The NBA trade deadline has built up steam for months. After nearly six months without a deal, teams have finally found some momentum on big moves. The Houston Rockets kicked off the festivities , 12-player blockbuster that landed them Robert Covington, and now the rest of the league has mere hours to respond with deals of their own.
Dozens of names have been floated, and without the Warriors as a boogeyman scaring off potential buyers, virtually every contender is exploring a move of some kind. With less than a day to go, here is everything you need to know about the 2020 NBA trade deadline.
When is the trade deadline, and when can teams trade again?
The trade deadline is Thursday, Feb. 6 at 3 p.m. ET. In the past, the deadline came later in February, but the NBA moved it up in order to avoid trade rumors overshadowing All-Star Weekend (or, in the case of DeMarcus Cousins, an actual trade occurring during the game). Once that deadline passes, teams will be unable to make trades for the remainder of the season.
Non-playoff teams are free to trade again once the regular season ends. Playoff teams, on the other hand, need to wait until their season ends. Given the limited pool of potential partners, though, most teams wait until after the NBA Finals to seriously discuss trades again simply for the sake of casting the widest possible net. Technically, playoff teams can trade players not on their playoff roster once the regular season ends, but such deals are obviously fairly small.
While trades will cease on Thursday, teams can still improve through the buyout market. Many veterans on expiring contracts will agree to buyouts with their existing teams in the coming days, and so long as they are officially waived by March 1, they will be eligible to join playoff rosters. The buyout market doesn’t exactly produce superstars, but a few contenders will find meaningful rotation players in midseason free agency.
Why has this deadline been so much quieter than last year’s (so far)?
As you’ve probably noticed, there isn’t an Anthony Davis-caliber player on the market this season. Only one 2019 All-Star has been significantly involved in trade rumors, and as productive as D’Angelo Russell has been this season, he’s hardly the headliner fans have grown accustomed to in February.
So where are all of the superstars? Well, it’s a combination of things. The weak free agency class in 2020 is the primary culprit. Davis is the only MVP candidate set to hit the market this summer, and nobody expects him to leave the Lakers. The 2021 class is far stronger, but the players who could hit the market already play for contenders. The Bucks aren’t trading Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Clippers aren’t trading Kawhi Leonard or Paul George. The superstars that would traditionally look tradable are all locked into long-term deals.
Even if they weren’t, the teams that might trade for them have mostly exhausted their asset supplies. The Lakers, Clippers, 76ers and Celtics all cashed in their primary chips over the summer. The Nets spent their cap space. Most of the league’s best trade assets are concentrated in small markets right now, and superstars aren’t exactly angling to go to Oklahoma City.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder this deadline. Teams are trying to fill specific needs with the right role players rather than swinging for the fences on superstars. Eventually, bigger names will hit the market as they always do. It just won’t come until this summer.
Who are the buyers and sellers?
Broadly, the teams at the top of the league are going to want to improve while teams at the bottom will want to add future value. Things are a bit more complicated this season based on the summer that just was and the 2021 bonanza that’s coming. The Lakers exhausted most of their trade assets acquiring Anthony Davis, for instance, so if they plan to make a major move, Kyle Kuzma .
Fringe contenders like the Heat and Raptors are protecting their cap space above all else with an eye on Giannis 18 months from now. The Thunder and Blazers would both probably prioritize ducking below the tax over adding talent. Given the sort of players that are available, buyers probably won’t be as aggressive as usual.
The seller pool, meanwhile, is smaller than ever. Only two teams are realistically out of the Western Conference playoff picture. The Timberwolves have already dealt their best veteran in Robert Covington. The Warriors are set to jump back into the playoffs next season. The Eastern Conference isn’t as deep, but its theoretical sellers have different priorities. The Wizards could get a haul for Davis Bertans, but have indicated that they prefer to re-sign him in an attempt to win next season. The Knicks have sent mixed signals about Marcus Morris, but he has openly declared his love for playing in New York.
The Knicks are likely more amenable to a veteran fire sale with the firing of team president Steve Mills, though, and all rumors out of Detroit suggest that the Pistons are ready to sell off anything not nailed down. The spiraling Kings could get in on the fun as well, and while Oklahoma City is primed to reach the playoffs now, the Thunder’s priority is the future, and they wouldn’t hesitate to deal a veteran for the right package. Sellers will present themselves as they always do, but finding them won’t be as simple as looking at the standings.
So who might actually get traded?
The trade deadline usually throws a few curveballs, but with so little time remaining ahead of the deadline, most of the players on the market have been established. Here are the names to watch as the deadline approaches:
The biggest names:
- Jrue Holiday: A trade appears unlikely at the moment, but Denver and Miami are at the front of the line if New Orleans lowers its asking price.
- D’Angelo Russell: It looks like the Warriors are waiting until the summer to deal with the Russell situation, but a last-second offer could entice them.
- Chris Paul: Paul’s contract made him virtually immovable before the season. Now he’s playing so well that Oklahoma City would be justified in asking for an asset. They won’t get one, and will likely choose to keep this feel-good season going.
- Kevin Love: Almost any team in the NBA could use Kevin Love, but nobody is touching the $90 million remaining on his contract without getting something valuable back. Cleveland doesn’t seem eager to give anything way just to dump him.
- Andre Drummond: Atlanta was the primary suitor, and with Clint Capela in place, Drummond is probably finishing the season in Detroit.
- Derrick Rose: Finally healthy and productive once again, Rose could help any team that needs a bench ball-handler and scorer.
- Shabazz Napier: Monte Morris has the backup point guard spot in Denver locked down, but another team looking for a backup could use Napier.
- Dennis Schroder: Teams have asked about Schroder, but his $15.5 million salary for next season makes things difficult, and the Thunder reportedly want a real return. This won’t be a salary dump.
- Dennis Smith Jr.: Once a top-10 pick, Smith was buried behind Luka Doncic in Dallas and stuck on a broken Knicks team for the past year. A move to a better organization could rejuvenate him.
- Bogdan Bogdanovic: Practically every team in the league wants Bogdanovic, and his upcoming restricted free agency will at least force the Kings to consider dealing him, but for now, rumors have cooled off.
- Langston Galloway: While he’s hardly good enough to be a part of a playoff rotation, Galloway is a useful backup who could help a team bank some extra wins.
- Wayne Ellington: One of the best shooters in the league, several contenders (including Philadelphia) would love the Knicks to move Ellington.
- Reggie Bullock: Not quite as exciting as Ellington, but a strong enough shooter and defender to hang in a playoff rotation.
- Alec Burks: Golden State has no use for a veteran scorer in a lost season. If moving Burks helps them avoid the tax, they’ll do it.
- Denzel Valentine: He’s finally healthy, and rumors suggest that the Bulls are looking to send him elsewhere.
- Courtney Lee: If Dallas makes a move, Lee’s $12.7 million expiring salary will almost certainly be involved. Watch out for Lee and Golden State’s unprotected second-round pick to be packaged for a wing improvement.
- Zhaire Smith: Smith is a former first-round pick, but he’s also critical salary filler for Philadelphia at $3 million if they plan to add a shooter or ball-handler.
- Danilo Gallinari: The Thunder have no reason to force a Gallinari trade given their success, but they’d happily take the right offer with their top forward due a new contract this summer.
- Marcus Morris: The Knicks will almost certainly deal Morris to a contender given his expiring contract. The only question is where.
- Maurice Harkless: The Clippers have made no secret of their desire to improve upon Harkless. He sadly seems likely to serve as salary in an upgrade for them.
- Jae Crowder: While Iguodala gets all of the press, Jae Crowder could be just as important as a wing addition for a contender.
- Andrew Wiggins: Nobody wants his massive contract, but if D’Angelo Russell is a Timberwolf by the end of the week, Wiggins has to serve as salary filler.
- Marvin Williams: He is probably a more likely buyout candidate than trade piece given his salary, but Williams remains a sturdy three-and-D wing.
- Kyle Kuzma: He is the last remaining major young asset for the Lakers, so if they make a big move at the deadline, he’ll be in it.
- Markieff Morris: The lesser-known Morris twin is infinitely more tradable on the sinking Pistons. He is a bargain at $3.2 million this season and could be a valuable small-ball center in the playoffs.
- Nemanja Bjelica: The Kings have a glut of power forwards and centers, so someone could get a great shooter at a value price in Bjelica.
- Taj Gibson: The Knicks have no reason to hold onto Gibson beyond the deadline, and his defense would be a welcome addition to any frontcourt.
- Noah Vonleh: Denver acquired him in the Robert Covington trade, but given its depth up front, it has no real reason to keep him. Someone should be able to pry him loose with the right offer.
- Mike Scott: Like Smith, Scott would be necessary salary-filler in a potential 76ers trade.
- Ersan Ilyasova: The Bucks probably won’t make a big move, but if they do, Ilyasova will probably be involved as salary filler.
- Montrezl Harrell: If the Clippers want to go big-game hunting at the deadline, Harrell is their best asset to do it with. He is essential to the rotation, but with a big contract coming this summer, the Clippers have likely at least considered selling high now.
- Steven Adams: Atlanta asked about him before acquiring Clint Capela, and no other suitors have emerged, but as with all of their veterans, the Thunder would consider the right deal if it came along.
- DeMarcus Cousins: The Lakers are set at center with JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard, and Cousins’ $3 million salary could help for aggregation purposes in a trade.
- DeWayne Dedmon: Dedmon has played better since asking for a trade in December, but the Kings would still love to get off of his $13.3 million salary for next season.
- Tristan Thompson: The Cavaliers would be justified in asking for an asset in return for Thompson, but his salary makes a buyout a strong possibility as well.
- Aron Baynes: There aren’t many three-and-D centers, but Baynes is one of them, and with DeAndre Ayton entrenched, the Suns may look to get value for Baynes before he hits free agency.
- Hassan Whiteside: Whiteside has posted huge numbers of late, but the Blazers are still a move away from getting under the tax line, and Jusuf Nurkic will return eventually.
- Kevon Looney: The Warriors would love to keep Looney, but dumping his $4.6 million salary would not only get them under the tax line this year, but reset the repeater tax penalty until at least the 2021-22 campaign.