Every team’s fan base loves to talk about fake trades. But the trade deadline ends up being a disappointment to many who see their team doing nothing.
However, there is a way to predict which teams will fall into the “watch Netflix during deadline” camp and which teams are most likely to make a move. Looking through the lens of needs, finances, and who’s in charge can help paint a picture of who will buy more aggressively than others.
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Bucks, Nets, Bulls, Warriors could make adjustments
The league is wide open this year, and the teams at the top of the standings could be looking to play with their rosters.
The Bucks have one open roster spot and two small trade exceptions, which they could use on minimum-level players. The Nets have trade exceptions that could allow them to add two rotation players if they’re willing to bump up their massive tax bill. The Bulls could use some extra help up front. The Cavs could use a point guard upgrade on newly acquired Rajon Rondo to help fill the void of losing Ricky Rubio. The Heat are just below the luxury tax line, so any move that adds salary should be worth it.
Out west, the Warriors have traded chips on Jonathan Kuminga and James Wiseman to make a flashy move. They could also add some more big-man depth in the margins. The Suns could use some more creation off their bench. The Jazz need to improve their perimeter defense and could use wing depth. And the Grizzlies could make a consolidation trade with such a well-rounded roster.
The Thunder are in their own category in more ways than one, but we’ll stick to trade for our purposes here. They are well below minimum salary and could take additional salary from any other team in exchange for more assets or young players.
Celtics and 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 equally, meaning getting even a dollar under the tax line earns franchises an estimated $13 million in distributions each.
All of those tax teams could look to throw in money to lower your bill, but two have a particularly big incentive: the Celtics and the Blazers. Those two are close enough to the tax line that they could conceivably go under and generate a massive payday for their ownership groups with a few smaller moves.
The Raptors were part of this overtaxed group to start the season, but they already snuck under the line in November by letting go of Sam Dekker.
The Celtics have already started losing 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 continue to deal with the margins and the Blazers to join them.
Historic precedent could favor Sixers, Thunder
There are certain GMs who historically haven’t made a lot of trades during the season. The Hornets, Warriors, Pacers, Lakers, Nets and Spurs (until this season, where they made two minor moves) fall into that category.
Others are constantly negotiating deals close to the trade deadline. Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey has been one of the busiest traders in his previous stint with the Rockets, as has Sam Presti with the Thunder. Other team regimes like the Hawks, Cavs, Nuggets, Rockets, Clippers, Heat, Bucks, Knicks, Thunder, Magic, Kings, Raptors, Bulls and Suns have been moderately aggressive.
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Then there are the unknowns. The Blazers, Celtics, Mavs and Wolves find themselves under new decision-making leaders. It’s hard to guess where they’re going, though the Celtics already made a minor move on the Bol deal.
Bottom line: Look at Sixers, Blazers, Celtics, Thunder
Taking all of these factors into account, it seems quite likely that the Sixers, Blazers, Celtics and Thunder will all be involved in some capacity on Deadline Day.
It may not be a massive flashy move that everyone expects, but those four teams have strong motivation to make minor changes to their rosters at least. So when you go ahead and fire up the swap machine, be sure to include one of those four pieces of equipment. This is to make your fake bad trades a little better.