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Seven Miscast Players Who Could Find New Life at the Trade Deadline

With a lack of available stars to shoot for, the NBA’s most intriguing trade candidates could be the marginalized talents in need of a different role

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Making a trade in the NBA has never been harder. The potential buyers at the trade deadline all want shooting and defense at the wing positions, which no one is selling. The sellers all want to unload excess big men and hefty long-term salaries, which no one is buying. With the exception of the Pistons, who went all in by trading for Blake Griffin last week, few teams appear willing to make a major move, at least not if it costs them future assets or financial flexibility.

The most interesting players moved at the deadline may end up being the reclamation projects. There are plenty of guys in need of fresh starts around the league, and a team hunting for bargains could take advantage. It takes some players years to find the right situation in the NBA. Buying low and rehabilitating a guy who has floundered elsewhere is one of the quickest ways for teams to improve, particularly given how hamstrung so many are financially. Here’s a look at seven players who could make a splash if they get traded to the right place:

Stanley Johnson, Pistons

Johnson is the player most likely to go if the Pistons make a follow-up to the Griffin trade. The no. 8 pick in the 2015 draft has never lived up to expectations in Detroit, but he’s still only 21 years old. At 6-foot-7 and 245 pounds, Johnson is an athletic wing with the versatility to defend multiple positions on the perimeter. His biggest problem in the NBA has been his streaky jumper: He is a career 29.3 percent shooter from 3 on 2.6 attempts per game.

A position switch might unlock his potential. Johnson is big enough to play as a small-ball power forward, where his ability to switch screens and stay in front of smaller guards would make him a valuable defender in the pick-and-roll. His shooting would be less of an issue if he were playing closer to the basket, and he would benefit from taking bigger and slower defenders off the dribble. Johnson would be an interesting fit in Utah, which needs to get smaller up front next to Rudy Gobert and has several wings who could help Detroit.

Emmanuel Mudiay, Nuggets

Mudiay’s days in Denver have been numbered ever since the team drafted Jamal Murray in 2016. The Nuggets’ former point guard of the future is playing a career-low 17.2 minutes per game off the bench this season, and he’s an obvious candidate to be moved if they want to add more talent to help with their playoff push. While he still struggles with his consistency and decision-making on both sides of the ball, his 3-point shot, long his biggest weakness, has come around this season. Mudiay is shooting 37.3 percent from 3 on 2.4 attempts per game.

Mudiay needs a team to take a chance on him the same way the Bulls did with Kris Dunn. There’s only so much a young point guard can learn from sitting on the bench, running a second unit, and playing off the ball. It’s the hardest position to master in the NBA, and Mudiay’s development has stalled since his demotion. Memphis has already shut down Mike Conley for the season, and the team has some interesting pieces it could give Denver in exchange for getting a look over the next two months at Mudiay, who is still only 21.

Dewayne Dedmon, Hawks

Dedmon has fallen off the NBA map since moving from San Antonio to Atlanta in the offseason. He was the Spurs’ starting center for most of last season, gaining valuable experience at the league’s most prestigious finishing school in the process, and he’s only now coming into his own at 28. Dedmon is an athletic 7-footer who can be an impact two-way player in the right situation and could improve several playoff contenders. He can block shots and catch anything near the rim, and he’s even been knocking down a few 3s this season.

He’s signed to an affordable contract, with a player option for $6 million for next season. The Hawks, who are at the beginning of a long rebuilding process, likely signed him to flip him at the deadline for a future draft pick. They may even be willing to take on money in a deal, as the Bulls did when they sent Nikola Mirotic to the Pelicans for Omer Asik and a 2018 first-round pick. The combination of a useful player and the ability to absorb a bad contract like Iman Shumpert or J.R. Smith could allow Atlanta to get a first-rounder from Cleveland (the Cavs’ own—not lottery-bound Brooklyn’s pick).

Nerlens Noel, Mavericks

It has been a long and painful fall over the past nine months for Noel, who went from the center of the future in Dallas to a complete afterthought. He had fallen out of the rotation even before undergoing thumb surgery in December, and it seems unlikely that he will ever play another minute for the team. It’s hard for a young player to leave Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle’s doghouse, especially when they play the same position as franchise icon Dirk Nowitzki.

The basic skills are still there for Noel. He’s an athletic, young big man with quick hands and feet who can play above the rim and take over a game on defense. It hasn’t worked out for him in either Dallas or Philadelphia, but it’s hard to believe a 23-year-old taken with the no. 6 pick in the draft can’t find a spot somewhere in the league. Noel could end up being bought out if he’s not traded at the deadline, so he will likely get another opportunity soon to show what he can do. If he is bought out, Noel, who is signed to the same agency as LeBron James, is an obvious target for Cleveland if the team isn’t able to make a move at the deadline.

Treveon Graham, Hornets

It’s a tribute to how poorly the Hornets have been run under Michael Jordan that they will have trouble keeping one of the lone bright spots from a miserable season. Graham is a 24-year-old wing who has emerged as a reliable 3-and-D player for Charlotte, and despite being only 6-foot-6 and 220 pounds, he may be the most effective power forward on their roster with Marvin Williams out. There’s a lot of P.J. Tucker in his game. He’s a hard-nosed player who knocks down open shots and isn’t afraid to give up his body.

The problem for the Hornets is that Graham will be a restricted free agent in the offseason. They already have $115 million on the books for next season, and they are not likely to go deep into the luxury tax for such an underperforming roster. Charlotte may have to move him at the deadline to get any value for him, or the team may have to use him as a sweeter in a trade that allows it to clear some of its bigger salaries and begin yet another rebuilding process. A team like Indiana looking to win now may be willing to take on the long-term contracts of Williams or Michael Kidd-Gilchrist if it can get Graham as well.

Maurice Harkless, Blazers

Portland has a lot of bad contracts clogging up its cap, and Harkless is the only one whom they may be able to move without attaching a first-rounder. While he has fallen out of favor with Blazers head coach Terry Stotts, he’s a 24-year-old who was a starter on a playoff team the past two seasons with the 3-and-D skill set that every team in the NBA needs on the wings. Harkless is an athletic 6-foot-9, 215-pound forward, and he’s shooting 37 percent from 3 on 1.7 attempts per game this season. Players like that don’t grow on trees.

With the Blazers strapped for cash, it wouldn’t take much of an offer for another team to take Harkless off their hands. He voiced frustration with his limited offensive role behind Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum at the beginning of the season, but he would probably be happy just to get consistent minutes at this point after falling out of the rotation in Portland. Dallas, which could offer the expiring contract of Josh McRoberts and a second-round pick for Harkless, is a rebuilding team in a great position to take a chance on him.

Alec Burks, Jazz

Burks has had an up-and-down seven seasons in Utah, and he doesn’t appear to be in the team’s long-term plans following the emergence of Donovan Mitchell. The 26-year-old shooting guard has never been able to stay healthy or stay on Jazz head coach Quin Snyder’s good side, but he’s still capable of lighting up the scoreboard off the bench. Burks is averaging 17.7 points per 36 minutes of playing time this season, and he’s had eight games with at least 15 points.

A team that misses out on the Lou Williams and Tyreke Evans sweepstakes could fall back on Burks, though, unlike the other two, Burks has one more year on his contract at $11.5 million. He is a former lottery pick in the prime of his career who could probably be acquired for a second-round pick. He would be an interesting target for a team like Washington, which is reportedly trying to dump Marcin Gortat’s contract. The Wizards could swap him and a pick for Burks, a move which would allow them to improve their team and cut salary at the same time.