The NBA's trade deadline is Feb. 21, and these teams are the most likely to make a deal to improve their team. What makes the looming cutoff so intriguing is how the definition of "improve" can vary from team to team.
For struggling (or just incomplete) teams that hope to advance far in this season's playoffs, it means exactly what you would think it means: They want to get better immediately by acquiring better players.
Other franchises will define "improve" differently, however, instead looking further ahead in an attempt to ensure they have long-term salary-cap flexibility and a few young prospects who can grow into their roles.
Nevertheless, general managers throughout the league will be fielding countless phone calls regarding their players, and several seemed poised to make a deal.
No high-level player has come up in more trade talks than Rudy Gay.
The Memphis Grizzlies have reportedly discussed trading their 26-year-old swingman for players including the Orlando Magic's J.J. Redick and the Phoenix Suns' Jared Dudley, but so far there is reportedly little interest from GMs around the league.
The Grizzlies seem unlikely to give Gay away. In fact, some say they are asking for too much.
He is a productive, if underperforming, player, and the team still has high hopes for the postseason despite its relatively middling play following its tremendous performance in November.
Memphis has often been in trade talks that have fallen apart at the last minute in recent years, with O.J. Mayo's name often coming up in proposed deals last season even more than Gay's has this season. So it would not be surprising to see the Grizzlies play the field, find no suitors and continue on their current course.
Then again, a few teams appear to be a clear step ahead of Memphis in the West, so a shakeup may pay as many dividends this season as it would for the future.
Given all the controversy surrounding the Sacramento Kings' possible move to Seattle, the drama clouding the team's franchise player, DeMarcus Cousins, has been pushed to the back burner.
That doesn't mean that this roster is stable, however.
The team remains incomplete—to put it nicely—so regardless of whether it will be Cousins or somebody else who is moved, nobody would be shocked to see Sacramento pull off a trade before the deadline.
As witnessed when the New Orleans Hornets were up for sale, prospective buyers often like to see a franchise rid itself of long-term financial commitments—namely guaranteed salary—before they make a purchase.
After their sale, the Hornets' new ownership also wasted no time carving out even more salary cap flexibility to remake the team as it saw fit.
If not Cousins, guys like Chuck Hayes, Jason Thompson, John Salmons and Marcus Thornton could wind up being moved.
Somehow, the Los Angeles Lakers always seem to land on their feet.
Then the Lakers won a few titles.
After that reign ran its course and the Lakers fell off to such a degree that they lost their last two second-round playoff series eight games to one, it again looked like Los Angeles was in for a prolonged downturn.
Then, somehow, with very few tradeable assets of which to speak, the team traded for Dwight Howard and signed Steve Nash as a free agent.
We now know that this wasn't the panacea that it seemed to be at the time. This team, which was just beaten easily by the Miami Heat on national television, is deeply flawed.
The Lakers need to do something.
How? Who knows. They lack tradeable assets.
But it's the Lakers. They always manage to do something.
Until an ugly loss to the New Orleans Hornets on Wednesday night, the Boston Celtics were playing some excellent basketball. Well, it may not have been pretty every night, but they were winning.
A six-game winning streak can solve a lot of discontent. The fact that the return of Avery Bradley has coincided with this improvement could also do a lot to calm GM Danny Ainge's nerves and make him reconsider any big moves.
But Ainge also isn't afraid to make a large, potentially unpopular deal if he thinks it will help Boston compete for the long term. The Kendrick Perkins-for-Jeff Green trade is evidence enough of that.
So with the Celtics' name continually coming up alongside DeMarcus Cousins-related rumors, Leandro Barbosa reportedly asking for a trade (something he and Ainge both have said never happened) and other reports surfacing that the team may be considering a deal, it seems more likely than not that Ainge pulls the trigger on something before the trade deadline.
It may not be a big move, it may not be for Cousins, and it may not involve any of the "big three," but expect Boston to make at least some deal in the next month.
Before the new year, ESPN's Marc Stein reported that Andrea Bargnani was "a lock to be moved" by the Toronto Raptors.
One source close to the situation said Friday that Bargnani remains "a lock to be moved." That naturally depends on finding a taker for the underachieving Italian forward, but Lowry's contract shouldn't be too hard to attach to a trade, valued at $5.8 million this season and with only $1 million guaranteed of the $6.2 million he's owed next season.
More recently, people have started to wonder what the actual point is in continuing to have both Kyle Lowry and Jose Calderon on the same team.
Calderon, who will be a free agent this summer, has been the preferred point guard option of Raptors coach Dwane Casey, but the team's front office clearly prefers Lowry—or at least they did when they gave up a lottery pick to acquire him this summer.
Grantland's Zach Lowe recently speculated on this difference of opinion and the futures of the two players.
It’s a step too far to suggest there's a bitter divide between the front office and the coaching staff on Lowry. But there is at least a difference of opinion, and how the team handles that is crucial as the Raptors work to assemble a core that might be able to contend in a post-Miami world. Calderon will be a free agent this summer, and though he’ll be 32 by the start of next season, folks around the league expect his competent play will still command something in the $6 million to $9 million range on the open market. Lowry’s contract expires after next season. Giving both market value is a waste of resources.
Add a cast of young, quality players—namely Jonas Valanciunas, Terrence Ross and Ed Davis—and the Raptors have both the pieces and the motivation to make a move.
Everybody wants J.J. Redick. He is one of the league's best shooters, a high-level defensive player and a consummate professional. His contract also expires at the end of the year.
If the Orlando Magic don't think he will re-sign to play for a rebuilding team mired in salary-cap constraints, they would be wise to move him now to get something in return before he walks away for nothing.
According to Steve Kyler of Hoopsworld, they are trying.
Sources close to the situation said recently that Orlando has been involved in virtually every trade scenario out there and that Assistant GM Scott Perry has been aggressive in looking at everything that is possible.
The Magic did have some discussions with the Memphis Grizzlies regarding Rudy Gay, but ultimately bowed out due to Gay’s massive contract (two more years and $37.1 million) and a belief that he isn’t necessarily a good fit in Orlando.
The Magic have made it clear that they would entertain offers for almost anyone on the roster, which is exactly what a 14-win team should do that’s lacking a proven, go-to player.
Kyler also notes that the Magic have a lot of options since they have a lot whole war chest of assets that GMs around the league covet.
The team has a traded-player exception that will allow it to take on up to $18 million in extra salary, Redick and Josh McRoberts both have expiring deals, and young players like Nikola Vucevic and Moe Harkless are performing well. And after the Dwight Howard trade, Orlando has, as Kyler puts it, "a drawer full of draft picks."
With both the motivation and the assets to improve now, it seems certain that they will make a trade.
The only questions are when and how big it will be.
It's a near certainty that the Dallas Mavericks are going to make a deal.
"We're letting everybody know that the 'Bank of Cuban' is open," Cuban said Monday night, a couple of days after declaring that there was a "100 percent chance" the Mavs would aggressively pursue trade opportunities before the Feb. 21 deadline.
"If it's the right deal, we don't mind taking back money. But we're not going to do a trade just to do a trade. It's got to be worthwhile."
The Mavericks would be well-advised to do SOMETHING, especially after Dirk Nowitzki's recent frustrated comments, per ESPN Dallas.
With so many expiring contracts and a ton of cap space to play with this offseason, the Mavs already have the flexibility to be major players at the trade deadline.
That's good, because they haven't been serious contenders on the court and are currently sitting outside playoff picture.
Presumably, everybody except for Dirk is up for grabs.