The NBA trade deadline is one of the most talked about events on the league calendar, but in recent years it has failed to live up to the hype with little happening on the actual deadline. With the fury of blockbuster moves this past summer, it is hard to imagine a lot of marquee players changing teams when Thursday, February 8 hits as the deadline officially passes at 3 p.m. Eastern.
There are still teams who need to make moves, and the Warriors era has brought more sellers than buyers at the deadline, as very few teams have a legitimate chance to compete for a championship. The teams with title hopes could be poised to swing for the fences if a valuable player emerges as being available. This year’s Warriors team has proven to be a bit more vulnerable than in years past as the gap between Golden State and the other top NBA teams has narrowed. The Rockets and Celtics are chasing the Warriors while the Cavs are desperate to turn around a dysfunctional start to the season.
Here’s a look at my list of top five teams who need to hit the trade machine before the 2018 NBA trade deadline.
No. 1 Cleveland Cavaliers
Reports of the Cavs’ death have been greatly exaggerated. The team may not be dead, but it is easy to see why some Cavs fans are panicking. Cleveland is just 4-6 in their last ten games, and may have reached a new low point losing to the Magic for the second time this season. Despite their struggles, the Cavs still sit at No. 3 in the East, and LeBron James always gives your team a chance in the playoffs. The Cavs have two potential paths to follow before the deadline. Cleveland has a few more hours to add another piece that could bolster their chances of retaining James in free agency. The other path is to prepare for a post-LeBron era, and gather young assets to help the team rebuild in future years.
With no assurance from James that he is staying, the team could be hesitant to trade key pieces with no guarantee it will impact his decision either way. James reaffirmed he is not waiving his no-trade clause which means he is in Cleveland for at least the rest of the season. The question is what players will be wearing a Cavs uniform with him after Thursday’s deadline.
The season is still far from over, but it has all the ingredients of a lost season for the Cavs. The Athletic’s Jason Lloyd reported communication between James and the front office has been cut off, pointing to James’ lack of trust in management. Outside of Kevin Love, the Cavs do not have a lot of tradeable assets. The majority of the Cavs roster are on bloated contracts with players who have been unable to live up to their deals.
No. 2 Houston Rockets
The Rockets are just a game back from having the best record in the NBA. Houston has already proven they can beat the Warriors, but winning a regular season game is a lot different than a seven-game playoff series. Could the Rockets look to add one more piece to help their chances of winning a title? Rockets GM Daryl Morey told the Houston Chronicle that the team could end up not making a move.
“It’s going to be hard to do anything,” Morey told the Houston Chronicle. “When our guys are healthy, we have lost [once]. Obviously, my job is my job. I’m pretty cognizant I have something special right now.”
Morey might be looking to temper expectations, but he has been one of the most active general managers when it comes to making deals in years past. While the Rockets are unlikely to make a major move, it would not be surprising if they add another small piece. At the very least, the Rockets could be in play for veteran players who receive buyouts, and are eligible to sign with a new team. Each season, we see a number of these signings after teams are unable to move players at the deadline.
No. 3 Orlando Magic
The Magic have been a consistent team on this list, because they have failed to improve since starting the rebuilding process. It’s clear from their lack of talent and record that Orlando is onto rebuild No. 2. This time, with a new front office duo of Jeff Weltman and John Hammond. Weltman and Hammond took over late in the 2017 NBA Draft process, but it is still puzzling why they sold away 2017 picks for pennies on the dollar given the lack of talent on the current Magic roster. Jordan Bell and Kyle Kuzma would have looked good in Magic pinstripes.
The question the new regime faces is the same problem Rob Hennigan had. What Orlando players have value across the league? Aaron Gordon is by far the Magic’s biggest asset, but also will be a restricted free agent this summer. What can the Magic receive in return for an inconsistent (although promising, at times) forward who is not locked down long-term.
Evan Fournier is a name to watch as the swingman is averaging a career-high 17.8 points a game, and can shoot it from long range. Fournier is not exactly a bargain with a $17 million salary per year for another three seasons after the 2017-18 campaign. If a contender came calling for Fournier, the Magic should jump at the chance if they can acquire future picks.
Nik Vučević may have the best contract on the team, but his recent injury makes him unlikely to be dealt. Elfrid Payton has been linked to the Knicks, but the Magic cannot expect too much in return for a point guard who cannot shoot in today’s NBA. Orlando desperately needs a blockbuster deal, but may not have a trade partner to dance with.
No. 4 Oklahoma City Thunder
Thunder GM Sam Presti rolled the dice last summer by trading for Paul George, despite George being linked to the Lakers during his upcoming free agency. Victor Oladipo has blossomed since arriving in Indiana, but George appears to be settling in nicely with the Thunder. George stopped short of committing long-term to OKC in an interview with ESPN’s Rachel Nichols, but the Thunder appear to have a good chance of re-signing George.
“I obviously would’ve loved to go home. That was ideal when it was that time,” George told ESPN (via Norman Transcript). “But now, being here and playing alongside Russ, playing alongside Melo, I feel a real brotherhood with those guys. If we’re here right now, then where can we be next year? Where can we be the year after that?”
The Thunder could look to make a move to make George’s decision even harder this summer. The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor reported the Thunder have interest in Avery Bradley, who would add depth to their backcourt with Andre Roberson going down. ESPN’s Ian Begley reported teams are interested in rookie Terrance Ferguson, but the Thunder seem unwilling to deal him. It will be interesting to see if OKC is willing to trade Ferguson for a veteran player who could add to their core for a playoff run.
No. 5 Boston Celtics
When Gordon Hayward went down minutes into the new NBA season, it was easy to assume the Celtics title hopes went down with him. Boston has performed better than many expected without Hayward, thanks to the play of their young players along with Kyrie Irving playing even better than expected. Boston has a plethora of young players and draft picks that are enticing to rebuilding teams. Never count out Danny Ainge with the trade deadline approaching. With the collapse of the Cavs, the Celtics have emerged as the favorites to come out of the East.
The Celtics are one of a handful of teams that have their eyes on competing against the Warriors come postseason time. With many teams looking to sell assets with no chance of contending, the Celtics could be one of the few buyers with picks to spare. The question is what available players add value to the current Boston roster. The Boston Herald reported the Celtics have interest in Tyreke Evans and Lou Williams, although Williams is out of the running with a long-term deal nearing. Marcus Smart centers around the latest trade rumors, and an anonymous NBA executive spoke with the Boston Herald on Ainge’s potential thought process.
Boston could definitely use some scoring, but the kind of things that guy does for you defensively become even more important in the playoffs. And we still don’t know if Hayward is going to be back for them this year, so that could be your scoring help right there. They keep saying he’s not coming back this year, and that’s the right way to play it. But they don’t know.
And if you trade away a guy like Marcus now, you could spend the next few years looking for someone like him.
Smart may end up being more valuable to the Celtics than to another team, but expect Boston to be looking for another key player if the price is right.