After 3 p.m. eastern standard time on Thursday, February 23, all 30 NBA teams will be restricted from making trades until the off-season, and some teams have already completed deals ahead of the deadline.
The Raptors beefed up at the power forward position finally by landing Serge Ibaka in a trade with the Orlando Magic, while the Denver Nuggets were able to part with a disgruntled Jusuf Nurkic and receive Mason Plumlee from the Portland Trail Blazers to better complement rising star Nikola Jokic.
Milwaukee was able to trade away Miles Plumlee and his four-year, $52 million contract to the Charlotte Hornets on February 2nd to gain more flexibility in terms of the salary cap, while the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers were able to trade for Kyle Korver on January 7 to give LeBron James another efficient three-point shooter.
Then, there was of course this blockbuster trade; the New Orleans Pelicans acquiring DeMarcus Cousins and Omri Casspi from the Sacramento Kings in-exchange for Buddy Hield, Tyreke Evans, Langston Galloway, and a 2017 first-round pick.
Still, it feels like there could be a flurry of moves that will soon follow those three trades, as we could see more star players traded ahead of Thursday in-addition to draft picks and players on expiring contracts.
Here are the 25 players who are the most likely to be wearing a different uniform once the post all-star break portion of the NBA schedule opens up.
Jahlil Okafor, C Philadelphia 76ers
It looks like the Philadelphia 76ers will finally breakup their trio of centers this season.
Both Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel have expressed frustration about how many centers the 76ers have on their roster, with Noel citing how “silly” it was that management was unable to move at least one of the three caliber starting centers (Joel Embiid being the other) this off-season despite tons of interest in the three.
Well, it now appears that 76ers management has pegged Okafor as the odd man out in Philadelphia, and the number of suitors for the talented 21-year-old gives Philadelphia a ton of leverage in trade talks for the former number three overall pick behind D’Angelo Russell and Karl Anthony-Towns.
According to David Aldridge of TNT, the Trail Blazers were close to acquiring Okafor via trade, but Portland was obviously ruled out of the Okafor sweepstakes after acquiring Nurkic last week. This leaves the Chicago Bulls as another potential landing spot for Okafor, but other teams could end up joining the sweepstakes before Thursday.
Okafor would fit best with a power forward who is a strong defender in the paint and on the perimeter, because Okafor is regarded as not the strongest defender by NBA officials. The offensive talent is for sure there, however, as Okafor is averaging 11.5 points per game in 23.0 minutes this season, and 7 minute decrease from the year before.
Lou Williams, SG Los Angeles Lakers
The 30-year-old Lou Williams is the midst of a great season for the once again terrible Lakers, as he is averaging 18.6 points, 3.2 assists, and 2.3 rebounds per game this season while shooting 44% from the field. These numbers have Williams among consideration for Sixth Man of The Year, along with Houston’s Eric Gordon.
Even with great bench play from both Williams and Jordan Clarkson, the most important thing for the Lakers is to keep tanking the 2016-2017 season so they are able to keep their draft pick and pair another young player with D’Angelo Russell, Brandon Ingram, and Julius Randle.
Per Alex Kennedy of HoopsHype, the Williams are actively shopping Williams, and seem likely to move him before Thursday afternoon. A trade of Williams would once again go back to the Lakers wanting to keep their pick, and the option of giving minutes to the younger guards on the Lakers roster like Clarkson.
Williams is making $7 million this season, and will then make $7 million once again in 2017-2018 team. A contending team will almost certainly be the one that completes the trade for Williams, meaning that the draft pick the Lakers could be receiving back would be in the late 20’s in terms of draft positions.
Still, the Lakers have struck out big on huge name free agents in recent years, and were unable to land a meeting with the most elusive free agent last off-season in Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant. Los Angeles is still in need of seeing one of their young players breakout into a star, and the help on another draft pick could help that make a reality.
Brandon Knight, PG Phoenix Suns
Things have sure changed for Brandon Knight in recent years.
In 2014-2015, Brandon Knight was having a career year as the Milwaukee Bucks starting point guard, and would’ve been named to the NBA’s All-Star team that season if the NBA selected Knight instead of Korver to replaced the inured Dwyane Wade.
Knight was averaging 17.8 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 5.4 assists per game for the Bucks in a season that looked like it was headed the wrong way after Jabari Parker suffered a torn ACL against the Phoenix Suns in December. Kmight and guard/forward Khris Middleton didn’t allow that to happen, and the Bucks made the playoffs for the first time that season since the Brandon Jennings-Monta Ellis days.
Except Knight wasn’t on that playoff team that took the Chicago Bulls to 6 games in the first round. Only Middleton was. That was because the Bucks traded Knight to the Suns on February 19, 2015 in a three-team trade that brought Michael Carter-Williams to the Bucks, the NBA’s Rookie of the Year in 2013-2014.
Milwaukee largely made the trade largely in-part due to the fact that Knight was set to become an unrestricted free agent that off-season, and they needed money to be able to re-sign Middleton, while also prepare for future contract extensions for Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Now, here in 2017, Carter-Williams is with the Bulls now after the Bucks traded him for Tony Snell before the start of the season, and the Bucks are paying Matthew Dellevadova $38 million to play in a starting role he wasn’t accustomed to with the Cavaliers.
Not only is the Bucks point guard situation miserable without Knight, but Knight is also miserable without the Bucks after it looked like he was coming into his own with the Suns last season after battling injuries following the trade that caused him to appear in only 10 games for the Suns.
Knight, who was 24 last season, appeared in 52 games (50 starts) for the Suns and posted averages of 19.6 points, 5.1 assists, and 3.9 rebounds per game on 41% shooting from the field, leading Suns management to believe that Knight could at least be a viable sixth man behind Eric Bledsoe and Devin Booker on a future contending team.
For whatever reason it may be, that has not been the case this season, as Knight is averaging just 21.1 minutes per game, easily the lowest mark of his career.
Instead of playing Knight, Suns head coach Earl Watson has given increased minutes to Bledose and Booker, while also creating ways to give rookie guard Tyler Ullis minutes. It’s even reached the point where 31-year-old Jared Dudley is receiving more burn on a rebuilding Suns team, while Knight gets ready to count the $12.6 million the Suns owe him this season.
I’m almost compelled to think that a perfect trade for the Suns would be to send Knight to the 76ers in-exchange for Okafor (h/t Matt Breisch of FanSided). There would obviously needed to be more included in the trade for it to work correctly under NBA trade rules, but there are great benefits for both teams in the trade.
While TJ McConnell has hit some clutch shots this season for the 76ers, his ceiling at best is a backup point guard in the NBA. Trading for Knight would give the 76ers a long-term solution at point guard, while also giving them the option of going shooting guard in the draft. Kentucky’s Malik Monk feels like a great option for the team, as he would join Ben Simmons, Dario Saric, and Joel Embiid in a pretty impressive young 76ers lineup.
Shipping Okafor off to Phoenix would allow the Suns to move on from Alex Len this off-season, as Len has been a disappointment for the Suns after the team took him 5th overall in the 2013 NBA Draft. It would also make them more compelled to move veteran center Tyson Chandler via trade at the deadline or either this summer.
Regardless of whether or not this trade scenario comes to fruition, Knight needs a new home quickly.
P.J. Tucker, SF Phoenix Suns
Once again, the Suns are rebuilding. So why is a 31-year-old P.J. Tucker playing 28.5 minutes per game while much younger players Dragan Bender, Marquese Chriss, TJ Warren, and Alan Williams are sitting on the bench watching yet another Suns loss?
Bender is of course now recovering from ankle surgery that could cause him to miss the rest of the season, but even in the little spurts of minutes he would receive, Bender was able to make an impact on the court. TJ Warren started the year off hot, as he averaged 21.3 points in October and 16.1 points in November, but has since seen a minute decrease due to injuries and a misuse of minutes once again by Watson.
Trading away Tucker would make things so much easier on Phoenix Suns this season, but it’s not like Tucker isn’t producing at all this season.
The veteran wing is averaging 7.0 points and 6.0 rebounds per game in 57 games, proving he can be a viable option off the bench for a contending team that needs help on the perimeter. Tucker’s ability to shoot the three is also attractive to teams via trade, as he is shooting 33% from distance this season, and 34% overall for his NBA career.
Marc Stein of ESPN reported back in January that the Los Angeles Clippers offered the Suns a second-round pick for Tucker with Clippers head coach Doc Rivers being a big fan of Tucker’s game as defensive specialist, but the Suns declined in hopes they would be offered a first-round pick for Tucker.
One month later, and it seems clear that no one is going to fork over a first-round pick for a player on an expiring deal and set to hit unrestricted free agency this off-season. That’s why that the Clippers’ second-round pick offer for Tucker may be Phoenix’s best bet when it comes to moving Tucker before they are able to get anything for him in a couple of months.
Another team to keep an eye out for is the Raptors, who need help on the wing after trading Terrence Ross to get Ibaka from the Magic. Toronto also posses to first round-picks that could make them more likely to meet Phoenix’s initial demands, but the second-round pick is still probably the reality the Suns will have to deal with in a few days.
Ricky Rubio, PG Minnesota Timberwolves
We now bring you the most recent report about the Minnesota Timberwolves wanting to trade away Ricky Rubio, something that I am pretty sure they have been trying to do since LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Shane Battier and Ray Allen played for the Heat.
The Timberwolves have attached Rubio to multiple offers with Shabazz Muhammad to several teams around the NBA, league sources said. Minnesota has been seeking something of a “bridge” guard in return, a player capable of starting in the short term, but who’ll ultimately settle into a backup role and give way to rookie Kris Dunn to become the long-term starter, league sources said.
The Sacramento Kings have had a strong interest in acquiring Rubio, but there’s no traction on a deal between those two teams, league sources said. So far, the Timberwolves are trying to exhaust the market elsewhere for a better return of assets than the Kings can offer
When the Timberwolves selected Kris Dunn 5th overall in the 2016 NBA Draft, we were all under the impression that Rubio’s days were numbered once again, but Dunn’s struggles have helped make Rubio’s future surrounded by a bunch of smoke.
While Dunn has played in 53 games for Minnesota this year, he is only averaging 16.6 minutes per game when he hits the court, and has lost playing time over recent weeks to Tyus Jones due to struggles shooting the ball from the field, three-point line and the free throw line.
Dunn is averaging just 3.6 points, 2.5 assists, and 2.2 rebounds per game on 36% shooting from the field, 26% from three-point range, and 58% from the free throw line. After being a hot pick for this season’s Rookie of The Year Award, this is for sure what the Timberwolves were expecting.
The Timberwolves also weren’t expecting to be on the outside looking in when looking at the Western Conference playoff picture. While they are 3.5 games behind the Denver Nuggets for the 8th seed in the conference, it’s hard to imagine many in the Timberwolves front office would be happy with a first-round sweeping from the Warriors.
In-addition to being 3.5 games out of a playoff spot, the Suns are also 4.0 games ahead of the Suns for the worst record in the Western Conference. The Timberwolves could trade Rubio before Thursday, or on draft night while using their lottery pick to choose from a stacked heap of point guards and still hope Dunn turns out to be the special talent they thought he was last June.
One thing the Timberwolves have clearly established is they don’t trust Rubio as their point guard of the future playing alongside Zach LaVine, Andrew Wiggins, Gorgui Dieng and Towns. They have concerns about his health, and he is still a very poor shooter from everywhere but the charity stripe.
The problem for the Timberwolves is finding a suitor for Rubio, and to be quite honest about it, they may be stuck with Rubio for awhile.
In October 2014, the Timberwolves and Rubio agreed to a four-year, $55 million contract extension, and after this season Rubio still has two seasons left on the deal that will pay him $14.1 million in 2017-2018, and then $14.8 million the year following. Those base salaries could also be increased without incentives in Rubio’s contract.
You can’t deny Rubio’s talent when it comes to setting up teammates, as he is averaging 8.4 assists per game, which is good for 5th in the entire NBA behind only James, Russell Westbrook, John Wall, and James Harden.
The only bad part is that Rubio won’t give you much on the offensive end, and his contract won’t happen your salary cap when it comes to wanting to acquire and retain new talent. It should be interesting to see what happens with Rubio, but as Wojnarowski noted, keep and eye out for the Kings in Rubio trade talks. Last season, Rajon Rondo was able to feed DeMarcus Cousins well in Sacramento, and Rubio could be slotted into a similar role.
Shabazz Muhammad, SF Minnesota Timberwolves
Wojnarowski’s report on Rubio that you saw above also had an interesting twist to it, as it looks like the Timberwolves are trying to trade Rubio in a package deal with Shabazz Muhammad, who is severing in a backup role to Wiggins.
A recent report from Michael Scotto of Basketball Insiders also suggests that the Timberwolves are also trying to trade Muhammad individually, as they offered the Phoenix Suns Muhammad in-exchange for Tucker, but Phoenix also declined that trade.
Tucker would fit perfectly under Timberwolves head coach Tom Thibodeau, and trading for Muhammad would give the Suns yet another young option off the bench. Muhammad has a lot to work on as a player still, but one thing that can’t be denied about him is how well and efficient he scores the ball.
In limited playing time this season, Muhammad is shooting 47% from the field, 41% from three-point territory, and 78% from the free throw line while averaging 9.4 points per game. His 17.2 points per game when using the per 36 minutes a game measure is the lowest mark of his career, but his regular playing time is also way less than ever before.
We will never also see the player Muhammad could turn out to be because of the fact he is behind a future all-star in Wiggins. He has made just 13 starts in his NBA career, and the Timberwolves could likely get someone like Tucker that would be able to fit a role on their team way better than Muhammad, as they are simply just not letting the 24-year-old to grow.
There comes a point in time where each NBA team that has stockpiled a ton of young talent believes they are ready to compete, and the consensus around the league is that the Timberwolves will have more than enough talent following the draft this season to start making a playoff push.
Minnesota will soon have to start prepping to extend LaVine, Wiggins, and Towns long-term, and with Muhammad set to hit restricted free agency after this season, the time is now to officially part ways with the former lottery pick back in 2013.
Wayne Ellington, SG Miami Heat
The first half of the Miami Heat’s season was the definition of brutal, as the team lost 20-year-old Justise Winslow due to a shoulder injury while having other nagging injuries on top of Winslow’s aliment.
In those first 41 games, Miami posted an ugly 11-30 record that was among the worst records in the entire NBA, which led many in the national media and the Heat fan base to start looking at which college prospects could help benefit the team next season.
Erik Spoelstra and his coaching staff had very different plans.
Miami is now 14-2 since the 11-30 start which included a 13-game win streak that included wins over the Warriors, Rockets, and the Hawks, and their guard play was a big reason why.
Goran Dragic and Dion Waiters, who are now known a 7/11, made all the headlines with their exceptional play, but a lot of the hard, gritty work came from the Heat’s reserves.
Ellington was one of the reserve players that stepped up, and with Waiters, Josh Richardson, and Tyler Johnson battling injuries for parts of the streak, his three-point shooting was a great sight to see.
Ellington is shooting 40% on threes this month, and also made a notable improvement on the defensive end during the Heat’s resurgent stretch. Ellington has attributed a lot of success to the Heat’s culture this season, which is why Miami and Pat Riley could turn Ellington into a second-round pick.
While their other trade possibilities on the Heat that we will get to, Ellington seems like the most likely one to be traded. His upside is lower than Johnson’s and Richardson’s, and he also is set to become a free agent quicker than Richardson and Johnson will.
Richardson is expected to return to action for the Heat on February 24 against the Hawks in Atlanta, which means that as it currently stands now, Spoelstra will have to find a way to rotate between three guards on his bench in Johnson, Ellington, and Richardson.
At the end of the day for the Heat, it’s still about their “organization wide commitment to player development” as Spoelstra likes to say. They’ve already tapped everything out of the 28-year-old Ellington that they could.
Maximizing the most out of Ellington seems like a logical option for the Heat, who are set to face a tough salary cap situation with Chris Bosh and others in the coming weeks.
Josh Richardson, PG/SG Miami Heat
While Wayne Ellington remains the most expandable guard on the Heat’s roster, Josh Richardson could be the key for the Heat in trade talks if they want to upgrade at the power forward position.
Richardson is one of the top young players on the Heat’s roster, and while he has struggled with injuries and inconsistencies all season long, there are some people across the league that feel stronger about Richardson’s future in the NBA than Winslow’s, and Richardson is progressing as a play maker this season.
With Richardson’s height being listed as 6’6, it also gives the Heat the ability to play Richardson at the small forward position when Spoelstra switches to a small ball lineup, and still get strong minutes on the defensive end for the sophomore guard out of Tennessee. Spoelstra played Richardson at small forward during parts of the early schedule for Miami when Rodney McGruder was going through rookie struggles.
If Miami wishes to move Richardson for another player, they will have to add more to the trade because of the salaries needing to match-up under NBA trade rules. It is possible that another team would offer a late first-rounder for Richardson, but it looks like the Heat want to add a first round pick and add a forward to their roster.
The 23-year-old Richardson is making under $1 million this season, and will make just over $1 million in 2017-2018 and 2018-2019 assuming the Heat guarantee those salaries in his contract. Lief Sylvander of Heat Beat Miami is reporting that the Heat are interested in Hornets power forward Marvin Williams, and if Richardson were to be included in that deal, the Heat would have to add more.
Still, the Heat aren’t very determined to move Richardson unless they were offered a really significant piece, which once again goes back to Ellington being the most likely player traded by the Heat before the trading deadline if they were to make any type of deal.
Goran Dragic, PG Miami Heat
It’s funny how I’ve already discussed two Miami Heat players possibility being traded with little mention about Goran Dragic, the most attractive trade option on Miami’s roster.
Dragic is having a great season for the Heat, and maybe his best one since he was named the NBA’s Most Improved Player in 2013-2014 in his final full season with the Phoenix Suns. Miami’s recent hot streak has cooled down the pursuit for Dragic, but according to some reports, anybody on the Heat’s roster can still be traded for at the right price.
What is the right price for Dragic? Many say a 2017 first-round draft pick, or a future first-round draft pick and young player that the Heat could potentially develop. The Heat largely want a first-round pick in any type of Dragic trade scenario because they still owe to two of their own first-round draft picks to the Suns after they acquired Dragic in February 2015 via trade.
Phoenix will get the Heat’s draft pick next season if the draft pick is not a top 7 pick, which the Heat hope it is not because they are still looking to contend in the Eastern Conference next season. If the Heat keep their pick next season, the Suns will get their first pick in 2019 no matter what, and their second pick in 2021 no matter what.
The 30-year-old Dragic, who is making $15.8 million this season, is still guaranteed to make $17 million next season, and then $18.1 million in 2018-2019. Dragic has a player option in his contract for the 2019-2020 season worth $19.2 million, which Dragic would almost certainly opt-in to if he were given the option to today.
This contract for Dragic is considered a bargain under the new salary cap, and with him still under team control for at least two more seasons the Heat would have some leverage in trade talks for Dragic, but still wouldn’t end up making up for their two first-round pick price they paid for Dragic.
ESPN’s Marc Stein reported back in January that the Heat were offered Nikola Vucevic and a first-round pick by the Orlando Magic in-exchange for Dragic, but the Heat obviously declined that trade. While Vucevic can play the four spot a bit, there is no need for Miami to pay Vucevic $50 million plus to serve as a backup to Whiteside.
It now appears that the Heat will look to build around Dragic and Whiteside, but could look to hang onto Dragic and then trade him and their first-round pick on draft night to move up into the draft. Sylvander, who reported the Heat’s interest in Marvin Williams in the Richardson portion of this piece, also reported a few days back that the Heat love UCLA’s Lonzo Ball, and would be comfortable trading Dragic if the chance to get Ball arises.
Still, Dragic doesn’t want to leave the Heat or the city of Miami, and he is having the best time of his career. He has grown close with teammates Dion Waiters, James Johnson, and Willie Reed on the Heat, and doesn’t want to leave if he doesn’t have too.
Nikola Vuecvic, C Orlando Magic
We already discussed above in the Dragic section about how the Magic are trading to move Vuecvic, so let’s go right ahead and jump into his future with Florida’s other NBA team right away.
One of the most puzzling moves of the Magic’s confusing off-season as signing center Bismack Biyombo to a four-year, $72 million contract after Biyombo performed greatly on a cheap deal for the Toronto Raptors in the NBA Playoffs after Jonas Valanciunas started to deal with an ankle injury.
The move was confusing, because many of us wondered what the plan was moving forward with Vuecvic, the way better option on offense still. Biyombo does provide the Magic with better paint defense, but Vucevic was still displeased with Magic coach Frank Vogel when he was moved into a bench role after just 16 games:
“I spoke to Frank [Vogel] about it last night, and obviously I wasn’t happy with the decision they made,” said Vucevic back in November, per the Orlando Pinstriped Post. “I didn’t think that there was a reason for me to go to the bench, but it’s coaches decision. All I can do is control what I can control, which is when I’m on the court, play to the best of my ability and help the team win. Stay professional and whatever is going on, I’ll keep giving my best and give them my full effort.”
The 26-year-old Vucevic is still signed through the 2019 season, and with him playing the least amount of minutes in his Magic career per game, it doesn’t look like he will be with the Magic much longer, nor does it seem like the Magic see as part of their future either.
It is a confusing time for the Magic, who just traded away Ibaka for a late first-round pick to simply ensure they wouldn’t lose the stretch four for nothing. They have been unsuccessful in developing the games of Aaron Gordon and Mario Hezonja (who will be discussed next), while also having several financial agreements that could hamper them later.
The Boston Celtics have expressed interest in Vucevic recently, and the move would make sense for the team as they could move Horford back to his more traditional position at power forward, while sending Amir Johnson to a bench role and having another low-post threat on offense.
Expect the Magic to seek out another first-round pick for Vucevic, as it has become clear that they haven’t hit on their last few and are hoping that the future NBA drafts could be a turning point for the franchise.
Mario Hezonja, SG Orlando Magic
Below is a list of players that the Magic passed over to draft Mario Hezonja, who is averaging just 11.4 minutes per game this season:
Larry Nance Jr.
Basically every play drafted after Hezonja has shown more promise so far, and to add insult to injury, Devin Booker lobbied the Magic to take him 5th overall in the 2015 NBA Draft before they picked Hezonja.