Trade guide: West teams pushing for last playoff spot

·The Vertical
Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum are in their primes. (Getty Images)
Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum are in their primes. (Getty Images)

The Vertical Front-Office Insider Bobby Marks, a former 20-year executive with the Nets, looks at each team’s roster and trade assets, as well as examining the track record of each team’s general manager during previous trade deadlines.

Previous trade guides: The title contenders

A look at three teams fighting for the West’s final playoff spot as the Feb. 23 trade deadline approaches.

DENVER
Roster
Player Value Insider Info

1. Nikola Jokic Core
2. Jamal Murray Core
3. Danilo Gallinari Top starter 2017-18 player option
4. Gary Harris Starter
5. *Emmanuel Mudiay Top reserve/development
6. * Will Barton Top reserve
7. *Wilson Chandler Top reserve
8. *Kenneth Faried Top reserve
9. Jameer Nelson Top reserve
10. Jusuf Nurkic Top reserve
11. Darrell Arthur Rotation
12. Mike Miller Roster 2017-18 no protection
13. Johnny O’Bryant Roster 10-day contract
14. Juan Hernangomez Development
15. Malik Beasley Development
*Has started but is best suited as a top reserve.

Trade assets: plenty

The Nuggets have a little bit of everything: Multiple first-round picks this year (their own and Memphis’), cap space ($19 million) to absorb a contract, and six players on value contacts that were drafted in the first or second round.

Besides the young core, the Nuggets’ roster is filled with players who average $8.2 million in salary and are under contract for multiple years (Danilo Gallinari has a player option for 2017-18).

Denver also owns the draft rights to second-round picks Petr Cornelie (2016) and Nikola Radicevic (2015).

Jamal Murray is a core piece for the Nuggets. (AP)
Jamal Murray is a core piece for the Nuggets. (AP)

Should be off the table: core pieces

The Nuggets have found two building blocks in 2016 lottery pick Jamal Murray and 2014 second-round pick Nikola Jokic.

Both players earn $4.5 million combined and are under contract for at least the next three seasons (Murray for 2019-20).

With the new CBA rules that emphasize player retention – and perhaps another great draft addition – both players should remain with the Nuggets for at least the next eight years.

GM history at the deadline

Since taking over as general manager in 2013, Tim Connelly has been one of the most aggressive executives at the deadline.

Not including the January 2015 trade of Timofey Mozgov to Cleveland for two first-round picks, Connelly has been involved in five trades right at the deadline.

Although the 2015 JaVale McGee trade (along with a first-round pick) to Philadelphia was a salary dump, the goal in Denver has been to acquire assets while moving veterans to playoff teams.

In the past two years, Denver has jettisoned Arron Afflalo to Portland and Randy Foye to Oklahoma City in exchange for sixth man Will Barton, a first-round pick (that turned into Malik Beasley) and two future second-round picks.

Post-trade deadline roster movement

The Nuggets are currently $7.6 million below the salary cap floor.

Denver, with 14 guaranteed contracts, could be active during the waiver claim period, looking to reach the minimum team salary requirement.

PORTLAND
Roster
Player Value Insider Info
1. Damian Lillard Franchise
2. C.J. McCollum Core Poison-pill restriction
3. Mason Plumlee Key starter RFA expiring contract
4. Mo Harkless Starter
5. Al-Farouq Aminu Starter
6. Allen Crabbe Top reserve Must consent to a trade
7. Evan Turner Top reserve
8. Meyers Leonard Rotation
9. Noah Vonleh Rotation
10. Ed Davis Rotation
11. Shabazz Napier Roster
12. Pat Connaughton Development 2017-18 no protection
13. Jake Layman Development
14. Tim Quarterman Development 2017-18 No protection
15. Festus Ezeli Injured 2017-18 $1M protection

Trade assets: limited

The heavy lifting in Portland will likely occur in the summer and not at the trade deadline.

Faced with the prospect of having the top payroll in the NBA next season, Portland will have the opportunity to shed contracts this summer when their own players have less money and years remaining on their deals.

Although Portland does have Ezeli’s $7.4 million 2017-18 salary ($1 million protection) to dangle, future luxury-tax concerns should have Blazers management thinking twice about taking back a long-term contract.

The Trail Blazers, with two first-round picks (their own and Cleveland’s), will find more value in each pick as the June draft approaches and not in February.

Portland also has the draft rights to former 2015 second-round pick Dani Diez, who was acquired in a draft-night trade with Utah in exchange for $1.5 million. Diez currently plays in Spain for Unicaja Malaga.

Festus Ezeli could be a Portland trade chip. (AP)
Festus Ezeli could be a Portland trade chip. (AP)

Should be off the table: the backcourt

The mistake teams often make when going through a season that falls below expectations is shaking up the roster at the expense of its best players.

In Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, Portland has two All-Star-level players in the primes of their careers who are under contract for at least the next four seasons.

McCollum also has a poison-pill restriction in his contract that makes it nearly impossible for Portland to trade him.

GM history at the deadline

Neil Olshey has taken two different approaches in recent years.

Last season, with a league-low payroll, Portland was able to absorb the contracts of Brian Roberts (from Miami) and Anderson Varejao (from Cleveland) in exchange for a 2017 first-round pick and a future second-round pick.

The trade got Portland closer to the salary cap floor and saved the organization close to $8 million.

In February 2015, Olshey sent a 2016 first-round pick (lottery protected) to Denver in exchange for Arron Afflalo.

Although he was injured in early April, Afflalo gave Portland quality starter minutes when Wes Matthews was lost for the season because of a torn Achilles’ tendon.

Post-trade deadline roster movement

Barring a trade, Portland should have 15 guaranteed contracts after the deadline.

The Trail Blazers, currently $27,000 below the luxury tax, will need to remain vigilant to stay below the tax.

Portland is projected to be a tax team in future years, and the one thing it cannot afford to do is set the wheels in motion to become a repeater tax team three years from now.

SACRAMENTO
Roster
Player Value Insider Info
1. DeMarcus Cousins All-NBA
2. Rudy Gay Top starter/injured 2017-18 player option
3. *Darren Collison Top reserve Expiring contract
4. *Kosta Koufos Top reserve
5. *Arron Afflalo Top reserve ’17-18: $1.5M guaranteed
6. *Garrett Temple Top reserve
7. *Matt Barnes Top reserve Player option
8. Ty Lawson Rotation Expiring contract
9. Malachi Richardson Rotation/development
10. Willie Cauley-Stein Rotation
11. Anthony Tolliver Rotation 2017-18: $2M guaranteed
12. Ben McLemore Rotation RFA expiring contract
13. Omri Casspi Roster Expiring contract
14. Skal Labissiere Development
15. Georgios Papagiannis Development
*Started during the season but best suited as a key reserve.

It would take major assets to acquire DeMarcus Cousins. (AP)
It would take major assets to acquire DeMarcus Cousins. (AP)

Trade assets: limited

The recent Achilles’ tendon injury to Rudy Gay takes one of the Kings’ few trade assets off the table.

Outside of DeMarcus Cousins, Gay – on an expiring contract (player option in 2017-18) – had the most value on the roster.

Sacramento does, however, have a group of young players in the development stage and veterans on expiring and short-term contracts.

Sacramento also has the draft rights of 2014 first-round pick Bogdan Bogdanovic and second-round picks Luka Mitrovic (2015), Arturas Gudaitis (2015) and Alex Oriakhi (2013).

Prior trades limit the Kings from moving current and future first- and second-round picks.

The Kings cannot trade a first until 2021 and their second-round pick will go to Chicago if the Bulls do not receive Sacramento’s first-round pick (Nos. 11-30) this season.

Should be off the table: maybe just one

Unless a team is willing to unload a combination of draft picks and core pieces for All-Star DeMarcus Cousins, the Kings’ roster should be open for discussion.

The big decision for Kings management will come this summer when Cousins is eligible to sign a $200 million-plus extension to remain in Sacramento for the next five years.

GM history at the deadline

Vlade Divac is entering his second trade deadline since taking over after the 2014-15 season.

Divac, who did not make a deal at last year’s deadline, was most active this past June, when the Kings made two draft-night trades.

Post-trade deadline roster movement

The Kings’ place in the standings could dictate any possible player buyouts before the March 1 deadline.

Although there is little separation among the teams fighting for the West’s last playoff spot, Sacramento would be best off in the long term integrating young development assets such as Richardson, Labissiere and Cauley-Stein.

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