It’s early February, and in the NBA world, that means it’s deadline time. With just a few short weeks to go until the NBA’s trade deadline, any talks which are going to take place before the offseason will begin to intensify over these next several days.
The Northwest Division is a fascinating place to start when assessing where various teams might look as the deadline looms. The division is chock full of young teams, and with the possible exception of Minnesota, each group still has at least a puncher’s chance at the postseason (even the Wolves aren’t entirely out of it). Let’s break down each team in the division, in order of record, and see what their stock looks like headed into the deadline.
Utah Jazz (1st in Northwest, 33-19 record)
The Jazz have mostly equaled or surpassed decently high preseason expectations and sit atop the division. They also currently have a home playoff seed for the first time in over a half decade. They’re doing so with perhaps the deepest roster in the entire league – so deep, in fact, that it’s begun posing real questions about certain future elements, even as the Jazz have once again been hit hard by the injury bug.
Whether any of these major questions materializes into an active approach around the deadline remains to be seen, but given this team’s management and history, it feels unlikely.
Guys like Derrick Favors and Alec Burks have been whispered as potential trade pieces, but that’s mostly by media types; little has been substantiated publicly, and the Jazz are among the most conservative teams out there. Don’t rule them out for certain, though, as the big moves they have made in recent years have mostly come out of nowhere and won’t hit the rumor mill too far before they actually happen. But safe money on Utah is that they either make no moves, or simply look to offload one of their extra point guards for a small return.
Names to Watch:
Shelvin Mack: Mack was rumored as a potential fit in Cleveland as a backup, with the same report stating that he was “definitely available” from Utah. Mack’s contract expires at the end of the season, and inconsistent production this year has led to him barely seeing the court in recent weeks. If he’s moved, the return should be minimal.
Raul Neto: Same story, only Neto hasn’t been specifically rumored in any deals, and likely has even less value than Mack. Frankly, there might be a greater chance Neto is cut than traded, if the Jazz really need that spot.
Gordon Hayward: Hayward’s name only appears on this list because he’s a likely expiring contract, with a player option for next season he’ll certainly decline. But that’s the extent of it – Hayward will not be traded under any circumstances. The Jazz are confident he will re-sign in the offseason. Ditto for George Hill.
Jeff Withey: Withey is another expiring who might fetch the Jazz a very limited pick or some other consideration, but even though he’s mostly in DNP territory when both Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert are healthy, he’s been a valuable security blanket if one of those guys goes down – which has been often over the last 12 months. It seems likely his value to Utah is greater than what they could get in return before he hits the open market.
Oklahoma City Thunder (2nd in Northwest, 30-23 record)
The Thunder is one of the toughest teams to read come deadline time. They’d certainly like to improve on the wing, but whether they have the assets to get there is questionable, and one of their top rumored targets in Rudy Gay is now out for the year. Russell Wesbrook’s future in town hangs over any moves they might make.
They also have a few future first round picks tied up in some complicated pick swaps, which could make any deals that don’t sacrifice current rotation players hard to find. Their only young assets who seem able to fetch a real return are point guard Cameron Payne and big man Domantas Sabonis, but the former is the Westbrook successor should Russ ever leave, and the latter was a big part of the investment the Thunder made by trading away Serge Ibaka over the offseason. It’s tough to see the Thunder swinging big unless a team has major interest in a guy like Enes Kanter, which feels unlikely at his salary range and given his recent hand injury.
Names to Watch:
Anthony Morrow: Morrow is only on the fringes of the rotation, but he’s a cheap expiring contract who can shoot. Some contender always seems to find themselves in need of a guy like this, and with Alex Abrines and his own shooting prowess locked up long term, maybe the Thunder would entertain moving Morrow for a pittance, or as part of a larger package.
Joffrey Lauvergne: Lauvergne is a young, promising big whose restricted free agency is still ahead, but it’s difficult to know whether he has any real trade value.
Kyle Singler: Not a particularly attractive piece, but could be useful for salary matching, if it was needed.
Enes Kanter: Highly unlikely, but only on here because he would appear to be the only high-dollar contract the Thunder might be okay with separating from if the right return was on the table. Guys like Westbrook, Oladipo and Adams all are completely off the table.
Denver Nuggets (3rd in Northwest, 23-28 record)
If they’re so inclined, the Nuggets could likely be the most active team in the league around the deadline. They have the pieces to move in whichever direction they want: They could send some young assets and picks for an established player, go in the opposite direction and send one of several vets for a younger package, or pick some hybrid route.
Complicating matters somewhat is the West’s ridiculously weak race for the eight seed. In a normal year, this sort of record would make Denver’s decision easy: They could sell of one of their higher-priced veterans, get the young guys even more time on the court together and be happy with a good lottery pick.
But entering play on February 7, the Nuggets sit in the final West playoff seed. How will that impact their thinking? Will general manager Tim Connelly view this as a chance to accelerate his rebuild, or will he take the patient approach and prioritize development over the right to be massacred by the Warriors in round one? He could always stand pat and do very little – the Nuggets are in a great future position almost regardless of what they do, barring a disastrous move.
Names to Watch:
Wilson Chandler: Chandler has long been considered one of the most likely trade candidates, and he recently expressed at least some level of displeasure with his fluctuating role in Denver. He has another year left on his deal after this, plus a player option for 2018-19, meaning he’s more than just a rental. As a versatile swingman who can hit the three and play two-way ball, he’s one of the most likely individual names in the league to move before the deadline.
Kenneth Faried: Faried is another of the trifecta of Denver veterans who has been rumored as a trade piece for multiple years now. He still has two full years left on his deal after this one, and though he’s a moderate overpay at this point, there’s still room for his role in the league. To some degree, though, it feels like this move would already have been made if it was going to happen.
Danilo Gallinari: The third member of the Vet. Trade Rumors crew. Gallo only has this year left on his deal before a player option he seems likely to decline, so he’s a pure rental if anyone will pony up for him.
Jusuf Nurkic: As star youngster Nikola Jokic continues to light the world on fire, there’s less room for Nurkic in a crowded frontcourt. He’s young enough that he could still fetch a real return, or be part of a larger deal.
Will Barton: Same goes for Barton to some degree, who is less useful with guys like Gary Harris and Jamal Murray filling similar roles. He has another year on his deal after this one, so he could be more than a rental.
Portland Trail Blazers (4th in Northwest, 22-30 record)
The Blazers are another team with a ton of potential options. After spending a whole boatload of money over the offseason for a collection of parts that hasn’t really fit as well as one would have hoped, the Blazers are left with several guys who are theoretically close to fair value on their contracts. They could get involved in some fireworks.
Of their summer spending projects, it seems like only Evan Turner is truly un-moveable. Allen Crabbe is close, but with tons of years left for a relatively young guy, some team with space to fill (think 76ers) might take a shot at him for the right considerations. The Blazers have about six other guys who could fit into a hypothetical deal, and you have to figure they’re willing to listen to fair offers. These pieces haven’t quite fit, but the right shuffling of this deck might change fortunes.
And then, of course, there’s the potential for something that’s only been whispered to this point, and never with any connection to a real move: A true tear-down, a.k.a. a trade of either Damian Lillard or C.J. McCollum.
The pair is devastating offensively, but their defensive liabilities together have begun to make some wonder if this pairing can ever be a true contender given their huge combined salaries. Both would fetch a huge return in a trade, though these sorts of things rarely happen at the deadline – even if the Blazers were looking this route (highly unlikely, it’s just too early), it seems like we wouldn’t hear about it until the offseason. McCollum’s goofy salary under extension rules also makes a trade involving him tough to consummate without a third team involved.
Names to Watch:
The mid-tier glut: We won’t even separate them, because from a value standpoint, so many of these guys are relatively close together. Each of Crabbe, Meyers Leonard, Al-Farouq Aminu, Festus Ezeli (unlikely given injury status), Ed Davis, Noah Vonleh and Mason Plumlee could conceivably fetch some value from the right team. Each have years left on deals that range from fair to moderate overpays, and while the Blazers are over the cap currently, their flexibility makes tons of potential deals realistic. Don’t be surprised to see any of these guys move.
Minnesota Timberwolves (5th in Northwest, 19-33 record)
The Wolves were making their own charge at that sad West eight seed, but the wheels may have fallen off that train with the devastating news of Zach LaVine’s season-ending injury. The Wolves don’t really have anyone capable of duplicating his 19 points a night, nor the spacing he provides to a team that desperately needs it when Ricky Rubio is in the game.
Speaking of Rubio, he’s by far the most likely piece to move out of Minnesota. The Wolves don’t really appear poised for too many other big moves, unless a rebuild-accelerator like a Jimmy Butler became truly available, and even then, one of their best chips for such a deal, LaVine, now has a slightly more uncertain future. The Wolves could make a few other moves on the margins, but with LaVine done for the year and a high lottery slot seemingly well within reach, it seems most likely Minnesota lets the chips fall this year before re-assessing over the summer.
Names to Watch:
Ricky Rubio: The source of trade rumors for multiple seasons, Rubio now also has a true successor behind him in the form of Kris Dunn. The Wolves seem ready to hand the keys to Dunn for the future, and they’ll be willing to take a reasonable return for Rubio if one becomes available. It hasn’t yet, though, and he’s reportedly been on the market a long time.
Shabazz Muhammad: Muhammad was recently linked to Phoenix’s P.J. Tucker by Basketball Insiders’ Michael Scotto, and he still has enough team control and skill to perhaps interest a suitor. He’ll be a restricted free agent after this season.
Nikola Pekovic: Pek is out for the year and off most radars, but he does have another year on his deal left, and some team might try to buy super low on him. Unlikely, though.
With the race for the Western Conference’s eighth seed quite competitive, the Northwest Division might see a shakeup.
Stay tuned, as the 2017 NBA Trade Deadline is only 16 days away.
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