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With the flip of the calendar to 2019, the NBA‘s annual trade deadline approaches. Between now and Feb. 7, all 30 teams will scour the market, isolate targets and put in a blitz of calls to gauge interest in their own unwanted goods.
Some clubs will have an easier time unloading than others.
In choosing the player on each team that will be toughest to trade ahead of the February deadline, financial considerations matter most. If you’re overpaid relative to your production, you’re automatically hard to trade. If you’re hurt, on the wrong side of the aging curve or play a position of decreasing importance (hi there, conventional centers!), you’re even less desirable.
Basically, this is the player each team is stuck with unless it’s willing to take on someone else’s bad contract(s) in exchange.
Several guys on this list have actually been traded in the last year, so nothing’s truly out of the question.
One other thing: When we’re laying out an overpaid player’s flaws or otherwise explaining why he’d be hard to trade, don’t misconstrue it as a negative judgment on that player. If anyone’s to blame for bad contracts, it’s the front office that hands them out, not the athlete who accepts as much cash as possible in a career in which earning power generally disappears after age 30.
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The Atlanta Hawks are in the early stages of their rebuild, and it’s probably a positive sign that they lack many onerous contracts. Although, perhaps they’d have an even deeper stockpile of draft assets if they’d focused on adding bad money with picks attached over the last few months.
Miles Plumlee, playing the third year of a four-year, $50 million deal, is a relatively easy pick for the Hawks.
The 30-year-old center has played just 18 games this season and has averaged more than 20 minutes per contest just once in his career—way back in 2013-14 with the Phoenix Suns. Despite his limited usage and underwhelming production (4.4 points per game this year), Plumlee is being compensated like a quality rotation player.
That’s not what he is, which is part of the reason he’s been shuttled from Milwaukee to Charlotte to Atlanta in a series of “now it’s your problem” bad contract exchanges since 2017.
Maybe when Plumlee hits the final year of his deal in 2019-20, he’ll gain value as an expiring contract. For now, he’s a tough guy to move.
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The Celtics have a couple of guys due qualifying offers this summer, and those types of players are sometimes less palatable to acquiring teams; you don’t necessarily want to surrender assets for someone you may need to give a substantial raise (or lose for nothing in free agency) after just a few months.
At the same time, Boston could still easily move Terry Rozier or Daniel Theis (both restricted free agents this summer) before any suitors would even ask about Gordon Hayward.
After a lost 2017-18, Hayward, now a reserve, is still owed $64 million guaranteed through 2019-20. If he’s still something less than a do-it-all star on the wing by the summer of 2020, we should expect him to exercise his $34.2 million player option for 2020-21. A reserve who’ll be 30 in March of 2020 won’t do better than that on the market.
Anyone dealing for Hayward would have to believe in his capacity to recover his stardom. Very little of what we’ve seen this year makes that belief feel reasonable.
Hayward can contribute, and he should improve as the season wears on. But no right-thinking team would want his cumbersome contract unless it could burden the Celtics with several of its own. Boston is contending and won’t have any interest in taking on money worse than Hayward’s.
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Don’t discount D’Angelo Russell’s candidacy here. Though he’s averaging career highs in points and assists per game, he remains a high-usage, low-efficiency scoring guard who struggles to create separation in one-on-one situations. That weakness doesn’t preclude Russell from getting numbers, but it may mean he’ll never become a positive contributor to a winner.
Even amid the best year of his career, the Nets have played better with Russell on the bench. With a $21 million cap hold and restricted free agency coming in the summer of 2019, he’d quietly put a major strain on any acquiring team.
Russell has draft pedigree and intriguing talent, though. Allen Crabbe is a specialist (career 39.5 percent from long range) with limited flexibility and a history of negative defensive impact.
Crabbe is only on the hook through next season (assuming he picks up his player option, which he will), but at $18.5 million per year, the price doesn’t match production. A team with roster spots could sign three prospective wings to minimum deals over the summer and hope one of them learns to hit catch-and-shoot threes at a solid clip. You don’t pay good-starter money for that, but that’s what it’d cost to roster Crabbe.
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In theory, Nicolas Batum could help a lot of teams. But that’s only because the theory of Batum is about a half-decade old. In reality, he hasn’t been the dynamic defender, playmaker or floor-spacer he was when his reputation solidified with the Portland Trail Blazers.
Charlotte owes him an average of $25.6 million per season through 2020-21. When the Hornets inked Batum to his five-year, $120 million contract in the spendthrift summer of 2016, the commitment didn’t even seem that bad by the anomalous standards of that July signing session. The cap was going up, “starter money” meant something different, and market rates spun entirely out of control.
Most teams overspent that summer in one way or another, but Charlotte attached itself to a wing with diminishing skill and athleticism at the wrong time. Batum is still a starter for the Hornets, and he’s shooting the ball more efficiently than he has since his Portland days. But he’s also on the wrong side of 30 with a single-digit scoring average…while being paid like a cornerstone.
If the Hornets lose Kemba Walker in free agency, look to Batum’s deal as a key reason. Tying up huge money in a guy who barely moves the needle is a great way to ruin your books and cost yourself a franchise a star.
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Jabari Parker is basically a healthy scratch in perpetuity these days, but his $20 million salary comes off the books at the end of the season, and there’s no way the Chicago Bulls will pick up a team option for another $20 million in 2019-20.
If another team wanted a fat expiring salary, Parker would be a reasonable get.
Zach LaVine is more of a fantasy/video game contributor than a helpful piece of a winning team, which makes his $19.5 million annual salary through 2021-22 feel like a burden. But LaVine can score at high volume with decent efficiency, and he’s not being paid like a true star. That the Sacramento Kings signed him to an offer sheet before the Bulls matched indicates demand for LaVine’s skill is still out there at this price point.
That leaves Cristiano Felicio, who’s racked up DNPs (coach’s decision) as often as not over the past month and is currently averaging 11.1 minutes per game for one of the worst teams in the league. He’s barely justifying a minimum salary, let alone the $8.5 million he’s collecting this season. With two more years after this one and around $15.7 million left unpaid, Felicio is darn close to dead money.
Depending on your view of team building, you could conclude LaVine’s longer deal is worse. But Felicio provides little defense and less stretch on offense, and he’s making rotation money. That’s a tough guy to trade.
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If you aim a critical eye toward the Cavs’ cap sheet, you’ll have a hard time finding players on below-market deals.
Cedi Osman at $2.8 million is one, David Nwaba on the minimum is another, and Larry Nance Jr. counts as a third—but only until his extension kicks in next year. Maybe Rodney Hood? Otherwise, Cleveland is composed of one overpay after another.
Even with Tristan Thompson, Jordan Clarkson, Alec Burks, Matthew Dellavedova, John Henson and JR Smith all earning more than they should, Kevin Love is the no-brainer selection here. His four-year, $120.4 million extension is set in stone—no options, no partial guarantees—through 2022-23, when Love will be in his age-34 season.
Love is a very good offensive NBA player who can space the floor, pass, rebound and sucker opponents into fouling him down low. He’s one of the most skilled bigs in the game, but he’s been a target of opposing offenses forever, and that’s not going to change as age slows him down. This will be Love’s third straight year in which he’ll miss at least 22 games as well. So in addition to one-way play and certain physical decline, anyone trading for Love is also leaning into significant injury risk.
Nobody’s interested in that for $120 million.
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If a franchise couldn’t move a player without incurring significant collateral damage to oh, say, the greater Dallas-Fort Worth area, that counts as “toughest to trade,” right?
There would be anarchy in the event Dallas ever dealt Dirk Nowitzki, who’s in his NBA-record 21st season with the same organization. The Mavericks would never move their iconic, surefire Hall of Famer, and it seems like we’re way past the point of Nowitzki requesting a move to a winner—not with Luka Doncic to mentor and a playoff berth to chase. Maybe things would be different if Dallas stunk, but Nowitzki has reason to be competitively engaged if this is his last year, and that’s to say nothing of the now unbreakable bond he’s forged with the Mavericks and the Dallas area.
It’s basically impossible to draw up a realistic scenario in which, retirement excluded, the Mavs parted ways with Nowitzki. The emotional toll would be too great.
If that feels like a cop out, Harrison Barnes is probably the next-best answer. He’s due $24.1 million this year and has a player option for $25.1 million in 2019-20. A serviceable starter, Barnes just isn’t efficient or dynamic enough to warrant that kind of cash. DeAndre Jordan ($22.9 million) and Wesley Matthews ($18.6 million) are both on expiring deals, which makes them relatively easy to move.
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This one came down to Mason Plumlee and Will Barton, a pair of useful rotation players who’ve started at points this year for a Nuggets team that should comfortably eclipse 50 wins. Both are useful—Plumlee is active and can pass for a big, and Barton is a microwave scorer Denver envisions as its full-timer at the 3 once he’s healthy—which makes this tough.
That these deals represent Denver’s toughest to move shows the Nuggets have generally gotten their big financial decisions right lately.
Barton is on the hook for three more years (final one is a team option) after this one, which you might think would give him the “bad contract” edge over Plumlee, whose deal has a similar annual value but expires after next season. Barton plays a position of greater scarcity, though, and centers who don’t spread the floor are basically minimum-salary types by default now, unless there’s elite rim protection in the bargain.
Plumlee is a serviceable backup center making more than serviceable backup centers should make in today’s NBA. He’s the pick*.
If you thought Paul Millsap, Nikola Jokic or Gary Harris were in the running because they represent the Nuggets’ largest financial commitments, you’re missing the point. This isn’t just about dollars; it’s about what teams are getting for their money.
*Yes, this is our second Plumlee. I’ll spoil it now and tell you Marshall will not appear on any of the upcoming slides, avoiding a Plumlee sweep.
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Blake Griffin‘s skill development, which has effectively transformed his game to stave off athletic decline, means the length of his contract, which runs through 2021-22, is less of a concern than it would otherwise be. It’s not like we can look at the way he’s playing point guard and shooting threes off the dribble at respectable rates and ask, “Well, what’s he going to do when he can’t dunk everything anymore?”
This. He’ll do this. And it’ll be fine.
Griffin is still overpaid, and it’s hard to imagine someone wanting to commit $39 million to him in the last year of his deal when he’s 32. But he’s an All-Star whose expanded game makes him a decent fit just about anywhere.
Andre Drummond is different. Though he’s over four years younger than Griffin, and though his deal expires a year earlier (and is for a significantly lower average annual value), Drummond is the type of player that fits no one’s needs.
No contender could reasonably believe Drummond puts it over the top, especially at around $27 million per season. And no rebuilding team could reasonably view him as a cornerstone. He doesn’t space the court, Detroit has defended better with him on the bench for three straight years, and he’s one of the worst post-up players in the league. Overall, he’s averaging 1.03 points per shot attempt, which ranks in the 11th percentile among centers.
It’s tough out there for old-school centers. Drummond is proof of that.
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Let’s pretend the Warriors lose Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green to season-ending injuries and, as a way to get ahead of Kevin Durant‘s possible free-agency exit, they try to trade him this year.
In that far-fetched scenario, moving KD is still almost impossible. All but a couple of teams would know they were only renting a few months of Durant’s services before he opted out this summer. The few who thought they had a chance to sign Durant outright wouldn’t want to give up parts of their core to get him a few months early. Right away, there’s an odd dearth of realistic suitors for one of the five best players in the league.
Even in those circumstances, getting Durant would cost a trove of assets and require huge money going to the Warriors just to make the deal for KD’s $30 million salary legal under the CBA.
And what would the Warriors even want in this hypothetical? What team would be willing to give them assets they could parlay into another few years of dynastic winning?
Even in this made-up, highly implausible thought experiment, the Warriors would have a heck of a time moving Durant. Ditch the theoretical and come back to a reality in which Golden State’s stars are healthy and Durant means everything to a potential third consecutive ring, and there’s just no way to move the guy.
Curry makes the most money, but he’d instantly transform any franchise. Thompson’s and Green’s salaries are reasonable (though Thompson will also be an unrestricted free agent this summer). All three of those guys could be moved if the Warriors went on tilt for some reason.
Ironically, the guy the Warriors are most likely to lose would also be their toughest to trade.
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At this stage of his career, Chris Paul is still several orders of magnitude better than Brandon Knight has ever been—and that’s probably still true if you take the present version of CP3, whose hamstring has him on the shelf.
That said, Knight was traded within the last few months. His long layoff from a torn ACL and the $15.6 million he’s owed for next year didn’t preclude the Rockets from adding him to the roster.
It would be harder to deal Paul.
That’s mainly because of the financial commitment—Paul is due $38.5 million next season, $41.4 million the next and a staggering $44.2 million in 2021-22—but also partially because of health and age concerns. Paul will be in his age-36 season when he’s hauling in the $44.2 million on his player option, and he’s already a lock to miss about 20 games per season. How durable will he be in three years?
Consider, too, the lack of destinations. Paul would have no value at his price tag on a rebuild, and any title contender he might put over the top would struggle to clear the cash necessary to add him. If this deal ever gets moved, it’ll be much closer to 2022, when most of the money has already been paid.
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It seems like most teams would be happy to pay Myles Turner $18 million a year from 2019-20 to 2022-23, which takes Indiana’s longest contractual commitment out of the running. Turner has taken significant strides as a defender this year, and he’s a few more three-point attempts per game away from being a viable two-way star. At age 22.
Victor Oladipo makes $21 million per season through 2020-21, but he’s been an All-NBA talent since joining the Pacers. For less than max money, he’s a massive bargain and eminently movable.
Just about everyone else on the roster is on an expiring deal (Thaddeus Young, Tyreke Evans, Bojan Bogdanovic, Darren Collison, Corey Joseph and Kyle O’Quinn), and we know those contracts are easy to move. Throw in five other guys on rookie scale or minimum deals, and there’s just not a lot to choose from.
Doug McDermott stands out. On a non-rookie deal that’ll pay him $7.3 million in each of the next two seasons after this one, you could argue he’s overpaid for his production. But you’d be wrong. McDermott is a career 40.4 percent shooter from deep whose mere presence on the floor warps a defense. Get him zipping around screens, and you can open up opportunities all over the floor. That’s worth $22 million over three years.
Let’s go with Tyreke Evans, who’s underperformed on a one-year deal and would still be relatively easy to move compared to almost everyone we’ve mentioned for other teams. At $12.4 million, he’s a little pricey for a backup combo guard posting his worst effective field-goal percentage since 2010-11.
It should be clear from this that Indy is in excellent financial shape. Evans could have a hot week and suddenly become a positive asset, and he’s the guy we’re labeling hardest to move.
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The Clippers make it two teams in a row with a severe shortage of bad contracts.
The pick here has to be Danilo Gallinari, even though the 30-year-old forward is posting a career high in true shooting percentage and the second-best usage rate of his time in the league. If the Western Conference were at all fair, he’d be getting serious All-Star consideration. But because he’s in line to make $22.6 million in the final year of his deal next year, he’s the hardest player to swap out on a Clippers team where, realistically, everybody is movable.
Avery Bradley’s 2019-20 salary isn’t fully guaranteed, and Lou Williams is probably undercompensated at $8 million per year. Unless you want to argue Marcin Gortat is a hard guy to trade (he was traded this past summer), then you’re stuck with Gallo.
Being “stuck” with Gallo is a pretty good place to be.
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A September buyout took Luol Deng out of consideration, leaving lots of rookie-scale deals, expirings, minimums and LeBron James as candidates for the Los Angeles Lakers.
James’ salary and age don’t matter in the same way as, say, Chris Paul’s. Every team would move heaven and earth to get James, and that’ll probably be true if he’s still playing when he’s 40. Everyone else on the roster is also eminently movable. Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma are all enticing players who should improve and are under total team control through at least 2020-21, when Ingram will be due his qualifying offer if he doesn’t sign an extension sooner than that.
That leaves a quartet of vets: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson and Michael Beasley.
Beasley makes the least money ($3.5 million), and Pope is the youngest (25). Rondo has rehabilitated his rep as a leader after effectively quitting on the Dallas Mavericks in the 2015 playoffs. He seems to have the respect of veterans around the league and still piles up assists. Even at $9 million this year, somebody might want him to run a second unit.
Stephenson was nearly out of the league in 2016-17, bouncing between three teams. He’s playing better this season but has historically been an inaccurate shooter. Beasley, though cheaper, has barely played and hasn’t been productive with the Lakers. Stephenson’s ball-handling and defensive intensity (if not necessarily effectiveness) travel better than Beasley’s one-way scoring, meaning Beasley would be tougher to deal.
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Would you rather pay Chandler Parsons the remainder of this year’s $24.1 million salary and next year’s full $25.6 million (on a player option that Parsons will absolutely pick up), or owe Mike Conley $69 million for 2019-20 and 2020-21 after you finish paying the balance of this season’s $30.5 million?
Without question, Conley is the better player. Even if a bum Achilles cost him 70 games last year, and even if he hasn’t played more than 75 contests since 2012-13, Conley is far more valuable than Parsons, whose persistent knee issues have rendered him a complete non-factor in three-plus years with the Grizzlies.
If you want more flexibility in 2020-21, maybe Parsons is the more palatable pickup. Especially if you can buy him out next season. But otherwise, Conley is the far better trade target, which settles a pretty sad debate from Memphis’ perspective.
Fun stat that may actually just be piling on: Conley has more points, assists and steals this season than Parsons has in his entire Grizzlies tenure.
When you’ve got two candidates like this, it’s a good indication your books are in trouble. Good thing Conley’s injury last year led directly to a record bad enough to net Jaren Jackson Jr. in the draft.
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Dion Waiters hasn’t played since last season, when he fell back to his career statistical norms after an anomalously strong 2016-17. Still, his shot creation figures to be more valuable in an era of defensive schemes (switching mainly) that force offenses into more isolation situations than we used to see.
At roughly $12 million per year through 2020-21, Waiters’ contract is ugly. But it’s not that bad.
Hassan Whiteside is substantially overpaid, but he comes off the books after next season. Same with Tyler Johnson and Goran Dragic, who is now shelved following knee surgery.
That makes James Johnson the pick. Johnson will turn 32 in February and is on the hook through 2020-21 at an average annual value of $15 million.
A capable ball-handler who can guard multiple positions, Johnson has value. But he’s been in gradual decline over the last three years and struggled to get himself into peak shape after hernia surgery in the offseason. Conditioning had a lot to do with Johnson’s late-career renaissance upon joining the Heat, and if he can’t stay in prime form (which is always harder as you age), he’s not going to live up to his contract.
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Tony Snell will make $11.4 million next year and has a player option for $12.2 million in 2020-21. Those aren’t overwhelming numbers for a solid floor-spacer who has played decent wing defense for most of his career.
Unfortunately for Snell, the Bucks really don’t have many bad deals to choose from.
George Hill’s $18 million salary next year is only partially guaranteed, and he’s currently the second-highest-paid player on Milwaukee’s roster. Perhaps you could argue Khris Middleton would make acquiring teams queasy because he’s likely to opt out of his deal this summer and command a significant raise. But most clubs around the league would love to have the chance to pay Middleton’s next contract.
Snell is an extremely low-usage player who spends entirely too much time on the floor doing very little. He’s a better wing than you could hope to find on the scrap heap, but his penchant for disappearing means you’re really not getting your money’s worth for him.
For around $11 million per year, teams want someone who’ll move the needle. Snell and his career 12.8 percent career usage rate just doesn’t make a big enough impact.
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Glen Taylor looked Andrew Wiggins in the eyes and decided he was worth a max extension.
Everyone else could see that was a mistake from miles away.
Maybe proximity conceals more than it reveals.
Wiggins is in the first year of a five-year, $147 million contract, and he’s averaging career lows in scoring and effective field-goal percentage. With Karl-Anthony Towns also maxed out and playing like a top-tier star since Jimmy Butler left, the Wolves don’t even need Wiggins to be their No. 1 option. Unfortunately, the 23-year-old wing is failing to meet even diminished expectations.
Wiggins and Russell Westbrook are the only players averaging at least 15 shots per game with an effective field-goal percentage south of 46 percent, and Wiggins definitely doesn’t fill up the stat sheet in other categories or invigorate his team with relentless energy like Westbrook does. Framed that way, you could make the case that, dollar for dollar, Wiggins is the most damaging high-usage offensive player in the league.
With four-plus seasons under his belt suggesting there may not be much growth left and an alarming downward statistical trend this season, Wiggins figures to be one of the worst contracts in the league for a long time. Good luck ever moving this guy.
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Solomon Hill averaged 7.0 points. 3.8 rebounds and 1.8 assists in 2016-17, his first season with the New Orleans Pelicans.
That was as good as it got, and Hill will still make $12.8 million in the final season of his four-year contract in 2019-20.
Hill has spent weeks at a time getting DNPs this year, but he’s also spent time as a starter for the injury-hit Pels. Nothing has worked to juice his production, as he’s shooting under 40 percent from the field, has scored in double figures just twice and hasn’t contributed to a New Orleans defense that ranks 29th in the league in points allowed.
For a while there, Hill could hide behind Omer Asik and Alexis Ajinca. But Ajinca has been gone since 2017, and Asik got the boot last year. That leaves Hill as New Orleans’ toughest player to move. And it’s not particularly close.
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The Knicks recently punted Enes Kanter from the first unit in favor of Luke Kornet, but even if we only view Kanter’s $18.6 million salary as expiring dead weight, that’s a movable deal in theory.
Hardaway is due $18.2 million next year and has a player option for $18.9 million for 2020-21. That’s a long time and a lot of money to commit to a subpar defender who lacks the size to handle small forwards—especially one who doesn’t pass (career assist rate of 11.7 percent) and refuses to rebound.
There are 190 players 6’6″ or taller who qualified for the minutes-per-game leaderboard this season. In that group, Hardaway ranks 184th in rebound rate.
Sure, Hardaway can get you 20 points. But we’re smarter now. We know points per game doesn’t mean much, and Hardaway ranks 24th in true shooting percentage among the 28 players currently averaging at least 20 points per game. He gets buckets, but he’s doing it inefficiently for a bad team.
Maybe he’d perform better with a lower usage and better shots in a more functional environment, but would you want to wager about $37 million over the next two full seasons to find out?
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This one hurts to write because injuries played such a significant role in landing Andre Roberson here, but it’s too hard to find someone on the Oklahoma City Thunder roster who’d be tougher to move.
Roberson ruptured his patellar tendon in January 2018, and he’s had several setbacks in his recovery. If we assume he makes it all the way back to his pre-injury form, he’ll be a defense-only wing whom no playoff opponent guards. That’s a profile with some regular-season value, but not much beyond that.
If we more realistically assume Roberson is a normal human being and doesn’t bounce right back to peak health after over a year away from the game, it gets even harder to imagine a team dealing for his contract before the deadline. Nobody wants to be on the hook for $10.7 million in 2019-20 when there’s no way to be sure the guy collecting it will still be a viable NBA player.
If Dennis Schroder had flopped in his first year with OKC, we’d have more of a debate. But Roberson’s shooting limitations, health and salary make him the unfortunate, easy selection.
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Timofey Mozgov has been traded five times—three since signing a four-year, $64 million contract with the Lakers in 2016. But surely (surely) he won’t be moved again.
What’s the saying? Fool me five times, shame on you. Fool me six times…
Mozgov has yet to take the floor for the Orlando Magic, which is the team he plays for now if you’re among the 90 percent of NBA fans who may have forgotten that. Once a useful rim protector, Mozgov has become a salary match for other teams looking to get rid of their own outdated bigs.
There are fewer and fewer of those contracts out there these days, which means Mozgov is likely to stay put in Orlando until his deal expires or he’s bought out.
Mozgov is unlikely to help a team this year, and it’s hard to imagine how that would change if he were healthy and earning $16.7 million next season.
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What would you give up for a No. 1 overall pick who had his career derailed and his outside shot destroyed by some combination of thoracic outlet syndrome and a crisis of confidence?
How do you evaluate the risks of acquiring a player like Markelle Fultz? Actually, how do you evaluate the risk of trading for Fultz, specifically, since there’s really no precedent for a situation like this? Maybe the thoracic outlet syndrome diagnosis provided some clarity, but Fultz isn’t addressing the pathology with surgery. What if nothing changes with rehab?
Fultz’s pedigree remains intriguing, but the lack of certainty about his future means he’s almost impossible to trade. From a buyer’s perspective, that’s easy to understand, but we should also consider the Philadelphia 76ers’ position. If they move Fultz just as he’s finally isolated the reason for his struggles, they’ll risk selling far too low. You’d have to think the Sixers would rather wait until the offseason to determine what kind of future they might still salvage with Fultz.
The logistics are a nightmare, and Fultz, by virtue of his draft slot, isn’t cheap. He’ll make $9.7 million next season with a team option for $12.3 million in 2020-21. After that, he’ll be due a $16.0 million qualifying offer.
Nobody on either side of a potential Fultz trade knows enough to pull the trigger.
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Don’t get too hung up on Ryan Anderson reducing his 2019-20 guarantee to $15.6 million. He’s still out of the rotation for a terrible Phoenix Suns team and was most recently dealt for Brandon Knight, who’s just now getting back to action after nearly two years away.
If that was Anderson’s price in 2018, it’s hard to imagine what it would be now that he’s not even playing anymore.
The Suns, by virtue of being very bad for several years, have an inordinate amount of high picks on rookie deals. And while you could point to Devin Booker’s max extension as a possible option, Booker’s not Andrew Wiggins. He’s an elite scorer who just turned 22, and his facilitation game has taken a leap.
It may still be fair to say Booker hasn’t proved he can contribute meaningfully to a winner, but his youth and astounding production to this point mean most of the league would happily make him their cornerstone.
So unless you’re particularly bothered by T.J. Warren’s four-year, $50 million extension (which you shouldn’t be; Warren shoots threes now!), Anderson is the guy. He’s a buyout waiting to happen next year.
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Meyers Leonard will cost the Portland Trail Blazers $11.3 million next season, and he’s demonstrably less productive than Evan Turner.
Which really makes this pick as much about money as about Turner’s tricky fit on most rosters.
Turner is flawed. He’s never developed a reliable three-point shot and now, in his ninth year at age 30, he seems to have given up on the project entirely. He’s at 12.9 percent from deep, a career low.
The types of players with which teams have to surround Turner are specific. You need someone with point guard size who’s not a point guard because Turner’s lack of a shot means he has to have the ball, lest nobody on the other team bother to guard him. You need a spacing small to defend opposing 1s, preferably one who’s happy to play off the ball. And then you’ve got to get some spacing from your bigs to unclog the floor.
Those players are out there, but no team should bend over backward to get them just so a reserve wing making $18 million per season can reach break-even levels of production.
Turner is set to make about $7 million more than Leonard next year (when both of their deals expire), and that’s enough extra cash to make up for the fact that Leonard is even less helpful.
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There are 29 centers who’ve defended at least 100 shots at the rim this season, and Willie Cauley-Stein’s defensive field-goal percentage allowed is the worst of the group.
He doesn’t deter anyone inside, and that’s a problem for a center who doesn’t stretch the floor, doesn’t make his free throws (52.9 percent this season) and has made inconsistency a constant.
WCS runs the floor like few others, can finish lobs and is one of 27 players averaging at least 13 points and eight boards this year. He’s got value, probably as a backup center, but that’s where the problem arises. Cauley-Stein will be a restricted free agent this summer, which means an acquiring team faces the risk of losing him to a big offer sheet (it only takes one) or worse, overpaying to keep him.
If that feels like a weak justification, remember the Kings have only two players making more than $10 million this year: Zach Randolph and Iman Shumpert. Randolph is ideal expiring salary filler, and Shumpert is enjoying a resurgence. If things fall apart for the Kings, they’ll have no trouble marketing Shumpert to a litany of playoff teams in need of a two-way wing.
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Pau Gasol can still run a second-unit offense from the elbows and defend the rim as long as he doesn’t have to move too far to get there. Plus, he’s only guaranteed $6.7 million of his $16 million salary in 2019-20. That’s not what we’re looking for.
Similarly, 33-year-old LaMarcus Aldridge is guaranteed just $7.0 million of his 2020-21 salary.
DeMar DeRozan’s deal flips the leverage situation, as he’s got a player option for $27.7 million in 2020-21. And while there probably aren’t many teams that would want to pay Patty Mills an average of $12 million per season through 2020-21, DeRozan’s contract is more onerous. And don’t forget that if you add DeRozan, you’re pretty much committing to making a two-point jump-shooter your offensive focal point.
That’s doable if you’re the trend-shunning Spurs and you’ve got the framework in place to make virtually any style successful. But if you’re a very good team with an already established offensive structure in win-now mode, which you’d think a potential DeRozan buyer would be, fitting him in would present a challenge.
Perhaps more than any other player we’ve listed, it’s important to note DeRozan landed here not because he’s a bad player but because he’s San Antonio’s trickiest to trade. He’s a helpful player overall, but he’d be an odd fit just about anywhere and earns a ton of money. Throw in an earned rep as a bad defender, and it’s easy to imagine suitors losing interest.
Yes, he was the key piece coming back to San Antonio in the Kawhi Leonard trade. But the Spurs had extremely limited options and were one of few teams already built to accommodate DeRozan’s unique offensive game.
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Old-school center? Check.
Injured and therefore potentially not that helpful for the rest of this season? Check.
On the books for a $17.6 million player option next season? Check.
Jonas Valanciunas has a lot working against him, even if he’s still just 26 and had been playing the best ball of his career in a reserve role for the Toronto Raptors before dislocating his left thumb in December.
Just try to envision the general manager who says to his staff before the deadline: “We’ve got to have Valanciunas, and I don’t care if he’s an injured backup playing a position of limited value. I’ll cut the $17.6 million check for his 2019-20 salary myself!”
Norman Powell is another possible candidate, but at four years and $42 million, he’s right in the perfect “salary filler” range. Plus, he’s an athletic wing who has shown flashes of three-point shooting. That’s not so tough to trade in a league in which wings are king.
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The Utah Jazz made a bet on Dante Exum this past summer, and it was a reasonable one: three years and $33 million for a 23-year-old who was the No. 5 overall pick in 2014 and whose first few seasons were busted up by injury.
If there was a chance Exum, upon getting fully healthy, might fulfill his potential, the Jazz were right to take it. If a gamble doesn’t pay off, it doesn’t mean the thought process leading to the wager was wrong.
Still, it looks like the Jazz were wrong—if we can make that assessment just 37 games into the new deal. Exum is posting his worst effective field-goal percentage and box plus-minus since his rookie year, and his three-point and free-throw attempt rates have stagnated, basically mirroring what he did a season ago.
The athletic burst and defensive potential are still there, but Exum hasn’t shown the kind of growth the Jazz were hoping for. Even if it’s early.
Ricky Rubio’s deal expires this summer. Derrick Favors could start for several teams and has a nonguaranteed deal next year. Unless you want to make the case that Rudy Gobert isn’t worth about $50 million over the next two full seasons, Exum’s the guy.
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Let’s face it: This might as well have been an exercise to see if any player in the league had as little trade value as John Wall, who would have been the pick for the Washington Wizards before the announcement he’d have season-ending left heel surgery.
Wall is 28, extremely dependent on athleticism, a career 32.4 percent three-point shooter and a sporadically engaged defender who walked or stood still more often than anyone but Dirk Nowitzki and DeMarcus Cousins last season.
At $15 million a year, Wall would be a bargain—the type of starting-caliber guard you’d happily add. Maybe even after his surgery.
But Wall will make a staggering $170.9 million from 2019-20 to 2022-23. The final year of the extension, which doesn’t even kick in until next year, will yield $47.3 million in Wall’s age-32 season. That’s high-end, weapons-grade sticker shock, and nobody in the league is paying that much for Wall, let alone giving up assets to get him…and then pay him.
Otto Porter Jr.’s deal is a little pricey, and spending anything on Dwight Howard is probably a mistake, but Wall is the most unmovable player in the league right now.