Another day, another set of trade rumors as the NBA’s deadline approaches. We are now less than two weeks away from the final buzzer, and we’re still waiting on the sort of moves that tend to define a deadline. That hasn’t been for lack of trying. There has been plenty of news surrounding what teams are trying to accomplish over the past several days, and on Friday, we have a whole new batch to sift through.
Thus far, there does not appear to be traction on Chicago’s two headliners: DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine. However, with losses in five of their past eight games, the Bulls have now fallen to No. 11 in the Eastern Conference. A healthy Lonzo Ball would help, but the gap between where they are and where they’d like to be is far greater than one sub-All-Star guard. Chicago at least needs to sniff around trades for its veterans as it considers ways to retool its roster moving forward.
One player that’s garnering plenty of attention? Alex Caruso, one of the NBA’s best defenders earning only a mid-level salary. FiveThirtyEight’s RAPTOR ranks Caruso as the NBA’s very best defender regardless of position, and Dunks&Threes’ EPM has him second, and as such, he’s not going to come cheap. The Bulls want two first-round picks for Caruso, according to Jake Fischer on his live episode of Please Don’t Aggregate This with Marc Stein.
That price might seem a bit excessive for a guard averaging 5.5 points per game, but Caruso fits on virtually any team. He can guard practically any player in the NBA, having even held his own against Giannis Antetokounmpo in the playoffs last season, and he’s owed only around $19 million over the next two seasons. Any team with enough shooting to maximize him as a cutter and connective passer offensively should find him well worth the price.
Magic listening to offers for several vets
The Orlando Magic may be enduring another rebuilding season, but things are looking up for the franchise for the first time since Dwight Howard’s peak. Paolo Banchero, Franz Wagner and Wendell Carter Jr. have all emerged as franchise cornerstones, and as such, the Magic have begun to explore deals for players that aren’t part of their long-term plans.
Marc Stein lists four players that Orlando is taking offers on: Mo Bamba, Gary Harris, Terrence Ross and RJ Hampton. Harris and Ross are the obvious candidates to be moved. They are veterans that make more sense for teams interested in winning now than the Magic, who would probably prefer to lose games down the stretch and eventually re-stock with new veterans when the time to win arrives.
Bamba is getting crowded out by a group of more valuable big men. Those three cornerstones all take minutes away from Bamba, and now that Jonathan Isaac is back on the floor, Orlando simply doesn’t need a backup center making eight figures. Bamba’s combination of shooting and rim protection should make him a viable starter for someone else, though, so the Magic won’t have any trouble finding a trade if they really do want to move on.
Hampton is getting crowded out as well, and while Jalen Suggs, Markelle Fultz and Cole Anthony all have their virtues, it’s not as though they are emerging as All-Star talents as the front-court players are. Hampton has merely failed to produce since arriving from Denver two years ago. He is averaging only 5.7 points per game this season and has long since been taken out of the rotation.
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Jazz consider Markkanen, Kessler and Agbaji off-limits
The Magic may be making select veterans available, but the Utah Jazz seem to be working in reverse. According to Stein, they’ve deemed three players off-limits: Lauri Markkanen, Walker Kessler and Ochai Agbaji. The rest of the roster is seemingly available for a Jazz team that has fallen off after a fast start.
Markkanen has emerged as a possible franchise player in Utah. He will likely make his first All-Star team this season as he is averaging a career-high 24.8 points while approaching 50-40-90 shooting splits. Markkanen was one of the major pieces sent to Utah in the Donovan Mitchell trade, but not even Utah could’ve foreseen how valuable he would become.
Agbaji arrived in that trade as well, and while he hasn’t been nearly as productive, he’s flashed upside in his short stints on the court. After going in and out of the rotation earlier in the season, he’s averaging a solid 20 minutes per game over Utah’s last 10 outings. Kessler isn’t playing much more than that in terms of minutes, but he’s making the most of the time he plays. In the 20.1 minutes he plays per night, he’s racking up 1.9 blocks per game. That’s a block rate of 7.8 percent, higher than Rudy Gobert ever averaged in his career.
The Jazz likely didn’t expect to be as good as they are this season, but they seemingly aren’t letting that deter them from making moves focused on their long-term outlook. Markkanen and the rookies are young enough to stick around for Utah’s next winner, but it makes sense to cash in their veterans now, while they have the chance.