NBA season preview: 5 players most likely to be traded this season

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Don’t be surprised if these five players are on the move between now and the mid-February NBA trade deadline.

Once the 2021-22 NBA season begins, it won’t take long for the trade market to heat up.

Some teams are bound to fall short of their preseason expectations, which will put pressure on their front offices to add reinforcements. Others will have to fill in holes because of injuries to key rotation players.

Either way, the endgame is the same. With the free-agent market largely dried up, teams will mostly rely on trades to upgrade their rosters.

Those deals will range in scope and size. Most trades will center around complementary starters or reserves, but a few All-Stars could be on the move as well. As teams fall out of playoff contention, they may be more incentivized to move veterans, particularly those on the final year of their respective contracts.

With the 2022 free-agent class looking weaker by the day, teams may view the trade deadline as their best opportunity to upgrade their roster for the next 12 months. That should set up some mid-February fireworks.

The following players should make sure they have a real estate agent on speed dial.

Honorable Mentions: NBA players most likely to get traded this season

Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards

The Wizards have never seriously entertained the idea of trading Beal. But unless he signs an extension in the coming weeks or months, he can become a free agent next summer by declining his $36.4 million player option for the 2022-23 season.

If the Wizards get off to a slow start — or Beal begins to send signals that he’s likely to leave as a free agent — they’ll have to re-evaluate whether they’re willing to risk losing him for nothing next summer. This is a situation to monitor early in the season.

Kyrie Irving, Brooklyn Nets

New York City currently requires Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks players to receive at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine to be eligible to play in home games. However, Nets guard Kyrie Irving currently has “no plans to get vaccinated,” according to Shams Charania of The Athletic.

The Nets decided Tuesday that they won’t allow Irving to practice or play with the team until he’s “eligible to be a full participant.” If he still refuses to get vaccinated ahead of the trade deadline and New York City still has its vaccine mandate in place, the Nets might feel compelled to trade Irving for someone who can suit up for them in the playoffs.

Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers

After a summer of discontent, Damian Lillard is still with the Portland Trail Blazers… for now. He told reporters in mid-July that his heart had “always been set on being in a Trail Blazers uniform” for his entire career, but he said the team needed to be “making strides” toward building a championship contender around him.

Lillard is under guaranteed contract through the 2023-24 season, so the Blazers won’t be under immediate pressure to consider a trade like the Wizards might be with Beal. But if the Blazers get off to a slow start and Lillard begins reconsidering his future in Portland, they also might have to begin quietly exploring offers.

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