The NBA’s trade season begins in earnest on Dec. 15, when players signed this summer are eligible to be traded — those signed with Bird or early Bird rights will be eligible to be dealt on Jan. 15.
For some teams, those dates don’t mean a whole lot — either because they’re happy with their team or they’re so financially constricted that improving their roster via trade just isn’t feasible. More often than not, that is the case and, aside from smaller moves around the deadline for cap reasons, teams will not make major trades in the season.
For others, though, it means they can either buy and get closer to championship contention or begin selling in hopes of improving their odds at the NBA Draft Lottery in June. Let’s take a look at some of those teams and what makes them interesting going into the trade season.
The sole fact that Andre Iguodala is still under contract with the Grizzlies makes them a team worth monitoring all the way up until the NBA trade deadline on Feb. 7. The Grizzlies are hoping to get a first-round pick for the former NBA Finals MVP, but the list of contending teams that can offer Memphis the contracts they need on top of draft compensation is short — like, really short.
Luckily, the Grizzlies have another veteran forward on a more team friendly contract in Jae Crowder. Crowder might not net a first-round pick, but his improved 3-point shooting and size could get them something from a team desperate for some help on the wing like the Los Angeles Lakers or Portland Trail Blazers. That’s not to mention former No. 4 overall pick Josh Jackson, who has yet to be called up by the Grizzlies this season despite putting up impressive numbers in the G League.
Add Solomon Hill to the mix, and the Grizzlies have enough size on the wing to possibly entice multiple contenders into deals. Expect them to field offers for all three aforementioned players.
San Antonio Spurs
It took over 20 years, but the Spurs are bad again. With a 7-14 record and a tough upcoming schedule, the Spurs are expected to miss the postseason for the first time since the 1996-97, which was also Gregg Popovich’s first season as San Antonio’s head coach.
Popovich could work his magic to get the Spurs into the playoffs with an underwhelming roster once again, but in order to do that, the front office needs to find players that are better fits in Pop’s system than the ones he has. To be more specific, they need to find a way to get value for DeMar DeRozan before the trade deadline.
DeRozan has attempted just eight 3-pointers this season and only two of them have gone in. Last season, he ended the season with seven 3-point makes. Robin Lopez made as many 3-pointers last season as DeRozan did last season on 14 fewer attempts.
Whether it’s for the immediate or distant future, moving on from DeRozan is probably the best course of action for the Spurs to take. LaMarcus Aldridge is another player whose situation is worth monitoring, should the Spurs decide to become sellers in total at the deadline.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Despite trading away Russell Westbrook in the offseason, the Thunder are a half game back from the eighth seed in the Western Conference thanks to a breakout season from second-year guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and the steady play of Chris Paul, Danilo Gallinari and Steven Adams. The question is: What exactly do they plan to do?
While the Thunder have exceeded expectations to start the season, it’s hard to imagine the roster as constructed putting up a fight with the top-five teams in the Western Conference in the postseason. But does that mean they sell high on their veteran players while they can, or do they build around their core players using the absurd amount of draft picks they got from trading Paul George and Westbrook?
A case can be made for both, but if Paul makes it clear he’d rather spend the last few years of his career playing for a legitimate title contender, the decision might be made for the Thunder. The same can be said of Gallinari, who is on an expiring deal.
Portland Trail Blazers
The Trail Blazers are in the midst of a three game winning streak, led by the NBA’s Western Conference Player of the Month Carmelo Anthony. They’re going need to keep the winning streak alive well into December if they’re going to re-enter the playoff picture.
Portland is one game back of the eighth seed in the wins column, but they have two more losses than the two teams in front of them. While Anthony’s recent play has helped them win games against lesser competition, they still have a few glaring holes on their roster that need to be fixed before they can be considered legitimate threats in the Western Conference, starting with their forward depth.
Even at full strength, the Trail Blazers don’t have much depth at the 4 spot and the little depth they do have isn’t enough to keep up with the likes of Anthony Davis, LeBron James, Paul George and Kawhi Leonard. What they do have, though, is Hassan Whiteside’s $27 million expiring contract, a few fringe prospects and draft picks to try and swing a meaningful trade before the deadline.
As many expected, Whiteside’s fit with Portland has been awkward, and it’s not going to get much better when Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins return from injury. If the Trail Blazers get an opportunity to sell high on Whiteside’s shot-blocking ability and/or large expiring salary for some wing help, they have to do it.
The lack of experience on the Celtics’ bench hasn’t kept them from being competitive in the Eastern Conference, nor has their lack of size in the front court. However, it could keep them from being a legitimate title contender, which is why it’s safe to assume they’ll target a starting big man at the trade deadline.
Enes Kanter has held his own at the center position for the Celtics this season, posting the highest net rating on the team through 12 games, but he’s still someone teams like Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto Raptors, and Philadelphia 76ers will target in a seven-game series with the size that they have. If a starting caliber center becomes available between now and the deadline, you can bet on the Celtics being linked to them.