Imagining Every NBA Team's Trade Deadline Whiteboard
Maybe the time has come to let the NBA whiteboard gag fade into basketball lore.
Then-Orlando Magic general manager Rob Hennigan gave us punchlines aplenty in April 2017, but it's now 2019. Years have passed. Hennigan is an assistant general manager with the Oklahoma City Thunder. Numerous whiteboard cycles have come and gone. This joke doesn't have to last.
Actually, on second thought, it absolutely does.
Ignore whatever twisted, if outdated, pleasure we might take in rehashing one of the league's greatest, quirkiest snafus. Whiteboard exercises serve another purpose: They allow us to organize a team's priorities ahead of special occasions.
And wouldn't ya know it, the NBA's Feb. 7 trade deadline is right around the corner.
What better way to prepare than by hammering out a to-do list for every team while celebrating the dry-erase gift that, if we let it, will keep on giving forever and ever and ever?
1. Work the Unwanted-Salary Market
Just four teams join the Atlanta Hawks in the completely-out-of-the-playoffs circle: Chicago Bulls, Cleveland Cavaliers, New York Knicks and Phoenix Suns. Of that group, only the Cavaliers have shown a willingness to tack unwanted money onto next year's books.
Other salary-absorbers will come out of the woodwork closer to the deadline. In the meantime, the Hawks are the most attractive dumping ground around.
They have impact players on expiring contracts, along with the window to soak up money into 2019-20 and even 2020-21. They can hold serve until the offseason, when free-agency buyers are more desperate, but they'll have the opportunity to reset the market for midseason salary-cap leases.
2. Gauge Trade Market for Dewayne Dedmon/Jeremy Lin
Atlanta needn't trade Dewayne Dedmon or Jeremy Lin just to move them. They're not harshing the Hawks' tank, and Lin specifically is a veteran they might want to keep around as an expensive placeholder beyond this season.
But neither player fits a rebuilding timeline. If the Hawks can turn them into picks or prospect fliers on their own or as part of inbound salary dumps, they should pull the trigger.
3. Entertain Kent Bazemore Trades
Kent Bazemore, currently nursing a sprained right ankle, is "attracting a fair bit of trade interest," per the New York Times' Marc Stein. Atlanta should have no qualms about moving him. He turns 30 in July and, like both Dedmon and Lin, doesn't fit the timetable of a non-contender.
At least with him, though, the Hawks can let the offers come to them. Bazemore is overpaid, but defensively active swingmen with a touch of half-court playmaking are commodities. Atlanta shouldn't deal him for a lesser player on the books through next season and beyond without picking up a first-rounder. Bazemore can always be re-shopped as an expiring contract (2019-20 player option) over the summer.
1. Gauge Terry Rozier's Trade Market
Shaking up the roster isn't a top priority for Boston Celtics team president Danny Ainge.
"We're always looking to upgrade our team if those opportunities present themselves. But I think that's going to be tough," he said on 98.5 The Sports Hub's Toucher & Rich show (via NBC Sports' Darren Hartwell). "As far as trading players, I don't really see much out there. We have a lot of good ones. It's hard to get better players than we have."
Ainge isn't wrong. The Celtics don't have the salary filler to make a move without jettisoning one of their core pieces, and Terry Rozier isn't an exception. His $3.1 million cap hit isn't netting a better player. But he might get a pick or cost-controlled prospect with at least one more season on his deal.
Boston shouldn't rule out such an opportunity with Rozier headed for restricted free agency. Kyrie Irving is hitting the open market as well and has already pledged his allegiance to the team. The Celtics aren't paying them both, and scooping up another pick or prospect adds to their trade-asset treasure chest in advance of an offseason that will include Anthony Davis bids.
2. Explore Getting Under Luxury Tax
Offloading Marcus Morris into cap space felt like a given before the season. Then the season happened. Morris is the Celtics' second- or third-most consistent player, and they cannot afford to just ship him elsewhere. Even snagging a pick or prospect for him rings hollow with Gordon Hayward so far from being all the way back.
But the Celtics are within $3.1 million of evading the tax. They can't not try getting under it.
Heavier tax days are on the horizon. Irving will be on a new deal next year, and Boston has to start planning around raises for Jaylen Brown (extension-eligible this summer) and Jayson Tatum (extension-eligible in 2020) or the superstar salaries into which they'll be consolidated.
Related: This is yet another reason to explore a Rozier-for-picks deal. Move him without taking back salary, and Boston gets within $1 million of the slinking beneath the tax.
3. Hope Anthony Davis Doesn't Request a Trade
Davis hasn't yet considered asking the New Orleans Pelicans for a change of scenery, per ESPN.com's Zach Lowe. The Celtics better hope it stays that way until this summer—or that New Orleans isn't prepared to indulge a trade demand should he give it.
Teams cannot have more than one player on the roster who signed a rookie extension under the Rose Rule. Both Davis and Irving are on those deals, so unless the Celtics are giving the latter to New Orleans, they need to wait until the offseason, when Irving opts out of his contract, to put on the full-court press.
1. Playmaking 4
Let's take a moment to celebrate the Brooklyn Nets' departure from the salary-swallowing game. With the playoffs in sight, they're giving rival teams buyer vibes ahead of the trade deadline, according to ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst.
Surfing the combo-forward market is a must if the Nets are looking to strike a deal—someone with more offensive range than Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and more defensive heft than DeMarre Carroll. A Julius Randle rental would be fun if the Pelicans bail out on this year (unlikely). Noah Vonleh intrigues as a lower-end option.
2. Gauge Rondae Hollis-Jefferson's Trade Market
Regardless of whether they're making a splash, the Nets should test the Hollis-Jefferson trade waters. He hits restricted free agency this summer and won't rank too high on the team's list of priorities.
Brooklyn has bigger fish to fry. D'Angelo Russell is also a restricted free agent, and general manager Sean Marks will want to go marquee-name hunting. After paying Spencer Dinwiddie, the Nets aren't getting max money while carrying holds for both Hollis-Jefferson and Russell without pawning off Allen Crabbe's contract.
3. Assess Cost of Dumping Allen Crabbe's Contract
What a segue!
Using their own pick to lop off the final year of Crabbe's deal (2019-20 player option) is a no-no, but the Nets have the Denver Nuggets' selection and a bevy of nonessential second-rounders. They shouldn't write off enticing, say, the Hawks or Cavaliers into eating that money.
Wipe Crabbe's $18.5 million salary from the ledger, and the Nets enter the max-contract game without needing to renounce RHJ or Russell.
1. Scour Blockbuster-Trade Market (i.e., Monitor Bradley Beal)
Necessary spoiler alert: This dry-erase board will not, at any stage, be instructing the Charlotte Hornets to trade Kemba Walker. They've shown their hand. They want to keep him. He isn't reaching the chopping block unless he asks for an out.
Tag Walker as unavailable, and Charlotte's primary obligation becomes finding a viable No. 2. Second spoiler alert: That isn't happening in free agency. The Hornets will have a hard enough time paying Walker this summer while avoiding the tax.
Any significant acquisition is coming via the trade market. Bradley Beal has caught Charlotte's eye, per the Charlotte Observer's Rick Bonnell. That's hardly a comfort. The Hornets aren't flush with prime-time goodies. It'll take the bulk of their best assets to get in the running for a household name. That shouldn't stop them. They owe it to their retention of Walker.
2. Trade Frank Kaminsky
League sources told Sporting News' Sean Deveney that Charlotte is open to dealing Frank Kaminsky. We call this a "well, it's about time" revelation.
Kaminsky hasn't enjoyed a stable spot in the rotation for weeks and will be a restricted free agent at the end of the season. The Hornets won't be paying him. They have their big-man fix with Willy Hernangomez, Marvin Williams and Cody Zeller and small-ball lineups featuring Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Bismack Biyombo is there, too! He's even playing while Zeller recovers from right-hand surgery.
3. Try Offloading Nicolas Batum's Contract
Believe it or not, this steps on the toes of Kaminsky's availability. Charlotte wants to use him as the sweetener who gets off the two years and $52.7 million left on Nicolas Batum's deal after this season (2020-21 player option), according to Deveney.
Once the Hornets discover Kaminsky isn't Jaren Jackson Jr., they'll likewise realize that ain't happening. They'll need to include at least one first-round pick to grease the wheels of a Batum trade, or they'll have to take back worse money on a shorter term. Think along the lines of a Batum-for-Chandler Parsons swap.
Surrendering picks without landing a fringe star isn't ideal for a team that cuts its teeth in the throes of mediocrity. But again: The Hornets have to worry about what Walker's next contract does to their proximity to the luxury tax. Turning Batum into an expiring contract or a noticeably cheaper player carves out flexibility they're not on track to get before 2020.
1. Become Dumping Ground for 2019-20 Salary
Chicago is starting to lean into its bottom-feeder position. Justin Holiday is gone, and Jabari Parker only plays as a last resort. Sponging up unwanted salary attached to picks and prospects is the next step.
Yes, the Bulls are in line for cap space this summer. They'll have a path to more than $45 million if they renounce Bobby Portis (restricted). They don't need all that money. They're not a free-agent destination as currently constructed.
It makes sense to use the expiring salaries for Parker (2019-20 team option) and Robin Lopez as vessels for digesting unsavory money. Bringing on one expensive player won't entirely remove the Bulls from the free-agency game, and they need to fatten up their collection of rebuild-friendly assets.
2. Get Rid of Jabari Parker
Lopez is a walking buyout if Chicago doesn't move him by the Feb. 7 deadline. Parker needs to be viewed in the same terms.
The Bulls are still trying to trade him, according to ESPN.com's Adrian Wojnarowski, but he's not netting an actual asset. Most teams will see him as cap relief. Others might treat him as a shot-in-the-dark dice roll, but even they aren't giving up real value for him.
Turning Parker into a salary-dump magnet is the savviest play. If the Bulls would rather keep Bulls-ing and not deal him for a bad-contract payload, they should be prepared to waive him so this dumb-experiment-turned-dumber can end.
3. Buy Low on Younger Wing
Since Lopez's availability and buyout candidacy is implied, we land here. The Bulls are terribly light on wing prospects. And while they don't need to do anything drastic—like volunteer to inhale Andrew Wiggins' contract—they should be on the prowl for any affordable randoms who become available, perhaps as a third-team facilitator in a larger deal.
1. Keep Taking on Salary in Exchange for Picks and Prospects
The Cavaliers steered into their post-LeBron James rebuild by chug-a-lugging the 2019-20 salaries of Matthew Dellavedova and John Henson. They need to stay that course.
Although the Milwaukee Bucks gave the Cavs a first- and second-round pick for their trouble, neither selection will convey before 2021. And that first-rounder probably won't come in until 2022. Cleveland has this year's first (lottery protected to Atlanta) but no seconds. Extra 2019 draft choices take precedent.
Snaring at least one other pick shouldn't be an issue. The Cavaliers have expiring contracts galore and the gradual timetable to gobble up some truly bad money. Never mind just 2019-20 salaries. Cleveland has the green light to bankroll expensive outcasts who leak into 2020-21.
2. Trade Rodney Hood (after Jan. 13)
Rodney Hood perked up quite a bit before his left Achilles injury flared up again. Over his last 25 appearances, he's averaging 13 points with a 46.2/41.3/88.9 shooting slash.
Whether he can maintain his efficiency and involvement in more of an accessory role is up in the air. He has never looked fully at ease firing on the catch and isn't the most vibrant mover and shaker off the ball. But he guarantees, at minimum, an emergency layer of shot creation. He's putting down 40 percent of his pull-up treys on the season.
Cleveland would do well to sell off Hood once his trade restriction lifts. He can veto any agreement, since getting dealt will cost him Bird rights, but that's not a real roadblock. The Cavaliers don't have the immediate expectations to hand him a long-term deal over the summer, and Hood has to recognize he can do more for his stock contributing to a playoff hopeful.
3. Gauge Kevin Love's Trade Market
Sending Kevin Love to a postseason squad looking to put itself over the top would be higher up on the Cavaliers' to-do list if he had real trade value. It doesn't sound like he does.
"The problem is: You have a rookie GM [Koby Altman]—who's a really good guy and has done some really good things and is trying to prove himself. And you've got a delusional owner [Dan Gilbert]," a Western Conference executive told Bleacher Report's Ken Berger. "And they're going to think they're supposed to get something for the guy. You're not getting an asset for him under any circumstances."
This might be hyperbole. It may also be spot-on. Love has appeared in just four games while recovering from toe surgery, and his four-year, $120.4 million extension—a curious investment for a LeBron-less Cleveland all along—doesn't kick in until next season. Plenty of teams will consider him more albatross than asset.
Marc Stein of the New York Times expects Love to garner interest near the trade deadline anyway. The Cavs can hold onto him and try rebooting his value into next season. But if they're able to get two or all three of cap relief, a top-20 first-rounder and a prospect with multiple years left on his contract, they need to pounce. Yesterday.
1. See Whether DSJ Can Anchor a Blockbuster Trade
As Luka Doncic continues to make draft-day doubters look infinitely foolish, the Mavericks have started to gauge Dennis Smith Jr.'s market value, according to ESPN.com's Tim MacMahon.
To be clear: Doncic and Smith are not an impossible partnership. Smith is more at home with the ball in his hands, but he's drilling almost 38 percent of his catch-and-fire threes and shooting better than 43 percent from distance off Doncic's passes. Dallas can let this duo ride into the offseason and even 2019-20 before rendering an ultimate verdict.
At the same time, Doncic's climb through the NBA ranks has accelerated the Mavericks' retooling process. They have a clear path to more than $50 million in spending power and what looks to be an MVP candidate. They profile as one of this summer's top free-agent destinations.
Sitting on that flexibility is acceptable. But offseason coups are never formalities. If Smith can headline a trade that brings back a more tantalizing veteran—Bradley Beal, Kemba Walker or an out-of-left-field target the market isn't privy to yet—the Mavericks should give it a shot.
2. Short-Term Help on the Wing
Dallas is jockeying between 13th and 14th place in the Western Conference with the Memphis Grizzlies. That sounds worse than reality. The Mavericks are fewer than four games away from the No. 8 seed. They can approach the deadline as a team trying to solidify its postseason position.
Acting as buyers isn't a mandate. Dallas also has time to finish with a bottom-five record and potentially keep the pick owed to Atlanta (top-five protection). But if making the playoffs remains a goal, the Mavericks need another wing.
I know, I know: What team doesn't? The Mavericks are a little different. They can target gettable difference-makers if they're willing to punt on some of this summer's cap space. Otto Porter Jr. springs to mind here.
Maybe the Mavericks find the ideal scenario, wherein they acquire someone owed little or no money next season. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Terrence Ross, Iman Shumpert and Jonathon Simmons are just a few names to watch. Kent Bazemore's 2019-20 cap hit is too rich for the Mavericks' free-agency tastes, but buying low on Avery Bradley or Courtney Lee would be a nice middle ground.
3. Find Out Cost of Flipping Harrison Barnes for Cap Space
What's better than more than $50 million in cap space? Room to sign two max superstars.
Pretty much everyone has tabbed the Los Angeles Clippers for this honor, with some residual love going to the Nets. Don't count out the Mavericks. They're a Harrison Barnes salary dump away from getting there.
Rerouting him will take a buffer of some kind. Barnes is averaging 18.9 points and shooting better than 45 percent from deep in a predominantly off-ball role since Dallas' 50-point drubbing over the Utah Jazz, but his $25.1 million player option for next season remains well above market value. The Mavericks shouldn't forfeit the moon to move him. Once more: He's playing well. But including a small-time sweetener or swapping him for a cheaper player on a longer deal are lengths they should be open to traveling.
1. Depth on Perimeter
It isn't going to be easy for the Denver Nuggets to address their biggest needs. Not unlike the Celtics, they don't have the expendable salary fodder to include in potential deals.
Denver's shaky perimeter carousel might even work itself out. Malik Beasley looks like a player, and Will Barton will soon be back from his hip and core injuries. Rookie Michael Porter Jr. deepens the rotation if he plays this season.
Of course, it never hurts to look. And the full-strength Nuggets will have room for reinforcements. Another shooter to capitalize on playing "Nikola Jokic-Ball" (Wayne Ellington!) or a switchable wing (Kelly Oubre Jr.!) would go a long way toward cementing Denver's place in the championship conversation.
2. Trade Trey Lyles
Trey Lyles is a virtual goner when he enters restricted free agency this summer. The Nuggets have enough money invested in the 4-5 rotation even if they decline Paul Millsap's team option and seek to re-sign him at a cheaper rate. They should get what they can for Lyles.
Living in fear of another Millsap injury isn't a good enough excuse to keep him. Playing Juan Hernangomez and Jokic in the frontcourt is an offensive cheat code, and the Jokic-Mason Plumlee duo has outscored opponents by more than 10 points per 100 possessions, according to Cleaning the Glass.
Granted, Lyles isn't yielding much straight up. But a second-round pick or buy-low prospect would be worth it. His $3.4 million salary also comes in handy as a salary-matching tool.
3. Monitor Fire-Sale Market
It won't take much for the Nuggets to believe this might be their year, because gosh darnit, this might be their year. They have sole ownership of first place in the Western Conference. If they can make themselves more of a problem for the Golden State Warriors, they should do it.
Skulking around the market for an all-in play isn't the answer. Cobbling together picks, Porter, Jamal Murray and a salary filler doesn't make sense unless Damian Lillard or an A-list wing who isn't Jimmy Butler becomes obtainable.
Keeping tabs on the fire-sale market is different. Maybe the Hornets are forced to move Walker for pennies on the dollar. Perhaps the Magic will give up Terrence Ross for filler and a small-potatoes pick or prospect. Armed with Plumlee's salary, a couple of prospects and distant first, Denver should be on the lookout for buy-low, win-high scenarios.
1. 3-and-D Wing
Consider this an obligatory wish-list topper. Every team wants more three-and-D wings.
The Detroit Pistons are unique in their need, because they don't have one—belief in Bruce Brown's jump shot notwithstanding. But they, like many others, don't have the tools to get one, assuming that type of player even wanders onto the auction block.
And if he does, Detroit will be hard-pressed to get him. Offers built around some combination of Langston Galloway, Jon Leuer, Glenn Robinson III, Ish Smith and first-round picks top out in the Trevor Ariza, Kent Bazemore and Wesley Matthews tier.
2. Shooting Specialist
Bringing in a shooter, defensive net worth be damned, is a more realistic goal—and paramount to boot. The Pistons are 29th in overall three-point efficiency and accuracy on wide-open looks. They're draining a higher percentage of their long balls over the past 10 games or so, but their floor balance is miles from adequate.
Someone like Wayne Ellington or Terrence Ross would work miracles. Rodney Hood, Courtney Lee and Iman Shumpert should be on the radar as well. The Pistons shouldn't scoff at floor spacing in the form of a point guard, either. Their backcourt depth is nothing to tout, and guys like Darren Collison (probably out of reach) and Jeremy Lin are major upgrades.
3. Gauge Stanley Johnson's Trade Value
Predicting Stanley Johnson's price tag in restricted free agency is tough. He has value as a cross-position defender but hasn't appreciably improved his half-court playmaking or jump shooting.
Holding onto Johnson might allow the Pistons to squeeze him over the summer. He isn't a qualifying-offer candidate, but he, in all likelihood, won't be soliciting over-the-top offer sheets from outside admirers. Detroit may get a chance to keep him on a sub-$10 million salary.
But that doesn't equate to a bargain. Johnson's offensive question marks aren't going away, and his cap hold puts the Pistons almost up against the tax. Using him to soften a Jon Leuer dump would be ideal, but even an afterthought pick or prospect is a return Detroit must weigh.
Golden State Warriors
1. Hope Buyout Market Develops Quickly
Allow us to acknowledge the obvious: The Warriors won't be active at the trade deadline. They don't have salary-matching assets beyond their four superstars, Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston, none of whom are for sale.
Flipping Jordan Bell ahead of restricted free agency is worth exploring, but he's starting to emerge from head coach Steve Kerr's doghouse, and his $1.4 million salary isn't bringing back anyone who immediately helps Golden State.
Whatever noteworthy additions the Warriors make will come from the buyout market. They should hope that pool of players is deep and develops posthaste.
2. Another Shooter
Shooting isn't a dire need for a team that deploys Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson, but Golden State has holes on the perimeter. The bench is 26th in three-pointers made per 100 possessions and absent a two-way wing who can shoulder real workloads other than Late April to Mid-June Andre Iguodala.
A Trevor Ariza or Wesley Matthews buyout is the Warriors' dream.
3. Reserve Big
People are overstating Golden State's need for a big man. Draymond Green is going to play a ton of center late in the season no matter what, and DeMarcus Cousins' return from an Achilles injury will, if all goes according to plan, cannibalize the remaining minutes.
Contingency bigs are still good to have, just in case the Warriors aren't comfortable leaning on Bell or Kevon Looney during higher-stakes games. Robin Lopez is a buyout candidate they are watching, per the New York Times' Marc Stein. Taj Gibson is another name to monitor following the Minnesota Timberwolves' decision to can coach-president Tom Thibodeau.
1. Defensive Versatility on the Wings
In a complete and utter non-twist, the Houston Rockets are going to be aggressive buyers at the trade deadline. As general manager Daryl Morey told The Athletic's Sam Amick:
"Yeah, we're for now. So what do they say—buyers vs. sellers? We're definitely a buyer...I think we've been trying to win the title for a while, and we had a couple years before we got James where we probably didn't have as much of a chance to win, where we were probably a little more future focused.
"But since James has been here we've been buyers at the deadline and hopefully something comes along that we think can help our chances to win the title. We've had a few years where we don't, so we don't force it, but we're going to be looking for something to hopefully upgrade the team."
Wings are the no-brainer target for Houston, and sending Brandon Knight, Marquese Chriss and a protected first-round pick to Atlanta for Kent Bazemore feels inevitable. The Rockets take on some salary in this deal, which matters when they're clearly concerned with the luxury tax. But they can broker a cash-and-Carmelo Anthony salary dump, like they did with Michael Carter-Williams, to offset the difference.
2. Another Shooter
If it turns out Houston isn't hot for Bazemore—a real possibility given next season's $19.3 million player option—floor-spacing specialists will come cheaper.
Wayne Ellington is sort of interesting, but he's better off on a team that generates more off-ball movement. Zeroing in on Troy Daniels or Courtney Lee won't cost a first-rounder. Getting Terrence Ross will if Knight is involved, but he'd be worth the cost for his off-the-dribble juice.
Someone needs to ask the Toronto Raptors about CJ Miles. Houston doesn't have anything to offer them, but scoping out a third team to take on salary and a pick in exchange for sending something nice Toronto's way is on the table.
3. Call Philly, Ask Elton Brand How He's Doing and Offer the 1st-Round-Pick-Special for Jimmy Butler
One opposing team has already called the Philadelphia 76ers to ask about Jimmy Butler after he expressed displeasure with his role to head coach Brett Brown, according to Bleacher Report's Yaron Weitzman. We can't be sure if that gutsy squad was the Rockets, but Morey has the gall to make that inquiry.
Phoning the Sixers and offering Anthony, James Ennis, Eric Gordon and three first-round picks is a futile endeavor. Houston should do it anyway.
1. Cheap Wing
Mapping out a trade-deadline plan for the Indiana Pacers is oddly difficult. They don't need much. They are offense-by-committee this side of Victor Oladipo's return from a right knee injury, and their defense, which ranks second in points allowed per 100 possessions, is straight gritty.
Aiming for another shooter or combo wing is always smart. The Pacers need another reason to up their three-point volume or just someone to bolster their depth behind Bojan Bogdanovic, Thaddeus Young and Doug McDermott.
Dipping their feet in the might-not-be-real Otto Porter Jr. sweepstakes has "F-U-N" written all over it. Looking at subtler players in Tyreke Evans' salary range or cheaper represents less of a shake-up and is, at this point, more Indy's speed.
2. Monitor Big-Name Trade Market
Cannonballing into the blockbuster market, insofar as it even exists, is not something the Pacers will take lightly. They're fewer than three games back of the Eastern Conference's No. 1 seed. They don't need a drastic pivot.
And yet, the Pacers roster basically demands they remain in the loop. They have expiring contracts on expiring contracts. Dangling any number of them plus picks and Aaron Holiday makes for a quality offer—one they bust out if, and only if, an All-Star arrival (Bradley Beal, Kemba Walker) is within grasp.
3. Embrace Standing Pat
Change for change's sake is pointless for a playoff lock tracking toward more than $40 million in cap space this summer.
Indiana isn't Houston. It doesn't have a now-or-never championship window. Nor are the Pacers like the Pistons, Miami Heat or any of the league's other cash-strapped teams. They don't have to worry about an astronomical payroll crimping their flexibility in free agency or trade talks. They can stand pat and spin it as the correct call.
Los Angeles Clippers
1. Wing on Expiring Contract
Free-agency ambitions limit what the Clippers can—or rather, what they will—do at the trade deadline. They aspire to sign Kevin Durant (player option) and/or Kawhi Leonard (player option), and as it stands, they'll have to unload money over the summer to enter dual-max territory.
Ipso facto: Taking on contracts that span longer than this season is a no-go.
Sticking to those guidelines is mostly easy, but also not so much. The Clippers are clinging to fourth place in the West and need another wing to crystallize their postseason stock. Luc Mbah a Moute could be the answer, but he hasn't played since Los Angeles' fourth game of the season due to a left knee injury.
Gettable wings on expiring contracts are rare currency, but Trevor Ariza, Wesley Matthews, Kelly Oubre Jr., Iman Shumpert and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (if the Los Angeles Lakers don't care about helping their Staples Center roommate) all fit the bill to some degree.
2. Low-Cost Combo Big
Marcin Gortat, Montrezl Harrell, Boban Marjanovic and Mike Scott are holding their own on the front line. Los Angeles can do better.
Harrell should be close to untouchable until the Clippers have to make room for a second star. Everyone else is fair game.
Waiting for the buyout market to take shape isn't a realistic option. The Clippers don't have a roster spot to spare or championship appeal to peddle. Checking on the asking prices for Dewayne Dedmon, Derrick Favors (likely in a three-team deal), Enes Kanter, Robin Lopez, Kyle O'Quinn and Noah Vonleh is right up their alley.
3. Gauge Avery Bradley's Trade Value
Head coach Doc Rivers remains loyal to Avery Bradley. He should stop. Bradley left his three-point touch in Boston and has the worst net-rating differential among all Clippers rotation players.
Leaving him on the roster isn't detrimental. Los Angeles can pay him $2 million to go away over the offseason. But every little bit counts when trying to bag multiple superstars. Another team might take a shot on rehabilitating Bradley's value while sending the Clippers expiring money.
Los Angeles Lakers
1. Shooters on Expiring Contracts
Good luck figuring out a pecking order of must-haves for the Lakers. Aside from a healthy LeBron James, their needs are all over place—indiscernible, sort of like their identity.
"The best of them looks the part of a conference finalist," SI.com's Rob Mahoney wrote. "The worst makes the Wizards look coherent by comparison. These Lakers are young, injured and ill-fitting—enough to shake loose even the best of intentions."
Begging the Lakers to create a superstar market with their most aggressive trade package misses the mark. They aren't acting on impulse until Anthony Davis' future in New Orleans reaches resolution.
Inviting them to purchase a shooter is safe advice. LeBron's teams can never have enough spacing, and Los Angeles is burying a terrible, horrible, no-good, very-bad 31.3 percent of their triples since he went down with a groin injury.
The Lakers previously showed interest in Wayne Ellington and Terrence Ross, per Sporting News' Sean Deveney. Both are worth revisiting. Trevor Ariza might even re-enter the market if Washington keeps stinking it up.
2. Switchy Perimeter Defenders on Expiring Contracts
When in doubt, always default to portable perimeter defenders on short-term deals. Though, in all fairness, this has as much to do with Los Angeles needing to become less dependent on Lance Stephenson.
Before turning to the buyout market, the Lakers should measure asking-price temperatures for Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Stanley Johnson, Kelly Oubre Jr. and Thabo Sefolosha (currently out with a hamstring injury).
3. Sniff Around Available-Star Market
Hooray for self-contradiction!
Baiting the Pelicans into a Davis trade now is out of the question. That shouldn't stop the Lakers from blowing up general manager Dell Demps' phone.
If Davis stays off the table, and if they get the sense New Orleans will send him to Boston or somewhere else before putting him in Hollywood, they can always try coaxing Bradley Beal out of Washington or Kemba Walker out of Charlotte.
Walker is particularly interesting, if unrealistic, given the Hornets' preference to keep him. He shouldn't cost the Lakers' whole caboodle, so they'd theoretically retain the pieces to enter the Davis sweepstakes at a later date. And if that fails, Walker's smallish cap hold ($18 million) would give Los Angeles a chance to come up with the funds for a third star in free agency.
1. A Third Scorer
Justin Holiday has more off-the-dribble chops than he's credited with, but he doesn't really qualify as a third scorer. Jaren Jackson Jr. might be, but Memphis isn't yet using him in that vein. Over 70 percent of his buckets are coming off assists.
Quasi-featured scorers who can be had for a sub-ordinary collection of assets aren't available in droves. The Grizzlies' best bet is contacting teams looking to shave off blah to bad money. Ergo, they'd need a soft spot for Harrison Barnes, Nicolas Batum, Tim Hardaway Jr. or someone of that ilk.
2. Another Shooter
Memphis is 22nd in three-point percentage and 24th in attempts per 100 possessions. Acquiring someone who can increase the offense's accuracy and volume is a sound alternative to lapping up the pay grade of a third-wheel scorer.
Many of the best options are outside the Grizzlies' take-back range unless they're including Chandler Parsons. That they're within $1 million of the luxury tax also complicates matters. Their all-about-now move would look something like Omri Casspi, Garrett Temple and a future pick for Terrence Ross. Casspi, Ivan Rabb and a 2022 second-rounder for Rodney Hood might be more realistic.
3. Chandler Parsons Trade Partner
Chandler Parsons is receiving the Carmelo Anthony treatment from the Grizzlies. He's no longer around the team as they work to find a trade, according to ESPN.com's Adrian Wojnarowski.
Coming up with a new home for Parsons is a tall order. His list of knee injuries is extensive, and he's owed $25.1 million next season. A clear market for him doesn't exist. The Grizzlies can try selling the Hornets on getting out from the final year of Batum's deal (2020-21 player option), but Parsons doesn't do anything for their immediate flexibility or their rotation.
Including a single first-round pick most likely doesn't get anything done. The soonest Memphis can convey one is 2021, and few teams are operating on that sort of timetable.
Loosening the protections on that pick might incite a few nibbles. Would the Hawks give up Kent Bazemore and Dewayne Dedmon for a pick with top-eight protection in 2021? Should the Grizzlies even go that far? They reiterated their commitment to the present with the Holiday trade, but moving Parsons is a different extreme.
1. Playmaking Wing
Dion Waiters' return from a left ankle injury gives Miami's half-court offense another outlet, and the Heat are getting more production from their set attacks since Justise Winslow started breaking out. They still don't have enough proven playmakers.
Goran Dragic isn't coming back from right knee surgery until after the All-Star break at the earliest, and Miami is 22nd in half-court efficiency since the end of November and 26th overall, according to Cleaning the Glass.
With an abundance of guards, the Heat need their playmaking boost to come on the wing, where they run thin after Winslow (starting as the de facto point guard), Rodney McGruder and Josh Richardson. They don't have the assets or championship glitz to give up the farm for an upgrade, but a second-rate option should be within reach if they use Wayne Ellington's expiring deal as bait.
2. Trade Wayne Ellington
Speaking of pinball shooters who have fallen out of Miami's rotation...
Ellington's playing time has decreased after the Heat's backcourt winnowed down its absentees. He's appeared in just four of the past 16 games, during which time he has eclipsed six minutes of action only once.
Having an off-ball flamethrower collect dust on the bench isn't the worst thing in the world. Ellington is useful in emergency relief. But finding him minutes isn't going to get any easier as Waiters works his way back into the rotation and once Dragic recovers from knee surgery.
Contenders always have a standing need for complementary shooters. The Heat should play to that rather than risk losing him for nothing in free agency. Ellington can veto any trade and loses his "Early Bird" rights if he does consent, but the prospect of an actual rotation spot mitigates whatever hesitation he might feel.
Parlaying him into a wing isn't a given when they're all the rage. The Heat don't have the requisite other assets to beat out bids for shiny names. But they can aim for someone like Stanley Johnson, Thabo Sefolosha or Jonathon Simmons.
3. Duck Luxury Tax
In the event a difference-making Ellington trade isn't feasible, the Heat should consider a flat-out dump. They don't need another piece to break ground in the East's playoff race, and his $6.3 million salary drags them just beneath the luxury-tax line.
Miami seldom pinches pennies at the expense of quality (Mike Miller and LeBron James might disagree), but this fringe-postseason iteration isn't worth its sticker price—especially when ducking the tax will be even harder next year if neither Dragic nor Tyler Johnson decline his player option.
1. Sweet-Shooting Wing
Times are good in Milwaukee. It'll be hard, darn near impossible, to make them better. The Bucks are short on expendable salary fodder and have already dealt away two future first-round picks.
Bonus shooting is always good, though. Milwaukee is effectively spacing the floor around Giannis Antetokounmpo but converting under 35 percent of its threes overall and just 33.6 percent since Dec. 1.
Adding salaries to next year's books is a non-option with Eric Bledsoe, Malcolm Brogdon (restricted) and Khris Middleton (player option) ticketed for free agency, but even a cheap, stopgap shooter makes a difference.
2. Backup Big
Milwaukee is filling out its frontcourt minutes by committee, and it's kind of working. Brook Lopez's outside volume guarantees Antetokounmpo-friendly floor balance. Thon Maker has moments. D.J. Wilson is having more. And Ersan Ilyasova is back after fracturing his nose.
The Bucks could still use another option. Counting on Maker and Wilson isn't a postseason-proof model, and Antetokounmpo-at-center lineups continue to be rolled out sporadically and without strong defensive returns.
Cheaper fare like Dewayne Dedmon, Richaun Holmes, Kyle O'Quinn, Noah Vonleh or even Frank Kaminsky should pique Milwaukee's curiosity.
3. Embrace Standing Pat
The Bucks don't have to approach the trade deadline with any urgency. They have the NBA's second-best record, rank first in net rating and remain the only team fielding both a top-five offense and defense.
Browsing the buyout market for last-minute polish isn't sexy, but it's a plan Milwaukee can get behind.
1. Playmaking Wing
Firing coach-president Tom Thibodeau doesn't signal the start of a teardown in Minnesota. Yet.
"We still have hopes to getting into the playoffs," owner Glen Taylor said, per the Star Tribune's Chris Hine, "and I think with half the season left, let's see if this change will make a difference."
Two games separate the Timberwolves from the West's postseason picture, so Taylor's sentiments are not without merit. But the same is true for the Jazz and Sacramento Kings. And the Pelicans are only three games off the No. 8 seed. And the Grizzlies are just 3.5 back. Ditto for the Mavericks.
Making the playoffs is a taxing task in the West. Standing pat won't get it done for the Wolves. They're not in a position to shell out future picks or incumbent prospects, but they have some useful salary-matching tools, and wafer-thin financial flexibility moving forward incentivizes them to get busy.
Minnesota is a sneaky-good destination for Otto Porter Jr. Assembling something around Taj Gibson's expiring contract will carry weight if the Wizards are looking for super-mega cap relief in 2019-20. Jeff Teague looms a as a centerpiece if Washington is desperate to reach the playoffs and soften the blow of John Wall's season-ending injury.
2. Andrew Wiggins Trade
Dealing Jimmy Butler has alleviated the Timberwolves' 2019-20 luxury-tax concerns. It did not grant them meaningful wiggle room. They will operate as a capped-out team this summer and aren't looking at real flexibility until Gorgui Dieng's contract comes off the books in 2021—by which point Dario Saric will be on a new deal, Josh Okogie will be extension-eligible and Robert Covington will be one year out from free agency.
Sussing out an Andrew Wiggins trade partner opens up a world of possibilities. The Timberwolves don't need expiring pacts in return. Cheaper players and short-term agreements more than suffice.
All the typical caveats apply. Wiggins is only 23, he just dropped a 40-burger against the Oklahoma City Thunder, he might get better, yada, yada, stinkin' yada.
Max contracts aren't for long-shot maybes, and they're definitely not conducive to a team that may have to fire up another rebuild. If the Timberwolves can identify a taker for the remaining four years and $122.4 million on Wiggins' contract—Chicago? Detroit? Memphis? Sacramento?—they shouldn't think twice about selling low.
3. Consider Selling Taj Gibson, Tyus Jones, Jeff Teague
Continuing to chase a playoff berth is cool in the interim, but the West is a cold, unfeeling beast. The Timberwolves should brace themselves for an about-face if their odds of clinching a postseason cameo don't improve over the next couple of weeks.
Recognizing when to hold their estate sale will be complicated. Fourteenth place is currently within sneezing distance of the West's final playoff spot. It doesn't take much to sell a playoffs-or-bust push.
Minnesota needs to be above that self-seduction. The folks over at FiveThirtyEight give the Timberwolves a 23 percent chance of crawling into the postseason, and one way or another, those odds will be more telltale following a hard-knocks January schedule.
New Orleans Pelicans
1. 3-and-D Wing
This is another mandatory wish-list topper. The Pelicans need a three-and-D wing more than most. They just don't have the trade chips to get one.
Trevor Ariza, Kent Bazemore, Wesley Matthews and Otto Porter Jr. should all be acquirable, but at what cost? Even building offers around salary-filler and a first-rounder hurts the Pelicans asset base, and not one of the most accessible targets are premier three-and-D weapons or the brand of player that does anything to abate Anthony Davis' uncertain future.
None of this may matter. Missing the playoffs is more detrimental to New Orleans' sales pitch to Davis. Any opportunity to strengthen the team's postseason odds is up for consideration.
2. Perimeter Defensive Specialist
Failing the arrival of a two-way wing, the Pelicans should exhaust the market for defensive specialists on the perimeter. Solomon Hill, Darius Miller and E'Twaun Moore aren't cutting it. Wesley Johnson is less than a last resort.
New Orleans ranks 25th in points allowed per 100 possessions, and no other team is allowing a larger share of opponent three-point attempts to go uncontested. Basically anyone with a defensive pulse will make a difference.
From cheaper gambles (Stanley Johnson, Royce O'Neale, Kelly Oubre Jr.) to more ambitious targets (Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Tony Snell, Delon Wright), the Pelicans need to turn over every rock.
3. All-In on Blockbuster Acquisition
Relative to many other teams, New Orleans' most realistic top-shelf trade package doesn't impress. Remove Davis and Jrue Holiday from discussion, and the Pelicans are left with an offer that looks something like Moore, Miller, Nikola Mirotic or Julius Randle and a first-round pick or two.
Is there an available player worth surrendering so much value without a long-term promise from Davis? Does some variation of that bid get the conversation started?
Would this be enough for New Orleans to wedge its way into hypothetical Bradley Beal talks? Or ever-unlikely Kemba Walker negotiations? Can the Pelicans summon the package necessary to get Robert Covington out of Minnesota if the Timberwolves plunge down the Western Conference ladder while he's nursing a right knee injury?
And now, a note for anyone wondering why "Shopping Davis" doesn't make New Orleans' whiteboard: It's not happening. He hasn't asked for an out, and the Pelicans would probably wait until the offseason even if he demands a trade. Davis is too good for them to rush that process, Boston's war chest cannot be raided before July, and the number of impulsive teams in play for the No. 1 pick (Chicago, Cleveland, New York, Phoenix, Washington) invites patience.
New York Knicks
1. Trade Courtney Lee for Cap Space
"I have no clue where that stuff comes from," Kevin Durant said when asked about reports that posit he'll consider signing with the Knicks in free agency, per the New York Daily News' Stefan Bondy. "I just focus on playing ball every single day. I can't control what people say about me, or what they say about my future, or what I should do."
This will definitely, absolutely, without a doubt stop the Knicks from constructing their entire offseason around Durant's free agency. Except, obviously, it won't. And the same goes for a handful of other teams. Planning around Durant's window-shopping is an obligation. He's that good.
But the Knicks need to clear more cap space before they go lusting after a top-five player. Exhausting all of their flexibility still leaves them short of $30 million in room without trading their first-rounder or anyone else. Durant's max is roughly $38.2 million.
Moving off Tim Hardaway Jr. or Courtney Lee gets the Knicks into that range. Both will require sweeteners, according to The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor, but Lee is easier to deal overall. He comes off the books after next season and, not including this season, has shot under 37 percent from three just once since 2010-11. Attaching him to a second-rounder should get a contender or fringe-playoff team to bite.
2. Gauge Trade Market for Emmanuel Mudiay and Noah Vonleh
Emmanuel Mudiay (not as much lately) and Noah Vonleh are proving to be serviceable rotation pieces. A franchise with foresight won't allow them to finish the season on the roster.
Vonleh is an intriguing fit beside Kristaps Porzingis up front, and Mudiay has comfortably turned into the Knicks' best point-guard prospect. Neither player will fetch a king's ransom on the open market, and anyone is keepable at the right price.
But New York isn't close enough to playing for anything special to reinvest in nominal standouts. Re-signing Mudiay (restricted) or Vonleh, a non-Bird free agent, to deals that extend beyond 2019-20 is at best a lower priority and at worst a premature ceiling-capper.
3. Gauge Tim Hardaway Jr.'s Trade Market
Trimming the two years and $37.1 million left on Hardaway's deal (2020-21 player option) vaults up this list if it doesn't require sacrificing a first-rounder or Frank Ntilikina. In a world biased toward the Knicks, they'd be able to unload both him and Lee and enter free agency with Kevin-Durant-and-then-some money.
Perhaps that scenario isn't so far-fetched. Hardaway isn't the most efficient scorer, but his body of work this season warrants more appreciation. He's not getting to the rim or drawing fouls, but he's swishing more than 38 percent of his off-the-dribble threes.
Teams desperate for another shot creator might deem Hardaway worth an expiring contract or an asset-light package that saves the Knicks a ton of money. More likely than not, it'll take a draft-pick buffer to get a deal done. And short of Charlotte's 2020 and 2021 second-rounders doing the trick, New York has no business meeting that prospective cost.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Oklahoma City is dead last in overall three-point efficiency and and when launching off the catch. Paul George and Abdel Nader are the only players on the team shooting 36 percent or better from behind the rainbow.
Something needs to give for the Thunder, and it isn't happening in-house. Alex Abrines is finding the net more often since the end of November, but a stomach illness and personal matter have kept him off the court since Dec. 23.
Noting that a Wayne Ellington-type sniper isn't the best fit for a team not known for its off-ball movement or passing, Bleacher Report's Grant Hughes pinpointed Terrence Ross as an ideal target. But while the Thunder can throw together the necessary salary for his expiring deal, their most attractive asset in said deal is a 2020 second-rounder or Terrance Ferguson.
Beggars cannot be choosy, and make no mistake, Oklahoma City is desperate. If Ellington or another off-the-catch shooter is what's out there, the Thunder shouldn't let limited ball-handling get in the way.
2. Another Shooter
Oklahoma City is making 32.3 percent of its wide-open threes, the worst mark in the league by nearly 3 percentage points—a chasm larger than the difference between the eighth-best (Dallas) and 20th-place (Cleveland) success rates.
So, yes, the Thunder need another shooter this badly.
3. Pray for Dallas to Buy Out Wesley Matthews and Then Hope He Doesn't Go to Golden State, or Philly, or Houston, or Toronto, or—You Get The Point
1. Point Guard
D.J. Augustin isn't getting enough credit for the job he's doing in Orlando. He's averaging as many potential assists as Luka Doncic; shooting better than 40 percent from distance, leading the Magic's most-used players in free-throw-attempt rate and is second among the team's rotation staples in offensive rating differential, trailing only should-be-an-All-Star Nikola Vucevic.
The problem? He's D.J. Augustin. He's a good backup and solid fill-in, but he shouldn't be the primary offensive caregiver for a team hoping to make the playoffs.
Orlando doesn't have to rush into anything. Sneaking into the postseason is not essential. The Magic will have cap space over the summer and can wait to pitch players from a list of timetable-fitting restricted free agents that includes Malcolm Brogdon, Terry Rozier and D'Angelo Russell.
Searching for a point guard now still has its advantages. It safeguards the Magic against striking out in free agency while buoying their playoff stock. If they bring in more of a project, they'll at least have direction with some permanence.
Rozier, Kris Dunn, Yogi Ferrell, Cory Joseph, Tyus Jones, Frank Ntilikina, Ish Smith and Milos Teodosic are all plausible trade candidates who should have Orlando's eye.
2. Gauge Trade Market for Nikola Vucevic
Vucevic is an expendable asset when looking at the Magic's big picture. Mo Bamba isn't ready for heavy NBA minutes yet, but he'll need to be cut loose at some point. And Orlando hasn't experimented with dual-big pairings nearly enough to view the two as frontcourt cohabitants.
The Magic won't getting equal value for Vucevic on the trade market. He's having a DeMarcus Cousins-esque statistical season, but teams aren't tripping over themselves to add centers who are neither rim-runners nor perimeter stoppers—particularly when they're approaching free agency.
Securing even a first-round pick in return will be a chore. Orlando may need to take on 2019-20 salary to get a deal done. That shouldn't be a non-starter.
As close as they are to the East's postseason fracas, the Magic are worlds away from a finished product. The right blend of picks and prospects should get them to part with Vucevic while adding salary. If that package isn't out there, they can stay the course and take the cap space this summer.
3. Trade Terrence Ross
Terrence Ross is having a career year ahead of free agency. He'd earn a larger return if he had a season or two left on his deal, but his 39.2 percent shooting from deep and spattering of off-the-bounce panache should be good for a package headlined by a first-rounder.
Orlando has the leeway to be more selective when soliciting offers for Ross. Vucevic most likely won't be a more attractive asset on his next deal. Ross could be. The demand for wings is always going to supersede the supply, so the Magic can hold onto him if they don't foresee him getting overpaid in this summer's cap-rich market.
1. Frontcourt Bench Depth
Philly's bench is 17th in point differential per 100 possessions since Dec. 1. Broadly speaking, the second unit needs a dose of everything. But the frontcourt pool is barren.
Slotting Wilson Chandler as the starting 4 leaves the Sixers with one reserve wing: Furkan Korkmaz. Shake Milton (just starting to see action) and Landry Shamet can help out at the 3, but they're guards. Not one of these three is suited to log time at power forward.
Acquiring a combo wing would adequately stock and weaponize the second-string rotation. The Sixers cannot finagle a blue-chip arrival without using Chandler as a salary anchor, but they can attach picks to smaller contracts for modestly priced targets—players along the lines of Rodney Hood, CJ Miles, Kelly Oubre Jr., Jonathon Simmons (more of a 2-3), etc.
2. More Frontcourt Bench Depth
Really, the Sixers can get away with adding any form of bench depth. Big man, point guard, tweener—it doesn't matter. They should probably remain fixated on the frontcourt.
Beyond getting as many wings as possible, they could use another big. Joel Embiid and Mike Muscala are the only ones averaging more than 13 minutes per game if we exempt Ben Simmons (we will). The reserve big-man market shouldn't be too tough to crack (Kyle O'Quinn or Noah Vonleh, please), and Philly may again get its fill from the buyout pool.
Not-so-random note: Markieff Morris would be a perfect #TradeSZNGoal for the Sixers if not for his neck injury. Also-also: Philly should see how married Memphis is to keeping JaMychal Green.
3. 11th-Hour Markelle Fultz Market Research
Markelle Fultz doesn't yet have a return date as he continues to cope with the thoracic outlet syndrome that has sidelined him since mid-November. That doesn't bode well for his trade market—insofar as he even has one.
"I'd be surprised if they get any type of first-round pick," one league exec told Bleacher Report's Yaron Weitzman in late November. "It's just hard for any team who is trying to have space this summer to take a flier on a guy like that who will eat into their space like he will."
If and when Fultz does rejoin the rotation, he won't have the time necessary to reinvent perception. Selling low is tempting since he's owed more than $9.7 million next season, and the Sixers are a stone's throw from keeping Butler and chiseling out another max slot. But a straight salary dump takes his descent too far.
Fultz's remaining upside is worth more than cap flexibility. The Sixers have to look around because they're in win-now mode, but they should only be interested in cutting the cord if he can be used to complete a blockbuster.
1. Point Guard
De'Anthony Melton is playing well enough to keep the Suns' starting point guard slot on lock (eight assists against Sacramento on Jan. 8). I remain bullish on Elie Okobo's future, so you should be, too. And we definitely aren't talking enough about how well Devin Booker—and Phoenix's offense—has fared when he's the lead facilitator.
Even so, the Suns need a more permanent floor general. Melton and Okobo aren't superstar prospects, and Booker shouldn't be stretched so thin on a nightly basis.
Phoenix has the goods to concoct some premium trade packages but not the timeline. Dealing Milwaukee's protected first- or future second-rounders is defensible. Dipping into the team's own first-round stock is not.
Poking around Terry Rozier and Dennis Smith Jr. is about as aggressive as the Suns should go. Some more economical—read: procurable—names include Yogi Ferrell, Tyus Jones, Emmanuel Mudiay and Frank Ntilikina.
2. Gauge Richaun Holmes Trade Value
Richaun Holmes has become an integral rotation piece in Phoenix. His pick-and-roll defense is all kinds of messy, but he's a more effective rim protector and lob-catcher than Deandre Ayton.
Having both works for now. It won't for much longer. Holmes is tracking toward a significant raise in free agency, and paying him even high-end backup money doesn't jibe with the Suns' window. They aren't poised for a deep playoff run next year, and there will always be redundancies with Ayton on the roster.
If Holmes can net an early second-rounder, late first or prospect with an extra year on his deal, Phoenix should move him before chancing his offseason market.
3. Gauge Trade Values for Josh Jackson and Kelly Oubre Jr.
Taking on unwanted money for picks and prospects is an avenue the Suns can explore, but they're not really built for it. They don't have the expiring fodder to bring back sizable salaries.
Ryan Anderson is the closest they come, and he has a large guarantee next season. Teams are not coughing up anyone or anything of significant value for the opportunity to pay Diet Davis Bertans $15.6 million to hit the bricks.
Combining the expiring deals for Dragan Bender and Troy Daniels lets Phoenix absorb some money, but not much—about $13 million. Swallowing manageable amounts of salary isn't yielding a real asset.
That leaves the futures of Josh Jackson and Kelly Oubre Jr. The Suns could let their situations ride if both were on rookie scales next season. They're not. Oubre is set for restricted free agency, which makes him the better trade candidate. He cannot be shipped away with another player, but negotiating a quiet return beats the temptation to match potential overbids in July.
Showing Jackson the door can take center stage if the Suns are smitten with Oubre. Jackson has his warts, mainly on offense, but he plays his butt off and is shooting 36.8 percent from downtown over his last 10 games, albeit on negligible volume.
Portland Trail Blazers
1. Blockbuster Acquisition
Surprise, surprise. But not really.
The Portland Trail Blazers have needed another star—and preferably a better second-best player—since LaMarcus Aldridge bolted for the San Antonio Spurs. They've either resisted or been unable to find that household acquisition over the past three-plus years.
That was whatever in 2015-16 and 2016-17, when the Blazers were just happy-to-be-here irritants. Sitting still now doesn't fly. They won't have cap space this summer, they're not likely to shirk the luxury tax, and the Damian Lillard-CJ McCollum duo isn't advancing past the second round on its own. They're out of reasons and excuses to perpetuate the status quo.
As for what striking a blockbuster trade means, we can't be entirely sure. The Blazers didn't have the goods to party-crash Jimmy Butler or Kawhi Leonard talks, and most of the could-be available stars—namely Bradley Beal and Kemba Walker—don't do anything for them.
Does Kevin Love move the needle? Would swapping out Jusuf Nurkic for Nikola Vucevic do anything? Do Collins, Maurice Harkless and picks get the Timberwolves thinking about a Robert Covington trade if they plummet down the standings over the next few weeks? Is this being too fast and loose with the "blockbuster" term? (Yes.)
2. Combo Wing
Sources told ESPN.com's Zach Lowe in November that the Blazers "want to supplement the Lillard/McCollum duo with a third impact player."
Skip over untouchable and unavailable All-Stars, and this search lands squarely in Harrison Barnes/Danilo Gallinari/Otto Porter Jr. country. Throw Covington in here, too. Any one of them helps in some way (assuming they're gettable), but only if Portland doesn't have to fork over all of its best assets.
3. Duck the Tax
Calling around for another shooter can be penciled in here. But if the Blazers aren't going to make waves, they should see what it'll cost to move off Meyers Leonard (owed $11.3 million in 2019-20) or Evan Turner ($18.6 million).
Skirt the tax again, and they'll find it easier to strike an all-in trade that adds salary over the summer.
1. Small Forward
Give the Kings this: For a team that doesn't have a prototypical wing on the payroll, they're doing a nice job of getting by.
Lineups featuring Justin Jackson and Iman Shumpert at small forward are generally scoring enough to sidestep disaster, and Bogdan Bogdanovic is genuinely up to covering some of the bigger wings.
Head coach Dave Joerger has managed to avoid playing Nemanja Bjelica at the 3, no small ask when looking at the makeup of this roster. Equally important to overcoming gaps on the wings, the Bogdanovic-DeAaron Fox-Buddy Hield trio is outscoring opponents by almost a point per 100 possessions, according to Cleaning the Glass.
This is all just a roundabout way of saying "Good job, good effort, Sacramento. But you still need a small forward."
Otto Porter Jr. has popped up on the Kings' radar, according to The Athletic's Jason Jones. He'd do. Kent Bazemore and Courtney Lee don't really meet the wing requirements, and footing the balance of Nicolas Batum's contract is too steep an opportunity cost. Terrence Ross stretches the wing definition as well, but his expiring deal would be worth a try. Harrison Barnes works if the Mavericks have a crush on 2019 cap space.
2. Look at Absorbing 2019-20 Salary
Hovering around .500 and near the West's playoff bracket during a season in which they don't own their first-round pick doesn't absolve the Kings from acting like a rebuilding squad. They're in the early stages of their renaissance, and with $11 million of cap space and a lush expiring-contract spread, they should be trying to rent out flexibility for picks and prospects.
This doesn't have to come at the expense of their anti-tank. Certain wings double as potentially unwanted money. Barnes and Porter might fall under this umbrella. Batum and Andrew Wiggins definitely do.
Prospective return is everything, and the Kings don't have to limit themselves to overpaid wings. Any and all salary take-ons that get them picks and prospects will be worth an internal discussion.
3. Don't Trade for Enes Kanter
Sacramento has discussed a Zach Randolph-for-Enes Kanter swap, according to ESPN.com's Adrian Wojnarowski. Nothing is close, because the Kings want to include another contract and the Knicks don't have a roster spot. It's probably best things stay that way.
Look, the Kings aren't in the wrong. Depending on who else they send out to a third team, they'd be giving up unusable pieces for a playable asset. Kanter promises them a sturdy presence on the glass at both ends, and his expiring contract doesn't mess with this summer's oodles of cap space.
Lest we forget, though, the Kings brass wanted Joerger to play Marvin Bagley III more at the beginning of the season. The rookie routinely cleared 25 minutes before his recent left knee injury, but adding a veteran big to the equation who won't take DNPs quietly doesn't make Joerger's job any easier unless Kanter's arrival precipitates a Willie Cauley-Stein trade.
Everything could be fine. This isn't a franchise-defining turn. It's also an unnecessarily awkward card to play.
San Antonio Spurs
1. Combo Wing
Fun fact that will never get old so long as it stays true: The Spurs have not made an in-season trade since the Nando de Colo-for-Austin Daye swap of February 2014. It will be a genuine surprise if they break that streak this season.
The Spurs own the league's best offensive and net ratings since Dec. 1, along with a top-eight defense. They have a window of opportunity in the West—not to overthrow the Warriors, but to join the Nuggets-Rockets-Thunder tier just below them.
Landing a wing is the best way for the Spurs to assure themselves of that climb. They're not swimming in hot trade properties, but they have a few different things they can do.
Pairing a pick or two with cheaper salary might get them in the running for a wing nearing the end of his first contract. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Rodney Hood, Stanley Johnson, Kelly Oubre Jr. and—wait for it—Tomas Satoransky all loom here.
Entering the fold for second-tier wings like Trevor Ariza, DeMarre Carroll, Terrence Ross et al. is a long shot. The Spurs don't have the right combination of salaries unless they consider Patty Mills expendable. But they can use Pau Gasol's partial guarantee for next season ($6.7 million) to wolf down outcast or overpriced contracts that will be useful for them.
All the usual suspects fall into this category: Harrison Barnes, Kent Bazemore, Otto Porter Jr., etc. People will laugh and/or vomit, but if he comes with a first-rounder while purging the books of Gasol, Marco Belinelli and another salary, Nicolas Batum is one of those never-been-but-could-be-a-Spur fits.
2. Pau Gasol Salary Dump
Front-office sources told The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor that the Spurs are "viewed as a team with significant interest in" Kristaps Porzingis, who will be a restricted free agent this summer. Unless they're thinking ahead to his third contract, in 2023 or 2024, they'll need to offload a bunch of salary to fund KP's max ($27.3 million).
Using a pick, prospect or both to dump Gasol doesn't get them there. Wiping him from the 2019-20 index arms them with around $10.1 million in room. But he's their hardest non-star piece to move. It won't be as trying to reroute Belinelli (one year, $5.8 million) and Patty Mills (two years, $25.7 million) and open up the rest of the money over the summer.
That's an awful lot of trouble to go through for a player the Spurs won't get. Barring catastrophe in Porzingis' return from a torn left ACL, the Knicks will match whatever price the market sets. They might not even wait for him to go out and field offer sheets.
Creating cap space doesn't have to be about Porzingis alone. Other bigwigs will be available. Shoot, Kawhi Leonard and head coach Gregg Popovich hugged on national television. Maybe the Spurs put together Belinelli, Gasol, Mills and Davis Bertans dumps and then bring the prodigal son home.
3. Trade for Carmelo Anthony, You Cowards
Carmelo Anthony may only be the shadow of Rudy Gay's silhouette these days, but sign me up for this, just because.
1. Perimeter Shooter
It doesn't always feel like the Raptors need another shooter when watching them. They're deep and versatile, and they have their fair share of marksmen.
Plus, you know, they own the NBA's best record.
Still, Toronto is 24th in three-point efficiency on the season and 27th since Dec. 1. More CJ Miles might be the answer when he returns from his hip injury, but gauging the logistics of a Wayne Ellington, Courtney Lee or Iman Shumpert acquisition is a supportable pre-emptive measure.
FYI: Adding another playmaker off the bench initially topped this list, but Toronto, for the moment, tried its hand at plugging this hole by signing Patrick McCaw, per ESPN.com's Adrian Wojnarowski.
2. Reserve Big
The Raptors may have enough bodies on the front line. Jonas Valanciunas should return from his thumb injury around February, Greg Monroe is a fine fourth big, and Serge Ibaka can shimmy from center to power forward if the matchup doesn't call for OG Anunoby to back up Pascal Siakam.
Another 4-5 man would still be good. Siakam is really Toronto's only combo big. Ibaka makes too much sense at center.
Richaun Holmes, Kyle O'Quinn and Noah Vonleh fit the description. A Patrick Patterson reunion would be fire. Dewayne Dedmon or, if the Nets start selling, Ed Davis aren't quintessential fits, but they're workable.
3. Gauge Trade Market for Delon Wright
This has nothing to do with the Raptors landing McCaw, and everything to do with Delon Wright's restricted free agency. He's one of the players who seems unlikely to return whether Kawhi Leonard stays or goes.
Lose Leonard, and the Raptors will be consigned to a reset, in which case they shouldn't be paying a then-27-year-old combo guard. Re-sign him, and they'll struggle to field a roster that doesn't run $150 million before taxes, in which case they also won't be eager to pay Wright.
Keeping him is not without cause. It preserves the Raptors' defensive interchangeability on the wings and their shallow well of second-string playmakers. They can let him walk over the summer without doing real harm to their asset stable. But team president Masai Ujiri isn't one for leaving stones unturned. If Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet are both healthy, flipping Wright as part of a deal for a shooter or reserve big holds an iota of appeal.
1. Shot Creator
Acquiring another off-the-dribble scorer displaces Donovan Mitchell from the ball. The Jazz shouldn't care. He has found a medium-sized groove over the past couple of weeks, but he spends too much time forcing his shots.
Injecting another into the mix allays the much-too-heavy burden (30.4 percent usage) weighing on Mitchell's shoulders. Lanes will open, and he'll have an easier time making the right passes.
Pull-up artists who can survive off the ball are relatively rare birds. The Jazz aren't looking at a star-caliber slate without Kemba Walker's situation in Charlotte going belly up or Washington putting Bradley Beal on the block.
Harrison Barnes and Tim Hardaway Jr. are grounded targets if Utah doesn't mind overpaying them. Tyreke Evans or Tomas Satoransky is a nice hedge.
2. Keep an Eye on Kevin Love and Otto Porter Jr.
Whiff on the face-up-scorer front, and the Jazz should shift to one of two angles: leaning into their small-ball lineups, or shooting their shot for a star.
Otto Porter fits into the Jae Crowder role like a glove, and Utah has the short-term contracts to help Washington escape salary-cap hell by the end of this season. Kevin Love's value is at an all-time low, but even if he's no longer superstar material, the Jazz are among the few who can view him as an asset.
Rudy Gobert is one of the two or three best options to cover up for Love around the rim, and Utah has the perimeter pests to explore Love-at-the-5 arrangements without blowing the defense's integrity to kingdom come.
Acquiring him bilks the Jazz of cap space, but they've yet to establish themselves as a free-agency destination. A buy-low opportunity like this—Derrick Favors, Thabo Sefolosha and a pick, perhaps—is a more efficient way of getting them a star.
3. Another Shooter
If the Jazz aren't keen on making a major move midseason, repeating the Kyle Korver trade is a good substitute.
Stacking the rotation with shooters puts pressure on defenses in a lot of the same ways adding another scorer does. Utah is better off with a reliable go-getter off the dribble, but drowning the Gobert-Mitchell two-man game in off-ball snipers is the next best thing—and bound to come cheaper.
1. Duck the Luxury Tax
Put aside everything else going on with Washington right now. Forget about who's injured, who might get traded, who should be traded and all of that.
No matter how the Wizards play the rest of this season, they should make damn sure they don't finish it in the luxury tax. This year's product won't be worth that price tag even if they make the playoffs, and Washington has to worry about footing tax bills as John Wall's extension kicks in next season.
Less than $7 million separates the Wizards from the escape hatch. Getting a team to take on the injured Markieff Morris brings them beneath the tax; they can try coming up with a lopsided Trevor Ariza trade or can move a mix of Sam Dekker, Dwight Howard (still injured) and Tomas Satoransky.
2. Trade Trevor Ariza
Spades are spades, which means bringing back Ariza was a bad idea. He hasn't galvanized the defense and is shooting under 29 percent from downtown. He always made the most sense beside a healthy John Wall, but giving up on Kelly Oubre Jr. to facilitate his arrival was always a shortsighted move.
Ariza cannot be traded in combination with another player, but that's barely problematic. His $15 million salary is large enough on its own. The Wizards aren't turning him into a prospect with Oubre's stature—which says something—but a second-round pick and cap relief is better than nothing.
3. Gauge Trade Value for Bradley Beal, Otto Porter Jr.
Washington doesn't have to stage a full-tilt deconstruction. A roster built around Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter can rebound to make some noise in the East next season.
Heck, this year isn't even over yet. The Wizards are a junkshow, but they're 3.5 games from eighth place. They don't need to wave any profound white flags, even if they do throw in the towel on this season. But they'd be smart to see what's out there.
Dumping the final two years of Porter's contract could put them in line to make more cost-effective moves to deepen the roster during free agency. And if Beal can bring back a top-end pick and prospect, plus cap relief, the Wizards would have all the trimmings to begin a semi-quick turnaround. Or they could go boom, trade almost everyone, find a new home for Wall over the summer or next season and start from scratch.
Full-on surrender is neither a given nor altogether endorsed. But whatever the Wizards do next should begin with a thorough probe into all of their options, nuclear or otherwise.