The trade deadline is Thursday, and whether we’re in for a busy deadline remains to be seen. Half of the players in the league changed places over the summer. In addition, only five to seven teams project to have cap space this offseason. And it’s a very weak free agent class. How that impacts the trade market remains to be seen.
However, one thing teams are always on the lookout for is players on great contracts. Having a star talent on a team-friendly contract makes building the rest of the roster that much easier.
These are the NBA’s 10 most tradable contracts. This list isn’t necessarily those players who are the best — some aren’t even All-Stars. But what each has in common is that the production far outweighs the compensation. There are a few caveats:
No players on max contracts. It’s impossible to pay them anymore, so if the player is worth more than the max, you’ve inherently got a bargain. For example, a guy like LeBron James is worth somewhere in the range of $50 million to $60 million. That the Los Angeles Lakers have him for $37.4 million this season, because that is the max the collective bargaining agreement allows, is a steal.
No players on rookie-scale contracts. Again, this is a capped amount. As the cap has risen, rookie deals have become that much more valuable. Having a talent like Luka Doncic or Jayson Tatum for a set amount is an incredible advantage. But no team got creative to get there, so those deals aren’t on the list.
No expiring contracts. Players have to have some money owed beyond this season to qualify. Otherwise, they’re not going to be much of a bargain past this year, which limits their inherent tradability.
The honorable mentions
These five players have all outplayed their contracts and bring considerable value, but are just outside being the most tradable.
Terrence Ross, Orlando Magic: Four years,$50 million. The contract declines in Years Three and Four.
Kelly Oubre Jr., Phoenix Suns: Two years, $30 million. A declining contract.
Seth Curry, Dallas Mavericks: Four years, $32 million. Last year caps at $8.4 million
Maxi Kleber, Dallas Mavericks: Four years, $34 million. Final season is fully non-guaranteed
The 10 most tradable contracts
10. Clint Capela, Houston Rockets: Four years, $66.2 million, and no options.
Why is Houston shopping Capela leading up to the deadline? Because he’s the best trade asset they’ve got. He’s still just 25 years old. Capela averages a double-double, while being among the league leaders in field goal-percentage. And he’s a solid defender. Teams are going smaller and smaller, including Capela’s Rockets, which caused Capela to fall from fifth on last year’s list. But he’s still a center whom almost any team would love to have.
9. Aaron Gordon, Orlando Magic: Three years, $54.4 million, and it declines each year.
Gordon graduated from Honorable Mentions to the full list for a couple of reasons. Primarily, there just aren’t a ton of truly great contracts out there. Secondly, Gordon is a good player on a declining deal. That has value. He’s struggled with injuries and the overly big lineups Orlando has deployed this season, but Gordon is better than his stats suggest. He might need a change of scenery for this deal to go from very good to straight steal.
8. Zach LaVine, Chicago Bulls: Three years, $58.5 million and no options.
When the Bulls matched the offer sheet LaVine signed with the Sacramento Kings last summer, no one thought he’d land on a most tradable contracts list, yet here we are. The main reason for LaVine’s position here is that scoring still has value and he’s one of the best scorers in the league. LaVine has become a good shooter and gets himself to the line enough that he’s more efficient than ever. And he’s a good passer for someone who scores so much. Basically, he’s James Harden Lite for about half the cost. That lands you on this list.
7. Robert Covington, Minnesota Timberwolves: Three years, $36.4 million and no options.
Covington is a mainstay on this list. Even with some slippage in his 3-point shooting, Covington remains a feared shooter. But it’s his defense and versatility that get him here. He can defend anyone from two to four and hold his own against the smaller fives and slower point guards. He’s a prototypical 3-and-D player. It’s no wonder his name has been in the rumor mill for months.
6. Jaylen Brown, Boston Celtics: Five years, $113.5 million and no options. Breaking the rules a little bit here for Brown, and another player to come, but with good reason. Brown signed an under-market contract extension and has delivered the best season of his career. He’s averaging 20.4 points on 50/38/75 shooting splits. He’s also hitting the glass and playing terrific defense. The poison-pill provision (because his extension doesn’t begin until next season) means Brown won’t be going anywhere this year, but when teams pitch superstar trades to Danny Ainge in the future, expect them to all start by inquiring about Brown’s availability.
5. T.J. Warren, Indiana Pacers: Three years, $35.3 million and no options.
Warren is another graduate from honorable mention to the main list. We’ve known Warren can score, as he’s done that for years. But in his first year in Indiana, Warren has rounded out his game. He’s playing the best defense of his career and shooting 51.6 percent from the floor. The Pacers are battling for home court in the Eastern Conference despite being without Victor Oladipo until last week. Warren is a huge reason why.
4. Bojan Bogdanovic, Utah Jazz: Four years, $73.1 million and no options.
The Mike Conley trade got all the headlines in Utah, but Bogdanovic was the better addition last summer. He’s averaging a career-high 21.2 points on 45/43/90 shooting splits. Bogdanovic can play anywhere from two to four and is a better defender than many think. At an average of just over $18 million for the next four years, that makes him a great value and incredibly tradable.
3. Spencer Dinwiddie, Brooklyn Nets: Three years, $34.4 million and final-year player option.
Dinwiddie checked in at eighth on this list last year and has only gotten better since. That Brooklyn got him on a value extension before he hit free agency was a coup for the Nets. He’s averaging a career-high 21.5 points, while carrying a much larger than expected role due to all of the Nets’ injuries this season. As a scorer and playmaker, you can’t find better than Dinwiddie for $11.5 million average annual value.
2. Domantas Sabonis, Indiana Pacers: Five years, $78.4 million and no options.
Sabonis, like Jaylen Brown, signed an extension before the season that is already incredibly team-friendly. He made the All-Star team for the first time and is averaging 18.2 points and 12.7 rebounds per game. He’s just a hair behind Nikola Jokic as the game’s best passing big man, too. And Sabonis doesn’t even turn 24 until later this season. Like Brown, he’s subject to the poison-pill provision, which makes a trade this year unlikely. Down the line? Expect GM Kevin Pritchard’s phone to ring off the hook with offers for the talented big man.
1. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks: Two years, $53.4 million and no options.
Last year we wrote that Antetokounmpo might be the league MVP. Well … he was. And he’s on his way to winning it again. The Bucks are dominant and part of the reason why is that their best player is paid like he’s very good instead of great. The reigning MVP doesn’t even make the maximum. That’s allowed GM Jon Horst to build out the rest of his roster with talented role players who fit around Antetokounmpo and fellow All-Star Khris Middleton. The Bucks likely will never trade him, but that doesn’t mean that his trade value isn’t still sky high. If Milwaukee ever opened the bidding, Antetokounmpo would bring back a trade package the likes of which we’ve never seen. That puts him at the top of this list once again.
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