Every team’s fan base loves to talk fake trades. But the trade deadline ends up being a disappointment to many who see their team do nothing.
There is a way, though, to predict which teams will fall into the “watching Netflix during the deadline” camp, and which teams are more likely to make a move. Looking through the lens of needs, finances and who is in charge can help paint a picture of who’s going to be shopping more aggressively than others.
Bucks, Nets, Bulls, Warriors could make tweaks
The league is wide open this year, and the teams at the top of the standings could all be looking to tinker with their rosters.
The Bucks have an open roster spot and two small trade exceptions, which they could use on minimum level-type players. The Nets have trade exceptions that could allow them to add two rotation players if they are willing to add to their massive tax bill. The Bulls could use some extra frontcourt help. The Cavs could use a point guard upgrade from recently-acquired Rajon Rondo to help fill the void from losing Ricky Rubio. The Heat are right under the luxury tax line, so any move adding salary would have to be well worth it.
Out West, the Warriors have trade chips in Jonathan Kuminga and James Wiseman to make a splashy move. They could also add some more big-man depth on the margins. The Suns could use some more creation off their bench. The Jazz need to upgrade their perimeter defense and could use wing depth. And the Grizzlies could make a consolidation trade with such a deep roster.
The Thunder belong in their own category in more than one way, but we’ll stick to trade talk for our purposes here. They are way below the salary floor and could take on extra salary from any other team in exchange for even more assets or young players.
Celtics, Blazers have tax concerns
There are nine teams projected to pay the luxury tax this season: the Warriors, Nets, Clippers, Lakers, Bucks, Jazz, Sixers, Celtics and Blazers. The other 21 teams split the luxury tax money evenly, meaning that getting even a dollar under the tax line nets franchises an estimated $13 million in distributions each.
All of those tax teams could look to shed money to lower their bill, but two have a particularly huge incentive: the Celtics and Blazers. Those two are close enough to the tax line that they could conceivably get under and generate a massive payday for their ownership groups with some smaller moves.
The Raptors were a part of this over-the-tax group to start the season, but they already snuck under the line in November by waiving Sam Dekker.
The Celtics have already started shedding salary as part of the three-team deal that sent Bol Bol and PJ Dozier from Denver to Boston, Juancho Hernangomez from Boston to San Antonio and Bryn Forbes from San Antonio to Denver.
Expect the Celtics to keep dealing around the margins, and the Blazers to join them.
Historical precedent could favor Sixers, Thunder
There are certain general managers who historically have not made many in-season trades. The Hornets, Warriors, Pacers, Lakers, Nets and Spurs (until this season, where they’ve made two minor moves) fall into that category.
Others are constantly swinging deals near the trade deadline. Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey has been one of the most active traders in his previous stint with the Rockets, as has Sam Presti with the Thunder. Other team regimes such as the Hawks, Cavs, Nuggets, Rockets, Clippers, Heat, Bucks, Knicks, Thunder, Magic, Kings, Raptors, Bulls and Suns have been moderately aggressive.
Then there are the unknowns. The Blazers, Celtics, Mavs and Wolves all find themselves under new lead decision-makers. It’s hard to guess where they go, although the Celtics already made a minor move in the Bol deal.
Bottom line: Look to Sixers, Blazers, Celtics, Thunder
Taking all of these factors into consideration, it seems fairly likely that the Sixers, Blazers, Celtics and Thunder will be involved in some capacity on deadline day.
It might not be a massive splashy move that everyone is hoping for, but those four teams all have strong motivation to make minor changes to their rosters at the least. So when you go ahead and fire up the trade machine, be sure to include one of those four teams. Here’s to making your bad fake trades slightly better.