The NBA trade deadline is less than a month away, which means it’s a good time to see which teams may be active in trade discussions over the next few weeks.
The Orlando Magic entered this season with hopes of returning to the playoffs for the first time since the Dwight Howard trade. The front office hired Frank Vogel to take over for the departed Scott Skiles, who unexpectedly resigned in May of 2016. The front office then traded Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova and the rights to Donatas Sabonis (11th pick in 2016) to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Serge Ibaka, who will be an unrestricted free agent after this season, signed Jeff Green to a one-year, $15 million contract and signed Bismack Biyombo to a four-year, $72 million contract (player option on the final season).
Despite all of these transactions, this season hasn’t gone as expected. Orlando is currently 18-28, good for the 12th seed in the Eastern Conference. Fortunately, Orlando is still only four and a half games back of the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff seed.
Magic general manager Rob Hennigan, in a Q&A with the Orlando Sentinel’s Josh Robbins, stated that the team is going to be active in the weeks leading up to the trade deadline.
“We need to explore every and all options to improve the team,” Hennigan said. “We’re going to be aggressive. We’re going to be active in our discussions and in the opportunities we seek out. So, we’re going to look to be active. I’m not sure it’s a ‘necessity,’ but it’s certainly something that’s in our best interests to explore.”
Orlando is committed to roughly $106,248,869 in salary this season, which is a hefty amount considering their current standing. Green, Ibaka, Jodie Meeks and C.J. Wilcox are on expiring deals, while C.J. Watson’s $5 million salary next season is non-guaranteed. The Magic front office could look to unload these role players before potentially losing them in free agency, especially if it becomes clear that this team isn’t going to have a realistic shot at the postseason.
Each of these players, to varying degrees, could be helpful to a fringe or even true contender that is looking to bolster its roster in preparation for the playoffs in exchange for some future second-round picks perhaps. The Magic could also move Ibaka if a solid deal presents itself, though Ibaka has the ability walk away for nothing as an unrestricted free agent this upcoming offseason. Additionally, Nikola Vucevic could be moved considering the fact that the Magic invested so heavily in Biyombo last offseason. Vucevic has some notable limitations defensively, but he is a very skilled offensive center and has two years left on his contract after this season at a very reasonable average annual salary of $12.5 million.
Orlando’s front office has made some very questionable moves over the last few seasons and may feel pressure to make significant changes if this team is out of playoff contention near the trade deadline.
The Denver Nuggets started off the season trying to play big men Jusuf Nurkic and Nikola Jokic together. That experiment quickly proved to be a disaster, so head coach Mike Malone made Jokic the starting center and surrounded him with plenty of shooting. The Nuggets still struggle to defend effectively, but they can keep pace with the best offenses in the NBA and are now featuring Jokic in a primary role. Jokic has proven himself more than worthy of the position and is blowing away the expectations of even those who were early believers in his game.
Jokic’s rise means that Nurkic is now expendable and, according to Marc Stein of ESPN, the Nuggets are actively looking to move him in a deal. Nurkic, age 22, is a talented center who could be a nice addition for any team that needs a true center who can play both ends of the court.
The Nuggets also have some other players that they could move if a team offered a nice return of players or assets in exchange. Veterans like Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Kenneth Faried and Darrell Arthur could be the type of players that a fringe or true contender could think of as a missing piece for a title run. However, the Nuggets are currently holding the eighth seed in the Western Conference and may not be looking to do anything beyond adding some more depth by unloading Nurkic. There’s no major rush to unload a player since their core players are locked into deals that go beyond next season, with the exception of Gallinari, who has a player option for next season.
The Boston Celtics have significant cap space flexibility, the best trade assets in the league, a major need for help on the defensive glass and a desire to add a marquee star player. Those factors combined mean that the Celtics have to be a team to keep an eye on at the deadline.
Celtics general manager Danny Ainge has held off on cashing in his significant assets up to this point, so he may be waiting for a lopsided deal to present itself. The Celtics have been linked to Nerlens Noel, whom the Philadelphia 76ers are looking to deal. Noel is an athletic big man who could play alongside Al Horford and help the Celtics address their rebounding issues. However, Noel is on the last year of his rookie deal, so Boston would have to be prepared to pay him a significant raise as a restricted free agent this upcoming offseason
The Celtics are currently 26-17 and are only four games back of the Cleveland Cavaliers, who hold the first seed in the Eastern Conference. With Isaiah Thomas playing at superstar levels and the rest of the team playing within their respective roles, Ainge may opt to make marginal upgrades while holding onto his major assets for after the season.
The Atlanta Hawks have one of the strangest situations heading into the trade deadline. The Hawks put Paul Millsap on the trade market, subsequently pulled him off the market and then traded Kyle Korver to the best team in the Eastern Conference, the Cleveland Cavaliers, for Mike Dunleavy, Mo Williams, a protected 2019 first-rounder and $750,000.
In trading Korver, it seemed as though the Hawks were in the early stages of a rebuild, with Millsap and other veterans likely to be moved in exchange for assets. However, the Hawks have won seven of their last 10 games and are just a game back of the Celtics in the Eastern Conference standings. The Hawks may be tempted to push forward with this roster and take another shot at a deep playoff run.
However, the Hawks are seemingly outclassed by their main Eastern Conference rivals and by several Western Conference teams. Additionally, Millsap can walk away for nothing this upcoming offseason, as Al Horford did last season. Considering these factors, it makes sense for the Hawks to probe the market and see what they can get for guys like Millsap, Tiago Splitter, Thabo Sefolosha, Tim Hardaway Jr., Mike Muscala and Kris Humphries.
According to Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical, the Minnesota Timberwolves are actively shopping point guard Ricky Rubio and swingman Shabazz Muhammad. Rubio, age 26, was once pegged as Minnesota’s long-term answer at point guard, but his shooting been a major weakness and he never seemed to meet the expectations that surrounded him earlier in his career. Rubio’s contract is guaranteed through 2018-19 at an average annual salary of $14,250,000, which is pretty reasonable for a starting quality point guard.
Several teams have shown interest in Rubio, though it’s not clear what kind of package of players and assets it would take to get Minnesota to pull the trigger. Minnesota has pegged Kris Dunn as the point guard of the future, so they aren’t necessarily looking for a top-tier guard in exchange for Rubio.
The Timberwolves also have some veterans that could be moved, such as Brandon Rush and Jordan Hill. However, these players would likely be included in a deal based around Rubio for salary matching purposes. Rubio is the real target for other teams, especially ones that are in playoff contention and could use some serious help at point guard, such as the Chicago Bulls.
The Philadelphia 76ers have won seven of their last 10 games and are slowly but surely climbing their way up the Eastern Conference standings. However, the 76ers feature three quality big men in Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel. Since the team’s media day, Noel has made it clear that this logjam needed to be addressed through a trade. The team has been working on finding a deal for Noel, who will begin being eligible for a restricted free agent offer after this season.
It’s not clear what the 76ers are looking for in exchange for Noel. The 76ers have the ability to package significant draft assets and other fillers around Noel in exchange for a star player, but there aren’t any obvious candidates for that scenario to play out. The team is in need of help at the point guard position, but, depending on how the season plays out and the lottery, the 76ers may be in line to draft either Markelle Fultz or Lonzo Ball. Additionally, once Ben Simmons is healthy, he may prove capable of facilitating the team’s offense as a point forward, which could minimize the team’s need for a lead guard.
The 76ers, like the Celtics, have plenty of flexibility in terms of salary cap space and trade assets to be very active at the deadline. With significant holes to fill on the roster (excluding the frontcourt), it’s possible they could be one of the more active teams at the trade deadline.
These are just a few teams to keep an eye on before next month’s trade deadline. Other teams like the Chicago Bulls and Miami HEAT could also look to make some significant moves involving players like Nikola Mirotic and Goran Dragic.
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