The NBA Trade Deadline is finally here. But it just doesn’t feel the same as in years past.
The NBA’s new play-in tournament, which has expanded the potential playoff field to 10 teams in each conference, combined with the impact COVID-19 has had on the players and league at large has severely limited the buzz around the 2020-21 deadline. There’s reason to hope, however.
As always, deadlines spur action. And there are plenty of teams that need an upgrade. So, even if there are few deals completed, there could still be plenty of fireworks that change the postseason picture.
Without further ado, here are five predictions for what will happen before the conclusion of the trade deadline.
No More Than 10 Trades
The first is short and sweet: last year, 13 trades commenced on deadline day. Of course, that preceded the pandemic and the inception of the play-in tournament, which are the driving factors in the prediction that there will be no more than 10 deals prior to the 3 p.m. ET deadline.
Kyle Lowry Gets Moved
For all intents and purposes, Kyle Lowry wields an unofficial no-trade clause. If he tells the Toronto Raptors he wants to spend the remainder of his career with them, he’s not getting dealt. However, if he informs the team’s President of Basketball Operations, Masai Ujiri, he desires to get traded to a title contender, then this prediction will come to fruition.
Lowry, who turns 35 on deadline day, is on an expiring contract. So, beyond the Raptors wanting to do well by their franchise icon, this is a case where the player holds most of the leverage. Losing him for nothing would be missing out on an opportunity to strengthen their long-term outlook.
As for where Lowry might end up, it’s been reported that his preference is the Miami HEAT. Miami, of course, would push to get a deal done without offering Tyler Herro. But, if they low ball Toronto, that would open up the opportunity for another team to swoop in and snatch Lowry for themselves.
Namely, the Philadelphia 76ers. Not only is Lowry a Philadelphia native, but the 76ers have some enticing young pieces of their own to offer, including Tyrese Maxey and Matisse Thybulle.
Still, expect the HEAT to get a deal done some way or another. Jimmy Butler is 31 and Pat Riley, perhaps better than anyone, knows how quickly a window into contention can slam shut — if they can add Lowry, they just might get back to the NBA Finals.
The Boston Celtics Land Aaron Gordon
Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon reportedly made his trade request weeks ago but is now having second thoughts. That’s not particularly surprising, considering Gordon has spent his entire seven-year career with the Magic, who drafted him fourth overall back in 2014.
Furthermore, he has another year left on his contract, so the Magic aren’t at the risk of losing him for nothing in free agency if they don’t move him before the deadline. That’s why any team interested in acquiring Gordon’s services is going to have to pay up to get him.
Now, that doesn’t exactly jive with the reputation of Danny Ainge, the Boston Celtics’ president of basketball operations, but it’s evident Boston must make a deal to turn their season around. A first round pick along with either Romeo Langford or Aaron Nesmith is an offer Boston might hold out at, but it’ll likely cost more to land Gordon who, at 25-years-old, matches up perfectly with the timeline of Boston’s best players, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. Additionally, Gordon isn’t a mere rental, either, and he is one of the few players seemingly available who can join their closing lineup.
Losing two first-round picks could hurt Boston’s future pursuits of trading for an All-Star. In exchange, the Magic may be amenable to taking back Tristan Thompson. If so, a deal for Gordon could get structured in such a way the Celtics don’t have to use the trade exception they created in the sign-and-trade that sent Gordon Hayward to the Charlotte Hornets. Boston could also stay out of the luxury tax. Couple all of this with a Celtics team hovering around .500 despite featuring two All-Stars, and it’s more beneficial for Boston to acquire Gordon than trudge through the rest of the season to preserve the second first-round pick it’ll likely take for them to get him.
Lonzo Ball Stays Put
The New Orleans Pelicans enter the deadline with a 19-24 record and don’t currently qualify for the play-in tournament. That said, Lonzo Ball is having quite a productive season, averaging 14.2 points, 5.6 assists, 4.2 rebounds, and 1.3 steals while taking 7.8 threes per game and making them at a 38.5 percent clip. A restricted free agent, Ball is expected to demand $15-20 million annually and perhaps the Pelicans aren’t keen on giving him a contract in that neighborhood.
That said, New Orleans isn’t going to trade the 23-year-old for nothing. According to The Ringers’ Kevin O’Connor, the Chicago Bulls tried to acquire Ball for Tomas Satoransky and second-round picks; the Atlanta Hawks attempted to do so with a package headlined by Cam Reddish. If teams aren’t willing to make substantially better offers before the deadline expires, the Pelicans are better off holding on to Ball.
Harrison Barnes Does the Same
Harrison Barnes is having arguably the most productive season of his career. He’s averaging 16.3 points to go along with career-highs of 6.5 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game. Barnes is also shooting a career-best 57.2 percent from inside the arc.
A reliable two-way wing whose presence is beneficial to the development of the Sacramento Kings’ two most important players, De’Aaron Fox and Tyrese Haliburton, Barnes is earning $22.2 million this season with his contract set to decline over the next two seasons. Combine that with the fact that the Kings are still in the mix for the play-in tournament and they seem poised to keep the veteran. Ultimately, if it doesn’t work out, the team can always move him in the offseason.
For now, expect him to remain in Sacramento.