The trade deadline, one of the biggest dates on the NBA calendar, is Feb. 7. Whether we’re in for a busy deadline remains to be seen. With half of the NBA poised to have cap space this summer, and half of all players scheduled to hit free agency, teams may be reluctant to do anything that involves taking on money into July.
But one thing teams are always on the lookout for is a player on a great contract. Having a star talent on a team-friendly contract makes building the rest of the roster that much easier.
These are the NBA’s 10 most tradable contracts. This list isn’t necessarily made up of the best players — some aren’t even All-Stars. But what each has in common is that the production far outweighs the compensation. There are a few caveats:
No players on max contracts, with one notable exception. It’s impossible to pay a player more, so if the player is worth more than the max, you’ve inherently got a bargain. For example, a guy like LeBron James is worth somewhere in the range of $50 million-60 million. That the Los Angeles Lakers have him for $35.6 million, because that is the max the collective bargaining agreement allows, is a steal.
No players on rookie scale contracts. Again, this is a capped amount. As the cap has risen, rookie deals have become that much more valuable. Having a talent like Ben Simmons, Jayson Tatum or Luka Doncic for a set amount is an incredible advantage. But no team got creative to get there, so they aren’t on the list.
No expiring contracts. Players have to have some money owed beyond this season to qualify. Otherwise, they’re not going to be much of a bargain past this year, which limits their inherent tradability.
All years and money referenced here are what the players are owed beyond this season. The vast majority of this season’s contracts have already been paid out, despite the entirety of the salary still counting in trade.
The honorable mentions
These five players have all outplayed their contracts and bring considerable value, but are just outside being the most tradable.
Jerami Grant, Oklahoma City Thunder: Two years, $18.7 million – second-year team option
Nemanja Bjelica, Sacramento Kings: Two years, $13.9 million – second year fully non-guaranteed
Aaron Gordon, Orlando Magic: Three years, $54.4 million – each year declines in value from the previous season
T.J. Warren, Phoenix Suns: Three years, $35.3 million – no more than $12.7 million owed in any season
The 10 most tradable contracts in the NBA
10. Gary Harris, Denver Nuggets: Three years, $57.5 million (no options) – Harris has been one of the NBA’s more underrated guards for a few seasons now. Two seasons ago, he cracked 50 percent shooting overall and better than 42 percent from behind the arc. Those are excellent numbers for a guard. He’s also a solid defender and an improving passer. Best of all? He plays well off Nikola Jokic, as he’s adept at making timely cuts. Harris has battled some injuries this year, but nothing that should impact him long term. He’s a keeper on a great contract for Denver.
9. Robert Covington, Minnesota Timberwolves: Three years, $36.4 million (no options) – Covington was arguably the find of Sam Hinkie’s diamond mining during The Process years in Philadelphia. He far outplayed his league minimum deal, giving the 76ers incredible production on the cheap. Last year, Covington inked an extension that paid him more than he had ever made, but it’s still plenty team-friendly. Minnesota acquired him as one of the key components of the Jimmy Butler trade, and now the Wolves get to reap the benefits through the 2021-22 season.
8. Spencer Dinwiddie, Brooklyn Nets: Three years, $34.4 million (final-year player option) – Dinwiddie has been providing great play on a league-minimum deal. The Nets, at the expense of some cap space this summer, signed Dinwiddie to a sensible, team-friendly extension that starts next season. Dinwiddie has proven equally valuable as a starter or reserve, giving the Nets roster flexibility as well. Not bad for a guy who was dumped twice before Brooklyn gave him a shot.
7. Joe Ingles, Utah Jazz: Two years, $22.8 million (pay declines annually) – Ingles is another rags-to-riches story. He signed a deal with the Los Angeles Clippers in 2014, but never made it out of training camp. Utah claimed him on waivers and he’s become an integral part of their lineup ever since. Because Ingles was a bit older than most players when he signed a new deal as restricted free agent, the Jazz were able to get him on a sweetheart of a deal. At under $12 million for each of the final two years, Ingles, 31, is a steal. His value as a defender, shooter and playmaker is a big part of the Jazz’s success, as is his selfless nature.
6. LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio Spurs: Two years, $50 million ($7 million guaranteed in final year) – There was a point in which it looked like Aldridge’s contract extension could land him on the least-tradable list. He wasn’t happy in San Antonio and his play seemed like it was slipping. A meeting with Gregg Popovich turned that around, and Aldridge is now playing some of the best basketball of his career. Because his game has never been overly dependent on his athletic ability, Aldridge has made a very graceful transition to his post-prime years. He’s a perfect fit in the Spurs’ system, and with just $7 million guaranteed in his final year, San Antonio is protected if things go awry.
5. Clint Capela, Houston Rockets: Four years, $72.2 million (no options) – When Capela’s restricted free agency dragged along last summer, it was beginning to look like teams made a mistake not tossing him an offer sheet. And that may be the case, as the Rockets ended up getting Capela for far less than the max deal many thought he might get offered this summer. Capela has blossomed into a terrific defender and rebounder and the ideal roll-man in Houston’s pick-and-roll-heavy offense. And he’s still just 24 years old. Having a player like that for less than the max at the center spot is a major benefit, especially for the already expensive and increasingly tax-conscious Rockets.
4. Victor Oladipo, Indiana Pacers: Two years, $42 million (no options) – Oladipo has grown into an All-Star and All-NBA-level player since being traded to Indiana from Oklahoma City. At one point, $21 million per season looked questionable, but now that looks like a relative bargain. He’s a good defender, solid playmaker and can score at all three levels. For a small-market team like the Pacers, Oladipo gives them a lot of comfort. When an NBA mid-major can land an All-Star, it’s great. When that All-Star is on a team-friendly deal, it’s even better.
3. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers: Four years, $122 million (protections built in for injuries) – This is where we break the no-max-contract rule. Embiid’s deal has a unique and complex structure that allows Philadelphia to waive him and be on the hook for only a portion of the deal should Embiid suffer injuries to his foot or back. Foot and back injuries cost Embiid significant time early in his career, so the Sixers protected themselves. This is the only contract structured like this in the NBA, making it eminently tradable. And of course, Embiid is pretty good at this basketball thing, too.
2. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets: Four years, $118 million (no options) – Jokic is signed for just a hair less than the max, which is nice for Denver. But the most important part: His deal includes no options. This means he’s under full control for the Nuggets through 2022-23, at which point Jokic will turn just 28 years old. Considering he’s the choice of many as the best true center in the NBA, that’s a massive win for Denver. And if the Nuggets ever need to rebuild, trading Jokic’s no-options deal should bring Denver a massive return.
1. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks: Two years, $53.4 million (no options) – When the story of Giannis is written, it’s going to have some really cool chapters. One chapter that will confuse readers is how the Bucks got him to sign a contract for less than the max and one that doesn’t include options of any kind. Antetokounmpo may well be the NBA MVP this season. He got out to an early lead and has one of the league’s best stories, two things that can’t be discounted in the MVP race. Having him for less than the max this year is incredible for Milwaukee. Having him for two more years at less than the max is borderline criminal. The Bucks have had Khris Middleton on the league’s best deal for years. Now that he’s a pending free agent (once he declines his player option), Milwaukee will have arguably the game’s MVP on the league’s best contract. That’s just excellent work by the front office.
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