As the trade deadline approaches, executives across the league are using the same word to describe the market: “clogged.” As in, clogged with available players no one wants for the desired price, and clogged with bloated long-term salaries — stinky leftovers from the 2016 cap spike — no one wants at (almost) any price. The model is simple: You need payroll relief, and we have a solid player on an expiring contract. Players and the actual situation as it is: The Wizards have investigated the market for DeAndre Jordan without gaining any traction, sources say. A package of Marcin Gortat, Jason Smith (perhaps heading to a third team), Kelly Oubre and a first-round pick has long been my favorite realistic Jordan package. Oubre is up for an extension after this season. Washington will have trouble paying Oubre, Bradley Beal, John Wall and Otto Porter. Of course, they’d also have trouble paying Jordan, Beal, Wall and Porter. (They could trade Porter, but it’s unclear if the Clippers have any interest.) Interest leaguewide would be higher if Jordan signaled he might opt into his deal for next season, but that hasn’t happened, sources say. The salary mechanics between Washington and LA are tricky; the Wiz are over the tax, the Clippers barely under it.
Portland is $3 million over the tax, and when a non-contender gets that close, it usually tries to duck it. Maurice Harkless is the name to watch. He earns about $11 million per year through 2020, and he has largely fallen out of the rotation. But he’s still just 24, with the raw ingredients of a modern NBA wing who can slide up to power forward. A bullish team with an expiring contract might take a shot on him if the Blazers toss in a second-round pick. Would the Mavs exchange Josh McRoberts’ expiring $6 million deal for Harkless? That gets Portland under the tax, but it also cannibalizes the Mavs’ cap space this summer. They have bigger ambitions for that space, but they’ve had bigger ambitions since 2011.
You know the Rockets will kick around any way to upgrade this roster, even on the fringes. They are all-in to chase Golden State now. The Warriors are trying to beef up their bench given wobbly play from Andre Iguodala, Patrick McCaw, Omri Casspi and Nick Young. They inquired about Avery Bradley, but got nowhere, league sources say. That’s not surprising; the Warriors have little to deal beyond minimum-salaried players, second-round picks starting in 2020, and first-rounders they obviously won’t flip for bench guys. Could they coax Brooklyn into a Patrick McCaw-Joe Harris swap? Both teams would probably demand a second-round pick as sweetener, leading to a stalemate. Harris is better now, but McCaw is four years younger. The deal would add about $200,000 to Golden State’s salary bill — plus tax — and believe it or not, the owners actually care. Harris will be an unrestricted free agent this summer; McCaw will be restricted. McCaw has been so uneven, the monster offer sheet Golden State feared may not be coming. The Warriors could just keep him. None of Golden State’s other expendable minimum guys have any value.
Expect the Nets to be active listening to offers for Harris and Spencer Dinwiddie. Parting with either would hurt; the Nets justifiably feel proud of the work they have put in with both. Dinwiddie has been their best player this season. But Harris is a free agent who will have suitors, and Dinwiddie’s trade value may never be higher; he will make just $1.6 million next season before entering free agency in July 2019. If someone offers a first-rounder for him, they will think hard. The bet here is he stays put.
Denver is in the awkward spot of needing to cut money from next season’s payroll without hurting their current team. The most likely scenario with Nikola Jokic’s potential free agency remains Denver declining his cheapo option for next season, making him a restricted free agent in July (as opposed to unrestricted in a year), and paying him the max. Do that, and you’re likely in the tax before paying Will Barton, an unrestricted free agent this summer. Denver could trade Barton now, but it appears to be fine holding onto him and risking that he walks for nothing, per league sources. The Nuggets have his Bird rights for sign-and-trade purposes. They will have to attach a draft pick to dump Kenneth Faried. That would hurt. Meanwhile Denver has discussed Darren Collison deals with the Pacers. (Collison will miss the next few weeks after undergoing knee surgery, the Pacers announced). Marc Stein of The New York Times reported Monday that Denver has looked into Smart. They’ve also kicked the tires on Cory Joseph, league sources say, but Joseph has a $7.9 million player option for next season. Only $2 million of Collison’s deal is guaranteed. Unless they know Joseph will decline that option — hard to tell — the salary difference matters to Denver.
The Wolves have been cautious even discussing the 2018 first-round pick they own via the Thunder, sources have said. (Minnesota owes its own pick to the Hawks.) The Wolves know they will need cheap rookie-scale guys as Andrew Wiggins and then Karl-Anthony Towns age into max deals. Gorgui Dieng could likely be had, but who is excited about paying him this season and then more than $48 million over the next three years?
Toronto is already out a first-round pick via the DeMarre Carroll salary dump, but they will hunt up until 3 p.m. Thursday for this season’s version of the P.J. Tucker buzzer-beater. They need a dose of shooting.
The Bucks have acquired center Tyler Zeller from the Nets in exchange for guard Rashad Vaughn and the rights to a future second-round draft pick. Zeller, 28, is in his sixth season in the NBA and holds career averages of 7.0 points and 4.4 rebounds per game while shooting 50.4 percent from the field. This season with the Nets, Zeller appeared in 42 games (33 starts) and averaged 7.1 points and 4.6 rebounds in 16.7 minutes per game while shooting 54.6 percent overall. Zeller was in his first season with Brooklyn after spending three seasons (2014-17) with the Celtics, and his first two seasons in the NBA with the Cavaliers (2012-14). The North Carolina product was drafted with the 17th overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft by the Mavericks, but was traded the following day to the Cavaliers where he began his NBA career. Vaughn, 21, was in his third season with the Bucks after being selected by Milwaukee with the 17th overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft. In three seasons with the Bucks, Vaughn appeared in 133 games (eight starts) and averaged 3.1 points and 1.2 rebounds per game. Bucks center John Henson and Zeller were teammates at North Carolina from 2009-12 where they advanced to the Elite Eight in consecutive seasons in 2011 and 2012.
Injuries are always devastating to players, teams, fans and the league as a whole. Yet it’s even worse for those who were selected to play in this season’s All-Star Game. In fact, an entire NBA roster could have been formed based on the sheer number of players sidelined so far this season. Below is a starting lineup comprised of players all currently injured:
John Wall (Sore left knee) – Out 6-8 weeks (surgery) – Wall hasn’t been himself all season long. There have been flashes of the superstar point guard everybody knows he’s capable of being, but having arthroscopic knee surgery was necessary if he’s going to play like that as a consistent level.
Mike Conley (Bone intrusion in left heel) – Out for season (surgery) – The Grizzlies’ great start came to a screeching halt after Mike Conley started sitting out due to a heel injury. There was hope he would come back, but the Grizzlies star ended up undergoing surgery to repair a bone intrusion in his left heel that ended his season after playing just 12 games.
Kawhi Leonard (Right quadriceps tendinopathy) – Out indefinitely (rehab) – Everything that can go wrong has gone wrong for Kawhi Leonard this season. First a quad injury sidelined him, then he had a partial tear in his shoulder, only to have the quad injury from earlier reemerge and keep him sidelined indefinitely. A total disaster.
Gordon Hayward (Broken left ankle) – Out for season (surgery) – It was a tragic opening to the season when Gordon Hayward broke his ankle during his first game as a Celtic. This was supposed to be the start of a new era on a new team. That’s now been pushed back to next season.
DeMarcus Cousins (Ruptured Achilles) – Out for season (surgery)
The DeMarcus Cousins injury was brutal. He was having a historically great season and it looked like he was well on his way to his first career playoff appearance. One rebound attempt later and he’s out for the season in a contract year. That’s just not fair.