NBA trade deadline: 3 reasons finances represent the biggest storyline

NBA trade deadline: Victor Oladipo trade to the Golden State Warriors
Feb 26, 2021; Tampa, Florida, USA; Houston Rockets guard Victor Oladipo (7) point as he makes a three point basket against the Toronto Raptors during the first half at Amalie Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

We’re not 100% sure how busy teams are going to be ahead of Thursday’s NBA trade deadline. There’s certainly a financial backdrop to all of this due to the revenue downfall created by COVID-19.

Previously, it was thought non-contenting teams would look to sell off expensive veteran assets. It now looks like said veterans will end up being bought out. It started with Blake Griffin earlier in March. It could continue with the likes of Andre Drummond and J.J. Redick once the deadline passes.

In between, the likes of All-Stars Victor Oladipo and Kyle Lowry are said to be readily available. The same can be said for New Orleans Pelicans guard Lonzo Ball. How will their imminent contract demands in free agency this coming summer impact things?

Below, we look at three reasons why finances could be the biggest storyline leading up to the 2021 NBA trade deadline.

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Impending free agents already talking contract numbers

NBA trade deadline: Kyle Lowry trade, Miami Heat
Mar 19, 2021; Tampa, Florida, USA; Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry (7) against the Utah Jazz during the first quarter at Amalie Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

There’s a chance six-time Toronto Raptors All-Star guard Kyle Lowry will be moved ahead of the deadline. In fact, things seem to be trending in that direction with Toronto in the midst of a nine-game losing streak. Lowry, 34, is playing under a one-year, $30.5 million contract. Despite his advanced age, the veteran continues to play at a high level.

According to Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer, Lowry wants $25 million annually on a two-year deal in free agency. He is not eligible for an extension if a trade were to come to fruition. This means the star guard will hit free agency. While any acquiring team would hold his Bird Rights, that’s something to consider.

Recently, it was noted that 23-year-old Pelicans guard Lonzo Ball wants $20 million annually once he hits the restricted free agent market during the summer. Despite his stellar recent play, it’s an open question whether any team would be willing to pay that. As with any potential free agent, a team acquiring said player would be able to go over the cap in order to retain him in free agency. Whether organizations are open to doing that remains to be seen.

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Free agent market will impact the NBA trade deadline

NBA games today: NBA schedule
Feb 23, 2021; Los Angeles, California, USA; LA Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard (2) dribbles the ball up court during the third quarter against the Washington Wizards at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Unlike the truncated 2020 offseason, there’s a number of high-end players that could actually hit the NBA free agent market this coming summer. Chris Paul boasts a player option for the 2021-22 season. It’s worth $39.32 million. Given his success this season, Paul could actually be looking at a multi-year contract on the open market. There’s a chance that Kawhi Leonard also opts out of his contract with the Los Angeles Clippers depending on what they do in the playoffs.

Of those clearly set to hit the open market, the above-mentioned Lowry is going to be of interest. The same thing can be said for Houston Rockets All-Star guard Victor Oladipo, who could be dealt within the next couple days. This doesn’t even take into account All-Stars Mike Conley, DeMar DeRozan and Andre Drummond.

What does it all mean? About only 25% of NBA teams are expected to be under the salary cap this coming offseason. That list includes the Miami Heat, Dallas Mavericks and New York Knicks. All three are said to be aggressive heading into the NBA trade deadline. Without a legitimate shot at title contention, why would they give up assets when this trio promises to be prime landing spots during free agency?

Read More: 4 intriguing Boston Celtics trade scenarios before NBA trade deadline

Teams willing to spend ahead of the NBA trade deadline

NBA trade deadline: Nikola Vucevic
Mar 7, 2021; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Orlando Magic guard Nikola Vucevic (9) competes during the NBA All-Star Skills Challenge at State Farm Arena. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

There’s another pretty interesting backdrop to all of this. Both the Boston Celtics and Golden State Warriors have a willingness to buck the trend and spend money during the current economic low tides around the NBA. For Boston that includes a record $28.5 million trade exception.

While the Celtics might want to wait until the summer to use it, the pressure is clearly on general manager Danny Ainge to make a big move with his team struggling right now. That could lead to a significant trade for the Celtics.

As for Golden State, its ownership group is paying an historical luxury tax. In no way does this mean Joe Lacob and Co. are not willing to spend. They are. With the Warriors hard-capped, potentially pulling off a trade for a long-term option to team up with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson could make some sense. They also have assets in Kelly Oubre and a valuable future first-round pick from the Minnesota Timberwolves.