The Detroit Pistons and Charlotte Hornets are on the board, not waiting until the NBA's trade deadline on Thursday to make moves they hope will bolster their playoffs chances this season.
The Pistons acquired scorer Tobias Harris from Orlando while the Hornets added Courtney Lee from Memphis to help fill the void created by the injury to Charlotte forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. In a deadline-driven league, both moves were aggressive in that they came well before the 3 p.m. Eastern time cutoff for trades to be made.
They also may serve as catapults for other teams out there shopping. The time is nearing for teams that have held cards tightly to their chests to start putting them on the table.
There are several issues teams are considering this week as they mull making significant trades. Among them is the sheer dominance of the Golden State Warriors, who have established themselves as the favorites to win the championship again this season.
As teams went into the All-Star break, there was a feeling across the league that the Spurs, Cavaliers and Thunder may be the only teams equipped to challenge the defending champions for the title. That thought process may cause several other teams just outside of that foursome to play it a little more conservatively when it comes to trades.
The Pistons and Stan Van Gundy didn't let that stop them from acquiring Harris, figuring that adding the cost certainty of the three years remaining on his deal would help them shape their vision going forward rather than look at the unknowns of free agents added this summer.
Free agency is another huge factor that will influence teams with the trade deadline looming; it's shaping up to be a free agency bonanza in July.
With a sky-rocketing salary cap, the majority of teams in the NBA will have enough cap room to add at least one max-contract player to their rosters this summer. That will create a frenetic push for the top tier of free agents, including Oklahoma City star Kevin Durant, Detroit center Andre Drummond and Toronto guard DeMar DeRozan.
So making a deal now to add an impact player, while difficult to pull off, could help a team avoid having to go all-in next summer.
Here are some of the more intriguing teams to watch headed into Thursday's trade deadline:
ATLANTA HAWKS: Last year's feel-good season has given way to a more sober 2015-16, with a 31-24 record good for fourth in the East and the sense that they have to make a big move to vault back into contention with Cleveland and Toronto. They could be the most likely candidate to part with a key piece to make that happen, with Al Horford and Jeff Teague among the players that have been mentioned as possible trade bait.
BOSTON CELTICS: GM Danny Ainge has spent the last few years accumulating assets - perhaps most attractive is Brooklyn's unprotected first-round draft choice this June - to put him in position to make a Godfather offer to a team for one of its established stars. Now that the Celtics are a surprising 32-23 and sitting at No. 3 in the East, the time to give superb coach Brad Stevens the star he has been looking for could be right now.
LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS: They have seemed to find their groove lately, oddly enough while star forward Blake Griffin has been out because of a quad injury and a suspension for punching an assistant equipment manager. Despite all the drama, coach and GM Doc Rivers said on Tuesday that Griffin would not be traded. But Rivers still wants to upgrade his bench and add some more scoring punch to give them every chance possible to come out of the rugged West.
TORONTO RAPTORS: Coach Dwane Casey's crew has done a remarkable job absorbing key injuries to remain as the No. 2 seed in the East. DeRozan and Kyle Lowry give them one of the best backcourts in the league and the hope is DeMarre Carroll will back with a month or so to go in the regular season to gear up for the playoffs. They are looking to add another ball-handler off the bench and a power forward that can stretch the defense with his shooting in hopes of avoiding another early playoff exit.
MIAMI HEAT: Chris Bosh has resumed taking blood thinners to treat a blood clot, the same condition that caused him to miss the final 30 games of last season. Bosh is hopeful to play again this season, but the uncertainty surrounding the situation could prompt the Heat to look for ways to bolster the roster around Dwyane Wade and Goran Dragic, both over 30 years old.
HOUSTON ROCKETS: One of the biggest disappointments in the league this season and with one of the most active dealmakers in the league in GM Daryl Morey is a combination that makes the Rockets an easy candidate for this list. Dwight Howard's name continues to surface in reports about possible deals as Morey looks to make changes to build a roster that better meshes with ball-dominant guard James Harden.
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