Buy, Sell, Hold: What Should Your NBA Team Do at This Year's Trade Deadline?
The NBA trade market closes at 3 p.m. ET Feb. 7. That might sound like it's still a ways off, but most clubs should have a good feel for their approach already.
To be certain, those approaches can change in an instant. The trade pool is as fluid as its name suggests, and clubs must be prepared to operate under those conditions.
Plus, teams might find themselves in situations in which buying, selling or standing pat could all make sense under different circumstances.
In other words, these suggestions aren't necessarily absolute. And they certainly aren't set in stone.
But with roughly a half-season of data at our disposal, we can help determine which clubs should be looking to add, subtract or maintain the status quo.
Atlanta Hawks: Sell
The Hawks have mastered at least one aspect of their rebuild: Their three most important players are also their youngest. The future runs through 20-year-olds Trae Young and Kevin Huerter and 21-year-old John Collins. Anyone who doesn't fit their timeline—including Taurean Prince, who turns 25 in March—should be made available to the highest bidder.
This doesn't have to be an everything-must-go situation, of course. The return value is critical, especially for someone like Prince, who showcases across-the-board versatility and occasionally some high-level point production.
That said, there are four players who probably shouldn't be Hawks after Feb. 7. Three are veterans on expiring deals: Dewayne Dedmon, Jeremy Lin and Vince Carter. Dedmon should be an easy sell as a capable rim protector with three-point range. Carter should get looks from every contender in the shooters market. And Lin belongs on the radar of those lacking point guard depth but flexible with their finances.
The fourth is Kent Bazemore, who at first may appear tricky to unload given his $18.1 million salary for this season and $19.3 million player option for the next. But the demand for two-way wings far outweighs the supply, resulting in Bazemore's being "expected to receive interest from several contenders," per The Athletic's Shams Charania.
Boston Celtics: Hold
It might be easy to predict a panic move is in the cards since the Celtics have rarely flashed the sprinting speed many assumed would help them run away with the Eastern Conference.
But what good would that do? Considering how many moving pieces there are, Boston might be content with its start. With top-10 rankings on offense and defense, the Shamrocks have the makings of contenders before you even imagine how much better this group can get by advancing its chemistry.
Besides, what would the Celtics buy that'd be better than their cast? They can't broker an Anthony Davis blockbuster before the summer, and any deals involving Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward and/or Terry Rozier would force Boston to undersell its assets.
"As far as trading, I don't really see much out there," president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said on Toucher and Rich (h/t MassLive.com's Tom Westerholm). "We have a lot of good ones. It's hard to get better players than we have."
Brooklyn Nets: Hold
The Nets should approach the deadline with a soft stance on holding. Basically, that means keep an open mind for any opportunistic buying or selling, but don't feel forced to do anything.
While Brooklyn is still short on long-term keepers, at least the list is finally growing. It already committed to Spencer Dinwiddie (and, to a lesser extent, Joe Harris and Allen Crabbe), and it'll get more rookie-scale seasons on the books from Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen, Dzanan Musa and Rodions Kurucs.
The brightest part of the Nets' future, however, probably isn't on the roster but sitting atop some free-agency wish list or even lurking on a mock draft board. That will make it easier to accept offers for veteran role players—whose impacts are muted by the team's trajectory—or make offers for up-and-comers who haven't yet approached their ceilings.
Still, considering the depths to which this franchise had fallen in recent years, the Nets must be thrilled with their progress. There'd be no harm in playing this out to give the group a shot at making a postseason run, and it would even benefit the front office to gain a better understanding of the roster before heading into a crucial offseason.
Charlotte Hornets: Sell
But the Hornets have given little evidence of their ability to construct something substantial around the two-time All-Star. And even though he's orchestrating a(nother) career year, time is hardly on the 28-year-old's side.
So, if the problem is Walker lacking significant support, why are we advising them to sell? Two reasons.
For starters, they're so thin on non-Kemba assets that buying anything of value would be almost impossible. They reportedly really want to trade Nicolas Batum (duh), but a move involving one of their many overpaid players would require sacrificing an asset. How would that get Walker any closer to contending now?
Second, we aren't necessarily advocating the Hornets keep Kemba. Granted, there are both sentimental and basketball reasons to do it, and it'd be hard to fault a small-market franchise for retaining a star who wants to be there. But the rest of this roster is begging for a rebuild, and any Walker trade should deliver a slew of reconstruction tools.
Chicago Bulls: Sell
A 2016-17 playoff participant, the Bulls are only ankle-deep into their rebuild. As such, they've only collected three players they deem as keepers so far, according to Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times: Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr.
No, that doesn't mean they'll expose a dozen players to the trade block. But how many others would they not field a phone call for if someone wanted to make an offer?
Obviously, the injured Denzel Valentine is going nowhere. Kris Dunn is probably still interesting enough to keep around, at least as long as he's making rookie-scale money. And unless there's a huge Chandler Hutchison fan out there, it'd be strange to shop the rookie.
But after that...let's just say there are surely more players Chicago would like to move than actual trade candidates. Bobby Portis is the most attractive, assuming the Bulls don't want to pay him to be their first big off the bench. Robin Lopez might have some appeal, though some contenders might hope he reaches the buyout market. If Jabari Parker has any suitors, they're probably perusing the free section on Craigslist.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Sell
Cleveland's bridge out of the LeBron James era is essentially just a concept right now. Maybe Collin Sexton and/or Cedi Osman fits the final design, but otherwise it could look drastically different from the makeshift model serving as a stopgap solution.
This feels like a going-out-of-business sale in which everything has a price. And yes, that does include Kevin Love, who inked a four-year, $120.4 million extension in July.
"Although the Cavaliers have insisted for months that they want Love to be a cornerstone of a successful post-LeBron James existence ... Love continues to be regarded by some rival front offices as a difference-maker who is available for the proverbial right price," Marc Stein of the New York Times wrote.
Prospects and picks top Cleveland's wish list, but salary relief should be welcomed, too.
Dallas Mavericks: Buy and Sell
Luka Doncic, who doesn't turn 20 until next month, already appears to be a fortune-changer for the Mavericks. He's contributing at a rate no freshman has in over 20 years, and he's hand-delivering Dallas signature victories.
Now, combine Doncic's surge with the Mavs' ever-present desire to give Dirk Nowitzki one last taste of the postseason, and you have a recipe to buy. Charania noted they "are eager to improve their team," with The Athletic's Michael Scotto reporting they're interested in Otto Porter Jr.
Porter fits the mold of what Dallas should be chasing. While he can assist with the playoff chase, he's also on the younger side (25) and under contract for at least one more season (player option for 2020-21), so he'll be there to assist Doncic as the young phenom climbs higher up the NBA ladder.
The Mavs also have enough flaws to justify exploring certain types of selling. The fit between Doncic and 2017 No. 9 pick Dennis Smith Jr. is awkward enough for Dallas to test the former's market. It's also worth seeing if there's a way of unloading Harrison Barnes and his $25.1 million player option for next season since the Mavs now have Doncic to help recruit elite free agents.
Denver Nuggets: Hold
The Nuggets are, objectively speaking, freakin' juggernauts. They have the Western Conference's highest winning percentage and the Association's fifth-best net rating. They also have a 23-year-old MVP candidate (Nikola Jokic) and a 21-year-old starting point guard (Jamal Murray), so this shouldn't be anything close to their peak.
So, on one hand, you can't blame them for wanting to dream impossibly big at the deadline. They're longtime fans of Kevin Love, per Stein, and perhaps envisioning a scenario in which that addition strengthens them for an improbable championship run. They're also among the most logical landing spots for Kemba Walker, who would essentially offer more production and less volatility than Murray.
If Denver feels there's a championship offer available, it should pursue it by all means.
But we'd caution against buying too big, too soon. Love feels like a worse complement to Jokic than a healthy Paul Millsap. And if Murray has a lot of Walker in him, why ship out the point guard who's much closer in age to the centerpiece? The Nuggets are playing with house money, and with basically every contributor under contract for next season, they may want to see how far this can go before considering major changes.
Detroit Pistons: ...Buy?
If the shrug emoji was an option, that might have been the better choice.
Nothing about the Pistons suggests they're close to contending, save their $123.3 million payroll. Most types of buying would feel like desperate attempts to chase a back-end playoff spot, a tragic reality for a club led by a near-30-year-old Blake Griffin. Not to mention, multiple misfires on recent draft picks have increased the need for young, potential-rich talent.
Still, if the Pistons are going to make anything of the Griffin era, they must get to work on fixing their flaws. It won't be easy with limited trade capital, but there are needs for another star, more shooting, wing depth and a possible upgrade at point guard. If the right trade manifests, the Pistons should pounce. If not, they should sit this one out.
"If we're asked to give up a big asset like a first-round pick to help the growth of the franchise, we would consider it," senior adviser Ed Stefanski told Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press. "But that deal would have to be where we really felt the player coming back would move the needle. If we weren't sure of that, to make a big commitment with assets I think could really hurt us."
Golden State Warriors: Hold (For Now)
Something is off with the Warriors. Maybe it's not enough to make them actually vulnerable when it counts, but the Dubs aren't defending—or winning—up to their standards set throughout Steve Kerr's tenure.
Does that really matter? That's hard to say and will remain that way for the foreseeable future. It's easy to look at the team now, for instance, and say the frontcourt and the support scoring group could use more depth. But then you remember DeMarcus Cousins, a four-time All-Star, could check both boxes with ease whenever he's unleashed.
As for the uncharacteristic defensive struggles, they're possible signs of this roster finally growing too top-heavy. But they might just be sleepy stretches by a champion that's hibernating through the winter and knows its best isn't needed for another four or five months.
Like everyone else, the Warriors should keep abreast of the market and be ready to strike if a veteran shooter or experienced center is available for cheap. But given the way its roster is put together, Golden State is more likely to make any additions through the buyout market.
Houston Rockets: Buy
The summer vacancies along Houston's wings remain unfilled and might be even more glaring now that the plug has been pulled on long-shot solutions Carmelo Anthony and Michael Carter-Williams. The fact this hasn't doomed the Rockets may well mean James Harden should clear room for another Maurice Podoloff Trophy.
But Harden's brilliance can only cover the weakness for so long. Houston has already plummeted from seventh to 26th in defensive efficiency, and its net rating is nearly seven points worse per 100 possessions.
The Rockets have been connected to virtually every wing remotely near the trade market, from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to JR Smith. Anyone who defends and hits threes would be ideal, but Houston would probably settle for someone who does one or the other.
With Harden taking another MVP turn and Chris Paul coming back sooner than later, the Rockets could still be a factor in the championship race. But that wing deficiency will be a fatal flaw if uncorrected.
Indiana Pacers: Buy
The Pacers' play might be actively arguing against this, but there's a cap on how high this club can climb with its scoring allotment. Victor Oladipo—who, outside of last season, has been more of an adequate shooter than a good-to-great one—can only take this offense so far on his own.
Credit Indiana for mostly maximizing its roster so far. If Nate McMillan isn't somewhere near the top of your midseason Coach of the Year ballot, you have an interesting interpretation of the Association.
But where's the second scorer who makes you think this club could escape the East? Statistically, the role belongs to catch-and-launch specialist Bojan Bogdanovic and inside-the-arc big man Domantas Sabonis. Theoretically, it should've gone to Tyreke Evans or Myles Turner, but the former seems to have turned back into a pumpkin and the latter is still only hinting at the offensive leap for which we've been waiting years.
A second star would be ideal for the Circle City. Imagine the potency of an Oladipo-Kemba Walker pairing or the options presented by an Oladipo-Bradley Beal backcourt. Assuming they can't fit the budget, though, any affordable forward with a jumper and defensive versatility could give this group a lift.
Los Angeles Clippers: Hold
The Clippers were supposed to be cap-preserving placeholders, but they're looking a lot more like playoff participants. Go ahead and see if Doc Rivers sounds like he wants anyone to risk rocking the boat.
"The only way you can win is to get all the ego crap out of the way and just play, and that's what we do here," Rivers said, per Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times. "I think we're in a really nice place. This group is how you want to be. It makes you want to come to work."
Let's assume the Clippers wanted to buy, though. What would even be on the shopping list?
Not salary relief, since they're already looking at a pair of max contract slots. Not more youngsters, since potentially interesting prospects like Jerome Robinson, Sindarius Thornwell and Tyrone Wallace are struggling to find the floor. Not players signed beyond this season, since the flexibility can't be compromised. Not most rentals, since the cost would outweigh the benefit.
Better for Los Angeles, then, to just ride this wave of positivity into a summer swimming in optimism and opportunity.
Los Angeles Lakers: Buy Big Or Hold
The Lakers probably aren't transforming themselves into title contenders ahead of the deadline—unless Anthony Davis makes an unlikely appearance on the trade market. It's the longest of long shots, sure, but one that would allow Los Angeles to bid without worry of being trumped by Boston, which can't chase The Brow before July.
If Davis somehow becomes available, the Lakers should offer anything that isn't a) James or b) bolted to the Staples Center floor. Sure, you never want to empty the treasure chest, but if that's what it takes to get a 25-year-old with career averages of 23.9 points, 10.6 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game, you bite the bullet and let everything go.
If Davis is off the market as expected, then L.A. should consider sitting out the exchange season. Minor moves would be fine—adding an asset for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, picking up a rental shooter—but nothing that diminishes the Lakers' chances of orchestrating their next blockbuster addition.
They own all but one of their upcoming picks (the 2019 second-rounder being the exception), roster a handful of intriguing prospects and are set to shed upward of $40 million in salaries this summer. If all those things aren't still true after the deadline, the Lakers better have a tier-one star to show for their sacrifice.
Memphis Grizzlies: Buy
This is where we're forced to differentiate between what we'd do and what a specific team should do.
If we were running the Grizzlies, we'd feel the Mike Conley-Marc Gasol window has already closed and turn our attention toward building something around freshman phenom Jaren Jackson Jr. But Memphis is clearly invested in trying to make this core work—Justin Holiday is the latest win-now acquisition—so there's little sense recommending demolition.
The Grizzlies, instead, should continue working to improve a rather unimpressive second team. The roster could use more depth at every spot, especially after the plug was pulled on the Chandler Parsons experiment.
Wing shooters should be the primary focus, but value buys at any bench spot could work. If it's late February and Memphis is no longer forced to play Shelvin Mack and Joakim Noah, then the franchise had a productive deadline.
Miami Heat: Sell
The Heat should be wide-open for business. This is a beer roster that carries a champagne price tag. If the return is right, no player should be considered off limits. On-court sacrifices might need to be made in order to balance the books, increase the asset collection or both.
At the bare minimum, Miami must find a new home for sharpshooter Wayne Ellington. Virtually everyone needs a spacer, and the 31-year-old boasts an elite stroke (376 makes at a 38.6 percent clip over the previous two seasons). Not to mention, budget-conscious shoppers will appreciate he's owed nothing beyond this season.
While he'd need to consent to a swap, that shouldn't be a tricky hurdle to clear. After logging a career-high 2,041 minutes last season, he has since been squeezed out of Miami's overcrowded perimeter rotation. When asked if there might be a point when he requests a relocation, he told Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald, "Anything is a possibility."
Ellington might be the only move Miami needs to make, but the Heat should quietly field offers for everyone. It'd be nice to keep Josh Richardson, Justise Winslow and Bam Adebayo around, but even they should be available at certain price points.
Milwaukee Bucks: Buy
While Milwaukee may appear ahead of schedule, this is not the time to get complacent. The Bucks, remember, are making a long-term recruiting pitch to Giannis Antetokounmpo, and nothing will give them a better shot at keeping the 24-year-old MVP candidate than making a run at the title.
The best kind of purchase would look a lot like the one the Bucks already made. The recent move for George Hill not only beefed up the supporting cast, but it also potentially brightened the future by saving Milwaukee roughly $19 million in 2019-20 salary commitments.
The Bucks must keep economic costs in mind, since 80 percent of their starting lineup could be heading to free agency (Khris Middleton, Malcolm Brogdon, Eric Bledsoe and Brook Lopez). They also might need to keep a decent amount of trade capital should they decide this roster doesn't have the All-Star sidekick Antetokounmpo needs for a championship push.
But instant-impact veteran rentals could make a lot of sense, especially if they arrive with Mike Budenholzer-approved outside shots. And who knows, maybe a second star will still shake loose. How good would Bradley Beal look playing Robin to the Greek Freak's Batman?
Minnesota Timberwolves: Sell
While the ouster of Tom Thibodeau wasn't necessarily a rebuilding move, it feels at least rebuilding-adjacent.
Thibs seemingly approached everything during his tenure as coach and president of the Timberwolves with a win-now slant. The trades for and of Jimmy Butler were driven by desires to compete. Ditto the signings of old Thibodeau disciples like Taj Gibson and Derrick Rose, 30-somethings who handle prominent roles within this rotation.
Minnesota might not want to abandon its postseason pursuit, but this could be a chance to slow down and remember time remains on the side of 23-year-olds Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. Rather than surround them with aging vets who might compete for one of the West's final playoff spots, the Wolves could repurpose their supporting cast to emphasize youth, potential and player development.
Rose, Gibson and Anthony Tolliver could be fairly easy to move as short-term rentals, and Jerryd Bayless' expiring contract could interest anyone with dreams of a 2019 free-agency splash. Tyus Jones might fetch an asset if Minnesota doesn't see him in its future, and even Wiggins offers would be worth hearing if someone wants to take on that contract.
New Orleans Pelicans: Buy
There's a relatively compelling argument to be made for accepting defeat and dealing Anthony Davis right now. If teams are going to empty their wallets for the big fella in a hypothetical summer swap, wouldn't they find ways to pay even more now when he could help them with multiple playoff runs before reaching free agency?
There's only one problem: New Orleans would have to give away Anthony bleepin' Davis. With a player this special, you can't wave the white flag at this point of the process. In fact, you should be doing everything in your power to convince the all-galaxy superstar he can win in the Crescent City and that his upcoming supermax offer must be signed.
It sounds like that's what the Pelicans are trying to do.
"The Pelicans ... are feeling the pressure to convince Anthony Davis to sign an extension [this] summer," ESPN's Brian Windhorst reported. "They own their first-round pick, and general manager Dell Demps has routinely been willing to trade firsts for instant help in the past. That alone gives them a good chance to get an impact player for the second half if they're so inclined."
New York Knicks: Sell
Much to Enes Kanter's chagrin, the Knicks are leaning all the way into a youth movement. It's the only sensible approach, given that an ACL tear has effectively erased the season for 'Bockers centerpiece Kristaps Porzingis.
But it's a two-step process. Step one is letting the youngsters seize control of the playing time. Step two is shopping all the non-youth to contenders in hopes of snagging some type of future assistance for someone who really isn't helping in the present.
The Knicks have a decent number of trade chips, all of whom should be up for grabs.
Kanter is drawing interest, per The Athletic's Mike Vorkunov, and could boost anyone's bench with scoring and rebounding. Trey Burke could perk up a point guard rotation with extra scoring and shooting. Lance Thomas has the defensive versatility required of modern frontcourt players. Courtney Lee plays a three-and-D game, if clubs can stomach the $12.8 million owed to him next season.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Buy
OKC's contender credentials are hard to ignore.
The Thunder have the NBA's best defense by a comfortable margin. They have a strong MVP candidate, and it's not the player averaging a triple-double. Paul George and Russell Westbrook are proving as productive as any twosome in the Association, Steven Adams is playing his best basketball to date and Dennis Schroder is looking like he was heisted from the Hawks.
And yet it'd be hard to predict a championship run for the Thunder given their crippling shooting shortage. No one has a worse three-point percentage (32.1), and only two teams convert free throws at a lower clip (70.4). Their 53.6 true shooting percentage ranks just 25th; they're the only team in the 20s with a winning record.
They either need to add multiple shooters or land a sniper who can log in the neighborhood of 30 minutes per game. Ideally, that sharpshooter will have the off-the-dribble chops to thrive in this pass-averse attack, but even spot-up gunners would help just by pulling defenders away from George and Westbrook.
Orlando Magic: Sell
Orlando must realize a prime opportunity when it sees one. If handled properly, the breakout efforts of Nikola Vucevic and Terrence Ross could be gifts from the basketball gods.
If the campaign closed today, Vooch would have new career highs in—clears throat—points, rebounds, assists, blocks, three-point percentage, field-goal percentage and player efficiency rating. Ross' list isn't quite as extensive, but he's delivering where he's needed most: 2.2 triples per game at 39.2 percent.
The Magic can't be fooled into thinking these players are keepers. Both will be free agents are season's end. Neither fits the realistic timelines of the Aaron Gordon-Jonathan Isaac-Mo Bamba trio. In fact, Vucevic's presence is potentially delaying that development by limiting the exposure of Isaac and Bamba.
If Orlando puts Vucevic and Ross in play, it might have two of the best trade chips in a sellers' market. Cashing them in when their values are as high as ever could be the Magic's key to finally finding the proper balance for this roster.
Philadelphia 76ers: Buy
The Sixers are learning that life after a major shakeup isn't easy. First, Joel Embiid was unhappy with the offense after Jimmy Butler's arrival. Now, Butler may be taking issue with Brett Brown's system.
But Philly has learned another lesson in this exchange, one that should dictate its deadline activity. For all the noise coming out of the Butler swap, the Sixers are better for having done it. He's been the two-way star this core needed, and the team has benefited from his addition, posting a 15-6 record when he plays.
In other words, there are risks with any significant adjustment. But the rewards can be tremendous, especially when you're in such close proximity to the NBA's elite as Philadelphia appears.
The Sixers could take one step closer to contention by propping up a mediocre perimeter attack. They need more marksmen, particularly ones who play both ends of the floor. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has been mentioned as a potential target, and any player fitting that three-and-D mold could help put this puzzle together.
Phoenix Suns: Sell
It's a good thing James Jones seems so well-regarded around the league, because the Suns interim general manager does not have an easy task ahead of him.
Be as forward-focused as Phoenix appears, the only logical course of action is fielding offers for all non-essentials. What's challenging for the Suns, though, is they might be sellers with very little to unload.
That doesn't mean Jones should quit trying, of course. Is anyone so starved for shooting they'd actually consider Ryan Anderson? Is there an overconfident player development staff out there who believes it has the fix for Dragan Bender? Any win-now clubs with broken benches willing to overlook Jamal Crawford's shooting woes?
The answer to any of these questions is probably a resounding "No," but it doesn't hurt to ask. It's not like the Suns should be doing anything else at the deadline. Buying would be comical for a club this far removed from the postseason, and holding is no different than failing to sell.
Portland Trail Blazers: Buy
Is this when it finally happens? No, not the long-debated Damian Lillard-CJ McCollum breakup but rather the Blazers finally fixing their underwhelming forward crop.
Portland might have 60 percent of a contender's starting five, maybe even 80 percent if you catch Al-Farouq Aminu on his best days. But the piece that's still missing is the one who theoretically ties it altogether. This can't be a run-of-the-mill forward; Portland has a handful of those as it is. Rather, this must be the kind of modern wing who does a little of everything: shoots, creates, moves the ball and defends multiple spots.
Basically, it'd be an amalgamation of all the wings the Blazers employ. Someone with Evan Turner's handles and distribution, Seth Curry's shooting stroke, Aminu's defensive versatility and (healthy) Maurice Harkless' explosiveness.
Chances are, that player is either unavailable or out of Portland's price range. But the Blazers have the next month to prove that statement wrong.
Sacramento Kings: Buy
Good news, Kings fans. No, we can't guarantee your playoff wait is over, but at least you've reached the entertaining part of rebuilding: when it might make sense to add pieces.
Sacramento has some of the cleanest books around. Nearly every player is either on their rookie contract or unsigned past this season. That gives the franchise a good deal of flexibility going forward, but this might be the best time to use it.
Since Sacramento isn't a destination, cap space might prove more valuable in trades than free agency. While some clubs choose to effectively rent their space in return for draft assets, the Kings could use theirs to acquire talented players who might be overpaid. Think someone like Otto Porter Jr., a Sacramento target, according to Jason Jones of The Athletic, or even Andrew Wiggins.
Since the Kings' best players aren't breaking the bank, they can afford to splurge on specific complementary players. The best targets would be young enough to develop alongside this core; cost-controlled beyond this season; and bigger, more athletic, better-defending wings.
San Antonio Spurs: Buy
As with the Grizzlies, this is another situation in which our suggestion doesn't align with the advice we'd actually give.
The Spurs are old and expensive enough that a restart could be required sooner than later, but considering the package they took back for Kawhi Leonard—DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl and a top-20 protected first-round pick—this would be a strange time to start the teardown.
The Spurs want to be good, and they have been since the start of December (14-5 with a league-leading plus-11.4 net rating). But in order to keep trending up, they could stand to improve their perimeter athleticism, three-point volume, rebounding and interior defense.
"The Spurs are cozying up to mediocrity following the Kawhi Leonard trade," Dan Favale of Bleacher Report wrote. "They need to roll the dice on something more or consider starting over."
Toronto Raptors: Buy
The macro-level arguments for the Raptors to buy almost make themselves.
With LeBron James finally out of the East, Toronto's path to the championship round has never looked clearer. This team also has the rest of the season and the playoff run to convince Kawhi Leonard he should stay north of the border this summer. Plus, the roster is ready to compete at the highest level, as evidenced by top-10 marks in offensive and defensive efficiency.
But a micro view of this club highlights multiple areas for possible improvement.
Shooting might top the list, since Danny Green is the lone high-volume gunner clearing 37 percent from range. Distributing is another area of interest, though, especially with Kyle Lowry struggling to shake the injury bug. Toronto sits among the bottom third in assist percentage, and it will need more off-the-dribble creators for when postseason defenses lock in on Leonard.
Utah Jazz: Hold
Weighing Utah's performance against preseason expectations makes it tempting to suggest the club should buy. After all, oddsmakers saw 50-win potential in this club, but it's hovering around .500 instead.
The Jazz need to consider if the prize could justify the costs. In other words, is there an external target who could deliver more than the outgoing pieces would subtract?
Maybe if the outgoing piece was a future draft pick, right? Problem is non-destination spots like Salt Lake City typically must build the bulk of their rosters through the draft. Only once in the last 24 years has Utah not made a first-round pick. And with the Jazz potentially seeking an elite-level scorer, the cost could be multiple firsts.
Derrick Favors is an oft-cited trade chip, but he's a big part of the team's defensive success and an excellent insurance policy for Rudy Gobert. Dante Exum and Grayson Allen aren't bringing back a difference-maker. Only the key core members could do that, but then how would that improve the on-court product?
The Jazz seem better off hoping internal improvement will get them closer to their potential this season and then addressing their needs in the draft and free agency.
Washington Wizards: Sell
Unless New Orleans gets overanxious with AD, Washington might be the club that most shakes up this trade season. If the Wizards view John Wall's season-ending surgery as a reason to reset, they might have the two most attractive targets in Bradley Beal and Otto Porter Jr.
Granted, the cost could be enormous, especially in Beal's case. Rod Beard of the Detroit News reported it may take two first-rounders, a prospect and another player just to get the conversation started. But if you're the Wizards, you have to ask for the moon. Beal is a 25-year-old All-Star who plays both ends and is signed for another two seasons. He should fetch a rebuilder's starter kit.
Porter is a bit trickier. He's a $26 million player and a 12-point scorer; that's not the easiest combination to market. That said, every club could use what he brings: low-maintenance offense, steady outside shooting, defensive pliability. He may not transform anyone into a contender, but he fills enough voids to help increase a club's chances of contending.
Too often, the Wizards have committed the sin of shortsightedness (add the Trevor Ariza trade to an exhaustive list of examples). This is their chance to fully embrace the bigger picture and realize that tomorrow is much more important than today. If no one meets their demands for Beal and/or Porter, Washington should at least get what it can for plug-and-play rentals Markieff Morris and Jeff Green.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @ZachBuckleyNBA.