Trade Candidate

NBA Trade Candidate Watch: Pacific Division

Over the course of the 2018/19 NBA season, up until February’s trade deadline, we’re keeping an eye on potential trade candidates from around the NBA, monitoring their value and exploring the likelihood that they’ll be moved. Each of these looks at possible trade candidates focuses on a specific division, as we zero in on three players from that division.

There aren’t many Pacific players who have been the subject of reported trade rumors yet, but there are several veteran wings in the division on expiring contracts who could become available over the course of the season — particularly if their roles decline or if things go south for their respective teams.

Here’s our early-season look at a few possible trade candidates from the Pacific…

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, G
Los Angeles Lakers
$12MM cap hit; unrestricted free agent in 2019

After averaging 33.2 minutes per game last season in what was ostensibly a rebuilding year for the Lakers, Caldwell-Pope has seen his playing time dip to 18.5 MPG in 2018/19. That’s a worrying trend for a veteran, particularly since the Lakers actually have playoff expectations this time around.

Caldwell-Pope, no longer in the starting lineup, has struggled to be effective in his limited minutes so far, posting just 6.9 PPG with a .326 3PT% in 14 games. With Josh Hart playing the Caldwell-Pope role better than KCP himself, the veteran could become expendable.

Moving Caldwell-Pope would be tricky, however. His $12MM expiring contract is still something of an asset for the Lakers, who project to have a chunk of cap room in 2019 and won’t want to compromise their flexibility by taking on a multiyear deal in return. Caldwell-Pope also shares an agent with LeBron James, so the franchise will want to do right by him. Plus, he has the ability to veto a trade this season, though perhaps if his role remains limited, he’d welcome a change of scenery.

While a trade sometime after December 15 is possible, and the Sixers are said to have him on their radar, it’s probably in the Lakers’ best interest to focus on figuring out how to get the most of Caldwell-Pope on the court.

Trevor Ariza, F
Phoenix Suns
$15MM cap hit; unrestricted free agent in 2019

The Suns threw a one-year, $15MM contract at Ariza over the summer in the hopes that the three-and-D wing could help stabilize a young team and play a part in Phoenix push for a playoff spot. It doesn’t look like that’ll happen in a competitive Western Conference — the Suns’ 3-11 record puts them at least 2.5 games back of every other team in the West.

There have been some positive signs so far for the Suns, and they won’t throw in the towel yet, but if they remain firmly entrenched in the lottery in another month or two, Ariza should emerge as a prime candidate. There will be no shortage of playoff teams that could use a battle-tested veteran like him down the stretch.

While it’s fun to imagine a scenario in which the Rockets, in need of another three-and-D player, re-acquire Ariza, Houston’s best salary-matching piece – Brandon Knight – can’t be sent back to Phoenix this season.

Iman Shumpert, G/F
Sacramento Kings
$11.01MM cap hit; unrestricted free agent in 2019

The Kings have a number of veterans on expiring contracts, but Zach Randolph, Kosta Koufos, and Ben McLemore look more like candidates for buyouts than trades. Shumpert is the exception — the 28-year-old is a fixture in Sacramento’s starting lineup and has looked like his old self, averaging 8.8 PPG with a shooting line (.411/.368/.833) that eclipses his career rates.

At the moment, the 8-6 Kings are hanging onto a playoff spot in the West, so they won’t be looking to sell off key rotation players. Still, the Rockets, Jazz, Spurs, and Pelicans are all just one game back of Sacramento, so it remains to be seen how long the upstart Kings can hold a top-eight spot in the conference.

If Sacramento falls off and Shumpert continues to play well, he should appeal to a team that wants to add some immediate help to its rotation without sacrificing its offseason cap flexibility. He probably wouldn’t net the Kings much of a return unless they’re willing to take on some unwanted money, but if they can get even a second-round pick for him, it’d be a win, given how low his stock was at the end of last season.

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Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

NBA Trade Candidate Watch: Southwest Division

Over the course of the 2018/19 NBA season, up until February’s trade deadline, we’re keeping an eye on potential trade candidates from around the NBA, monitoring their value and exploring the likelihood that they’ll be moved. Each of these looks at possible trade candidates focuses on a specific division, as we zero in on three players from that division.

Only one Southwest team currently ranks in the top eight in the West, and it’s the last club that many of us would’ve predicted to make the postseason coming into the season (the Grizzlies). Still, the Rockets, Spurs, Pelicans, and Mavericks remain in the playoff hunt, meaning it may be a while before we get a clear sense of which clubs in this division will be buyers and which will be sellers.

Here’s our early-season look at a few possible trade candidates from the Southwest…

Wesley Matthews, G/F
Dallas Mavericks
$18.62MM cap hit; unrestricted free agent in 2019

Matthews’ potential availability will hinge on how the Mavericks perform as a team over the next couple months. The veteran wing was considered a trade candidate last season, but the Mavs – knowing he’d be a key part of their lineup if they made a postseason push in 2019 – placed a high price tag on him.

With Matthews’ contract set to expire at the end of this season, Dallas will have less incentive to hang onto the 32-year-old if this season goes south. With 16.2 PPG and a .382 3PT% so far this season, Matthews looks a little more like the player he was in Portland, and he’d have value to a contender.

Matthews’ cap charge will be the most significant roadblock if the Mavs explore the trade market — it will be hard to find a team that can match his salary without including a multiyear contract or two. Dallas’ willingness to take on multiyear money would likely hinge on how much that player could help them going forward — or the value of the other assets included in such a deal.

Solomon Hill, F
New Orleans Pelicans
$12.25MM cap hit; guaranteed $12.79MM salary for 2019/20

With Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday leading their frontcourt and backcourt, respectively, the Pelicans‘ primary hole is on the wing, where they could badly use a versatile three-and-D swingman. Hill, who hasn’t evolved into that player, may have the contract necessary to bring back that sort of piece on the trade market.

With two years left on his deal, Hill matches up well with someone like Courtney Lee, who has a similar contract. His salary could also be put toward matching that of a higher-paid player like Kent Bazemore, who is earning about $18MM.

The Pelicans have shown a willingness to trade their first-round picks frequently in recent years, and it seems likely they’ll be open to doing so again this year, as they look to convince Davis they’re capable of contending. Attaching that first-rounder to Hill could net the Pelicans a reliable contributor in a deal similar to last year’s swap of Omer Asik and a first-round pick for Nikola Mirotic.

Marquese Chriss, F/C
Houston Rockets
$3.21MM cap hit; unrestricted free agent in 2019

Like the Pelicans, the Rockets could use another wing or two, and they also have an expendable player (Brandon Knight) with about two years and $30MM left on his contract, which could be used in a deal. Rather than essentially making the same case for Knight as a trade candidate that we just did for Hill, let’s focus instead on another Houston trade candidate: Chriss.

A former eighth overall pick, Chriss has seen his stock crater over the last couple years. The Suns gave up on him, the Rockets have barely played him, and Houston also turned down his fourth-year option for 2019/20, setting him up to be an unrestricted free agent at season’s end.

Chriss’ situation is reminiscent of Jahlil Okafor‘s a year ago. In Okafor’s case, the Nets took a flier on him, acquiring him from Philadelphia in a December deal. If there’s a team out there willing to take a chance on Chriss in a similar trade – perhaps surrendering a veteran that would help the Rockets more in the short term – I don’t think Houston would hesitate to make a move.

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Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

NBA Trade Candidate Watch: Northwest Division

Over the course of the 2018/19 NBA season, up until February’s trade deadline, we’re keeping an eye on potential trade candidates from around the NBA, monitoring their value and exploring the likelihood that they’ll be moved. Each of these looks at possible trade candidates focuses on a specific division, as we zero in on three players from that division.

Entering the 2018/19 season, all five Northwest teams were projected to finish above .500. That scenario would create a dearth of sellers in the division, but that doesn’t mean there are no trade candidates to be found. In fact, the NBA’s most notable current trade candidate, one who has dominated headlines since mid-September, plays in the Northwest.

Here’s our early-season look at a few possible trade candidates from the Northwest…

Jimmy Butler, G/F
Minnesota Timberwolves
$20.45MM cap hit; $19.84MM player option for 2019/20

Since Butler’s trade request went public on September 19, our archive of Butler-related rumors and news items features a staggering 74 additional stories.

The saga has taken a number of twists and turns along the way, and we don’t need to belabor it in this space. Suffice it to say, Butler is very much available and at this point, it seems like just a matter of when – not if – the Timberwolves will move him.

While the Wolves could drag out the process to the trade deadline, Michael Rand of The Star Tribune offers five reasons why it would make sense for Minnesota to find a deal right now. When the club gets serious about moving its All-NBA swingman, the Heat, Rockets, Sixers, and Clippers are among the likeliest trade partners, though a dark horse suitor could always emerge.

Derrick Favors, F/C
Utah Jazz
$16.9MM cap hit; non-guaranteed $16.9MM salary for 2019/20

The Jazz have insisted for years that the Favors/Rudy Gobert frontcourt pairing can work, and at times it has. But Favors is a better fit at center than power forward, and Utah is a better team with a smaller power forward alongside Gobert — so far this season, the four-man duo of Gobert, Ricky Rubio, Donovan Mitchell, and Joe Ingles has a +18.6 net rating with Jae Crowder filling out the lineup, compared to a -7.5 rating with Favors in that last spot.

Sean Deveney of The Sporting News recently wrote that few people around the NBA expects Favors to remain in Utah in 2019/20, when his $16.9MM salary is non-guaranteed. Deveney suggested that if the Jazz could move Favors for a more versatile forward, an in-season trade would be a possibility.

It won’t be easy to find a forward who would improve the Jazz and whose 2018/19 salary is similar to Favors’, without any guaranteed 2019/20 money. DeMarre Carroll, who has a $15.4MM expiring deal, could be one option, but the Nets wouldn’t have much need for Favors.

Malik Beasley, G/F
Denver Nuggets
$1.77MM cap hit; guaranteed $2.73MM salary for 2019/20

Beasley hasn’t been the subject of any trade rumors this season and there’s no indication that Denver wants to move him, so this is merely speculation on my part. However, if and when Will Barton and Isaiah Thomas get healthy, there likely won’t be enough minutes to go around in the backcourt and on the wing for the Nuggets, so someone like Beasley or Torrey Craig could be the odd man out.

If the Nuggets, who currently rank 28th in the NBA in three-point percentage, go shopping for outside shooting help at the deadline, they have three sizeable trade exceptions they could use to acquire a player without sending out any salary, but they’re only about $7.5MM shy of the luxury tax threshold. In certain trade scenarios, they might want to move a small salary like Beasley’s or Craig’s in order to avoid the tax.

Here’s one hypothetical scenario involving a popular trade candidate: If the Nuggets were to send a draft pick to Cleveland for Kyle Korver, they could use one of their trade exceptions to land him, but his $7.56MM salary would nudge the team slightly over the tax line. Attaching Beasley or Craig to that draft pick would improve the package for the Cavs and allow Denver to stay under the tax.

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Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

NBA Trade Candidate Watch: Southeast Division

Over the course of the 2018/19 NBA season, up until February’s trade deadline, we’re keeping an eye on potential trade candidates from around the NBA, monitoring their value and exploring the likelihood that they’ll be moved. Each of these looks at possible trade candidates focuses on a specific division, as we zero in on three players from that division.

Viewed as perhaps the weakest division in the NBA coming into the season, the Southeast has been even worse than expected during the first month, with the Wizards and Heat both struggling. Not every Southeast team will be a seller at the deadline, but it looks safe to assume that at least a couple will.

Here’s our early-season look at a few possible trade candidates from the Southeast…

Kent Bazemore, F
Atlanta Hawks
$18.09MM cap hit; guaranteed $19.27MM player option for 2019/20

Frequently mentioned in trade rumors over the summer, Bazemore hasn’t been the subject of many recent reports, but his name figures to surface again in the coming months. The 3-6 Hawks are well on their way to a spot in the lottery, and Bazemore only has one year on his contract beyond this season. He makes much more sense as a complementary three-and-D wing for a contending team than he does as a long-term piece in Atlanta.

Bazemore has struggled with his three-point shot so far in 2018/19 (.326 3PT%), but he made a career-best 39.4% of his long-distance attempts last season, and he has otherwise been solid this year, posting career bests in PPG (14.3) and FG% (.485) in the early going. His cap charge will make a deal tricky for some teams, but if Atlanta is willing to take another unwanted contract back in a deal, there should be teams with interest.

The Pelicans and Rockets were two teams linked to Bazemore during the offseason, and both clubs still have a need on the wing. New Orleans could use Solomon Hill as a salary-matching piece, while Houston could use Brandon Knight‘s contract for matching purposes.

Marvin Williams, F
Charlotte Hornets
$14.09MM cap hit; $15MM player option for 2019/20

Williams checks a lot of the same boxes that Bazemore does — he’s a wing with good size who can knock down a three-pointer and switch between various positions on defense. He’s also a little less expensive. However, there are two roadblocks in the way of a potential Williams deal.

For one, the Hornets – unlike the Hawks – have serious playoff aspirations in 2018/19 and won’t want to surrender a reliable veteran who could help them get there. Secondly, Williams hasn’t exactly been boosting his trade stock so far. His 6.5 PPG and .371 FG% would both be career worsts, and if he doesn’t start playing better, he won’t help the Hornets win or net them anything in a trade.

Charlotte’s forward rotation will be worth watching this season. With rookie Miles Bridges looking great so far, it seems like just a matter of time until the Hornets part with at least one of Williams, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, or Nicolas Batum, if they can.

Dion Waiters, G
Miami Heat
$11.55MM cap hit; contract guaranteed through 2020/21

The Heat were already loaded with shooting guard depth and exploring ways to move Waiters even before Rodney McGruder emerged as a more reliable option early this season. Now the former fourth overall pick looks even more expendable.

Unfortunately for the Heat, the ankle injury that ended Waiters’ 2017/18 season early has kept him out of action so far this fall, and there’s no indication of when he might return to action. The 26-year-old’s contract, which still has two years left after this season, will probably still create negative value even after he gets healthy, but if he’s able to get back on the court and show off some of the talent that earned him that four-year investment in the first place, it’d go a long way toward rebuilding his stock.

The Timberwolves, for instance, might view a Jimmy Butler offer of Josh Richardson, a first-round pick, and Waiters much more favorably if they thought they could count on Waiters to stay on the court and contribute.

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Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

NBA Trade Candidate Watch: Atlantic Division

Over the course of the 2018/19 NBA season, up until February’s trade deadline, we’re keeping an eye on potential trade candidates from around the NBA, monitoring their value and exploring the likelihood that they’ll be moved. Each of these looks at possible trade candidates focuses on a specific division, as we zero in on three players from that division.

Heading into the 2018/19 season, the Atlantic was viewed as a two-tiered division, with the contenders (the Celtics, Raptors, and Sixers) in a different class than the probable lottery teams (the Nets and Knicks). Still, while the Nets and Knicks still look like the eventual sellers in the division, the contenders may also have some players who emerge as trade candidates for potential deadline deals.

Here’s our early-season look at a few possible trade candidates from the Atlantic…

Courtney Lee, G/F
New York Knicks
$12.25MM cap hit; guaranteed $12.76MM salary in 2019/20

Given the Knicks’ status as a rebuilding team and their desire to clear more cap room for 2019, Lee represents one of the most obvious trade candidates in the league. His contract isn’t unwieldy, he’s coming off a strong year (12.0 PPG on .454/.406/.919 shooting), and he’s a solid locker-room presence.

The only problem? He’s not healthy. Lee has yet to appear in a game this season due to neck issues, and the Knicks have been unable to pinpoint what exactly is causing the spasms in the swingman’s neck.

With no mandate to win this season and the trade deadline still more than three months away, the Knicks can afford to be patient with Lee and wait for him to get fully healthy. His trade market is unlikely to heat up until he gets back on the court and shows that he’s 100%.

Furkan Korkmaz, G
Philadelphia 76ers
$1.74MM cap hit; $2.03MM team option for 2019/20

Even before Korkmaz made comments this week about just wanting a chance to play, he looked like a potential trade candidate for the 76ers. Three or four years ago, Korkmaz probably would have been getting 25 minutes per night on the Process Sixers, but there’s no room for him in the team’s current rotation and it’s not clear if that will change anytime soon.

It will be interesting to see whether Philadelphia decides to pick up Korkmaz’s 2019/20 option today. The cost is so modest that it seems like a no-brainer, but the Sixers will be looking to maximize their cap room next summer. If Korkmaz isn’t in their plans and the 76ers aren’t confident in their ability to trade him, that option may well be declined. If it’s exercised, Korkmaz could be an appealing low-cost trade target for a team willing to develop him.

For instance, the Sixers and Cavaliers reportedly discussed a Kyle Korver/Jerryd Bayless swap in the offseason, but were unable to agree on draft compensation in such a deal. Now that the Cavs are focusing more on finding minutes for their young players, perhaps attaching Korkmaz and a second-round pick to Bayless’ expiring contract would be enough for Philadelphia to land Korver.

If the Sixers explore trading Korkmaz, they seem more likely to try to attach him to a larger deal like that than to simply try moving him for a second-round pick, considering how many future second-rounders they’ve already stockpiled.

C.J. Miles, F
Toronto Raptors
$8.33MM cap hit; $8.73MM player option for 2019/20

Given the way the Raptors are playing so far this season, there’s certainly no need for the 7-1 squad to shake things up just for the sake of it. But there are a couple why it might make sense to eventually gauge the market for Miles: Toronto is over the tax line and may have too many solid role players once everyone is healthy.

A high-volume three-point shooter who has made 36.0% of his career attempts from beyond the arc, Miles provides value as a player who can stretch defenses and attract attention whenever he’s on the court. He’s off to a slow start this season though (.231 3PT%) and the Raptors don’t need his shooting as much after acquiring Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green over the summer — Miles’ 14.0 minutes per game would be his lowest mark in over a decade.

If the Raptors do try to reduce their tax bill, Miles and Norman Powell ($9.37MM) would be the team’s most obvious trade candidates based on the disparity between their salaries and their roles. A proven veteran like Miles, who has two years left on his contract compared to Powell’s four, may be the easier player to move.

Previously:

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

NBA Trade Candidate Watch: Central Division

Over the course of the 2018/19 NBA season, up until February’s trade deadline, we’re keeping an eye on potential trade candidates from around the NBA, monitoring their value and exploring the likelihood that they’ll be moved. Each of these looks at possible trade candidates focuses on a specific division, as we zero in on three players from that division.

No team in the NBA’s Central division has played more than five games so far – the Pistons have only played three – but based on contract situations and early-season rotations, some potential trade candidates are already emerging. Let’s take a look at a few of them…

Kyle Korver, G/F
Cleveland Cavaliers
$7.56MM cap hit; partially guaranteed salary in 2019/20

A fixture in the Cavaliers‘ rotation over the last year and a half alongside LeBron James, Korver has seen inconsistent playing time so far in 2018/19. His minutes count in his first four games: 14, 5, 0, and 19.

Korver has said he doesn’t mind sporadic minutes, and it’s too early in the season for the Cavs to go into tank mode and start considering a full-fledged fire sale. Still, there are a number of reasons to expect the 37-year-old to become a trade candidate sooner or later if Cleveland’s struggles continue.

Several playoff contenders figure to be in the market for an outside marksman, and few are more reliable than Korver, who has a .431 career 3PT%. His salary is affordable and his contract is favorable for a short-term investment — next season’s $7.5MM salary is only guaranteed for $3.44MM, meaning any team acquiring him would have the option to keep him for one more year or to cut bait at a minimal cost.

Robin Lopez, C
Chicago Bulls
$14.36MM cap hit; UFA in 2019

Like the Cavaliers, the Bulls don’t look like a legit postseason contender, particularly as the injuries to several key players continue to pile up. It’s too early to give up on this season’s playoff hopes yet, but when that happens, Lopez looks like one of the team’s most obvious trade chips.

The Bulls have Wendell Carter Jr. penciled in as their center of the future, and still need to see what they can get out of Cristiano Felicio, whose pricey contract runs through 2021. For now, Lopez remains a part of the rotation, but his minutes are down (17.7 MPG so far, compared to 26.4 last season) and they may decrease further if and when the club goes all-in on developing its young players.

Lopez is no bargain at $14.36MM, but he’s on an expiring contract and won’t affect a team’s cap flexibility for the summer of 2019. He’s also still just 30 years old and has value as a reliable screen setter and defensive presence.

Matthew Dellavedova, G
Milwaukee Bucks
$9.61MM cap hit; guaranteed salary in 2019/20

If the 4-0 Bucks can build on their hot start, they’ll likely be in the market for upgrades by the time February’s trade deadline rolls around. Dellavedova and John Henson ($11.33MM cap hit) represent the club’s best salary-matching pieces, and Dellavedova’s absence from the rotation makes him the more expendable player of the two.

With one more guaranteed season left on his contract, the veteran guard is a negative asset at this point. But if Milwaukee is willing to attach a draft pick or a young player to Dellavedova’s contract, he could be a part of an offer for a veteran who might better fit the club’s lineup.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Trade Candidate: Carmelo Anthony

As the February 23 trade deadline nears, Hoops Rumors will be taking a closer look at several players we consider trade candidates, discussing their value, speculating on potential destinations, and explaining why they are – or should be – available. These players won’t necessarily be dealt in advance of the deadline, but it won’t be surprising if they are.NBA: San Antonio Spurs at New York Knicks

Carmelo Anthony, F
New York Knicks
2016/17 salary: $24,559,380
Under contract through the 2018/19 season, though his deal contains an ETO for the final year
Trade restrictions: No-Trade Clause

The Knicks surprisingly beat the Spurs last weekend in what could be Carmelo Anthony’s final home game as a member of the team. New York doesn’t have another game before the February 23 trade deadline and while the odds are against an Anthony trade, if he were to be moved, it wouldn’t be the most shocking trade to happen this week.

How Did We Get Here?

It appears that team president Phil Jackson wants Anthony to play for another team, as evidenced by his disparagement of the 10-time All-Star. The Zen Master subtweeted the star and he allegedly had a hand in the article written by his close associate, Charley Rosen, which condemned Anthony. Rosen opined that Anthony’s legs had similar principles to a homerun leaving Yankee Stadium and he concluded his subjective piece with this sentiment: The only sure thing is that Carmelo Anthony has outlived his usefulness in New York.

Anthony still has plenty left in the tank. At age 32, he’s no longer the nimblest of athletes. When he drives at defenders, he powers into them at a controlled speed while always remaining a threat to stop and utilize his deadly jumpshot. He’s not going to rival LeBron James‘ all-around game on a nightly basis, but he’s still a top-30 player in the league and he’s one of the best on the offensive end.

There’s a recipe for constructing a winning Melo team, yet for the longest time, Jackson seemed disinterested in reading anyone else’s cookbook. Anthony needs to be surrounded by shooters along with a defensive anchor in the post while playing in a free-flowing offense. For over half of his tenure with the Knicks, Jackson insisted on the triangle, an offense which has principles installed in sets around the league but it hasn’t been successful as a standalone offense for quite some time. Kristaps Porzingis can develop into the team’s defensive anchor, but Jackson’s signing of Joakim Noah delays his development at the five. Additions Courtney Lee and Lance Thomas are good fits for the quintessential system, but Derrick Rose and Brandon Jennings are equally poor fits for it.

The mismatch of talent will likely lead New York to the lottery again this season. If this team was winning, the Jackson-Anthony estrangement might be blanketed, but that’s not the case, as our Reverse Standings indicate.

Why Trading Anthony Is Problematic

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Trade Candidate: Jahlil Okafor

As the February 23 trade deadline nears, Hoops Rumors will be taking a closer look at several players we consider trade candidates, discussing their value, speculating on potential destinations, and explaining why they are – or should be – available. These players won’t necessarily be dealt in advance of the deadline, but it won’t be surprising if they are.

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Jahlil Okafor, C
Philadelphia 76ers
2016/17 salary: $4,788,840
Team holds an option for the 2018/19 season; eligible for restricted free agency in 2020
Trade restrictions: None

Jahlil Okafor knows he’s in a unique situation. He’s heard his name in trade rumors since he was drafted by the Sixers with the No. 3 overall pick. He’s seen his role on the team fluctuate and he’s handled it all like a professional should.

“I know I’m not the type of player that’s DNP,” Okafor said earlier in the month about a game in which he was a healthy but didn’t see the court. “But that’s what it is right now. Coach Brown has been phenomenal with communicating with me. I know in the long run, I’ll be fine.”

In the long-run, Okafor will likely be playing for another team. GM Bryan Colangelo has reportedly been in contact with eight other franchises regarding an Okafor trade and the strong play of both Joel Embiid and Dario Saric have increased the likelihood that the team deals either Okafor or Nerlens Noel, according to Marc Stein of ESPN.com.

It appears that Okafor is more likely to be dealt than Nerlens Noel, as John Smallwood of the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote last month. Two months ago, the opposite was true. Noel wasn’t seeing regular minutes and Philadelphia was investing time in the Okafor-Embiid pairing. The team didn’t like what it saw and it stopped using the combo together. Okafor has seen his role diminished since the team split up the centers, while Embiid has thrived, which led one anonymous league executive to claim that the Cameroon native could eventually become a top-3 player in the league.

Okafor will likely never reach that pinnacle, though that doesn’t mean he can’t have a great career. Over his first season and a half, he’s shown promise on the offensive end, aggressively taking the ball to the basket either by backing defenders down or driving at them from the elbow. It’s been inconsistent, but that’s expected; he’s a 21-year-old kid who has only appeared in 88 career games. Teams looking for a young big man certainly see what’s there. He isn’t a blank canvas on the offensive end.

Okafor’s defense remains a work-in-progress. He’s the league’s second-worst center on defense, per ESPN’s Defensive Real Plus/Minus. Karl-Anthony Towns is the league’s worst, according to that metric, so we should remember that it takes time and experience in this league to become a good defender in the post. Rim protectors need to learn how to properly position themselves during the offensive attack. Once a player learns that, simply being a massive near 7-footer is enough to be an adequate defender; just ask Nikola Vucevic. Magic coach Frank Vogel vowed to install his defensive principles and coach up Vucevic so that he can improve on his defense. This year, the Swiss behemoth has been defending opposing bigs at a top level. He’s the 15th most impactful defender this season, according to NBAMath, and there’s hope that Okafor can take similar strides with the right amount of experience and coaching.

That’s not to say coach Brett Brown isn’t doing a great job with Okafor and with this team. The issue is that there are only so many coaching hours available and Brown has so many young guys on the roster. Gregg Popovich was always able to get the best out of non-star players because his top players were experienced and didn’t need as much attention. Popovich could devote the time to the role players and coach them up to help them improve. Brett Brown has no such luxury. Examine the Sixers’ roster; How many players are self-sufficient and don’t need a considerable amount of coaching?

Okafor will get to an acceptable level on defense, but he’s not going to substantially improve without seeing more court time. He’s barely cracked 800 minutes so far this season (232 players have seen more minutes than Okafor this year, including Anthony Tolliver and Corey Brewer among others). He’s firmly behind Embiid on the depth chart and both Noel and Richaun Holmes have seen action ahead of him at times when everyone is healthy.

Philadelphia is being cautious with Embiid’s knee injury, which opened up an opportunity for Okafor to start (and audition for other teams) tonight against the Pistons. The game could end up being one of Okafor’s final contests with the Sixers, as the team was reportedly heavily engaged in talks with the Pelicans to send the Duke product to New Orleans. Philadelphia was set to receive a 2018 first-rounder in addition to center Alexis Ajinca and there was a 5:00 pm EST deadline today to complete a deal, presumably because Philadelphia played tonight and needed to know whether or not to have Okafor suit up. The teams didn’t consummate a deal before that cutoff, but the two sides remain engaged in talks, as Keith Smith of RealGM reports (Twitter link).

Anthony Davis would be an excellent frontcourt partner for any player in the league, but his skillset particularly suits Okafor. At this point in his career, Okafor doesn’t have much range. He can’t play outside the paint and that, coupled with his defensive issues, makes pairing him in the frontcourt a tough task. He needs to be aligned with someone who has an outside shot and is able to help cover up his defensive imperfections. The potential Davis-Okafor pairing is arguably the best-case scenario for any franchise looking to build around the 2015 ACC Player of the Year.

The Pelicans are shopping their 2018 first-round pick around the league with an eye on acquiring a center, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical (Twitter link), so they could ostensibly make another deal and miss out on acquiring Okafor.

“Obviously at this time of the year all the GMs are talking,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said earlier tonight. “In that situation right there it’s best that you guys ask [GM Dell Demps]. I don’t want to get misquoted or anything. Like I said, all the GMs are talking back and forth.

I speculate that a deal will get done with New Orleans and the franchise is just looking to gain leverage during trade talks. However, if Demps decides to trade the team’s pick elsewhere, the Bulls could get back in the mix for Okafor, as they reached out to the Sixers late last week regarding the big man.

Philadelphia is reportedly looking for at least one future first-round pick in exchange for Okafor. He’s under team control for at least two more seasons after this one, so Philadelphia doesn’t necessarily have to deal him before the deadline. Still, regardless of whether it happens this season, this offseason or a year from now, an Okafor trade remains likely. Sam Hinkie’s final first-round selection has the potential to be a solid NBA player and he could even develop into an All-Star-caliber player down the road; it’s just not going to happen while he’s a member of the Sixers.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images

Trade Candidate: Brandon Knight

As the February 23 trade deadline nears, Hoops Rumors will be taking a closer look at several players we consider trade candidates, discussing their value, speculating on potential destinations, and explaining why they are – or should be – available. These players won’t necessarily be dealt in advance of the deadline, but it won’t be surprising if they are.
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Brandon Knight
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Phoenix Suns
2016/17 salary: $12,606,250
Eligible for unrestricted free agency in 2020
Trade restrictions: None

Brandon Knight finds himself in an awkward position with the Suns. As a 25-year-old former lottery pick, Knight should be enjoying the prime of his career.

Instead, he’s on the fringes of the rotation for a rebuilding team. Thanks to the last contract he signed, Knight has financial security. What he needs now is a chance to revive his career but that contract could prevent that from happening.

The Suns are actively shopping the combo guard, which they already were doing prior to the season, but they’re having difficulty finding a taker. Knight is making $12.6MM this season and has three years remaining on the deal, which will pay him approximately $13.6MM, $14.6MM and $15.6MM the next three seasons.

On draft status alone, Knight projected to be one of the league’s best point guards by this time. He was selected eighth overall in 2011 by the Pistons, who were in desperate need of a floor leader and viewed Knight as the long-term solution.

Knight got a trial-by-fire introduction into the NBA, jumping right into a starting role on one of the league’s worst teams. After just two seasons, the Pistons soured on Knight’s ability to run their offense. His assist-to-turnover ratios — 3.8-2.6 and 4.0-2.7 — spoke of Knight’s struggles as a floor leader.

During the 2013 off-season, he was shipped along with Khris Middleton to the Bucks for Brandon Jennings. Knight immediately became the Bucks’ lead point guard and lasted 1 1/2 seasons there before they, too, decided they needed an upgrade at that spot. Milwaukee acquired Michael Carter-Williams from the Sixers in a three-way, trade deadline deal and sent Knight to Phoenix.

With Eric Bledsoe already in place as the starting point guard, Knight was shifted to shooting guard. He averaged a career-high 19.6 points while starting in 50 of 52 games during an injury-riddled 2015/16 campaign.

The biggest problem for Knight is that the Suns made a wise draft choice prior to last season. They uncovered a gem with a 13th overall pick, selecting offensively-gifted two guard Devin Booker.

Knight has been relegated to a bench role this season and the adjustment hasn’t gone well. Advanced statistics rate Knight’s offensive performance as the worst of his career and his always suspect defense has also suffered.

He has lost playing time to rookie Tyler Ulis and veteran Leandro Barbosa because coach Earl Watson was unhappy with Knight’s defensive effort. He hasn’t played the last two games, apparently because of wrist tendinitis, though he has played sparingly over the past month anyway.

Undoubtedly, Knight needs another fresh start. He may not have lived up to his draft status but he can be a productive rotation player in the mold of a Jamal Crawford, providing instant offense off the bench.

Knight may be turnover prone but he’s a solid shooter — 41.4% overall, 35.9% percent from long range and 81.0% from the free throw line during his career. He posted positive Offensive Box Plus.Minus ratings over the last three seasons, ranging from 1.2 to 2.0, according to Basketball Reference.

Any potential suitor will have to value his offense over his defensive shortcomings. His career Defensive Box Plus/Minus rating is minus 1.9 and he’s never finished on the positive side in any season.

The length of his contract, if not the salary commitment, is the biggest impediment to trading Knight. The dollar figures aren’t as scary as they might have been a couple years ago, thanks to the ever-rising salary cap. But a contract with three years left and no team options has to give pause to any GM or team president that might see a role for Knight on his club.

An unnamed front office exec told Arizona Sports 98.7 FM’s John Gambadoro that there is virtually no trade market for Knight.
In order to rid himself on Knight’s contract, Suns GM Ryan McDonough will probably need to package a desirable young player or draft pick with him. Phoenix drafted two power forwards — Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender — and taking on Knight’s contract could be a stipulation for any team that desires one of those young bigs.

The Suns could alternatively try to boost Knight’s trade prospects by packaging a first-round pick. They’ll obviously have a juicy lottery pick this summer and don’t owe anyone a future first-rounder at the time being. They could also dangle the protected 2018 first-rounder that the Heat owe them.

With aging Tyson Chandler still in the starting lineup, the Suns could be in the market for a center. They might also seek an upgrade over their small forward duo of T.J. Warren and P.J. Tucker.

Right now, there doesn’t seem to be an obvious landing spot for Knight. The Cavaliers are the only contender known to be shopping for point guard help but their salary-cap issues make that an unlikely scenario.

The Grizzlies might want some backcourt help behind Mike Conley and Tony Allen, taking into account Conley’s recent injury history. Knight could also give a bench boost to the Wizards behind the John WallBradley Beal duo.

Non-contenders like the Knicks, Kings and Heat could also emerge if a young big or high draft pick is part of the proposal. Sacramento reportedly has shown interest for months but the loss of Rudy Gay to an Achilles tendon tear could change their priorities.

If the Suns are unable to move Knight before the trade deadline, he’ll simply have to live with a backup role for at least the remainder of the season.

What do you think? Should the Suns trade or keep Knight? Weigh in below in the comments section with your thoughts and possible trade ideas.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Trade Candidate: Rajon Rondo

As we approach February’s trade deadline, Hoops Rumors will be taking a closer look at several players we consider trade candidates, discussing their value, speculating on potential destinations and explaining why they are – or should be – available. These players won’t necessarily be dealt in advance of the deadline, but it won’t be surprising if they are.

Rajon Rondo, PGRajon Rondo vertical
Chicago Bulls
2016/17 salary: $14,000,000
Salary for 2017/18 is guaranteed for just $3,000,000 through June 30th
Trade restrictions: None

Rajon Rondo couldn’t have been happier when he signed with the Bulls in July. After a disastrous stay in Dallas and a lost season in Sacramento, the veteran point guard felt like he had finally found a home.

“I’m excited,” Rondo said after agreeing to a two-year, $28MM deal. “Great organization with pieces around me that I’m excited about.”

Fast forward six months and nobody is excited. Not Rondo, who was pulled from the rotation two weeks ago. And not the Bulls, who are currently outside the playoff race at 20-21 through the first half of the season. Chicago was counting on Rondo and fellow free agent addition Dwyane Wade to turn the team back into contenders, but the fears many observers had about difficulty in meshing their similar styles have come true.

Marksmanship has always been an issue for Rondo, but the problem has become worse than ever since his arrival in Chicago. He’s shooting a career-low .368 from the field and just .298 from 3-point range. His scoring average has dipped to 7.3 points per game, which is the lowest since his rookie season.

Rondo responded to coach Fred Hoiberg‘s decision to take him out of the rotation by asking for a New Year’s Eve meeting with GM Gar Forman and executive vice president John Paxson. Little was resolved from that session and Rondo indicated that he would ask for a trade if he couldn’t get playing time in Chicago. An unidentified member of the coaching staff told Rondo he had been playing poorly and was benched to “save him from himself.”

After riding the pine for 5 1/2 games, Rondo got some help this week from an unlikely source — the flu bug. With Wade, Jimmy Butler and Nikola Mirotic all sidelined, Hoiberg needed healthy bodies and turned to Rondo as the lead guard for the second unit. Rondo played well enough as a reserve that it might become an ongoing role.

“I talked to him about the lift and the spark that he gave us [Tuesday] with the energy and the pace, the push that he had with that second unit,’’ Hoiberg told Joe Cowley of The Chicago Sun-Times.

Of course, the situation isn’t ideal for either party. Rondo doesn’t want to be a backup after 10 years as a starter, and the Bulls don’t want to be paying $14MM to their second-string point guard.

But does that mean he will be traded out of Chicago before the February 23rd deadline?

Despite his shooting woes, there are still many reasons why teams would be interested in picking up Rondo. He’s the reigning league leader in assists, averaging 11.7 last season for a Kings team that finished well out of the playoffs. Also, Rondo is only 30 and is healthy enough to have several productive seasons left. And his contract for 2017/18 is only guaranteed for $3MM through June 30th, which means a team could easily part ways with him if the deal doesn’t work out.

The defending champs might be a possible trading partner, as a report last week said the Cavaliers are keeping a close eye on the Rondo situation. Cleveland has been in the market for a backup to Kyrie Irving since the season began, following the sign-and-trade of Matthew Dellavedova to the Bucks and the retirement and subsequent trade of Mo Williams to the Hawks.

Rondo’s contract would make him a pricey addition for a team that already has the NBA’s highest salary, and it’s not clear whom the Cavs would give up in a deal. Cleveland seems more likely to swoop in if Rondo gets bought out, although his poor 3-point shooting makes him a bad fit in the Cavaliers’ offense.

Another rumor that has gotten some traction involves Miami. The Heat still owe Goran Dragic more than $54MM over the next three seasons and may want to unload that contract to speed up the rebuilding process. Dragic is making $15.89MM this season, so their salaries would easily match up. Chicago could reunite the Dragic-Wade backcourt and gain some outside shooting, while Miami could either waive Rondo or renegotiate with him after this season and maybe pick up a draft pick or two to help replace the package they sent to Phoenix to acquire Dragic.

The Sixers are another interesting possibility for Rondo, if only as a short-term option until Jerryd Bayless returns from injury next season and rookie Ben Simmons is ready to take over the offense. A recent hot streak has sparked hope of playoff contention in Philadelphia, and a veteran point guard might be just what the Sixers need to maximize the team’s wealth of young frontcourt talent.

Wherever Rondo goes next, it will almost certainly be a better fit than the Bulls. It appeared to be an odd signing even before Wade committed to Chicago, and the Butler-Wade-Rondo trio always seemed destined to fail because of overlapping skills.

Still, Rondo is too talented to sit on the bench with the Bulls or to be relegated to the second unit. If Chicago is set on using Michael Carter-Williams as its starter, the organization is better off finding a new home for Rondo rather than running the risk of him being a disruptive force for the rest of the season. Rondo could be a giant X factor wherever he goes. He could turn out to be a valuable piece for a title contender just as he was in Boston, or he could quickly sink a team’s postseason just like he did in Dallas.

What do you think? Should the Bulls trade Rondo? Weigh in below in the comments section with your thoughts and possible trade ideas.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.