And now, let us pour one out for the NBA's best tank jobs.
This isn't me being glib. We should be thankful for this year's rock-bottom adventurists. There aren't many of them, and with the sellers market dwindling in the face of a 25-team playoff race, they may be our only hope at an active trade deadline.
So, here's to the Atlanta Hawks, Chicago Bulls, Cleveland Cavaliers, New York Knicks and Phoenix Suns—and everything and anything they might do ahead of Feb. 7.
Primary Goal: Amass picks and prospects in exchange for taking on salary in 2019-20.
Notable Trade Candidates: Justin Anderson, Kent Bazemore, Dewayne Dedmon, Jeremy Lin and Miles Plumlee.
The Hawks (12-29) hold a special place in the NBA's tankathon. They're actually open for business.
Kent Bazemore, Dewayne Dedmon and Jeremy Lin are all drawing interest from the outside, according to the New York Times' Marc Stein, in large part because Atlanta isn't trying to accelerate—or obfuscate—its timetable. The same cannot be said for its peers.
Cleveland is the only other bottom-five squad that has shown a willingness to assume unwanted salary beyond this season. New York is in the market for cap space, Phoenix falls somewhere in between a buyer and a seller with Devin Booker's max extension taking effect next season, and Chicago—well, it isn't quite clear what the Bulls are going to do.
The Cavaliers set a precedent by absorbing more than $15 million in 2019-20 salary for a first-round pick and two seconds, none of which will convey before 2020. The Hawks should be able to do a teensy bit better. Their expiring contracts are nicer properties, and Bazemore is a borderline asset despite next year's $19.3 million player option because the league remains obsessed with competent wing-types.
Potential Deal (After Jan. 14)
- Atlanta Hawks Receive: Ian Mahinmi, Utah's 2019 first-round pick (top-16 protection in 2019; lottery protection in 2020; top-12 protection in 2021; turns into two seconds if not conveyed)
- Utah Jazz Receive: Jeremy Lin, Otto Porter Jr., Tomas Satoransky
- Washington Wizards Receive: Derrick Favors, Ricky Rubio and Thabo Sefolosha
Lin is expected to go for a first-round pick, according to Sporting News' Sean Deveney. His playing time swings in Atlanta, but he has quietly thrown together a stellar season.
He's canning more than 36 percent of his threes and posting the third-highest free-throw-attempt rate of his career. He remains one of the point guards who can orchestrate in the half court or play off another ball-handler.
Netting a first-rounder for him is still ambitious. This is the healthiest he has been since 2015-16, but he's 30 and not under contract for next season. Atlanta probably isn't getting anything more than an afterthought first or early second without swallowing a longer agreement.
Paying out the balance of Ian Mahinmi's deal is a fair concession. He's making about $2.1 million more than Lin this season and on the ledger for $15.5 million next year.
Factor in where Utah's pick will land and that it will convey well before 2021 (likely this season), and Atlanta is making out a tick better than Cleveland. Matthew Dellavedova and John Henson are more playable to the Cavaliers than Mahinmi is to the Hawks, but the location and arrival date of the selection matter.
Bringing in Otto Porter Jr. compromises the Jazz's cap-space projections for this summer. They'll get over it. They aren't landing a Kevin Durant or Kawhi Leonard—no matter how sweet the basketball fit would be—and can drum up second-tier room while paying Porter if they really try. (They'd have to ditch Raul Neto and Kyle Korver's partial guarantee).
Getting Bird rights for Lin and Tomas Satoransky (restricted)is more valuable to the Jazz. They need shot-creators and table-setters to alleviate the on-ball burden of Donovan Mitchell (on a tear lately!). Satoransky doesn't have Lin's attack mode, but they're both comfortable handling the rock and more dangerous off the catch than Ricky Rubio or Dante Exum.
Derrick Favors is having a fine season—the best of anyone in this three-team dance party. But the Jazz are scarier when Jae Crowder plays the 4. They're outscoring opponents by 3.3 points per 100 possessions with him at power forward, according to Cleaning the Glass. Sub in Favors, whose trade restriction lifts Jan. 15, and they're a minus-3.4.
That disparity was even larger last year. Porter is overpaid—he's owed $55.7 million over the next two seasons (2020-21 player option)—but he lets Utah lean into small-ball-4 looks for a full 48 minutes.
Washington's motives barely need unpacking, even if Satoransky's tripe-double on Friday night is cause for cold feet. The two sides are already talking about an extension, according to NBC Sports' Chase Hughes. Yank him, leave Thabo Sefolosha in Utah, and the deal still works.
Shedding both Mahinmi and Porter drags the Wizards beneath the luxury tax. The arrivals of Favors, Sefolosha (sidelined with a hamstring injury) and Ricky Rubio are impactful enough to keep them in the Eastern Conference playoff hunt. And the nuclear option—selling Trevor Ariza and Bradley Beal, quickly re-shopping Favors and Rubio and starting over—will be there if they dare use it.
Primary Goal: Land a wing and/or net picks and prospects for taking on 2019-20 salary.
Notable Trade Candidates: Kris Dunn, Cristiano Felicio, Robin Lopez, Jabari Parker and Bobby Portis.
Leading into a trade deadline that's barren of sellers who are willing to stomach outcast contracts, the Bulls are a swing team.
If they're willing to sponge up money for 2019-20 (and beyond), this year's silly season will be more of a main event. If they'd rather preserve a summer forecast that has them sniffing $50 million in room, the deadline stands to be far less of a spectacle.
As of now, the latter is their priority. Robin Lopez and Jabari Parker are readily available, according to ESPN.com's Adrian Wojnarowski, but bad-money returns are thus far a "non-starter," per the Chicago Tribune's K.C. Johnson.
That should change. The Bulls' asset bank isn't overdrawn, but it's not flush either. They have no extra picks this year—they owe a second-rounder to Philadelphia and are getting one from Memphis—and don't control any bonus first-rounders down the line. They need more draft-day ammo.
Besides, sopping up one bad contract won't decimate their cap space. They can snare another first and enter this summer with meaningful spending power.
- Chicago Bulls Receive: Allen Crabbe, 2019 first-round pick (from Denver, via Brooklyn), 2020 second-round pick (from Denver, via Brooklyn)
- Brooklyn Nets Receive: Jabari Parker
Brooklyn has positioned itself as a deadline buyer, according to ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst. Surrendering a first-round pick qualifies as drastic for general manager Sean Marks, but Denver's selection is shaping up to fall in the bottom five. It shouldn't be off-limits—though, full disclosure, it might be:
Clearing Allen Crabbe's 2019-20 salary ($18.5 million player option) is, at worst, equally valuable. The Nets can treat Parker as an expiring contract (team option) and amble into the offseason with a path to more than $38 million in room while carrying restricted free-agent holds for Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and D'Angelo Russell.
There's no guarantee that money turns into a marquee name. But the Nets are building cachet. They've groomed an extensive collection of exciting young talent and role players, and they might be working off a playoff berth. They're not a non-destination. The Nets might even tap into Parker's best playmaking-4 imitation. They're that banged up at power forward.
Crabbe, who is recovering from a right knee injury, doesn't do anything to satisfy the Bulls' long-term need for a wing. But that extra first-round pick plays. Crabbe will at least hit standstill threes off kickouts from Wendell Carter Jr., Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen, and he comes off the books after next season.
Chicago can gut it out.
Primary Goal: Take on salary in 2019-20 and 2020-21 in exchange for picks and prospects.
Notable Trade Candidates: Alec Burks, Jordan Clarkson, Matthew Dellavedova, Rodney Hood (implicit no-trade), Kevin Love, David Nwaba, JR Smith and Tristan Thompson.
Kevin Love is simultaneously the name everyone's watching and the player no one really wants—for now.
One league executive told Bleacher Report's Ken Berger that Love and John Wall have "the two worst contracts in the league." This is over the top. Love's four-year, $120.4 million extension, which kicks in next season, doesn't look so rosy—particularly on a rebuilding Cleveland team. But he's not a "dinosaur."
Floor-spacing bigs who crash the glass and throw nifty passes aren't obsolete. Love's curb appeal is complicated by his defense and this season's four-game sample preceding toe surgery, but the chance to bag an All-Star under lock and key will mean something to someone.
Cleveland has other names to monitor. Rodney Hood is a goner this summer. JR Smith is in mutual exile. Alec Burks' expiring salary is primed for reaggregation (after Jan. 27) as the Cavaliers look to procure more picks and prospects.
Cedi Osman and Collin Sexton are the closest Cleveland gets to having untouchables. Everyone else—and maybe even them—can be had for the right return.
But Love is the rumor-mill magnet. He's bound to draw attention closer to Feb. 7, as the New York Times' Marc Stein noted, and while sources told Cleveland.com's Chris Fedor the Cavs are in no rush to move their 30-year-old cornerstone, they'd be remiss not to test the waters.
Potential Deal (After Jan. 22)
- Cleveland Cavaliers Receive: Bismack Biyombo, Frank Kaminsky, Malik Monk, 2019 first-round pick (lottery-protected through 2021; turns into two seconds if not conveyed)
- Charlotte Hornets Receive: Kevin Love, David Nwaba
Teams ill-positioned to land a star in free agency or otherwise crack the blockbuster-trade market are made-for Love suitors. The Hornets are especially ideal. They're not only light on assets and empty on cap space, but their franchise player, Kemba Walker, is nearing free agency and hasn't yet tasted the second round of the playoffs.
"They know. They know what they got to do," Walker said during an appearance on ESPN's The Jump when asked about what roster changes Charlotte must make ahead of free agency. "That's not my job. I'll leave it up to those guys."
Prying Beal out of Washington or acquiring a high-end wing would do more for both the Hornets and Walker. Neither is happening. The superstar trade market is bare right now, and Charlotte will be easily outbid for the most sought-after names.
Love is different. The Cavaliers can talk themselves into a return built around cap relief and mid(ish)-end picks and prospects. This package might be on the higher end.
Swapping out Love for Bismack Biyombo (2019-20 player option) and Malik Monk next season saves Cleveland almost $8 million. From there, the Cavaliers only have to worry about paying Monk (2020-21 team option). The rest is a gravy train of flexibility.
Charlotte is embracing a fair amount of risk. It'll be almost impossible to pay Love and Walker without brushing up against the tax next year. The Hornets have to move around other money: Nicolas Batum, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marvin Williams, Cody Zeller, etc. Trading for Love could be tantamount to handing Jeremy Lamb his walking papers.
Spit happens. The opportunity cost here isn't astronomical. Lamb is good, not great, and he might leave no matter what. Frank Kaminksy is already on the block, per Deveney. Monk is losing minutes to Devonte' Graham. Biyombo is playing, but Zeller will return from right hand surgery eventually, and Charlotte would have Love, Willy Hernangomez and Marvin Williams to sop up center minutes. The included pick is protected against total disaster.
Love's fit is the only real gamble. That isn't too concerning if he's healthy. He can play beside all of Charlotte's other bigs, and the combination of MKG and Miles Bridges should shore up any time he spends at the 5.
New York Knicks
Primary Goal: Clear more cap space for free agency.
Notable Trade Candidates: Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr., Enes Kanter, Courtney Lee, Emmanuel Mudiay, Frank Ntilikina, Lance Thomas and Noah Vonleh.
Gauging the markets for Emmanuel Mudiay and Noah Vonleh before they command raises should be among the Knicks' top priorities. Finding Enes Kanter a team that wants him—the Sacramento Kings are interested, per Woj—is up there too.
Neither is the priority.
Kevin Durant-to-New York might be a thing. Or maybe not. It doesn't matter. The Knicks, like many others, will court him. They'd be foolish not to try to poach a top-five player. But they need more cap space.
Current projections have the Knicks topping out at under $30 million in room. Moving Tim Hardaway Jr. or Courtney Lee is critical to affording Durant's max ($38.2 million). Too bad it won't be easy.
Sources told The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor that salary dumps for both will require sweeteners. The Knicks must tread carefully. They can't afford to give up primo assets when they don't know how free agency will pan out.
- New York Knicks Receive: Jerryd Bayless
- Minnesota Timberwolves Receive: Courtney Lee, 2020 second-rounder (from Charlotte, via New York)
Moving Lee's 2019-20 salary ($12.8 million) will be far easier than unloading the final two years and $37.1 million left on Hardaway's deal (2020-21 player option).
Knicks head coach David Fizdale bounced Lee from the rotation shortly after his return from a neck injury, but he's a career 38.9 percent three-point shooter who will, on most nights, fight at the defensive end. It shouldn't take more than a second-rounder to ship him elsewhere.
Minnesota isn't a good veteran dumping ground if coach-president Tom Thibodeau's firing marked the start of a teardown. It didn't.
"We still have hopes to getting into the playoffs," owner Glen Taylor said, per the Minneapolis Star Tribune's Chris Hine, "and I think with half the season left, let's see if this change will make a difference."
Busting back into the Western Conference's postseason bracket is a big ask. The Timberwolves are only two games back in the loss column, but their schedule to close January isn't fun. FiveThirtyEight gives them just a 30 percent chance of finishing in the West's top eight.
Still, Lee is a good get if Minnesota wants to keep pushing the bill. The defense is 10th in points allowed per 100 possessions since the Jimmy Butler trade, but Robert Covington, the team's top stopper, is nursing an ankle injury. Even when he's healthy, the wing rotation could use a dab of shooting and 2-3 defense.
Taking in Lee's 2019-20 salary does re-trigger cap concerns. The Timberwolves will be up against the tax if Jeff Teague exercises his player option, and they carry Tyus Jones' restricted free-agent hold—all before getting the chance to make other additions.
They can worry about that later. Lee and Teague will be movable over the summer as expiring contracts, and let's not pretend we've heard the last of Andrew Wiggins trade ideas.
Primary Goal: Acquire a point guard and/or capitalize on value of upcoming free agents.
Notable Trade Candidates: Ryan Anderson, Dragan Bender, Troy Daniels, Richaun Holmes, Josh Jackson and Kelly Oubre Jr.
Anyone hoping the Suns will make a splash at the deadline is most likely going to be disappointed. They aren't built for it.
Adding unsavory money to the books isn't so appealing with Booker's max extension tipping off next year. The Suns have some pressure to win soon. Cap space is valuable to them.
Plus, they no longer have the expiring fodder to ingest larger salaries attached to picks and prospects. They exhausted that card by buying out Tyson Chandler and waiving Austin Rivers following the Ariza trade. They probably shouldn't have done either. They definitely shouldn't have done both.
Scoping out the market for their soon-to-be free agents makes the most sense. Kelly Oubre Jr. (restricted) cannot be dealt in combination with another player after joining the Suns via the Ariza trade in mid-December, but both he and Richaun Holmes are due for raises the Suns cannot blindly bankroll. Measuring the temperature on Josh Jackson is an acceptable move if they're more smitten by Oubre.
- Phoenix Suns Receive: Yogi Ferrell, Skal Labissiere
- Sacramento Kings Receive: Richaun Holmes, Troy Daniels
Holmes feels like the player Phoenix is most likely to move. He's easier to trade than Oubre, since he doesn't have to be dealt alone, and his role will forever be capped with Deandre Ayton in front of him.
Turning Holmes into Yogi Ferrell is the right kind of mini-swing. De'Anthony Melton is playing well, but Phoenix needs an upgrade at point guard.
Ferrell packs an affordable punch while the Suns comb future draft and free-agency classes for a starrier solution. If things work out, they can bring him back for peanuts ($3.2 million). If he doesn't fit next to Booker or as a leading man in the second unit, they can waive him for cap space.
Sacramento's interest in Kanter suggests Holmes is a no-brainer acquisition. He isn't the same rebounder, but he's a superior rim protector and an actual lob-catcher. A smart team will let him re-explore the three-point line.
Pairing Holmes up front with Nemanja Bjelica or Marvin Bagley III will more than hold up on offense. He should be staggered from Willie Cauley-Stein—or he could render him expendable. If the Kings think Holmes will come cheaper in free agency than Cauley-Stein (restricted), they can try using him to anchor a trade for another wing.