Owning an unrestricted free agent (UFA) in the NBA is a sticky situation. Most of these players have proved their worth, and are circling a large contract in the coming offseason. As a contending team it could be tough to retain the services of these players while remaining under the tax moving forward. There is also the risk of locking a player down long term only to see their best days are behind them.
This year in the NBA there are a large number of teams trying to contend so while it’s not ideal, adding a contract-year veteran could be the difference-maker in the playoffs.
Restricted free agents are a different animal entirely. Although guys like Lance Stephenson, Greg Monroe, Avery Bradley, Evan Turner, Gordon Hayward and Isaiah Thomas will draw interest, their respective teams can match any offer to keep them rooted home. Most of these guys will stay home past the deadline. However I expect a fair number of trades this year so many of the UFAs on this list could be shipped to new homes.
Keep in mind every year there are buyers and sellers. Dean Lewis from “Accepted” does a good job of explaining it; start it at 32 seconds, you’ll know what I’m talking about.
Essentially the buyers are looking to grab that one piece capable of elevating the team further in the postseason. The sellers are trying to do one of two things. The first of the two is to clear cap space. LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh could all potentially opt out of their current deals. While many franchises learned not to throw all their eggs in the free agency basket the last time the 2003 Draft class hit the market, players of that quality–fool’s gold or not–will always draw interest. The second reason would be to help the team lose more games. In a stacked draft class, look for fringe playoff teams to make a move, increasing their chances at one of the coveted young prospects.
So who are the top ten players to be moved in one of the aforementioned deals?
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10.Carmelo Anthony – $21,490,000
It’s all but certain that Anthony tests free agency this offseason. All the words in the world couldn’t convince me otherwise. Anthony doesn’t know what he wants yet, not unlike Knicks fans. Anthony could stay in New York and continue the burden/honour of being the man in the Mecca of basketball or he could go share the spotlight in L.A. or Chicago. The hearts and minds of the Knicks fans have been twisted due to Anthony’s 62-point explosion but most still know signing Anthony to a long-term max contract handcuffs the franchise a bit. The dilemma is real on both sides, which leads us to this ranking.
If New York management is uncertain and Anthony is uncertain wouldn’t it make sense to cash in on a hefty return for the near* superstar? Anthony has admirers–anyone who thinks there’s no market for Anthony is crazy. Consider the Rudy Gay situation, how low his value was and how well he’s played for the Kings. Anthony’s value is nowhere near that low and if he bought into the team system, he’d elevate any playoff team from competing to contending.
Anthony won a player of the month award in January and deservedly so. If you take Anthony’s play since December, he’s averaged 27.7 points, 3.2 assists and 8.2 rebounds. More importantly, however, he’s been relatively efficient on a team that relies on him to supply 90 percent of their offense any given night. Over the same span, Anthony is shooting 47-47-85 from the field, three-point and free throw ranges, respectively. Anthony is the biggest domino that could fall in the trade deadline frenzy. Although his elevated play may entice the Knicks to stake their future behind the swingman, crazier things have happened.
9. Kyle Lowry – $6,210,000
Kyle Lowry, not DeMar DeRozan, has been the best Raptor this season. The Raptors are 18-11 since the Gay trade, the biggest reason being Lowry’s expanded role. He’s averaged 18 points, eight assists and five rebounds a game over that span. He’s undoubtedly motivated by the fact he’s in a contract year and yet doesn’t that benefit a team looking to contend even more? The problem for general manager Masai Ujiri, who I believe–being the businessmen that he is–still wants to deal Lowry, is appeasing the fan base in the process. Lowry and the surprise Raptors have now played their way into the hopes and dreams of longing Raptor fans. Lowry has now increased his trade value immensely over the past few months. Yet Lowry is one of the three players on this list who could be a top player on a championship team.
8. Pau Gasol – $19,285,850
Pau has been almost traded like seven times this season. Pau offers the best of both worlds but he’s a big gamble and the Lakers aren’t giving for cheap, like most of the guys on this list. Pau is a borderline All-Star when healthy, even at this state of his career. His post moves are still elite and when he wants to be, he’s a competent defender. Couple that with the massive savings he could offer a team if things didn’t work out and he may just be the big Cohune of our expiring class. I predict that near the deadline someone will likely cave to the Lakers demands and toss in an asset with the matching contract fodder. The Suns do make a lot of sense; Okafor plus the Pacers’ first would still leave the Suns with their young core and three first-round picks. Rental or not, Pau is worth the investment for a team that’s struggled to produce over the past few years.
7. Danny Granger – $14,021,788
Granger has accepted his role as a reserve behind emerging stars Lance Stephenson and Paul George. He’s obviously struggled to stay on the court, yet this is a player who was once an All-Star. There are teams who would take a one-year gamble on such a player. The Pacers are likely not going to retain Granger so the expected price could be low. Better to get something in return for the former All-Star than to watch him walk. Teams like Toronto, Phoenix or Washington would lose very little making a gamble on Granger and what he might add to the team in the playoffs.
6. Shawn Marion – $9,316,796
Dallas has been pretty quiet on the trade front thus far but never underestimate Mark Cuban and his desire to both win and make a splash. Dirk is also expiring and Cuban knows that keeping this team in contention is very important to Disco Dirk. Marion has a substantial contract that could be used to match a large piece. Marion also still holds value; the Matrix is still an extremely versatile defender and has his moments offensively. If Cuban was to make a big move at the deadline, Marion’s contract seems the most logical one to move.
5. Paul Pierce – $15,333,334
Every other GM can thank Billy King for revealing the truth behind “the Truth”. While Paul Pierce commands a tenth of the value he did before the season started there are still teams out there who might give the veteran a chance. The Nets are stuck between a rock and a hard place; they have no first-round picks for the next five years and though they likely don’t want to abandon ship on Pierce this quickly, if someone called could they say no? Even during the Nets mild success thus far in 2014, their ceiling falls way short of a championship. What Pierce will do after the season is a mystery but with the right group he might have enough left in the tank for one more run.
4. Rodney Stuckey – $8,500,000
The Pistons desire to dish out unfortunate contracts like hot cakes will become a subplot of this article. However, unlike Gordon and Villanueva, Stuckey is a capable role player. Stuckey is shooting career percentages from the field and three-point line. For the first time a player on this list adds the intrigue of potential; Stuckey could supply a contender with explosive second unit scoring. Yet if Stuckey failed to produce on a new team you could simply let him walk in free agency. A team like Miami, San Antonio or Oklahoma could benefit from a combo guard who can both shoot and create offense, especially with the ever thwarting, heart-breaking presence of injuries in the post season. If Manu Ginobili or Russell Westbrook went down in the playoffs, Stuckey might be able to compensate enough for the team to stay afloat.
3. Ben Gordon – $13,200,000
Oh, hey, the other guy the Pistons signed in 2009–officially killing Motown basketball for the next half decade. Hmmm… let’s pause a minute to consider. Do the large signings of Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings really look much better than that of Villanueva and Gordon back in ’09? Villanueva was coming off a 16-point, 7-rebound a game season, shooting decent percentages. Gordon was coming off a career-year with better numbers across the board than Brandon Jennings last season in Milwaukee. The Pistons ended up trading Gordon to Charlotte, with a first-round pick just to dump the salary. Now the Bobcats sit in an interesting position. Gordon has a hefty expiring salary and ties to a Chicago team looking to rebuild. The Bobcats have surpassed expectations this season and could use Gordon as the next stepping stone in furthering their franchise.
2. Charlie Villanueva – $8,580,000
Does anyone remember when Charlie V was a promising young rookie with Toronto? He had the sensational scoring night against the Bucks, before eventually being traded to Milwaukee. The Pistons signed Ben Gordon and Charlie V to big deals and it went downhill from there. The Pistons have to make a move–they can’t let a contract like this go to waste. Although not many teams get excited over the injury-prone, awkward stretch forward, the cap relief is tempting. The cost on Villanueva is likely low–a prospect, a second-rounder–the Pistons should reap some benefit from their tax exemption.
1. Emeka Okafor – $14,544,687
The 31-year-old big man has yet to play this season but his expiring contract offers a get out of jail free card for NBA teams in or near the luxury tax. The Nets, Lakers and Knicks are all teams who would like to save some money and get under the tax. Okafor has already been rumored in several deals, most recently as the main piece in a deal with the Lakers for Pau Gasol. The Suns traded for Okafor earlier this year under the assumption they’d be tanking but with the team playing so high above expectations, even without up-and-coming star Eric Bledsoe, they could look to flip him again for a more relevant piece.
Who do you think will get traded?
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