Best-Case 2016 NBA Trade-Deadline Scenarios for Every Team
The NBA's annual swap meet brings clubs together from every spectrum of the basketball world.
Everyone has a different reason for getting involved in or avoiding the trade season. Some buyers are craving cornerstones, while others just need a support piece or two. A select group of sellers may auction off everything but the kitchen sink—and even that could probably be had at the right price—and others just have a few bargain-bin items for sale.
Some squads can even afford to sit the entire process out. Either their current formula isn't in need of fixing, or the potential prize isn't great enough to justify the trouble.
Context matters in plotting the perfect trade-deadline path. We've considered everything at our disposal—statistical performance, contract situations, growth potential—to determine the best course of action for all 30 teams between now and Thursday's 3 p.m. ET deadline.
Atlanta Hawks: Leverage Jeff Teague for Wing Depth
The Atlanta Hawks have too much talent to blow everything up, but they're not quite good enough to afford standing pat. Shipping out veteran point guard Jeff Teague for help on the wings would be the best way to tweak the roster without rocking the boat.
The Hawks already have a younger, cheaper, more athletic option at point in Dennis Schroder, and they've played their best basketball when he's running the show. Atlanta has appeared at times as if it has plateaued, but giving Schroder the keys might lift this core's ceiling.
In return for Teague, the Hawks have to find more scoring and shooting on the perimeter. Even better if they can find that in a young, athletic player who could jolt this group with the kind of energy Kyle Korver and Thabo Sefolosha no longer supply.
Boston Celtics: Making Power Play for Superstar Big Man
In terms of trade currency, the Boston Celtics are loaded. They're sitting on a mountain of future draft picks, and their roster is largely comprised of intriguing prospects, particularly two-way guards Marcus Smart and Avery Bradley.
An ideal trade season for the Shamrocks is one in which a superstar ends up on the auction block. No one will put together a stronger bid than Boston's. And if an instant-reward option like DeMarcus Cousins, Al Horford or Kevin Love becomes available, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge won't hesitate to pull the trigger.
Celtics coach Brad Stevens has battled some of his roster's shortcomings by getting his guys to play hard and smart. That's been enough to net Boston the East's No. 3 seed, but star power will likely be needed to climb any higher.
Brooklyn Nets: Trade Present Players for Future Assets
The Brooklyn Nets badly need a reset. Their current roster is among the league's worst—tied for 28th in winning percentage, 28th in net efficiency—and their draft assets were long ago sacrificed during a rushed pursuit of postseason success that never yielded any benefits.
It's time to turn the page to something else. Save for perhaps rookie Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, there should be no untouchables. Whether that's the case is anyone's guess, though, since Bleacher Report's Howard Beck has heard Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov would be reluctant to move Brook Lopez or Thaddeus Young, arguably the franchise's top two trade chips.
Brooklyn should deal anyone it can transform into picks and/or prospects. With a present going nowhere, this organization must find a direction for its future.
Charlotte Hornets: Modest Improvement Without Mortgaging Future
The Charlotte Hornets' best option over the coming week is avoiding dramatics. With Michael Kidd-Gilchrist back on the shelf, their hopes of anything more than an early playoff exit have vanished.
The Hornets have played 15.0 points better per 100 possessions with Kidd-Gilchrist than without him this season. Nothing on the trade market can replace that value. Even if it could, they wouldn't be able to meet the asking price. Without prematurely selling a prospect, Charlotte's top trade chips are a dinged-up Al Jefferson and the mediocre Jeremy Lin.
The Hornets can still make a minor move. They've reportedly eyed Brooklyn Nets swingman Bojan Bogdanovic, per Mitch Lawrence of Sporting News, and an under-the-radar acquisition like that would help. But Charlotte is unlikely to land a difference-maker before the offseason, so it shouldn't try to cash in its biggest chips before that.
Chicago Bulls: Start New Chapter with Better-Fitting Pieces
The trade deadline doesn't have to be tricky for the Chicago Bulls. One realization could help plot both their present and future paths.
"This team, as presently constructed, is not good enough to win a championship or even seriously compete for a deep playoff run," Bleacher Report's Sean Highkin wrote.
As hard as it may be to accept that truth, doing so is key to opening their next chapter. Chicago's roster must better reflect coach Fred Hoiberg's pace-and-space system, and it must start moving in that direction now. That means fielding offers for Pau Gasol, Taj Gibson and even the injured Joakim Noah to help this team add the youth, athleticism and shooting it lacks.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Strengthen Interior Defense and Outside Shooting
The Cleveland Cavaliers should spend the next several days working in the margins. They've already cemented themselves as the best of the East, but they're a few upgrades shy of joining the league's full-fledged elite.
Their interior defense needs strengthening. They rank 19th in opponent's close-range shooting (58.1 percent inside of five feet), and that number could worsen the further Timofey Mozgov falls out of the rotation. They have enough scoring on the roster to support a rim-protecting specialist should one slip into the bargain bin.
Cleveland also must bolster its three-point attack. The Cavs don't have many quantity-plus-quality snipers, which explains why Cleveland.com's Chris Haynes lists Ben McLemore, Trevor Ariza, Kyle Korver and Jared Dudley as trade targets. Those might be out of their price range, but getting a gunner for Mo Williams would be a scenario worth exploring.
Dallas Mavericks: Tighten Ship Without Rocking the Boat
As long as Dirk Nowitzki is still tossing in turnaround jumpers, the Dallas Mavericks will stay in win-now mode. While that mindset can lead some teams to a trade frenzy, it's more likely to make the Mavs stay put.
The roster is short on players who could bring back more value than they're already providing. Zaza Pachulia might fit the bill, but he's so important to this starting five that Dallas should keep him off the table. Dwight Powell and Justin Anderson could qualify as well, but the Mavs would be better off seeing what their futures hold.
If the Mavs want to avoid disruption but still improve, they could shop Raymond Felton. He wouldn't fetch the biggest price, but he could still net someone who helps—perhaps a player like Miles Plumlee, who could tighten Dallas' coverage at the rim.
Denver Nuggets: Complement Young Core with Prospects and Picks
The first stage of the Denver Nuggets' rebuild is beginning to take shape. Their roster is brimming with intriguing 25-and-under talents, most of whom fit together like pieces of the same hoops puzzle.
But there are a few outliers who don't quite fit the mold. Kenneth Faried's limited range clogs the offensive end—which is already tight given Emmanuel Mudiay's struggles—and he does little to help their 22nd-ranked defense. Denver also doesn't have the same timeline as veterans J.J. Hickson, Randy Foye, Jameer Nelson and Mike Miller.
The Nuggets have plenty to sell even if Danilo Gallinari is "not on the block," as the Boston Globe's Adam Himmelsbach said they've indicated. They should be focused on adding picks, whether that's a first-plus-filler for Faried or a second for one of their vets.
Detroit Pistons: Fortify the Forward Ranks
The Detroit Pistons could use a spark. They're just outside the playoff picture and loaded with reasons to like their chances, but they may still see a trade as their best way to get over the hump.
"The Pistons have enough expendable pieces in play to make a change if they so choose, not to mention room for improvement within their standard rotation," Sports Illustrated's Rob Mahoney wrote. "They also come to the table with the baggage of six straight lottery seasons."
If Detroit can get a deal done, it needs to upgrade the power forward spot. If the Pistons want a new starter, they could use Brandon Jennings to anchor a deal for someone like Ryan Anderson or Thaddeus Young. If they're just searching for depth, they might be able to steal disgruntled forward Markieff Morris from the Phoenix Suns and reunite him with his twin brother, Marcus.
Golden State Warriors: Don't Touch Anything
Believe it or not, there are ways the 48-4 Golden State Warriors could improve.
Admittedly, we're picking nits here, but this isn't the league's deepest frontcourt. Andrew Bogut has a frightening injury history, and his primary backup, Festus Ezeli, is recovering from his latest knee surgery. Marreese Speights is streaky, and Jason Thompson has disappointed in limited minutes, while James Michael McAdoo and Kevon Looney lack trustworthy track records.
So, will the Warriors actually make a move? Would you if your team was having a historically dominant season?
"It'd have to be something unbelievable to really mess with the chemistry and the personnel on the team," Warriors general manager Bob Myers said, per Bay Area News Group's Diamond Leung.
Houston Rockets: Maximize Dwight Howard's Value Before He Bolts
There's never a dull trade deadline when Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey is involved, and this won't be an exception. Truth be told, Morey might have more work on his hands than he'd like.
With the team struggling at 27-28 and Dwight Howard likely headed to free agency at season's end, the Rockets have reportedly started shopping the eight-time All-Star center, sources told The Vertical's Adrian Wojnarowski. Previous reports have had Terrence Jones, Corey Brewer and Ty Lawson all connected to the trade market, per ESPN.com's Calvin Watkins.
Houston should move on from Howard. There's too much risk in possibly losing him for nothing this summer, plus there's a younger, cheaper option already there (Clint Capela). Perimeter defense should be high atop the Rockets' wish list, so if Boston wants Howard, Houston should target Marcus Smart, Avery Bradley and/or Jae Crowder.
Indiana Pacers: Power Attack with Offensive-Minded Point
It could be a quiet trade season for the Indiana Pacers. They're still transitioning to a smaller, faster style and getting a feel for which of their players fit that puzzle. They could do some tinkering around the edges with the expiring contracts of Chase Budinger, Ian Mahinmi and Jordan Hill, but they don't have to do anything.
But there is one rumored swap that could power the Pacers' new offense. Sources told ESPN.com's Kevin Arnovitz and Brian Windhorst that Indiana has offered George Hill for Jeff Teague.
On the surface, there isn't a wide talent gap between the two. However, Teague is a Naptown native and the younger, more explosive of the two. If Indy could defend behind a Teague-Monta Ellis backcourt, the Pacers could overwhelm opponents with their off-the-dribble creativity and Paul George's versatile scoring skills.
Los Angeles Clippers: Bolster Bench, Leave Stars Alone
The Los Angeles Clippers seem a step below the West's true juggernauts, but that's not enough of an incentive to give up a cornerstone piece. Blake Griffin, when healthy, is a 26-year-old MVP candidate. The Clippers are making the right call by holding on to him, as a source told Sporting News' Sean Deveney.
That said, L.A. needs to address its frontcourt depth. There are only two healthy traditional bigs on the roster (DeAndre Jordan and Cole Aldrich), and Paul Pierce has failed to shoot like a stretch 4 (34.3 percent from the field, 31.4 from deep).
If the Clippers would use Lance Stephenson or even Jamal Crawford to address this issue, perhaps that would be enough to lure Channing Frye away from the Orlando Magic. If L.A. can only afford to shop in the clearance section, it should kick the tires on someone like J.J. Hickson or Darrell Arthur from the Nuggets.
Los Angeles Lakers: Auction off Every Non-Kobe Vet
The Los Angeles Lakers should be inundated with trade proposals for their young prospects. The key for general manager Mitch Kupchak is to keep those inquiring executives on the line long enough to sell them a discounted veteran or two.
Save for franchise icon Kobe Bryant, the Lakers don't have a player with more than two years of experience worth keeping around. They've put nearly their entire veteran collection up for sale: Roy Hibbert, Brandon Bass, Nick Young and Lou Williams, according to ESPN.com's Marc Stein.
Realistically, there isn't a ton of value to extract—especially if L.A. wants to preserve cap space for this summer. But any picks that could be brought back for Williams' perimeter scoring, Hibbert's interior defense or Bass' consistency would be worth nabbing to prepare for a Kobe-less future.
Memphis Grizzlies: Upgrading Quantity, Quality of Three-Point Attack
The Memphis Grizzlies are in the early stages of an identity change. They're looking for something faster and more dynamic than their old grit-and-grind style, but for now, they still play a methodical game (27th in pace) and field a mediocre offense (20th in efficiency).
That shouldn't change between now and the offseason. The Grizzlies get more from Zach Randolph and Tony Allen than they'd get for them in a trade. And, despite losing Marc Gasol to a broken foot, Memphis is more interested in buying than selling.
"The Grizzlies are determined to use the trade deadline to better the roster for a playoff push," The Vertical's Adrian Wojnarowski wrote.
Memphis has a slew of impending free agents to deal—though Mike Conley should be untouchable—and should be targeting three-point shooting and frontcourt depth.
Miami Heat: Three-Point Shopping on a Budget
The Miami Heat's shopping list is easy to see, but their trade budget is tricky to calculate.
Anyone can see this roster is woefully short on shooting. The Heat have neither volume (6.1 makes per game, 26th) nor efficiency (32.3 percent, 28th) in their three-point attack, which shrinks the floor for all of their offensive layers.
But it's not entirely clear what they'd give up to fill this void. Chris Andersen's expiring $5 million contract can't get much, and Luol Deng's defensive versatility may be too valuable to give up. Hassan Whiteside is almost untradeable with his tiny $981,348 salary and upcoming free agency.
That probably prevents Miami from chasing a top gunner. But the Heat could still have a productive deadline by nabbing an effective, unheralded shooter like Omri Casspi or Mirza Teletovic—both of whom are on the their radar, as Ethan Skolnick of the Miami Herald told Bleacher Report.
Milwaukee Bucks: Let the Moose Loose for Compatible Talent
The Milwaukee Bucks are poised for movement—perhaps the headline-grabbing variety. They're reportedly willing to talk shop on two of their biggest recent acquisitions: Michael Carter-Williams and Greg Monroe, sources told Gery Woelfel of the Racine Journal Times.
The Bucks clearly need a change. Their future still looks incredibly bright, but they need to better complement the young nucleus of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker and Khris Middleton. Shooting, sharing and athleticism should all be prioritized at the deadline.
Carter-Williams might be worth keeping around, if only because he's still on a rookie deal and has enough length to fit their defensive puzzle. But swapping out Monroe's ill-fitting skills for floor spacing could be a significant boost. The Bucks should also try to snag a pick or prospect for O.J. Mayo and Miles Plumlee.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Keep Practicing Patience
The Minnesota Timberwolves aren't in the buying or selling stages of rebuilding. With player development still trumping wins, they're content with bringing their youngsters along and supporting them with savvy veterans. That isn't a trade-friendly scenario.
Even the pieces potentially up for sale don't make a lot of sense. There's reportedly interest in Shabazz Muhammad, per 1500 ESPN's Darren Wolfson, but no urgency on Minnesota's side to move a 23-year-old on a rookie contract. The Wolves have yet to find a market for Kevin Martin, per Charley Walters of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, and won't if suitors think he'll eventually be bought out.
The Wolves might have some of the league's most attractive trade chips, but they aren't looking to move any of them.
"Expect the roster to stay intact after the deadline," The Vertical's Bobby Marks wrote.
New Orleans Pelicans: Tear Down Core to Rebuild Around AD
A best-case swap season would entail the New Orleans Pelicans tearing themselves down to their single-browed infrastructure. They would willingly sacrifice all hopes of a playoff push, opting instead to chase a top draft pick to pair with Anthony Davis.
But, in typical Pelicans fashion, they may not be healthy enough to pull this off. Tyreke Evans is done for the year (knee surgery), and Eric Gordon is working his way back from a broken finger. Even if that helps New Orleans' tanking odds, it prevents the club from selling present pieces for future assets.
They still have one coveted trade bullet in stretch big Ryan Anderson, though. While the Pelicans have "indicated little appetite for trading him," per CBS Sports' Ken Berger, they could be holding out to maximize their take. Even with Anderson earmarked for free agency, New Orleans should still expect a mid- to upper- tier pick or prospect.
New York Knicks: Find a PG for Anthony-Porzingis Tandem
Don't believe the hype, per Frank Isola of the New York Daily News—Carmelo Anthony isn't going anywhere. That's coming from Melo himself and, since he holds a no-trade clause, his input is kind of important here.
"There's always some trade s--t going [on]," Anthony said on Sirius XM NBA Radio, via ESPN.com's Ian Begley. "I'm not going anywhere."
That's good news for the New York Knicks. They've shortened their path back to prominence with rookie Kristaps Porzingis' readiness, and a free-agent heist could cut it down further. Between Anthony's pedigree and Porzingis' potential, the Knicks could have some intriguing recruiting tools by summertime.
But the on-court product still needs improvement, particularly at point guard. The Knicks have targeted Jeff Teague, Dennis Schroder and Brandon Jennings, sources told Begley, and any of the three would be a massive upgrade over their current collection.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Add Low-Maintenance Three-and-D Wing
You know the Western Conference is uber-competitive when having two of the NBA's top-five players isn't quite good enough. The Oklahoma City, behind Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, have been dominant in their own right. But the gap between their net efficiency (plus-8.6) and Golden State's (plus-13.9) is just as wide as the one separating the Thunder from the Hawks (plus-3.3).
"I think the Thunder have the talent to compete with the Warriors and Spurs, but they need a little help—no, a lot of help—at the shooting guard position," ESPN.com's Chad Ford wrote. "The combo of Dion Waiters, Andre Roberson and Anthony Morrow just isn't getting it done."
An amalgamation of the three would suffice, as there's need for Waiters' athleticism, Roberson's defense and Morrow's marksmanship. But a cheaper three-and-D option like Courtney Lee or P.J. Tucker is probably all that OKC's budget can accommodate.
Orlando Magic: Transform Young Trade Chips into Established Stars
The Orlando Magic have patiently stockpiled young talent for long enough. They're ready to make a splash.
"The only way Orlando deals players it feels are core guys is if they get a proven All-Star-type player in return, which is what it seems the Magic are looking for at the deadline," Basketball Insider's Steve Kyler wrote.
With a wealth of young wings, Orlando can afford to chase big-ticket items. Kyler said the Magic have talked about dealing Victor Oladipo for Jeff Teague, and they tried entering the Blake Griffin sweepstakes with Tobias Harris as the centerpiece.
The Magic could add other prospects to the pot like Evan Fournier or Shabazz Napier. Teams targeting veteran bigs may want Channing Frye or Jason Smith. Orlando is open for business, especially if there's established star power to be had.
Philadelphia 76ers: Keep Trusting the Process
The Philadelphia 76ers' hands are tied. Their best trade chips are almost impossible to move. They can't sell Joel Embiid or Dario Saric without getting them on the floor, and they can't move Nerlens Noel or Jahlil Okafor until they see how they fit with their other frontcourt lottery picks.
The Sixers could stand to upgrade any of their perimeter positions. They desperately need a point guard for the future, and perhaps they could picture Jeff Teague, Dennis Schroder or even Brandon Knight for the role if the price is right. They can't meet Orlando's request for a star, but Philly should stay connected to those talks in the chance it could add a prospect or two in a multiteam transaction.
Sixers ownership seems ready to move forward, but the roster isn't there yet. That makes it hard to sell young pieces, though veteran Carl Landry should be available.
Phoenix Suns: Trade Markieff Morris, Embrace Youth Movement
The Phoenix Suns should be among the busiest teams at the deadline.
They're still searching for a new home for disgruntled forward Markieff Morris, and they'd be wise to unload the remainder of Tyson Chandler's contract if at all possible. Veteran swingman P.J. Tucker and sniper Mirza Teletovic should both be sold off to the highest bidder. And given how rookie Devin Booker has hit the ground running, Phoenix should at least gauge the market for Brandon Knight.
The Suns have to prioritize their future. While this season is clearly headed nowhere, they could make a fairly quick turnaround if Eric Bledsoe gets healthy and the prospects keep improving. That might cause Phoenix to value young players over picks, which could put the likes of Terrence Jones, Evan Fournier or Terrence Ross in the crosshairs.
Portland Trail Blazers: Rent Cap Space for Extra Assets
The Portland Trail Blazers arrive at the annual swap meet loaded with house money. At 27-27, they look well ahead of their reset schedule, and their starting backcourt combo of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum is already among the league's most productive.
Their cupboards are overstocked with young, in many cases undervalued, talent, so the motivation to trade probably isn't strong. The Blazers could give their new nucleus time to breathe and themselves a chance to fully grasp which guys are keepers and which are expendable.
But Portland also has the opportunity to pounce on favorable trades. Sitting nearly $14 million beneath the salary floor, the Blazers can absorb someone else's bad contract (think: Chris Andersen or Lance Stephenson) and add a future asset for doing so. As surprisingly successful as today has been, Portland is still several tomorrows removed from seeing the fruits of this rebuild.
Sacramento Kings: Sacrifice Scoring for Noticeably Absent Stoppers
Two things must happen for the Sacramento Kings to snap their nine-year playoff drought. For starters, they have to permanently silence the trade talk around DeMarcus Cousins. Letting go of a cost-controlled 25-year-old centerpiece might meet the legal definition of criminal negligence.
The second item on Sacramento's list: play some type of defense. The Kings limped into the All-Star break having allowed at least 104 points to their last 10 opponents, going just 2-8 over that stretch. On the season, they sit 25th in defensive efficiency.
They have a "conditional willingness" to deal Rudy Gay, sources told ESPN.com's Marc Stein, meaning there must be a substantial return. If they could pick up youth and defense—say Terrence Jones and K.J. McDaniels from Houston, or Victor Oladipo out of Orlando—they'd almost have to pull the trigger. They should also at least listen to offers for Omri Casspi and Darren Collison.
San Antonio Spurs: Don't Disrupt the Machine
The Warriors are perhaps having the greatest season in NBA history, and the San Antonio Spurs have actually been better in both point differential and net efficiency. With two All-Stars and three future Hall of Famers beside them and arguably the best supporting cast in the business, the Alamo City can afford to sit this deadline out.
The Spurs have more insurance for the aging Big Three than ever. Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge have collectively seized the primary-scoring duties. David West has added another sturdy hand in the frontcourt, while youngsters Jonathon Simmons and Kyle Anderson have created new dimensions on the perimeter.
San Antonio could eventually decide it wants a little more depth. But if it makes that call, it can do what it always does—hit the waiver wire and turn someone else's trash into an NBA treasure.
Toronto Raptors: Trade Upside for Proven Commodity
The Toronto Raptors have quietly cemented themselves as the East's No. 2 team. They own the conference's second-best winning percentage (.673) and net efficiency (plus-4.4), plus they had their starting backcourt selected to the All-Star Game.
But that doesn't mean the Raptors can rest. This roster needs attention at both forward spots, with DeMarre Carroll sidelined by knee surgery and Patrick Patterson struggling through his worst year as a pro.
Outside shooting, defense and athleticism should drive Toronto's search. The team has been connected to Kenneth Faried, Thaddeus Young, Markieff Morris and P.J. Tucker, sources told ESPN.com's Marc Stein. If the Raptors could add one of those players without losing a rotation cog—the end of their bench is heavy in high-upside prospects—they'd be another step closer to catching Cleveland.
Utah Jazz: Find Floor General to Guide Their Ascent
The Utah Jazz are closer to the league's elite class than many may realize. Since Rudy Gobert returned to the starting lineup after losing more than a month to a knee injury, the Jazz have gone 11-6 and posted the league's seventh-best net rating (plus-6.6, which would rank fourth overall).
Even without Alec Burks (fractured ankle) and Dante Exum (torn ACL), Utah has reasons to chase win-now additions. But it has to be the right kind of player. As sources told KSL.com's Andy Larsen, the Jazz "are looking into acquiring a 'bridge PG,' one with a two-year contract that would improve the team both now and next season as Dante Exum recovers."
That two-year window opens some interesting possibilities: Jeff Teague, Jrue Holiday and George Hill would all fit the bill. And none would require an enormous investment, so Utah could strengthen its present without dimming its future.
Washington Wizards: Keep Books Clear for Kevin Durant Chase
The Washington Wizards only have a small segment of the trade population available to them. Anyone with money on the books beyond this season could disrupt the pursuit of District native Kevin Durant and therefore has far too much risk for whatever reward they would bring.
The Wizards have reportedly scanned the forward market. According to Basketball Insiders' Steve Kyler, Washington has "at least inquired about" Ryan Anderson, P.J. Tucker and Trevor Booker. These are marginal upgrades, but each would help an underwhelming power forward position.
Ultimately, the best option may be standing pat. This group doesn't look one player away from joining the championship chase. And if Washington is only interested in rentals—besides chasing Durant, it needs to re-sign Bradley Beal this summer—the prize isn't great enough to part with the potentially necessary sweeteners (Kelly Oubre Jr. or Otto Porter).