Much of the focus this trade season has been given to the players possibly on the block (Pau Gasol, Paul Pierce, Josh Smith). But which teams are positioned to be buyers at the deadline? Could the Clippers deal some depth to strengthen their title hopes? Would the Bucks attempt to leverage one of their expiring contracts?
-- Sara P., Austin, Texas
The two defending Finalists -- and the favorites to reconvene this June -- aren't expected to do much of anything. The Heat won the championship with their current roster, and the Thunder have already undergone one major move and aren't likely to expose themselves to more change. Most of the top teams are likely to be conservative: The Bulls are going to be wary of adding to their tax penalties, and they and the Pacers will probably focus on the midseason returns of Derrick Rose and Danny Granger, respectively, as opposed to adding new talent by trade.
Here, Sara, are my 12 most interesting "buyers,'' with the understanding that they have different objectives heading into the Feb. 21 deadline.
Mavericks: They've promised to take on salary if the talent is worthy, according to the sole proprietor of the "Bank of Cuban.'' But Dallas shouldn't be focused on a playoff run this year; the goal will be to take advantage of an opportunity to improve for the long term now rather than later.
Pistons: The playoffs are out of reach, but they'll have tons of cap space this summer and Detroit president Joe Dumars prefers to be proactive -- he'd just as soon acquire the right player into his cap space now, as opposed to waiting for the summer.
Clippers: With free agency coming up for Chris Paul, they must make every attempt to win now. But the Clippers must proceed cautiously, because the wrong trade could disrupt the chemistry of a team that won 17 straight earlier this season.
Raptors: Ownership threatened to make changes in Toronto, and Raptors president Bryan Colangelo responded by changing the franchise outlook with a trade for Rudy Gay. Colangelo is now talking about another deal for Andrea Bargnani -- not to dump his salary but to improve his own team.
[MAHONEY: Amir Johnson doing good work under the radar]
Grizzlies: Now that they've dumped salary and taken a public beating for breaking up a contender, the Grizzlies' new ownership may seek to add talent in hopes of improving relations with its suffering fans. Posturing aside, nothing less than a deep playoff run this spring will prove that the Gay trade was good for Memphis.
Suns: They have cap space and multiple picks this summer. If the right deal is available, look for the Suns to improve now.
Knicks: They're always looking to add talent, and they're one of the few franchises that can dismiss the long-term tax implications. However, the emphasis should be on establishing chemistry between Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire, rather than on adding players who complicate the rotation.
Rockets: Forever aggressive and seeking to add value, the Rockets aren't going to let a deadline pass by without seeking to improve around James Harden.
[GIVE AND GO: Sizing up the Rockets, other teams on playoff bubble]
Nets: A blockbuster deal is unlikely because their big pieces will be hard to move, and also because the Nets remain on "interim'' status around successful coach P.J. Carlesimo. But they could package a few small expiring deals to add another contributor.
Bucks: With little sign of rivals seeking a trade for the potentially expiring contract of Monta Ellis, the Bucks -- with young assets and no imminent tax concerns -- could be interested in making a deal to improve now or for the long haul.
76ers: They're awaiting the return of Andrew Bynum and striving to overtake Boston for the final playoff spot and would pursue a trade to help them get there.
Timberwolves: Kevin Love's injury has put the playoffs out of reach, but they could package Derrick Williams in anticipation of a strong run behind Love, Ricky Rubio and Andrei Kirilenko next year.
The Heat are struggling against the top teams in the East. LeBron and Co. are 0-2 against the Knicks, 0-1 against the Bulls and 0-2 against the Pacers. You -- and every other national writer -- continue to preach patience with the reigning champs. But all three teams (as we saw Friday vs. the Pacers) provide matchup problems for Miami. Is there cause for concern here?-- Carl T., Las Vegas
I agree there is reason for concern, Carl, because those teams have the size up front that Miami lacks. But it's also important to realize that the Knicks, Bulls and Pacers treat a game against Miami as if it were the conference finals. The Heat know better. They are building toward the actual conference finals and NBA Finals. Just as the Knicks, Bulls and Pacers raise their play against Miami now, so will Miami raise its play in May and June. At that time of year Miami's opponents will be overwhelmed with their own matchup problems against (1) LeBron James, (2) Dwyane Wade, (3) Chris Bosh and (4) Ray Allen.
The size matchups may get the best of the Heat here and there in the playoffs, but I don't envision any team in the East beating LeBron four times in one series.
Do you see Allen Iverson ever getting another shot in the NBA? He passed on the Mavs' D-League offer but sounded reflective and contrite in explaining the decision.-- Jamie Tennison, Philadelphia
I don't see it, Jamie. He's 37 and hasn't played in two seasons. In his last 25 games with Philadelphia in 2010-11, Iverson shot 41.7 percent, and there is good reason to believe the years haven't been kind to him.
It damaged his hopes when a judge in Atlanta finalized Iverson's divorce by declaring: "He has refused to attend to an obvious and serious alcohol problem, which has caused him to do inappropriate things in the presence of the children while impaired. He has left the children alone without supervision. He has left his young daughters in a hotel room with men who are unknown to the mother."
Apart from his parenting skills, the issue for Iverson physically is that he has probably not devoted the last two years to reviving his career if, as a family court judge has surmised, he has a problem with alcohol.
According to reports, the Raptors are still open for business. What's the end game here? Are they building something that can last or is Bryan Colangelo just rolling the dice in hopes of saving his job this summer?-- Fallon, Toronto
I like what they're building, Fallon. I know Colangelo has mentioned the possibility of moving Bargnani, but if they were to keep him and Lowry then consider this core:
C Jonas Valanciunas, 20 years old
F Bargnani 27, Amir Johnson, 25
F Rudy Gay 26, Landry Fields 24, Linas Kleiza, 28
G DeMar DeRozan 23, Terrence Ross, 22
G Kyle Lowry, 26
This could be a highly promising team as long as they stick with it. I understand the frustrations ownership and fans might experience with Colangelo, but do they really want to start over again with a new team president, who hires a new coach, who then wants to replace the players?
[GOLLIVER: Clippers' Butler pulls fast one on Valanciunas]
This franchise should not let go of coach Dwane Casey. After a hard start he has this young team playing respectably with Bargnani sidelined. Casey emphasizes defense and he has been with a championship program in Dallas. Instead of starting anew yet again, the Raptors should maintain their investment in a coach who represents the right values for a young team with so much balance and promise across its roster.