2019 NBA Trade Deadline Primer

There are only three certainties in life: death, taxes and a bevy of deals going down at the NBA trade deadline.

As a result, it’s never too early to start thinking about the 2019 edition of the annual tradestravaganza.

As the trade deadline approaches, it’ll become increasingly more clear which teams plan to be buyers and which teams will strip down their rosters with an eye on the future. Teams that fancy themselves legitimate contenders will do everything they can to bolster their rosters ahead of the playoffs, while lottery-bound squads will likely trade away their veterans for draft picks and out-of-favor young prospects.

Trade-deadline deals come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from straight-up player-for-player swaps between two teams and multi team blockbusters. It’s rare for a superstar to get flipped ahead of the deadline, but players in the midst of their contract years are frequently dangled in trade discussions. The fear of losing a player for nothing in free agency is strong motivation to move him at the trade deadline.

Below, let’s take a look at which teams figure to be buyers at the deadline and which teams should be sellers.

Likely Sellers

Phoenix Suns
PhoenixSunsThe Phoenix Suns have a promising foundation of young talent in Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton, Josh Jackson and Mikal Bridges, but they’re nowhere near ready to contend for a playoff spot. As the trade deadline approaches, that should make veterans such as center Tyson Chandler, wing Trevor Ariza and forward Ryan Anderson expendable.

While Chandler, Ariza and Anderson can provide valuable locker room leadership for this young Phoenix squad, none of them factor into the Suns’ long-term plans. With Chandler and Ariza each on expiring deals, they could provide both a short-term boost of on-court value and salary-cap relief for any contender. Anderson may be trickier to flip, as $15.6 million of his $21.2 million salary for 2019-20 is already guaranteed, but Chandler and Ariza should be obtainable for as little as a second-round pick or two.

Atlanta Hawks
AtlantaHawksThe Atlanta Hawks are in the beginning stages of a rebuild, having hemorrhaged the core of their 60-win team over the past few years. While Trae Young, Taurean Prince and John Collins all look like legitimate long-term building blocks, Atlanta figures to continue weaponizing its future cap space to accumulate young prospects and draft picks in exchange for taking bloated contracts from teams desperate to shed salary.

Kent Bazemore’s name was bandied around trade rumors throughout the offseason, although his $19.3 million player option for 2019-20 may make him less palatable to potential suitors. Keep an eye on center Dewayne Dedmon, who’s on a $7.2 million expiring contract and unexpectedly unveiled a credible three-point stroke upon his arrival in Atlanta. Contenders in need of frontcourt depth—here’s looking at you, Los Angeles Lakers—figure to come calling Hawks general manager Travis Schlenk about Dedmon.

Sacramento Kings
SacramentoKingsThe Sacramento Kings are a textbook case of how not to go about constructing a roster. Despite spending draft pick after draft pick on big men, the Kings also signed the likes of Kosta Koufos, Zach Randolph and Nemanja Bjelica as free agents in recent years, creating a value-sucking logjam in their frontcourt.

Randolph and Koufos are in the final year of their respective deals, but it’s difficult to imagine the Kings getting much (anything?) back of value. Instead, prospective suitors figure to sniff around the likes of Willie Cauley-Stein, who will be a restricted free agent in July, or third-year big man Skal Labissiere, who’s been buried behind No. 2 overall pick Marvin Bagley on Sacramento’s depth chart.

New York Knicks

NewYorkKnicksWith Kristaps Porzingis still on the mend from a torn ACL he suffered in February, the New York Knicks are mired in a lost season. Since wins and losses are inconsequential for the Knicks this year, they should instead turn their attention toward developing young prospects such as Kevin Knox and Frank Ntilikina and seeing whether Trey Burke, Emmanuel Mudiay and Mario Hezonja are worth keeping around beyond this year.

That doesn’t leave much room for veterans such as 33-year-old swingman Courtney Lee or 30-year-old forward Lance Thomas. Lee is owed an affordable $12.8 million in 2019-20, while Thomas’ $7.6 million salary for next season is fully non-guaranteed until June 30. Both should be attractive trade chips for contenders, as Lee is a career 38.9 percent shooter from three-point range, while Thomas could provide salary relief and frontcourt insurance.

Cleveland Cavaliers
ClevelandCavaliersThe Cleveland Cavaliers lack a direction following LeBron James’ departure to Los Angeles. Heading into the season, head coach Tyronn Lue and general manager Koby Altman told veterans Kyle Korver, JR Smith and Channing Frye that they weren’t going to be in the rotation as the team went younger, according to Joe Vardon of The Athletic, but an 0-3 start to the season abruptly changed those plans.

Though Vardon reported in late October that the Cavaliers front office “is still committed to winning this year rather than tearing down,” that shouldn’t be the case once the calendar flips to 2019. With only $3.4 million of Korver’s $7.5 million salary for 2019-20 fully guaranteed, he’ll be a coveted target for any contender in need of more shooting. Smith’s history of gaffes may make him less marketable, but only $3.9 million of his $15.7 million salary for 2019-20 is guaranteed, which could have appeal for teams in need of cap space.

Chicago Bulls
ChicagoBullsIn Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr., the Chicago Bulls have their frontcourt of the future in place. With the playoffs all but a pipe dream this season, developing those two in tandem should be the Bulls’ top priority, but the presence of Robin Lopez, Jabari Parker, Bobby Portis and Cristiano Felicio complicate those efforts.

Lopez is in the final year of his four-year, $54 million contract, which could make him expendable at the trade deadline, particularly if the Bulls want to insert Carter in the starting lineup. It’s difficult to imagine much of a market developing for Felicio, but if the Bulls are wary about their ability to retain Portis in restricted free agency this coming summer, he could likewise be dangled to fetch draft compensation in return.

Orlando Magic
OrlandoMagicNikola Vucevic has been a fixture of trade rumors for years, but this may finally be the season in which he finds his way out of Orlando. The Magic spent the No. 6 overall pick on Texas center Mo Bamba, who profiles as their long-term 5 of the future alongside some combination of Aaron Gordon and Jonathan Isaac.

Vucevic won’t ever find his way into the Defensive Player of the Year conversation, but he’s rounded out his offensive skill set in recent years, improving both as a passer and as a three-point shooter. With Vooch in the final season of his four-year, $53 million deal, the Magic figure to dangle him on the trade market once they slide out of playoff contention rather than losing him for nothing as a free agent in July.

Likely Buyers

Houston Rockets
HoustonRocketsThe Houston Rockets are firmly in win-now mode. After falling one game short of knocking off the defending champion Golden State Warriors in last year’s Western Conference Finals, they figure to do whatever it takes to surround James Harden and Chris Paul with the requisite talent they need for another deep playoff run.

Less than a week into the season, the Rockets offered four future first-round picks to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Jimmy Butler, according to ESPN.com’s Adrian Wojnarowski, which underscores their desperation to improve. Seeing as they won’t have the salary-cap space to sign an impact free agent in 2019, making a splashy trade is their only way to drastically improve so long as Harden, Paul and Clint Capela are in the fold.

Philadelphia 76ers
Philadelphia76ersThe Philadelphia 76ers struck out on their star hunt over the offseason, but that didn’t stop them from setting a goal of making it to the NBA Finals this year. Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons are virtual locks for the All-Star Game provided they stay healthy, but the Sixers need to provide their two superstars with better sidekicks to turn that goal into a reality.

Philadelphia has a plethora of future second-round picks it can dangle at the trade deadline, and it would assuredly love to dump Jerryd Bayless’ expiring contract in a deal for salary-matching purposes. Wing depth and long-range shooting will be the Sixers’ top priority on the trade market, as they’ll need both in spades if they’re to overtake the Boston Celtics, Toronto Raptors and/or Milwaukee Bucks in the 2019 playoffs.

New Orleans Pelicans
NewOrleansPelicansUntil Anthony Davis signs his name on the dotted line of a five-year supermax extension next summer, the New Orleans Pelicans have no choice but to remain aggressive on the trade market in pursuit of upgrades. While their frontcourt trio of Davis, Nikola Mirotic and Julius Randle may rival that of any other NBA team, their wing depth still leaves much to be desired, which could prove to be a fatal flaw come playoff time.

The Pelicans’ decision to flip Alexis Ajinca for Wesley Johnson shortly before the start of the 2018-19 season presumably came with future trades in mind. They could package his $6.1 million (for salary-matching purposes) with future draft compensation to scoop up a wing who could give E’Twaun Moore and Solomon Hill additional reprieve.

Los Angeles Lakers
LosAngelesLakersIf LeBron James and Co. haven’t hit their stride by late January, history would suggest wholesale changes aren’t far away. The Los Angeles Lakers aren’t able to trade free-agent signees such as Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, Michael Beasley or JaVale McGee until closer to the trade deadline, but none of them are locks to finish the year in Hollywood.

The Lakers likely wouldn’t trade away a young high-upside prospect such as Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart or Kyle Kuzma unless it’s for a star-caliber player with multiple years left on his deal, as they’ll be part of the pitch they give to marquee free agents next summer. Since team president Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka are firmly fixated on the free-agent class of 2019, don’t expect the Lakers to make any moves that compromises their financial flexibility beyond this year.

Milwaukee Bucks
MilwaukeeBucksThe Milwaukee Bucks quickly learned this year that having a competent head coach can make a world of difference. Who knew?!

With Giannis Antetokounmpo emerging as an MVP front-runner and Khris Middleton possibly headed for his first All-Star Game appearance, the Bucks appear poised to make a deep playoff run this season. But since Middleton, Eric Bledsoe and Brook Lopez will all become free agents in July, the Bucks’ win-now window may close as quickly as it opened. Dumping a bloated contract—John Henson, Tony Snell and Matthew Dellavedova all qualify—may be worth the draft compensation it takes for Milwaukee.

Miami Heat
MiamiHeatA free-agent spending spree in 2017 has the Miami Heat stuck in no-man’s land. They aren’t good enough to contend for a championship as currently constructed, but they have far too much talent on their roster to tank for a top-tier lottery pick.

Josh Richardson, Bam Adebayo and Justise Winslow are Miami’s three best trade chips, but the Heat presumably wouldn’t flip them unless it was for a superstar. Since the long-term contracts of James Johnson, Kelly Olynyk and Dion Waiters figure to be difficult to shed, Goran Dragic may be the most likely trade candidate, as his $19.2 million player option for 2019-20 is hardly prohibitive for an All-Star-caliber point guard.

Oklahoma City Thunder
OklahomaCityThunderA slow start to the 2018-19 season won’t dissuade the Oklahoma City Thunder from considering themselves potential championship contenders. Starting the season without All-Defensive wing Andre Roberson got the Thunder off on the wrong foot, but they’re poised to make a midseason surge up the Western Conference standings once they get their defense straightened out.

The Thunder may be reluctant to bring in too much additional salary, as they’re already well over the luxury-tax threshold. But if they can’t get more out of their power forward rotation, Patrick Patterson (who has an affordable $5.7 million player option in 2019-20) could be dangled as trade bait to beef up that hole on their roster. OKC would love to stumble upon a stretch 4, much like the Sixers did with Ersan Ilyasova last February.

Indiana Pacers
IndianaPacersThe Indiana Pacers are hurdling toward a momentous summer, as Thaddeus Young, Tyreke Evans, Bojan Bogdanovic, Darren Collison, Cory Joseph and Kyle O’Quinn are all set to become unrestricted free agents. Indiana has only $57.9 million in guaranteed salary on its books for 2019-20, so it’ll have the financial flexibility to re-sign whoever it wants, but that increases the pressure to make a deep playoff run this year.

The Pacers’ offseason signings of Evans and Doug McDermott have paid dividends, but they may need even more wing depth to compete with the likes of the Celtics, Raptors and Bucks come April and May. If they aren’t confident in their ability to re-sign one or more of their impending free agents, don’t be surprised if they flip those players to bolster their depth chart elsewhere.

What Will The Other Teams Do?

Could Go Either WayLikely to Stand Pat
Charlotte Hornets
Charlotte Hornets
Los Angeles Clippers
Boston Celtics
Memphis Grizzlies
Brooklyn Nets
Minnesota Timberwolves
Dallas Mavericks
Portland Trail Blazers
Denver Nuggets
Washington Wizards
Detroit Pistons
Golden State Warriors
San Antonio Spurs
Toronto Raptors
Utah Jazz

All salary information via Basketball Insiders.

Bryan Toporek is a Quality Editor for Bleacher Report who also writes about the NBA for BBALLBREAKDOWN and FanSided and co-hosts The NBA Podcast. Sam Hinkie was right. #TrustTheProcess

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