NBA

Goran Dragic, Buddy Hield among 10 logical candidates to be dealt between now and next season’s trade deadline

Roster-building is an unending cycle. Teams aren’t simply finished when the NBA offseason ends. Teams typically enter major transactional periods with goals that don’t always align with those of every player they acquire, and almost every year, a few veterans turn into casualties of those overhauls. Players find themselves stuck in crowded rotations or traded as nothing more than salary ballast or merely retained by teams that couldn’t find takers for them at that particular time. 

Eventually, these problems get resolved. Next season’s trade deadline is the next major point on the calendar at which these things tend to happen. So let’s take a look at 10 players who are likely to be moved at some point between now and the 2022 trade deadline in part because of the moves their own franchises have made over the past several months. 

Ross is essentially the perfect trade candidate. He was the last veteran left out after Orlando’s 2021 trade deadline purge, and entering the 2021-22 season, he is one of only two players on the Magic roster in his 30s (along with Robin Lopez). He fits on practically any roster as an above-average shooter and defender, but his underrated ball handling allows him to scale up when necessary. He averaged a career-high 15.6 points per game last season. 

If that wasn’t enough, he is playing on one of the more tradable contracts in basketball. Not only is he underpaid at $12.5 million, but his salary actually declines to $11.5 million for the 2022-23 season. That will make him one of the NBA‘s better bargains a year from now, which is something that most of the cash-strapped contenders that would be interested in trading for him could really use. That contract means that the Magic don’t have to trade Ross if they don’t want to, but remember, they have to find minutes for a surprisingly deep group of perimeter players. Keeping Ross doesn’t make sense if it means keeping Jalen Suggs, RJ Hampton, Cole Anthony, Markelle Fultz, Chuma Okeke or Franz Wagner off of the floor. 

The Raptors sign-and-traded Kyle Lowry to Miami in order to get Precious Achiuwa. Dragic was just along for the ride as cap filler. If Toronto intends to be competitive this season, keeping him as Lowry’s replacement in the starting lineup wouldn’t be the worst idea, but the Raptors need to preserve minutes for Gary Trent Jr. and Malachi Flynn alongside Fred VanVleet, and Dragic doesn’t seem all that enthused about playing in Toronto. 

The Dallas Mavericks are the obvious destination given their previous interest and Dragic’s preexisting relationship with Luka Doncic, but there shouldn’t be a shortage of short-term suitors. If the Philadelphia 76ers can’t find a Ben Simmons trade, pivoting into some sort of ball-handling upgrade should be a priority, and the Raptors already know Danny Green well from his last stint in Toronto. That’s a workable base. 

The Sacramento Kings have not been subtle in their disinterest in retaining Buddy Hield. Ignoring the failed trade with the Lakers, they’ve now spent back-to-back lottery picks on guards in Tyrese Haliburton and Davion Mitchell. They even re-signed Terence Davis on a two-year deal, yet another mouth to feed in the backcourt. It appears to be more a matter of “when” than “if” Hield gets dealt. 

The obstacle facing the Kings right now is finding the right partner. Assuming their superstars are off limits, it would take the Lakers at least four players to legally acquire Hield’s $23.1 million salary. For now, that appears to be a non-starter. A number of teams that might have made sense earlier in the offseason like New Orleans (Devonte’ Graham), New York (Evan Fournier) and San Antonio (Doug McDermott) have long since acquired the high-volume shooters they were looking for. Hield is right up Daryl Morey’s alley as a player, but the defensive sacrifice of using Danny Green as matching salary along with some of their depth would be meaningful. 

Some team is going to emerge with interest. A league desperate for shooting isn’t going to shun the player who made more 3-pointers than everyone not named Stephen Curry last season, and as disappointing as his defense has been at times, he has the physical tools to improve in a more competitive setting. For all of the talk of his albatross contract, it should be noted that his salary declines by roughly $2 million annually for the next two seasons. If the Kings had a deal they liked right now, they’d have taken it, but that doesn’t mean another one won’t emerge during the season. If the Kings still want to move him in five months, they shouldn’t have trouble doing so.

When the Chicago Bulls drafted Coby White, they expected to partner him with Zach LaVine as their backcourt of the future. Well, Lonzo Ball has now commandeered Chicago’s starting point guard position for himself. DeMar DeRozan has occupied the role of secondary shot-creator. Oh, and the Bulls spent their mid-level exception on Alex Caruso. The Bulls now have more guards than they can possibly use. 

What they do need are wings. There is not a pure small forward on this roster if you treat Patrick Williams as a power forward. Wings aren’t easy to come by, but the few teams that have some to spare would likely be interested in a former No. 7 overall pick with two years of team control remaining. Even if White lives up to the promise of that draft position, he just no longer provides a set of skills that Chicago needs. Other teams will be able to offer him the shots and minutes he needs to continue growing. Unless the Bulls struggle with injuries, they probably can’t. 

Teams like the Brooklyn Nets and Golden State Warriors are so deep into the tax that there is no feasible way for them to get below the line. That isn’t the case for Boston. At present, the Boston Celtics are roughly $6.6 million above the tax line. With expensive long-term contracts on the books for Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, Boston can safely bet that it will be paying the tax down the line, so delaying the repeater clock will be critical (especially in a non-contention year). 

Fortunately, the Celtics have a clear path to ducking the tax. Kris Dunn makes around $5 million. Trading him into someone else’s trade exception would get most of the tax-ducking done. Waiving the non-guaranteed Jabari Parker or trading another player would take them the rest of the way. As Dunn is unlikely to play a major role in Boston, these tax implications make him perhaps the likeliest player in all of basketball to get traded this offseason. 

Two other teams to keep an eye on for tax purposes: Portland and Toronto. The Trail Blazers are $1.3 million above the line, but must sign a 14th player before the start of the season. They can save some cash by signing an undrafted free agent into that slot, but more likely, they’re adding a veteran and jumping to around $3 million above the tax line. They could get back below it by dumping Anfernee Simons, but he’ll probably still be an important member of their rotation. With Simons, they’re likely to remain above the tax line, but if this season doesn’t go as planned, don’t be surprised if a financially-driven move gets them below the line. Toronto is far deeper into tax territory, but trading Dragic will go a long way toward helping it avoid it. Throw in their non-guaranteed deals, and the Raptors have plenty of paths out of tax town. 

Too much depth is a first-world problem, but it’s one facing the Washington Wizards after an active offseason. They essentially turned Russell Westbrook into four veteran players in Kuzma, Harrell, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Aaron Holiday, and then added a starting point guard in Spencer Dinwiddie without sacrificing anyone else. 

If you assume Dinwiddie and Holiday split the point guard minutes while Bradley Beal and Caldwell-Pope play big minutes at shooting guard and small forward, respectively, there is suddenly very little playing time to divide amongst the rest of the roster. Kuzma is competing with three recent first-round picks in Rui Hachimura, Deni Avdija and Corey Kispert for forward minutes, and before you suggest any of them play small-ball five, remember that in addition to Harrell, Daniel Gafford is still here and Thomas Bryant has recovered from the injury that cost him last season. Someone is going to get left out here. On Draft night, Bleacher Report’s Eric Pincus reported that the Wizards would be open to re-routing Kuzma, Harrell or both to another team. Doing so would make sense. Most of the players they’re fighting for minutes with were either drafted or intentionally acquired by Washington. Kuzma and Harrell, on the other hand, were salary filler. The Lakers had no choice but to include them in the Westbrook deal. That puts them at a severe disadvantage in a suddenly tight rotation. 

That should make both gettable, and Kuzma, specifically, should be very appealing. His shot is inconsistent, but his defense and rebounding no longer are, and outside of the star-heavy Lakers ecosystem, he can generate more individual offense for a new team. Considering how interested the Kings were, don’t be surprised if a new Hield trade involves the Wizards as a third team. In that scenario, Sacramento could land the players it originally coveted while sending Hield to a team that can give the Wizards preferable assets. 

This is not a suggestion that the Lakers want to trade Nunn, or that they signed him with that intent. All things considered, his $4.9 million deal was a value contract. That is the point. The Lakers have only five players on their roster right now making more than the minimum. LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook aren’t going anywhere. If Rob Pelinka was unwilling to trade Talen Horton-Tucker for Kyle Lowry, he probably isn’t letting him go in a deal this season, either. 

That means that if the Lakers want to make any sort of in-season trade for a player with a sizable contract, Nunn is essentially the only player left on the roster who makes enough money to serve as matching salary. In that sense, he’s competing on two fronts. He’ll have to beat out several Lakers with somewhat redundant skillsets for minutes — like Horton-Tucker and Malik Monk — but he’ll also have to prove that he’s more valuable than any player the Lakers could get by dealing him. The Lakers hope that he can do that. But if he can’t? He’s their only real ticket to a big in-season move.

Taurean Prince

Prince, like Nunn, is sensible matching salary. Minnesota has reportedly been very ambitious in its search for a defensive anchor, with Ben Simmons and Myles Turner both linked to the Timberwolves through offseason rumors. Who exactly would be in such a deal remains unclear, but Minnesota’s roster construction can give us some clues. The Timberwolves have six players making eight figures. Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Edwards are untouchable. D’Angelo Russell probably is as well given his relationship with Towns, and Malik Beasley has grown into a core piece for the Wolves, thanks to his shooting. 

That leaves Prince and Patrick Beverley as viable matching salary. Beverley is the sort of elite defender the Wolves are looking for, so trading him doesn’t make much sense. But Prince? He’s expendable, and on an expiring $13 million deal, he’s easy to attach to draft picks or young players for a veteran upgrade. Beyond those six players, Minnesota’s next highest salary is $4.1 million, so to get someone substantial, someone from that group likely has to be involved. Prince is by far the likeliest of the six to go. 

The Phoenix Suns would have loved to have had a healthy Dario Saric going into next season. Their hole at backup center following his injury in the NBA Finals is part of what cost them the championship, and had he remained healthy, the Suns could have used their mid-level exception on an extra guard or wing. Instead, they replaced Saric with JaVale McGee. They had no choice. On a torn ACL, Saric is unlikely to play this season. 

But that doesn’t mean he can’t help the Suns. The two years and almost $18 million remaining on his deal are very tradable, and Phoenix is heavily incentivized to turn him into immediate help. Chris Paul will turn 37 during the 2022 playoffs. His time to win is right now, and the Suns simply cannot afford for their fifth-highest-paid player to miss an entire season. Lesser teams can afford to wait on Saric, or even take him as little more than salary filler alongside draft capital. There isn’t an obvious area of need for Phoenix now, but as the season progresses, one may make itself known, and when it does, having $8.5 million in salary to deal without impacting the present rotation will be very valuable. The Athletic’s Shams Charania has already reported their interest in a possible replacement, San Antonio Spurs veteran Thaddeus Young, who himself was a casualty of Chicago’s pursuit of DeMar DeRozan. With the right draft capital attached, that would be a sensible deal for both sides.



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