The NBA trade deadline is in two months. Several players come available for deals starting Jan. 15. We’re through Christmas and teams have discovered if they have more of an opportunity, or less, to win this season. The trade winds are starting to steer.
Here’s a first run of what league discussions have suggested recently.
During the dog days of the NBA season, between December and March, not much attention was paid to the ups and downs of teams that they knew would be fine by the postseason.
The Milwaukee Bucks had largely been penciled into the NBA title picture after their 22-8 start (they are +500 to win the championship at FanDuel behind the Boston Celtics).
If you look at the big headline elements — Giannis Antetokounmpo’s monster numbers, the Bucks sitting one game behind the East-leading Celtics as we near the halfway mark — everything looks fine. But under the hood, there’s some cause for concern.
The offense has been rough from the start. As of this writing, the Bucks rank 24th in Schedule-Adjusted Offensive Rating, according to Dunks And Threes. They rank 24th in half-court offense, according to Cleaning the Glass.
Khris Middleton missed the start of the season recovering from injury, played seven games, and then went out again. On top of that, Middleton has a $40 million player option for the next season he may decline. There has been burbling noise around the league that Middleton will, at least test the market.
Antetokounmpo’s frustration has been notable this season, even as he puts up massive stat lines every night. The wear and tear is obvious; he’s averaging the most minutes he’s played since 2018.
While the knock on Mike Budenholzer’s tenure in previous seasons has been he’s saving Antetokounmpo too much, it appears the plan this season is to gun him to keep Milwaukee upright. (This is also curious because the Bucks have a +2.8 Net Rating in minutes where Antetokounmpo is off the floor.)
The vibes, as the kids say, are said to be not great. This is true of almost every NBA team throughout the season; it’s a grind, and teams have tough moments. There’s no reason to believe the Bucks are coming apart or things are untenable.
The Bucks are expected to seek help on the wing at some point in trades. Milwaukee sacrificed several wing players last season in a trade for Serge Ibaka, who has played 11 minutes per game in just 15 contests this season.
Milwaukee was reportedly close to a deal with the Phoenix Suns for Jae Crowder, but the third team in the deal, the Houston Rockets, wanted more draft compensation. League sources said they would not be surprised to see another iteration of the deal go through before the deadline.
Another potential target for Milwaukee: Bojan Bogdanovic from the Detroit Pistons. There’s not much feeling that the Pistons are eager to move their best player with Cade Cunningham out, but as the team transitions more towards draft positioning this season Milwaukee will look to bid if the Pistons make Bogdanovic available.
Ultimately, the Bucks may very well just slog through the season. Middleton can get healthy, the Bucks will likely right the ship after the four-game losing streak over Christmas, and things will be fine.
But with a Schedule-Adjusted Point Differential that’s good for 10th in the NBA (+1.8), there’s reason to believe Milwaukee may be masking some problems. The question is whether they can ride them out until the warmer days of spring, or if further issues will bubble up.
The Toronto Trap
Toronto is 5-13 since starting the season 11-9. The Raptors’ overall numbers aren’t bad — 16th in Scheduled-Adjusted Offense and 13th in defense — but they are once again playing their starters to the bone just to get there.
Entering Thursday’s games, Pascal Siakam is playing 37.2 minutes per game, OG Anunoby is playing 37.1 and Fred VanVleet is playing 37.0; all three are in the top five for minutes played per game this season.
Each time has missed with injury, so the total minutes are lower, but the concern remains the same: Toronto is absolutely burning itself just to play sub-.500 basketball.
League sources say Toronto is active in trade talks and open to moving players, but the asking prices have been described as “insane,” “astronomical,” and “far-fetched.” (Shock of all shocks, teams place less value opposing teams’ players in negotiations than that team.)
This is an essential problem for the Raptors, however. Their players are too good to part with for anything short of a significant return but not good enough together to contend. Their inability to bolster the bench in the draft has left them slowly sinking below the surface of the waves.
Last summer, the asking price for Anunoby was a top-10 pick. With Anunoby having a Defensive Player of the Year caliber season and with the market so strongly in the pursuit of wings that can score and defend, the consensus is that his price might be higher.
The market looks flooded with buyers as teams are looking for upgrades, and very few teams are in a position to pivot further, especially with the play-in tournament a viable way into a playoff run.
For example, teams in the Play-In Tournament are usually the squads stuck in the middle that are willing to pivot.
The Portland Trail Blazers (seventh in the standings), Suns (eighth) and Golden State Warriors (ninth) are three of the four teams in the Western Conference play-in range and all three have serious playoff aspirations. In the Eastern Conference, the same is true of the New York Knicks (tied for sixth), and Miami Heat (eighth), Atlanta Hawks (ninth).
Additionally, many teams have already traded their first-round picks, and the draft is loaded. Those two things make for a hard market. I expect a high ratio of potential buyers to sellers as the deadline approaches.
The Athletic reported last month that the Indiana Pacers and Myles Turner were in extension talks. An agreement would end a four-year prolonged trade saga around the versatile big man.
however, multiple sources indicated this week that if a deal wasn’t reached, it would finally prompt the Pacers to move on and deal Turner. At this point, I’ll believe it when I see it, given how many times Turner’s name has appeared in trade rumors.
The Pacers are in a tight situation. They’re currently in the playoff position, but much of that is due to presumed playoff contenders (Heat, Hawks, and Raptors) underperforming to this point.
Are the Pacers really ahead of their timeline, or is the rest of the conference just underachieving in a weird year full of parity?
Is There a Deal for Bradley Beal?
After Bradley Beal signed his new mega-contract with a no-trade clause, the common consensus was he would not be moved in a trade. But that hasn’t stopped conversations about if Beal (or the Washington Wizards) would eventually want to move on.
The Los Angeles Lakers have popped up in multiple reports for the star scoring guard. That would require a typical Lakers-Esque manipulation of the market to force Washington’s hand to give him away for very little beyond Russell Westbrook’s eventually-expiring contract and their two future first-round picks in 2027 and 2029.
The Wizards, as a whole, seem adrift, with most of their players understanding the temporary nature of the team’s makeup. As of this writing, they’ve gone 6-2 in their past 8 games and still remain five games under .500 because they went 1-13 in the 14 games prior.
Personnel around the league have speculated whether it’s a matter of when and not if Beal asks out, but Wizards President Tommy Sheppard has consistently shot down that idea. I mention it here because even teams with no reason to trade for Beal wonder where his future career intentions lie.