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Doug McSchooler/Associated Press
Let those NBA trade rumors flow.
Chatter is starting to pick up around the league with the Feb. 10 deadline right around the bend. New faces are entering the realm of “sources said” every day. And just as important, players and teams who have become staples in the speculation factory are now attached to more concrete scenarios and asking prices.
Chief among this uptick in quasi-clarity: the Indiana Pacers.
The prospect of trading core players has loomed over them for weeks, minus much intel on what it’ll take to actually shake things up. That’s all changed. We now have an idea of what they want for Myles Turner and Caris LeVert.
This information increase also extends to Eric Gordon. The Houston Rockets have set a barrier for entry into trade talks. Spoiler alert: It is not insignificant.
Please offer a rousing how-do-ya-do to our “Buy or Sell” meter as we try to make sense of all the latest murmurs and mumblings. Like always, this exercise isn’t a comment on the validity of reporting; it’s designed to gauge what we should expect to come from each situation—if anything.
And because we’re suckers for resolution, we’ll also have a list of the best landing spots for every player who meanders his way into the latest batch of trade talk.
Ready? Set? Speculate.
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Rocky Widner/Getty Images
Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer brings word that Indiana wants multiple first-round picks in any deal for Myles Turner or Caris LeVert. Contenders should line up accordingly.
Bagging multiple firsts—or the equivalent—for Turner is a given. He has another year left on his contract valued at an ultra-reasonable $18 million, and floor-spacers who offer elite rim protection remain outliers at the 5 spot. Turner can struggle to generate his own offense, but so long as he’s willing to dot the arc, he’s extremely plug-and-play, making him the ideal acquisition at midseason, when there won’t be a ton of practice time for teams to focus on role integration.
Getting two firsts or a prospect and pick for LeVert, as HoopsHype’s Michael Scotto reported is the ask for the swingman, will be tougher. His usage from the point of attack is valuable, and he’s averaging 20.4 points and 4.9 assists since Thanksgiving while shooting 37.1 percent from deep, including 36.8 percent on pull-up treys and 38.5 percent on spot-up triples. Generally, though, he can be a tough fit when displaced from the ball and might be best suited as a sixth-man lightning rod.
Shelling out $18.8 million for LeVert next year will be a point of contention for certain suitors, as will the specter of his next deal. Even if the Pacers send him to a squad that’ll be surrendering bottom-10 first-rounders, they’ll be hard-pressed to get more than a singular pick or prospect without expanding the deal.
Verdict: Buy the Pacers getting multiple firsts for Turner. Sell them getting more than one for LeVert.
Best Landing Spots for Turner: Charlotte, New York, Portland
Best Landing Spots for LeVert: Cleveland, Dallas, Toronto
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Matt Rourke/Associated Press
The latest on Ben Simmons continues to be that there is no latest.
Rival teams hope Philadelphia 76ers team president Daryl Morey will lower his asking price if Damian Lillard gets shut down for the season following surgery on an abdominal injury, but the organization at large remains aligned in holding out for an All-NBA-type player to become available as part of any deal, according to Fischer. Even Joel Embiid seems cool with Philly holding serve, per NBA reporter Marc Stein.
Everything is subject to change in the eleventh hour. It may be harder for the Sixers to reconcile Simmons’ absence when they won’t have the option of turning him into immediate help until the offseason.
Then again, settling for an unspectacular package is just as harmful. Simmons represents their best asset in blockbuster trade talks, even if there’s a stark contrast between what they want and what other teams are offering. Turning him into a pennies-on-the-dollar return doesn’t assure Philly entry into title contention and sets them back in future negotiations when the marquee-type player it seeks eventually hits the chopping block.
Perhaps a dark-horse suitor will emerge from the woodwork prior to the deadline. The Athletic’s Shams Charania recently added the Atlanta Hawks to the fray, but the Sixers aren’t enamored by John Collins, the prospective centerpiece of any deal, per Bleacher Report’s Eric Pincus.
Unless complex three- and four-team scenarios start coming into play that allow Philly to operate more so as a buyer than seller or lateral trade partner, it sure seems like this Simmons saga will spill into the summer.
Verdict: Sell Simmons getting traded by the Feb. 10 deadline.
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Is that a Portland Trail Blazers fire sale we smell?
But they are ready to sell in some form.
Ducking the luxury tax is expected to be a priority for the Blazers ahead of the deadline, according to Pincus. Such modest aspirations should prove doable. Portland is just over $3 million above the tax line, an amount that can easily be shed by flipping soon-to-be-free-agents Robert Covington or Jusuf Nurkic for smaller salaries or sending one of them into another team’s trade exception.
Larry Nance Jr. is also expected to draw interest, but the Blazers want “greater compensation” than they gave up to get him (salary and a first-round pick), per Pincus. Their towering, if not unrealistic, asking price suggests they’re in no hurry to bust up the core.
This line ups with what Fischer heard about the front office’s plans prior to Damian Lillard’s abdominal injury. Portland was initially looking to beef up the roster around him rather than start over. And while its single-season goals may have changed, it is less likely to entertain anything nuclear if returning to relevance next year remains the plan.
Verdict: Buy Portland trading at least one of Covington or Nurkic and ducking the tax. Sell it steering into a rebuild.
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The Brooklyn Nets aren’t trading James Harden (player option) before the deadline. Let’s get that out of the way. But his free agency may have an impact on how other teams go about their biz before Feb. 10—most notably the Sixers.
Consider what Stein wrote about why Joel Embiid is seemingly on board with Philadelphia dragging out the Ben Simmons situation rather than exchanging him for immediate help:
“Perhaps he has also been sold on a concept that executives with a growing number of rival teams say they see as Morey’s new preferred scenario: Keeping Simmons beyond the trade deadline to exhaust every last possibility for executing a complicated sign-and-trade in the offseason that finally brings James Harden to Philadelphia and routes Simmons to Brooklyn.
“Complicated is a polite description for such a deal, since the Sixers would be hard-capped by taking Harden in via sign-and-trade and would thus have to shed more salary than just Simmons’ contract according to the league’s luxury-tax rules to make it work financially. Yet it must be noted that there is enough noise circulating leaguewide about Harden’s reported openness to relocation this summer—after he turned down a lucrative extension from the Nets in October—to give Morey the encouragement he needs to wait.”
This at once sounds far-fetched and perfectly reasonable. Harden and Daryl Morey have a longstanding and well-regarded relationship from their time together in Houston. And the Sixers, remember, were high on, if not at the tippy top of, Harden’s list of preferred landing spots when he forced his way off the Rockets.
It should also be noted that Harden has never hit free agency before. This could be less about an actual interest in Philly and more about Morey and Co. keeping their options, at a time when they don’t have many to begin with, knowing Harden may just want to explore the open market for the first time.
The Sixers needn’t be peeved by the complexities of a Harden pursuit, either. This summer’s free-agency landscape is barren of contenders with cap space. Going the extra mile to broker sign-and-trades will be the standard should any stars like Harden or Bradley Beal (player option) switch teams
Verdict: Buy Harden-Sixers connection and its impact on the Simmons situation.
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Rocky Widner/Getty Images
Multiple playoff teams are circling Eric Gordon, and the Rockets are hoping to fetch a first-rounder should they export his services, according to Scotto. It’ll be fascinating to see whether they get it.
There shouldn’t be a problem when looking at this season specifically. Gordon is averaging 14.9 points and 3.3 assists per game while downing 45.5 percent of his threes and 55.7 percent of his twos—offensive efficiency that will scale to another team. He has plenty of experience working off other ball-handlers and planting himself deep beyond the arc but also provides supplementary rim pressure when afforded license to attack.
Among 121 players who have made at least five appearances and are using five or more drives per game, Gordon’s 58.7 percent shooting clip ranks second(!), trailing only Giannis Antetokounmpo’s. He pairs this finishing with a 45.6 percent hit rate on spot-up treys, a top-seven mark out of 140 players averaging as many attempts.
Projecting Gordon’s value beyond this year is harder. He will turn 34 next season, when he’s owed $19.6 million, and isn’t exactly a beacon of durability. Select admirers will invariably flinch at unloading a first-round pick when doing their cost-benefit analysis.
Still, the Rockets will be talking shop almost exclusively with win-now suitors or flat-out contenders. A lower-end first isn’t an outlandish asking price, and they have the timeline to take back non-impact salary beyond this year to incentivize potential trade partners.
Verdict: Buy Houston getting a heavily protected first-round pick for Gordon.
Best Landing Spots for Gordon: Cleveland, Dallas, Phoenix
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Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
John Collins wasn’t on the trade-deadline radar until Charania reported that he’s frustrated with his role. That, coupled with the Hawks entering the largely static Ben Simmons fray, has left teams around the league wondering whether he’s available, per Fischer.
If Collins is actually up for grabs, it doesn’t look like he’s driving that gettability. Here’s what he told the Atlanta Journal Constitution‘s Sarah K. Spencer on the Hawks Report podcast (33:46 mark):
“I think maybe the word ‘role” has a lot of definitions. And not to say that I’m not happy with my role. And I wouldn’t even say ‘usage’ is the right word. But we can look at my usage rate. My usage rate is lower than [any season since] my rookie year. Those things, I’m not happy to see that. I don’t know if people expect me to be like ‘Oh yeah, that’s great! I’m getting better and I’m being used less!’ You know what I mean?
“I’m not coming into the locker room and causing issues and pointing fingers and saying ‘Hey, it’s your fault’ or ‘Hey, it’s your fault.’ But obviously, I feel like I’m supposed to be one of the cornerstones and building blocks of the organization. You guys have bought into me and paid me and showed me you want me here and care about me. I feel frustrated that I can’t produce more for you or have not been allowed to do so. And that’s it. It has nothing with me being frustrated or asking for a trade. … I’m still here, and I would still like to be part of this team going forward, and I would like to be utilized in the best way.“
Dangling Collins, who is in the first season of a five-year, $125 million deal, should grant the Hawks entry into prominent trade talks. Never mind the volume; he has proved universally scalable on offense, someone who can pop or dive, doesn’t need to be the primary screener and has a little bit of a floor game.
But a willingness to move Collins for a bigger-time acquisition is different from flat-out shopping him. The Hawks aren’t just going to move him for cap savings or a picks-and-prospects special. Chances are, in fact, they won’t move him at all.
Verdict: Sell Atlanta trading Collins for anything less than a superstar upgrade.
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Ashley Landis/Associated Press
Any Lakers fans holding out hope for a frenetic and impactful trade deadline should avert their eyes. It’s not happening. As Pincus wrote:
“While the Los Angeles Lakers have designs on Ben Simmons, Myles Turner and Jerami Grant, the franchise may not have enough to get a deal done. Russell Westbrook’s contract is all but unmovable. Talen Horton-Tucker hasn’t taken a step forward in his third season. A more likely market for the Lakers might be Terrence Ross of the Orlando Magic or Eric Gordon of the Rockets, provided either team wants to take a flyer on Horton-Tucker as a prospect.”
Targeting Gordon or Ross might even be a stretch. A package built around THT and Kendrick Nunn allows the Lakers to take back around $18.2 million in salary, but they alone aren’t netting anyone of semi-prominence.
Peddling a 2027 or 2028 first-round pick on top of salary won’t help much, either. Shorting the Lakers’ long-term draft stock has value in a vacuum, but there might be two, perhaps three, front offices with the job security necessary to treat a first-rounder six or seven summers from now as the primary asset in any deal.
Los Angeles will have more luck prioritizing minor swings and, most likely, working the post-deadline buyout market.
Verdict: Sell the Lakers striking a big or even mid-sized trade. Buy them making moves on the margins.
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Midseason trades—and, really, trades in general—aren’t the San Antonio Spurs’ thing. The Denver Nuggets are apparently hoping that changes so they can make a run at Bryn Forbes, per Scotto.
This interest tracks, and it doesn’t necessarily infer anything about the state of Jamal Murray’s recovery from a torn left ACL. The Nuggets need another spark-pluggy ball-handler even if he returns in time for the playoffs, someone who guarantees a splashy, better-shooting alternative to Facundo Campazzo or Austin Rivers.
Forbes will check that box. He is insta-scoring personified and unafraid to let ‘er rip. Among 334 players (minimum five appearances) averaging at least 15 minutes per game, he ranks 10th in points per touch. And though his off-the-dribble can be overly adventurous, he’s a viable off-ball outlet, having connected on 41.7 percent of his standstill threes. He also places inside the 81st percentile of scoring off screens.
The Spurs shouldn’t have any qualms about breaking character and jettisoning Forbes prior to the Feb. 10 deadline. They only signed him to a one-year deal and have a boatload of other perimeter players worth evaluating for the longer term.
Whether the Nuggets can make the most convincing pitch for Forbes is debatable. Offering Zeke Nnaji would be a monster overpay, and they cannot convey a second-rounder until 2024.
Denver needs San Antonio to have the hots for Campazzo or JaMychal Green—or just be willing to move Forbes for whatever. It also isn’t clear if the Nuggets even want to give up any equity, at all, for a smaller score-first guard when rookie Bones Hyland is now a rotation regular.
Verdict: Buy into the Spurs making Forbes available. Remain skeptical of the Nuggets’ chances to get him.
Best Landing Spots for Forbes: Cleveland, Denver, Washington
Unless otherwise noted, stats courtesy of NBA.com, Basketball Reference, Stathead or Cleaning the Glass and accurate entering Monday’s games. Salary information via Spotrac.
Dan Favale covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter (@danfavale), and listen to his Hardwood Knocks podcast, co-hosted by NBA Math’s Adam Fromal.