Free agency may be wrapping up, but the NBA rumor mill never stops. As rosters fill up and teams’ identities coalesce, some players may find that their particular timeline no longer fits their current franchise’s. As a result, a few veterans could end up as trade targets for contenders before the season begins. Here are four such players that teams should be looking at:
J.R. Smith, Cleveland Cavaliers
The quickest trigger in the Midwest just got a whole lot more shot opportunities with LeBron James leaving Cleveland, but is J.R. ready to not compete for a title again? The Cavs signed Kevin Love to an extension last week and may try to lock down Larry Nance Jr. next. Smith, who struggled to stay on the court at times last season, doesn’t appear to fit a team thinking more long term. Just don’t tell him that. Smith may be 32, but he has the … spirit of a much younger player:
What Smith does best (shooting, shooting, and not much else), could still be an asset on a contender’s second unit. According to ESPN’s Zach Lowe, the Rockets “kicked the tires” on trading for Smith; that would make some sort of sense. It wouldn’t exactly help a Houston defense that also lost Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute this summer, but the Rockets can never have enough shooters. At the very least, J.R. can still do that.
Kent Bazemore, Atlanta Hawks
Bazemore has fallen off the map a bit as the Hawks have slumped toward the bottom of the standings. He’s the last remaining player from Atlanta’s 60-win team, which means it could be only a matter of time before he’s shipped out as part of the front office’s rebuilding process.
Bazemore is 29 and coming off a season when he shot a career-high 39.4 percent from 3 on 4.2 attempts per game. His shooting is a plus but it’s his perimeter defense that could be more attractive to a team like the Rockets. Of players who played at least 1,000 minutes last season, Bazemore ranked 23rd in deflections. Houston is reportedly interested in trading for Bazemore, who isn’t being shopped, according to Kelly Iko of Rockets Wire. Baze has $37 million in remaining salary, which would almost match the nearly $42 million remaining on Ryan Anderson’s contract. He is also good friends with Steph Curry, so adding him to the Rockets would be another fun wrinkle should Houston and Golden State meet up in the playoffs again.
Evan Fournier, Orlando Magic
Fournier has been languishing in Orlando since the 2014–15 season, on teams that haven’t made any sort of upward movement. But he himself has improved every season. Last season, he averaged nearly 18 points a game on 46 percent shooting from the field and 38 percent from 3 while playing over 32 minutes a game. By all accounts, Fournier seems happy in Orlando; he even recently said the team had a “really good offseason.”
“I think we’ve definitely gotten better,” he told the Orlando Sentinel this week, ahead of the NBA Africa Game. “We have another two months and a half to start the season, so I’m definitely excited.”
The Magic should be slightly better with some continuity and after adding Mo Bamba to the mix, but they’ll still be lucky to even sniff the playoffs. Fournier, meanwhile, is close to turning 26 and has potential as a scorer off the bench for a contending team (he dropped a career-high 32 points six months ago against the Timberwolves). Imagine his efficiency if he played fewer minutes alongside better teammates on a team like the Rockets, Thunder, or Sixers.
Kemba Walker, Charlotte Hornets
That Walker is still in a Charlotte Hornets uniform in 2018 is surprising. He’s one of the better, more consistent point guards in this league; he has been healthy (only missed six games over the past three seasons); and he is extremely cheap for what he does (22 points and six assists last season at $12 million a year). There were rumors last season, as the Hornets fell out of the playoff picture, that he could finally be traded to a contender. But Michael Jordan’s price was too high. Though the East has opened up this season after LeBron’s departure, Charlotte hasn’t exactly gotten better. Even in a best-case scenario, they’ll likely be fighting for a 7- or 8-seed, just waiting a chance to get sent back home by one of the premier teams in the conference. So … free Kemba!
Walker needs a new change of scenery, and a chance to be Cardiac Kemba for a winning team. He won’t be able to do that in Charlotte, but he could thrive on a contender. Not a lot of teams need a starting point guard right now, but every team can use a competitor like Walker. Even if the Hornets want to wait until after they host the 2019 All-Star Game to trade him, they need to let him flourish elsewhere.