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Players who are the biggest trade candidates as NBA season hits Christmas Day

Here’s a look at the players most likely to be dealt as the calendar year nears an end.

2021 NBA Playoffs - Atlanta Hawks v Philadelphia 76ers
Ben Simmons of the Philadelphia 76ers practices free throws prior to a game against the Atlanta Hawks during Round 2, Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Playoffs on June 20, 2021 at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

As the 2021-22 NBA season hits Christmas Day, the league is continuing to feel the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Players are entering the league’s protocols left and right, but there are no plans to pause or suspend the season at the moment. With Christmas comes the end of the year, which also means the trade market begins to take shape.

Trades can be made to push the team to the next level on the court, increase financial flexibility for free agency or acquire key assets as part of a rebuilding effort. Here are the players likely to be in trade rumors as the calendar year gets set to shift to 2022.

Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers

There are two major hurdles in a Simmons trade. The first is the mindset of the player, who has not stepped foot in a meaningful game since last season’s playoffs. The second is the contractual commitment, which sits at three years and more than $112 million after this season. No team is going to give up significant assets for that deal without knowing how Simmons plays. The best course of action for the guard would be to return to the court at some point, but there’s no indication Simmons is close to playing.

CJ McCollum, Portland Trail Blazers

The financials on McCollum are somewhat less daunting than Simmons, with only two years and $68 million left on his deal after this season. However, the shooting guard recently was diagnosed with a collapsed lung and has been out since early December. McCollum is a dynamic player but will he be healthy enough? It’s clear the backcourt pairing in Portland is no longer tenable, which means McCollum is likely to be on the trade block.

Kyrie Irving, Brooklyn Nets

The Nets folded on their stance with Irving when the roster got decimated by COVID, allowing the guard to return as a part-time player. However, Irving also ended in the league’s protocols and is likely out for a while since he is unvaccinated. Brooklyn has been cruising without Irving and it’s hard to ignore questions about his fit and future with the current group.

Buddy Hield, Sacramento Kings

Hield’s contract is manageable, with about $40 million left over the final two seasons. His cap hit decreases over those years, which makes the Kings sharpshooter a prime trade candidate. Sacramento is heavy on guards and needs to acquire more assets as it rebuilds once again. Hield could help a lot of contenders but the right deal will be tough to find.

Eric Gordon, Houston Rockets

Gordon is another deadly three-point shooter teams will inquire about. He’s got two more years left on his contract after this season, although the final year is a team option. That gives franchises even more incentive to make a move for Gordon now, who will bring perimeter scoring and experience to any contender.

Other names to watch

  • Jonas Valanciunas and Tomas Satoransky are players to watch on the Pelicans. The big man is an experienced playoff contributor who can solidify the interior, while the guard is on an expiring deal and can provide backcourt minutes off the bench.
  • The Pacers’ trio of Domantas Sabonis, Myles Turner and Caris LeVert are still on the block. No traction has emerged at the moment, but Indiana would like to start a rebuild and that likely means dealing at least two of these players.
  • Gary Harris is on an expiring deal and although he hasn’t produced at an elite level this season, the Magic need some financial flexibility. Even a protected pick would be great to have for Harris, who could fortify a backcourt for a playoff run.