With this year’s trade deadline set for Thursday at 3 p.m. Eastern, the possibility of similar landscape-altering fireworks this week appears relatively remote. No A-list superstars are in open rebellion against their organizations, and several aspiring contenders seem unlikely to rock the boat as their major offseason trades continue to unfold. In addition, playoff-bound teams such as the Indiana Pacers, New York Knicks and Miami Heat have already swung significant deals in recent weeks, and potential buyers must keep in mind that a new salary cap system with additional restrictions for high-spending teams will go into place this summer.
These developments have opened a vacuum that was filled last week with rumors that the Los Angeles Lakers might trade LeBron James. That talk was tamped down by Klutch Sports agent Rich Paul, who flatly told ESPN “LeBron won’t be traded, and we aren’t asking to be.” While the 39-year-old James has made an annual habit of applying pressure to the Lakers before the deadline and now must consider whether he wants to play out the rest of his career in Los Angeles, such an abrupt exit would be out of step with his careful and deliberate handling of his major career moves.
If James doesn’t deliver a blockbuster as Durant and Irving did, then who will? Surveying the league’s top teams and best players returns few candidates for splashy moves between now and Thursday afternoon.
The West’s most desperate teams are the Lakers, Mavericks and Golden State Warriors: James, Luka Doncic and Stephen Curry are centerpiece superstars who expect to compete for championships, but all three are playing for teams that should consider themselves fortunate if they get out of the first round of the playoffs. While the Lakers have been linked extensively to interest in Atlanta Hawks guard Dejounte Murray and have tradable pieces in D’Angelo Russell and Rui Hachimura, such a move hardly seems transformative, especially in light of Jarred Vanderbilt’s recent foot injury.
The Mavericks have struggled when Irving has missed time with injuries, and they have too many frontcourt holes to reasonably plug on short notice. Even so, the Mavericks should pursue change for change’s sake: Doncic is bearing an unsustainable burden, and they must start addressing some of their frontcourt holes.
The aging Warriors, who are outside the West’s play-in tournament, find themselves at a dynasty-ending crossroads: Their options include selling low on underperforming veterans such as Andrew Wiggins and Klay Thompson, trading off younger prospects to provide Curry with win-now help and flipping Chris Paul’s contract for a better longer-term asset. None of the three paths is likely to meaningfully boost their hopes of playing into May and June, making it harder to justify parting with 21-year-old forward Jonathan Kuminga.
On paper, the Denver Nuggets, Oklahoma City Thunder and Sacramento Kings are logical buyers looking to fortify their rotations for the playoffs, but none has shown the inclination for a major addition. The Nuggets could use another bench piece but already have their major-salary players in place; the Thunder has collected high-level youngsters who will command significant contracts down the road; and the Kings didn’t swing a deal for Pascal Siakam, who was instead traded by the Toronto Raptors to the Pacers last month.
With James Harden thriving after some initial bumps in the wake of his October arrival by trade, the Clippers are playing some of their best basketball in franchise history and should be cautious not to spoil the fun. Harden, a chronic flight risk who will be a free agent this summer, has given every indication he is intent on remaining with Los Angeles.
The Minnesota Timberwolves and New Orleans Pelicans entered the season as possible cost-cutters if things didn’t go well, but both have enjoyed enough success to push off those concerns until the summer. Minnesota would be foolish to rock the boat during the middle of its dream season, while New Orleans is tracking toward the playoffs and its best winning percentage since 2017-18. The online chatter around Karl-Anthony Towns and Zion Williamson has been virtually extinguished.
In the East, the Boston Celtics’ bold moves for Kristaps Porzingis and Jrue Holiday have paid dividends as they rampage through the conference competition. Any additional moves this week would come around the edges.
The Philadelphia 76ers and New York Knicks entered the season facing pressure to add talent to close the gap with the Celtics and Bucks. Philadelphia’s forecast is now hazy with franchise center Joel Embiid set to undergo knee surgery, while New York hit a home run with its December trade for OG Anunoby and should continue to shop aggressively with a deep playoff run looking more realistic after a recent nine-game winning streak.
Much like the Timberwolves and Pelicans, the Cleveland Cavaliers look more likely to be small buyers than major sellers thanks to their winning start. They have weathered injuries to Darius Garland and Evan Mobley so well that speculation about Donovan Mitchell’s future has subsided. Meanwhile, it’s hard to see the Pacers and Heat making more waves after swinging early deals for Siakam and Terry Rozier.
Even though the Raptors already pulled the plug in dramatic fashion, there are plenty of potential sellers among the dregs of the East. The Hawks, Nets, Chicago Bulls, Charlotte Hornets, Washington Wizards and Detroit Pistons aren’t going anywhere any time soon. From that group, Murray, DeMar DeRozan, Alex Caruso, Andre Drummond, Kyle Lowry, Gordon Hayward, Miles Bridges, Tyus Jones, Royce O’Neale, Dorian Finney-Smith, Spencer Dinwiddie, Bojan Bogdanovic and Alec Burks are names to watch but not necessarily names that will truly stimulate the market. Chicago’s Zach LaVine has been the subject of trade speculation for months, but his season-ending foot surgery should end that talk for the time being.
The Portland Trail Blazers and Utah Jazz could be sellers again in the West, with Malcolm Brogdon, Kelly Olynyk, Jordan Clarkson, Collin Sexton and Kris Dunn appearing in rumors. Though the San Antonio Spurs are on track for the West’s worst record, they have little talent to sell and should seriously consider upgrading their weak point guard rotation instead. Likewise, the Orlando Magic should aim to build on its fading early-season momentum by targeting a successor for Markelle Fultz, who has struggled to stay on the court and is headed for free agency this summer.
If last year’s trade deadline will be remembered for reshaping the NBA’s competitive landscape and setting off a summer filled with blockbuster moves, this year’s probably will feature targeted, lower-profile additions by teams aiming to break through the parity that exists in both conferences.