Tuesday, March 2, 2021
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With superstars out of the market, the NBA’s 2021 trade deadline could be quiet

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When more than 90 players who signed as free agents become eligible to be traded on Saturday, it will mark the unofficial start of the NBA trade season. Already several big names were changed since mid-November, including James Harden, Russell Westbrook, John Wall, Victor Oladipo, Chris Paul and Jrue Holiday.

Those names were added to a group that includes Anthony Davis, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Kyrie Irving, Jimmy Butler, Kemba Walker and Gordon Hayward, all stars who changed teams since the summer of 2019.

Could that herald an active trading season in 2021? Maybe not.

While the unexpected can always happen, overall, league insiders expect the coming months to be relatively light from a transactional standpoint as multiple factors converged to create an adverse market and potentially trade deadline. quiet on March 25.

MORE: Power Rankings: Can Clippers Still Top?


Who is left?

A byproduct of all those big names that traded teams over the past 19 months is that there is hardly anyone left to follow. Two stars who could have been on the move, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Rudy Gobert, signed massive extensions to stay with the Milwaukee Bucks and Utah Jazz, respectively. That took two large pieces off the board.

That leaves Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal as the biggest star that could be considered available. But while Beal has made no secret of his dislike at times on the court recently for the Wizards, there have been no indications that he has asked to leave Washington, and league watchers are hoping a deal will take place in the offseason. instead of between now. and the deadline.

“I think it would have to be pressure from him and his agent to do it [un cambio], and I think that won’t happen until after the season, if it does, “said a Western Conference executive.

Another executive from the West was even more adamant when asked the same question.

“Zero,” he said, referring to the chances of Beal being traded before next month’s trade deadline. “That’s what they keep saying. They have insisted they are not going to move him.”

But while Beal is expected to stay put, there are some players who could be on the move.

In conversations with executives, some names repeatedly appeared as logical candidates for moves over the next several weeks. The New Orleans Pelicans have already had talks about point guard Lonzo Ball and guard JJ Redick. The Houston Rockets could potentially move Oladipo again, as well as forward PJ Tucker, who also has an expiring contract. No one thinks guard George Hill, who is currently out after undergoing surgery on his finger this week, will remain a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder rebuilding past next month’s deadline.

Orlando Magic shooting guard Evan Fournieris has an expiring contract that is expected to attract interest, and several executives wondered if the team would consider leaving power forward Aaron Gordon outside of 4-6 weeks with a sprained ankle. earlier this week, as part of a shift toward a complete rebuild amid an injury-plagued season.

But while all of those names carry a certain level of intrigue, they don’t move the market, and potentially shake up the leaderboard, like Harden or Beal, or even Holiday, whom the Bucks acquired in November.

“The two biggest names have already moved,” said an Eastern Conference executive. “Nothing will be bigger than Holiday and Harden, but I still think things will happen, especially as some of these teams realize that their salary cap space will be worthless this summer.”

Who can make a change?

Just a year ago, the LA Clippers and Los Angeles Lakers were battling at the top of the Western Conference, and both were seriously looking for a trade for Marcus Morris Sr., then with the New York Knicks. The Clippers were able to put together the winning deal, in part because they had a first-round pick to offer.

Not this year.

Of the teams hoping to fight for a title this year, four of them – the defending champion Lakers, Clippers, Bucks and Brooklyn Nets – have no first-round picks to trade in the coming years, making it difficult to find a way. to add a player who makes a difference. And they are not the only ones.

The Miami Heat and Dallas Mavericks, two teams on the sidelines of the playoff race, have already changed their 2021 first-round pick. So have the Portland Trail Blazers and Golden State Warriors (although they have the protected first-round pick in Minnesota’s top three as perhaps the league’s most valuable business asset). The Utah Jazz, which sits near the top of the West, owes the Memphis Grizzlies a pick that has protections through 2024.

In total, more than 10 teams are limited in what they can offer in draft assets due to previous deals.

“For good teams trying to make rentals, those deals will be difficult without selections. [para canjear]”said a second executive from the East.” And let’s say you’re Washington and you’re trying to make a trade with Beal. If you want to get three first-round picks and two pick swaps, at what appears to be the current price for these deals, your pool of teams that can do that is much smaller. “

Among the league’s top contenders, the Lakers, Clippers and Bucks have the added difficulty of having cap caps at the top, limiting the amount of salary they can add on trades.

Meanwhile, teams are still struggling to figure out who they are and what they need. Practices are few and far between, and with virtually all teams dealing with countless absences due to injuries or the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, playing with a full team is a rarity and could limit deals.

“I think with all the uncertainty, between COVID and everything else, not much is going to happen,” said another Eastern Conference executive.


Who sells?

Every transaction needs both a buyer (a contending team looking to improve their roster in some way) and a seller. And the NBA could have a lack of salespeople this season, due to the expanded playoff field.

After experimenting with a play-in round in the bubble last season, the NBA expanded the effort this season, meaning the top 10 teams from each conference will have a chance to make the postseason.

Entering Thursday, only the Minnesota Timberwolves found themselves more than three games from a possible play-in spot.

“Maybe there are four teams that really don’t think they will make the playoffs,” said one of the West executives. “So who is going to sell?”

If teams have an outside opportunity to advance into the playoffs, particularly teams that haven’t made the postseason in years, like the Chicago Bulls, Knicks or Sacramento Kings, then they might be less inclined to trade productive players who are currently helping them.

“Teams that are in that 8-13 range in any conference, I think a lot of those teams want to make the playoffs,” said an Eastern Conference executive who believes those teams would not be willing to make moves to weaken their teams in 2020-21.

Several executives also believe this could have an impact on the post-deadline acquisition market, as teams that remain in pursuit of a playoff spot would prefer to hold on to those players to advance into the playoffs, rather than try to get closer to the bottom of the rankings. The lowered lottery odds give teams less incentive to be as bad as possible. Just last year, the Charlotte Hornets finished 10th in the East before the restart (a place that would have put them in the play-in this year), but they rose to No. 3 in the draft after the lottery.

Additionally, the NBA remains a money-driven league, and the commercial market is no exception. Several executives said the way different teams approach their financial situations could have an impact on the number of deals this year, particularly at the lower levels.

In this pandemic-shortened season, each team lost five home games, and those that are playing are played mostly without crowds. Some teams, such as the Golden State Warriors, who took on Kelly Oubre Jr.’s salary after losing Klay Thompson during the season to a torn Achilles tendon, have already shown their willingness to take on money, regardless of the economic reality of the NBA. Other teams may end up in situations where the owners direct the front office to seek short-term savings whenever possible, creating a different group of sellers to feed the league buyers.

“Do I think it’s something that drives a series of deals? No,” said another East executive. “But I think there are some situations that while things can be taken off the table due to all the uncertainty that is going on, they could actually become a deal because of that.”

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