10 Realistic Predictions for 2021 NBA Trade Deadline

Greg Swartz@@CavsGregBRCleveland Cavaliers Lead WriterDecember 30, 2020

10 Realistic Predictions for 2021 NBA Trade Deadline

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    Chris Carlson/Associated Press

    The start of the 2020-21 NBA season has brought forth some surprise contenders and made us slightly worried about some of the league's superpowers.

    So how does all of this affect the trade market?

    With the deadline less than three months away, teams can already start identifying their own weaknesses while getting a feel for which players may become available.

    Now a week into the regular season, here are 10 predictions that could come to fruition before the trade deadline passes.

Thunder Get Another 1st-Rounder for George Hill

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    Chris Carlson/Associated Press

    Even though George Hill wound up in Oklahoma City following a four-team deal this offseason, it should only be a matter of time before he's moved again.

    It's the same blueprint the Thunder used for Chris Paul last year, only to a lesser extent. The Thunder took on Hill in a trade to get draft picks (for Steven Adams), will likely showcase him in the starting lineup to bump up his stats and then sell when his stock is highest.

    So far, so good.

    In his first game in OKC, Hill started alongside Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, putting up 21 points (on 8-of-9 shooting), four rebounds, three assists and a steal in only 24 minutes. The NBA's leading three-point shooter last year (46.0 percent), Hill is already 4-of-8 from deep to begin the season.

    Although he's 34, contenders should be lining up for his services. Hill can still start or play a key role off the bench and is on a team-friendly contract. He'll make $9.6 million this season, and his $10 million salary next year is only guaranteed for $1.3 million.

    Expect a strong start to the season for Hill before the Thunder trade him for yet another first-round pick.

Kings Become Surprise Buyers

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    Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press

    Although the Sacramento Kings were widely considered to be one of the worst teams in the Western Conference this year, a 2-1 start to the season has been a pleasant surprise.

    Sacramento has knocked off a pair of quality opponents (Denver Nuggets, Phoenix Suns), with Marvin Bagley III's health (12.3 points, 9.7 rebounds in three starts) perhaps being the most encouraging sign of all.

    Buddy Hield is back in the starting lineup with Bogdan Bogdanovic gone, as he and De'Aaron Fox are still showing signs of becoming an elite backcourt.

    While Hield looked like an ideal trade target for contenders ever since being benched by Luke Walton last season, what if the Kings actually become buyers instead?

    Sacramento owns the second-longest playoff drought in NBA history (14 years), with a chance to tie the Los Angeles Clippers franchise (15 years, 1977-1991) for the most consecutive lottery trips ever.

    Look for the Kings to make a playoff push instead of sell off their veterans if the team keeps up its strong start.

Andre Drummond Stays in Cleveland

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    Phil Long/Associated Press

    Andre Drummond's days in Cleveland have seemingly been numbered ever since a February trade from the Detroit Pistons.

    While a $28.8 million player option has him on the Cavaliers to begin this year, the 27-year-old center will become an unrestricted free agent this offseason. Extension talks never got off the ground, further putting his future in doubt.

    Drummond projected to become a prime trade target for contenders that need interior help now and cap space this summer, and his early season stat line (20.3 points, 14.7 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 2.7 steals, 1.7 blocks) hasn't disappointed.

    Cleveland shouldn't be ready to dump Drummond like Detroit did, however.

    The Cavaliers are 3-0 to begin the season even with Kevin Love banged up and Kevin Porter Jr. yet to play because of personal reasons. Drummond has played a huge role in the team's success, and Darius Garland and Collin Sexton have thrived playing alongside an All-Star-caliber center.

    Cleveland is now 7-4 in games Drummond has played in dating back to last season and could re-sign him for a reasonable amount after centers like Serge Ibaka, Montrezl Harrell and Tristan Thompson only signed for the mid-level exception.

    The Cavs also passed on USC big man Onyeka Okongwu in the draft and don't have a center under contract past this season.

    While Cleveland may still listen to offers for the four-time rebounding champ, don't assume Drummond will be moved.

Brooklyn Goes All-in for a Third Star

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    The Brooklyn Nets were smart not to make an early move for a star during the offseason, instead choosing to begin the season and test out all the new parts first.

    Brooklyn was dominant in its first two games, destroying the Golden State Warriors and Boston Celtics with Kevin Durant looking very much like his pre-Achilles-injury self.

    Losing Spencer Dinwiddie to a partially torn ACL in a loss to the Charlotte Hornets may force the Nets to readjust, however. Dinwiddie was given the starting shooting guard role next to Kyrie Irving and was the Nets' second-leading scorer a year ago.

    With promising young center Jarrett Allen demoted to a bench role behind DeAndre Jordan and other interesting prospects (Bruce Brown, Rodions Kurucs) struggling to find playing time, it only makes sense for the Nets to go all-in with veterans and find a third star.

    James Harden will continue to be a tantalizing possibility, but not having a healthy Dinwiddie to send back in return will certainly hurt Brooklyn's chances. A package of Caris LeVert, Allen and multiple first-round picks should put the Nets in the conversation for players like Bradley Beal, DeMar DeRozan or even Joel Embiid, should they become available.

    If the Nets aren't going to develop their young players properly, they might as well cash in their chips for a third star next to Durant and Irving.

Derrick Rose Joins a Contender

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Like George Hill, Derrick Rose is a near lock to be traded.

    Another productive, veteran guard on a team-friendly contract, Rose should generate plenty of interest before the deadline.

    The Detroit Pistons handed the starting point guard job to rookie Killian Hayes, making the right move by prioritizing player development over trying to win now (although they haven't been as kind to other first- and second-year players). Rose remains in a sixth-man role, one he thrived in a season ago.

    The 32-year-old is averaging 14.0 points, 5.0 assists and 1.0 steals in his first two games of the season, numbers not far off from his 2019-20 production (18.1 points, 5.6 assists, 0.8 steals).

    Assuming he stays relatively healthy, contenders should be lining up for his services.

    The Los Angeles Clippers, Brooklyn Nets (after losing Spencer Dinwiddie to a partially torn ACL) and Portland Trail Blazers could all use Rose as a starter or sixth man, especially since matching his expiring $7.7 million salary should be easy.

    While Rose will start out as a mentor to Hayes, expect him to join a playoff-bound team before March 25.

Warriors Become Sellers

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    Landing a top seed in the West was already going to be a challenge for the Golden State Warriors with Klay Thompson lost for the season, but the return of Stephen Curry—plus the additions of James Wiseman and Kelly Oubre Jr.—seemed to at least ensure the Warriors would be a lock for the playoffs.

    Three games into the season and the Warriors have the NBA's worst net rating (minus-18.4), suffering blowout losses to the Brooklyn Nets and Milwaukee Bucks. A narrow victory over the 0-3 Chicago Bulls is the only thing that stands between Golden State and a winless start to the 2020-21 season.

    Curry is just 9-of-35 from three (25.7 percent) thus far, with the rest of the Warriors not faring much better.

    Oubre has been a complete disaster. He's costing Golden State $82.4 million in salary and luxury tax payments this season, per ESPN's Bobby Marks, and is averaging 5.7 points on 17.5 percent shooting (including 0-of-17 from three) through three games.

    With Thompson out for the year and Draymond Green yet to play because of a right foot injury, the Warriors could very well become sellers by the trade deadline.

    Oubre is on an expiring $14.4 million deal and should carry value despite his horrendous start. Andrew Wiggins (14.7 points on 32.7 percent shooting) would probably need a draft pick attached to get rid of him, with Kent Bazemore and Kevon Looney the only other players the Warriors may be able to get anything for.

    Kudos to Golden State for spending money and taking a chance on Oubre to replace Thompson, but this is a Warriors team that doesn't even look playoff-worthy.

Clippers Get a Point Guard Upgrade

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    It's no secret the Los Angeles Clippers could use an upgrade at the point guard position, a need that's only been confirmed thus far this year.

    L.A. is 27th in assist-to-turnover ratio to begin the season (1.31), with starting point guard Patrick Beverley totaling just three assists in his three games. Reggie Jackson and Lou Williams have been awful to start the season as well.

    While Paul George and Kawhi Leonard are certainly capable of filling the playmaker role, neither should be expected to for all 72 games.

    Finding a veteran floor general on the trade market could be tricky, however.

    Eric Bledsoe may become available after his trade to the New Orleans Pelicans and began his career with the Clippers. Derrick Rose and George Hill will almost certainly be traded at some point, and the Clippers should be monitoring Devonte' Graham's situation with the Charlotte Hornets when they finally hand the keys over to LaMelo Ball.

    The Clippers should be one of the elite teams in the NBA again this year, especially if they land a new point guard before the deadline.

Wizards Make Russell Westbrook Available

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    Rob Carr/Associated Press

    Despite being traded each of the past two years, there should be no guarantee Russell Westbrook has finally found a home in Washington.

    The 2016-17 MVP is averaging just 18.0 points on 36.6 percent shooting with the Wizards over his first two games. While his passing has been terrific, Westbrook continues to struggle with shot selection and efficiency. Washington looked like a strong contender to reach the playoffs in the East after trading for the nine-time All-Star, yet it's off to an 0-3 start.

    In reality, the Wizards' trade for Westbrook had more to do with getting out from under John Wall's contract than it did actually wanting the 32-year-old to come to Washington.

    Because of this, expect the Wizards to listen to any offers they receive. The franchise is still very much centered around Bradley Beal, with the clock ticking until he can become an unrestricted free agent in 2022.

    While the Wizards shouldn't expect much back in a trade for Westbrook as a result of his contract (two years, $91.3 million after this season), getting the right pieces to put around Beal will always be the goal.

Lakers Stay Quiet, Keep Eye on Buyout Market

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    The defending champions made a lot of noise this offseason with limited resources. With few draft picks and young talent left to part with, however, this trade deadline should be far quieter.

    While Kyle Kuzma will forever be a trade candidate in L.A. (even after signing a three-year, $40 million extension), the Los Angeles Lakers shouldn't feel any pressure to move him.

    Already with a loaded roster, expect the Lakers to monitor the buyout market instead.

    LeBron James and Co. remain one of the premier destinations in all of basketball, a beautiful blend of winning, geography and star power. The Lakers entered the season with 14 players under contract (excluding two-way deals), wisely keeping the 15th and final roster spot open.

    It's a strategy that landed the Lakers power forward Markieff Morris a season ago and likely helped convince him to take a minimum deal to stay in L.A. now.

    After the dust settles from what could be a busy trade deadline, only then should the Lakers look for additional talent.

Rockets End Up Getting King's Ransom for James Harden

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    Carmen Mandato/Associated Press

    Although the Houston Rockets would have likely preferred to trade James Harden before the season started, this doesn't mean they won't end up getting what they want for the NBA's leading scorer.

    While opposing teams may question his mask-less partying, coming into the season out of shape or repeated playoff disappointments, Harden is still one of the best basketball players in the world.

    Ultimately, talent usually shines through.

    In his first game back this season, Harden dropped 44 points, 17 assists, four rebounds and a steal on the Portland Trail Blazers, nearly willing a Houston team missing John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins to victory.

    All it takes is a few more similar performances, and teams considering a trade for Harden will have to increase their offers.

    If the Washington Wizards refuse to trade Bradley Beal, there could be a significant talent gap between Harden and the next-best player on the market.

    As more players get injured and needs open up for teams, the Rockets should end up getting the blockbuster package in return for Harden they've craved all along.