1 Question Every NBA Team Needs to Answer at the Trade Deadline

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistJanuary 31, 2022

1 Question Every NBA Team Needs to Answer at the Trade Deadline

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    Matt Rourke/Associated Press

    The 2022 NBA trade deadline is quickly approaching, and the urgency it brings is real.

    Fail to address an issue with the roster—great or small—by Feb. 10, and it could linger unresolved until free agency in July. That's a long time to wait on unfinished business.

    Every team has to approach the trade deadline differently. Some have a simple positional need to address, others face more consequential long-term decisions, and a few will completely overhaul their organizational trajectories.

    With less than two weeks until the deadline, the clock is ticking.

Atlanta Hawks: How Do We Find Balance?

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    Edward M. Pio Roda/Associated Press

    In the most basic sense, it's easy to see how this question applies to a team with the league's second-best offense and third-worst defense. Any personnel decisions the Atlanta Hawks make must focus on the addition of stopping power, even if it comes at the cost of scoring punch.

    When you're the most lopsided squad in the NBA, priorities at the deadline are crystal clear.

    The least invasive way to balance the roster involves packaging a few of their expiring deals with a first-round pick or two, hopefully in exchange for a difference-making defender.

    Only $5 million of Danilo Gallinari's $21.5 million salary next season is guaranteed, making him an ideal trade asset for a suitor looking to cut costs in 2022-23. Delon Wright, the newly acquired Kevin Knox II, Lou Williams and Gorgui Dieng are all in the last year of their deals, and the Hawks control all of their own future first-rounders.

    If Atlanta wants to move John Collins in a larger transaction, that's an option as well.

    However the Hawks choose to proceed, however significantly they want to reshape the roster, the aim must be the same: balance.

Boston Celtics: Overhaul Now or Later?

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    Charles Krupa/Associated Press

    According to Jared Weiss of The Athletic, the occasionally discussed breakup of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown isn't on the table for the Boston Celtics leading up to the trade deadline.

    Everything else is, though. That means Boston must decide whether to embark upon significant change now or in the offseason.

    My vote is for more immediate action. Only $14.5 million of Al Horford's $26.5 million salary in 2022-23 is guaranteed, Dennis Schroder will enter free agency this summer and command a salary too high for Boston to pay, Marcus Smart could make a serious stretch-run impact on a contender, and the team is still $2.7 million over the tax line for this season.

    Waiting until the offseason would remove Schroder from the asset pool and possibly devalue Smart and Horford from a trade perspective. Plus, as The Athletic's John Hollinger noted, getting out of the tax "would have the added benefit of entitling them to the roughly $10 million per team payout expected this year for every club beneath the tax line."

    You could forgive the Celtics for wanting to wait, if only because Tatum, Brown, Smart and Horford have gone on deep playoff runs before. But the cost of patience seems too high. Boston should get active in a hurry.

Brooklyn Nets: How's That Buyout Market Looking?

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    As much as we would like to include the Brooklyn Nets in the trade deadline action, we can't ignore a roster makeup that'll almost certainly keep them out of the mix.

    Both James Harden and Kyrie Irving can become free agents this offseason, which sometimes prompts a "get what you can while you can" type of deal. But the Nets are a title-chasing team, so Harden, Irving and Kevin Durant aren't going anywhere.

    Beyond those three, Patty Mills, LaMarcus Aldridge and Joe Harris' shooting are too valuable to move. That leaves a bunch of minimum guys, rookies and generally undesirable assets that wouldn't bring back much value.

    Nic Claxton might be the exception to that, but he's been a hugely useful interior presence when healthy. Plus, any team trading for him would face the possibility of losing the springy big man in 2022 free agency. As a rental, he might not command much of a return.

    The Nets aren't going to be major players at the deadline. Their focus should be on coaxing interest from buyout candidates like Toronto Raptors guard Goran Dragic and Orlando Magic wing Gary Harris.

Charlotte Hornets: What's Myles Turner Worth?

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    You might think this question should apply to the Indiana Pacers, who currently employ Myles Turner. But it fits for the Charlotte Hornets because they desperately need a center who can make a difference on both ends—ideally one who slots into a tricky "win now, but also win later" timeline.

    LaMelo Ball's ascent to All-Star status in his second season means Charlotte should look to maximize the roster around him, but not at the expense of the flexibility it'll need to support him when he hits his prime in three or four years. Turner—25 and one of the rare shot-blocking, floor-stretching bigs around—checks all of the boxes.

    Charlotte's need for an upgrade at the 5 is clear. It can't defend with the undersized (and available) P.J. Washington in the game, and Mason Plumlee drags the offense down. Adding Turner would assure the Hornets of great spacing on one end and elevated rim-protection on the other—once he's healthy, of course.

    Charlotte owes the New York Knicks a protected 2022 first-rounder that could be tied up until 2025, and it can only trade another one two years after that selection conveys (whenever that happens). Considering that Indy is reportedly seeking multiple first-rounders, according to B/R's Jake Fischer, the Hornets might not have the necessary ammo.

    They have to try, though. Turner is too perfect of a fit for Charlotte to ignore.

Chicago Bulls: Is Patrick Williams a Core Piece?

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    The Chicago Bulls are at an information deficit on a critical issue.

    They selected Patrick Williams with the No. 4 overall pick 15 months ago, and he's also their most tantalizing trade piece today. But all the Bulls can use to judge his value is an age-19 season and five games from earlier this year.

    That just isn't enough of a sample to know what Williams might become...and what he's worth in a trade. 

    Joe Cowley of The Chicago Sun Times reports there's "growing momentum" Williams could return before the end of this season, which would be good news but still won't give the Bulls any more information prior to the deadline.

    This is all relevant to Chicago's pursuit of a defensive upgrade on the wing. Jerami Grant appears eminently available and would fit perfectly on a roster that should contend once Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso are fully recovered.

    Are Williams and Coby White (plus salary filler) too much to surrender for Grant? Not enough? Just right? It's possible Williams will someday develop into a better player than Grant. So should he be off the table entirely?

    It's tough to say, but the Bulls are surprising threats in the East and should be motivated to roll the dice on a win-now move.

Cleveland Cavaliers: Where Can We Find Another Ball-Handler?

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    Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

    The Cleveland Cavaliers' need for another player who can dribble the basketball is obvious.

    Rajon Rondo has been productive since coming aboard via trade, but the absences of Ricky Rubio and Collin Sexton put too much stress on breakout guard Darius Garland. Kevin Love is enjoying a resurgent season running second units, but he's far from a traditional, every-possession playmaker.

    The good news: Cleveland has several options.

    Sexton and Rubio are both on expiring deals, and their contracts combined give the Cavaliers $24 million to package in a trade. On the thriftier side, Rubio's torn ACL netted the Cavs an $8.9 million disabled player exception, which they could use to bring in lower-salaried guards like Boston's Dennis Schroder.

    Goran Dragic could shake loose on the buyout market, but that should be a last resort. There'll be competition for his services, and the Cavs can't count on being his first choice.

    The Cavaliers show no signs of dropping out of the top five in defensive efficiency. That makes it doubly important for them to secure a capable guard to relieve Garland and help set up a relatively assist-dependent group of wings for success.

Dallas Mavericks: What Does $10.9 Million Get Us?

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    Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

    The samples are tiny and compromised by the intrusion of health and safety protocols, but the data suggests the Dallas Mavericks' need for a secondary playmaker might be a little overblown.

    Don't trust it.

    Sure, Jalen Brunson is among the league's most underappreciated guards, and Dallas has had no problem scoring when he's been on the floor without Luka Doncic. But how many more times do we need to see Doncic blanketed by multiple defenders in a playoff series to drive home the point that he needs shot-creation assistance?

    The $10.9 million trade exception from the Josh Richardson deal is a tremendous asset, one of only three active TPEs in the league worth more than $10 million. That should be Dallas' ticket to a load-lightening playmaker.

    Dennis Schroder would fit into that TPE with room to spare, and the Celtics may be incentivized to duck the tax with a "nothing for something" salary trim. Tomas Satoransky has had a disaster of a season for the New Orleans Pelicans, but he's a pass-first (and -second and -third) operator with a 35.6 percent career hit rate on threes.

    The Mavericks can't burn this TPE carelessly—or worse, considering they're $15.6 million under the tax, let it expire. They need to use it and use it wisely.

Denver Nuggets: How Soon Is Help Arriving?

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    The Denver Nuggets can't assume that they'll immediately vault into contention if Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. return just prior to the playoffs. Nikola Jokic is having a better statistical season than anyone else in the league, and it's time we acknowledged last year's MVP win might just be the first of several.

    But even he can't carry this roster—with rusty versions of MPJ and Murray—all the way to the Finals.

    ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski recently reported that "there's a lot of optimism" about Porter Jr.'s rehab trajectory and that the Nuggets may "see him again this season." Murray could also make it back from his torn ACL in time for some pre-playoff ramping up.

    If Denver has a real shot at getting all hands on deck with a few weeks to prepare for the postseason, it shouldn't do anything at the deadline. But if the outlook on Murray and Porter darkens, the Nuggets should think about moving vets—like Jeff Green and JaMychal Green, both of whom have player options for 2022-23—to clean up their books and add some draft capital.

    The fact that Denver has already dealt for sniper Bryn Forbes (on an expiring contract) suggests the hopefulness about Murray and Porter's returns is well-founded.

Detroit Pistons: How High Can We Drive the Asking Price on Jerami Grant?

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    Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

    Jerami Grant being viewed by some as the "grand prize" of the 2022 deadline, according to B/R's Jake Fischer, says a lot about the quality of player available. No shade, but Grant isn't an All-Star and might top out as a fourth option on a big-time winner.

    With that said, his defensive versatility and ever-evolving skill set make him a fit on any team.

    Grant proved last season that he could get his own shot more effectively than anyone imagined, but serious suitors will value his defense, athleticism and spot-up shooting. The last time he was a role player (for the Nuggets in 2019-20), he hit 39.0 percent of his catch-and-shoot threes. The year prior, with the Oklahoma City Thunder, he nailed 39.7 percent of those standstill shots.

    Can the Pistons pit suitors against one another, possibly inflating Grant's value beyond what the Orlando Magic got for Aaron Gordon, a reasonably comparable player traded in 2021? The Magic got Gary Harris (meh), a protected 2025 first-round pick and 2020 No. 24 overall pick R.J. Hampton in exchange for Gordon.

    Gordon had one season left on his contract at a reasonable salary when the Nuggets acquired him, and the case is the same for Grant, who's owed $20.1 million for 2022-23. If Detroit can beat what Orlando got, possibly earning two legitimate firsts, it'll be among the deadline's big winners.

Golden State Warriors: Should We Be This Attached to James Wiseman?

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    When the Golden State Warriors are good, as they are now, they tend to sit out the trade deadline. They didn't make an in-season deal at any point during their five-year run to the Finals from 2014-15 to 2018-19.

    Combine that tendency with repeated assurances that none of the team's young pieces—James Wiseman, Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody—is available, and you have a recipe for inaction.

    Caution is justifiable. The Warriors are in the unique position of having it both ways. There's a chance they can compete for a title now and set themselves up to transition to a new in-house core as the current one ages. 

    That needle-threading plan depends largely on Wiseman, who remains a 7-foot question mark in his second season.

    Bad hands, poor feel and stunted understanding of schemes on both ends made for a rough rookie season. Wiseman was nowhere near ready to help a winner last year (in part because he barely played in college and didn't have a real training camp), and he has yet to suit up this season because of a meniscus injury that required a second cleanup operation.

    His physical tools are tremendous. Wiseman is a legitimate center who can run and change direction like a guard. The upside that comes with those abilities is the reason why he came off the board at No. 2 in 2020. But his future is cloudy, and the high lottery is littered with toolsy bigs who busted.

    If there's a genuine win-now upgrade available (hi Myles Turner!), the Warriors have to at least consider moving Wiseman. And just for the record, Kuminga should be absolutely untouchable.

Houston Rockets: Can We Tear This Thing All the Way Down?

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    Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

    Though they'd surely love to, the Houston Rockets aren't likely to find a taker for John Wall and the $91.7 million he's owed through next season. That's fine. They can spend their energy trying to trade everybody else on the roster.

    OK, not everybody. But almost.

    Recent draftees Jalen Green and Alperen Sengun are keepers, and the Rockets could be excused for wanting longer looks at Kevin Porter Jr., Kenyon Martin Jr., Josh Christopher and Usman Garuba. But any useful veteran has to be on the block.

    Eric Gordon should command a solid return, thanks to his scorching shooting and playoff history of quality defense. Christian Wood, Jae'Sean Tate, D.J. Augustin and Daniel Theis should also appeal to winning teams willing to give up picks for more experienced, rotation-ready options.

    Houston is one of the two or three worst teams in the league and is nowhere close to having a real core to build around. At the deadline, the Rockets should jettison everything that isn't nailed down in an effort to swell their collection of future assets.

Indiana Pacers: Can We Walk Back the Rebuild Talk?

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    You can't unring the "we're ready to blow it up" bell, and that might be a problem for the Indiana Pacers.

    The Athletic's Shams Charania and Bob Kravitz reported in early December that the Pacers, who've resisted a teardown for decades, were warming to the idea of a rebuild. Indy has since tried to muddy the waters, with owner Herb Simon directly refuting talk of a tank.

    Once a team broadcasts its intent to sell, it can affect the offers it gets. The reverse situation helps illustrate what can happen: When a team really wants to drive prices up, it tends to broadcast a total unwillingness to deal. That way, suitors are encouraged to quit messing around and put their best packages together. 

    For Indiana, which has to deal with the new complication of Myles Turner being out through the deadline because of a stress reaction in his foot, that initial Charania report could force the rebuild back a few months. Because of Turner's health and the prohibitively high asking price for Domantas Sabonis, the Pacers might be better off postponing their rebuild until the offseason.

    On the other hand, Indy could keep up the psychological games and continue to insist no rebuild is imminent at all. Maybe that would coax teams to pony up for Turner or Sabonis at the deadline after all.

Los Angeles Clippers: Does the Tax Matter?

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    Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

    A lot of the analysis that applied to the Nuggets applies here as well, except the Los Angeles Clippers are missing their two best players and seem less sanguine about the possibility of them returning in time to make a real playoff run.

    B/R's Jake Fischer reported "the Clippers are operating under the possibility that [Paul] George may not return this season," and Kawhi Leonard might sit out the balance of 2021-22 as he recovers from a partially torn ACL as well.

    It isn't encouraging that the Clips recently extended George's period of rest as he tries to rehab a torn UCL in his elbow, hoping to hold off on surgery. A 3-4 week timeline may have just stretched into multiple months.

    So, with the competitive aspirations dimmed for this season, Los Angeles has to start thinking about how it's positioned for next year. That extends to finances.

    Trading Serge Ibaka and his $9.3 million salary could trim $41 million off the Clippers' luxury-tax bill, per ESPN's Bobby Marks. Reggie Jackson, Eric Bledsoe, Marcus Morris Sr. and Luke Kennard should also get a look as tax-cut trade candidates.

    Assuming Leonard and George will be ready to rock next season, this isn't a teardown situation. The Clips might prefer to keep all their mid-tier veteran contracts for another run in 2022-23. But there's also major value in trimming that tax bill, especially since the cash-rich Clips will likely operate as heavy taxpayers whenever the roster is good enough to contend again.

Los Angeles Lakers: Where's Our Wing Stopper?

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    Alex Gallardo/Associated Press

    The Los Angeles Lakers have no shortage of weaknesses, but the one that would hurt them most in the increasingly unlikely event that they make a deep playoff run is their lack of a quality defensive option on the wing.

    LeBron James has played a ton of center this season and will likely challenge for the minutes-per-game crown. Unless L.A. intends to further tax the 37-year-old by putting him on the opponent's most threatening scorer, it needs to find someone on the trade market who can handle that job.

    Trevor Ariza has been that player in the past, but he's six months younger than James and understandably hasn't looked anything like he did a half-decade ago during his best days with the Houston Rockets.

    Talen Horton-Tucker and Kendrick Nunn are the Lakers' best trade chips, but even combining their salaries wouldn't allow the Lakers to take in a $20 million player like Jerami Grant.

    If Los Angeles can't find a wing defender via trade, it should still try to clear a roster spot in case someone helpful shakes loose on the buyout market.

Memphis Grizzlies: Is It Time to Flex?

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    Chris Szagola/Associated Press

    Dallas could stay hot, and Denver has upside if its health improves. But right now, the upstart Memphis Grizzlies look likely to have home-court advantage in a first-round playoff series.

    The deadline is a great opportunity for them to broadcast that they have much greater ambitions than that.

    Memphis is flush with picks and tradable contracts. In addition to all of their own first-rounders, the Grizz have three coming between 2022 and 2024 from the Lakers, Warriors and Jazz. Combine that capital with Kyle Anderson, Brandon Clarke, De'Anthony Melton, Steven Adams, Jarrett Culver and even Dillon Brooks, and the Grizzlies have no shortage of palatable contracts to package with picks for a star.

    There's risk in combining so many valuable assets for an upgrade when the team's core is still ridiculously young and the top of the West is so laden with veteran-led title-chasers. But wouldn't it be fun to see Memphis load up with the likes of Jerami Grant, Jaylen Brown or Pascal Siakam for a run this postseason?

Miami Heat: Is Duncan Robinson Expendable?

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    Marta Lavandier/Associated Press

    The Miami Heat have survived injuries to key players and, like everyone else, weeks and weeks of funky lineups due to health and safety protocols. They've also quietly run up the best record in the East without getting much from $90 million signee Duncan Robinson.

    Maybe that's why "there's a belief around the league" the Heat may be "open to talks" involving Robinson, according to Matt Moore of The Action Network.

    A pure shooting specialist, Robinson hasn't been nearly as accurate this year as he's been in the past. After hitting 44.6 and 40.8 percent of his threes (many of which are contested, on-the-move looks) over the last two years, respectively, Robinson is down to 35.8 percent this season. A defensive liability who doesn't excel as a passer or shot-creator, Robinson's value is tied entirely to his three-point stroke.

    The Heat know they're just fine without him, and his role has diminished in January. Still, shooting is a premium skill, and you can imagine another team desperate for a sniper putting in a call. Miami is a true contender with Jimmy Butler, Kyle Lowry and Bam Adebayo healthy, and Robinson's defensive issues could limit his role in the postseason even if his shot comes around.

    It'd be quite a turnaround to trade a player who just signed a huge deal in the offseason, but the Heat lack roster flexibility otherwise. Moving Robinson is their best chance to make an already dangerous roster even more threatening.

Milwaukee Bucks: What's the Market for Donte DiVincenzo?

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    Morry Gash/Associated Press

    If the Milwaukee Bucks were going to pay Donte DiVincenzo, they would have already done it. That they didn't only contributes to the theory that he isn't part of their long-term plans.

    Milwaukee agreed to trade DiVincenzo to the Sacramento Kings prior to the 2020-21 season (although that deal later collapsed) and opted to extend Grayson Allen instead of him this past October.

    Milwaukee has an open roster spot that it'll likely fill with a buyout candidate, and it's difficult to find a clear weakness on a title-defending team that has gone 18-3 in games that Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton have played together.

    But if the Bucks want to find this year's version of P.J. Tucker, bring in an extra wing defender or find some insurance in case Brook Lopez can't get back to full health by the playoffs, DiVincenzo is the asset most likely to get them something worthwhile.

    Milwaukee will hold matching rights on DiVincenzo in restricted free agency, so it still has some leverage. But the Bucks' best path to improvement at the deadline will likely involve moving the fourth-year guard.

Minnesota Timberwolves: Can We Be Realistic About D-Lo?

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    Brandon Dill/Associated Press

    Now's the time to move D'Angelo Russell, when his on-off splits are at all-time highs and his defense has gone from trash bag to mixed bag. The Minnesota Timberwolves are a play-in outfit now, even with D-Lo playing his best ball, but the chance to sell high and make a more meaningful upgrade is too good to pass up.

    It won't be easy. The Wolves have a ton of expiring salaries and all of their own future first-rounders to dangle, but without a third team involved, that almost certainly won't be enough to get Ben Simmons from the Philadelphia 76ers. Minnesota should still try, whether that means building a package around Russell or some other combo of its assets, or everything mashed together in a four-team megadeal.

    Some might balk at the fit issues Simmons would bring, but the Wolves have spent most of the season playing two non-shooters—Jarred Vanderbilt and Jaden McDaniels—at the same time. You can't tell me Simmons slotting into one of those spots would make the offense worse.

    If Russell were to move, maybe Minnesota's scoring would suffer. But with Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Edwards as cornerstones, it isn't like Russell is ever going to have a large enough role to justify his $31.4 million salary next year. His usage rate is already down to its lowest point since his rookie year, and that trend won't reverse any time soon with Edwards on the rise and Towns deserving more touches than he's getting (as always).

    Russell might feel like a key piece in Minnesota, but he'd actually be most helpful to the team as part of deal to add a truer star.

New Orleans Pelicans: Can We Splurge on Some Shooting?

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    Craig Lassig/Associated Press

    The idea of building around Zion Williamson is as terrifying as it is necessary for the New Orleans Pelicans.

    Zion hasn't played at all this year, and the health struggles he's faced in his brief NBA (and collegiate) career do not augur well for his future durability. But he's a franchise-altering talent when healthy, so the small-market Pels have no choice but to cross their fingers, hope for Williamson's body to hold up and construct the roster in a way that optimizes point-Zion's record-setting offensive talent.

    That means surrounding him with as much shooting as possible, forcing defenses that load the lane against Williamson's drives to pay a steep price.

    Duncan Robinson's role has shrunk in Miami, and he'd help address New Orleans' bottom-10 rankings in both three-point attempts and conversion rate.

    Improved guard play may seem like a bigger concern, but getting Williamson back on the ball will go a long way toward minimizing that issue. The Pels have a once-in-a-generation talent who can't be stopped in the paint. They have to take every opportunity to find supporting pieces who can capitalize from the perimeter.*

    *And let's just agree not to worry about the defense.

New York Knicks: Can We Stay Patient?

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    Adam Hunger/Associated Press

    Patience has never been the New York Knicks' defining quality—or at least that was true prior to the Leon Rose-led power structure taking over in March 2020. Avoiding panic trades and looking more than a few weeks into the future has served New York well over the last two years.

    Outside the playoff race due to largely predictable shooting regression on both ends—Julius Randle isn't hitting everything, and opponents aren't missing two out of every three triples they attempt—the Knicks must remember what helped them shed laughingstock status.

    They should not be desperate buyers at the deadline. Instead, New York must gauge the market for the disappointing (outside of the occasional hot streak) Kemba Walker and try to deal impending unrestricted free agent Mitchell Robinson for draft capital.

    The Knicks already made a savvy move by adding Cam Reddish and his considerable upside for the Charlotte Hornets' heavily protected 2022 first-round pick. Hopefully, grabbing a still-raw 22-year-old signals that the franchise is realistic about its place in the league hierarchy.

    Patience, Knicks. Patience. It's nowhere close to win-now time.

Oklahoma City Thunder: Anybody Got Any 1st-Rounders?

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    The trade deadline will be a good test of whether the Oklahoma City Thunder's pick thirst is slaked. Are 12 first-round selections coming in from other teams enough, or will general manager Sam Presti's pick-hoarding continue?

    If they're inclined, the Thunder have several options for pick pursuit. They're $23 million below the salary floor, for starters, which means they can take back undesirable contracts with draft assets attached.

    If the Clippers want to dump Serge Ibaka, for instance, OKC should listen. Similarly, if the contending Phoenix Suns or Cleveland Cavaliers want to clear roster spots and cash, the Thunder could take in injured players like Dario Saric or Ricky Rubio (with picks attached), sending back cheaper contracts or heavily protected second-rounders.

    Another option: OKC can send out potentially useful vets like Derrick Favors, Mike Muscala or Kenrich Williams to playoff teams who need them for late or heavily protected first-rounders. That wouldn't get the Thunder closer to the salary floor, but...picks! Sweet, sweet picks!

Orlando Magic: Can We Just Appreciate This for a Moment?

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    Rusty Jones/Associated Press

    That's a rhetorical question up there, one that applies to observers and critics of the Orlando Magic more so than the franchise itself. It's an acknowledgement of just how solidly the Magic have positioned themselves as a rebuilder after several seasons chasing the eighth seed.

    Evidence Orlando is doing it how you're supposed to: It has a $17.2 million trade exception left over from the Evan Fournier deal that it could use to bring back an undesirable contract with a pick attached. It also has Gary Harris' expiring $20.5 million contract and Terrence Ross' affordable $12.5 million salary to dangle.

    Don't forget the intriguing Mo Bamba, who's collecting $7.6 million ahead of restricted free agency this summer. He's blocking 2.1 shots and hitting 35.5 percent of his 3.8 long-range attempts per game. Wendell Carter Jr. beat Bamba to the extension punch, but Orlando should be able to get value for its other young center if it doesn't want to commit to Bamba on a multiyear deal.

    All of that is to say that the Magic are extremely flexible and asset-rich. They own all their own first-rounders and have two lightly protected picks incoming from the Bulls and Nuggets, respectively. Movable deals, expiring contracts, trade exceptions—Orlando can use all of those resources to stockpile picks and young talent.

    The Magic have the worst record in the league, but they might be among the teams best equipped to win the deadline.

Philadelphia 76ers: Who Wants Tobias Harris?

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    You've got to give the Philadelphia 76ers credit for finding a way to make trading Ben Simmons even harder.

    They started the whole thing with a sky-high asking price for Simmons, a max-salaried player whom teams rightly might struggle to trust in big moments. Then they muddied the waters by broadcasting a willingness to hold off on a deal for a full season.

    Now, months into a saga showing no signs of ending, they're trying to include Tobias Harris and his albatross contract in some Simmons proposals, per Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

    For Philly to have any real shot at James Harden this offseason, it will need to trim major salary in the form of Harris or add players who'd have more appeal in a sign-and-trade. Realistically, the Sixers might need to accomplish both.

    Figuring out how to get off Harris' contract ($37.6 million in 2022-23, $39.3 million in 2023-24), whether part of a Simmons swap or not, may actually be the Sixers' top priority.

Phoenix Suns: Do We Need a Small-Ball 5?

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton proved in last year's playoffs that he was mobile and alert enough to stay on the floor against downsized opposing lineups. That put him on the short list of the league's most dynamic postseason big men.

    A matchup-proof center who can defend the rim and survive in space is basically a must for any serious title contender. With that said, what Ayton did last year wasn't easy, and the Suns can't trot him out for 48 minutes every night.

    With JaVale McGee and Bismack Biyombo looking just fine as conventional backup bigs, the Suns could still use a smaller option at center just in case.

    Thaddeus Young is the obvious choice, but every playoff-bound squad will target him for exactly this type of role. Few can make better use of his talents than the Suns, though, and none of his suitors will offer a better shot at a ring.

    If the San Antonio Spurs want to do right by the veteran, they'll send him to Phoenix, where his gifts will be put to optimal use.

Portland Trail Blazers: What Form Will the Re-Tooling Take?

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    Damian Lillard isn't going anywhere, and that might have been true even before he underwent abdominal surgery in mid-January. But Lillard staying put is just about the only certainty for the Portland Trail Blazers.

    Jusuf Nurkic and Robert Covington are on expiring deals, but it's difficult to say whether the Blazers would benefit more by moving them or trying to re-sign them in free agency. Avoiding the repeater tax should be a top concern for Portland.

    If the Blazers are over the luxury-tax threshold at season's end, they'll face stiff tax penalties in each of the next two league years. If they get under, the clock—which is triggered when a team is in the tax for three out of four seasons—will reset.

    Dumping Nurkic and Covington for picks and tax relief would probably irk Lillard, who's said he doesn't have interest in rushing a return this year if Portland strips talent and tanks. You have to wonder how he'd feel if the Blazers also moved CJ McCollum, Norman Powell or even breakout guard Anfernee Simons, who might be the sweetener necessary to dump the team's worst contracts.

    The Blazers should prioritize keeping and re-signing Simons, and Lillard is locked in on a huge deal. Everything else should be on the table, though, and all of that uncertainty exists against the backdrop of those tax concerns.

    Portland has to change, and it has options. But it also faces serious urgency. Who knows how long Lillard's loyalty will last?

Sacramento Kings: Is De'Aaron Fox a Cornerstone?

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    By most measures worth consulting, De'Aaron Fox is playing worse this year than at any point since he was an utterly lost 20-year-old rookie. It isn't just that Fox is performing below last season's level; he's worse now at the age of 24 than he was at 21.

    True shooting percentage, box plus/minus, assist rate, steal rate, free-throw rate—all of them are lower than they've been since 2017-18. And that's to say nothing of Fox's waning defensive intensity and bouts of disinterest off the ball on offense.

    In light of all that, you might have scoffed at the question. Is De'Aaron Fox a cornerstone? More like, "Is De'Aaron Fox even a net-positive player?" The answer this season has been a clear no.

    Still, relative to the Kings' other pieces—all of whom should be available in trades—Fox remains the one that has a shot at stardom. His athletic gifts (raw speed and elite body control in the air) are undeniable. The guy scored 25.2 points per game last year on shooting efficiency just a hair below league average, and he's always been a good contact-drawer on drives. There are still aspects of Fox's profile that mark him as special.

    But if there's a real offer on the table that involves Fox for Ben Simmons or some other more decorated option, the Kings have to do a sober analysis of their best player. Fox has had ample chances to prove he's the guy, and he's fallen short so far. With his max deal having just begun this year, now might be the Kings' best time to trade him.

San Antonio Spurs: What Are Our Consolidation Options?

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    Ashley Landis/Associated Press

    Think of the San Antonio Spurs as "Hawks West", a team with several good-not-great young players who can't all be paid when the bill comes due.

    Atlanta already started its consolidation effort by moving Cam Reddish, and San Antonio might want to explore one-upping that approach by combining a few members of its youth corps in exchange for a more promising singular talent.

    That's easier said than done, as teams tend to prefer trading for the best player in a deal. But the Spurs could put together an intriguing package with some combination of Derrick White, Devin Vassell, Keldon Johnson and Lonnie Walker IV.

    White and Vassell are the prizes there, but even they should be on the table if an upgrade is available. However, San Antonio should cut the conversation short if teams ask about Dejounte Murray.

    There's also the Thaddeus Young component, but we've referenced him enough. San Antonio should obviously move his $14.2 million expiring contract for the best possible package of picks and young players. The bigger-picture question pertains to a young rotation that needs to turn quantity into quality.

Toronto Raptors: Can We Trade Chris Boucher and Goran Dragic?

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    Adam Hunger/Associated Press

    It'll be difficult to get a player who'll improve the 2021-22 Toronto Raptors for Goran Dragic and his $19.4 million expiring salary. The combination of the 35-year-old Dragic basically not playing this season, his impending free agency and the potential for a buyout should prevent suitors from making serious offers.

    But if Toronto is going to follow through on reports that it's looking for upgrades, a Dragic deal is the only obvious move that doesn't involve busting up the team's core.

    The Raps "intend to operate as buyers," per TSN's Josh Lewenberg, which almost has to mean that they think they can get value for Dragic.

    Chris Boucher is also on a much cheaper expiring deal at $7 million. One could imagine a team viewing him as a player worth keeping on his next contract, even with his errant shooting and concurrent slide down the depth chart this season.

    Toronto's pursuit of short-term gains will be almost impossible without including some picks as sweeteners, and it'll have to pull all this off while sitting only $268,540 below the tax line. That status matters more than usual with the franchise losing out on ticket revenue because of reduced crowd capacity at home games.

Utah Jazz: Can We Flip Joe Ingles for a Defender?

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    Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

    Spotlighting Joe Ingles puts a finer point on it, but the Utah Jazz should seek out wing defense at the deadline however they can.

    Ingles is 34, shooting it worse from deep than he has at any point in his career and has passed the point where his smarts and hands can cover for his lack of defensive mobility. He's still a crafty joy to watch on most nights, but the Jazz will be a better team in the games they care about most if an Ingles trade brings back a defensive upgrade.

    Boston's Josh Richardson is a realistic target, and Houston's Eric Gordon might also be an option if Utah trusted his defense enough and/or wants to further juice its offense. If the Jazz view Ingles as less dispensable than he was over the offseason when they were open to moving him, they could still look into acquisitions on a smaller scale.

    Maybe a call to Indy about Torrey Craig would be worth the time.

Washington Wizards: Which Second Star Is Gettable?

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    Ringo H.W. Chiu/Associated Press

    Bradley Beal is set to hit free agency this summer by declining his player option, but the Washington Wizards can pay him more than anyone else and could still recoup value if he leaves by working out a sign-and-trade. Realistically, the Wizards don't need to worry about losing their best player for nothing.

    They could still lose him, though, and avoiding that outcome should be a priority at the deadline. Adding a second star is the best way to demonstrate the franchise's commitment to building a winner around Beal.

    To get there, Washington may essentially have to reverse course. After getting several properly paid rotation pieces for Russell Westbrook, the Wizards could package a few of them together with a pick or two for someone like Domantas Sabonis.

    Unlocking real draft equity might require the Wizards to amend the protections on the pick that they owe the Thunder. As it stands, they may not be able to send out a first until 2028 because the OKC pick may not convey until as late as 2026.

    Thinking smaller, Washington should be in the mix for Jerami Grant, Harrison Barnes, Buddy Hield, Myles Turner and anyone else in that solid-starter salary range.


    Stats courtesy of NBA.com, Basketball Reference and Cleaning the Glass. Accurate through Jan. 25. Salary info via Spotrac.