Finding Trade Partners for NBA's Deadline Buyers and Sellers
It takes two (or more) dance partners to get the NBA trade market grooving.
Sellers can't sell without interested buyers. Shoppers can't fill their carts without something on the shelves.
It's simple supply and demand and yet another reminder that professional basketball is, above all else, a business.
With a few months left to wear out the trade machine ahead of the March 25 cutoff, we're here to play NBA matchmaker by aligning the likeliest buyers and sellers with possible trade partners.
Buyer: Boston Celtics
The Eastern Conference has become a splash factory. The Brooklyn Nets nabbed James Harden. The Milwaukee Bucks snagged Jrue Holiday. The Philadelphia 76ers changed coaches and decision-makers before loading up with snipers around Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons.
The Boston Celtics have seemingly been standing atop the diving board for years now, never cannonballing into a blockbuster but always "coming close" (whatever that means) to getting one done. Armed with an enormous $28.5 million trade exception—the richest in league history—it's time for the Shamrocks to take the plunge.
They need more certainty around rising stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Whether it's a frontcourt facelift, a jolt of second-team scoring or a malleable piece for skipper Brad Stevens to fit into the puzzle, the Celtics could get a ton of mileage out of an impact move. The trade flier from the Orlando Magic could have several points of interest.
Trade Partner: Orlando Magic
Want a pie-in-the-sky target for Boston? How about former All-Star center Nikola Vucevic? The Celtics are struggling to tread water at the center spot—roasted to the tune of a minus-17.3 net rating when Tristan Thompson and Daniel Theis share the floor—but a splash move for Vooch could move them into the position's top tier.
If that sounds at all hyperbolic, you can blame Orlando's supporting cast for failing to do more with his absurd production. He's clearing 22 points, 11 rebounds, three assists and two triples per night. The list of other players hitting those marks is...nonexistent. Oh, and he could still be available, since the Magic are overdue for a reset and have spent a pair of top-10 picks on his potential replacements in Jonathan Isaac and Mo Bamba.
Should Vucevic prove too rich for Boston's blood, the Celtics could grab Aaron Gordon and trust their coaching staff to squeeze more out of the explosive athlete. Or they could simultaneously scratch itches for bench production and perimeter shooting with Terrence Ross or Evan Fournier.
Seller: Oklahoma City Thunder
The Oklahoma City Thunder's roster looks a little like a retail sales floor near the end of Black Friday. The door-busters are gone, and there are zero discounts on the biggest-ticketed items (good luck trying to shake Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Lu Dort, Darius Bazley or Hamidou Diallo loose), but there are still some sales worth checking out.
Topping the list is George Hill, a proven point guard with more than 100 playoff contests under his belt. He'd be an effortless addition to any team, since he can operate on or off the ball and offers some switchability on defense. Before his first season with the Thunder even started, there was "interest in Hill's services around the league," per The Athletic's Shams Charania.
Hill is the obvious focal point for shoppers perusing through the Sooner State, but he's not the only trade candidate. Darius Miller and Mike Muscala offer floor-spacing for cheap. If anyone can stomach Al Horford's salary, he still provides an interesting blend of defense, ball-moving and complementary scoring.
Should Trevor Ariza return from a personal matter, he'll probably have to pack for his annual move to a deadline buyer, too.
While the Thunder's 6-7 mark is more competitive than expected, their minus-7.2 net rating (28th overall) suggests there's a mine of fool's gold beneath the record. And despite having stockpiled an absurd amount of draft picks already, a long-term rebuilder—a label that fits this franchise like a pair of skinny jeans given all of the talent that has exited OKC in recent years—can never have too many assets.
Trade Partner: Los Angeles Clippers
Remember when Kawhi Leonard asked for a playmaker and the Clippers gave him Luke Kennard and Nicolas Batum? Why do I have a sneaky suspicion that isn't enough? And oh yeah, Leonard can opt for free agency this summer, so L.A. should not settle for half-step solutions.
If Hill doesn't make it to Hollywood, someone will have likely overpaid to get him. Given his potential impact on the Clippers as a shooter, sharer and serviceable defender, though, and what his arrival might mean both for the club's championship chances and hopes of retaining Leonard, L.A. should feel justified to overpay for Hill if that's what it takes.
The Clippers don't have many picks to dangle—most already belong to OKC after the Paul George trade—but maybe a few prospects like Terance Mann and Daniel Oturu could get a deal done.
Buyer: New Orleans Pelicans
The flight plans directing Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram are exactly on schedule. So why can't the New Orleans Pelicans—tied for 24th in winning percentage, 21st in net efficiency—get off the ground?
Frankly, the supporting cast isn't doing its job. The offense is plagued by disastrous spacing issues and a lack of playmaking. The defense started strong, but it's hemorrhaged points at an alarming rate since the calendar flipped (25th in points allowed per game in 2021).
There's hope for some of the defensive issues to be ironed out internally, but this offense needs a big lift from the outside. Given New Orleans' wealth of draft capital (largely collected in the Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday trades) and not insignificant collection of prospects, the Pels have the resources to go big-game hunting, and the expectation around the league is that will happen sooner than later.
"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," The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor reported.
While Bradley Beal is the ideal target, the Pels may not have the centerpiece prospect to get that done. But they could look elsewhere for a similar offensive jolt at the off-guard spot.
Trade Partner: Chicago Bulls
Zach LaVine is doing everything in his power to will the Bulls to the playoffs, but it may not be enough. Even if it is, what's the realistic prize? At best, Chicago can hope to survive the play-in tournament for the right to be steamrolled by a top seed.
The Bulls should instead leverage LaVine's rising stock—27.4 points and 5.3 assists a night with a 49.8/38.7/86.2 slash line—into grabbing some rebuilding tools. Put him on the Pels, and he instantly addresses needs for complementary scoring, shooting and distributing.
Plus, at 25 years old, he's young enough for New Orleans to keep its core long term, provided the Pels are comfortable covering the cost of his foray into 2022 free agency.
Seller: Washington Wizards
Free. Bradley. Beal.
It turns out the Washington Wizards, who posted a sub-.400 winning percentage each of the past two seasons, needed more than Russell Westbrook and Deni Avdija to right the ship. Who could've seen that coming? You know, other than everyone who resides outside of the District?
Washington's winning percentage has now dipped below .300, and glass-full optimists might have trouble finding reasons to hope for a recovery. Thomas Bryant is out for the season with a torn ACL. Westbrook went down with a quad injury, and while some might find addition-by-subtraction potential, the Wizards can't easily replace his 19.3 points, 11.3 assists or 9.7 rebounds.
All of this threatens to squander what's shaping up to be the best campaign of Beal's career. He has pole position in the scoring title race at 34.9 points per contest, plus a pristine 49.4/37.5/87.4 slash line.
The Wizards aren't shopping him yet, but teams are keeping a close watch in case they do, per O'Connor. The return package could be enormous—given Beal's age (27), contract and style of play, he's arguably a better trade chip than James Harden was—and Washington clearly needs a dramatic shake-up to get things on track.
Trade Partner: Denver Nuggets
The Nuggets might have the Association's third-ranked offense, but they still feel one star short of jumping into the elite ranks. Nikola Jokic is as gifted as they come, but Jamal Murray is again battling inconsistency, Michael Porter Jr. has fewer than 60 NBA games on his resume, and Gary Harris still can't find his jumper.
The Nuggets were in the James Harden discussion, per ESPN's Brian Windhorst, and they made calls about Beal ahead of the draft, per Vincent Goodwill of Yahoo Sports. Denver is clearly in the market for a difference-maker, as it should be with a full-fledged MVP candidate nearing the peak of his powers.
Beal would be perfect, and Denver has the perfect trade chip to get Washington's attention in Porter. Throw in Harris to make the money work and some combination of draft picks and prospects, and the Nuggets might have the right formula to find their missing star.
Buyer: Miami Heat
The Miami Heat have played a dozen games so far. Just two players have appeared in all 12, and only seven have made more than seven appearances.
That makes it tough to read too much into the squad's sluggish start—5-7, 24th in net rating—but there are two reasons to think this club should be an aggressive shopper at the deadline. For starters, the loss of Jae Crowder stings a lot more than Miami probably expected. Secondly, the financial flexibility created to allow for a run at Giannis Antetokounmpo in free agency can now be used to help broker a blockbuster trade.
The Heat have "high" interest in Beal, per Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald, but they "likely" wouldn't give up Tyler Herro, Duncan Robinson, Precious Achiuwa and draft picks to get him, which feels close to Washington's probable asking price.
But Victor Oladipo, who "hopes to find himself in Miami," per O'Connor, should be significantly cheaper given his uncertain future as an impending free agent and recent injury history. Adding him now would also give the Heat his Bird rights and make it easier to re-sign him this summer.
At the very least, Miami seems likely to pursue a frontcourt upgrade, but it has enough trade assets to chase a bigger target, too.
Trade Partner: Houston Rockets
The Oladipo pairing makes a ton of sense. He'd upgrade the Heat's point-of-attack defense and, if he stays healthy, share primary scoring duties with Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler. The defensive potential for that trio reaches a skyscraper's height, and that's before factoring in support stoppers like Avery Bradley and Andre Iguodala.
But Oladipo isn't the only Rocket worthy of the Heat's attention. PJ Tucker could help fill the frontcourt void. Ben McLemore could add another sniper to the offensive menu. Neither should be particularly pricey.
Despite being the reigning Eastern Conference champs, Miami might need to make one move (or more) to keep pace with the elites. After all, before this group hit its playoff stride in the bubble, it finished the 2019-20 campaign ranked just 11th in winning percentage and seventh in net rating.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.