This week kicked off the active portion of the NBA’s trade season. The deadline is not until February 6th, but the rumors already swirling will only intensify. This may not be a drama-filled next two months because twenty-nine of the teams in the league are already over the salary cap and many contenders are financially restrained from doing anything big.
Despite those logistics, we can be sure that something unexpected is going to happen anyway. Teams have played roughly a third of the NBA schedule and there are times that it pays to make moves ahead of the curve to set a team up for either stronger playoff contention or a faster rebuild. I took a look at the five biggest storylines I will be following over the next two months that could shape the direction of the trade market.
1. What point guards will be available?
Having a quality point-guard is often the difference between middling in the playoff race or serious contention for a championship, and this year is no different.
Chris Paul’s name has been brought up since before his plane even landed in Oklahoma City but his contract at age 34 will likely keep him with the Thunder for at least the remainder of the year.
With Paul out of the picture, there are several contending teams that either have or should have shown interest in an upgrade at point guard.
The Miami Heat have always sought stars in the market but have done well enough to avoid gutting their roster for Paul. Still, a more quality contract could provoke their interest and cause them to part ways with some of their assets to become more playoff ready.
The Minnesota Timberwolves have been looking to move on from Jeff Teague for years and aggressively sought D’Angelo Russell over the past year.
The Dallas Mavericks are also that one potential piece away from climbing to a higher competitive tier. Another primary ballhandler to let Luka Doncic get some off-ball looks could be just what they need.
No names are as highly heralded as Paul’s but there is plenty of potential value floating around the market. According to Marc Stein of the New York Times, the New Orleans Pelicans have stated that Jrue Holiday can now be had for the right price.
Holiday is an All-Star level two-way combo guard that can give teams 20 points per night while defending the best perimeter player on the other team.
Toronto seems to have Fred VanVleet in line as their floor general of the future, which makes Kyle Lowry’s one-year extension an attractive and easy-to-move deal for Masai Ujiri should the Raptors choose to go into sell mode.
The Knicks are also looking to move on from Dennis Smith Jr. who is still trying to find his way in the league. It will be interesting to see what teams feel like they’re a point guard away from something special.
2. Will the Knicks do one thing right?
It is no secret that the New York Knicks had a terrible summer. After all of the Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving photoshops, the reality is a Marcus Morris-led 7-21 team with no identity speeding with wreckless abandon towards another lottery pick.
This deadline is an opportunity to bounce back from some of their mistakes and open up cap room for the 2021 free agent sweepstakes while also clearing up some minutes for the younger players on their roster.
Morris is New York’s leading scorer and their most attractive asset for a potential contender. The Clippers thought they had him for three years, $40 million dollars in July, but Morris then backed out to San Antonio before backing out to the Knicks.
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski suggested the Los Angeles might be willing to part with their 2020 first-round pick and two expiring contracts for Marcus’s services.
Morris is a gamer but he is not a franchise cornerstone that can be the lead guy on a contender. If there is value to be gained this front office needs to get to it.
Outside of Morris, the Knicks have a boatload of interesting spare parts that can be plugged into a better situation and possibly succeed.
The Timberwolves have shown interest in Dennis Smith Jr. and could potentially attach Jeff Teague to some draft compensation for the chance to see if the third-year guard is able to catch on and regain some of the hype that he came into the league with.
Julius Randle has flat-out not played well but showed enough promise in New Orleans for the Knicks to throw him a now unattractive looking three-year deal that guarantees $40.9 million over the next two seasons. The Knicks got Randle at that price for a reason: no one else was willing to pay that for a slightly above average player.
Randle is young enough to shoot for the stars and look for takers anyway and the Knicks did just that. Over the next two months, the Knicks need to be on the phone 24/7 mopping up this mess.
3. What do the New Orleans Pelicans do NOW?
Zion Williamson’s arrival in New Orleans came with an influx of optimism for a team that is now 7-22 and in a very different space than many imagined.
Multiple sports networks and podcasts ran segments considering the playoff possibilities for a young roster that took steps in acquiring veterans J.J. Redick and Derrick Favors to create a win-now team.
With Williamson out now beyond the initial 6-8 week diagnosis, it may be time to call this season a wash and see what can be gained from dealing Redick, Favors, and even Jrue Holiday as they shift their focus toward a more competitive future.
We discussed Holiday’s value in our first topic but J.J. Redick and Favors also could prove useful to teams trying to plug holes in playoff rosters.
Redick is a minus on defense but the Bucks can always use an extra catch-and-shooter. They have been rumored to be interested in both Redick and Robert Covington should they become available.
Reports are that New Orleans is hesitant to move Redick but as the losses pile up it is hard to ignore that the 35-year-old’s timeline no longer seems to align with the state of the team.
Favors is a double-double machine that protects the rim on an expiring contract. If New Orleans completely throws in the towel there would be solid returns for him as well.
4. How much do the Nuggets believe in themselves?
The story in Denver is one of the most interesting cases of the year that is not talked about a whole bunch.
They spent a long time at the top of the Western Conference last season before being overwhelmed by Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers in the conference semifinals.
This season they were expected to be even better with Nikola Jokic coming off of a First Team All-NBA season and the continued growth of a young core.
Instead, Jamal Murray and Jokic are struggling and the Nuggets are still a solid team at 18-8 but don’t look like the elite title contenders many projected them to be.
Jokic’s play will be the main factor for Denver’s viability down the stretch, but their job is to ultimately be better than both the Los Angeles’ come playoff time. For this to happen they need a wing defender that can spend time with LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Anthony Davis, and Paul George for a week and a half without being completely run over.
They currently do not have that and will be stuck as a conference semifinal or NBA Finals doormat until that changes.
Malik Beasley is on an expiring contract and is the name being floated around with Michael Porter Jr. being described as “untouchable.” He can be used with another player to grab Jrue Holiday or as part of a package for Kevin Love both of whom Denver could consider to raise their championship profile.
Love wouldn’t solve the aforementioned defensive issues but gives an extra punch on the boards which can be used to turn the tide on the Clippers’ undersized frontcourt or hang with the giants that the Lakers employ.
5. How stubborn will the Spurs Be?
22 straight playoff appearances.
After being the gold-standard for consistency over the last two decades the 11-16 San Antonio Spurs are staring right down the chamber of a rebuild.
The Spurs benefitted from Gregg Popocivh’s steadying influence on a team that landed stars who bought into the Spurs’ system.
Seriously, are there any two superstars more suited in the NBA’s history for a Popovich team than Tim Duncan and Kawhi Leonard?
All good things truly come to an end and the restart that San Antonio has been avoiding is clear as day to everyone involved. DeMar DeRozan is an NBA fossil stylistically and LaMarcus Aldridge is approaching the tail end of his career. Both players are good enough to be useful in the proper situations but in this era of floor stretching and ball-movement they make an awkward and underwhelming fit.
Kawhi Leonard’s decision to leave forced the Spurs into this position and changed the trajectory of their franchise. I can’t wait to see if Popovich is interested in the opportunity to take on the challenge of a new crop of players and starting from the mud so late in his coaching career.
San Antonio is notoriously quiet as far as in-season trades go but it should be noted they haven’t been in this position for a while. The need to shake things up while they still have pieces with value.