Monday morning, Jack Winter started Basketball Insiders’ newest series titled Trade Targets, where he looked at the best players that could potentially be on the trade market when the fateful Feb. 7 deadline arrives.
Today, we take a look at the Northwest Division. Before we get to it, we need to set the stage. With the exception of the Oklahoma City Thunder, every single team in the Northwest came into the season aiming to make the playoffs. Since the season began, everyone’s seasons have been pretty topsy-turvy.
Up until the last few weeks, there were red flags everywhere concerning the Utah Jazz’s season outlook. Now, there’s red alarms everywhere concerning Utah’s potential. Coming off their run to the Conference Finals, the Portland Trail Blazers’ injury-plagued roster has put their playoff hopes in jeopardy. The Minnesota Timberwolves were turning some heads early on. Then, those heads instantly turned back after a miserable December. The Denver Nuggets are the one team that’s looked like a great team from the get-go, but it’s odd that they managed to keep things afloat while Nikola Jokic got himself into game shape.
The one team that’s shown consistency has oddly been the one team that didn’t have much current aspiration to begin with — Oklahoma City. With the season entering its halfway point, teams are going to look wherever they can to add to their playoff hopes. The Northwest Division has quite a few of those.
If you’re familiar with our guys up in the Northwest, then you probably know who’s going to show up on here.
Let’s just get this out of the way — this is going to be very Thunder-centric because they could very well dominate the trade buzz from here on from now until the deadline. If we’re being honest, they’ve taken over the rumor mill ever since the Russell Westbrook-Chris Paul swap, so seeing their name in any new buzz shouldn’t send any shockwaves.
We should rename the Thunder, “The Oklahoma City Clash” because the title of OKC’s season right now is “Should I Stay Or Should I Go?” Even though the plan reportedly has been to trade away what they can to start fresh, they have a likable winning team on their hands.
They have all the makings of a squad who would give any contender fits in the playoffs. Yet, as much of a fun story that they’ve been, their play hasn’t deterred the front office from their original objective. Their most recent loss at the hands of the LeBron James-less and Anthony Davis-less Los Angeles Lakers served as a good reminder that they’re not going anywhere near a title.
From the looks of things, Oklahoma City is going to cut ties with all of its best players not named Shai-Gilgeous Alexander. To evaluate this fully, we have to do this in order from most expendable to least expendable. Usually, that starts with the player whose contract is the closest to expendable
Danilo Gallinari — $22,615,559
Gallinari’s return to full health is one of the stories that doesn’t get enough attention around the league. Over the years, we’ve forgotten about what he can do on the court because of both his prolonged injury history and playing for irrelevant Denver teams between Andre Iguodala’s departure and pre-Nikola Jokic.
He had quite the resurgence with the Los Angeles Clippers last season, and that’s only continued since playing for the Thunder. While Gallo has not been able to maintain the same efficiency he had in LA last season — averaging almost 20 points on 46/43/90 splits — his numbers this season, 18.3 points on 43/40/90 splits, should make him a desired asset on the market.
Plenty of teams can use a feared scorer like Gallo. His scoring abilities won’t make him an alpha dog but a very respectable secondary scorer. Teams like Toronto, Phoenix, and, for some reason, Boston, have expressed interest in Gallinari and for good reason. His ability to score from just about anywhere can make a huge difference in the playoffs.
The only qualm is the expiration date. Teams don’t usually pay top dollar for an expiring deal. As good as Gallinari is, OKC shouldn’t expect much of a haul for him since he’ll be looking for a new deal six months from now. Then again, their ship already came in from the deals they made last summer, so they won’t lose much sleep over it.
Thunder general manager Sam Presti’s best option might be just to wait it out until the summer then work out a sign-and-trade with Gallinari. That’s what Denver did back in 2017, and it got them Paul Millsap. Presti doesn’t have to get a Millsap-type to cash in on Gallo. He just has to add to an already strong foundation of assets.
Steven Adams — $25,842,697
Adams has been through it all with the Thunder. He was there when they came within inches of returning to The Finals. When they almost upset the Warriors. When they lost Kevin Durant. When Russell Westbrook had his MVP season. When Paul George came to town. When Carmelo Anthony followed. When the team bowed out in disappointing fashion. When they somewhat blew it up.
Adams has been there to witness it all.
Now, it looks like his time might be up in OKC. What’s somewhat sad about this is that Adams has been a good soldier throughout all the turmoil. He always kept his head up and did his job no matter what changes he had to go through with the Thunder. That’s one of his more subtle appeals. Adams is a presence in your locker room.
The main appeal to the New Zealander? He’s pure beef in the frontcourt. The guys clogs up the paint. Any team who needs an upgrade in the frontcourt will get its money’s worth. This season, he’s putting up a respectable 12/10, as well as putting up his usual fantastic rim protection. Adams is currently is surrendering a respectable 54.2 shooting percentage at the rim. Should he make his way to a contender, he can change the equation when defending the post.
The only teams who have been linked to Adams have been Sacramento and Atlanta. Neither team exactly fits the contender profile, but their youth movement could be a suitable change of pace for Adams, who’s only 26. It wouldn’t be the worst fate in the world, but NBA fandom would prefer to see him on a contender again.
Dennis Schroder – 15,500,000
It’s depressing that on his second team, Schroder is again playing the perfect role for him — the very overqualified backup point guard — on a team that again is facing its final days. It’s not his fault that much like how it was in Atlanta, there isn’t much use for him now in Oklahoma City.
Much attention has been given to OKC’s three-point guard lineup containing Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Chris Paul and Schroder. Paul and Gilgeous-Alexander get the most attention for that because one is a star veteran while another is a star on the rise. Not enough is being put on Schroder, which honestly is kind of unfair.
The three of them together are plus-29 when they share the court, which has the highest net rating among any Oklahoma City three-man lineup that has logged 200 minutes or more. If you don’t think Schroder has a lot to do with that, check out the net rating of the next five three-man lineups.
Chris Paul-Danilo Gallinari-Dennis Schroder: Plus-22.2
Chris Paul-Steven Adams-Dennis Schroder: Plus-20
Danilo Gallinari-Steven Adams-Dennis Schroder: Plus-19.5
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander-Steven Adams-Dennis Schroder: Plus-17.2
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander-Danilo Gallinari-Dennis Schroder: Plus-16.9
Seeing a pattern?
For the duration of his entire career, Schroder’s developed a reputation for being the league’s best backup point guard. On his next team, wherever that is, Schroder should slide in just fine whether if he’s starting or coming off the bench. Let’s just hope he stays there when that happens.
Chris Paul — $38,506,482
*Hot Take* Chris Paul is still an elite player.
He’s still an excellent floor general. He’s still capable of taking over games. He’s killing it from mid-range. He’s still a reliable three-point shooter. He still plays great defense. He’s no longer the very best in the league — if he was, Oklahoma City would probably keep their squad together — but his play this season has been so good that just about everyone in the league is begging for his services to be put on a contender.
It’s just the elephant in the room that’s been there since last year. As his game continues to age, his contract further plummets as an albatross. There is some draw to that, though, when you look at what he’s still able to do. He’s very available right now. Oklahoma City will do just about anything to get off his deal. As bad as that contract is, Paul has plenty of playoff experience on his belt, and he’s even proven from his time in Houston and Oklahoma City that he can adjust accordingly as his prime dwindles.
The options are limited. Only teams like Miami and Dallas have the expendable contracts to acquire Paul. Those teams have been better than advertised, yes. Are they winning a championship with their current squads? No. Does acquiring Paul change that? It’s possible. Of course then, they have to consider cap flexibility and all, which is hard to give up. This writer has also written about where he thinks CP3’s ideal team would be.
Even if he’s badly overpaid, a player with as much talent as Chris Paul can basically be had without having to exchange any valuable assets. If getting him on your team gives you a championship window, then what does it matter how much you have to pay him for the next two years?
Robert Covington — $11,301,219
The Wolves are at a crossroads right now. They could roll with this crew if they’d like. They can fight tooth and nail for a playoff spot, and maybe even get one. Doing so would make the season a success. It would probably lead to a sweep in the first round, but expectations were low coming into this season. They should be proud of themselves if they make the playoffs.
Or, they can punt on the season. Is it worth fighting that hard for such little reward that is the last playoff spot? If they decide to tank, there’s only one other team in the Western Conference that’s all but out of the playoffs right now — the Golden State Warriors. The opportunity to increase your lottery odds has never been bigger.
If they choose Option B, then Robert Covington easily becomes one of the most coveted players at the trade deadline. RoCo has one of the most desired skillsets a team vying for a championship could want. He’s an All-NBA Defense alum and has shown that he can’t be left wide open from three.
Covington’s already been in a fair amount of trade rumors. The worse Minny plays, the likelier they are to trade him because a win-now veteran like Covington doesn’t have a place on a team like that. Someone like him should be put on a team that’s fighting for more than just a playoff spot.
The upside for the Timberwolves is, because of what he does and because of how cheap his contract is, Covington should fetch some good value back. For the Timberwolves, he might be better as an asset than as a player.
Malik Beasley — $2,731,714
It’s not often you see a productive player on a rookie contract get mentioned among the more valuable trade targets. If all the buzz surrounding the Denver Nuggets and Beasley is true, then we’ve got a potential steal in the works.
After taking a leap in his third year as a pro, Beasley’s seen his minutes take somewhat of a dive this season. Going from an average of 23.2 minutes to 16.7 shouldn’t come as a welcome development for Beasley. He established himself a long-range threat last season, shooting 40.2 percent from three. While his minutes and point average have declined, Beasley’s ability to stretch the floor has not wavered, as he’s still shot 38.6 from deep on the season.
It may only get worse. Michael Porter Jr’s development is starting to get some great results. He and Beasley don’t play the same position, but as Porter gets more minutes, more players in the active rotation are going to have their minutes adjusted to make room for him. Beasley might just be the odd man out.
If that turns out to be the case, expect teams in need of a three-point shooter — or really, anyone trying to win it all — to come calling Denver. They’d be foolish to trade Beasley to a rival, so don’t be shocked if they trade him somewhere in the east if it comes to that.
He will be a restricted free agent this summer, so it’s not like the Nuggets are caught between a rock and a hard place on this one. If they trade him, it means they don’t see him as a building block going forward. If they don’t, then they clearly see value in him.
There was some temptation to put Hassan Whiteside and Kent Bazemore on this list, but at this point in time, if they were to get traded, teams that would trade for them would pull the trigger more for matching contract purposes than to acquire their talent.
The race to the championship should only get tighter as the season goes on. If trade season plays a major role in shaping up who wins the championship this season, don’t be too shocked if the players in the Northwest Division have something to do with it.