NBA Stars Who Could Surprisingly Be Traded
On the heels of an offseason during which it became genuinely difficult to track who played where, the NBA finds itself in a now-novel position: forced to focus on actual basketball.
Free agency, player movement, speculation, rumors and, yes, fanfic hypotheticals are part of this league's appeal. Those who fancy themselves above it all are disregarding one of the Association's primary draws. But this season is just...different.
So much happened last summer that the hype leading into the 2020 offseason couldn't possibly live up to the 2019 craze. Nor does it help that the upcoming free-agency class wants for marquee names. The pool of talent was shallow to begin with, and the onrush of rookie extensions only compounded its relative dreariness.
That flatness figures to trickle down into the trade market. Teams won't be as desperate to create cap space in advance of a crummy free-agency class, and the league's uptick in parity, owed significantly to the temporary-or-worse downfall of the Golden State Warriors, diminishes the number of could-be sellers.
Parity works both ways. Buyers will creep out of the woodwork when more teams believe this season has a chance to mean something. Some squads are already looking to beef up their rosters, according to ESPN's Brian Windhorst.
Plucking out surprise trade candidates is tougher as the sellers' market vacillates between undefined and nonexistent, but our commitment to straying off the beaten path will not waver. This is not a list for the usual or semi-occasional suspects.
To that end, here are big names you won't see: Steven Adams, Clint Capela, Danilo Gallinari, Marc Gasol, Jrue Holiday, Kevin Love, Kyle Lowry, Chris Paul and D'Angelo Russell. We're after less talked-about targets—players perhaps mentioned in passing who've never officially been made available or dominated trade-scenario discourse.
This exercise demands a looser interpretation of stardom. These players aren't MVP candidates. At their absolute best, though, they'd have a reasonable shot at cracking the All-Star conversation.
King of the corner 3 from the Houston Rockets, P.J. Tucker, joins The Full 48 with Howard Beck to discuss the James Harden-Russell Westbrook partnership, the Chris Paul trade, the Golden State Warriors, winning championships and the importance of the All-Defensive Team.
Notable Exclusions (For Now!)
Eric Bledsoe, Milwaukee Bucks
A common theme among the players who intrigue the most on this list: Their contracts aren't detriments. Eric Bledsoe too closely flirts with the wrong side of that line.
Milwaukee mostly received the stamp of approval last season after signing him to a four-year, $70 million extension ($54.5 million guaranteed). Then came the playoffs. And then Malcolm Brogdon was signed-and-traded to the Indiana Pacers.
And then 2019-20 tipped off.
Bledsoe's playoff problem now appears to be a regular-season problem. He's shooting 21.4 percent from three and 53.8 percent at the foul line. The Bucks haven't reached the rim on command compared to last year, and Bledsoe is at least partially responsible. Fewer of his looks are coming at the bucket, and defenses don't have to stick with him on the perimeter if he's not hitting triples.
At this rate, Bledsoe becomes most interesting as borderline salary-filler in a deal that lands the Bucks a more versatile offensive option.
Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons
More Pistons talk is on the horizon, so we won't get carried away here. Basically, they won't trade one of their two most important players unless this season goes completely off the rails. And even if they embrace a teardown, Andre Drummond isn't a surefire goner.
Bigs who don't shoot threes don't have a particularly robust market. It'll be even harder to get quality assets for Drummond should his new team view him as an expiring contract.
If the Pistons believe he'll decline his player option for next season, they'll be better off signing him to a new deal on a cheaper annual salary, seeing where they end up entering 2020-21 and reassessing his trade market from there.
Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
The timing of Draymond Green's extension can be viewed in disparate terms. He isn't eligible to be traded until Feb. 2, less than a week before the deadline, so the Warriors either don't have enough time to move him or hammered out a deal with him when they did so that they'd have the option of moving him.
Stephen Curry's broken left hand will only intensify speculation. Don't buy into it. The Warriors don't sound like they're about to tank.
As majority owner Joe Lacob told ESPN's Ramona Shelburne: "It is against every single thing I and we stand for. We will fight like hell. Develop our young guys. Learn to win. You don't get better by trying to lose. Our entire organization is about winning. And we will win. Some bumps in the road, perhaps. But we will never accept losing."
Unnecessarily over the top? Most definitely. Especially when you consider how Golden State ended up with Harrison Barnes. But the Warriors' roster makeup has always suggested they were using this as a transition season and angling for a more serious run next year, when Klay Thompson is fully healthy and they know what they have in or have acquired using D'Angelo Russell.
Curry's absence only makes it easier to prioritize patience. To believe the Warriors would trade Green now, then, is to believe they planned on dealing him all along. That logic doesn't quite track. But hey, wilder things have happened.
DeMar DeRozan, San Antonio Spurs
Midseason trades are not a favorite of the San Antonio Spurs. The last swap they struck in the middle of the season was the great Nando de Colo-for-Austin Daye blockbuster of February 2014.
Any move made by the Spurs would be a shocker after five deadlines of inaction. Whether a DeMar DeRozan deal would be surprising strictly because of San Antonio's aversion to shake-ups or because he's a big-name starter on a team trying to win is another matter.
It might be the former.
The Spurs are once again posting a better net rating with DeRozan off the floor. That nods to the depth on their bench more than anything, but we can't pretend he's the perfect fit. He doesn't take threes, and San Antonio has enough non-shooters in the frontcourt and shaky shooters on the wings.
Lower three-point volume has been the Spurs' offensive antidote in years past. Selective long-balling isn't working out this season. They're shooting a so-so 34.6 percent from beyond the arc on a 29th-ranked three-point-attempt rate.
Shipping out a leading scorer typically signals a teardown or miniature reset. The Spurs aren't on the brink of either. Nor do they need to be. They have Bryn Forbes, Patty Mills, Dejounte Murray and Derrick White to use as primary ball-handlers, and LaMarcus Aldridge will be knocking down heavily contested, unassisted jumpers until he's 80.
Moving DeRozan would be more of a business decision. He holds a $27.7 million player option for next season, and if he declines it, the Spurs risk his landing a mammoth deal in a free-agent market begging for recognizable names.
San Antonio and DeRozan have talked about an extension, but the two sides have never gotten close to anything, according to The Athletic's Sam Amick. Though they have until the end of June to hash out an agreement, the idea of committing star money to DeRozan over the longer term after paying Murray and having Forbes hit the open market this summer has to make the Spurs a little queasy.
On the flip side, brokering a trade wouldn't be a no-brainer decision. Sussing out a team that might surrender real value for DeRozan is hard. He may be most useful to the Spurs as an expiring-contract anchor they use as part of a larger package that nets them an impact player on a longer deal.
Best Potential Suitors: Detroit, Indiana, Orlando
Aaron Gordon, Orlando Magic
Aaron Gordon's path to the chopping block has never been clearer. His declining salary through 2021-22 has always made him eminently movable, and the Orlando Magic's clunky offense is teetering on exhaustion, if not already beyond it.
Treating Gordon like a wing doesn't cut it. The Magic need someone who can space the floor, face up, run pick-and-roll and consistently score off the dribble. That isn't him. He's shooting under 35 percent out of the pick-and-roll for the third time in four years, and his touch off the bounce has never taken off.
Playing him at the 4 does little to maximize the offensive fit when he's still hovering below the league average from downtown. The Magic don't have the margin of error for that fundamental limitation. They're 28th in three-point efficiency and dead last in points scored per 100 possessions.
Gordon is better off on a team that tests his outside range and half-court handles without featuring them. He also happens to be Orlando's best tangible asset—the trade chip most likely to land the type of player, or something close to it, the offense needs.
Jettisoning Nikola Vucevic once his restriction lifts might make more sense if the Magic were nearing a natural rebuilding point. They're not. They approached the offseason like a team bent on leaving its mark now, not only re-signing Vucevic and Terrence Ross, but also burning their mid-level exception on Al-Farouq Aminu. Plus, most trade deadline buyers won't be tripping over themselves to foot the bill for a $100 million big man.
Orlando won't encounter the same hurdles when shopping Gordon. He is still just 24, a multiposition defender and tantalizes on offense, if only because of what he can do in the open floor and what he could do if used more frequently as a screener.
Best Potential Suitors: Brooklyn, Oklahoma City, San Antonio
BUT ALSO: Minnesota, New Orleans, Portland
Blake Griffin, Detroit Pistons
Blake Griffin only enters the trade-candidate discussion if the Detroit Pistons' season goes off the rails. That isn't especially likely in an Eastern Conference with few feel-good surprises; it's also not impossible.
This doesn't have anything to do with the Pistons' unspectacular start. They're battling inconvenient circumstances. Griffin has yet to play while dealing with left knee issues, and Reggie Jackson is once again banged up.
That Detroit ranks 19th in offensive efficiency is borderline impressive considering everything—which includes atrocious ball control. The defense should normalize out of its bottom-seven position. The Pistons give up too many looks at the rim, but they're good at limiting opportunities at the three-point line, and opponents are hitting an unsustainably high 43.1 percent of their wide-open triples.
Still, this isn't a roster heavy on guarantees. Griffin's health is part of that, particularly after he played in 75 games last year, and the bench doesn't have much depth beyond Derrick Rose so long as Luke Kennard remains in the starting lineup.
Life in Detroit will still be touch-and-go when Griffin comes back. The potential fallout should he regress from last year's performance would be particularly damning. It makes sense to capitalize on whatever value he has if the Pistons drop far enough down the standings.
Granted, this assumes Griffin would command a meaningful return. He has three years and $110.2 million left on his contract (2021-22 player option). Teams aren't forking over monster value for him at that price point if he's injured or unable to rival last season's offensive kaboom.
At the same time, the mystique from 2018-19 endures. Griffin was incredible. He ran more pick-and-rolls per game than Eric Bledsoe; hit more pull-up threes than Trae Young; finished in isolation about as frequently as Paul George, Kyrie Irving, Zach LaVine and Damian Lillard; and shouldered a heavy workload in the post.
Some team will roll the dice on Griffin, even if this year isn't playing out in similar fashion. The Pistons aren't in blow-up territory right now, but they shouldn't have any trouble getting, at the bare minimum, long-term cap relief and a pick or prospect for their best player if this season takes a darker turn.
Best Potential Suitors: Miami, Portland, San Antonio
Zach LaVine, Chicago Bulls
So much for the idea that the Chicago Bulls would be this year's darling upstart.
That was the prevailing sentiment coming out of the offseason. Tomas Satoransky and Thaddeus Young made for solid additions. They had a training camp with Otto Porter Jr. Wendell Carter Jr. and Lauri Markkanen were healthy. Zach LaVine was coming off a career year. Coby White looked—and still mostly looks—the part of an eventual offensive stud.
Fast-forward five games into the regular season, and Chicago seems like a sham.
Opening the schedule 1-4 is one thing. Doing so while facing only one projected playoff team is another. The Bulls are 17th in offensive efficiency and 23rd in points allowed per 100 possessions, and they have no assurances they're better than the numbers suggest at either end.
Five of their seven most-used players won't post sub-50 true shooting forever, but the roster is light on proven half-court scorers. There may be even less hope for the defense. Head coach Jim Boylen is employing a hyper-aggressive approach that doesn't ideally suit his personnel, as The Athletic's Stephen Noh wrote:
"Blitzing defenses have many potential weak points, and where the Bulls' defense has struggled a lot is in protecting that weak side. They still have many young players that haven't yet mastered those difficult assignments.
"Every single player will make the occasional mistake in this scheme, but Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen both have poor help awareness and teams have taken advantage of them the most. The Bulls are already short one defender on the back side, and at that point one mistake from either of them is enough to make the entire defense crumble. They have shared a lot of minutes together, and covering for both of them has been a tough ask."
Staying in this rut for an extended period of time would force the Bulls to ponder a shake-up. LaVine shouldn't be untouchable in that scenario. He's only 24 and a walking bucket, but an offense with him as the No. 1 scorer has its limitations, and Chicago lacks the defensive depth to overcome his shortcomings.
Teams with a sturdier infrastructure at the less glamorous end could go further with LaVine. And at $19.5 million flat through 2021-22, he's not noticeably overpaid. If this season continues to go haywire, the Bulls should be able to extract value out of squads that pine for a reasonably priced scorer.
Best Potential Suitors: Charlotte, Detroit, Orlando
Myles Turner, Indiana Pacers
Domantas Sabonis' four-year extension might imply the Indiana Pacers are prepared to let his partnership with Myles Turner ride out the season. All it really does, though, is essentially guarantee Sabonis won't be the big who's dealt should they bust up the duo.
Players who signed rookie extensions fall under the poison pill provision and are impossibly difficult to move. While this year's salary makes up their outgoing value, their incoming cap hit is the average annual value of all the years on their contract.
In Sabonis' case, he counts as $3.5 million of outgoing salary for the Pacers and over $16 million of inbound money for a new team. Few, if any, potential suitors are in a position to accommodate that discrepancy while sending Indiana an adequate return.
Turner, who's currently nursing a right ankle sprain, is inherently easier to move. He's an All-Defense candidate with three-point range and a quality trade-anchor salary ($17.5 million). Teams will line up to take him on if the Pacers cut bait.
No signs indicate they'll go this route—not yet anyway. Their start to the season hasn't been pretty, but it isn't necessarily permanent. They're integrating a lot of new pieces, and Victor Oladipo hasn't yet returned from his quad injury.
Out of all this year's most disappointing teams, the Pacers have the best shot at turning it around. That doesn't make the Sabonis-Turner pairing a given. Indy is winning the minutes they play together, but not by much. And Sabonis-at-center arrangements have teased a high ceiling in limited run.
Maybe the Pacers lean into that model if they don't escape fringe-playoff territory after Oladipo returns. Turner is bound to yield an interesting return should he be made available, and they have Goga Bitadze on a rookie-scale deal to shore up the frontcourt rotation in his absence.
Best Potential Suitors: Atlanta, Boston, New Orleans
Unless otherwise noted, stats courtesy of NBA.com, Basketball Reference or Cleaning the Glass and are accurate entering games on Saturday. Salary and cap-hold information via Basketball Insiders, RealGM and Spotrac.