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We’re only about a month away from the NBA’s Feb. 10 trade deadline, the final time to make any significant roster changes for the season’s stretch run.
With 24 of the 30 teams either in the play-in picture or sitting just a game or less out, we could see a lot of teams trying to load up on talent for a playoff push.
Most of the original deadline predictions made back in October still look like they could hold up (Grizzlies becoming surprise buyers, Terrence Ross shipped out of Orlando, Zach LaVine staying out of trade talks), with a new wave of fortune-telling aided by the latest news and rumors.
The following are some fresh and updated predictions.
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The Hornets are one of the most exciting teams to watch this season and are loaded with talent at every position.
Well, almost every position.
Center remains a weakness, a spot currently held by Mason Plumlee (6.7 points, 7.2 rebounds, 2.9 assists in 25.1 minutes) with rookie Kai Jones waiting in the wings. PJ Washington can eat up minutes at the 5, but he’s too undersized to play the position full time at 6’7″.
Charlotte needs an upgrade at center, preferably one who can defend. The Hornets allow opponents to shoot 63.7 percent from within six feet, a mark that ranks 23rd overall.
Myles Turner would be a perfect fit with his rim protection and floor-spacing abilities, Mitchell Robinson could look to revive his defensive potential while catching LaMelo Ball lobs, or the Hornets could try to pry Mo Bamba from the Magic.
Currently clinging to the eighth seed in the East, the Hornets could establish themselves as a playoff lock with a deadline trade for a center.
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This has been a nightmare of a season for the Blazers, who look more and more like sellers.
Damian Lillard is currently sidelined with lower abdominal tendinopathy, an injury that’s affected his play all season. His 24.0 points per game are the lowest since 2014-15, and his 40.2 field goal percentage is the worst of his career.
Portland is just 14-23 overall and 12th in the West.
Backcourt mate CJ McCollum has battled injuries as well, including a collapsed right lung. The Blazers also rank dead last in team defense (114.8 rating). The ship is sinking, and the right thing to do is trade some players off before it disappears into the lottery ocean for good.
Both Nurkic and Covington are set to become unrestricted free agents this offseason. Even before factoring in new contracts for both and Anfernee Simons (a restricted free agent), Portland has $108 million in payroll on the books. The team won’t be able to re-sign all three.
Nurkic isn’t much of a defender but has been a walking double-double this year (13.5 points, 10.0 rebounds in 25.6 minutes), and Covington is a versatile team defender who can space the floor.
Consider this a mini rebuild for the Blazers, who trade Nurkic and Covington now for players under contract next year and/or draft picks.
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Even with a 14-25 record and sitting 13th in the East, don’t expect the Pacers to sell the farm. Rebuilding is something Indiana refuses to do.
Instead, look for one (or two at the most) of the team’s veterans to hit the trade market, with Turner being the best available.
He’s already spoken about his unhappiness as a role player in Indiana, the place he’s spent his entire seven-year career.
“It’s clear that I’m not valued as anything more than a glorified role player here, and I want something more, more opportunity,” Turner told The Athletic’s Jared Weiss last month. “I’m trying really hard to make the role that I’m given here work and find a way to maximize it. I’ve been trying to the past two, three seasons. But it’s clear to me that, just numbers-wise, I’m not valued as more than a rotational role player, and I hold myself in a higher regard than that.”
Since making those comments, his shot attempts (8.8 to 10.6) and scoring (12.9 PPG to 13.9) have slightly increased. But Domantas Sabonis, Malcolm Brogdon, Caris LeVert and T.J. Warren (when he returns from a foot injury) all take bigger bites from the offensive apple.
Now is the time for the Pacers to trade their starting center while he still has another year left on his contract and is registering the highest field-goal percentage (52.2 percent) of his career.
Teams such as the Warriors, Hornets and Trail Blazers, among others, should be interested.
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While much of the Cavs’ success this season can be attributed to the young core of Evan Mobley, Jarrett Allen and Darius Garland, it’s their oldest and longest-tenured player who’s also helped return them to playoff contention.
Love has been one of the best sixth men in the NBA this season, just months after looking like a prime buyout candidate.
The 33-year-old is averaging 14.7 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.1 assists in just 21.7 minutes while shooting a career-high 42.9 percent from three. His box plus/minus of 8.5 ranks third-highest in the NBA, trailing only Nikola Jokic and Giannis Antetokounmpo.
His contract, long thought to be one of the worst in the league, doesn’t look quite so terrible now. Love’s deal is down to just one year after this season at $28.9 million.
This doesn’t mean other contenders will call and beg to take on his remaining money, of course, but Love has been good enough (and durable enough) that teams that need floor-spacing and rebounding could actually have interest.
To this, the Cavs should pass.
With no Collin Sexton (torn meniscus) and now Ricky Rubio (ACL) for the season, the Cavaliers need Love’s scoring, especially in the second unit.
In what’s become an inconceivable turn of events, Cleveland could not only take Love’s name off the market but also turn down trade offers for its veteran power forward.
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Currently out with a thumb injury, Grant should be back on the court before the Feb. 10 deadline. He’s one of the most versatile players on the market, able to play and defend both forward positions while scoring from all three levels.
The Pistons are predictably bad (7-29) as they go through their rebuild, and moving Grant now with another year left on his contract would bring back the biggest return.
Detroit is getting a lot of interest around its 27-year-old star, according to The Athletic’s James L. Edwards III:
“Teams with championship aspirations are routinely calling Detroit about Grant’s services, sources tell The Athletic. And while the Pistons are happy with what Grant provides both on and off the court to the organization, the franchise is currently in the business of capitalizing on its small asset pool, of which Grant takes up the most real estate.”
There’s no shortage of teams that could use Grant, who’s averaging 20.1 points, 4.8 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.1 steals and 1.1 blocks per game.
The Bulls could construct a package around Coby White or Patrick Williams, the Lakers could dangle Talen Horton-Tucker and Malik Monk, and the Grizzlies have a ton of young talent and three 2022 first-round picks to build an offer.
Look for Grant to be one of the biggest names moved at the deadline.
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The Kings could be the wild card of the deadline, either continuing to build around a talented young backcourt or making any and all players available if it means a better chance at reaching the playoffs.
For Sacramento, it’s time to party like it’s 2006.
Do the Kings have any real shot at winning a playoff series even if they did make it? No, but that likely won’t stop this ownership group from pulling out all the stops just to get there.
As The Athletic’s Sam Amick wrote: “They’re still highly motivated to make the kind of significant move(s) that would both bolster their postseason chances in the present while giving them a runway for sustained success in the future. More specifically, sources say Kings owner Vivek Ranadive has continued to make it clear to [GM Monte] McNair that he has the green light to do whatever is necessary to meet those goals.”
This could mean anything from a Ben Simmons trade to chasing another available star such as Jerami Grant or Christian Wood. A De’Aaron Fox-Brandon Ingram base deal would be fascinating as well.
Even if it may be in the Kings’ best interest to continue to build around what’s been a solid young core while shopping veterans such as Buddy Hield and Harrison Barnes instead, Sacramento will do the opposite and go all-in to try to make the 2022 playoffs.
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Wood has one more year left on his deal after this season, and the 26-year-old center would surely draw interest with plenty of teams looking for athletic frontcourt scorers.
If Houston had any concern about giving up its leading scorer and rebounder, the team shouldn’t after recent events.
Wood was recently suspended one game by the Rockets for poor behavior after not showing up for daily COVID-19 testing, which caused the team’s shootaround to be delayed, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Tim MacMahon.
Events escalated from there.
“Wood showed little inclination to check into Saturday’s game when [head coach Stephen] Silas called upon him, sources said, and Silas quickly moved on to other players. (John) Lucas also confronted Wood at [halftime], and at least one other of the team’s young players challenged Wood, telling him that, as a veteran, Wood should be setting a standard, sources said.”
The frustration of playing on an 11-28 last-place team in the West could be boiling over for Wood, who originally agreed to sign with a roster that still included James Harden and Russell Westbrook.
The Rockets should still be able to get a combination of first-round picks and/or young talent for Wood, who would be a nice addition to the Mavericks, Warriors or Hornets.
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Outside of Anthony Davis, no teammate of LeBron James should feel safe at the deadline.
This includes Russell Westbrook, who the Lakers may already be looking to move.
As Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer wrote:
“The trio of LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook simply hasn’t blended as well as Lakers figures hoped, and Los Angeles has held internal discussions on trade scenarios for Russell Westbrook, league sources told B/R. But moving Westbrook and the two years, $91 million remaining on his contract does seem unlikely.”
Westbrook’s deal may be the worst in the NBA outside of John Wall’s, even if he’s still stuffing the stat sheet. However, no team is going to want to trade for Westbrook, especially if his hometown Lakers want to give up on him less than half a season in.
This leaves Horton-Tucker as the player most likely to be dealt. He has the highest upside of any young player on the Lakers, possesses the largest salary of any player outside the Big Three ($9.5 million) and hasn’t meshed well with the team’s stars (Los Angeles has a minus-9.9 net rating with James, Davis, Westbrook and Horton-Tucker on the floor together).
Rebuilding teams should be thrilled to bring Horton-Tucker in and let him operate as a playmaking wing, a situation where he could thrive in a bigger role. The Lakers could also use some three-and-D wing help to slide between their stars.
When the dust settles, expect Westbrook to be on the Lakers and Horton-Tucker to be on the move.