6 NBA trade deadline predictions on Lakers, Raptors, Bulls, and best player dealt
The NBA trade deadline feels like it vacillates between wild and mild every year. The biggest deal this season likely came four days before the deadline when the Brooklyn Nets finally traded Kyrie Irving to the Dallas Mavericks for two quality starters (Spencer Dinwiddie and Dorian Finney-Smith) and an unprotected 2029 first round draft pick. It’s hard to imagine any deal topping the Irving one in terms of impact on this season’s championship race, but there are certainly reasons to believe this will be an active deadline.
This is one of the most wide open title races in recent memory, with no dominant team at the top of the league and both conferences currently featuring incredibly bunched up standings. The advent of the play-in tournament has also left more teams feeling like they have a chance. This should be a seller’s market, but it’s worth noting that there aren’t many first round draft picks actually available to be traded this year because a) so many have already been dealt, b) the Stepien Rule prevents teams from trading picks in consecutive years.
While we wait for deals to come in before the the trade deadline on Thursday, Feb. 9 at 3 p.m. ET, here are a few predictions for what might happen. You can bet on players dealt at the deadline at DraftKings Sportsbook.
Fred VanVleet will be the best player traded
The biggest name rumored to be on the trade market this year is Raptors wing OG Anunoby, but Toronto shouldn’t feel a ton of urgency to deal him because he’s under a team-friendly contract next year, with a player option for the following season. I’m a bit skeptical any team is going to meet Toronto’s likely sky-high asking price, which is why teammate Fred VanVleet feels more likely to be moved.
VanVleet is on an expiring contract and will be a free agent after this season. He was a first-time All-Star in 2022, but his play has fallen off a bit this year mostly because his three-point shot and rim finishing have both fallen off. Still, VanVleet is the best point guard on the trade market, has always defended better than his size would suggest, and is still a projectable shooter both on and off the ball.
With the Raptors looking like one of the biggest disappointments in the league so far, it makes sense to pivot and try to find a different lead guard. VanVleet, who turns 29 years old later this month, works both as a rental and a long-term fix in the backcourt for most contenders. The Clippers, Suns, Lakers, Magic, Wolves are all reportedly interested, according to Jake Fischer of Yahoo! Sports.
It won’t be a blockbuster, but we’ll predict VanVleet is the biggest name moved on Thursday.
The Jazz tear it down
The Utah Jazz were supposed to be tanking for Victor Wembanyama after trading Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert for huge hauls of draft picks and role players over the offseason, but it immediately became apparent that this team would be much better than anyone expected. The Jazz started the season at 10-3 and have been sticking around .500 ever since thanks to a cohesive game plan by new head coach Will Hardy, an All-Star leap from Lauri Markkanen, and a deep roster with well-defined roles.
The Jazz are 27-28 as I write this and clinging to the last play-in spot in the Western Conference. The fact that they’ve exceeded expectations hasn’t really changed Utah’s long-term vision, and by selling now they can get back even more draft picks while maximizing their own odds in the lottery this year. We’ll predict Utah makes multiple deals and helps some would-be contenders add ammunition for the postseason while refocusing the franchise on their real goals.
Jarred Vanderbilt, Malik Beasley, Mike Conley, Jordan Clarkson, Kelly Olynyk …. all of them are going to be on the table. If not every player from that group gets traded, we’ll expect most of them do.
The Lakers don’t trade their future draft picks
The most interesting thing about the Lakers all year has been the trade rumors constantly floating around the franchise. This is not a good team — their objectively mediocre at 25-29 overall, and maybe even worse than that — but having LeBron James and Anthony Davis still playing at a high level will convince anyone they are only one move away from having a real shot in the Western Conference.
The Lakers’ biggest problem right now is that they don’t have much to trade. No one wants Russell Westbrook in the last year of his deal, and the role players surrounding James and Davis aren’t good enough to move the needle. The Lakers’ biggest chip is a pair of draft picks five and seven years away … but it’s likely the GM that trades for those picks won’t be around when they finally convey.
We’ll predict the Lakers will kick the can to the offseason in terms of improving the roster. It’s not what LeBron wants to hear, but the opportunity to open up near max cap space with more options on the trade market is a more prudent route than making a deal to try to save a season that’s likely already doomed.
The Bulls will not sell
The NBA podcasters of America have spent a lot of time talking about why the Chicago Bulls should blow up their team, and what sort of value their players have. The Bulls have been underperforming all year without injured point guard Lonzo Ball, but still find themselves in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race after an encouraging start to 2023.
ESPN can come up with all of the fake Zach LaVine to the Lakers trades it wants, but realistically the Bulls have no reason to accept draft picks five and seven years away unless they’re already ready to salary dump his max contract. This is probably the high point in value for both DeMar DeRozan and Alex Caruso, and it could make sense to deal center Nikola Vucevic too in the last year of his contract. There are only a few problems with the idea of the Bulls as sellers: Chicago’s own first round pick is already traded away to the Orlando Magic (protected 1-4), the team refuses to take on money as it presses up against the luxury tax line, and ownership wants playoff appearances, not another teardown like the one the team experienced in the wake of the Jimmy Butler trade.
There are plenty of reasons the Bulls should sell, I just don’t think it’s going to happen. Instead, this team is going to give it all it has to earn the No. 8 seed in the East playoffs.
The Nuggets-Suns swap Jae Crowder and Bones Hyland
Send it in!
The Suns have been waiting to trade Jae Crowder all season after he refused to take the floor because he lost his starting spot. The Nuggets are rumored to be shopping young bucket-getter Bones Hyland in an attempt to get front court help.
Crowder is a proven playoff performer who has helped the Miami Heat and Suns get to the NBA Finals in recent years. That’s exactly where the Nuggets want to be. Who knows what kind of shape Crowder is in after not playing all season, but if he can regain his top form he’s exactly the type of player the Nuggets could use for the postseason run.
The Suns, meanwhile, should be thrilled to a get a young scorer as talented as Hyland for someone who asked out like Crowder. Hyland is a dynamic shot creator and good shooter who brings speed, tight ball handling ability, and microwave scoring at his best. Just don’t ask about his defense.
Jakob Poeltl finally gets traded
Need a center at the trade deadline? It’s hard to do better than Poeltl. The 27-year-old big man is playing on an expiring contract for a San Antonio Spurs team that just wants to sim to the lottery at this point. Poeltl still can’t make a free throw, but he’s gotten better offensively over the last few years, and he’s long had a reputation as a solid defender.
We’ll predict Poeltl gets moved after a couple years of being in trade rumors. There’s on shortage of teams that want a center for the playoff run, and Poeltl works either as a rental or a long-term front court option. The Toronto Raptors, who originally drafted Poeltl and then traded him in the deal for Kawhi Leonard, make sense as one possible option.