The NBA trade deadline is almost here. Everything has to happen by Feb. 10 at 3 p.m. ET, which means there’s still time for a bit more speculation and rumor-mongering. To go with our list of 65 players who might be traded, here is a primer with the big questions heading into the deadline.
Five of them, to be exact:
1. Does anybody really want Simmons?
Ben Simmons wants the Philadelphia 76ers to trade him. He has sacrificed a reported $19 million in fines to avoid playing for them this season. Provided that they get the kind of return that justifies letting go of a 25-year-old perennial All-Star, the Sixers want to trade Simmons. They are trying to compete for a championship, and team president Daryl Morey is not spending his days turning down trade offers that would give them a decent chance, laughing maniacally because he just wants to watch the world burn.
The problem is that Simmons and Morey need somebody else to be equally motivated to make a trade work. They need a lead decision-maker in an NBA front office to really want Simmons, not just to be interested in buying low on him.
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Simmons is divisive, as far as star players go, and this is no less true among executives than it is among fans and writers. If you’re looking for reasons not to trade one of your best players and multiple first-round picks for him, you’ll find all sorts of them: his stubbornness about shooting, his free-throw yips in the playoffs, his desire to be known as a point guard. Trading for Simmons is not like trading for, say, Jae Crowder, because his presence will immediately change the way you approach building your roster. If the Atlanta Hawks get him, what would that mean for Clint Capela and Onyeka Okongwu?
Is there a team out there for whom Simmons’ talent far outweighs all those concerns? Is there a team president or general manager who loves Simmons’ game but is waiting until the final 24 hours to get serious? One who has watched so much tape from Simmons’ rookie season that he can tell you his top three Simmons-to-Ersan Ilyasova assists? One who will argue with conviction that Simmons’ halfcourt limitations on offense are no more harmful than other All-NBA players’ limitations on defense? Everybody knows what Simmons’ strengths and weaknesses are, but I have no idea if anyone will be bold — and secure — enough to propose the kind of trade that screams, “I want to build around him.”
Are the Sacramento Kings really going to sit this out? Are the Washington Wizards sure that it’s not time to trade Bradley Beal? Has Jarrod Vanderbilt’s emergence given the Minnesota Timberwolves confidence that they can integrate a non-shooter, or has it removed all urgency to shake things up? These are the kind of questions in the background of the Simmons story, not, “Is Philadelphia willing to let this drag out even longer?” On that subject, Morey has been clear and consistent: Absolutely, if the alternative is making a bad trade.
Even minor in-season trades are inherently difficult to execute, and countless negotiations break down because of the invisible force constantly pushing front offices toward the status quo. A blockbuster in-season trade involving an oddball star in self-imposed exile signed to a max contract that runs for three seasons after this one? That’s much harder, but when there’s a will there’s a way.
2. Who is this year’s Orlando Magic?
Leading up to last year’s trade deadline, there were rumors that the Orlando Magic might burn it all down. Aaron Gordon had been a trade candidate for several straight seasons, though, and it wasn’t the first time that Nikola Vucevic or Evan Fournier were viewed as trade candidates, either. When Orlando finally traded all of them, it was a mild surprise.
This year, will anybody have a fire sale? There are some possibilities:
- The Indiana Pacers have reportedly made centers Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner available. The stress reaction in Turner’s foot makes him a tricky acquisition for win-now teams, but there aren’t many floor-spacing rim protectors on this planet. Beyond the bigs, don’t be surprised if Caris LeVert, Justin Holiday and Jeremy Lamb are moved.
- Even if the Sacramento Kings are telling the truth about building around De’Aaron Fox and Tyrese Haliburton, they’re surely open to trading just about everybody else. Harrison Barnes, Richaun Holmes, Buddy Hield and Marvin Bagley III are the most interesting names here, and Tristan Thompson hasn’t played in weeks.
- Like last year’s Magic, the Portland Trail Blazers have been pushed to a possible pivot point because of injuries. Jusuf Nurkic and Robert Covington are on expiring contracts, and it’s difficult to imagine Portland putting both CJ McCollum and Norman Powell next to Damian Lillard again.
- The Washington Wizards’ 10-3 start feels like it happened 47 years ago, and now the team that once looked deep and balanced just looks messy. It seems like they’re showcasing Thomas Bryant, and they’ve reportedly made Spencer Dinwiddie available. Montrezl Harrell is on an expiring contract, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope‘s 2022-23 salary is only partially guaranteed, Aaron Holiday is approaching restricted free agency and, well, then there’s the franchise player. The Athletic cited sources close to Beal saying that, while he hasn’t asked out, he’s no longer completely rejecting the notion of a trade.
3. What’s going to happen with Collins, Grant and Wood?
John Collins is 24 years old, just signed a five-year, $125 million contract and emphatically answered the questions about his game in last season’s playoffs. Jerami Grant is 27, has another season left on his contract and, if he can find the middle ground between the glue guy he was with the Denver Nuggets and the high-usage creator he’s been with the Detroit Pistons, could be some team’s missing piece. Christian Wood is 26, will be making just $14.3 million next season and creates matchup problems as a vertical spacer and pick-and-pop threat.
All three could be available. For the teams that employ Wood and Grant, it’s simple: If you’re not sure they’re going to be a part of your long-term core, you see what you can get. Typically, a player’s value is higher when he is more than a one-season (or partial-season) rental. Neither the Houston Rockets nor the Pistons, though, should feel pressure to make a move if the price isn’t right.
Collins’ situation is murkier. Atlanta made the conference finals last season, and, when Collins re-signed, it seemed like he was firmly a part of the core. On Jan. 10, The Athletic’s Shams Charania reported that he is frustrated with his role on offense. On Jan. 27, Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer reported that the Hawks are asking prospective trade partners for a starter and a good first-round pick in exchange for him. They’ve had a shaky season, but they’d won seven games in a row before losing to the Toronto Raptors on Monday. You can easily make the case that their best move is not making one.
4. Who’s getting ahead of free agency?
Outside of the Detroit Pistons and San Antonio Spurs, there’s virtually no cap space this coming summer. Free agents looking to change teams will have to do so via sign-and-trade, or they will need to do something similar: a trade-and-sign.
Last year, the Blazers and Raptors executed a double-trade-and-sign, swapping Gary Trent Jr. and Norman Powell months before they hit free agency. Trent was restricted, Powell was not and both ended up re-signing for about $18 million annually. Players can’t always force their way to their preferred destination, and there’s risk in trading for a player who leaves almost immediately, but these moves are almost never made unless the front office is confident it will be able to keep the guy.
This dynamic is why the Dallas Mavericks are interesting. Jalen Brunson and Dorian Finney-Smith are crucial parts of the team, but their bargain contracts (Brunson is making $1.8 million this season, Finney-Smith $4 million) are about to expire. What can Dallas get it if trades one or both of them now? How concerned is it about the contracts they might command in July?
If you’re trying to get one of those guys, then, unless you’re Detroit or San Antonio, you probably have to trade for him. The Mavericks might be asking for the moon, but there’s no guarantee that they’ll come cheaper in the offseason.
Other players in similar situations: New York Knicks center Mitchell Robinson ($1.8 million contract, unrestricted free agent in July), Cleveland Cavaliers guard Collin Sexton ($6.3 million, restricted free agent), Milwaukee bucks wing Donte DiVincenzo ($4.7 million, restricted free agent).
5. What could come out of left field?
Sometimes, a deadline-day trade is the product of talks that have dragged on for months, with potential frameworks having been leaked and discussed and debated in public. Other times, talks develop quickly and quietly. As a thought exercise, let’s say a blockbuster trade comes out of nowhere — what might that look like?
I’m not going to throw out my craziest hypotheticals here, but I have some thoughts:
- The Golden State Warriors are too smart to be 1000% all-in on their win-now-and-build-for-the-future plan. They should project confidence in that plan, though, if they haven’t been able to find a deal involving the young guys that makes sense. Even with James Wiseman injured, it is possible that such a deal materializes.
- The Phoenix Suns didn’t meet Deandre Ayton‘s asking price on a contract extension, and they presumably would still prefer not to max him out in restricted free agency. I’m not saying that Bismack Biyombo and JaVale McGee have been so good that Ayton is expendable, but I am curious about Ayton’s value around the league. How many teams would offer him the max with no hesitation? What would those teams give up in a trade to get matching rights?
- If the Utah Jazz can’t figure out a non-blockbuster trade that addresses their perimeter defense, would they consider something bigger? Are they absolutely committed to this core for the rest of this season? I’m just asking!
- Is anyone interested in trading for Kyrie Irving a few months before he can become a free agent? Is Irving interested in playing anywhere other than Brooklyn?
- Do the Mavericks view Kristaps Porzingis as a star again? If not, has he rehabilitated his trade value to the point where they’d move him?
- Are there executives out there who think they can bring last year’s Julius Randle back with a fresh start and improved spacing? That Julius Randle was excellent.