Buy, Sell, Hold: What Every NBA Team Should Do at the 2023 Trade DeadlineJanuary 23, 2023
Buy, Sell, Hold: What Every NBA Team Should Do at the 2023 Trade Deadline
What should your favorite NBA team do at the 2023 trade deadline?
I'm so very glad that you asked—or that I'm asking on your behalf.
"Buy, sell or hold?" This is a simple yet instructive exercise. It forces us to take wholesale stock of where teams stand, their ceilings for this season and what their short- and long-term priorities should be leading into Feb. 9.
Each designation, of course, is open for interpretation. What does "buy" mean exactly? Does it refer to chasing blockbuster deals? Someone who ranks as a top-seven or -eight player in the rotation? Anyone who theoretically bolsters the roster?
In the interest of clarity, I've cooked up guidelines for each trade-deadline prompt:
- Buy: This applies to teams that should be open to moving first-round equity or player equivalents, if not more, to materially upgrade the roster. In select cases, it will also refer to organizations that should be looking to act on meaningfully sized traded player exceptions.
- Sell: This directive will be applied to teams that have at least one notable player they're better off moving. The motivations for selling will vary and be explained on a case-by-case basis.
- Hold: This is not a "11-out-of-10 roster, no notes" decree. Make no mistake, it could be. But "hold" will also be stamped across teams with limited asset flexibility or that are best served riding out their current situation into the offseason.
Final verdicts are not meant to be predictive. That's why I've placed literal emphasis on should. For the most part, these rulings will not take the actual market into account. There is currently a dearth of sellers and surplus of want-to-be buyers, and the superstar-trade landscape seemingly doesn't exist. None of this will affect the final results here.
Phrased another way: This entire exercise reflects how I would approach the 2023 trade deadline if I were running each NBA team.
Atlanta Hawks: Sell
There are signs of life are trickling out from the Atlanta Hawks. They are 7-3 since Jan. 1, during which time the offense has hummed, Trae Young is back to being Thermonuclear AF and the dynamic between he and Dejounte Murray has felt more natural.
Atlanta can actually build some interesting trade packages if it wants to buy. This year's first-rounder can be moved, and the Hawks have a number of intriguing prospects (AJ Griffin, Jalen Johnson, Onyeka Okongwu) and non-stars (Bogdan Bogdanović, John Collins) they can use to sweeten and anchor bigger deals.
Now just isn't the time to angle for a home run. Atlanta doesn't have the asset juice with its 2025 and 2027 first-rounders headed to San Antonio and De'Andre Hunter on a poison-pill contract. They also need to see this recent streak last longer than a few weeks before declaring themselves ready to contend. And even then, they'd ideally have their front office and head coaching situations on a more stable footing before making major moves.
Selling is the more sensible path for them. This does not mean "blow it up." It's more like a license—a plea, really—to trade Collins. He has looked better on offense lately, but remains underutilized in his role. That's not going to change following the return of Clint Capela.
And while I couldn't give a damn about saving money for team governor Tony Ressler, the organization's proximity to the tax next year could preclude them from re-upping Bogdanović (player option) over the summer. A Collins trade would, ideally, arm them with extra wiggle room and bring back some higher-volume three-point shooting.
Boston Celtics: Hold
The Boston Celtics actually have the tools to go medium-move hunting. They have traded player exceptions worth $5.9 million and can flip up to three first-round picks (2025, 2027, 2029).
Though the Celtics are not a perfect roster, what's the move? Another backup big can be scooped up on the February buyout market, and their wing rotation isn't exactly lacking even with Sam Hauser's outside clip circling the drain for the past month-and-a-half.
Whether Boston can feasibly upgrade the meat and potatoes of its rotation is debatable. Malcolm Brogdon, Jaylen Brown, Al Horford, Marcus Smart, Jayson Tatum, Grant Williams (restricted), Robert Williams III and Derrick White are quite the eight-man carousel. Hauser and Payton Pritchard aren't even guaranteed playing time right now.
Grant Williams can run into some matchup issues, but they're few and far between. Brogdon and White can disappear for stretches on offense, but who are the Celtics bagging as superior alternatives?
Party-crashing the Kyle Kuzma (player option) sweepstakes could be fun. It's not a necessity. Maybe Boston looks at trimming its tax bill with a Danilo Gallinari (player option) dump. It shouldn't be sniffing around any larger moves until over the offseason.
Brooklyn Nets: Hold
A scorching-hot stretch followed by Kevin Durant's sprained right MCL initially had me thinking the Brooklyn Nets needed to buy. Either they are a full-strength juggernaut, in which case they are obligated to make the most of this season. Or their offense is one injury away from implosion, in which case they should search for some KD insurance.
But then I started thinking about those last two words: KD insurance. As if such a thing, like, exists. It doesn't.
Brooklyn is good enough to win a title with KD and absolutely toast without him. There's no effective planning around his extended absence when your co-stars are the wildly talented-yet-not-transcendentally-uplifting Kyrie Irving and ultra-ultra-ultra low-volume Ben Simmons. If you can't count on Durant to hold up through the postseason, that's actually a reason not to buy.
Expecting him to return, remain healthy and continue dominating could be viewed as an impetus to skulk around the trade market for a floor-spacing big who binge-grabs rebounds and some extra wing depth. But the Nets don't have assets that are both appealing and dispensable laying around.
Cam Thomas isn't fetching you much. Ditto for Simmons. Dealing Nicolas Claxton would be malpractice at this point. Perhaps Seth Curry is expendable if you're targeting size, but he's not netting anyone spectacular on his own. Brooklyn cannot convey a first-rounder before 2028, and it has no business mortgaging any part of its distant future when its immediate outlook remains hazy.
Kyrie hits free agency this summer. Will he be back? If you know he won't be, can you still justify shopping Curry now? And if Kyrie's gone, will KD want to stick around? If he does, how much do you trust him to spearhead a contender as the lone star in his age-35 season? The Nets need to see what they look like six to seven months from now before making any further investments in this core.
Charlotte Hornets: Sell
This is what we in the armchair-GM business call a mindlessly easy decision.
The Charlotte Hornets suck. And there's nothing they can feasibly do this season to not suck. Buy, sell, hold—it doesn't matter. They are going to suck.
Seller's mode is the default directive in these situations. The Hornets should rope off access to LaMelo Ball and Mark Williams and shop, well, literally everyone else.
Charlotte may not have any high-end players to unload, but it isn't totally barren. P.J. Washington (restricted), Jalen McDaniels (unrestricted) and Cody Martin can help good teams. The expiring contracts of Kelly Oubre Jr. and Mason Plumlee are useful salary anchors if the front office is willing to take back longer-term money. Both will also intrigue contenders desperate for depth. (Note: Oubre recently had surgery on his left hand and won't be back until sometime in February.)
Finding takers for Gordon Hayward (one year, $31.5 million) and Terry Rozier (three years, $74.7 million, with $73 million guaranteed) would jazz up the Hornets' flexibility—something that should interest them, but only if it doesn't require salary-dumping buffers.
Just so we're clear: Holding is fine, as well. Charlotte won't suddenly stop sucking and endanger its lottery odds because it keeps McDaniels and Washington.
Acting like a buyer should be out of the question. And it is. Whether you trust the Hornets to have the self-awareness to sell (or at least hold) is irrelevant. The 2023 pick they owe to Denver is protected through 2025, which makes it difficult for them to swing any (inexplicably) big trades, since they can't guarantee a first-rounder before 2027.
Chicago Bulls: Sell
After winning nine of their last 15 games, the Chicago Bulls no longer feel like a five-alarm inferno. They will invariably use this as an excuse to buy or stand pat while lamenting what could have been if Lonzo Ball were healthy.
And that's a mistake.
Chicago is painfully mediocre. A healthy Lonzo alone isn't changing that. If the Bulls care about aiming higher than the middle, they would proactively strip this roster down and start anew.
Granted, on some level, this is an oversimplification of what they should do next. Teardowns are neither easy nor routinely completed in entirety. That doesn't mean Chicago can't find a happy medium.
Don't feel like unloading Zach LaVine and the four years and $178.1 million left on his deal? That's fine. Gauge the market for Nikola Vučević's expiring contract. See which team—and there is bound to be one—forfeits tantalizing draft equity or prospects for DeMar DeRozan and the one year left on his deal. And definitely don't be opposed to measuring the temperature of Patrick Williams selloffs.
You're free to feel differently if you see a way for the Bulls to swing a blockbuster acquisition. The thing is, they don't have one. Chicago cannot convey a first-rounder before 2027—which is conditional—and the blue-chip-prospect sheen has worn off Williams with his extension eligibility around the corner as well as his minimal offensive progression. Restocking the organization's long-term asset cupboard is at once the more realistic and most sensible course of action.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Buy
Get ready for some more "Imagine if the Cleveland Cavaliers beefed up their small forward rotation" musings.
This angle has been—and continues to be—discussed ad nauseam. That doesn't make it incorrect. It is beyond accurate.
Dean Wade's return from a shoulder injury will help. It is not a cure-all. The same goes for those fleeting jolts of optimism you get when Isaac Okoro knocks down 65 percent of his past 20 three-point attempts.
Cleveland has stolen stretches with Caris LeVert and Lamar Stevens at the 3. Neither is trustworthy enough in a postseason setting. LeVert doesn't provide enough of a defensive bang, and the Cavs could use more functional off-ball shooting than he and Stevens inject. Cedi Osman hasn't hit threes or defended well enough to earn serious consideration.
Addressing this need isn't a given. Cleveland cannot trade a first-round pick and doesn't have a sexy prospect to offload. Its most attractive package will feature LeVert's expiring contract and/or a second-draft flier on Okoro. Does that even get them Josh Richardson?
Fortunately, the Cavs are awesome sauce as currently constructed. So much so, in fact, they're obligated to try getting awesome saucier at the trade deadline.
Dallas Mavericks: Lightly Buy
Braver people than I would roll with "hold" for the Dallas Mavericks. I just couldn't get there.
They have Luka Dončić, a top-five player and MVP favorite, spitting out historical stat lines on a weekly basis. They are obligated to scour the market for upgrades, any upgrades, that fortify a leaky defense or just up the roster's general talent level.
At the same time, the Mavs have to show a semblance of restraint. They aren't reinventing themselves on the fly. What they need most—a second, let's say, top-50 player who's preferably closer to the top 25—isn't readily available. And assuming that changes, he won't be readily accessible.
Dallas cannot convey a first-round pick earlier than 2025. And with all due respect to Jaden Hardy's glittery per-minute scoring, the roster is completely devoid of red-carpet prospects who can be the centerpiece of a blockbuster proposal.
Any star or fringe star who's up for grabs will command better returns than the Mavs can offer. And even if they can win the bidding for, like, John Collins or Myles Turner, they shouldn't actually want to.
This team needs a glitzier infusion of talent and is, therefore, better served to wait until the offseason, when it can peddle up to three first-rounders and four swaps in star-trade packages.
Denver Nuggets: Hold
If it's not broke, well, you know...
Skeptics will quibble over the Denver Nuggets' defensive viability in the playoffs. That's fair. The Nuggets are seventh in points allowed per possession since their three-game losing streak in early December.
They have the league's best offense, but they've benefited from unsustainably cold opponent three-point shooting, and reading too much into their first-place crunch-time defense is dangerous. Small samples can be noisy.
This isn't an attempt to poo-poo all over Denver's title case. It has one—a strong one. The Nuggets might even deserve to be favorites given how well they're playing.
Finally reaching full strength coupled with the additions of Bruce Brown and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has jacked up the ceiling on their most important lineups. And it's also armed head coach Michael Malone with the bandwidth to roll out stingy defensive units catered to specific matchups.
Poking around the league for extra bench depth is well within reason. It's not mandatory. Minutes without Nikola Jokić will almost vanish when it matters most, and Denver has actually won in the time he's spent on the bench since the start of January.
Odds and ends are all the Nuggets should be focused on right now. They can flip through the buyout market for another big if need be. Just as well, too. They can't guarantee a first-round pick in any trade and don't have the expendable medium-sized salary to pursue solid-not-seismic additions. Denver needs to see this season through as constructed and, if necessary, recalibrate over the summer.
Detroit Pistons: Sell
The Detroit Pistons would like you to know that, yes, they are sellers, but they don't need to be sellers, and it will take the whole kit and kaboodle to pry
MVP candidates Bojan Bogdanović and Alec Burks from their grip.
Jokes are fun! But the Pistons aren't wrong to over-ask in talks for Bogdanović and Burks. As one of the few discernible and seemingly willing sellers, they can try setting the market.
Worst-case scenario: They do nothing, still finish with top-tier lottery odds, add another premier prospect (maybe Victor Wembanyama!), get back a healthy Cade Cunningham and head into next season better for wear with two proven shooters and scorers dotting their catalog of youngsters and projects.
Still, the Pistons should be uniquely driven to wheel and deal. They don't ned the lotto-odds boost, but they're without any extra first-rounders in their asset armory. (They technically owe this year's pick to New York; it just won't convey.)
If they can get a good first (or more) by moving Bogdanović and/or Burks, they should seriously consider it rather than pearl-clutch past Feb. 9. And if they can get something, anything, in return for shipping out Nerlens Noel's expiring contract (team option), they should jump on that, too—even if it entails sponging up longer-term money.
Detroit also shouldn't be above more awkward discussions. Does the front office want to pay the soon-to-be extension-eligible Saddiq Bey? And how about Killian Hayes? The perimeter offensive improvement seems legit, and the Pistons can bank on him polishing off his finishing and ability to generate free throws. But with Cunningham and Jaden Ivey in tow, should they see whether Hayes' market has hit a palatable apex?
The latter is probably something they'd revisit over the offseason, depending on how the draft order shakes out. The point stands anyway: Detroit should be looking to fatten up its future-pick stash.
Golden State Warriors: Buy
Talking about how the Golden State Warriors need to "buy" because they have Stephen Curry and because the Western Conference middle-class is overcrowded and because their roster needs size and athleticism and rebounding and preferably all three in the form of a combo forward feels futile.
We know how this ends: with the Warriors, ever so confident in their process, doing nothing to something negligible at the trade deadline and counting on the buyout market to bag them a hidden gem.
Golden State should be surfing the market more than casually. That is its obligation so long as a soon-to-be 35-year-old Curry operates at an MVP level. And the team should not, cannot, be above putting its once-upon-a-time prized prospects on the table.
Jonathan Kuminga should be off-limits in any deal that doesn't land a star. Mose Moody? Not so much. He barely sees the floor. It's the same story for James Wiseman. He is currently sidelined with a sprained ankle, but wasn't playing a big-time role upon returning from the G-League and isn't someone the Warriors can even begin to think about trusting in the playoff pressure-cooker.
Bringing back someone who can soak up spot minutes in go-to closing units would be ideal. Curry, Draymond Green and Andrew Wiggins profile as the only crunch-time locks. Klay Thompson is probably there, too. Golden State can mix and match with Jordan Poole, Donte DiVincenzo and Kevon Looney, but another bigger-forward option who can switch and handle playing within this offense would go a long way.
The best possible non-star acquisitions will cost more than Wiseman—and perhaps even Moody. The Warriors will probably rule out dipping into the draft-pick well and forking over a 2026 first-rounder. But, depending on who's available, they shouldn't.
Houston Rockets: Sell
Remember all the hullaballoo over the Oklahoma City Thunder's process and how they were shamelessly defiling the sanctity of basketball and competition by so flagrantly eschewing wins?
Well, they are currently in the playoff hunt...after only two years of stinking. The Houston Rockets, meanwhile, are in Year 3 of sucking. It isn't quite aimless suck-i-tude. They have a bunch of youngsters worth grooming for the future. But there's an inadvertence to the longevity of this nadir that is somewhat unsettling and will necessitate existential questions following this year's rock-bottom parade.
All of which is to say: The Rockets should just sell.
They don't need to part with talent to refuel the Wembanyamamobile. They have plenty of that in their stores—organic and everything. But they do need to consolidate what is a mishmashed roster.
Why 34-year-old Eric Gordon remains on this team is beyond me. Send him somewhere he can smile again. If you're going to keep playing Garrison Mathews and Daishen Nix over Josh Christopher, look at moving the latter, too. And then maybe shop Mathews and Nix themselves to open up reps for TyTy Washington Jr.
While you're at it, Houston, gauge the market for Jae'Sean Tate or K.J. Martin, at least one of whom is expendable given the emergence of Tari Eason and the playable body count on your frontline. And please, for the love of everything, dust off and free Usman Garuba if you're going to leave him stranded in sub-12-minutes-per-game territory.
Indiana Pacers: Sell
Not too long ago, the Indiana Pacers looked like they were stealth buyers. They were in the thick of the playoff race and talking about a renegotiate-and-extend with Myles Turner. What if they just kept him and traded for a wing or John Collins?
That concept is largely immaterial now.
Tyrese Haliburton, the driving force of Indy's success, hasn't played since Jan. 11 while recovering from elbow and knee issues. While appearing on J.J. Redick's Old Man and the Three podcast (h/t Tony East of SI.com), he intimated that he hoped to return sometime in early February. That's too late for Indiana to salvage its Cinderella status.
The Pacers have yet to win in Haliburton's absence and are currently on the precipice of dropping outside the Eastern Conference's top 10. Pivoting to seller mode is the most prudent move. They can slow-play Haliburton's return even further and soup up the value of their own draft pick this June, positioning themselves to add yet another top-shelf lottery talent while touting what could be nearly $60 million in cap space. That number could climb if they flip Buddy Hield for expiring money.
Selling just for selling's sake is never a good idea. If offers for Hield, Turner and even Oshae Brissett are commensurate with how much the Pacers value them, they can simply hold.
Much like Detroit, though, Indy could stand to load up on other teams' draft picks—especially post-2023. And regardless of how the Pacers handle shopping their own players, they should be more open than ever to leasing out their $27-plus million in cap space to any teams that might need a third-party facilitator to complete other transactions and are dangling draft or prospect hauls to make it happen.
LA Clippers: Buy
Buying at the trade deadline is both an organizational ethos and obligation for the L.A. Clippers.
Team governor Steve Ballmer and his front office aren't ones to just sit idly, twiddling their thumbs, without making a splash. Just look at basically every other trade deadline.
Equally important: The Clippers are under more pressure than any other franchise to win at the highest level. This is Year 4 of the Kawhi Leonard and Paul George era, and we're still talking about injuries, load management and all that could be. L.A. remains a statistical heavyweight when both stars play, but their 400 minutes alongside one another across 17 games is an uninspiring sample size.
It'd be easier to stomach the Clippers' stop-and-start reality if their universally celebrated depth was pulling out victories. It's not. L.A. is hovering around .500, with a bottom-five offense that's been only marginally better since the turn of the calendar.
What once looked like a team immune to weaknesses is now one with plenty of holes. The Clippers could go the overly discussed "Get a point guard!" route. Really, they just need to upgrade the Reggie Jackson and John Wall minutes beyond finally realizing Terance Mann both exist and are good.
Shoring up the big-man reps behind Ivica Zubac is a borderline must. Another wing who doesn't fall under the "ordinary" umbrella would be nice; guys like Marcus Morris Sr., Robert Covington and Amir Coffey (sigh) aren't moving the needle as much as anticipated. A healthy Luke Kennard has real value to this team, but the Clippers could use someone with a similarly high three-point volume who's not so roast-able on defense.
L.A. can bust into upper-crust discussions if its 2028 (or 2029) first-round pick is on the table. That begs a question nobody thought would need to be asked: Are the Clippers good enough to punt on an ultra-distant first? It really doesn't matter. They must act like they are, because that's what they're built for, and it's too late to turn back now.
Los Angeles Lakers: Buy
"F**k the picks."
I'm only half-kidding.
Having age-38 LeBron James on your team infers an all-in commitment to this season. The Los Angeles Lakers have yet to take that plunge. We know this, because they've yet to trade their 2027 and/or 2029 first-round picks.
Which, to be honest, is probably the right call.
Scan the trade landscape, and you won't find a realistic deal that transforms these Lakers into more than a half-measure Western Conference irritant. You can't fault general manager Rob Pelinka and the rest of the front office for preserving incredibly valuable future assets when the return on them has, so far, likely topped out at Buddy Hield and Myles Turner.
Then again, the Lakers are only potentially too far gone because Pelinka and Co. under-reacted during the offseason (while over-indulging on guards). Declaring these first-rounders untouchable rewards them for utter incompetence.
Push comes to shove, these picks should be on the table until the very last second. Maybe they yield an untold star or fringe star who the Lakers can plan on housing well beyond this season. You are, at the bare minimum, obligated to keep searching. It's the Age-38 LeBron James Clause.
And even if the Lakers don't make a huge splash, they must still buy. Between the expiring contracts of Patrick Beverley and Kendrick Nunn, their own second-round pick and Chicago's 2023 second, they should be able to aim for actual wing-types (Josh Richardson, Cam Reddish, Gary Harris, etc.) who are worthy of experimental minutes or straight-up ready to close games for them.
Memphis Grizzlies: Buy
Pleading with the Memphis Grizzlies to buy at the trade deadline only for them to sit tight or avoid doing anything more than unspectacular is a winter tradition unlike any other.
I am sad to report, yet again, that it'll be genuinely surprising if this is the year they break character.
Holding serve is the Grizzlies' right. They are second in the West and good enough to win the title. Yes, they have needs. Another half-court creator, an unchecked three-point volume-ist and a bigger wing all crack the list. But they also have upside caked into their roster.
Desmond Bane's on-ball leap and Jaren Jackson Jr.'s own offensive progression should strengthen Memphis' half-court offense. Ziaire Williams has been largely disappointing, but he missed most of the season with right knee issues and has time to work his way back into swing-piece territory—which is where he ended last year. He's also looked better in January. Santi Aldama provides additional "There might be something here right the hell now" jet fuel, too.
Moral of the story: The Grizzlies can chug along, as currently built, and remain really good. Great. Grand. Wonderful. They should be chasing more than the status quo. They are no longer darlings. They are an entrenched contender with accompanying expectations, and they have the picks, prospects and salary-matching tools to enter A-level talks. It's time they use them.
To be certain: This is different from saying "Use all of them." The Grizzlies don't need to exclusively pursue blockbusters (aka OG Anunoby hypotheticals). Prioritizing B-level targets like Bojan Bogdanović, Kyle Kuzma or Malik Beasley would be just as encouraging—and real difference-making acquisitions if pulled off.
Miami Heat: Buy
Slowly, surely, the Miami Heat are hinting at sleeping-giant status. They are 13-7 since falling to 12-15, with a top-three defense and ninth-place net rating. Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro (cooling off lately) are, somewhat quietly, turning in monster seasons. Jimmy Butler more-than-occasionally is delivering reminders of why he might be a top-five postseason player. Kyle Lowry is up-and-down, in a bad way. Victor Oladipo is packing an up-and-down punch, in a good way.
Something still feels off about this roster. The offense remains a slog in the half-court, even when Miami is fielding units with its best players. The Heat take enough threes, but they're not making them. They are now 27th in accuracy from beyond the arc on the year—and dead last since the turn of the calendar. The secondary frontcourt rotation is painful miscellany.
In years past, Miami always carved out just enough depth and proof that it could flip a switch and ruin lives in the playoffs. Traces of that identity endure, but the Heat no longer seem as fearsome overall.
Acquiring someone who can be no worse than their seventh-best player almost feels like a must. And they should have the assets to do it. Duncan Robinson's contract is unflattering (three years, $57.4 million), but not unworkable, and the Heat can dangle some combination of Nikola Jović (out with a lower-back injury) and their first-rounders in 2023, 2025, 2027 and 2029.
No player currently in the rumor mill is worth that much asset equity, but Miami should unequivocally be in on talks for guys like Bojan Bogdanović, Kyle Kuzma, Christian Wood, John Collins, et al. Someone like Jae Crowder, meanwhile, should represent the Heat's window-shopping floor.
Milwaukee Bucks: Buy
Attribute the Milwaukee Bucks' offensive struggles and Giannis Antetokounmpo's dip in efficiency to the extended absence(s) of Khris Middleton all you want. We're fast approaching a point where, even if he's available, they shouldn't be totally comfortable counting on Khris Middleton to be caps-lock KHRIS MIDDLETON.
Benefit of the doubt still lies with the Bucks. Their defense is stout and Giannis remains best-player-alive material even when he's not at his offensive peak. The season so far is merely proof Milwaukee needs to more urgently search for offensive contingencies or someone who's a quasi-lock to round out its best five-man unit alongside Giannis, Middleton, Jrue Holiday and Brook Lopez.
Bagging that player will be tricky. Perhaps the Bucks can throw around a jillion second-round picks to net someone like Jae Crowder, Josh Richardson or Jalen McDaniels. But they shouldn't be opposed to higher aspirations—and the price tag that comes with them.
Milwaukee can amble their way into flashier talks if it puts MarJon Beauchamp and its 2029 first-rounder in play. Surrendering either one, let alone both, would be tough to stomach. But if one of them gets you into the discussion for Jordan Clarkson and Bojan Bogdanović, you think about it.
And if you can pull someone like Bogdan Bogdanović (player option) or Gary Trent Jr. (player option), you don't think. You just do.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Hold
Walking through the Minnesota Timberwolves' trade-deadline situation is at once simple and complicated.
They have needs. Boy, oh boy, do they have needs. But they don't have the means to seriously buy. They can't trade a first-round pick, though they can offer swaps in 2024 and 2028.
Jaden McDaniels will pique attention around the league, but the Wolves need-need-need him, and he doesn't make nearly enough on his own to bring back the typical cost of impact talent.
Pairing Naz Reid and Wendell Moore Jr. to a larger salary might get you someone. But who is that larger salary? Karl-Anthony Towns can't be traded this season, Rudy Gobert's contract (three years, $131.5 million) will be treated as a net-negative these days, and you're not moving Anthony Edwards. Even the prospect of parting with Taurean Prince stings. He only makes $7.3 million and is hyper-important to the offense's spacing.
D'Angelo Russell's $31.4 million expiring contract may open up different avenues. The Wolves should be able to turn him into two (or three) rotation players. But, like, does that constitute buying or selling? And does the combo-playmaking of Edwards and Kyle Anderson (quietly dominating this season) actually render Russell expendable? He is, after all, downing 47.2 percent of his triples since the turn of the calendar.
Sidestepping any major moves is the right call. Minnesota still needs to see what it can be with a healthy Towns, and shipping out Russell is only mandatory if he's unwilling to re-sign or the team has zero interest in footing the bill on his next contract.
New Orleans Pelicans: Buy
Ruminating on the New Orleans Pelicans' trade-deadline agenda took more time than it would have a couple of weeks ago. They are miles below .500 since the end of December, with a bottom-five offense, bottom-10 defense and a mounting number of inexcusably lopsided losses—like their Jan. 20 letdown against the Orlando Magic.
Injuries are to some extent at fault. The Pelicans don't have Brandon Ingram, Zion Williamson or Herb Jones at the moment. Ingram, specifically, hasn't played since Nov. 25 while recovering from a left toe injury that's mutated into a source of mystery and frustration.
Shorthanded circumstances matter. They are also, frankly, par for New Orleans' course. We can't just insist the Pelicans hold firm and regroup next year when they are healthier. Choppy availability is ingrained into this core. And that should only increase the urgency with which they operate.
New Orleans has shown it can ascend to the top of the standings when at full strength or close it. That's juuust telltale enough to consider this group one or 1.5 additions away from peak title contention. And it just so happens the Pelicans have the assets to go a number of different ways on the trade market.
Between digestible matching salaries, this year's first-round swap with the Lakers, the Lakers' first-round pick next season (with the right to defer until 2025), Milwaukee's 2027 first, all its own first-rounders, Dyson Daniels, Trey Murphy III and Jones, New Orleans boasts the full spectrum of sweeteners. It can target upgrades of all sizes—small, medium, big, gargantuan.
Adding three-point touch and volume from the wing rotation should be top priority. Altering the frontcourt structure with a floor-spacing and rim-protecting 5—Myles Turner-to-New Orleans forever—is a close second.
New York Knicks: Sell
Reasonable minds can disagree about the extent to which the New York Knicks should sell at the deadline.
Yours truly, for instance, would be more devoted to shopping certain players I won't name to protect my sanity when I read the comments section. Others will be more frugal, suggesting the Knicks seek out takers for Cam Reddish and Derrick Rose and call it a day.
Either form of selling is perfectly fine. It matters more that we all, as a family, agree the Knicks need to sell. Neither the trade landscape nor their roller coaster, high-high-low-high-low-low-high-high-low play is conducive to jettisoning their best assets in a buy-now move, and a holding pattern only ensures they keep mismanaging resources.
Reddish and, to a lesser degree, Rose are the obvious candidates. It's about time Isaiah Hartenstein gets thrown in there, too. I billed him as one of the best signings, bar none, from this past offseason. But the fit isn't great. New York's offense doesn't accentuate his greatest strengths, and this roster needs a more constant presence on the defensive glass from its bigs.
Rival teams should want the Knicks to shop Immanuel Quickley with his extension eligibility right around the corner. Those same teams should also prepare for disappointment.
Obi Toppin is a different story. He is a shot of adrenaline who runs and spaces the floor at his apex, but he hasn't looked great since returning from a fractured right fibula.
More damningly, the Knicks don't seem prepared to significantly bump his minutes or roll him out at center during Mitchell Robinson's absence with a right thumb injury. If all they can muster for Toppin is finite spurts, they're better off moving him while he has a year-plus left on his rookie scale.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Light Buy to Hold
Every fibre of my being wants to declare the Oklahoma City Thunder all-out buyers. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has armed them with a top-10 player, Josh Giddey is evolving, Jalen Williams' basketball intuition smacks you in the face, Kenrich Williams does a little bit of everything, Isaiah Joe is a human flamethrower, Lu Dort is finding nylon on more threes, the defense is a beautiful blend of frenetic, oft-undisciplined energy—the list goes on. And on.
And then on some more.
And did I mention the Thunder are annihilating opponents when SGA, Dort, Giddey and Kenrich Williams share the floor?
Oklahoma City has firmly planted itself inside the play-in race and remains within striking distance of a more substantive finish. There's a chance the current ascent fades. There's also a chance it doesn't.
We should all endorse a more aggressive deadline approach if the Thunder were built for it. SGA, Dort, Giddey and Chet Holmgren are their four highest-paid players. None of them are going anywhere. Their fifth highest-paid player is Ousman Dieng, who is out with a fractured right wrist and someone you should keep an eye on when healthy. He makes a whopping...$4.6 million.
Limited matching salary is one issue. Roster-spot limbo is another. The Thunder project to have one open slot this summer, which they will fill with their own first-round pick or the Clippers' selection. They're unlikely to complicate that situation—especially with so many additional firsts coming their way after this year.
Sign me up for a "light buy" anyway. The Thunder could use more shooting. They're second in three-point accuracy since the start of January, but even if that's sustainable, they need a higher-volume sniper. Dangling Darius Bazley's expiring contract alongside some lower-level assets should be enough to get them a marksman flier (Garrison Mathews? P.J. Washington?).
Orlando Magic: Hold
Steering into seller's mode is the cookie-cutter course for a team like the Orlando Magic that resides near the bottom of the standings. In their case, though, there's little incentive to work the phones.
Nabbing future draft equity isn't mission-critical when they have all their own firsts, Chicago's selection this year (top-four protection) and a 2025 Denver pick (top-five protection). And even if they deem it a priority, the Magic's primary sell candidates aren't netting that much value on their own.
Sussing out a team that will give R.J. Hampton a shot isn't reeling in more than an afterthought second-rounder. Terrence Ross and Gary Harris will appeal to contenders, but not at a first-round price point. They're both more valuable to Orlando as contributors who streamline responsibility and spacing for the youngsters. Ross is canning over 58 percent of his triples since Jan. 1, and Harris has been inserted into the starting lineup.
The Magic don't have much to consider after them. Jonathan Isaac needs to play more than one actual NBA game before contemplating his future, and shopping Chuma Okeke while he's injured, again, would equate to selling low. Mo Bamba hovers right above flier territory.
Core pieces like Paolo Bancheo, Franz Wagner and, for now, Jalen Suggs shouldn't be going anywhere. Wendell Carter Jr., Bol Bol, Markelle Fultz and Cole Anthony won't be untouchable, but they're players you move as part of significant buys—splashy transactions the Magic are more likely to ponder over the offseason, if at all.
Philadelphia 76ers: Sell
Selling at the trade deadline comes across as counterintuitive for a scorching-hot Philadelphia 76ers squad. They are 17-4 since dropping to 12-12, with a top-five offense and defense. Genuine contenders are buyers by default.
Except the Sixers aren't readily built to swing a purposeful acquisition. Their three highest paid players make over $30 million—and two of them, in Joel Embiid and James Harden, are untouchable. Their fourth highest paid player, P.J. Tucker, earns under $10.5 million. Salary-matching gets thorny unless they're prepared to move him or De'Anthony Melton ($8.5 million).
Tobias Harris theoreticals are trade-machine staples. But he's important to Philly's frontline, struggling from beyond the arc during the team's collective heater and, above all, not bringing back much on his own. The Sixers must attach picks and prospects to his money if they're angling for difference-making arrivals. They don't have either.
Tyrese Maxey is a blue-chip prospect who's too damn good to jettison without getting a star. Philly doesn't have any alluring youngsters after him and can't technically guarantee a first-round pick at the moment. Bigger swings will come over the offseason, if they happen at all.
Skirting the tax instead looms as a primary focus. The Sixers are around $1.1 million above the line. This isn't why I'm suggesting they sell. I don't care about saving team governors Josh Harris and David Blitzer money.
This is more about turning Matisse Thybulle into something, anything, before he hits restricted free agency and they're compelled to pony up any money, at all, for someone who doesn't forecast as a core member of the nucleus. Indeed, his on-off splits this year are wildly positive. Don't let them fool you.
Thybulle remains an offensive non-factor with an inflated defensive reputation who doesn't fit well in the half-court for a team built around Embiid, and who won't populate any of Philly's most important playoff lineups. Moving him is just smart asset allocation. If the Sixers happen to sidestep the tax in the process, then so be it.
Phoenix Suns: Buy
It is tempting to call for the Phoenix Suns to hold. They have plunged down the standings in Devin Booker's absence with a left groin strain, vomiting out a 4-12 record and league-worst offense since he initially suffered the injury.
Does doubling down on this season really make sense? Couldn't they just pull back, stash Chris Paul in whatever hyperbaric chamber he used while on Oklahoma City, lean into a gap year and the lottery pick that comes with it and then regroup and reload over the offseason?
I mean, they could. But Cam Johnson is already back! Booker will return eventually. The CP3 aging curve, which has frankly been overstated, isn't getting any rosier. And the all the Suns' struggles and cold-be harbingers of doom, they are just a few games back from home-court-advantage waters.
Ipso facto: They might as well buy. They won't have a puncher's chance in hell of out-sucking the NBA's Flagrantly Frightening Four—Charlotte, Detroit, Houston, San Antonio—unless they send everybody home and forfeit the rest of their games. And even then, it might be a stretch.
Phoenix is still built to win now and should act like it. Booker's injury doesn't change the calculus all that much. The Suns shouldn't jettison an unprotected pick this year willy-nilly unless they're raking in a star. And it's clear they should aim higher than eighth-or-ninth-best-player additions. But that's the extent of their mindset shift. They have all their own first-rounders, salary-matching tools of all sizes, the idea of Deandre Ayton on which to sell teams and whatever the hell Jae Crowder is these days. Holding should not be deemed acceptable—unless, of course, the sale of the franchise complicates matters and generational a-hole Robert Sarver continues to sabotage the Suns from the inside.
Portland Trail Blazers: Sell
Forecasting the best trade-deadline course for the Portland Trail Blazers is very much an eye-of-the-beholder proposition.
Damian Lillard's timeline and the supporting talent at the top of the roster beg this team to buy. But it's not clear what that looks like.
Portland owes a first-rounder to Chicago that's lottery protected through 2028, so it can't officially guarantee a pick without adjusting the terms of this obligation. Anfernee Simons is a blockbuster magnet on his own, but what's the move you're making to certifiably improve your title odds while shipping out no worse than your third-best player?
Shaedon Sharpe retains his bounce-house, could-be-anything glister, but the same limitations that apply to Simons come into play here. You're not moving him independent of a mega-blockbuster acquisition.
Sitting tight is probably OK—provided the plan is to pay Jerami Grant and Josh Hart (player option) in free agency.
Inaction, though, would be more justifiable if the Blazers were locks to make the playoffs and, by extension, extinguish their first-round obligation to Chicago and open up offseason trade possibilities. That isn't the case. Portland seems at risk of cementing itself to the middle. And without the first-round ammo to shore up its playoff stock, it should spend this #deadlinedaze exploring just how much first-round equity it can bring back for anyone not named Dame, Anfernee or Shaedon.
Sacramento Kings: Hold
Attention Sacramento Kings fans, whom I love and appreciate dearly: Giving your fave squad the "hold" designation is not an uninventive attempt at doubting its top-four status in the West. It's a reaction to the team's asset rigidity.
Packaging a first-rounder in any trade is complicated. Sacramento owes a 2024 pick to Atlanta that's protected through 2026. Weaving in "first allowable" terms technically lets the Kings include a selection that conveys two years after the Hawks obligation dissipates, but unloading distant draft choices for anything short of a star is risky business and only further hamstrings flexibility moving forward.
Sacramento can try fleshing out buy-now proposals purely around players, but that's no brainless task. De'Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis are going absolutely nowhere. Keegan Murray is off-limits in non-blockbusters. Harrison Barnes, Kevin Huerter and even Malik Monk are more valuable in-house than outside it. (And yes, Barnes' pending free agency is factored into this thinking.) Attaching one or more of them to Davion Mitchell hardly assures you an upgrade if you're targeting players for whom other teams will surrender first-round equity.
Some will push for the Kings to sell. That's a no-go for me. Richaun Holmes is expendable but recently started sprinkling in glimmers of hope, and the rotation isn't flush with secondary center options. Mitchell's blanketing defense will appeal to select squads—including Sacramento itself. His offense is too down-down-then-up-then-down to be more than a sell-medium, if not sell-low, candidate anyway.
So, you know, hold. See how you finish the season, Sacramento. Enjoy what should be your first playoff berth since 2006. Then, when it's all said and done, take stock of what you need and revisit trade options over the offseason.
San Antonio Spurs: Sell
Standing pat would be totally fine—and completely on-brand—for the San Antonio Spurs. They don't need to move Jakob Poeltl, Josh Richardson or Doug McDermott to optimize their lottery odds. They are going to be a bottom-four team no matter what.
Upcoming forays into free agency for Poeltl and Richardson should nudge the Spurs toward the phones. But neither is must-trade.
Poeltl isn't adding too many wins or stunting the development of the kiddies. San Antonio is free to re-sign him if it doesn't believe his market will be too frothy. Holding on to Richardson is akin to punting on a second-rounder or two. The Spurs will get over it.
San Antonio should nevertheless remain opportunistic sellers. None of the vets are irreplaceable, and given the dearth of teams shedding talent (so far), the Spurs might be able to command mini-ransoms relative to who they're shopping.
Does Poeltl get you a loosely protected first or a heavily protected first and something else? Can you get two good seconds for Richardson? Romeo Langford has shown flashes. Can the Spurs extract pick equity for him in advance of his restricted agency?
McDermott is spitting out 1.35 points per possession on spot-ups—the league's second-best mark, trailing only Kevin Durant, among 150-plus players to finish at least 100 such touches. What will buyers with a sturdy defensive infrastructure and scarcity of shooting give up for him? These are questions the Spurs should be actively looking to answer leading into Feb. 9.
Toronto Raptors: Anything But Hold
Calls for the Toronto Raptors to break up their core have crescendoed into deafening roars. It's understandable. They are 7-14 over their last 21 games, with the league's worst effective field-goal percentage on offense and a disastrous defense, having tumbled outside the play-in and behind the Washington Wizards in the Eastern Conference standings.
Toronto can rather easily justify a seller's pivot. Fred VanVleet (player option) and Gary Trent Jr. (player option) are headed for free agency, and the team has to start thinking about new contracts for OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam.
Any one of them could be trade bait. All of them could even be on the table. It depends on what the Raptors are trying to do. A full-tilt rebuild would consist of shopping them all. About-facing into a gap year followed by a quick retool would require moving one or two while keeping Siakam, a legitimate All-NBA candidate.
But the Raptors don't have to sell. They are still only a stone's throw from the playoff picture, and their talent at the top is enviable. They also have all their own first-round picks, a 22-year-old human eclipse in Christian Koloko, the ever-adventurous Precious Achiuwa and a slew of digestible salary-matchers—ingredients that allow them to enter the buyer's market. They even have trounce-card assets in Anunoby or Scottie Barnes if they stumble upon worthwhile star talks.
Selling will be the more popular pick for the Raptors. That doesn't make it the only right answer. They can afford to approach the deadline with an open mind. What they can't afford to do is emerge from Feb. 9 having done nothing.
Utah Jazz: Sell
Most of the sparkle from the Utah Jazz's blistering start has dulled. They are not tattered goods, but they're not some slumbering giant, either. They have settled into the middle, an elite offensive team that's not built to defend at a particularly high level.
Utah's front office appears to be reacting accordingly. As Marc Stein reported on his Substack: "With less than three weeks to go before the trade deadline, teams regarded as clear-cut sellers at the deadline remain in short supply. Yet there is a rising belief leaguewide that Utah is open to listening to trade pitches for anyone on the roster not named Lauri Markkanen or Walker Kessler..."
This is the right move. The Jazz unraveled a fringe-contender nucleus to play the long game and set themselves up for something better than a surprise, rollicking bid for a play-in spot and lower-level postseason berth. They have already nabbed two core pieces in the process. Kessler is a monster around the basket—at both ends. Markkanen is a surefire All-Star...and still only 25.
Pretty much everyone else is a transient piece to the larger puzzle. And while Utah is already draped in future first-round picks, you can't have too many bites at the big-picture apple.
Capitalizing on whatever value Malik Beasley (team option), Jordan Clarkson (player option), Mike Conley, Kelly Olynyk and Jarred Vanderbilt have isn't totally necessary, but it fits the rebuilding motif. Tougher calls can wait if the market isn't foaming at the mouth. Beasley, Vanderbilt and Collin Sexton are all under team control for at least one more year. More than making any one specific move, it's paramount the Jazz remain eyes wide open about the long haul despite this season's plucky defiance of expectations.
Washington Wizards: Sell
Franchises with more forethought than the Washington Wizards would have burned the whole thing down long ago and gone through a proper rebuild. It's not too late for that path.
Blow-up edicts almost always lack substance. Teardowns can't just happen. But the Wizards have a smattering of movable players in a sellers-light market and can, unequivocally, start anew if they have the stomach for it.
They don't. We know they don't. That's why they're locked into Eastern Conference's sub-middle at all. Knowing their track record, they're more likely to view themselves as buyers—a Jae Crowder trade away from making Boston quake where they stand or some disillusioned bunk like that.
Luckily for Wizards fans who aspire to root for an organization that does more than lust after below-averageness, this team will be hard-pressed to mortgage its future for a crack at the seven-seed. Washington owes a 2023 pick to New York that's protected through 2026, and "first-allowable draft" language won't resonate when this squad is hardly a lock to avoid lottery finishes the next few years.
In the interest of being slightly less of a jerk, the Wizards don't have to go nuclear. They medium-sell their way to draft equity at the deadline. Rui Hachimura (restricted) is available and might get them something, and contract-year Kyle Kuzma (player option) should be worth more than a single first-rounder—provided the Wizards shop him, which they should, unless they're prepared to give him fringe-star money or lose him for nothing over the offseason.
Plenty of others should be up for grabs, including Bradley Beal (no-trade clause) and Kristaps Porziņģis (player option). Really, no one on this roster should be untouchable. But so long as the Wizards poke around the markets for Hachimura and Kuzma, they'll have done their job.
Unless otherwise noted, stats courtesy of NBA.com, Basketball Reference, Stathead or Cleaning the Glass and accurate entering Saturday's games. Salary information via Spotrac.
Dan Favale covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter (@danfavale), and subscribe to the Hardwood Knocks podcast, co-hosted by Bleacher Report's Grant Hughes.