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Deadline Watch: Northwest Division

Ben Dowsett predicts how each Northwest Division team will approach the NBA’s trade deadline.

Ben Dowsett



The deadline is upon us! It’s that time of year, and as of this writing, there is one week (give or take a few hours) to go before all in-season trades need to be wrapped up and submitted to the league. Like last season, some executives expect things to come down to the wire as teams hold out their very best offers until the last minute.

The Northwest Division will be of particular interest, with teams stationed at every spot on the spectrum as far as their trade deadline goals. The Thunder are clear contenders who will look to do anything they can to make a push for the rest of the year. The Jazz are toeing the line between competing now and building for the future, and the Blazers have to decide which side of this same fence they’re on. Meanwhile, teams like the Wolves and Nuggets (despite some positive moments this year) are primarily focused on developing their young groups for the future and determining which assets stay in town and which belong elsewhere.

Let’s take a detailed look at each team’s situation leading up to the deadline. What’s their cap situation like? Who are their targets, or guys they might be looking to move? Most importantly, what are their goals? We’ll go in order of record.

Oklahoma City Thunder

Cap situation: $97 million payroll – well over the cap, cannot absorb uneven incoming salary

Needs: Two-way wing, potential backup point guard upgrade (temporary)

Outlook: Well over the cap and with limited draft resources to use in a trade, it’s unlikely the Thunder are players for any big names at the deadline. That doesn’t mean they can’t make a move, though, and they could very well be on the market, particularly if a strong 3-and-D wing were to be available. Everyone beyond Kevin Durant in OKC’s wing stable has a glaring flaw – Andre Roberson can’t hit water from a boat, Anthony Morrow can’t defend, Dion Waiters is Dion Waiters and Kyle Singler hasn’t really proven he’s worthy of rotation minutes.

The Thunder have Steve Novak’s expiring contract to trade as salary filler, and would likely be willing to part with Singler’s $4.5 million if the right thing came along, but it’s uncertain whether they’d have the salary in house to make a trade for a more established player with a higher cap hit. They’re also stuck for the moment as far as trading first-round picks – because they owe their 2016 and 2018 selections to other teams with various protections on each pick, the Stepien rule prevents them from trading their first-rounder for 2017 or 2019. They have four extra second-round picks coming in over the next few years, which could be bargaining chips, but it’s tough to get real impact players without similarly valuable on-court assets or a first-round pick.

A target like Allen Crabbe in Portland makes bits of sense, though it’s tough to say whether OKC has the assets to even get a guy like this. They could see about trying to rent Kent Bazemore from Atlanta, but the same restrictions might apply. Maybe Washington would enjoy the summer cap benefits of Novak’s expiring deal enough to send Jared Dudley if the Thunder attached something else of value for their trouble? These are limited options, all of which could be struck down in a moment if the partner weren’t willing. The Thunder will definitely keep their ears to the ground, but don’t be surprised if the best they manage is a deal for a fringe rotation player to slightly bolster their depth.

Utah Jazz

Cap situation: $62 million payroll – under the cap, can absorb uneven incoming salary

Needs: Better point guard play, potential third big upgrade

Outlook: As the Jazz make a strong push before the All-Star break for the second straight season, they’re working to maintain what’s been an excellent developmental culture while also looking to potentially make improvements to this year’s team. Dante Exum’s season-long injury left a void at the point, which remains to a large degree, and filling it requires balancing Exum’s future development with the need to convince stars like Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors that this is a winning team on the way up before those guys hit the open market in a couple years.

The Jazz have an open cap situation, meaning they have lots of flexibility for any deal they do look to make. They can retain extra incoming salary, potentially enough to be a dumping spot for a smaller contract if a team was in need and could send the right sweeteners. They also have several picks in the arsenal – all their own, plus two future late firsts (GSW in 2017 unprotected, OKC in 2018 or 2019 lottery protected) and a boatload of accumulated seconds – with which to sweeten the pot if a player who could help now becomes available.

The tricky part is finding targets who both help now and could be out of the way when Exum grows into his own. A guy like Jeff Teague has been a rumored target for several teams, the Jazz included, and would be a good fit on both ends of this spectrum – he definitely helps the team now, and with his contract coming off the books in summer 2017, would be out the door quickly enough for Exum to assume full control if he becomes the player Utah expects. The Jazz might have interest for the right package, whether it be Teague or another of his ilk (guys like Jrue Holiday or George Hill also mostly fit the bill), but they won’t be sending core assets like Exum, Rudy Gobert, Rodney Hood or Gordon Hayward for temporary fixes. They have plenty of assets and the space to get a deal done, so now the question will be can they find one that checks all the right internal boxes? Stay tuned here.

Portland Trail Blazers

Cap situation: $49 million payroll – miles under the cap, can absorb huge amounts of salary

Needs: Wide open

Outlook: The Blazers are in perhaps the most flexible situation of any team in the league at the deadline. With nearly $20 million in space below the cap available, they could mathematically figure in virtually any trade they felt like being part of, including facilitating a massive salary dump or two if they were so inclined. They also have virtually no untouchable pieces outside stars Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum (and perhaps sophomore Noah Vonleh), meaning they could get involved and look to swap some of their young pieces for others that might fit better.

It all depends what Portland wants to do, and they’ll get plenty of phone calls. Teams looking to dump money only have a couple true outlets available, and the Blazers are at the top of the list. Maybe they could get a pick or a young asset from Boston to carry David Lee’s salary if the Celtics need the space for another deal? They could be the third team in a bigger deal in a heartbeat due to their financial flexibility, and GM Neil Olshey is savvy enough to make sure he extracts assets from teams if this becomes the case. Shoot, they could even go all-out for the eight seed this season and make a smaller win-now move without affecting their long-term outlook much at all. But the Blazers are in no rush with their young group, and they can afford to pick off low-hanging fruit at this deadline and head into the summer with options.

Denver Nuggets

Cap situation: $68 million payroll – virtually right at the cap

Needs: Concrete direction

The Nuggets don’t have the financial flexibility Portland does, but they’re similarly open in terms of their asset picture. With several good, young players on the books for cheap and a plethora of draft assets (Denver could have as many as four first-round picks in 2016, and owns all of their own firsts in the future), Nuggets GM Tim Connelly has numerous options at his disposal.

The most obvious items might be auctioning older players who don’t fit their rebuilding timeline off for some assets, and Connelly will look in this direction. Guys like Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler and especially Kenneth Faried are uncertain pieces in the team’s future, and each still has bits of value around the league with time remaining on generally fair market deals. Contenders could have interest in one or more of these pieces, and Connelly would be a fool not to entertain these sorts of offers if he can improve the young core.

Some in the league have suggested a quicker path, and the Nuggets could roll the dice here as well if they wanted. It might not be the perfect avenue for rookie Emmanuel Mudiay, but it’s never a terrible thing to let a young guy develop around a winning culture, and the Nuggets have the assets that they could look to make a more immediate move. This feels far less likely, but some combination of their treasure trove of assets and all their fun young guys could certainly be the type of thing that interested a team trying to move a more established player.

Denver likely looks for good value for its veterans and doesn’t shed many tears if they remain roughly the same after the deadline – they’ve got plenty of time to figure things out here, and all signs are pointing in a great direction for their future. They can afford to be patient.

Minnesota Timberwolves

Cap situation: $71 million payroll – just over the cap

Needs: Ridding themselves of an unwanted deal or two

Outlook: The Wolves have the most promising young core in the game, and their moves will all reflect their desire to move this group along together and in the most positive way possible. Their most immediate concern should be a couple useless pieces on the roster – veterans who add nothing to the developmental table like Kevin Martin, and overpaid backups like Nikola Pekovic who have been rendered nearly useless by the team’s recent draftees. These guys are taking up space and salary without adding anything to the team’s current process, and the Wolves should be aggressively pursuing any future assets they might be able to scrounge out of either one if any partners are interested.

Beyond that, there aren’t a whole lot of pressing needs on the table for a team that expected to be bad this year and won’t have any pressure from a wins and losses standpoint for at least another year or two. If a deal came along where they could grab another young asset or pick they’d have to take a look, but given their own asset chest it’s hard to imagine such a deal in practice. For now, this franchise is firmly in developmental territory, and the name of the game will be jettisoning redundant present assets for the sake of a couple years down the line when Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins are ready to contend.

Ben Dowsett is a Deputy Editor and in-depth basketball analyst based in Salt Lake City. He covers the Jazz on a credentialed basis for Basketball Insiders, and has previously appeared in the Sports Illustrated and TrueHoop Networks. He can be found on Twitter at @Ben_Dowsett.


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