The annual trade deadline represents a significant turning point of the regular season. Some teams will look to retool on the fly and maximize their respective postseason potential. Other franchises use the annual trade deadline as an opportunity to start a rebuilding project or to acquire assets in order to lay the framework for the future.
Every season this brings us to a portion of the trade deadline that comes along with a bit of risk – the concept of the one-year rental, or in this case the half-season rental.
The list features players on the hunt for huge paydays this summer where their current franchises are uncertain about making a long-term commitment. This year’s trade deadline is no different and features a handful of players that fit the bill. The question is will a new team in the market for a future building block take the risk and bring in one of these players, some of whom have baggage, for a half season in order to evaluate.
Today, we’ll take a look at some players that could become a half season rental and evaluate the return a team could realistically expect.
Marcus Smart, Guard, Boston Celtics
2018 Summer Status: Restricted Free Agent
The defensive-minded guard will be headed to restricted free agency this summer. While Smart has demonstrated a tough-as-nails mentality on the court, that same passion has also worked against him in many aspects. Smart is currently injured after punching a picture frame in a hotel room last month.
According to numerous reports, the Celtics have listened to teams who have called about Smart in recent weeks. Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge has been meticulous about protecting cap space and acquiring assets. Last season, rumors were rampant that Ainge and the Celtics were hesitant to give then All-Star Isaiah Thomas a max deal that would have pushed close to $200 million.
The team subsequently traded Thomas to the Cleveland Cavaliers this past summer along with a coveted first round pick in order to acquire the younger Kyrie Irving – currently playing on a bargain of a deal and salary cap friendly the next two seasons.
According to the reports, Ainge is looking for a first round pick in any deal that would involve Smart. The Celtics are atop of the Eastern Conference standings and with their abundance of youth, are positioned strongly for the future. But the question remains, where does Smart figure into the team’s long term equation as he approaches free agency? Remember, the Celtics also dealt guard Avery Bradley a similarly defensive minded guard before committing to pay him max money.
Nerlens Noel, Center, Dallas Mavericks
2018 Summer Status: Unrestricted Free Agent
The curious case of Noel is a topic definitely worth exploring in greater detail. The center came into the league as a high lottery pick and was expected to be one of the cornerstones of the Philadelphia 76ers rebuild. That never materialized and Noel was dealt to the Dallas Mavericks.
On the surface, the talent starved Mavericks were looking for a young player to serve as one of their foundational building blocks post Dirk Nowitzki. Noel’s start in Dallas was inconsistent but showed signs of promise. This led to last summer’s tug-of-war between the Mavericks and Noel when trying to work out a new deal. There were numerous reports indicating that Noel wanted a contract in the range of $20 million per year, while the Mavericks were reportedly in the $10 to $12 million range.
After the tug of war, Noel opted to sign the qualifying offer which would make him an unrestricted free agent during the summer of 2018. In essence, Noel bet on himself and was willing to let his performance this season speak for itself. But the gamble, at least on the surface, hasn’t panned out. Noel has been in and out of head coach Rick Carlisle’s doghouse and is currently on the shelf after undergoing thumb surgery. Noel is a great weak side shot-blocker and rim protector, but is also a reckless defender that gambles constantly at inopportune times. These defensive gambles have led to him watching more action than playing. But Noel is still just 23 years old and has potential. But would another franchise be willing to take this as an opportunity to bring in a young player with the hopes of turning around his current career trajectory? Can Noel ever live up to the hype levied upon him when he was drafted in the high first round out of the University of Kentucky?
Isaiah Thomas, Guard, Cleveland Cavaliers
2018 Summer Status: Unestricted Free Agent
Let’s be clear. Thomas is taking a blunt of blame recently for the Cavaliers struggles. Thomas is an All-Star caliber player, but he is not a superstar. Thomas had a great run in Boston in a system that allowed him to be a high-volume shooter and protected some of his defensive efficiencies with athletic wings and strong defensive practices.
In Cleveland with four-time League MVP LeBron James, Thomas doesn’t have the ball in his hands as much, doesn’t have as many opportunities to score and isn’t protected by a strong defensive scheme as Cleveland is one of the worst units on that side of the floor. The result has been an ineffective Thomas and the blame game.
So the question now is what will the Cavaliers do with Thomas? The guard will be an unrestricted free agent next summer and will be looking for a max level. This is a certainty. But Cleveland has a myriad of problems to address first. Such as what is the future of LeBron James with the franchise? James is the top priority for the Cavaliers. Cleveland also has a host of other free agents including Thomas. With the Cavaliers recent slide, the trade Buzz swirling around Thomas will only grow.
Julius Randle, Forward, Los Angeles Lakers
2018 Summer Status: Restricted Free Agent
Randle’s is having a very strong season for the Lakers averaging 14 points and over seven rebounds per game. He’s also in line to be compensated handily for his efforts on the floor. But will the Lakers be the team that pays him? It’s worth noting, the Lakers have not been shy about trying to clear up cap space in order to pursue two top-tier free agents this summer. Locking up Randle to a long-term deal with an eight figure annual salary will hinder or at the very least alter some of those plans. In addition, the lakers also have talented forwards Larry Nance Jr. and Kyle Kuzma already in the fold. Randle’s name has surfaced in trade rumors in the past and the organization will likely listen to offers for their energetic forward prior to the deadline to see what collection of assets he can net in return. In today’s NBA, you don’t want to lose above average talent without receiving anything in return.
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