After an extraordinary summer of 2019, which saw a cavalcade of stars—including Kawhi Leonard, Anthony Davis, Paul George, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Kemba Walker, Al Horford and Jimmy Butler—change teams, executives around the league expect that this year’s transaction wires will be dominated by the trade market.
“We’ve been getting calls all summer,” one general manager told Heavy.com. “There are a lot of things we are considering. The dust settles a little, you’re aware of your weaknesses and your holes and so you find ways to address that. I think we’re going to see more of that than usual. I think if you look at the market, there is going to be a very brisk trade market this winter for a few reasons.”
If you enjoyed the twist and turns that came with the very busy NBA free-agency period last summer, then buckle up. The trade market means more could be more on the way.
More Contenders Will Mean More Trades
Chief among those reasons is a sense that next spring’s Larry O’Brien trophy is up for grabs, a feeling that took hold during last year’s Finals when Kevin Durant of the Warriors ruptured his Achilles tendon and crystallized when Golden State lost to Toronto, then saw Durant sign with the Nets as a free agent.
There are six teams in each conference whose front offices and ownership expect to make a run at the Finals this year. In the East, Milwaukee and Philadelphia are the favorites, but Indiana and Boston feel they’ve positioned themselves to challenge in the conference, too.
The Heat, after acquiring Jimmy Butler, and the Nets with Irving and an injured Durant, will be under pressure to compete for the top slot in the East, though that pressure might be unrealistic. But that kind of pressure leads to quick-trigger transactions should the teams get off to a slow start.
“A lot of teams made big moves and spent a lot of their owners’ money,” another front-office executive said. “If things don’t start the way they want, you’re under pressure to make some short-term decisions and that should drive a lot of trade talk the whole year.”
It’s a similar situation in the West, where the stakes might be higher. The Lakers and Clippers are battling within Southern California, but both expect to be Finals contenders. The Rockets made the headline-grabbing acquisition of Russell Westbrook and having two former MVPs in the backcourt will keep Houston under pressure to win now.
Utah, meanwhile, had an outstanding offseason that makes the Jazz the most likely challenger to the L.A. teams. And two teams that were solid last season and should develop more this year, Portland and Denver, are also expecting to be contenders in the West.
Some of those teams will be as good as they expect. Some will fall flat, however. That’s where the trade market comes in.
The 2020 Free-Agent Class Is Weak
The other big driver of the trade market this season figures to be the open, empty crater that the 2020 free-agent class has become. Teams hoping to make significant changes in their direction won’t have free agency to lean on. Trades will be the way to go.
The trade of Davis to the Lakers means that he might technically be eligible for free agency in nine months, but he is certain to re-sign in L.A. That would have left Draymond Green at the top of the 2020 class, but Green signed an extension with the Warriors this summer.
That leaves Spurs guard DeMar DeRozan as the big unrestricted free-agent name on the market next July if he opts out. Celtics forward Gordon Hayward could join him if he has a good season and opts out of the final year of his contract. Jazz point guard Mike Conley, who will be 32 in a month, will be one of the top names, too.
Pistons center Andre Drummond, who has already indicated he will opt out of his final season, should also hit the market.
That’s a far cry from the list of players who were free agents this past summer. And that should help push the trade market this season.