8 likeliest sellers at the NBA trade deadline
2018 is already proving to be quite the year in the sport of basketball: Isaiah Thomas is back, DeMar DeRozan is dropping 50-point games, and the founder of the NBA has officially begun his sacred pilgrimmage to Lithuania. But with that calendar flip comes the realization that the trade deadline is but a month and change away. Here are eight teams likely to be open for business.
Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers are just 17-20 on the year as two prime assets (their top individual defender in Patrick Beverley and their $65 million man in Danilo Gallinari) gather dust on the sideline in suits. To make matters worse, the schedule becomes a meat processor from here — the Clippers will face Golden State (twice), Minnesota, Houston, and Boston, all over the course of the next three weeks. DeAndre Jordan and Lou Williams (both of whom can be free agents after the season) are two immensely popular trade targets, and each looks like a legitimate top-10 option at his respective position this year. It may only be a matter of time before Clippers executive Jerry West takes advantage of their peaking value and cashes in on this period of feast before the seemingly inevitable famine.
New Orleans Pelicans
Every passing second is a second that DeMarcus Cousins is closer to free agency this summer. To be fair, there’s a lot of good going in New Orleans right now: Cousins and Anthony Davis are a tyranny, little-known guard E’Twaun Moore has been making a killing lately, and Rajon Rondo is slinging dimes like rhymes a la 2008. But the Pelicans seem to have the scarlet letter of “.500 team” permanently emblazoned on their jerseys, and it’s becoming a fair question to ask just how high their ceiling is with this core. The spacing still stinks, and overall the team is still a few wings short of a full chicken. It’s the worst time in the collective history of our galaxy to be a mediocre team in the Western Conference, and you figure that has to leave open the possibility of Cousins getting whacked by the trade bat for a second consecutive February.
Charlotte’s identity is so non-existent that you would think they were an egg profile on Twitter. The defense-first team has fallen out of their usual perch in the league’s top-ten in defensive rating (a development that has coincided with head coach Steve Clifford’s medical leave of absence), while their offense has had about as much creativity as a Lil Pump song. All things considered, the Hornets have slipped to 12th in the East, and it seems like almost their entire roster (sans Kemba Walker) could use a change of scenery. Nic Batum is a 29-year-old making $24 million a year on a non-contender. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is a quickly-fading former No. 2 overall pick. Rookie Malik Monk is borderline unplayable. Dwight Howard is Dwight Howard. Granted, not all of those players may be available for the taking. But Buzz City is in the enviable position of owning all of their future first-rounders, so maybe they should start thinking long and hard about taking the next left down Rebuild Road.
As it turns out, the Heat’s pitiful 11-30 start to last season didn’t paint the most accurate picture of the state of affairs in South Beach, but neither did their meteoric 30-11 finish. Truth be told, Miami’s 41-41 overall record was probably always the best indicator. Now that the team is running it back with almost the exact same team (save for the addition of a Kelly Olynyk or a Bam Adebayo or two), they are experiencing a similar level of success with their 20-17 start to this season. The bottom may soon fall out though; Dion Waiters’ ankle is shaping to be a real problem, and crucial players like Goran Dragic and James Johnson are staring at the wrong end of 30. Meanwhile, franchise big Hassan Whiteside can’t seem to stay on the court lately, Tyler Johnson’s poison pill years are about to punch the team right in the gut (and also right in the salary cap), and Justise Winslow may just be in the wrong situation. Yes, Heat boss Pat Riley has always had an allergic reaction to the very thought of a rebuild. But with so much money committed to aging and/or middling players, the Heat need to reflect on just how beholden they are to chasing after the ghosts of contention in these presumed final years of Riley’s career.
The Jazz are perhaps the most reluctant sellers on this list after last spring brought their first taste of the postseason in a half-decade. But Rudy Gobert is hurt for the second time this season, which may give Utah the excuse they need to finally ditch that dinosaur Gobert-Derrick Favors frontcourt pairing. True, Favors isn’t the only trade chip the Jazz have; Alec Burks seems like an unnecessary piece for them, Joe Johnson (like Favors) is an expiring contract, and the much-maligned Dante Exum is about to come off his rookie deal to face a reality where breakout star Donovan Mitchell has made him all but entirely obsolete. Regardless, Utah’s nosedive down the standings continues (they are now just two games ahead of the Phoenix Suns!), which sounds like a fine incentive to put some of their valuables up for sale while they still can.
[in the best Clairol announcer voice that you have ever heard] “Marc Gasol: does he or doesn’t he want to be traded? Only his GM knows for sure.”
Yup, management’s staring contest with Gasol isn’t great. Mike Conley’s Achilles injury and Chandler Parsons’ spaghetti knees aren’t great either. With David Fizdale already falling on his sword, it’s hard to imagine that things could have gotten much worse in Memphis, but they have. Remember the team that took a 2-1 lead on the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference semifinals a few years back? Well, they are 12-26 now with quite possibly the single bleakest future of any franchise in the Association. The status quo will pay the Conley-Gasol-Parsons trio an obscene $83 million come the 2019-20 season, and the Grizz still owe a protected first-rounder to Boston thanks to their disastrous trade for Jeff Green in 2015. Grit-N-Grind is dead, and unless they flip their assets into something meaningful over the course of these next several weeks, basketball in Memphis could be dead too.
Ever since their sham of an 8-4 start to the season, the Magic have been the hardwood manifestation of the “Bad Luck Brian” meme. They have lost a ludicrous 23 of their last 27 games since, and now Nikola Vucevic, Terrence Ross, and prized rookie Jonathan Isaac are all out indefinitely with injury. I wouldn’t blame Orlando for being hesitant to make a trade — they sent players like Victor Oladipo and Serge Ibaka packing only to watch them flourish elsewhere. But when you pick in the lottery for the last five seasons in a row, and you have nothing but Dunk Contest runner-up Aaron Gordon, a rotting Mario Hezonja, and Elfrid Payton to show for it, it’s probably time to start building through something other than the draft. Orlando will never be a marquee free agent destination, so that leaves just the trade market. And unless they want to continue relying on Evan Fournier pull-ups from 22 feet, the Magic would be wise to take advantage of it as best they can.
This is a weird team. 31-year-old George Hill, 36-year-old Zach Randolph, and 40-year-old Vince Carter are not only on the active roster — they are guzzling away significant rotation minutes from key young players as well. Meanwhile, there are (count ’em) FOUR Kings’ first-round picks who are seeing less than 18 minutes a game (Justin Jackson, Skal Labissiere, Malachi Richardson, and Georgios Papagiannis). That’s not even counting Harry Giles, who is essentially redshirting his rookie year. Good teams know how to blend know-how veteran experience with the development of fresh talent. The Kings are definitely not that team. Thus, they may have to sell off some parts before either youthful disillusionment or senility begins to set in for their players.