On Monday, January 7th, a few teams made auxiliary moves to either trade contracts they did not want, cut non-guaranteed contracts the day before they become guaranteed, or keep those contracts on board and solidify their roster. With the NBA trade deadline only a month away, these moves signal the types of options available for each team moving forward.
Below is a quick check on each NBA team and the situation they find themselves in moving forward:
Expect a little bit of movement from the Hawks. Kent Bazemore might be the most available player at the trade deadline that everyone knows about... the question is whether someone wants to take on his final year. Jeremy Lin is available, too. Keep your eye on the Hawks as they try to clear their veterans for some greater assets that fit their timeline.
Two words: Terry Rozier. The Celtics probably need to move him at the deadline, as they lack the long-term funds to match what he'll receive this summer as a restricted free agent. There should be teams calling about him, and the Celts should be shopping him, and working on a three-team deal to get a good veteran out of him. The legal tie-up surrounding Jabari Bird also adds a unique dimension to their plans. I don't expect Boston to make a big splash otherwise, more than anything banking on their improvement and meshing carrying them in the second-half.
The Nets are a playoff team, folks. And with that comes the desire to make a move. Will Sean Marks, an incredibly shrewd general manager, hold back, or can he do something to maximize this team without blowing up their summer plans? Perhaps they find a way to move Kenneth Faried and get something out of him before the deadline, but that is rather unlikely. I think the Nets just let things ride at this point and see what they can accomplish with this core.
The Hornets should be fairly active at the deadline. Reports are out that they are looking to cash out on the expiring of restricted free agent Frank Kaminsky, and he's someone that an NBA team will take a flier on somehow. Right for remaining bullish on any deal with him until the deadline, can the Hornets get an asset that helps them win now in a division ripe for the picking? While we can hopefully move past the Kemba Walker talks, names like Marvin Williams and Nic Batum could be necessary movements so the Hornets have enough money to re-sign him and Jeremy Lamb this summer. Keep your eyes on the Hornets.
It has been an eventful year for the Chicago faithful already, and the drama shows no sign of letting up. How will roster moves factor into that? If today was any indication by their waiving and trades, Chicago is willing to play facilitator and pick up some cash or draft picks. They have one roster spot open as of now, and a $12.5 million trade exception that could allow them to absorb a salary and add some quality assets, such as a first-rounder. Chicago is the most clear, most active facilitator out there right now, and they'll milk that until February.
Kevin Love is the big name to watch, and timing to his return from injury is the key there. There's also the J.R. Smith situation hanging over their heads. While I might be the biggest believer in Kevin Love as a superstar that can make a massive impact somewhere, I also expect the Cavaliers to move on from him. His contract does not fit their timeline, and the fit of him next to Larry Nance does not seem to make sense.
Dirk is back and Luke Doncic is a superstar. Still, the Mavericks are on the outside looking in out West. As of now, the Mavs have $57 million in cap space next summer. I'd hate to see this team do something aggressively to ruin that. Trading the expiring contract of Wesley Matthews is possible, but it seems clear the Mavs don't want to add long-term salary: part of the reason they didn't include him in the Doncic-Trae Young swap on draft night. Some teams may call about veteran guard J.J. Barea, and I have a hunch Devin Harris will be bought out too.
Nobody foresaw the Nuggets being the best team in the Western Conference this deep into the season. With Isaiah Thomas nearing a return from injury, the best addition these Nuggets could make likely comes from a return from injury. If they smell a title chase, the Nuggets ($114k under the luxury tax) will propel themselves over the line and make some sort of move. Expect Tyler Lydon to be the likeliest casualty.
The Pistons have a nifty $7 million trade exception that expires on January 29th. They also are $11.5 million away from the tax threshold. The question becomes whether they can find an asset that helps them for the right price, both in terms of salary matching and giving up assets. If nothing materializes, I can see them giving up a second-round pick for a rental of Frank Kaminsky. Beyond the trade exception, I really don't see the Pistons making a huge splash. They are locked into, at the best, the 6-seed, and with the East as top-heavy as it is, I don't think they make an aggressive push beyond the assets already at their disposal.
Golden State Warriors
Since the Dubs have been an NBA Finals team under Steve Kerr, they have abstained from in-season trades. Now that there's clarity with the Patrick McCaw situation, the team can use their final roster spot on a veteran. More likely than pulling the trigger before the trade deadline is seeing what they can get out of their Two-Way players, giving them a chance to earn that 15th spot.
After a lousy start, the Rockets have figured it out and gotten back to themselves. Well... James Harden has figured it out. No team has tinkered more throughout the early stages of the year, and the open roster spot plus Carmelo Anthony's contract linger over their heads. The Rockets are already in the luxury tax and hold no trade exceptions. This could be a good, old fashioned waiver wire scouring as they look to improve their team.
Can we talk about the Pacers as a legitimate threat to win the Eastern Conference? And they've done so all while keeping costs low and flexibility high. The Paul George trade might have been the best thing to ever happen to the franchise. Now, they must debate whether to risk their flexibility for the stuffed free agent class to make an aggressive move that helps them now. They have an open roster spot, and can experiment with that until the trade deadline if they wish. I'd love to see them turn Thad Young into Otto Porter.
Los Angeles Clippers
Some are surprised by the success of the Clippers early this season. Don't include me in that group. Only 4 games back of the top seed out West, no team has more pieces to make a massive splash at the trade deadline. The question is: will they want to shake up what's proven fairly successful? Veterans like Avery Bradley and Marcin Gortat make perfect sense as salary filler, but what high-profile targets are on teams looking to make a deal? One name I really like for them: Nikola Vucevic.
Los Angeles Lakers
The LeBron injury is revealing quite the inexperience that this team has. The Rajon Rondo injury is not helping matters, either. We'll see if Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka will be able to practice what they preached this summer and remain patient. The Lakers have no open roster spots, and while there's plenty of speculation around which veterans might come to South Beach to partner with the best player on the planet, it isn't clear what they do to create a roster spot.
The Grizz are fighting for that playoff berth. Trading for Justin Holiday proved they have no intention of folding. There's some uncertainty around Chandler Parsons and how much money the Grizzlies will have to find another rotation cog. With a few roster spots and only $3.18 million between them and the hard cap, GM Chris Wallace will have to be creative and pinch pennies. The Grizz could look to deal JaMychal Green as part of a larger 2-for-1 type deal to improve their depth.
As difficult as the Goran Dragic injury is for the Heat, they are hanging tough. 7-3 in their last ten and standing at .500, they are the frontrunner in the Southeast Division. But the Heat are about $1.5 million above the luxury tax and have an open roster spot. The best way to circumvent those obstacles and add something cheap but cost-cutting: include their 2018 first-round pick in a trade they make. Could they be convinced to make a swing at one of the available high-caliber guys like Otto Porter, Bradley Beal or Kevin Love?
So, can the Bucks make any more aggressive moves? They packed their trade for Jason Smith and George Hill into a short period so they could turn them around and swap them potentially before the deadline. That Hill contract has a ton of value to a team that needs to both compete and get as much cap space this summer as possible. That said, the Bucks are such a team and might cling onto GH3 as a result. Even though they are a contender and have needs, I'm not sure I see the Bucks being more active than making one more small depth, auxiliary move.
Besides all the coaching insanity and changes going on in Minneapolis, the Timberwolves have an open roster spot and two-way contract. While they linger around the 8-seed out West, I'd expect the Wolves to fill their final spot with a 10-Day contract or two, then gaining more clarity for what their status is by the trade deadline.
New Orleans Pelicans
Elephant in the room. The Pelicans have to figure out if Davis wants to stick around for the long-term. The longer they wait, the less leverage they have to trade him if he wants out. The more they plummet in the standings this year, the more likely he might be to want out. The worst thing that could happen would be the Pelicans making an aggressive move to win now, spend a first-round pick (which GM Dell Demps is known to do) to get an asset, and then miss the playoffs and see Davis want out. Injuries have played a role, but there are no strong young players on the roster that pair with a trade to get a player like a Bradley Beal. The Pelicans will either swing for the fences or keep the bat on their shoulder this deadline.
New York Knicks
The Knicks two most pleasant surprises in an otherwise lost season, Trey Burke and Noah Vonleh, have just seen their contracts guaranteed for the rest of the season. While the Knicks will aggressively shop Courtney Lee to try and create some cap space for next year, don't rule out the possibility of Lance Thomas being thrown into a large trade as a facilitating piece. The Knicks may try to pick up an extra piece by being a friendly trade partner. This should be a fairly quiet deadline in the Big Apple.
Oklahoma City Thunder
With $144.8 million in accounted for funds on their cap sheet, the Thunder have to be smart with how they proceed. But they have an open roster spot, and could create another by parting from the seldom-used Abdel Nader. The big question for GM Sam Presti revolves around two-way player Deontae Burton, who has proven too great an asset to let walk away. If the Thunder use their final roster spot on him, then Nader would have to be moved for any veteran signings later in the year.
The Magic are not contenders, and they know that. But they are flirting with being so close to the postseason (and are a franchise that hasn't been there in seven years) that they talk themselves out of selling some valuable trade assets. Nikola Vucevic could be an All-Star and get them a huge cash out, while Terrence Ross definitely has value on the market. Orlando can absorb some salary via trade and stay under the luxury tax, too. I'd expect Ross to move at the very least this winter.
For a team as talented as the Sixers, things are not well in the City of Brotherly Love. The Butler-Simmons-Embiid fit isn't ideal as of now. Could we see the Sixers actually flip Jimmy at the trade deadline? It might not be as crazy as it sounds. There are plenty of young players the Sixers can flip for some assets, and we saw them add impactful pieces for their postseason run last season on the free agent market. Expect that to be their main mode of improvement - especially since they only have 14 players under contract.
The Suns are the only team in the Western Conference that is a clear seller. While their year has been a head-scratcher on many levels, they are one team that could be involved in three-way deals if the right young piece pops up. A shooter like Troy Daniels could get them an intriguing, young asset. Don't be shocked if the Suns release Ryan Anderson and work on a buyout for his deal, either.
Portland Trail Blazers
The West is naturally separating, and the Blazers are coming as a more solid playoff lock. They have both of their two-way contracts open, but do have 15 guaranteed contracts on their roster. The biggest position of need would be depth at the wing and forward spots. The biggest tool at their disposal is a $3.5 million trade exception from Noah Vonleh which expires on February 8th. Perhaps they cash in one of their younger assets and bench pieces to a younger team for a similarly positioned cheap veteran. The odds of utilizing that size of an exception are slim, though.
The pleasant surprise of the entire season, Sacramento is the great wild card at the deadline. They are the only team in the league with cap space. Their $5 million in room could come in handy to another team looking to shed some salary and net the Kings an extra asset. On the other hand, the Kings are a game and a half back of the 8 seed and don't want to be sellers and simply absorbing a contract without getting something immediately useful in return. Accomplishing both would be difficult, but a team like Washington or Minnesota that is looking to duck the luxury tax could be a natural partner.
San Antonio Spurs
And just like that, the Spurs are a top-ten offense and less than a game back from hosting a first-round playoff series. But what would the Spurs, a team notorious for not making in-season trades, be able to do to upgrade their roster? Players like Derrick White and Lonnie Walker getting healthy are huge first steps. San Antonio is $2 million away from the luxury tax threshold, so even if they make a deal, nothing too bold will happen. Expect another quiet February at the Alamo.
The Raptors are insanely close to getting over the hump and making the NBA Finals. They are also high into luxury tax territory, a place a team struggling from the dollar conversion might not love. They have two open roster spots and likely will reserve one of them for Chris Boucher, a two-way player killing it for the 905. I'm curious to see how aggressive they will be at the deadline to push them over the top, both in terms of talent and finances.
No fancy tricks up their sleeves, no trade exceptions, and a full roster enter the second week of January. The Jazz are .500 and knocking on the door of the playoffs. If they feel an additional move to acquiring Kyle Korver needs to be made, they may be able to turn the expiring deals of Ekpe Udoh and Thabo Sefolosha into some greater depth.
The nightmare season for the Wizards gained some clarity, albeit negative clarity, with the John Wall injury. Now the question is what measures they will take to get under the luxury tax, how aggressive they will be to try and reach the postseason, and whether Bradley Beal and Otto Porter are going to net them an offer they would like. The Wizards are always an unknown, and by waiving Ron Baker today they bought themselves more time to make the decision. Expect the Wizards to wait as long as they can to make a decision on their future, filling their roster with 10-Day contracts in the meantime.
Head Boys Basketball Coach, Boys' Latin School (MD).