Apart from the trade deadline, the NBA’s offseason is the most likely time when a player would be dealt. Teams have had time to review their just-completed seasons and can decide if they need a final piece or two in order to contend or if it’s time for a complete rebuild. The NBA Draft also gives teams extra ammunition to make a deal as lottery picks are highly coveted, especially in a deep draft.
Every year it seems as if there’s a big name or two that gets traded during the offseason. Just over the last few years alone we’ve seen the likes of Kevin Love, Serge Ibaka, Derrick Rose, and Dwight Howard get traded during the offseason. Perhaps the best thing about NBA trades is that they usually always involve actual NBA players as opposed to player-for-picks trades in the NFL and players-for-prospects trades in MLB.
This coming offseason should be very eventful in regards to the trade landscape. Not only is it a deep draft class which means lottery picks will incite some GMs; but also, many star players who we expected to get dealt at the trade deadline stayed put. GMs have had time to think about how their teams are constructed and aren’t pressured by a clock ticking down like when they are up against the deadline.
Sometimes the players you expect to be traded are actually traded, but other times a trade comes out of left field and shocks everyone. We’ll explore all possibilities and here are the 15 NBA players most likely to be traded during the offseason.
15 Ricky Rubio
Rubio has seemingly had one foot out the door since Tom Thibodeau took the reins in Minnesota. First he drafted Kris Dunn, then he tried to trade for Reggie Jackson and, finally, sniffed around on a reunion with Derrick Rose. Lost in all of this is the fact that Rubio is better than all three of those other players! No, he can’t shoot, but he is still a positive on both ends of the court and there’s only a handful of point guards you can say that about. With the T-Wolves Big 3 firmly in place, the trio of soon-to-be 22-year-olds could use a veteran presence and a bridge until Dunn is ready.
Meanwhile, Rubio should go somewhere that will highlight his great passing and cover up his deficiencies. A place like Denver will surround him with 3P shooters and allow him to play at a faster pace that more suits his style than Minny does. He could also go to a place like Milwaukee who has a coach in Jason Kidd who was a similar player and can further develop Rubio.
14 Mario Hezonja
Someone with the nicknames of “The Beast” and “Super Mario” needs to be more than the 10th man on a team with a 9-man rotation. Orlando’s trade for Terrence Ross pushes Hezonja even further down the wing depth chart, so much so, that coach Frank Vogel decided to do this with Super Mario:
Frank Vogel has reiterated what many thought was a brain fart. Mario Hezonja could play PF for the @OrlandoMagic. Someone check on Frank.— David Baumann (@DavidBaumannORL) February 22, 2017
I have no clue if trying Hezonja at the 4 will actually work, but shouldn’t a player get an opportunity to play his normal position before switching roles? Hezonja was the #5 pick in 2015 but has played the fewest minutes of any player taken in the top 13 in that draft. I’d love to see him under coach Kenny Atkinson with Brooklyn as the Nets play at the league’s fastest pace and Hezonja’s skill set is more aligned with that style of play as opposed to Frank Vogel’s.
13 Brandon Knight
Over his first five seasons Knight started all but 13 games and averaged 19.6 PPG as recent as the 2015-16 season. This year he’s been relegated to the bench and has more DNPs than he has 20 point games. There’s only so many former UK Wildcats to feed in Phoenix and Knight seems like the odd man out. Knight is just 25 and a former top-10 pick, but he’s best suited for a sixth man role à la Patty Mills or Jamal Crawford. OKC seems like a logical fit as they have a need for some backcourt scoring off the bench and he and Westbrook can even share the court at times.
The Thunder also have a winning culture which is something that Knight desperately needs to be a part of. Did you know that by the end of this season Knight could lead all active players in regular season games played without a postseason appearance?
12 Emmanuel Mudiay
I’m not sure if Mudiay is an NBA player at this point, much less a rotation player for a team contending for a playoff berth like Denver. In many ways he’s regressed from his disappointing rookie season; however, he is just 21 years old and bypassed college ball to play overseas. Perhaps Mudiay just needs a change in scenery in order to realize his potential as the #7 overall pick. Doesn’t a team like the 76ers make perfect sense for Mudiay? They won’t be real contenders for a couple of years and Mudiay can grow and develop with their other young pieces. Coach Brett Brown has done wonders for T.J. McConnell at the point guard position and, with all due respect, he has nowhere near the talent that Mudiay has. At 6’5”, Mudiay also has the size to play the two-guard position but that would require him to improve his outside shot, which he could also do in Philly.
11 Tyler Zeller
Hey, not everyone that is traded is a star! Zeller was the Celtics starting center two years ago, their backup center last season, and now doesn’t even play half the time as the team’s third-string center. He’s too good for that role and the Celtics would be doing the right thing to allow he or his agent to explore a trade. Zeller has the third highest salary ($8 million) on the team for the 2017-18 season, so moving him would benefit the team as well as the extra cap space can help the team in negotiations for Isaiah Thomas’ impending extension. While I would love to see a Zeller/Zeller pairing in Charlotte, heading west to the Warriors would be a better fit as they have 3 centers who are impending free agents (Pachulia, West, McGee).
10 Tyson Chandler
Tyson Chandler is a soon-to-be 35 year old center with 1000+ games under his belt. You really think he wants to be wasting his last years on a cellar-dwelling team with a bunch of teenagers? Chandler’s game doesn’t fit with the modern NBA of pace-and-space, but he can still be a high-end backup center for a contending team. Yes, Phoenix does need some veterans to chaperone all their youngsters but that’s the reason they brought in guys like Leandro Barbosa and Jared Dudley. Chandler thought he would be the gateway to luring LaMarcus Aldridge to the Valley of the Sun but that proved not to be. Perhaps Chandler can take his talents to Washington as they seem to always need bench help. Chandler would make a great roll man for John Wall and would get a buffet of alley-oops similar to his days with Chris Paul in New Orleans.
9 Omer Asik
Asik wasn’t playing before the Pelicans acquired DeMarcus Cousins and he’s not even dressing with Boogie in New Orleans. The Pellies would love to get rid of the $33 million owed to Asik after this season and will need that extra cap space to re-sign Jrue Holiday this summer and Cousins next summer. You’re probably wondering who would want to trade for Asik who wasn’t that impressive when he was on the court? Old Chicago friend Tom Thibodeau could use someone like Asik backing up Karl-Anthony Towns and, believe it or not, the Timberwolves could "use" his salary. Just as there is a salary cap, there is a salary floor and Minny will have to reach that floor. Once they medically-release Nikola Pekovic (due $11.6 million in 2017-18), the team will need someone to fill that salary and that’s where Asik comes in.
8 Austin Rivers
Around the trade deadline, Doc Rivers said he’d have no issue with trading away his son, so why wait? To Doc’s credit, he and the Clippers organization have developed Austin into a quality rotation guard. As a rookie Rivers was, literally, the second worst player in the NBA. This year he’s played the second most minutes on a team that could finish in the top 4 in the west. Also, I’m sure that despite their relationship, Austin would rather not play for his dad and Doc would rather not coach his son. He may not net Carmelo in return, but the Knicks could use some youth and scoring off the bench so Rivers is a fit there. And wouldn’t you know: Doc Rivers was also traded from the Clippers to the Knicks when he was a player.
7 Meyers Leonard
Guess which team has the highest payroll for the 2017-18 season. It’s a team who could realistically finish 11th in their own conference this season: the Portland Trail Blazers. Portland has over $140 million tied up in salary for next season which is $13 million more than any other team. They’ll badly need to shed some salary just how Meyers Leonard badly needed to shed some hair. Jusuf Nurkic is the Blazers’ center of the present and future and the team also has Ed Davis under contract for next season. Leonard won’t fit in as every team’s type of center, but there will be a market for 7’1” 26-year-old who is a career 37% 3P shooter. Miami could use someone like Leonard as a change-of-pace backup center to Hassan Whiteside.
6 C.J. McCollum
Weren’t expecting this one? Yes, McCollum just signed a 4-year deal last offseason, but the Blazers are starting to realize that the Lillard-McCollum backcourt just doesn’t work, defensively. You can get away with one poor backcourt defender, but not two. Lillard is the better playmaker and moves more merchandise, so he’s not going anywhere. Thus, Portland should be looking to move McCollum for some defensive help as their bottom-5 defense won’t make any noise in the playoffs. It took the Warriors two-and-a-half years to realize that their Steph Curry-Monta Ellis backcourt was only good for lots of points and nothing on the other end.
The Blazers can save themselves half-a-season of mediocrity and deal McCollum for some help this offseason. Blessed with three first round picks in 2017, they can package McCollum and a first rounder for someone like Andre Drummond of Detroit. Portland will get the defensive anchor they need and McCollum gets to play closer to his home in Ohio.
5 Marcin Gortat
The Wizards don’t want to get rid of Gortat, but they may be forced to. With the (unexpected) development of Otto Porter, the Wizards will likely have to fork over a max contract in order to retain their small forward. (Side note: that means John Wall will become the team’s third highest player…yeah, that will go over well with him). Porter getting the max will squeeze out Gortat and the Wizards will be forced to deal him for nothing more than cap relief. They would prefer to trade Ian Mahinmi, who actually makes more than Gortat, but with his injuries no one will take his contract on.
If Detroit makes the Drummond-McCollum swap with Portland, then there will be an opening at center in Motown and Gortat can reunite with the man who brought him into the NBA with Orlando, Stan Van Gundy.
4 Jonas Valanciunas
Both Kyle Lowry (player option) and Serge Ibaka will be free agents this season and the Raptors want to retain both. However, even with the influx of cash to NBA teams, there’s only so much money to go around. Valanciunas is signed to a reasonable deal through 2019 so there will be many suitors and JV longs to be in a more prominent role. Thanks to recent drafts, the Raptors have plenty of other big man options were Valanciunas to leave including recent first round picks Bebe Nogueira, Jakob Poeltl, and Pascal Siakam. I have nothing against the Lopez Twins but JV would work well in Brooklyn if they were to move on from Brook or in Chicago as an offensive upgrade from Robin.
3 Brook Lopez
Brook Lopez is still the stiff, lumbering center we’ve watched since Stanford; but now he has added a 3P shot to his game. That makes him more attractive to teams who prefer stretch-fives but Lopez can also be a bully in the post so teams that prefer traditional centers should have interest as well. With the Nets’ rebuilding efforts having no clear endpoint in sight, Lopez will likely welcome a change in location. He was almost moved at the trade deadline and should be able to fetch a first round pick if/when he’s moved before the 2017 NBA Draft. A move to Sacramento would work as the Kings have an extra first round pick from the DeMarcus Cousins trade and Lopez can serve as a bridge to the young centers the team just drafted.
2 Paul George
Everyone from Paul George to Paul George’s agent to Larry Bird to Magic Johnson knows that PG longs for home and the Palmdale native will look to return to Los Angeles. With George under contract for just one more year (he has a player option in 2018-19 he is sure to decline); it’s in Indiana’s best interest to move him this offseason for something or risk letting him leave next offseason for nothing. Indiana is a middling team in the East who isn’t likely to be a contender for a couple of years.
I know the Lakers are nowhere near being contenders so George may be thinking “If I’m just playing basketball and not contending for titles, why don’t I just play basketball at home in front of friends and family?” Reggie Miller has about as good a chance at becoming the next Pacers coach as George has to remain in Indiana next season.
1 Jimmy Butler
Chicago may be home for Dwyane Wade but he doesn’t want to be on a team battling for the 8th seed in the East so he’ll opt out of his contract this offseason. That means Butler will be on a team whose next best player is…Robin Lopez? Niko Mirotic? Butler will be 28 next season and doesn’t want to waste his prime on a non-contender so he’ll be the next Bull who wants out. There were rumors at the deadline that the Celtics were looking into acquiring Butler and once GM Danny Ainge sees that Jae Crowder and Jaylen Brown at the 3 aren’t enough to overthrow LeBron and Co., he will pull the trigger on a Butler deal. It’s a win-win for both teams; Boston gets its superstar (Isaiah Thomas is “just” an All-Star) while Chicago gets a plethora of draft picks (including the Brooklyn pick) as well as young talent (Brown, Marcus Smart, etc.).