Biggest questions heading into NBA trade deadline
With the NBA trade deadline just three days away and the rumor mill swirling, SI.com's Ian Thomsen examines five of the biggest questions heading into Thursday's deadline.
1. Will more teams be trying to get better or worse?
This question hits at the big theme for this week, as some teams will claim to be improving their team even as they weaken their roster for the last two months of the season.
Consider the 76ers, who are the NBA's second-worst team and yet will be seeking to unload talent. Evan Turner is a restricted free agent who is averaging 17.5 points (while shooting 43.2 percent) and is represented by David Falk, who has a long track record of earning big contracts for his clients. Turner and fellow 25-year-old Spencer Hawes are offensive-minded players that have the potential to be traded -- and their departures, in return for draft picks and longterm assets, would make a bad team worse.
But if they can draft aggressive players who can defend, score in transition and shoot from the perimeter -- the DNA of the Spurs, who sent their longtime assistant Brett Brown to Philadelphia as the Sixers' new head coach -- then they'll be pursuing a vision that could turn their franchise into a winner for years to come.
Now is probably a good team to actually answer the question. Eight teams in the East could be looking to improve their rosters at the deadline: the Heat, Raptors (see below), Wizards, Nets, Bobcats, Pistons, Knicks and Cavaliers.
That list is even longer in the West, which features 10 teams in a hurry to win now: Thunder, Spurs, Rockets, Clippers, Blazers, Mavericks, Suns, Warriors, Grizzlies and Timberwolves.
Teams that appear willing to take a step back in order to show improvement in future years include the Nuggets, Pelicans, Jazz, Lakers and Kings in the West; and Bulls, Hawks, Celtics, Magic, 76ers and Bucks.
The only franchise that isn't on either list is the East-leading Pacers, who appear to be fully loaded and with no compelling need to mess with their chemistry.
2. Which teams do you expect to be most active at the deadline?
It figures to be a team that is unloading talent in order to build up assets for an overhaul. The Bucks, Celtics and 76ers figure to have the most conversations regarding the largest number of players. Boston president Danny Ainge is in the most interesting position: When he told the Boston Herald that he could make trades to improve the team now or later -- that he could go either way -- his statement had a ring of truth. But there don't appear to be a lot of trades to be made for difference-making talent at this deadline, which means that the Celtics will probably wind up pursuing more assets and flexibility for the long run.
3. Do you expect any title contenders to make a move?
Among the top three teams -- Oklahoma City, Indiana and Miami - I don't. The Thunder could consider adding another shooter for the stretch, but it's unlikely because they'll already be reintegrating a superstar talent in Russell Westbrook to a team that has been playing terrifically without him. As for the Heat, they don't have a lot of excess parts that could be moved without hurting their core.
4. Who will be the biggest name moved before the deadline?
It looks as if no star will be moved at the deadline for a second straight year. Pau Gasol's lingering injury gives rivals another reason to not take him off the Lakers' payroll, in addition to the overwhelming cost of his $19.3 million salary.
Rajon Rondo is unlikely to create a market in his first month back from knee surgery. Carmelo Anthony isn't going anywhere in the next few days (though that could change this summer, if he becomes fed up with losing in New York). The Raptors are no longer seeking to unload Kyle Lowry, who isn't (yet) a star but would have added some substance to this inert market.
The most valuable asset may turn out to be Luol Deng, if the underperforming Cavaliers don't believe they'll be able to re-sign him as a free agent this summer. Wouldn't he look good in the colors of the Suns, who could afford to trade for him and re-sign him, and for whom he would add defense and outstanding play in transition?
Omer Asik could re-emerge as a target after the Rockets were unable to move him in December.
5. Which veteran could be an underrated addition?
Brandon Bass, the 6-foot-8 power forward of the Celtics would be able to help any number of playoff teams as a highly reliable midrange shooter. He's 28, he has contributed to big games and deep playoff runs, and his defensive commitment has improved tremendously over the last two years. His $6.8 million salary (with another year to run at $7 million) shouldn't be a hindrance.
• Over/under on the number of trades this week? There were a dozen deals around the deadline last year, with no big names in play just like this year. Let's set it at 12.
• Will the Raptors be buyers or sellers? They're more likely to be buyers. But they'll be seeking to improve their chances for this year only if it doesn't set them back for the long run.
• Will Kevin Love be traded? No. But that may have to change this summer if the Timberwolves don't show improvement after the deadline -- which puts pressure on them to seek out a change in chemistry this week.
• Who is the one player you would like to see moved? Andre Miller of the Nuggets. He's a winner whose talents are going to waste after his falling out with Denver. He ought to be helping a team in the playoffs this spring.
• Will the trade deadline be more interesting than the Dunk Contest? Of course! Even if no deals are made.