The 1 Player Every NBA Team Needs to Trade in 2022
Though this past year ranked among the longest decades in history, we have, rumor has it, officially trudged into 2022. Congratulations. Let's now ring in the new year like we always do: with another round of NBA trade speculation.
Demanding teams ship out anyone is over the top. This is instead an overview of which player each squad should be trying or remains most obligated to shop in 2022.
Just like the 2021 iteration of this exercise, we are talking about the entire calendar year. Many names will be selected with the Feb. 10 trade deadline in mind, but certain choices tilt toward summer and beginning-of-next-season propositions.
Every decision aims to strike a realistic balance. Bigger-name inclusions aren't taboo, even if they're not dominating the rumor mill, but we won't go against the real-life intentions of franchises beyond reason.
Some teams needn't approach the trade market with any urgency right now. These instances will be denoted and default to the player they're most likely to or should use as bait in talks. Because, again, we're not only talking about right now but over the offseason and into the 2022-23 campaign.
Finally, and most importantly, this entire exercise rests on the (rickety) assumption the league will operate with a semblance of normalcy by the deadline. Selections and observations are made purely for basketball purposes and not meant to downplay or dismiss any hardships players and teams may currently be navigating during the Association's COVID-19 surge.
Atlanta Hawks: Danilo Gallinari
Others will urge the Atlanta Hawks to shop De'Andre Hunter or Cam Reddish. Both are extension-eligible this summer, and they already signed Kevin Huerter to a four-year, $65 million deal that kicks in next season.
That logjam isn't enough to mandate Atlanta trade a younger wing. For starters, it's not actually a logjam. Having too many quality wings—all of whom can play at the same time—isn't a thing. It's a different story if the Hawks don't want to pay all three. Not one of them, though, is a throwaway asset.
Yes, Atlanta will have to surrender one if it strikes a consolidation trade. However, it'll take a larger salary to anchor any blockbuster, which is where Danilo Gallinari comes in.
Contracts promising cap relief don't always belong to players capable of making a positive impact. Gallinari still can. His offense translates both on and off the ball, he can still put his head down and draw contact, and this is the fourth consecutive season in which he's drained more than 40 percent of his threes.
Make no mistake—the Hawks can use him, but he has a $5 million partial guarantee against a $21.5 million price point next year, and they've tied up $40 million-plus per season in the John Collins-Clint Capela front line.
Atlanta might plan to waive Gallinari after this year anyway. Even if it doesn't, attaching his salary to picks and youngsters is its most likely path to a glittery acquisition that doesn't entail making Collins available.
Boston Celtics: Dennis Schroder
There is a larger conversation to be had about the Boston Celtics' best trade-deadline approach. They are on the precipice of, if not outright in, seller territory.
This shouldn't be considered inflammatory. Below .500, with an offense that doesn't put consistent pressure on the rim and is 29th in effective field-goal percentage on wide-open jumpers, the Celtics are among this season's biggest letdowns. Team president Brad Stevens should be contemplating the bigger picture and gauging the market value of everyone except Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum.
Dennis Schroder, of course, is a must-shop no matter what the Celtics do. He fell into their lap over the summer after his free-agent market imploded, and they don't have the financial flexibility to keep him beyond this season.
Boston can offer Schroder 120 percent of the mini mid-level exception he's earning now before needing cap space or the larger MLE to retain him. The Celtics don't have a prayer of carving out the former, and he isn't sticking around for the sub-$7.1 million they can sling using his non-Bird rights.
Dangling the bigger $10.1 million MLE might get the job done, but they must first waive Al Horford for $14.5 million if they're going to have enough wiggle room under the tax to access it.
Moral of the story: Schroder is a goner after this year. Boston should see what an aggressive buyer will pony up to rent him for part of the season.
Brooklyn Nets: Jevon Carter
Slim pickings await us on the Brooklyn Nets roster.
Kevin Durant and James Harden (player option) aren't going anywhere. Kyrie Irving (player option) is a popular inclusion in the not-so-deep recesses of NBA Twitter but unrealistic—particularly when the Nets have green-lit his return to the team. Joe Harris earns a lot of money but is a quintessential superstar complement and doesn't have a ton of value while recovering from a left ankle injury.
Patty Mills is too important even if he's a risk to decline his player option and leave in free agency. Cam Thomas and Nic Claxton aren't off-limits but shouldn't be moved independent of a splashy arrival, and neither makes enough money to anchor a blockbuster package.
Day'Ron Sharpe, the No. 29 pick in the 2021 draft, is too much of an unknown and remains insurance against Claxton's departure in restricted free agency. Bruce Brown has an implicit no-trade clause. Brooklyn isn't getting anything noteworthy for one of its veterans on minimum deals, and a couple of them (LaMarcus Aldridge, DeAndre' Bembry) are too integral to offload.
That basically leaves Jevon Carter. He has not regained the outside stroke he flashed with the Phoenix Suns in 2019-20 and won't be part of a full-strength rotation. The Nets would do well to jettison him, if only to create a roster spot. A backcourt rotation light on bodies may enjoy taking a cheap flier on his bulldog defense.
Charlotte Hornets: Kelly Oubre Jr.
Figuring out who to choose for the Charlotte Hornets is maddeningly difficult. There is more than one answer.
Gordon Hayward and Terry Rozier (trade-eligible Jan. 18) warrant consideration. They're on the books for more than $50 million combined over the next two years, and neither affords the Hornets a dependable enough floor general to manage units without LaMelo Ball.
With Miles Bridges headed for a big-time payday in restricted free agency and a disturbingly shallow center rotation, Charlotte has to take a thorough look at where it's allocated funds. Perhaps Rozier or Hayward can be the primary salary in a deal that nabs a starrier playmaker or marquee big.
Let's hold off. For now. Hayward is an efficient machine who fits a variety of lineups, and there's no guarantee the Hornets flip him for a better initiator. Rozier has rediscovered his incandescence from deep and handles some pretty gnarly defensive assignments.
Settling on Kelly Oubre Jr. feels right. He's having a quality year, but his scorching-hot outside clip is beginning to cool, he doesn't help the team's rebounding, and soon-to-be restricted free agent Cody Martin is ready for a larger role.
Also: The Hornets signed Oubre to a placeholder deal. Less than half of his $12.6 million salary for 2022-23 is guaranteed. Whether it's this season or after guaranteeing next year's money, his is a middle-of-the-road contract the Hornets can attach to other stuff in search of upgrades that don't nuke the core.
Chicago Bulls: Coby White
Coby White missed the start of the season while rehabbing his left shoulder and has a couple of steamy performances under his belt over the past few games. But that's not enough to declare him part of the Chicago Bulls' bigger picture.
Their backcourt rotation is more crowded than ever (at full bore) with Lonzo Ball, Alex Caruso and Zach LaVine. Granted, the idea of White isn't exactly redundant. Lonzo and Caruso are not off-the-bounce magicians, and the Bulls could use another perimeter attacker and spacer.
Except, well, White doesn't fit that bill. He is shooting a career-low percentage from three and remains a shaky, infrequent finisher around the hoop.
DeMar DeRozan's primary creation partnered with all LaVine does off- and on-ball renders White expendable when he's not tall enough to play up. Ayo Dosunmu's defensive emergence only complicates the secondary rotation—and not in White's favor.
Moving a top-seven prospect on his rookie-scale contract always stings unless it secures a star, and White isn't good enough to be a blockbuster magnet. But a diminishing role and impending extension eligibility should coax Chicago into plumbing his market value in favor of veteran acquisitions or picks that can help them bolster future trades.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Kevin Love
Process of elimination gets the Cleveland Cavaliers to Kevin Love—a spot in which this may have ended anyway.
Jarrett Allen, Darius Garland and Evan Mobley are all staying put. Dealing Collin Sexton when he's out for the season with a torn meniscus doesn't track. His salary isn't high enough to bring back anything significant on its own, and teams won't treat him as a crown jewel following his injury and with restricted free agency on the horizon.
Ricky Rubio's torn left ACL arguably makes him expendable. The team can try attaching picks to his expiring $17.8 million contract, but that's unlikely to net much when he's out for the year. The Cavs are better off seeing whether his injury allows them to retain him at a discount in free agency.
Gauging Lauri Markkanen's value has some merit. Cleveland's three-big lineups are working, and he's been better than expected defending the wing. But his $15.7 million salary is perfectly priced filler if the Cavs angle for a win-now transaction. It just isn't clear whether they should go that route after losing both Rubio and Sexton.
Defaulting to Love fits that uncertainty. He remains tough to move now, even though he's playing better. But he'll be a $28.9 million expiring contract over the summer, when Cleveland has a firmer grip on the health of its roster, overall place in the East and stronger motivation to act like a heavyweight buyer.
Dallas Mavericks: Tim Hardaway Jr.
Yet another offseason of making zero material changes to the roster hasn't worked so well for the Dallas Mavericks.
Who, aside from literally everyone, could've seen this coming?
Not even health-and-safety-protocol purgatory softens the relative blahness of the Mavericks' setup. If anything, the revolving door of availability has amplified the need for a shake-up. Players choppering in on 10-day contracts to slog through games without Luka Doncic shouldn't be the breath of fresh air they've so far been.
Exiling Kristaps Porzingis isn't the answer. His defense is much better than last season, and the shooting stroke should come around. Mostly, the Mavs aren't getting adequate value straight-up for the balance of his contract (two years, $69.8 million) and don't have the requisite sweeteners to use him as the fulcrum of a star acquisition.
Tim Hardaway Jr. is the correct call. He doesn't provide enough self-creation to move the needle when he's also bricking looks off the catch, and Dallas lacks the surrounding defensive talent to offset the deficit lineups featuring both he and Doncic create.
Suitors won't be foaming at the mouth to swallow what's left on Hardaway's contract (three years, $53.7 million). But his deal unfolds on a declining scale, and he should pique the interest from teams that don't need him to be the facsimile of a No. 2 or No. 3.
Denver Nuggets: JaMychal Green
Nuclear trades are not moves worthy of the Denver Nuggets' exploration. They don't know when Jamal Murray (ACL) or Michael Porter Jr. (back) are returning, P.J. Dozier (ACL) is out for the season, and they cannot deal a first-round pick before 2027. This is not the year to go all-in.
Please do not confuse this to mean they should do nothing.
Nikola Jokic is following up last year's MVP campaign with another one, and the Nuggets are blasting opponents when he's on the floor. They have a need for wings who can shoot and/or defend and could use a more genuine backup big, and Jokic is the impetus for them to target reasonable upgrades.
Few players can help make that happen. Will Barton, Jeff Green and Aaron Gordon are must-keeps right now. Ditto for Monte Morris without Murray in the fold. Facundo Campazzo doesn't make enough. Bol Bol remains a novelty and doesn't earn a ton himself.
JaMychal Green's tidy $8.2 million salary is the Nuggets' best matching chip. His pick-and-pop utility has dipped, and he seems to have lost a step on defense. But his contract—which includes an $8.2 million player option for next season—is digestible enough for a team pining after second-round buffers or willing to roll the dice on frontcourt malleability.
Detroit Pistons: Jerami Grant
Jerami Grant's trade value peaked for the Detroit Pistons sometime over the offseason, if not in the middle of last year. His shooting percentages dropped prior to suffering a sprained right thumb that continues to have him on the sidelines, underscoring what became clear by the end of 2020-21: his offensive skill set, while deeper than initially imagined, is overtaxed as the No. 1 or No. 2.
Detroit has neither the roster nor timeline to much further streamline a role that calls for nearly 40 percent of Grant's buckets to go unassisted. He will hit free agency, in 2023, before the team ever gets there, and it doesn't make sense to foot the bill on his next contract without an approximation of the organization's next legitimate playoff chase.
Buyers are interested in Grant, per NBA reporter Marc Stein, because duh. He will be only 28 in March, has another year left on his deal, can sign an extension this summer and, at this point, is overqualified to fill a three-and-D role for a contender.
The Pistons don't have to rush anything. That extra year on Grant's contract gives them some insurance against taking a bath in talks when he's either injured and/or shooting barely 33 percent from deep.
Turning him into picks and young players who better suit the franchise's direction should still be the eventual endgame. It beats shelling out another contract that could age poorly or, worse, letting him walk for nothing in 2023.
Golden State Warriors: James Wiseman
Public service announcement: The Golden State Warriors don't need to trade anyone. They are the title favorites before getting back Klay Thompson.
Flipping James Wiseman before the Feb. 10 deadline could even be irresponsible. He has played in fewer than 45 games since leaving high school, with his most recent appearance coming on April 10. No one's value is through the roof when they're recovering from a torn right meniscus, let alone someone with hardly any NBA experience, who wasn't actively helpful last season.
Maybe a can't-miss star yet to hit the rumor mill becomes available in the next month-plus. More to the point, Golden State has to start thinking about whether it can effectively juggle Wiseman's development with its present.
Minutes will be harder to come by should the Warriors continue to have superior options on the front line who better serve championship aspirations: Draymond Green, Kevon Looney, Otto Porter Jr., even Jonathan Kuminga. Equally, if not more, important: The first two seasons of Wiseman's career look like they'll be a wash. Golden State must consider the ticking timeline that is his rookie-scale contract, and the extension eligibility that awaits in 2023.
Failing all that, there's always the chance the Warriors don't win a title this year, in which case they better be scouring the market for marquee reinforcements to pair with Dray, Klay and Stephen Curry—a search inextricably tethered to Wiseman's availability and mystery-box mystique.
Houston Rockets: Christian Wood
Eric Gordon deserves an honorable mention, but his future with the Houston Rockets is nowhere near as pressing. They should absolutely send him to a contender, this season or over the summer. But if they don't, he's a 33-year-old on a not-so-cheap contract (one year, $19.6 million guaranteed) who walks as a free agent in 2023, the opportunity cost of which is maybe a pick or prospect.
Seeing Christian Wood's deal through would be more of a mistake. He is 26, with another year at a cut rate left on his contract ($14.3 million) and bound to command more on the trade market. Even at a time when non-star centers are deemed replicable, Wood is unique—more of an aberration at his position than Gordon is at his. Bigs with his floor game are not a dime-a-dozen.
Keeping Wood through next season leaves the Rockets in an awkward spot. Either they pay red-carpet bucks to retain a soon-to-be 28-year-old who caps the usage of youngsters Alperen Sengun and Usman Garuba. Or they let him leave via free agency, for nothing, knowing they could've bagged a meaningful combination of picks and prospects.
Houston isn't beholden to sending Wood elsewhere now. It can make that call over the offseason. But prospective suitors will most likely surrender more for him with a year-and-a-half left on his deal as opposed to when he'll be an expiring contract and imminent flight risk barreling toward a fatter payday.
Indiana Pacers: Myles Turner
It is more tempting than advertised to avoid piling onto the "Blow up the Indiana Pacers!" bandwagon. They are pummeling opponents by nearly 14 points per 100 possessions when Malcolm Brogdon, Caris LeVert, Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis play together, and their 2-12 record through games with one-possession differentials inside the final two minutes, while a league-worst, suggests they're not far off from establishing a happier medium.
Optimists intent on waiting for T.J. Warren's return from a left foot injury are free to discuss the futures of Justin Holiday, Torrey Craig or Jeremy Lamb's expiring contract. Turner is still the answer for me.
This isn't because he and Sabonis cannot play together. They can. But this team reeks of needing to try something drastically different. And though Turner isn't the root cause of its staleness, he is the one slated for free agency next season who has also openly, on the record, indicated a desire for a larger or clearer role.
LeVert is a worthwhile answer himself. But he and Brogdon, who cannot be dealt this season after signing his extension, represent the Pacers' best hope at consistent point-of-attack offense. Neither should be shipped out unless it's for—or until Indiana gets—a major upgrade in perimeter self-creation.
Sabonis, meanwhile, is the team's best player and safety net against its shallower point-of-attack well. He shouldn't be on the auction block independent of a full-tilt teardown.
L.A. Clippers: Eric Bledsoe
Going Steve Ballmer wild on the trade market doesn't jibe with the state of the L.A. Clippers. They don't have a return date for Kawhi Leonard, who has yet to play this season while recovering from a partially torn right ACL, and Paul George will miss at least another few weeks after suffering a torn ligament in his right elbow.
To the Clippers' credit, they remain in the running for a top-six Western Conference seed. Their immediate arc will skyrocket, and then some, if they hold serve only to eventually get back both George and Leonard.
The latter is not a guarantee. And even with just George, the Clippers aren't menacing enough to embrace seismic pursuits. But this assumes they can do something substantial. They don't have a future first-round pick to trade, which considerably limits their options.
Sitting tight still feels underwhelming. The Clippers owe this year's first to the Oklahoma City Thunder without any protections. They might as well chase slight roster upgrades who snazz up the offense.
Eric Bledsoe's contract is among their best mechanisms for doing so. His $18.1 million salary allows them to take back up to $22.7 million. Pair that with, say, the Detroit Pistons' 2025 second-rounder, and they can sell his $3.9 million partial guarantee next year as cap relief to squads interested in unloading longer-term money.
Los Angeles Lakers: Russell Westbrook
Russell Westbrook is not the Los Angeles Lakers' only problem. He isn't even the problem.
His lows are looow; turnovers remain an issue, and he's played atrocious defense. But over his past 25 games, he's shooting 60-plus percent inside the restricted area and above 35 percent on triples, including 53.3 percent from the corners (8-of-15).
Hope isn't lost for the Lakers' Big Three, either. Los Angeles outscores opponents by 12.2 points per 100 possessions when Russ and LeBron James play with Anthony Davis at center. Those setups have merely been limited by absences, first from LeBron and now from AD (left knee).
Herein lies the problem: The Lakers don't have the depth to bankroll three megastar salaries. Their would-be starting lineup ranks 30th in minutes played, per Synergy's Todd Whitehead, and they're constantly fielding non-shooters who won't torpedo the defense or better floor-spacers who hurt them at the other end.
Shopping Talen Horton-Tucker (after Jan. 14) and Kendrick Nunn won't fix everything. THT has a sub-30 effective field-goal percentage on jumpers, and Nunn hasn't played yet. The Lakers can attach a 2027 or 2028 first, but that does little unless the rival front office has unprecedented job security.
Dealing Westbrook this season is likely off the table. That's fine. He'll be an expiring contract over the summer, at which time the Lakers must try parlaying his $47.1 million salary (player option) into two, three or four supporting cast members who deepen a desperately shallow rotation.
Memphis Grizzlies: Kyle Anderson
Standing pat is a luxury of operating ahead of schedule. And jeez, are the Memphis Grizzlies ahead of schedule.
Ja Morant missed nearly a month with a sprained left knee (and while in health and safety protocols), and it did nothing to kill this team's vibe. They remain fourth in the West, with a top-10 net rating and rising defense.
Left untouched, no matter how successful they are in the postseason, this year goes down as yet another success relative to expectations. Then again, the Grizzlies could go the other way, entering the deadline as stealthy buyers by dangling everyone except Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Desmond Bane.
Whatever they decide should include testing the Kyle Anderson trade waters. He is still a useful on-ball option and portable defender who has developed into a dependable shooter from the corners, but his role has been squeezed amid the rise of other 3s and 4s.
Varying levels of ascent from Dillon Brooks, Bane and Jackson almost assuredly mean the Grizzlies won't pay Anderson when he hits free agency this summer. They can risk losing him for nothing without incurring a gut-punch case of the what-ifs, but it behooves them to see how much interested parties will give up to net his half-season services and Bird rights. Beyond that, his $9.9 million expiring salary is a convenient matching tool if Memphis opts to take a bigger swing of its own.
Miami Heat: KZ Okpala
Arriving here, to KZ Okpala, is quite the journey.
Bam Adebayo, Jimmy Butler and Kyle Lowry are no-gos for obvious reasons. Tyler Herro falls under a similar umbrella unless the Miami Heat are acquiring a fourth star who happens to be having a much better season than this year's Sixth Man of the Year favorite. P.J. Tucker is apparently aging in reverse and someone you only shop if you're a seller.
Duncan Robinson is all that's left among the higher-salaried players. Some might pick him. He has responded to signing a five-year, $90 million pact by shooting under 35 percent from deep. That's grounds for relitigation.
Eventually. Robinson deserves the benefit of the doubt for now. His rut hasn't even spanned half the season, and he still packs an above-average punch in scoring gravity (52nd percentile) and movement shooting (97th percentile), according to BBall-Index.
Just like that, the Heat are out of players making more than...$1.8 million. And so, we have Okpala. He has actually turned in some positive moments during stints as a small-ball 5, but he's not consistently cracking a full-strength rotation.
Maybe the Heat can recoup one of the—*mega sigh*—three second-rounders they forked over to get him. More importantly, it'd be nice to move him while creating an extra roster spot. They have one open but could use another in advance of the buyout market—particularly if they convert Caleb Martin's two-way contract to a regular NBA deal.
Milwaukee Bucks: Jordan Nwora
Resist mulling higher-profile alternatives for the Milwaukee Bucks. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton are staying put, because duh. Bobby Portis is too much of a bargain and too damn important with Brook Lopez on the shelf. Lopez himself needs to return from his back injury before the Bucks ponder whether he's expendable.
Grayson Allen's extension makes him tough to trade (for now), and his dispensability is directly tied to Donte DiVincenzo's recovery arc. Speaking of which: The Bucks can't view DiVincenzo as a must-trade chip fewer than five games into his season debut.
Jordan Nwora, a soon-to-be restricted free agent himself, is the pick given the Bucks probably have no choice other than to focus on smaller-time moves. He continues to be among the most exhilarating, nauseating and, therefore, turbulent roller coasters in the game. His shot creation is equal parts blessing and burden. It can uplift short-handed lineups, just not consistently, but he struggles within units that don't afford him carte blanche.
Maybe the Bucks snare a second-rounder for his services. More critically, with Wesley Matthews playing well enough to earn a perma-contract, they could use another roster spot for the eventual buyout market, and teams are more likely to take on Nwora without sending someone back than Rodney Hood and Semi Ojeleye.
Sure, Milwaukee can just waive a minimum deal if it needs the slot. But its tax bill is high enough that every dollar on the margin matters—to the folks upstairs, anyway.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Malik Beasley
Feel free to favor the expiring-contract-plus-picks-and-youngsters framework and call for the Minnesota Timberwolves to peddle Patrick Beverley or Taurean Prince. I'll pass.
Beverley has proved to be a breath of fresh defensive air when healthy yet needs to shoot better from deep. He exists in that space where he's more valuable to the Wolves than the teams with which they're most likely to talk shop.
Prince is entirely salary-fodder. Partnering him with picks and cheaper players is a solid course for squads looking to lightly futz and fiddle. Judging from their links to Ben Simmons and Myles Turner, the Wolves want to do more.
Malik Beasley looms as an irreplaceable piece of the puzzle in any blockbuster or semi-major shake-up. His outside shooting is down but on the come-up, and the balance of his contract (two years, $32.1 million) isn't unreasonable. Teams can acquire him with the intent to retain him or extract additional value for his services in another trade.
That doesn't mean he'll be the crux of any home run swing. Jaden McDaniels and future firsts will be hotter draws. But Beasley's salary is a step-ladder to taking back more expensive deals, and he's waaay more expendable to the Timberwolves than Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Edwards or D'Angelo Russell.
New York Knicks: Julius Randle
There is a callousness to suggesting the New York Knicks actively try moving Julius Randle (trade-eligible Feb. 2) one season after he reinvigorated the franchise and earned second-team All-NBA honors. That doesn't make it wrong.
Randle is no doubt better than the player he's been this season—the one who has seen his effective field-goal percentage on jumpers plunge by more than eight points (from 50.4 to 42.3), committed truly baffling turnovers and largely defended like he doesn't give a flying-you-know-what. Things should normalize. The real version of Randle lies somewhere between last year and this one.
Which isn't OK.
Signing Randle to a four-year, $117 million extension—that kicks in next season—only made sense if he provided some form of a bridge to contention. And it didn't need to be as an all-everything.
Most knew entering this year he couldn't be the No. 1 on a title hopeful. But save for a recent stretch of two-man synergy with Kemba Walker, he hasn't seemed like someone who can even properly function without total offensive control he nowhere near deserves.
Uncomfortable truths are hard to verbalize. They still need to be said. And the truth is, the Knicks should be looking to pull the plug on this entire faux-contender operation. That starts with Randle. And they can't necessarily afford to wait. The sheen of his All-NBA campaign remains somewhat visible. Prolonging this miscalculation only increases the likelihood it takes assets to reroute his contract—if it doesn't already.
New Orleans Pelicans: Jaxson Hayes
The Jaxson Hayes experiment isn't going poorly so much as it's not really going at all.
Willy Hernangomez usurped him as the New Orleans Pelicans' primary backup prior to Thanksgiving, and head coach Willie Green hasn't changed his stance when the frontcourt is at full strength. Hayes has spent time in the G League and, more recently, soaked up extensive run with Jonas Valanciunas on the shelf.
"I don't think I'm there yet, but I think I know what it looks like for the most part," Hayes told The Athletic's Wlliam Guillory when asked about his long-term utility. "I can be an elite pick-and-roll player. I can spread the floor by knocking down shots from farther out. I can bring the energy and the scoring. I can control the paint with my defense. I know what I bring to the table."
Most of Hayes' vision remains aspirational. He has dabbled in three-point volume this season, but his outside shot must become a functional staple if he's ever going to effectively share the floor with the injured Zion Williamson. His defense must be more consistent, too. He can get caught behind actions too often and remains foul-happy.
New Orleans is better off exploring his trade market. He is extension-eligible this summer, and the front office already tacked on another two years to Valanciunas' deal. Even at his peak, Hayes no longer projects as the Pelicans' center of the future.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Derrick Favors
Short of moving Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, which they absolutely shouldn't do, the Oklahoma City Thunder have no feasible path to righting a tank gone wrong. They are scrappy and brimming with tantalizing non-star fliers, beholden to neither immediate expectations nor exigent trade strategies.
Something inevitably needs to give on the perimeter, where the Thunder are stocked and unfinished. Aaron Wiggins is the latest to emerge. He is physical and fearless, can ball-fake opponents out of stances and has shot almost 79 percent at the rim since the middle of December. If he ever smooths out his jumper, watch out.
Between Wiggins, SGA, Lu Dort, Josh Giddey, Tre Mann, Ty Jerome and Theo Maledon, the Thunder are pretty crowded at the guard-swingman spots. Whatever. They have the gradual timeline to max out self-discovery, and many of their players, including Wiggins, are without defined positions—which is also why they needn't yet shop Darius Bazley (defending well!) or Aleksej Pokusevski.
Turning Kenrich Williams into a first-round pick at the apex of his value would register as a priority...if OKC needed more firsts. Derrick Favors is the cliche answer as the third-oldest player on a young team, but his departure would also, hopefully, signal the acquisition of a more stable center option.
To this point, the Thunder have relied upon a hodgepodge of him, Mike Muscala, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Isaiah Roby and even some Bazley, Poku and Williams minutes. Rebuilding or not, they need a more viable, permanent solution in the middle.
Orlando Magic: Gary Harris
Chopping-block options abound for the Orlando Magic.
Terrence Ross will solicit the most consideration. Orlando should wait. He has another year left on his deal and is shooting a career low from beyond the arc. Mo Bamba has turned in some intriguing moments, and the Magic already extended Wendell Carter Jr. But the former's onset hot shooting has cooled, and the team has little to fear in letting him enter restricted free agency.
Robin Lopez's expiring $5 million contract is a nondescript salary-matcher. He might even be a buyout candidate. The Magic should probably just keep him for his hook shots and vibes.
Gary Harris is the bigger fish by virtue of his $20.5 million salary. He is overpaid for what he brings to the table, but expiring money that lucrative can be used to sponge up an unwanted contract laced with assets befitting Orlando's rebuild.
Leasing out future cap space is not a mindless endeavor. There has to be a market for it. But Harris' appeal is buoyed by an uptick on the offensive end. He has canned 38.6 percent of his treys since mid-November and is shooting better than 50 percent on drives for the season. That level of efficiency should render him more than a buyout candidate when weighed in tandem with his defensive value.
Philadelphia 76ers: Ben Simmons
Nothing new appears to be bubbling on the Ben Simmons-Philadelphia 76ers soap opera front. As Bleacher Report's Jake Fischer noted on The Anthony Irwin Show when discussing the Los Angeles Lakers' interest in the 25-year-old defensive dynamo (h/t Liberty Ballers' Dave Early):
"The only way literally to get there contractually is to put in Russell Westbrook. And he’s just not a player—the Sixers have a literal, tangible, I don’t know how long it is but it’s somewhere between 24 and 30, a list of players that they would take back for Ben Simmons...but I know that they have these All-Stars that they want and Russell Westbrook is just not one of those guys."
This is pretty much status quo. Simmons wants out and isn't with the team while tending to his mental health. Philly will only acquiesce to his trade demand if it acquires players teams aren't willing to trade for him.
How and when this ends is anyone's guess. Simmons' trade value isn't spiking unless he, in spite of everything, suits up for the Sixers and goes kaboom or one of his primary suitors gets ultra-desperate. Philly can also lower its asking price, which makes sense, because Joel Embiid needs reinforcements, yet also doesn't make sense, because settling for a pennies-on-the-dollar return defeats the purpose of trading a star under long-term contract in the first place.
Personally: To hell with how this saga ends. It just needs to end. Preferably soon. Like, yesterday.
Phoenix Suns: Jalen Smith
Certain teams are so good, so enviably constructed, they make this entire exercise a gigantic snooze fest. The Phoenix Suns are one of those teams.
Jalen Smith isn't just the answer. He is the only answer.
Dario Saric makes more money, but his recovery from a torn right ACL could keep him out for the season, and with another year left on his contract, he's not pure cap relief. Smith is a different story. Phoenix declined his third-year option, so his $4.5 million comes off the books this summer. And unlike Saric, who can still provide small-ball-5 oomph when healthy, Smith is expendable both immediately and into the future.
Don't get caught up in the whole "He was the 10th overall pick in 2020!" hoopla. It's over. The Suns cut their losses by declining his third-year option, a vote of no-confidence so rare it speaks not-suitable-for-work volumes. They can offer him and a second-rounder up for, say, their old pal Torrey Craig without losing any sleep.
More daring individuals will nominate Cameron Payne. He's crashed down to solid ground after an in-the-clouds 2020-21, and his $6.5 million salary can help Phoenix step-ladder its way to a larger acquisition.
Still, the Suns have time. Payne has another guaranteed year left on his deal ($6.5 million non-guaranteed in 2023-24), and they can't afford to flip him without landing a glitzier ball-handling option in return.
Portland Trail Blazers: Jusuf Nurkic
Back off, Damian Lillard Hypothetical Trade Vultures. It's not happening.
CJ McCollum will be a popular answer, but he has another two years on his contract. The Portland Trail Blazers can afford to wait until the offseason.
Impending free agents pose more pressing matters, namely Robert Covington, Jusuf Nurkic and Anfernee Simons. All three are flight risks. But Simons isn't established enough for the Blazers to fret his restricted free agency, and Covington remains important to how Portland wants to defend and won't net much when he's not hitting threes.
Nurkic is the oddest man out. He remains valuable for his little flip shots, floor navigation out of high-ball screens and passing on short rolls and from standstills. He's even improved his finishing around the hoop. But he seemed less than thrilled about his role last offseason, and now, Portland's defense has marginalized his strengths.
No team is more aggressive guarding pick-and-rolls, per BBall Index's Krishna Narsu. Nurkic isn't perfectly suited to defending at the level of the screen in the first place and is even more exposed in a Blazers system with limited bankability behind him. Opponents are shooting 71.6 percent against him at the rim—the league's worst mark among 53 players who have challenged at least 110 point-blank opportunities.
Portland's defense has sniffed average when Nurkic plays. So...there's that. But he's not their long-term answer in the middle. They should deal him before he's paid like one—or he leaves for nothing.
Sacramento Kings: Everyone but Tyrese Haliburton and Richaun Holmes
"Do I think we have a championship team?" interim head coach Alvin Gentry told reporters after the Sacramento Kings' Dec. 31 pooping-the-bed special versus Dallas. "No, let's be realistic, but if we have the guys play to their ability and the coaches do a good job in preparation, game plans and stuff, then why can't we accomplish what we set out to do?"
No word yet on whether Gentry will be reprimanded by a perpetually out-of-touch front office for telling the truth.
Sacramento needs to choose a direction. Any damn direction, at all, will do. Chasing 10th-place finishes is, objectively, asinine. It doesn't matter the market in which you reside, or how long you've been out of the playoffs. Titles are not the only barometers of success, but the Kings are failing by every fathomable measure, haplessly and hopelessly and unendingly.
Everyone should be up for grabs, except for probably Tyrese Haliburton. This pains me as a De'Aaron Fox forever-er. But it's the truth. Keep Richaun Holmes, too. He's cheap and good and scalable to a rebuild or team actually capable of winning now.
Harrison Barnes is probably the best indicator for an organization so inexorably aimless. They can trade him in favor of picks, prospects and cap relief to signal a rebuild. He's also desirable enough to be the primary outgoing salary in a deal that costs other assets but lands a player who can begin to ferry Sacramento out of the feckless state to which they've consigned themselves.
San Antonio Spurs: Thaddeus Young
Dear San Antonio Spurs,
Hi. Hey. Hello. Hope this finds you and the tannins in Gregg Popovich's favorite red wine well. And happy New Year.
Let's cut to the chase: I know midseason trades aren't your thing. But I'm hoping you'll make an exception for Thaddeus Young. And soon.
He clearly isn't part of your future. You cut his minutes even before he missed time with a leg injury, and he's barely ahead of Jock Landale in the rotation these days. Why keep him? Especially when he wants to play for a contender? And maybe just play in general?
Look, we're not unreasonable. Or delusional. You don't have to buy him out prior to the trade deadline. But his expiring $14.2 million salary, while not insignificant, is hardly immovable.
Bag what seconds and salary filler you can for his services and move on. If you need to inhale longer-term salary as part of the deal—well, hell that's even better. You're rebuilding. Kind of. Sort of. Leverage any offers with less-savory money into more future-driven assets.
In summation: Free Thad. Please.
Phoenix Suns Fans
Pretty Much Everyone, Basically
Toronto Raptors: Goran Dragic
Goran Dragic's $19.4 million expiring salary was designated a Toronto Raptors trade chip before he ever officially joined the team. Nothing's changed. He played all of 90 minutes across five appearances before leaving due to personal reasons and has yet to return.
Toronto could let the deadline pass and then try to broker a buyout, but saving a few shekels off the top of his salary isn't the savviest business. It doesn't matter whether team president Masai Ujiri fancies the Raptors buyers, sellers or an entity without a trade-deadline agenda. Dragic's money can be used to grease the wheels for all sorts of different scenarios.
In the event Toronto wants to acquire an impact name who hits the chopping block, a $19.4 million expiring salary attached to picks and cheaper players is a launching pad for sellers prioritizing cap relief. If the Raptors are catering to the longer game, Dragic's money can potentially be used to take back multiyear deals tethered to sweeteners—fliers that are right up the alley of Ujiri and Co.
No team will be tripping over themselves to bag Dragic as a trade-deadline centerpiece, except for maybe Dallas. But even with him on the wrong side of 35, someone somewhere will want to roll the dice on a talented shot-maker who, at minimum, can put situational pressure on set defenses.
Utah Jazz: Jordan Clarkson
Nominating one of the Utah Jazz's lower-salaried players to open up a roster spot for the buyout market or to use what's left of the Derrick Favors trade exception ($7.5 million) initially sprang to mind. But that type of transaction isn't getting someone who cracks the top eight or nine of their rotation.
Joe Ingles popped up next because of his free agency, age (34) and splits as a starter vs. off the bench. I can't get there. He is playing better in recent weeks and remains the third-most important playmaker on the roster, behind Mike Conley and Donovan Mitchell.
Bojan Bogdanovic's contract opens up different possibilities. I can't get there, either. Utah's offense is thermonuclear, but parting ways with a wing averaging over 17 points per game on better than 62 true shooting is, quite literally, not it.
Jordan Clarkson is the only other option. His three-point clip has climbed since a cold start, and he makes stuff happen when attacking inside the arc. The Jazz would miss his off-the-dribble pressure, but Ingles' passing is the bigger rarity, and they've increased Rudy Gay's post-ups over the past week-plus, presumably to plan around potential roster changes.
Clarkson's contract balance (two years, $27.6 million), from-scratch creation and age (29) also allow for slightly higher-end pursuits. And the Jazz didn't hire Danny Ainge to play it safe. They need another portable defensive wing who can crack select closing lineups. Clarkson's microwave scoring should be appealing enough to help get one.
Washington Wizards: Davis Bertans
Bradley Beal isn't worth including unless he asks for out. Now isn't the time for the Washington Wizards to make the call on his behalf, either. His three-point clip is at an all-time low, and he's not getting to the foul line nearly as often.
Top-shelf offers probably won't wow the Wizards with Beal's free agency coming up. This summer's cap-space landscape is also so finite they should be able to broker a sign-and-trade that brings back satisfactory value if he's looking for the exit.
Cutting the cord on Spencer Dinwiddie intrigues. Too many of his best moments have come without Beal, and his shooting percentage plummets when they play together. But the Wizards are too thin on point-of-attack offense to settle for bottom-dollar packages.
Montrezl Harrell is headed for free agency, and Washington has already extended Daniel Gafford. That's not cause for jettisoning the Sixth Man of the Year candidate. The Wizards cannot angle for a playoff run without his rim pressure.
Davis Bertans isn't a surefire answer. His gravity is imperative to opening the middle of the floor, and he's banging in 41 percent of his triples since Dec. 1. But the Wizards' effective field-goal percentage has actually declined with him on the floor, and his one-positionality caps his floor time.
Minutes at the 4 will be even harder to come by when Rui Hachimura returns. And frankly, Washington shouldn't be paying Bertans nearly $50 million over the next three years to be a ninth or 10th man.