Now that a wild trade deadline has come and gone, I’m ranking all 30 teams based on what I think their odds are to win the NBA Finals. So this is a subjective list and not based on the current standings. Let’s dive in, starting at the bottom of the league:
30. Houston Rockets
It was a successful deadline for Houston. Eric Gordon is finally a goner, and in return for absorbing some veteran contracts (including John Wall, of all people), the Rockets gained a handful of second-round picks. The team got worse, and the asset cupboard got filled. Mission accomplished.
29. Detroit Pistons
Acquiring James Wiseman, the no. 2 overall pick in the 2020 NBA draft, at the deadline provides some upside for the Pistons. Even though he was a bust for the Warriors, he’s still only 21 years old. Giving up Saddiq Bey and Kevin Knox is worth the risk. And besides, Wiseman has struggled so much on defense, he might actually help Detroit in the lottery standings.
28. Charlotte Hornets
Two of Charlotte’s most productive players, Jalen McDaniels and Mason Plumlee, were dealt away. McDaniels will be a free agent this summer; he probably didn’t have much of a future with the organization. Plumlee did little more than block younger bigs like Mark Williams from earning more minutes. The Hornets got worse in the short term while gathering more picks for the long term.
27. San Antonio Spurs
Jakob Poeltl and Josh Richardson were dealt away, making a young Spurs team even younger. The loss of Poeltl will hurt their defense even more, but he wanted nearly $20 million annually to re-sign, so it made sense for the Spurs to trade him for picks and increase their lottery odds for a chance at the grand prize in the 2023 draft.
26. Indiana Pacers
If we didn’t know already, the last couple of weeks have taught us that Tyrese Haliburton is pretty damn important to the Pacers. They plummeted in the standings without him. No major trades were necessary for this young team focused on development.
25. Orlando Magic
The Magic have been playing so well that I was beginning to worry they might fall into a play-in spot, torpedoing their chances of winning the lottery. But the Bulls, Raptors, and Wizards didn’t all blow it up at the deadline, so Orlando has some cushion to maintain its lottery odds. On deadline day, the Magic finally moved on from Mo Bamba. It’s a shame it never worked out with him in Orlando, but there’s plenty else to feel good about now, from Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner to Wendell Carter and Bol Bol.
24. Oklahoma City Thunder
Losing Mike Muscala makes the Thunder worse overall considering how important he was to their bench units and as a pick-and-pop target with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. This team is small. But moving on from Muscala makes sense since Jaylin Williams is ready for ample opportunities and Aleksej Pokusevski will hopefully be able to return. Oklahoma City is still 26-28, but losing some more games to improve its lottery odds isn’t such a bad path anyway.
23. Utah Jazz
Though the return for Malik Beasley, Mike Conley, and Jarred Vanderbilt wasn’t significant, the most valuable asset owned by the Jazz is their own 2023 first-round pick. By getting worse at the deadline, they improve the value of that pick with better lottery odds. The Jazz have already been free-falling, and they’re only two games back from the sixth-worst record. Fans had their fun winning games earlier this season. Now it’s time to lose games and hope to land a player that will lead to more meaningful winning than the franchise has experienced in decades.
Should’ve Blown It Up
22. Washington Wizards
“The playoffs are always the goal, the ultimate destination,” Wizards general manager Tommy Sheppard told NBC Sports Washington after the trade deadline. I’m sure Sheppard is speaking for his owner. Ernie Grunfeld made similar statements in the past when the Wizards were stuck in the middle with a team that had no chance to make the Finals but was OK enough to make the playoffs. That’s where they are now, unfortunately, in part because of too many whiffed draft picks by Sheppard himself. But the best thing that can happen for this team is to miss the play-in. A higher pick can yield a player who can dig them out of the middle for the first time in decades.
21. Chicago Bulls
I genuinely believe the Bulls will regret not selling at the deadline. They’ll lose their first-round pick to the Magic if it doesn’t land in the top four. The prospects at the top of this draft are potentially franchise altering, and the Bulls are still stuck with simply too many pieces that won’t be part of their future. Nikola Vucevic was a mistake. DeMar DeRozan is getting up there in years. Zach LaVine could have netted a haul. If this team makes the playoffs, they’ll probably get swept. Enjoy.
Actually Blew It Up
20. Brooklyn Nets
Call me crazy, but I don’t think the Nets will suddenly become awful. Spencer Dinwiddie is a 20-point-per-game scorer. Mikal Bridges was averaging 21 points on the highest usage of his career this past month, looking like the full version of the player that had shown only flashes in the shadows of Devin Booker and Chris Paul. Even if it was just a hot streak, he’s one of the best 3-and-D-style players in the NBA, and so is Cam Johnson. I bet Brooklyn will stay competitive with Cam Thomas emerging, Nic Claxton shining at center, plus a ton of quality wings in the mix.
Not Quite There
19. Toronto Raptors
Toronto is 28th in 3-point percentage, ahead of only Charlotte and Houston. It didn’t do anything at the deadline to address that issue. Jakob Poeltl gives the Raptors the center they desperately needed, but he’s a strange fit as another non-shooter for a team full of non-threats from behind the arc. Despite so much talk that they would move their existing core players, nothing happened. The Raptors feel like a team that will just wait until the summer to make inevitable changes.
18. New York Knicks
The Knicks overpaid for Josh Hart by giving up a protected first-round pick and Cam Reddish, whom they dealt a first for last year. But Hart will offer upside if he’s able to rediscover his shot, which has abandoned him this season with Portland. The Knicks are a fine team led by Jalen Brunson and Julius Randle, but even once Mitchell Robinson returns, they won’t be ready to contend.
17. Atlanta Hawks
No matter how hard they try, the Hawks just can’t seem to find a home for John Collins. Getting Saddiq Bey is nice, but his talents as a cutter won’t be realized in a stagnant Atlanta offense led by Trae Young and Dejounte Murray. The Hawks got better, but they’re still not good enough.
Needing a Miracle
16. Portland Trail Blazers
Damian Lillard remains in Portland. I actually like what the Blazers did around him, turning Josh Hart and Gary Payton II into Matisse Thybulle, Cam Reddish, and Kevin Knox. Plus, they added one protected first-round pick and a handful of future second-round picks. Hart had forgotten how to shoot the ball, and now the Blazers have more youth and flexibility moving forward, which outweighs the value in keeping Payton. The Blazers are slightly worse in the short term, and they’re still stuck with the declining Jusuf Nurkic at center, which keeps them out of Finals contention. But Dame is having the most efficient scoring season of his career, and as long as he stays committed, they’re now in a better position to leapfrog over teams this summer.
15. Minnesota Timberwolves
In a vacuum, Mike Conley isn’t an obvious upgrade over D’Angelo Russell, who averaged 20 points and six assists per game over his final two months with Minnesota. DLo’s still only 26 years old. Conley is 35, and a role player at this point in his career. But Conley provides the playmaking that Russell doesn’t. Over the past two seasons, Conley and Rudy Gobert formed one of the NBA’s most frequent and potent pick-and-roll duos; they linked up 19.8 times per game, and the Jazz scored an excellent 1.09 points per chance, according to Second Spectrum. If a Conley reunion can improve Gobert’s value, then his arrival therefore aids Anthony Edwards, which is the whole key to taking Minnesota from a nice rising team to a legitimate contender.
14. New Orleans Pelicans
With Zion Williamson on the mend, the Pelicans are holding on to their championship odds by a thread. Without him, they have no chance. But I still have belief in this team, with all of their depth and talent, just like I did early in the year. It’d just be nice to see Zion and Brandon Ingram share the floor for once.
13. Sacramento Kings
It didn’t make sense for the Kings to mess with their chemistry by making a trade. They just need to keep on winning to guarantee themselves a playoff spot to break the NBA’s longest postseason drought. With one All-Star in Domantas Sabonis and one snub in De’Aaron Fox, supported by a great supporting cast, there’s a chance for a Cinderella story here. But they’re likely still one year and maybe one big acquisition away from true contention.
12. Miami Heat
Miami did nothing at the trade deadline and still has two open roster spots that could make them active in the buyout market. I just don’t think this team is good enough to make the Finals despite Bam Adebayo’s progress. The Heat are too small, lack shooting, and have more holes on defense than any of the other contenders in the East. But they at least belong in the conversation, considering their recent history and the fact that Jimmy Butler levels up in the postseason.
11. Dallas Mavericks
Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving could be an unstoppable duo. They’re two of the most effective isolation and pick-and-roll scorers in the game, and they’ll have Christian Wood as a roll or pop target. But both guards will need to embrace slightly different roles, with Doncic sacrificing touches and Irving moving more off the ball. Wood himself will also need to stomach fewer scoring chances. This will turn sour if it becomes your turn/my turn basketball. And without Dorian Finney-Smith, the Mavs will need to rely more on the up-and-coming Josh Green. Their team defense isn’t close to being on the same level as those of other contenders.
10. Memphis Grizzlies
Luke Kennard doesn’t exactly move the needle for the Grizzlies, but he is a nice acquisition and an immediate system fit as a knockdown shooter who can play a role similar to Desmond Bane’s. Memphis has struggled lately without Steven Adams, and the rest of the West got much better. One thing is for certain. Despite what Ja Morant said, the Grizzlies are no longer “fine in the West.”
9. Cleveland Cavaliers
I felt that certain teams didn’t need to make a move at the deadline, and the Cavs were one of them. For all the talk about the need for a wing who can hit 3s, Cleveland already has Isaac Okoro, who is on the hottest streak of his career. Okoro has been hitting 41.9 percent of his 3s over the past two months while still playing his same versatile defense. The Cavs have two excellent shot creators in Donovan Mitchell and Darius Garland and two elite defenders in Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley. This team is young but has the top-end talent and the depth to make a run.
8. L.A. Clippers
The Clippers have enough talent to rank higher than this. But they belong in this category because of the amount of hope required to believe that Kawhi Leonard and Paul George can stay healthy. Can you really trust them to be there? I like the Clippers’ deadline acquisitions. Mason Plumlee will help fill minutes at center and let Ivica Zubac save energy for the playoffs. Eric Gordon and Bones Hyland will provide scoring punch in the backcourt. And they may not be done making additions, depending on how the buyout market shakes out. Ultimately, this team has a chance only if Kawhi is as dominant as he has been lately. I just hope he can sustain it to give them a shot.
True Finals Contenders
7. Philadelphia 76ers
Daryl Morey made a savvy trade deadline move by flipping Matisse Thybulle for Jalen McDaniels while also escaping the luxury tax and adding multiple future picks. Thybulle is an all-world defender, but McDaniels is in the same stratosphere—at least when he’s fully engaged as an off-ball havoc wreaker who can contain multiple positions. And he’s a far better offensive presence than Thybulle, so he could earn more playing time as a reserve. But it’s hard to buy Philadelphia as a favorite with Doc Rivers as head coach; he fails to make adjustments, goes with all-bench lineups, and lacks a feel for rotations. Another playoff loss might be necessary to force Philly’s hand to find a coach who can elevate the players on the roster.
6. Los Angeles Lakers
Weeks after acquiring Rui Hachimura from the Wizards, the Lakers have finally undone the Russell Westbrook disaster. For the price of a top-four protected 2027 first-round pick and one future second-round pick, the Lakers upgraded from Westbrook to D’Angelo Russell, Patrick Beverley to Malik Beasley, Damian Jones to Jarred Vanderbilt, and Thomas Bryant to Mo Bamba. Los Angeles now has better shooting, shot creation, and defense across multiple positions. The Lakers will be able to play with two bigs since Bamba can space the floor, or they can go small with Vanderbilt. They can throw out a bunch of guards or wings. And these combinations should actually work around LeBron James and Anthony Davis, unlike the first iteration of the roster this season. They will retain the ability to trade two first-rounders this summer or use non-guaranteed salaries to make a big acquisition, giving this haul even more credence than a move like dumping everything for Kyrie. The Lakers need to climb the standings to even make the playoffs, but they’re only 4.5 games back from the sixth seed and 2.5 games back from the play-in. If they get in, they’re a threat no matter their seeding. It was a masterful deadline move by the Lakers to give themselves an outside shot at winning another championship.
5. Golden State Warriors
No matter how uninspiring Golden State has been during the regular season, I can’t count this team out, with its formidable eight- or nine-man playoff rotation. After Gary Payton II was acquired at the deadline for James Wiseman, last year’s Warriors have basically been reassembled, aside from Otto Porter. But with Jonathan Kuminga trending up, Porter’s reserve role could be filled or even improved on. There’s plenty of time remaining this season, and the Warriors are only 1.5 games back from having home court advantage. Watch out.
4. Denver Nuggets
Though the loss of Bones Hyland hurts their scoring off the bench, the addition of center Thomas Bryant will improve the Nuggets’ depth behind Nikola Jokic. Because the Nuggets sit atop the Western Conference, their fans may not be happy with this spot in my rankings. I’m just giving the edge to the more proven postseason teams. But the Nuggets are certainly equipped to win it all. Aaron Gordon is playing at an All-Star level, Jamal Murray is returning to form, and Michael Porter Jr. is looking much more like himself, giving Jokic a better supporting cast than ever before.
3. Phoenix Suns
The Suns added some guy named Kevin Durant, giving them a higher ceiling than they had even when they made the Finals two years ago. KD and Devin Booker could be one of the most potent duos in recent league history, and as long as Chris Paul keeps rounding into shape and Deandre Ayton puts in max effort again, they’ll have one of the top cores in the NBA. Getting Durant came at a cost: losing two excellent role players in Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson. The defense will likely take a step back. But KD and Nic Claxton were one of the league’s best defensive tandems in Brooklyn, in part because of Durant’s perimeter versatility and help in the paint. Losing Bridges hurts, but not as much as it might appear if Durant defends like he has all season. With buyout targets looming, the Suns may not be finished making improvements.
2. Boston Celtics
It was a quiet deadline for the Celtics, but it didn’t need to be loud. Boston primarily needed more big man depth behind Al Horford and the oft-injured Robert Williams. After missing on Jakob Poeltl, the Celtics landed a big-bodied stretch shooter in Mike Muscala from the Thunder. Boston has by far the best depth in the league, and as long as Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown keep playing at an All-NBA level, the Celtics will remain one of the favorites.
1. Milwaukee Bucks
Khris Middleton has missed 39 games. Jrue Holiday has missed 11. And yet, the Bucks are just one game back from the Celtics for the NBA’s best record. That’s largely thanks to the continued dominance of Giannis Antetokounmpo: 32.3 points, 12.4 rebounds, 5.4 assists, and Defensive Player of the Year–level defense. The Bucks are 12-2 when Giannis, Middleton, and Holiday all play, and now they’ll be supported by Jae Crowder, who offers 3-and-D help. Crowder has declined as a perimeter defender, but even if he can’t match past performances after sitting out this season, he’s still an upgrade over Grayson Allen in end-of-game situations. Milwaukee’s roster is taking shape to support the best player in the world in pursuit of his second championship.