2022 NBA trade deadline sellers guide: Thunder, Pacers control market yet surprises loom in the background

Only three teams in the Eastern Conference are more than one game out of a play-in spot as of this writing. The gap is a bit wider in the Western Conference, but only the Thunder and Rockets have truly ruled themselves out of the postseason. By that standard, the trade deadline is going to be a sellers’ market. There just won’t be enough of them for buyers to make meaningful upgrades without paying a significant price.

Of course, the buyers know that, and that’s what makes identifying sellers so difficult as the Feb. 10 trade deadline approaches. There are going to be teams in the middle of the standings that see a gap in the market and decide to pivot, which, in turn, could affect how the market plays out for the predetermined sellers. So let’s split the deadline’s class of sellers in half. On one of the spectrum we’ll have the traditional sellers. On the other? The possible surprises.

Traditional sellers

Oklahoma City Thunder

Kenrich Williams probably isn’t going to net a first-round pick. As versatile as he’s become defensively, there’s just not enough of a track record to trust his 3-point shot yet. The Thunder don’t need to make a bad deal here. They can use his Early Bird rights to re-sign him in the offseason. As far as veterans that can help other teams go, Williams is probably the only meaningful trade candidate here.

But the Thunder aren’t just sellers at the deadline. They’re probably going to be bankers, too. Oklahoma City can create more than $30 million in cap space if it wants to. If nothing else, the Thunder are more than $20 million below the salary floor. They almost certainly won’t be after the deadline, so any team that wants to get below the tax line, make an unbalanced trade in terms of salary or get off of some long-term money is going to come Sam Presti’s way. He’ll eagerly accommodate them… for enough draft capital. Even if he uses all of his cap space, the expiring contract of Derrick Favors gives the Thunder one extra team-friendly deal to trade. Expect the Thunder to flex their financial muscle at the deadline and add to their already considerable stockpile of draft picks.

Houston Rockets

Eric Gordon’s contract was viewed as toxic entering the season, and considering his age, injury history and underwhelming last few seasons of shooting, that was justified. But at 33, Gordon is having the most efficient season of his career. He may not shoot 44 percent from behind the arc the rest of the way, but his strength and low center of gravity make him a valuable defender for switch-heavy schemes and his ability to scale up or down as a ball-handler cannot be overstated . The notion that he could fetch a first-round pick at the deadline is no longer crazy, but contenders will approach with caution. Gordon’s contract guarantees for the 2023-24 season if his team wins a championship.

The price and market for Wood is a bit harder to gauge. He’s a stellar all-around offensive on a reasonable contract, and he’d likely look far better playing alongside experienced guards, but he’s a poor defender on his best days and this season hasn’t been a glowing advertisement of his fit in a locker room He is eligible for a hefty extension this offseason, which will also factor into negotiations. Wall for Westbrook, for now, appears unlikely. The Lakers aren’t going to give up a first-round pick to trade for a player who isn’t currently playing. The Rockets don’t seem eager to help the Lakers out for any less.

The Pacers are sellers in theory, but every report indicates that they are actively trying to discourage buyers. Nobody is giving the Pacers a superstar for Domantas Sabonis. Caris LeVert isn’t worth multiple first-round picks. Win-now teams probably aren’t going to be comfortable enough with Myles Turner’s health to pay a fair price for him. Pacers owner Herb Simon refuses to tank. As shortsighted as that decision might be, it’s his to make. That likely rules out packages based on draft picks, so as badly as the Pacers might want to reshape their roster, they seem to be overvaluing their own players to such a degree that a trade might not be possible.

Detroit has no great need to trade Jerami Grant. He’s only 27, so the idea that he won’t be in his prime when the rest of the roster is ready to contend feels far-fetched. He’s clearly not affecting their ability to tank, and given his desire to play a major offensive role, he’d likely be amenable to an extension if Detroit offered him one.

But if he does get that four-year, $112 million extension, he’s going to become substantially harder to trade. Grant hasn’t helped matters by limiting the pool of viable destinations with his insistence on a high-usage role. The decision Detroit essentially needs to make, here and now, is whether it views Grant as a core part of its next winner, or as a trade chip to help the Pistons get a player — or players — who will be, even if that’s done indirectly by trading Grant for picks. Further complicating matters? It’s not clear whether general manager Troy Weaver or vice chairman Arn Tellem will have final say here.

The Magic are devoting major minutes to Gary Harris and Terrence Ross, and while there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, they’ll have to find minutes for Markelle Fultz and Jonathan Isaac when they return, and getting rid of the veterans is the easiest way to do that. Neither should net enormous returns, but if the Magic can turn either into an expiring contract and a second-rounder or two, they can call the deadline a success. If Harris can continue shooting almost 37 percent from behind the arc, his defense will make some contender very happy. Robin Lopez looks poised for the buyout market, but his $5 million is manageable enough to feasibly be traded.

Surprise sellers

If Philadelphia believes it can acquire James Harden through either a sign-and-trade or an opt-in-and-trade, Daryl Morey likely has an unventful deadline. If he wants to try to land Harden through cap space? Things could get exciting. Philly would need to get off both Simmons and Harris to do so. The former would be simple enough. The latter? Not so much.

Trading Harris with assets into Oklahoma City’s cap space is an option, but it would be an expensive one. Philadelphia could also try to use Simmons as a vehicle to dump Harris, as the Sixers is reportedly considered. That’s a bit more doable, but it would take multiple steps as there isn’t a team out there with $50 million in expiring salaries to trade. The Kings are reportedly out of the Simmons sweepstakes, for instance, but if they could be roped back in, they have $20 million in expiring salaries between Marvin Bagley and Tristan Thompson along with another $45 million or so in non-expiring salaries that other teams reportedly want in Harrison Barnes and Buddy Hield. That could create a workable multi-team framework. This path is unlikely, but don’t be surprised if it’s one Morey at least explores in the coming days. He never leaves any stones unturned.

Atlanta’s asking price for Collins is simultaneously too low and too high. It’s surprising that he’s available at all given his offensive chemistry with Trae Young, but rarely do contenders pay what the Hawks are asking for big men who aren’t elite defensively. At that price, most would likely prefer Jerami Grant’s two-way skill set even if Collins is a superior player in the proper context.

Still, Cam Reddish has already been dealt and the Hawks don’t appear ready to quit just yet. Young isn’t going anywhere, but everyone else should be on the table. Do the Hawks really plan to pay both Bogdan Bogdanovic and Kevin Huerter starter money for the long haul? Has Onyeka Okongwu done enough to dislodge Collins or Clint Capela? The Hawks have starting-caliber players all over the roster. They now need to decide who they want to pay and who they want to try to consolidate into a second star. There’s no obvious deal here, so anything feels possible.

Boston has long-term flaws to address, but for now, the priority will likely be moving Dennis Schroder and his $5.9 million salary. Doing so will get the Celtics below the tax line, a process they started by trading Juancho Hernangomez to the Spurs in January. As of right now, they are roughly $2.8 million above the tax line. Getting under it is critical, not only due to Boston’s long-term tax potential and the ticking repeater tax clock, but because the tax pool this season is enormous thanks to wild expenditures from teams like the Warriors and Nets. That is going to motivate owners to get under the line and collect their slice of that pie.

Washington could be considered if it had the assets, but if we assume Kyle Kuzma and Deni Avdija are keepers and Rui Hachimura’s value is too much of a mystery for him to be credibly dealt, there just isn’t much to work with here. Washington can’t trade a first-round pick until 2028. Spencer Dinwiddie and Davis Bertans have two of the NBA’s least-desirable contracts. Washington probably needs to wait until the offseason to make a meaningful addition unless it is desperate enough to deal Kuzma or Avdija.

Getting off the Dinwiddie deal is probably doable, though, especially considering how much players tend to improve in the second year after ACL surgery. Such a move is likely a goal for Washington at the deadline, and the Wizards could surely score some second-rounders by putting Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Montrezl Harrell on the table. For now, though, the Wizards take all cues from Beal. If a move makes him likelier to stay, they’ll try to make it, and if he indicates that he wants to leave, they’d be best served by acting quickly and positioning themselves for a rebuild. Frankly, they’d probably be better off taking that approach anyway. Washington is 23-26 even with Beal. Is there much reason to believe things will get better in the future?

If nothing else, there is a ton of easy money to be saved here. Sending Serge Ibaka into Oklahoma City’s cap space would save Clippers owner Steve Ballmer over $40 million in salary and taxes. He’s never been shy about spending, but that’s just easy money. The real question here becomes how drastically the Clippers want to reshape the roster ahead of next year’s return to contention.

Marcus Morris could probably net a first-round pick. So could Nic Batum. If the Clippers want to restock their cupboard of draft picks, they could position themselves for a bigger move in the offseason. The question really boils down to how comfortable the Clippers are with their ability to compete for the 2023 championship with a healthy version of the roster they currently have. If they believe that’s doable, there’s no reason to make a major move.

We covered the Blazers in the buyers guide, and to some extent, Portland will seek upgrades for a possible playoff push next season. Such an upgrade will have to be cost-effective, though, because the Blazers are not only $3 million above the tax line this season, but sit precariously close to next season’s projected tax line with only half of a roster signed.

Portland can get below the tax this season by trading either Nurkic or Covington, and there will surely be offers built around draft picks aimed at solving that exact problem. Next season is a more complicated problem, especially with Anfernee Simons boosting his value with each passing game. Portland might have to look into a McCollum or Powell trade purely for financial purposes. There’s just no way they can afford to pay four guards as much as McCollum, Powell, Simons and Damian Lillard will be making.

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