6 NBA Teams Primed to Enter 2015 as Definite Trade-Market Buyers

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistJanuary 2, 2015

6 NBA Teams Primed to Enter 2015 as Definite Trade-Market Buyers

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    Long live the NBA's trade-deadline buyers.

    Focus often shifts to the Association's sellers at this point of the season. The league's Feb. 19 trade deadline is less than two months away, and fans and pundits want to know which teams will be making marquee talents available.

    Equally important, though, are squads that will be in the hunt for marquee talent. These are the NBA's buyers—the teams that will inevitably try to acquire impact players before this season is out.

    Narrowing down the list of buyers can be tricky. Possibilities abound, but "definite" is a strong word. In predicting the league's most aggressive trade suitors, then, we'll focus on teams that have the most to gain, a need to shake things up for the better or outright admitted they'll chase enormous splashes.

    Consideration will also be determined by status, assets and past tendencies. The Golden State Warriors are still lording over everyone, so there's little need for them to have 29 other general managers on speed dial. The Philadelphia 76ers aren't trying to win now, so they fall in the same boat. The New York Knicks desperately need help yet are thin on tradeable talent, so they won't be here.

    And, finally, teams like the San Antonio Spurs and Memphis Grizzlies (this side of Rudy Gay's departure) aren't ones for midseason turnover, so they won't be here either.

    Motive is the glue holding this list together. Let's see which teams have enough of it to be answers to the future question of "Who dunnit?"

Sacramento Kings

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    Five games under .500, with no chance of sneaking into the Western Conference's eighth and final playoff spot, the Sacramento Kings aren't your conventional NBA buyers.

    Then again, the Kings aren't ones to follow convention for the sake of convention under their new regime. They fired head coach Mike Malone after he guided them to their best 14-game opening in 10 years, citing stylistic differences—namely a lack of pace, per Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski.

    Soon after, they removed the "interim" tag from Malone's replacement Tyrone Corbin, per ESPN.com. He has never coached a team that's ranked better than 12th in pace.

    It should come as no surprise, then, that the ever-active Kings are prepared to stay that way.

    "The Kings are thrilled with [DeMarcus] Cousins' progression, with Rudy Gay's evolution as a supporting star, with Darren Collison's surprising play at point guard and with Ben McLemore's rapid growth," Bleacher Report's Howard Beck wrote. "If they see an opportunity to add another impact player, the Kings will do so—the standings be damned."

    Sacramento has already been linked to the Brooklyn Nets' reported fire sale, having registered interest in acquiring Deron Williams. Talks have cooled, according to Wojnarowski, with the Kings apparently demanding Mason Plumlee be part of any deal.

    Still, if the Kings' 2014-15 actions have taught us anything, it's that they won't wait around. Expect them to scour the trade market, looking for ways to build upon the promising, yet unpolished, core they've assembled—standings still be damned.

New Orleans Pelicans

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    The New Orleans Pelicans certainly haven't been shy about placing (tacit) emphasis on Anthony Davis' rise through the NBA's superstar ranks.

    Picks and cap flexibility have been sacrificed in order to land win-now talent such as Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans and Omer Asik since 2012. The end result has been a fringe playoff contender that, while often impressive, remains too dependent on Davis.

    To wit: When he's on the floor, the Pelicans' net rating (plus-2.2 points per 100 possessions) equates to that of a playoff team. When he's riding pine, their net rating (minus-9.2) is worse than that of the 29-loss Knicks (minus-8.3).

    Clutch situations have been particularly harmful. New Orleans is 7-8 in games during which they're ahead or behind by no more than five points in the final five minutes. Though Davis himself is shooting 13-of-15 during these moments, the Pelicans rank 17th in clutch offensive efficiency and 27th in defensive efficiency.

    With Eric Gordon sidelined and Evans being strictly an on-ball, pace-killing threat, the Pelicans really need a talented wing. Writing for Sports On Earth, Michael Pina suggested they try to deal Gordon, Austin Rivers, John Salmons and a first-round pick to the Nets for Joe Johnson, his reasoning as follows:

    It seems crazy that any team would forfeit a first-round pick for the right to pay a 33-year-old shooting guard $48 million. But at this point, New Orleans should probably double down on its campaign to win now. Why not?

    They need a starting small forward, and here's a solution. In addition to adding a versatile crunch-time scorer who can play either spot on the wing, New Orleans would also shed Eric Gordon's titanic contract.

    This is the exact kind of move the Pelicans must be looking to make. Davis is a superstar now, so the time to win is now. They're well past the point of collecting draft picks and banking on internal progression.

    Next to hoping Davis' on-court mystique can be parlayed into free-agency coups moving forward, aggressively surfing the phones is the only way for them to elevate their ceiling within a brutal Western Conference.

Cleveland Cavaliers

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    We're well into the 2014-15 campaign, and the Cleveland Cavaliers are neither a perfect 32-0 nor already being outfitted for championship rings. What is the world coming to?

    A lackluster start to their inaugural season has the Cavaliers scrambling. Injuries haven't helped their situation either. Anderson Varejao is already done for the year, Kevin Love has been battling back spasms and the team announced LeBron James will miss the next two weeks or so with "left knee and low back strains."

    Complicating matters, of course, is the usual superteam drama. Losing streaks are viewed as the end of the world, while winning streaks are considered corners turned. ESPN.com's Marc Stein filed a report that alleged rookie head coach David Blatt wasn't reaching his players—findings Blatt himself later denied.

    "Absolutely I do," he said when asked if he had his team's attention, per ESPN.com's Dave McMenamin. "We just didn't play well...Don't think it was an issue outside of that."

    Expectations are the issue. The Cavaliers are supposed to be contending for a title, not merely existing within a lowly Eastern Conference as they are now.

    Topping their list of needs is a paint-policer. The Cavaliers rank 23rd in defensive efficiency, dead last in rim protection, and their two most prominent inside presences—Love and Tristan Thompson—are each allowing opponents to shoot at least 55 percent inside of six feet.

    Armed with assets like Dion Waiters, Memphis' 2015 first-round pick, a trade exception from the Keith Bogans trade and a disabled player exception, the Cavaliers do have enough pieces to look for help at the 5 spot. Sources also previously named Kosta Koufos and Timofey Mozgov as potential targets to Stein and colleague Brian Windhorst.

    Whatever the Cavaliers inevitably do—splashy or otherwise—expect them to do it soon. There's still time for them to rain hell down upon the Eastern Conference, and general manager David Griffin would be remiss if he squandered the opportunity to improve a team that's one impact defender away from legitimate title contention.

Phoenix Suns

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    Pinpointing exactly where the Phoenix Suns lie leading into the trade deadline is difficult. They can be viewed as either buyers or sellers. Since they're not the equally asset-addled Denver Nuggets—i.e. a playoff berth isn't farfetched fantasy—we're rolling with buyers.

    Consolidation needs to be the operative word in Phoenix. The Suns' current core has hit a wall. They rank fifth in offensive efficiency, but they play undersized and their defense—21st in points allowed per 100 possessions—isn't good enough to stave off the now-healthy Oklahoma City Thunder.

    Rim protection remains the biggest red flag; they're 26th in opponent field-goal percentage at the iron. This, in addition to ranking 27th in defensive rebounding percentage and lacking a capable post scorer. And all of this in mind, it's high time the Suns invoke change—even if it means breaking up their stable of point guards.

    "Caveats aside, there is every reason to believe the Suns will trade [Eric] Bledsoe, or one of their other flashy point guards, in the next few months," Beck wrote. "It's the logical move, competitively and financially."

    Goran Dragic is expected to reach free agency this summer, at which point he'll enter max-contract discussions. The Suns have needs elsewhere, and they already have tens of millions of dollars invested in Isaiah Thomas and Bledsoe.

    Packaging one of their floor generals with other assets—picks, Gerald Green's expiring deal, etc.—could help them broker a blockbuster trade for the post presence and/or star they lack right now. Standing pat, at the very least, shouldn't be an option. Not at this point.

    Not if the Suns ever hope to become something more than the NBA's most entertaining almost.

Oklahoma City Thunder

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    Call this an issue of necessity or convenience. It doesn't matter. Regardless of how you look at the Thunder, they need to be buyers at the deadline.

    Early-season injuries have left them basically playing for eighth—maybe seventh—place in the Western Conference. Playoff seeding matters little in the contender-chocked West, but in lieu of home-court advantage, the Thunder could use some added offensive firepower.

    Reggie Jackson's future also comes into play here, his telling words from November still ringing loudly.

    "When I said command a team, I didn't mean be a temporary starter or anything like that," he said, per NewsOK.com's Berry Tramel. "Just trying to play my role while I'm here."

    Some team is going to offer the restricted free agent a lucrative contract; it's going to happen. If the Thunder aren't open to funneling tens of millions of dollars into Jackson's future, they're better off using him to headline a needle-nudging trade. They have Kendrick Perkins' expiring contract to work with, and Jackson's potential alone will appeal to any squad in the market for a backcourt cornerstone.

    Mere weeks ago, Sports Illustrated's Chris Mannix had the Thunder interested in Wilson Chandler, an athletic three-and-D guy who fits into their oft-high-octane offense. Although they probably lack the assets necessary to nab him, that's the type of transaction they'll need to pursue—a splashy one.

    Making moves just to make moves, of course, is seldom smart practice for a contender. Left alone, the Thunder can still wreak havoc out West as the most dangerous No. 8 seed in playoff history. But with Kevin Durant gearing up for free agency in 2016, their title window could be closing.

    Pursuing deals that strengthen their core this season, next and beyond is yet another way of trying to safeguard themselves against disaster and disappointment down the line.

Los Angeles Clippers

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    Light on assets, but heavy on issues, the Los Angeles Clippers should be the most desperate contenders heading into deadline day.

    Eleven games over .500, these Clippers pale in comparison to the team from 2013-14. Their offense is still humming, but they rank an unimpressive 15th in defensive efficiency one season after finishing eighth.

    Problems are everywhere on that front. The Clippers rank 23rd in rim protection and a middling 12th in three-point defense. Their bench is also 27th in defensive efficiency, in addition to 25th in offensive efficiency, according to HoopsStats.com.

    Acquiring a backup big would go a long way toward bridging the gap between DeAndre Jordan's stays on the bench and his returns, but small forward is a bigger need. Strictly by player efficiency rating, the Clippers are getting killed there more than anywhere else, per 82games.com

    Clippers PER21.916.611.119.819.0
    Opponents PER13.913.714.213.8



    Chandler would be the perfect addition for this team if the Nuggets ever decide to cut their losses and start consolidating assets. Yet, as always, price will be an issue for anyone worth landing.

    Unless the Clippers are prepared to talk shop on J.J. Redick, Jamal Crawford or perhaps Jordan, they're unlikely to pull the trigger on something that changes their fast-fading fortunes. Still, with other Western Conference teams surging (Trail Blazers, Warriors, Grizzlies) or improving on paper (Rockets, Mavericks), the Clippers have no choice but to try.

    Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com unless otherwise cited and are accurate as of games played Jan. 1, 2014. Salary information via HoopsHype.


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