• The NBA trade deadline is here and several teams have to decide whether they will be buyers or sellers. The Knicks, 76ers and others have big moves to make.
By Michael Shapiro
February 20, 2017

As the Warriors and Cavaliers continue their arms race in anticipation for another presumed Finals matchup, teams around the league are faced with a dilemma: Should they trade away future assets in an attempt to remain relevant through May, or should they pack it in and pin their hopes to the draft lottery?

For teams on the verge of the playoffs, the situation becomes more dicey. It’s one thing to fight for the three or four seed, but another to squeak into the playoffs and face a 70-win juggernaut or the defending champions. To tank or not to tank? With the trade deadline fast approaching, that is now the question. Here are seven teams tasked with that decision.

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Miami Heat

It’s a testament to Miami’s disastrous start to the season that the Heat could go on a 13-game win streak and still sit seven games under .500. But this is the Eastern Conference, and Miami now finds itself in the thick of the playoff race.

Led by a flurry of Goran Dragic drives and Dion Waiters threes, the Heat have become a formidable offensive attack over the past month, complimenting a defense that ranks sixth in the league in opponent points per game. Miami was in place to land a top-five pick a month ago. Now, they’re best suited to keep gunning for the playoffs with two-time champion Erik Spoelstra at the helm.

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Milwaukee Bucks

Milwaukee’s call to #OwnTheFuture may have to wait until next year. Behind Giannis Antetokounmpo’s breakout season, the Bucks began the year as the NBA’s most fearsome young team, but faltered as the calendar turned to 2017. Things got worse for the young Bucks following a 5–10 January, and starting power forward—and former No. 2 overall pick—Jabari Parker tore his ACL for the second time on Feb. 8.

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Now sitting at No. 11 in the East and without its second-leading scorer, it’s best for Milwaukee to focus the rest of the season on developing Antetokounmpo and rookie point guard Malcolm Brogdon. There may not be playoff basketball in Milwaukee this year, but the future is bright. A lottery pick paired with the return of Parker and a full season of Khris Middleton poses a dangerous group for the rest of the Eastern Conference.

New York Knicks

While the NBA’s attention was drawn to Madison Square Garden for much of the past week, few cared about the Knicks' on-court performance. The Charles Oakley saga briefly replaced the Melo-drama that encompassed New York for much of 2017, but Anthony’s future will once again become the dominant storyline as the trade deadline approaches.

As New York sits at 23–33 and 12th in the Eastern Conference, a fresh start for Anthony looks increasingly like the right move for both parties. Dealing the nine-time All Star will allow Anthony to compete for a title and the Knicks to begin a rebuild in earnest.

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New York could acquire a bevy of young assets in a deal for Anthony and additionally rid themselves of Derrick Rose, ending the year near the bottom of the league standings. And in a draft class teeming with talent, the Knicks could find a complement to Kristaps Porzingis.

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Philadelphia 76ers

The Process is alive and well in Philadelphia. Joel Embiid proved to be everything fans had been hoping for since being drafted in 2014, leading the team in points, rebounds and blocks despite averaging just over 25 minutes per game. However, a torn meniscus has sidelined Embiid since Jan. 27, likely limiting his minutes even more down the stretch.

The 76ers season will end in the lottery once again. Sitting at 14 games under .500, tanking is the right move for the fourth year in a row. But this offseason is primed for Philadelphia to make a run toward the playoffs. Armed with a returning Ben Simmons, a quality lottery pick and roughly $50 million in cap space, the 76ers will enter the 2017–18 season as one of the East’s most intriguing teams.

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Dallas Mavericks

After a brutal start to the season, Dallas looked to be headed straight to the lottery at 2–13. But the wizardry of Rick Carlisle has kept the Mavericks afloat, going 11–5 since Jan. 12. Somehow Dallas is three games back of the eight seed with the likes of Seth Curry and former 10-day contract recipient Yogi Ferrell in the backcourt. Dallas also ranks last in the league in points per game.

The Mavericks’ reasons for chasing that final playoff spot are twofold. On the more practical level, Dallas’s foundational players are better served competing for the playoffs. The 38-year-old Dirk Nowitzki has no time for a rebuild, and Dallas didn’t ink Harrison Barnes to a max-contract in order for him to sit out the playoffs.

A run at the playoffs also gives the Mavericks a chance to flip the script on the Warriors. After losing to Golden State as the top seed in the West during Nowitzki’s 2007 MVP campaign, a 2017 series with the best team in basketball can provide some sweet revenge for Mark Cuban and company. Hey, crazier things have happened...

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