There are really two separate NBA trade deadlines: the Anthony Davis/Kyrie Irving/LeBron James/Kristaps Porzingis nexus of superstar drama, and everyone else trying to do normal trade deadline things.
The superstar nexus will get even frothier in July. An underrated subplot: How teams fare in the postseason could have an unusual impact on superstar free agency. At least one of Philadelphia (Jimmy Butler), Boston (Irving), and Toronto (Kawhi Leonard) will lose before the conference finals. How will those star free agents react? What happens if catastrophe strikes Golden State (Klay Thompson, and more notably, Kevin Durant)?
Let's bounce around the rest of the league:
• We know the Hawks, Cavaliers, Bulls, and Grizzlies are selling their veterans with the zeal of Crazy Eddie. We know the Pelicans have been forced into holding trade talks for a future Hall of Famer; they have also made Nikola Mirotic, Julius Randle and E'Twaun Moore available, sources have told ESPN. We know that Bradley Beal, Kemba Walker, and Otto Porter Jr. probably aren't available, though Porter has drawn preliminary interest over the past few months from Utah, Portland, Dallas, and some other buyers, per league sources.
So which teams might swing the market?
• Some within the Magic -- their coach, Steve Clifford, and higher-ups who predate the Jeff Weltman/John Hammond front office -- are desperate to make the playoffs. Weltman and Hammond probably don't feel the same urgency; only the past two seasons are on their watch, and they appear to have a long runway. They are also five games out in the loss column.
They would likely deal Terrence Ross for a future asset, though it's unclear if they can snag even a heavily-protected first-round pick for him. (Two second-rounders might end up being the price.) They would demand much more for Nikola Vucevic, an All-Star heading toward a massive new contract. They face two alternatives in July: lose Vucevic for nothing, or pay him a giant amount to man the position they hope Mo Bamba assumes during the life of Vucevic's next deal. Given those parameters, they have to consider trading him.
As I've written before, Vucevic for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and the Lakers' first-round pick -- potentially a late lottery pick -- is among my very favorite hypothetical deals. (So is Ross for Markelle Fultz, though it's unclear if the Magic might have to toss in something extra -- a second-rounder -- to make that happen. Fultz's trade value, like his injury, is a total mystery.)
The Magic might turn their noses up at receiving a middling first-round pick for their best player. The league as a whole has no feel for Weltman's plan. I'm not sure Orlando will get much better than that sort of pick and perhaps one other asset.
That raises the possibility they simply keep Vucevic. He just turned 28. Bamba is not ready; the Magic over the last month have split up Bamba and Jonathan Isaac because teams are destroying Orlando with those two on the floor.
I'd bet against a Vucevic deal, though the Magic's recent slide should have them more interested in selling than they were two weeks ago.
• A player-centric version of this question that is fun to bat around with executives and agents: Who might be available -- or at least gettable -- that we don't expect? I keep coming back to Aaron Gordon. The Magic designed his descending contract to make him ultra-tradable. Like Vucevic, he just doesn't fit a long-term vision that has Bamba and Isaac starting.
The Pacers sniffed around an offer sheet for Gordon. Utah could use one more infusion of talent. How fun would a Gordon-John Collins frontline look in Atlanta? Would Portland gamble on Gordon's long-term fit next to Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum? (They almost certainly wouldn't trade McCollum straight up for Gordon.)
The Blazers love Al-Farouq Aminu. They would aim to keep him. Aminu fits best at power forward -- Gordon's position. Then again, is there really a difference between a Maurice Harkless-Aminu forward combination and a Gordon-Aminu pairing? What about the Spurs? Dallas investigated Gordon's availability before the Porzingis deal, sources have said.
Gordon would mark a bold play for someone. But the Magic need him to stay competitive. They know his trade value will only increase as his contract declines and the salary cap rises.
• Portland stands a potential buyer -- an under-the-radar really good team with questions about its postseason viability. The Trail Blazers have put their first-round pick in play, per sources around the league. They have investigated Porter's availability. Taurean Prince makes some sense; he's up for an extension this summer, and the Hawks have made him available, sources say. As a free agent non-destination, the Blazers value players whose rights they can control.
But the Hawks are asking a lot so far -- a young player and a pick -- and haven't gotten much traction on Prince trades, sources say.
Another off-the-beaten path name from Orlando: Evan Fournier -- a wing who could give Portland or some other team some shooting and playmaking. He has two years and $34 million left on his contract; if the Magic aren't thrilled with that deal, they could suss out his value.
• Portland is also over the tax. Can the Blazers somehow improve their team and cut their current year's tax bill? Keep an eye on the Raptors making a move to trim their tax bill if they can find one that doesn't hurt their team.
• Charlotte will be over the tax next season as things stand now if they re-sign Kemba Walker, and it seems wildly implausible Michael Jordan will pay the tax for a mediocre team. Their ideal scenario is improving their current team and somehow trimming next season's tax bill. Good luck!
They have long been perhaps the most obvious fit for Marc Gasol, but it's unclear if they can send out enough bad long-term contracts -- to Memphis and/or a third team -- to make a deal.
There has not been much buzz about Gasol, though he is hoping for a trade, sources familiar with the matter say. Teams are waiting to see if the Grizzlies' asking price drops a bit, sources say. Memphis has not shown any real interest yet in Andre Drummond, sources say. Detroit might be saving other trade chips for someone else. Gasol's $26 million player option for next season brings a lot of uncertainty for any interested party.
• A ton of teams are set up to have major cap space this summer. Some of those teams are in markets with zero history of drawing A-level stars. The good teams among that group should think hard about cannibalizing some of that cap space now in deals that add good players.
The best current example: Utah's interest in Mike Conley, which is very real, sources say. Utah can build an offer around Ricky Rubio and Derrick Favors -- both on effectively expiring contracts -- and a lightly-protected future first-round pick. That is going to be Memphis' floor.
Utah would forfeit a max salary slot in that deal. They could still have significant room depending on a few other variables, but probably not enough to add even a second-tier free agent such as Khris Middleton or Tobias Harris. (The Jazz would have interest in Harris if they save space, per league sources.)
Memphis wants more than two veterans who can walk in a few months, plus a pick in the 20s, sources say. (One caveat: Memphis could try and flip Favors and Rubio for picks if they get them with enough time to spare before the deadline.) Utah can sweeten the pot with one of Dante Exum and Grayson Allen.
Utah is really good, and one upgrade from being potentially great. Rubio to Conley is one such upgrade. But there will always be some overlap in skill, and maybe some diminishing returns, pairing Donovan Mitchell with a ball-dominant point guard. Conley's 3-point shooting eases those concerns.
But an upgrade on the wing or at power forward brings more pop. I doubt Utah throws in a second first-round pick, so Conley talks could pivot on Exum. Utah might be holding firm on its floor offer (no Exum), betting no one beats it. The Jazz might be proven right. This weekend will be interesting.
• If Conley proves too pricey, the Jazz could move onto a cheaper rental -- someone like Mirotic.
• The same cap reasoning made Indiana an appealing Conley suitor before Victor Oladipo's season-ending injury: Who is Indiana signing in free agency that is better than Conley? (One potential answer, sources say: Middleton. But luring a good player away from a contending team like the Bucks is really hard unless Milwaukee gets too cute in negotiations with Middleton.) You could argue Oladipo's injury, and what it does to Indiana's playoff hopes, shouldn't really alter their plans -- even amid a losing streak. If they wanted Conley before they should want him now for the same reason: He sets them up to be very good next season.
Building an offer is tricky. To make the money work, Indiana can really offer only expiring contracts, and all of the movable ones are linked to primary ball handlers: Darren Collison, Cory Joseph, and Tyreke Evans. (The Pacers want to re-sign Bojan Bogdanovic, also working on an expiring contract, sources say.) They could toss in their 2019 first-round pick, but that might not be of much interest to the Grizzlies.
Adding Aaron Holiday gets you close -- and maybe all the way there -- but it also costs yet another ball handler. They could find a third team to supply some matching salary, so they could keep one of those point guards. In any case, the current buzz is that Indiana has stepped away from Conley talks, sources say.
• The Grizzlies probably would ask for Domantas Sabonis, and the Pacers don't appear ready to go there. I do think Indiana will eventually have to choose between Sabonis and Myles Turner. I'm not sure they will ever mesh quite well enough for Indiana to play them the sort of heavy minutes together -- like, say, 20-plus per game -- that would justify paying them something like $40 million combined per season. (Sabonis will be up for an extension this summer, and you can bet he wants -- and deserves -- a monster deal.)
Both should remain positive trade assets. Turner's four-year, $72 million extension already looks like a tidy deal. I don't expect a deal at the deadline, but you can never rule it out. Teams sometimes sell high before we expect it.
• Detroit remains my favorite Conley team, though Memphis would likely have to swallow Reggie Jackson's contract -- or reroute him to a third team -- to snare one or two nice assets from the Pistons (perhaps a lightly-protected first-round pick and one of Detroit's young wings.)
The teams have talked, but not gotten far, sources say. It's unclear if there are any other serious bidders. Everyone around the Conley sweepstakes expects it to heat up over the weekend.
• Some of Miami's veterans on long-term deals once fit this conceit, but most of the guys they'd be willing to move for some relief -- i.e., not Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson or Bam Adebayo -- have underwhelmed. Given their glut of rotation guys -- Wayne Ellington, essential last season, was out of the rotation until recently -- I'd expect Miami to try to recoup at least a second-round pick for someone who isn't playing as much as he'd like.
• Dallas was super-active before going all-in for Porzingis. The move carries enormous risk beyond Porzingis' injury history. Dallas will hold its own pick only every other year for at least the next half-decade. They ate way into their cap space. How are they going to build around Luka Doncic and Porzingis?
In a way, this trade is a bald admission from the Mavericks that they have botched or ignored both the draft and free agency for most of the past 15 years. (For a while there, Roddy Beaubois was the crown jewel of their post-Dirk first-round picks.) Why bother with tools that don't work all that well for you? But those are two of the three pathways toward team building. The other is trading players. But what do the Mavs have left to trade?
That's why I'm keeping an eye on both Harrison Barnes and Dwight Powell over the next few days. Dallas right now has about $99 million in salary committed for next season -- leaving the Mavs only $10 million in room. Barnes and Powell both hold player options for 2019-20: Barnes for $25 million, Powell for about $10.3 million. The Mavs will have a couple of windows to try free agency again before both Doncic and Porzingis cycle onto massive new contracts. (By the way: I'll believe Porzingis takes his one-year qualifying offer when I see it. Pure posturing.)
Unloading Barnes or Powell for an expiring contract would open up another such free agency window this summer. The Mavericks have sniffed around Barnes deals, including the possibility of flipping him for Otto Porter -- a move that would effectively work as a free agency signing, sources say. But that was before the Porzingis stunner, and Washington doesn't appear to have had any interest, sources say.
• The Kings are still sitting there with the only meaningful chunk of cap room left -- about $11 million -- waiting to use it to pick up an asset, sources say. That could be a pick. It could be a player who helps them now. The Kings are so far trying to thread the needle: stay competitive in case they pull off a run for the No. 8 seed without taking on money beyond this season.
They haven't shown nearly as much interest in Gasol as has been reported, per league sources. They have a package that makes sense -- Willie Cauley-Stein, salary filler, and a future first-round pick -- but I don't get the sense the Kings are willing to part with a pick for Gasol. They already owe this season's pick to Boston. Gasol is an odd fit for their turbo style. His $26.5 million player option looms.
There are non-stars on long-term deals the Kings like enough to sacrifice future space. Porter has been one such player, per league sources. If they don't find one, they might step back and use their space to act as a facilitator.
• The Kings are willing to talk about Cauley-Stein separately, sources say. He's a restricted free agent this summer. Sacramento could bail if the market goes above a certain price point. (He shouldn't have that kind of market, but you never know.) In that case, they should search out what they could get for him now. Marvin Bagley III and Harry Giles are coming.
• Cleveland will keep trying to sell Alec Burks and any other indispensable asset until the buzzer. They are willing to take on more dead money for picks. Houston will peddle a future first-round pick attached to Marquese Chriss and Brandon Knight until the buzzer. The league might be devaluing Houston's future first-rounders -- Chris Paul is 33 and hurt all the time -- but the Rockets would surely push to slap lottery protection on picks stretching beyond James Harden's prime.
Houston has discussed sending Knight and a pick for Burks, but those talks have quieted, sources say. They will also monitor the buyout market. Houston still has about $3.9 million of its taxpayer midlevel exception to spend, giving the Rockets a potential leg there.
• The Bulls will listen to offers for anyone other than Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr., sources say -- and that includes Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine. The biggest question about Chicago going into the season was whether any of their main ball handlers -- Dunn, LaVine, and Jabari Parker when the Bulls were pretending he was a wing -- would emerge as someone who could orchestrate an above-average NBA offense. The answer has been an emphatic no. I would not bet on Dunn or LaVine getting dealt; they are still young, the Bulls would ask for a ton, and they need, like, some guards on next season's team. But any rival enamored with them should call.
• I still think the Clippers should at least see what they could get for one of their veterans -- Patrick Beverley, Avery Bradley, maybe even Lou Williams. (They could 100 percent nab a future first-round pick for Williams.) They are making and taking calls like everyone else, but do not appear motivated to do much of anything, sources say. Again: We still have five-plus days. But the Clippers are deep enough that they could trade a veteran for something and not really hurt their current team.
Other teams have called about Tobias Harris, but the Clips have so far shown no inclination to deal him, sources say. They would happily re-sign him if July goes a certain way for them.
• All is quiet in Denver. The Nuggets have two sizable trade exceptions, and can take on $5 to $7 million without bumping back into the tax. They are open for business for smaller salary dumps if it helps two other teams make a deal, sources say.