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NBA stars most likely to get dealt by trade deadline

Michael Holley and Michael Smith discuss the latest rumors surrounding James Harden, while explaining why Houston should put the star on the trade block for a low asking price.

In the 2016 NBA offseason, four reigning All-Stars changed teams. In 2017, eight did. In 2018, three did. In 2019, eight did.

This offseason, just two reigning NBA All-Stars have changed teams:

  • Chris Paul (Thunder to Suns)
  • Russell Westbrook (Rockets to Wizards)

Has star movement slowed? Or did the rushed offseason just mean the drama will spill into the season?

Here are the reigning All-Stars most likely to get traded this season. Fair warning: After the first name, the odds of each listed player getting dealt are quite low. But these situations warrant monitoring not because of the likelihood of movement, but because if these players get traded, it could alter the entire NBA landscape.

James Harden (Rockets)

Nobody else could top this list. Harden requested a trade, and it’s getting messy in Houston. Harden reportedly wants to join the Nets, 76ers or another contender. The Rockets justifiably want an elite package for their superstar who’s locked into his contract two more seasons. Houston has projected patience. The big question: How will Harden’s attitude be once joining the team? That could dictate how quickly this inevitable-looking trade happens.

Kyle Lowry (Raptors)

Lowry is the greatest player in Raptors history. But that reportedly means so little to him, he threatened to demand a trade last year unless given a contract extension. And that was coming off a championship! Lowry got a one-year extension, which puts him into 2021 free agency at age 35. Toronto has big plans for next summer, and if all goes well, there will be only so much money left for Lowry. He could re-sign for cheap for one year then get a big raise in 2022-23 through Bird Rights. But the possibility of him walking at least opens the door for a trade this season, especially if the Raptors take a step back after even more attrition from the title team.

Ben Simmons (76ers)

Joel Embiid (76ers)

The 76ers are committed to building around Simmons and Embiid. That mandate has transcended lead executives. It’s an organizational tenet. But Simmons and Embiid have fit issues. If surrounding them with better shooting (Seth Curry, Danny Green and Tobias Harris) and better coaching (Doc Rivers) doesn’t work, then what? New 76ers president Daryl Morey is generally unattached to his players and lacks his predecessors’ history with Simmons and Embiid. Philadelphia has played well with Embiid and Simmons sharing the court. But it’s not difficult to imagine a trade offer that breaks up the pair and makes the 76ers even better.

Rudy Gobert (Jazz)

Gobert is eligible for a contract extension, and it seems slightly more likely than not Utah will extend him. But it’s quite plausible he and the Jazz can’t agree on a price. If that’s the case now, would it be different in 2021 free agency? Utah might prefer to trade Gobert before reaching that point. I believe Gobert and Donovan Mitchell have mostly put their tension behind them, but I’m also not convinced Mitchell – the franchise player – would be broken up about Gobert going elsewhere. Gobert is very good and very underrated. But he’s a 28-year-old center with real limitations. There’s risk in paying him big money for the next stage of his career.

Kemba Walker (Celtics)

Boston trading a small guard with injury issues exacerbated during the playoffs before he declines from his prime… we’ve seen this one before. The big difference between Walker and Isaiah Thomas: Walker already has his huge contract. That makes dealing him more difficult. But the Celtics aim high, and Walker could fit into a blockbuster. Boston reportedly shopped Walker in its Jrue Holiday pursuit.

Domantas Sabonis (Pacers)

Myles Turner has drawn more trade buzz. But if Indiana is ready to move past its two-big identity, Sabonis could be the one moved. He doesn’t fit as cleanly in the modern game as Turner, who shoots 3-pointers and protects the rim. Sabonis probably has more trade value coming off an All-Star appearance. Some teams would really appreciate his interior scoring, screening, passing, rebounding and toughness. The catch: Indiana looks like one of those teams.

Brandon Ingram (Pelicans)

Having signed his long-awaited max contract this offseason, Ingram can’t be traded until March 3. But that allows a window before the proposed trade deadline. New Orleans likes Ingram and probably isn’t looking to move him. But the Pelicans are also in flux after trading Jrue Holiday for primarily draft picks. New Orleans could go many directions in building around Zion Williamson.

Giannis Antetokounmpo (Bucks)

The Bucks insist they won’t trade Antetokounmpo, even if he declines his super-max extension. I believe them. He’s likely too valuable to Milwaukee and too likely to re-sign to get sufficient return. But if Antetokounmpo declines the extension, the Bucks at least ought to consider offers before he could walk for nothing in 2021 unrestricted free agency. If Antetokounmpo becomes available, other All-Stars who don’t appear on this list would suddenly have their names thrust into trade talks.