NBA trade deadline: What each team could (or should) do

NBA trade deadline: What each team could (or should) do

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NBA trade deadline: What each team could (or should) do

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With the NBA trade deadline roughly two weeks away, teams are gathering intel on who is and isn’t available and figuring out their realistic options. Last season proved that there were more buyers than sellers thanks to the newly implemented play-in tournament, and that trend might only grow stronger this season.

The success of the Phoenix Suns has motivated teams into remaining competitive with the belief that they can become contenders swiftly with the rights moves. The Chicago Bulls are the biggest recent example of that when they went ahead and traded Wendell Carter Jr. and two first-round picks for Nikola Vucevic in what was the biggest trade of last year’s trade deadline. They followed that up with the acquisitions of DeMar DeRozan and Lonzo Ball and have looked like a contender when fully healthy.

Another factor that could increase activity this season is more flexibility. Last year there were a handful of teams that were hard-capped and up against the apron that were limited in making trades. At the same time, a lot of those franchises are now deep into the luxury tax and could look to reduce payroll and save money. We could see some financially motivated trades since this NBA season is set to have the highest luxury tax distribution in NBA history.

Here is a breakdown of each team’s situation ahead of the trade deadline and whether we can expect them to be active or not.

Atlanta Hawks

Bogdan Bogdanovic, Atlanta Hawks

Could be aggressive

What happened to the Hawks who reached the Eastern Conference Finals last season? Unless they pull off another huge mid-season winning streak that turns their season around, it’s looking like last year’s Hawks may have been an outlier with the rest of the East getting much stronger this season. This could just be a minor step back, but even Atlanta general manager Travis Schlenk is starting to question the roster he put together.

The Hawks have the means to make a consolidation trade with their glut of young wing players and they have all their draft picks going forward. Improving their 27th ranked defense is a priority considering they have the second-best offense led by Trae Young. They’ve been linked as a potential suitor for Ben Simmons with Tobias Harris attached and are one of the few teams that have enough sizeable salaries to get it done with John Collins, Danilo Gallinari, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Delon Wright, and Lou Williams.

While a frontcourt of Simmons and Clint Capela should be great defensively, it also means less shooting and spacing in their best lineups. A subsequent trade of Capela for a defensive-minded center who can stretch the floor like Myles Turner would accommodate the Simmons fit better. However, Capela is ineligible to be traded as his trade restriction created from the extension he signed last offseason expires right after the February 10 deadline. If the Hawks want to make big moves, they can’t involve him this season. Kevin Huerter also seems unlikely to be moved because of complications from the poison pill provision.

Atlanta is set to become significant luxury taxpayers potentially starting in 2022-23 when DeAndre Hunter presumably gets extended. Based on the current construction of the roster, they can avoid it next season if they waive Gallinari whose $21.5 million salary is only guaranteed for $5 million. If they don’t plan on bringing him back next season then it would make sense to move on from him now.

Chicago Bulls

Could be aggressive

The Chicago Bulls have defied many expectations. They’re second place in the Eastern Conference, which speaks to their strength, but that could drop off due to several long-term injuries. Their defense, which was in the Top 10 for most of the season is also starting to drop off, so they could look to address that if they’re going to have an edge against the Bucks, Nets, or Heat.

One could look at how the Bulls were the most aggressive team in 2021 bringing in Nikola Vucevic, Lonzo Ball, and DeMar DeRozan and think that they will remain aggressive in this year’s trade deadline. Especially seeing how everything has clicked for them, it seems unlikely that they’ll pump the breaks now. Despite trading so many picks and players, the Bulls still have another move to make if they’d like.

The Bulls had big plans for Patrick Williams this season but his season-ending wrist injury made them even shorter at the four. They could be a team to watch in regards to Jerami Grant, who could provide more defensive versatility. He would add more size to their lineups and could also be the small-ball center in smaller lineups including Alex Caruso for Vucevic. Robert Covington or Marcus Morris could also make sense on the Bulls. They have the adequate matching salary for such players with Derrick Jones Jr., Troy Brown Jr., and Coby White.

Chicago is $3 million below the luxury tax so it’s unlikely they take on too much additional money in a trade. With that said, their $5 million trade exception for Daniel Theis could go unused for now. They are out on tradeable future first-round picks until 2027 but they can trade the lottery-protected Blazers pick right now.

Houston Rockets

Eric Gordon, Houston Rockets

Could be aggressive

Houston still has one major veteran leftover from the James Harden era in Eric Gordon. The 14-year veteran continues to play at a high level on both ends of the floor and should be able to contribute to a contender. He only has one guaranteed season at $19.6 million remaining on his deal, which shouldn’t be cumbersome on interested teams’ cap sheets. The Rockets are reportedly seeking a late first-round pick for him, according to Michael Scotto.

Other veterans that should be available include Daniel Theis, David Nwaba, and D.J. Augustin. The emergence of Alperen Sengun has quickly made Theis expendable in Houston. His contract with three years remaining at slightly below the mid-level exception is very solid for a top backup center who could occasionally start. Nwaba only has one guaranteed year remaining at $5 million while Augustin is only partially guaranteed for $333,333 next season.

John Wall seems likely to remain with Houston past the trade deadline with no trade or buy-out in sight. According to Marc Stein, one potential deal that could eventually be discussed is a swap for Russell Westbrook. Both players earn nearly identical salaries, so it wouldn’t cost Houston anything to acquire him and could potentially get a small asset attached if approached on this, such as a second-round pick or a first-round pick swap. Maybe Westbrook will be more open to a buyout than Wall, which would create more cap flexibility for the Rockets next season.

Both Christian Wood and Kevin Porter Jr.’s have one more season left on their deals and both will become extension-eligible this offseason. Houston does need to make a decision soon on if they want to keep these players long-term. If not, it would make sense to trade them now with a year left on their deals. The additional time on their contract could make them more valuable now rather than later when they’re expiring.

Indiana Pacers

Could be aggressive

The Pacers historically don’t make significant trades mid-season but that can change this season. They haven’t undergone a full-scale rebuild where they bottom out for a lottery pick in recent memory. Their highest draft pick in the last 20 years is the 10th overall pick in 2010, which they hit on Paul George. They’ve managed to stay relevant with several All-Star players on team-friendly contracts that have kept them flexible all these years.

The core led by Malcolm Brogdon, Myles Turner, and Domantas Sabonis seems to have peaked a couple of years ago. If they had a Top 10 player on the roster, their current core would be one of the best supporting casts around him. Their slide to 17-31 explains why they have made everyone on their roster available for discussion. Brogdon is the only one from the group that isn’t trade-eligible this season due to the extension he signed.

Still, it’s unclear exactly what direction they are headed towards and what exactly they’re seeking in exchange for their veterans. Do they want to convert these players into similarly talented players who fit the team better so they can remain competitive? Or do they want to extract as much value as possible with a focus on the future?

The answer may be a little of both. There’s a pathway where they can extract future first-round picks from one player while getting a veteran who can help now with another. Jake Fischer reported that the Pacers are seeking first-round pick compensation for Caris LeVert. One such framework that could make sense is the expiring contract of Ricky Rubio and the Cavaliers lottery-protected 2022 first-round pick for LeVert.

Who the Pacers trade between Sabonis or Turner will likely depend on what they could get for them. Sabonis being a two-time All-Star with two years left on his deal should garner much stronger offers than Turner. Their preference could be acquiring a starting power forward like Ben Simmons, Pascal Siakam, or John Collins for Turner. While such players would complement Sabonis, the market for Turner might be first-round picks or recent lottery selections instead.

Getting off just one of Sabonis, Turner, or LeVert’s salary for next season could put Indiana in a position to generate north of $20 million in cap space. If cap space is a priority, moving off role players such as TJ McConnell, Torrey Craig, and Justin Holiday would help as well. The Pacers have three trade exceptions at $7.3 million, $4 million, and $2.3 million, but it’s unlikely they’re used since they’re just $2.2 million below the luxury tax. A simpler move they can make to increase their flexibility this season is to trade Jeremy Lamb’s expiring contract to a team with a large enough trade exception like Oklahoma City or Orlando.

Los Angeles Clippers

Could be aggressive

The Clippers were already fighting an uphill battle this season with Kawhi Leonard being unavailable with a torn ACL. Now Paul George has a torn ligament in his elbow and it’s possible that neither star returns this season, according to Jake Fischer. With the Clippers looking at a potentially lost season, it would make sense for them to take a step back and bottom out for a high lottery pick…except they owe their pick this year to Oklahoma City.

Despite this predicament, it still makes sense for the Clips to be sellers. To their credit, they’ve already made up for some of their deficit of draft picks. They have recently found gems late in the draft and developed them into rotation players, such as Terance Mann and rookie guard Brandon Boston Jr. There’s a good chance they can replicate that success with additionally acquired draft picks.

The Clippers won’t completely bottom out because the roster is still very competent, they’re well-coached, and, well, no draft pick doesn’t give them a reason to climb the reverse standings. While they won’t enjoy the fruits of their own first-round pick, they could still make a trade that gets them back into the first round of the 2022 draft.

In Fischer’s same reporting, he adds that rival executives believe that the Clippers could become sellers and that Marcus Morris could become available. The 32-year-old forward is under team control for $33.5 million over the next two seasons and could make sense as a target for teams needing a forward like the Jazz, Bulls, or Suns. They might be able to recoup a late first-round pick for him, which is what they originally gave up to acquire him.

The Clippers trading role players like Morris could seem counterproductive since they need to put role players like him around Leonard and George. Capitalizing on him and other veterans like Eric Bledsoe, Serge Ibaka, and Justise Winslow is also a pragmatic bet against potential regression. As discussed on the HoopsHype Podcast, moving off these veterans could mainly be for financial reasons. The Clippers have a $93 million luxury tax bill that they might as well reduce if they’re not contending. If they can shave $32 million off their payroll by offloading multiple of these players they could get under the luxury tax, but that’s probably unrealistic.

Philadelphia 76ers

Ben Simmons

Could be aggressive

There is no need to rehash every report and potential trade destination that has been discussed over the past nine months on Ben Simmons. The real question is if the front office and ownership are really onboard with potentially going past the trade deadline with Simmons still on the roster. According to Shams Charania, stalemate between Simmons and the Sixers could remain as ownership is onboard with keeping Simmons past the trade deadline for a potential shot at acquiring James Harden in the offseason.

While acquiring a player to help compete for a playoff run this season is one goal in a Simmons trade, another one might be acquiring a player that could have equal trade value as him later. For example, if the Sixers were to trade Simmons for a package centered around De’Aaron Fox, they would need to be sure that he could be the prized centerpiece in a trade for the next available All-Star if they still have their sights set on one of the league’s top players.

We were reminded of the negative contract of Tobias Harris when it was reported that the Sixers were trying to include him in Simmons trades. Philadelphia will have an extremely hard time finding a team willing to take on Harris, let alone one that can match salaries for both Harris and Simmons in the same trade. Harris is a fine player but by no means is he producing close to what his $36 million salary commands.

If the Sixers don’t trade Simmons, one other move they could make is one that gets them below the luxury tax. They are $5.1 million above the tax when accounting for a set off the Sixers will receive on George Hill’s dead cap hit. Danny Green could be the cap casualty with his role diminished in favor of Matisse Thybulle. Offloading Green or trading him for a player who earns significantly less could get them below the luxury tax. His playoff experience and non-guaranteed salary for next season should make him easy to move.

Portland Trail Blazers

Could be aggressive

The Trail Blazers are going to do something. They may not necessarily make an earth-shattering move like trading Damian Lillard, but they will probably make a significant move of some sort. It just hasn’t worked with this core and they continue to have one of the league’s worst defenses since last season. With Lillard potentially getting shut down for the season, they may take a step back and become sellers ahead of the deadline.

With their record trending downwards, they could be in a prime spot to bottom out for a top pick in this year’s draft. Despite that, it seems unlikely that they’ll pivot to a full youth movement as long as Lillard remains bought in and committed to the organization. They keep their first-round pick this year if they miss the playoffs and a high lottery pick could give them a piece to build around in the future, or a trade asset to help further build around Lillard.

Portland is $3 million over the luxury tax and will need to trade one of their eight highest-paid players to get under it. CJ McCollum will definitely be a name to monitor ahead of the trade deadline, but more pressing are the upcoming expiring contracts of Jusuf Nurkic and Robert Covington. If the Blazers don’t plan on re-signing one or both of them, it would make sense to move on from them now, especially if they can get some draft picks and young players in addition to getting below the luxury tax line. Nurkic can get two years, $25.8 million, and Covington can get two years, $27.9 million added through extend-and-trades.

The Blazers are entering this offseason less than $30 million below the projected 2022-23 luxury tax based on the current roster construction. It seems unlikely they’ll be able to stay below it while re-signing both Nurkic and Covington, in addition to Anfernee Simons, who will be a restricted free agent. His emergence could make McCollum expendable behind an offense-strong backcourt that includes himself, Lillard, and Norman Powell. Trading McCollum makes sense if it brings back defensive help while also reducing their payroll in the future. McCollum is set to earn $33.3 million and $35.8 million over the next two seasons, respectively.

Oklahoma City Thunder

Could be aggressive

Oklahoma City’s goal of taking on bad money with draft picks is starting to see diminishing returns after gaining control of 12 first-round picks over the next five drafts. There aren’t that many objectively bad contracts left in the league, and the value of taking on bad money may have decreased. Would multiple second-round picks be enough for them to absorb a $10-plus million expiring contract?

The Thunder may have to take what they can get attached with unwanted contracts because they are $24 million below the salary floor. They don’t need to reach the salary floor, but not doing so would result in a wasted opportunity cost. There’s a good chance they add just enough to their payroll to reach the salary floor after they did so towards the tail-end of last season.

Oklahoma City has the ability to generate $34 million in cap space, which would allow them to trade for just about any salary. They have enough cap space to take on a player like John Wall, Russell Westbrook, or Tobias Harris and all they would need to send back is Derrick Favors. Their ability to spend in this trade deadline will likely be their final opportunity for them to facilitate salary dumps until at least the 2023 offseason when they are next projected to have cap space.

The Thunder have very few role players remaining that could contribute to competitive teams. Kenrich Williams is their biggest name to watch while Ty Jerome and Mike Muscala also have something to give. It will be interesting to see if the Thunder move on from some of their players on rookie-scale contracts to make room on the roster for the next two or three rookies they draft next season

Sacramento Kings

Could be aggressive

The Sacramento Kings are now tied with the 1976-1991 Los Angeles Clippers for the longest post-season drought in NBA history at 15 seasons. Not becoming the all-time leader in arguably one of the worst possible milestones could be a major motivating factor for the franchise to be the biggest buyers in the league. Could this motivate the Kings to part ways with significant draft equity to acquire the best available players?

For example, what if they offered a package consisting of up to three future first-round picks in exchange for Ben Simmons or Domantas Sabonis? Such a return is similar to the value Orlando got for Nikola Vucevic last season. While such a deal won’t guarantee Sacramento a playoff spot, their playoff ambitions could motivate them to offer such a picks-heavy package.

Several reports suggest that no one is off the table from the Kings’ roster if the deal improves them. The possibility of a De’Aaron Fox trade has crept into our minds ever since the Kings drafted Tyrese Haliburton in the 2020 draft, and that possibility has only accelerated when they drafted another guard in Davion Mitchell. Their presence and the possibility to elevate their roles give Sacramento an out to trade Fox, but according to Shams Charania, the Kings plan on keeping him.

Harrison Barnes will likely be coveted by contenders seeking a versatile wing that can guard big forwards. If the Kings choose to be sellers, Barnes may be able to fetch a first-round pick. Buddy Hield has been widely available since his botched trade to the Lakers. While his value almost exclusively lies in his high volume of made three-pointers, his descending contract could make him more appealing to other teams as time goes on.

On the margins, Sacramento could facilitate salary dumps with draft picks attached. They have two trade exceptions worth $3.6 million and $2 million and are $6.2 million below the luxury tax. They could take on minor unwanted salaries so long as they don’t get too much closer to the tax with other trades. If they become sellers, it could be in the big man department with an abundance of players such as Marvin Bagley and Tristan Thompson on expiring contracts.

Boston Celtics

Al Horford, Boston Celtics

Could go either way

First-year president of basketball operations Brad Stevens has been one of the most active executives this season. He has already completed six different trades since taking the reigns in Boston and there’s no reason for that activity to stop after the recent deal for Bol Bol and PJ Dozier. Trading Juancho Hernangomez for those players puts the Celtics just $2.8 million above the luxury tax. Look for them to make one more cost-cutting move to completely get below the threshold.

It seems like the Celtics are open for business and have put everyone on the table other than Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. According to Jared Weiss, the Celtics have made Al Horford available. He is partially guaranteed for $14.5 million next season so moving on from him might be more about avoiding the luxury tax next season. They are already projected to be right at the luxury tax heading into next season but getting off Horford would put them roughly $25 million below with ten players on the roster, including their 2022 first-round pick.

According to Michael Scotto, the Celtics have explored trading for Jeff Green. Acquiring inexpensive role players may be their most realistic path to improving the team. Unless they are able to offload more salary, trading for high salaried players will be challenging while staying below the luxury tax. They could generate more flexibility by getting off some role players like Dennis Schroeder and Aaron Nesmith, both of whom the Celtics have made available per Scotto.

Boston’s best trade assets might be Marcus Smart and Robert Williams III. Smart becomes trade eligible on January 25. Trading Williams III is complicated due to the poison pill provision from his extension which makes his incoming salary for trade purposes $10.3 million instead of his current $3.7 million salary. This could cause salary matching issues in trades for both the Celtics and the team who trades for Williams III. Thankfully, the Celtics have three large trade exceptions worth $17.1 million, $9.7 million, and $6.9 million that could help navigate those issues.

Charlotte Hornets

PJ Washington

Could go either way

The Charlotte Hornets are building off their successful 2020-21 campaign with huge improvements from LaMelo Ball and Miles Bridges. They sport the sixth-best offense but are also 26th on defense. Without any cap space to look forward to after they presumably re-sign Bridges this offseason, their path to getting better and improving their defense is through internal improvement and trade.

Charlotte might have the biggest need in the league for an upgrade at center. Mason Plumlee has been solid but their three other young centers have been unplayable with the Hornets skewing towards playing smaller in reserve groups. They will naturally be suitors for the top available centers on the trade market such as Myles Turner and Jusuf Nurkic. They can offer a framework consisting of a conditional future first-round pick and young players such as PJ Washington, James Bouknight, or Kai Jones.

Acquiring a center like Turner would help improve their defense while also expanding their already excellent offense, especially if they don’t need to part ways with any of their starters. At the same time, it might be worth listening to offers on some of their highest-paid players like Gordon Hayward and Terry Rozier. A defensive-minded wing player may be needed to further improve the team’s defense and moving one of those players could be their path there. Rozier becomes trade-eligible on January 30th, and Hayward has a trade bonus that would significantly raise his salary if traded.

Cleveland Cavaliers

Could go either way

The Cleveland Cavaliers were a +2000 to make the playoffs before the season started. Not only are they likely going to make the playoffs, but they’re also on a 50-win pace. They now have a franchise player in Evan Mobley, and both Darius Garland and Jarrett Allen are playing like All-Star caliber players. It’s safe to say the Cavaliers will be buyers this trade deadline.

Sometimes teams hold back from being aggressive in trades after multiple starting-level players suffer season-ending injuries. That might not be the case for Cleveland as they haven’t missed a beat despite losing Collin Sexton and Ricky Rubio. After four consecutive seasons in the lottery, the Cavaliers front office could decide to treat themselves and trade a first-round pick to improve the team this season. Trading a lottery-protected 2022 first-round pick would be the ideal move since it’s projected to be a late selection.

Cleveland needs additional backcourt help and have been linked to Caris LeVert. He can be a scorer and primary ball-handler off the bench and be a secondary creator with the starters. A package of Rubio’s expiring contract and a first-round pick could be the primary framework for LeVert. Some other guards they can pursue who earn a similar salary as LeVert include Eric Gordon and Buddy Hield.

Sexton could alternatively be included in trade packages. The Cavaliers can re-sign him this offseason to a significant contract while staying well below the projected luxury tax for next season. Trading him makes sense if they believe his market could exceed what they’re willing to give him and if they trade for an adequate scoring guard to replace him. His upcoming restricted free agency status could attract many over-the-cap teams that otherwise wouldn’t be able to make him a reasonable offer sheet.

Dallas Mavericks

Could go either way

The Dallas Mavericks’ path to making significant improvements to the roster is through trade. Free agency is no longer an option now that they’re capped out after extending Luka Doncic to a maximum contract. Unless they form a roster that’s truly a contender, they now have to walk a delicate line between trying to improve the team while also staying below the luxury tax.

Dallas already has a full roster heading into next season and are right at the projected $145 million luxury tax when accounting for their 2022 first-round pick. Both Jalen Brunson and Dorian Finney-Smith are set to become unrestricted free agents this offseason and are extension-eligible throughout the rest of this season. Bringing back just one of these players will put them over the luxury tax. This predicament could lead them to some tough decisions this month.

The Mavericks could look to offload several players under contract for next season if they want to bring both Brunson and Finney-Smith back without increasing the payroll too much. Such a trade could also happen during the offseason which could include part of their abundance of big men like Dwight Powell or Boban Marjanovic, and seldom-used players like Trey Burke. They could also trade Brunson or Finney-Smith for draft picks if they feel both players will be out of their price range this summer.

The Mavericks will have difficulties consolidating for players they’ve been linked to such as Myles Turner and John Collins. This is because of Stepien rule complications preventing them from trading a first-round pick until 2025. Brunson has been linked to the Knicks who could use a point guard. Some type of deal that returns the Mavericks their 2023 first-round pick would make sense since it allows them to trade more first-round picks.

Detroit Pistons

Could go either way

Jerami Grant will be the primary focus of the Detroit Pistons trade deadline. His versatility and affordable contract makes him a good fit for many different teams. He has the potential to swing title odds in favor of several contenders which could drive up the bidding for him. Packages for Grant could potentially include multiple first-round picks and/or good young players.

The Pistons are already projected to generate around $30 million in cap space this offseason. Not taking back any future salaries could help them generate close to $50 million in cap space. Other veterans under contract they could look to move for more draft picks and future cap space include Kelly Olynyk and Cory Joseph (player option).

Golden State Warriors

Could go either way

During the offseason, the Golden State Warriors were considered favorites to make a consolidation trade for the next available All-Star. Now they’re a championship favorite largely thanks to good health and a deep roster. Making a significant trade of any sort now risks their chemistry. Such a package could include their recent lottery picks James Wiseman, Jonathan Kuminga, and Moses Moody.

The Warriors probably could make one of the best offers for some of the best players available such as Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner. Acquiring one of those centers could tip the balance of power in the west in favor of them. However, they might have enough to win it all this year with their current roster. Their ideal plan is to both contend now while developing their lottery picks for the post-Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, and Klay Thompson era. Now it seems like they could have their cake and eat it too.

The Warriors will naturally become players in the buyout market. If they do something it can be to offload a bench player to save money and create a roster spot to sign someone later. Who they can move is very tricky since just about everyone down to the end of their bench is a contributor. They seem much more likely to stand pat now.

Memphis Grizzlies

Kyle Anderson, Memphis Grizzlies

Could go either way

The Memphis Grizzlies are playing with house money this season. They’ve exceeded expectations for the third season in a row and look like they can win a playoff series or two this time. Their rapid ascension towards contending has got to make them consider whether they should become buyers and make a move that can help them make a deep playoff run.

While the Grizzlies have several extra first-round picks to play with and expendable veterans on expiring contracts, history suggests this front office will remain patient. Like the Warriors, the Grizzlies have an exceptionally deep roster and occasionally get big games from players at the end of their rotation. Like any pragmatic front office, they will explore their options and if the right deal comes along, they’ll take it.

Memphis has three first-round picks in the upcoming 2022 draft including one that could be in the middle of the first round and two that could be at the end of it. They also already have 12 players under contract for next season, which would lead to a complicated roster crunch when factoring in three first-round picks. It would be reasonable to trade at least one of their first-round picks this season to improve the team, but they could also later package some of these picks to move up in the draft.

At the very least, the Grizzlies could get proactive in getting value for their expiring contracts. If they don’t plan on retaining Kyle Anderson or Tyus Jones, it would make for them to get some value for them before they hit free agency. Between them and Jarrett Culver, the Grizzlies have close to $25 million in tradeable salary if they wanted to trade for a high-salaried player.

New Orleans Pelicans

Could go either way

The New Orleans Pelicans are in year three of the Zion Williamson era and the results have been mixed. On one hand, Williamson has looked like a franchise player when he plays, Brandon Ingram is an All-Star caliber player, and they have a surplus of first-round draft picks over the next few drafts. On the other hand, Williamson has missed so much time, he might be unhappy with the Pelicans, and development from their other recent first-round picks has been slow.

This begs the question, should the Pelicans be buyers or sellers? They seemed to be buyers during the offseason when it was reported that they were pursuing Kyle Lowry. Now they’re unlikely to have cap space going forward once they presumably extend Williamson to a maximum contract. The other question is, how much draft equity or young talent are they willing to part with? New Orleans has the means to trade for the next available All-Star, but that player doesn’t appear to be available to them right now.

The Pelicans could make a strong offer for some of the top names available in this year’s trade deadline. They hold the sixth-worst offense in the league and could use a scoring boost if they’re trying to make a push for the play-in tournament. For example, they could make an offer consisting of Josh Hart, draft picks, and salary filler for scoring guards such as CJ McCollum or Buddy Hield. An additional ball-dominant scoring threat could help them in late-game situations.

New Orleans also has one of the league’s biggest trade exceptions. They have a $17.1 million trade exception and a $3.8 million trade exception that can both be fully utilized while remaining below the luxury tax. They can be used either to acquire a player who can improve them or take unwanted salary with incentives attached. Making both a consolidation trade while acquiring an impact player with their trade exception, along with the return of Williamson, might be enough to get them into the play-in tournament.

New York Knicks

Could go either way

The New York Knicks maximized their spending power last offseason to put the strongest and deepest roster possible. In doing so, they lost a lot of flexibility over the next few seasons and their best path to improving the team is through trade. They have a handful of expendable veterans, many young players, and a surplus of first-round draft picks to facilitate a deal.

The Knicks could be on the search for another new point guard with Kemba Walker‘s knee issues flaring up again. They could pursue guards such as De’Aaron Fox, Dennis Schroder, or Jalen Brunson. According to SNY’s Ian Begley, Brunson shares many connections with the Knicks organization that could make him a strong trade target for them. A package centered on Mitchell Robinson, who is currently extension-eligible and set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer, or sending back the Mavericks their 2023 first-round, could make sense.

The Knicks traded a first-round pick that may not convey for a while to take a shot on Cam Reddish. With a young core that features him, RJ Barrett, Immanuel Quickley, Obi Toppin, Quentin Grimes, and Miles McBride, they have more than enough recent draft selections to develop. They could look to package some of their future draft picks and young players for the next available All-Star that becomes available. They have all their own first-round picks and a whopping 15 second-round picks over the next seven drafts to play with.

Orlando Magic

Could go either way

The Orlando Magic are in an excellent position moving forward after getting optimal value for their starters in last year’s trade deadline. They have multiple players with promise in almost every position and are set to have a top selection in the 2022 draft to add on top of that. They could be back to competing sooner than expected with good health and persistent development.

Look for the Magic to continue acting as a rebuilding team in this year’s trade deadline. That would mean getting value for their veteran players and facilitating salary dumps or multi-team trades. Terrence Ross could plugin smoothly with many teams and is on a team-friendly deal that could easily be traded for. Gary Harris and Robin Lopez don’t particularly have positive trade value but their expiring salaries could be used for salary matching in bigger trades.

Markelle Fultz might also be a player whose market they could explore due to their logjam at point guard. One other player to keep an eye on is Mo Bamba. He is set to enter restricted free agency but the Magic could look to move on from him now if they don’t plan on re-signing him this offseason.

Orlando has three sizeable trade exceptions, including a large $17.15 million one that will expire following the trade deadline. They are currently $22.9 million below the luxury tax so they can comfortably utilize the whole exception in addition to one of their $4.3 million and $2 million exceptions. Teams like the Clippers, Lakers, and Bucks that could look to reduce their luxury tax payments could be potential trade partners with the Magic.

Phoenix Suns

Could go either way

The Phoenix Suns already have one of the league’s deepest and most balanced rosters in the league. They have a great shot at making it back to the Finals with their current squad and have a minor move or two to make that could really separate them from the top of the Western Conference. It would involve one or both of Dario Saric, who isn’t expected to play this season, and Jalen Smith, who had his team option for next season declined.

Saric has an $8.5 million salary for this season and Smith has a $4.45 million salary. Both players can be aggregated in a trade to bring back the Suns up to $18 million in incoming salary. Phoenix could use an additional scoring wing off the bench such as Terrence Ross. They could also use a versatile forward who can be a small-ball center such as Robert Covington or Thaddeus Young. They should be able to acquire any of these players with most of their picks available to be traded.

Phoenix could also become a player in the buyout market. Although exceptions are rarely used for mid-season signings, the Suns do have $4.1 million remaining of their mid-level exception as of January 25. This could give the Suns an advantage to further deepen their bench with a top veteran that gets waived after the trade deadline.

San Antonio Spurs

Could go either way

The San Antonio Spurs are historically quiet when it comes to mid-season trades and there isn’t any reason for that to change that this season. If they make any moves they will most likely be minor, such as their trade of Bryn Forbes for Juancho Hernangomez and a second-round pick. They have a lot of flexibility and space below the luxury tax to take on unwanted money attached with assets.

Thaddeus Young is the player most likely to be moved in a trade. He isn’t in the rotation and already expressed displeasure with his role in San Antonio. Young just came off a strong season with the Bulls and has played well in games for the Spurs where he’s been given significant minutes. His absence from the rotation isn’t helping his trade value, and a return for him may be capped at a couple of second-round picks. Teams like the Suns, Mavericks, and Kings could all use Young’s skillset off the bench.

The Spurs will probably keep all of their young core intact. A Dejounte Murray trade of any sort, including for Ben Simmons, seems out of the question with the leap he’s taken this year. One young player to keep an eye on is Lonnie Walker IV. He is set to become a restricted free agent so now would be a good time for the Spurs to trade him if they don’t plan on re-signing him this offseason, especially if they want to maximize cap space. They are currently projected to generate around $30 million in cap space this offseason.

Washington Wizards

Montrezl Harrell, Washington Wizards

Could go either way

The Washington Wizards could be open for business now that they have plenty of flexibility for the first time in years. Just about everyone on their roster has a tradeable mid-sized salary that could be easily used towards salary matching. One thing to keep in mind is that the Wizards are just $1.7 million below the luxury tax, so they’ll ideally want to take back equal or less salary in a trade.

After a strong start to the season, the Wizards have cooled to being slightly below .500. Re-signing Bradley Beal is their No. 1 priority this offseason so this trade deadline could come with a move that improves the team to increase their chances of retaining him. They can make a minor consolidation trade using a combination of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kyle Kuzma, Davis Bertans, Montrezl Harrell, and Thomas Bryant. With Bryant healthy, Washington has a logjam at the center position and could afford to move one of their backup centers on expiring deals.

The Wizards could put together a sensible offer for Jerami Grant. They could probably also get in the mix for players like Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner if they are willing to surrender enough first-round draft picks and young players like Deni Avdija, Rui Hachimura, or Corey Kispert.

Brooklyn Nets

Limited position

The Brooklyn Nets have remained a top seed in the East after bringing back most of their roster from last season. Despite all this, it still feels like the Nets bench has regressed and they’ve been on a little skid this past month. They are low on tradeable assets so it could be challenging to make significant improvements. Any trades they make could come on the margins.

Brooklyn currently has a $171.9 million payroll and a $110.4 million luxury tax payment. It’s possible for them to both improve the end of their bench through the buyout market while saving money. According to Shams Charania, the Nets will look to trade Paul Millsap since he’s not in the rotation. Blake Griffin, James Johnson, and Jevon Carter could also be available to save money and create roster spots for the buyout market.

The Nets might be open to utilizing their trade exceptions if they can unload some of their end-of-bench players. They have two trade exceptions worth $11.45 million and $6.3 million that could help them bring in an impact player. Unfortunately, they are severely limited in draft picks to trade as they only have two second-round picks and a 2028 first-round pick to offer. They could also offer some of their rookies like Cam Thomas, Day’Ron Sharpe, and Kessler Edwards.

If the Nets want to acquire a more expensive player in the $20 million range and above, Joe Harris would be their most likely salary-filler to get it done. Nicolas Claxton could be another name to watch and the Nets have done their due diligence on his market, according to Brian Windhorst. Claxton is currently extension-eligible and will become a restricted free agent this offseason. He could be one of the Nets’ most valuable trade assets and his small cap hold could be of value to a team projected to have cap space this offseason.

Denver Nuggets

JaMychal Green

Limited position

The Denver Nuggets may have gotten the majority of their deadline work done after trading Bol Bol and PJ Dozier for Bryn Forbes. Turning two injured players into a healthy one while opening up a roster spot was necessary. The Nuggets need all the bodies they can get while Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. are out.

They could look to continue rejuvenating their bench by trading Vlatko Cancar with cash or a second-round pick for a healthy player or to offload him to create a roster spot for a healthy player. They’ve done a good job reshuffling their backcourt bench but it is now crowded. They added DeMarcus Cousins as an end-of-bench big man and could use another one. Maybe a swap involving Austin Rivers to bring back Paul Millsap could make sense.

Denver’s close proximity to the luxury tax will likely keep any move small, especially since it appears unlikely they’ll generate flexibility for something bigger by simply selling veteran role players like Jeff Green. They seem intent on doing their absolute best this season and getting role players set up for next year as well. Denver is expected to be a luxury taxpayer next season so it makes sense to preserve their bench now since it will be harder to establish one later.

Los Angeles Lakers

Limited position

The Lakers trade for Russell Westbrook had a ton of downside risk associated with it. Not only because of the fit issues but also because of the severe salary cap complications caused towards improving the team later.  Their only non-minimum players outside of their All-Stars that they could legitimately use for salary matching in trades are Talen Horton-Tucker and Kendrick Nunn.

Aggregating both players can bring back up to $15.85 million in a trade, and adding one minimum player to that package can bring back up to $20.2 million. Such a trade would increase their payroll and luxury tax combination by up to $25 million. Given their record, it’s unclear if they would be willing to significantly increase spending.

They are also limited to trading one future first-round pick in either 2027 or 2028. Trading one of those picks is risky because they’re the last real valuable assets they have to put towards acquiring a meaningful upgrade. It’s also risky to trade a first-round pick that far out because, well, who knows where any team will be five or six years from now.

If the Lakers want to move Westbrook at all costs, it appears the only team that would acquire him are the Houston Rockets. According to Marc Stein, the Rockets would require draft capital to swap John Wall for Westbrook. While Westbrook is a better and more available player than Wall, Wall could be a better fit with LeBron James and this Lakers team.

If anything else happens, look for the Lakers to offload some of their minimum players that are out of the rotation. It’s been reported that they are looking to move DeAndre Jordan and Kent Bazemore, but that could also extend to other players who have seen their roles diminished such as Dwight Howard and Wayne Ellington. Trading two minimum players without taking back any salary could save the Lakers $7 million apiece against their payroll and luxury tax payment. This would also create roster spots for the Lakers to pursue veterans on the buyout market for a much lower cap hit.

Miami Heat

KZ Okpala, Miami Heat

Limited position

The Miami Heat came out the gates swinging this season with a top 10 offense and defense. They’ve maintained those ranks and are back to being the top seed in the Eastern Conference despite injuries to most of their starters. There were lots of questions about their depth after being limited to filling out their bench with minimum players due to luxury tax and hard cap constraints. Fortunately, they’ve gotten enough from players like Max Strus, Gabe Vincent, Omer Yurtseven, and Caleb Martin to keep the team afloat.

While those players have been pleasant surprises, the Heat can’t expect them to be contributors in the playoffs. That’s okay, though, considering they already have an eight-man rotation set for the playoffs, and potentially nine depending on how Victor Oladipo looks when he returns. Simply put, the Heat may already have enough on their roster to both remain a top seed and make a deep playoff run.

Miami sits just $166,443 below the luxury tax line. While they could be open to being taxpayers if the right deal comes along, it would be wise to remain below it this season. They are likely to become taxpayers over the next few seasons with Jimmy Butler’s extension set to kick in, so it would make sense to delay the repeater tax clock by another season. Their proximity to the tax, as well as their lack of sizeable expendable salaries for salary-matching purposes, makes almost any big trade unlikely.

One thing the Heat could do is offload a player that is out of the rotation to create flexibility and a roster spot for additional signings. If the Heat want to convert Martin to a standard contract, they would have to wait until at least March 25 to be able to sign him to a rest-of-season deal while avoiding the luxury tax. If they were to, for example, trade KZ Okpala’s $1.8 million salary without taking anyone back, they would be able to convert Martin now and sign an additional player from the buyout market as well.

Milwaukee Bucks

Donte DiVincenzo, Milwaukee Bucks

Limited position

The Milwaukee Bucks should remain a title contender with their current roster which is projected to cost $203 million in payroll and luxury tax payments combined. Those heavy expenses might prevent them from adding to their payroll and could actually drive them to reduce their $46.1 million luxury tax bill more through trades.

Saving money isn’t necessarily a bad thing in the Bucks’ situation since they have multiple minimum salaried players out of their rotation such as Rodney Hood and Semi Ojeleye. Offloading two minimum salaried players would save roughly $14 million in payroll and luxury tax payments combined. They could then fill those open roster spots with veterans in the buy-out market while keeping most of their savings.

The Bucks are unable to trade a first-round pick this season and only have four-second round picks at their disposal they could move. If they’re looking to make a significant upgrade, their biggest asset that could make sense to move is Donte DiVincenzo. He has struggled to get his shot going in since returning from his ankle injury and has seen a lesser role off the bench so far. It’s possible the Bucks could be open to moving him not just because of their depth at shooting guard, but also his impending restricted free agent status.

With Brook Lopez’s status uncertain for the rest of the season, Milwaukee could try to package him with DiVincenzo and multiple second-round picks for a wing or center upgrade. Perhaps there could be a deal to be done to acquire a big man like Richaun Holmes, Christian Wood, or Jusuf Nurkic. They also look like a team that could really use Robert Covington to fill in for the currently vacated PJ Tucker role in small-ball lineups.

Minnesota Timberwolves

Limited position

The Minnesota Timberwolves are in a good position to qualify for the play-in tournament. They are definitely buyers ahead of the trade deadline but both their close proximity to the luxury tax and lack of valuable players could limit the return they get. They could potentially be the running for some of the top players on the market like Ben Simmons, Myles Turner, or Jerami Grant, but that would probably require multiple first-round draft picks. In terms of salary, filler they have several expendable players with sizeable salaries that can be used for salary matching such as Taurean Prince and Jake Layman.

Minnesota can’t be ruled out as a Simmons suitor despite Philadelphia’s disinterest in a picks-based package. There remains a strong possibility that Simmons will remain with the Sixers past the trade deadline, giving them more time for a star player to potentially become available. If a player such as James Harden or Damian Lillard were to become available, a third team could be needed to acquire Simmons for multiple first-round picks, and that team could be the Timberwolves.

Toronto Raptors

Limited position

The Toronto Raptors are expected to be buyers ahead of the trade deadline. They have a strong starting lineup but there’s a big dropoff afterward, which is shown by their recent seven-man rotations. They need to improve their bench, which will be challenging because outside of their starters, no one else on the roster particularly has positive trade value. To make things even more complicated, they are just $268,540 below the luxury tax. They’ll likely need to offload some salary before making a meaningful trade in order to stay below the luxury tax.

One move that could potentially get them a deeper bench is by trading Goran Dragic. He could become a buy-out candidate but will likely be kept until after the trade deadline since his $19.4 million salary can facilitate a big trade. One thing they can do is trade him to a team seeking expiring contracts for role players. For example, a framework based on Eric Gordon ($18.2 million) for Dragic and multiple second-round picks would save Houston money for next season while giving the Raptors a legitimate sixth man.

Utah Jazz

Joe Ingles, Utah Jazz

Limited position

The Utah Jazz are trying to get over the hump and into the Western Conference Finals after getting into the second round of the playoffs in three of the past five seasons. Their top-12 defense rides on the heels of Rudy Gobert and is almost non-existent outside of him. The Jazz have gone 2-8 in their last 10 games while boasting the league’s 23rd worst defense in that stretch, although injuries have played into that. Still, they may need to make a change or they could have another second-round exit.

The Jazz have been in the market for a defensive-minded wing, according to Shams Charania. Jerami Grant is one of the best available players on the market and would be a significant upgrade defensively to their starting lineup. Some other players they could pursue that have a similar salary as Grant include Harrison Barnes, Robert Covington, and Marcus Morris.

Utah is limited to trading a conditional first-round pick in 2026 and their 2028 first-rounder. They also have five tradeable second-round picks over the next seven drafts at their disposal. Bojan Bogdanovic would be Utah’s easiest player to include in a trade for salary matching purposes, but the Jazz may prefer to move bench players like Joe Ingles or Jordan Clarkson instead.

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