5 Players Who Should Be on the Trade Block After 2018 NBA Draft

Kelly Scaletta@@KellyScalettaFeatured ColumnistJune 24, 2018

5 Players Who Should Be on the Trade Block After 2018 NBA Draft

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    Eric Gay/Associated Press

    Now that the 2018 NBA draft has passed, the offseason's other big shoe, free agency, is ready begin its descent July 1. In the interim—or even afterward—trades could keep things interesting. 

    Some teams could feel pressure to deal a critical player because he is unsatisfied and asking for a swap. Others may be ready to push the rebuild button. Still others might be looking to create cap space for free agency. 

    These are the best players most likely to be moved, ranked according to stature.

5. Brandon Ingram, Los Angeles Lakers

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    Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press

    The Los Angeles Lakers are at the proverbial fork in the road. They can either continue to build with their promising young core, or they can chase after LeBron James and a second star in free agency—possibly Paul George or Chris Paul.

    There's a chance they could put together a trade package for Kawhi Leonard, which would probably involve Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball or both.

    But even if they don't, they might have to create cap space. According to ESPN's Bobby Marks, the Lakers will have $69 million in room if they waive their rights to Julius Randle and stretch Luol Deng's contract over five years.

    According to Hoops Rumors, the max contract for an NBA veteran of over 10 years is $35,350,000, meaning Paul and James would make a combined $70.7 million—roughly $2 million more than the Lakers would have room for with Marks' proposed tweaks.

    Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times reported:

    "While they like their young core and would prefer to keep those players growing together, they have told teams no player is untouchable in trades, according to multiple sources who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of trade and free-agent negotiations.

    To be clear, the Lakers are not actively shopping any of their players. They are willing to listen to offers and could move one of them—even a member of the talented young cadre of Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram or Josh Hart—if an offer blows them away."

    If they do need to move a key peice, Ingram makes the most sense. They'll be able to get a better player or asset back for him, and as Ingram plays the same position as Leonard and James, he has the least value if one or both stars join the Lakers.

4. Hassan Whiteside, Miami Heat

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    Chris Szagola/Associated Press

    Hassan Whiteside has to be one of the hardest players and personalities in the league to maximize. 

    On one hand, he's a tremendous talent around the rim, whether he's blocking shots or thundering home dunks. However, his tendency to overpursue blocks and his inability to defend the perimeter can make him unplayable when teams go small. 

    As such, Whiteside has grown disgruntled, and that's making him a trade candidate.

    Barry Jackson reported for the Miami Herald in early May: "There is strong support among numerous people inside the Heat to trade Hassan Whiteside, and the question this offseason becomes this: To what measures will Pat Riley go to dump the two years and $52 million left on his contract."

    But will anyone trade for him? Whiteside has a hefty deal for someone who can be forced to the bench during the last two minutes of a game. His 14.0 points, 11.4 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per contest are nice, but they're probably inflated by a certain amount of stat-stuffing.

    Furthermore, Whiteside is such a reluctant passer that he has 147 career assists. Let's get some perspective on that.

    According to Basketball Reference, since the insertion of the shot clock, there have been 539 players with a usage percentage over 20 and 250 games played. Of those, Whiteside's 3.5 assist percentage is the lowest. In other words, he's arguably the biggest ball hog league history.

3. Eric Gordon, Houston Rockets

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    When Eric Gordon signed his four-year, $52.8 million contract with the Houston Rockets in 2016, it looked like a potential reach. His talent wasn't in question, but he'd had trouble staying on the court the previous few years. 

    Rather than disappoint, Gordon established himself as one of the league's best bench players, winning Sixth Man of the Year in 2016-17. Also, since his arrival in Houston, only four players (Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, James Harden and Kemba Walker) have made more threes. And he only has seven fewer than Walker with nearly 1,000 fewer minutes.

    While there's no doubting his value to the Rockets, if they could rid themselves of that $13.5 million he's due this season, it would help their ability to handing out another max contract. The Athletic's Michael Scotto reports that "Houston has received calls from teams interested in trading for Eric Gordon," which suggests that, at the very least, other teams are thinking Gordon could be made available.

    They'd still have to find a taker for Ryan Anderson and his $20-plus million salary in each of the next two years, but in that case, they'd be able to add George or James and retain Paul and Clint Capela.

    Combined with Harden, that would give them a four-star set that would rival the Golden State Warriors and make them the most serious challenger to the two-time reigning champs. 

    There could be something beautiful about Golden State's two biggest victims, LeBron and the Rockets, teaming up for a special serving of revenge. 

2. Kemba Walker

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    Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    The Charlotte Hornets' Kemba Walker has quietly evolved into one of the league's best point guards. He might not be on the same tier as Curry and Russell Westbrook, but he's on the one right below it.

    Over the last three seasons, six point guards have average 20 points, five assists and two threes per game: Walker, Curry, Westbrook, Kyrie Irving, Isaiah Thomas and Damian Lillard. Among those, Walker has played at least 17 more games than any of them.

    The Hornets have already signaled they're going into full-fledged rebuild mode after trading Dwight Howard to the Brooklyn Nets for Timofey Mozgov's albatross contract. Walker will be a free agent in summer 2019, so it's probably only a matter of time before he finds himself on a new team.

    Bleacher Report's Ken Berger reported after the draft he might end up with the Cleveland Cavaliers: 

    "The Cavs continue to explore the possibility of working a deal with the Charlotte Hornets for two-time All-Star Kemba Walker, two league sources told B/R on Thursday night. Their best chance at such a deal would seem to have involved the eighth pick in the draft, which didn't happen. One person close to Walker said Thursday night that he still believes such a deal is 'possible.'"

    Another league source pushed the notion of a trade for Walker one step further when it comes to the Cavs' chances of keeping LeBron: Acquiring Walker, the person said, "is the only way LeBron stays."

    Charlotte president of basketball operations Mitch Kupchak poured cold water on trade talks, telling Steve Reed of the Associated Press: "I don't think it is anybody's goal to lose him in free agency. But going forward, in the community, in the franchise, this is a player that we hope is with us—not only for the next couple of years, but ends his career here."

    But we've seen GMs say one thing and do another before, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see Walker traded, especially since the 28-year-old's career arc wouldn't match up with a full-scale rebuild.

1. Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs

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    Without question, the biggest star on the block is Kawhi Leonard, the San Antonio Spurs superstar who is displeased about the way the franchise and his teammates treated his quadriceps injury. 

    Leonard is a two-time Defensive Player of the Year whose offense had evolved to an elite level, as he averaged 25.5 points on 61.0 percent true shooting before he missed the bulk of last season (73 games and the playoffs) with the injury.

    According to Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.com:

    "Leonard wants a trade to Los Angeles, preferably the Lakers over the Clippers, league sources said. He has privately maintained that he no longer wants to play in San Antonio and will eventually alert rival teams considering trades for him that his intention is to sign in Los Angeles when he can become a free agent in 2019, league sources said.

    "The Spurs are unlikely to be motivated to facilitate a deal to the Lakers, league sources said."

    They could, however, look to trade him elsewhere, and it's feasible he could change his mind after playing a season with a team such as the Boston Celtics or Philadelphia 76ers, who are both asset-rich, play in the East and could rival the Golden State Warriors for the title if they acquired him. 

    Additionally, the Spurs seem reluctant to deal Leonard to the West and might be more amenable to discussions with an Eastern Conference team, where they wouldn't be fortifying a rival. 

    The other possibility is Leonard stays put for a year and goes to Los Angeles next summer.