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Who’s next? Five players who could be traded this season

NBA: Playoffs-Boston Celtics at Philadelphia 76ers

May 11, 2023; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Philadelphia 76ers guard James Harden (1) shoots against the Boston Celtics during the first quarter in game six of the 2023 NBA playoffs at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Damian Lillard. Jrue Holiday. Before that, it was Bradley Beal, Chris Paul and Kristaps Porzingis.

It was a wild summer of trades in the NBA, but we know the league’s trade rumor mill is an insatiable beast that must be fed — and drives the league’s social media dominance (more so than those pesky games). The rumors will not stop.

So here are five players to watch who could be traded this season.

1) James Harden

The most public trade request of the offseason still stands as he heads into what will be the biggest circus of a training camp in the league — although James Harden is skipping media day on Monday. That doesn’t mean he is going quietly into camp.

He still wants to be traded out of Philadelphia and probably will be at some point this season.

The problem? There is no demand for his services, at least not at anywhere near what Daryl Morey and the 76ers are asking in return. The Clippers pulled out of talks with Philly and are sitting back now with a tub of popcorn and watching the show about to go down in the City of Brotherly Love (and Colorado, where the 76ers are headed for training camp). Everyone’s offers are lowball.

At age 34, Harden is still an offensive force who averaged 21 points and 10.7 assists a game last season — his skill set could help many teams. However, GMs around the league are watching Harden force himself off his third team in four years (Houston, Brooklyn, now Philadelphia) and know he picked up his option and is in the final year of his contract but will expect a big new deal starting next season. Teams see a guy who will be expensive as he hits an age where his game is already showing signs of decline (let’s just say Harden is not known for LeBron-level conditioning and taking care of his body). How much are teams going to really give up to bring Harden in?

At some point this season Harden will get traded, he has to top this list, but something has to change to shake up the market or the Sixers’ asking price for the deal to get done.

2) Malcolm Brogdon

It is unusual to see the reigning Sixth Man of the Year on this list, a solid and professional guard who averaged 14.9 points a game last season while shooting 44.4% from 3. Yet Boston has had him on the trade block all summer; he almost ended up with the Clippers until they pulled out of a trade over concerns about the health of his elbow. Now he’s in Portland as part of the Jrue Holiday trade and is widely expected to be flipped to another team, possibly as early as during training camp but certainly before the deadline.

Portland can afford to let Brogdon play, show his elbow is good and he is healthy, and wait for a playoff team to realize it needs more guard depth or has to fill a hole due to injury. There are a whole lot of teams who could use him, and Brogdon is under contract for this season and next at a reasonable $22.5 million per season. Brogdon should keep a packed go bag near the door of his place in Portland, because he will get dealt.

3) Buddy Hield

After contract extension talks between the Pacers and Hield stalled out this summer, the sides agreed to look for potential trades, so Hield is a guy to watch. Hield is one of the game’s elite sharpshooters — arguably the second-best 3-point shooter in the league — who averaged 16.8 points a game last season while shooting 42.5% from beyond the arc and can finish at the rim.

Every team could use shooting, and if Hield and the Pacers can’t find a number that suddenly works for them on an extension, don’t be surprised to see him on the move during the season.

4) OG Anunoby

The Raptors wing’s name came up a lot in Lillard trade rumors, although how much he was really available is up for debate (it depends on who you ask). It’s not the first time Anunoby’s name has come up in trade rumors, the 26-year-old 6'7" wing’ has been mentioned in potential deals for a couple of years. Anunoby averaged 16.8 points and five rebounds a game last season, shot 38.7% from 3, is one of the best on-ball perimeter defenders in the league, and is almost certainly going to be a free agent next summer (he has a $19.9 million player option for next season but that is well below his market value in today’s NBA).

The real question: What is the long-term plan in Toronto? We know team president Masai Ujiri is a big Anunoby fan, but he might have to trade him if the Raptors retool or think they will lose him in free agency next summer.

Pascal Siakam is in the same situation — All-NBA level wing player in the final year of his contract with the Raptors — and the Raptors need to extend or trade him as well. Siakam could have replaced Anunoby on this list and if the Raptors lean toward a rebuild he could be traded as well (then again, Toronto dragged its feet in a similar situation last year and Fred VanVleet walked for nothing, just like Kyle Lowry before him, so maybe not).

5) Karl-Anthony Towns

There were more than a few people who could have been the fifth person on this list, but we’re leaning into the big name with the big game. Minnesota is at an inflection point this season — they have two expensive big men on the roster in Towns and Rudy Gobert, yet the team needs to pivot to building a contender around Anthony Edwards on the wing. Edwards is their best player and his max contract extension kicks in next summer. Something has to give.

The sense around the league is Towns is what gives. With his contract (with three years and $131.4 million guaranteed), Gobert is close to unmovable, and nobody is stupid enough to trade Edwards. Other teams are circling, but the Timberwolves are going to try and make this work first. If it doesn’t, or maybe even if it does, Towns — one of the best offensive bigs in the game who averaged 20.8 points a game before his injury last season — could be on the move at the deadline or next summer.

Honorable mention: Marcus Morris Sr., Zach LaVine, Kyle Lowry, about half the Pelicans.