NBA Players in Desperate Need of a Trade

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistJuly 30, 2018

NBA Players in Desperate Need of a Trade

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    The NBA offseason is defined by change—new players in new locations, new rookies, new coaches, new contracts.

    But change doesn't always reach everyone who needs it. Some players are trapped by contracts signed during summers past and either buried on the depth chart since or in danger of realizing that fate.

    Change could be as simple as an altered role or as dramatic as a new address. The point is the following players are trending in the wrong direction and in need of a shake-up.

    Different circumstances put them on this list, and ideal outcomes aren't universal. But all are huddled together under the something's-gotta-give umbrella and hoping things can break in their favor.

Dragan Bender/Marquese Chriss, Phoenix Suns

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    For all the questions the Phoenix Suns answered this offseason, the futures of Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss remain murky as ever. The fellow 2016 lottery picks have both failed to distinguish themselves over two developmental seasons, and now each is at risk of being buried amid a suddenly crowded frontcourt.

    Top pick Deandre Ayton has a stranglehold on the starting center gig. The starting forward spots could be split among Trevor Ariza, Josh Jackson, Mikal Bridges and TJ Warren, with the other two slotting into backup gigs. Tyson Chandler and the recently acquired Richaun Holmes figure to factor into the 5 rotation as well.

    So, where does that leave Bender and Chriss? Possibly fighting one another for a future in Phoenix.

    "It's likely at this point Phoenix chooses one of two avenues with this still very raw pairing: Trade one as a chip in a bigger deal to acquire talent or keep both through the remainder of their contracts and then deciding on whom to keep at that point," Evan Sidery wrote for Bright Side of the Sun.

    Neither Bender nor Chriss has extinguished his intrigue. Bender projects as a 7-footer with both a three-ball and some playmaking prowess. Chriss remains a turbocharged athlete who is comfortable shooting from distance and theoretically provides defensive value at the rim.

    But both are also establishing their NBA identities, and they might require separation to complete that process. Bender's skills mesh easier with Ayton's on paper, meaning he's the more logical keeper. If that pushes Chriss to the trade block, he'd be an interesting target for the Atlanta Hawks as John Collins' running mate or the Houston Rockets alongside or behind Clint Capela.

Luol Deng, Los Angeles Lakers

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    Remember when Luol Deng was known for something other than his albatross contract? It wasn't as long ago as you might think.

    His colossal 2016 payday never would have happened without an encouraging 2015-16 campaign for the Miami Heat. While he only graded out as league average (15.0 player efficiency rating), upticks in three-point rate (.344) and floor time as a small-ball 4 (71 percent of his total minutes) plotted a potentially productive, sustainable blueprint for the latter stages of his career.

    But the Los Angeles Lakers opted against that route, instead mostly slotting him back into the small forward spot during his first season in Hollywood. That's where his limited shot creation and defensive decline due to Father Time—he's old for 33, having aged in dog years under Tom Thibodeau—appear their absolute worst. Both Deng's volume and efficiency plummeted almost immediately.

    Deng opened his second season as a Laker with a 13-minute debut. He wasn't seen again after being yanked from the rotation and unable to punch his ticket out of town. At this point, some believe he may not reappear.

    "[A Lakers] executive said Deng is all but semi-retired," Bleacher Report's Eric Pincus wrote. "He may never play again in the NBA unless he has a change of heart."

    Someone should find a way to give Deng his career back. That probably isn't happening in L.A.—although maybe the Lakers see Deng differently with LeBron James putting them back in win-now mode?—but someone could use a savvy small-ball big with modest two-way value. The Rockets, Oklahoma City Thunder, Philadelphia 76ers and Portland Trail Blazers would all be logical landing spots if Deng gets bought out.

Joakim Noah, New York Knicks

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    Kamil Krzaczynski/Associated Press

    Thrill rides don't drop as dramatically as Joakim Noah's NBA journey has.

    In 2013-14, he followed his second consecutive All-Star selection by winning the Defensive Player of the Year award. Two summers later, he was inking a four-year, $72 million deal with the New York Knicks. Another two years later, he's been deemed virtually useless.

    His first season in New York set an ominous tone. He was often injured, never as productive as he was with the Chicago Bulls and ultimately suspended for violating the league's anti-drug program. Year 2 was even worse. The suspension delayed his debut, his number was infrequently called when available (seven total appearances) and his campaign was cut short by an exile from the team.

    Despite having half of his burdensome deal left on the books, it's unclear if Noah will even have a third go-round in the Big Apple.

    "We're not taking any options off the table in terms of whether Noah will be here or not be here," general manager Scott Perry said, per Marc Berman of the New York Post.

    If the Knicks aren't going to have any minutes available—Noah will at least get a clean slate with new head coach David Fizdale—then Noah's representatives must work on orchestrating a buyout. His limited range and reluctance to shoot will restrict him to part-time duties, but his defense and distributing might be welcome additions for the Golden State Warriors, Minnesota Timberwolves, Los Angeles Lakers or Dallas Mavericks.

Nikola Vucevic, Orlando Magic

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    The 2018-19 Orlando Magic look worlds removed from the organization that acquired Nikola Vucevic back in 2012. They've turned to five different coaches since then, revamped the front office and spent multiple top-10 draft picks on frontcourt prospects.

    All of this points to Vucevic's tenure with the team ending sooner rather than later, a likelihood increased by the fact his contract only lasts through next season. Considering Magic executives have already tied their fates to younger, more athletic bigs—Aaron Gordon, Jonathan Isaac, Mohamed Bamba—there's little reason to believe Vucevic has a future with the Magic past next summer.

    But why wait to cut the cord?

    Gordon, Isaac and Bamba could all use as many developmental minutes as possible, and Vucevic is too talented to bury on the bench. He needs the proper pieces around him—a crafty floor general, a defensively versatile frontcourt partner—but he produces when given the opportunity. He's averaging better than 17 points, nine rebounds and two assists since 2014-15, a line shared with only six other players.

    There aren't many teams in the market for centers, but those that are should all have some interest in Vucevic. He's a plug-and-play option for current contenders, while forward-thinkers can envision growth potential in the 27-year-old based on his expanding range (career-high 64 threes in 57 games last season) and improving passing (career-high 3.4 assists per game).

    The Brooklyn Nets would appreciate Vucevic's willingness to launch from long range and might see him as either a bridge to Jarrett Allen or a better option than the 20-year-old. If the clubs could figure out the finances, Vucevic would also be an upgrade over what the Los Angeles Clippers and Washington Wizards are trotting out at center.

Hassan Whiteside: Miami Heat

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    The Miami Heat made a four-year, $98 million commitment to Hassan Whiteside in 2016. They seemingly experienced buyer's remorse shortly thereafter.

    One summer after spending big on Whiteside, Miami invested a lottery pick in Bam Adebayo and $50 million in Kelly Olynyk—players who work best at center, Whiteside's position. The pair immediately bit into Whiteside's playing time, and his 2017-18 averages dipped to 14.0 points and 11.4 rebounds in 25.3 minutes, their lowest levels in three seasons.

    "It's annoying," Whiteside said in April regarding his declining floor time, per Ira Winderman of the Sun Sentinel. "Why we matching up? We got one of the best centers in the league. Why we matching up? ... It's really bulls--t, man. There's a lot of teams that could use a center."

    Granted, there probably aren't a ton of teams lining up for a $25 million center with two career three-pointers. But he wouldn't be dismissed by all suitors. He was the Association's leading shot-blocker in 2015-16 and best rebounder a year later. In 2015-16, only six players had higher player efficiency ratings.

    He just needs a bigger opportunity than the Heat are giving him. Either Miami must find him more floor time—a near-impossible task without demoting Adebayo and/or Olynyk—or it needs to ship him elsewhere. The return won't be great, but both sides seem ready for a fresh start.

    The Milwaukee Bucks eyed Whiteside around the trade deadline, per Basketball Insiders' Steve Kyler, and he remains more appealing than anything they have underneath. He also theoretically fits a trade with the Clippers built around Danilo Gallinari.


    Unless otherwise indicated, all stats are from Basketball Reference or

    Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @ZachBuckleyNBA.