5 Early Predictions for the 2021 NBA Trade Deadline
Harden joining the Brooklyn Nets means other title contenders may now be pressured to upgrade their rosters while the Nets themselves look to build back some depth.
Bradley Beal has become the name to watch as the league's leading scorer is being wasted on the 3-9 Washington Wizards. He's far from the only big name who could be moved, however.
With activity already underway, here are some more transactions to look out for as the deadline draws closer.
Brooklyn Nets Use New Exception to Get a Center
Pairing James Harden with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving seems like a cheat code on offense, although stripping the team of Jarrett Allen, Taurean Prince and Caris LeVert has severely hurt Brooklyn's defense and depth.
Since trading for Harden, the Nets have a defensive rating of 119.2, which ranks next-to-last in the NBA over that span.
While one of those meetings was against a strong Milwaukee Bucks team, the Nets dropped two games to the Cleveland Cavaliers (who were missing Kevin Love), gave up 124 points to a Miami Heat squad without Jimmy Butler or Tyler Herro and allowed Nikola Vucevic of the Orlando Magic to light them up for 34 points on 63.6 percent shooting.
Starting center DeAndre Jordan (5.8 points and 6.8 rebounds per game) hasn't been this ineffective in nearly a decade and will get destroyed if he's asked to defend Joel Embiid, Bam Adebayo or Giannis Antetokounmpo in a playoff series.
The Nets can't trade a first-round pick for the next eight drafts, which means they're limited on upgrade opportunities.
But JaVale McGee is one option. The 33-year-old is averaging 8.2 points, 6.2 rebounds and 1.1 blocks in just 16.8 minutes per game for the Cavaliers but has fallen out of the rotation behind Andre Drummond and Allen.
The Nets were granted a $5.7 million disabled player exception from Spencer Dinwiddie's season-ending ACL tear, and they could use it to absorb McGee's $4.2 million salary. Sam Amico of FortyEightMinutes reported that the Nets and Cavs have already met twice to discuss a trade for the big man.
Brooklyn could also use its exception to trade for fellow veteran centers like Ed Davis, Nerlens Noel or Bismack Biyombo.
P.J. Tucker Joins a Title Contender
With the Houston Rockets in the middle of a complete makeover, P.J. Tucker is likely the next veteran out the door.
Houston hasn't been in any hurry to trade the 35-year-old, however, even offering him a contract extension, per The Athletic's Kelly Iko and Sam Amick. They also noted that "teams have already made a number of phone calls to Houston about potentially acquiring Tucker."
The three-and-D power forward with an expiring $8 million contract should be one of the league's easiest veterans to move. He's played a key role on playoff teams in Houston and Toronto the past five years, able to start as a floor-stretching big or serve as a primary reserve.
Since Tucker has refused to sign any extension Houston has offered, a trade seems inevitable.
The Minnesota Timberwolves have "maintained contact" with the Rockets about Tucker, per The Athletic's Jon Krawczynski. While they have a need at power forward, they're also dead last in the West with a 4-11 record. Giving up anything of value for Tucker with the season slipping away seems questionable.
Expect a contender to end up winning the Tucker sweepstakes instead.
The Boston Celtics have needed a true power forward for years. The Brooklyn Nets, Portland Trail Blazers and Denver Nuggets all need defensive help, as well.
With Russell Westbrook and James Harden both out of Houston, expect Tucker to be next.
Dallas Makes a Win-Now and Cap-Space-Clearing Move
The Dallas Mavericks are good enough to make a deep playoff run now but should also be closely monitoring the 2021 free-agent class.
With Kristaps Porzingis on a max deal and Luka Doncic eligible to sign his own extension this offseason, the Mavs' last chance to make a big splash in free agency may be this summer.
While some of the top potential free agents have already inked extensions that have taken them off the table, plenty of talent will still be available. Victor Oladipo, DeMar DeRozan, John Collins, Lauri Markkanen, Kyle Lowry and Andre Drummond will all be free agents, and each could help create a Big Three in Dallas.
The Mavericks aren't guaranteed to have space for a max salary yet, however.
Josh Richardson carries an $11.6 million player option, and the Mavericks can choose whether they want to pay Willie Cauley-Stein $4.1 million next season.
Dallas should be looking for roster upgrades now while getting some extra salary off the books for 2021-22.
Drummond is on an expiring $28.8 million deal and should be available after the Cleveland Cavaliers traded for Jarrett Allen. The Mavs could build a deal around James Johnson and Dwight Powell, thereby removing the latter's remaining two years and $22.8 million. Dallas is just 24th in rebounding this season (48.4 rebound percentage), while Drummond is nearly leading the NBA in glass-cleaning for the fourth consecutive season.
Otto Porter Jr. ($28.5 million) and LaMarcus Aldridge ($24.0 million) could also work as pieces on expiring deals who are capable of helping now.
A Restricted Free-Agent-to-Be Gets Moved
While a handful of young players (Jayson Tatum, Donovan Mitchell, Bam Adebayo, De'Aaron Fox, OG Anunoby, etc.) avoided free agency by signing extensions before the season, other young stars failed to come to an agreement with their current clubs.
John Collins, Lauri Markkanen and Lonzo Ball will now become restricted free agents over the summer, leaving their futures with their current teams in doubt.
Jarrett Allen was another player from the 2017 class who wasn't extended. By not signing any additional contract with the Brooklyn Nets, he was eligible to be traded as part of the James Harden deal and will almost certainly re-up with the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Nets are already deep into the luxury tax, so a new deal for Allen would have put even more financial pressure on the franchise.
A difference in money is likely the reason Collins, Markkanen and Ball aren't under long-term deals, as well. It could also be the reason at least one of them gets traded before the deadline.
John Collins wanted max money from the Atlanta Hawks but only got an offer in excess of $90 million, per ESPN's Brian Windhorst. The Chicago Bulls and Markkanen were about $4 million apart in starting salary numbers, per K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago. Ball probably should have taken whatever reasonable offer the New Orleans Pelicans presented to him given his huge dip in play from last season.
While Ball and Markkanen could still be moved, Collins seems like the most likely candidate.
As a combo big, Collins is facing a crowded Hawks frontcourt with Clint Capela, Danilo Gallinari, Onyeka Okongwu and De'Andre Hunter, who's passed Collins as the team's second-leading scorer behind Trae Young.
Since the Hawks might need to give the 23-year-old a max deal or lose him for nothing this offseason, expect him to be traded—and possibly Markkanen or Ball, as well.
Bradley Beal Traded to Miami Heat
A 6-9 record to start the season has the Miami Heat near the bottom of the Eastern Conference, in large part because of injuries and players missing games due to health and safety protocols related to COVID-19.
While it's still relatively early, the East is becoming far tougher than the version Miami finished on top of last campaign.
The Philadelphia 76ers are off to a 12-5 start to lead the conference, the Brooklyn Nets could now have the NBA's top offense with James Harden, and the Milwaukee Bucks should be better suited for the postseason with Jrue Holiday aboard.
Miami should certainly feel pressure to do something, and a trade for Bradley Beal would be the ultimate response.
The Miami Herald's Barry Jackson noted the Heat have a "high" interest level in trading for Beal should the 3-9 Washington Wizards make him available.
While Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo would be off the table, a deal centered around Tyler Herro, Duncan Robinson and first-round picks in 2025 and 2027 should be enough to get Washington's interest. Miami should be going all-in to win a title, especially since the 31-year-old Butler racked up a lot of early-career mileage while playing under Tom Thibodeau on the Chicago Bulls.
The Wizards won't want to trade Beal, but the 27-year-old could certainly ask his way out. With a 21-year-old star in the making likely on the table in Herro, they could get a nice return for their established star.