Predicting Which NBA Teams Will Be Most Active on the Trade Market This Summer

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistApril 1, 2021

Predicting Which NBA Teams Will Be Most Active on the Trade Market This Summer

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    NBA trade season is behind us for the 2020-21 campaign, but that just means we're right in the heart of speculation season for the summer of 2021.

    Feel free to let your imaginations run wild, folks, because a rash of early extensions stripped this potentially historic crop of free agents down to a shallow pool of notable names. And since most of the remaining headliners are unlikely to leave their current clubs—Kawhi Leonard, Chris Paul, Jrue Holiday—that pool barely qualifies as a puddle anymore.

    With free agency looking like a dud, teams eyeing major moves will need to shift their attention over to the trade market.

    While there is no shortage of potential movers and shakers, our crystal ball has deemed the five following clubs to be among the most active dealers this offseason.

Atlanta Hawks

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    Todd Kirkland/Associated Press

    The Atlanta Hawks showed their desire for change when they split from Lloyd Pierce and handed the coaching reins over to Nate McMillan in March, but there were rumblings their landscape could shift even more dramatically after.

    The Hawks were one of the top teams to track at the deadline, as The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor reported there were trade winds swirling around John Collins, Cam Reddish and Bogdan Bogdanovic. While Atlanta brokered just one exchange at the deadline—swapping out Rajon Rondo for Lou Williams and two future second-round picks—that wasn't necessarily a sign of contentment with status quo.

    Rather, the front office might have deduced that the best deals were yet to come. Sure, it could have signaled a commitment to this core, but maybe the Hawks merely delayed their makeover.

    This roster could get expensive in a hurry, which isn't exactly ideal for a 23-24 club slotted a good-not-great 10th in net efficiency. The Hawks are already spending big on Bogdanovic, Danilo Gallinari and Clint Capela, they'll need to cover the cost of Collins' upcoming restricted free agency (or perhaps put together a sign-and-swap), and both Trae Young and Kevin Huerter are extension-eligible this offseason.

    Is this a championship core as currently constructed? Because it could soon be priced as such.

    The Hawks have decent depth for now, but a lot of their talent is duplicated. If they plan to pay Collins this summer, will they still want to give Gallinari $20.5 million next season? If Huerter gets a new deal, could they look to shed the $36 million headed Bogdanovic's way the next two seasons (plus his $18 million player option for 2023-24)? If De'Andre Hunter has cemented himself in the long-term core, does that push Reddish out?

    Atlanta is tight-roping between a playoff push and a development plan for the future. If it ever decides one approach trumps the other, it could see several trade candidates emerge shortly thereafter.

Boston Celtics

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    Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

    The Boston Celtics are better than this.

    Aren't they?

    Something smells fishy in Beantown, and it can't just be all the clam chowder. The Shamrocks were NBA finalists just last season, and while the free-agency departure of Gordon Hayward was always bound to sting, they had ample (and obvious) room for internal growth with rising wings Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.

    But that's where this gets confusing. Tatum has made another leap this season. Brown's was big enough to book his first All-Star trip. And yet, here the Celtics stand—trailing the Charlotte Hornets and New York Knicks in winning percentage and the Hawks in net rating.

    "Our roster obviously is not good," Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge bluntly assessed during a February appearance on 98.5 The Sports Hub's Toucher and Rich (h/t "... It's not good enough right now. And we all know that."

    It sounded like the executive was bracing Boston for a busy deadline, but the cutoff came and went with only marginal moves: Evan Fournier, Moritz Wagner and Luke Kornet in; Javonte Green, Daniel Theis and Jeff Teague out.

    The Celtics can't be done changing faces.

    If they could find a taker for Kemba Walker and the $36 million he's owed for next season, they might have to pounce. (Good luck.) Tristan Thompson's name surfaced at the deadline, per Yahoo Sports' Chris Haynes, and could easily resurface this summer. Marcus Smart might be needed to make the money work on a big deal. A plethora of prospects loom as possible sweeteners, along with all of Boston's future picks.

    Tatum and Brown give this group a higher floor than most, but a trade-heavy offseason could be key in raising its roof.

Golden State Warriors

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    The 2021 trade deadline gave the Golden State Warriors the chance to choose a timeline: what's left of Stephen Curry's prime or the next chapter authored around James Wiseman and probably players who aren't in the Association yet.

    They're trying to choose both.

    "Every deadline you have some kind of goal or vision, and I would say the easy answer would be it's both short- and long-term success," Warriors general manager Bob Myers said, per Wes Goldberg of the Bay Area News Group. "That's a hard balance to strike and that's what we're trying to strike."

    The Dubs' inactivity at the deadline—they only made two minor, cost-cutting deals—didn't settle this discussion; it merely punted it into the summer. That's when the franchise must reach some kind of conclusion about what it wants to be next season and beyond.

    The temptation to stay patient and play the long game will be strong. There's more than mystery-box allure with Wiseman. Size-skill combos don't come around like that often. Tack on the top-three protected pick coming from the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Warriors' own first-round pick (theirs if it falls within the top 20), and there's a chance to eventually build something pretty interesting.

    But how do the Dubs not floor the gas pedal this summer? Curry is a once-in-a-generation talent, and they're still getting his best (or something very close to it). He has anchored title runs before, and with the right supporting cast around him, he could do it again.

    That's why some serious reshuffling seems likely. Golden State can't gamble Curry's remaining peak years on Draymond Green, Andrew Wiggins and whatever Klay Thompson will be after a two-year layoff.

Indiana Pacers

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    Nell Redmond/Associated Press

    The Indiana Pacers have always been within arm's reach of a redesign since first assembling the supersized Myles Turner-Domantas Sabonis frontcourt. That arm is shrinking.

    The Pacers had more than will-they-or-won't-they speculation accompanying them to the trade deadline. There were honest-to-goodness trade rumors involving the Circle City's most notable names. Yahoo Sports' Vincent Goodwill reported the Pacers were "listening to pitches" on Malcolm Brogdon and "monitoring" Sabonis. J. Michael of the Indy Star reported Turner could be had, though only for a "no-brainer" offer.

    Still, those are the three highest-paid hoopers in the Hoosier State, and all were involved in legitimate trade talks. (Aaron Holiday was mentioned by Goodwill too, but that's sadly not the news story it once seemed that kind of development would be.)

    Granted, Indy didn't pull the trigger on any trade at the deadline, but that's hardly an indication this front office is suddenly sold on the roster.

    The Pacers are below .500 and down at 15th in net efficiency. Both become bigger worries when considering Indy already has six eight-figure salaries on next season's books and doesn't have a player under the age of 24 in its top 10 in minutes per game. This is not a championship contender now, and it's hard seeing enough avenues to internal improvement for this group to become one down the line.

    The Pacers may not need a top-to-bottom teardown, but it seems like something is coming. Maybe Turner gets shipped out to clear a small-ball frontcourt spot in advance of T.J. Warren's return. Goga Bitadze surely wouldn't argue against a less crowded interior mix. Perhaps Brogdon gets dangled for younger, less expensive talent. An Aaron Holiday deal might be best for all parties involved, especially if T.J. McConnell is re-signed.

Minnesota Timberwolves

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    This might not be as much of a prediction as a plea to the basketball gods to give Karl-Anthony Towns some on-court assistance.

    He's on a short list of basketball's most skilled players, and his Minnesota Timberwolves might be the worst team in basketball. Coming into Wednesday, they had a dismal .234 winning percentage, and no one else's was south of .280. They're also bogged down by a grisly net rating that betters only that of the Cleveland Cavaliers.

    Glass-overflowing optimists might interject here with, "Well, at least it can't get any worse, right?" That's when we'd pipe in to inform them—in our best narrator voice, obviously—that it already has.

    This level of losing usually comes with some type of roster relief, be that a high draft pick, a low-cost payroll or maybe both. Well, there's a chance the Wolves won't have a pick in this draft—their first-rounder is only top-three protected, and their second-rounder is already gone—and they're already committed to at least $127.7 million for next season's payroll.


    Putrid and pricey is no way for an NBA roster to exist. The real challenge will be fixing this on the fly, but Minnesota must try something more than crossing its fingers and hoping for better health and rapid maturations next season.

    If the Wolves are keeping D'Angelo Russell—probably a safe assumption for now given his close connection with Towns—then they should find a taker for Ricky Rubio and his $17.8 million salary. Jarrett Culver is overdue for a scenery change. Power forward remains a soft spot in the rotation. The Wolves could really, really use a path back into this draft.

    There's a choose-your-own-adventure style menu of options here, but Minnesota needs to be doing something on the trade front to make this a successful summer.


    All stats current through March 30 and courtesy of and Basketball Reference unless otherwise noted. Salary information via Basketball Insiders.

    Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.