I don't know exactly what each NBA player could fetch in a trade, but based on my estimates, here are the five players NBA generals managers should be shopping the hardest before the March 15 trade deadline:
5. Gerald Wallace
Wallace is easily the best player on this list, but Nicolas Batum makes him somewhat expendable. Both players could become free agents this summer, and rather than waiting until then to decide whether to keep one or both, the Trail Blazers should act now.
Portland could have significant cap room this summer, whether or not Wallace opts out of the final year of his contract ($9.5 million). If Portland keeps Wallace and he doesn't opt out, that obviously would cut into their flexibility. But if he opts out, the situation would get pretty complicated.
If the Trail Blazers commit to re-signing Wallace, his cap hold (the lesser of $14.25 million and the maximum salary) would prevent them from making other moves until he's taken care of. They'd essentially be handcuffed until he re-signed or they renounced him.
If the Trail Blazers commit to re-signing Batum, a restricted free agent, his cap hold ($5,388,413) would actually add to their flexibility if the first-year salary of his new contract exceeded his cap hold. They could have him wait to sign officially and have more money to spend on other players.
Wallace is a very good player, but he'll turn 30 before next season and has a lot of mileage. For someone so reliant on his athleticism, that's troublesome. Just four active players who've started a majority of their games since 2005-06 have played more minutes per game since 2005-06:
After their 5-1 start, the Trail Blazers are just 11-14 since. If the playoffs started today, they wouldn't qualify. They don't appear ready to contend, so it's time to make steps toward next year.
Trading Wallace for lower-paid and younger--though not as good currently--players, expiring contracts and/or draft picks would allow Portland be a big player in free agency this summer. Landing an upgrade at point guard (Raymond Felton is a free agent) or center could allow for a quick retooling around LaMarcus Aldridge, Wesley Matthews and Batum.
4. Luke Ridnour
Ricky Rubio is Minnesota's point guard of the future, so eventually Ridnour will have to go. But Rubio and Ridnour sharing a backcourt works right now, so the Timberwolves could hold Ridnour if they don't find a good offer.
I just think Minnesota would find a good offer, because Ridnour would hold more value to another team than he does the Timberwolves.
Ridnour and Rubio are both excellent running pick-and-rolls. Ridnour ranks 22nd in points per play on pick-and-rolls, according to MySynergySports, and Rubio is 55th. Obviously, only one of them can run a pick-and-roll at a time, so having them both on the court limits their effectiveness. For now, that's fine, because Ridnour is an excellent spot-up shooter (22nd in the NBA) and can thrive playing off the ball during Rubio's pick-and-rolls. But as the number of pick-and-roles Ridnour runs shrinks, his value to the Timberwolves will diminish.
Ridnour at shooting guard presents bigger defensive problems. Ridnour's short arms make him a poor defender of bigger shooting guards, especially on spot-ups, where his defense ranks 260th in the league. Shooting guards have an effective field-goal percentage of 51.3 against the Timberwolves, according to 82Games, one of the league's highest totals:
For the Timberwolves, whatever Ridnour--who's highly valuable with two years at about $4 million each left on his contract after this season--fetches would help upgrade other, less redundant areas. J.J. Barea--who would be on this list if I thought he was tradable--can play more minutes in both backcourt positions.
Ridnour would be more effective for another team playing point guard. He could use his full array of offensive skills, and he'd defend smaller, quicker point guards better than he defends shooting guards.
Ridnour has value in Minnesota. He'd have more elsewhere.
3. Jason Richardson
You won't find another Magic player on this list. Acquiring a superstar like Dwight Howard is both so difficult and so rewarding, barring an incredible offer, Orlando should keep him and see whether he'll actually turn down $30 million this summer.
Trading Richardson would hedge the Magic's bets, though.
Richardson's athleticism is slipping, and at 31, he's becoming primarily a jump shooter. Without Howard, his jumper becomes much less of a weapon. Richardson shoots 45 percent on three-pointers when Howard is on the floor and 24 percent when Howard is on the bench.
All six of the Magic players who attempt at least two three-pointers per game have their percentage drop when Howard leaves the court, but none falls more than Richardson's. Howard on the court is blue, and Howard off the court is black:
J.J. Redick is a capable replacement for Richardson, and he could handle more minutes in Richardson's absence without Orlando sacrificing production and on-court appeal to Howard. Plus, Redick's three-point percentage without Howard is decent.
I might be going out on a limb that Richardson--who signed a four-year, $24 million contract before the season--still has trade value. But if he does, Orlando should move him.
2. Chris Kaman
The only players who've posted a higher usage percentage with the Hornets this year than Kaman are Solomon Jones, who's played one game with New Orleans, and Eric Gordon, who will miss at least the next six weeks. This shouldn't be surprising, because Kaman's career usage percentage is higher than all but two Hornets--Gordon and Donald Sloan, who has played 61 NBA minutes and is on a 10-day contract. Career usage is purple, and 2011-12 usage is teal:
The Hornets evidently have three goals:
- Develop young players
- Secure a high draft pick
- Emphasize defense
Kaman helps none of those goals, and he's counterproductive to at least the first two. He's taking minutes from players who might have a future in New Orleans, and he's a solid player, which could mean the Hornets win extra games with him. And although his defense can be solid, it stems from his large frame and strength. He doesn't defend with a tenacity that would positively influence his younger teammates.
The Hornets seem to understand all this, and that's why they sent Kaman away for a week to trade him. I doubt they've changed their mind, even though he's back with the team. New Orleans waited to trade Chris Paul, and it got a better offer. It can do the same with Kaman.
1. Antawn Jamison
Jamison can play two positions, but the Cavaliers already have their power forward (Tristan Thompson) and small forward (Omri Casspi) of the future. That leaves Jamison as nothing more than a stopgap.
At 35, even asking him to do that is risky. For now, he's playing well enough, averaging 16.7 points and 6.2 rebounds per game. That could change quickly, as there are plenty of signs Jamison's athleticism is declining. The percentage of his shots that come at the rim (yellow) and his free throw attempts per field-goal attempt (red) are both down in recent seasons:
Jamison also has had a higher percentage of his field goals assisted recently. He's the only player on the receiving end of two of the 28-most-common assist-field goal player combos this season. He's received 41 assists from Kyrie Irving and 40 assists from Ramon Sessions. His next most common assister is Anderson Varejao, who's not exactly a great passer. Essentially, Jamison is fortunate to play with two point guards capable of getting him the ball in position to score. An injury to Jamison, Irving or Sessions could severely diminish Jamison's production, and consequently, his trade value.
Right now, Jamison has value to a contender looking for another piece. He's not the All-Star he once was, but he could contribute to a team with a reliable point guard.
Jamison--who has a $15,076,715 expiring contract--also has value to teams trying to shed salary. Cleveland could trade him for a player with an unfavorable contract plus a sweetner, like they did with the Clippers, taking Baron Davis and a first-round pick for Mo Williams.
The possibility of trading Jamison to either type of team should boost the demand for him and increase his trade value. Jamison's expiring contract will keep him tradeable, but if the Cavaliers wait, they risk Jamison's appeal to contenders waning.
Dan Feldman is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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