The NBA, as much as any other sports league, tends to surprise us with unexpected moves. From Wilt Chamberlain to Charles Barkley to Kawhi Leonard to Donovan Mitchell, we’re consistently shocked by NBA trades that we didn’t see coming.
With the Feb. 8 trade deadline rapidly approaching, how about a little thought experiment? We have plenty of lists of players who are likely to be traded. This season it’s Pascal Siakam, Zach LaVine, Dejounte Murray — the usual suspects. But the whole point of a shocking NBA trade is that it’s unpredictable. Maybe we need to start thinking bigger.
With that in mind, here’s a look at a handful of All-Star level players who could, in theory, be on the move. We’re not saying that any of these trades are likely (let’s chill with the social media attacks, please), but if we’re going to be surprised, perhaps one or more of these players will be involved.
Here are 10 big-name stars who could unexpectedly be traded before the deadline:
With all the focus on Dejounte Murray as the deadline nears, perhaps it’s the other Atlanta guard who could wind up finding a new home. Young has put up gaudy numbers in his five-plus seasons in Atlanta, but there are certainly questions about whether his style of play and defensive shortcomings are conducive to winning at the highest level. With the Hawks in free-fall (currently 15-23 and 11th in the East) and Young owed $138 million over the next three seasons, a surprise trade of the franchise player would be an effective way to hit the reset button.
After being traded from the Phoenix Suns last season, Bridges has looked every bit of a future No. 1 option — averaging 26 points in 27 games on 47/38/89 shooting splits. That hasn’t exactly continued this season, as Bridges’ numbers have fallen to 21 points per game on 45/35/84 splits. It’s becoming more evident that the lanky All-Defense wing is more of a complementary player (an excellent one at that) as opposed to a superstar, so it might be in Brooklyn’s best interest to trade him to a contender in exchange for young players and/or picks to help fuel its rebuild.
The Cavs have been playing well recently, but that shouldn’t obscure the problem they could potentially encounter if they allow Mitchell to enter free agency in the summer of 2025. Mitchell was open about thinking he was going to the Knicks before he was traded to Cleveland, so it might be dangerous for the Cavs front office to think Mitchell will eventually commit long-term. In the case of another early playoff exit, the rumors of Mitchell’s discontent and a potential trade request could be on the horizon. Perhaps it’s best for the Cavs to get ahead of things and trade him before their leverage severely diminishes.
The Nuggets have a winning formula they almost certainly don’t want to mess with, but one of the major concerns heading into their impending title-defending playoff run is depth. With the loss of Bruce Brown and Jeff Green from last year’s tight postseason rotation, they’ll have to rely on the likes of Reggie Jackson, Christian Braun, Peyton Watson and Julian Strawther to play crucial minutes. If the font office feels they’re not enough, they can turn Porter into multiple quality pieces due to his $33 million price tag. He also has three years left on his contract after this season, providing security for any team who would potentially trade for him.
Green’s troubles have been well documented, but he’s largely been considered a difficult trade candidate due to the remaining three years and $78 million on his contract after this season. That may not be the case, however. The Warriors enter Monday at 12th in the Western Conference, and if they don’t turn things around quickly, they must seriously consider heading in a different direction. Green may have worn out his welcome in the Bay after his latest suspension, but he would still be desirable for a contender given the way he’s performed on both ends over the past few seasons. Last year the Warriors’ net rating improved by a team-best 12.2 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor.
With Kawhi Leonard already locked up with an extension, George said he was “very optimistic that something will get done” for him as well. But what if it doesn’t? Leonard was willing to take less than the max for the benefit of the team, but if George refuses to do the same, perhaps he and the Clippers will be at an impasse. It’s a lot of hypotheticals, of course, but if they don’t see an agreement forthcoming with George, a surprise trade before the deadline would be one way to bolster the Clippers’ future fortunes.
Towns was the subject of plenty of trade rumors this past offseason, but the Wolves’ strong performance to start the year has quieted them significantly. That being said, Minnesota’s financial future is frightening with the salaries of Towns, Anthony Edwards and Rudy Gobert, along with Jaden McDaniels’ extension set to kick in next season. Towns has done a great job fitting in, but Edwards is clearly the alpha moving forward. Another team could easily talk themselves into Towns being their top offensive option given his unique skill set for his size, and Minnesota could shed a large salary while perhaps adding some depth.
The reports of Williamson butting heads with the Pelicans’ brass have trickled in consistently over the past few seasons, so it’s not crazy to imagine a break-up between the two at some point. Having missed only eight games this season and getting in better shape every day, Williamson’s trade value is as high as it’s been since his rookie year. His fit with Brandon Ingram is murky, and other GMs must be salivating at the thought of a five-out offense with Williamson having a cleared-out paint to operate. Conversely, Ingram, CJ McCollum and Jonas Valanciunas would also be freed up offensively in New Orleans. It would be a shock, but a Williamson trade could actually make some sense.
Despite solid counting stats (24 points, nine rebounds, five assists per game), Randle’s efficiency has fallen off significantly this season as his 3-point shooting has taken a serious hit. More than that, it’s become clear that there’s a ceiling on the Randle-Jalen Brunson duo in terms of championship aspirations. If the Knicks are going to go big and bring in another star, Randle is likely the one heading out the door — not only because of his $26 million yearly salary, but also since it’s hard to see him coexisting with two other stars.
The Jazz are red hot and Markkanen is playing great — what better time for Danny Ainge to pull off a sneak attack? The 7-foot sharpshooter would fit into virtually any lineup and is on a team-friendly contract through next season, so he’ll have no shortage of suitors around the league. The Jazz reportedly don’t view Markkanen as untouchable, but it would take a hefty haul to get him. It will be interesting to see if Ainge and the Jazz are swayed by any potential offers heading into the deadline.