With the new year getting less and less new with each passing day, the next milestone moment of the NBA season will be the trade deadline. On Feb. 8, about a week before the All-Star break, general managers must decide whether their wildest trade machine fantasies will become reality.
In a post-Warriors world, some of the excitement has been sucked out of the deadline, as many teams seem content to stand pat rather than make a risky play for minimal gain. But we at The Crossover favor the bold. So with that in mind, here are some under-the-radar targets NBA teams should consider snagging as the deadline approaches.
As the Grizzlies continue to crumble without Mike Conley, expect to hear many of their players involved in trade rumors. Marc Gasol will be a target, maybe even James Ennis, but so should Tyreke Evans. The former lottery pick has had a bounce-back season in Memphis. The lowly Grizz are still 6.4 points per 100 possessions better with Evans on the court, and he is having by far his most efficient season as a shooter. Evans may not continue to shoot 42% from three for the rest of his career, but if he keeps it up for the rest of the season, he can likely be acquired on the cheap and provide a nice spark off the bench. Teams like Minnesota and Oklahoma City should definitely be looking into this one.
Hill appeared to overplay his hand in free agency, and instead of striking a big deal with a contender, he was forced to sign a three-year contract with the rebuilding Kings. (And that three-year deal is more like a two-year one because of a small guarantee in season three.) Hill, despite shooting a blistering 47% from three, has actually been a minus for the young Kings this season.
While I respected Sacramento for bringing in veterans to shepherd their youngsters, moving on from someone like Hill could be beneficial for everyone involved at this point. Buddy Hield and De’Aaron Fox deserve all the minutes at guard as possible, and Hill’s age means he won’t be peaking at the same time as the current core anyway. His average salary is big, but Hill essentially only has one year left on his contract, which could make him appealing to many clubs. Playing a 3-and-D supporting role on a contender is the best fit for him—two teams I’d like to see get in the mix for Hill are Denver and New Orleans.
After a devastating punch from Bobby Portis threatened to turn his season into a punchline (no pun intended, I promise), Mirotic has recovered well. His spirited play greatly aided the Bulls’ brief midseason revival—Chicago actually has a +2.9 net rating with Mirotic on the court. He won’t help you much on the defensive end, but Mirotic is shooting the lights out. He’s at 47% from three on nearly six attempts per game, and his height allows you to play with some stretchy lineups.
One thing to note here is that Mirotic is going to shoot almost every time he touches the ball. He’s an absolute chucker, so it’s probably best to keep him on the bench lest he hijack the offense from your best players. Utah is reportedly already in the mix for Mirotic, but I’d personally love to see him in places like Washington or Portland.
Would the Heat part ways with Ellington, who is on an extremely affordable contract and shooting Miami into victories on a regular basis? It’s complicated. Ellington is having the best season of his career right now, with Erik Spoelstra giving him the ultimate green light to fire as many threes as possible. Ellington—coming off the bench—shot eight threes per game in December, and connected at a 43% clip. He’s a legitimate game changer, sometimes going on runs that put teams away all by himself. And his defense has improved to the point where he’s far from a liability on that end of the floor.
So why would the Heat, in the thick of the East playoff race, trade him? Miami only has Ellington’s early Bird rights, which could make him a little difficult to re-sign in the off-season. If another team wants to acquire Ellington and is willing to take, say Hassan Whiteside’s contract as well, Pat Riley may be tempted to pull the trigger. At the very least, GMs should be using Ellington in their daily fantasy lineups. There is not a roster in the league that couldn’t use Ellington’s shooting.
Williams is not having an outstanding season, but perhaps a change of scenery can enhance his game. Williams (who has two fairly expensive years left on his contract, it should be noted) is an extremely solid shooter from three (36%) for his career, and he can defend multiple positions, maaaaaybe even anchoring a super small-ball unit at center for a brief stretch. Williams was an integral part of the Hornets’ alchemy when they were their most successful. If you put Williams on a winning team in a not-starring role, he can have a very positive impact. The contract will make acquiring him tricky, but I’d love to see teams like the Wolves or Pistons get involved here.