Buying or Selling Latest NBA Trade Rumors

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistMarch 3, 2021

Buying or Selling Latest NBA Trade Rumors

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    Charles Krupa/Associated Press

    March is finally here, which means we can't punt on speculative NBA trade chatter anymore. Rumors that seemed premature earlier in the season take on new urgency with the March 25 trade deadline just over three weeks away.

    All of the "it's too soon" and "Team X has plenty of time" excuses are evaporating. Organizations in need of change don't necessarily need to go pulling every lever right this minute, but they'd better at least have an idea of where those levers are.

    The Boston Celtics are the clearest example. They entered the year hoping to be a contender, but they now find themselves adrift.

    They aren't alone, though. Plenty of other intriguing teams and players are approaching pivot points as well.

    Here, we'll gather up the latest trade rumors and render verdicts on how plausible and sensible they are. A cool head is more important than ever now, because smokescreens and calculated leaks tend to spike as the deadline draws near.

Boston Celtics Bound to Make a Big Move?

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    Sam Hodde/Associated Press

    It seems like we're spending more time than ever worrying about star players' finite shelf lives. The concern that everyone from Stephen Curry to Bradley Beal is "squandering his prime" in a non-contending situation keeps cropping up.

    Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are 23 and 24, respectively, neophytes by any rational measure. Yet the urgency to win now is even afflicting a Boston Celtics team that has both of them locked up on long-term deals. Brown is under contract through the 2023-24 season, and Tatum's max extension runs through 2025-26.

    We know the security of having players under contract isn't what it used to be. So it shouldn't be a surprise that "league insiders don't believe the Celtics can stand pat and potentially waste a year of the primes of their two young building blocks who are playing at an elite level," per Tim Bontemps of ESPN.

    The Celtics are a special case. Their cornerstones are as uncommonly young as they've been uncommonly successful. The Shamrocks have been to three of the last four conference finals, which sets their bar higher than it'd normally be for a team led by players in their early 20s.

    Fair or not, Tatum and Brown must have lofty expectations. The Celtics know they need to help meet them.

    Add to that the talent drain of the last few seasons—Kyrie Irving, Al Horford, Marcus Morris Sr., Terry Rozier and Gordon Hayward are all gone—and it's even more reasonable for the Celtics to be on the lookout for ways to support their young stars.

    A $28.5 million trade exception and control of all its own future first-round picks gives Boston the tools to get something significant done.

    You always have to be careful with Danny Ainge's Celtics, who have a habit of making it known they were oh so close to pulling off a major deal. But given the clear lack of depth behind Tatum and Brown and the unmet expectations of a season hovering around .500, it seems safe to believe Boston is going to make a significant move.

    Verdict: Buy the Celtics actually pulling the trigger this time.

The Knicks Are a Trade Destination?

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    Mike Stobe/Associated Press

    This tidbit from ESPN's Brian Windhorst doesn't pertain specifically to the upcoming trade deadline, but it's newsworthy enough to warrant some treatment (via The Hoop Collective podcast):

    "I say within the next 12 months a star/superstar player demands a trade to New York. And I don't know who it's going to be. I have some guesses. I'm not going to say right here. I'll let you guys start thinking about that. Let's just put it this way: league executives certainly have some guesses."

    Whoa.

    For years, the New York Knicks have chased stars. For years, they've failed to secure them. And now we're supposed to believe the stars are going to come to them?

    Windhorst indicates the changed management structure, led by the ultra-connected Leon Rose and William "Worldwide Wes" Wesley, is the reason for the drastically altered talent-acquisition outlook. Those two are long on clout, but do they really have enough to outweigh James Dolan's ongoing ownership and Tom Thibodeau's documented status as the coach whom players would least like to work under?

    Maybe, but much of this percolating Knicks optimism is also tied to the team's surprising success this year. If New York wasn't an unexpected occupant of a playoff spot, it's hard to imagine we'd be seeing reports of stars wanting anything to do with the franchise. This speculation would feel ridiculous, for example, if the Knicks were 10 games under .500.

    And because much of their success this season is tied to unsustainably poor opponent three-point shooting, there's a great chance that the Knicks will slip down the standings as this year progresses.

    That isn't to take away from what's been a stellar first half of the season. But if the Knicks don't profile as a consistent winner at the end of this season, whispers about major talent infusion—via a forced superstar trade, no less—will get quieter.

    Verdict: Sell the Knicks as a preferred superstar destination.

Victor Oladipo Will Wind Up in Miami...Eventually

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    Victor Oladipo's interest in the Miami Heat isn't new, but it takes on more significance as the deadline approaches.

    "I don't think it's any secret in the league Victor has a desire to play in Miami," ESPN's Brian Windhorst said recently on The Hoop Collective. "He'd like to go there in free agency. They're going to have cap space, so that may happen."

    What does a player's free-agency preference have to do with the trade deadline? If you're the Houston Rockets, it has everything to do with it.

    Oladipo recently rejected a two-year, $45.2 million extension offer from the Rockets, according to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, and Kevin O'Connor of The Ringer reported in January that he "doesn't want to be" in Houston. If the Rockets don't flip the headliner (draft picks excluded) from the James Harden deal in the next few weeks, they'll risk watching him walk away for nothing this summer.

    What can the Rockets expect to get for Oladipo, who may only be a rental for a contender and is in the midst of his least efficient shooting season ever? If his connection to the Heat weren't so public, another team might be able to justify swinging a deal to secure his Bird rights. But everything points to Oladipo joining the Heat this summer, so any team acquiring him now would have to think long and hard before giving up significant assets. 

    Oladipo's reported affinity for Miami means he's among the likeliest players to be traded by the deadline.

    Verdict: Buy Oladipo moving on...and then moving on again when he signs with the Heat in the offseason.

Lonzo Ball No Longer on the Block?

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    Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

    An NBA executive told Bleacher Report's Jake Fischer that the New Orleans Pelicans were actively reaching out to other teams this winter to assess interest in Lonzo Ball, JJ Redick and Eric Bledsoe.

    "They've been calling, and where there's smoke, there's fire," the assistant general manager said.

    Fischer later noted that Ball's improved play over the last several weeks may have the Pels reassessing whether to trade the 23-year-old guard.

    It's an oversimplification, but Ball's trade candidacy may depend on whether he's truly a 40 percent three-point shooter. That's roughly where he's at now following a hot streak in February, and this version of him makes perfect sense alongside Zion Williamson.

    Ball isn't a conventional point guard. He isn't a wash-rinse-repeat pick-and-roll maestro, and he isn't a blow-by threat off the dribble. But if he can hit spot-up threes while Zion does most of the ball-handling, his offensive role is clear.

    Ball can also contribute in transition, and even if he isn't a brilliant individual setup artist in the half court, he tends to make the right reads and keep the rock moving. Throw in useful defense at either backcourt spot, and the fit works.

    With that said, New Orleans wasn't sure enough about Ball's future to lock him up with an extension this past offseason. 

    Considering how quickly Ball went from being a legitimate trade candidate to a keeper, it's difficult to be sure the Pelicans' faith in him is real. What if Ball goes cold from deep over the next two weeks, and the Pelicans find themselves fielding deadline offers for him when he's shooting 35 or 36 percent from deep? 

    Consider this a bet they'd be more inclined to listen.

    Verdict: Sell New Orleans' firm commitment to keeping Ball. Buy its efforts to trade Redick and Bledsoe.

Trade Deadline Will Be Short on Sellers

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Chicago Bulls EVP of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas told reporters he doesn't think there will be many sellers at this year's deadline. Given his position, Karnisovas' opinion should carry some weight.

    A cynic might point out that if the Bulls wanted to promote the concept of market scarcity before trying to move on from Zach LaVine or Lauri Markkanen, planting the seed that buyers may not have many options isn't the worst idea.

    Hey, buyers! Slim pickings, huh? Well, we've got some prime assets. Come check them out.

    The league's addition of a play-in tournament is also a factor here. It's harder to fall out of a playoff race and start looking to offload pieces when all it takes is a 10th-place finish in the conference to kinda-sorta make the postseason. Those play-in teams will basically fight for the privilege of getting crushed by the top seed in a first-round series, but that's still better than just packing it in after 82 games (or 72 in this season's case) and looking ahead to next year.

    With half the season left to play, only three or four teams seem like clear lost causes. But with the uncertainty of ongoing health-and-safety absences, widespread parity and the general strangeness of this season, who's to say a four- or five-game separation from one of those No. 10 seeds is decisive?

    One other slant to consider: This year's unique setup (and the lingering effects of such a short offseason) make it harder for executives to judge their teams' quality. Just as an example, it doesn't make much sense to draw sweeping conclusions about the Toronto Raptors, who aren't technically playing any home games this year and who've been decimated by health-and-safety absences.

    Teams that decide to sell aggressively won't do so with perfect information. This weird season won't allow for it.

    In the end, Karnisovas has a point. Too many teams believe they still have plenty to play for, which is a great thing for viewers who want to see more competitive games down the stretch. It isn't as great for clubs hoping to find a trade market teeming with high-profile options, though.

    Verdict: Buy a lack of sellers.

           

    Stats courtesy of NBA.com, Basketball Reference and Cleaning the Glass. Accurate through games played Tuesday, March 2. Salary info via Basketball Insiders.