Start the Tank: 5 NBA Teams That Need to Sell at the Trade Deadline
More NBA teams than ever are still in the playoff hunt thanks to the new postseason play-in tournament. Even earning the 10th seed in a conference of 15 will give a franchise a chance to make the playoffs.
That also makes the decision to become a seller at the deadline even more difficult, especially for teams that may be just a few games away from play-in contention.
It's already safe to say the Minnesota Timberwolves and Detroit Pistons, owners of the two worst records in the league, will be sellers. The Oklahoma City Thunder and Cleveland Cavaliers have already begun their respective rebuilds, as well, a plan that should continue throughout the 2020-21 season.
For the remaining teams on the bubble, five clearly stand out as should-be sellers before the March 25 trade deadline.
Once upon a time, the Rockets were 11-10 and in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race.
An injury to star center Christian Wood has led to 13 straight losses for Houston, however, now putting it just above the Minnesota Timberwolves for 14th place in the West.
DeMarcus Cousins has already been released, but the Rockets still have a collection of talented veterans (John Wall, Victor Oladipo, P.J. Tucker, Eric Gordon, Danuel House, David Nwaba) who no longer fit a rebuild.
While Wall's contract (owed $44.3 million next season with a $47.4 million player option in 2022-23) means he's almost certainly staying put, every other vet could reasonably be on the move. The backcourt of him and Oladipo (minus-2.6 net rating in 216 minutes) hasn't clicked yet, either.
Oladipo and Tucker are the key players here as both can leave Houston in free agency this offseason. Oladipo recently turned down a two-year, $45.2 million max extension, per ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, either a sign the Rockets truly want to keep him or a smokescreen to cover up his awful efficiency in Houston (47.7 percent true shooting) and keep his trade value high.
For all his faults, Oladipo could end up being the most talented player traded at the deadline, especially if the Washington Wizards refuse to part with Bradley Beal. With few young, promising players to build around, trading Oladpio and Tucker now is the best long-term option for the franchise.
New Orleans Pelicans
Even after they traded Jrue Holiday to the Milwaukee Bucks in the offseason, the additions of Steven Adams and Eric Bledsoe certainly gave the New Orleans Pelicans some playoff hope.
A full, healthy season featuring Zion Williamson only added to the optimism, although New Orleans has since disappointed with a 15-20 record.
Sitting just one spot out of the 10th seed, the Pelicans can afford to be patient and play the long game here, tempting as going all-in for the playoffs would be. Williamson is 20, Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball are 23, and Nickeil Alexander-Walker (22), Jaxson Hayes (20) and Kira Lewis Jr. (19) are just starting their careers.
Ball looked like a trade candidate as he struggled with his shot during the first part of the season, yet his recent play (16.9 points, 4.6 rebounds, 5.6 assists and 1.2 steals per game on 46.5 percent shooting from three over his past 16 appearances) should keep him in New Orleans. The three-man unit of Ball, Williamson and Ingram has posted a solid net rating of plus-2.4 in 630 minutes, a sign that the core is working.
Executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin and Co. should be working the phones to find new homes for Bledsoe and veteran shooting guard JJ Redick, who no longer fit the team's timeline.
The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor reported the Denver Nuggets and Dallas Mavericks have shown interest in Redick, while one assistant general manager told Bleacher Report's Jake Fischer in regard to Ball, Bledsoe and Redick, "They've been calling, and where there's smoke, there's fire."
With Ingram already agreeing to a long-term extension and the rest of the core on their rookie deals, the Pelicans should sell before this deadline, likely for the final time.
A 4-0 start to the season has been followed by a 9-23 mark, dropping the Orlando Magic to 14th place in the East. After years of squeaking into the playoffs, they need to prioritize the future instead of settling for a mediocre present.
Knowing Jonathan Isaac wouldn't suit up this season following a torn ACL in the bubble was tough enough, but additional injuries to Markelle Fultz (season-ending ACL tear) and Aaron Gordon (severe ankle sprain, out since Jan. 31) have killed any playoff chances the Magic had.
Orlando has refused to give 2018 No. 6 overall pick Mo Bamba any real development time, dropping his minutes to a career-low 9.3 per game this season. A 22-year-old center with elite defensive potential who's shown the ability to hit the three-ball, Bamba deserves a bigger spot in a rotation, either with the Magic or somewhere else.
The trade market for Nikola Vucevic will never be hotter as the now-two-time All-Star is doing everything for Orlando with 24.5 points, 11.7 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 1.0 steals per game on a career-best 41.8 percent from three. Teams like the Boston Celtics, Toronto Raptors and San Antonio Spurs should be going all-in for the 30-year-old big man.
Moving Vucevic now would open up the playing time necessary to develop Bamba in what's become a lost season, and the Magic could hope to unlock his potential in time for the returns of Isaac and Fultz next campaign.
Gordon should also be in high demand, although his age (25) still fits an Orlando rebuild should it not be satisfied with external trade offers.
As painful as it may be to part with Vucevic, the star return of the 2012 Dwight Howard trade, doing so would greatly improve the Magic's future. Fellow veterans Evan Fournier and Terrence Ross should be on the block, as well.
A 14-21 record and the NBA's worst defense likely means another lottery trip for the Sacramento Kings, and one player holds the key to them becoming a seller.
Someone needs to get Buddy Hield out of Sacramento.
After he looked like the NBA's next great sharpshooter, Hield's three-point percentage has dropped each of the past three years. A change of scenery looks like the only hope he has to get a once-promising career back on track.
The Kings don't need him to be their answer at shooting guard, either, not with the play of rookie Tyrese Haliburton. The 6'5" combo guard is seven years younger than Hield and is putting up 13.2 points, 3.6 rebounds, 5.4 assists and 1.4 steals per game while shooting 43.3 percent from three, primarily as a reserve.
Sacramento should be pairing him and franchise cornerstone De'Aaron Fox together as much as possible, and that would be made easier by trading Hield.
The Kings have other veterans who should at least stir up a little bit of interest around the league, as well.
Hassan Whiteside (8.3 points and 5.7 rebounds in 14.6 minutes per game) would look good on the Los Angeles Lakers, Brooklyn Nets or Toronto Raptors, while Harrison Barnes and Nemanja Bjelica could serve as floor-spacers for a contender.
Fox has already agreed to a long-term extension, so the Kings can be a little patient and prioritize the fit between him and Haliburton while trying to cash in on some of their vets.
A team with Bradley Beal and Russell Westbrook should be good enough to make the playoffs in the East, especially with Davis Bertans back on a five-year deal and some promising young forwards sprinkled in.
Alas, the 13-20 Wizards are 12th in the East, held back by a defense that ranks 27th overall.
While Beal has been outstanding, Washington is 0-5 this season when he scores 39 points or more. The star duo isn't working together, either, as the Wizards' net rating is five points higher (minus-1.9 compared to minus-6.9) when Beal is on the floor without Westbrook compared to when the 2017 MVP joins him.
Westbrook's contract makes him essentially untradable ($44.2 million next year, $47.1 million player option in 2022-23), meaning Beal will likely be the one to go.
Washington would get a massive return for the NBA's leading scorer, a package likely just a step below what the Houston Rockets got for James Harden or the New Orleans Pelicans landed for Anthony Davis.
Outside of Deni Avdija and Rui Hachimura, there isn't a lot of young talent on the Wizards, which a Beal trade would immediately fix.
Parting with one of the NBA's best players is never easy, but Beal's value only goes down by the day as his contract gets shorter and shorter.
The Wizards are bad, and Beal deserves better.