1 Question Every NBA Team Must Answer at the Trade Deadline
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Externally, NBA trade talks often don’t really get rolling until right before the deadline.
Internally, though, the discussions are constant.
Teams are consistently running self-assessments and revising—or even scrapping—them on the fly. It’s all a part of the roster-construction process. The deeper into the campaign each team travels, the more they know about what they have, what they can reasonably expect to accomplish (now or in the future) and what they need to make that happen.
As front offices start to ramp up these conversations, each has one major question that needs answering, as it will shape the direction they take (or don’t) at the deadline. The aim here is laying out and exploring the biggest trade-deadline question on the table for all 30 teams.
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Question: Is it finally time to trade John Collins?
The trade rumor mill has become John Collins’ permanent place of residence. At this point, it would be more newsworthy to hear Atlanta wasn’t fielding offers for its bouncy big man.
Then again, trade winds have swirled around him for years, so why would this deadline be any different?
Well, perceptions can be deceiving, but he certainly feels closer to a scenery change than he has in the past. With an escalating salary and declining production—his 13.3 points per game are his fewest since his rookie season—he seems obtainable. The question, though, is whether an in-season trade amid a rocky campaign would allow Atlanta to maximize its return.
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Question: Can we count on Sam Hauser and Luke Kornet to be part of the playoff rotation?
Injuries to Danilo Gallinari and Robert Williams III forced the Shamrocks to rely on Sam Hauser and Luke Kornet more than they perhaps initially planned. For the most part, both players have found ways to exceed expectations.
Hauser started out red-hot from the perimeter, and Kornet has kept busy on the interior. If Boston feels good about their prospects, then this franchise might snooze right on through trade season.
However, Hauser, a shooting specialist, has been mired in a shooting funk (30.4 percent since Dec. 1), and Kornet’s lack of lateral quickness can make him vulnerable in space. It isn’t hard to imagine their weaknesses being highlighted on a playoff opponent’s game plan. If the Celtics aren’t comfortable with that possibility, then a deal for frontcourt depth (perhaps at the expense of Payton Pritchard) could be in the cards.
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Question: Where is the biggest frontcourt need?
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski recently reported he expects the Nets to be “active” leading up to the deadline, “particularly in the frontcourt.” Given this group’s glut of guards, that seems like a sensible strategy.
But where does Brooklyn need help most: at forward or center?
The latter has long seemed like the obvious answer, since there are only two natural centers on the roster, and one is seldom-used sophomore Day’Ron Sharpe. Then again, the Nets have a wealth of options as small-ball centers (like Kevin Durant, Markieff Morris and Yuta Watanabe), so maybe the big-man need is less than it seems.
Perhaps that nudges the Nets toward finding more depth at the forward spots. With Durant shelved by an MCL sprain, and T.J. Warren only 16 games into his return from a near-two-year layoff with a foot injury, Brooklyn could opt for better injury insurance options behind them. Or the Nets could aim even higher, as they’ve shown interest in John Collins, per The Athletic’s Shams Charania.
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Question: What’s the right price—at the deadline and in free agency—for P.J. Washington?
Buzz City better live up to its moniker this trade season. If the Hornets aren’t hyperactive on the trade market, they’re doing it wrong. The franchise has to find more help for LaMelo Ball, and it has an opportunity to add assets by shipping out veteran rentals like Kelly Oubre Jr. and Mason Plumlee.
What about P.J. Washington, though? Is the No. 12 pick from 2019 still part of the long-term plans? With restricted free agency awaiting him this summer, is there a price point at which he isn’t?
He is versatile but inconsistent. He might be a glue guy, or he might be the proverbial jack-of-all-trades, master of none. The glass-overflowing crowd can easily paint him as a keeper; then again, the glass-empty pessimists can quickly label him as expendable, too. Tough call.
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Question: Are we fully committed to this core, or should we pay attention to all of the external calls to blow it up?
Once upon a time, these Bulls were downright feisty. Flashback roughly a year in time and you’ll see Chicago sitting atop the entire Eastern Conference standings. Of course, Lonzo Ball was healthy enough to play back then, which gives you a sense of just how long ago that was.
It’s hard to erase the memories of what was or to dismiss the hopes of what still might be. Of course, it’s also next-to-impossible to paint these Bulls as anything close to contenders, so what’s the end game here? Is it really just sitting back, waiting and keeping fingers crossed for Ball’s return?
External observers are far from sold on this squad. If you set a Google alert for “Bulls should blow it up,” you might get daily pings. Maybe that means nothing to the franchise. In a recent poll of NBA sources, Bleacher Report’s Eric Pincus reported the consensus opinion was “the Bulls will ride it out, perhaps looking for a minor deal for Coby White.”
Of course, those same sources said they would “go in a different direction” if placed in Chicago’s shoes, and the Bulls’ brass has to at least kick around that notion. For the second consecutive season, Chicago has a negative net rating with Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vučević on the floor together. That’s a troubling statistic, even for the most bullish members of this fanbase.
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Question: Who fills the small forward void?
Back in training camp, Cavaliers coach J.B. Bickerstaff listed six different players in the running for the starting small forward spot. It was a different way of saying this club didn’t have a starting small forward.
Three-plus months later, it remains clear who should be filling that role. Well, that or it has become clear that the ideal player for that position isn’t on the roster.
Caris LeVert doesn’t add enough three-point shooting or defense. Isaac Okoro and Lamar Stevens are non-factors on offense. Dean Wade isn’t healthy. Cedi Osman lacks a standout skill. Dylan Windler has yet to log a second because of a nagging ankle injury.
Last month, ESPN’s Zach Lowe relayed that Cleveland is expected “to search the trade market for another short-term wing option.” That sounds logical enough, but the key will be uncovering an obvious upgrade over what’s already in-house. Add the wrong wing, and the Cavs will only add to their confusion and congestion.
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Question: How do we ease the burden on Luka Dončić?
Selfishly, if I had to choose a question that doesn’t get answered this trade season, this is the one. Luka Dončić in a one-man band might be the most entertaining watch in all of basketball. Over his last nine outings, he’s gone for 40.8 points, 10.9 rebounds and 8.8 assists per night, all while posting a 52.0/38.6/75.3 slash line.
That’s wholly absurd. It also sounds absolutely exhausting—and the Association is still five months away from crowning a champion.
Dončić is on course to join Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant as the only players ever to average 37 minutes, 22 shots and a 38 usage percentage. Normally, most hoopers would love being linked with those all-time greats, but this is one of the exceptions, as both Jordan and Bryant were bounced out of the first round during those seasons.
As per usual, then, Dallas remains in pursuit of a Dončić co-star. How it can find one while operating with a limited trade budget (the Mavs are already out a first-round pick and don’t have a blue-chip prospect to dangle) is a mystery.
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Question: Do we have enough defense to contend?
The Nuggets are a buzz saw. With 14 triumphs to show for their last 17 trips to the hardwood, Denver has ascended to the No. 2 spot in winning percentage (.683) and No. 7 in net rating (plus-4.0 points per 100 possessions).
Unfortunately, the reason that latter ranking isn’t higher is obvious: The Nuggets’ top-ranked attack is being dragged down by its 19th-ranked defense.
History holds that teams typically need top-10 units on both ends of the floor to take the title. So, unless the front office feels there is great hope for substantial improvement, it might have to sniff out another stopper or two to really feel confident about its championship chances.
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Question: Can our young players keep progressing without our veteran leaders?
These things are always subject to change, but so far it seems like this trade market has a surplus of buyers and a shortage of sellers. That could put long-term rebuilders in an advantageous position to add assets, since championship hopefuls might feel compelled to pay top dollar in such a seller’s market.
If you assume that might be music to the Motor City’s collective ears, well, you might be right. The Pistons can (relatively) reasonably expect to fetch a small fortune for Bojan Bogdanović and snag something significant in return for Alec Burks, too.
Is that the direction Detroit actually wants to go, though? Perhaps it’s posturing, but the Pistons “have maintained to rival executives their preference to keep” both veterans “barring tremendous returns,” per Yahoo’s Jake Fischer.
Detroit, it seems, doesn’t want to place too heavy of a burden on its prospects, who are already dealing with the absence of Cade Cunningham (shelved for the season by a leg injury). It’s good to have direction and a safety valve for a young roster, but in this trade market, the offers for Bogdanović and Burks might be too good to pass up.
Golden State Warriors
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Question: Is frontcourt depth a great enough need to sacrifice a long-term prospect?
Trade-machine enthusiasts have constructed a number of fake deals that almost always yield the same result: a prospect (often 2020 No. 2 pick James Wiseman) heading out in exchange for a reliable frontcrourt player (Jakob Poeltl is a popular target). The thought process behind these imagined swaps is (sort of) sound, since Golden State’s options behind Draymond Green and Kevon Looney aren’t great.
“I’m concerned about Draymond and Loon right now,” Kerr told reporters recently. “They’re playing such heavy minutes with the number of bigs who have been out over the last few weeks.”
This hints at the challenge ahead for this front office, though. Green and Looney might be playing more than Kerr would like, but they’ll get major minutes even when this roster is full-strength, so any incoming big is unlikely to fill more than a niche role. Now, that niche is an important one, but can you really part with a recent lottery pick for a role player who might struggle to average 15 minutes in the postseason? We’re about to find out.
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Question: If Eric Gordon goes, who gives guidance to the youngsters?
The post-James Harden Rockets are incredibly young, and that youth often shows in their play. Houston averages the Association’s most turnovers (16.9) while tossing out the second-fewest assists (22.0).
The Rockets often seem as if they’re playing without a collective purpose, which might explain why 34-year-old Eric Gordon remains a Space City resident. He can serve as an on-court navigator and extension of the coaching staff. And when this roster isn’t playing the right way, he won’t mince words while letting them know.
It’s helpful to have that voice in the locker room. Of course, it might be more helpful to have the draft considerations Houston covets in exchange for the veteran guard. Still, if the Rockets finally ship out Gordon to a contender, they better be certain they have someone who can help teach winning habits to their unproven prospects.
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Question: Have we played well enough to make buying a legitimate option?
The Pacers have, without question, exceeded expectations this season. They’re right in the heart of the play-in race and even have a shot at forcing their way into the East’s top six.
Still, it’s hard to picture this club’s ceiling stretching beyond a first-round cameo. Is the playoff experience their young players would gain a big enough prize to not only pass up asset-accumulating deals for Myles Turner and Buddy Hield but actually bring in established talent to help with that chase?
The Pacers have internally mulled a John Collins pursuit, per Shams Charania of The Athletic. Indiana could stand to upgrade at the 4 spot, so the fit intrigues, but it’s up to the front office to decide whether this club has shown enough to pony up real assets for win-now talent.
Los Angeles Clippers
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Question: Do we need to trade for a backup big, or can we fix that in-house or on the buyout market?
When the Clippers have their full complement of players—a scenario that admittedly only occurs slightly more frequently than a Bigfoot sighting—they have a swarm of interchangeable parts that coach Tyronn Lue can mix and match with.
Except at the center spot. If Lue wants a traditional 5, then his only options are the underrated Ivica Zubac and Moses Brown, who’s already made 30 appearances on his two-way contract.
That’s fine if the Clippers plan to play five-out ball during their non-Zubac playoff minutes, but potential matchups with the likes of Nikola Jokić or Joel Embiid could throw a wrench in those plans. If L.A. thinks Brown could soak up occasional postseason minutes (he’d need a standard contract first) or is fine with a non-spacing center, though, then it doesn’t necessarily need to broker a trade. That’s something the buyout market could potentially provide.
Los Angeles Lakers
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Question: Are one or both of our 2027 and 2029 first-round picks totally off-limits?
The Lakers boast two of the top trade chips in the market in the form of these future first-round picks. That’s if the front office actually puts them in play.
The only way that happens, per The Athletic’s Jovan Buha, is if L.A. finds “a star that can grow alongside [Anthony] Davis over the next few years.” Short of that, Buha reported, “the most likely trade outcome, at this point, is some form of Patrick Beverley, Kendrick Nunn and either the 2027 or 2029 first-round pick (likely protected) for a three-and-D wing or combo forward.”
A marginal upgrade at the forward spot isn’t lifting the Lakers into championship contention. Then again, maybe any realistic trade target wouldn’t, either. Still, with LeBron James and (when healthy) Davis flashing MVP-caliber form at points this season, it has to be tempting to sacrifice those picks to give the stars at least a puncher’s chance at a deep playoff run.
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Question: Is this a championship-level roster, or do we need one more deal to get us there?
Two teams have a higher winning percentage than Memphis’ .683 mark. Only the Boston Celtics trump the Grizzlies’ plus-5.0 net rating. If you wanted to argue for a sleepy trade season on Beale Street, that might be as deep as you need to dig.
Given the minuscule margin for error at the top of this league, though, it’s possible to wonder whether Memphis has enough to get this done. Ja Morant is an all-galaxy superstar, but he’s a solo star at the moment. Desmond Bane and Jaren Jackson Jr. have hinted at making that kind of leap, but they’re still on the launching pad for now.
A monumental move probably isn’t happening, since Bane and Jackson feel—as Morant clearly is—untouchable. Still, a package built around Dillon Brooks, Danny Green (and his expiring $10 million salary) and draft picks or prospects should fetch something pretty sweet. Another off-the-dribble scoring threat, ideally on the wings, might be the piece that completes this puzzle.
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Question: What’s the key for unlocking our half-court offense?
It’s been a stop-and-go season in South Beach. The Heat, who have shuffled nearly everyone in and out of their lineup, can play up or down to their level of competition on any given night. They’ve been more consistent of late, but even then they’ve lost to the Pistons, Spurs and Lakers (minus LeBron James and Anthony Davis) since the start of December.
Their eighth-ranked defense can be dominant, but their 26th-ranked offense can be tough to stomach.
You’d hope a clean bill of health might be the answer, but the stat sheet isn’t quite convinced. Miami has a 113.6 offensive rating in the 411 minutes Tyler Herro, Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler have played together, which is a decent mark but by no means elite (would rank 13th). At this rate, it might be worth attaching a pick to Duncan Robinson or even Kyle Lowry to find more offensive zip.
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Question: Will a healthy Khris Middleton solve our offensive issues, or do we have to deal for a solution?
The Bucks are two years removed from a title run and perhaps could have defended their crown had Khris Middleton ducked the injury bug last postseason. It’s tempting to just extend them the benefit of the doubt and expect them to challenge for the Eastern Conference championship.
That isn’t the easiest thing to do when this team is buried at 25th in offensive rating, though. Injuries to Middleton and Jrue Holiday haven’t helped, but is that the sole reason why this offense has been less efficient than the attacks of the Thunder, Pistons and Magic?
Too many of their offensive possessions are Giannis Antetokounmpo-or-bust. They need more diversity in their offensive menu, and their nagging need for wing depth was exposed during last postseason.
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Question: Are we comfortable keeping D’Angelo Russell long-term, or is now the time to find his replacement?
After super-sizing the frontcourt by pairing Karl-Anthony Towns with Rudy Gobert last summer, this Timberwolves’ roster is downright funky. The team has talent, but it might take a top-tier floor general to sort out of all these square pegs and round holes.
Does D’Angelo Russell qualify as such? The Wolves must decide on that sooner than later.
The former All-Star, who puts up good numbers but doesn’t often see them translate into team success, needs a new deal this summer. Given the colossal cost of the Gobert trade, it’s not hyperbolic to suggest the Wolves’ handling of Russell’s free agency is the last major move this front office can make—short of taking a blow torch to this nucleus.
If the Wolves don’t plan on paying what it will cost to keep Russell, then it should spend the next month finding a way to flip him for someone who can stabilize the point guard spot—and this bizarrely constructed roster as a whole.
New Orleans Pelicans
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Question: Is Jaxson Hayes a keeper, or is it best to move him for a shooter?
The Pelicans need more shooting. There’s no other way around it. Only nine teams average fewer than New Orleans’ 11.2 triples, and all nine have losing records.
The Pels should be searching far and wide for perimeter marksmen. They have to decide whether Jaxson Hayes, the No. 8 pick in 2019, is expendable in that pursuit.
He’ll be a restricted free agent this summer, so he could be costly to keep. If they don’t envision expanding his role (he’s logging a career-low 13.5 minutes a night), they probably can’t justify the cost. He has shown flashes of two-way ability, though, and he’s just 22 years old with some impressive physical tools. Giving him away for a role-playing specialist could feel a bit deflating.
New York Knicks
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Question: Can we sniff out a star?
The Knicks, winners in 13 of their last 19 games, have seen All-Star-level production from Julius Randle and Jalen Brunson. What they haven’t seen, though, is the rise of Gotham’s next superstar, the kind of player capable of gaining this club entry into the NBA’s elite tier.
Is there a chance such a fortune-changing talent becomes available between now and the Feb. 9 trade deadline? Probably not. If I’m the Knicks, though, I’m exhaustingly working the phones and turning stones in case one shakes loose.
New York boasts the picks, prospects and sizable salaries needed to broker a blockbuster. All the ‘Bockers need is the possibility of a mega-swap to surface. If there isn’t a major move to be made, the Knicks should be careful about doing anything more than marginal dealing. Should a star shake loose this summer, this franchise would be fuming it if prematurely tapped into its asset collection and no longer had the resources to get a deal done.
Oklahoma City Thunder
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Question: Should we actually consider any rebuild-accelerating trades, or is it still about the future?
It’s never easy to know for certain when a rebuilder should reach for the fast-forward button and give its group a win-now boost. Given the slow-and-steady nature of OKC’s overhaul, it’s more likely than not that the organization either continues its search for rebuilding assets or sits out the swap meet entirely.
However, this roster has shown just enough life to wonder whether it’s time to start adding talent to this core.
Now, that doesn’t mean trading picks for in-prime (and certainly not post-prime) veterans. What it could mean, though, is chasing up-and-comers on a similar timeline as 24-year-old centerpiece Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who’s about to book his first of many All-Star selections. The Sooner State is a sneaky-fun destination for 25-year-old John Collins, for instance.
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Question: How many guards are part of our long-term plans?
Orlando has aced the frontcourt portion of its franchise reconstruction. Rookie of the Year front-runner Paolo Banchero is already an offensive hub, Franz Wagner is a capable co-star and Wendell Carter Jr. connects a ton of dots on the interior.
Switch to the backcourt, though, and you’ll see more questions than answers.
Any one of Markelle Fultz, Cole Anthony and Jalen Suggs holds keeper potential, but each has his shortcomings, too. Deciding which guards are off-limits and which are expendable could open a wealth of trade possibilities for the Magic.
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Question: Can Matisse Thybulle help us, or should we be shopping him around?
The Sixers aren’t exactly swimming with stoppers, so there’s a chance Thybulle could sneak his way into some playoff rotations. Say what you will about his lack of offense, he’s still a brilliant defender, landing in the 96th percentile for defensive estimated plus-minus.
About those offensive limitations, though: They sure seem capable of getting him either exposed by an opposing coaching plan or simply banished to the bench. His minus-3.5 offensive box plus/minus has never been lower, and his 50.8 true shooting percentage matches his previous worst.
Are the Sixers desperate enough for perimeter defense to live with those shortcomings? If the answer is anything other than a confident “yes,” then it’s time to shop him, since restricted free agency awaits him this summer.
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Question: What exactly are we trying to get in the (overdue) Jae Crowder trade?
Theoretically, Jae Crowder should be a quality trade chip. He offers a wealth of experience (including 107 playoff appearances), an insatiable amount of toughness and modest contributions at both ends.
So, why has he been stuck in the desert all season awaiting a trade out of Phoenix? Because it’s tough to find a trade partner that has a need for Crowder and an expendable player who fits the Suns’ needs (which include, essentially, a Crowder-type combo forward).
It will probably take three teams (or more) to get this done, and even then it isn’t clear exactly what Phoenix covets. Draft assets don’t do much for a team piloted by 37-year-old floor general Chris Paul. Speaking of whom, there is a sense the Suns are in the market for “greater guard depth” with the hope of finding players who can back up Paul now and potentially replace him down the line, per Yahoo’s Jake Fischer.
Portland Trail Blazers
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Question: Should we try unlocking the protection on the pick we owe Chicago, or are we at all worried about regressing?
Portland has slowed considerably since sprinting out to a 10-4 start, but that stretch reminded the hoops world what a healthy Damian Lillard can do with a good roster around him. Of course, that roster has had trouble ducking the injury bug or summoning that same level of play since, so the need for more support is obvious.
What’s far less certain, though, is how the Blazers can find said support.
Rookie Shaedon Sharpe already looks like he should be off-limits in anything other than a major move, so Portland might need a draft pick to sweeten the pot. The problem is the Blazers owe a first-round pick to the Chicago Bulls that carries protections through the 2028 draft. If Portland thinks it can compete, it might make sense to incentivize Chicago to remove that protection, so it can shop future first-rounders elsewhere.
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Question: How much are we worried about our backup center spot?
The Kings found an All-Star center at last season’s trade deadline, landing Domantas Sabonis and now watching him deliver one of his strongest campaigns to date.
Sacramento could spend this trade season in search of Sabonis’ backup.
Richaun Holmes has fallen out of the rotation and on to the trade block, per Yahoo’s Jake Fischer. Trey Lyles and Chimezie Metu soak up most of the backup center minutes, but neither has a ton of size, nor any irreplaceable strengths. There’s a chance to upgrade here, but Sacramento must be cautious about paying too much for a part-time role player.
San Antonio Spurs
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Question: Is there any chance we’re re-signing Jakob Poeltl, or are we just waiting out the market to maximize our return?
The Spurs don’t seem tethered to the idea that they have to trade Jakob Poeltl, but the arguments for at least considering it are plentiful. At 27 years old, he might be a touch too experienced for this rebuilding roster, and he certainly sounds interested in testing the market upon reaching unrestricted free agency in July.
“It’s nice to be in this situation where you can kind of decide your own fate and evaluate what’s going to be the best situation for me,” Poeltl told Yahoo’s Jake Fischer.
Teams probably won’t break the bank for Poeltl, who offers zero spacing on offense, but his interior activity will be coveted—maybe highly so in this trade market. San Antonio can reasonably expect to snag a fairly significant asset, so it has to choose whether that asset is worth more than the possibility of re-signing the skilled center.
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Question: Is resetting—or at least retooling—on the table?
Any list of this season’s biggest disappointments has to include Toronto. The Raptors were expected to have at least an outside shot at competing for a top-four seed in the East. Yet, if the campaign closed today, they wouldn’t even get a play-in tournament invite.
What’s more troubling is that Toronto is running its top players ragged just to play sub-.500 basketball. Pascal Siakam, O.G. Anunoby and Fred VanVleet are all logging better than 36 minutes per night.
That speaks to some potentially major roster flaws, which could have the Raptors pondering some major changes between now and the deadline. Siakam, Anunoby and VanVleet might all need new deals by 2024 (Anunoby has a player option for 2024-25). If Toronto doesn’t plan on paying them, it could shake up the market with a batch of plug-and-play veterans capable of sparking a bidding war.
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Question: How much selling is too much selling?
On the surface, the Jazz still appear as pleasant surprises given their ability to remain competitive (21-23) despite trading away Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert, Bojan Bogdanović and Royce O’Neale last offseason. Really, though, you’re looking at a team that strung together a few really good weeks. Throw out the club’s 10-3 start, and it’s just 11-20 ever since.
Perhaps that’s why league executives expect the Jazz “to introduce another seller into the trade deadline,” per Yahoo’s Jake Fischer.
They could go fire-sale mode, but that might demoralize the locker room and alienate the fanbase. While they have seemingly set a first-round price tag on Malik Beasley and Jarred Vanderbilt, per Fischer, the same report said Jordan Clarkson “is not considered a trade candidate at this time.” If these losses keep piling up, though, perhaps the franchise would reconsider.
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Question: Is Kyle Kuzma a better player or trade chip?
Not a lot has gone right for the Wizards this season, but Kyle Kuzma is one of the biggest exceptions. The scoring forward has upped his output north of 20 points per night for the first time while continuing to make strides as a defender and secondary playmaker.
He isn’t quite a star, but given the dearth of sellers, this market might treat him like one.
That is, of course, if the Wizards allow that to happen. So far, they have “stood firm that the franchise intends to keep Kyle Kuzma…past the trade deadline and hopes to re-sign [him] this offseason,” per Yahoo’s Jake Fischer.
That only makes sense if you feel Washington can compete sooner than later. If you’re less than sold on the Wizards, though, then you’ve been awaiting a total teardown for quite some time.
Statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference, NBA.com, and Dunks and Threes and accurate through Wednesday. Salary information via Spotrac.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.
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