This year in basketball, everything is a little funky because the season started two months later than it normally does. So if you, dear reader, have absolutely no idea when the trade deadline is supposed to be in 2021, do not feel ashamed. The deadline this year is March 25. There's just under a month until the fateful day when all rosters are (more or less) locked in for the stretch run of the season.
Which teams are buying is fairly straightforward. Which teams are selling, less so. There's enough time before the deadline that teams currently sitting at the bottom of the standings can convince themselves they can turn it around and make a push for a low playoff seed. Between flattened lottery odds for the three worst teams and the addition of play-in games at the bottom of the playoff bracket, organizations right on the precipice of being bad have more incentive than ever to not trade everything that isn't nailed down and outright tank.
So, knowing that, picking which players will be on the move at the deadline is a harder guessing game than normal. We already have had loads of Andre Drummond/Blake Griffin rumors, but both of their contracts are so big that they're far more likely to end up on the buyout market. But we certainly can survey the landscape and see which teams are most likely to ship off veterans on expiring contracts for smaller assets. It is unlikely there will be a massive deal that shakes up the league at the deadline (we already got that this year with the James Harden trade) but contenders will be making upgrades.
Thus, here are the five most likely players to be traded at the deadline in March.
NBA Trade Deadline 2021
There were rumors that Tucker wasn't terribly happy with his contract that came out around the same time Harden was having his troubles in Houston. Harden is gone, but Tucker is still there. He hasn't been particularly noteworthy statistically, averaging only 4 points per game in 29 minutes per contest, but that was never Tucker's role. Most of the contending teams would love to have Tucker's versatility on defense and reliable shooting, especially from the corners. He's also fairly cheap, on the final year of his contract and owed only $7.9 million this year. The Rockets don't want to tank since they don't have their first-round pick this year, but they aren't one Tucker-esque player away from suddenly contending. He'll probably end up getting traded in the next three weeks given all that, and he will be a hot commodity, too.
Hill has been quietly toiling away in Oklahoma City, entirely out of the spotlight after he was sent out of Milwaukee in the Jrue Holiday transaction. Hill hasn't played nearly all of this month after hurting his thumb, but should be back soon and will have at least two, if not three, weeks of games to boost his trade value. The Thunder are building for the future and have no interest in keeping him if a team comes calling with an offer. Hill shoots 38 percent from deep on four attempts per game and can run any offense his team needs. He's also on a reasonable contract; he's owed $9.5 million this year, but can be cut for minimal cost next year because the final year of his contract is only partially guaranteed. For any contender looking for bench depth, Hill will be a premier option as long as his thumb surgery doesn't sink his shooting percentage too low.
The Detroit Pistons are one of the few teams that everyone can agree will be definitive sellers. They already got the ball rolling with Griffin, and Ellington is likely to follow. The veteran wing is playing 22 minutes per game, shooting 40 percent from three-point land, playing solid defense, and the total value of his contract is only $2 million. Ellington is a middle-of-the-bench three-and-D guy who won't make or break anyone's championship hopes, but will certainly be a plus down the stretch. The Pistons are abjectly, purposefully terrible and if anyone calls about Ellington, they will be listening intently.
There were already some Redick rumors floating around right after the season began as the Pelicans floundered and struggled to win games. They've steadied the ship now, which means Redick might be staying put. But sharpshooters on average teams and expiring contracts are always targets at the deadline, and you can bet New Orleans' line will be ringing over the next few weeks. Redick was ice-cold to start the season but evened out and is now hitting threes at a 35 percent clip. His $13 million salary will be hard for the best teams to match, but a mid-tier contender could cobble together the contracts to match. Watch for Redick rumors moving forward.
Barnes is an interesting case. He is a solid all-around player, playing good defense across three positions while shooting 39 percent from deep on 4.4. tries per game. The Kings, however, very much fall into that "bad but not bad enough" category where they've shown just enough that the front office could talk themselves into a playoff berth as reality and would therefore not leap at the opportunity to trade a starter. Barnes' contract also makes things tricky; he's making $22 million this year but still has two years left on his deal and will be owed $38 million over those final two years. In essence, unlike every other player on the list, Barnes would not be a rental. He'd be an investment, and that makes a potential trade harder. But if Sacramento goes into a tailspin over the next month, teams like the Celtics would be very interested in procuring his services.