Scott Taetsch/Getty Images
As the NBA trading season approaches, buyers are still trying to identify sellers.
Some are obvious if you look at the bottom of the leaderboard. Among the league’s worst teams, league sources believe the Detroit Pistons could be open to trade shooter Bojan Bogdanović, the Orlando Magic should buy Gary Harris, Terrence Ross and Mo Bamba, and the San Antonio Spurs (Jakob Poeltl , Josh Richardson and Doug McDermott) and the Houston Rockets (Eric Gordon) could part ways with veterans.
The market will determine the prices, but the names should come as no surprise.
Additionally, buyers are eager to see what happens to the league’s middle franchises, primarily in the Eastern Conference. Will teams like the Washington Wizards, Chicago Bulls and Toronto Raptors stay the course and pursue the playoffs or part ways with valuable players?
Of these teams, keep an eye out for players who could make the headlines. free agent class of 2023.
The future of Kyle Kuzma
The Wizards (11-15) have plenty of offense with Bradley Beal, Kristaps Porziņģis and Kyle Kuzma, but the team is neck and neck with the Bulls in the standings.
Kuzma (27), however, is a leak risk and precisely the kind of player many rebuilding teams would covet in free agency. He could be one of the top five free agents this offseason — at worst, top 10. “He wants out,” an NBA source said. “He’s looking for over $20 million a season and in a big market [or with a contender].”
Kuzma is believed to be still on the Sacramento Kings radar after missing him in 2021 when the Los Angeles Lakers traded him to Washington instead of Sacramento. The Kings can’t trade a first until 2028 (due to protections on their obligation to the Atlanta Hawks for Kevin Huerter), but they could strike a deal around Harrison Barnes with that distant pick and/or prospects like Davion Mitchell.
Michael Reaves/Getty Images
Another team to watch would be the Lakers, knowing that Kuzma has championship experience alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Dropping a first game and reuniting with Kuzma would suit the Lakers track record. Los Angeles might have Kuzma on their roster, but the Bulls might present a better option, more on that later.
Meanwhile, the Suns could also see a path to Kuzma through Cameron Johnson (currently recovering from knee surgery) and Jae Crowder.
“I do not think so [Phoenix] can commit long-term until a new owner is in place,” a source said, but that can only be a problem if the Suns have to give up first-round compensation.
Johnson will be a restricted free agent next summer, which could appeal to the Wizards, who would have the right of first refusal on any competing offer.
Another team to watch closely with Kuzma is the New York Knicks. Kuzma is represented by CAA’s Austin Brown, who worked closely with colleague Leon Rose before Rose left the agency to join the Knicks as president. New York has several CAA clients, including Jalen Brunson, Julius Randle, Isaiah Hartenstein and Obi Toppin.
Toppin, who scored his career high (at the time, 35) in Washington in April, could be part of a package for the Wizards that includes young players like Immanuel Quickley and Cam Reddish, among others. Thanks to a series of trades, the Knicks have multiple 2023 first-round picks from the Mavericks, Pistons and Dallas Wizards (heavily protected through 2026). New York has all its premieres and one from Milwaukee in 2025.
The Knicks add a more polished scorer, while CAA takes Kuzma to one of his favorite destinations with a big new contract and Toppin to a team that could have a bigger role for him. The Wizards could get their first comeback and negotiate a price considering all that New York has to offer.
Wherever Kuzma lands, if he doesn’t stay with the Wizards, the team has to seriously weigh the opportunity cost of letting him go with nothing in return.
Maybe the Wizards see this team through. Beal’s recent hamstring strain doesn’t appear to be serious, and the team still has a realistic chance to play.
Additionally, several rival executives believe the Wizards won’t lose Porziņģis, who is having a good season. He can opt for his $36 million salary for 2023-24 with the Wizards or re-sign to a longer contract at a lower annual price.
All eyes on the bulls
“Everyone is watching Chicago very closely,” an NBA source said. “They’re so badly built they have to blow it up.”
The Bulls made more sense last season when Lonzo Ball was healthy. The selfless, defensive tandem of Alex Caruso and Ball helped offset attacking first/optional defense Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vučević.
Michael Reaves/Getty Images
Chicago dropped a lot to get Vučević (32nd) and must win the lottery (first four) to avoid giving their selection to the Magic. The decision to blow him up must come quickly as the Bulls (10-14) are within reach of a high pick. Five teams are sitting on just seven wins – a good week or two could push Chicago completely out of reach. The Bulls also owe Spurs a heavily protected first at Spurs for DeRozan.
According to NBA sources, the Lakers are interested in both Vučević and DeRozan. If LA is willing to give up two first-round picks (2027 and 2029) with Russell Westbrook as a takeover candidate, the Bulls could find themselves in a better position in the lottery to keep their pick in June. This is the draft to do it.
Chicago may also be looking to move LaVine (after Jan. 15), who re-signed to a five-year, $215.2 million contract this summer. His name hasn’t been rumored yet, but Chicago could find willing suitors if he makes the two-time All-Star available.
The alternative is to lose his first to Orlando – barring a low percentage lottery miracle – and re-sign Vučević in July. The team would have its mid-tier exception (likely in the $11 million range) and smaller trades to try and perfect what many in the league believe is a low-cap roster.
Or Chicago could divest everything that isn’t nailed down (aside from its developing young prospects) and start over, which is precisely what many others think it should be doing.
Raptors building around Scottie?
Toronto landed Scottie Barnes Rookie of the Year with the No. 4 pick last year. At 21, he is the centerpiece of the team’s future. But how many of his teammates will be there for the ride?
Of the three teams discussed, the Raptors are the most likely to retain their roster. Despite this, multiple NBA sources have made it clear that interested parties will be watching Toronto’s situation closely.
“Their player timelines don’t match,” a source said. “They have good players, but it will be interesting to see how they navigate OG [Anunoby] and Fred [VanVleet].”
The Raptors (13-13) could have the best package (without Barnes) to offer the Brooklyn Nets if Kevin Durant asked for a trade again. They could also make smaller deals to improve, probably around Gary Trent Jr.
“I don’t think they want to keep Trent,” a source said, suggesting he is the player they buy at the deadline. Trent earns $17.5 million this season with an option of $18.8 million for 2023-24.
The biggest question is VanVleet, who turns 29 in February. With his experience, some sources believe he could be a target for some of the younger teams with cap space, like the Magic. Orlando could even offer a package before the deadline with one of its youngest guards like Cole Anthony, a center in Bamba and perhaps a veteran like Harris at the Raptors.
Moreover, Pascal Siakam and Anunoby are under contract until 2023-24 (Anunoby can opt for 2024-25). If the Raptors were to change direction, some in the league believe now would be the time, as players tend to draw less in return when on expiring contracts.
The list of teams interested in Siakam, Anunoby (specifically Anunoby), VanVleet and Trent is varied, likely including the Golden State Warriors, Miami Heat, Minnesota Timberwolves, Indiana Pacers, Lakers, Suns, Kings and Nets, among others.
But giving up showpieces that won a championship in 2019 is a lot to ask of Toronto.
The Utah Jazz may be more of a buyer than a seller after their impressive start to the season. Likewise, the Indiana Pacers are earning too much to part ways with Myles Turner, who could re-sign with the team after several trade deadlines on the block.
The Hornets had no intention of tanking this season, but injuries and roster composition got the job done. Teams are monitoring the availability of players like Terry Rozier, Kelly Oubre Jr. and Mason Plumlee. Gordon Hayward was on that list before his shoulder injury. Additionally, PJ Washington (a pending restricted free agent) may be available as he is believed to be seeking a bigger salary than the Hornets are willing to offer.
Finally, the Suns are believed to be interested in both Kenyon Martin Jr. and Gordon of the Rockets.
Email Eric Pincus at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @EricPincus.