When faced with the NBA trade deadline, there are two things that all general managers fear.
One is paying luxury taxes. The other is letting a free agent walk away in the offseason and getting nothing in return. These two fears are also tremendous motivators.
The league has buyers and sellers, contenders and also-rans, spendthrifts and tightwads; and making the wrong transaction can be devastating.
Whether a team is in the playoff hunt or not, shrewd maneuvers at the deadline can deliver victories in the present and the future. They can also increase a team's flexibility under the league's modified salary cap and luxury tax.
While some teams are more "desperate" than others to make a move this week, the presence of urgency should not degrade the soundness of a transaction.
These are six teams that desperately need to make a move.
Perhaps someone needs to inform the Philadelphia 76ers that the rules of basketball dictate the winner is the team that scores the most points.
Through 51 games, they are averaging 92.3 points per game, the second lowest total in the NBA.
And that's not just due to the team's slow pace of play, as seven other NBA teams average fewer possessions per game than Philly, and all seven average more points scored. The 76ers also score the fourth fewest points in the league per 100 possessions (per ESPN).
Only the Phoenix Suns, Charlotte Bobcats and Washington Wizards are worse.
It's actually surprising that the Sixers are just four games out of playoff contention. While they do play strong defense, their minus-3.1 point differential is not encouraging.
Maybe the plan is to mail it in for the rest of the year and wait for Andrew Bynum to finally get on the court. But there's no need for such complacency.
The Philadelphia Inquirer's John Mitchell reported the Atlanta Hawks were asking for Spencer Hawes and Evan Turner in a swap for Josh Smith (15.2 points per game for his career). Sam Amico of Fox Sports Ohio reports the Toronto Raptors are offering Andrea Bargnani (career scoring average of 15.4).
And the Sixers don't seem motivated to acquire either one of them. If Jrue Holiday has to keep doing it all by himself while the front office waits for Bynum, they can kiss their playoff chances goodbye.
Maybe that's why seats are selling for pennies (per USA Today).
The Utah Jazz are in the thick of the playoff hunt in the West. At 30-24, they're in seventh place and 12 games out of first.
But the Houston Rockets are nipping at their heels, and sources have told me that the L.A. Lakers are still trying to make the playoffs too.
Currently, the Jazz have are absolutely stacked at the four and five—Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors—but they lack a solid point guard since Mo Williams has been sidelined due to a thumb injury that required surgery.
And Williams will be an unrestricted free agent in the offseason.
Jefferson and Millsap will also become unrestricted free agents this summer and there's no way Utah can sign them both. While Jefferson makes almost twice as much as Millsap, their stats are somewhat similar.
But Millsap will still command less money in free agency, so a trade partner might see him as easier to re-sign and thus the more valuable target.
ESPN's Ramona Shelburne and Marc Stein reported the Jazz were talking to the L.A. Clippers about exchanging Millsap for Eric Bledsoe. That would solve the Jazz's glut of big men and give them a point guard to help sort out their backcourt.
Bledsoe is signed through 2014 and then will become a restricted free agent, but the Clippers might be thinking it's time to sell high on their backup point guard and show Chris Paul they want to win now.
The Chicago Bulls have been charging ahead while Derrick Rose continues to rehab, but there's a storm looming on the horizon: luxury taxes.
Next season, per the new CBA, a repeater tax will be instituted and the Bulls would have to pay the NBA's luxury tax for the first time in franchise history.
According to Ken Berger at CBSSports.com, "Teams that have used their full mid-level exception this season (Boston) or bi-annual exception (Chicago) are hard-capped at $74 million."
So the Bulls need to shed salary somehow, and perhaps the most movable candidate is veteran Richard Hamilton. He's owed $5 million a year for this season and next, and shifting that money off the books would give Chicago a little wiggle room going into the offseason.
Aggrey Sam of CSN Chicago had Hamilton linked to the Phoenix Suns back in December. And Hamilton is not the only trade chip.
K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune wrote Thursday that league sources claimed the Toronto Raptors could get Carlos Boozer and Nate Robinson for Andrea Bargnani and John Lucas III "whenever they wanted."
Despite being in the thick of a playoff hunt and Boozer enjoying a fine renaissance this season, Chicago is still looking to deal him. At least a trade is better than amnestying him.
The Houston Rockets are a fun team to watch play. Just a couple of weeks ago, they tied the NBA record with 23 three-pointers against the Golden State Warriors.
Wow. I guess that's what happens when one combines James Harden with Linsanity (aka, Jeremy Lin) . The Rockets lead the league in scoring at 106.1 points per game.
But there's a dark underbelly to the Rockets' style. They lack size in the frontcourt and play poor defense. That's partly why they allow 103.3 points a night. Only the Sacramento Kings give up more.
It's not all doom and gloom for Houston's defense, however. They give up a lot of points because they average more possessions per game than any team in the league.
In terms of points allowed per 100 possessions, they're actually 22nd in the league, which isn't nearly as bad as 29th (per ESPN).
While Houston gets some nice scoring out of their starting forwards, Chandler Parsons and Patrick Patterson, both players lack the physicality or experience for effective rebounding and interior defense.
Omer Asik can't dominate the frontcourt all by himself.
The Rockets are in eighth place, but the Portland Trail Blazers and Lakers are in their rear view. Houston will be crawling toward the playoffs if they can't find a way to play better defense.
Making a move for a guy like Paul Millsap or even Josh Smith could put this squad in line to run-and-gun their way to some upsets come playoff time.
When you actually look at the numbers, you have to wonder what on earth Otis Smith was thinking when he was the Orlando Magic's GM.
Smith was replaced by Rob Hennigan on the heels of the Dwight Howard saga, but he left a wide swath of destruction behind him.
Which team has the third highest salary bill this season? That's right, the 15-37 Magic. And it doesn't get much better next year.
Hedo Turkoglu and Al Harrington are owed a total of $37 million over the next two seasons alone. Worse still, Harrington—who has yet to play for the Magic—is signed through 2015 (per HoopsHype.com).
And this is after amnestying Gilbert Arenas' humongous contract!
Yes, Hennigan has his work cut out for him this offseason.
There are only two expiring contracts of any significance this summer, namely J.J. Redick and Josh McRobert. And only Redick has any trade value.
It's hard to imagine the Magic re-signing Redick who will be an unrestricted free agent this summer. Orlando is already on the hook for $74 million next season.
And Redick's name has been linked to a laundry list of teams including the New York Knicks (per Alex Kennedy of HOOPSWORLD via Twitter), Milwaukee Bucks (per Ken Berger of CBSSports.com), Chicago Bulls, and Indiana Pacers (h/t Kennedy).
If Orlando doesn't plan to re-sign Redick, they should sell high and try to dump some salary (Quentin Richardson?) along with him. They'll surely bank another draft pick as well. That will lessen Hennigan's offseason workload slightly.
Monta Ellis misses 100 percent of the shots he doesn't take. He's also misses 60 percent of the shots he does take this season and 77 percent of his attempts from three-point range.
For a variety of reasons, the backcourt of Ellis and Brandon Jennings just isn't coming to fruition like the Milwaukee Bucks had hoped. Both guards are shooting 40 percent from the field.
And yet the team is still hovering above .500 and they're in line for the final playoff spot.
Ken Berger of CBSSports.com has unraveled the complicated landscape facing the Bucks ahead of the trade deadline.
Ellis is expected to decline his player option and test the tepid waters of free agency (per Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe). Jennings will become a restricted free agent, but Milwaukee has proved unwilling to grant him a long-term, big-money contract in the past.
The Bucks also have several expiring contracts to work with, including Beno Udrih, Samuel Dalembert and Mike Dunleavy (per HoopsHype.com).
A host of options sit before Milwaukee GM John Hammond. His first step, according to Berger, is to move Monta Ellis, who has been tied in with the Josh Smith sweepstakes (per ESPN's Marc Stein).
A trade for Smith would also give the Bucks his Bird rights, so they could give him a five-year deal as opposed to the four-year offers he would get from every other team.
The next step would be to trade Jennings for a player with more long-term appeal to the Bucks. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports has J.J Redick as a "major target" for them.
Berger also writes that "one valuable piece who could be added to the mix is Luc Mbah a Moute." One rumored deal packages him and a first-round pick for Redick. That way, the Bucks would get to keep Jennings and have right of first refusal over him as an RFA.
A backcourt of Redick and Jennings would be very potent when combined with Josh Smith at the four. It just might be tough to get all the dominoes to fall by Thursday afternoon's deadline.