How the trade market is shaping up for Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen

Trade season is upon the NBA, though there don't appear to be many imminent transactions bubbling across the league. But Friday does mark the day when players who signed contracts as free agents the previous summer become eligible to be dealt — which includes 81 players for this 2023-24 campaign. Saturday might mark an even more consequential point on the NBA calendar, the deadline for a team to trade for someone signed during this past free agency and still be able to reaggregate that player into another deal before the Feb. 8 buzzer.

That was a key benefit, for example, in the Philadelphia 76ers’ return for sending James Harden to his desired destination with the Clippers. If the Sixers decide to spend some of the draft ammunition they netted from Los Angeles and target a third star to pair with Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey, they will have to include outgoing salary such as the contract of Marcus Morris Sr., whom Philadelphia will be eligible to flip because they acquired him, plus Nicolas Batum, Robert Covington and K.J. Martin, on Nov. 1.

Alas, the Sixers are not expected to pursue any significant roster changes until much closer to February’s trade deadline, league sources told Yahoo Sports, no matter how often Philadelphia and the Los Angeles Lakers get linked to Chicago Bulls guard Zach LaVine. It remains difficult to parse through the rumor mill and whispers among pro personnel scouts to find legitimate suitors who are actively pursuing LaVine’s services, with four years and roughly $180 million owed, including the rest of this season. LaVine’s recent absence due to right foot soreness, which is expected to keep him sidelined for the better part of a month, has added further credence to fears of his injury history, not to mention the curious fact that Chicago won its first four games with LaVine out of the lineup before dropping its past two.

Zach LaVine drives to the basket against the Orlando Magic on Nov. 15 at the United Center in Chicago. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

The slow-developing market shouldn’t necessarily come as a surprise after the Bulls began to gauge LaVine’s trade value during the offseason, yet LaVine entered the year once again as the focal point of Chicago’s roster. Even still, the Bulls’ order of operations, by all accounts, continues to prioritize moving LaVine first. That would leave a significant sample of games to evaluate Chicago’s updated roster before making further decisions on the trade status of other veterans such as DeMar DeRozan and Alex Caruso. The Bulls are still searching for the type of haul that a multitime All-Star typically draws, which LaVine certainly is based on résumé: an established starter, plus a young player with upside and first-round draft capital, according to league sources. Chicago has also attempted to swap LaVine for other All-Star players, such as pitching Cleveland on acquiring Darius Garland from the Cavaliers, sources said.

Can the Bulls even be considered sellers if their priorities lie with moving LaVine and LaVine alone? A lack of clear-cut sellers in the NBA trade landscape has been an ongoing theme ever since the advent of the play-in tournament, as more front offices than ever convince themselves that the rosters they’re watching night after night need just a bit of injury luck and one or two additions to sneak into the playoffs. Plus, with a prevailing notion among scouts that the 2024 NBA Draft is one of the weaker talent pools to enter the league in several years, we could see an increased number of teams willing to trade first-round picks for rotation upgrades this season.

There just need to be valuable players available for the taking. Once again, rival executives are circling Toronto and the Raptors’ two impending free agents, Pascal Siakam and O.G. Anunoby, as two of the best possibilities to hit the trade market before February’s deadline. Gary Trent is also in the last season of his three-year deal, and the veteran guard will generate interest from opposing front offices. But Siakam and Anunoby are the pair of prized pieces teams are hoping Toronto accepts haven’t been part of a winning formula with the Raptors. Now more than ever, league personnel believe Toronto will be willing to part with at least one of its core players, most likely Siakam, especially after the Raptors saw Fred VanVleet walk in free agency.

“Toronto’s going to be forced to make a decision,” one general manager told Yahoo Sports.

Since the offseason, the Hawks have been the suitors most connected to Siakam, and Atlanta personnel witnessed what the 29-year-old forward is capable of Wednesday, when Siakam posted 33 points, seven boards and seven assists in a win over the visitors. The Hawks held serious discussions with the Raptors on acquiring Siakam this past summer, league sources told Yahoo Sports. Atlanta also pursued trade scenarios for swingman De’Andre Hunter that included talks with the Pacers and Pistons around June’s NBA Draft. The Hawks stand as one of the more intriguing franchises to monitor as the trade deadline approaches, with plenty of optionality to choose different paths forward under a new leadership structure with general manager Landry Fields and head coach Quin Snyder in their first full season in Atlanta, which is still 9-14 in the Eastern Conference.

Other teams mentioned by league personnel as interested in obtaining Siakam are Indiana and Sacramento, though both the Pacers and Kings appear more vested in the possibility of landing Anunoby than his older, less malleable Raptors counterpart. The Pacers’ true appetite for significant upgrades to a young roster arriving a little ahead of schedule, as evidenced by a fun burst to the in-season tournament title game behind Tyrese Haliburton, remains to be seen. But there is plenty of expectation among rival executives that Indiana will be aggressive in exploring consolidation trades that raise its ceiling. Backup floor general T.J. McConnell has drawn ongoing interest from playoff teams in search of greater backcourt help, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Sacramento has certainly left rival front offices and other league figures with a sense that the Kings are exploring avenues to grab more midseason talent, just as Sacramento did in swapping Haliburton for Domantas Sabonis before the 2022 trade deadline. Adding LaVine would not help to improve Sacramento’s leaky defense, though the Kings have been mentioned by league personnel as one team to monitor in LaVine’s ongoing trade discussions. For Sacramento to do business with Toronto, the Raptors are expected to seek sweet-shooting Keegan Murray in exchange for either of their talented forwards. That would seem too rich a price for Sacramento, as Kings officials have spoken of Murray as a critical swing piece in their lineup between bookends Sabonis and De’Aaron Fox — particularly as 31-year-old veteran Harrison Barnes has faded in terms of production this season. Davion Mitchell is considered a strong trade candidate with the Kings, league sources told Yahoo Sports, as the third-year guard continues seeing limited minutes in Sacramento’s rotation.

But what if Toronto holds firm, just as the Raptors did last trade deadline and just as Toronto did with Kyle Lowry before the 2021 trade deadline? Teams are calling to find other impact players that could change the landscape of their rosters. At this juncture, that does not appear to be Donovan Mitchell, the All-NBA Cavaliers guard, despite rival teams’ mounting interest amid Cleveland’s mediocre start to this 2023-24 campaign following an expensive free agency. But what about the lone All-Star on Mitchell’s former team in Utah?

Lauri Markkanen has indeed emerged as a fascinating, albeit unlikely trade candidate before February’s buzzer. The Jazz held designs of further competing in the Western Conference after Markkanen emerged as an All-Star in his first season in Salt Lake City, league sources told Yahoo Sports, as Utah engaged Portland about acquiring Damian Lillard and then Jrue Holiday before this season tipped. Moving on from Markkanen would mark a stark change of direction from trying to add an All-NBA-caliber point guard to run Utah’s offense alongside Markkanen’s versatile skillset.

And yet the Jazz are mired in an 8-16 start, prompting several teams to phone Utah’s front office in order to gauge its willingness to move Markkanen, sources said. The Jazz are by no means expected to trade the 7-foot sharpshooter at this juncture. He has been a true favorite of Jazz officials, sources said. But Utah has indeed left opposing executives with the sense that Markkanen is no longer untouchable in trade conversations, league sources told Yahoo Sports, a tangible change from previous transaction windows. Markkanen will be eligible to negotiate and extend his current contract before its final season begins in 2024-25. And there’s a sentiment among cap strategists that Utah perhaps won’t consider Markkanen’s next salary point a worthwhile cost if the Jazz are so far from the playoff picture with Markkanen as their best player. But it would surely take a massive haul for some team to pry the 26-year-old from the Jazz.

“Do I expect Utah to trade Lauri? No,” another general manager told Yahoo Sports. “But they are saying they’re willing to listen. They are willing to listen to calls on everyone, but it’s a matter of meeting their price like Minnesota did for Rudy [Gobert].”

“Everyone” is said to include veterans such as Jordan Clarkson, Kelly Olynyk, John Collins, Collin Sexton and Talen Horton-Tucker, according to league sources, but not starting point guard and rookie standout Keyonte George.

Still, Markkanen’s status already has and will continue generating significant buzz around the league if Utah continues entertaining rivals’ inquiries. It would be front-office malpractice not to at least understand what it would take to land Markkanen. League personnel believe three teams in particular value the Finnish forward at this preliminary stage of trade conversations. Two of those apparent suitors, Sacramento and Atlanta, make sense, considering the Kings’ and Hawks’ respective approaches for Siakam. The third team league personnel continue mentioning to watch for a potential Markkanen approach is Oklahoma City, suddenly second in the West with a trove of first-round picks.

The Thunder have so far been resistant to spend their draft capital and add to a burgeoning young playoff core, not wanting to rush past their breakfast and get to dinner before even thinking about lunch. But there is Davis Bertans’ $17 million salary to play with, plus OKC explored trading young guard Tre Mann prior to the season, sources said. Come February, opposing front offices will surely call Oklahoma City about the trade prospects of Josh Giddey as well, depending on the outcome of the NBA’s investigation regarding his alleged off-court relations. Before the social-media accusations that Giddey had an improper relationship with a minor, other front offices were beginning to pinpoint Giddey as a quiet trade possibility, this being his third season without improving into a viable 3-point shooter next to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. The Australian playmaker becomes extension-eligible this summer.

More names and concepts will emerge as conversations begin among front-office folks flocking to Orlando for next week’s annual G League Showcase. For now, Memphis will have a roster crunch decision before All-Star guard Ja Morant returns Tuesday from his 25-game suspension. The Grizzlies have been thrilled with the contributions from veteran big man Bismack Biyombo, whom Memphis signed via a roster exemption that came with Morant’s prolonged absence. While the Grizzlies have made calls around the NBA weighing rival teams’ interest in their end-of-the-rotation players, sources said, opposing front offices expect Kenneth Lofton Jr. to be the likely candidate waived before Morant’s return, if a trade doesn’t materialize in the coming days.