NBA's Most Desperate Teams Heading into Trade Deadline
The Feb. 21 NBA trade deadline is fast approaching, and several teams around the league are desperate to make a move.
Past the midway point in the season, most team executives have concluded whether their team is a pretender or contender. Teams in contention will be looking to add players who can take them to the next level, whether that is the playoffs or a championship.
Those out of the running have begun formulating their offseason plans and view the trade deadline as an opportunity to shed salary or begin the rebuilding process. As always, draft picks and expiring contracts are valuable commodities for the financial flexibility they provide.
Some general managers are still not sure whether they will be buyers or sellers at the trade deadline and are waiting to see how their teams respond over the next few weeks. Others are intent on receiving something in return for their pending free agents.
Over the next few weeks, many player and team names will surface in trade rumors. Ultimately, most teams will stand pat, but the desperate franchises cannot afford to do the same.
Updated by Zach Buckley on Jan. 31, 2013.
5. Toronto Raptors
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The Toronto Raptors made the first big splash of the 2013 trade season, landing Rudy Gay in a six-player, three-team trade with the Memphis Grizzlies and Detroit Pistons (via ESPN.com).
The addition of Gay is a welcome sight for a team that had struggled to find consistency from the small forward position, but that doesn't mean team president and general manager Bryan Colangelo is finished.
He's a unique talent, but sometimes a change of address is not bad. I'm not saying he's asked for a trade, but he would certainly not fight or resist a situation if it was the right situation.
When healthy, Bargnani can put up points.
Torn ligaments in his right elbow have limited him to just 21 games this season, but he's still poured in 16 points per game. He tallied better than 19 points per game in each of the past two seasons.
But he won't be an easy sell around the league. For starters, the Raptors will have to convince potential trade partners that his elbow is healthy enough for him to be at his best stretch 4 effectiveness.
There's also that unsightly $23 million remaining on his contract beyond this season. With the club now on the hook for over $37 million to Gay for the next two seasons (assuming he exercises his player option in 2014-15), Bargnani is one financial burden the team would love to shed off their books.
But making an eight-figure commitment to a player who already doesn't rebound well (4.9 career rebounds per game) and has struggled with his shot this season (39.8 field-goal percentage) is something that would give any team reservations.
4. Atlanta Hawks
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Danny Ferry unloaded the contracts of Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams within his first weeks as the Atlanta Hawks general manager last summer. Now he faces the toughest personnel decision to date: what to do with Josh Smith.
Smith, a multi-talented player in the prime of his career, will be an unrestricted free agent this summer and is expected to seek a maximum salary. According to Hoopsworld.com, Atlanta has just $18.5 million in guaranteed contracts next season and could afford to re-sign Smith.
The question is: Do the Hawks want to build their franchise around a borderline All-Star? And, perhaps more importantly, does J-Smoove want to remain in Atlanta?
There are signs that the relationship between Smith and the Hawks is beginning to unravel. According to ESPN.com, the team suspended Smith for a game against the Brooklyn Nets on Jan. 17 for "conduct detrimental to the team" following an incident at practice.
CBSSports.com's Ken Berger reported that Smith's agent, Wallace Prather, met with Ferry to discuss Smith's frustration with the direction of the team. Though Prather did not request a trade, Berger reported:
Multiple rival executives confirmed that the Hawks have participated in trade conversations with several teams regarding Smith, a 27-year-old game-changing defender when engaged.
Atlanta is currently 25-19, and with the loss of sixth man Lou Williams to a torn ACL, the Hawks do not have the firepower to make a deep playoff run. They must build for the future.
Teams will be reluctant to give up too much for Smith, knowing that they can sign him outright this summer. However, Ferry cannot afford to risk losing his star forward without receiving something in return. An athletic wing and/or a power forward to replace Smith would be ideal.
3. Utah Jazz
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The Utah Jazz have built a competitive team—currently 24-21 and winners of seven out of their last 10—around the post games of Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap, both of whom will become unrestricted free agents this summer.
It is difficult to imagine the Jazz, who are currently seventh in the Western Conference, winning a playoff series. With the Lakers coming on, Utah is not a lock to make the playoffs, and if it does, it will likely face either the Oklahoma City Thunder, Los Angeles Clippers or San Antonio Spurs in the first round.
With talented youngsters Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter waiting in the wings, The Jazz are not going to re-sign both Jefferson and Millsap. Now is the time to try and receive something in return for their primary low-post threats.
Utah can use its two big men to upgrade at either backcourt spot. Randy Foye and Gordon Hayward can knock down threes, but neither scores consistently enough to be a reliable starting shooting guard.
Coach Ty Corbin has been forced to start an over-the-hill Jamaal Tinsley at the point while Mo Williams recovers from a broken thumb. Williams is best suited as a sixth man and has an early-termination option on his contract after this season.
Two backup point guards that the Jazz may inquire about are Eric Bledsoe of the Los Angeles Clippers and Eric Maynor, who has fallen out of the rotation in Oklahoma City.
The Houston Rockets could be an ideal landing spot for Millsap. A deal centered around rookies Terrence Jones and Royce White and/or draft picks would benefit both teams.
2. Dallas Mavericks
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The Dallas Mavericks struck out on Deron Williams and Dwight Howard last summer and are currently four-and-a-half games out of the last playoff spot in the Western Conference.
Dirk Nowitzki is not happy.
Nowitzki is 34 years old and has battled knee problems the past two seasons; his time as an elite player in this league is winding down. He expressed his frustration publicly after a loss to the lowly New Orleans Hornets (via Tim MacMahon of ESPNDallas.com).
The Mavs are replete with veterans on the downside of their careers, and their best player this season, O.J. Mayo, has the ability to opt out of his contract this summer. Dallas either needs another superstar to pair with Nowitzki or an infusion of youth to begin rebuilding.
The Mavericks have just $27.9 million in salary guaranteed for next season. However, there are not likely to be many top-line free agents on the market. Mavs owner Marc Cuban has expressed a desire to upgrade his team before the trade deadline, telling Tim MacMahon of ESPNDallas.com:
We're letting everybody know that the "Bank of Cuban" is open. 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.
Dallas would likely throw its hat in the ring if the Los Angeles Lakers made Pau Gasol or Dwight Howard available. Unfortunately, the Mavs do not have much to offer other than draft picks and expiring contracts.
If Dallas makes a run over the next few weeks, Cuban may make a move for a veteran point guard to help the Mavs compete for a playoff spot. Minnesota's Luke Ridnour would be a player to keep an eye on.
1. Boston Celtics
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The Boston Celtics brought the band back together for one final run, but when Rajon Rondo tore the ACL in his right knee, their season came crashing down with him.
The team needs to rebuild. Their championship window closed last spring in Miami. The Celtics were just 20-23 with their All-Star point guard in the lineup, so the injury to Rondo just made Danny Ainge's decision to break up the team that much easier.
According to Kurt Helin of Probasketballtalk.com, Ainge said he expects Rondo back by training camp. That sounds overly optimistic, and even if the point guard meets his general manager's timeline, he likely will not be full strength until the 2014-15 season. By that time, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett will be 37 and 38 years old, respectively.
Boston must try and move Pierce and/or Garnett while they still have some value. There has been a lot of speculation that Ainge would never trade Pierce, who has spent his entire career in Celtics green, but if Patrick Ewing can play his final season with the Orlando Magic and Hakeem Olajuwon can wrap up his career with the Toronto Raptors, Pierce can don another uniform as well.
The Celtics forward has lost a step but can still create his own shot and would provide a huge lift for a contender in need of perimeter scoring. The Los Angeles Clippers struggle to score in the half court at times and could use the 10-time All-Star's services.
KG is still highly coveted around the league as an elite pick-and-roll defender, though the no-trade clause in his contract could make it difficult to move him. Veterans Jason Terry and Jeff Green should also be on the trading block.
Boston is looking for young, athletic pieces it can build around in return.
If Boston decides to go the other direction and make a run at the playoffs this season, it will need to make a move for a point guard. Bradley and Leandro Barbosa are not capable of running an offense.