The NBA trade deadline is Thursday at 3:00 p.m. ET. As such, where teams are in the standings right now will play a huge factor into their decision-making as to whether they should be buyers, sellers or stand pat at the deadline.
Here’s a trade deadline edition of the NBA Tier List that attempts to categorize teams into what they should be looking to do at the deadline.
Periphery moves only
As things stand right now, these two teams, in our opinion, are the very best in the NBA.
And, yes, that includes the Toronto Raptors, who are the hottest team in the league having won 11-straight games despite — once again — dealing with the injury bug.
Specifically looking at the trade deadline, both of these teams have proven themselves strong enough so far that if they are looking to make a move it should just be one made to the edges of their respective rosters.
Milwaukee Bucks and Raptors fans should feel confident in the respective groups they have to cheer for right now.
Only pull the trigger on Marc Gasol-esque deals
This is a tier of clubs who fall under the status of each being contenders that could already do very well for themselves should they stand pat, but could stand to gain if they were to make an impact, over-the-top move like the one the Raptors made last season for Marc Gasol.
These teams have to be careful, though, and ensure that if they are going to make a move that it’s going to be for a true difference-maker — the way Gasol was for Toronto last season — as opposed to jeopardizing cohesion, chemistry and morale with only a fringe player to show for it.
Of course, this is much easier said than done. Gasol-esque players are rarely readily and obviously available. But that’s the standard that teams in a legitimate-looking championship window should be held to, and the one they themselves must adhere to if they plan on ending the season having made the most of their potential.
Why not buy?
This collection of teams have either emerged as surprises and played above pre-season expectations (such as the Oklahoma City Thunder and Memphis Grizzlies), or have somewhat disappointed and probably could use a bump (like the Philadelphia 76ers and Houston Rockets).
Either way, there are arguments to be made for each of these teams that they should probably try to make a move to improve themselves at the deadline — if even only marginally — to better their chances in the post-season or, in the Portland Trail Blazers’ case, to get into a playoff position.
It’s been said that you don’t want to make a trade just for the sake of making a trade. This is usually for good reason, but in this group of sevens’ case — with the playoff picture and title race more open than it’s been in years — it might be the course of action most worthwhile.
Begrudgingly stand pat
This septet, on the other hand, would probably like to make a move — as either a buyer or seller — but likely won’t be able to because they either don’t have the assets to make it happen if they’re trying to buy (like the Orlando Magic), or don’t have the right pieces to attract suitors if they’re looking to sell (such as the San Antonio Spurs).
It’s a frustrating limbo to be in that’s rather appropriate for a set of teams who all appear to be stuck in purgatory this season anyway.
Given the current outlook for these teams, a case can easily be made that they should be looking to sell hard in the name of finding ways to improve their future outlook.
This includes the Atlanta Hawks, who have been rumoured to be in on the Rockets’ Clint Capela. It’s a curious report as, while it’s true Capela would be a talent upgrade at a position of need, he would also cost Atlanta a precious first-round pick — one that, by the looks of things, the franchise can’t afford to give up.
It’s an inexact science, but if you’re a bottom-feeder, the draft is still one of the most reliable paths to a brighter future in the NBA.
Bad teams that will likely make bad decisions
Lastly, we have some of the worst-run teams in basketball today who — if history is any indication — will likely try to be active at the deadline, and will probably fall short of what their intended goals are.
The Cleveland Cavaliers, for example, want to trade Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson, but will they get back the package in return they desire? Will they even be able to move either of them and their massive contracts?
Perhaps such a move could be rationalized as believing a good, young guard could mesh with either Karl Anthony Towns or RJ Barrett, resulting in an overall roster that exceeds the sum of its parts.
But locking into either of those combinations is far from a surefire contender, which begs the question: Why would any of these teams want to be buyers in the first place?
None of them appear to be headed anywhere fast. Minnesota, for example, is 5-24 in their last 29 games. When that’s the case, the most sustainable path to team-building is trying to collect draft assets.
Resisting the temptation to make a splashy win-now move to pick up a few extra victories down the stretch may be a challenge for this group, but if any of them are to move out of the league’s basement, it’s essential.