In the days leading up to the February 23 trade deadline, Hoops Rumors will be taking a closer look at each of the NBA’s 30 teams, by division. We’ll be identifying each team as a buyer, seller, or something in between, and discussing which teams and players are most likely to be involved in deals this month. We’ve already covered the Atlantic. Today, we’re examining the Northwest.
Two Northwest teams are currently over .500, and both the Thunder (31-25) and Jazz (34-22) are in decent position to add reinforcements, though that’s certainly no lock for either team. Oklahoma City has already cashed in many of its trade assets, including a protected 2020 first-round pick sent to the Sixers for Jerami Grant earlier this season. With no trade-eligible first-round picks before 2022 and Enes Kanter on the shelf, the Thunder have limited trade options. Young players like Cameron Payne and Josh Huestis are probably their strongest realistic trade chips at the moment.
As for Utah, the Northwest leaders likely won’t want to shake up their roster too significantly — potential 2017 free agents like Gordon Hayward and George Hill would be trade candidates if they were on lottery teams, but they’re not going anywhere for the Jazz. Still, the team’s sizable chunk of cap room, depth at the point guard spot, and extra first-round picks would make it easy for the Jazz to get something done if they receive an offer they like.
Outside of Ricky Rubio, the Timberwolves (21-34) don’t really have many productive veteran players who would make good trade candidates this month — guys like Cole Aldrich, Jordan Hill, and Brandon Rush don’t have a ton of value. With Tom Thibodeau at the helm, and the No. 8 spot in the Western Conference still within reach, it’s fair to wonder if the Wolves might look to be buyers in the right deal. But even Thibodeau, who has a fondness for veteran players, certainly recognizes that this isn’t the year to go all-in, particularly with Zach LaVine out with a torn ACL.
Somewhere in between:
The Trail Blazers (23-32) and Nuggets (25-30) already got together for one trade this week, and it’s fitting that the immediate impact of the move was a little unclear — it fell somewhere between buying and selling for both teams, since swapping Jusuf Nurkic for Mason Plumlee is unlikely to significantly change the trajectory of either team’s 2016/17 season.
Both teams are within striking distance of the postseason, with Denver currently holding the No. 8 seed in the West, but that doesn’t mean that they’ll be buyers in the next nine days. The Blazers would probably like to clear a little more salary to improve their long-term cap outlook, and the Nuggets have several veteran players believed to be on the block. It wouldn’t be a surprise if either team traded for immediate help, or if either team made a deal with a focus on the future.
Team most likely to make a move:
The Trail Blazers and Nuggets would likely have split this honor before Monday’s deal, and I think it still belongs to one of them. Portland general manager Neil Olshey acknowledged this week that his roster is a “work in progress,” adding that the team will have to make some moves at some point. Moving Plumlee was a good first step, but the Blazers’ work isn’t done yet.
Still, the Blazers have the option of waiting until the offseason to make additional deals, since their cap is more crowded next year than this year. For now, I view the Nuggets as the more likely team to make a second move, if only due to the sheer number of trade candidates on the roster. While Nurkic was perhaps the most obvious one, players like Wilson Chandler, Kenneth Faried, Danilo Gallinari, Will Barton, Jameer Nelson, and even Emmanuel Mudiay have all been mentioned in at least one trade rumor this season. Denver figures to hang onto most of those players, but I expect to see at least one or two on the move.
Player(s) most likely to be moved:
Injured Trail Blazers center Festus Ezeli is a good candidate to be dealt in a financially motivated swap. Clearing Ezeli’s salary from their books for this year and next would give Portland a little extra breathing room (the team is currently right up against the tax line for 2016/17), and a team below the salary floor might be willing to take him on. The only roadblock for the Blazers will be deciding how much they’re willing to give up to move Ezeli. I doubt Portland will attach a first-round pick to him, but the team has already traded many of its future second-round picks, which limits its options.
Of the players who could actually contribute down the stretch, Wilson Chandler seems like as good a bet as any to find a new home. Any number of Denver’s rotation players could be on the move, but Chandler is the only one whose desire to be traded has been reported, so I imagine the team will make an effort to accommodate him.
Under-the-radar trade candidate(s):
Teams in need of a point guard could target a team in the Northwest, since every team except the Trail Blazers has some interesting backup options at the position. For instance, if the Timberwolves don’t move Rubio, it could make sense for the team to explore a deal involving Tyus Jones, since there aren’t enough minutes in Minnesota to go around for him, Rubio, and Kris Dunn.
The Jazz also have an interesting collection of point guards on their roster behind Hill. Shelvin Mack, Raul Neto, and Dante Exum are all on favorable contracts and none of them are older than 26. Neto is probably the most expendable of the bunch, but Mack is believed to be available as well. As for Exum, the Jazz probably aren’t eager to give up on the former fifth overall pick, but he has been slow to develop so far and won’t be starting in Utah anytime soon if the team is able to re-sign Hill this summer.
What do you think is in store for the Northwest teams over the next nine days? Which teams are most likely to make a deal? Which players will be on the move?
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.