6 Early Predictions for the 2019 NBA Trade Deadline
Will Anthony Davis be on the move prior to the 2018-19 NBA season's Feb. 7 trade deadline? Could Kevin Love leave the Cleveland Cavaliers to join the third team of his professional career? Which team will engage in an unabashed fire sale?
We're answering those questions and more with our trusty crystal ball, which is sure to reveal the forthcoming events of transaction season with nary a mistake*.
Though precious few stars seem to be on the chopping block this go-round, that doesn't mean this deadline will be an uneventful one. Considering the jam-packed nature of the standings in both conferences, even the most minor moves could have significant ripple effects that shape the playoff picture in a big way.
Stick with us, and you'll be ready** for them before they come to pass.
Atlanta Hawks Fire Sale
The Atlanta Hawks have an interesting problem.
Thanks to in-season development from Trae Young, a surge to fringe stardom from John Collins, inspired performances from Kevin Huerter and a supporting cast that's contributing more than expected while Kent Bazemore recovers from an ankle injury, they're winning games a bit too frequently. A true pursuit of Zion Williamson isn't likely because they've posted the league's No. 23 net rating since the start of December.
Usually, winning games is a positive. But the Hawks shouldn't be entertaining postseason dreams during a rebuilding season, and they're actively hampering their shot at prominent draft position by remaining competitive. As a result, they're the most likely team in the NBA to engage in a full-fledged fire sale—shipping off at least a trio of veterans who can all contribute to postseason rosters before possibly jettisoning Vince Carter via buyout.
Marc Stein has already reported on the Hawks' trade-block habits for the New York Times: "The Hawks are known to have made the veteran point guard [Jeremy] Lin, big man Dewayne Dedmon and swingman Kent Bazemore available in advance of the Feb. 7 trade deadline in search of more draft picks."
None of these are game-changing pieces, though Bazemore's three-and-D abilities should allow him to fill a major role on a contending squad. Lin is valuable as a backup point guard, while Dewayne Dedmon's stretch shooting and defensive acumen will ensure him minutes anywhere in the modern NBA.
But all together, they could give the Hawks a significant uptick in the future-asset department—a necessity when trying to build a cohesive core around, in no particular order, Young, Collins and Huerter.
Houston Rockets' Streak Resumes
Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey doesn't exactly like to sit back and watch at the trade deadline. As covered in last year's edition of this article, his Houston Rockets had engaged in a deal within two months of the deadline every single season since 2003...until the 2017-18 campaign.
That's 25 trades involving 69 players and 16 draft picks over the course of the last 16 seasons, and we're not even including the January transaction that sent Michael Carter-Williams to the Chicago Bulls this very campaign. Amazingly, this trend even predates Morey's tenure, since he's been in Houston from 2007 through the present day.
Last year ended the streak as the Rockets opted to sit tight and let their new core play its way to a sterling record in the Western Conference, but it's already begun anew in 2019. Doubling down, in the form of an incoming contributor, comes soon.
With Clint Capela, Eric Gordon and Chris Paul all dealing with significant injuries, Houston has become far too reliant on an MVP version of James Harden, who's more than enough to carry them toward home-court advantage in the opening round of the Western playoffs but could, again, wear down for the games that matter most.
Don't be surprised when one of those offloaded Atlanta pieces—or someone else entirely—winds up wearing a Rockets uniform. This team suddenly needs more ball-handlers, more shooters and more capable bigs to help mitigate the enormous load currently shouldered by a certain bearded guard.
Dennis Smith Jr. on the Move
Dennis Smith Jr. could very well become the first casualty of the Luka Doncic era, as Doncic has already established himself as a primary ball-handler for the Dallas Mavericks who immediately pushes the team into playoff contention. Not only does he lessen the need for a project player with Smith's skill set, but he increases the win-now feeling.
Cue the report from ESPN.com's Adrian Wojnarowski and Tim MacMahon:
"The Dallas Mavericks are escalating talks to trade guard Dennis Smith Jr., pushing to end a partnership that has run its course for both the franchise and former first-round pick, league sources tell ESPN.
"Two teams in pursuit of a point guard -- Phoenix and Orlando -- have been active in talks with the Mavericks, league sources said...
"Coach Rick Carlisle and Smith have struggled to find a common ground, league sources said. The arrival of rookie of the year favorite Luka Doncic has pushed Smith off the ball and changed the trajectory of his role with the team. Carlisle has often been frustrated with Smith's decision-making, league sources said."
Smith's shooting has improved during his sophomore season—he's now slashing 44.3/37.5/68.1—but he's simply not an off-ball weapon at this stage of his career. He's shooting just 37.9 percent in catch-and-shoot scenarios, and that's troubling when his playmaking skills have regressed, due both to stagnant vision and a bit too much sloppiness with his handle. A new home just makes sense, no longer pigeonholing him into an ill-fitting, tension-creating role.
Phoenix, in particular, should push hard to add such a high-upside point guard to its roster, which still desperately needs a franchise floor general to pair with Devin Booker. Don't buy into the reports that the franchise isn't interested (per Duane Rankin of the Arizona Republic). This is peak smokescreen season, after all.
But even if Smith doesn't end up wearing a Suns jersey by the end of 2018-19, it already seems a safe bet he won't finish the year in Dallas.
Jabari Parker Gets a Fresh Start
Jabari Parker's career is in a tailspin.
After failing to do much with the Milwaukee Bucks in his 2017-18 return from an ACL tear (culminating in a miserable start to his playoff career that seemingly left a permanent sour taste for the fanbase), the former Duke standout got another chance with the Chicago Bulls. Handed a two-year deal worth $40 million that contained a $20 million team option—let's call it a prove-yourself option—for the second season, he was granted a starting role just eight games into the 2018-19 campaign.
It didn't last long.
During his 17-contest stretch in the opening quintet, Parker averaged 16.9 points, 8.0 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 0.6 steals and 0.4 blocks. But those seemingly respectable per-game numbers were thoroughly negated by his lackluster shooting (45.2/25.8/73.3) and porosity on the defensive end, leading to a minus-8.8 net rating when he was on the floor.
He's since fallen completely out of the rotation, failing to come off the bench at all in more than a handful of opportunities under new head coach Jim Boylen. Another fresh start is needed, and a team searching for an offensive punch should come calling, so long as it can withstand the complete lack of exertion that makes him function as a defensive turnstile.
The Utah Jazz expressed interest in acquiring the shoot-first, shoot-second forward back in December, per The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor, and they'd still be an ideal fit for the Chicago native. The Indiana Pacers and Oklahoma City Thunder would also make sense, though they have less reason to take the plunge during seasons in which they've won games at higher clips than the Jazz.
Either way, Parker is a low-risk, high-reward flier at this year's deadline, and that should ensure he doesn't spend much more time with his hometown Bulls.
Anthony Davis Stays Put
No matter how many times speculation arises that Anthony Davis will soon be on the move, the New Orleans Pelicans will have little motivation to actually shop him. Even if the Los Angeles Lakers offer the best young prospects at their disposal (some combination of Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma and Brandon Ingram, along with a pick or two), that shouldn't be enough to tempt the bayou dwellers into parting with their franchise centerpiece.
Maybe that changes this summer if Davis watches the playoffs from afar and explicitly states his desire for a change—a scenario that would become even more interesting because the Boston Celtics could get in on the action without dealing Kyrie Irving. But for now, the Pelicans shouldn't part with him.
First, he's under contract for one more season before he can decline a $28.8 million player option in 2020-21. Even in that scenario, he'd have to turn down a supermax offer from the Pelicans to join a new organization that couldn't match the monetary figures—something he's admittedly said, per Yahoo Sports' Chris Haynes, isn't as important to him.
Second, the Pelicans have been better than their 21-23 record would indicate.
Pythagorean Wins, based solely on points scored and allowed, peg New Orleans as a 25-19 outfit. Basketball Reference's simple rating system, which accounts for margin of victory and strength of schedule, has the squad at No. 12 in the NBA. And on the most basic of the advanced-stat levels, Davis' crew boasts the Association's No. 10 net rating.
Giving up on this season would be foolish, especially when doing so requires the offloading of a generational talent. So even when his name gets floated frequently prior to the February deadline, don't expect any moves to come to fruition.
No Prime All-Stars Change Location
Fifty-one different players have made at least one All-Star appearance during their careers and logged a minute during the 2018-19 campaign. Fewer still have continued performing at an admirable level, since we're not too concerned with ex-star role players such as Kyle Korver, Devin Harris, Joakim Noah and Vince Carter.
Of that original group, only 32 have posted positive box-plus minuses while qualifying for the minutes-per-game leaderboard during the current season, and it's highly probable not a single one changes locations at this deadline.
We'll mention all 32 by sorting them into likelihood-of-trade tiers:
- Tier 1 (Stars Not Changing Squads)
LaMarcus Aldridge, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bradley Beal, Jimmy Butler, Stephen Curry, DeMar DeRozan, Andre Drummond, Kevin Durant, Joel Embiid, Paul George, Draymond Green, Blake Griffin, James Harden, Gordon Hayward, Jrue Holiday, Al Horford, Kyrie Irving, LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Damian Lillard, Kyle Lowry, Paul Millsap, Victor Oladipo, Karl-Anthony Towns, Russell Westbrook
- Tier 2 (Thriving Role Players)
Andre Iguodala, DeAndre Jordan, Brook Lopez, Derrick Rose
- Tier 3 (Probably Not Moving, but Can't Entirely Rule It Out)
Anthony Davis, Marc Gasol, Kemba Walker
Maybe the Boston Celtics don't laugh you off the phone if you inquire about Gordon Hayward or Al Horford. Perhaps the New Orleans Pelicans listen to Jrue Holiday overtures, while the Washington Wizards may at least patiently entertain Bradley Beal bids before hanging up.
But the Tier 1 stars aren't changing hands anytime soon. Nor are those in the second tier, as they mean too much to their squads, all of which are currently experiencing relative levels of success.
That leaves Anthony Davis (already covered in detail), Marc Gasol and Kemba Walker. But the Charlotte Hornets floor general still seems to be working toward long-term goals in the Queen City (Bleacher Report's Jonathan Abrams has far more on this), while teams—the few center-hungry ones out there—are unlikely to pony up for a 33-year-old center (turns 34 on January 29) who's clearly declining but could opt into a $25.6 million deal next year.
Which brings us to the final name.
Kevin Love technically didn't qualify for the group of 32 because of his miserable four-game stint with the Cleveland Cavaliers prior to undergoing toe surgery, but he's sure to be shopped at the deadline. That doesn't mean he'll be moved, as Chris Fedor detailed for Cleveland.com:
"Sources tell me that the Cavs have received calls about him [Love]. It's the same thing that typically happens with him around this time of year. He's used to it.
"As I've written numerous times, it will take close to the perfect deal for the Cavs to pull the trigger.
"They want Love around, hoping he can be the rock during this new era. He's their All-Star. Those inside the organization recognize his value. The decision-makers also understand how difficult it is to acquire those high-level players. When you have one, and he is under team control for a number of years, why give that up? What's the rush...
"Unless the Cavs get a treasured offer from an asset-heavy team (rumored teams like Dallas and Charlotte don't really fit this criteria), one with some combination of high draft picks and young, controllable players on team-friendly deals, Love will likely stick around."
Love remains the best chance to nullify this prediction, followed by Gasol, Walker (a distant third) and Davis (a distant fourth). But smart money is still on this deadline emerging as a relatively boring one headlined by players without All-Star appearances on their resumes.
Adam Fromal covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @fromal09.