Bold Predictions for 2022 NBA Trade Deadline
Technically, every NBA trade-deadline prediction is a bold one.
Just think about how many guesstimates you've made during your Association fandom. Now think about how many you've nailed.
For those who aren't lying, the overwhelming wrongness-to-rightness ratio proves how hard it is to Magic-Eight-Ball trade-deadline outcomes.
This is all to say: Our latest batch of predictions doesn't strive to burp out impossibilities for the sake of being bolder than bold. These gut-feeling sentiments are instead meant to bring exactness to wide-open rumors, offer alternative results to consensus beliefs or spotlight teams and players not dominating the trade-deadline discourse.
Nothing here is presented without conviction. Think of these predictions as reasonable stabs in the dark. Yours truly believes in them. Whether any of them actually pans out before the Feb. 10 deadline is open-ended.
Charlotte, Golden State or Toronto Trades for a Pacers Big
Oh, hey, whaddaya know: The Indiana Pacers are ready to pull the rip cord on their core. Just about everyone is available, according to The Athletic's Shams Charania and Bob Kravitz—except for Malcolm Brogdon, but only because he signed an extension in October and can't be dealt this season.
Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis, both 25, will garner the most interest. Turner is more likely to be traded; his skill set is more scalable. Sabonis should intrigue any offense in need of a primary or co-alpha. Let's agree at least one of them ends up with the Charlotte Hornets, Golden State Warriors or Toronto Raptors.
Golden State will face the loudest calls to make a splash. Either Turner or Sabonis would be a tantalizing fit, and its title window has firmly reopened. A package built around two of James Wiseman, Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody, plus picks and Kevon Looney's salary, is both expendable and a conversation-starter.
Charlotte has to look further inward. Turner's rim protection and general defensive mobility plug a void, but the rebuilding Pacers aren't biting on an offer headlined by Gordon Hayward. Does this exact move improve the Hornets enough to empty the picks-and-prospects clip?
Toronto can talk itself into either Sabonis or Turner. But between OG Anunoby's indefinite absence with a hip injury and a loaded Eastern Conference middle class, cannonballing into win-now mode is a tougher sell. Opportunity cost is also an issue. Assuming Scottie Barnes is off-limits, the Raptors need Indy to have interest in Gary Trent Jr. or a salary-filler-plus-picks-and-maybe-Dalano-Banton special.
One of these three prospective admirers will land Sabonis or Turner. They just will. Indy appears open for business and the basketball fits make sense, and so it will be done. Book it.
Memphis Makes Consolidation Trade
Ja Morant's Nov. 26 left knee sprain theoretically could have torpedoed the Memphis Grizzlies' season. Except, well, they have responded to his absence by winning five straight and claiming outright ownership of fourth place in the Western Conference.
Though they remain far enough from title contention that they shouldn't be draining their asset well dry, the Grizzlies are built to make a semi-seismic move. For starters, they have salary-matching fodder of all types.
Expiring contracts for Kyle Anderson, Jarrett Culver and Tyus Jones are readily movable, while Dillon Brooks (one year, $11.4 million) and De'Anthony Melton (two years, $16.3 million) are on the books for at least another season at workable, if not desirable, numbers. Memphis also has Steven Adams (one year, $17.9 million) to dangle in pricier moves that require it to send out fewer bodies.
Cobbling together sweeteners for prospective deals is a non-issue for the Grizzlies, as well. Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. aren't going anywhere, and Desmond Bane should verge on untouchable, absent a returning star. But Memphis has all its own first-round picks, in addition to firsts from the Los Angeles Lakers (2022, top-10 protection), Utah Jazz (2022, top-six protection) and Golden State Warriors (2024, top-four protection). Ziaire Williams and Xavier Tillman can be baked into packages too.
Surfing the blockbuster market would be a divergence from the Grizzlies' implied gradual timeline. But remaining in the top-four hunt is cause to adjust. Look for them to be dark-horse suitors in potential sweepstakes for Myles Turner, Pascal Siakam, Brandon Ingram, Caris LeVert or Jerami Grant, just to name a few.
Ben Simmons Does Not Get Traded
Predicting that someone stays put is usually the path of least resistance. But Ben Simmons isn't Damian Lillard or Brandon Ingram. He isn't playing for his team (while healthy) or on a squad awaiting the return of a Zion Williamson-sized piece. He is the missing piece, without a timeline for, or desire to, return.
To that end, the Philadelphia 76ers are not the Portland Trail Blazers or New Orleans Pelicans. This is not a year on which they can punt. They have Joel Embiid, a viable MVP candidate when on the floor. Their timeline is now.
Not trading Simmons for whatever they can get is the harder-to-reconcile decision. Never mind traditional logic. Teams are under no obligation to settle. But that hard-line stance is easier to draw when players are, you know, playing. The Sixers aren't preserving their current product by holding on to him. They're betting on what the team can look like after he's gone.
Deep down, or maybe not so deep down, many probably believe team president Daryl Morey will cave. Allowing any part of Embiid's prime to remain adrift in non-contention is borderline malpractice, and the Eastern Conference is so wide open that it shouldn't take a superstar infusion to open the title window.
Still, the Sixers have held out this long, and the trade market has yet to yield the type of player they're after. A healthy CJ McCollum doesn't even crack their wish list, per Bleacher Report's Jake Fischer. This feels like a situation fated to drag on until the offseason. I'd bet on Simmons suiting up for the Sixers again before his being dealt by Feb. 10.
Cleveland, Minnesota or Sacramento Will Make a Big Win-Now Move
The Cleveland Cavaliers, Minnesota Timberwolves and Sacramento Kings all have cause to enter the trade deadline as buyers? What a time to be alive.
Whether any of them should be buyers is a different story.
The Kings shouldn't be. Failing the acquisition of an All-NBA type, they're looong overdue for a rebuild. But it's also clear they equate play-in candidacy with ending their 15-year postseason drought. With movable contracts galore, all their own future first-rounders and under-25 talents such as De'Aaron Fox, Tyrese Haliburton and Davion Mitchell, they're a threat to do anything.
Minnesota's case is more straightforward. Chris Finch has coached the Timberwolves into playing stingy defense and posting a top-10 net rating since the middle of November. The right arrival can entrench them as a top-six team in the West. Everyone other than Anthony Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns should be on the table, particularly if it means netting Ben Simmons, Pascal Siakam or Myles Turner—or, much less likely, Damian Lillard or Fox.
Cleveland's argument to buy is similarly simple. It's flirting with a top-six spot in the East despite missing Collin Sexton (torn meniscus) and playing out the league's toughest schedule.
Granted, the Cavs should show more restraint than the Timberwolves, given this is the first season of Evan Mobley's career. But they've played well enough to prowl the market for significant wing upgrades at the expense of Isaac Okoro, salary filler and future picks. Brandon Ingram, Jerami Grant, Caris LeVert, Harrison Barnes, Eric Gordon and (a healthy) T.J. Warren all fit the bill to varying degrees.
Portland Holds Non-Star Fire Sale
Nearly every Portland Trail Blazers discussion comes back to the futures of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum.
Not this one.
Dealing either constitutes a nuclear move. The Blazers aren't undergoing that kind of organizational overhaul midseason while being run by an interim general manager in Joe Cronin. That's a job for the full-time hire.
It's a distinct possibility Cronin gets the permanent gig, per Fischer. But flipping Lillard or McCollum is still a course best left for the summer, when cap sheets are more pliable and the Blazers have a concrete hold on the draft order. Injuries to Lillard (abdominal) and McCollum (collapsed lung) only decrease the likelihood either is shipped out before Feb. 10.
None of which should prevent the Blazers from accepting reality and holding an alternative fire sale. They are going nowhere this season. Clinging to a play-in spot will only get harder the longer both Lillard and McCollum, along with so many others, are on the shelf.
Regardless of how their search for a new top basketball executive pans out, they need to take stock of their more transient assets.
Jusuf Nurkic, Robert Covington and Anfernee Simons (restricted) are all scheduled for free agency this summer. Nassir Little will be extension-eligible. And while Norman Powell is in the first season of a five-year, $90 million deal, the Blazers shouldn't be opposed to scoping out his market. He neither jibes with a team planning a full-on rebuild nor one preparing to keep both McCollum and Lillard, two other guards who stand under 6'4".