Predicting Most Active Teams at 2021 NBA Trade Deadline
Business is booming on the NBA trade market.
It started this offseason with landscape-shifting maneuvers like Jrue Holiday joining the Milwaukee Bucks, Chris Paul heading to the Phoenix Suns and the jersey swap between John Wall and Russell Westbrook. It roared into the regular season and delivered the four-team mega-move that sent James Harden to the Brooklyn Nets, Victor Oladipo to the Houston Rockets, Caris LeVert to the Indiana Pacers and Jarrett Allen to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Why would the activity stop now when there are still stranded stars, prospects in need of a change of scenery and draft picks to be collected? Our crystal ball says it won't.
Instead, expect hyperactive trade seasons for the following clubs.
Potential Movers and Shakers
Golden State Warriors
Depending on how aggressive the Dubs want to get, they could shake up the trade market by putting two of the league's top chips in play. Between rookie center James Wiseman and an incoming top-three-protected first-round pick from the Minnesota Timberwolves, Golden State might have the trade assets to chase just about anyone.
But can the Warriors afford to prioritize the present over the future to an extreme extent? On the one hand, Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson aren't getting any younger. On the other, if they no longer constitute a championship core, the Dubs have to start thinking about building the next one.
Golden State could be big-spending buyers, but it could also sit out the swap season or only move on the margins.
File this under wishful thinking, but maybe this is when the Magic will finally call off their annual chase of the eighth seed. With Jonathan Isaac and Markelle Fultz—the two most important players to the future of this franchise—down for the count due to knee injuries, Orlando has so little to gain it might actually pull the plug on one of basketball's most depressing pursuits.
If the Magic hold a fire sale, they could perk up the player pool quite a bit. Between the super-skilled Nikola Vucevic, the defensively versatile Aaron Gordon, the consistently productive Evan Fournier and the ignitable Terrence Ross, Orlando has a wealth of players capable of capturing shoppers' attention.
But that's only if the Magic decide to sell, and there's no evidence of the organization reaching that conclusion.
San Antonio Spurs
The forecast almost always calls for a torpid trade season in San Antonio since the Spurs last made a deadline deal somewhere around the Mesozoic Era (or in 2013-14, but what's the difference?). But if the organization is ever going to let loose, the time is now.
The Spurs aren't contenders, but they have a slew of rental options for teams that are. DeMar DeRozan, LaMarcus Aldridge, Rudy Gay and Patty Mills are all on expiring contracts, and each could perk up a win-now offense.
If Gregg Popovich could stomach a present step back for several steps forward in the future, San Antonio could suddenly be the talk of the deadline.
The Raptors are two seasons removed from winning the title and one from securing the East's No. 2 seed. They don't appear to be likely sellers, and yet they have a worse record than all but five other teams. If Toronto thinks it's drawing dead for the rest of this season, it would have to consider floating the likes of Kyle Lowry, Norman Powell and (if anyone's interested) Aron Baynes in search of roster-building tools.
On the flip side, would it surprise anyone if the Raptors found their form sooner than later, jumped several tiers between now and the deadline and positioned themselves to be buyers?
Remember, they've kept their finances pretty clean. But since Giannis Antetokounmpo isn't making it to 2021 free agency, they could end their budget freeze and chase the offensive star who could take this roster to the next level.
The Houston Rockets already delivered the biggest trade of the season, but why stop there? So much of this roster looks liquid, and the franchise should act fast to keep adding to its rebuilding kit.
Victor Oladipo hadn't even landed in Space City before word broke that it was "another place he doesn't want to be," per The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor. He might have injury-ravaged seasons in his recent past and nothing locked down for his future, but he'd still be an impact get for anyone with win-now intentions.
Even if he's not quite all the way back to his All-Star form, he's never been closer (21.2 points, 4.7 assists and 1.7 steals per game).
P.J. Tucker wants a new contract, and while he won't force his way out Harden-style, he "is not opposed to a trade should one materialize," per The Athletic's Kelly Iko and Sam Amick. He's a versatile defender with a 36.2 career three-point percentage and 50 playoff games under his belt. Teams are already flooding the Rockets with phone calls about Tucker, Iko and Amick reported.
Ben McLemore's three-point stroke surely looks appealing to any spacing-deprived shoppers. Danuel House Jr. is easily marketable as a three-and-D swingman. David Nwaba should be on the shopping list for anyone in the market for defense. The same goes for Dante Exum, so long as he returns from a calf strain in time to build up his trade value ahead of the deadline.
Houston doesn't have to tear everything down the studs—Christian Wood is a no-brainer keeper, and the money owed to John Wall and Eric Gordon might render them untradable—but it should shop most of the roster for long-term relief.
New Orleans Pelicans
Between the trades of Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday, the New Orleans Pelicans are set to collect draft picks or swap rights through the 2027 talent grab.
That's one argument for the franchise to practice patience. Here's another: Zion Williamson is 20 years old. And another: Brandon Ingram is 23.
Why would the Pelicans feel pressure to zip this rebuild along? Because Williamson and Ingram are awesome already, and New Orleans owes it to them (and itself) to best position the rising stars for success. That's exactly what the rest of the league expects to take place.
"The Pelicans are sitting on a pile of future firsts acquired for Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday, plus a bevy of talented young players and tradable veterans," O'Connor wrote. "Execs from other teams don't believe Pelicans executive vice president David Griffin will sit on his assets for long considering how good Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson already are."
New Orleans has the draft capital and prospects to dream as big as it wants.
If the Bradley Beal sweepstakes ever take place, the Pelicans might be the favorite to get it done. They need a scoring boost, and this offense is desperate for a spacer. Beal, the league's leading scorer at 34.9 points per game and a career 38.0 percent shooter from three, would be perfect.
Even if the Pels don't swing that big, though, this could still be an active trade season. If they target present upgrades, that could put Lonzo Ball (a restricted-free-agent-to-be) and Jaxson Hayes (blocked by Steven Adams through 2023) on the chopping block. If they focus on the future, they might instead shop Eric Bledsoe or JJ Redick for more picks and prospects to throw on the pile.
New York Knicks
The New York Knicks should be within arm's reach of all blockbuster trade talks in the near future.
Now, the 'Bockers don't have to pull off the swap themselves, though they are perpetually searching for a star. While they've been more measured in their spending of late and are laying a long-term foundation with prospects and draft picks, the hiring of Tom Thibodeau as head coach showed the desire to compete is omnipresent.
The way Thibs sees it—and NBA history proves it—New York isn't challenging for something of substance without an elite.
"I think it's critical [to get a star]," Thibodeau said, per Marc Berman of the New York Post. "... Sometimes you have to do it through trades, sometimes it's free agency. But I think you have to be very aggressive in seeking out those opportunities."
The Knicks should be cautious about sacrificing real assets for instant gratification. But if a buying opportunity arises for a true centerpiece, they might have the youth, flexibility and draft assets to get a deal done. If a big name hits the market, expect at least an exploratory phone call from Gotham.
Where New York seems destined for deadline activity, though, is in the unloading of plug-and-play veterans. Need bench scoring? The Knicks should have Alec Burks and Austin Rivers at the ready. Seeking a defensive anchor? Nerlens Noel is as disruptive as they come. In the market for shooting? Reggie Bullock can scratch that itch.
All of these players could be avenues to more draft picks, which in turn could pave the road to a superstar acquisition down the line.
Bradley Beal is ready to lead a winner. The Washington Wizards aren't ready to follow.
There were fleeting hopes the franchise might recover from a rough two-year run thanks to an offseason that delivered both Russell Westbrook and Deni Avdija. Those have all been basically obliterated after just 11 games.
Washington has just three wins on the docket, and that doesn't include the game in which Beal popped for a career-best 60 points or when he had another 41 two nights later. Westbrook has been brutally inefficient (44.9 true shooting percentage, which would be third-worst of the three-point era among players taking 15-plus shots). The defense, as Beal put it, "can't guard a parked car."
Oh yeah, and the Wizards are out a future first-rounder thanks to the Westbrook deal. It's all a downer in the District.
But Washington can reshape its long-term forecast by letting go of Beal at the deadline. Given his age (27), salary ($28.8 million this season, $33.7 million the next) and versatile skill set that could adapt to almost any situation, it's possible his trade value would surpass that of James Harden. In other words, the Wizards should make an absolute killing in the exchange.
And given the state of their roster, they need it.
But why stop with Beal? Surely, there's a contender out there who'd give up a draft pick (or more) for Robin Lopez or Ish Smith. Raul Neto might have a growing fan base in rival front offices. And if the Wizards won't heavily invest in the development of Troy Brown Jr. or Isaac Bonga, they might as well seek out someone who will.
Washington has no direction as a franchise right now. An active trade season would establish a clear one.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.