With the trade deadline about two weeks away, teams must decide on their path for the rest of the season. If they’re on the up, they can cash out and push for the NBA Finals. Or, if a team doesn’t fancy their odds this postseason, they might just stay put — or even sell off some pieces — and turn their eyes toward next season.
For some teams, that decision is pretty clear-cut. The Houston Rockets, Sacramento Kings and Orlando Magic are out of contention and should look to move at least some of their veteran talent for future assets — players and or draft picks — and salary relief.
But, for other teams on the postseason bubble, the decision is a bit tougher. Who should jump into the trade deadline fray — and which teams might be better off standing pat?
Golden State Warriors
If the season ended today, the Warriors would be ninth in the Western Conference, locking up a spot in the league’s new play-in tournament. Lucky for them, there are plenty of games left for them to gain further ground in the standings. As currently constructed, Golden State is a flawed basketball team, their rotation filled with unproven players and or those limited in what they can do on the floor.
That said, in spite of their poor record a season ago, they are well into the luxury tax, a sign that ownership is still more than willing to do whatever they can to win.
With that in mind, the smart decision for the Warriors would be to cash in. With Stephen Curry, they’ll have a puncher’s chance against almost any team. And they do have some enticing assets to play with in rookie James Wiseman and the Minnesota Timberwolves’ first round pick. Were the right deal to present itself, the Warriors should jump all over it. Curry, 32, has looked his best in years — and the Warriors need to capitalize on that.
Curry is also set to be a free agent at the end of next season. Could the team’s perceived commitment to him, to winning games whatever the cost, come into play during negotiations? It isn’t out of the real of possibility.
The Boston Celtics are just two games above .500 and fourth in the Eastern Conference. Beyond their two All-Stars, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, the roster is riddled with question marks and unproven role players. Kemba Walker hasn’t consistently looked like himself since his return from injury, while the bench is once again one of the league’s worst.
Beyond their own draft capital, Danny Ainge’s war chest is now empty, with Kyrie Irving, Al Horford and Gordon Hayward all gone for nothing in consecutive offseasons. Ainge is known for being reluctant to deal, but now is the time to make a move.
The Celtics do have the largest trade exception in NBA history to work with. Tatum and Brown are almost certainly off the table, but could the team look to move Walker? Beyond him, Marcus Smart may prove the team’s best asset in any deal, given Ainge’s past reluctance to move draft picks and potentially mortgage his team’s future.
Someone like Harrison Barnes could help bring some stability to the lineup. Under contract beyond this season, Barnes wouldn’t be a rental and could represent a real, long-term value. Beyond him, there are certainly players the Celtics could look to add to their bench — and they should look to be aggressive in doing so, as this team looks the furthest thing from an NBA Finals contender.
The Nuggets have taken a step back this season. However, they shouldn’t overreact and make a move just to make a move. Nikola Jokic is having an MVP-caliber season. But, beyond him, the team has been inconsistent at best. Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. have started slow, but have been better of late. Bol Bol has sky-high potential even if he isn’t playing much. And, as of late, the Nuggets seem to be hitting their stride.
Denver does have some of the best young assets in the NBA — but rather than trading them in, the team should continue to develop them. There also doesn’t appear to be anyone available who could greatly change the course of their season right now. Bradley Beal doesn’t seem to be on the trade market and, right now, it would appear someone like Victor Oladipo isn’t the ceiling raiser the Nuggets would want if they did decide to cash in.
Staying put is the wise decision here, let the time continue to work through the early season fog and right the ship. In what has been a wild season, Denver might just find themselves back in the running if their regulars can find a night-to-night consistency.
Second in the Western Conference, the Suns would appear to be this season’s dark horse or cinderella. Sporting a top-10 offense and defense, led by two elite closers in Devin Booker and Chris Paul, the team, at the very least is poised to make their first postseason since the 2009-10 season. Mikal Bridges has taken a leap in his development and the bench is solid. Still, it appears the ceiling of this team is dependent on just how good Deandre Ayton can be.
With that in mind, the Suns should look to stay put. They have something that is working — and working really well. Anything they look to add should be on the margins, end of bench options that solidify their rotations for the rest of the season and into the playoffs. Any major trade or signing could ruin what they have going, while there doesn’t seem to be any obvious big moves for Phoenix to even make.
The Suns’ core, other than Paul, is fairly young. This is a team poised to be good for a long time. While there is plenty to be excited about in Phoenix, it is not the time to push all their chips in just yet. The Suns should stick with what they have.