What I’m hearing about potential trades for Pascal Siakam, Zach LaVine and more: Shams’ Inside Pass

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LAS VEGAS — With the NBA’s In-Season Tournament’s conclusion and critical trade eligibility dates nearing, the NBA trade marketplace is beginning to shape up. As the league’s teams near the 25-game mark, the Dec. 15 date for most free agents who signed last offseason to become trade-eligible, coupled with the G League Showcase on Dec. 19-22 in Orlando, Fla., (the league’s version of baseball’s Winter Meetings), creates the unofficial beginning of the NBA’s trade season.

As buyers and sellers slowly reveal themselves, teams are keeping close tabs on the Toronto Raptors and Chicago Bulls. Raptors president and vice chairman Masai Ujiri and general manager Bobby Webster have stuck with their talented core of Scottie Barnes, Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby over the past three seasons. But Toronto has lost three games in a row, stands 9-13 on the season and has left teams believing that now, more than ever, either Siakam or Anunoby could be traded by the Feb. 8 deadline.

Barnes has been deemed untouchable in any trade conversations, league sources say.

Under new coach Darko Rajaković, the Raptors hoped a more team-first, free-flowing style would lead to success. There has been a strong belief in the trio of Barnes, Siakam and Anunoby across every level of the organization, and officials were confident a new style of play would lead to more success and victories.

“There’ll be no selfishness this year,” Ujiri said before training camp.

Teams such as the Atlanta Hawks, Sacramento Kings and Indiana Pacers are expected suitors for Siakam or Anunoby but believe Siakam appears to be the likelier player to be dealt, league sources tell The Athletic. Siakam, 29, is earning $37.9 million in the last year of his Raptors contract this season while Anunoby, 26, has a $19.9 million player option for next season that he will almost assuredly decline to enter free agency.

The Hawks held intense conversations with the Raptors surrounding a Siakam deal over the offseason, as The Athletic reported, and the Pacers and Kings have both checked in and engaged at different points with Toronto over the last year. For the Kings, a better start to this season than a year ago (12-8 this season compared to 11-9 last season en route to a 48-win campaign) provides confidence that they can grow internally rather than compete for the expected cost of talents such as Siakam and Anunoby.

A season ago, the Raptors elected to play through a trying campaign and forge ahead with efforts to compete come playoff time. They ultimately lost guard Fred VanVleet for nothing as a free agent to the Houston Rockets. How will the Raptors’ front office handle two big-time free-agents-to-be this time around?

Around the league, many expect the Raptors to scan their options up until the trade deadline. And negotiations with the Raptors will always be, in the words of one rival executive, “a game of chicken.”

Elsewhere in Chicago, as The Athletic reported in mid-November, the Bulls are expected to continue probing interested teams on a Zach LaVine trade. The Bulls have won four consecutive games for the first time since February 2022 and are now 9-14. All of the wins have come without LaVine, who will miss three to four more weeks to treat right foot inflammation, and interested teams are keeping an eye on LaVine’s health situation and his return to play.

The Los Angeles Lakers and Philadelphia 76ers are expected suitors for LaVine, but both are operating from positions of patience and due diligence. And now, as the Bulls have found their stride over the past week and are just one game out of a Play-In Tournament spot, teams will continue to monitor their approach with LaVine and DeMar DeRozan, who will be an unrestricted free agent in the offseason. The Athletic’s Sam Amick recently reported that DeRozan’s preferred trade destinations are the New York Knicks and Miami Heat if he does end up being dealt.

A bevy of teams has been expressing interest in trading for Bulls utility star Alex Caruso, league sources say, but the franchise has shut down those calls. Caruso, whose $9.9 million deal for next season is partially guaranteed, is averaging 9.5 points, 3.4 rebounds and 2.3 assists in 20 games this season.

As one high-ranking team official put it last week, “It’s a gradually developing trade market this year.”

Soon, we will be off to the races.

More NBA news and notes …

LA Clippers

Forward P.J. Tucker has expressed frustration about his current situation with the team, and both sides are discussing ways to resolve a role for him there or elsewhere, according to league sources.

The 13-year NBA veteran has been a key, big-minute contributor in the last 12 years, but the 2021 NBA champion has been a DNP-CD in the last five games and has not played since Nov. 27 as coach Tyronn Lue moved rookie Kobe Brown into the rotation to infuse youth and athleticism. Tucker has been professional by helping Brown and his younger teammates while navigating his new reality with the Clippers.

Multiple contending teams are monitoring the Tucker situation in LA. For the season, Tucker, 38, has averaged 1.3 points and 2.9 rebounds. He is earning $11 million this season and has a player option worth $11.5 million for the 2024-25 season.

Los Angeles Lakers

Guard Gabe Vincent is hopeful for a return as soon as Dec. 18 for the Lakers’ home game against the Knicks, according to league sources. Vincent has been limited to just four games this season because of rehabilitation from left knee effusion. He last played on Oct. 30.

Memphis Grizzlies

Star guard Ja Morant is ramping up as he prepares for his season debut and is on track to return from a 25-game suspension on Dec. 19 against the Pelicans in New Orleans, league sources say.

Multiple sources who have been able to observe Morant’s training said Morant “looks good” in his on-court play with Grizzlies teammates. NBA commissioner Adam Silver said on Saturday night that Morant has been complying with all of the league’s checkpoints to be eligible once the 25-game suspension is up. Silver and Morant will have another conversation this week before Morant is fully cleared.

The Grizzlies also hope to keep veteran center Bismack Biyombo on the roster when Morant is removed from the suspension-exempt list and are actively in talks around the league as they weigh their roster situation, league sources say. Memphis will have to create roster space to keep Biyombo, who joined the roster on a one-year, $5 million deal five games into the season because of a roster exemption with Morant on the suspension list. Biyombo has been integral to the Grizzlies, who lost Steven Adams for the entire season in October because of right knee surgery.

Biyombo is averaging 6.1 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.25 blocks in 15 games this season.

Phoenix Suns

Barring a setback, Suns guard Bradley Beal is targeting a return on Tuesday against the Golden State Warriors in Phoenix, according to league sources. Beal has been sidelined since Nov. 10 because of what the team has called a “low back strain,” an injury that sources briefed on the matter have described as nerve irritation stemming from a disc issue in Beal’s back. The three-time All-Star has used the past few weeks to rehab and stabilize his back for a return to action.

San Antonio Spurs

Jeremy Sochan is making the transition from being San Antonio’s full-time point guard to one of the ballhandlers in the Spurs’ rotation moving forward.

On Friday against the Bulls, coach Gregg Popovich started Malaki Branham and Devin Vassell to play more on the ball, with No. 1 pick Victor Wembanyama shifting from power forward to center in the starting lineup. The Spurs had experimented with Sochan playing as the sole point guard, providing him a pathway to develop his playmaking and ballhandling skills. San Antonio is in the midst of a 16-game losing streak and hasn’t won since beating Phoenix on Nov. 2.

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(Top photo of Pascal Siakam and Zach LaVine: John E. Sokolowski / USA Today)

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