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December 15 is a big day on the NBA calendar. On that date, the vast majority of the players who signed over the summer become trade-eligible. While NBA “trade season” doesn’t have an official opening day, December 15 might as well be it. Around the league, executives refer to this period as the “Early Trade Season”.

In each of the last five years, the NBA has seen a trade made somewhere between days and weeks of “Early Trade Season” opening:

  • January 5, 2023: Noah Vonleh traded from the Boston Celtics to the San Antonio Spurs in a salary-shedding/tax avoidance move for Boston
  • January 3, 2022: Rajon Rondo traded from the Los Angeles Lakers to the Cleveland Cavaliers in a deal that also involved the New York Knicks
  • January 16, 2021 (this season worked on an adjusted calendar due to starting a month later): James Harden was traded from the Houston Rockets to the Brooklyn Nets in a deal that involved the Cleveland Cavaliers and included seven players and multiple draft picks changing hands
  • December 23, 2019: Jordan Clarkson was traded from the Cleveland Cavaliers to the Utah Jazz in exchange for Dante Exum
  • December 17, 2018: Trevor Ariza was traded from the Phoenix Suns to the Washington Wizards in exchange for Kelly Oubre Jr. and Austin Rivers

Sometimes the trades involve players where the teams had to wait for the restriction to lift, and other times it’s just time for a deal to happen. Often, these deals are the results of months of trade talks that finally come to fruition in mid-to-late-December. But one thing is certain: be on the lookout for movement when “Early Trade Season” opens on Friday, December 15.

Here’s an initial list of players to keep an eye on as trade season kicks into full gear:

Zach LaVine (Chicago Bulls)

Contract status: four years, $178 million
2023-24 salary: $40,064,220

Each year, there is a player we can kind of cheat on because they’ve been in the news cycle. This year, it’s LaVine. He’s currently recovering from right foot inflammation, but all reports are clear that LaVine’s time with the Bulls is coming to an end. One challenge? A LaVine trade could drag out until closer to the February 8 trade deadline, because matching salary for $40 million is tricky until more trade restrictions lift on January 15.

Jevon Carter (Chicago Bulls)

Contract status: three years, $19.5 million
2023-24 salary: $6,190,476

Sticking with Bulls for a moment…Yes, Chicago could go the full teardown route and move DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic along with Zach LaVine, but that doesn’t seem likely. What could happen is Jevon Carter being on the move. Despite being an offseason addition, Carter plays the least in a crowded Bulls backcourt. He has a very movable contract and could help a number of contenders. That’s a oft-seen recipe for a trade.

Reggie Jackson (Denver Nuggets)

Contract status: two years, $10.25 million
2023-24 salary: $5,000,000

This one might seem a little unfair, because Jackson is playing well for the Nuggets. But you have to read the tea leaves a bit in this sort of exercise. Jackson is the only salary Denver has that is large enough to potentially get them a player of value. He also waived his ability to block a trade when he re-signed with Denver this summer. The Nuggets didn’t get that concession for no reason. If Denver makes a meaningful trade, Jackson will probably be involved.

Miles Bridges (Charlotte Hornets)

Contract status: one year, $7.9 million
2023-24 salary: $7,921,301

It was reported over the summer that Bridges and the Hornets never got close on a long-term contract. That led to Bridges signing his qualifying offer as a restricted free agent, before serving the remainder of his suspension from the NBA for the first 10 games of the season. Bridges has played well since his return and looks like the guy who was in line for a max deal before domestic violence incidents cause him to miss last season. Bridges can block any trade, and a team will have to feel comfortable trading for him with his volatile past hanging over him (there’s another pending incident that is being investigated at some level). However, it’s clear Bridges isn’t likely to stay with Charlotte long-term, so that makes him someone teams will check in on for a potential trade.

Gordon Hayward (Charlotte Hornets)

Contract status: one year, $31.5 million
2023-24 salary: $31,500,000

Hayward is having a really good season. He’s shooting well and doing his all-around thing on both ends. Most importantly, he’s held up physically…so far. It’s a big number to trade for, but if a contender needs a player who can do a little to a lot of everything, Hayward should be in play. But it’s buyer beware, because it feels like the next injury is always lurking just around the corner.

Jerami Grant (Portland Trail Blazers)

Contract status: five years, $160 million
2023-24 salary: $27,586,207

When Grant re-signed with Portland this past summer, it felt like it was a “Convince Damian Lillard to stay” move. Lillard ended up asking for, and getting, a trade, but the Blazers maintained they were happy to have Grant staying in the fold. And he’s delivered a very solid season for Portland so far. But the Trail Blazers are rebuilding. It might be early for Grant to get traded, given the length of his contract, but it’s unlikely he’s going to see the end of this deal in Portland. And that means a trade could come while his number is lower and more easily acquirable.

Los Angeles Lakers

Players to watch: D’Angelo Russell, Rui Hachimura, Gabe Vincent, Austin Reaves

The Lakers are always active on the trade market. They rebuilt their entire roster around LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Austin Reaves during trade season a year ago. If Los Angeles is going to make a significant deal this time around, some package of the players listed above is going to be how it gets done. We listed them in the order of “most likely to be traded” to least likely. D’Angelo Russell waived his implied no-trade clause, likely in exchange for some additional salary. That didn’t happen because a trade is off the table. Keep an eye on the Lakers over the next month or so.

Detroit Pistons

Players to watch: Bojan Bogdanovic, Alec Burks, Joe Harris, Monte Morris

Detroit hung onto Bogdanovic and Burks last season because no one met their asking price, and they intended to be a postseason contender this season. Well, after 21 consecutive losses (as of this writing), Detroit can’t afford such luxuries this time around. They don’t need to give their veterans away, but it’s time to trade them off to contenders before the deadline. That’ll see the Pistons starting over yet again, but there’s no reason to keep bailing out this boat when it’s already at the bottom of the lake.

San Antonio Spurs

Players to watch: Keldon Johnson, Doug McDermott, Cedi Osman

The Spurs are almost as bad as the Pistons. They’ve lost 18 straight (as of this writing), but they at least have Victor Wembanyama. San Antonio also has a glut of wings that only kind of, sort of fit together. Recent reporting is that Johnson could be on the move to break up that logjam. McDermott and Osman are on expiring contracts and fill the ever-present need of wing shooting with size for contenders. Also worth noting: The Spurs have been a lot more active with in-season trades in recent years, after famously sitting out the trade deadline for the better part of two decades.

Washington Wizards

Players to watch: Tyus Jones, Delon Wright, Danilo Gallinari, Mike Muscala, Landry Shamet

Washington is basically Detroit and San Antonio bad, minus the absurdly long losing streaks. The Wizards intentionally set upon this path though. After years of muddling around the middle, Washington’s new front office kicked off a long-awaited rebuild. Jordan Poole’s and Kyle Kuzma’s contracts might be too large to move in-season, but the Wizards have a host of tradable role players that could help playoff teams. All of the above players are on expiring or pseudo-expiring contracts too. That could make them really attractive to a team that wants to make a playoff push, but doesn’t want to lock in long-term just yet.