5 teams to watch as 2023 NBA trade deadline approaches
The trade deadline is fast approaching. There will be calls. There will be offers. There will be news.
But will it all upset the pecking order in either conference, produce a heavy favorite for a championship, involve a major star or – especially this year, given the stakes in the 2023 draft – ensure a good place in the Victor Wembanyama draw?
All that potential spice and drama awaits as the league deals with the annual mid-season order of business, where teams take stock of where they stand, have honest discussions about where they’re going and react Consequently.
Keep in mind that, in some cases, teams prefer to wait until summer before making deals. Summer is preferred because the draft order is known (or the draft is even complete by then, depending on the transaction). There’s also a better understanding of free agency and the salary cap, and rosters (and expectations) are being reset.
Making deals at the deadline means bringing players to a new team and hoping they adapt on the fly. There are so many variables at play, but if a team thinks a deadline trade somehow improves them, consider it done.
So, what should we expect at this deadline?
The usual scuttlebut involving player and team rumors will certainly come into play. Will the Atlanta Hawks move to John Collins? What will the Minnesota Timberwolves do with D’Angelo Russell? How about the Phoenix Suns and Jae Crowder or the Los Angeles Lakers and Russell Westbrook?
What about the title contenders: are they trying to level up the middle of the rotation to take advantage? How about the Milwaukee Bucks, who need an extra shooter as insurance, given the slow return of Khris Middleton?
The moments before the deadline will unlock the mysteries, once and for all. Until then, here are five teams that can influence what can happen, as time goes on.
A sense of stagnation set in with this franchise shortly after the start of the season, and months later, nothing has changed. Toronto is disappointing if only because the Raptors have no good excuse to be this far below .500. They haven’t suffered a major and prolonged injury to any of their best players, but find themselves much closer to the lottery than the top five in the East.
That’s the bad news. The encouraging news is that, while disappointing, the Raptors – who should be sellers – have a handful of players with very good market value, which of course seems contradictory.
OG Anunoby is on the front line, due to his reasonable salary and his ability to integrate his skills into almost any system. He does several things well, does not dominate the ball and plays in defense. He can be used in several positions and he is only 25 years old.
Another is Fred VanVleet, the combo guard with championship composure. And Gary Trent Jr., who is a good scorer. Both players have contract options for next season, so that’s a factor for any interested team.
Then there’s the nuclear option: Pascal Siakam, who just completed an All-NBA season and could potentially receive that honor again.
It all depends on what the Raptors demand and what is realistic. Several choices and young players should do the trick, but how many, and for whom?
San Antonio Spurs
A team with the league’s worst defense, no star or savior and a creaky neck from watching almost everyone in the West probably needs to reprioritize. For Spurs, that means it’s time to pull the plug on 2022-23 and prepare for next season. They represent a handful of teams that are realistically considering a high lottery pick and might be better served by guaranteeing that much.
If that sounds familiar, that’s because it is. In the 1996-97 season, Spurs essentially surrendered after David Robinson was injured and the team fell to the lottery. It should be noted that in the 1997 draft lottery, Boston (not San Antonio) had the best chance of Tim Duncan and, well, we know how that turned out.
Unlike this year Duncan, the bottom three teams all have equal chances for the first pick, so the trick is to be among those three. And right now Spurs are in on it.
Their best tradable assets are center Jakob Poeltl and swingman Doug McDermott, a pair of usable rotational players who can help a competitor. Poeltl is a strong rebounder (9.0 rpg), while McDermott brings the shooting range (41.5 percent on 3-pointers). Poeltl’s contract expires this summer, while McDermott has a year left, but the money left on his contract is reasonable.
Spurs can clear enough payroll to add players in the offseason through trades and free agency because, for them, it’s all about the future.
Much like Spurs, Charlotte is looking at a lost season. The Hornets can use this time to start over, and absolutely no one in their fan base will object. Perhaps more than any other team, they desperately need the draft to select a potential superstar. Since Michael Jordan became an owner in 2010, the Hornets have never had one.
Who on Charlotte’s list is available in what is surely a sell-out situation? How about someone other than LaMelo Ball? Yeah, that covers it all. More realistically, the Hornets would likely see a decent market for Mason Plumlee, Terry Rozier, Kelly Oubre and possibly Gordon Hayward (although his injury history and steep contract mean he won’t fetch much in return). ).
One player conspicuously missing is restricted free agent Miles Bridges as he technically does not belong to the Hornets, who have not extended his contract. Those matters will be settled this summer, and Bridges will almost certainly face a suspension after being charged with three counts of domestic violence last summer.
The Hornets are squarely in contention for the No. 1 pick even if they don’t drop any assets overboard. They could guarantee a seat at the table and be active by the trade deadline anyway.
Should they be buyers or sellers, or will they be both? The Suns, two years from reaching the NBA Finals, now find themselves in a special situation.
For one thing: when Devin Booker returns, this team should go up. A healthy Suns team would be very good in the playoffs and, given the right conditions, could go on a deep playoff run.
On the other hand: their league window probably closed last season, and now would be the time to readjust and sell high.
Other than Crowder (who’s been home all season waiting to be traded), the Suns could pull off a pretty big surprise and trade Chris Paul. Before the start of the season, that would be unthinkable.
Paul has struggled to find consistency, making it seem like his decline as a middle-aged player is starting to accelerate. Phoenix could trade him now, assuming someone can face the last two years and $60.8 million on his contract, and look for his next point guard. I don’t know what the Lakers might offer, but if they throw in a Draft sweetener with Westbrook, the Suns might bite and Paul, who keeps a house in Los Angeles, would love to link up with his pal LeBron James (since that Paul and Russ have been traded before, have players been traded twice in NBA history?).
Deandre Ayton and the Suns have an odd relationship and it wouldn’t be a shock if player and team mutually agree that he should be somewhere else, if not before the trade deadline, then this summer.
Introducing the LA team who potentially could be the biggest buyer out there. Yes, it’s the other Los Angeles team (sorry, Lakers) that’s positioned and best equipped to make a few deals and get an upgrade.
The difference here is that the Clippers have assets (no draft capital, since the Thunder own just about every Clippers pick through 2088 of Paul George’s trade). The Clippers are deep, so they can shed the herd and reshape the club, depending on what they think are the positions of need.
In no particular order, the Clippers can buy Reggie Jackson, John Wall, Robert Covington, Marcus Morris and/or Luke Kennard. All have very negotiable contracts and all would have some value to other teams. If the Clippers like what they’re hearing, they might even sway Terance Mann (although, given his youth and reasonable contract, he might think it’s best to stay in the mix).
The Clippers may be looking to bring in a disgruntled/devalued star regardless of salary (owner Steve Ballmer can handle it) and push the chips towards mid-table with Kawhi Leonard and George. Both players can go for free agency in 2024-25, so time is of the essence here, especially given their injury histories.
Kyle Lowry, John Collins, Mike Conley, VanVleet and Hayward are just a few names the Clippers could target, and they would ideally like to improve their center and point guard positions.
Of course, the Clippers could just stay put and take a chance. But there may be no better time and better situation for a candidate to get help without sacrificing much. Many teams would love to own the cards the Clippers have now.
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Shaun Powell covered the NBA for over 25 years. You can email him here, find his archive here, and follow him on Twitter.
The opinions on this page do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the NBA, its clubs or Warner Bros. Discovery Sports.