This NBA season has been hard to predict. The condensed grind of the schedule has a third of the league hovering around .500. There are very few teams you can point to and say they are title contenders. There are just as few teams you can say are hopelessly out of the race. The advent of the Play-In Tournament has given more teams hope deeper into a season than ever before. That all sets up for a very unpredictable trade deadline.
At every trade deadline, each team sorts in to one of four categories:
Buyers: Teams that are actively looking to add pieces.
Sellers: Teams that are actively looking to trade players for future assets.
Either: Teams who have some pieces to sell, but will buy in the right deal.
Neither: Teams who will just sit out the deadline and do their work in the summer.
Either. The Hawks aren’t going to do a fire sale or anything approaching one, but they have a few players they’re listening on. John Collins is at the top of that list, as a pending free agent due a max or near-max deal this summer. Atlanta is also continuing a playoff push, so it’ll buy if the price is right.
Buyers. Armed with the largest trade exception in NBA history ($28.5 million), Boston is looking for help. The Celtics know they aren’t one move away from a title run, but they want to shore up their rotation and deliver help for their young stars.
Neither. The Nets aren’t likely making any big trades, because they are about out of assets to do so. But they’ll be active on the buyout market and may have supplanted Los Angeles as the No. 1 destination for ring-chasing veterans.
Neither. The Hornets could be cautious buyers. They could also move an expiring contract or two. More likely, Charlotte sits this one out and continues its playoff push with what it currently has.
Either. Don’t expect fireworks from the Bulls at the deadline. They might move Otto Porter Jr. or buy him out. Chicago could possibly trade Thaddeus Young and Tomas Satoransky, as both veterans could help better teams. The Bulls have even been mentioned as a buyer of sorts. Most likely, Chicago stands relatively pat and evaluates this group together, as they are finally healthy.
Sellers. All vets must go! Andre Drummond won’t make it past the day after the trade deadline. If Drummond is not traded, he’ll be bought out. JaVale McGee may face a similar fate. The Cavs would love to move Kevin Love, but that’s not realistically on the table. If they aren’t on a rookie scale deal, Cleveland is open to talking about any of its players. Larry Nance Jr. is included there, but the Cavaliers will need a lot to move him.
Buyers. The Mavs have a collection of expiring contracts they could put together to make a big move at the deadline. Dallas is also armed with quite a bit of flexibility heading into the offseason. If the Mavericks can swing a pre-agency deal (where they snag a pending free agent they can re-sign), they’ll do it. Beyond that, it might be a smaller move or two to fill out their rotation.
Buyers. Denver is probably best termed as a soft-buyer. The Nuggets aren’t likely to go all-in for a player, but more because that player probably isn’t available vs. reluctance on the Nuggets' part. Like Dallas, a small move or two may come. Mostly, Denver is looking toward better health in the second half.
Sellers. The Pistons are open to talking about any player on their roster that isn’t Jerami Grant or on a rookie scale contract. Troy Weaver took over in mid-June, and only Sekou Doumbouya remains on the roster from then. Weaver is rebuilding this team his way, and that means more trades could be coming.
Golden State Warriors
Neither. Sure, the Warriors could go add someone and increase their already astronomical luxury tax bill. They could also move a veteran or two for youth or draft picks and some tax savings. Most likely, Golden State stands pat and hopes that Stephen Curry can lead them past the Play-In Tournament and back to the playoffs.
Sellers. If your name isn’t Christian Wood or Kevin Porter Jr., you better be renting in Houston. The Rockets are pushing for trades for everyone else on their roster. It’s not likely they’ll find anyone willing to bite on John Wall and probably not Eric Gordon, given his recent injury, but everyone else could move. Expect Houston to be among the most active teams over the next week and a half.
Neither. The Pacers just got Caris LeVert on the floor and are hoping to see T.J. Warren back eventually. They’ll use the rest of this season to evaluate how all of their current players fit together. It could be a very busy offseason, but it’s likely to be a quiet deadline.
Los Angeles Clippers
Buyers. The Clippers would like to firm up their point guard position and maybe add another wing. Because they don’t have much to offer via trade, it’s likely L.A. will do its work on the buyout market.
Los Angeles Lakers
Buyers. The Lakers aren’t likely making any trades. They simply don’t have a lot that they can reasonably offer. But they’ll add at least one player, if not two or three, on the buyout market.
Buyers. Memphis is very much a soft-buyer. The Grizzlies are dangling Gorgui Dieng’s $17.3 million expiring contract to see what they could get. If no one bites, expect the Grizzlies to focus on getting Jaren Jackson Jr. healthy for the Play-In Tournament. It could be a busy summer for Memphis, though.
Buyers. The Heat have been in on a few players, but haven’t wanted to part with the package of players and picks it would take to make moves. That will continue at the trade deadline. Miami has tremendous flexibility heading into the summer. It won’t give that up for a minor upgrade. It’s going to be a big move or nothing.
Buyers. Milwaukee would love to add some more depth behind a very good starting five. Its challenge: The Bucks are out of tradable assets and have little room under the hard cap. It will be a small trade or a buyout addition for the Bucks.
Sellers. The Wolves are open to making moves, but no one seems to want to jump at what they are selling. Malik Beasley is interesting to some teams, but he’s serving a suspension right now. Ricky Rubio could help a few teams shore up their point guard spot, but his contract is a bit expensive for a stopgap player. Feels more like the offseason is when big changes are coming for Minnesota.
New Orleans Pelicans
Sellers. New Orleans isn’t going to trade Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram or Josh Hart. Steven Adams isn’t going anywhere either. Everyone else ranges from available to very available. If the Pelicans can flip some veterans for young players or better fits around the two young stars, they’ll happily do it.
New York Knicks
Buyers. What a turnaround in New York. The Knicks have been annual sellers, but this year are looking to add help for a playoff push. Not Play-In, but playoff. New York has an advantage over most teams, because it still has more than $15 million in available cap space. That makes facilitating moves much easier. Expect the Knicks to be in on the conversation for any big names on the market.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Sellers. Outside of a few of their young players, the Thunder are open to moving anyone on their roster. Al Horford carries a big contract, but he’s looked good this season. OKC would happily move him for even a relatively minor asset in return. George Hill and Trevor Ariza are at the top of all “most likely to have a new team” lists. Expect Sam Presti to come away with a least a few more draft picks before the deadline passes.
Sellers. The Magic aren’t buyers, but they aren’t holding an “Everything must go!” sale either. They’re listening on all of their players, but are asking for a lot to consider moving Nikola Vucevic. Aaron Gordon or Terrence Ross would cost less, but not by much. Orlando is more inclined to move expiring contracts like Evan Fournier, Khem Birch or James Ennis, as they aren’t likely to be a part of the future.
Buyers. It’s the annual “Can the Sixers find some depth and shooting?” part of the trade deadline. The difference this time around is Daryl Morey is in charge. He lives for the deadline. He’s always tinkering with his roster and looking for upgrades. Expect Philadelphia to add some help in the form of a backup stretch four and maybe another playmaker off the dribble.
Buyers. The Suns are buyers at the deadline for the first time in nearly a decade. Oddly enough, Phoenix doesn’t really need all that much. The Suns have solid depth behind good starters at every position. If they could find a big with range to start up front with Deandre Ayton, they’d make a move. Beyond that, the Suns will probably roll with what they have.
Portland Trail Blazers
Buyers. Portland has gone through a lot injury-wise, but sits just a couple games off the pace for homecourt advantage in the Western Conference playoffs. The Blazers have Rodney Hood’s pseudo-expiring (2021-22 is non-guaranteed) $10 million contract to offer in trade. Zach Collins isn’t healthy, but his $5.4 million deal helps in salary-matching, too. If Portland can upgrade its rotation in any way, it’ll do it.
Sellers. It’s an annual tradition for the Kings to be sellers at the trade deadline. This year is no different, except for having a new front office in charge. Sacramento could add some really nice pieces around its young core players by trading away some veterans. Expect the Kings to be very active leading up to the deadline.
San Antonio Spurs
Sellers. The Spurs don’t do in-season trades. The last one was in 2014, and it was a very minor swap of Nando de Colo for Austin Daye. The last major in-season trade San Antonio made was sending Richard Jefferson to Golden State for Stephen Jackson in 2012. This year feels different, because the Spurs are loaded with veterans on expiring contracts. LaMarcus Aldridge will be traded or bought out. DeMar DeRozan, Rudy Gay and Patty Mills could all be dealt. Don’t expect big moves, but don’t write the Spurs off either.
Neither. The Raptors aren’t really in a position to buy or sell. They don’t have a lot of assets to offer to add to their roster right now. And they are too competitive to simply sell off their vets. There is a lot of buzz around Kyle Lowry, but his big contract number makes him hard to move. Never underestimate Masai Ujiri, though. He’ll take a home run swing if he can.
Buyers. Utah is a pretty soft-buyer. The Jazz have their rotation filled out and just added free agent Ersan Ilyasova as a stretch big off the bench. No team in the league knows exactly who they are more than the Jazz. It’s probably going to be a pretty quiet deadline for the current best team in the NBA.
Sellers. Neither Bradley Beal nor the Wizards want a trade. Taking that off the table makes it a far less interesting deadline in Washington. A few guys who are pending free agents could be on the table, but none is probably bringing back a huge return. Anything really exciting will happen in the summer.
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