Another day, another set of trade rumors as the NBA deadline approaches. We’re now less than two weeks away from the final buzzer, and we’re still waiting for the kind of moves that tend to define a deadline. It hasn’t been for lack of trying. There has been a lot of news surrounding what the teams are trying to achieve in recent days, and on Friday we have a whole new group to sift through.
So far, there doesn’t seem to be any traction on Chicago’s two headliners: DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine. But with losses in five of their last eight games, the Bulls have now fallen to No. 11 in the Eastern Conference. A healthy Lonzo Ball would help, but the gap between where they are and where they want to be is far greater than a sub-All-Star guard. At the very least, Chicago will have to sniff around trades for their veterans as they consider ways to restructure their roster moving forward.
A player who gets a lot of attention? Alex Caruso, one of the NBA’s best defenders who earns only a mediocre salary. FiveThirtyEight’s RAPTOR ranks Caruso as the NBA’s very best defender regardless of position, and Dunks&Three’s EPM has him second, and as such, he’s not going to come cheap. The Bulls want two first-round picks for Caruso, according to Jake Fischer on his live episode of Please Don’t Aggregate This with Marc Stein.
That price might seem a bit excessive for a guard who averages 5.5 points per game, but Caruso fits on virtually any team. He can guard virtually every player in the NBA, after holding his own against Giannis Antetokounmpo in the playoffs last season, and he’s only owed about $19 million over the next two seasons. Any team with enough shooting to maximize him as a cutter and clutch passer offensively should find him well worth the price.
Magical listening to offers to several vets
The Orlando Magic may be enduring another rebuilding season, but things are looking up for the franchise for the first time since Dwight Howard’s peak. Paolo Banchero, Franz Wagner and Wendell Carter Jr. have all emerged as franchise cornerstones, and as such, the Magic have begun to explore deals for players who aren’t part of their long-term plans.
Marc Stein lists four players Orlando is offering: Mo Bamba, Gary Harris, Terrence Ross and RJ Hampton. Harris and Ross are the obvious candidates to be moved. They are veterans who make more sense for teams interested in winning now than the Magic, who would likely prefer to lose games down the stretch and eventually fill in with new veterans when the time to win comes.
Bamba is being crowded out by a group of more valuable big men. Those three cornerstones all take minutes away from Bamba, and now that Jonathan Isaac is back on the floor, Orlando simply doesn’t need a figure-eight backup center. However, Bamba’s combination of shooting and rim protection should make him a viable starter for someone else, so the Magic won’t have any trouble finding a trade if they really want to move on.
Hampton is also getting crowded, and while Jalen Suggs, Markelle Fultz and Cole Anthony all have their virtues, it’s not like they’re emerging as All-Star talents like the frontcourt players. Hampton has just failed to produce since arriving from Denver two years ago. He is averaging just 5.7 points per game this season and is long out of the rotation.
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Jazz consider Markkanen, Kessler and Agbaji off-limits
The Magic may be making select veterans available, but the Utah Jazz seem to be working in reverse. According to Stein, they have deemed three players to have been left out: Lauri Markkanen, Walker Kessler and Ochai Agbaji. The rest of the roster is seemingly available for a Jazz team that has fallen off after a fast start.
Markkanen has emerged as a possible franchise player in Utah. He’ll likely make his first All-Star team this season as he averages a career-high 24.8 points while approaching 50-40-90 shooting splits. Markkanen was one of the most important pieces sent to Utah in the Donovan Mitchell trade, but not even Utah could have predicted how valuable he would become.
Agbaji also came in that trade, and while he hasn’t been nearly as productive, he has flashed in his brief stints on the field. After going in and out of the rotation earlier in the season, he’s averaging 20 minutes per game over Utah’s last 10 outings. Kessler doesn’t play much more than that in terms of minutes, but he makes the most of the time he does play. In the 20.1 minutes he plays per night, he gets 1.9 blocks per game. That’s a 7.8 percent block rate, higher than Rudy Gobert ever averaged in his career.
The Jazz probably didn’t expect to be as good as they are this season, but they apparently aren’t letting that deter them from making moves focused on their long-term prospects. Markkanen and the rookies are young enough to stick around for Utah’s next winner, but it makes sense to cash in on their veterans now, while they have the chance.