2018 NBA Trade Deadline: Free Agents-to-Be Who Could Be Dealt
NBA trade season isn't just about venturing into deep water, casting a line and hoping to land the big fish. It's also about cutting bait.
Though the latter aspect may not generate as many headlines, it's still a vital component to building a successful team. That's why you'll see so many clubs shopping their soon-to-be free agents; they want to see what they can get in exchange for guys who might leave for nothing in a few months.
The flip side is just as critical. Teams hoping to contend often find value in veterans without long-term commitments—guys who can jump in and help for the stretch run without compromising cap flexibility going forward.
Keep an eye on these free agents-to-be.
DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers
First, Lou Williams sparked a survival run, averting a full-scale sell-off and keeping the Los Angeles Clippers in the playoff mix with Blake Griffin (and seemingly everyone else in the rotation) injured.
Then, DeMarcus Cousins' season-ending Achilles injury rejiggered the West playoff outlook, weakening the New Orleans Pelicans and, perhaps, further dissuading borderline postseason clubs like the Clippers from looking ahead to next year.
Those factors seemed to diminish the likelihood of DeAndre Jordan going anywhere before the 2018 deadline...but then the Clips dealt Griffin to the Detroit Pistons.
Jordan is now almost certainly gone.
Assuming DJ opts out of the final year of his deal this summer, he'll enter a cool center market. But in light of Cousins' injury, he'll probably look like the best bet at the position. Having gotten off Griffin's money, it stands to reason the Clippers won't be inclined to replace the burden they just unloaded with a new deal for Jordan.
If another team signs Jordan following his opt out, the Clips would lose him for nothing. Logic dictates getting something for Jordan.
Considering the interest he's garnered from teams all over the league—Cleveland, Milwaukee and Portland, among others—a deal should get done soon.
Julius Randle, Los Angeles Lakers
Julius Randle (and almost everything else) must go if the Los Angeles Lakers want to clear a pair of max-salary slots this summer. L.A. could renounce Randle to clear his cap hold after the season, removing his restricted free-agent status. But that'd be giving him away for nothing.
Better to make a value play via trade before opting for that as a last resort.
Randle has yet to show a stable jump shot, is often out of control offensively and doesn't have the size (6'9") or instincts to be a true rim-protector. Nonetheless, he's probably most valuable as a center.
An aggressive attacker, Randle also has strong playmaking traits (when he's not in one of his head-down, redline, charge-into-traffic-with-no-plan modes). Though the numbers are somewhat skewed by poor opponent three-point shooting, the Lakers have had success with Randle at the 5 this year, outscoring opponents by 14.7 points per 100 possessions when he plays with Lonzo Ball, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma.
Under normal circumstances, you'd implore the Lakers to keep that fivesome together and explore what it could do over the next few seasons. But things are different in L.A., where cap space is the goal and Randle is a likely casualty.
It may only cost a pick for some opportunistic team to snatch up Randle and ink him to his next deal.
Isaiah Thomas, Cleveland Cavaliers
The Athletic's Jason Lloyd reports Isaiah Thomas' teammates are unhappy with his offensive approach, and Thomas, in response, seems resistant to change.
He told Lloyd: "If they're worried about my shot selection, they must not have seen me play the last few years. That's all I can say about that. If somebody's worried about that, what did you trade me here for? To not shoot? To not find my rhythm? To not be Isaiah Thomas? I can't be anybody else."
Thomas was supposed to compromise the Cavs defensively; everyone expected that, hip injury or not. But offensive friction was never part of the plan.
If the Cavs extricate themselves from the sunk cost fallacy and view Thomas for what he is now, it should be clear to them that he's basically salary filler. Nobody is giving up significant assets to get this visibly hampered version of Thomas—not with his free agency looming, and not when he's making waves in the locker room.
Cleveland could package Thomas with something other teams would want, like the Brooklyn pick, and get something back that'd be of help this season.
LeBron James' uncertain future makes every potential Cavs deal complicated, but the reality of Thomas' place on this roster is comparatively simple: He's not helping now, he won't be part of the future, and time is running out to turn him into something useful.
Rodney Hood, Utah Jazz
The Cousins injury is a factor here, too, as the Utah Jazz might see New Orleans' loss as their chance to gain ground on a playoff spot.
Rodney Hood, a restricted free agent this summer, could help several teams on the wing. He's a capable scorer who uses his 6'8" size to create pull-ups and floaters for himself in the lane. Though not much of a facilitator or finisher at the rim, Hood's length makes him a tough cover and a versatile defender.
If the Jazz aren't interested in paying his next contract, surely somebody else will be. According to Kevin O'Connor of The Ringer, both the Pistons and Bulls have shown interest.
Leg injuries have hampered Hood the last two years, and anyone signing him has to be cognizant of durability issues—not to mention deteriorating athleticism. At the same time, Hood's three-point conversion rate this year (38.6 percent) suggests he could transition into a Joe Johnson-esque undersized power forward role as he ages.
He's a worthwhile pickup for a stretch run and a reasonable gamble for a team trying to find longer-term wing help.
Derrick Favors, Utah Jazz
Derrick Favors' name has come up in talks between the Jazz and Bulls, but it seems like there ought to be a dozen other teams trying to snatch a guy who could be the best big-man bargain on the market.
Anyone previously interested in Cousins or currently looking to add Jordan should consider Favors as an alternative.
He's been a defensive anchor in the recent past, is a skillful finisher from anywhere in the lane (his touch and dexterity outside of dunking range make him a more versatile offensive weapon than the catch-and-jam Jordan), and anyone acquiring him will only pay the prorated portion of his $12 million salary.
He'll hit unrestricted free agency this summer, and though he's refuted reports that he's unwilling to re-sign with the Jazz, Favors' plans aren't the key issue. From Utah's perspective, it doesn't make much sense to commit even moderate money to a center—not with Rudy Gobert already making the max.
With that in mind, the Jazz are incentivized to get something back for Favors. And everyone in the league who needs a quality big on the cheap should be incentivized to give Utah a call.
Tyreke Evans, Memphis Grizzlies
If only in the interest of scientific study, Tyreke Evans should be traded.
We need to know if this version of Evans can exist on a good team.
Healthy for the first time in years, the Memphis Grizzlies guard and unrestricted free-agent-to-be is one of four players averaging at least 19 points, five rebounds and five assists while shooting at least 38 percent from long range. The other three: Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry and Chris Paul.
Mike Conley is done for the year, and the Grizzlies reportedly tried to get Chandler Parsons to retire (which Parsons and his reps denied). This is not an organization that needs a veteran free agent, one they shrewdly signed to a short-term deal, hanging around and playing well enough to win a few games.
Memphis should be focused on lottery position. That's the only way to inject talent into the roster gridlock created by big deals for Conley, Parsons and Marc Gasol.
Selling at the absolute apex of Evans' value is the smart move, and Ronald Tillery of the Commercial Appeal reports Boston is a possibility.
Lou Williams, Los Angeles Clippers
If Griffin getting dealt wasn't enough of an indicator that the Clips are looking to accumulate assets, we also have ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reporting the team's intentions to get young players and picks for Jordan and Lou Williams.
Those two factors don't make Williams' departure an iron-clad lock...but they come close.
Much of the same logic dictating an Evans trade in Memphis applies here: The Clippers, like the Grizzlies, are not prioritizing success this season. As such, a player like Williams—31, best utilized as a weapon off the bench and playing at the highest levels of his career—has more value as a trade chip than an on-court weapon.
Imagine what Williams, unrestricted after this year, could do for a team like the Washington Wizards, who've lost playoff series because their second units couldn't take the pressure off the starters. Or the paper-thin Minnesota Timberwolves. Or even the Philadelphia 76ers, whose bench ranks 21st in net rating.