When it comes to the NBA trade deadline, there are two kinds of players: The guys who could move, and the guys who must move. Leading up to the deadline (at 3 p.m. Eastern Thursday), a lot of our attention is on the former category, and with good reason: It contains most of the biggest names.
Nonetheless, most of the deals actually completed revolve around the second group. For a variety of reasons, teams end up in situations where the only logical choice is to trade a player before the season ends, either because of his contract, their own cap situation or some other roster-related pickle in which the team finds itself.
So while the league figures out its other mysteries before Thursday — such as whether players like Jordan Clarkson or Kyle Kuzma are truly in play for non-extravagant draft capital or what the Atlanta Hawks’ endgame is with their assorted trade talks or what, exactly, the Chicago Bulls are trying to do these days — let me bring up some other, mostly non-sexy names who would seem extremely likely to play a role at the deadline.
Here’s my All-Deadline Team, the guys I think are most likely to end up at the airport Friday morning:
Group I: Expiring contracts
Here’s the thing with expiring contracts: A team’s hand is forced. If a team is headed for the draft lottery and has a player they know won’t be back, they have to get something in return for him, even if it’s not everything they hoped for. That makes it very different from a situation like, say, Atlanta’s with Dejounte Murray or Washington’s with Kuzma, where the team has a player signed for several more years and thus can walk away from any deal they don’t love.
Tyus Jones, Washington: The most prominent expiring contract situation seems to be Jones’, who is highly desired in the short term by teams needing a backup point guard but also is coveting a starting gig on a good team next season. His $14 million deal is within salary-matching range for most teams, so the realistic question is how much draft equity the Wizards can squeeze out of teams coveting his services. The “four to five second-round picks” market set a year ago for players like Gary Payton II and Jae Crowder is likely a good omen on this front for the Wiz, but again: At some point on Thursday, they just need to take the best deal on the table.
While we’re here, the discount version of “former Grizzlies backup point guards whom Washington might trade” is Delon Wright, a steady vet on an expiring $8.2 million who likely would return a second-round pick to the Wizards.
Bruce Brown, Toronto: Brown isn’t a true expiring contract because a pathway exists for him to return to the Raptors; they could decline his $23 million team option for next season and then re-sign at a lower number for more years as a non-Bird free agent. However, that option seems less palatable given that the Raptors are better set up to operate as a cap room team this summer, taking advantage of an artificially low cap hold for Immanuel Quickley in the final year before Scottie Barnes gets a huge raise.
If that’s the case, the Raptors should cash in on their Brown stock now and should have plentiful suitors given how big a role he played in Denver’s championship run last spring. While we’re here, Toronto also has a large expiring deal in Gary Trent Jr. ($18.6 million) that could tempt teams in need of shooting help.
Toronto Raptors should be dealing liberally at trade deadline: Koreen
Naji Marshall, New Orleans: Shoutout to my podcast partner Nate Duncan for calling this one out. Nobody is talking about him much, but Marshall would be a great pickup for a tax team that needs another piece at the forward spot.
He’s currently on a minimum deal and comes with full Bird rights, meaning that he could fit into the salary structure in a place like Boston or the LA Clippers, then be re-signed in free agency despite the handcuffs that normally face teams above the second tax apron. In New Orleans, Marshall is on the fringes of a deep rotation, and his impact on their luxury tax position makes it seem unlikely that he’d be back after this season. It seems like he’d be worth multiple seconds to a tax team.
Kelly Olynyk, Utah: The Jazz are in an odd position, contending for the postseason with a decent team now but still nowhere close to the desired endpoint of their post-Rudy Gobert/Donovan Mitchell rebuilding operation. Olynyk is playing well, but he’s 32, blocking their lottery pick from playing and has an expiring contract.
A lot of contenders look at Olynyk as a valuable piece, and one they could re-sign after this season with Bird rights. If the Jazz could get two decent seconds for him, they probably should take the money and run, as it’s hard to see where he fits in the longer-term plan. Utah did a similar thing a year ago with Mike Conley, remember, so it’s not like this would be out of character.
While we’re on the Jazz, one other sneaky name to watch is Simone Fontecchio. The 28-year-old Italian is a restricted free agent after the season; he has quietly been one of the most improved defensive players in the league while also knocking down 39.4 percent from 3. His cap-friendly $3 million deal could make him a serious option for financially handcuffed teams like the Clippers or Nuggets, especially since he can be re-signed with early Bird rights.
Monté Morris, Detroit: As with Wright and Jones above, Morris is likely to be a target for teams that need a solid backup point guard and can dangle a second-round pick or two; a return to his former haunt in Denver, for instance, would shock nobody.
The catch here is, for an awful team deep in rebuilding mode, the Pistons have been bizarrely reluctant to part with veteran players. Detroit has too many bodies in the backcourt already, however, and so surely it would be willing to part with Morris and Alec Burks (also expiring) at this point … right?
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Royce O’Neale, Brooklyn: The Nets are in an odd position of being more bad than good but also not in a position to tank given the draft capital they owe to Houston from the James Harden trade. You hear the name Dorian Finney-Smith mentioned a lot with Nets deals, but he has a year left on his deal after this one, so Brooklyn can easily walk away from a trade that doesn’t overpay. However, O’Neale’s contract is up after this season; he’s a 3-and-D guy on a reasonable $9.5 million salary, making it easy to move him in a deal that brings back second-round picks.
Spencer Dinwiddie also is on an expiring deal, but the size of it ($20.3 million) could make it difficult to complete a trade. He’s also been on a bizarre jag of unaggressiveness, one that at times borders on nonviolent protest, with just a 15 percent usage rate since Jan. 1 and averaging just nine points per game since then. For a guy who already had a bit of a reputation, this isn’t going to help his trade value.
Gordon Hayward, Charlotte: It warrants mentioning that Charlotte has two huge expiring contracts with veterans Hayward ($31.5 million) and Kyle Lowry ($29.7 million) that could theoretically be the keys to a big deal if the Hornets want to go swinging. Don’t bet on it, though, especially with Charlotte still down a future first from the disastrous Kai Jones trade.
As far as other teams trading assets to acquire Hayward or Lowry, their value isn’t what it once was. Hayward is marginally more attractive than Lowry, but neither is going to get attention at their salary unless a toxic contract goes back to Charlotte. As a result, those seem headed toward a late-February buyout.
Also, the hot rumor in league circles is that the Hornets’ new ownership will make a change in the front office after the trade deadline, so that’s worth keeping an eye on as well.
Group II: Matching salaries
D’Angelo Russell, Lakers: Russell has played great the last few weeks, as the Lakers finally remembered that putting shooting around LeBron James and Anthony Davis was what keyed their conference finals run a year ago.
That said, it seems any trade to upgrade the roster almost requires his involvement; the deals of, say, Rui Hachimura or Gabe Vincent just run too long to make trade partners comfortable. The crux of the issue is that extending Jarred Vanderbilt and re-signing Russell to a two-year deal with a player option essentially left the Lakers with too little expiring salary for any significant trade; Russell’s deal — he can opt out of $18.7 million for next season — is the next closest thing. As a result, any hoped-for trade — such as the oft-discussed one with Atlanta for Murray — basically depends on Russell’s contract as a big chunk of the salary match.
(For what it’s worth: I do think a swap of Russell, Jalen Hood-Schifino and equity such as a pick swap in 2028 and the Lakers’ unprotected 2029 first, will end up being the best thing on the table for Atlanta in terms of Murray offers. Is that good enough to take the deal? I’d probably do it if I were them, but it’s close.)
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Pat Connaughton, Milwaukee: Similar to Russell above, the Bucks are in a situation where there is no realistic trade outcome that doesn’t involve Connaughton’s $9.4 million salary being part of the salary match in some capacity. (Bigger fish, I would note, likely also require Bobby Portis’ inclusion.) The Bucks don’t have a ton of draft equity left, but they can “swap the swap” on firsts they already have traded swaps for in 2026, 2028 and 2030; they also have a 2024 Portland second-rounder that projects to be the 35th pick.
The emergence of second-round pick Andre Jackson and the addition of free-agent sharpshooter Malik Beasley have both cut into Connaughton’s run, while the two years and $19 million left on his deal after this year impact Milwaukee’s sobering tax bill in future seasons.
I didn’t put the Bucks in with the salary dumpers below, but if they want to cut their tax bill, they might also try something small with A.J. Green or Cameron Payne.
Richaun Holmes, Dallas: Similar to Connaughton and Russell, the Mavs are in a situation where they don’t really have expiring salary for a trade. What they do have is Holmes at the end of the bench making $12 million next year, along with an unprotected 2027 first-round pick to dangle. Could combining that with another salary (such as perhaps that of Grant Williams, who hasn’t fit as well as hoped for thus far) help the Mavs pry away an elite forward to cement the roster around Luka Dončić, Kyrie Irving and impressive rookie Dereck Lively II? Those are the calls Dallas will be making, and any decent-sized move would surely seem to require Holmes’ involvement.
Markelle Fultz, Orlando: If Orlando is going to do anything at the trade deadline, Fultz’s expiring $17 million deal would seem to factor in prominently. While the Magic have other expiring salaries to put into a trade, Fultz is the one player whose future fit is most questionable on an Orlando roster that is both starved of shooting and overcrowded with guards. The Magic’s target list likely includes literally anyone who can shoot, especially at shooting guard and small forward, and it likely takes on more urgency with this year’s squad ahead of schedule and pushing for a playoff spot.
My favorite fake trade for the Magic would have them flip Fultz to Atlanta for Russell as the third team in a Hawks-Lakers trade involving Murray. That wouldn’t require draft picks, but the Magic are also sitting on a copious supply of future seconds and have all their own firsts (plus one in 2025 from Denver) to put in a deal.
Group III: Tax situations
These aren’t the deals that get fans’ hearts racing, but we get them every year, and we’ll definitely get more in this round. For teams in the luxury tax, sending out some cash or a late second-round pick for the opportunity to dump a contract that could cost several million in tax penalties is simply too promising a proposition to pass up. We’ve already seen one trade like this, when the Pelicans dropped Kira Lewis Jr. into the Pascal Siakam deal to get themselves out of the luxury tax, and could see several more by Thursday afternoon.
Luke Kennard, Memphis: The Grizzlies already made one move to manage an impending 2024-25 luxury-tax cliff by trading Steven Adams for Victor Oladipo’s expiring deal. If they can’t trade Oladipo by Thursday, expect Memphis to waive him and sign two-way GG Jackson to an inexpensive roster deal.
The next key situation is Kennard’s. He has a $14.7 million team option for next season; picking it up and adding a high lottery pick would put the Grizzlies roughly $10 million over next year’s projected tax line; while owner Robert Pera’s wallet can handle the check, it would leave Memphis above the first apron and thus would prevent the Grizzlies from adding a big man with their nontaxpayer midlevel exception. However, if the Grizzlies plan to decline it, Memphis might be better off seeing what Kennard can get right now on the trade market. (I’ll note, however, that one option that remains is for Memphis to decline the option and re-sign him at a lower number with Bird rights.)
Caleb Martin, Miami: Similar to Kennard above, Martin’s situation is more about next season than this season. While the Heat are currently $8.3 million over the tax line, trades that get them all the way below the line seem too painful to contemplate. (While we’re there, though, don’t be shocked if they do a smaller deal to lower the tax hit; sending out the injured Dru Smith and the little-used Orlando Robinson and signing buyout guys in their place would both improve the team and help the bottom line.)
However, Martin can opt out of his bargain deal for $7.1 million after the season, and the Heat are set to be a tax team next season before paying him a single cent. Meanwhile, Jaime Jaquez Jr. seems more than ready to inherit Martin’s role in the starting lineup. If so, might the Heat be better off cashing in their Martin stock now, either for a cost-controlled player for next season or to replenish their limited draft equity?
Andrew Wiggins, Golden State: The Warriors are in a transition year, but the recent play of Jonathan Kuminga and Brandin Podziemski shows this isn’t a teardown. Financially and team-building wise, however, the Warriors would be in a much stronger position if they can excise Wiggins’ three years and $85 million from the future books.
That’s unlikely to come in the form of a pure salary dump, to be clear, so any trade likely won’t help much with the massive tax bill the team will pay this year. However, by removing or lightening the cap hit from Wiggins next year and waiving Chris Paul’s $30 million deal, the Warriors will have room below the tax apron to add pieces to the roster with exception money. They could even stay below the tax entirely in 2024-25, which would help slow down the clock on repeater penalties in future years.
While we’re here, the Warriors would also save several million in tax penalties by trading Cory Joseph’s minimum contract and signing two-way Lester Quinones to a roster spot for the minimum.
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Boston’s bench guys: Dalano Banton, Svi Mykhailiuk and Lamar Stevens are on minimum deals and never play. The Celtics will owe a combined $15 million in tax penalties on those three contracts, a number that could be sliced by roughly two-thirds by trading each and signing buyout guys or promoting two-ways in their place.
Bones Hyland, Clippers: Hyland has a year left after this one at $4.2 million, so the Clippers would likely only get business done if another team had genuine interest in him. Fortunately, the executive who drafted him, Tim Connelly, now runs the Timberwolves. Minnesota needs point guard help, has a trade exception large enough to take in Hyland and would end up a cool $56,188 below the tax line after such a deal. That means the Clips could trade Hyland’s $2.3 million for this season without taking back a contract, something that would save them $10 million in tax penalties this year and potentially even more next season.
In the absence of a Hyland deal (or even with one), the Clips could also save money by dropping off the injured Brandon Boston on another roster and promoting two-way Jordan Miller to a roster contract for the rookie minimum. P.J. Tucker, meanwhile, has an $11.5 million player option for next season that is messing with the Clippers’ books, but it’s not clear if they can find a workable deal with him before Thursday.
Christian Wood, Lakers: The Lakers are just $1.33 million above the tax line right now; surely they will be below it in 72 hours. The oft-mooted trade of Russell and Hood-Schifino for Murray (along with draft capital that doesn’t impact the cap) would get L.A. below the threshold, so that’s likely Plan A.
However, if L.A. doesn’t do a larger deal, don’t be surprised if the Lakers surrender a second-round pick to land Wood on another roster. His $3 million player option for next season will likely make this more expensive than a typical deal with a minimum expiring contact — it will likely require a real second and not just cash. But in L.A.’s case, the financial calculus of accessing the roughly $9 million tax distribution to below-tax teams is going to make it a worthwhile transaction.
Furkan Korkmaz, Philadelphia: The Sixers are $4.3 million above the luxury tax line and just lost Joel Embiid for an extended period; while they still want to max out the playoff version of this team, their situation is similar to L.A.’s in that the financial return on a relatively small money deal seems overwhelming.
For instance, trading Danuel House’s $4.31 million deal would get the Sixers a mere $24,060 below the tax line, leaving just enough change in the sofa to sign a 15th roster player for the playoffs on the last day of the season. If they want a bit more breathing room, dealing Korkmaz’s $5.3 million deal could also make sense. Because these players make real money, any transaction would likely cost the Sixers a second-round pick, and their list of partners is limited to those with a mid-sized trade exception.
(Top photos of Tyus Jones, Bruce Brown and D’Angelo Russell: Tommy Gilligan, Jayne Kamin Oncea, Dan Hamilton / USA Today)