NBA Teams That Will Be Most Active on Trade Market This Summer
It usually isn't difficult to gauge the NBA's trade market in advance of the offseason. A clear crop of trade candidates, ultra-aggressive buyers and in-our-face sellers always seems to emerge.
This summer is shaping up to have a little bit of everything, but the overall landscape is a tad tougher to map out.
Free agency is more of a primary focus in the face of a top-heavy, flight-risk-laden class, and the Anthony Davis sweepstakes will invariably bring other matters to a standstill. The playoffs and draft lottery also figure to play a larger-than-normal role in identifying buyers and sellers.
But our sleuthing skills are still sharp enough to suss out which teams will define this summer's action.
Different squads will enter the fray for different reasons, which means...tiers! Only those with the strongest motives for getting down and dirty this summer are included. Surprises are unavoidable, but the entire league would have a case for inclusion if the scope were broadened to account for the what-iffiest of what-ifs.
Absorbing unwanted contracts this season has saddled the Cavaliers with the awkward burden of going over next year's books with a fine-tooth comb. So much depends on where their pick and the Houston Rockets' selection fall in the draft order, but they have a real chance of spilling into the luxury tax even after waiving JR Smith ($3.9 million partial guarantee).
Rest assured, that won't stand. Owner Dan Gilbert has shown no qualms about footing pricey bills for contenders, but these Cavaliers aren't that. If the draft order doesn't resolve their tax situation, they'll have to explore other avenues.
Negotiating buyouts may be their best option. Some players on expiring contracts will want all their money—Matthew Dellavedova, John Henson, Brandon Knight—but Jordan Clarkson and, more likely, Tristan Thompson might be open to giving back a few dollars for the opportunity to play elsewhere.
Beyond that, Cleveland can look to trim payroll via trade. Teams will want Kevin Love, whose four-year, $120.4 million extension kicks in next season, if he keeps playing like an All-Star, and all of the Cavaliers' expiring contracts have value if they're willing to take back smaller salaries that leak into 2020-21.
Team president Pat Riley has lofty #squadgoals for his Heat. Pressed about their lack of cap flexibility in coming summers, he not-so-subtly hinted at a dual-star chase over the 2020 offseason, per the Miami Herald's Barry Jackson:
"If you want to do the math any way you want to do the math and say we can't do it, then you don't have big dreams like I do or how we've operated here. Clearing space is easy. You just watch the New York Knicks do it and what was their price in doing it. You watch the Clippers do it and what was their price in doing it.
"You can do it if you want to do it, but you have to get a good feeling that the reason why you're going to do it is you're going to get two [high-end players]. You have flexibility and that's what the possibility of having room does for you. If you get an indication something good can happen that year, you go for it. If you don't, you just keep plugging away. We have the two picks [first-rounders in 2019 and 2020]. We have a lot of assets. We have cash, we have exceptions. We will improve the team. It will be much better than it is now."
Never mind that 2020 isn't the summer to go all-in on free agency. Riley has work to do if Miami is to stage another coup.
The Heat have a line to one max spot after next season, when the salary cap jumps to $118 million. Two is another story. They'll need to move two of James Johnson (2020-21 player option), Kelly Olynyk (2020-21 player option) and Dion Waiters to enter that territory—and this assumes they don't stretch next season's partial guarantee for Ryan Anderson ($15.6 million) over the next three to skirt the tax.
Maybe Miami isn't planning to offload major money this year. It always makes more sense to delay the creation of cap space until you're absolutely sure you need it. But with the Heat once again facing tax concerns and Riley already mentioning draft picks, the fireworks may go off sooner than not.
Biggest Potential Sellers
It won't take much for the Grizzlies to vacate this tier. They're on track for top-seven lottery odds, and a jump into the top three or four might convince them to reboot the postseason chase around whomever they pick, Kyle Anderson, Mike Conley, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Jonas Valanciunas.
Going that route is short-sighted. It doesn't matter that the New Orleans Pelicans are gearing up for life without Anthony Davis, or that the LeBron James-led Los Angeles Lakers aren't scary, or that Kevin Durant might have his exit from the Golden State Warriors all teed up.
The Grizzlies are better off trying to build something more than a playoff steppingstone from scratch.
A full-on tank is probably out of the question, but they don't have to go nuclear. They'll have two starting points in Jackson and this year's draft pick, and they can take the more gradual road without fielding a rock-bottom product.
Leaning into that rebuild starts with moving Conley. His price tag over the next two seasons isn't ideal ($67 million), but Memphis won't want for suitors. Teams that get jilted in free agency or cannot otherwise land star talents on multiyear agreements will fork over real value.
Commit to trading Conley, and the Grizzlies have a bunch of other odds and ends to sell off. Valanciunas and Miles might draw attention from contenders if they pick up their player options, and Anderson's remaining contract value (three years, $28.5 million) is reasonable enough to find a taker that views him as an asset.
New Orleans Pelicans
Davis' inevitable departure is only part of the Pelicans' inclusion. What happens after matters just as much.
Pretty much everyone removed from New Orleans' situation will cite the need to hit reset. It isn't that easy. The Pelicans won't have an open-ended timeline if the centerpieces of any Davis deal are nearing contract extensions or free agency.
The most popular hypotheticals put them in that boat. Jaylen Brown (this summer), Jayson Tatum (2020), Brandon Ingram (this summer) and Lonzo Ball (2020) are all extension-eligible over the next two offseasons. A dark-horse suitor or third team that sends New Orleans more cost-controlled assets may be necessary to incentivize a full-scale rebuild.
Jrue Holiday and E'Twaun Moore are virtual goners if the Pelicans begin anew. Ditto for Julius Randle in the unlikely event he exercises his $9.1 million player option.
Inevitable Anthony Davis Sweepstakes Participants
Admiral Duh reporting for duty.
Boston has to be here. Jayson Tatum may have single-handedly prevented the Pelicans from moving Davis prior to the trade deadline. The Celtics didn't promise to work him into their best package this summer, but the two sides talked about him extensively, per The Athletic's Sam Amick.
At bare minimum, team president Danny Ainge doesn't seem opposed to dealing Tatum. He will try to strike a trade without him because he's Danny Ainge, but the initial dialogue suggests some level of openness.
That flexibility is at least partially tethered to Kyrie Irving's free agency (player option). Ponying up for Davis is a lot easier if the Celtics know their point guard is sticking around. They won't have as much urgency if he signs elsewhere.
Make no mistake, Boston would still have the talent and timeline to push for Davis. But Irving's departure would only increase the likelihood Tatum is pulled off the table.
Los Angeles Lakers
Missing out on Davis at the trade deadline has not displaced the Lakers from the Davis sweepstakes. On the contrary, the public manner in which their negotiations played out render them more committed than ever.
"In all, the Lakers had nine of 15 players on the roster in trade discussions, which became problematic," Shams Charania noted for The Athletic. "It became a two-week paralysis on the season. Having over half the team in trade talks is not exactly a recipe for success after all."
LeBron James' groin injury compromised the Lakers' season, but they unraveled by their own hand (and thanks to crummy supporting-cast assembly). They didn't dangle almost their entire team just to back off over the summer, when the Pelicans must actually move Davis.
Less certain is the attractiveness of the Lakers' best package. The Pelicans' next general manager may hold a higher opinion of their youngsters, but Brandon Ingram's blood clot and Lonzo Ball's season-ending left ankle injury give even their most ardent admirers reason to fret.
Strike out on Davis, and the Lakers aren't going to sit idly by and wait for him to hit free agency in 2020 (player option). They've played that game before and gotten burned. They're playing it now and might get burned again.
Los Angeles is on James' clock, and he'll be entering his age-35 season having missed the playoffs for the first time since his sophomore campaign. Patience was the Lakers' great con last summer. They won't even have the luxury of lying now. They'll be on the prowl for a blockbuster trade no matter how well they make out in free agency.
It Depends on How Free Agency Shakes Out...
New York Knicks
Sending Kristaps Porzingis to the Dallas Mavericks boosted the Knicks' cap flexibility. It did not, without question, expedite their timeline.
Maybe they look to move Frank Ntilikina—the New York Post's Marc Berman said they will—but they don't yet have the talent to spin an accelerated rebuild and win-now approach.
Acquiring the stars necessary to speed things up hinges on their free-agency success. Some people believe the decision to move Porzingis implies confirmation from a marquee name or two. Owner James Dolan is one of them.
"We hear from people all the time, from players, from representatives [about] who wants to come," he said during an appearance on The Michael Kay Show (via Sports Illustrated's Chris Mannix). "We can't respond because of NBA rules, but that doesn't stop them from telling us. I can tell you from what we have heard, we are going to have a very successful offseason when it comes to free agents."
Is he hinting at the additions of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving? Or, like, Bojan Bogdanovic and Terrence Ross? We can't know for sure. But if the Knicks end up poaching a megastar, all of their young players and future picks—including the two first-rounders taken from the Mavericks—become bait to land another one.
Whether that player is Anthony Davis rests squarely on the outcome of the draft lottery. Winning the No. 1 pick and the right to select Zion Williamson gives them a leg up on almost every other potential suitor. Anything less torpedoes their chances of even getting a seat at the bargaining table.
To say the Magic are definitively on the rise is a stretch. Re-entering the Eastern Conference playoff picture isn't worth a gold star. But they do have the league's third-best defense and a top-10 net rating since Jan. 1.
That surge matters. So does the play of Nikola Vucevic. He's posting prime-DeMarcus Cousins stat lines and working off his first career All-Star appearance. Orlando will find it hard, if untenable, to let him walk in free agency after it kept him past the trade deadline.
Bringing him back does not amount to franchise malpractice unless he signs at a ridiculous price. It does, however, perpetuate a frontcourt logjam the Magic cannot hope to sustain.
Vucevic, Mo Bamba (out indefinitely with a stress fracture in his left tibia), Aaron Gordon and Jonathan Isaac do not all go together. Orlando is outscoring opponents by nearly four points per 100 possessions when Gordon, Isaac and Vucevic share the floor, according to Cleaning the Glass, but that trio's offensive ceiling remains fluid.
Assume this season foreshadows a permanent marriage, and that leaves Bamba's future in a lurch. His name is bound to surface in trade rumors if Vucevic returns next year, though neither Gordon nor Isaac will be a surefire fixture in that scenario.
Kawhi Leonard's free agency (player option) has the ultimate say over how Toronto views this offseason's trade market.
Losing him might incite a flurry of action. If Marc Gasol picks up his player option, the Raptors will have him, Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka and Fred VanVleet on expiring contracts. All four can be moved as part of a larger rebuilding play if team president Masai Ujiri doesn't want to give Eastern Conference contention another go while waiting for them to wash off the books.
Re-signing Leonard has a similar either-or effect. The Raptors will be free to run it back as currently constructed, but having a top-seven player in his prime and under contract is nothing if not permission to roll the dice once more.
And with Pascal Siakam entrenched in the Most Improved Player conversation, they can build some mighty interesting Anthony Davis packages that would pique the Pelicans' attention if the Celtics don't treat them to offers assembled around Jayson Tatum.
Waiving non-guaranteed deals for Derrick Favors and Raul Neto arms the Jazz with max money if they finish no higher than 21st in the draft order. (They're currently 18th.) Utah is not a primetime market known for wooing free agents, but the Jazz can leverage two incumbent stars—Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell—and a strong system.
Failing that, they'll need to refocus efforts on the trade market. They talked to the Grizzlies about Mike Conley before the deadline, and he remains a near-perfect backcourt partner for Mitchell. Jrue Holiday's name will also hit their radar if the Pelicans opt for a teardown after moving Davis.
Timing is everything for the Jazz. They need salary filler attached to whatever combination of picks and prospects they're peddling. Dante Exum's $9.6 million hit will help, but keeping Favors at $16.9 million is even more useful. His guarantee date is July 6, so they'll need to have a firm grasp on how far their cap space can go at an early stage of the free-agency process.
Shedding salary will be among the Hornets' top priorities regardless of what happens with Kemba Walker.
Max him out, and they're up against the luxury tax without factoring in Jeremy Lamb's next deal. Lose him to a better situation, and they're left with a slew of expensive players—Nicolas Batum, Bismack Biyombo (player option), Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (player option), Marvin Williams (player option), Cody Zeller—who aren't conducive to a rebuilding timeline.
Money will not be the driving force if Walker bolts. The Hornets have an obligation to pay him whatever it takes, including the full boat over five years. Letting him walk for nothing is a much worse look when they didn't capitalize on his value at either of the past two trade deadlines.
Counting on Walker's return is the safe play—and the more likely outcome. He doesn't sound like someone ready to look for a new home, and the extra year Charlotte can offer carries weight as he wraps up a bargain-bin extension.
Re-investing in Walker also pushes the Hornets to make a subsequent splash. That'll be tough if they're not open to paying the tax, but big-name hunting is the obligation of every single-star team that doesn't have the depth required to guarantee a postseason ticket.
Charlotte doesn't have the expendable assets to broker a typical blockbuster. Flipping Miles Bridges is a no-no without getting back a top-25 player, and packages concocted around Malik Monk, this year's pick and filler won't wow.
Including a loosely protected future pick is the Hornets' best shot at adding anyone worth a darn. They didn't go that far for Marc Gasol at this year's trade deadline, but they'll have to keep more of an open mind if a flashier target reaches the chopping block. Think: Bradley Beal, Jrue Holiday, Kevin Love, etc.
After shipping out Reggie Bullock and Stanley Johnson at the 2019 deadline, the Pistons have a crack at re-signing Ish Smith while accessing the full mid-level exception ($9.2 million). That isn't enough to put a bow on their offseason, not even following a recent 20-game surge through which they've posted top-five offensive and net ratings while re-entering the mix for the East's No. 6 seed.
Detroit still needs shooting on the wings, and the improved play of Reggie Jackson and Langston Galloway (will he ever miss a three again?) cannot be accepted as the new normal. Committing to the Andre Drummond-Blake Griffin partnership is fine, but the Pistons have to think bigger.
Mike Conley is a name to revisit over the summer if the Grizzlies don't get that playoff-hopeful gleam in their eye. The same goes for Jrue Holiday if the Pelicans don't prioritize a quick turnaround.
Danilo Gallinari is yet another player worth monitoring if the Los Angeles Clippers look to open up two max slots. Robert Covington is a perfect fit if the Minnesota Timberwolves get the itch to start over. Otto Porter Jr. might be gettable if the Chicago Bulls don't try to expedite their position in the East. (Related: It'd be objectively hysterical if they flipped Porter for more than it took to get him.)
Sweeteners are a pivotal part of any Pistons pursuit. They have plenty of expiring contracts to make the money work, but they'll need this year's draft selection, Thon Maker and their future picks to do a lot of talking if Luke Kennard has played his way to off-limit status.
Portland Trail Blazers
All the usual calls for roster overhaul will follow the Blazers out of the playoffs. They will grow mind-meltingly loud if they get bounced in the first round or run off the floor in the second, but they won't sidestep all blowback unless they sneak into the Western Conference finals.
Don't bet on Portland giving in. General manager Neil Olshey has resisted breaking up the backcourt duo of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum for the past two summers, and Jusuf Nurkic's play this season infuses a certain freshness into the Blazers' continuity.
This isn't to say they'll stand pat. They need a third star or a different co-headliner for Lillard. And with so many of their contracts coming off the ledger in 2020—Maurice Harkless, Meyers Leonard, Evan Turner—they'll have the cap-relief tools to swing for a double or triple. The home-run trade, in all likelihood, must include McCollum.
It isn't clear what some combination of Zach Collins, Anfernee Simons, this year's draft selection, future picks and expiring money can get the Blazers. Anthony Davis is almost certainly out of reach, and a Kevin Love trade, while intriguing, doesn't move the needle all that much.
Still, the Blazers have reached a point at which making any sort of buyer's move is easier than before. And if nothing else, as Al-Farouq Aminu's free agency looms, they're candidates to shed salary and skirt the tax.