Buy, Sell, Hold: What Should Your Team Do at the NBA Trade Deadline?

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistJanuary 10, 2018

Buy, Sell, Hold: What Should Your Team Do at the NBA Trade Deadline?

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    A lot may change between now and the NBA's Feb. 8 trade deadline, but you'd better hope your favorite team is already formulating its plans.

    Opportunities come and go quickly, and hesitation can be costly. Teams need to know where they stand, what they need and how they can get it.

    Any transaction necessarily involves a buyer and a seller. In this case, "buy" is a suggestion that the team in question should be the one trying to get better for this year. Sellers are doing the opposite, playing the long game and trying to set themselves up to build a winner more deliberately.

    The setup of the league—in which only about a half-dozen clubs have even the flimsiest title hopes and a lottery pick remains the best way to rebuild—means there are going to be far more sellers than buyers. That's always the case, but the disparity feels especially exaggerated this season.

    With a month between now and the deadline, these suggestions are subject to change. Opportunists have to be flexible.

    But for now, here's how all 30 teams should handle their business.

Atlanta Hawks: Sell

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    The Atlanta Hawks seem to have a more principled approach to rebuilding than most. Judging by their decision to take on more money to get Dwight Howard out of the locker room this past offseason, they aren't just cutting costs and accumulating picks.

    For them, there's a character element in play. That should come as no surprise, considering general manager Travis Schlenk is now in charge after spending time in the Golden State Warriors' high-functioning, cohesive culture.

    Atlanta's seeming emphasis on doing things the right way means we can't discount the possibility of a move away from Dennis Schroder. The talented young guard reportedly has a little too much love for the nightlife, one league executive told B/R's Ric Bucher last year.

    Schroder has been productive, but in addition to whispers about his off-court activities (and offseason arrest), he also hasn't shown the best late-game judgment.

    The more tempered plan would involve moving veterans like Kent Bazemore, Marco Belinelli, Ersan Ilyasova and Dewayne Dedmon.

Boston Celtics: Buy

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    This is a qualified "buy" suggestion.

    Though the Boston Celtics have no shortage of appealing and tradable assets (as many as three first-rounders from other teams in 2019, in addition to their own first-rounders), this isn't the time to punt on the future for short-term help.

    Boston may not be a realistic title threat this season, but with Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum on the wings and Gordon Hayward due back next season, the organization can afford to be patient. More than that, the Celtics shouldn't surrender anything that could be part of a trade package for Anthony Davis. Call it a pipe dream if you want, but there aren't many teams that could bowl the Pelicans over with picks like Boston could—if Davis ever agitates to be moved.

    The Celts have an easy way to improve their roster without losing any draft assets: the $8.4 million disabled player exception they got after Hayward went down on opening night.

    That ought to be enough to snag a rotation player. Perhaps someone like Nerlens Noel, who's on the outs and hurt in Dallas but who might thrive in a prove-it scenario under head coach Brad Stevens.

Brooklyn Nets: Sell

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    We should all be rooting for the Brooklyn Nets to make plays for Mario Hezonja, Willie Cauley-Stein, Emmanuel Mudiay and Stanley Johnson. Having already snatched up two of the top three picks from a distressed asset-laden 2015 draft—D'Angelo Russell and Jahlil Okafor—why not target a few more from that same lottery?

    The previous regime traded away a zillion first-rounders, but you wouldn't necessarily know it by looking at the Nets roster. They've stocked the cupboard with recent draftees via trade.

    If nobody's interested in helping Brooklyn build a team entirely out of 2015 first-rounders, a smart alternative would be to float the names of several veterans in hopes of getting picks in return. DeMarre Carroll, Joe Harris and Quincy Acy are worth shopping around.

    The Nets don't own the rights to their first-rounder in the 2018 draft, but they've got the Toronto Raptors'. And starting in 2019, they'll finally be back in control of their own firsts.

Charlotte Hornets: Sell

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    Hard sell. Hard sell.

    The Charlotte Hornets paid big in hopes of recapturing whatever magic got them 48 wins and a playoff berth in 2015-16, but they've ended up with an aging, underachieving roster and an impending luxury tax bill. Charlotte has never paid the tax on owner Michael Jordan's watch, and you can bet he won't want to cough up extra cash for a team that won't even make the playoffs.

    Part of the reason the Hornets are in this mess makes it difficult for them to be decent deadline sellers: They've got too many guys on unappealing contracts. Players who aren't young enough to be promising and are either properly paid or overcompensated for their production aren't highly sought after on the open market.

    But they have Kemba Walker.

    Here's Tim Bontemps of the Washington Post: "With Charlotte on a fast track to nowhere, it's hard to see what the compelling case will be for Walker to re-sign with the Hornets when his contract expires after next season—when he could go elsewhere and have a chance to find sustained success for the first time in his NBA career."

    So in addition to being one of Charlotte's few appealing pieces, Walker will also have a chance to leave in relatively short order. If the Hornets don't move Walker, they'll lose major leverage next season, when teams will be less inclined to trade for a player they think they might be able to sign in free agency.

    Charlotte should pull the trigger while it can.

Chicago Bulls: Sell and Buy

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    Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

    The 10-2 stretch was encouraging and exciting, largely because theoretical long-term asset Kris Dunn had plenty to do with it. But that surprising run (after a 3-20 start) shouldn't change the Chicago Bulls' big picture.

    They should look to unload any veteran that isn't nailed down in exchange for picks or fliers on young assets who have fallen out of favor—not unlike Dunn. Robin Lopez should be moved, as should Nikola Mirotic, whose value is as high as it's ever going to get.'s Kevin Pelton had more to say on that point: 

    "Second Spectrum data confirms that Mirotic taking more shots has meant taking harder ones. His quantified shot quality—the effective field-goal percentage we'd expect an average player to post on the same shots, given location, type and the location of the nearest defender—has dropped from 51.7 percent in 2016-17 to 49.8 percent this season. (Mirotic's actual eFG has gone up from 51.0 percent to 60.6 percent.) And again, most of the discrepancy has come on 3s."

    The Bulls have $15.9 million in cap space, which means they can also take on bad money from other teams...with draft picks attached. Think along the lines of what the Nets did over the summer, absorbing DeMarre Carroll's deal from the Raptors with a first-rounder thrown in for their trouble.

    Chicago can and should play both sides of the buy-sell game at the deadline.

Cleveland Cavaliers: Buy

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    The Nets' pick may not turn out to be a franchise-changer, which should affect the Cleveland Cavaliers' approach to maximizing its value.

    If Brooklyn were wallowing at the bottom of the standings, it'd make sense to hang on to that selection as insurance for a potential LeBron James departure. What better way to ease the sting of a second LBJ exit than by drafting, perhaps, first overall?

    But the Nets aren't that bad, and the selection looks like it could fall in mid-lottery territory, where it's much harder to snag a transformative player.

    In light of that, the Cavs should be looking to move that pick for short-term help. Jeff Green can talk all he wants about Cleveland's depth, but is it really possible to have too many versatile wings when you're (probably) going to meet the Warriors in the Finals for the fourth year in a row?

    This is a fluid situation. If the Nets lose 10 straight and wind up nearer the bottom of the league by the deadline, holding on to that pick will make more sense. But the Cavs shouldn't hesitate to trade it if Brooklyn continues to occupy the space above the league's lowest tier.

Dallas Mavericks: Sell

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    The Dallas Mavericks' continued attempt to rebuild without tanking—perhaps done partly out of reverence for Dirk Nowitzki—means they can't just fire vets for picks as easily as other organizations. But at some point this team is going to have to find talent that shares an age band with Dennis Smith Jr. and, to a lesser extent, Harrison Barnes.

    J.J. Barea is quietly playing the best ball of his life, and Wesley Matthews only has one more year (a player option) at $18.6 million after this one. Both are more tradable than they've been in the recent past. Somebody should want Nerlens Noel, who you'd have to assume would green-light anything that got him out of Dallas.

    And what about Dwight Powell? He's only got two more years (one of which is a player option) left after this one, averaging $9.9 million per.


    OK, that one was unrealistic.

    Even if the Mavs can't unload a veteran, they've got more space under the cap than anyone but the Bulls. That means adding some bad money with a pick attached is also in play.

Denver Nuggets: Buy

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    We say this every year, but it bears repeating now more than ever: The Denver Nuggets have so many desirable assets.

    Suitors who want an energy big can target Kenneth Faried, whose contract will expire after next season and who's still a useful up-and-down weapon who can change a game's tempo with hustle and work on the glass.

    Buried on the bench are Malik Beasley and Juan Hernangomez. Both have shown potential but can't crack the rotation regularly.

    Emmanuel Mudiay has lottery pedigree. Wilson Chandler is always on the block. Will Barton has been amazing as a secondary ball-handler, succeeding in minutes Mudiay should have claimed.

    Denver is a playoff team, and many of these guys will matter in April. But if the Nuggets can package some combination of expiring salaries and young pieces, they'd have a shot to get back a meaningful rotation weapon—maybe even a star.

    This feels like a situation that could go down to the wire, as it may depend on other teams deciding to punt on their seasons nearer the deadline. But the Nuggets should be involved in pursuing big names. They've got the goods to make a deal.

Detroit Pistons: Hold

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    With Reggie Jackson set to miss several weeks because of a nasty ankle sprain, the Detroit Pistons' playoff position will depend on Ish Smith and Dwight Buycks to perform at the point.

    Head coach Stan Van Gundy is qualifiedly cool with that.

    "You're always looking for what's there," Van Gundy told Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press. "Your own situation's changed a little. [General manager Jeff Bower] will be on the phones, seeing if there's people available that we think would make us better, but right now we're ready to go with this group."

    If I'm Bower, I'm talking with the Sacramento Kings about George Hill, the New Orleans Pelicans about Jameer Nelson or the Orlando Magic about D.J. Augustin—probably in that order.

    Detroit is in the playoff mix and isn't getting away from Jackson's or Andre Drummond's deal anytime soon. So it's sensible to push for a top-four spot and hope for the best. Trading a first-rounder (probably only for Hill, if we're limiting the discussion to the three options above) shouldn't be out of the question either. The Pistons haven't shown much draft acumen in recent years, and the pick probably won't fall in the lottery anyway.

    A mid-first-rounder might be worth more to another team than it would be to Detroit.

Golden State Warriors: Hold

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    If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

    And, at the risk of understating the situation, a team with the league's top net rating that also happens to be on pace to smash the all-time record for effective field-goal percentage in a season...ain't broke.

    Could the Warriors use another shooter off the bench? Sure.

    Might it be prudent to offload JaVale McGee, just to make sure the mild unhappiness of a fifth center who's largely lost his role doesn't bring bad vibes into the locker room? OK, maybe.

    But the Warriors aren't exactly feeling deadline urgency.

    A catastrophic luxury tax bill is inevitable down the line—if Golden State has to max out Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green on their next deals. But that's not a concern for the present, and short of blowing the team up, there's no way for the Dubs to address it now.

    The Warriors should stand pat unless someone offers a second-rounder for McGee.

Houston Rockets: Buy

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    "I don't expect to do much," Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey told Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle. "There's outside-the-rotation stuff potentially. We're always looking for something to upgrade us. I would guess the odds of us doing nothing are much higher than normal."

    That last part's important because Morey, Feigen noted, has never let a trade deadline pass without making a deal.

    So all "higher than normal" means in this context is that Morey and the Rockets have at least a 1 percent chance of standing pat.

    Don't buy it. The Rockets under Morey have been habitual, incorrigible dealers.

    Houston is likely to keep a roster spot open for buyout candidates later in the season, but it could also look to move Ryan Anderson for salary relief and players who could actually hit the floor in a postseason matchup against the Warriors. That might sound more like a "sell," but you'd have to think short-term concerns would be the bigger motivators to move Anderson—perhaps for another wing who could play some small-ball 4.

Indiana Pacers: Embrace Flexibility

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    The Indiana Pacers are our first deviation from the buy-sell-hold rules of this exercise, but there's a good reason for it.

    Armed with young talents who are exceeding expectations (Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis), a young talent who is more or less meeting expectations (Myles Turner), vets who might intrigue buyers (Darren Collison, Bojan Bogdanovic, Thaddeus Young and Lance Stephenson) and $6.9 million in cap space, the Pacers can play the deadline any way they want.

    Got a few million bucks you'd like to shed with a pick attached? Call Indy.

    Want a vet who'll help you down the stretch? Call Indy.

    Got a disgruntled star you'd like to unload, perhaps one you'd give up for young players and picks? Call Indy.

    The Pacers shouldn't get caught mistaking their surprising first third of the season as some sort of new baseline. They've slipped considerably of late, and Oladipo's knee soreness is troubling. The least advisable of Indiana's many available paths is an all-out sprint to secure, say, the No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference.

    But the organization is nicely positioned to capitalize on whatever kinds of opportunities arise between now and the deadline.

Los Angeles Clippers: Sell

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    In relaying the leaguewide skepticism about DeAndre Jordan's value as a trade acquisition, 's Adrian Wojnarowski helped outline the case for why the Los Angeles Clippers should try even harder to move him.

    "He's a difference-maker, but I'm not sure anyone thinks he puts you over the top," one GM told Woj.

    And that's exactly the reason L.A. should move Jordan rather than keep him around and face the possibility of paying him huge money when he opts out of his deal this summer.

    This won't be an easy decision. The Clips' most recent investments were Blake Griffin and Danilo Gallinari, injury-prone players who've already been hurt more than once apiece this season. Jordan's legendary durability would seem to make him a good hedge against the off-and-on availability of those two.

    But the faint glimmer of flexibility provided by Jordan's exit matters more. If the Clippers are ever going to do something sustainable, they need shots at the draft, young players worth developing and, perhaps as much as anything, change.

    Better to move Jordan now, even if his value isn't especially high, than lose him for nothing or be stuck paying his next contract.

Los Angeles Lakers: Sell

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    The plans to chase free agents in July may as well have been printed in 1,000-point font on a banner hanging from the top of the Staples Center. Maybe with some sky-written arrows pointing down at it just to emphasize the Los Angeles Lakers' seriousness as being an open-for-business free-agent destination.

    As a result, it's no surprise the Lakers are looking to clear their books.

    Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson have been available for months, but we should expect the Lakers to listen on anyone who's or anything that's not nailed down. If offloading a few dozen desk chairs and some stray office supplies could get them closer to the cap space they'll need for LeBron James, Paul George and/or DeMarcus Cousins, they'd do it.

    Larry Nance Jr., considerably more valuable than a desk chair, even a nice one, could be had, per's Adrian Wojnarowski.

    It's not so much that we're encouraging the Lakers to sell. It's that they've put themselves in a position where a sale is inevitable. So we might as well just go with it.

Memphis Grizzlies: Sell

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    This one's pretty simple.

    The Memphis Grizzlies must trade Tyreke Evans as soon as possible to capitalize on what has been the best season of the veteran guard's career before health issues or regression diminish his value. The ideal scenario would involve the Grizz getting a first-rounder back (unlikely, but it's worth trying) and then announcing a shutdown of Mike Conley, who's been out for months with a sore Achilles.

    The tank should then commence in earnest, and if any contender wants spare parts, the Grizzlies should offer them up for draft considerations—no matter how far into the future or how insignificant they may seem now.

    Best-case scenario: Memphis finishes with the league's worst record, somehow doesn't alienate Conley or Marc Gasol and adds the top overall pick in the 2018 draft. For a small-market team that's bottoming out with overpaid and declining vets on its roster, that's the only way to keep hope alive.

    Obviously getting off the money owed to Conley or Gasol would be a dream, but it's difficult to see how the Grizzlies could move either former cornerstone without giving up draft assets as sweeteners or taking on bad money in return.

    Sell. Sell. Sell.

Miami Heat: Hold

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    A quiet run has the Miami Heat in the thick of the East playoff picture, which is where they hoped to be after signing several players to market-rate deals this past offseason.

    In theory, signing the likes of Kelly Olynyk, James Johnson, Dion Waiters and Josh Richardson (who can't be traded until after the season) at fair numbers gave the Heat flexibility. Those guys figured to be tradable in packages or individually, which gave the Heat options.

    Except with the lack of cap space around the league and the general buyer's remorse settling in after so many overpays in 2016, solid players at reasonable prices aren't in demand. So the Heat are stuck with these guys—at least for a while.

    One thing that tends to make a contract more palatable is a shorter length, though. So, perhaps this offseason will be a better time for Miami to deal, if it's so inclined. Otherwise, the Heat should just ride it out with this group for the balance of the year.

    If someone came calling for Hassan Whiteside and the $52.5 million he's due to collect over the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons, however, the Heat should listen.

Milwaukee Bucks: Buy Carefully...And Also Maybe Sell

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    Would DeAndre Jordan cure what ails the Milwaukee Bucks? Eh.

    The Bucks are already average on the defensive glass (and is notably better than Jordan's Clippers), and they're also a mid-pack team in terms of field-goal percentage allowed at the rim. Where the Bucks fail on defense is in their adherence to an aggressive trapping scheme that, when beaten, yields too many advantages to the opposing offense.

    So far this year, that has manifested itself in Bucks' opponents getting the league's highest frequency of looks at point-blank range. The breakdowns are coming on the perimeter, which yield layups far to often.

    Thus, adding Jordan to this particular scheme might not make sense. Then again, if the Bucks committed to a more traditional defensive approach with DJ in the middle, it could give them the boost they need. Then again again, if the poor results of Milwaukee's defensive approach haven't spurred change yet, why assume adding a new player via trade will be any different?

    And anyway, the Bucks could aim for a cheaper option. Like the New York Knicks' Kyle O'Quinn, for example.

    More boldly, Milwaukee might want to consider moving Jabari Parker if it doesn't want to pay him the max in restricted free agency this summer. His injury history makes him a risk, and it's hard to know how much he'll play before the deadline—if at all. You'd have to think a young team looking for a shot at a cornerstone might bite. If the Bucks don't intend to meet Parker's reported $146 million asking price (via Gery Woelfel of the Journal Times), getting something back for him makes sense.

    If it's wing scoring the Bucks want, they could take a look at Orlando's Evan Fournier or Utah's Alec Burks, depending on how much salary they're looking to add.

Minnesota Timberwolves: Buy

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    It's hard to know what Tom Thibodeau would do if his rotation were deeper. Maybe he'd ease off his starters. Maybe he'd stop trotting out Karl-Anthony Towns and Jimmy Butler for 40-minute stints twice a week.

    Or maybe he'd look down the bench, see slightly better options and still conclude that those options weren't better than his starters, thus leaving them on the sideline anyway.

    Regardless, the Timberwolves might be a move or two on the margins from being a conference finalist. Even if they improve, they'll need a break or two, but adding some shooting and/or a defensive-minded backcourt option with some size could help.

    The Wolves have been a top-10 defense and a flat-out elite offense over the last month, which puts them in the "buy" category. This team could make legitimate postseason noise with minimal additions. And there should be some urgency here, if only because the longer Thibs goes without more rotation options, the more worn down the key players will become.

    You'd hate to see the best Wolves season in years fizzle out because of fatigue in April.

New Orleans Pelicans: Sell

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    The jury remains out on whether a team can have consistent success if DeMarcus Cousins is a key part of its rotation, but this sell suggestion isn't even about that.

    It's about the New Orleans Pelicans plunging into the luxury tax next year if they re-sign Cousins to a max deal this summer. Sure, they'll eventually get off the bad contracts they gave Omer Asik and Solomon Hill. But this is a team that already has $94-plus million in salary commitments next year before adding a new four or five-year deal for Boogie.

    If the Pels thought they had weak depth and no flexibility before, they'll find things even tighter after maxing out Cousins. And New Orleans is only playing break-even ball right now. That isn't the kind of team you overspend on to keep intact.

    So New Orleans should shop Cousins—even if the whole league knows he might only be a rental, and even if it means giving up on that oh so noble pursuit of the eighth seed in the West.

    The Pelicans have always been short-term thinkers, though. And it'd be foolish to discount the possibility that a Cousins trade might tick off Anthony Davis. For that reason, expect New Orleans to be a buyer, perhaps targeting Ilyasova or even Wilson Chandler if it gets ambitious.

    Summation: Should sell, will buy.

New York Knicks: Sell

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    A brutal January schedule should sort out any conflicting feelings within the New York Knicks braintrust. When the deadline rolls around, New York either will be a triumphant achiever ready to chase down destiny after surviving a punishing, road-heavy slate...or beaten into the dust.

    In which case, the Knicks will be looking to sell.

    The smart money is on the latter outcome—partially because Kristaps Porzingis is fading and admittedly tired, and partially because the Knicks already have proved to be trash on the road. Only the Hawks and Utah Jazz have fewer wins away from home.

    So the Knicks should see what they can get for O'Quinn, Courtney Lee and any other veterans that don't figure to matter by the 2020-21 season, which is hopefully when KP, Frank Ntilikina and whomever New York gets with a high lottery pick this year are ready to legitimately compete.

Oklahoma City Thunder: Buy

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    It'd be nice if the Oklahoma City Thunder had a shooting guard they could trust on both ends in the playoffs.

    Andre Roberson is a disruptive force on defense—quick, instinctive, rangy and altogether suffocating. He's a legitimate defensive superstar. But smart teams ignore him on the other end, and we've seen that precise weakness undermine otherwise excellent teams time and again.

    Alex Abrines is the complete opposite. He's a dangerous shooter who single-handedly destroys OKC's defensive rating.

    Terrance Ferguson is a rookie, which basically makes him undependable by definition.

    Lineup tweaks are an option, but moving Paul George to the 2 and trusting Carmelo Anthony to guard small forwards is risky. A downsized look with Raymond Felton joining Russell Westbrook in the backcourt could work on offense, but that would put defensive minuses at both guard spots.

    If the Thunder can figure out how to snag Bazemore from Atlanta or Lee from the Knicks, they'll have a better shot at doing postseason damage.

Orlando Magic: Sell

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    Aaron Gordon and Jonathan Isaac are keepers, but the Orlando Magic can comfortably pitch everything else onto the curb next to a cardboard sign reading "Free."

    The problem of course, is that the guys Orlando should most want to unload are far from free.

    Evan Fournier and Bismack Biyombo are both due $17 million per season through 2020-21 and 2019-20, respectively. Nikola Vucevic kills your defense, will cost $12.8 million next year and currently has a broken hand. Terrence Ross isn't grossly overpaid at $10.5 million this year and next, but he's out indefinitely following knee surgery.

    The Magic are riddled with bloated contracts signed during the league's 2016 spending spree, and they should be trying everything in their power to make those deals somebody else's problem.

    Big picture, Orlando is currently without a clear franchise cornerstone, which isn't something you'd hope to hear about a club that has won an average of 26 games over the last five years. That kind of failure is supposed to yield lottery salvation.

    The Magic's draft record indicates they may not make the most of it, but they need to jettison every vet they can and take another crack at a high pick.

Philadelphia 76ers: Hold

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    Jahlil Okafor is already gone, ending one of the league's longer foregone-conclusion trade scenarios well in advance of the February deadline. His departure leaves the Philadelphia 76ers without an obvious move.


    Preaching patience for a franchise that tanked for several seasons in a row is tough, but having now seen the early fruits of that labor, it should be easier for Sixers fans to wait on this core. Only Joel Embiid and Robert Covington are slated to make more than $10 million next season, Markelle Fultz eventually will return and the team's shoddy bench will be better addressed through organic growth and free-agent spending.

    A deal doesn't make sense.

    Philly is going to have significant cap space with JJ Redick, Trevor Booker and Amir Johnson's contracts expiring after the season (they make a combined $43.1 million this year). Better to let this group continue developing and address needs via other means during the summer.

    The key priority for the Sixers should be rooting against the Lakers. If L.A. lucks out in the lottery, Philadelphia gets its No. 1 overall pick in June. That's far better than any deadline acquisition.

Phoenix Suns: Sell

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    What are Tyson Chandler and Jared Dudley still doing on this team?

    And hey, there's Greg Monroe! Why is he still around?

    The Phoenix Suns have several veteran pieces that should interest winning clubs. If potential buyers are turned off by the idea of paying Chandler $13.6 million next year (or Dudley $9.5 million), the Suns should offer to take on those suitors' bad contracts provided they receive draft considerations as well. It's not like Phoenix is close to contending, so adding some dead cash is worth the pain for a year or two if it gets the organization another shot at securing promising young talent in the draft.

    In fact, with about $9 million in cap space, the Suns could just eat another team's unwanted contract without necessarily giving something exchange for a draft pick, of course.

    Monroe is the toughest sell. The looming potential of a buyout means interested teams can play the waiting game on him.

Portland Trail Blazers: Sell

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    These Blazers aren't going to beat the Warriors in a first-round matchup, but maybe they can talk someone else into the idea that a few of their players could help them slay the giant.

    Evan Turner, Moe Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu fit the big wing prototype most teams try to deploy against the switchy, like-sized Warriors. And while Portland hasn't had much success against the Dubs, might a team like the Rockets consider adding yet another rangy, multiposition defender like Harkless or Aminu for their own impending meeting with the champs?

    It's a long shot, sure, but if the Blazers don't shake things up, they'll take this .500 core, add Jusuf Nurkic at a much higher price and basically run back the last two-plus years next season. Maybe 40-something wins and respectability is what Portland wants, but if it intends to make the most of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum's primes (which they're firmly in right now), something has to change.

    Turner would be nigh impossible to move, but the $36.5 million he's owed after this season is strangling the Blazers. Meyers Leonard's bloated contract isn't helping, either. 

    The Blazers need not act rashly. This is something they can fiddle with in the offseason. But it's worth noting that a lottery pick would do more to help this team than a one-and-done playoff trip, as that pick might sweeten a package to get Turner/Leonard/whomever out of town.

Sacramento Kings: Sell

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    To justify ever having bought in the first place, the Sacramento Kings need to get a ton of draft assets when selling Zach Randolph, George Hill and Vince Carter. The only positive aspect of those veteran acquisitions is their failure to elevate the Kings out of the league's bottom tier.

    Which is where this teambereft of cornerstones and plagued for years by a desire to rebuild hastilyshould be.

    Adding veterans never tracked logically. The whole point of this season should have been playing the kids until it became abundantly clear who profiled as a rotation player and who didn't. This was the year to do that since the Kings owe their 2019 first-rounder either to the Sixers or the Celtics. Bottoming out on purpose won't do them any good after this season.

    The saving grace, if it's even fair to refer to it as such, is that the Kings are falling far short of their expectations. They aren't contending. They aren't respectable, even though they tried to be.

    Sacramento should package everything it can—vets and young players alike, with the possible exception of De'Aaron Fox—to accumulate more draft assets. This team must find its core through the draft...this draft.

    Because otherwise, the Kings of the next five years will look a lot like the Kings of the last 10. And nobody wants that.

San Antonio Spurs: Buy

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    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    George Hill is one of Gregg Popovich's favorite players, according to Scott Agness of Vigilant Sports...

    It'd be somewhat off-brand for the Spurs to make a big midseason move, and Hill's salary (though guaranteed for only $1 million in 2019-20) would push the Spurs into the luxury tax next year. Still, with Tony Parker's deal expiring after this season, San Antonio will have some room to tinker—and a need for a starting point guard that Dejounte Murray might not be ready to fill.

    If not backcourt help, the plodding Spurs could use some more athleticism up front. Zigging while everyone zags is fine, but it's difficult to imagine how starters Pau Gasol and LaMarcus Aldridge will survive together against the Warriors, Rockets or even the Thunder in the playoffs.

    San Antonio is going to win 50-plus games regardless of who finishes the season on its roster, so it's tough to aggressively push them toward buying. But selling is out of the question, and holding is boring.

Toronto Raptors: Hold

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    Morry Gash/Associated Press

    The dream move would be getting rid of Jonas Valanciunas, who'll certainly give way to Serge Ibaka at center in the games and minutes that matter most. But the league isn't keen on offense-only back-to-the-basket centers these day, so Toronto will find it difficult to offload the remaining two years and $34.15 million left on J-Val's contract.

    Norman Powell can't be traded until after the season, which is an odd thing even to consider with the first year of his new four-year, $42 million contract kicking in next year. But the emergence of rookie OG Anunoby has made Powell's role (and cost) an issue.

    Fortunately for the Raps, Kyle Lowry's ugly fall Monday against the Brooklyn Nets yielded only a bruised tailbone and back spasms. If it had been worse, Toronto might be in the market for a veteran point guard.

    Instead, the East's current No. 2 seed can hang tight in a holding pattern before getting to some necessary salary-trimming down the road.

Utah Jazz: Hold as Long as Possible

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    The Utah Jazz will be one of the league's down-to-the-wire situations.

    If the playoffs recede further from the Jazz's grasp, it'll be time to consider trading some of their five impending free agents. Derrick Favors, Rodney Hood, Raul Neto, Joe Johnson and Dante Exum are all set to hit the market this offseason, and Utah can't keep everybody.

    Trading a few of those assets for draft picks would make a lot of sense. More sense, anyway, than letting them walk with nothing but cap space to show for it. Cap space in Utah isn't the same as cap space elsewhere, as Salt Lake City isn't exactly a hot destination for free agents.

    At the same time, if the Jazz get Rudy Gobert back and climb into the playoff picture, it'll be worth approaching the deadline with more of a buyer's mentality. That isn't to say Utah should keep all of its free agents around. Rather, the Jazz should consider packaging some of their pieces in hopes of getting a difference-maker back.

    Oh, and trading Ricky Rubio away should be a priority regardless. This is Mitchell's backcourt to run.

Washington Wizards: Buy

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    The Wizards are already a tax team and likely won't surrender key young pieces—Otto Porter chief among them—for what might only be a DeMarcus Cousins rental. Still, expect to see that potential Cousins-to-D.C. move discussed.

    Washington's first-round pick always seems to be in play, and perhaps it'd fetch a more mobile big man or a quality backup point guard with Markieff Morris' salary attached. Porter and Kelly Oubre Jr. have performed well in their minutes together as a forward tandem, and Morris' ball-stopping has always gummed up Washington's offensive consistency.

    The Wiz aren't a championship contender, so a big buy feels unwise. It'd be better to poke around on the margins and see what kind of rotation help is available. Depth is vital.

    These guys can't afford to watch John Wall and Bradley Beal wear down in the playoffs again.


    Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference, Cleaning the Glass or unless otherwise specified. Salary information from Basketball Insiders. Cap space calculations via Spotrac.

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