With the NBA trade deadline just over a month away, teams will be evaluating where they stand, seeing what players they have are worth and ways to better their team for the future. The general goal will be the same for everyone, getting better. Some teams will be looking to add pieces to make a run this season, while others will look for pieces to build toward the future.
Having said that, here are five teams in contention for a potential playoff spot that could be looking to bolster their roster for the stretch run.
- Portland Trail Blazers 20-20 9th in the Western Conference 1/2 game out
This upstart Blazers team has been one of the biggest surprises in the league this season. After having two lottery picks last year, their own and the Brooklyn Nets, the Blazers were looking like a team in rebuilding mode. After drafting point guard Damian Lillard and center Meyers Leonard, the team matched a contract offer by the Timberwolves for forward Nicolas Batum and re-signed big man JJ Hickson.
While the Blazers starting five of Lillard, Wesley Matthews, Batum, LaMarcus Aldridge and Hickson has not disappointed, the bench for Portland has. All five starters average at least 12 points per game, totaling 83.4 points per game. Compared to the starters’ high output per game, Portland’s bench scores just 16.5 points per game, led by the rookie Leonard’s mere 4.7 points per game.
While the Blazers chances to make the playoffs seem slim right now, an improvement to their bench could be what the team needs. If Portland believes they have a chance to make the playoffs in the Western Conference, they could very well be buyers at the trade deadline. A player like Orlando Magic guard JJ Redick could be just what Portland needs. With a weak roster outside of their core, do the Blazers have assets Orlando would want?
- Memphis Grizzlies 26-14 4th in the Western Conference 5 1/2 up on 8th
Memphis is an interesting team here. They’re currently one of the top teams in the west, but rumors swirling around two of their key players, Rudy Gay and Zach Randolph, have to be taking a toll on the team. Both players have less than favorable contracts, and while a deal involving either player is not imminent, it’s possible if someone blows the Grizzlies away with a deal that they can’t say no to.
If the Grizzlies were to move one of Gay or Randolph, it would be to help get the team back under the luxury tax threshold by acquiring players with smaller or expiring contracts, but that can help the team at the same time. One player the Grizzlies have been linked to, along with about half the teams in the league, is Orlando Magic guard JJ Redick. With a favorable expiring contract, Redick is currently enjoying his best year as a pro. He could help a Memphis bench that averages 25.2 points per game, 29th in the league. The addition of Redick would also improve the team’s production from the shooting guard position.
While a deal for the Grizzlies is not a given, expect many rumors involving the Grizzlies to come up in the next month. Will Memphis make a move for sure? Will Gay or Randolph be on the way out? The Grizzlies have many questions to be answered by the deadline.
- Boston Celtics 20-20 8th in the Eastern Conference 3 games up on 9th
The continuously aging Celtics have seen their run as one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference slowly fade. After finishing no lower than fourth in the previous five seasons, the Celtics have struggled to find a steady rhythm and the right combinations of lineups. Offseason signees Courtney Lee and Jason Terry have not panned out for Boston and have struggled to find a definite role with the team.
The Celtics recently got a big boost to the lineup with the return of guard Avery Bradley. With Bradley in the lineup, the Celtics are 6-3 with wins over Indiana, New York, Houston and Atlanta, four potential playoff teams. While Bradley’s return has helped, he can and will only help Boston to a certain extent.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but the Celtics have been rumored to have interest in Magic guard JJ Redick. I know, shocking. Redick would help the Celtics off the bench, and would likely allow them to move one of Lee or Terry. Boston could also be in the mix for an available big man with their thin frontcourt.
While Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett aren’t getting any younger, the Celtics could succeed with the right moves. They’ve been rumored to have interest in the Kings’ DeMarcus Cousins, but he would not come cheap for the Celtics. With the weakness of the Eastern Conference, the Celtics will make the playoffs, but how far they make it could depend on possible roster tweaks made before the deadline.
- Houston Rockets 22-21 8th in the Western Conference 1/2 game up on 9th
After making a big splash before the season acquiring James Harden from the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Rockets could be looking to make another, equally big splash. After Harden’s nearly 26 points per game, the offense falls off with Jeremy Lin and Chandler Parsons checking in at 14 and 12 points respectively per game. Not only do the Rockets have trade chips, but they can also take back a player with a big contract to sweeten any deal. Houston has struggled over their past ten games, going a lackluster 3-7 and needs a boost to keep their playoff hopes alive.
Rumors came out over the weekend Houston was interested in Zach Randolph of the Grizzlies, who was previously mentioned as a player who could be moved. Houston has a farm full of young players on rookie contracts, with 11 players making less than $2.5 million this season. They also have expiring contracts, and players with non-guaranteed money going forward. These are all enticing pieces for other teams to make a deal work in Houston’s favor.
With all the assets they have, the Rockets could be a busy team in the next month. Whether they acquire role players to help them make a stretch run, or go all in for a big name player to make the push easier on Harden and company remains to be seen. If the Rockets choose to not make any moves, they could be in line to make a run at a big name player in free agency this offseason.
- Atlanta Hawks 23-18 6th in the Eastern Conference 5 1/5 games up on 9th
With the loss of sixth man Lou Williams for the season to a torn ACL, the Hawks could be buyers around the trade deadline. With their main scoring punch off the bench gone, Atlanta will need to find a way to make up for the lost production. Williams’ loss will prove to be a blow to a Hawks team vying for a playoff spot in the East.
Atlanta possesses ten contracts that either expire, have options for future years, or have non-guaranteed money going forward. These ten contracts could be used not only to land them a player that can help make a run, but they can also be used to build around for the future. Atlanta could be poised to make a huge splash, just like Houston, at this year’s deadline.
If the Hawks feel they should just stand pat, they can set themselves up for potentially a big offseason. With Al Horford, Williams and rookie John Jenkins with fully guaranteed money next season, Atlanta could look to re-sign forward Josh Smith and potentially pair him with former AAU teammate Dwight Howard, if Howard chose to walk away from the Los Angeles Lakers.
These are just five teams that could be active around the deadline. With the amount of rumors currently swirling, anything is possible over the next month. While it’s possible none of these teams make a move, I think all five should so something if they want to increase their chances of making a run for a playoff spot going forward.