It happens every year: The closer we get to the 2023 NBA trade deadline, the more and more the discourse running through the league begins to resemble a gigantic game of “Supermarket Sweep” in an already-picked-over grocery store.
Executives, agents and power brokers of all stripes, sprinting to find the best deals they can on sparsely stocked shelves. Sleep-deprived coaches, left wondering how many mouths they might be able to feed with that lightly dented can of John Collins. Everybody, eventually, ending up staring at Danny Ainge, a malevolent grin on his face as he shows off his collection of diapers and hams.
… OK, I’m going to be honest: I might have lost track of the metaphor.
Nevertheless! What began with the Rui Hachimura deal and kicked into overdrive with Kyrie Irving heading to Dallas will reach its conclusion at 3 p.m. ET on Thursday. Let’s set the table for what fresh chaos might unfold between now and then by considering a handful of big trade deadline questions, starting in suddenly Kyrie-less Brooklyn:
What does Kevin Durant want, and how will that inform what the Nets do next?
On Sunday, Brooklyn decided to take Dallas’ offer — headlined by pretty good, prime-aged, present-day NBA players Spencer Dinwiddie and Dorian Finney-Smith — over reported packages that were more heavily dependent on future draft capital or longer-in-the-tooth veterans. That indicates the Nets’ goal in a Kyrie deal was remaining competitive right now … which, in turn, indicates they believe that, whenever Durant returns from his sprained right MCL, he’ll do so wearing a Nets uniform.
“I’m not going to speculate and get in Kevin’s mind at all. I’m not even going to try to do that,” Nets head coach Jacque Vaughn told reporters on Monday. “At the end of the day, Kevin wants to win. That’s always been our goal […] that will be our Holy Grail. We’ll continue to try to put a group out that wins.”
If Durant’s unlikely to immediately follow Irving out the door by renewing his summertime trade demand before Thursday afternoon — and the reporting from Yahoo Sports’ Jake Fischer, among others, points in that direction — then it stands to reason that Nets general manager Sean Marks will be aggressive in looking to find more win-now help to bolster the roster around Durant in anticipation of his return.
The dear cost of the first James Harden trade still looms large, with the Rockets owning Brooklyn’s 2024 and 2026 first-round draft choices and holding swap rights over the Nets’ selections in 2023, 2025 and 2027. The subsequent Irving and Ben Simmons deals, though, provided some additional picks — 2027 and 2029 firsts from the 76ers and Mavericks, respectively, plus some extra future seconds — that Marks could potentially attach to players like Dinwiddie (making $19.5 million this season and owed $20.4 million next season), Joe Harris ($18.6 million now, $19.9 million in 2023-24), Seth Curry ($8.5 million expiring contract) or Patty Mills ($6.8 million guaranteed for next season) in the hunt for upgrades. It might not be easy to find help in the market, though: Teams with the kind of talent Brooklyn fancies might prefer to keep their powder dry, wait until the summer to see if Durant (who was reportedly “upset” by Irving’s trade request) gets itchy again, and put themselves in position to make a stronger offer for what could be the biggest prize on the market.
The Nets, in turn, will work the phones and hope that — as they did with Dallas over the weekend — the feelings of desperation that come for teams facing deadlines and tightly packed playoff standings might pry open some fresh opportunities to strengthen the supporting cast around Durant, who was playing like an MVP candidate before he went down and remains one of the most dangerous players in the sport in a seven-game series. As long as he’s still committed to Brooklyn, the Nets have a chance to figure in the title picture. If he were to change his tune, though, every would-be contender with draft picks and a dream would be racing to get to the front of the line.
Just how busy will the Toronto Raptors be?
The Raptors and Nets have been connected since those burbling “Would Toronto move Scottie Barnes for KD?” talks over the summer. The franchises’ fates have only become more tightly intertwined in the rumor mill, thanks to both the latest drama at Barclays Center and the Raps being stuck at 25-30, in 11th place in the East, and seemingly on the precipice of … if not a rebuild, then perhaps a reimagining.
If president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri and GM Bobby Webster really made him available, Pascal Siakam would become the best player on the market. He’s a 6-foot-9 big wing/point forward/small-ball center who’s a couple of hot scoring games away from being one of nine players in the league this season averaging 25-5-5. (The other eight are All-Stars; I think Siakam should’ve been one, too.) He’s a matchup nightmare in isolation and a multi-positional defender capable of clamping down on opposing threats up and down the positional spectrum. He’s got a ton of playoff experience, too, having served as both a complementary option on a team that won the championship and the No. 1 scoring threat on one that came within a hair’s breadth of making the Eastern Conference finals.
It doesn’t sound like he’s going anywhere: Fischer reports that “league personnel continue to downplay the likelihood” that the 28-year-old will be on the move. As Siakam himself noted Tuesday, though, neither he nor anyone else really knows what’s going on from moment to moment at this time of year:
Pascal Siakam's comments on the approaching trade deadline are ⬇️ "... I don't know what's going on."
However ... a few minutes after Siakam spoke to media at practice, Raptors president Masai Ujiri motioned for Siakam to join him in an office adjacent to the practice floor. pic.twitter.com/vOUnesgj9Y
— Michael Grange (@michaelgrange) February 7, 2023
Siakam’s teammates have generated plenty of interest, too. Fred VanVleet — who can decline his 2023-24 player option and enter unrestricted free agency this summer — might be the best point guard available now that Irving’s off the table. And it sounds like a third of the league, if not more, has checked in on the availability of O.G. Anunoby, who could be the missing 3-and-D perimeter piece of a number of contenders’ dreams.
For more on the markets for Anunoby, VanVleet, Gary Trent Jr. and the Raptors’ overall thinking heading into Thursday, check out Fischer’s big Tuesday rundown on the state of transactional affairs in Toronto.
Will Trader Danny get the prices he wants in a seller’s market?
The Raptors aren’t the only play-in-adjacent team that could determine the direction of deadline day.
On one hand, the Jazz have dramatically outperformed most expectations after saying goodbye to Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert this summer, sitting a game under .500 with a legitimate chance at postseason play. On the other, team CEO Ainge — he of the metaphorical diapers and ham — is under no illusions about whether his roster is closer to the start of a rebuild or the end of one.
"[Our place in the standings] doesn't influence my process," Ainge recently told ESPN’s Tim MacMahon. "I mean, we're enjoying the team. The fans love our team, they've bought into our team, and we're enjoying that part of it. But we're not looking to break it up or necessarily go win a championship this year, either. We're trying to do things that will help us long term.”
Translation: Just about everybody on Utah’s roster — outside of All-Star forward Lauri Markkanen and rookies Walker Kessler and Ochai Agbaji — can be had … for the right price. Where those price points land, though, could prove fascinating.
Tony Jones of The Athletic reports that big man Jarred Vanderbilt — an energetic rebounder and tenacious help defender who played a significant role in Minnesota’s playoff run last season, but who’s been supplanted in the rotation by rookie rim protector Kessler — is the Utah player most likely to be moved and that the Jazz already have an offer in hand for him “that would net them multiple second-round picks.” Given the widespread reported interest in Vanderbilt’s services, though, that might embolden the Jazz to hang tight and see if they can squeeze out a first for him … which would dovetail with a recent report by Michael Scotto of HoopsHype that Utah had “given the indication” to other teams that the price tag for Vanderbilt and sought-after shooting guard Malik Beasley would be “the equivalent of a first-round pick for each player.”
Will Ainge and general manager Justin Zanik continue to take a hardline on their valuations for Vanderbilt, Beasley, Mike Conley, Jordan Clarkson and Kelly Olynyk, insisting that they’re fine just hanging onto helpful players through the deadline if the packages suitors propose don’t include the kind of draft capital and/or young players Utah was able to net for Gobert and Mitchell? They just might. Having already stocked Utah’s cupboard in those deals and landed Markkanen as a legitimate foundational piece, Ainge and Co. can afford to drive a hard bargain now, hunting only premium returns — say, the Lakers’ unprotected 2027 and 2029 first-round picks to pay Russell Westbrook’s freight, or perhaps some of the future Knicks picks that Utah didn’t wind up getting for Mitchell — because the Jazz are confident they’re one of the only teams with a bunch of players that multiple teams might really want.
Whether Utah’s roster will look dramatically different by Thursday evening remains to be seen. If it does, though, you can bet it won’t be because Danny started giving out discounts.
OK, so how many big names might actually be on the move?
Well, I’d argue that VanVleet — a deserving All-Star last season, one of the league’s best two-way guards, and someone who’s bounced back from a sluggish first half to average 26 points and 7.5 assists per game on 46/40/94 shooting over his last 11 games — would qualify as “big.” Anunoby, too; he might never make an All-Star team, but All-Defense-caliber 1-through-5 wings who can drill shots from the corners and kick in 16 or 17 a night don’t grow on trees.
If you’re looking further up in the hierarchy than that, though — Kyrie’s strata or above — the pickings get slimmer.
It sounds like KD and Siakam are staying put. The Suns reportedly offered Chris Paul to the Nets in the Kyrie talks, on the heels of multiple reports that — with Paul in his 18th season, approaching his 38th birthday, and only having $15.8 million of his $30.8 million salary guaranteed for next season — Phoenix has approached the deadline with the future of its point-guard position in mind. Unless it’s a star-level table-setter coming back, though, it would be a little bit surprising for the Suns — who’ve gotten healthier since their injury-ravaged end to 2022, have won nine of 11 to move within 1.5 games of third place in the jumbled West, and who just got Devin Booker back — to upset the apple cart right now.
The persistent noise around whether Bradley Beal might finally decide to leave D.C. has largely quieted this season, thanks to the Wizards’ decision to give him both a five-year, $251 million contract and a no-trade clause. They’re not trying to offload the deal, and the three-time All-Star would be able to veto any swap he didn’t like anyway, so all parties involved seem content to sit tight and wait to commit somewhere around half-a-billion dollars this summer to a Big Three of Beal, Kristaps Porzingis and Kyle Kuzma. Which … we’ll see how that goes!
Another All-Star shooting guard, Zach LaVine, has also heard his name bandied about in trade discussions — especially earlier in the season, with him lacking pop following multiple knee injuries, the Bulls struggling to establish any identity or momentum in the absence of injured connector Lonzo Ball, and plenty of questions about whether Chicago’s front office should be trying to get off the $215 million contract they handed LaVine a scant seven months ago. But with LaVine largely stabilizing after a rocky start — 25-5-4 on 49/39/83 shooting since Dec. 1, and the Bulls owning the East’s fourth-best record and net rating over the last seven weeks — that chatter seems to have cooled down. ESPN’s Jamal Collier reported Monday that “rival executives say the Bulls have shown little interest in moving [LaVine] at the deadline.”
Despite the recent renegotiate-and-extend deal that added two more years and nearly $60 million in new salary to his existing contract, Pacers center Myles Turner is technically still eligible to be traded if Indiana finds an offer to its liking before Thursday. But the fact that the Pacers — long organizationally averse to deliberate tear-downs, still in play-in position, with All-Star Tyrese Haliburton back healthy — ponied up for him now suggests to me that he’s probably not going anywhere. (Especially considering, as John Hollinger of The Athletic recently wrote, the league office might not look too kindly at Indy redirecting Turner so soon after giving him the kind of in-season raise that no other team in the league would’ve been able to offer.)
With the Timberwolves scuffling earlier this season amid the difficult integration of Rudy Gobert and the prolonged injury absence of Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell — set to hit unrestricted free agency this summer — became a popular prospective candidate for a move. But while Anthony Edwards’ ascent as an All-Star-caliber No. 1 option has received most of the attention, Russell has quietly played a vital role in stabilizing the listing Wolves, averaging 20.3 points and 5.8 assists per game on 49/43/90 shooting splits since the start of December to help push Minnesota within two games of fourth in the West. I don’t doubt Wolves president Tim Connelly’s willingness to take a big swing in pursuit of what he sees as a massive gain — see: the gigantic gamble he made last summer — but it is worth wondering what kind of potential upgrade he’d consider worth another cut … and, for that matter, which suitor would be willing to give up enough to make it worth his while, given the chance that Russell’s a short-term rental.
The Pistons reportedly continue to signal that they’re not moving off Bojan Bogdanovic for anything less than an unprotected first-round pick — and maybe not even then, given how much they seem to like the idea of going into 2023-24 with him spacing the floor for a healthy Cade Cunningham, a sophomore Jaden Ivey and whichever high-end prospect Detroit lands in the 2023 NBA Draft. As has been the case for, oh, a generation now, John Collins reportedly remains eminently available in Atlanta, and apparently for a relative discount — there’s now “no mandate for a first-round pick” coming back, according to Sam Amick of The Athletic — owing to the $78.5 million remaining on his contract and the fact that he’s averaging just 13.2 points per game while shooting 25.7% from 3-point land, both career lows. An optimist might look at Collins and see a productive player boxed in and ground down by forces beyond his control in the Hawks’ overarching Trae Young saga; a glass-half-empty type might wonder how robust a market one should expect for a stretch-4 who’s not stretching and a small-ball 5 you can’t build a defense around.
Like Collins, it feels as if Eric Gordon’s name has been a staple of trade-deadline dialogue since before they invented color photography. (There was a time when he might’ve wished they hadn’t.) If the circling-the-drain Rockets remain insistent on their reported asking price of a “good young player or first-round pick,” though, it seems unlikely he’ll be moving on … which, we’re sure, he’s thrilled about.
— Jackson Gatlin (@JTGatlin) January 1, 2023
Also, if we’ve reached “what’ll the Rockets do with Eric Gordon,” we have absolutely reached the end of the “big” name discussion. Moving on!
Which players not on the Raptors or Jazz seem most likely to wake up Friday on a new team?
Let’s bullet-point our way through a bunch:
Jae Crowder, Suns: On the plus side, he’s a defensively versatile combo forward with 107 playoff games under his belt who’s willing to take shots (6.4 3-point attempts per 36 minutes for his career) and occasionally able to make ’em (34.6% from deep for his career, 33.9% in the postseason). On the minus side, he hasn’t played since May, sitting out the entire season to date while hoping for a trade out of Phoenix, which raises justifiable questions about how long it’ll take the 32-year-old to get up to speed and able to make a difference for whichever would-be contender gets him. The smart money’s had him landing in Milwaukee for ages; then again, if Phoenix really liked that Grayson Allen-plus-some second-round picks package, this probably would’ve happened already, wouldn’t it?
Cam Reddish, Knicks: After not breaking out with the Hawks, the former top prep prospect and No. 10 overall draft pick fetched a conditional first-round choice from the Knicks at the 2022 trade deadline … and then didn’t break out in New York, boxed out of a crowded wing rotation last season before struggling with his shot and defense when afforded minutes early this season. Once Quentin Grimes got healthy, coach Tom Thibodeau mothballed Reddish and his other dicey defenders; perhaps not coincidentally, that’s when the Knicks’ season started to turn around. Thirty-three straight DNP-CDs later, the only mysteries that remain are which standing offer for a second-round pick Knicks president Leon Rose takes — and whether a 23-year-old perimeter player with plenty of tools can finally start to build a career on his third pro team.
Serge Ibaka, Bucks: You could understand why Milwaukee made the move: Brook Lopez had missed nearly all of last season; the Bucks needed another rim protector who could shoot threes and would fit Mike Budenholzer’s system; and a hard time coming back from injuries had taken a bit of the bloom off Donte DiVincenzo’s rose. But while DiVincenzo has bounced back to fit well in a rotation role in Golden State, Ibaka just never got off the runway with the Bucks, and has now been away from the team for weeks awaiting a trade. It’s unclear whether there’s much of a market for a 33-year-old center on a sharp decline, but it does seem clear that whatever comes next for Serge won’t come in Wisconsin.
Mason Plumlee, Hornets, and Jakob Poeltl, Spurs: You’d be forgiven if you weren’t keeping tabs on the production of centers on Tankathon-refreshing squadrons, but Plumlee and Poeltl probably represent the top of the “we need another big body for the playoffs” crop. Plumlee’s having a career season for the 15-40 Hornets, averaging 12.3 points on 67.4% shooting to go with 9.7 rebounds and 3.7 assists in 28.5 minutes per game. Playoff hopefuls in need of an experienced reserve big who can screen, dive, hit the glass and operate in the dribble handoff game would do well to hit up Mitch Kupchak; given how much the Domantas Sabonis-led Kings love to flow out of DHOs, Fischer’s reporting that Sacramento is interested makes a ton of sense. Poeltl’s defensive impact numbers at the rim are down — opponents are shooting 62.2% against him at the cup, according to Second Spectrum’s tracking, the highest number of his career. But given his track record as a smart, stalwart interior deterrent, I’d bet on him playing up on a more experienced, more organized team with better defenders at the point of attack … even if I’m not sure I’d be eager to pay the reported asking price of two first-rounders for a free agent-to-be.
(Also, A brief big man side note: If Detroit’s going to move Nerlens Noel anywhere, I heartily endorse Andrew Unterberger’s call to get him back to Philly. Returning a “Process” legend might be just the spiritual boost the Sixers need to avoid yet another postseason of getting annihilated whenever Joel Embiid sits.)
Bones Hyland, Nuggets: From a pure team needs perspective, Hyland finding himself on the outside looking in makes a ton of sense; a Nuggets squad with the NBA’s best offense and its No. 15 defense doesn’t need another shot creator as much as it needs some more help getting stops. As such, dangling Bones — a classic sixth-man gunner shooting 38% from deep on high volume and a 22-year-old with room to improve on a cost-effective rookie contract — for another wing defender to join Aaron Gordon, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Bruce Brown is eminently reasonable. Even so: The breakneck pace with which we went from Denver “gauging the trade value of” Hyland to him being “regarded as one of the league’s most likely players to be dealt” — complete with allegations of subtweet malfeasance — is enough to leave you looking … well, like this:
Bones Hyland becoming a meme in 3…2…1 pic.twitter.com/m3eGrADspt
— girlstalkbasketball (@smalltalkball) January 6, 2023
Matisse Thybulle, 76ers: As impressive and disruptive a defender as he is, especially off the ball — nearly three steals and five deflections per 36 minutes of floor time, third in the league in defensive estimated plus minus, fifth in FiveThirtyEight’s defensive RAPTOR (among players who’ve played at least 500 minutes) — the 25-year-old’s nigh-on-nonexistent offensive game and Philadelphia’s improved depth on the wing have dramatically slashed his minutes. In a setting where he’s surrounded by shooting and let loose to wreak havoc, though, he could still have value; in a related story, the Kings and Warriors are both reportedly keeping an eye on the two-time All-Defensive Second-Teamer.
Which players would we most like to see get a change of scenery?
That probably depends on who you mean by “we.” If you mean “me and Jake Fischer,” well, then, I’m glad you asked:
Any potential wild-card teams you’re keeping an eye on?
Phoenix: In a recent conversation with Dave King of Bright Side of the Sun, general manager James Jones said that what he’d most like to add at the trade deadline is shooting — in King’s words, “a guy who can get his shot no matter the situation, no matter who’s defending them, no matter how high-leverage the situation is.” Unless KD rekindles his offseason interest in a trip to the desert, I’m not sure who else who could hit the market fits that description; a front office that controls all of its own draft picks and has the support of a new owner who sounds ready to damn the torpedoes in pursuit of a title, though, could open the door to some intriguing new possibilities.
Memphis: Three weeks ago, when they were scorching hot and riding an 11-game winning streak, I was open to the idea that the Grizzlies might not need anything else to win it all. After a disastrous run of form, though — eight losses in the last 10 games, including an 0-5 mark in contests that were within five points late, with virtually every reserve going ice cold, Steven Adams getting hurt, Dillon Brooks getting suspended, and Ja Morant getting some very unwelcome press — you could argue that it might be time for a vibe shift. As important as Brooks has been for the Grizz over the years, he’s a controversial contributor for a number of reasons; he’s also a free agent after the season, and Memphis has a full complement of draft picks and a ton of young players to package with them in pursuit of an upgrade at his spot. This sure feels like an Anunoby destination; is GM Zach Kleiman willing to push his chips in and meet Ujiri’s price?
Miami: Attaching a second-round pick to move Dewayne Dedmon wasn’t just about jettisoning a Theragun tosser; it was about giving the Heat about $5 million in breathing room under the luxury tax line and opening up a second roster spot. Maybe all we’re looking at here is converting Orlando Robinson’s two-way contract to a standard deal. But given all that smoke about their interest in a reunion with Crowder … and the sudden willingness to consider moving off Kyle Lowry … and the fact that no Pat Riley team is ever done kicking the tires on something major … and the fact that they’d quietly gone 16-7 with the league’s sixth-best net rating over a six-week stretch before a rough four-game road trip … you’d be within your rights to wonder whether the Dedmon move was just a precursor to the Heat trying to add something serious for the stretch run.
Golden State: The defending champs have underwhelmed for most of the season, but they’re just 1.5 games out of fourth in the West even with Stephen Curry missing 16 games (and counting). With Klay Thompson looking like his old self of late — 26.5 points per game since Christmas, shooting 44% from deep on 11 3-point attempts a night — to bolster a starting lineup that’s been arguably the league’s best, and multiple role players (DiVincenzo, JaMychal Green, Jonathan Kuminga) trending up to solidify the end of the rotation, the Warriors seem like they might be poised to go on a run. Which might be why, after all the sturm und drang about ownership clinging to the “two timelines” plan and holding fast to its recent lottery picks as foundational pieces of whatever might come after the Dubs’ dynastic era, Anthony Slater of The Athletic reported Tuesday hearing “an increased willingness from the Warriors to engage in conversation and explore the idea of moving their younger, out-of-the-rotation players if a significant enough upgrade is offered. There’s a greater whiff of aggressiveness.” I’m not sure what kind of conversations an offer of James Wiseman and/or Moses Moody can get started; if I was Bob Myers, though, I’d be awfully interested in finding out.