10 Predictions for the 2021 NBA Trade Deadline
The time has nearly arrived.
The NBA trade deadline is just a week away, with more and more teams falling out of the playoff (and even play-in) picture.
This kind of clarity should lead to at least a handful of transactions over the next seven days, especially on March 25 before the 3 PM ET buzzer sounds.
With names like Kyle Lowry, John Collins, Andre Drummond, Nikola Vucevic, Victor Oladipo and others popping up in talks lately, it's time to make some realistic predictions on what to expect before the deadline passes.
Best in the West Stay (Fairly) Quiet
Whether it be a lack of assets, a lack of needs or their comfortable positions in the West standings, don't expect any fireworks from the Utah Jazz, Phoenix Suns, Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers or Denver Nuggets at the deadline.
The Lakers can't trade a first-round pick until 2027 (thanks mostly to the Anthony Davis trade) and the Clippers aren't eligible to trade one at all (Paul George deal).
While both deals have put the franchises in championship-or-bust mode, this also means there won't be any stars coming to L.A. before March 25 because of a lack of trade assets.
The Jazz (NBA best 29-10) shouldn't be looking to shake up the roster, nor should the 26-12 Suns, even if they have the picks to swing a deal.
The Nuggets' core is still young despite making multiple playoff trips, and assuming Bradley Beal is off the board, there's not a lot of stars available that would make sense.
Sure, there might be a deal for a Wayne Ellington, Hassan Whiteside or JaVale McGee by one of these teams, but the best in the West will all be pretty quiet at the deadline.
Blazers Make a Sneaky Big Move
With the Utah Jazz, Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers unlikely to make headline moves, don't be surprised if the Blazers end up the trade deadline winners.
The table is set for Portland to do something big.
With CJ McCollum now back from a foot injury, Gary Trent Jr. joins Anfernee Simons and Nassir Little as potential young trade bait to try and acquire a third star. Rodney Hood's deal ($10 million this season, non-guaranteed $10.9 million in 2021-22) is the perfect base for matching salaries and the team can trade first-round picks in 2023, 2025 and 2027 (dependent on its 2021 pick to the Houston Rockets conveying, which it likely will).
So, who to target?
John Collins would be a lot of fun. He's a young pick-and-roll partner for Damian Lillard and McCollum who can shoot threes and finish off alley-oops with authority. He could start at power forward or slide down to center if Jusuf Nurkic's durability continues to be an issue.
If the Blazers do nothing, they'll likely stay in the 5-through-8 range in the West, headed towards another early playoff exit. With Lillard and McCollum in their primes, it's time to cash in some of the young talent for win-now help.
Cavs Find a Trade Partner for Andre Drummond (But Get a Minimal Return)
Drummond hasn't played in over a month, getting a nice rest as the Cavs have kept him out of game action while they seek a trade for the 27-year-old center.
While teams like the Los Angeles Lakers, Brooklyn Nets and others are likely hoping for a buyout from the remainder of his $28.8 million expiring deal, expect the Cavs to find some sort of buyer, even if the return is minimal.
Drummond should prefer a trade as well, given that he'll lose his Bird rights should he agree to a buyout. This could have a huge implication on his next contract, meaning whatever team he signs with as a free agent won't be able to go over the cap to re-sign him like they could if he's traded instead.
The Dallas Mavericks could swing a deal by pairing the contracts of Dwight Powell and James Johnson, the San Antonio Spurs could use LaMarcus Aldridge as a salary-matcher, and the same holds true for the Chicago Bulls (who recently benched starting center Wendell Carter Jr.) and Otto Porter Jr. Cleveland would likely be thrilled to simply take back a future second-round pick and expiring money, the same price they paid for Drummond a year ago.
Given the Cavaliers' motivation to get some sort of compensation for Drummond and his likely desire to snag one more big contract, expect a deal to eventually get done.
Bradley Beal and Kyle Lowry Stay Put
Beal would be the biggest name on the trade market if the Washington Wizards had given any indication he was available. Lowry may be the largest needle-mover if the Toronto Raptors decide to trade the 35-year-old, but even that proposition seems iffy at best.
The Wizards are terrible at 14-24, one of the few teams that shouldn't be carrying any playoff hope. Beal would bring back a huge return from any number of teams (Miami Heat, New Orleans Pelicans, Denver Nuggets), although Washington seems hell-bent on keeping him until he demands to be moved.
Lowry is coming up on free agency, so a trade here is a little more likely.
The Philadelphia 76ers seem like a natural fit, given his history with Daryl Morey, the team's need for another ball-handler, the chance at a championship and Lowry's Philly roots.
Still, that's a huge salary for the Sixers to match ($30 million), and doing so would likely mean losing both Danny Green and rookie standout Tyrese Maxey. Even for a star-chaser like Morey, that's a lot for a guy who will be a free agent in a few months. Plus, the Raptors are only two games out of the playoffs and may not want to be sellers at all.
"I would say they hold," a West scout told ESPN's Tim Bontemps. "I just don't get the feeling it's going to happen, though maybe they're just waiting for the right offer."
While it may be the boring answer, expect both Beal and Lowry to stay put.
Pelicans Part with a Guard (or Two)
While the forward duo of Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram aren't going anywhere, consider the Pelicans backcourt open for business.
Between Lonzo Ball, Eric Bledsoe and JJ Redick, New Orleans could end up with a completely new guard rotation after the deadline.
"They're willing to move on from all of those guys," a West scout told ESPN's Tim Bontemps.
Already pulled once from the lineup while the team pursued a trade, Redick, 36, is the one most likely to be moved. A free agent this offseason, Redick was averaging 10.0 points and shooting 42.2 percent from three over his past 11 games before being shut down with a heel injury. He's set to be reevaluated soon. If the Pelicans can't find a trade partner, he'll almost certainly be bought out.
Bledsoe, 31, could also be on the move. His defense has slipped this season going from the Milwaukee Bucks to the Pelicans, and his averages of 11.8 points, 3.4 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 37.8 percent mark from three no longer fit his contract ($16.9 million). It would take a point guard-needy team to bring him in (Los Angeles Clippers) or one simply desperate to make the playoffs (New York Knicks).
Ball, 23, will draw the most attention, but he's also the one the Pelicans should hang on to. While he may never become the All-Star floor general the Los Angeles Lakers once envisioned, Ball is a much improved outside shooter with good size and feel for the game. The Pelicans would have to really love rookie Kira Lewis Jr. to trade Ball now.
Consider Redick gone, with Bledsoe and Ball also possibly on the move.
Timberwolves Become Buyers, Despite League-Worst Record
How often does the worst team in the league look to buy at the deadline?
While it's extremely unusual, the Wolves have to be aggressive in improving the team.
Karl-Anthony Towns was the No. 1 overall pick by Minnesota six years ago. D'Angelo Russell was selected just minutes later. While still young, these are guys that need to start winning now before the Wolves have to worry about their third NBA contracts.
Injuries and COVID-19 have both played roles in Minnesota's 9-30 start to the season, meaning a fully healthy squad can't really be this bad (or at least better than the Houston Rockets). The Timberwolves don't even possess that many veterans to trade off even if they wanted to be sellers, with Ricky Rubio and Ed Davis the only two players 30 or over.
Power forward is an area of need, one the Orlando Magic may have the answer to.
As The Athletic's Shams Charania writes, "the Magic have been open to listening to calls on Gordon, sources said, and Minnesota and Portland are among the teams showing interest."
Gordon would be a tremendous fit, an athletic power forward who can defend multiple positions and has been a willing ball mover. He's somehow only 25 even with this being his seventh season in the league, meaning Gordon still fits the Wolves timeline while bringing a great deal of experience.
While their record should scream seller, look for the Wolves to bring in talent instead.
Bulls Shake Up the Young Core
A new front office led by Vice President of Basketball Operations Arturas Karnisovas has now had 38 games of footage to decide who deserves to stick around for the future, including a present that has Chicago (18-20) just a half game out of the East playoffs.
Any trade talk involving Zach LaVine should be dead, as his first All-Star appearance this season has become a feel-good story for the franchise. Rookie Patrick Williams isn't going anywhere, either, the only member of this core handpicked by the current front office.
The two names to watch are center Wendell Carter Jr. (recently benched in favor of veteran Thaddeus Young) and power forward Lauri Markkanen (a restricted free agent this offseason).
Carter has shown little improvement in Year 3 and has battled injuries throughout his career. The Bulls are getting killed with him on the court (minus-11.5 on/off rating), and have now won back-to-back games with Carter as a reserve.
Markkanen has enjoyed a bounce-back season (19.2 points, 5.9 rebounds, 41.2 percent shooting from three), but Chicago may not want to pay him what he wants as a free agent.
Look for Chicago to keep LaVine, Williams and Coby White while moving either Carter or Markkanen for more win-now help.
Magic Keep Nikola Vucevic, Trade Other Veterans
Eight straight losses have dropped the Magic to 13-26 overall, with only the Detroit Pistons below them in the Eastern Conference.
Orlando has plenty of players that should be attractive to other teams, including veterans Nikola Vucevic, Aaron Gordon, Evan Fournier and Terrence Ross.
"They're listening on all those guys," one assistant general manager told Bleacher Report's Jake Fischer, who also added that Gordon is eager to welcome a change of scenery.
Vucevic would likely fetch the biggest return, a two-time All-Star who's enjoying the best season of his career with 25.0 points, 11.6 rebounds and 3.7 assists. He's on a reasonable contract (two years, $46 million owed after this year) and would be a tremendous addition to a team like the Boston Celtics, San Antonio Spurs or Charlotte Hornets.
Given his contract, production and loyalty to the franchise (re-signing a four-year deal in 2019), the Magic may want to keep Vucevic as a pillar through a rebuild, however.
Expect at least one of Gordon, Fournier or Ross to be traded but Vucevic to stay in Orlando.
Spurs Make 1st In-Season Trade Since 2014
The last time the San Antonio Spurs orchestrated a mid-season trade, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker would go on to beat the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals just months later.
The Spurs traded for Austin Daye on Feb. 20, 2014, marking seven years since San Antonio did anything at the deadline.
This year will be different.
We know the Spurs and LaMarcus Aldridge will be parting ways either via trade or buyout, but San Antonio has a number of other veterans (DeMar DeRozan, Rudy Gay, Patty Mills) on expiring deals as well.
The Spurs should be able to find a deal for Aldridge and his $24 million expiring deal, as he's still an offensive threat at age 35 who can space the floor and brings 72 games (all starts) of playoff experience.
The Boston Celtics can absorb his entire salary with their $28.5 million trade exception, the Charlotte Hornets could use a three-point shooting center and the Miami Heat should be looking for offensive help as well.
For a team that has traditionally stayed quiet at the deadline, look for the Spurs to finally break their tradeless streak.
Rockets Tear Everything Down
While some teams may still be questioning if they want to become sellers at the deadline, there's no secret what Houston's plans are. The Rockets have lost 18 games in a row, going from 11-10 and in the playoff race to 11-28 and next to last in the West. P.J. Tucker has already been traded to the Milwaukee Bucks, per ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, with more deals likely to follow.
As Michael Scotto of HoopsHype writes, "Those executives who've spoken to the Rockets say Christian Wood is the only player on the Rockets that's as close to untouchable as possible."
That leaves a collection of veterans who could be on the move, including Victor Oladipo, Danuel House Jr., David Nwaba and Ben McLemore. If Eric Gordon wasn't sidelined with a groin strain for the next several weeks, he'd likely be a primary trade target as well. John Wall's contract almost certainly means he's staying, too.
All eyes will first fall on Oladipo. The two-time All-Star has difference-maker potential but will be a free agent this offseason. He's a near-lock to be traded.
As Scotto writes, "Several executives around the league who spoke with HoopsHype believe [Oladipo] could be the biggest name moved by the trade deadline."
He will soon join Tucker on a plane out of Houston, with House, Nwaba and McLemore all making $3.7 million or less and serving as easy trade targets for contenders.