LOS ANGELES — As 2019 comes to a close, the NBA enters a new decade with roughly five weeks until the Feb. 6 trade deadline.
Before the Christmas holiday, nearly the entire league gathered in Las Vegas for the annual G League Showcase. The scene was similar to summer league with two courts of not-quite-NBA-level basketball running all day.
What was missing was the scorching heat, the fans and most of the media (probably less than 5-10 percent of the coverage summer league gets). The result was a relaxed environment in which NBA executives had their guard down (relatively speaking), happy to sit and talk about the league, the trade deadline and even the latest Star Wars film.
While most were reluctant to talk specifics about their own team, chatting about another franchise's potential future can lead to a bountiful conversation.
One common theme throughout the four-day event: Too many teams remain in playoff contention to truly identify the buyers and sellers, but the trade market is gradually beginning to take form.
Memphis Feels Confident About Moving Andre Iguodala
As noted at the start of trade season, the Memphis Grizzlies (13-21) are expected to trade Andre Iguodala.
"We will trade him, period," an executive with the team said. "We've gone far enough into the structure of deals with more than one team to say that [confidently]."
In other words, if teams like the Los Angeles Lakers (26-7) or Los Angeles Clippers (24-11) are hoping to get Iguodala on the buyout market, that's likely not going to happen.
Multiple executives suggested the Dallas Mavericks (21-12) as the Iguodala favorite (for Courtney Lee and other considerations to appease the Grizzlies), but Marc Stein of the New York Times suggested otherwise:
Dallas projects to get the Golden State Warriors' 2020 second-rounder (from the 2016 Andrew Bogut trade), which could end up as the 31st overall selection. That could be a key asset in the bidding war for Iguodala. One Western Conference executive called the Stein report "posturing,” saying, “They're probably arguing over the Warriors' pick."
Who else is in pursuit of Iguodala via trade remains unclear.
The Suns May be the Fulcrum
In passing conversation, The Athletic's Sam Vecenie casually proposed a Phoenix Suns/Clippers swap of Aron Baynes for Ivica Zubac.
Baynes is believed to be a prime target for the Clippers. Zubac's four-year, $28.5 million salary would work straight-up for the Phoenix center, but the Suns may not want to take on a long-term salary for a true center to back up Deandre Ayton.
"They would need a third team," one Eastern Conference executive said.
Also, the Suns (13-20) are believed to be seriously focused on making a playoff run, just one game behind the eighth-place San Antonio Spurs (13-18). Moving Baynes at the deadline would be more of a possibility if they fell out of the race before February.
Instead, Phoenix is looking to add to its roster. Kevin Love could be a possibility, but the team is believed to have more interest in Oklahoma City Thunder forward Danilo Gallinari.
The Thunder (18-15) are open-minded heading into 2020. They have a winning record and an opportunity to make the playoffs despite trading away two All-Stars in Russell Westbrook and Paul George. They could be a buyer, or they could be a seller.
If it's the latter, they may be able to turn Gallinari around for a first-rounder from the Suns, along with Tyler Johnson. The Suns could also have interest in point guard Dennis Schroder, but that would probably require Dario Saric, Baynes and a minimum-salary player (like Cheick Diallo) for salary-matching purposes.
The benefit of going after Love is the certainty of his contract. The negative is the price: $91.5 million over the next three seasons.
"Not many teams will have cap space next summer. The Suns probably would be able to re-sign Gallinari at a much better price," one Western Conference executive said. "There's uncertainty, especially if they give up a first-rounder, but the difference in price would make Gallinari the better target."
An executive familiar with the Thunder's thinking said the franchise is happy to listen to other teams' offers. They're not close to a decision on their future, especially given how competitive the team has been.
As far as the Clippers, Baynes' size and outside shot are thought to be better complements alongside Montrezl Harrell than Zubac.
"Harrell isn't a starter. His numbers against frontline centers aren't good," one Eastern Conference executive said. "He and Zubac can't play together."
The Clippers have discussed Harrell's future internally given his impending free-agent status this summer. Are they prepared to pay a potential premium for a reserve?
That decision hasn't been made. Harrell is a productive part of the Clippers' attack, and a midseason trade that risks damaging the team's chemistry appears unlikely.
Finally, Love to the Portland Trail Blazers still makes sense to multiple executives. Whether that translates to what the Cleveland Cavaliers and Blazers believe remains to be seen.
Don't Expect Pacers to Move Sabonis or Turner
Although it was previously noted in this space that several executives expect the Indiana Pacers (22-12) to eventually break up their frontcourt of Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner, the team itself is happy with the old-school pair of big men.
Similar to the Lakers with Anthony Davis and JaVale McGee (along with Dwight Howard), the Pacers enjoy playing a different style of basketball as so many teams go small. As evidence it's working, an executive with Indiana cited the team's ability to defend and compete despite playing without one of its best players in Victor Oladipo, who is nearing a return.
General Buzz: Will Kings Be Sellers? Who's a Real Contender?
The Sacramento Kings (12-22) are widely considered "unpredictable." The big question is Bogdan Bogdanovic, who reportedly turned down a $51.4 million extension offer over the summer, perJason Anderson of the Sacramento Bee.
"Will the Kings play the restricted-free-agency game with Bogdanovic?" one former general manager asked. "They're going to have to pay [De'Aaron] Fox soon [in 2021] and are heavily invested in Buddy [Hield] and [Harrison] Barnes. How much are you willing to pay a reserve?"
Looking ahead to the playoffs, canvassed executives generally picked the Milwaukee Bucks (30-5), Lakers and Clippers as the three true contenders for a title this season. Few were willing to trust the Houston Rockets (23-11) in the playoffs.
"The [Philadelphia] 76ers [23-13] won't beat Milwaukee without more shooting. The [Miami] Heat [24-9] are winning with G Leaguers. It's impressive but won't get them all the way [in the postseason]," said one Western Conference executive.
Finally, several executives remain curious about the New Orleans Pelicans (11-23). If they fall far enough out of the running, will they look to dump veterans like Jrue Holiday, JJ Redick, Derrick Favors and E'Twaun Moore?
It's worth noting that since the G League Showcase, the Pelicans have won four straight to close within four games of the Spurs. January will be an important month to determine which teams have a shot to make the playoffs and which are better off looking ahead to future seasons.