Don't look now, but we're 50+ games into the regular season, and the trade deadline is just 8 days away. With the extended all-star break this year, the games tonight and tomorrow will be the last chance for GMs to see potential trade-pieces in action before February 18th rolls around. To that end, here is a breakdown of which GMs will be looking to make moves, and which can put their feet up.
OUT OF THE OFFICE
Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs, Charlotte Hornets, New York Knicks, Philadelphia 76ers, Dallas Mavericks, Minnesota Timberwolves
The GMs of these teams can use the all star week to take a little break and put their feet up. They won't be making moves any time soon because they simply don't need to.
In the case of the Warriors and Spurs, it should be pretty clear to the rest of the league that these rosters are set. The LaMarcus Aldridge Experience is turning out to be a wonderful move by R. C. Buford (averaging 27 pts so far in February), and the team continues to gel. The Warriors are in the same position, but somehow with an even better record, and without the burden of trying to incorporate an important new player. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
The Charlotte Hornets and the Dallas Mavericks both find themselves doing a little bit better than most experts had predicted. Charlotte was expected to win about 32 games (26-26 at the moment), and Dallas was supposed to be sub-.500 (currently 29-26). For teams performing so impressively, and probably destined for the playoffs, it doesn't seem likely that they will look to shake things up.
The Mavericks know they are not going to win a championship this year, and they're okay with it. This season was always ultimately about giving Parsons and Matthews some time to get back on their feet, while developing guys like Powell and Evans. Along the way, the Mavs continue to get a lot out of seasoned vets like Dirk and Deron Williams, and a more-than-welcome surprise from Zaza Pachulia, who has earned himself a sizeable contract if not an all-star slot. Dallas has worked very hard to acquire a nice balance of youth and experience, and they're not going to tinker with that in the middle of the season unless something undeniably tantalizing falls in their lap.
Meanwhile, the Charlotte Hornets have become much more than the sum of their parts. Kemba Walker has come up clutch for them at times, but the play of perennial candidate for the ATBNQ award (Almost-There-But-Not-Quite) has been impressive. He might actually be there. Williams is averaging career highs in rebounds, FT%, eFG%, and blocks. Now with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist back in action, the Hornets are finally getting to see all their non-Jefferson pieces in action, and management is just getting a feel for what these guys are capable of. With so much still up in the air, and things trending in the right direction, Rich Cho can use the next week to head out to Wilmington and check out the dope battleship they have there.
The New York Knicks have been about as good as most people (other than eternally-optimistic Knick fans) expected. It turns out Kristaps is a stud, but with Jose Calderon running the point and Sasha Vujacic inexplicably seeing regular rotation minutes, it's no surprise the Knicks are sitting outside the playoff picture. It's not that the Knicks wouldn't like to trade for some new pieces, it's just that they're kind of low on assets. Zinger and Melo aren't going anywhere, and guys like Lance Thomas and Langston Galloway are too young to give up on. Phil Jackson has to look at them and think, "I could probably get some so-so for these guys, but what if Lance and Langston out to be the exact pieces I need?" It's a real Terrence Ross situation. At any rate, the Knicks aren't in a huge rush to win this instant, and it seems like they've already made their big shakeup for the season with firing Derek Fisher.
The last two teams in this category are the Sixers and the TWolves. In 4 or 5 years, these teams are going to be battling for world supremacy, but for right now, they're just learning how to play. The Sixers have some hot young frontcourt talent, and until they see what they have in Joel Embiid, they're unlikely to budge on Noel or Okafor. Everybody else on the roster not named Robert Covington isn't worth much to other teams, and I believe Covington is too good to trade so early in his career). Don't expect to see any moves from the Sixers unless unless they worm their way into a deal to add to their Smaug-ian horde of draft picks.
In Minnesota, the TWolves seem to have two types of players: Old guys nobody wants, and young studs. This year is an important one for Minnesota to transition into the force it is destined to become, and they've already got everything set up to do that. If LaVine's final 30 games are very productive, and he proves he can run the point, look for Minnesota to consider moving Rubio. The offseason may hold change, but the trade deadline will not.
Los Angeles Lakers, Indiana Pacers, Miami Heat, Washington Wizards, Brooklyn Nets, Memphis Grizzlies, Utah Jazz, Portland Trailblazers, Denver Nuggets
The GMs for these teams will be checking their messages and maybe working from home a little over the all-star break, but don't expect big moves from them.
Since the Los Angeles Lakers have dedicated this season to Kobe's farewell tour and Byron Scott's f-u D'Angelo tour, they're not in any rush to win now. They've already got a solid young core in Russell, Randle, and Nance Jr, and it seems unlikely that they'd be willing to move any of those guys. But if somebody were to come calling about a serviceable shooter or big, you can bet that Hibbert, Young, and Lou Williams are all on the table. They're not going to fetch much at the deadline, but if somebody is desperate for 3s, the Lakers might be able to net a pick of some sort.
The Indiana Pacers have looked...interesting this year. Early in the season they looked incredibly dangerous (11-2 in November), but since then they've been playing sub-.500 ball and looking incredibly human. Playing Jordan Hill and Ian Mahinmi big minutes can be tough on your record, but the emergence of Myles Turner has been a delightful surprise, and the Pacers have a lot to look forward as he and Paul George promise to develop into an interesting combo. With all that in mind, it just seems like this Pacers team isn't really poised to make a move. The make-up of their roster still feels pretty new, and it's unclear what kind of assets they could get for a guy like Monta Ellis. It's not impossible that the Pacers make a move, but they are clearly not going to be contenders this year, and they might make use of the next 30 games to decide what direction they're going to head in the offseason.
The Washington Wizards need to have a healthy squad before they start throwing out trade propositions. The Wizards have missed well over 200 games due to injury already, which is obscene. They might consider moving Nene or a very small piece, but most of their guys have got too much potential on too good of a contract to deal right now. If the Wizards are going to consider a move before the all-star break, they might want to look at that coaching spot.
The Brooklyn Nets are here, only because they should make a trade, not because they're going to. Prokhorov has repeatedly said that Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young are untradeable, and so Nets fans are damned to watch this team struggle to win games while also knowing that better days are not ahead. The Nets mortgaged their future for a shot at a title, and now they're prolonging the pain by refusing to give up the pieces that could net them some young assets and picks. That being said, if the right offer comes in from a team who's looking to make a title/playoff run, it just might be possible to change Prokhorov's mind.
Things just got shaken up for Memphis with the news that Marc Gasol has a broken foot. There is a possibility of another shakeup, as Mike Conley's contract is up at the end of this year. If the Grizzlies feel that he is likely to leave in free agency (and there will be no shortage of suitors), then they may elect to deal him now and net a return. However, such a move would basically mean that the Grizzlies are looking toward the future, and are probably moving away from the chunky offense we're used to seeing from them. That would indeed be a big change, and if that's the case then I would expect almost nobody on this team to be off the table. Such a huge overhaul seems unlikely to begin at the all-star break, and I expect the Grizzlies to cling to their playoff spot for one more push.
The Utah Jazz, Portland Trailblazers, and Denver Nuggets all have solid young teams with nice cores. The Jazz have fought through a plague of injuries to climb into playoff position thanks to the emergence of Hood, and the upstart young Blazers are not far behind thanks to the revelation that is CJ McCollum. In Denver, Mudiay is fighting through a shaky rookie season while Jokic, Gallinari, and Barton steady the ship. Each of these teams has a couple of players who could be traded at the deadline (Faried, Foye, Withey, Henderson), but ultimately these teams have great chemistry, and are destined to make some real noise in a couple of years. It is unlikely their GMs will mess with that unless something with big upside comes along.
The final team in this category is the Miami Heat. The Goran Dragic experiment has gone on for 18 months, and frankly, I'm still not sure what the result is. Sometimes he looks like he is in the flow and fits perfectly with the team, and sometimes he looks completely out of sorts. The thing is, with Dragic's contract, it's unclear what teams would be interested, and it's also unclear if the Heat are ready to give up on him just yet. Whiteside is another interesting piece, but again his contract is problematic. A free agent at the end of the year, nobody is going to give up something big for a 3 month rental. As a result, it's likely the Heat will stand Pat (Riley) at the deadline and see what kind of noise they can make in the playoffs.
GLUED TO THEIR PHONES
Cleveland Cavaliers, Chicago Bulls, Milwaukee Bucks, Oklahoma City Thunder, Los Angeles Clippers, Detroit Pistons
The GMs for these teams will be wheeling and dealing over the all star break, making offers to anyone with ears and a roster spot.
The Cleveland Cavaliers aren't going to do anything drastic. Kevin Love is staying put, and Lebron isn't going back to Miami. However, Cleveland does have a lot of big bodies and not a lot of minutes to give to them. If the Cavaliers can move any of their #9-15 bodies for a chance to get even 1% better, they are exactly the type of team to do it. With the Raptors nipping at their heels, and a bunch of juggernauts waiting out west, you can bet that the Cavaliers will be looking for a trade that can take them over the top. There hasn't been much talk about a Cavs trade (other than the nonsensical Kevin Love overreactions), but there wasn't much last year, and we all know how that turned out.
If you asked me a couple months ago, I would have told you that the Chicago Bulls were guaranteed to be a huge player at the trade deadline. But that was before they had injuries to, well, everyone, and started to slide down the standings. Now I am not quite sure what they are going to do. It is unlikely that they will move injured players (that tends not to yield a great return), but almost all of their (desirable) healthy players are young guys who could be a big part of the future. It still feels like the Bulls could move a piece or two, but it is difficult to foresee a trade that doesn't harm them at a time when they are already floundering. Whatever happens, something needs to change in Chicago, because over the last month or so, they've had the same win% as the 76ers.
Remember when the Milwaukee Bucks were going to win 50 games? Smart observers weren't quite that optimistic, but most people had predicted them to be better than 21-32 at this point in the season. It turns out that the MCW trade might not have been so bright, and bringing in Monroe in the offseason requires a real change to the way the Bucks ball. The Milwaukee has got to be disappointed with how the season is going so far, and may look for a trade to shake things up a little. Nothing major, but if they can get a decent return on somebody like MCW, Bayless, or Henson (they can't play him next to Monroe), then they might go for it. If they're feeling really adventurous, they might call up Pat Riley and see what it would take to get the Dragon.
The Oklahoma City Thunder are having a great year. In any other year, a team this good would be favoured to win the title. Westbrook and Durant look positively sensational, and Billy Donovan has introduced some nice action to the stand-around offense that preceded it. This is it for OKC. This year they win the title, or they might be staring down the barrel of a long slow decline as Durant and then Westbrook and Ibaka leave in free agency. As such, the Thunder are going to do everything they can to improve their team. Similar to the Cavaliers, OKC probably won't shift a major piece, but expect McGary, Waiters, and maybe even Kanter (if they can move that contract) to be potential pieces.
The Los Angeles Clippers are in a tough spot. They feel like they are just one move away, which is basically the same place they've been for the past 3 years. That move may be a bigger one than they are willing to do at the deadline (trading Blake), but that doesn't mean they will be completely inactive. The Clippers still have some pieces that other teams would probably be very interested in (Crawford, to name one), and it would be interesting to see what Doc could get for him. I expect the Clippers to be active at the deadline, but I also expect them to run into the same problem they always do: Doc can't manage to make the most out of CP3, Blake, and DeAndre at the same time.
The Detroit Pistons are an obvious pick to be active at the deadline. Since Jennings has returned, we've seen enough glimpses of him to see that he's still got it. And with Reggie balling out (despite his current slip), you can bet Detroit will be throwing out Jennings' name as the deadline. If they can continue to build their bench and bolster their D with a trade, then Detroit just might give somebody a scare in the playoffs.
Toronto Raptors, Boston Celtics, Atlanta Hawks, Orlando Magic, Houston Rockets, Sacramento Kings, New Orleans Pelicans, Phoenix Suns
These GMs are going to be very busy over the next week. They've got the pieces to make a deal, and they're willing to move them.
The Toronto Raptors are in an interesting position. They haven't won a playoff series for well over a decade. But now, playing the best ball of the franchise's history, and ripping off 14 wins in their last 15 games, Toronto just might be in position to not only win a playoff series, but go all the way to the finals. Everybody recognizes the Cavs are still the favourites, but there are beginning to be rumblings that the Raps have what it takes to pull off the upset. Never one to rest on his laurels, look for Masai to hunt down something extra to put the Raptors over the top. It might be the rumoured Markieff Morris trade, or they might see what it takes to change Prokhorov's mind about Young. Whatever the trade, Ujiri will be careful not to upset the chemistry (on and off the court) that has the Raptors playing so well, but Raps fans can expect to wave goodbye to at least one rotation player, maybe one of their young projects, and maybe even the Knicks/Nuggets pick Toronto's been holding onto.
The Boston Celtics have a ton of players and a ton of picks. They seem to have figured somethings out on the way to winning 9 of their last 11, and it seems like the Celtics will almost certainly look to do something at the deadline. David Lee isn't getting rotation minutes, and the Celtics have enough big guys that Sullinger or Zeller could be shifted with little downside. The Celtics also have a a wealth of strong players in the backcourt and a Sixers-level number of picks, so if big names like Al Horford start getting thrown around as the deadline approaches, you can bet Boston will be involved.
The Atlanta Hawks have two starting-caliber point guards, some very attractive frontcourt players, and seem to be stuck in a rut, losing 7 of their last 11. The Hawks may wind up waiting until the offseason, but with relatively few teams looking to sell at the deadline, a good offer might emerge from one of the many teams trying to put themselves over the top. There have already been rumours that Atlanta is considering moving Teague, and if that happens, you can bet that more moves will follow as Atlanta changes their championship timeline.
The Orlando Magic have got a ton of young talent, but the pieces just don't seem to fit together. Oladipo and Payton have never seemed to be able to play together, and the same goes for Gordon and Harris. If the Magic can move any of those players, you can bet they'll get some very nice assets in return, which will help them continue their ascent through the ranks. Potential trade partners could include the Pelicans, Knicks, or 76ers, all of whom could use a quality point guard.
The Houston Rockets have got to be disappointed. Last year they were in the conference finals, and after tonight they might not even be in playoff position. It's clear this assembly of players isn't working out, and Morey is not one to wait around when it's obvious a change needs to happen. The Rockets trading any player besides James Harden would be pretty unsurprising, and you can bet Morey will be working to get something done so the Rockets can at least make the playoffs. Here's a trade that won't happen at the deadline, but it's one I haven't seen anyone throw out there before: James Harden for Blake Griffin. It's a little crazy I know, and the Rockets would need to re-tool some of their other positions, but if they are doubtful that they can make things work with Harden, this could be a way out.
The Sacramento Kings are complete wildcards. They might trade nobody, or they might make a snap decision to trade their entire roster. There haven't been many Kings trade rumours, but it's clear that Ranadive is getting antsy for some change, and if he can't change the coach then I expect him to try and change some personnel. They could trade anybody besides Cousins (and probably Rondo), and I have no idea what they'd even be looking to get back. Somebody who can play defense, ideally, as they've now given up 120+ in three straight games. If they give up 120 to the 76ers tonight, that "trade the entire roster" scenario might not be so far-fetched.
The Pelicans have a bad roster, and it's time to do something about it. The problem is, two of their best trade assets are injured right now, and so only teams who have given up on this season will be interested in them. That being said, guys like Ryan Anderson are still very desirable, and if you can use him to offload Asik's terrible contract and get a couple high potential guys or picks, it could be a great deadline for the Pellies. Only Anthony Davis is a must-keep, so hopefully New Orleans can use that flexibility to build a team that suits his game a bit more. They need to pair him up with a point guard, so Detroit, Orlando, and Atlanta are all worth a look.
The Phoenix Suns have a nice young backcourt in Goodwin and Booker. They also have a nice young backcourt in Knight and Bledsoe. This could turn into the too many guards situation all over again, but at least the Suns have got some young talent in their corner. It's clear they are looking to trade Markieff, and there will be no shortage of trade partners, but watch to see if the Suns move any other pieces as it has become very clear that their timeline is a lot longer than they'd hoped.
Overall, this trade deadline is sure to be an interesting one. With many teams clawing for position, and a few teams who need a shakeup, you can bet that we're in for a week full of rumours, and hopefully a few game-changing trades.