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The Players I’d Target at the NBA Trade Deadline

From veterans struggling to fit in with their current teams like Aaron Gordon to intriguing up-and-comers like Furkan Korkmaz, here are the guys savvy GMs should be trying to steal in the final week of trade season

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Front-office executives and agents across the NBA expect the trade market to be quiet between now and next Thursday’s deadline. But things can always heat up like they did two years ago, when Blake Griffin was shockingly dealt from the Clippers to the Pistons. Not many serious conversations are happening, because most teams seem reasonably comfortable with where they are or are unable to find acceptable trades.

Last month, I looked at players who might be acquirable, including Robert Covington, Davis Bertans, and Andre Iguodala. Conversations persist about those players. But today, let’s look at some of the players that I’d specifically target if I were an NBA general manager. We’ll look at players who are on the market like Bogdan Bogdanovic, popular Trade Machine targets like Myles Turner, and various deep cuts.

Bogdan Bogdanovic Is Worth the Price

Contenders should be going hard after Bogdanovic, who at 27 years old is equipped with the skills and big-game experience from playing internationally to help a team make a deep playoff run. At worst, he’d be an excellent sixth man who can run the second unit, which was the role he occupied this season for the Kings until last week, when he took Buddy Hield’s starting position. At best, he’s a fixture in starting and finishing lineups because he can score and facilitate using pick-and-rolls and isolations, shoot off the catch, and defend with a competitive spirit.

Bogdanovic isn’t your typical third-year player: He’s been one of the world’s most clutch players for years, winning a EuroLeague championship with Fenerbahce in 2017 and leading Serbia to a fifth-place finish at the World Cup this past summer. He’s a two-time Turkish League champion, two-time Adriatic League champion, and four-time Serbian League champion. In the NBA, he’s yet to taste the playoffs. But he’s come up big during the regular season for the Kings, hitting multiple game-winners, including a pull-up 3 last month in a win over the Thunder. Bogdanovic would almost certainly produce for a contender on a bigger stage.

Sacramento doesn’t need to trade Bogdanovic, and it has declined some offers already. The Kings offered Nemanja Bjelica and a pick to the Lakers for Kyle Kuzma, and Los Angeles countered by asking for Bogdanovic, according to multiple league sources. Sacramento refused. But Bogdanovic will be a restricted free agent this summer and any offer sheet in the $15 million to $25 million range annually would be problematic for the Kings to match. Hield and Harrison Barnes just got paid, and De’Aaron Fox and Marvin Bagley III are due new contracts in 2021 and 2022, respectively. Unless the Kings decide it’s in their best interest to commit roughly $75 million to Fox, Hield, and Bogdanovic starting in 2021, trading one of Hield or Bogdanovic for a larger wing or a big man would make sense.

Save Aaron Gordon

Have you ever gone to college or gotten a new job and after a few months or years thought, This ain’t for me? Gordon must be thinking the same thing in Orlando. It’s just not working there. No matter the coach—he’s on his fifth in six seasons. No matter the work he puts in—his offseason was hyped up by media members, including me, but he’s having the most disappointing campaign of his career. No matter how much he changes his shooting form—he’s posting career-low numbers in field goal and free throw percentage. Maybe Gordon just isn’t as good as expected, but I’d bet there’s more to his game that the Magic haven’t been able to get out.

Gordon has played more than half of his minutes this season next to two big men, usually Nikola Vucevic and Jonathan Isaac. With Isaac out for the rest of the season because of a knee injury, Magic head coach Steve Clifford has played Khem Birch more often in the frontcourt rather than shifting Gordon into Isaac’s spot. It’s too bad. Gordon is at his best at the 4—floor spacing increases, giving him more room to attack open lanes in the defense, often against slower-footed defenders. When Gordon is able to drive more, it minimizes the impact of his subpar shooting ability. If Gordon played for a team that was more willing to put him at power forward, his offensive value would automatically increase.

However, the biggest change must be to his usage. For years, the Magic have tried to develop Gordon into a shot-creating scorer; Gordon also fancies himself as one, occasionally record-scratching a play by holding the ball then dribbling the air out of it. But he’s filled many roles over the years, both by choice and by necessity. None of them have made him consistently excel, except for one.

Gordon should be thought of as a center in the mold of Draymond Green or vintage Blake Griffin who’s utilized as an on-ball screener in the high pick-and-roll. It would enable him to destroy defenses with lob dunks and deft finishes or pick them apart with the pass, like he does in the clips above. Too bad Gordon has finished only 69 possessions rolling after an on-ball screen in his career, according to Synergy Sports. It’s not enough considering how stellar he’s been recently, scoring 1.5 points per possession since Clifford took over as head coach.

One team that makes sense for Gordon is Minnesota, which called Orlando about Gordon this season, according to league sources. It’s unclear what precisely was offered, but Minnesota is shopping Robert Covington. Just imagine Gordon rolling down the lane, then kicking it out to Karl-Anthony Towns, who could shoot a 3 or attack the closeout. The Wolves don’t have a true playmaker, but they could acquire one in Gordon.

Gordon has shades of both Draymond and Blake in his skill set. The Magic have gone through so much organizational change since Gordon was drafted that it’s not one person’s fault he hasn’t received enough opportunities to explore that part of his game. Another team should give him a chance.

The Smart Move for Boston

Boston has a glut of wings who can handle the ball: Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward, and Marcus Smart. Factor in point guard Kemba Walker, and it’s hard to find touches for everyone. Sometimes the overlap can limit these players’ strengths and highlight weaknesses. Would it make sense to trade one of them? Boston is highly unlikely to deal Tatum or Brown, considering they are only 21 and 23, respectively, but Hayward and Smart are intriguing players to target.

Hayward is back to being Hayward. The 29-year-old can become an unrestricted free agent this summer and could walk for nothing. Should Boston be worried? Well, you can never know for sure. But Hayward signed with the Celtics because he wanted to compete for championships and play for his college coach, Brad Stevens. Would he really walk for a rebuilding team with cap space like New York or Atlanta? An extension with Boston feels more probable. But is Hayward worth more than $25 million to $30 million annually considering he’s sharing the ball with so many players? I would argue yes. It’s hard to imagine any acquirable player being a better complementary piece for the development of Tatum and Brown or more helpful to the mission to win now. Hayward is unselfish, and he can shoot, drive, facilitate, and defend. I would keep Hayward.

Smart is more interesting. With his shaky shooting and scoring ability, he has the most pronounced weaknesses of the four ball-handling wings. But he’s also a team leader; his teammates love him and he sets the tone on the court with his energetic, fearless defense. On offense, he might shoot just 31.5 percent from 3 for his career and take a lot of unwarranted shots, but he can pop for the occasional hot shooting performance and he has a knack for making big plays that go beyond the box score, like tapping out an offensive rebound or saving a loose ball. He’s also one of the game’s best passers.

Smart makes nifty passes like in the clips above on almost a nightly basis. He also takes care of the ball, posting a 3.4 assist-to-turnover ratio, which is tied with Ricky Rubio for the best among guards averaging more than 30 minutes.

Would I trade Smart? No. But he’s not untouchable, so Minnesota, New York, and Chicago should go after him. He could serve as both a lead playmaker and a culture changer. The Picasso of the Trade Machine sent me the following idea: Smart and Romeo Langford for Lauri Markkanen and Thaddeus Young. This was sent before a pelvis injury knocked Markkanen out for more than a month, but the structure still makes sense, whether it’s with Wendell Carter Jr. in place of Markkanen or with another team. In Smart, the Bulls would get what they wish they had in Kris Dunn: a perfect complement next to score-first guards Zach LaVine and Coby White. I wouldn’t do Picasso’s proposed trade if I ran the Celtics; trading Smart seems too similar to when Boston dealt a leader in Kendrick Perkins for a project in Jeff Green nine years ago. But it’s a structure worth considering if a team is willing to pay a hefty price. I wonder why another team wouldn’t pay it.

Will the Spurs Actually Make a Trade?

The Spurs are 21-26, which puts them 2.5 games back from the playoffs and only 3.5 games back from top-10 lottery odds. League executives wonder whether they’ll break up their crowded roster. Older players like DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge are still effective but are blocking younger players from earning more minutes. Dejounte Murray isn’t available, but there are four other players I’d be targeting in trades:

Derrick White, guard: A lockdown defender who nearly made the All-Defensive team last season, and a superb decision-maker on offense. He rebounds. He’s a solid spot-up shooter. He seems to have all the Spursian qualities you’d expect. It’s puzzling that he doesn’t play more often; White and Murray have shared the court for only 44 minutes.

Patty Mills, guard: A longtime microwave scorer who could be a valuable piece for any team in need of bench production.

Lonnie Walker IV, wing: An athletic shot-creator who has shown major flashes with limited opportunities, scoring 28 against the Rockets and 18 against the Celtics. But Gregg Popovich values good decision-making and smart team defense, which are two areas where Walker currently falls short and the reason his playing time has been limited. He’s only 21, so there’s time for him to develop, but he is currently a long way from being a consistent contributor on a playoff team. If the Spurs want to trade for a veteran, he’d be a good piece to sell to a rebuilding team.

Jakob Pöltl, center: A versatile big man who plays sound positional defense, protecting the rim and showing nimbleness on the perimeter. He sets strong screens, finishes well inside, and makes good decisions as a passer. But the Spurs rarely play two bigs, leaving him stuck averaging only 17.5 minutes backing up Aldridge.

The Spurs rarely make midseason trades, with their most recent one coming in 2014, when Nando De Colo was traded to Toronto for Austin Daye. Times have changed in San Antonio, though. It is no longer a lock for the postseason; it’s a team in transition. The Spurs might not make a move, but if they choose to, they have plenty of players with appeal.

Buy Low on Denzel Valentine

It’s been a tough road for Valentine after being selected with the 14th pick in 2016. He struggled as a rookie after missing all of training camp with ankle injuries that nagged him throughout the season. Those pesky ankles eventually required surgery, which knocked him out for all of his third season. Now he’s back, but Bulls head coach Jim Boylen has been reluctant to put him on the floor over his group of younger guards, including Zach LaVine, Coby White, and Kris Dunn; Valentine has played in 28 games this season, mostly in garbage time.

How is it that a player who can’t even get on the floor for the Bulls is on this list? Because Valentine got dealt a bad hand. Injuries occur. Coaches change. Priorities evolve. The flashes Valentine showed in his second season, his only healthy season, shouldn’t be forgotten. He developed into a spark plug scorer and reliable playmaker, averaging 10.2 points while shooting 38.6 percent from 3 and posting a 2.5 assist-to-turnover ratio. They aren’t gaudy numbers, but he looked like the player Chicago hoped for. He’s doing it again now, making high-IQ plays with the pass, hitting nifty floaters on drives, and draining tough 3s off screens and out of pick-and-rolls.

Change his jersey from red to green, and Valentine would look like he’s right back at Michigan State, where he developed into a team leader and lottery talent over four years. His shooting has translated: Since 2017-18, Valentine has made 39.4 percent of his 170 attempted dribble-jumper 3s. It’s a small sample, but it was Valentine’s blend of shooting and playmaking that made him such an appealing prospect. How could the Bulls not be encouraged? If they don’t want him, another team should.

Finding a Shot Blocker Who Shoots 3s Well

Every organization values three things: shooting, rim protection, and T-shirt tosses during timeouts. Finding the first two things is hard enough. Only four players since the 2010-11 season have shot at least 35 percent from 3 and blocked at least 4 percent of opponent shot attempts, according to Basketball-Reference. Serge Ibaka doesn’t come as a surprise; he was one of the first bigs to be skilled in both areas. Neither do the young guys: Kristaps Porzingis, Jaren Jackson Jr., and Myles Turner. Ibaka is worth a call if the Raptors decide to sell, but that seems unlikely. Porzingis and Jackson aren’t available now. But Turner is worth monitoring. Here’s why teams should go after the Pacers center and two unheralded players in the Turner mold who are more gettable:

Myles Turner, Pacers: Victor Oladipo just came back and Indiana is 31-17. League sources don’t expect any major action from the Pacers ahead of next Thursday’s deadline. But things could be different this summer if the team fails to make it out of the first round. The possibility of breaking up the Turner–Domantas Sabonis frontcourt looms.

Sabonis is flat-out better and should arguably be an All-Star this season, which makes Turner the more acquirable of the two. By now, you know Turner’s game: He’s a solid 3-point shooter (35.6 percent for his career) who was worthy of Defensive Player of the Year consideration last season. He’s an underwhelming rebounder and he should still be better at defending big centers like Joel Embiid, but it’s hard to ask for more from a center making only $18 million annually.

The Pacers would likely feel more confident trading Turner if Goga Bitadze looked anywhere near ready to contribute. But as a 20-year-old rookie, he’s not close. Nonetheless, minds can be swayed and Turner is nowhere close to untouchable. Unless Oladipo decides he wants out, Turner would be my top target on their team. There just aren’t many rim protectors who can shoot well, which is why teams have to look for discounts.

Christian Wood, Pistons: Wood has finally found success in the NBA on his fifth team. The 24-year-old Pistons big man entered the 2015 draft as a raw project after two years at UNLV, and he’s since dramatically improved his screening fundamentals and his shooting range while also adding meat to his once-razor-thin body. It’s working: He’s scoring an elite 1.18 points per possession, mostly off spot-up 3s, cuts, and pick-and-roll chances, according to Synergy Sports. He’s one of only two players to shoot over 75 percent on rolls to the rim and 35 percent on 3s, along with Dallas’s Maxi Kleber, who signed a four-year, $35.9 million contract last summer. Kleber has Luka Doncic passing him the ball; Wood has Derrick Rose, Bruce Brown, and Langston Galloway.

Wood’s steady progress suggests the free-agent-to-be could be an impactful two-way player on his next contract—which he’ll earn this summer as an unrestricted free agent. Wood no longer lets his offensive production dictate his defensive energy, a sign of improved maturity. Though his fundamentals still need work, he isn’t a complete liability.

But the Pistons have little reason to trade Wood now, other than the fact that Wood could be a popular target for teams this summer. Griffin is immovable and Andre Drummond is undesirable, so multiple teams could offer him a larger role. Detroit has some tough decisions to make.

Mfiondu Kabengele, Clippers: If the Clippers decide to make a move, other teams shouldn’t forget about Kabengele, the 22-year-old nephew of Dikembe Mutombo who was selected 27th in the 2019 draft. He’s played in 19 G League games and has flashed the same type of production that made him an intriguing prospect at Florida State. He’s a major lob threat who is shooting 31.4 percent from 3 and scoring 19.2 points per game. Though his defensive discipline isn’t much better than it was in college, he has his uncle’s instincts as a shot blocker.

Kabengele is a raw project, and sometimes raw talent never sparks or requires multiple stops to develop like it has for Wood. But the potential is there for him to be an impactful two-way player once he reaches his prime.

The Sixers’ Sleeper Youngsters

The Sixers are Finals contenders as currently constructed, but they’re seeking a move to bolster their odds of winning it all. But what do they have of value to give up besides draft picks? It’s improbable that they would move stellar rookie Matisse Thybulle, who’s worthy of All-Defensive Team consideration. The most obvious candidate would then be Zhaire Smith, who’s a fine prospect but whose shot mechanics are still clunky. I’d be more interested in two other young players.

Furkan Korkmaz, wing: The 22-year-old is finally turning into something for the Sixers after being drafted 26th in 2016. He’s hitting 39 percent of his 3s and making solid passes within the flow of their offense. But he’s still a sieve on defense—he’s their new Marco Belinelli! Korkmaz brings value to the team with his shooting, but in a playoff series, he projects as a player whom opponents will target on defense. However, I’d be interested in seeing him in a situation where his offense could be featured more, thus minimizing any losses on defense. Korkmaz displayed passing skills for the Turkish club Anadolu Efes that he’s been unable to regularly show with the Sixers because of the amount of talent they have. But for a team in development mode, he is the perfect candidate to invest in with the hopes of turning him into a jumbo-sized playmaker.

Vasilije Micic, guard: Who he play for? Korkmaz’s old squad, Anadolu Efes. The Sixers drafted Micic with the 52nd pick in 2014 and therefore own his rights. Multiple league sources say that NBA teams have begun to monitor his situation in Europe because he has become one of the world’s best players not in the NBA.

Micic, now 26 years old, is an unselfish pass-first guard who can hit spot-up 3s and make defenders pay with smooth dribble-jumpers. Defense could be problematic for him, but at 6-foot-6 with a high IQ, he can at least survive physically and make plays off the ball.

So why isn’t Micic in the NBA? He has said he will stay in Europe unless he can be guaranteed playing time, and the Sixers have shown minimal interest in bringing him over. It doesn’t seem that opportunity can be offered anytime soon with so much shot-creating talent ahead of him in Philly. But why shouldn’t another team do it when his skills are tailor-made for today’s game?

I Won’t Give Up on You, My Sweet French Prince

Frank Ntilikina has been an abysmal offensive player over his three seasons with the Knicks. He’s shooting 38.9 percent from 2 and 30.9 percent from 3 while scoring a measly 5.9 points per game. He’s not good offensively and it’s possible he will never be. But he’s only 21 and anyone who scouted him prior to the 2017 draft knew it’d be a slow start no matter which team he went to. The Knicks certainly haven’t helped matters. Could any player who needs major skill development have fallen into a worse situation, with three coaches in three seasons?

I’d love to see Ntilikina on a team with an assistant coach that has a track record of improving shooters—like Chip Engelland on the Spurs, Fred Vinson on the Pelicans, or Ben Sullivan on the Bucks—before giving up. Ntilikina was a lottery pick for good reason. He can run a pick-and-roll, facilitate, and defend well. At 6-foot-4 with a thick frame and long arms, Ntilikina has defensive versatility that enables him to lock down quicker guards and stronger wings. A team that can fix his shot would turn him into a valuable 3-and-D player who can handle the ball competently, which is a recipe for winning basketball. But Ntilikina’s value has never been lower; he’s a part-time player on one of the worst teams in basketball, and he’ll be a restricted free agent next summer. It’s time to buy low.