5 NBA Players Most Likely to Be Traded During 2019 Offseason
The passage of the NBA trade deadline doesn't end the league's wheeling and dealing. It only brings a short reprieve.
Come summertime, when new draft picks provide an infusion of uncertainty and cumbersome contracts get one year shorter and millions of dollars cheaper, another swap season ramps up. So if your team didn't land that missing piece or get rid of that albatross contract in early February, don't worry: another chance is coming.
This July in particular will be full of fireworks. Anthony Davis has done everything but change his location on social media to "anywhere but New Orleans," and he'll feature as the centerpiece in an inevitable offseason drama, pulling big names into his chaotic orbit as teams float their best trade packages. Once that's settled, we'll also see talks rekindled for costly vets who didn't switch cities at the deadline.
Keep the following players in mind through what remains of the regular season and the playoffs. They have the best chances of being moved this summer.
Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans
Unless he one day leads a team to a championship, the defining feature of Anthony Davis' career will be this season's clumsy attempt to strong-arm his way out of New Orleans. AD and his representation didn't just burn a bridge; they nuked it, collected the smoldering ashes, dumped them in a barrel of toxic waste, shot the barrel into space on a rocket and then shot that rocket with a bigger one.
We've never seen a player under contract destroy his relationship with an organization quite like this before. Leaving at halftime with a minor shoulder injury in the Pels' final game before the All-Star break barely ranked among the top five of irreversible affronts Davis committed against his team.
That isn't to say Davis shouldn't get to play where he wants to. It's just that there are shrewder, more subtle ways to go about controlling one's professional destiny.
Maybe the Pelicans will get a great offer from the Boston Celtics once Kyrie Irving re-signs in July. Maybe Davis will end up with the Lakers after whichever general manager replaces Dell Demps actually takes a call from Magic Johnson. Maybe the New York Knicks will sign Irving, land the top overall pick and send it to the Pelicans in a package for AD.
For our purposes, it doesn't matter where Davis ends up. Either way, he won't still be in New Orleans when the 2019-20 season begins.
Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics
As far as anyone knows, the Celtics haven't offered Tatum to the Pelicans yet, but all signs point to him being available when Boston can acquire AD this summer.
According to Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated, "nothing is off the table" once Boston is able to make a deal. The Boston Globe's Adam Himmelsbach reported the Celtics plan to wow the Pels with an "explosive package" in which "no specific player will be off limits."
There's always the chance Boston plays hardball or ultimately balks at giving up Tatum for what might only be a one-year rental before Davis explores free agency in 2020.
Davis told reporters at his All-Star Game media availability that the Celtics were among his acceptable destinations, which contradicted a leaked four-team list that omitted Boston before the deadline. Further complicating matters, Davis later said in the same media session that all 29 teams (other than the Pelicans) were in play.
Disjointed messaging like this is on brand for the way things have gone since Davis' trade demand, so it's impossible to be certain of anything. But if Davis does wind up in Boston, which seems likely considering the package the Celtics could put together, Tatum figures to be the key piece involved.
The second-year forward is a more valuable asset than anything the Lakers could provide. Unless the Knicks win the lottery and are willing to surrender the top pick in 2019, Tatum might be the best asset available period.
Lonzo Ball, Los Angeles Lakers
You could easily throw Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma or any other young Lakers prospect into this spot, as the team reportedly tried to deal them all for Anthony Davis before the deadline. But none of their dads have already pledged to speak a trade to another destination into existence. That gives Lonzo Ball the edge here.
Ball's gifts as a passer, defender and overall team player are too often unappreciated. If he could stay healthy and figure out how to convert at the foul line, he'd be a fine, cost-controlled role player alongside LeBron James. The notion that he's a poor fit in L.A. is overblown.
Nonetheless, the Lakers will likely hit the 2019 offseason having been bounced in the first round or having missed the playoffs entirely. That'll spur calls for change. And considering Los Angeles tried to deal its young players for a superstar at the deadline, it isn't hard to guess what its approach will be this summer.
The Lakers let the world know their young players are available. They can't unring that bell. Whether for Davis or some other star, it seems settled that L.A. will move some of its youth for a bigger name. If AD winds up in Boston, that hardly forecloses the possibility of a shakeup.
Despite his shooting woes and health issues this season, Ball is still second to James on the Lakers in Player Impact Plus-Minus. Smart teams will appreciate his value, which should make him easy enough to move for a fair return.
And though LaVar Ball has been relatively subdued this season compared to Lonzo's rookie year, you'd have to think the Lakers would be glad to remove that distraction in the bargain.
Kevin Love, Cleveland Cavaliers
Kevin Love trade talk was audible in January, according to the New York Times' Marc Stein, and that was before the Cavs forward was even eligible to be dealt. Though his recovery from toe surgery cost him 50 games, Love is now being eased back into action.
If Love was a topic of trade discussion while injured, why wouldn't he be an even bigger one this summer—after he presumably proves he's healthy down the stretch of Cleveland's lost season?
"It's a lot to ask someone to take on $144 million for a 30-year-old with an injury history," a league executive told B/R's Ken Berger in January. "You're dealing with a very small, narrow marketplace for him."
Still, let's consider the other side. Cleveland is in the beginning stages of its rebuild and has no use for an aging, high-priced vet best suited for a supporting role on a good team. The Cavs should be highly motivated to move him. They should also be willing to take on bad money in exchange as long as it doesn't cost them future draft assets.
Love is past his prime and has a checkered injury history, but he's still a valuable NBA player. Though limited defensively, he can function as a secondary creator, and he shot 41.5 percent from deep last year. Many of the criticisms Love faces also applied to Blake Griffin after he signed his five-year, $171-plus million deal in 2018. Since being dealt to the Detroit Pistons, Griffin's playing the most productive ball of his career.
Somebody out there will decide they want Love, and the Cavs have every reason to get a deal done.
Mike Conley, Memphis Grizzlies
The Memphis Grizzlies held onto Mike Conley through the trade deadline, but their unwillingness to swing a deal may not be permanent.
According to ESPN.com's Tim MacMahon, Memphis kept Conley in part because of his role as a mentor to the Grizzlies' younger players, particularly Jaren Jackson Jr. Not only that, but Conley "was not eager to leave Memphis," per MacMahon.
Players around the league notice when franchises do right by their veterans, so it behooved the Grizzlies to postpone a key move in their rebuild until the offseason, when Conley might feel more comfortable having his life uprooted with a trade.
In theory, Memphis should be seeking draft picks and young players, and those might be easier to come by this summer. Plus, dealing Conley during the offseason will allow the team to choose and groom its new starting point guard during camp, rather than thrust someone into the role during the middle of the season. These are the kinds of developmentally focused considerations smart rebuilding teams make.
Nothing the Utah Jazz, Indiana Pacers or Detroit Pistons did at the deadline should lower their interest level in Conley, who'd be a welcome upgrade for all three of those teams. With two years and $67 million left on his deal after this season, Conley isn't exactly a bargain, but he's done enough this year (19.9 points, 6.4 assists and a 49.4 effective field-goal percentage right in line with his career average) to suggest he'll continue performing like a high-end starter for the life of his deal.
Conley means a ton to Memphis off the floor, but he's no longer as important on it. Sending him to another team—preferably one that'll give him a chance to win—makes too much sense not to happen.