Coach Spins' Clipboard: Trade Deadline Targets, Teams, & Chatter
Diving into the value of PJ Washington, Rui Hachimura, D'Angelo Russell, and key decisions ahead for some franchises
We are just about two weeks away from the NBA’s trade deadline and it feels like the season is starting to heat up. A few years ago, the league made a decision to expand the playoffs from 16 teams (8 in each conference) to 20 with the inclusion of a play-in tournament for the final two spots. The hope was to not just increase ratings and revenue, but parity. In theory, franchises would hope to compete for those additional four playoff spots, be less likely to tank (the change was made in conjunction with the flattening of the lottery odds), and keep the schedule of games competitive through March and April, where the season could previously tail off a bit for nearly half the league.
Well, the law of unintended consequences has struck again. One such consequence of encouraging more competition longer is that there are fewer teams acting as sellers by the trade deadline. Now, one of the NBA’s favorite times to drive up fan engagement and fake, hypothetical trades is less intriguing. Of course, increased competition isn’t the sole reason for this — the 2022-23 season is one with a frustrating lack of separation between the top and the mediocre teams in a way we haven’t seen before, and an increasing amount of future draft capital is controlled by a few franchises who have prioritized getting it in trades the past two years.
All that makes for what could be a quieter-than-normal trade deadline. Few teams are truly selling impact pieces, most teams buying don’t have the intriguing pieces to sell, and even more franchises are stuck in the middle where they are hoping to compete but not healthy or high enough in the standings to justify a short-term aggressive move.
So who is available and interesting? We’ll circulate some of the players and teams mentioned on public rumor mills to see what to expect between now and February 7th.
D’Angelo Russell & the Timberwolves Tightrope
Earlier this week, I wrote a piece over at SB Nation on the rock and a hard place the Minnesota Timberwolves find themselves with D’Angelo Russell. A brief summary: he’s their fourth option on a team that clearly isn’t working despite him having a highly efficient year, he’s on a $31.3 million expiring deal, the Timberwolves aren’t doing a ton to make him very happy right now, and they cannot afford to let him walk away for nothing thanks to the way their cap sheet is structured.
Yes, it does smell like a trade might be inevitable. For the Timberwolves and for Russell, a separation may be for the best. The Timberwolves need either an elite point-of-attack defender at his spot or a really good catch-and-shoot threat; a pick-and-roll maestro could help, but not if it sacrifices shooting around Rudy Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns. For Russell, going somewhere that he’s appreciated and gets a larger role in the offense — as well as a payday — seems sensible.
It’s just really hard to properly figure out just how valuable Russell is in the scheme of winning playoff games in today’s NBA. At 6’4”, he’s tall for a point guard by some standards, but he doesn’t have the physicality to guard up the lineup or the quickness to lock down guys at the 1.
What he does have, however, is the most exaggerated pump fake in the league:
In theory, Russell should be blanketed by the presence of Gobert. Russell is a tremendously smart off-ball defender and is understanding of his limitations. He almost fared better in a system where he was playing quarterback and flying around to help others than in continually being asked to go over the top of ball screens while Gobert drops back to the rim. It’s a stylistic thing for D’Angelo, and one that is unflinchingly rigid so long as Rudy is in town.
If Minnesota isn’t going to be the right spot for him, it’s hard to figure out where is — at least among places that have the salary pieces to trade for him. The Miami Heat, Los Angeles Clippers, and Utah Jazz have already been linked to him. The $31.3 million expiring is difficult to account for. The Wolves could be caught between a rock and a hard place.
Hachimura On the Block
Earlier this week, Shams Charania reported that the Washington Wizards were exploring trading Rui Hachimura, supposedly to clear up a logjam of bodies in the frontcourt.
Hachimura has averaged 15.3 points on 50/36/81 shooting since December 23rd, making him one of the more potent backup forwards in the game on offense. He scores from all over, too. His mismatch post ability has always been strong, he can really handle in transition, gets to the charity stripe a fair amount, and his catch-and-shoot jumper is looking really respectable.
The Wizards have found success playing him and Kyle Kuzma together, providing a blueprint for other teams interest in Hachimura. While Rui can be a post-up threat, he’s more than capable of spacing the floor at a high level while other wings draw extra attention.
At the end of the day, what Rui brings to the table is almost entirely scoring. While most teams may see that archetype and assume it means ‘playing almost exclusively with the ball in his hands’, we’ve been pleasantly surprised with Rui as an off-ball threat.
The Wizards need another true wing or backcourt piece to provide some depth. Offloading the $6.2 million expiring of Hachimura to another team interested in him long-term that wants his Bird Rights should be feasible. The question is what the Wizards, sitting at 17-21 in the 10-seed out East, will want for him. Should they look to go younger and ask for a draft pick, Hachimura would command a lightly protected first or a pick at the very end of the round. If they want a veteran, matching salaries for equal impact becomes a tad more difficult.
Could the Thunder be buyers?
Nobody expected the Oklahoma City Thunder, playing this entire season without second overall pick Chet Holmgren, to be tied with the Los Angeles Clippers in the standings at the end of January. What Mark Daginault, Sam Presti, and the entire organization have done to fast-track the development of their youngsters is nothing short of incredible.