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[dropcap]T [/dropcap] he biggest news at the NBA trade deadline last season was made by the Cleveland Cavaliers, as general manager Koby Altman basically gave his team a makeover and did so on the fly, actually in a span of a couple of hours on deadline day.
On one day (Feb. 8), Altman sent six players packing and brought in four, resulting in Cleveland reaching a fourth consecutive NBA Finals.
The NBA has announced that the trade deadline for the 2019 season will be Thursday, Feb. 7, 2019 at 3 p.m.
Unlike last season, when none of the rumored big-name, high-profile guys changed addresses, the potential for several such players being moved at the deadline this season appears to be much greater.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the best players who could be dealt by the deadline, if not sooner:
Kawhi Leonard, Toronto Raptors
There are two storylines in regards to Leonard and his new home in The Great White North.
One, how will he fit with his new teammates, specifically, point guard Kyle Lowry?
The range for what could take place with the Raptors this season is perhaps greater than any other team. If Leonard resembles the player who was twice named first-team All-NBA during his days as a San Antonio Spur, Toronto could challenge Boston and perhaps Philadelphia for supremacy in the Eastern Conference.
The additions of Leonard and former Spurs teammate Danny Green could make Toronto one of the best defensive teams in the league.
On the other side of the coin, if Toronto is getting the 2018 model of Leonard, the one who logged only nine games all season because of an injured right quadriceps, things could go south quickly in the North, which leads us to the second potential storyline.
The Raptors could look to move Leonard, who is headed to unrestricted free agency in July. General manger Masai Ujiri has proven by parting with DeMar DeRozan to land Leonard in a walk year he’s ready, more than willing and able to take huge risks.
If Leonard doesn’t fit, especially with a rookie head coach Nick Nurse taking over for the successful and respected Dwane Casey, who was shown the door after leading Toronto a franchise-record 59 wins and the top seed in the East in the playoffs simply for not being able to get past LeBron James’ Cavaliers, Ujiri won’t hesitate to send Leonard packing.
If that comes to fruition, you can bet Magic Johnson will be burning up the cell towers in Hollywood in an effort to bring Leonard to his preferred destination, the Los Angeles Lakers, and pairing him with James.
The Leonard situation will he the most-watched and most-anticipated storyline of the 2019 season.
Kemba Walker, Charlotte Hornets
Walker has been on record for months saying he wants to remain in Charlotte. New general manager Mitch Kupchak has said he prefers to keep Walker with the Hornets going forward.
So why is Walker, the only All-Star on the Hornets’ roster, on this list?
He’s in his prime at 28, in the final year of his contract, coming at a bargain price of $12 million on an expiring deal and Charlotte doesn’t have the salary-cap space to sign Walker to the extension even approaching what he will receive when he hits unrestricted free agency next July.
The Hornets have enough talent on their roster with the likes of Walker, Nicolas Batum, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marvin Williams, etc. to avoid hitting Dumpster-fire level and earn a high pick in the 2019 draft.
However, moving Walker would grease the skids toward a bottom out and you can bet there will not be a shortage of suitors willing to pony up to land Walker, who can play either guard spot with his combination of handles and shooting skills should Kupchak convince ultra-competitive owner Michael Jordan the time has come to undergo a massive rebuild.
Possible landing spots include the 76ers, who could play Walker in the same backcourt with second-year floor leader Ben Simmons, the Lakers, who might be willing to part with second-year point guard Lonzo Ball and provide James with a huge upgrade in terms of having a shooter around him, along with the Pacers and the Bucks, who could both use an upgrade at point guard to help them challenge the likes of Boston, Philly and Toronto in the East.
While Leonard’s saga will be the most-followed across the league, Walker stands as the most likely star player to be on the move by Feb. 7. If’s not the issue… only when and to where?
Jimmy Butler, Minnesota Timberwolves
Like Walker, Butler is in the final year of his contract and headed toward unrestricted free agency come July if he does as expected and opts out of his contract.
Unlike Walker, Butler was offered a lucrative, long-term contract extension by his present team — to the tune of four-years for $110 million — and turned it down.
Butler is well known for his relentless work ethic and he’s expressed frustration that some of his talented young teammates — rumored to include Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins — don’t share anything close to his tireless time put into bettering his game.
The combination of Butler having the ability to opt out and leave the Timberwolves with receiving nothing in return and his well-known, sometimes-prickly personality could result in Minnesota moving the All-Star swingman for a player or players whom are better fits with Towns and Wiggins.
Which brings us to…
Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
There have been whispers Towns and the Timberwolves could be heading toward a long-term extension, but to date, it has not happened.
So why would Minnesota consider parting with one of the best offensive big men in the league?
As previously mentioned, he and Butler have not seen eye-to-eye and with Butler’s tendency to take over games down the stretch, it reduces Towns’ contributions to a talented, yet mercurial young team, one which is still attempting to learn how to win.
Also, like most young players, Towns is reportedly among a group of T-Wolves that is shall we say not exactly thrilled with playing for veteran coach Tom Thibodeau, known for his partiality toward veteran, more-reliable players.
Former assistant coach Vince LeGarza was given the gait by Thibodeau in May. LeGarza had worked very closely with Towns throughout his three-year career and he was fired, reportedly without informing or talking about it with Towns first.
All of the above could very well be tossed in the aforementioned Dumpster should KAT and the team find middle ground on a contract extension.
However, someone will be heading out of Minnesota by Feb. 7, it’s only a matter of whom it will be.
Butler? Towns? Wiggins?