NBA Superstars Who Will Be on Trade Watch by Next Season's Deadline
Another star is always on the verge of being traded in the NBA. Even if he needs to come out of nowhere, the league always has a next man up.
This summer alone is proof. The New Orleans Pelicans shipped Anthony Davis to the Los Angeles Lakers. The Oklahoma City Thunder dealt Paul George to the Los Angeles Clippers. The Thunder and Houston Rockets swapped Russell Westbrook for Chris Paul and draft considerations.
Who's got next?
History tells us it will be someone. However, this round of "But Who?!?" feels a little different. So many stars have changed teams over the past year that the Association is beginning to run low on breakup candidates.
People outside Milwaukee want Giannis Antetokounmpo to be part of the calculus, but we're at least one year away from that being a genuine talking point. Pick another top-30ish player at random, and he likely either recently moved teams or signed a new extension. Those players are usually off-limits in these conversations.
The next batch of bigwigs to monitor ahead of next year's trade deadline is not populated exclusively by breaking points that have been a long time coming. It also includes recently moved players and some with feasible paths to the chopping block before February.
Honorable Mention: DeMar DeRozan, San Antonio Spurs
Midseason shakeups aren't the San Antonio Spurs' thing. Reshufflings of any kind aren't their thing, actually. Last July's Kawhi Leonard blockbuster is an exception, and that breakup was of his own design.
Trading DeMar DeRozan would be out of character for the Spurs, especially if they don't do it this summer. They have not fallen out of playoff contention, and he isn't clogging up their books. He has a $27.7 million player option for 2020-21 that he'll likely decline since he'll be one of the top targets on the open market.
Going through next season and then letting his money come off the books is not a nightmare scenario for San Antonio. The Spurs have a jillion guards on their roster, and DeRozan's inside-the-arc game clashes with the return of Dejounte Murray and his own limited range.
Perhaps that depth will compel the Spurs to render a more immediate verdict. They need DeRozan to play the 3, but they can get small forward minutes out of DeMarre Carroll, Rudy Gay and Derrick White. If they don't want to lose him for nothing, they can look at whether he'll net a comparable expiring salary and a pick or prospect.
That same line of thinking holds true if the Spurs drop outside the Western Conference playoff picture. Betting against head coach Gregg Popovich epitomizes stupid, but this year's arms race is particularly brutal.
Up to 13 or 14 teams in the West will fancy themselves playoff-worthy at the start of 2019-20. Eight of those can talk themselves into being title contenders, including the Spurs. A handful of squads will get the boot. San Antonio hypothetically could be one of them.
DeRozan's market could turn this into a non-starter. A quick scan around the league yields zero no-brainer fits or potential suitors. He is an All-Star scorer and playmaker but caps a team's ceiling if he's a No. 1 or No. 2 option. It doesn't make sense for the Spurs to break character without getting a small ransom in return.
Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards
Bradley Beal can quash speculation about his future by signing a three-year, $111 million extension with the Washington Wizards at the end of July. That doesn't appear likely, as the Washington Post's Candace Buckner wrote:
"The team has indicated it plans to give Beal the offer, and both the player's camp and the franchise have remained in contact throughout the summer. Around the league, however, the extension is not viewed as a done deal, and there is a growing belief that Beal will not remain in Washington for his entire career."
Skirting an extension wouldn't necessarily mean Beal wants out. He has said he wants to retire with the Wizards and will be eligible for a longer and larger deal next summer if he makes an All-NBA squad.
To date, Washington has rebuffed inquiries into Beal's availability, according to ESPN's Brian Windhorst. That might change if he doesn't take the extension, regardless of whether he's asking out.
He can sign a five-year, $247.3 million extension with Washington next summer if he makes an All-NBA team. Giving him that much money when John Wall will still have three years and $132.8 million left on his contract might be steep enough to coax the Wizards into action.
Washington needs a permanent front-office figurehead before tackling that decision. Tommy Sheppard is the acting general manager and has taken the team through free agency and the draft, but he still carries the interim tag.
Beal's future is too important to confront with the front office in any sort of flux. And there may not be anything to reconcile. Beal is 26 and under contract for two more years. The Wizards can rebuild around him.
Sheppard told The Athletic's Ben Standig that trading Beal has "never crossed" his mind. It just isn't clear whether that's his call to make.
Kevin Love, Cleveland Cavaliers
Kevin Love is entering the first of a four-year, $120.4 million extension no one expects him to finish with the Cleveland Cavaliers. That sentiment isn't changing anytime soon.
The two sides hashed out an agreement at a curious time. LeBron James had just left for the Lakers, and the Cavaliers were gearing up for a lengthy rebuild without him, no matter how highly they thought of their roster before canning head coach Tyronn Lue.
From the moment it was announced, this deal felt like a mutual back scratch. Love secured a long-term bag in the face of a market that continues to devalue bigs, and the Cavaliers positioned themselves to command more for his services by keeping him out of free agency until 2023.
Cleveland has yet to reap the benefits from that logic. Love missed most of last season with a left toe injury that required surgery, and teams aren't tripping over themselves to bankroll nine-figure deals for floor-spacing bigs who don't protect the rim.
Still, the Cavaliers are far from stuck with their soon-to-be 31-year-old. His contract isn't that much of an albatross when viewed against the Russell Westbrook deal the Rockets just acquired (four years, $171.1 million), and he will have the chance to rebuild his value with a strong start to 2019-20.
Next summer's shallow free-agency class helps Cleveland. So does this offseason's player-movement frenzy.
Starry alternatives are wearing thin. Too many switched teams this summer for the trade market to expand before next season, and if Anthony Davis (player option) re-signs with the Lakers, Draymond Green will be the best free agent available in 2020.
Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors
Losing Kawhi Leonard to Clippers has given the Toronto Raptors an excuse to hit reset. This is team president Masai Ujiri's chance to retool the Raptors from the ground up.
He apparently isn't going there just yet, according to TSN's Josh Lewenberg.
"As for veterans Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka—who are all on expiring deals—the Raptors have no intention of moving them, at least not before the season, according to sources. Like he did with previous Raptors teams, Ujiri will give this group an opportunity to sink or swim before choosing a path and deciding what comes next."
Standing pat for now is the correct move. Holdovers from last year deserve to receive their championship rings as members of the team, and Lowry is the only one possibly worth a can't-miss return. (Even that might be overstating his value. The 33-year-old is set to earn $35 million this season.)
It helps that the Raptors still might be good without Leonard and Danny Green. They outscored opponents by 21.6 points per 100 possessions in the time Lowry and Pascal Siakam logged without the other two. Small samples aren't tell-alls, but Siakam is on the come-up, and Toronto will have Gasol for the entire season.
Ujiri isn't one to sit around and twiddle his thumbs, though. He's more likely to let this play out because of all the expiring contracts involved, but if the Raptors are outside the Eastern Conference's top four heading into the trade deadline, Lowry figures to be up for grabs.
And unless his shooting craters or he falls off a cliff on defense, he will have a market.
Chris Paul, Oklahoma City Thunder
Chris Paul remains available for the taking after getting traded to Oklahoma City. He just doesn't have any serious suitors.
Sources told ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski the Thunder's attempts to reroute Paul "are parked," and that "both sides believe there are benefits" to him spending the entire season in Oklahoma City. Yeesh.
This struggle is not at all a surprise. Paul is owed $124.1 million over the next three years. The risk at the back end of his deal is arguably greater than the uncertainty attached to the latter portion of Russell Westbrook's monster contract.
Keeping Paul through 2019-20 is not the end of the world for the Thunder. They'll miss out on one season of tanking, but the flattened draft-lottery odds make that a less appealing avenue anyway. A team built around Paul, Steven Adams, Danilo Gallinari, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Andre Roberson and Dennis Schroder isn't a title contender, but it can be a playoff hopeful at full strength.
Don't bother going that far down the rabbit hole yet. Paul seems unlikely to finish the season with the Thunder unless they become the league's most bizarre Cinderella story.
Moving him will never be effortless, but it'll get easier after Dec. 15, when most of this summer's free agents are eligible for trades. As ESPN's Bobby Marks noted, roughly 40 percent of the league's contracts currently cannot be dealt, and no team has more than $7 million in cap room. Finding a suitable trade partner borders on impossible without the Thunder accepting bottom dollar or greasing the wheels with future picks.
Teams to watch beyond Dec. 15 include the Miami Heat, Dallas Mavericks, New York Knicks, Orlando Magic and, depending on how the Ricky Rubio era begins, Phoenix Suns. The Lakers could also cobble together four- or five-for-one packages in December if LeBron James isn't worried about Anthony Davis bolting in free agency next summer.
D'Angelo Russell, Golden State Warriors
D'Angelo Russell knows the Golden State Warriors may have maxed him out in the Kevin Durant sign-and-trade just to trade him later. He already sounds like he's bracing for it, per ESPN.com's Nick Friedell:
"That's the business of it. It is what it is. You put yourself in a position to go somewhere for a long period of time, and it may not be what it is a year later. And that's the business. I've come to a realization of that, and I understand that, so whatever situation I'm in, I know the business side of it, so we'll just see. I can't predict it."
Klay Thompson is slated to return from his torn ACL between December and February. Any delays or curveballs in that timetable might cause the Warriors to play next season out as currently constructed. Golden State may even want the chance to see how a quartet of Russell, Thompson, Stephen Curry and Draymond Green fares in the Western Conference.
Russell isn't a seamless fit unless head coach Steve Kerr rejiggers his offense to include boatloads of pick-and-rolls, but he's a 23-year-old All-Star who can play on or off the ball. Flipping him before or just after Thompson returns would be disingenuous to exploring this core's ceiling.
General manager Bob Myers can argue the contrary all he wants, but this may be a marriage of temporary convenience. Russell will overlap with Curry and Thompson on offense no matter how well he fits. And remember: He was not a max-contract formality entering free agency. Golden State is rolling the dice on his career contract year.
Cutting the cord sooner minimizes that risk. The Warriors will have more leverage to broker a high-end return if Russell thrives, but last year's All-Star appearance will be fresh enough between December and February to deal him for value no matter what. The same cannot be said for next summer and beyond.