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NBA AM: Some Early Trade Watch In The NBA

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Keep Them Or Trade Them?

While the NBA rumor mill has quieted down as executives around the NBA get in vacations and family time, there are some things to keep an eye on as the NBA begins to ramp up for the 2017-18 NBA Season in the coming weeks. While the futures of Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving and New York’s Carmelo Anthony have dominated the conversation, there are some soon to be free agents that could make some noise of their own, here are a few:

Avery Bradley – Detroit – $8.808 million

The Boston Celtics had to move off some contract money to make room for their free agent signing of Gordon Hayward. While moving Bradley to Detroit was likely the right move for the Celtics, it was not an easy move because of how much Bradley meant to the chemistry and success of the Celtics. All of those characteristics that made it a hard decision for Boston are why the Pistons opted to trade for Bradley rather than re-sign guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.

The thought process from the Pistons side was if they were going to shell out $90 plus million dollars, it needed to be a better fitting two-way player. The Pistons will get a full season to see if Bradley is the player they believe him to be, but there is a risk for the Pistons, too. Bradley will be an unrestricted free agent and can choose his next team on his own and could leave the Pistons with nothing to show for the trade.

Sources close to the process believe that Detroit traded for Bradley knowing full well it would be very expensive to retain him beyond this season, however, if he is everything they hope he’ll be, they have no issues paying him.

The wrinkle in all of this is the Pistons as a team. If Detroit continues to be middling as they were last season, would it be smarter to trade off Bradley at the trade deadline and get value? The other option is to keep investing in a team that is not appearing to turn the corner.

The current thinking is that Bradley was traded to become a long-term piece, however, if the season turns south, would he opt to stay and would it be smart for the Pistons to pay him? It’s an interesting situation to watch.

Isaiah Thomas – Boston – $6.261 million

The biggest fear you hear from Celtics fans is the idea of a full max contract being given to what will be a 29-year old Isaiah Thomas. Whether or not the Celtics ultimately opt to pay him will be a recurring storyline that has already gotten a lot of attention. What makes the situation worse is that Thomas himself continues to campaign in the media for a max deal.

The good news for the Celtics is that while every player wants a max deal, most players don’t get them unless there is a real market for the player. The same reservations Celtic fans have on a long-term huge money deal for Thomas is a fairly common train of thought in NBA circles, meaning the Celtics may find themselves in the same situation Toronto did with Kyle Lowry this summer. New Orleans and Jrue Holiday were in a similar situation. Both got huge new deals, but neither got the full maximum possible because there wasn’t much appetite in the free agent market for maxing either guy.

With the NBA salary cap sort of flattening out and fewer teams expected to have a ton of cap money to spend the free agent marketplace is going to smooth out, meaning the Celtics may not have to offer a full max deal to retain Thomas if they choose to.

The two big variables for Thomas future are his health. He is recovering from a pretty significant hip injury that he did not have surgery on. So, getting and staying healthy is a big factor in his future, but also his play compared to continued improvement from guards Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier.

The Celtics do have some luxuries with so many options at guard that they can ultimately opt to keep the best ones and that’s how they are approaching this season.

Should things not improve after all the roster changes, it’s not out of the question the Celtics explore Thomas’ trade value, but given his expected price tag next July, it’s hard to imagine he returns anything close to what his value is to the Celtics.

If things go as expected, and the Celtics pick up where they left off last season, the C’s have the option of exploring the trade value of Smart, who will be hitting free agency too, as well as Rozier who showed tremendous promise in the post-season.

It is absolutely not out of the question that the Celtics will re-sign Thomas, the thinking is he is a special player that made a lot of things work. But, re-signing Thomas does not mean he’ll get a full max deal either, mainly because the Celtics may not have a lot of competition in re-signing him if they frame a deal similar to Lowry’s deal in Toronto – max value, for a shorter number of years.

Will Barton – Denver – $3.533 million

Barton is an interesting situation to watch, mainly because he could be a highly productive player this year and is on a relatively dirt-cheap contract. Barton and the Nuggets explored a contract extension last season, however, Barton passed, opting for the chance to be an unrestricted free agent.

The threat of losing him for nothing is very real for Denver. However, there is a belief that Denver can and would pay Barton market value. So, how he plays and the role he plays with a revamped Nuggets team becomes very interesting in the long-term.

The Nuggets are one of the teams linked to Cavs guard Kyrie Irving, making the possible inclusion of Barton in a Cavs deal a very real possibility.

As thing stand, the Nuggets are expecting a big season from Barton. However, it will be interesting to see if he indeed plays himself out of Denver at the trade deadline. By then, his impending market value will have become a bit more clear.

Trevor Ariza – Houston – $7.420 million

As much as Knicks fans may want to see Ariza included in a package for Carmelo Anthony, the prevailing thought out of Houston is the Rockets need the versatile Ariza to make it all work, especially on the defensive side.

There are some realities that Houston will have to face, which includes determining how much to commit to the future of Ariza, who just turned 32 years old this past summer. There is no question Ariza has tremendous value, not just as a potential free agent, but also as a trade chip should all of this not come together in Houston as expected.

The Rockets stance this summer has been that Ariza is not a trade option. However, as the season comes together, does he have a future in Houston? Today that answer is a resounding yes. However, at the deadline, if the Rockets are not the team they believe they will be, he is a chip they can cash to tweak the roster. That’s always a real thing with pending free agents, especially ones looking for the last big payday.

Derrick Favors – Utah – $12 million

With Gordon Hayward gone from Utah, the mantle of star player could shift over to Favors—at least that’s what his camp is hoping for. Favors was banged up most of the year last season and never got right. The hope in Utah is that Favors can return to form and take the next step forward in his career. Believe it or not, Favors just turned 26 this summer and still hasn’t reached what many would say is the prime of a player’s career.

When healthy, Favors has been a solid double-double player, and with his usage expected to increase dramatically, there is a chance for Favors to bounce back this season. The problem for Favors, and even the Jazz in many ways, is that the game has changed and that Favors may not get the repetitions and opportunities to be the player they hope he can be.

In a worst-case scenario, Favors could have some trade value at the trade deadline in early February, but to be moveable for any kind of value, he will have to get and stay healthy.

Given how brutal the market has been on big guys, there is a chance that re-signing Favors may not be as expensive as other options, but for the Jazz, they are playing a wait and see approach to Favors and his future.

There is a real window for Favors to be more than he’s been over the last two seasons, so time will tell if he can play himself into a big deal or if he plays his way out of Utah.

We’ll be dropping more features on pending free agents all week as we start to look ahead a little in the month of August. With the NBA season opening up a little earlier than normal, this year we will also start dropping our season previews the first week of September, so stay tuned.

The Insiders Podcast

Basketball Insiders Deputy Editor Moke Hamilton is joined by Senior Analyst Tommy Beer as they discuss the prospects of Isaiah Thomas cashing in next summer, what lies ahead for the Celtics, Kyrie Irving’s value and why he makes sense in Minnesota and the latest on Carmelo Anthony and a few moves the Knicks have made this summer.

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About Steve Kyler

Steve Kyler

Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.