5 NBA Teams Guaranteed to Be Buyers Heading into the 2013 NBA Trade Deadline
With the waiting period for the Feb. 21 trade deadline reduced to just weeks, the likely participants in basketball's greatest auction have emerged.
Some of these teams hold legitimate championship hopes, but could still stand to support their current rosters with the type of talent capable of transforming them from hopefuls to contenders.
Others are simply looking to punch their postseason tickets. With each passing day, the playoff picture becomes that much clearer. And the need for these clubs to reinforce their rosters has never looked greater.
A lot will happen between now and the deadline. Superstars will be rumored to be available. Some of them may actually don a new jersey before the month is over, while the rest will receive (half-hearted?) words of encouragement from their current employers.
These teams may sacrifice fan favorites, up-and-comers or financial flexibility for the opportunity to realize lofty goals set forth by ownership through various plans of attack carried out by executive staffs.
Although lacking a crystal ball, a bit of preparation and logic can go a long way toward identifying the potential buyers on what could be a very bullish market.
With the team's once-burning desire to bring Dwight Howard to Brooklyn rightfully extinguished, the franchise can finally focus on a more immediate need of finding frontcourt help.
While Brook Lopez has looked sensational (18.7 points, 7.7 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game), he still lacks a reliable running mate on the interior.
As the Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers inch closer to a clean bill of health, the Nets' (28-19) hopes for home-court advantage in the first round appear in jeopardy.
Don't expect owner Mikhail Prokhorov to idly watch his team slowly slide back down the same Eastern Conference standings they had spent most of interim coach P.J. Carlesimo's tenure climbing.
Sam Amico of FoxSportsOhio.com listed the Nets as a potential destination for Utah Jazz forward Paul Millsap. Millsap could be the odd man out in Utah thanks to an expiring $7.2 million contract and a glut of big men on the Jazz roster.
Amico adds that whichever team pries Millsap out of Utah would do so with the confidence that they could re-sign the versatile big man over the summer. Considering Prokhorov's deep pockets and the relatively short championship window for a Deron Williams-Joe Johnson backcourt, it's tough to imagine Millsap pricing himself out of Brooklyn's future.
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The Rockets (26-23, eighth in the Western Conference) are fighting for their playoff lives.
And their 9-18 record against conference foes doesn't bode confidence in the current roster's ability to hold off the teams directly below them in the standings.
So it's of little surprise that the Rockets are making some of the loudest noise on the rumor mill of late.
With the Indiana Pacers opening up discussions for the soon-to-return Danny Granger, Houston has emerged as a suitor for the 29-year-old wing (according to Sam Amico of FoxSportsOhio.com).
Granger, who has yet to play a game this season while dealing with a knee injury, would not come free of risk. But if he's healthy, he could be the consistent scoring threat the Rockets would love to pair alongside James Harden. Granger has averaged better than 18.7 points per game in each of the past five seasons.
But Granger won't be their only target either.
Expect the Rockets to make a concerted push for Atlanta Hawks forward Josh Smith. The free-agent-to-be is among the hottest names on the trade market. His game should blend seamlessly with Houston's frenzied offensive attack (105.1 points per game, second in the NBA), and he would be the kind of superstar addition that Houston has been seeking.
The team has also shown interest in Los Angeles Lakers big man Pau Gasol in the past.
Los Angeles Clippers
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While no one expects this team to succeed in the All-Star's absence, their recent struggles have renewed focus on the depth concerns that had been silenced by the team's scorching start to the season.
The team can compensate for some of that depth with the eventual returns of both Paul and Chauncey Billups.
But there are no saviors waiting in the wings for the Clippers (34-16) frontcourt. Lamar Odom (3.8 points per game, 39.1 field-goal percentage) continues to disappoint, and Ronny Turiaf (2.1 PPG) and Ryan Hollins (2.4 PPG) appear capable of no more than spot duty.
Although their rumored interest in Boston Celtics center Kevin Garnett has since been widely denied (including by league sources who spoke with Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times), there's clearly a need for an interior upgrade here.
Paul's impending free agency may hinder the team's ability to entertain talks regarding up-and-coming floor general Eric Bledsoe, but there are a bevy of perimeter players on the roster who could bring a reserve big in return.
Portland Trail Blazers
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No one gets more from his starting five than Portland coach Terry Stotts gets from his.
And that's not necessarily a compliment.
The Trail Blazers have one of the most complete starting fives in the NBA, but may lack the supporting cast needed to secure a playoff berth in a deep Western Conference.
Despite the effectiveness of starting center J.J. Hickson (13 points and 10.8 rebounds per game), the team appears to have made upgrading the position a priority. It's not a knock on Hickson, but rather the realization that the 6'9", 242-pounder has spent this season playing out of position.
Free-agent-to-be Nikola Pekovic (Minnesota Timberwolves) has reportedly already caught their eye (according to Chris Haynes of Comcast SportsNet).
While the team has the financial stability to sign Pekovic outright over the summer, they may not be able to wait that long to make their move. Given the big man's continued improvement (15.9 points on 51 percent shooting, 8.6 rebounds per game) and Minnesota's struggles, the Timberwolves could be looking to move him while they can still bring back something of value in return.
Pekovic has played himself into deserving a hefty pay raise this summer, but remember, this is the same franchise that threw a max contract offer at Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert last year.
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The Raptors landed the first prized piece of the 2013 trade season, plucking the potent Rudy Gay from the Memphis Grizzlies in a three-team, six-player trade.
But in order for this club to rediscover the relevance that followed Chris Bosh out the door in the summer of 2010, Toronto general manager Bryan Colangelo can't afford to stop at one major acquisition.
And Colangelo appears far from content at this point. In fact, he's even acknowledged a willingness for the team to enter luxury-tax territory in the right deal.
He's actively shopping stretch forward Andrea Bargnani, a player that just so happens to fit perfectly with Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni's offensive system. It also happens that the Raptors reportedly consider Pau Gasol a player worthy of making that luxury-tax jump (according to what one source told ESPN.com's Marc Stein.)
The Raptors have already shown a willingness to overpay for proven talent through their acquisition of Gay, who's owed $17.9 million next season and holds a $19.3 million player option for 2013-14. If the Raptors can't bolster the supporting cast around Gay, that contract has ghastly potential for the near future.
Given the daunting task presented by pursuing Gasol (which includes the Lakers' reluctance to move him without an assurance that Dwight Howard will remain with the team beyond this season), it's safe to assume that Gasol is not the only player on Toronto's radar.