent clip on spot-up three-pointers suggests he can serve as a complementary shooter next to ball-dominant floor generals and wings, and he's one of three Kings players who rank as above-average contributors on both sides of the court, per NBA Math.

    The problem? His contract. And the Kings.

    Gay has a player option for next season he's bound to decline. Interested teams must treat him as a potential rental and/or someone they'll need to pay a lot of money in a few months' time. Either way, Gay isn't someone for which suitors should mortgage the farm.

    But the Kings are desperate to make the playoffs. They haven't clinched a postseason berth since 2006 and no doubt view the end of said drought as a tool that will help them retain DeMarcus Cousins when he enters free agency in 2018.

    Two games off of the West's eighth and final playoff slot, Sacto isn't about to offload Gay as an afterthought. He is an imperative part of their postseason push, and his quasi-expiring contract will treat the franchise to a host of lowball offers anyway.

    Still, if there's a contender with an expendable pick or prospect in search of an offensive boost, Gay won't be untouchable. And there is, of course, always the chance things go sideways in Sacramento before February's deadline.

7. Kosta Koufos, Sacramento Kings

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    Kosta Koufos is a bargain in the new salary-cap climate. He is only 27 and owed a hair under $25.2 million over the next three years (including this one). He does hold a player option for 2018-19, but a season-and-a-half of quality play at center doesn't come much cheaper. 

    Pretty much all of Koufos' value lies on the defensive end. Opponents are barely shooting 49 percent at the rim when guarded by him, and he's recording the Kings' second-highest defensive rebounding percentage.

    The right team will figure out how to get Koufos to pass the ball instead of keeping his head down or trying to barrel through traffic. In the meantime, he's a valuable pick-and-roll diver.

    Sacramento doesn't turn to him often, but Koufos ranks in the 92nd percentile of points scored per possession as the roll man. He shoots better than 72 percent in those situations, which should be colored sustainable knowing he's spent the better part of his career converting 60-plus percent of his shots around the rim.

    Cost should not be an issue when trying to get him out of Sacramento. The Kings have a glut of bigs, and the Cousins-Koufos duo is pumping in an unimpressive 103.1 points per 100 possessions—more than the offense averages overall, but not enough to qualify as a top-16 attack.

    Some general manager somewhere should be trying to poach Koufos with salary-cap filler and a collection of low-end picks.

6. Lou Williams, Los Angeles Lakers

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    Nine players are averaging more than 18 points per game with a true shooting percentage—cumulative measurement of two-point, three-point and free-throw efficiency—of 60 or better: Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, James Harden, LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Damian Lillard, Kevin Love, Kyle Lowry and...Lou Williams.

    That's some serious company, yet Williams is the only one earning less than eight figures. And he's signed through next season. 

    What team wouldn't want him coming off its bench right now?

    Equally important: What is a rival general manager actually willing to fork over for his services?

    This is where things get tricky. Sweet Lou is a categorical stud for a Los Angeles Lakers team that gives him free rein and has always been an offensive spark plug. But he can't expect to maintain a higher usage rate than Curry, Durant and every one of the aforementioned players not surnamed Harden or Lillard if he's headlining the second unit of a contender.

    The Lakers will have to weigh this caveat if and when they start fielding offers for their leading scorer. But with Jordan Clarkson and D'Angelo Russell on the roster—and with Nick Young looking like an NBA player again—there's enough backcourt alternatives for Los Angeles to jettison Williams before he becomes a less-appealing expiring contract next season.

5. Brook Lopez, Brooklyn Nets

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    Brook Lopez's place in the NBA was previously deemed uncertain. He was more traditional bruising big than stretch 5, and teams aren't lining up to pay more than $21.2 million for towers who don't stroke threes or profile as elite rim protectors.

    Then this season happened.

    Lopez is still a classic center in many respects. He ranks sixth in total post-ups, and most of his shot attempts come from inside 10 feet. Only now, he's more unicorn than antiquity—the kind of star-level talent who can lead his team in blocks and made threes.

    Four players have thus far tallied more than 40 swats and 40 three-balls: Marc Gasol(!), Kristaps Porzingis, Durant and Lopez. The latter doesn't have the defensive or floor-spacing reputation of these peers, but he's not amassing inefficient numbers.

    Opponents are shooting 43 percent against him around the bucket. That's the fourth-best mark among players who have faced at least 125 point-blank looks this season. And Lopez is putting down almost 35 percent of his treys—a more-than-reasonable clip for someone who just started firing away from beyond the arc.

    Matching Lopez's $21.2 million salary is an obstacle for any potential trade, and he's on the books for slightly more than $22.6 million in 2017-18. But that, in all likelihood, won't even be a top-35 cap hit by next season.

    At 28, Lopez is in the middle of his prime. His leadership is an understated, and invaluable, part of the Brooklyn Nets' cultural overhaul, but the team desperately needs first-round picks and prospects. If a rival comes calling with a modest platter of draft selections, young guns and cap dreck, Brooklyn has to listen.

4. Brandon Knight, Phoenix Suns

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    All of the preliminary signs point to Brandon Knight being an unattractive trade asset. 

    In addition to averaging career lows in minutes, scoring, assists and field-goal percentage, he owns the NBA's absolute worst plus-minus—and there's a 43-point chasm between him and the league's second-biggest offender.

    Oh, and Knight has never been the primary pilot for an offense that falls in the top 15 of points scored per 100 possessions. 

    These are real red flags. Knight has been one of the biggest individual busts for this season. But he's still only 25, and it's not like he's ever been blessed with an exceptional supporting cast. He's always played for franchises in transition, and this year's demise coincides with a demotion to the bench.

    Knight wrapped up the three previous seasons averaging 18.1 points and 5.1 assists per game while burying 35.1 percent of his three-pointers. That kind of play earned him his five-year, $70 million contract from the Phoenix Suns in 2015—a pact that's particularly digestible this side of the salary-cap explosion.

    Teams won't hesitate to roll the dice on this financial commitment, even as Knight struggles. All this season's warts do is bilk the Suns of leverage at the bargaining table. Armed with a foundation unfit for playoff contention, with Eric Bledsoe and Devin Booker in front of Knight, Phoenix didn't have much sway in the first place.

    Bare-minimum trade packages should roll in accordingly, and the Suns might be compelled to accept one.

3. Nikola Vucevic, Orlando Magic

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    What Nikola Vucevic lacks in unicorn-ness, he makes up for in price. He is signed through 2018-19, without an early-exit clause, and won't earn more than $12.8 million during a single season.

    Vucevic, in fact, was one of the Association's premier bargains until just this year. Through 2014-15 and 2015-16, he averaged 18.8 points, 10.0 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game. DeMarcus Cousins was the only other player to do the same.

    The Orlando Magic have since taken a stick of dynamite to Vucevic's market appeal. His minutes are down as he competes for spin off the bench with Bismack Biyombo and Serge Ibaka—a frontcourt pileup that's aided a career-worst effective field-goal percentage.

    Amid all the bedlam, though, Vucevic remains Orlando's most valuable player. He has a better net rating than any of the team's other bigs, while his passing and shooting have been a lifeline for the out-of-position Aaron Gordon. As Ricky Scricca wrote for Orlando Magic Daily: 

    Having a player who can draw bigs out of the paint, like Vucevic, is more than necessary if the Magic want to let Gordon play to his strengths.

    There are numbers to support this, too. According to NBAwowy.com, with Vucevic on the floor, Gordon is able to take around 12 percent more of his shots within 3 feet of the basket.

    Vucevic also continues to be a threat between 16 feet and the three-point line. And while he doesn't block a ton of shots, his rim protection has improved compared to last year.

    Put him on another team, as the sole traditional big, and Vucevic becomes a huge plus. The Magic cannot command a return relative to that value given their frontcourt cluster, but that's only more of an incentive for enemy franchises to blow up general manager Rob Hennigan's phone.

2. Goran Dragic, Miami Heat

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    Goran Dragic's situation with the Miami Heat is very fluid, according to Basketball Insiders' Steve Kyler:

    Miami's Goran Dragic continues to surface as possibly the biggest fish to be had, but sources with the HEAT continue to say they are not ready to blow the team up; until that happens, Goran is not on the market.

    The prevailing belief outside of Miami is at the deadline, the HEAT will explore Dragic's trade value in an effort to remove his salary from their books for a run through free agency this summer when Chris Bosh's deal is expected to be off the books as well. Miami has kept no secret that they are rebuilding and would like to get a few more draft picks.

    Incumbent stars make it easier to sell high-end free agents on relocating, so the Heat aren't about to give away Dragic. They can carve out max space with his salary counting against their ledger while he's playing some of his best basketball ever.

    Kyle Lowry is the only other player clearing 19 points and six assists per game while shooting 40 percent or better from downtown. Miami's cruddy offense approaches respectability whenever Dragic is running the show, and Hassan Whiteside won't feast off pick-and-rolls as frequently if his point guard is sent packing.

    But Dragic turns 31 in May. His timeline no longer aligns with the Heat's window. They coughed up two first-rounders to get him and could use a treasure trove of picks and prospects as they slog through their current reset.

    More than one team will be willing to restock Miami's cupboard, within reason, in exchange for Dragic. He is a fringe All-Star, still in his prime, signed to a pre-cap-eruption deal that runs through 2019-20. Those types of immediate game-changers don't come around very often.

1. DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings

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    DeMarcus Cousins' (clearly) over-the-top confrontation with a columnist from the Sacramento Bee didn't do his stock any favors.

    Multiple general managers answered with some variation of "hell no" when asked by Bleacher Report's Howard Beck if they would trade for the 26-year-old tower—and that was before Cousins' latest run-in with public perception became universal knowledge.

    There is no question that Cousins' attitude would/will scare off certain suitors. But there will be plenty more who believe a change of scenery and an inaugural playoff push will reinvent his persona.

    For those who remain on the fence, the numbers will steer them toward "Team Boogie."

    Cousins is on course to clear 20.0 points, 10.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.0 blocks per game for the fourth time—all before his 27th birthday. Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett are the only other players who have done the same. And Cousins, unlike either of them, is an above-average three-point threat.

    Now, the Kings aren't accepting bids for Cousins, according to ESPN.com's Marc Stein. Even if they move on that stance, interested parties can expect to pay up the wazoo, with a mixture of high-end picks and prospects, just to enter the hypothetical sweepstakes.

    That's the cost of targeting a superstar in his prime with another year left on his deal. And Cousins, like any other top-10 baller, is a prize worth that price.


    Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com. Salary commitments via Basketball Insiders. All information accurate leading into Dec. 19 games unless otherwise noted.

    Dan Favale covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @danfavale.