Five Veteran Trade Targets For Contenders At The Deadline

The big names surrounding this year’s trade deadline are obvious. All-Stars like Ben Simmons, James Harden and Domantas Sabonis dominate the headlines, and high-level starters such as CJ McCollum and Christian Wood (the 2020-21 version, at least) could also move the needle for teams.

Yet not everyone has the flexibility to acquire those types of players, even if improvements ahead of the playoffs remain a priority. That’s where lesser targets factor in, and this is often where the top contenders operate at the deadline. Finding guys who can still invigorate a rotation, whether it be for the regular season’s stretch run or beyond, is important for teams trying to take a step forward in the second half of the season or add more 16-game players for the postseason.

A great example can be found just last year, when the Bucks dealt for P.J. Tucker, who became a vital piece of their title team. This year there are plenty of valuable veterans out there on teams with future-facing priorities, and here we’ll take a look at five vets that could be on targets for contenders this week.

Eric Gordon

Despite all of the Rockets struggles, Gordon is putting together a really encouraging scoring campaign over in Houston. He’s drilling 42.7 percent of his triples, 55.8 percent of his twos and averaging 14.2 points on 62.6 percent true shooting. That final number is 6.7 points above league average, the best mark of his 14-year career, even amid a fairly stagnant offensive attack.

Gordon offers both long-range shooting and interior scoring prowess. According to Cleaning The Glass, his 35 percent rim frequency ranks in the 75th percentile among wings, while his 65 percent clip there places him in the 60th percentile of efficiency. With a distinct cadence and dribbling savvy, he’s excellent at marrying the threat of his jumper and driving to generate good looks for himself. He also provides some juice as an on-ball defender.

The passing and off-ball defense are poor, though. Plus, he has 1.5 years guaranteed years remaining on his contract, at roughly $19 million per year, so streamlining the finances in a trade could be complicated. But Gordon is a versatile scorer who can produce from deep and at the rim quite effectively. Those players aren’t abundant in the league, let alone on the trade market. He can certainly help a contender. I’d really love his fit with the Suns, for instance, who lack downhill scoring.

Mike Muscala

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Already in his third season with the Thunder, Muscala has been one of their best players this season. He continues to be a premier stretch big (42.9 percent from deep this year, 39.2 percent since 2019-20) and has been pretty active defensively. He’ll rotate to alter shots around the rim, bother ball-handlers in pick-and-rolls and get a paw on passes, all at rates that feel previously unmatched in his career.

Muscala’s deal doesn’t hamstring anything either. He’s slated to earn $3.5 million through 2022-23. A team who wants more floor-spacing out of its center spot (a chance at redemption with the Lakers, maybe?), while also not jeopardizing the defense, would benefit from his game.

Justin Holiday

After trading Caris LeVert on Sunday, the Indiana Pacers seem like a prime candidate to keep shifting toward a retool, at the very least. Sabonis and Myles Turner will be the biggest prizes in Indiana’s potential fire sale, but Holiday’s game is likewise best utilized on a winning squad, a direction Indiana doesn’t seem slated for the rest of the year.

He’s knocked down 38.8 percent of his threes since 2019-20 (.714 three-point rate), can capably shoot off screens, and is a high-level cutter and useful on-ball defender against lower-rung perimeter creators. There should be significant appeal for him to slot in as a viable rotation wing on various good teams. The Sixers strike me as an optimal landing spot.

Gary Harris

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Harris’ first 17 games of the year — 6.8 points on .390/.241/.857 split — were, uh, rather rough. Since then, he’s been on absolute tear, averaging 14.4 points on .461/.425/.843 splits over the past 30 games.

He’s a versatile long-range shooter, perceptive cutter (especially along the baseline) and can occasionally create out of ball screens. While he’s not the menacing perimeter defender of yesteryear — injuries have sapped some of his mobility — he still got the chops to thrive at times.

Playing out the final year of a four-year, $84 million deal, Harris is on expiring contract. But he’s set to earn $20 million this season, so, similar to Gordon, the finances could get tricky. Nonetheless, he’s turned it around since late November and absolutely can bolster a playoff club (Celtics or Jazz, perhaps?).

Montrezl Harrell

The Wizards exist in an odd space. They’re trying to maximize and build a winning roster around Bradley Beal ahead of his free agency this summer. But the reality is they’re 2-8 in their last 10 games, outside of a play-in berth (0.5 games back) at 24-28 overall and haven’t been playing good basketball since a 10-3 start.

Harrell isn’t really to blame for these struggles, and him potentially being moved stems from the crunch at center, with all of him, Daniel Gafford and Thomas Bryant deserving minutes. Both Bryant and Harrell will be free agents this summer, but Bryant’s youth (24 vs. 28) and floor-spacing abilities might entice Washington more to retain him over Harrell.

Regardless, if Harrell is available, he should have suitors, despite his well-documented playoff foibles. Some of them are on poor coaching decisions (Doc Rivers kept playing him against Nikola Jokic) or an incongruent fit with schemes (Frank Vogel prefers defensive-minded centers, though his ball-screen defense is undoubtedly an issue in high-leverage spots).

There are plenty of positives, though, most notably that Harrell can score the hell out of the ball. This season, he’s averaging 14.1 points on 68.2 percent true shooting, which is absolutely ridiculous efficiency on notable scoring volume. Since 2018-19, he’s averaging 15.8 points on 63.7 percent true shooting.

He’s one of the NBA’s best pick-and-roll bigs and can score out of face-ups in the right circumstances. Pair him with a good creator and he’ll cook during his minutes, especially if he’s empowered to just bully opposing bench bigs. Understanding Harrell’s exploits and shortcomings and how they align with your team’s vision is paramount to maximizing him.

If a team is searching for a big to effectively handle 12-18 minutes a game off the bench and wants an offensive jolt, Harrell is perfect. Identifying that team is a bit challenging, but I’m not entirely opposed to the idea of him in Dallas or Toronto.