5 NBA Players Most Likely to Be Traded NextFebruary 14, 2021
5 NBA Players Most Likely to Be Traded Next
Anyone concerned the NBA is crawling toward a dull trade deadline can rest easy knowing one thing: There will be deals. There are always deals.
League insiders have cautioned this year's transaction tumult could be more like a soft to nonexistent breeze, per ESPN's Tim Bontemps. Their skepticism is not without merit. The star market is bone-thin after the James Harden blockbuster, and spotting surefire sellers becomes infinitely harder when 28—yes, 28—of the Association's teams are within three games of a play-in slot or better.
Marquee names continue to be bandied about the everyday discourse. Hoops heads cannot talk trades without mentioning Lonzo Ball, Bradley Beal, John Collins, Aaron Gordon, Zach LaVine, Kyle Lowry, etc. But all of them seem unlikely to get dealt for various reasons. If nothing else, they aren't the most likely to get shipped out next. Too many of their situations are complicated.
Beal's opposition to relocation has been the strongest, most public of the bunch. Adequately capitalizing on the value of Ball and Collins will be difficult with both speeding toward restricted free agency. Collins' market is exacerbated further by a cheapo $4.1 million rookie-scale salary that isn't netting anyone special on its own.
Kyle Lowry is apparently selling a home in Toronto, but the Raptors are too good to qualify as no-brainer sellers unless he specifically asks for out. Gordon is injured, and the Orlando Magic are addicted to standing pat. LaVine hasn't aged himself out of the Chicago Bulls' rebuild.
This is all a roundabout, albeit necessary, way of saying it takes deeper thought to identify the players who are actually the most likely to be on the move next.
Contract situations, team directions, role changes and expected market demand will help determine our selections. Nobody will be chosen because they make good salary fodder. Not all of these players are traditional household names, but they're each useful enough to attract the attention of buyers.
Wayne Ellington, Detroit Pistons
Wayne Ellington's flame-throwing has so far fallen under the radar. He graded out as one of the league's most valuable shooters earlier this season, and nothing's changed since. His 50 percent clip on above-the-break threes ranks first among 166 players with at least 50 such attempts, and he's finding nylon on a patently absurd 46.8 percent of his pull-up treys.
Contenders with a floor-spacing deficit should be foaming at the mouth right now. Ellington is on an expiring contract for the league minimum and, at 33, shouldn't cost the moon to pry from the Detroit Pistons.
Whether they should want to move him is debatable. They're among the NBA's only clear-cut sellers, but they're hard-up for dependable shooting themselves.
Keeping Ellington doesn't infringe upon the development of other players. If anything, he boosts the Pistons' functionality without improving their immediate outlook by too much. And while they'll only have non-Bird rights on him this summer, there's value in retaining him to preserve the relationship ahead of free agency.
Still, Detroit has fully shifted into big-picture mode. A lights-out shooter in his mid-30s isn't going to be untouchable. Ellington won't land the Pistons a king's ransom, but they remain a net negative in the second-round-pick department. And he is surely, right now, worth a couple of those.
Best Trade Fits for Ellington: Golden State, Memphis, Philadelphia
George Hill, Oklahoma City Thunder
Including George Hill is slightly risky if a flurry of moves are coming well ahead of the trade deadline. He's expected to be out at least another three weeks after undergoing surgery on his right thumb, and suitors are much less likely to acquire a player when he's not available to use.
Granted, this hardly amounts to stepping out on a limb.
Nobody expects Hill to finish the year with the Oklahoma City Thunder, per ESPN's Tim Bontemps. And trade season always takes a bit to ramp up anyway. We spend weeks and weeks laboring over scenarios only for a lion's share of the action to go down just before the deadline, which remains a month-and-a-half away. Hill can absolutely be one of the next five players on the move.
Interest in his services is bound to be rampant. Everything he does is scalable to different situations. He provides a defensive punch versus both backcourt spots, and his offense is founded around large doses of spot-up threes and opportunistic drives.
Hill has for the most part stuck to those strengths in Oklahoma City. The 61.5 percent clip he's posting on drives ranks fourth among 89 players averaging at least seven downhill attacks per game, and his 38.6 percent success rate on threes actually suggests he has room to improve. He's canning 47.5 percent of his catch-and-shoot treys—attempts that should account for a fatter share of his offensive profile on a better team.
It'll be interesting to see what the Thunder get in exchange for Hill. His $1.3 million guarantee for next season increases his value to any teams looking to cut costs, and Oklahoma City has both the timeline and maneuverability under the tax to absorb some longer-term money if it heightens the return.
Without other moving parts involved, a package built around seconds and a lower-tier prospect, if not a super late first-rounder, feels like the inevitable middle ground.
Best Trade Fits for Hill: Dallas, Golden State, Phoenix
Victor Oladipo, Houston Rockets
League executives told ESPN's Tim Bontemps the Houston Rocks could reroute Victor Oladipo elsewhere prior to the March 25 deadline. This is...not surprising.
Opting for Oladipo over Caris LeVert always felt off for the Rockets. Maybe LeVert's health issues change the calculus a bit—he's out after a small mass was found on his left kidney—but he has two more years at a team-friendly price left on his deal. Oladipo, on the other hand, is approaching a big-time payday in free agency.
To answer your question: Yes, that payday is still coming. Oladipo is currently out with a right quad injury—the same quad he injured in 2019—and has seen his offensive efficiency plunge since coming over from the Indiana Pacers. But the 2021 free-agent market is barren of star power after this past offseason's extension frenzy. Oladipo is easily going to be a top-five available name.
Some might argue the Rockets will be content to let him walk and use the resulting cap space. That doesn't quite track. They could have flipped LeVert for cheaper expirings attached to longer-term assets if they were really that concerned about saving money.
Dealing Oladipo now feels like the only play. Paying him doesn't make sense when they're so far away from title contention, and when they cannot guarantee he'll be eminently movable on his next deal.
What he ends up netting is anyone's guess. Views of his ceiling are all over the place. His most recent quad flare-up isn't going to help. He still profiles as a from-scratch jump shooter who can put some pressure on the rim and wreak havoc when guarding in the half court, but the vast majority of his career has been spent well below that peak.
Failing cricket noises around the league, though, finding a new home for Oladipo remains Houston's smartest call.
Best Trade Fits for Oladipo: Dallas, Memphis, Miami
Austin Rivers, New York Knicks
Feel free to sub in Elfrid Payton or Frank Ntilikina here. The New York Knicks have-to-have-to-have-to move a guard after acquiring Derrick Rose. It isn't going to be Alec Burks, and it sure as hell isn't going to be Immanuel Quickley.
Shipping out Payton makes the most sense. His minutes often feel aimless, and New York's experimentation with Rose-Quickley-Burks combos, while sensible, means more reps for the Payton-RJ Barrett backcourt. That's no bueno.
But Rivers is both on the outskirts of the Knicks rotation and the player who figures to command the most value. He is expected to be a hot target among contenders, according to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski. It isn't hard to see why.
Though the idea of Rivers often exceeds reality, he's still someone capable of knocking down off-the-bounce jumpers and stealing defensive minutes against certain wings. The team control on his contract is also ultra-palatable.
He's owed a total of $6.5 million over the next two seasons, both of which are non-guaranteed. If he hits at his next destination, his new team can float his return for super cheap. If he misses, the experiment can be short-lived.
Best Trade Fits for Austin Rivers: Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Toronto
P.J. Tucker, Houston Rockets
P.J. Tucker is going through the motions. Not only did he recently suffer a left thigh injury, but he's noticeably less effective at both ends this year. He's also shooting just 21.4 percent from long distance over his last 15 games.
A change of scenery won't make him any younger, but it might do him some good. It certainly feels inevitable.
Tucker will hit free agency over the summer and was reportedly unhappy he didn't get an extension before the season. The Rockets even have an asking price in mind for his services: a first-round pick or three second-rounders, per ESPN's Brian Windhorst (h/t HoopsHype's Bryan Kalbrosky).
Good luck getting that haul, Houston.
Even if Tucker were playing better, he turns 36 in May. Two seconds plus salary filler seems like a happy medium. And if he continues missing threes at this rate, that might fall on the ambitious end.
Rest assured, though, Tucker doesn't belong in the buyout pool. Maybe there's a path to that happening with JJ Redick or Andre Drummond given their steeper price points. Hedging against that possibility is why neither makes this list. Tucker is earning a hair under $8 million. More than one team can talk itself into giving up something for his services, if only because of the endless lineup possibilities his play style opens up.
Best Trade Fits for Tucker: Boston, Golden State, Miami
Unless otherwise noted, stats courtesy of NBA.com, Basketball Reference, Stathead or Cleaning the Glass and accurate entering games on Feb. 12. Salary information via Basketball Insiders and Spotrac.
Dan Favale covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter (@danfavale), and listen to his Hardwood Knocks podcast, co-hosted by B/R's Adam Fromal.