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Buy or Sell: NBA Trade Deadline

Picking a path for all 30 teams before the deadline buzzer on February 8

LeBron James in front of an up arrow and Lonzo Ball in front of a down arrow AP Images/Ringer illustration

The trade deadline is almost a month away. Our team of ace bloggers offers some friendly advice on which way every team in the NBA should go.

Atlanta Hawks: Hold

Haley O’Shaughnessy: Ersan Ilyasova (who can veto any trade) could help a bench in need. Besides the oft-traded stretch 4 and his expiring contract, Atlanta doesn’t have any other expendable parts to give away (aside from maybe Dewayne Dedmon), nor does it have any motivation to go get another team’s expendable parts. The Hawks just tore down a team with a defined ceiling. Trying to trade away their developing talent would only do the same.

Boston Celtics: Buy

Paolo Uggetti: Whether or not Gordon Hayward will return in time for the playoffs looms over every decision Boston makes, but there’s no doubt it could use some more frontcourt depth. If anything, the Celtics’ recent struggles (six losses in December) are confirmation that they did, in fact, lose their best two-way player.

The Celtics have an $8.4 million trade exception, young talent, and a still-bountiful load of assets — picks like the Grizzlies’ 2019 first-rounder, and players like the improving Shane Larkin and Marcus Smart, both of whom will be free agents (unrestricted and restricted, respectively) this offseason. Hayward’s absence has changed the dynamic of the Celtics’ hopeful season, but it hasn’t changed their goals. For now, there’s an opening in the East. A power move might be worth it.

Brooklyn Nets: Sell

O’Shaughnessy: Brooklyn does not own its 2018 first-round draft pick. (Only six more months of us bringing that up, Billy King!) So finishing with a poor record — intentionally or not — doesn’t matter for the Nets.

Rather than tanking, GM Sean Marks should sell now to maximize trade return while it still exists. ESPN’s Bobby Marks (no relation, though Bobby used to work for Brooklyn’s front office) has thrown out Joe Harris’s name as a potential trade piece. The shooting guard’s situation fits: He hits unrestricted free agency this summer, but could be of value to teams scrambling for bench pieces.

Charlotte Hornets: Sell

Uggetti: The Hornets keep sinking. They are four wins up from the worst record in the league and relying on Kemba Walker (good!) and Dwight Howard (yikes!) to save them. Charlotte’s record (14–23) makes it a clear seller, but the Hornets probably need a marketable star like Kemba when the All-Star Game comes to town next year.

The problem is even if they trade away the mediocre pieces around him, Walker could be good enough to keep putting them back into the race for the eighth seed. Charlotte should sell, but sell what, exactly, is the question.

Chicago Bulls: Sell

O’Shaughnessy: Chicago is 10–4 since Nikola Mirotic returned from Bobby Portis–inflicted injuries. It’s the NBA’s fourth-best record over that stretch, and before long, the Bulls will get back their best player, Zach LaVine.

Here’s a fun “would you rather” for Gar Forman and John Paxson: Would you rather have the best odds of landing a top-three pick in a top-heavy draft class, or 32 wins?

This is an opportune moment to deal away a player like Mirotic, who is trade-eligible on January 15. It’s also time to consider the least-sexy NBA transaction of all, which is taking on a long-term salary dump in exchange for assets. The Bulls are reportedly as uninterested in that option as they were in keeping Jordan Bell, but it fits their approach. The Bulls are Moneyballing right now, spending just $63.9 million of a possible $99 million on their active roster.

Chicago has committed the next few seasons to the development of Lauri Markkanen, Kris Dunn, and LaVine, which makes it the best time to take a mistake contract off another franchise’s payroll in order to rack up future picks. [Danny Ainge voice.] Think of the assets!

Cleveland Cavaliers: Buy

Uggetti: If David Griffin were still around, we could expect the Cavs to make something out of nothing yet again. But this is Koby Altman’s first trade deadline as GM, and the Cavs are not beating the Warriors today (who is?), even with Isaiah Thomas back.

Should big names become available — say, DeAndre Jordan — the Cavs will be in the mix (they have a number of impending free agents to throw in as expirings). If not, would renting Nerlens Noel be better than getting nothing at all?

Dallas Mavericks: Sell

O’Shaughnessy: Dallas has $12.5 million left in spending room before it hits the cap, according to ESPN. By summer, eight of the 14 players on its roster will either be in free agency or hold a player or team option. (I’m not counting Dirk. They’d opt into 57-year-old Dirk, and to be honest, I might, too.)

Before the deadline, Dallas can either stand pat and glide into the offseason with a fat budget, finally end the Nerlens saga (Noel has to approve any trade, which, at this point, is highly likely), or consider taking on a contract dump for assets.

The latter doesn’t sound like the Mavericks’ organization — and, more specifically, the Mavericks’ owner. Dallas has shown little patience for anything but winning now, even when it (judging by the roster) can’t.

Denver Nuggets: Buy

Uggetti: Point guard remains a question mark in Denver. After getting rid of Jameer Nelson before the season began for the sake of having Richard Jefferson sit on the bench, no player — not Jamal Murray, not Emmanuel Mudiay — has been able to consistently fill that void. But who could the Nuggets add? Denver has the assets to pull off a deal, but the available point guard market is just as hard to figure. The Nuggets are going to make the playoffs, but without a clear and reliable ball handler, their chances may be doomed from the start.

Detroit Pistons: Buy

O’Shaughnessy: Stan Van Gundy’s season of resurgence could quickly become one of regression. Again. Reggie Jackson is out at least six to eight weeks with a grade-3 ankle sprain. Detroit is still in good standing; despite kicking off December with a seven-game losing streak, it remains fourth in the East.

But with backup Ish Smith now playing leading minutes, SVG’s Detroitassance is unsustainable. The Pistons will have to spend January shopping for a point guard, though the front office will have to go thrifting: Detroit is only $3.5 million under the luxury-tax line.

Golden State Warriors: Buy

Uggetti: Steph is back, and the Warriors are still comfortably in the driver’s seat out West, but there’s always room for improvement. When you’re trying to win a third title in four years, the little things matter. Maybe JaVale McGee, who has lost his spot to rookie Jordan Bell and was recently linked to the Bucks in a trade rumor, could bring back some added depth at guard. McGee, like Nick Young, David West, Zaza Pachulia, and almost everyone who isn’t the team’s Core Four, will be a free agent this summer.

Houston Rockets: Sell

O’Shaughnessy: The Rockets’ MVP-candidate ball handler is out for a minimum of two weeks with a hamstring injury, but Houston still has the firepower to temporarily manage without him.

GM Daryl Morey shouldn’t make a trade in haste, unless James Harden is out for a lengthier amount of time. Chris Paul, though plagued by injuries of his own this season, can still provide All-Star-level replacement; Eric Gordon was named the best bench player last season and can handle the ball just fine. The main reason Houston is a seller is because it is often a seller under Morey. Dealing Ryan Anderson to one of the well-to-do teams mentioned on this list would alleviate the Rockets’ tight budget, and potentially put them in better position going into 2018 free agency.

Indiana Pacers: Hold

Uggetti: Regression doesn’t really exist for a team that’s on track to finish in the same spot in the East as last season even after losing Paul George. Victor Oladipo has been the spark plug the Pacers need, and Myles Turner (21 years old) and Domantas Sabonis (also 21) round out a good young core. There’s no rush to look for a deal now, unless it would help out in the future as much as the present.

Los Angeles Clippers: Sell

O’Shaughnessy: The advantage of a team crumbling during the season, and not in the playoffs, is that it brings about the opportunity to peddle players to desperate contenders. DeAndre Jordan could push the Wizards to the top of the East. Or give Milwaukee the big-bodied enforcer that John Henson and Thon Maker (at 7-foot-1, 216 pounds) can’t be. Lou Williams could be the sixth man Philadelphia is missing — or, really, the spot-up shooter every team wants.

L.A. has the spending-room equivalent of a SoundCloud rapper’s royalties before it hits the luxury-tax line. It’s time to make other teams splurge.

Los Angeles Lakers: Sell

Uggetti: No team is juggling more motivations and possibilities leading up to this trade deadline than the Lakers. Every player is on the table if it means that it’ll help the franchise land the next superstar in free agency — be it LeBron or someone else — but the most likely moves involve Julius Randle (a restricted free agent this summer) and Jordan Clarkson, who has been pushed down the call sheet when the roster is at full strength.

The Lakers, at 11–25, are worse than they expected to be. It’s time for Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka to make moves — not for this season, but for the future the franchise has been selling for years.

Memphis Grizzlies: Sell

O’Shaughnessy: How long ago the Grizzlies’ 5–1 start feels. Memphis resides at the bottom of the Western Conference, and has managed only seven wins since that strong beginning.

But what should the franchise’s next move be? Putting Marc Gasol on the trading block could return less than what Memphis expects. He turns 33 this month, and has two years and $50 million (including a player option in the final year) left on his contract after this season. Parting with Tyreke Evans could be a buy-low-sell-high win for the franchise, as Kevin O’Connor wrote last week. They signed Evans to a one-year, $3.3 million deal; there’s a possibility he’ll be gone come summer anyway.

Miami Heat: Hold?

Uggetti: Dion Waiters has regressed. Justise Winslow is still a work in progress. Hassan Whiteside is still, well, Hassan Whiteside. And — wait, let me check — yep, the Heat have over $80 million committed to Waiters, Whiteside, Josh Richardson, Kelly Olynyk, Tyler Johnson, and James Johnson next season. Sure, this roster is good enough to gun for an 8-seed and flame out in the first round, but is that the type of performance Pat Riley wants? No. But does he have any other choice?

Milwaukee Bucks: Buy

O’Shaughnessy: The Bucks had trouble finding a point guard before Eric Bledsoe came along. Now they’re in the same spot with a center. But like before, what the franchise will give up in return is unclear.

Khris Middleton will likely come up in any negotiations; he’s locked up for another season after this one, at $14 million, and has a player option for 2019–20. Parting with Tony Snell and/or Malcolm Brogdon is also worth entertaining, if the center arriving is of DeAndre Jordan’s caliber.

But making the salary math work in a trade centered on Brogdon, who makes just $1.3 million this season, will be complicated. Unless Milwaukee can get a team to take on, say, Henson ($31.7 million over this season and the next two), it may be forced to part with either Middleton or Snell ($9.8 million) just to match salaries on a player like Jordan ($22.6 million).

Minnesota Timberwolves: Buy

Uggetti: The Wolves have figured out that Jimmy Butler is good and should be the no. 1 option on their team. It has coincided with a good stretch for Minnesota, which is on course to return to the playoffs for the first time in 14 years. But are the Wolves good enough to take down any of the teams currently above them in a series? Adding a piece or two might help, especially if Jeff Teague misses more time than expected with a knee injury. But unless Carlos Boozer or another Chicago Bull from the past five years becomes available, there’s no certainty that Tom Thibodeau will play them.

New Orleans Pelicans: Hold (for Now)

O’Shaughnessy: DeMarcus Cousins has been a more-than-serviceable second fiddle to Anthony Davis, but his upcoming unrestricted free agency leaves the Pelicans in a tricky situation.

Though his appeal is undeniable to a win-now team, dealing Boogie would put New Orleans itself at risk of falling out of the playoffs. The Pelicans are currently in the eighth spot, and are in need of a defensive boost. But being in buy mode is also complicated: Per ESPN, New Orleans is just $1.4 million below the hard cap (meaning the league cuts off its allowed spending like a maxed-out credit card). The Pelicans’ four largest contracts (outside of DMC’s $18 million) are all expected to continue into the 2019–20 season.

New York Knicks: Hold

Uggetti: Oh, the Knicks. It is so on-brand for them to head into a season expecting to bottom out, yet emerge as a player for the East’s 8-seed. There’s no getting around the fact that this team can’t tank as long as Kristaps Porzingis is playing. So what should they do — if anything — at the trade deadline?

The Tim Hardaway Jr. contract (four years, $71 million) looms quite large, and while making the playoffs with this lovable squad is bound to energize the franchise, there’s no reason to mortgage the future for a quick burst of postseason adrenaline.

Oklahoma City Thunder: Buy

O’Shaughnessy: Trading Paul George seemed like such a better idea four weeks ago. OKC went 12–5 in December after starting the season 8–12.

Now, assuming the Thunder continue to click, GM Sam Presti is in the same position he was before. George is a rental, yes, and could leave, yes, but that was the very risk assumed when Presti made the call to Indiana this past summer. Unless George has told his current team that he isn’t staying next season (which would not be the first time PG-13 did that in the past year), trading him defeats the purpose of his acquisition in the first place. Make a run. See how far you can get.

OKC’s cap space (none) doesn’t match up with its bench needs (many). The Thunder’s luxury-tax bill is also enough to make Portland blush. But expect Presti to work his behind-the-scenes magic to add another piece.

Orlando Magic: Sell

The Orlando garage sale could get busy. After a hot start, the Magic aren’t going anywhere this season as a unit, but have a few individual pieces that might tempt a contending team. Need a big man? Come get a skilled Nikola Vucevic. Perhaps a shooter? Can I interest you in a newly revived, free-agent-to-be Mario Hezonja? Does Arron Afflalo have anything left in the tank?

The Magic are an inconsistent team full of misfit players, and need to stay as bad as they are now to have the best shot at a top-three draft pick. This may be the time for new GM John Hammond to start moving things around and figuring out a clear identity to the team.

Philadelphia 76ers: Hold (for Now)

O’Shaughnessy: This is based on a hunch that Markelle Fultz’s return will be delayed and insignificant. He’s missed the first few months of rookie adjustment, may or may not have had the yips, and is dealing with a shoulder injury.

If he does help revive playoff hopes, the Sixers will need better reserves. More specifically, another shooting guard. Philly’s bench has the eighth-worst net rating in the league, per, not to mention its difference-making starting center is still sitting out semiregularly.

The Sixers, thanks to a number of rookie deals, and with three of its four priciest contracts expiring after this season, are expected to be in good position to spend next summer. The upcoming free-agency class is worth saving for. After all, Philadelphia has many more years of Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid to come.

Phoenix Suns: Sell

Uggetti: The Suns are playing far too well for a team in need of more top-five picks (despite not always hitting on them). Devin Booker is a borderline franchise player, and Josh Jackson looks like a promising defender, but Phoenix needs to keep taking shots high in the lottery. Jay Triano has been great as an interim coach, and Tyson Chandler has shown signs of life in the paint, while Greg Monroe has languished after being shipped there by Milwaukee. Phoenix can’t get rid of Triano, but they should at least consider trading Chandler (due $13 million this season) or Monroe ($17.9 million) to a contender. Both could be valuable to the right buyer. This would give the Suns a chance to play Alex Len, an impending unrestricted free agent, more and see what they have in their young pieces while aiming for another high pick in the process.

Portland Trail Blazers: Buy

O’Shaughnessy: Nothing says “focus on this season” quite like a $4.4 million tax bill. The Blazers are seventh in the West and are barely clinging to an over-.500 record.

Portland has $2.8 million left to spend under the hard cap, and a whole pile of upcoming restricted free agents to consider this summer, including Jusuf Nurkic. So if the Blazers will ever deal a member of their backcourt, is this the time to make a shake-up trade? My boss thinks so. There’s always a price, but I’m not convinced any team is willing to meet it.

Sacramento Kings: Sell

Uggetti: Can the Kings interest anyone in a still-grinding Zach Randolph ($12 million next season), or a pissed-off George Hill ($19 million next year; $1 million guaranteed in the final year)? The former feels more plausible than the latter, but the Kings may also want to field offers for a suddenly scrappy Jakarr Sampson or a bench-bound Skal Labissiere. Everything else — Willie Cauley-Stein (could sell but to whom?), Bogdan Bogdanovic (good and young enough to keep) — feels like it would be either a reach or a mistake. Which, come to think of it, wouldn’t be all that surprising.

San Antonio Spurs: Buy

O’Shaughnessy: The Spurs are the quiet winners so far this season, having kept themselves within the league’s top-five records without Kawhi Leonard, then getting him back(ish) in time for the new year.

There’s not much room before hitting the luxury tax ($2.3 million) should San Antonio be thinking about adding someone with any star power. The most appealing pieces it has to offer are either too integral to part with (LaMarcus Aldridge, Patty Mills), or are still too young and mid-development to gain interest.

But the Rockets and Warriors have distanced themselves from the rest of the West, enough to possibly push the Spurs into looking around.

Toronto Raptors: Buy

Uggetti: The Raptors are good. Very good. In a weak East with questions surrounding both the Celtics and the Cavs, this might be the best chance for Toronto to really go for it. But what kind of moves are they willing to make? The team’s success hasn’t just been Kyle Lowry’s and DeMar DeRozan’s improvement, but also what they’ve gotten from young guys like Norman Powell, OG Anunoby, Delon Wright, and even Pascal Siakam. Their most notable assets going forward are integral to their current success. Unless someone is willing to take on Jonas Valanciunas’s $49.6 million contract (so, nobody), their options for improvement appear limited. Then again, I’m not going to doubt that Masai Ujiri can make some magic happen.

Utah Jazz: Buy

O’Shaughnessy: Somehow, this crew is too intriguing and beyond expectations to quit on. Oh wait, I know how:

Utah won’t make it very far in the playoffs if it makes it at all. But there are other factors to consider with this franchise that don’t apply to, say, Philadelphia. The Jazz are $10.8 million over the cap and have five players hitting free agency next summer. The front office has to anticipate paying one of those (Rodney Hood). But it’s worth exploring options with the other four.

A team in Utah also faces different obstacles than those in cities like Miami, New York, L.A., and wherever LeBron is. Attempting a trade now, before guys like Joe Johnson and Derrick Favors hit free agency, might be the Jazz’s best route to bringing young talent to coach Quin Snyder.

Washington Wizards: Buy

Uggetti: The Boogie trade will always be the best-case scenario for the Wizards. Putting him alongside John Wall and Bradley Beal makes them an immediate contender, at least in the East. But even though the Pelicans are struggling as of late, that move remains a long shot, especially given that Otto Porter Jr., one of the pieces likely needed to make that trade‚ has thrived this season. The Wizards need a third star, but it doesn’t look like they will be able to find one.