20 Likeliest NBA Players to Be Dealt This Offseason
Find yourself suffering from the end-of-the-NBA-trade-deadline blues? Don't worry, we've got some offseason conjecture to hold you over.
Picking out summertime trade subjects is more about every player's current situation than anything else. Previous rumors matter, as does any longstanding outside interest. But incumbent circumstances have the most say in shaping this list.
Is a star's team on the verge of an extensive rebuild? Has a player become necessary trade fodder for a well-known buyer? Does an imminent flight risk need to be put on the chopping block? Has a depth-chart pileup turned someone into a non-essential asset?
And, of course: Is there too much noise in certain instances for us to ignore entering the offseason?
Household names, high-end prospects and lower-rate talents impacted by the arrival of big-time performers will be the focus. Anyone who stands to be the primary subject of a deal, for whatever reason, is eligible to appear inside the chopping-block pecking order.
Nos. 20 to 16
20. Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks
The power of the no-trade clause is real.
Carmelo Anthony doesn't make any sense for a rebuilding New York Knicks outfit that doesn't know it's rebuilding. But his trade market will always be limited to two or three franchises, and not even team president Phil Jackson's superiority complex is strong enough to justify dealing him for nothing—let alone contracts that don't expire.
Anthony has a built-in escape clause for 2018-19, which he will probably use as he seeks one last long-term payday. The Knicks, even if they have a "We're rebuilding" epiphany, are better off letting his deal expire and moving forward with the cap space.
19. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Charlotte Hornets
Something needs to give for the Charlotte Hornets. They have no terrible contracts on the books (Nicolas Batum's might be the worst), but also don't have a clear path out of the middle.
Hocking the three years and $39 million left on Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's pact (player option for 2019-20) is the best shot Charlotte has at piecing together a blockbuster-level package that doesn't include Kemba Walker. This puts MKG on the watch list by default.
18. C.J. McCollum, Portland Trail Blazers
The Portland Trail Blazers could end up having more than $142 million on next year's ledger. They cannot positively spin dipping into the luxury tax to fund a nucleus that, in all likelihood, won't sniff the postseason.
C.J. McCollum becomes a hot trade commodity once his extension kicks in this summer. His $24 million salary can help bring back another star or two high-end role players, and Portland can justify moving him with Damian Lillard in the fold.
17. D'Angelo Russell, Los Angeles Lakers
The Los Angeles Lakers are pacing themselves toward a top-three pick in a point guard-loaded draft, have Jordan Clarkson under contract and want to land Paul George before he reaches free agency during 2018 (player option), according to USA Today's Sam Amick.
Brandon Ingram could just as easily meander his way into the rumor mill if George is on the line, but D'Angelo Russell's value to the Lakers isn't as situation-specific.
16. Marvin Williams, Charlotte Hornets
If the Hornets make a splash on the trade market without moving Kidd-Gilchrist, it's because Marvin Williams, picks and filler were enough to get the job done.
Nos. 15 to 11
15. Nikola Vucevic, Orlando Magic
Nikola Vucevic is a necessity after once being dispensable. He was the Orlando Magic's most consistent frontcourt contributor before Serge Ibaka's departure, and his sub-$13 million annual salary helps cover up the stench of Bismack Biyombo's four-year, $72 million deal.
But all bets are off should the Magic finally commit to a rebuild. The market for bigs is weird (read: saturated and not good), and they'll have to trade Vucevic as soon as possible to ensure adequate first-round compensation.
14. Brook Lopez, Brooklyn Nets
Brook Lopez will be entering the final year of his deal next season, and the Brooklyn Nets don't have a high enough ceiling over the next five years to double down on a pricey big who'll be 30 when he begins his next contract.
Sources told ESPN.com's Marc Stein just before the trade deadline that the Nets were willing to acceept a first- and second-round pick for his services. They didn't appear to be aggressively shopping him then, but his impending free agency could motivate them to speed up the process.
13. Derrick Favors, Utah Jazz
Gordon Hayward (player option) and George Hill need new contracts. Rodney Hood is extension-eligible. The Utah Jazz look their best when surrounding Rudy Gobert with four floor-spacers.
With Derrick Favors ticketed for free agency in 2018, it doesn't take a tarot card reader to see there's a shelf life on his stay in Salt Lake City. The Jazz aren't ones for internal shakeups, but a ballooning cap sheet leaves them no choice but to break character.
12. Wilson Chandler, Denver Nuggets
Wilson Chandler will be a free agent in 2018 (player option), and the Denver Nuggets have a bevy of wing-types, even if Danilo Gallinari (player option) bolts over the offseason. Pairing Chandler's $12 million salary with picks and a few young guns should put them in play to chase the second star they desperately need beside Nikola Jokic.
11. Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons
Change is mandatory for the Detroit Pistons, and they know it. They were "welcoming" overtures for Andre Drummond at the deadline, according to Stein, an openness they'll likely revisit over the offseason.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope will likely earn max money in restricted free agency, the Pistons have a host of other long-term contracts on the docket and Drummond, like Reggie Jackson, is flying dangerously close to overrated territory.
Coach-president Stan Van Gundy is more likely to move Jackson, if only because his contract is easier to offload. But Drummond has peaked for long enough to enter the expendable conversation.
10. Emmanuel Mudiay, Denver Nuggets
Nikola Jokic's march up the NBA ranks creates an awkward situation for Emmanuel Mudiay.
Denver runs almost everything through its Serbian skyscraper now, erasing any need for a ball-dominant point guard. Mudiay's usage rate has plummeted next to Jokic since the latter's return to the starting five, while his overall reliance on off-ball offense has increased.
More than 26 percent of the sophomore floor general's shot opportunities are coming as spot-up threes during the rebooted Jokic era. That's a problem for a kid who has yet to develop an NBA jumper; forcing him off the rock won't solve anything this early into his career.
Sources told ESPN.com's Zach Lowe the Nuggets tested Mudiay's trade market ahead of the deadline. They made a "monster offer" for Paul George in the 11th hour, according to ESPN.com's Chris Haynes and Stein, and it's a safe bet the 20-year-old was among the proposed outgoing assets.
Similar blockbuster deals built around Mudiay are bound to become commonplace over the summer. He has two years left on his rookie-scale deal after this one, so he'll end up being a cheaper investment than the extension-eligible Gary Harris and soon-to-be free agent Will Barton (2018).
Mudiay's importance to Nuggets trade proposals multiplies by a bajillion if they don't want to include Jamal Murray or Jokic. That was the case during talks for George, per The Vertical's Adrian Wojnarowski, and it's why neither makes the cut here.
Potential superstar-shedders won't pounce on Denver's packages due to Kenneth Faried's and Chandler's cap-friendly contracts, or because they'll get back a collection of future non-lottery picks. They'll want the barely legal point guard who still holds the cachet of a top-seven selection.
9. Reggie Jackson, Detroit Pistons
Jackson missed the first 21 games of the season recovering from left knee and right thumb injuries. By the time he was ready to rock, he returned to a Detroit Pistons team that may have outgrown his services.
Surface numbers don’t reveal anything sinister. Jackson’s scoring, assist percentage and usage rate are only down a tick, and his three-point accuracy has climbed. The Pistons’ performance with him is what’s worrisome:
|Pistons:||MP||Off. Rtg. (Rank)||Def. Rtg.||Net Rtg.|
|With Jackson||1,101||102.6 (26)||111.3 (30)||-8.7 (30)|
|Without Jackson||1,799||104.2 (21)||100.8 (1)||3.4 (7)|
Ish Smith doesn’t rate as the more valuable point guard, according to NBA Math’s Total Points added, but Van Gundy is giving him plenty of playing time at the expense of Jackson anyway. Smith has improved a great deal on defense, is on the better contract and, perhaps most importantly, isn’t constantly pissed at his head coach.
“I think he's been trying defensively," Van Gundy said of Jackson, per MLive’s Aaron McMann. "Just offensively, we've got to find an answer. I know he's frustrated. He's frustrated with me, play calls and things like that. So, we're going to have to find something to where he can play more effectively, more productively, on the offensive end of the court.”
Jackson isn’t seeing as many pick-and-roll touches per game as last season—in part because his minutes are down. But that’s where he’s most comfortable, so it's no surprise Detroit shopped him hard ahead of the trade deadline, per The Vertical’s Chris Mannix.
That same talk should heat up again over the summer, when the Pistons are on the hook for Caldwell-Pope’s max deal and the star-studded point guard market dries up. The three years and $51.1 million remaining on Jackson’s contract shouldn’t look too bad compared to the agreements struck in the new salary-cap climate.
8. Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics
Avery Bradley almost didn't make this list, because Boston Celtics team president Danny Ainge has no desire to give up more than cap space and picks in exchange for a star.
As NBA.com's David Aldridge said on NBA TV before the trade deadline (via CelticsBlog's Brian Robb):
The picks will work themselves out. Boston has about 600 first-round picks in the next five years, so they'll make it work. That part I'm not worried about.
I think it really comes down to [Jae] Crowder. In terms of real tangible players, I think Danny would like to go into the playoffs with [Marcus] Smart, Bradley, Crowder defensively, along with [Jimmy] Butler, [Al] Horford, [Isaiah] Thomas offensively. I think he feels like that's the only way they'll be able to compete with a team like Cleveland.
Is Ainge a genius? Maniac? Both?
Whatever he is, his position won't change by the summer. He'll argue another half-season has ticked off Butler's and George's deals and then offer even less. Obtaining an All-NBA talent without forking over a chunk of Boston's core is still his dream.
Going through free agency makes actualizing this fantasy a little more difficult. The Celtics will have to let some of their best salary-matching pieces walk—a combination of Jonas Jerebko, Amir Johnson and Tyler Zeller (non-guaranteed). Slinging a package of Jaylen Brown, whomever the Nets pick turns into and Zeller's salary (after guaranteeing it) is enough to take back Butler or George, but that's assuming Ainge doesn't clear the decks to make room for a max-level free agent (looking at you, Hayward).
Bradley's $8.8 million salary is integral fodder in the absence of other filler. He won't be a centerpiece, since he's up for a new contract in 2018. But his departure will be easier to stomach than Crowder's exit. And with the Celtics forever linked to every imaginable superstar wing, Bradley has to get a top-10 nod.
7. Garrett Temple, Sacramento Kings
Every one of the Sacramento Kings' players is fair game following the DeMarcus Cousins trade—except, most obviously, (*future two-time MVP, NBA champion and Hall of Famer?) Buddy Hield.
That especially leaves Garrett Temple, a good player on one heckuva contract playing for a should-be tanker that should be hoarding draft picks.
None of Temple's numbers leap off the page. He was averaging 7.7 points, 2.7 rebounds and 2.3 assists on 43.8 percent shooting before suffering a partially torn left biceps muscle. But he's also a knockdown three-point shooter off the catch (38.2 percent) and, at 6'6", capable of defending small forwards and orchestrating the offense in a pinch.
Sacramento shouldn't wait to flip Temple until next season. His contract runs through 2018-19, but the final year is a player option. He'll fetch much more as full-season rental than as a half-year lease.
Besides, keeping Temple adds wins to the Kings' bottom line, and that's the last thing they need next year. They don't have enough time to tank past the Phoenix Suns and Lakers this season, and their 2019 first-round pick is owned by the Philadelphia 76ers free and clear.
General manager Vlade Divac might as well embrace a one-year supertank while hopefully gaining low-end first-rounders.
Of course, these are the Kings we're talking about. It's impossible to know what they're thinking, which is why Temple can't be rated any higher—even though, given Sacramento's situation, he most definitely should be.
*Just ask Kings owner Vivek Ranadive.
6. Kyle O'Quinn, New York Knicks
For sanity's sake, Knicks fans better hope Kyle O'Quinn is playing elsewhere.
This doesn't actually have anything to do with James Harden's beard bro. O'Quinn's contract is fantastic: He is owed $4.1 million next year and has a player option worth $4.3 million for 2018-19. He's a triangle-approved big as well, and we know the Knicks are interested in that sort of thing.
(New York is using the rest of this season to "determine which players fit [the] system and which don't," per the New York Daily News' Stefan Bondy. Associated head coach/triangle vessel Kurt Rambis was also seen getting his hands dirty during a recent practice, according to Bleacher Report's Yaron Weitzman.)
Roll your eyes later. The triangle isn't going anywhere until team president Phil Jackson does. It's a soul-squashing fact, but a reality all the same.
O'Quinn would thus seem to be a keeper in the Knicks' latest attempt to play Antquityball. But they have too many bigs—even by Antiquityball's standards.
If O'Quinn begins next season in New York, it's not necessarily because he was traded to Brooklyn. It could mean the Knicks broke one of the 10 commandments and dealt Willy Hernangomez. Or it could mean they used the stretch provision on Joakim Noah, electing to spread the $55.6 million remaining on his deal over the next seven years.
Neither of those two things should be in play. Hernangomez, at 22, may already be the smartest player on the team, and New York can't be eating $7.9 million in dead money per season for the next seven years unless Kevin Durant (player option) gets the urge to ruin his life.
Shipping out O'Quinn is the most logical remedy for the Knicks' frontcourt logjam—which, by the way, also includes Kristaps Porzingis, one of the most important players in franchise history.
5. Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls
Aside from not actually moving Butler, the Chicago Bulls did nothing at the NBA trade deadline to imply he will begin next season in The Windy City.
Sending out Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott for a flyer on Cameron Payne is a step in the complete opposite direction. And vice president of basketball operations John Paxson didn't exactly provide a ringing endorsement for Butler's future after the deadline, per CBS Chicago's Cody Westerlund:
Right now, today, Jimmy is on our roster. And Jimmy is under contract for two more years. He is a terrific player. This league is fluid, and things can change quickly. We have such great respect for Jimmy and his value in this league is extremely high.
If people think there’s an opportunity to get him, they have to know that. They can’t come and try to throw something out there that we would never do. I’ve always felt this way about team building and a team in general: There are very few guys who you build around. This is a team game. You build with players. We are building with Jimmy right now.
At least one team was nervous Butler would be finishing this season in Boston: The Cleveland Cavaliers. ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst told Kevin Arnovitz and Lowe on a recent episode of the Lowe Post podcast that "the Cavs were on pins and needles" about the prospect of the Celtics acquiring Butler or George (h/t RealGM).
Talks will heat up around this June's draft, at which time the Bulls will have more incentive than ever to move their lone superstar.
Denver's short-lived dalliance with George should put them in play for Butler. The Minnesota Timberwolves also tried poaching Butler last summer and will have another top pick to tempt Chicago with this year. And the Celtics' presumed interest in George ostensibly puts a clock on the Bulls' ability to get their hands on a Nets pick.
Should Butler survive the offseason in Chicago, we can start talking about him staying put long term. But with the Bulls knocking on the door of a full-scale rebuild, the chances of this happening feel 50-50—if that.
4. Paul George, Indiana Pacers
Good news, Indiana Pacers romantics: Paul George, per Amick, wants to go down as the best player in franchise history and win you a title.
Now for the bad news: If he can't win in Indiana, he would, according to Amick, "love nothing more than to sign with his hometown Lakers."
The Purple and Gold bugaboo is real. George will be a free agent in 2018 (player option) and isn't thrilled about the Pacers' lack of communication or improvement at the trade deadline.
"I kind of was on the ropes, just like you guys were, on what was about to happen," he said, per Amick. "It was kind of a dark moment of uncertainty. That was the frustrating part. You want me to be your guy here, thought I would have been in the loop a little more on [trade talks]."
George will have more than 200 million reasons to stay if he makes an All-NBA team and qualifies for the Designated Player Exception. But, as everyone and their preferred chinchilla breeder has noted, there's no guarantee he finishes as one of the Association's top six forwards—two per three All-NBA squads.
Jimmy Butler, Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Draymond Green, whatever Giannis Antetokounmpo is—boom, we're there...without George.
Upon reaching this (exceedingly likely) point, the Pacers have a decision to make: Do they roll the dice and hope George qualifies for DPE money by 2018 or finds it in himself to stay regardless? Or do they shop him, fully aware his affections for the Lakers could drive down offerings from the Celtics, Nuggets and other interested teams?
It's a crummy slate of scenarios from which to choose, but this is the hand the Pacers have been dealt. And they can't afford to lose George for nothing. So barring an All-NBA shocker, there's an uncomfortably strong chance his time with Indiana is drawing to a close.
3. Jaylen Brown, Boston Celtics
Jaylen Brown is a natural part of any package the Celtics fudge together for a superstar wing—particularly when Ainge is trying to keep Crowder.
Let's turn back to Aldridge's comments on the Butler-to-Boston scenario (via Robb):
Chicago, I think rightly, is saying: 'If you want our best player, we're not going to just do it for picks. We're not going to take guys you aren't going to keep on your roster. We want a guy that is going to be able to grow with us, along with one of those high picks.'
They want a top-half-of-the-lottery type of pick for Jimmy Butler, along with a starting established player under contract. I understand that from Chicago's point of view.
Bradley should be Ainge's preferred collateral damage over the offseason. He could be a $20-million-per-year player after 2017-18, and Boston will be hard-pressed to pay him in conjunction with Butler or George, Horford, Smart (extension-eligible), Thomas (2018) and whomever Ainge adds via free agency this summer. Chicago and Indiana will be thinking along the same lines—unless either is enamored with a max-contract(ish) version of Bradley.
That leaves Brown. He has three years left on his rookie-scale deal and, much like the Nets picks, doesn't ideally fit Boston's timeline.
Head coach Brad Stevens cherishes Brown's versatility. The newbie sees extensive spin in crunch time, and his 50-plus percent knockdown rate on corner three-pointers suggests he'll eventually be everything the Celtics need.
Still, another perimeter weapon would eat into Brown's playing time. Thus, he becomes especially redundant on the heels of a George trade; neither of them, unlike Butler, should be playing the 2. And, ultimately, a 20-year-old Brown makes more sense for a team hitting reset than a 26-year-old Bradley.
2. Alexis Ajinca, New Orleans Pelicans
DeMarcus Cousins gives the New Orleans Pelicans too many frontcourt commitments—a pretty massive problem, since this was an issue before his arrival.
New Orleans has $58.3 million tied up in Alexis Ajinca, Omer Asik, Anthony Davis, Cheick Diallo and Cousins next season alone. Devoting roughly 57 percent of the projected $103 million salary cap to five bigs, no less than four of whom play the same position, is bad business.
Ajinca is the most sensible trade candidate. No general manager who isn't tripping on acid and/or isn't receiving a loosely protected first-round pick as a buffer will deal for Asik. Diallo is an easy dump, but the departure of his $900K salary doesn't add much to the rainy-day fund.
Even the market for Ajinca will be lukewarm. The $10.2 million he'll make through 2018-19 is nothing, but he could barely stay on the floor prior to the Cousins era.
If he proves immovable, the Pelicans have to consider using the stretch provision. But spreading the $33.9 million left on Asik's deal over the next seven years ($4.8 million per) saves the team more immediate coin ($5.8 million). Shelling out almost $5 million in dead money every year for seven seasons is extreme, even under the new salary cap. That should be the worst-case scenario—one New Orleans is better off resorting to a year from now, if it must.
Targeting teams under the cap floor who might accept second-round compensation for absorbing Ajinca's contract is the safer, more likely route. He's a digestible throw-in piece for bigger deals that include more outgoing players as well.
And knowing the Pelicans cannot reasonably go into 2017-18 with this big-man quintet intact, the likelihood of him being dealt dwarfs that of almost everyone else.
1. Ricky Rubio, Minnesota Timberwolves
Ricky Rubio's fate in Minnesota was sealed last summer once the Timberwolves selected Kris Dunn at No. 5 and didn't trade him for Jimmy Butler. That he'll finish this season without being moved is a fringe shock.
Minnesota and New York seemed destined to hash out a Derrick Rose-for-Rubio swap, but talks fell apart at the last minute, per Stein. (i.e. Timberwolves head coach and president Tom Thibodeau came to his senses.) No matter, though; the Rubio drama soldiers on.
Dunn is the point guard of the future, and Thibs has to start game-planning for an expensive core. Gorgui Dieng's new deal kicks in next season, while both Zach LaVine and Andrew Wiggins are extension-eligible this summer. Minnesota can wait until 2018 restricted free agency to reinvest in their services, but they're looking at an unfathomably high 2018-19 cap sheet no matter what.
Keeping the core together won't get any cheaper, either. Karl-Anthony Towns is extension-eligible after next season, and Dunn will be right behind him in 2019. The bottom line takes an even bigger hit if the team has any interest in retaining Shabazz Muhammad (restricted free agent this July) or Nemanja Bjelica (2018).
By the final year of Rubio's deal, in 2018-19, the Timberwolves could have north of $60 million committed to Dieng, LaVine and Wiggins, with looming paydays for Towns and Dunn. Rubio's $14.3 million annual average salary isn't overbearing on its own, but it won't be long before it's brutally out of place.
Standing pat only makes sense if the Timberwolves, as many expected, were playoff-ready right now. They aren't, and Rubio's prime-most window runs counter to theirs—as does his ball-dominant, jumper-averse play style.
Another team that can surround Rubio with a bunch of above-average shooters will have more use for his services, in addition to the three years and $42.8 million remaining on his deal. He only becomes a relative lock to return if Minnesota tries using Dunn and this year's first-rounder as bait for Butler.