The parity in the NBA and the large playoff field typically don't help trades go down.
One of the reasons you see so many deals in baseball, for example, is because there are clear lines drawn. There are teams that can win a title and teams that can't. There are buyers and sellers.
That's not usually the case in the NBA, but this year the differences between the league's elite and the cellar-dwellers are pretty distinct. Fewer teams are gravitating toward the middle. The teams that are really bad want to be bad, and the teams that are great know they need to reach the next level to have a chance against the likes of the Oklahoma City Thunder and Miami Heat.
What that should create, hypothetically, is a very active trade deadline with teams that are clearly looking to buy and teams that are clearly looking to sell. Here are some of the teams that could be in action at the Feb. 20 deadline.
The Phoenix Suns haven't been secretive about wanting to add a player for a playoff run. The Suns have been linked recently to Pau Gasol and the Los Angeles Lakers, via ESPN's Marc Stein, and Emeka Okafor's expiring contract could be attractive to multiple teams.
If Phoenix wants to buy, it should be able to fairly easily, as the team is loaded with draft picks, young players and Okafor's expiring deal. Phoenix might be the team best prepared to make a big splash on the trade market.
The Suns don't necessarily need to make a trade given their overall direction, but general manager Ryan McDonough has said that trading for a star has been part of the plan for a while now. Here's what he told Scott Howard-Cooper at NBA.com earlier this year:
I think one of the things that’s important for people to realize is that we may not draft four players even if we have four picks. Our preference would probably be to maybe package a few of them. We’re obviously all looking for stars and we feel like we can put together a package as good, if not better, than any other team in the league if and when a star becomes available. That’s kind of generally what we’ve wanted to do, not only with our draft-pick situation but also with the cap space that we’ve acquired.
It would be a bit of a surprise to see the Suns keep Okafor and his contract that's partially covered by insurance. There are so many cash-strapped teams around the league, and the Suns could use a star big man if they want to make some serious noise in the playoffs.
Philadelphia is the place to shop if you're a buyer, as it seems like nearly everyone on the roster could be had for the right price. Here's Keith Pompey from the Philadelphia Inquirer explaining what that price may be:
The 76ers' focus in the days leading up to Thursday's NBA trade deadline is acquiring draft picks, according to an Eastern Conference executive.
The franchise wants to gain future compensation in exchange for Evan Turner, Spencer Hawes, and Thaddeus Young, said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
It's no surprise that the Sixers want draft picks for Turner, Hawes or Young, as this is a team that's clearly rebuilding and wanting to start fresh with young talent on cheap rookie deals.
While it seems unlikely that a team would forfeit a first-round pick for a rental on Turner or Hawes, Young should be able to fetch that fairly easily because he's locked into his contract and is clearly the superior player.
Either way, we can safely assume the Sixers will want to sell off as many parts as possible to gain a better draft pick, clear the books and add future assets to build with.
According to Marc Stein of ESPN, it sounds like the Charlotte Bobcats are ready to make a run at the playoffs with a move at the deadline.
"One week away from trade deadline keep hearing execs say Suns/Bobcats are teams to watch. Since both armed w/assets they seem willing to use," he tweeted.
Like Phoenix, the Bobcats are another team with a big expiring contract to use, as Ben Gordon's deal worth $13.2 million should be able to bring back a player on a long-term contract.
Charlotte could upgrade at either forward spot with a trade, but it's yet unknown whether the team would be willing to deal a young prospect like Cody Zeller or Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, or any of its future draft picks.
It does make sense that the Bobcats will look to buy, though, as this is the first time in quite a while that they've been in the playoff chase. Signing Al Jefferson was the first indication that Charlotte was serious about this season, and we may see the continuation of that at the deadline with a trade.
The Bobcats aren't your traditional buyer, but with the shift back to the Hornets name happening next year, getting some positive momentum with a strong playoff showing could be the priority.
The Los Angeles Lakers may not be familiar with selling off talent at the deadline, but there doesn't seem to be any misconceptions within the organization about what the plan is.
The Lakers are loaded with expiring contracts that could potentially be of use to a contender. Since they'll likely renounce the rights to all of their free agents this offseason anyway, getting something back in return now makes sense wherever it's possible.
Even if it's a conditional pick, a pick swap or second-round choices, it wouldn't be a surprise to see the Lakers shed some salary, reduce the luxury-tax payment and pick up a future asset or two.
The Lakers have plenty of incentive to sell, even if it's smaller players instead of Pau Gasol, who will likely get at least a few nibbles before the Feb. 20 deadline.
This one is pretty simple. So long as Mikhail Prokhorov is the owner of the Brooklyn Nets, they'll be buyers, regardless of record.
The Nets are paying more in luxury tax alone this year than 29 other teams are in just payroll. Money isn't an issue here, but the Nets are extremely low on movable first-round draft picks and young players other teams may want.
However, Brooklyn is armed with a disabled-player exception after losing Brook Lopez for the season, so that could be used to acquire a player from a team looking to shed cap. The Nets may have found a target in Los Angeles Lakers forward Jordan Hill, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:
The Nets have a $5.25 million disabled player exception that they can use in a trade or free-agent transaction until March 10, and could use a portion to absorb the remaining $3.5 million on Hill's expiring contract.
Acquiring Hill could cost the Nets about $17 million in luxury tax, but again, prices don't mean much to this franchise. The Nets are clearly in win-now mode, and any upgrades that are possible without giving up a member of the core are probably going to be looked into.
Expect the Nets to be an aggressive buyer, whether it's for Hill, Cleveland Cavaliers guard Jarrett Jack or someone else entirely.
Boston Celtics general manager Danny Ainge may not be able to find a deal like he did with the Brooklyn Nets this offseason, but it won't be for a lack of trying.
The Celtics have multiple players on long-term contracts (Jeff Green, Gerald Wallace, Brandon Bass) who could be dealt at the deadline. Of course, star point guard Rajon Rondo might be shopped as well.
Sam Smith from Bulls.com recently reported, "The asking price if you can get Rondo is said to be two unprotected first rounders.”
It's hard to say whether a team would be willing to cough that up, or if that's the real asking price. Ainge will probably push to dump some salary as well, and given that Rondo isn't at peak form yet, he likely won't feel rushed by the deadline to move his last remaining star.
Rondo aside, the Celtics have a few players who could help a contender make a push. Clearing cap space for the 2015 offseason seems to be the priority for Boston, so keep an eye on Jeff Green's name at the deadline. This is a rebuilding project, so it would make sense for Boston to keep selling at this point.