The Best Dream and Realistic Option at Every Position on 2017 NBA Trade Market
In fact, most of the league's established stars are safe in their current locations.
But talent-hungry teams can still dream of players with a legitimate shot at being moved. They can regale themselves with hopes of acquiring a fringe All-Star candidate playing point guard for an Eastern Conference lottery team. They can picture bona fide superstars at other positions throwing on their colors for the rest of the season.
And if those hopes don't pan out, they can always pursue more realistic options.
For each of the five traditional positions, we're identifying both a dream target and a realistic one. Just keep in mind that even the former has to be somewhat grounded in reality through prior involvement in the ever-churning rumor mill.
Dream Point Guard: Goran Dragic, Miami Heat
Per-Game Stats: 20.3 points, 3.9 rebounds, 6.3 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.2 blocks
Good luck prying Goran Dragic away from the Miami Heat while they continue their upward trend. Better still, good luck offering enough for a 30-year-old point guard who's playing like he's still in his prime, as it'll be awfully difficult to match values in a mutually beneficial way.
Greg Cote wrote for the Miami Herald:
The Heat are now 'buyers, not sellers,' a high-level club executive said Monday before the loss. The official said the club is looking at a half-dozen or so players that interest Miami. ...
... Miami might have to part with a young bargaining chip such as Justise Winslow. I'd do it. I'd consider only Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside beyond trade discussion.
This stands in stark contrast to the situation only a few weeks ago.
Back when the Heat were just 11-30 after a Jan. 13 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, dealing Dragic would have been a sensible decision. His aging curve didn't fit the team's competitive window, so they may as well have gotten something for him and solidified their spot atop the 2017 NBA draft pecking order. Now, just two games back of the Eastern Conference's No. 8 seed, it makes sense to retain the point guard who ranks No. 5 in NBA Math's total points added among all Eastern 1-guards.
Dragic, with his offensive creativity and enduring ability to finish through traffic, would have been a tremendous addition for a competitive squad in need of help at the point. But now, that pursuit is merely a dream—unless Miami plunges back down the standings prior to the trade deadline.
Realistic Point Guard: Brandon Knight, Phoenix Suns
Per-Game Stats: 11.0 points, 2.2 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.1 blocks
Brandon Knight has been terrible in 2016-17.
He's seemingly lost all confidence in his jumper and shot-creating ability—previously his biggest strength—and that's led to him shooting just 39.6 percent from the field, 32.6 percent from downtown and 85.7 percent at the stripe. Throw in some atrocious defense and limited distributing chops, and you can see why he's become a leading contender for the NBA's unofficial LVP award.
So, why is he the best realistic option at point guard?
Knight is still only 25 years old and has plenty of untapped potential. The Association has seen him thrive in other, more favorable roles (see: Bucks, Milwaukee) that allowed him to spend more time handling the rock and balancing his scoring with his passing. Among the other 1-guards who could reasonably be dealt, no one else has this type of upside while operating on a (admittedly bloated) contract that runs through 2019-20.
Acquiring Knight would be risky, sure. But he's also been so bad in the desert that Phoenix's asking price shouldn't be too high.
Dream Shooting Guard: Lou Williams, Los Angeles Lakers
Per-Game Stats: 18.4 points, 2.3 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.2 blocks
It may seem strange to see Lou Williams listed as a "dream" acquisition at shooting guard, given his longstanding reputation as a defensive sieve and one-dimensional scorer. But he's been so good this year for the Los Angeles Lakers that he's bucking the established trend.
"He has added more points to the offensive cause (146.81) than Kyrie Irving (136.96) and John Wall (135.81) have injected into their respective scoring machines, according to NBA Math," Bleacher Report's Dan Favale recently explained, listing him as the most likely Laker to be on the move. "For those still skeptical the Lakers can net real value for a 30-year-old bench contributor, consider that Williams is just the seventh player in league history to clear 27 points and four assists per 36 minutes while putting down 38 percent or more of his triples. His company: Larry Bird, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Michael Jordan, Tracy McGrady and Isaiah Thomas."
Yes, Williams has legitimately been a stud in 2016-17.
And best of all? He's already accustomed to coming off the bench, which would ease his transition to any contender willing to pony up for his services by shipping a young player and/or draft pick to Los Angeles for his high-scoring services.
Realistic Shooting Guard: Ben McLemore, Sacramento Kings
Per-Game Stats: 6.4 points, 1.4 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.1 blocks
Ben McLemore still hasn't become an above-average NBA wing, no matter how often he flashes his eye-popping athleticism and smooth—but inconsistent—three-point stroke. He's struggled immensely on defense, and his shooting percentages (41.6 percent from the field and 35.1 percent from downtown) hold him back as a scorer.
But McLemore is only 24 years old and has a chance to break out in a new location. That should be enough for some rebuilding squad to take a chance on him, especially since the 2-guard market is so thin. Finding another realistic option is a difficult proposition, since most are either crucial to their squads or too highly valued to find a trade that works for both sides.
Also helping the former Kansas standout is his elevated play in recent weeks.
"Thanks to a series of injuries to Rudy Gay, Omri Casspi, and Garrett Temple, Ben McLemore was once again the Kings starting shooting guard," Greg Wissinger wrote for Sactown Royalty. "Ben deserves a ton of credit, because he's made the most of the opportunity. He's put together the best stretch of basketball I believe he's ever played with the Kings, capped off by 22 points in the Kings' comeback victory over Atlanta on Friday."
During the six games since he re-entered the starting five, he's averaged 13.3 points, 2.7 rebounds and 1.7 assists while shooting 46.7 percent from the field and 50.0 percent from three-point territory. The timing is perfect, as teams are scouring the market and looking for any potential acquisitions with untapped potential before the Feb. 23 deadline.
Dream Small Forward: Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks
Per-Game Stats: 23.2 points, 6.1 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.4 blocks
Carmelo Anthony remains a deadly offensive threat, even if he's regressed on the less glamorous end and stopped sharing the ball with his teammates. This version of the New York Knicks superstar isn't as effective as he was last year, but that doesn't mean he's washed up and can't make a team better.
Take his mid-range shooting as an example.
The 32-year-old is knocking down 42.2 percent of his shots from between 10 and 16 feet, as well as 46.7 percent of his twos that come even farther from the basket. Especially given the volume of his attempts and the Knicks' inability to lure defenders away from him, those are elite numbers, giving him a skill that would play well on numerous contending teams.
But Anthony remains mired in the "dream" category because of that pesky no-trade clause.
"Carmelo Anthony has told confidants he may decide to wait out the old Zen Master, according to a source," Marc Berman reported for the New York Post. "As the feud between the Knicks' star player and star president escalated Tuesday, Anthony was telling friends he may stand firm on his no-trade clause at the Feb. 23 trade deadline and see what 71-year-old Phil Jackson decides to do with his career."
Even if the Cleveland Cavaliers or Los Angeles Clippers can come up with a feasible deal that New York accepts, Anthony might not sign off.
Realistic Small Forward: P.J. Tucker, Phoenix Suns
Per-Game Stats: 7.0 points, 6.0 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.3 blocks
"I've got to keep playing for my team," P.J. Tucker told Basketball Insiders' Michael Scotto. "I'm a Phoenix Sun right now. This is the last year of my contract, but as of now, I'm a Phoenix Sun. So I'm going to keep playing until somebody tells me otherwise. In this league, it's part of the business, especially coming up in a contract year. So for me, it's just staying focused and being ready to play every night."
Even with Omri Casspi, Wilson Chandler and other small forwards all possibly on the move in the coming week, Tucker stands out as the most effective 3 right now. His two-way play and rebounding prowess has made him invaluable to the Phoenix Suns, despite their continual struggle to win games.
Phoenix's net rating remains negative when Tucker is on the floor, but it's still 2.9 points per 100 possessions better than when he's catching his breath on the pine. Though it looked like T.J. Warren might steal his job with an inspired shooting stretch at the beginning of the campaign, Tucker has bounced back with aplomb and cemented his status as not just a crucial contributor but also as a valuable trade chip.
Plenty of contending teams would love his six rebounds per game—7.6 per 36 minutes. They'd be thrilled with his tenacious defense and ability to knock down mid-range jumpers. He's not a star, but he's as useful a role player as you'll find.
"The Clippers have offered a future second-round pick for Suns forward P.J. Tucker—who is said to have a not-so-secret admirer in Doc Rivers—but sources say Phoenix is holding out for a first-rounder in exchange for the rugged defensive specialist," ESPN.com's Marc Stein reported in late January. Expect that to change as the deadline draws nearer and Phoenix is faced with the proposition of letting Tucker depart in free agency with nothing to show for it.
Dream Power Forward: Paul Millsap, Atlanta Hawks
Per-Game Stats: 18.1 points, 8.0 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 1.5 steals, 1.0 blocks
The only true power forward better than Paul Millsap is Draymond Green, and the Golden State Warriors' Defensive Player of the Year candidate isn't going anywhere. By default, this is Millsap's spot to lose, since he's floated around in trade rumors throughout the 2016-17 campaign.
"Sources told ESPN.com that the Hawks, fearful of losing Millsap in free agency without compensation in the summer, are not openly shopping him but are taking calls on the 31-year-old and other pending free agents, notably sharpshooter Kyle Korver and swingman Thabo Sefolosha," ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst and Marc Stein reported in early January.
Typically, that would make Millsap a realistic option rather than a dream get. If a team were willing to offer enough, it could get a legitimate All-Star who thrives in just about every facet of the game.
But the Hawks quelled those rumors.
There's always a chance this is a smokescreen—a game Budenholzer is playing to drum up extra value for Millsap before pulling the trigger. But at this point, that's pure, unadulterated speculation.
For now, Millsap is back in the "if only he were available" category.
Realistic Power Forward: Danilo Gallinari, Denver Nuggets
Per-Game Stats: 17.2 points, 4.9 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.3 blocks
Danilo Gallinari has primarily played small forward throughout his career, but he's spent 59 percent of his minutes at the 4 in 2016-17. The Denver Nuggets have often asked him to slide up and aid their small-ball lineups, and he's looked perfectly comfortable doing so, especially when he can use his quickness to sneak by bigger defenders.
However, that won't be as necessary with Mason Plumlee preparing to join the squad. The former Portland Trail Blazers center should be tasked with playing a handful of minutes next to Nikola Jokic, and that leaves Gallinari's role a bit more marginalized.
That wouldn't be the case on every other team.
"The Raptors and Clippers are among the teams said to be monitoring Gallinari's availability, amidst a growing belief that Denver is prepared to move him, given that the Nuggets anticipate that Gallinari will bypass the final season of his current contract (valued at $16.1 million) and join Millsap on the open market, and they don't plan to spend big to retain the Italian," ESPN.com's Marc Stein reported.
In either location (or another entirely), Gallinari would still be capable of working his offensive magic. He's a tremendous shooter—even more so when not tasked with functioning as the primary scorer—who can draw frequent whistles, leaving him as one of only eight qualified players making at least 1.8 threes and 5.4 freebies per game.
Maybe in another locale, he'd get offensive respect on par with the other members of that exclusive club: Kevin Durant, James Harden, Gordon Hayward, Kawhi Leonard, Damian Lillard, Isaiah Thomas and Russell Westbrook.
Dream Center: DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings
Per-Game Stats: 27.8 points, 10.8 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 1.4 steals, 1.3 blocks
There are dream acquisitions, and then there are please-don't-pinch-me-because-I-have-no-intention-of-waking-up-from-this-blissful-fantasy trades. Moving for DeMarcus Cousins would fall into the latter category, as he's continued to serve as one of the league's best bigs for the Sacramento Kings.
Some would even give him the actual superlative.
"He's dominant. He's an incredible player, and he continues to get better year in and year out—regardless of what credit people try to take from him or try not to necessarily give him," Draymond Green said in early January, per Connor Letourneau of the San Francisco Chronicle. "He's the best big man in the game."
And that's why the Kings aren't going to part with him.
Though he's functioned as something of a rumor-mill mainstay over the last few years, Sacramento doesn't plan to move him at the deadline. It doesn't matter how many technical fouls he racks up, or that the team would miss the playoffs for the 11th consecutive season if the campaign ended today.
"We're not trading DeMarcus," general manager Vlade Divac told ESPN.com's Marc Stein in early February. "We hope he's here for a long time."
However, this is the Kings we're talking about. A Cousins swap remains a long shot, but anything can happen with this organization.
Realistic Center: Jahlil Okafor, Philadelphia 76ers
Per-Game Stats: 11.6 points, 4.8 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 0.4 steals, 1.0 blocks
It isn't often that a head coach admits a player under his purview is embroiled in trade rumors. But that's exactly what Brett Brown recently did, per CSN Philly's Jessica Camerato:
"Jahlil Okafor's situation is transparent. He's in the middle of being discussed in trade scenarios. So I felt that it complicates things to play him the last game, and now clearly this is continuing on. That's the reason he isn't here..." he explained after Okafor didn't travel with the Philadelphia 76ers for a Feb. 13 contest against the Charlotte Hornets. "It isn't completely structured. His life is right now up in the air a little bit. We're mindful of that, we're respectful of that. We'll progress as it unfolds."
Better centers than Okafor might be traded. The Milwaukee Bucks could move Greg Monroe. Nikola Vucevic and Brook Lopez could depart from the Orlando Magic and Brooklyn Nets, respectively.
But Okafor is a near-lock to be moved, unless the Sixers hold out hope they can get more for his services during the offseason.
And while he's functioned as one of the NBA's least-valuable on-court commodities throughout his brief professional career, his upside still makes him a legitimate asset. The 21-year-old is fewer than two years removed from Philadelphia selecting him with a No. 3 pick, and his offensive skill set is readily apparent.
He just hasn't worked in his original location, forcing the front office to view him as a sunk cost and let him attempt to prove himself in a more advantageous situation. It's not as if players hold the exact same amount of value on every roster, after all.
Adam Fromal covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @fromal09.