Nine questions as NBA trade season begins

The NBA’s silly season unofficially begins Thursday, when 74 players who signed contracts this summer become eligible for trade. This does not mean that someone will be moved immediately…according to ESPN’s Bobby Marksthere hasn’t been a trade on December 15 for a dozen years, but that’s sparking a smoother market.

And while there aren’t too many new needle movers in today’s pool – James Harden is one of them, but he has the right to veto any trade and, uh, not going anywhere – another 21 players become available in a month. And this group is littered with much juicier names, like Bradley Beal, Deandre Ayton and Zach LaVine.

With all of that in mind, here’s a primer that attempts to answer the most pertinent questions as we aim for the February 9 trade deadline.

Who are the best players who can technically be traded on Thursday?

As mentioned, this list is not deep. Here are some notables who could to be on a different team in a few months: Danilo Gallinari, Patty Mills, JaVale McGee, Donte DiVincenzo, John Wall, half of the Lakers, Kyle Anderson and Collin Sexton.

Will all this parity catalyze or stifle trade negotiations?

A lot can happen by February. Injuries, shot drops, win-loss streaks, more injuries, etc. But right now, the standings are crowded: In the Eastern Conference, only six games separate the third-seeded Cavaliers from the 11th-seeded Bulls; In the West, the 11th-seeded Timberwolves are just 5.5 games behind the top-seeded Pelicans.

Such an erratic landscape makes it difficult to separate the haves and the have-nots. And, as of today, well over half the league still has no idea which direction it will be heading in a month, let alone two. Jazz represents this dilemma better than anyone. They’ve got a ton of choice, some young talent, and a group that’s overshot just enough to complicate (in a good way) the plan their front office probably had a few months ago. As the deadline approaches, they have a commercial exception large enough to send them into the luxury tax. Would they be willing to do so if they are still above 0.500?

Speaking of tax, how does that affect things?

There are several teams just under tax who, despite a sense of urgency, may be hesitant to improve on what they have as quickly as possible. The Heat and Blazers are two good examples.

Miami was one shot away from making the finals last year. Jimmy Butler is 33 years old. Kyle Lowry turns 37 (!) in March. And they haven’t gone a day with a winning record this season. Should the Heat be active or sit in their current squad and believe their outside shot will eventually come? (Miami ranks 28th in quantized shooting, according to Second Spectrum.)

Prior to any potential transactions involving Victor Oladipo (which cannot be processed until January 15 and can veto any deal), Max Strus, Duncan Robinson, or another actor is created, chances are Miami will make sure they don’t fall in the tax.

Arguably Portland owes 32-year-old Damian Lillard to win now. But someone can also look at the impending return of Gary Payton II and call it the mid-season upgrade they need. With the Blazers an eyelash under the tax, it will be hard for ownership to see trades that make enough of a difference to be worth it.

Which teams could be sellers in the next two months?

It’s hard to know who will make an intentional step into the lottery since some of the league’s worst teams are rife with young talent who could turn things around quickly. But the Pistons, Rockets, Hornets, Magic, Spurs and Thunder are definitely not buyers. Most have seasoned, productive players who make more sense in the playoffs than on a team focused on the draft.

Here are some names to watch: Bojan Bogdanovic, Alec Burks, Eric Gordon, Josh Richardson, Jakob Poeltl, Doug McDermott, PJ Washington, Kelly Oubre Jr., Gary Harris, Terrence Ross and Mo Bamba could be on the move.

What will the Lakers do?

The Lakers are 11-16 with the 21st net rating, two places underneath the Pacersa team that supposed to take Russell Westbrook from their hands. Saving this team using draft picks in 2027 and 2029 would be like hiring an interior designer two weeks after your house exploded.

Some of the most popular trade scenarios involving the expensive Los Angeles playmaker would bring back centers (like Myles Turner and Nikola Vucevic) who play the same position that Anthony Davis eventually adopted.

It would be a mess. Still, Davis is playing like an MVP candidate and LeBron James is 37. There’s a now or never feeling worth exploring if you think it’s a sin to lose a season when these two are still top 10 players.

The Lakers can try to thread that needle by hanging on to one of those picks and protecting the other (or bunching up a bunch of second-round picks) and then tying it to lesser salary and calling some of those obvious sellers mentioned above. They are said to be interested in Bogdanovic, but the best deal could be Patrick Beverley, Lonnie Walker IV and some sort of interim compensation for Eric Gordon, whose salary next year is not guaranteed. Gordon knows how to complement superstars (including Westbrook, in his final days in Houston), and he has playoff experience, cannon, and the defensive ways to close out big games.

The move wouldn’t make the Lakers a championship favorite, but Westbrook, Gordon, Austin Reaves, LeBron and Davis are a roster that can do real damage.

Which team is discreet less foreseeable before the deadline?

The Raptors are a weird team in a weird place. They have a league-average offense, a top-10 defense and very little reason to believe either metric accurately gauges how their 13-15 season has gone. Scottie Barnes didn’t make the All-Star jump that at least one idiot predicted; Fred VanVleet is shooting 37% from the field; they dominate the possession game (#1 in turnover rate on both sides of the ball) but cannot hit or space the ground; and they foul a ton.

The versatility is fantastic. Positionless basketball is the future, if not the present. But the downside of having so many interchangeable parts is that it makes it harder to define roles. And NBA players who don’t have clearly defined roles tend to get frustrated when their team loses. The Raptors are feeling both sides of that coin right now.

There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about a rebound. Injuries have drained this team over the past few months. Precious Achiuwa and Otto Porter Jr. can help when healthy. When Pascal Siakam (who is better than ever and on track to make another All-NBA team) is on the court they score their opponents by 6.7 points per 100 possessions (For reference, Boston’s league-best net rating is +7.0). And OG Anunoby could win Defensive Player of the Year.

But there are also several reasons Masai Ujiri is exploring a variety of business options, whether to get better or worse if he doesn’t believe this current iteration is capable of winning a playoff series, and let alone get there.

So what happens next? Do they relax, regain their health, believe the blows will eventually fall, and hope Barnes grows even faster than him? Or is it worth taking one step back in hopes of taking two steps forward? For a team that has all of their own first-round picks but none of the other teams, would they include any in a deal that makes them slightly better/deeper?

There are several deadlines here. Barnes is seven years younger than FVV and Siakam. Will one generation take precedence over the other? VanVleet can opt out of his contract this summer and Anunoby can do the same the following offseason. The need to make long-term commitments one way or another has locked Toronto in a tight spot.

And if the Bulls (a team that’s usually desperate and also needs a healthy rushing general) decide they can’t wait for Lonzo Ball’s knee to recover, then offer Patrick Williams, Coby White and Derrick Jones Jr. for VanVleet? It’s fun to consider if Toronto’s top-down play continues and Chicago’s brain breaks. Related:

Will the Bulls blow it up?

With a bit of luck! I covered this sad situation at the end of last month, and since this story was published, Chicago has gone 2-5, with a few wins over the Wizards without Brad Beal and the Mavericks without Luka Doncic. The Bulls are very bad. Please make some trades.

Can Bradley Beal finally please, for God’s sake, ask for a trade?

The most frustrating dead end relationship in the entire NBA is Beal and the Wizards. Who could have seen his huge, five-year, $251 million contract become an instant albatross the moment it was signed six months ago?

Washington is 1-11 since Thanksgiving Eve. They’re not good, but they’re not bad enough either to safely secure a franchise-altering top-four draft pick. (Washington owes the Knicks a 2023 lottery-protected first-round pick; Beal has a no-trade clause in his contract.)

Beal has already missed 11 games this season and the latest update on his hamstrings was uncertain of the exact timing of his return: “His status going forward will be determined by his clinical evolution,” he read.

As someone who has already averaged more than 30 points per game in consecutive seasons, Beal has only topped the 30-point mark in two games this season despite posting an absurd 59.2% of his two-point shots. He is still only 29 years old, one of the 36 best players in the leagueand someone who could really help some floundering offense in South Beach.

Unfortunately, Tyler Herro is expected to be involved in this trade, and his deal is poisoned thanks to the extension he signed in October. Any trade involving this contract during the season is exceptionally difficult to carry out. As a playmaking bucket who has spent his entire career operating off the ball, Beal would also be a perfect sidekick alongside Luka Doncic. But getting a deal that sends him to Dallas is next to impossible.

Is John Collins on the move? Where to go ?

Nobody knows. Please stop asking.

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