Ten players most likely to be on the move as NBA trade season heats up

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Every year, Dec. 15 generates a lot of buzz because it is considered the unofficial start of the NBA trade season: As of today, 74 players who signed new contracts this summer become eligible to be traded. It’s a day that gets hopes up, and then…

Crickets.

It takes the pressure of a deadline to get NBA trades made, expect the fireworks closer to the Feb. 9 trade deadline. December deals are rare. What happened Thursday is that players such as Patty Mills, John Wall, Collin Sexton, Donte DiVincenzo, and pretty much every Lakers role player became eligible to be included in a trade. It opens up the market to new possibilities.

What players are most likely to get traded? Here are 10 names to watch.

1) Eric Gordon

If it feels like Gordon has been available for a trade since the Obama administration, that’s about right. The Rockets have been open to moving him for a while and the price right now is a first-round pick plus players making enough to match his $19.6 million salary — and don’t expect Houston to come off that number, if they were going to Gordon would have been traded already. With Gordon’s $20.9 million for next season non-guaranteed, this is essentially an expiring contract now and some team will jump. Gordon is a veteran wing averaging 12.1 points a game and shooting 34.7% from 3 — he could step into a contender’s rotation and provide stability.

2) John Collins

Another player who has been available for a trade for a while — more than a year — but with his role in Atlanta shrinking due to the backcourt of Dejounte Murray and Trae Young, this feels like the time. Collins is in the second year of a five-year, $125 million contract (there are two fully guaranteed seasons after this one, followed by a player option), a fair price for his services considering the rising cap. Last season, the athletic forward averaged 16.2 points on 52.6% shooting and grabbed 7.8 rebounds a night. He has been linked to Utah, Indiana, Dallas and Phoenix, but more teams are likely to get in the mix.

3) Kyle Kuzma

Kuzma is having a breakout season in Washington at just the right time — he’s averaging 21.4 points and 7.5 rebounds a game, he can shoot the 3 (34.9% this season) and is a solid defender.

Kuzma has a player option for next season for $13 million that he will unquestionably opt out of, making him a free agent seeking a contract in the Jalen Brunson range (four years, $110 million). Are the Wizards willing to pay the market rate to keep him next to Bradley Beal and Kristaps Porzingis? Even if Ted Leonsis is willing to open up his wallet, does Kuzma want to stay? If the Wizards don’t think they can re-sign him, they have to trade him and get something back in return. Of course, there have been rumors of a reunion with LeBron James and the Lakers, but the Suns, Hawks, and Kings have all expressed interest as well and may be able to assemble offers that Washington likes better. Whoever trades for Kuzma has to be willing and able to re-sign him this summer.

4) Jae Crowder

The most discussed player on the trade market, everyone thought Crowder would be traded by now. Crowder couldn’t get a contract extension with the Suns this summer — in fact, the Suns were giving his starting spot to Cameron Johnson — so he didn’t show up to training camp as both sides looked for a deal. Nothing. A three-team trade that had Crowder on the Bucks was discussed, and while that version of the deal fell through the Bucks are still interested. There have been Miami Heat rumors (they can’t really match salaries until Jan. 15 when Victor Oladipo and Dewayne Dedmon become trade eligible). Crowder steps in as an undersized two-way four who can hit the three and defend — P.J Tucker lite — which has interested the Lakers as well. If I were to bet on one guy being traded, it would be Crowder.

5) Bojan Bogdanovic

Do the Pistons want to trade Bojan Bogdanovic? Reports out of Detroit have the Pistons saying, “no, we just extended him because we want to keep him.” That also sounds a lot like a negotiation tactic. With Cade Cunningham out for the season the Pistons are already looking to trade Nerlens Noel and are listening to Saddiq Bey offers, Bogdanovic would fit into that. Bogdanovic is averaging 21.1 points per game, shooting 43.2% on 3-pointers, and is a solid defender. The Lakers have targeted him, but offered a “heavily protected” 2027 first-round pick and the Pistons told them it needs to be unprotected. Bogdanovic could help any contender and the Pistons know suitors will come knocking, they can keep their price high. If nobody meets it, they keep him.

6) Nikola Vucevic

The Bulls are 11-16, sitting outside even the play-in in the East with an Island of Misfit Toys roster that lacks the glue of Lonzo Ball as he recovers from another knee surgery. Other front offices expect the Bulls to be sellers at the trade deadline — even if the Bulls themselves aren’t there yet — and hope that Zach LaVine becomes available, although league sources told NBC Sports it’s doubtful he gets traded. The Lakers have interest in DeMar DeRozan but the asking price for the 33-year-old guard will be high. The most likely Bull to be traded is Vucevic, the veteran, offensive-minded center averaging 16.3 points and 10.6 rebounds a game who can space the floor from 3 (36.1%). The Lakers have tried to talk Russell Westbrook plus a pick for DeRozan and Vucevic, but so far that has gotten nowhere. Teams from New York to Dallas have been rumored to have interest in Vucevic, expect those rumors to ramp up as we get closer to the deadline.

7) Myles Turner

When the Pacers traded Domantas Sabonis last deadline, the league expected Buddy Hield and Myles Turner to follow him out the door over the summer as Indiana focused on a rebuild. However, ownership there has never been into the teardown idea and Turner is not only still in Indy but having a breakout season — 17.6 points and 7.7 rebounds a game, shooting 43.2% from 3 while blocking 2.3 shots a game. He is a fantastic fit as a five in the modern game.

Turner is a free agent this offseason and the Pacers need to answer some questions: Do they want to retain him and keep him with their promising young backcourt of Tyrese Haliburton and Bennedict Mathurin (Turner is just 26)? Are the Pacers good with paying the market rate for his services? Will Turner stay in Indiana or does he want out? Turner just switched agents to CAA and the buzz is he’s open to staying in Indy if they are willing to pay up. If Indy doesn’t think they can keep him for whatever reason, they need to trade him. The Warriors and Lakers are among the teams with rumored interest.

8) Patrick Beverley/Kendrick Nunn

The Lakers are the most likely team to make a trade at the deadline, trying to upgrade a roster that is supposed to be win-now around LeBron James and Anthony Davis but is instead 11-16. Russell Westbrook trades draw the attention, but his $47.1 million contract — and the fact he’s playing solidly as the sixth man in Los Angeles — make that unlikely. The more probable trade is some combination (or all) of Patrick Beverley, Kendrick Nunn and a first-round pick. That combination would match the salaries of players the Lakers covet such as Bojan Bogdanovic or Kyle Kuzma. Beverley is averaging 4.6 points a game from 3 and shooting 30.3% overall, not numbers the Lakers expected, which is why they are willing to move on (but also why they have to attach a pick to find a trade partner). It would be a shock if both of these players were Lakers after the trade deadline.

9) Jakob Poeltl

Quietly, Jakob Poeltl has grown into a quality NBA center, one coveted by other teams around the NBA. Poeltl is averaging 12.9 points and 9.9 rebounds a game in San Antonio, and while he doesn’t space the floor he is solid in the paint and a good defender. Poeltl is making $9.4 million this season in the final year of his contract — trade for him and a team will have to re-sign him (and his price is going up). The Raptors, Warriors and Celtics have all come up in trade rumors, but they will have to send picks back to the rebuilding Spurs to get a deal done. The most likely outcome may be no trade and Poeltl re-signs with the Spurs next summer.

10) Mo Bamba

Any potential trade list must, by law, include the Magic’s Terrence Ross, who is the grandfather of the “he’s being shopped” list. And it’s possible the rebuilding Magic will move on from the veteran wing this time around, or potentially trade Gary Harris. But the name piquing interest is Mo Bamba, who got a chance this season and broke out as a solid big averaging 8.5 points and 5.2 rebounds a game.

Bamba is making $10.3 million this season with a non-guaranteed $10.3 million on the books for next season. The Raptors, Clippers, Lakers and Kings have all been mentioned as having interesting Bamba, but whether a team is really willing to match that salary and send a second-round to the Magic to facilitate the deal remains to be seen. That said, expect the Magic to make some moves around the deadline as they focus on their future around Paolo Banchero.

Pelicans Trey Murphy III reportedly invited to participate in Dunk Contest

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We knew three participants invited to the All-Star Saturday night Dunk Contest: G-League fan favorite Mac McClung, the Portland Trail Blazers Shaedon Sharpe and the Houston Rockets’ KJ Martin.

The fourth slot in that event will go to the Pelicans’ Trey Murphy, reports Andrew Lopez of ESPN.

No doubt Murphy can throw it down with the best of them.

The Dunk Contest will headline All-Star Saturday night, Feb. 18, from the Vivint Arena (soon to be the Delta Center again). The event will be broadcast on TNT.

The Dunk Contest is the Saturday night headline event, but it has fallen flat in recent years. Adding a G-League dunker and young, bouncy athletes such as Murphy, Martin and Sharpe could make this one entertaining. However, what fans really want to see — what made the Dunk Contest must-watch back in the day when Jordan, Kobe, and Vince Carter were doing it — is the stars. There will be no Ja Morant, no Zion Williamson, and no Anthony Edwards in this contest.

LeBron James NBA all-time scoring record tracker

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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has held the NBA all-time scoring record at 38,387 points since he retired in 1989. It is one of the most iconic records in sports and one thought by many that would never be broken, but LeBron James is on the verge of breaking that scoring record and doing it at age 38. How many more points does LeBron need to take over the scoring record? When is it projected to happen? Let’s break down the latest numbers (this will be updated after every Lakers game until the record is set).

How many points does LeBron James need to set the scoring record?
117

Abdul-Jabbar career points: 38,387
LeBron career points: 38,271

Lakers’ upcoming schedule:

Jan. 30 at Nets
Jan. 31 at Knicks
Feb. 2 at Pacers
Feb. 4 at Pelicans
Feb. 7 vs. Thunder
Feb. 9 vs. Bucks

When is LeBron projected to set the all-time scoring record:

LeBron is averaging 30.2 points per game this season, at that pace he would set the record on Feb. 4 at the New Orleans Pelicans.

Since he turned 38 (on Dec. 30), LeBron has averaged 35.2 points per game, which would see the mark broken in New Orleans. However, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the record fall when LeBron returns to Los Angeles on Feb. 7 or Feb. 9.

News and notes on LeBron’s quest for the record:

• LeBron scored 41 points — and felt he should have had a couple more — in the Lakers’ overtime loss to the Celtics Saturday on national television.

• Sixers Doc Rivers on what impresses him in LeBron’s run to this record: “LeBron has done it so differently to me [thank Kareem]. Because LeBron is not a natural scorer. LeBron is a playmaker. He got criticized early in his career for making the right decisions. And the fact that he’s now about to break the scoring record, it really points out his greatness.”

• LeBron scored 20 points in the Lakers’ win over the Spurs, a game in which Anthony Davis returned from injury and Rui Hachimura made his debut as a Laker after being traded from the Wizards.

• What has Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said about LeBron passing his record? There has been a bit of frostiness between the two men, but Abdul-Jabbar was gracious in comments to Marc Stein back in 2021 about the possibility of his record falling: “I’m excited to see it happen. I don’t see records as personal accomplishments, but more as human achievements. If one person can do something that’s never been done, that means we all have a shot at doing it. It’s a source of hope and inspiration. Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile back in 1954. Since then, not only have 1,400 runners beaten that time, but the new record is 17 seconds less. We all win when a record is broken and if LeBron breaks mine, I will be right there to cheer him on.”

Watch Harden run onto court from bench mid-play to defend

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It takes a second to notice, but the 76ers had just four players on the court trying to defend the Nuggets on a late third-quarter possession.

But when James Harden — sitting on the bench — notices it, he stands up and runs into play, drawing a technical.

The technical foul was for having four men on the court, not on Harden specifically.

While that may have been a rare instance of Harden rushing to play defense, the 76ers as a team cranked up their defense in the second half against the Nuggets and went on to get the home win behind 47 points from Joel Embiid.

LeBron livid over no foul call at end of regulation, Lakers fall to Celtics in OT

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“The best player on earth can’t get a call. It’s amazing.”

Lakers coach Darvin Ham made that comment out of frustration after another game where the Lakers felt robbed at the end. He wasn’t the only Laker.

LeBron James was once again brilliant — 41 points, nine rebounds and eight assists — but with the game tied against the Celtics and 4.1 seconds on the clock, he drove the lane and didn’t get the foul call when it clearly looked like Jayson Tatum hit him on the arm as he shot.

After the game, referee crew chief Eric Lewis admitted the officials missed the call:

There was contact. At the time, during the game, we did not see a foul. The crew missed the play.”

Patrick Beverley picked up a technical foul for bringing a photographer’s camera over to the referee to show evidence of the foul.

These losses are a punch to the gut for a Laker team with little margin for error and trying to make up ground in the West (at 23-27 they sit 13th in the conference). But LeBron sees a pattern — he is scoring 30.2 points per game (sixth in the league) but is getting to the line just 4.9 times per game, fewer than anyone else in the top nine in the league in scoring.

“I don’t get it. I’m attacking the paint, just as much as any of the guys in this league that’s shooting double-digit free throws a night, and I don’t get it. I don’t understand it,” James said postgame in Boston.

The other Lakers were a little more direct.

Boston pulled away in overtime to get the 125-121 win, snapping their own three-game losing streak.

LeBron finished with 41, Anthony Davis 16 (on 6-of-15 shooting off the bench) and Beverley had 15 including a key putback dunk. Jaylen Brown scored 37 for Boston, Tatum 30 and Malcolm Brogdon had 26 off the bench.

There are no moral victories for these Lakers more than halfway into the season, playing the team with the best record in the NBA close and almost winning does not count. Time is running out on LeBron and his team, they need to string together some wins. They felt they should have gotten the chance to win this one.