Injuries and slightly larger sample sizes have sparked a bit of trade talk in the NBA as the league calendar moves closer to the Dec. 15 trigger date when free agents from this offseason can be dealt with.
We begin in Utah, where the Jazz’s above-average rivals are wondering which direction Danny Ainge’s front office will take after a surprise 12-7 start that translated into second-place finishes in the Western Conference.
How much time Mike Conley misses after suffering a knee injury over the weekend could affect Utah’s decision-making if the Jazz’s competitiveness later dips. Utah has so far signaled intentions to retain breakout star forward Lauri Markkanen as well as franchise favorite Jordan Clarkson and set a hefty price tag for Jarred Vanderbilt, sources told Yahoo Sports, with Malik Beasley and Kelly Olynyk along with Conley as the Veterans apparently left behind, the Jazz could move before the February 9th trade close. Olynyk is known to be a favorite of Ainge.
But what if Utah is no longer content to join the race for valuable contender Victor Wembanyama? The Jazz’s interest in Hawks forward John Collins is genuine, league sources said, and seems to indicate Utah is considering how it can add to, rather than detract from, that winning unit. For now, however, the likelihood of Collins ending up in Salt Lake City seems slim. Atlanta turned to the Jazz to swap Collins for Markkanen, sources said, which failed to generate traction.
Of Utah’s Impact players, Conley’s salary would fit Collins directly if Atlanta found it beneficial to add another point guard behind Trae Young and Dejounte Murray. Though $22 million, with $14.3 million guaranteed next season, is a lot for the tax-conscious Hawks to pay for an aging reserve with a younger injury history. Beasley appears to be the best return on any theoretical deal that brought Collins to Jazz, but that would also require adding an additional Utah contract to hit at least $18.5 million for an outgoing package to get the $23 million to take over from Collins this season. Sources said the Jazz was trying to move Rudy Gay, who will almost certainly pick up his $6.5 million player option for 2023-24.
Finding a home for Collins becomes a difficult task considering the Hawks dangled the talented 25-year-old for multiple transaction cycles. There was real momentum in a deal with Sacramento during this summer’s draft window, sources said, but the Kings walked away with Kevin Heurter and seem pretty happy to be lighting the beam with this current iteration at Golden 1 Center. The Wizards showed legitimate interest in Collins ahead of last year’s trade deadline, sources said, but they have since paired Bradley Beal with Kristaps Porzingis, who has helped establish a top-10 defense in Washington.
While Atlanta remains one of the teams in the mix for Phoenix swingman Jae Crowder, league sources said the Suns have shown no desire to shoulder the remaining four seasons of the five-year, $125 million contract Collins lost after the Hawks’ run to 2021 signed Eastern Conference Finals. That seems to be the consensus among competing executives. A good player with a whopping long-term contract will only bring that much trading interest if they are perceived to be above market value.
Elsewhere in Atlanta, keep an eye on Justin Holiday this trading season as rookie forward AJ Griffin continues to make strides in Nate McMillan’s rotation despite the close bond between Holiday and the head coach from their Indiana days together.
Crowder’s other main contender, sources tell Yahoo Sports, is Milwaukee. Word spread among league staff last week that a three-team structure is gaining momentum with the Bucks eventually landing Crowder, though clearly no deal has materialized. Competing front offices were contacted as part of various three-team frameworks that would send Crowder overseas, sources said. Atlanta has not found a direct deal with Phoenix after months of contact. Milwaukee has attempted to use Grayson Allen to land the Suns veteran, sources said, but that direct deal has yet to develop in the months since Crowder’s holdout began. The Suns’ interest in KJ Martin has ensnared Houston in several three-team concepts, sources said.
Detroit might be ready to do business
In Detroit, the severity of Cade Cunningham’s shin injury has been the Pistons’ linchpin in the face of season-ending surgery, with opposing front offices anticipating that veteran sharpshooter Bojan Bogdanovic will indeed be available before the February buzzer. The Suns and Lakers were two teams involved with Utah this summer over Bogdanovic trades.
Another Pistons players league personnel under surveillance is third-year forward Saddiq Bey. The Villanova product was recently demoted from the starting lineup before going straight back into Dwane Casey’s opening unit. Bey will be eligible for extension this summer and has seen a noticeable drop in production. Detroit called Bey early from inquiring teams, sources said, a change in behavior from recent trading windows. But it seems the Pistons are keen to further evaluate Bey before really entertaining his trade market.
Wait for the Lakers
The last week of November will be an integral part of the Lakers’ decision making ahead of this unofficial trading season. Los Angeles rode a three-game winning streak into Tuesday night’s loss at Phoenix, yet Anthony Davis notched up a fourth straight 30-point win. LeBron James is about to return from his hijacker burden. The Lakers now have two games against San Antonio and then a home game against Indiana before ending the month against Portland. That’s three fights against teams that have been chasing lottery balls rather than wins in preseason, plus a good litmus test against the fiery Blazers. If the Lakers don’t show enough on this list, it’ll be hard to see Los Angeles Brass think a trade in first-round picks from 2027 and 2029 is really viable.
It was mentioned that the Lakers are interested in restricted free agent Miles Bridges. However, the Hornets have the right to match any bid sheet for Michigan State product, and teams cannot sign-and-trade during the regular season. There is also an expectation that Bridges will face a substantial suspension upon his return to the NBA, after fighting a domestic violence charge over an incident in Los Angeles over the summer.
On the other side of the arena, Clippers head coach Ty Lue and the front office are looking for depth of frontcourt beyond Ivica Zubac, sources said. The two leading centers in this year’s trading market are Myles Turner and Jakob Poeltl, although it seems more likely that the Clippers are targeting a switchable center as an option for Lue to replace Zubac for faster lineups rather than running a full small-ball unit .