Five potential game-changing names to watch as NBA trade deadline nears

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We are just 15 days away from the NBA trade deadline, and while there is no more gathering of general managers around the All-Star Game — there was no NBA gathering of any kind in Atlanta this year, that appeared to be in Miami — the trade buzz is getting louder around the league.

A lot of the deadline deals will be more about moving money around — shedding it, or taking it on to get picks/young players — however, there are a few potential game-changers out there. Maybe not the kind of mind-blowing blockbusters we have come to expect, but certainly trades that can shift the balance of power among contenders.

Here are five names to watch as the trade deadline approaches.

1) Kyle Lowry (Toronto Raptors)

Potential landing spots: 76ers, Heat, Clippers, Nuggets, Raptors

Kyle Lowry is the greatest Toronto Raptor ever. He has been the face of the franchise, an elite player, and a locker room leader through the greatest years in Toronto basketball history — including winning a championship. Someday they will retire his jersey and maybe put a statue of him outside the Scotiabank Arena.

However, this relationship may have run its course. The Raptors are still a good team, but they are retooling the roster for the future around Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, and OG Anunoby. Lowry, at age 34, may not be part of that future. Still, he is scoring 18 points a game, dishing out seven assists a night, and shooting better than 40% from three this season — Lowry could help a lot of teams.

He has reportedly told people around him that he expects to be traded — although he has denied that.

If Lowry does get traded, it would be a mutual decision between him and Toronto. His hometown of Philadelphia gets mentioned first as a destination and he would be a huge boost for the 76ers, providing more shooting and shot creation on the perimeter. Philly is not alone in having interest: Miami could use more shot creation as well, Lowry would be a perfect backcourt fit next to Jamal Murray in Denver, and the L.A. Clippers need point guard depth.

The challenge is Lowry makes $30.5 million and will be a free agent after the season — that’s a lot of money to match for a potential rental (teams would want back-channel assurances from Lowry he would stay). For example, for Philadelphia to make the trade it would require Danny Green, Mike Scott, and some combination of Seth Curry and picks, or Tyrese Maxey and Matisse Thubulle (or some other combination of those players). That’s a lot of roster depth to send out.

Because of that, Lowry may finish the season in Toronto, and that makes the Raptors a more dangerous playoff team.

However, if Lowry does get traded to any of these teams, they instantly jump up the ladder in contender status. Lowry is both a high-quality point guard and a proven champion.

2) P.J. Tucker (Houston Rockets)

Potential landing spots: Nets, Lakers, Jazz, Nuggets, Bucks, Heat, Timberwolves

It might be easier to list teams not interested in veteran forward P.J. Tucker. He is seen as a plug-and-play ceiling raiser for contenders, a player who can hit threes and help on defense. Whether or not the expected fire sale in Houston comes to pass, it is widely expected around the league that Tucker will be on the move.

The question is, would teams get the Tucker we have seen in previous playoffs? Tucker, 35, has struggled this season and is averaging 4.4 points a game and shooting 31.4% from three. Tucker’s supporters will say that his struggles are more about being on the Island of Misfit Toys that is the Houston Rockets this season, and once plugged back in with better players he will revert to form. But that is a risk.

Tucker makes $7.9 million this season, making it relatively easy for most teams to trade for him (the Lakers and Bucks, both up against the hard cap, will have to send out more salary than they take back, making it a little more tricky). Houston wants young players to fit with their rebuilding timeline, not just picks, in any deal, according to reports.

3) Harrison Barnes (Sacramento Kings)

Potential landing spots: Boston, Miami, Denver

Sacramento came into this season dreaming of ending their 14-year playoff drought. That’s not happening — they are four games back of the 10 seed and the final play-in spot in a stratified Western Conference — and the buzz around the league is they have seen the light and will be sellers at the deadline. Sacramento is reportedly looking to get picks and players to speed the rebuild around De'Aaron Fox.

Stretch four Harrison Barnes is a primary target of other teams, and it’s no secret the Boston Celtics want him.

Barnes — who has championship experience with the Warriors — is having the best season of his career, averaging 16.7 points and 6.1 rebounds a game, shooting 39.2% from three while playing respectable defense. It’s easy in Boston to see him plugging right into a closing lineup with Kemba Walker, Marcus Smart, Jason Tatum, and Jaylen Brown. It’s also easy to see Barnes playing key minutes at the four in Miami (taking some of Kelly Olynyk‘s run) or playing next to Nikola Jokic in Denver.

Barnes makes $22.2 million this season and is on a declining contract ($20.3 million next season, $18.4 million in 2022-23). This is where Boston has the advantage, they have the Gordon Hayward trade exception and don’t have to send matching salary back — however, the Celtics are hard-capped and would need to send out more than $9 million to stay under the tax line, but they can easily do that sending out players such as Aaron Nesmith and Romeo Langford to Sacramento (or in separate deals with other teams). Boston also has its first-round picks to sweeten a trade but may have to give up a player it likes, such as Payton Pritchard, to make the trade happen.

4) Buddy Hield (Sacramento Kings)

Potential landing spots: Any team that could use more shooting

If Sacramento is selling, Buddy Hield should be part of that.

Fox and rookie Tyrese Haliburton are the backcourt of the future for the Kings, and Hield has clashed with coach Luke Walton in the past (Hield does not want to come off the bench). It’s time to move on. There would be demand for Hield, who is averaging 16.4 points a game this season and is a career 40% shooter from three.

Is there a contender out there that couldn’t use more shooting on the roster?

The challenge is Hield is in the first year of a four-year, $86 million contract, although it is a declining contract that makes it easier to trade down the line if a team wishes to do so. There hasn’t been a lot of smoke around a Hield trade yet (not like Barnes rumors), but if Sacramento is looking to the future, it should look to find a Hield trade.

5) George Hill (Oklahoma City)

Potential landing spots: Clippers 76ers

If you’re going to bet on one guy on this list getting traded, it should be Hill. It is assumed he will get moved before the deadline around the league — and more than a few teams could use a solid veteran ball-handling guard.

Hill, 34, is a rock-solid veteran, but one who has missed time this season with a hand injury (he is expected to be healthy and back in the next week). He can play the one or the two, is averaging 11.8 points a game this season, and is hitting 38.6% of his threes (and that’s down from the ridiculous 46% he shot last season from deep).

While we only list the Clippers and 76ers as landing spots above because they have reported interest, a lot more teams are calling Oklahoma City to kick the tires on a trade.

Hill makes $9.6 million this season and $10 million next season, but with only $1.27 million of that guaranteed. Teams are not committed long-term to Hill if it doesn’t work out.

In OKC, Sam Presti has gone full Hoarders episode on draft picks and likely would take more, but they will also be open to young players that fit on the timeline of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Luguentz Dort.

Hawks’ Collins out weeks with sprained ankle, Hunter also at least a week

Atlanta Hawks v Philadelphia 76ers
Mitchell Leff/Getty Images
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ATLANTA (AP) — The Atlanta Hawks will be without both of their starting forwards for at least the next three games.

John Collins will miss at least the next two weeks with a sprained left ankle and De'Andre Hunter will be sidelined for at least one week with a right hip flexor strain, the Hawks said Thursday.

Both departed with injuries during Wednesday night’s win over Orlando. Hunter played only seven minutes and Collins was hurt after a dunk that didn’t count at the halftime buzzer.

Hunter is third on the Hawks in scoring at 14.9 points per game, and Collins is fourth at 12.3 points.

Hunter, a fourth-year player out of Virginia, has yet to play a full season because of various injuries.

Draymond Green wants to play 4-5 more years, ideally with Warriors, not stressed about contract

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Jordan Poole got a contract extension from the Warriors this summer. So did Andrew Wiggins.

Draymond Green did not — and he punched Poole and was away from the team for a time.

All this has led to speculation about the future of Green in Golden State. He has a $27.6 million player option for next season, but he could become a free agent this summer. With the Warriors’ payroll through the roof — Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are on max extensions, Poole and Wiggins just got paid, and contract extensions for Jonathan Kuminga and the rest of the young players are coming — there are questions about how long Green will be in the Bay Area.

In an open and honest interview with Marc Spears of ESPN’s Andscape, Green talked about everything from his relationship with Poole after the punch to his future. Here are a few highlights:

“I want to play another four or five more years. That would be enough for me.”

“You can look around the NBA right now. There are five guys that’s been on a team for 11 years-plus. We have three of them [along with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson]. It’s a very rare thing. There’s 470, 480 players in the NBA? There are five guys that’s been with his team for 11 years plus. That’s amazing. So, you don’t just give that away. So, absolutely I’d be interested in that.”

On rumors he wants to play with LeBron James and the Lakers: “I never said that. People can say what they want. I’m also not really one to react much to what one may say. I react to things when I want to react to it. I don’t react to things just because somebody said it.”

Is he worried about his next contract: “No, not at all. I have a great agent [Rich Paul]. The best agent in the business. That’s why you align yourself with an incredible agent, because they handle the business. I play basketball. That’s what I want.”

I don’t doubt there is mutual interest in Green staying with the Warriors, the question is at what price. It’s not a max. As for the threat of him bolting, Green is still an elite defender and secondary playmaker, but it’s fair to wonder what the free agent market would look like for him. Green is not the scoring threat he once was, and his unique skill set is not a plug-and-play fit with every roster and system (does he really fit on the Lakers, for example).

The conventional wisdom around the league right now is that Green will opt into the final year of his contract with the Warriors — especially if they make another deep playoff run — because that level of money is not out there for him. That said, it only takes one owner to fall in love with the idea and send his GM out to get the deal done. The market may be there for him after all, or he may be open to the security of three or four years with another team but at a lower per-year dollar amount.

Green also talks about his relationship with Poole in the Q&A and makes it sound professional and business-like. Which is all it has to be, but it’s not the “playing with joy” model the Warriors are built upon.

 

Lakers reportedly leaning toward packaging Beverley, Nunn in trade

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While the Lakers have looked better of late winning 6-of-8 with a top-10 offense and defense in the league in that stretch, plus Anthony Davis continues to play at an All-NBA level at center.

That run — which still has Los Angeles sitting 13th in the West — came against a soft part of the schedule (three wins against the Spurs, for example), and is about to get tested with a few weeks of tougher games, starting with the suddenly healthy Milwaukee Bucks on Friday. While the Lakers have been better, nobody is watching them and thinking “contender.” Are they even a playoff team?

Which is why the Lakers are still in the market for trades. But Jovan Buha reports at The Athletic the Lakers realize moving Russell Westbrook and his $47 million may not happen, so they are focused more on a smaller deal moving Patrick Beverley and Kendrick Nunn (with maybe a pick) to bring back quality role players to round out the roster).

The Lakers are leaning toward [a Nunn/Beverley trade] at this point, the team sources said. That would entail making a smaller move to marginally upgrade the roster while retaining the possibility of following up with a larger Westbrook deal later in the season…

Beverley ($13 million) and Nunn ($5.3 million) are both underperforming relative to their contracts. With the Lakers’ needs for additional size on the wing and a better complimentary big next to Anthony Davis, along with the roster’s glut of small guards, Beverley and/or Nunn are expendable. Packaged together, the Lakers could acquire a player or players in the $20 million range.

Trading Nunn and Beverley lines up with a couple of good options from the Lakers’ perspective. For example, the salaries work to get Bojan Bogdanovic out of Detroit, or it matches up with a deal for Jakob Poeltl and Josh Richardson out of San Antonio. However, neither the Pistons nor Spurs care much about adding veteran guards on expiring contracts in Nunn and Beverley, so it’s going to require the Lakers throwing in one of their first-round picks unprotected (2027 or 2029) and maybe a second-rounder to get it done. (With how well the Pacers are playing, it’s not a sure thing that a Myles Turner/Buddy Hield trade is still available.) The Spurs trade may be more appealing to the Lakers because Richardson and Poeltl are expiring contracts, so it doesn’t change the Lakers’ plans to use cap space to chase bigger names this offseason (Bogdanovic was recently given a two-year, $39.1 million extension).

These may not be the “move us into contender range” blockbuster Rob Pelinka and the front office hoped was out there, but either of those trades would make the Lakers better. It could move them into playoff-team status, and considering LeBron James turns 38 at the end of the month they can’t waste a year and retool next offseason.

The Lakers have made a number of miscalculations over the years, but they are all-in with this group now and have to find a way to maximize it, even if the cost is a little painful.

Khris Middleton reportedly set to return to Bucks Friday vs. Lakers

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The Milwaukee Bucks are about to get better. Likely a lot better.

Which should worry the rest of the league because the Bucks have looked like one of the two best teams in the Association this season: A 15-5 record with the best defense in the NBA and an MVP and Defensive Player of the Year candidate in Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Now they are about to get Khris Middleton back.

Middleton — the Bucks Olympian and All-Star forward — is set to make his season debut Friday night against the Lakers, reports Adrian Wojnarowski at ESPN. Middleton had been recovering from wrist surgery.

Middleton averaged 20.1 points and 5.4 rebounds and assists per game last season. More importantly in Milwaukee, Middleton is the hub of the Bucks’ halfcourt offense — he is the ball handler in the pick-and-roll at the end of games, asked to create for himself and others in the clutch (with Antetokounmpo working off the ball and sometimes setting picks). Without him so far this season, the Bucks’ halfcourt offense has struggled, ranked 21st in the NBA this season in points per possession (via Cleaning the Glass). Overall the Bucks have a middle-of-the-pack offense because of it.

That is about to change.

While Mike Budenholzer will ease him back into the rotation as he gets his wind back, having Middleton back makes the Bucks much more dangerous. Which is bad news for the rest of the NBA.