Sun. Feb 25th, 2024

The trade deadline is less than two weeks away, but you wouldn’t know it with the way this season’s player market has operated. We’re normally at peak tension right about now, but several of the players we expected to dominate this deadline period have already moved. James Harden, Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby, Terry Rozier, Bruce Brown, Immanuel Quickley and RJ Barrett might be the best collection of players ever moved before the calendar has flipped to February.

To some extent, this removes a bit of excitement from the deadline. The level of talent available simply isn’t as high as we’d typically expect. But that puts even more pressure on the teams looking to deal right about now. One of the sellers has already done most of its business and another has already moved its best player on the block. Executives still seeking upgrades are going to have to get creative to find them, so let’s try to figure out how.

Below we’ll explore what every team at the trade deadline is hoping to accomplish. What do they have to offer? What do they need? And how will they go about getting it?

Picks to trade: Any first-round pick through 2027 is fair game for a trade, but the picks afterward are spoken for either through trades (2029), swaps (2028) or the Stepien Rule (2030). Boston can trade any two first-round picks in the 2024-27 window so long as they aren’t consecutive.

Matching salary: Not much! Outside of their core six players, no Celtics make more than the roughly $4 million going to Payton Pritchard. Pritchard himself has a poison pill in his contract thanks to the extension he signed this summer, and that complicates matters slightly (though thankfully not by much). The Celtics are an apron team, so they can only absorb 110% of the salary they send out. In other words, they can only really lump together cheap salaries, and they would have to send out several of them just to land a slightly more expensive player.

Trade deadline goal: Add a seventh reliable rotation player regardless of position.

How can they accomplish that goal: Boston’s limited matching salary makes it a tricky trade team. The Celtics are basically limited to players making $10 million or less. That makes Boston one of the obvious teams that should be pursuing Alex Caruso. They can afford him by stacking Pritchard and two minimum salaries, they can offer Chicago multiple first-round picks, and his tiny salary for next season matters quite a bit for their tax bill. Delon Wright would accomplish a similar goal at a cheaper pick price, and Monte Morris could provide some bench ball-handling stability. Keep an eye on backup centers as well, if only for a bit of injury insurance for Al Horford and Kristaps Porzingis. Andre Drummond and Nick Richards are players to watch on this front. 

Picks to trade: Lol picks? Milwaukee doesn’t have any of those. OK, the Bucks have a few, but barely any. They don’t control any of their own first-round picks in the next seven drafts, and the only second-rounder of their own that they control is in 2027. Their best asset is Portland’s second-round pick this season, which should be relatively high in the round.

Matching salary: If Milwaukee aggregates Bobby Portis and Pat Connaughton, it can bring in a player making roughly $22 million. The Bucks could go a bit higher than that with another body or two, but that’s the general range we’re looking at here.

Trade deadline goal: De-fense (stomp stomp) de-fense.

How can they accomplish that goal: The Bucks have sniffed around bigger names like Dejounte Murray, but realistically, they’re shopping in the bargain basement. Some old friends are players to watch here. Would the Clippers strengthen a possible Finals opponent by sending them P.J. Tucker? Probably not, but perhaps the Clippers send Tucker to a team that would be open to rerouting him back to the Bucks. A more realistic get here would be Jevon Carter, who isn’t playing much in Chicago but could provide a big perimeter defensive boost. Without a first-round pick to deal, they’re not really in the market for the wings in that $10-20 million range unless someone bowls them over to nab Portis first. The Bucks are as aggressive as it gets at the deadline, but their asset limitations make a major move unlikely.

Picks to trade: The only one of their own first-round picks they can trade will come in either 2029 or 2030, but remember, the Sixers got two first-rounders in the James Harden trade: one from the Clippers and another from either the Clippers, Thunder or Rockets, so those are both fair game as well. If they were so inclined, they could make the latter of those picks *slightly* more enticing by offering to make it the more favorable of it and their own 2026 pick, though there’s a chance their own 2026 pick goes to Oklahoma City as part of the 2020 Al Horford trade, so they couldn’t guarantee that as an option. Yes, pick protections are a complicated mess.

Matching salary: As much as they need. No, really. Joel Embiid and Jaden Springer are the only players on this roster with guaranteed salaries for next year. Everyone else is on either an expired or non-guaranteed deal. They can do whatever they want, though look for the combination of Marcus Morris and Robert Covington, who combine to make around $29 million, to be the primary matching salary they offer for the sake of retaining the rest of their core rotation.

Trade deadline goal: Philly could use minor upgrades in a few areas. A high-end perimeter defender, secondary playmaking and some extra shooting would all be welcome here, and if they come out of a single player? Even better.

How can they accomplish that goal: Philly is another sensible Caruso team both because of how much his defense would help them and because his tiny salary for next season wouldn’t disturb cap space plans. The lower-end option here would be Bruce Brown, though he has no end of suitors. Fortunately, his team-option for next season would allow the Sixers to work with him on a long-term salary solution that doesn’t impede their pursuit of a bigger name over the summer. The Sixers don’t need a full-time point guard, but having someone like Tyus Jones who could play with or without Tyrese Maxey on the floor would offer some very welcome playmaking. The Sixers should ask about every expiring contract shooter in the Marcus Morris price range. If they can get a player like Bojan Bogdanovic or Buddy Hield without sacrificing a first-rounder, that would be a worthwhile upgrade.

Picks to trade: The Cavs have no tradable first-round picks, but they control all of their own second-rounders beyond 2024 and 2030, and they have a few others incoming (including Golden State’s relatively juicy pick this year), so they have a bit to work with here.

Matching salary: The emergence of Craig Porter Jr. has rendered Caris LeVert expendable, so look for his $15 million salary to serve as the primary matching salary if the Cavs want to do anything significant. They could boost that number with players like Isaac Okoro or Dean Wade if they wanted, but both play real minutes, so they’d likely prefer to keep them.

Trade deadline goal: Another reliable 3-and-D wing would be nice. Max Strus was brought in to serve this purpose and the emergence of Sam Merrill has softened the need for a deadeye shooter, but as the Knicks series proved last postseason, the bar gets far much higher in the playoffs, so some more depth would be nice. Tristan Thompson’s suspension has also created a slight need for front-court depth, but with Evan Mobley coming back that isn’t something to give up assets for. 

How can they accomplish that goal: Could the Cavs flip LeVert into a slightly shootier guard like Gary Trent Jr. or Bogdan Bogdanovic for only second-round picks? If so, that’s a worthwhile avenue to pursue. Keep an eye on Kelly Olynyk as well. Cleveland would probably love to have a stretch big on their bench make life a bit easier on Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley when the other is resting. Kevin Love made a run at Sixth Man of the Year award in that spot once upon a time, but the Cavs haven’t really found a viable replacement since his decline and subsequent buyout.

New York Knicks

Picks to trade: The Knicks have all of their own first-round picks plus extras from the Mavericks, Pistons, Wizards and Bucks. They can trade for basically any non-star they want.

Matching salary: Evan Fournier’s contract is the deal to watch here. He’s making a bit less than $19 million this season, but he also has a team option for next season, which makes him even more valuable than a traditional expiring contract because his new team could potentially use him in a trade this offseason if they wanted. Quentin Grimes has reportedly been on the block, so let’s toss his $2.3 million onto the pile as well.

Trade deadline goal: Replace the ball-handling they lost when they dealt Immanuel Quickley and RJ Barrett. And if a star surprisingly becomes available between now and deadline day? They’ll be in on that player as well.

How can they accomplish that goal: Malcolm Brogdon and Jordan Clarkson are the obvious targets here. Brogdon is sturdier defensively, but comes with injury concerns. He’s also a tad redundant with Jalen Brunson serving as this team’s slower craft-master. Clarkson comes closer to matching Quickley’s explosiveness, but this team is defending so well right now that introducing a weaker guard like him might cause some problems. The Knicks probably wouldn’t mind giving up one or even both of their 2024 first-rounders at this deadline (unless they’re still committed to the idea of drafting D.J. Wagner). They won’t have minutes for incoming rookies next season anyway. That might open the door for players a bit higher up the food chain. The Jazz probably won’t trade Collin Sexton given their recent performance… but it’s worth the phone call. Would Memphis listen on Marcus Smart, a quintessential Tom Thibodeau player? Bruce Brown is a name you’ll hear plenty, and he’s another dream Thibodeau fit, but he’s a shaky shooter that does best offensively in systems with a lot of movement and passing. The Knicks aren’t exactly the Nuggets. The Knicks have the chips and motivation to get pretty much anyone in this class. It’ll just be a matter of who’s available and whom they like best.

Picks to trade: Indiana gave up its 2024 and 2026 first-rounders in the Pascal Siakam trade, so its 2028 and 2030 first-round picks are still fair game, and the Pacers have plenty of second-rounders to work with.

Matching salary: Buddy Hield’s $19.2 million expiring contract is the deal to watch if Indiana makes another trade, but keep an eye on impending restricted free agent Obi Toppin. Siakam has supplanted him at power forward, and No. 8 overall pick Jarace Walker plays the position as well. Toppin makes $6.8 million, so the Pacers could pretty easily acquire a player in the $30 million range if they wanted to.

Trade deadline goal: Another perimeter defender would help, but after the Siakam trade, the Pacers are likely thinking primarily about the fringes. They could still use a forward of any variety.

How can they accomplish that goal: It’s probably worth flipping Hield for a couple of second-rounders if the right matching salary presents itself. Indiana likely won’t want to re-sign him with Andrew Nembhard and Bennedict Mathurin due for bigger roles. If the Pacers want to use his salary to make an addition, it’d be worth calling the Hornets and asking if there’s a P.J. Washington deal to be made that doesn’t involve a first-rounder. He’s no longer a consistent starter for the Hornets, so perhaps he’ll be one of the players they move in their teardown. Hey, speaking of Charlotte, how about hometown hero Gordon Hayward? Matching the money gets a bit tricky and he wouldn’t help their defense much, so he’d more likely be a buyout option, but the Pacers have pursued him in the past and he’s a truer small forward than anyone they have. He’ll likely have plenty of options if he wriggles free (and someone might even trade for him), but the Pacers do make some sense if they’re willing to offer him enough minutes. 

Picks to trade: The Magic don’t owe out a single pick in either round in any year. They also have a future first-rounder from Denver and a bunch of future second-rounders from other teams.

Matching salary: They can get to $30 million at the drop of a hat with the expiring contracts of Markelle Fultz and Gary Harris, both of whom seem to have fallen out of Orlando’s long-term plans. If they needed to get up to a max, the deal to watch would be Jonathan Isaac at $17.4 million. He’s played great defense, but in very limited minutes, and his non-guaranteed contract for next season would be easy for a trade partner to get off of.

Trade deadline goal: Shooting, ideally out of a guard. Orlando takes the fourth-fewest 3’s in the NBA and makes the worst percentage of them in basketball.

How can they accomplish that goal: Here’s an easy possible Hield team, especially since Harris could play for the Pacers. His shooting would change Orlando’s offense drastically, but the Pacers probably don’t want to help out a competitor within their part of the Eastern Conference standings. Nothing thus far has suggested that they’re interested, but the Magic are also one of the few teams that makes any sense for Zach LaVine. Yes, the expense would be significant, but LaVine’s deal would only overlap with Paolo Banchero’s inevitable max extension for one year. If the Magic want to add a high-level shotmaking guard, LaVine is probably the talent ceiling for the time being. Donovan Mitchell would make a ton of sense here, but all of the reporting thus far has suggested he’s going to push for New York. LaVine’s contract is so onerous, though, that the Magic couldn’t be blamed for steering clear. They’ll probably pursue higher-usage ball-handling guards that can shoot over the summer. For now, upgrading the Harris spot into someone like Hield or Gary Trent Jr. is the likeliest option.

Picks to trade: The Heat have traded their first-round picks in 2025 and 2027, so they’re limited to either their 2029 or 2030 pick at the moment. They also owe out most of their second-round picks.

Matching salary: Not much to speak of unless it’s a pretty significant deal. They have only six players making more than $4 million, and they’re all significant (Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro, Duncan Robinson, Terry Rozier and Caleb Martin). Most likely, the best they can do is combine a few minimum-ish players.

Trade deadline goal: The Heat already accomplished their primary goals of adding ball-handling and trimming their tax bill with the Rozier trade, so anything they do now would be fringier. A reliable backup center would be nice, or another bigger forward.

How can they accomplish that goal: Miami’s work is probably done. The Heat should ask about the centers in that Drummond-Richards class, but unless they’re willing to give up Nikola Jovic, their second-round picks probably aren’t enough to get such a deal done. Otherwise? It’s hard to find a trade here. The Heat have made their big move, and they typically prefer playing their in-house developmental guys when there isn’t an obvious upgrade available.

Picks to trade: The Bulls have a complicated incoming pick from Portland that conveys the first year that the Blazers make the playoffs between now and 2028. They owe one of their own picks to San Antonio, but the protections on that pick make it hard for the Bulls to trade a first-round pick before 2029. If they needed to, they could unlock their 2027 pick by removing the protections on the pick they owe the Spurs and package a total of their (that Blazers pick and their own in 2027 and 2029), but don’t expect the rebuilding Bulls to sacrifice those protections.

Matching salary: The Bulls are trying to subtract salary, not add it, so their own matching salary isn’t especially relevant.

Trade deadline goal: Get rid of Zach LaVine’s contract without attaching assets. The expiring contract of DeMar DeRozan is likely available as well, though the Bulls don’t appear to be headed toward a blind tank. If someone wants to offer multiple first-rounders for Alex Caruso, they’ll likely at least listen. Essentially, the idea is to recoup some assets without becoming one of the absolute worst teams in the NBA.

How can they accomplish that goal: It certainly doesn’t feel like there’s a LaVine team out there. All of the reporting says it isn’t the Lakers. None of the other contenders appear interested. Perhaps a young team could try to use LaVine to jump a level. We’ve covered Orlando. Brooklyn makes basketball sense, but that probably takes the Nets out of the running for Mitchell, which they won’t do willingly. Is Detroit desperate enough to improve to take a stab at LaVine? It’s seeming likelier and likelier that LaVine is staying put, and if that’s the case, DeRozan almost has to go so the Bulls can keep feeding Coby White the shot attempts he’s earned. DeRozan’s expiring contract is easier to absorb, but he doesn’t shoot 3’s or play defense, and that makes finding a basketball fit difficult. Could he be the spare scorer for the Knicks? Perhaps there’s a Fournier-plus-Grimes for DeRozan possibility, but the Knicks would likely prefer a longer-term option. Maybe a Chris Paul-plus-picks swap for the scoring-needy Warriors? Caruso is the apple of everyone’s eye right now. The Bulls should be able to find a healthy return for him if they want to, but Chicago seems to want to try to win. It’s a foolish approach, but nobody has been able to deter them yet.

Picks to trade: The Hawks have Sacramento’s pick this year, but they owe 2025 and 2027 picks to the Spurs thanks to the Dejounte Murray trade, so they can only package that Kings pick with their own in 2029 or 2030.

Matching salary: The supporting cast of Murray, Clint Capela, Bogdan Bogdanovic and De’Andre Hunter all make between $18-21 million and are all seemingly available. Patty Mills on an expiring $6.8 million deal is useful salary flotsam as well.

Trade deadline goal: Turn some of those older, expensive role players into younger, cheaper ones that fit with Trae Young.

How can they accomplish that goal: There will be a Murray team, but interest doesn’t appear to be as robust as it was in the summer of 2022, especially now that D’Angelo Russell is playing well enough to potentially talk the Lakers out of a blockbuster. They can certainly get one pick for him. Maybe even two. But they aren’t recouping everything they gave the Spurs. His relatively low cap figure makes him slightly easier to trade now than he will be in a year. Houston, San Antonio, Philadelphia and Los Angeles all make varying degrees of sense, but his market seems to have cooled for now. Bogdanovic appears to be a classic “as many second-rounders as you want but no firsts” trade candidate. His recent contract extension might scare some teams off just considering his health history. Capela is a starting-caliber center in a market that lacks much interest in starting centers. In other words, the Hawks might be able to get off of some of these veterans, but they’re probably going to be disappointed with what they find.

Picks to trade: The Nets owe their next four first-rounders to Houston thanks to the James Harden trade, but they’re fine on the picks front as they have five first-round picks and two swaps coming from Phoenix, Dallas and Philadelphia thanks to the star-dumping trades they’ve made in the subsequent years.

Matching salary: Can I interest you in paying Ben Simmons $40 million next season? No? Then the expiring contracts of Spencer Dinwiddie ($20 million), Royce O’Neale ($9.5 million) and Nic Claxton ($9.6 million) are the likeliest deals they’d use if they needed to aggregate. Dorian Finney-Smith is on a value deal at $14 million or so, but he’s seemingly available as well.

Trade deadline goal: Explore what they can get for some of their wing surplus, potentially add a ball-handler, and don’t disturb their max 2025 cap space, which they’ll need to potentially sign Donovan Mitchell or scare the Cavs into trading him.

How can they accomplish that goal: Murray makes sense here for the right price, but his contract takes them out of the Mitchell derby. Don’t expect the Nets to take that route unless they can get Murray for pennies on the dollar. More likely, they’re looking for a new home for O’Neale, who will attract basically any contender with a like-size contract and some picks to trade. The goal is to net a first-rounder, but more likely he goes for seconds. Finney-Smith could certainly get one first-round pick, but the Nets will be on the lookout for a second or a worthwhile young player. His contract is so valuable that they won’t lack for strong returns. A return to the Mavericks is an obvious fit. The Thunder have the assets and the contracts to do it, and so do the Jazz. His salary borders on intrusive to Philly’s offseason plans, but he’s worth considering for his two-way impact. 

Picks to trade: Toronto just got three picks from Indiana for Siakam, but it owes its top-six protected pick to San Antonio this year thanks to the Jakob Poeltl trade. The team owns the rest of its own picks, though, so it still has plenty to deal.

Matching salary: The Raptors can get to almost $40 million in expiring contracts between Gary Trent Jr., Otto Porter Jr., Kira Lewis Jr. and Thaddeus Young, so they can match on basically any player they want.

Trade deadline goal: Look for players that fit the Scottie Barnes timeline, move players that don’t, and if possible, don’t improve the 2024 team too much in the hopes that they can preserve their top-six pick in this draft.

How can they accomplish that goal: There will be second-round picks out there for Trent and Dennis Schroder if the Raptors want them. Trent fits anywhere that needs an extra shooter. Schroder is inconsistent in that regard, but an underrated defender that brings a valuable speed element. The Knicks or a return to the Lakers could make some sense here. Even if the returns aren’t ideal, it would behoove the Raptors to move these guys just to set themselves up to potentially keep their pick. This is a bad draft class, but the Raptors beat the odds on draft night all of the time. If there’s a high-upside player in the top-six, they’re a good bet to find that guy, and getting off of Schroder now would only increase their offseason cap space.

Picks to trade: The Hornets owe San Antonio a first-round pick in the next two years, but only if it’s outside of the lottery. That isn’t happening, so the Hornets can pretty easily trade any of their own picks if they need to, and they just got a 2027 pick from Miami for Rozier.

Matching salary: Gordon Hayward makes $31 million and is on an expiring deal and Kyle Lowry makes $29 million on an expiring deal, so let’s safely say they can get to whatever financial figure they need to get to (but remember, Lowry’s salary cannot be aggregated).

Trade deadline goal: Move everything that isn’t nailed down. LaMelo Ball, Brandon Miller and Mark Williams are the only real untouchables here.

How can they accomplish that goal: It seems unlikely that anyone is touching the Lowry contract. Hayward has a chance, but not many teams have that much salary to offer. Maybe Oklahoma City? Hayward checks a lot of the same boxes Josh Giddey does, but is more experienced and is a far better shooter, so he’d be valuable insurance there. P.J. Washington could probably net a lower first-round pick or at least a haul of second-rounders. Almost everybody could use a spare forward. Nick Richards could get something. Hear out offers on anyone but Ball, Miller or Williams. This team is getting reshaped in the offseason, so just grab assets where they exist. 

Washington Wizards

Picks to trade: The Wizards are slightly hamstrung by a protected pick they owe the Knicks. It won’t convey this year and probably won’t next year, but it’s probably a coin flip as to whether it does in 2026. Any pick between 2028 and 2030 is easily fair game, and if they needed to move a pick in that protection window they could probably negotiate something around the protections on the Knicks pick. They own a heavily protected 2030 Warriors pick that is unlikely to convey, but they also have valuable swap rights from the Suns in several seasons which they could probably dangle in trade talks.

Matching salary: Everyone. Everything. There is nothing sacred here. If you are a member of the 2024 Wizards and your name is not Bilal Coulibaly then odds are you won’t be a member of the 2027 Wizards. 

Trade deadline goal: Get stuff for anyone that any team wants except Coulibaly. 

How can they accomplish that goal: There’s probably a first-round pick out there for Tyus Jones somewhere. The 76ers are an obvious fit. The Knicks probably want more of a scorer, but he could certainly at least help play the minutes they had earmarked for that next guard addition. The Timberwolves don’t have a first-round pick to trade, but if the Wizards are forced to take second-rounders he’d go so far in stabilizing their bench offense. Kyle Kuzma’s contract and shaky shooting make him a bit harder to move, but forwards are rare and even if he’s settled into bad-team mode over the past few years in Washington, he’d grown into a very nice all-around role player by the end of his Lakers tenure. Sacramento was a rumored offseason possibility. Would the Kings circle back? The Clippers could match money if they include Terence Mann, but they’ve always treated him as untouchable. The Mavericks have been linked to Kuzma. Is Grant Williams among their matching salary, or would it be Richaun Holmes and Maxi Kleber? Delon Wright, Daniel Gafford and Landry Shamet would all draw second-rounders on the trade market. It probably makes sense for the Wizards to grab them.

Detroit Pistons

Picks to trade: The Pistons owe a complicated protected pick to the Knicks. It’s going to convey between 2025 and 2027, but it’s unclear as to when, so in all likelihood, Detroit is limited to its 2029 or 2030 first-rounder unless it wants to get really risky on removing those protections.

Matching salary: The Pistons have $50 million in easy matching salary between Joe Harris, James Wiseman, Alec Burks and Monte Morris, so matching money won’t really be a promise.

Trade deadline goal: Win four more games and avoid setting or tying the NBA record of going 9-73 or worse in an 82-game season. A 10-72 season here is a victory. And if they can create some future draft capital in the process? Then all the better.

How can they accomplish that goal: If someone offers a first-round pick for Bojan Bogdanovic the Pistons should probably take it, but if they didn’t last season, it’s unclear what might have changed since then. The Pistons are currently on an 11-win pace, so there’s probably some organizational pressure not to just give away a valuable veteran unless the offer is right. The Pistons are a tough team to predict because it isn’t clear who is making decisions here. How hot is Troy Weaver’s seat? How involved is Arn Tellem? Did Monty Williams get any personnel power in his enormous contract? There are competing voices and agendas here, and without knowing the long-term plan, making any real predictions will be difficult. The Pistons could do nothing. They could do the smart thing and take whatever picks they can get for any veterans other teams want. They could surprise us and swing for a win-now player to try to save some face.

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