With the NBA’s trade season under way and over a week left until the February 23 deadline, teams are positioning themselves for success both now and in the future.
The Nuggets are loaded with players who do the same things and it’s tough to find minutes for all of them, which has led to coach Mike Malone shifting the rotation and starting lineups quite a bit in-season. Nikola Jokic has emerged as the star to build around, and in addition to wanting to make the playoffs this season, all the big moves they make should be geared towards improving around Jokic long-term.
Danilo Gallinari is a good starting caliber player but he’s not the versatile defender the Nuggets need next to Jokic, and he’s going to be pushed towards the power forward position as he ages. With a player option for next year, Gallinari is going to decline, spending big money on the 28-year-old doesn’t make sense for the Nuggets right now.
Despite a 31-23 record, Atlanta currently has a negative -0.2 scoring differential, which typically is a much better indicator of future success than just wins and losses. Interestingly, if they had played to that level the Paul Millsap trade rumors would be out of control right now and it’s likely Hawks would have moved him already. Millsap is 32 years old, and any team looking to trade for Millsap wants the value now and in the first year or two of his next contract, which makes the Raptors a great fit.
According to reports, the Magic have come to grips with the fact that trading for Serge Ibaka and pushing for the playoffs has failed. The optics around trading Ibaka aren’t great since Orlando gave up two talented young players in Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis, but in a vacuum trading Ibaka for whatever they can get is a good move, since re-signing Ibaka to a near-max deal during the summer makes no sense for a team that can’t compete for a playoff spot.
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On the lower end of forwards with expiring contracts who could help teams wanting to make a playoff push are Anthony Tolliver (non-guaranteed for 2017-18), PJ Tucker and James Johnson. Sacramento is just two games behind Denver for the eighth seed in the West and Tolliver is a good fit next to DeMarcus Cousins. Unless the Kings lose every game before the deadline, he’s likely to stay put. Johnson has been key to Miami’s recent 13-game win streak, but he’s the type of versatile combo forward every contender could use, and the same goes for Tucker, who should be available for a late first-rounder. If the Suns don’t get that offer keeping Tucker seems likely.
Dante Exum has been playing better for the Jazz, making Shelvin Mack a potential trade candidate. Mack is probably the type of ballhandler LeBron James has been asking the Cavaliers to trade for, but with George Hill struggling with nagging injuries, the Jazz could still need Mack. Deron Williams also fits the bill for a team looking to add a point guard, and after guaranteeing Yogi Ferrell’s spot on the team with an option for next year, Williams has become more expendable.
Among rim protecting backup bigs, Andrew Bogut and Aron Baynes could be easily lured for next to nothing and both could help a team down the stretch.
Jimmy Butler will be mentioned in trade rumors every year until his contract expires in 2020 (or in 2019 if Butler declines his player option) if the Bulls are struggling to make the playoffs. While the temptation to trade Butler continues to grow, it’s a move the Bulls should probably hold off on. Butler is one of the 10 best players in the NBA and he’s on a five-year $95 million deal, which is a bargain for a star with the current salary cap.
Any trade for Butler would have to include multiple blue chip assets, and it doesn’t make sense engaging Boston in trade talks before the summer to make sure that if a trade for Brooklyn’s first-round pick is made, it’s actually the first pick in the draft. The expected value of the first pick isn’t as good as the player Butler is now, and Chicago would have to get back more.
A player the Bulls should ask for in that potential trade scenario is Jae Crowder. Crowder is a very good two-way player at a position of need for most teams, making less than half the salary of an average starter.
The Raptors have two very good assets to trade in Terrence Ross and Norman Powell. Ross’ rookie extension is at $10.5 million annually for the next two seasons after this one, and Powell will be under team control making the minimum next season. Kyle Lowry will be up for an extension this summer, meaning the Raptors will be capped out for the foreseeable future if they re-sign him. Having Ross and Powell as cheap contracts and contributors becomes extremely valuable at that point, so any deal one or both would be involved in would have to put Toronto in a position where they could seriously contend with Cleveland in the East.