Special to Yahoo Sports
Christmas is over and New Year’s is approaching. The latter often signals one of two main turning points for NBA teams during the season — the second being the trade deadline. When the calendar flips over, we see teams shift focus.
Before it’s too late, now is the time to start exploring trading for young players on bad teams. If you roster veterans on those teams, look to sell high while you still can. There are four teams worth focusing on:
The Spurs, Rockets, Hornets and Pistons.
These four teams are the bottom tier of the NBA, fully in the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes. They don’t have to make a move to ship off veterans — they’re already bad — but there’s no point in keeping them around. It’s worth trading them to contenders for picks and good faith with agents.
Of this group, Charlotte is the toughest to read but has as much sell-off potential as anyone in the league. They’re 9-25 after missing LaMelo Ball for most of the season — he’s played 10 games — and Gordon Hayward has predictably appeared in just 17 contests. But we were reminded last week why this team is struggling so much to begin with — Miles Bridges isn’t there.
The Hornets were 43-39 last year but have been missing Bridges’ 20.2 points, as his restricted free agency this summer was derailed by a felony domestic assault charge. He avoided jail time, however, and word emerged Friday that he and the Hornets are attempting to work out a contract.
Whether or not Bridges actually plays this season is one thing, but the idea of him playing next year is another. Management probably believes this team will be competitive next year if Bridges is around, meaning they’re less likely to deal veterans at the deadline.
It’s probably best to still sell high on guys like Hayward (32 years old), Mason Plumlee (32), Terry Rozier (28) and Kelly Oubre Jr. (27) if possible, but if you decide to hold, it shouldn’t necessarily feel like a ticking time bomb. But, the late-season “injury” is always on the table for those guys.
Pistons management hoped to make a playoff push this season by adding 33-year-old Bojan Bogdanovic to the mix. It wasn’t working out even before Cade Cunningham suffered a season-ending shin injury, as the Pistons went just 3-9 with the sophomore in the lineup and are now 8-28.
They may keep Bogdanovic around for next year, hoping the young players on the roster progress and their new draft pick makes an impact, but that seems unwise. Bogdanovic has played well; his trade value is high. Even if Detroit hangs on, don’t expect Bogdanovic to suit up every night in March and April. Sell now while you can.
Either way, more time should open up for Saddiq Bey. He may be worth a speculative add if you have the roster space. When he’s played at least 30 minutes this season, he’s averaged 17.0 points, 5.3 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.0 steals.
Other veterans include Cory Joseph, Alec Burks, Rodney McGruder and Nerlens Noel. But even if they all get dealt, it may just mean more minutes for Kevin Knox II and Hamidou Diallo. Neither player has shown an ability to be fantasy relevant.
The Rockets don’t have much to sell off. They’ve done a good job of keeping their roster young. But one name still looms large — Eric Gordon.
They’ve held on to Gordon for far too long — three consecutive losing seasons — though his contract is undesirable. Still, he’s averaging just 11.5 points on 42/35/85 shooting this season, and he’s often injured. Ideally, Houston can get rid of him, opening up more time for Kenyon Martin Jr., Tari Eason and Garrison Mathews.
Eason is the sleeping giant on this team, but he’s not remotely close to a plug-and-play replacement for Gordon. Their styles are totally different. Gordon is a microwave sixth-man type guard, and Eason is a defensively versatile, athletic, inside-focused forward — though his 39.4% mark from three on 2.0 attempts per game makes his upside look much higher.
Still, do what you can to invest in Eason, especially in deep leagues. In nine-category formats, he’s the 34th-ranked player on a per-minute basis. Per 36 minutes, he’s averaging 16.3 points, 9.6 rebounds, 2.3 steals, 1.5 assists and 0.9 blocks.
It also never hurts to buy relatively low on guys like Jalen Green and Jabari Smith Jr., hoping they’ll catch fire after the All-Star break and in the final stretches of the season.
Of all the ticking time bombs on tanking teams, Jakob Poeltl is the most nuclear. He’s 27 years old and on an expiring, easy-to-move $9.4 million contract. Contending teams would love to have him as a backup center. Get rid of him now.
Poeltl started the year ablaze but has cooled off since, coinciding with a knee injury that kept him out for all of early December. We’ve seen both Zach Collins and Charles Bassey step in for Poeltl.
Collins is the safest bet, though managers in nine-category leagues that are turnover averse may not be able to stomach him. When seeing at least 24 minutes, he’s averaging 10.8 points, 7.2 rebounds and 3.5 assists…but 3.3 turnovers. His upside is clear if you’re punting turnovers or are in an eight-cat format.
Bassey has looked good when given extended time, averaging 7.3 points, 7.6 boards, 1.9 assists and 1.4 blocks when seeing 20-plus minutes. But he’s on a two-way contract. He’s played well enough to earn a standard deal, but Bassey is a risky addition until that actually happens.
Other veterans include Gorgui Dieng, Doug McDermott and Josh Richardson, maybe Keita Bates-Diop. If they get dealt, some extra time may open up for Romeo Langford, Malaki Branham, Blake Wesley and others. However, unless you’re in a super-deep league, none of that is actionable now.