NBA trade deadline buyers and sellers: Teams most likely to make a big move include Lakers, 76ers, Knicks
Activity is likely to heat up as the Feb. 6 trade deadline nears
It's that time of year again, NBA fans. The smell of transactions is in the air as the Feb. 6 trade deadline nears and executives ready their war rooms to figure out how to best help their teams. For some franchises that means finding a deal for that one extra piece that can take them over the top. For others, it means unloading a large salary to free up cap space or acquiring assets to help with a rebuild.
This year's trade deadline is particularly interesting given the flurry of activity we saw this past offseason -- lots of players signed lucrative deals -- and the fact that the 2020 free-agent class is, shall we say, underwhelming. That means some teams may view a trade as their swiftest mode of acquiring a star player, but they also may be content waiting for much more exciting free agents in the summer of 2021.
There's a clear divide this season in both conferences between contenders and non-contenders, which gives us a pretty good idea of which teams will look to add players and which will look to unload. Surely there will be small trades here and there to shore up rotations, but here's a look at the teams most likely to make a big move, divided into buyers and sellers.
Biggest need: Scorer/playmaker
Let's get one thing out of the way -- the Lakers are already really, really good. They could let the trade deadline pass maintaining the status quo and still be a top contender, if not the favorite, to win the NBA title in June. That being said, the most glaring issue with their roster is the lack of a consistent scorer and playmaker outside of LeBron James and Anthony Davis, who have both dealt with recent injuries. The Lakers have a 114.0 offensive rating when LeBron is on the court, and that plummets to 100.5 when he's off, and that's largely due to a lack of perimeter playmaking while he sits.
The Lakers hoped Kyle Kuzma would be the answer, but so far he's underwhelmed. The Lakers have played 180 minutes this season with Davis and Kuzma on the court together while James is on the bench. During that time, they have a staggering minus-14.6 net rating, and a paltry offensive rating of 97.3, according to NBA.com. The Lakers have a startling lack of assets given their dearth of draft capital (thanks to the Davis trade) and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope's no-trade clause, so Kuzma is by far their most enticing trade chip.
Biggest need: Shooter
With some unique roster changes that created one of the tallest and longest NBA starting lineups we've ever seen, most pegged the 76ers to be legitimate NBA title contenders entering the season. While they've shown flashes of brilliance with a strong defense, overall something just hasn't clicked. Part of it is their lack of 3-point shooting -- they're 11th in the league in 3-point percentage, but are 23rd in 3-point makes per game. With their two best players, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid being largely inside threats, a knock-down shooter would be a tremendous asset for the Sixers offense, and they've . Tobias Harris, Josh Richardson and Al Horford are very good players, but they're not equipped to handle the spot-up shooting role they're being asked to play. Even if Embiid is out for an extended time with his finger injury, that likely won't stop the Sixers from looking for a shooter.
Two seasons ago Philly picked up Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova in the buyout market, but this year they may look to fill their need through a trade. They don't have many assets outside of their main pieces that they likely want to keep, but they're going to be active in looking for a way to improve their shooting.
Biggest need: Playmaking guard/wing
This problem could be solved now that Justise Winslow is healthy, but chances are he'll take a while to work himself back into form. The Heat have surprised just about everybody and find themselves among the NBA elite thanks to the acquisition of Jimmy Butler, but their reliance on young players like Kendrick Nunn, Duncan Robinson and Tyler Herro raises some doubts about the team's playoff ceiling. Adding a veteran playmaker to take some of the offensive pressure off of Butler, Nunn and Goran Dragic would make the Heat a more formidable postseason matchup.
The Heat have Dragic's expiring contract, along with Winslow, Dion Waiters, Kelly Olynyk and James Johnson to use in a potential deal. We'll have to wait and see how enticing any of those names are to potential suitors. If Miami does make a move, it will likely be for a difference-maker, otherwise they'll probably be willing to stand pat with the roster and chemistry they've already built.
Biggest need: Wings
Despite their disappointing record, tanking likely isn't in the cards for the Blazers this season. They have the backcourt of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum locked in through 2023, so the focus is on what pieces they can put around those two in order to stay competitive. Injuries to Zach Collins and Rodney Hood have made the offseason decision to trade Moe Harkless and let Al-Farouq Aminu walk look like a mistake, so the most pressing issue is to get some wings around Lillard and McCollum.
Hassan Whiteside has put up monster numbers and has been a net positive for the team, but he's on an expiring contract and could be made redundant if and when Jusuf Nurkic returns healthy. Picking up an asset for Whiteside and/or the expiring deal of Kent Bazemore with a team looking to shed long-term salary could help position the Blazers to be much more competitive in 2020-21 and beyond. Kevin Love is the most popular name mentioned, but offense hasn't been the Blazers problem (they're ninth in the NBA since acquiring Carmelo Anthony at 111.3 points per 100 possessions). They would benefit most from defensive-minded wings who can help improve Portland's bottom-10 defensive rating.
For the moment it seems like Buddy Hield is back to being happy in Sacramento, but it's a situation worth monitoring. Because of all the money owed to him and De'Aaron Fox, Bogdanovic's situation with the team has become tenuous. He can fit into almost any roster because of his size, shooting and ball-handling ability, so he'll have no shortage of suitors. Dedmon just signed with the Kings this summer, but was recently after falling completely out of the rotation. His ability to make 3s and protect the rim make him attractive for teams in search of big depth.
It wouldn't be a surprise to see the Knicks trade anyone not named RJ Barrett or Mitchell Robinson before the trade deadline, but who knows which assets the front office has deemed untouchable? Morris is the most attractive player for buyers, but he says he wants to stay in New York. If that's the case, he could always re-sign there this summer even if he is traded, so the Knicks should get what they can now for his expiring $15 million deal.
Players who could be moved: Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson
The Cavs have had locker room turmoil all season long, and it's no secret that they're trying to find a trade partner for a Love deal. The three years and around $90 million left on his contract, combined with Love's injury history, won't make that easy. They may end up needing to attach an asset in order to move Love, but it might be worth it to rid the franchise of his discontent and free up cap space moving forward. Thompson is having a career year and his $18.5 million contract this season is expiring, so perhaps the Cavs could take on a bad contract with an asset attached for a team interested in a Thompson rental.
The Pistons would probably like to get that Blake Griffin contract off the books, but it will be next to impossible to find a taker. Owner Tom Gores has hinted at roster moves on the horizon, and the . Finding a deal might largely depend on what the Pistons are looking for and if they're willing to take on bad salary in exchange for assets. After making the playoffs last season, it now appears that Detroit may be on the precipice of a rebuild, so it would behoove them to see what they can get before the trade deadline.
The Bulls came into the season as presumptive fringe playoff contenders in the East, and conceivably they could still get one of the final two spots, but it's clear changes are in order in Chicago. They have plenty of attractive assets, particularly if they're not committed to a future of LaVine and Markkanen playing together. Young seems like an obvious trade candidate who contenders would be interested in, and the Bulls also have a bit of a logjam in the backcourt, so trying to collect assets in a losing season isn't the worst idea in the world.
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