6 Dark-Horse Deadline Targets for NBA's Biggest Buyers
Mike Conley. Marc Gasol. Otto Porter Jr. Kent Bazemore. Dennis Smith Jr. Terrence Ross. Nikola Vucevic. Any superstar fans think the Los Angeles Lakers can get for Rajon Rondo, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and the almost-untouchable Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk.
Lather, rinse, repeat.
The NBA trade rumor mill is predictable. The same names get churned out again, and again and again. And then again. Players who aren't even up for grabs get discussed ad nauseam.
Most understand that Bradley Beal, Anthony Davis, Kevin Love, Kemba Walker et al. aren't going anywhere without dire audibles from their teams. And yet, they're all trade-machine-screenshot staples.
No one's passing any judgment here. Predictable-idea dumps and untamed imaginations are all part of this mid-winter experience. They help make the trade deadline frenetic and fun. But exhaustive focus on the usual suspects and conventional long shots isn't everything.
Tapping into the non-star market matters. Hidden gems are everywhere, and they're typically far more gettable than the main attractions. Their salaries aren't household-name high, many are nearing free agency, and they can be included as moving parts of larger deals.
Even with the league short on sellers, this year's market does not want for under-the-radar impact players. The most interesting of the bunch aren't always readily available, but team slumps, prospective teardowns and contract situations give them a pipeline to the chopping block.
Smart buyers will come calling for them before the Feb. 7 deadline.
Reggie Bullock, Detroit Pistons
Reggie Bullock is indispensable if the Detroit Pistons are bent on making the postseason. He's the closest they come to a three-and-D wing—a three-and-Dish wing, if you will.
His shooting alone is a lifeline. He's up to 37.6 percent from beyond the arc after a sluggish start to the year and canning close to 39 percent of his spot-up triples. Yanking him from an offense that ranks dead last in long-range accuracy is akin to waving the white flag on this season.
The Pistons have to think about moving him anyway. They're barely hanging around the Eastern Conference's mediocre-friendly playoff picture as it stands, and Bullock's next contract is going to hurt even if he's not wined and dined by many of this summer's many cap-flush suitors.
Detroit's budget is that fragile—which is to say, nonexistent.
Carrying free-agent holds for Bullock, Ish Smith and Stanley Johnson (restricted) brings the Pistons past next year's $132 million luxury tax. Parting ways Johnson or Smith opens up things, but the roster isn't built to subsist on the resulting shallowness. Detroit has to find and pay replacements for everyone. Re-signing even one of these three while adding outside help will be difficult.
Letting Bullock's situation ride out until the offseason is a calculated gamble and not necessarily the wrong decision. Having him for a fading playoff push may be worth more to the Pistons. His $2.5 million salary isn't netting a player of substance, and Detroit doesn't have the desirable contracts or wiggle room under the tax to expand potential deals.
Still, Bullock comes with full Bird rights. Contenders with long-standing cap concerns may be willing to fork over a future first, a goulash of seconds or take one of the Pistons' smaller cap burdens (Langston Galloway, Jon Leuer). Detroit can also try pairing him with Johnson and hope the two together yield a first-rounder attached to an expiring contract.
Best Landing Spots: Denver, Houston, L.A. Clippers, Oklahoma City, Toronto
JaMychal Green and Garrett Temple, Memphis Grizzlies
The Memphis Grizzlies have finally made Mike Conley and Marc Gasol available. Like, really available. ESPN.com's Adrian Wojnarowski first reported the Grizzlies were taking calls for their longtime cornerstones, and team owner Robert Pera informed both that they were on the chopping block.
No one in Memphis is off-limits if Conley and Gasol are being used as bait—aside from 2018 first-rounder Jaren Jackson Jr. They'll draw the most interest, because duh, but the Grizzlies have other serviceable players to offer buyers without the asset clout to broker blockbusters.
JaMychal Green is an ideal combo big off the bench. He doesn't carry offensive or defensive possessions on his own, but he can capably guard 4s and 5s away from the rim and is downing 39.1 percent of his 3.8 three-point attempts per 36 minutes.
Playing him for long stretches at center is, for the most part, a no-go. At 6'9", he doesn't have the size to be a primary rim protector. Put him alongside a more stationary big who can patrol the paint, and his mobility on the perimeter will shine.
Garrett Temple fits the mold of a helpful rotation piece for contenders. He doesn't need the ball on offense—catch-and-fire threes account for almost 45 percent of his looks—but he works as a fourth-option initiator in the half court.
His value really takes off if his next team has the personnel to use him as a full-time 3. Rival offenses generally pick apart the Grizzlies with him at small forward, but the defense stabilizes when those minutes come alongside Kyle Anderson playing the 4, according to Cleaning the Glass. Teams with active small-ball power forwards will have no trouble deploying Temple like a wing.
Best of all, for potential suitors anyway, neither Green nor Temple should fetch much more than a second-round pick and an expiring contract. If the Grizzlies want more, they can look into combining them in exchange for a player owed money in 2019-20.
Best Landing Spots for Green: Brooklyn, L.A. Clippers, L.A. Lakers, Milwaukee, Philadelphia
Best Landing Spots for Temple: Houston, Charlotte, Indiana, L.A. Clippers, Portland
Rodney McGruder, Miami Heat
Rodney McGruder's journey onto this list was swift and sudden. He has seldom, if ever, registered as even a deep-cut trade chip for most of the season. The Miami Heat are firmly entrenched in the Eastern Conference's playoff race, and he has started in each of his 44 appearances.
Things have changed over the past few weeks. McGruder's playing time has been subject to wilder swings in an inconsistent stretch that culminated in a "DNP-Coach's Decision" during Miami's loss Wednesday to the Clippers.
That doesn't prove the Heat are out on McGruder or that they're open to striking a deal even if they don't have a role for him. Head coach Erik Spoelstra was careful not to ascribe anything profound to his latest demotion.
"I don't want anyone to view this as Rodney being any part of the reason for it," he said, per the Sun Sentinel's David Furones. "When I am in this position, I just have to make a decision on what is best for the team. Sometimes it's just a chemistry, flow, rhythm thing."
The Heat are taking a similar position with Wayne Ellington. He fell out of the rotation almost two months ago, and they have yet to seriously entertain moving his expiring contract, per the Miami Herald's Barry Jackson.
Don't bet on that stance holding for long on either player. The Heat's long-term books are an eyesore. They have to worry about brushing up against the luxury tax before paying Ellington or McGruder (restricted). Shopping both should be at the forefront of their to-do list even if they're playing—and most definitely if they're not.
McGruder is a touch undersized at 6'4", but you seldom realize it. Hustle gets him by against most 3s. Even when he falls behind on screens, he's never out of a play.
Finding a spot for him on offense is slightly harder. He's shooting 37.7 percent on a steady diet of spot-up threes, but he needs to make more plays off the dribble to keep defenses guessing. Though he's flashed some extra pick-and-roll playmaking this season, his finishing is all over the place.
But no team's acquiring him to be its first, second or third option. He'd fit snugly, at both ends, on most postseason heavyweights. The Heat should see if they can get a package built around a couple of seconds that doesn't require them to add salary. Combining him with Ellington should get them in the conversation for a lower-end first-rounder.
Best Landing Spots: Charlotte, Indiana, New Orleans, Portland, Toronto
Tomas Satoransky, Washington Wizards
Tomas Satoransky is the biggest reach of this group. The Washington Wizards have played themselves back into believable postseason contention, and his play is critical to them continuing their trek up the East's standings.
In the 12 games Satoransky has played since John Wall went down for the season, he's averaging 11.9 points, 5.1 rebounds, 5.9 assists and 1.7 steals while converting 45.7 percent of his three-point looks. His on-off splits aren't great during this stretch, and he still needs a shot-creating buffer by his side. Washington's offense has died in the 520-plus possessions he's logged without Wall and Bradley Beal, per Cleaning the Glass.
We call that nitpicking. Satoransky isn't supposed to be a headlining facilitator, and he's spent time trying to salvage some brutally assembled lineups. He can be a team's 1B playmaker. His rebounding helps the Wizards get into their sets, a huge plus without the speedy Wall to ferry the pace, and teams can never have too many ball-handlers who don't hemorrhage possessions.
That Satoransky doesn't need to control the rock at all times only makes him more plug-and-play. He's hitting 41.9 percent of his catch-and-shoot threes, and almost two-thirds of his made buckets are coming off assists. Some teams—not Washington—could get by with sticking his 6'7" frame at small forward. He is a genuinely impactful player.
The Wizards know it too. He's slated for restricted free agency this summer, but they've already started talking to him about an extension, per NBC Sports' Chase Hughes. This dialogue suggests the Wizards not only want to keep him, but that they think they can afford him.
And maybe they can. Moving Satoransky's $3.1 million salary doesn't put too much of a dent in their payroll. They can send Otto Porter to the Sacramento Kings for expiring contracts if they're looking to duck the tax.
But Washington doesn't cure its flexibility or roster-construction problems by sending out Porter alone. This team has big-picture questions to answer about its core, and bankrolling Satoransky's next deal, whether it's for $7 million, $10 million or $12 million per year, isn't a no-brainer when the Wizards are so far away from title contention.
Best Landing Spots: Indiana, Philadelphia, Portland, San Antonio, Utah
Noah Vonleh, New York Knicks
Noah Vonleh is a revelation for the New York Knicks. They've turned him loose as a jack-of-all-trades, and he's responding with the best season of his career.
New York has given Vonleh the green light to lead transition plays and jump-start some half-court sets. He still has issues finishing off the dribble but looks less awkward with the ball overall and is showing trace elements of playmaking.
Questioning whether his offense will translate to a better team, on which he'd assume a smaller role, is totally fair. Most of Vonleh's buckets go unassisted, and he won't have the ball in his hands nearly as often somewhere else.
He should still be fine. He's posting an effective field-goal percentage of 63.5 on catch-and-shoot looks, a top-25 mark among 205 players with at least 75 attempts. Spacier offenses should get more out of him as a rim-runner.
Vonleh's defensive range offsets whatever concerns prospective admirers have about his offense outside of New York. He has guarded everyone from Giannis Antetokounmpo and Ben Simmons to Anthony Davis and Draymond Green—all without looking helplessly or hilariously overmatched.
Here's the rub: Prying him out of New York could be an issue. He's arguably the Knicks' best player, and they're more focused on moving Tim Hardaway Jr. and Courtney Lee, according to the New York Times' Marc Stein. They can try using him as a sweetener to dump those deals, but Non-Bird rights on a $1.5 million salary isn't a groundbreaking asset. Most suitors will acquire Vonleh as a rental.
Having him in their system for the rest of the season might mean more to the Knicks than a second-round pick or two. They may get a chance to gauge his fit next to Kristaps Porzingis, and they have the cap space to re-sign him if all goes well.
Then again, Kevin Durant pipe dreams complicate their spending power. Plus, if they're invested in both Porzingis and Mitchell Robinson, Vonleh's next contract needs to run super cheap or super short to avoid cramping their books. And hey: Maybe it does.
In the meantime, it never hurts to look and listen. The right buyer might surprise them with a pair of second-rounders or cursory interest in taking on Hardaway or Lee as well.
Best Landing Spots: Brooklyn, Houston, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Utah