By Bryan Toporek
NBA fans have already been treated to a flurry of activity heading into the league’s Feb. 23 trade deadline, but more is almost certain to come within the next few days.
With the Cleveland Cavaliers suddenly looking vulnerable in the wake of Kevin Love’s knee surgery, the Toronto Raptors made the first big splash in the trade market, acquiring Serge Ibaka from the Orlando Magic. The New Orleans Pelicans upped the ante Sunday night, trading Buddy Hield, Tyreke Evans, Langston Galloway and 2017 first- and second-round picks to the Sacramento Kings for DeMarcus Cousins and Omri Casspi.
Though Chicago’s Jimmy Butler and Indiana’s Paul George aren’t likely to suit up for new squads following the All-Star break, per Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders, that doesn’t mean all other big-name players will stay put. Here’s a look at who else could be on the move by Thursday.
Honorable Mention: Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks
Thanks to the no-trade clause in his contract, Carmelo Anthony has full control over whether he stays with the New York Knicks past the deadline. As he told reporters Wednesday, he expects to remain in the Big Apple, as the team hasn’t approached him with any firm trade proposals.
That doesn’t mean the Knicks aren’t trying. In late January, The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Chris Mannix reported team president Phil Jackson is “determined to rid the roster of Anthony and his contract, and start rebuilding around Kristaps Porzingis,” adding he had reached out to the Cavaliers, Los Angeles Clippers and Boston Celtics to gauge their interest in potential deals. Jackson has also engaged in a public smear campaign of Anthony in recent weeks, seemingly attempting to passive-aggressively convince him to waive his no-trade clause.
That may be backfiring, however. Wojnarowski reported Jackson’s antics are “working to harden Anthony’s resolve to remain with the franchise.” According to Woj, Anthony might have been amenable to a trade had Jackson been direct about the organization’s desire to move him, but alas, dysfunction reigns across New York.
If Anthony changes his mind and gives Jackson the go-ahead to find him a new home, he’ll be the hottest trade target on the market. Otherwise, the broken Jackson-Anthony dynamic will continue lingering over the Knicks like a stale fart.
Brook Lopez, Brooklyn Nets
Had former general manager Billy King not pissed away their next two first-round picks, the Brooklyn Nets would likely be embarking in a Process-esque teardown. Since the Boston Celtics control both of those first-rounders, however, Brooklyn has less incentive to trade away star center Brook Lopez and go all-in on a rebuild.
According to Kyler, the Nets have been open to trading Lopez all year, but “their asking price is steep and has been unchanged.” Along with a “lottery-level pick” this year, Brooklyn also wants a first-round pick next year, per Kyler. He added, however, that the team is open to keeping Lopez past the deadline, as it believes “his value only goes up the more he can put on tape and the longer he can play without major injury.”
While Lopez’s newfound three-point range should make him more appealing in today’s NBA, his lengthy injury history may give potential suitors pause. He missed most of the 2011-12 and 2013-14 seasons with a fractured fifth metatarsal in his right foot, so a third serious injury between now and the end of the season would likely eviscerate his trade value.
According to Michael Scotto of Basketball Insiders, the New Orleans Pelicans have offered Tyreke Evans’ expiring contract, Langston Galloway, Tim Frazier and a 2018 protected first-round pick for Lopez, but Brooklyn didn’t bite. Though the Nets’ requested asking price may be too steep, their reported comfort with keeping Lopez around past the trade deadline means they won’t be giving him away for pennies on the dollar.
If the Nets do cave and accept less than two first-rounders for Lopez, he could be the biggest name moved at the trade deadline unless Anthony waives his no-trade clause.
Reggie Jackson, Detroit Pistons
The Detroit Pistons, who sit at 27-30 heading into the All-Star break, have been a huge disappointment this season. After weathering the storm early in the year with point guard Reggie Jackson sidelined, Detroit appeared poised to surge up the Eastern Conference standings upon his return, but his reinsertion into the starting lineup has provided the Pistons with no such spark.
As such, they have reportedly “quietly explored the trade market” for both Jackson and Andre Drummond, according to ESPN.com’s Zach Lowe, although they have “come away disappointed with the potential return.” Last month, ESPN.com’s Marc Stein reported the Pistons discussed sending Jackson to Minnesota in exchange for Ricky Rubio, but team president and head coach Stan Van Gundy quickly poured cold water on that, saying Detroit never seriously considered such a move.
Yet another trade rumor involving Jackson emerged Friday, when Stein reported the Pistons have discussed sending him to the Magic for a package including D.J. Augustin and Jeff Green. Lowe also mentioned the Pelicans as a possible landing spot for Jackson, particularly if Jrue Holiday informs the franchise he doesn’t plan on re-signing there this summer.
When there’s this much smoke around a player, there’s often fire. If the Pistons believe Jackson isn’t the right point guard to build around long-term, particularly alongside Drummond, he could find himself on the move by Thursday.
Ricky Rubio, Minnesota Timberwolves
Heading into the 2016-17 season, the Minnesota Timberwolves were reportedly resisting overtures for starting point guard Ricky Rubio, according to Wojnarowski, until rookie Kris Dunn was ready to take over the team. Considering the Providence product is averaging just 3.6 points on 36.3 percent shooting, 2.5 assists and 2.2 rebounds in 16.6 minutes, Dunn is still far away from that threshold.
Regardless, the Timberwolves were “actively shopping” Rubio by mid-January, per Wojnarowski, in search of a “bridge” guard—”a player capable of starting in the short term, but who’ll ultimately settle into a backup role and give way” to Dunn. Woj reported the Sacramento Kings “had a strong interest in acquiring Rubio,” but the Timberwolves were “trying to exhaust the market elsewhere for a better return of assets than the Kings can offer.”
At 22-35, Minnesota is somehow only 3.5 games behind the eighth-seeded Dallas Mavericks, so a late-season surge could lead to a surprise playoff berth. That may convince the T-Wolves to stand pat with Rubio until the offseason, particularly since he’s only in the second year of a four-year, $55 million contract. Zach LaVine’s season-ending ACL tear could likewise chill their interest in flipping Rubio, as it would likely all but end their fleeting playoff hopes.
Given the wealth of above-average point guards floating around the league, there aren’t many teams in need of a starting floor general, but Orlando, Detroit and New Orleans all loom as potential Rubio destinations depending on what happens with Jackson.
Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler, Denver Nuggets
The Denver Nuggets may not be done dealing after sending Jusuf Nurkic and Memphis’ top-five-protected 2017 first-round pick to the Portland Trail Blazers for Mason Plumlee and a 2018 second-rounder. According to Kyler, league sources have “pegged both Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari as available,” while “there continues to be a belief that Denver might also be open to trading guard Emmanuel Mudiay if the returning package were right.”
Kyler’s report wasn’t the first time any of those players popped up in trade rumors. On Feb. 2, USA Today‘s Sam Amick reported Chandler wanted to be traded due to “inconsistency with his role.” A week-and-a-half later, Stein reported there’s “growing belief” across the league that Denver is prepared to move Gallinari, as the team expects he’ll decline his $16.1 million player option for 2017-18 to become an unrestricted free agent this summer. As for Mudiay, Lowe reported the Nuggets were “quietly exploring what they might get for him, but he added “they’re in no rush to move” him.
Gallinari has missed Denver’s last eight games with a left groin strain, but if teams aren’t scared off by that injury, he could have a plethora of suitors. Stein mentioned the Los Angeles Clippers as a team keeping tabs on his ability—the Raptors were, too, prior to their acquisition of Ibaka—while Gallinari’s father told an Italian newspaper (via Sportando) that the Houston Rockets may also be interested.
There’s less pressure on the Nuggets to move Chandler, as he’s owed an affordable $24.8 million over the next two seasons and could slide into the starting lineup permanently if they trade Gallinari. After missing the entire 2015-16 campaign with a hip injury, the 29-year-old has gone off for a career-best 15.6 points on 45.4 percent shooting, 6.7 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.5 triples in just 30.9 minutes per game thus far this season. Teams in need of a two-way forward should be calling Denver non-stop until the deadline to inquire about Chandler’s availability.
With a 1.5-game lead over the Sacramento Kings for the Western Conference’s final playoff spot, the Nuggets are stuck juggling priorities. Ultimately, they should be focused on building a championship-caliber roster around Nikola Jokic, who looks like a franchise cornerstone. Trading veterans whose developmental timelines aren’t aligned with Jokic’s could help improve Denver’s long-term outlook, but moving Chandler or Gallinari would likely hurt the team’s playoff chances.
Lou Williams, Los Angeles Lakers
If the Los Angeles Lakers finish outside the top three in May’s draft lottery, their 2017 first-round pick will be headed to the Philadelphia 76ers and they’ll owe their 2019 first-rounder to the Orlando Magic. If the Lakers land in the top three, however, they’d have the chance to add another promising young prospect to their core of Brandon Ingram, D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle. They would also only owe 2017 and 2018 second-round picks to Orlando instead of their 2019 first, although their 2018 fully unprotected first-rounder would then belong to Philly.
While L.A. head coach Luke Walton has bristled at the notion of tanking, it’s imperative for the Lakers front office to force his hand. And since executive vice president Jim Buss is a dead man walking, he should embrace the tank and deal Lou Williams by the deadline as his going-away present to the franchise.
According to Alex Kennedy of HoopsHype, “a general manager confirmed that the Lakers have, in fact, shopped Williams and seem likely to move him prior to the deadline.” The 2014-15 Sixth Man of the Year has been electric for L.A. this season, pouring in a career-best 18.6 points on 44.4 percent shooting, 3.2 assists, 2.3 rebounds and 2.1 triples in just 24.2 minutes across 58 contests, which explains why he’s leading the team in win shares (5.1).
That production should also make Williams attractive to contenders in need of a microwave bench scorer, especially since he’s owed only $7 million in 2017-18. Since the Lakers have every incentive to tank—they could pass it off as “prioritizing the development of young players” to avoid running afoul of NBA Commissioner Adam Silver—don’t be surprised if Williams is suiting up for a new team on Feb. 24.
Robin Lopez and Taj Gibson, Chicago Bulls
If the Chicago Bulls decide to build around Jimmy Butler, some of their veterans may be on the next flight out of the Windy City.
According to Scotto, the Bulls are “exploring the trade market in search of a first-round draft pick” for either Lopez, who’s in the second year of a four-year, $54 million contract, or Doug McDermott, who has a year left on his rookie deal before he becomes a restricted free agent in 2018. Meanwhile, CSN Chicago’s Vincent Goodwill and Sean Deveney of Sporting News reported the Raptors were pursuing a trade for Taj Gibson, whose contract expires at the end of the season, before they acquired Ibaka.
Unless the Bulls view Gibson as a long-term fixture of their future, they could decide to flip him for a young prospect or a draft pick to avoid potentially losing him for nothing in free agency. There’s less pressure to flip McBuckets or Lopez, as each is under contract through 2017-18, but with inexperienced players such as Cristiano Felicio, Bobby Portis and Denzel Valentine waiting in the wings, a youth movement could soon be underway in Chicago.
Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor, Philadelphia 76ers
The week prior to the All-Star break, the Philadelphia 76ers held second-year big man Jahill Okafor out of two games due to allegedly ongoing trade negotiations. League sources suggested to The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor that team president Bryan Colangelo did that to “flush out the best offers around the league,” but it appears as though no other team fell for the obvious ploy, as Okafor returned to the Sixers’ lineup against the Boston Celtics on Wednesday.
Amick first reported on Feb. 6 that the Pelicans were in “serious trade talks” with Philadelphia to acquire Okafor, but talks have remained stagnant since then. According to Stein and ESPN.com’s Chris Haynes, New Orleans was expected to send Alexis Ajinca and a 2018 first-round pick to the Sixers for Big Jah, but Kyler reported the team was “not as enamored with the Pelicans offer as maybe it seemed,” as Colangelo was angling to have New Orleans include the expiring contract of point guard Jrue Holiday rather than a draft pick.
According to Deveney, the Pelicans have reservations about including an unprotected pick in a deal for Okafor or any other big man they pursue as a frontcourt complement to Anthony Davis, which is likewise scuttling a deal. Deveney mentioned New Orleans and Chicago as front-runners for Okafor, but he added “there could be dark-horse teams involved in the pursuit,” including the Dallas Mavericks, who had reportedly “previously inquired” about him and “could revisit those talks as the deadline nears.”
Considering Okafor’s awkward fit next to Joel Embiid and Nerlens Noel, Philly’s interest in moving him makes perfect sense, although Noel’s impending date with restricted free agency makes him a logical trade chip to dangle as well. Given the uncertain rest-of-season availability of Embiid and rookie point forward Ben Simmons, the Sixers likely won’t trade both Okafor and Noel by Thursday. Which one stays and which one goes will come down to the value Colangelo can receive in return.
Derrick Rose, New York Knicks
Regardless of whether the Knicks can convince Carmelo Anthony to waive his no-trade clause, they need to begin looking ahead to the future. At 23-34, they’re four games behind the eighth-seeded Pistons, and their recent trajectory—they’ve gone 9-24 since a 14-10 start—hardly suggests a playoff run is in the cards. As such, New York should gauge the market on anyone not named Kristaps Porzingis.
According to ESPN.com’s Ian Begley, multiple teams view Derrick Rose “as a potential trade target,” as the former MVP is in the final year of his five-year, $94.3 million contract. Though Rose is a shell of the player he once was, he’s a big name who’s averaging nearly 18 points per game, which means the Sacramento Kings are destined to give up the farm for him.
Though this is but a distant memory for a Knicks franchise that’s been embroiled in off-court dysfunction for the past month, Rose went MIA for a game against New Orleans in early January, throwing into doubt his future in New York. According to Woj, his unexplained disappearance “put into peril” his chances of landing a “lucrative contract extension with the Knicks in July.”
If New York can find a taker for Rose’s $21.3 million salary, the three-time All-Star may have already played his last game as a Knick.