NBA Trade Deadline Preview: Players Who Could Be on the Move

Save for a slate of Anthony Davis rumblings, the NBA’s trade front has been conspicuously quiet in the season’s first half. Kyle Korver’s return to Utah didn’t generate significant buzz, nor did Milwaukee’s acquisition of George Hill. The biggest headline may have been a botched trade, with either the Wizards or Grizzlies failing to register that MarShon and Dillon Brooks are, in fact, different players. 

Expect the market to heat up as we approach the first week of February. The long list of Eastern Conference tankers will offer up a few intriguing players, as will Phoenix, the lone team effectively eliminated from the West playoff race. Perhaps a further slide down the standings could force Memphis or New Orleans to trade a franchise piece. Being realistic, a wave of middle-tier assets moving is more likely.

So with less than three weeks before one of the biggest days on the league calendar, we at The Crossover detailed the most likely trade candidates, from the salary dumps to the former lottery selections.

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Movable Expirings

Wesley Matthews, Mavericks: The former Blazer was previously a tough sell to opposing teams early in his four-year, $70 million deal. Matthews largely disappointed in Dallas, making his $17 million a negative trade asset. Now an expiring contract, Matthews plus draft capital—or perhaps second-year point guard Dennis Smith if Dallas decides to move him—could land the Mavericks a quality piece in their push for the playoffs. The Mavs could use another perimeter presence or added beef in the interior. Orlando could see Smith as its point guard of the future. Perhaps Matthews is the conduit for a deal, landing Aaron Gordon or Nikola Vucevic for Smith and Matthews’s expiring deal.

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Enes Kanter, Knicks: Finding a fit for the former No. 3 overall pick is difficult. There isn’t a large cast of contenders with needs at center, and Kanter isn’t exactly a malleable piece. His defensive shortcomings are significant as well. Despite the chilled market, Kanter can still be a reliable depth piece for a contender, one who can reliably score in limited minutes. Don’t expect New York to assume a multi-year contract. The Knicks should free as much cap space as possible for the summers of 2019 and 2020. But Kanter could move in an expirings swap, adding bench points to a playoff-hungry squad.

Robin Lopez, Bulls: Chicago played hardball with Lopez on Monday, insisting it won’t negotiate a buyout prior to the trade deadline. And for good reason. Lopez is a quality backup big who would be a nice addition for a title contender. Lopez was reportedly expected to go Golden State if a buyout was agreed to. Houston could also be in pursuit with Clint Capela sidelined. Chicago could land a pair of seconds or a late first for Lopez.

Holding onto Lopez wouldn’t be a terrible idea, either. The Bulls’ leadership council hasn’t been able to enact much change and some veteran leadership is desperately needed. A dose of stability can go a long way. Chicago likely won’t set Lopez free. Though for the right price, the Bulls may delve further into their cast of youngsters.

Nikola Vucevic, Magic: The best expiring player on the market, Vucevic is a touch overqualified for this tier. He’s averaging 20.2 points and 11.9 rebounds per game and leading Orlando in usage rate. Vucevic is a strong interior force with solid stretch, making over one three per game at 38.3%. He’d be a relative coup for a contender.

Orlando hasn’t signaled it will move on from the big man putting up All-Star numbers. Still, there are a few potential fits. The Spurs could plug-and-play Vucevic over Pau Gasol and Jakob Poeltl, and perhaps re-sign him this summer. The Lakers could look to unearth a more reliable source of scoring, and Vucevic can likely fit in similarly to Chris Bosh and Kevin Love next to LeBron James. Will those teams mortgage future assets to make a move for Vucevic? The cost may be prohibitive. Yet if Orlando signals a shift toward the lottery, dealing Vucevic and acquiring future assets would be a wise move.

Aaron Gordon

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Established Vets

Aaron Gordon, Magic: Gordon provides one of the more intriguing contracts in the NBA. He’s owed $76 million between 2018-19 and the spring of 2022, with just shy of $20 million owed in 2019-20. Yet with a de-escalating deal, his final season checks in at $16.4 million, potentially a bargain in the last year of his deal. Hot free-agent destinations like Los Angeles or New York won’t touch him. But will traditional afterthoughts take a chance?

Sacramento comes to mind as a potential suitor, with a strong wing needed to pair with De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield. The Kings’ propensity for short-sighted thinking is no secret, and Orlando could land some serious draft capital in a deal.

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Tim Hardaway, Knicks: This could end up being more wishful thinking for New York, who should look to clear as much cap space as possible for the summer. That isn’t a shot at Hardaway. The Michigan product is having a career year at 19.8 points per game and leading the Knicks in scoring. He can provide significant wing punch to an offensive-deficient roster.

Again, don’t expect the big market teams to court Hardaway with two years left on his contract. But could Dallas, Sacramento or Indiana pull the trigger? The latter has six expiring contracts. Matching money won’t be difficult. The Pacers could add a pick to one of their expirings to acquire THJ.

Otto Porter Jr, Wizards: Porter is the most impressive asset on our list, and the most expensive by annual value, too. Porter is owed $27 million next season with a $28 million player option in 2020-21. With Porter, John Wall and Bradley Beal all signed to sizable contracts, owner Ted Leonsis could attempt to shed Porter’s salary as the franchise remains mired in mediocrity. Shedding Wall may be preferable, but good luck finding a taker for his supermax extension.

The Georgetown product has seen a minor regression this season, yet he’s still a talented three-and-D wing. Porter made over 43% of triples in each of the last two seasons. Adding his three-point prowess to the Fox-Hield pairing could transform the Kings into one of the most high-octane attacks in the league. It would be an expensive move, but one that could very well earn Sacramento its first playoff appearance since 2006.

Dennis Smith Jr

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Young Guns

Dennis Smith Jr., Mavericks: The rumor mill concerning Smith slowed on Thursday after reports surfaced that Dallas is looking to reconcile its differences with the sophomore point guard. Still, for the right price, it appears like the Mavericks will consider parting with Smith.

Luka Doncic is Dallas’s guard of the future, and Smith doesn’t project to succeed without significant freedom as a lead ball-handler. Smith is talented, though, a force at the rim with growing consistency as a shooter. He’ll have value on the open market. Pairing Smith with an expiring like Matthews would be a smart move for Dallas. Absorbing an extra year or two of salary could be worth the heightened standing in the West. The Mavericks missed plenty of times in the free-agent market. Why not avoid the circus altogether?

Without Doncic in the fold, we wouldn’t be having this conversation surrounding Smith’s future. Circumstances have changed for the better, though, leaving Dallas with the option to flip Smith for a frontcourt contributor.

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Willie Cauley-Stein, Kings: The Kentucky product fits in our first category as an expiring contract, but in his fourth year, let’s discuss him as a young asset. Cauley-Stein has shown consistent growth since being drafted in 2015, averaging career-highs in points and rebounds in 2018-19. If Sacramento seeks to shift salary toward wing talent this summer, dealing Cauley-Stein now could be a prescient move.

Cauley-Stein could once again be a match in Los Angeles. He’s an upgrade over JaVale McGee, and could spell minutes for Tyson Chandler. And with no money owed past 2018-19, the Lakers won’t have to worry about their precious cap space. With a glut of bigs in Sacramento, Cauley-Stein could be a casualty.

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