Even in the early part of the season, trade rumors have continued to buzz around players like Zach LaVine and both struggling teams, like the Chicago Bulls and Charlotte Hornets, and contenders who seem like they're still missing a piece, like the Los Angeles Lakers and Golden State Warriors.
One of the reasons we haven't seen much action to this point is that a pool of nearly 100 players isn't eligible to be traded right now. Per league rules, newly signed free agents can't be traded until Dec. 15 which takes roughly 70 names off the table. There's another pool of nearly 30 players who also signed contracts this summer but because their teams were over the cap, they received a raise of over 20 percent or they were signed with Bird Rights, aren't eligible to be traded until Jan 15.
These players being off the table not only limits the number of appealing trade targets out there, it also removes tons of contractual puzzle pieces that could be used to match salaries in a deal. For example, the Lakers have been heavily linked with Zach LaVine but so many of their players are on new contracts that there's no way they could assemble a legal trade before Dec. 15 without using LeBron James or Anthony Davis (which isn't happening).
All that is to say, we're about two weeks away from NBA trade season opening in earnest. Here are the 10 best players who will come available on Dec. 15, filtered by my subjective assessment of who is likely to be traded either because they're appealing in their own right or because they could be packaged in a larger deal.
10. Justin Holiday — Denver Nuggets
The Nuggets may decide to hang on to Holiday simply to keep him away from a competing contender, but he could have some trade value. They signed him to a one-year, $3 million deal this summer to try and rebuild their bench but that second unit has performed extremely well and Holiday has been mostly on the outside looking in — appearing in just 10 games and ranked 11th on the team in total minutes played.
Holiday is 34 and an average defender at best but he's still 6-foot-6 and an excellent 3-point shooter, hitting 11-of-22 from beyond the arc so far this season and 37.8 percent over the last five years. The Nuggets might need him at some point but if everyone is healthy their wing rotation is already loaded and it might be worth trying to flip him for an asset whose value will persist pass the end of this season.
9. Seth Curry — Dallas Mavericks
Curry hasn't played much for the Mavericks this season and a hip injury has limited him recently. But he's still a reliable outside shooting threat on a two-year, $4 million deal that's only partially guaranteed for next season. The Mavs are getting some very solid outside shooting from Tim Hardaway Jr., Grant Williams, Josh Green and Derrick Jones Jr. and they may decide it's worth exploring flipping Curry to fill another hole.
8. Jalen McDaniels — Toronto Raptors
McDaniels has been a hot mess to start the season, shooting 28.6 percent from the field, 4-of-20 from beyond the arc and largely falling out of the Raptors rotation. But he's still 26 and a strong defender with good positional versatility and a very reasonable contract — two years, $9 million. He could be a very interesting gamble for a team looking for size and defense like the Suns or Mavericks.
7. Thomas Bryant — Miami Heat
Bryant seemed like a natural fit when he signed with the Heat, a versatile offensive weapon in the frontcourt who could score on his own against mismatches, help spread the floor and add a new dynamism to the pick-and-roll game of the second unit.
But he has a hard time carving out a consistent role and hasn't been able to make the most of the opportunities he's given. His shooting percentages are way down inside the arc and he's attempted just a trio of 3-pointers, missing all of them, after making 44.1 percent with the Lakers and Nuggets last season.
Bryant's contract is extremely inexpensive but he does have a player option for next season and if the Heat decide he's not looking like a part of their long-term future and they'd rather free up the roster spot they might be able to flip him for something else a bit more useful.
6. Taurean Prince — Los Angeles Lakers
Prince has been in the starting lineup all season for the Lakers, making a difference with his size and energy. But he's shooting 32.0 percent from beyond the arc and could become increasingly redundant as Jarred Vanderbilt returns from the injury and Cam Reddish continues to improve.
A salary of just over $4.5 million could be useful in assembling matching contracts in a trade for a bigger star and Prince has just enough value as a rangy wing defender that he should have some suitors.
5. Cam Reddish — Los Angeles Lakers
Reddish is on his fourth NBA team in his five-season career, failing to carve out a consistent role for himself. He still has fantastic physical tools and has become a legitimately plus wing defender. The problem is that he's still a very inconsistent outside shooter and doesn't add much else at the offensive end.
But he's still just 24 and he's playing as well as he ever has this season, generating a ton of steals and deflections and limiting doing a great job of finishing in transition and as a cutter. It wouldn't take too much improvement from beyond the arc for him to become a viable 3-and-D role player who can play key minutes in the playoffs.
If the Lakers are going to make a trade for a star they'll need everything they can to sweeten the deal — they can match contracts but those players aren't that appealing and they don't have a ton of draft assets to include. A budding young wing like Reddish could help get a trade over the finish line, even if his ceiling is more role player than star.
4. Jevon Carter — Chicago Bulls
Carter made himself into a valuable backup with the Milwaukee Bucks and parlayed that into a three-year, $19.5 million deal with the Bulls this summer. But the Bulls are a mess, it seems likely a big sell-off is coming and Carter could be one of the most intriguing pieces for a contender.
Carter's contract is extremely reasonable, he's a ferocious point-of-attack defender and he's made 40.5 percent of his 3s over the past three seasons. He doesn't have a ton to offer as a creator but he can be a steady hand next to other backcourt scorers.
He's not the biggest prize but if the Bulls are clearing the deck they should easily be able to find a playoff team willing to give up some future assets for him.
3. D'Angelo Russell — Los Angeles Lakers
If the Lakers are making a trade for a star like LaVine, they'll almost certainly have to include Russell because they'll need his two-year, $36 million contract as a key piece for salary matching. The problem is convincing someone to take him.
Russell is putting up big numbers this season and draining 3s. But there are precious few signs he's improved as a defender enough to stay on the floor in close playoff games and he still has a tendency to go frustratingly cold in the biggest moments — he's made 41.9 percent of his 3s this season but is just 10-of-30 from beyond the arc in six games against teams ahead of them in the Western Conference standings.
The Lakers are probably pretty satisfied with what they've gotten from Russell so far this season, but if they decide they need to swing for the fences he's almost certainly going to be part of the deal.
2. Gabe Vincent — Los Angeles Lakers
Vincent played just four, disastrous, games before a knee injury knocked him out of the Lakers lineup, That gives him almost no track record to go on for this season but he's still a good perimeter defender, and a reasonably effective secondary creator and spot-up shooter.
Because his contract is significant — three-year, $33 million — he's another candidate to be rolled in with Russell for salary-matching purposes if the Lakers decide to make a big trade. There were also quite a few suitors for Vincent in the offseason and it's possible the Lakers get some offers for him individually separate from a star trade, especially if he continues to look out of sorts playing with LeBron when he returns.
1. Caris LeVert — Cleveland Cavaliers
Caris LeVert was fantastic for the Cavs last season, hitting a career-high 39.2 percent of his 3-pointers and providing a consistent offensive engine for the second unit. The Cavs began the season considering trading him but he played well enough that they kept him through the trade deadline and then re-signed him in the offseason to a two-year, $32 million deal.
However, LeVert's shooting percentages have regressed significantly toward his career averages and the Cavs' offense, as a whole has been a disappointment. If they're going to make a trade to juice their outside shooting and perimeter creation, LeVert is probably the best asset they have available to make a change.
LeVert may not be enough for the Cavs but he still has a lot to offer and it's not hard to imagine another contender with more offensive depth coveting his versatility. The problem is not so much that he's not good, it's that the Cavs roster means he needs to be more than he is now. For a team like the Heat or Kings, he could be a missing piece.
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