With the trade deadline looming at 3 p.m. ET Thursday, Yahoo Sports tackles some of the most pressing questions of trade season. A lot can happen between now and the deadline, so here is our look at how things could play out.
Do you think all of the NBA’s one-year deals — and the fact that almost half the league will enter free agency this offseason — will hurt or help the trade market?
Vincent Goodwill: I think it will depress the market more than accelerate it. Not everybody has a chance at the big fish this summer, but there are plenty of second-tier guys who will be good enough to entice teams to use their cap space. Besides, nobody wants to make a move that will take you out of the offseason activity if there isn’t a deal that can change a team’s immediate fortunes.
Ben Rohrbach: It certainly seems like it should help it. You have the fear of some teams losing top-end talent to free agency, which drove the Jimmy Butler fiasco and is driving the Grizzlies to shop Marc Gasol prior to his decision on a player option. You have the possibility of buyers and sellers swapping expiring contracts for no other reason than it benefits the buyer with no harm to the seller, which is why we heard a rumor of a Zach Randolph for Enes Kanter swap. And, similarly, there is the ease with which teams can create roster and cap space with minimal repercussions, which was reflected in the Carmelo Anthony trade and weird Trevor Ariza for Kelly Oubre swap.
Now, watch the trade market dam up and deluge the buyout market.
Keith Smith: It’s probably going to be a slow deadline, with half the league poised to have cap space this summer. Teams that have worked to put themselves in position to be players in free agency aren’t going to screw that up by taking on long-term money. The smart rebuilding teams should be able to snag some value by eating 2019-and-beyond money at the deadline in exchange for draft assets or young players. Beyond that, it might be a little like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. Moving pieces, sure. But how many will have an actual impact?
Seerat Sohi: With two-thirds of the NBA trying to make a serious bid for the final 16 months of Anthony Davis’ contract, it’s hard to say. Davis, of course, is the rarest of talents — on a springboard to becoming the NBA’s best player — who can turn heads and force GM’s to leave nothing to chance. But really, I think the abundance of cap space will be an ancillary factor. Business will boom during the trade deadline merely because of the amount of teams with reason to believe they’re a move away from making or securing a playoff spot — Orlando, Washington, Detroit, Minnesota, Sacramento, the Lakers and Clippers — combined with the amount of teams that could look to make a Finals run: the Toronto, Boston, OKC, Philadelphia, Minnesota and Houston. Nearly half the league has reason to take on short-term rentals while the tankers, as always, have reason to sell.
Are there still vulnerable teams to prey on in the trade market? The Wizards or Magic perhaps?
Goodwill: There are teams that you think could be had, especially when factoring in what’s going on in New Orleans and Memphis. Nikola Mirotic and Jrue Holiday appear to be available, while Orlando and Washington appear to be in that dreaded category of good enough to play spoiler but not bad enough to have a real lottery shot. But Washington isn’t tearing anything down, because if they dared put Bradley Beal on the market, he could transform a lot of playoff teams into possible contenders. Dangling Otto Porter and his max contract won’t fetch as much in return as GM Ernie Grunfeld thinks it could. The Wizards need a full-scale rebuild.
Rohrbach: I’m not sure there are any teams that are wildly incompetent anymore, but I think every smart team’s first two calls are probably to the Bulls and Wizards, although even their most egregious errors have probably been more salary-cap-related than trade-driven. The Pelicans, Grizzlies, Knicks and Kings are part of the old guard of mistake-prone leadership, but they seem to be filling out their front offices with smarter influencers. The new regimes for the Cavaliers, Hawks, Lakers, Magic, Pistons, Suns and Timberwolves are all untested, so there will still be plenty of opportunity for general managers to prove themselves incapable in the coming weeks.
Smith: Not really. Teams have gotten smarter about trades. If you really think about it, when was the last truly one-sided deal? Players can force a team’s hand (Anthony Davis, anyone?), but even then teams have gotten pretty good about making sure they get something valuable in a deal. It’s hard to really take advantage of a team. And, again, with half the league looking at cap space in July, that gives even those traditionally less smart teams somewhat of a level playing field.
Sohi: The Magic strike me as particularly vulnerable, not only because of past history but because of the space they occupy in the playoff race. It will all come down to how they decide to see themselves: either racing toward a top-eight seed or racing toward a top-five draft pick. Either way, they’ll find themselves lagging behind their goals. If they decide to rebuild, they’ll have too many guys who can win basketball games, like Aaron Gordon, Nikola Vucevic and Jonathon Simmons. If they decide to try to make the playoffs, they’ll need to win a three-way race and make up five games. That’s not happening without an upgrade. No matter which direction they go, the Magic will have to be active. But maybe I’m thinking too far ahead. There is, as always, the option of staying on the path that leads nowhere.
Are there legitimate threats to the Warriors? And with that number of teams being small, will that limit the trade market?
Goodwill: Any team with LeBron James and reasonable talent is a threat, and if Boston ever gets its act together it could make for a great NBA Finals. But are we sleeping on Oklahoma City? Paul George is taking on more of a featured role and the team seems to be forming more around his personality than Russell Westbrook’s. Their length can give Golden State problems on the perimeter, and they’re athletic enough inside to negate some of the Warriors’ interior advantages. Coach Billy Donovan appears to be learning more on the fly than just rolling the ball out there, and Golden State should beware of the Thunder. With the trade market, teams have been very careful about defining expectations, knowing the season can turn on its ear this summer.
Rohrbach: I think there are more teams that think they are legitimate threats to the Warriors than there are actual threats to the Warriors, and enough other teams placing serious value on just making the playoffs (Pistons, Hornets, Magic, Kings, Pelicans, etc.) that the trade market should be spicy.
I buy whoever comes out of the East as a serious threat to Golden State, and I’d probably put the Raptors and a bought-in Celtics group at the top of that list. In the West, I’d say a fully healthy Rockets roster has a chance, and the Thunder have the star power to give the Warriors a scare. Everybody else in either conference has questions about playoff experience and/or depth concerns.
Smith: Houston was right there last year and is playing better now, despite all its injuries. The Rockets’ challenge is that they don’t have very many tradable pieces. GM Daryl Morey probably has one move left to make, and it better be a good one. Maybe one of the East teams steps forward, but who moves the needle enough for a team to sacrifice the depth it has built? Keep an eye on Toronto. The Raptors are going to be over the cap and tax next season almost no matter what they do. That could push them to go all-in and make a run this year.
Sohi: It felt like there was a crack, but DeMarcus Cousins is slowly plastering it shut. With that, some young contenders like the 76ers, Celtics and Bucks may slow down (in non-Davis-related situations, for the 76ers and Bucks), but the league still has teams that made it their modus operandi to try to topple the Warriors, and time is of the essence for them: The Raptors have one season to wow Kawhi Leonard, LeBron’s not getting any younger, and neither is Chris Paul. The Thunder’s timeline is less urgent — but still very much entrenched in the now — and they may believe they’re a move away from throwing a punch.
Is there a deal that makes anyone a better threat to the Warriors?
Goodwill: Marc Gasol to Portland. He’s versatile and, of course, available. Jusuf Nurkic has made a leap this year, turning into a dependable option alongside Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. Gasol, though, could take the Trail Blazers to the next level. Not only defensively but as a primary playmaker to free up opportunities for the guards, who were stymied in last year’s first-round sweep to the New Orleans Pelicans.
Rohrbach: Trading Anthony Davis could make almost anyone a contender, especially the Lakers, but New Orleans will likely wait until this summer. The biggest names to potentially move by the deadline are probably Gasol and Memphis teammate Mike Conley, and a package deal could elevate a number of teams to contention. My favorite landing spot for Grit ‘n’ Grind would be New Orleans, where a starting lineup featuring Gasol, Davis, Conley and Jrue Holiday would be a monster defensively. But I’m not sure the money works.
On a smaller level, I’m all for the Blazers, Jazz, Rockets or Thunder picking up 3-and-D wings to round out their rosters — guys like Kent Bazemore, Wayne Ellington or (less amenably) Otto Porter. The only other difference-making name that comes to mind is Nikola Vucevic, but I’m not sure he vaults any team into the stratosphere of competing against a fully healthy Golden State squad that has looked practically invincible with Cousins filling the center spot.
Smith: Houston has the most obvious and logical deal sitting there for them: Brandon Knight and a pick for Bazemore. That would give the Rockets another wing defender to throw at the Warriors. You want to have as many versatile guys who can switch on defense as possible when you play Golden State. Bazemore would really help in that regard. Maybe the Raptors can pick up someone who upgrades them at center. Gasol could make a lot of sense there, especially if the outgoing package is built around Jonas Valanciunas, who has missed considerable time. But is Gasol playable against the Warriors beyond matching minutes with DeMarcus Cousins? You have to be sure the answer to that is “yes” before you sacrifice talent and a lot of money for a guy like Gasol.
Sohi: Any trade that sends Davis to a contender would bolster that team’s chances. Beyond that, I think the Raptors — who are reportedly making an offer for Davis — are well-positioned to pick off higher-end role-players from potential sellers such as the Wizards, Pelicans or Magic. If the Davis domino falls, nearly any contender could use a player like Nikola Mirotic, a stretch four who’s been one of the most effective catch-and-shoot players in the NBA this year, especially because he’ll cost less than the younger, cap-sheet friendly Julius Randle.
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