Before the unwrapping of the presents on Christmas morning comes the opening of the unofficial NBA trade season on Dec. 15 when the first batch players signed as free agents are eligible to be swapped. The trade deadline doesn’t arrive until Feb. 23,
But with more than a handful of teams already in dire trouble in the standings and others underperforming, it’s not too early to think about a few of the players and teams that could be on the move.
DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings: Yes, he’s arguably the best center in the league. Yes, he’s only 26 years old. Yes, the Kings have to take a step back and begin another rebuilding project without "Boogie" in the middle of their lineup. But how does that really make them any worse off than in the current predicament? Cousins has gone through coaches like pairs of sneakers and while he keeps putting up big stats, he does nothing to pull the team or organization together. So far this season, there have been no locker room blowups and no problems with new coach Dave Joerger. Yet there has also been little indication that 2016-17 will wind up any different than the first six seasons of Cousins’ career, where the Kings have never won more than 33 games. It makes absolutely no sense from a sheer talent standpoint, but the clock keeps ticking toward Cousins’ free agency in the summer of 2018 and his trade value is is only going to get lower as the time on his contract dwindles.
Brandon Knight, Phoenix Suns: It seems like just last week when the Suns were locking up Knight to a deal that would keep as part of the foundation through 2020. But that was before the young duo of Devin Booker and T.J. Warren were given the keys to the Phoenix offense and told to drive ahead. Now Knight is coming off the bench, struggling, uncomfortable and unhappy. General manager Ryan McDonough has said the Suns have no interest and no intention of dealing Knight. He is something of a security blanket for coach Earl Watson as Booker and Warren go through the bumps and inconsistencies that most young players must endure. However you can only afford to spend so much on a security blanket, especially if it’s an unhappy wet blanket over time. Knight is due $43 million for the next three seasons and that’s quite a lot for a guy who is playing less than 25 minutes per game.
Kenneth Faried, Denver Nuggets: It is simply too crowded on the Nuggets’ front line with Faried, Jusuf Nurkic and Nikola Jokic all trying to be shoehorned into the same space. Somebody has to go and Faried, as the oldest (27) and most limited of the trio, is the most logical candidate. His name has been bubbling in the rumor mill since early last summer and it would be surprising if he’s still in the Rockies past the trade deadline.
Zach LaVine, Minnesota Timberwolves: It’s one thing to entertain crowds and win Dunk Contests. It’s quite another to make coach Tom Thibodeau happy by delivering consistently. The Timberwolves entered the season as many folks’ trendy long-shot pick to sneak into the playoffs in the deep Western Conference. But through the first month of the season they have underperformed and word is that Thibs has seen enough to know changes must be made.Truth is, he’d likely be open to trading anybody but Karl-Anthony Towns or Andrew Wiggins in order to bring in a veteran who can stabilize the lineup and teach it lessons. LaVine's crazy athleticism and upside could make him the most likely one to move.
Rudy Gay, Sacramento Kings: The long-limbed shooter hasn’t been able to find a comfort zone in the nearly four seasons since he was dealt away by the Memphis Grizzlies to the Toronto Raptors. It didn’t work in Toronto and through all the turmoil and turnover in Sacramento and now, at 30, Gay would welcome a chance to for another fresh start with a team that needs an offensive wing. By the time the February trade deadline arrives, the Kings will likely be buried at the bottom of the standings again and be willing to give him his freedom.
C.J. McCollum, Portland Trail Blazers: Sounds like a wildly crazy notion. He’s putting up 22 points per game and has at least injected himself into the conversation for a spot on the Western Conference All-Star team. But as Zach Lowe of ESPN.com points out, the Trail Blazers are stuck in the ugly rut of a .500 team that is simply spinning its wheels in an unforgiving West playoff race and might have to think bolder. Al-Farouq Aminu and Mo Harkless are delivering big time on very friendly contracts. Evan Turner and Allen Crabbe not so much on overpaid deals. You’re not moving Damian Lillard. So, that leaves the 25-year-old McCollum as the only potential trade bait who could get Portland the game-and season-changing player it needs.
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