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NBA players most likely to be traded this season

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This story is part of our NBCSports.com’s 2019-20 NBA season preview coverage. Every day between now and when the season opens Oct. 22 we will have at least one story focused on the upcoming season and the biggest questions heading into it. In addition, there will be podcasts, video and more. Come back every day and get ready for a wide-open NBA season.

NBA teams had historically high roster churn this summer. With so many newcomers around the league, there are fewer than usual obvious in-season trade candidates entering the year. But a few still stand out:

Nene (Rockets)

The NBA nixed the Rockets’ plan to have Nene as a $10 million trade chip. But that might have made it even more likely they trade him.

The upside Nene’s contract provided would’ve been to add salary, which would’ve almost certainly pushed Houston into the luxury tax. Obviously, that was at least a consideration. Otherwise, why sign Nene to that deal? But it’s unclear just how good of a return Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta – notorious for dodging the tax – would’ve required to greenlight a trade.

Fertitta won’t have to worry about that now. With the NBA’s ruling, Nene counts $2,564,753 against the cap. His salary would nearly double if he plays 10 games, which therefore almost certainly won’t happen. He has become too-expensive dead weight on a team flirting with the luxury-tax line.

The Rockets attaching a sweetener to dump Nene is most likely. He could also be dealt as an expiring contract to facilitate something else. But one way or another, expect Houston to trade Nene before the luxury tax is assessed the final day of the regular season – which of course means trading Nene before the trade deadline.

Several other deep reserves (Rockets)

Of the five minimum-salary players who began last year with Houston and didn’t hold an implicit no-trade clause, three got traded during the season.

The Rockets have figured they can move players on full-season minimum salaries and replace them with players on the pro-rated minimum. It’s a clever way to meet the roster minimum all season and still get more breathing room under the luxury tax.

So, Tyson Chandler, Thabo Sefolosha, Ryan Anderson, Gary Clark and Isaiah Hartenstein all look like prime candidates to get traded this year. If any of Ben McLemore, Anthony Bennett, Jaron Blossomgame, Michael Frazier, Shamorie Ponds or Chris Clemons make the regular-season roster, add them to the list.

Jae Crowder (Grizzlies)

Andre Iguodala isn’t Memphis’ only veteran forward on an expiring contract who’d help a winner more than this rebuilding outfit. Crowder also fits the bill, and he’s more likely to get traded for a couple reasons:

1. Crower’s salary ($7,815,533) is far lower than Iguodala’s ($17,185,185). Interested teams will have a more difficult time matching salary for Iguodala. Acquiring Crowder is much more manageable.

2. Iguodala is a 15-year pro with supporters all around the league, First Vice President of the players’ union and former NBA Finals MVP. Crowder lacks those credentials. Iguodala has far more cache to command a buyout.

Iguodala is more likely to change teams this season, but it could be by trade or buyout. Crowder is more likely to change teams via trade.

Josh Jackson (Grizzlies)

Iguodala isn’t even the second-most-likely Grizzly to be traded. That’s Jackson, who’s so far from Memphis’ plans, he didn’t even report to training camp.

With his fourth-year option sure to be declined, Jackson will become a $7,059,480 expiring contract. That makes him useful in so many possible trade constructions. He could allow Memphis to acquire an undesirable long-term contract plus an asset. He could grease the wheels of a larger trade. Maybe another team even wants to take a flier on the 2017 No. 4 pick.

Between all the possibilities, it seems like a decent bet one comes to fruition.

Danilo Gallinari (Thunder)

Chris Paul has generated all the headlines, but in its star trades, Oklahoma City acquired two quality veterans to match salary. Gallinari, 31, is younger and maybe even better at this stage. His contract (one year, $22,615,559 remaining) is definitely more favorable than Paul’s (three years, $124,076,442 remaining)

Plenty of contending teams could use another talented forward like Gallinari – if he’s healthy. That’s the big catch. Gallinari thrived with the Clippers last year, but that was his healthiest season in years.

Paul, Dennis Schroder (two years, $31 million remaining) and Steven Adams (two years, $53,370,785 remaining) are also candidates to get moved. But there will probably be more urgency from the Thunder to get assets for Gallinari and more of a market for him.

A couple notes on prominent players not yet mentioned:

I predicted Bradley Beal will tire of the Wizards’ losing and leave Washington. It doesn’t have to happen this season. Though I wouldn’t rule out a trade before the deadline, Beal will like ride out the year in hopes of making an All-NBA team and gaining super-max eligibility. That might be his best ticket to staying, though paying Beal and John Wall the super-max would sure limit the Wizards.

The Warriors insist they didn’t acquire D'Angelo Russell just to trade him. I believe them. I also believe he’s a difficult fit with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, especially defensively. A Russell trade remains very much on the table. But if Golden State plans to give it an honest shot with Russell – and with Thompson sidelined most of the season – a Russell trade won’t necessarily happen before the deadline.

Ryan Anderson reportedly returning to Houston on non-guaranteed contract

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From 2016-18, Ryan Anderson was a solid stretch big in Houston, hitting 335 three-pointers in that time. Last season he left but struggled in Phoenix and Miami (the Heat waived and stretched him in July).

Now he’s going back to Houston, a team with some available roster spots and minutes. Shams Charania of The Athletic broke the news.

The Rockets signed Anderson to four-year, $80 million contract in 2016 but moved him in a salary dump before last season to Phoenix. The Suns traded Anderson to the Heat, who this summer waived and stretched him — and that contract is still paying Anderson more than the veteran minimum the Rockets deal will.

If Anderson can regain his form — he shot just 30 percent overall and 22.5 percent from three last season — there is a natural fit with the Rockets. P.J. Tucker will start at the four, and behind him it’s Gary Clark. It’s possible to see Anderson coming off the bench for 15 or so minutes a night as a good drive-and-kick option for both James Harden and Russell Westbrook. Anderson also played about a quarter of his minutes as a backup center in small-ball lineups last time he was in Houston, giving the team versatility. Not much defense, but offensive versatility.

For you salary cap nerds out there, if Anderson sticks with the Rockets the Heat save a little money on the stretch provision.

The Rockets will actually have to cut another non-guaranteed contract before signing Anderson (they already had the training camp maximum of 20). Houston has an interesting camp with actual position battles, they have just nine guaranteed contracts and the other 11 players in camp — of which five or six will make the opening day roster — are on non-guaranteed deals.

Heat land NBA’s vagabond star in Jimmy Butler

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NBC Sports’ Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

Jimmy Butler is unapologetically Jimmy Butler.

Tough. Determined. Headstrong.

Dwyane Wade, self-proclaimed Heat Lifer, was on furlough in Miami and playing with Butler on the Bulls in 2016. Butler has chafed many of his teammates. Not Wade.

“He’s as advertised,” Wade said as a compliment.

Several years later, endorsements like that led to a surprising union between Butler and the Heat. In Wade’s long-term franchise, Butler might have finally found a team that appreciates everything he brings.

Before that, Butler had to run through tenures with the Bulls, Timberwolves and 76ers. Miami had to undertake an ambitious plan to pursue a max player despite having minimal cap flexibility.

But now Butler and the Heat are now committed to each other. This is a chance for Miami to move out of deadlock and Butler to find a home.

Butler is now on his fourth team in four years. Chicago lost interest in Butler’s hard-charging ways. Butler ran out of patience in Minnesota, where their top young players resisted his message. Butler had tension in Philadelphia, too.

He has also had plenty of success in each of those stops. In the previous three years, he has produced 30.6 win shares (11th in the NBA).

Only three players in NBA history have had more win shares while playing for four teams in four years. And that counts absolutely no production for Butler with the Heat next season, which obviously hasn’t yet begun!

Here are the players with the most win shares while playing for at least four teams in four years:

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One more time because it’s so incredible: This counts nothing yet from Butler next season! He has a good chance of climbing this list and passing Gary Payton, Ed Sadowski and maybe Adrian Dantley.

Getting such an impact player cost the Heat plenty. They lost Josh Richardson and a first-round pick and downgraded from Hassan Whiteside to Myles Leonard in the sign-and-trade with the 76ers. Hard-capped due to acquiring Butler in a sign-and-trade, Miami also waived and stretched Ryan Anderson, locking in a $5,214,583 cap hit each of the next three seasons. And the Heat owe Butler $140,790,600 over the next four seasons. That’s a lot for someone who’ll turn 30 before the season and has heavy mileage.

But Butler is a true star who could break Miami from its capped-out mediocrity. Other offseason additions like No. 13 pick Tyler Herro and No. 32 pick KZ Okpala probably aren’t going to do that. The Heat might even impress enough with Butler to land another star in 2021 free agency.

There’s a limit on how much Butler will help. He probably doesn’t lift Miami into the East’s elite. His contract could age poorly.

But for a stuck team, a willingness to embrace the hard-charging Butler is a clear advancement.

Offseason grade: C+

Report: Heat using Clippers as fourth team to complete Jimmy Butler sign-and-trade

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The Heat – after agreeing to send Josh Richardson to the 76ers in a sign-and-trade for a maxed-out Jimmy Butler, having the Mavericks fall through as the third team in the deal, roping in the Trail Blazers – will add the Clippers as the fourth team in a deal that hopefully each side understands.

Miami will still get Butler, still send Richardson to Philadelphia. Portland will still get Hassan Whiteside for Maurice Harkless and Meyers Leonard. But Harkless will now go to L.A. with a first-round pick attached from Miami as a sweetener for taking his $11,511,234 salary.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

This is a very different trade than the ones (plural!) Miami and Dallas agreed to. The Heat will seemingly keep Goran Dragic, Kelly Olynyk and Derrick Jones Jr. – three players who can help around Butler.

Instead, Miami downgrades from Whiteside to Leonard and surrenders a first-rounder. Bam Adebayo can step into a larger role at center. The protections on that first-round pick will be highly important, especially as the Heat continue with this older, capped-out team.

The Heat could still make other moves to trim salary. If they don’t, they’ll likely stretch Ryan Anderson. That’d add a $5,214,583 cap hit each of the next three seasons – another cost of this new trade structure.

This could be a nice windfall for the Clippers, again depending on the pick protections. Harkless can play, and there’s plenty of upside with Miami picks. Importantly, L.A. preserves max cap space for Kawhi Leonard. The Clippers surely hoped to lure better complementary players than Harkless, but with the market drying up quickly, Harkless doesn’t look so bad. And the pick could be a valuable long-term asset.

Report: Heat, Mavericks blame each other for trade falling through

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The Heat reportedly agreed to trade Goran Dragic to the Mavericks. The Mavericks reportedly agreed to trade for Kelly Olynyk and Derrick Jones Jr. from the Heat.

But Miami and Dallas didn’t agree to the same deals.

As a result, the Jimmy Butler sign-and-trade between the 76ers and Heat hangs in the balance. That deal would send Josh Richardson to Philadelphia and help the 76ers clear cap space to sign Al Horford, who opted out with the Celtics to get this big contract. So, the ripple effects are far-reaching.

What went wrong between the Heat and the Mavericks?

Tim Cato of The Athletic:

At some point, Miami became convinced that it was sending Goran Dragic to Dallas, league sources told me and The Athletic’s Jared Weiss. The two sides have been arguing over how the miscommunication happened and which side is to blame.

All this confusion and not a single Brooks involved. I’m not sure whose fault this is, but with Butler set to join them and Philadelphia counting on that, the Heat face a lot of pressure to get something done.

To acquire a maxed-out Jimmy Butler in a sign-and-trade, Miami must send out at least $15,997,024 of salary in addition to Richardson’s in the deal. Salaries of the maybe-involved players:

  • Dragic: $19,217,900
  • Olynyk: $12,667,886
  • Jones: $1,645,357

The Heat must also stay below the hard cap ($138,928,000), which is triggered by acquiring a player in a sign-and-trade. That requires shedding even more salary, though it doesn’t have to be done in the Butler trade.

Stretching Ryan Anderson ($15,643,750 guaranteed next season) would help, but that can be only one aspect of the deal.

Meanwhile, teams like the Knicks, Clippers and Mavericks are filling their cap space. Miami is running out of places to unload salary.