Yardbarker NBA writers Pat Heery and Sean Keane address the hottest issues in the NBA. This week's topic: the trade deadline.
Keane: The NBA trade deadline, the second-most exciting day of transactions on the NBA calendar, is Thursday. Shams and Woj pull all-nighters, fans anxiously refresh their Twitter feeds, and teams desperately add and subtract players to take their teams over the top and under the luxury tax line. (The Houston Rockets will try to do both. )
Although there are powerhouse teams in Los Angeles and Milwaukee, the road to the NBA title feels as wide open as Ben Simmons behind the three-point line. As such, we could see a tidal wave of transactions, a plethora of pick swaps, and a slew of second-round picks changing hands all over the league.
The Bucks are running away with the East, but after last season's playoff disappointment, you can’t rule out roster shuffling in Milwaukee, which has vehemently denied Eric Bledsoe is on the trading block. The Lakers are still holding off the Clippers and Jazz, but they have a negative point differential when LeBron is off the floor -– that means they need to shore up their supporting cast. Maybe that means coaxing Darren Collison out of retirement or making a move with their limited trade assets -– don’t get too comfortable, Kyle Kuzma! The Clippers could use some size, the Celtics could really use some size, and the Nuggets are sizing up their roster, deciding which of their assets are also members of a playoff rotation. And you can never rule out the Sixers blowing up their roster for the third time in a year.
Which contenders do you think will make a move? And which players do you think are most likely to change teams, and are any of them a five-time All-Star whose name rhymes with “Seven Dove”?
Heery: A Kevin Love deal to a fringe contender (Rockets? Celtics?) would be, ah, interesting. I attended the Pelicans-Cavs game earlier this week, and Love is more than ready to be traded out of Cleveland. He has actually turned into one of the more entertaining players to watch during warmups -- he attempts floaters that damn near touch the ceiling and swats teammates layups into the front row. The Cavs need to accept the fact that they’re not getting much in return for this guy and move on.
Another player who is almost certainly going to get traded from a lifeless team is Robert Covington on the T’Wolves. A reunion in Philly would make a lot of sense -- Covington is an ideal three-and-D wing for a contender and would help space the court of Simmons and Joel Embiid (although you would like to see him closer to the 37-38 percent he’s usually around (he’s at 34.5 right now). Covington would fit into any contender’s lineup, but I wouldn’t deal Kuzma for Covington if I were Lakers GM Rob Pelinka.
In fact, the more I think about it, the only Kuzma trade I see out there that I'd consider fair value on return is the rumored deal for the Kings' Bogdan Bogdanovic. If the Lakers can’t get a somewhat young guard or wing for Kuzma, I don’t think they should deal him. Instead, as you alluded to, they should do whatever they can to get Collison for free from Team Jehovah’s Witness.
Heery: How do you appraise Kuzma’s trade value? What other trades are you forecasting?
Keane: If I’m the Lakers, I’d hold onto Kuzma unless I could get something really good -– like Bogdanovic, whose combination of ball-handling and three-point shooting is perfect for the Lake Show. But beyond an obviously perfect fit like Bogdan, I’d be inclined to hold onto Kuzma, who's 24, only a year older than the Suns' Devin Booker. Championship teams need (relatively) young players to cover for veteran minutes and make bad hairstyle choices and embarrassing social media posts during the playoffs. Kuzma is crucial for all three.
I expect the Warriors to unload Alec Burks and Glenn Robinson III before the deadline, and both can help a wing-starved team. They are low-maintenance players who can hit a three, dribble without embarrassing themselves and play passable defense. Virtually every contender can use one of them, and it’ll come down to who’s willing to offer the Dubs a high second-round pick or -- dare they dream –- a heavily protected first-rounder. Each could aid each other’s old teams: Indiana’s banged-up backcourt could use Burks, and GR3 (aka “The Little Dog”) would fit in great with Burks’ old Jazz squad.
The guy I’m unsure about is Oklahoma City's Danilo Gallinari, who's putting up 19 points per game on 41.4% shooting from deep. The resurgent Thunder are 29-20 after a 5-10 start, and have virtually clinched a playoff spot. The question remains whether OKC wants to add to its horde of future picks by flipping Gallinari and his expiring contract, or whether it wants to keep him and try to win a round. There’s potentially tasty playoff matchups with Russell Westbrook’s Rockets and Paul George’s Clippers, but my gut tells me GM Sam Presti loves future assets too much to not deal Gallo. He also thinks that Chris Paul’s the engine that’s making the offense work. I predict Dino goes to Philly, just for the comedy of them adding yet another power forward.
Keane: Have I left out an obvious relocation candidate? And do you think the title contenders besides the Lake Show will make dramatic moves?
Heery: If the Pistons don’t trade Derrick Rose and Langston Galloway for something, everyone in their front office should be fired the minute the deadline passes. They should also trade Andre Drummond to the highest bidder, even if it only yields a couple of second-round picks. I used to have the Hornets as the team with the least optimistic future, but the Pistons have surpassed them this season.
I also think that the Knicks must trade Marcus Morris Sr. because he’s on a one-year deal. He should get them a first-round pick in return. Morris would help any contender. The Clippers should go hard at him. The Lakers and Rockets should as well, just to keep him off the Clips.
While I’m expecting a quiet trade deadline, you still know that there’s going to be a wonk trade out there for some fringe contender -- Celtics, Rockets, Sixers, Raptors, Pacers, etc. The league is too open this season for there not to be. I just can’t figure out who the player will be. Maybe it’s the Bulls' Zach LaVine. He’s pretty one-dimensional, but he’s instant offense, and as we’ve seen this season, he can single-handedly win games by hitting double-digit threes.
Perhaps it’s JJ Redick. I know the Pelicans are talking about standing pat at the deadline, but if a team offers two first-round picks or a couple young players, you have to do that, no? Here’s a question for you: Would you trade Eric Bledsoe in a deal for Redick if you’re the Bucks’ GM John Horst? Do you make any moves if you’re Milwaukee?
Keane: If I were Milwaukee, I’d be thinking about a big move, but the problem with dealing Bledsoe is that there’s very few upgrades on him available. He struggled in the playoffs the past two seasons, but this is still a first team All-Defensive guard. The only true upgrade available? Chris Paul. Despite the Thunder being a playoff team, the huge amount of money Paul is owed means that OKC would definitely unload him in the right deal, and sending Bledsoe to the team that drafted him makes a lot of sense. It’s probably too much salary for the Bucks' ownership, who would rather spend their money on casinos than pay the luxury tax.
Fifty years after the Bucks won their only chip by pairing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson, they can greatly increase their title odds by adding another Hall of Fame point guard to play with their MVP big man.
As for Redick, he’s instant offense at both ends, as the Pelicans have a fantastic 123 offensive rating and a putrid 117 defensive rating with him in the game. It’s still unclear if New Orleans is interested in competing this season, but it might decide based on the Zion-Ja Morant showdown January 31. If the Pels decide to punt the rest of the season, I’d like to see Denver make a run at Redick, whose 46.5 % three-point shooting should be even better at altitude. He would give the Nuggets a gravity-and-spacing combination with Nikola Jokic that will be very tough to stop.
And if the Pelicans are sellers, Derrick Favors would be a tremendous fit at center in Boston, and the Pelicans could take back some of Danny Ainge’s dragon lair hoard of draft capital. Favors is solid if uninspiring, but his contract is expiring and the Celtics need someone to stand up to the massive front courts in Milwaukee and Philadelphia. He and Enes Kanter can talk about being on the right side of Utah’s Deron Williams trade heist!
Finally, is there a team currently outside the playoff picture you think should make a deal? Shouldn’t the Suns be trying to make the playoffs for the first time since Steve Nash left instead of shopping Aron Baynes and Dario Saric?
Heery: I think you’re onto something with the Suns -- at a certain point, you must end the losing culture with your franchise. One way to do that is to prioritize making the playoffs as a No. 7 or 8 seed, which means sometimes making a financially questionable trade to bring in a guy like ... Kevin Love! If they can trump another team’s offer and steal Love, they should do so. If anything, it’d give Devin Booker something new to play for besides making the All Star voters who snubbed him regret their decision.
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