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NBA DAILY: Where Will The Bottom NBA Teams Go?

With the NBA season slipping away for several teams, the trade season could prove to be fairly active.

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Where Will The Bottom Go?

With the 2018 NBA trade deadline on February 9 approaching quickly, the questions surrounding some of the NBA’s worst teams are becoming more about which parts will they sell off and which parts they will keep.

Here are some things to know about each:

Dallas Mavericks – 12-26

The Mavericks really don’t have a lot of ugly contract money sitting on the books, and while the team isn’t going to challenge for a playoff spot, they aren’t exactly tanking either.

Mavericks guard Wes Matthews has one more year left on his deal that’s a player option worth $18.62 million, an option he is likely to pick up. The uncertainty of that option makes trading Matthews a tough sell in the NBA where teams don’t value the uncertainty positively.

The Mavericks do have a bunch of ending contracts and have routinely been linked in NBA circles to the LA Lakers as a possible destination for Luol Deng. The prevailing thought is if the Lakers packed in Julius Randell and a future first-round pick, the Mavericks might have the right combination of ending contracts to get the Lakers where they want to be next summer.

League sources said there had been zero talks about a Deng deal with the Mavericks, but history has shown the Mavericks don’t have much issue trading within Conference. If the return is right for the Mavericks, they have in the past been open to helping another team shed cap money if it’s in their favor, which makes them a team to watch at the deadline.

The Mavericks also have the Nerlens Noel situation, because Noel signed his qualifying offer last summer, he has the right to veto any trade, which would make moving him difficult. Noel is a name to watch at the deadline because it’s in his best interest to get traded somewhere he can really play or risk seeing his free agent value drop even more.

Memphis Grizzlies – 12-26

There was considerable talk that the Grizzlies might be open to trading All-Star center Marc Gasol. While that’s always a possibility when a team underachieves as the Grizzlies have, sources close to the situation say that unless Gasol asks to be traded, it’s not a real consideration for Memphis.

The Grizzlies have had a tough run with injuries this season which may open the window for them to be bad enough to secure a top-tier draft pick. As things stand, the Grizzlies have the fourth-worst record in the NBA, which could line them up with a shot at an elite draft talent, and that’s not lost on the team either.

Like the Mavericks, the Grizzlies do have a handful of compelling ending contracts including the one-year deal Tyreke Evans signed. Evans has flourished in Memphis and might be valuable enough to return something meaningful at the deadline.

It’s unlikely the Grizzlies do something franchise changing in the next 30 days, but they are a team to watch regarding roster parts changing hands. It’s pretty clear the floor on the season seems to have come out from under them in a way that makes the 2018 draft more compelling than trying to deal their way back into the playoff discussion.

LA Lakers – 11-26

The Lakers are in a tough spot mainly because they will not have their own draft pick to show for what is turning into a season filled with losses. The hope coming into the season was this group would be good enough to at least challenge for the eight seed in the West and enter free agency next summer with the “one player away” pitch to would-be free agents. That’s not how things are playing out.

The Lakers will have some choices to make in the coming weeks. They have repeatedly tried to find a trade destination for Luol Deng and have concluded no one is going to help them shed his money. That could change at the deadline, but moving Deng on his own isn’t in the cards, which means to get to the maximum free agent slots the Lakers continue to talk about, means moving off several players before July 1st.

The good news for the Lakers is they don’t have to make all their moves at the deadline, as they will have time around the draft and even into free agency in July to make cap shifting trades if they feel like they can get the players they covet. The reality of the situation is that doing some of the work now will take the pressure off and remove some of the leverage other teams would have over the Lakers if they wait until the last minute to shed contract dollars. The premium the Lakers would have to pay to shed dollars in July would be considerably higher than at the deadline.

There are a couple of names to watch as the deadline nears – namely Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson. Having Randle’s Bird rights would be meaningful for an acquiring team hoping to re-sign him this summer, and he may be the best trade chip the Lakers have in the quest to shed Deng. Clarkson has played well for the Lakers and is owed a ton, which may make him tough to move and not return salary in the deal. That fact he is very productive and under contract for two seasons beyond this one might make sense for a team looking to add a long-term chip. In the grand scheme, Clarkson’s $12.5 and $13.4 million salaries after this season are not crazy comparative to similar free agents; the question becomes who is willing to add the salary in exchange for ending contracts?

Another thing to watch is the Lakers making a roster deal that includes first-round picks. The Lakers are going to need assets to help them shed dollars as they get into free agency, which again is something to watch in regards to Randle.

If there is a team in the bunch worth watching as the deadline nears, it’s the Lakers, not only because their season is going nowhere fast, but because they have contracts to move to get the open salary space to pursue the free agents they covert in July.

Orlando Magic – 12-27

As much as things change, they have remained the same in Orlando. The Magic continue to run off huge losing streaks, and the team does not seem to be improving.

When the Magic made massive changes to their front office, the message from the new regime was they were not rushing to jump off a cliff. They wanted to make sure they had a firm understanding of what assets and players they had and make sure they got real value out of anything they opted to move. With the trade market opening up in earnest on December 15—the date when virtually all signed free agents become tradable—the Magic look to be front and center in the trade market.

The Magic have for some time coveted a game-changing player. That has not changed. The Magic have a bunch of players they would consider deals for including center Nikola Vucevic and guard Evan Fournier. Neither are franchise guys in their own right, and there has been continued chatter than one or both could get moved at the deadline.

The prevailing thought around the Magic is that forward Aaron Gordon is going to be retained this summer and that deals involving him would have to return a proven All-Star. That doesn’t seem to be in the cards.

The dream scenario would be to offload the contract of Bismack Biyombo, but no one is taking that contract off the Magic’s hands.

There is little doubt the Magic are going to entertain the trade market fairly aggressively in the coming weeks, but the one thing that continues to be clear is they are not open to a fire sale with anyone. If the Magic make a move, it has to make the roster better, which is often hard to pull off at the deadline, but the sense is the Magic are going to try and see what they can shake loose.

Atlanta Hawks – 10-27

The Atlanta Hawks are right where they wanted to be when they started the season—sitting in last place, staring a top pick in the eyes.

This season was a rebuilding year for the Hawks, and they knew it. It also is a year in which the Hawks are open to shedding contract dollars. League sources continue to say the asking price on Dennis Schroder is too high to make sense, but the Hawks have at least listened to the idea and are not turning away conversations.

There continues to be a sense that Kent Bazemore is available, but again, the asking price seems to be too high to think he’ll get moved, but he is a name to watch as the deadline grows near.

The Hawks do have some meaningful ending contracts on proven veterans, which could make them a team to watch at the deadline, which is typically when teams cash in expiring deals for their future.

The Hawks are in a pretty good situation cap wise for next summer which means they do not have to do anything that doesn’t make sense for them, but they do have some pieces they can play with if the return is right. Of the bunch, the Hawks may be the least likely to do something splashy, but for a team looking to rebuild, they have things worth watching.

The 2018 G-League Showcase will get underway next week, and that’s where the bulk of NBA trade deadline chatter will get started. With the trade deadline a full two weeks earlier, the cycle of things has altered a little bit, so expect the noise to pick up especially around the teams whose seasons are going nowhere.

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

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