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NBA Trade Deadline Countdown – Atlantic Division Analysis

By Tamberlyn Richardson
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NBA trade deadline team analysis with a view to roster needs, and whether they should be buyers or sellers.

On the final day of the All-Star break teams prepared to return to the hardcourt to finish the official second half of the season. It’s also a nerve racking 24 hours for players and teams each hour draws us closer to the NBA trade deadline.  Wednesday, (February 17th) there was a marked increase in discussions between teams and several National Media scribes were posting rumors of potential trades to expect prior to the 3:00 PM cut-off today (February 18).

Last year the League witnessed unprecedented activity especially in the final 20 minutes prior to the deadline cut-off.

A look back at 2015

Last year on trade deadline had some specific trends arise:

  • Four of the top five Eastern teams made no trades
  • Five of the top seven Western teams made no trades
  • Only seeded teams in West who were active were Portland, Houston and Phoenix
  • Average number of trades on deadline day is 24, today there were forty trades with thirty-seven NBA players!
  • 14 point guards were traded

What changes in 2016

This season it’s less certain what will occur since the circumstances are so different. First there is little argument regarding the upper echelon of teams who’ll reasonably contend for the title and even those few fall into specific categories:

To wit, if I hand you money right now and tell you to bet on one team to win the title odds are you’ll pick one of two teams: the Golden State Warriors or the San Antonio Spurs.

If I tell you to pick a winner with slightly better odds than the 2 teams above you’ll select either the Oklahoma City Thunder or the Cleveland Cavaliers.  And if I say who has the best odds of upsetting a favorite to get to the finals again you’ll select the Thunder and in the Eastern Conference the Toronto Raptors would get the nod.

Even in selecting those 5 teams my home town Raptors only make the cut because there is so much confusion surrounding the Cavaliers.  Since firing David Blatt the Cavaliers’ defense has been lacking. Furthermore, the sheer number of players, teams and trade talks the Cavs are rumored to be involved in implies there is major concern in Cleveland over their potential of winning a title.

The other 25 teams in the Association are either lottery bound, middling at best or more than one trade away from entering the above upper tier.

Mirror Questions for bottom 25

Again, I’ll reiterate what does this 2 team dominance mean heading into the trade deadline? In seasons past one move could vault a team upward, but given the prowess of the top 2 teams is that move enough this season? The other major factor is next season will see a huge jump in the salary cap as the Television ad revenue gets divvied up and another free agent summer of new contract standards looms.

What this means is entering the trade deadline fewer teams are in need or desire of purchasing albatross contracts like Joe Johnson’s. It also means with the uncertainty of how teams will navigate this period rookies and therefore draft picks become something of a coup as they are the one contract the team can manage with full knowledge of it’s limit.

Sure all teams will have cap to spend initially, but just like the current situation eventually every team will max out their big deals and inevitably someone (or several players) will get paid beyond their worth which will drive up the mid level and subsequently teams will again be scrapping to stay below the tax threshold.

And so the questions each team must ask itself entering Thursday morning is:

  • Do we make a trade knowing it’s unlikely to take us much further than not making one?
  • Do we try to off load ‘now’ talent for ‘prospect’ talent knowing it won’t help until the future?
  • Knowing we might not re-sign a free agent, do we cut that player now to ensure we get value?
  • Is the team as currently constructed have a core we see being intact in 5 years? If not should we blow it up now to grab draft picks or talent we would deem essential for that future core?

And specifically in the East with so many teams jumbled together from seeds 3 through 10 they have an additional group of decisions to make:

Knowing Cleveland is still very much trying to improve and obviously not a cohesive unit there is potential for a rare opportunity to upset them in the Eastern Conference Finals if they don’t get their issues resolved. Further veteran teams like Miami and Chicago have potential injury (Bosh – more blood clots in his leg and Noah gone for season) and chemistry (Rose and Butler) issues. So if you are one of the other teams seeded in that group do you make one or two moves now with the a finals appearance in your sight lines?  It could mean forfeiting your future for a chance now which is something perhaps Indiana or Charlotte may be willing to do.

But for the team sitting with the best shot of upsetting Cleveland (the Raptors) after so many seasons or not making the playoffs and having demonstrated patience building this core they may not be willing to blow up their future. And in fairness it’s almost like they will be adding a trade deadline upgrade since DeMarre Carroll will return sometime in March and he’s been out most of the season. He’s presence will make the team stronger and better on both ends.

So the Raptors have to decide if they want to upgrade the starting power forward via a trade which may hurt their long range plans, cut a player like Anthony Bennett to add Ronald Roberts from the D-League Raptors 905 squad or simply make a shift by starting the ever improving Patrick Patterson and have Luis Scola come off the bench.

That’s the state of where the Association stands with less than 24 hours to the deadline. So, now I’ll give you a bit of a cheat sheet for each team providing you with the current salary and roster, their draft picks, free agents, roster needs and whether (in my opinion) they should be buyers or sellers. Use it to prepare for today’s deadline.

First up, I look at the Atlantic Division:

Next: The No Lose Season

Feb 5, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; The Boston Celtics celebrate after guard Avery Bradley (0) reacts after hitting a three-point shot to end the game and beat the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena. The Celtics won 104-103. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

No matter how you slice it Danny Ainge, Brad Stevens and the Celtics are in a can’t lose season. Ainge sits with so many draft picks I can’t even be bothered to take the time to isolate them all. What I will note for you is there are two of note that currently matter. First as I’m sure you’ve heard the Celtics own the Brooklyn Nets first round draft pick and it’s UNPROTECTED. What that means is the Celtics who currently sit third in the East could potentially win the Championship and also get the top draft pick this summer.  Hence why a Russian owner is now drafting apology letters to his fan base!

However the other pick no one seems to be discussing is the Celtics also own the Mavericks first round pick which is only protected 1-7 so barring a complete blow-up in the second half by Dallas the Celtics also own Dallas’ pick!

Draft Picks: As per Real GM here is a complete draft overview of the Celtics 2016 picks.

Salary:

Celtics Salary
Celtics Salary

A quick look at the Celtics salary shows the team will be pretty happy to trade David Lee. If that doesn’t happen (it’s unlikely) Boston could buy him out which will allow another team to pick up a portion of his contract and use him in the playoffs.

Free Agents: Also a quick look at the roster shows there are several free agents on the Celtics roster: Evan Turner, Tyler Zeller and Jared Sullinger and I suspect they aren’t tied to retaining any of them unless the price is right.

What they do need is a quality big to start which is why the rumor mill has worked overtime on the DeMarcus Cousins (who is almost guaranteed to remain in Sacramento), Dwight Howard and Al Horford news.

Bottom line: no team can truly compete with Boston if they decide they want either Horford or Howard without blowing up their team to match the Celtics offer. That said, if either the Hawks or Rockets decide they want talent instead of picks they may look elsewhere or require a third team to involve some talent. In all likelihood the Hawks may be willing to just take draft picks, but Morey will want talent and picks.

Celtics Considered Favorites If Hawks Trade Al Horford: https://t.co/bsir9XnylV pic.twitter.com/aubZGRTC3Q

— RealGM (@RealGM) February 17, 2016

Depth Chart: 

Celtics Depth Chart
Celtics Depth Chart

A look at the above chart highlights just how incredible the Celtics current third seeding is. Aside from Isaiah Thomas there isn’t one star on the team it’s a roster full of role players. Based on the games I’ve seen I think Brad Stevens and Danny Ainge aren’t tied to retaining anyone outside of Thomas however it’s likely they’ll want to retain Crowder, Bradley, Olynyk, and Johnson due to their defensive capabilities and versatility. And depending on how much Stevens likes Hunter and Rozier Ainge may also want to keep them as well.  Now the one danger with adding a star to this squad is this team lacks ego and a star could change that dynamic. Still it’s a nice problem to have.

Category: Doesn’t take much to figure out the Celtics are BUYERS. They’ve got a killer coach who can squeeze water from a rock, draft picks galore to tempt middling teams to part with quality talent and enough young depth to still remain relevant in their fight to become contenders.

Next: Russian Re-Org

Jan 26, 2016; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Brooklyn Nets forward Joe Johnson (7) congratulates forward Thaddeus Young (30) on a basket during the first quarter at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

Draft Picks:

As I outlined in the Boston Celtics section the Nets have nothing, but you can go to Real GM for a full long term look at Brooklyn’s draft picks.

As per Real GM here is a complete draft overview  barren as it is.

Salary:

Nets Salary
Nets Salary

Free Agents: Sure they have free agents, but unless you consider Donald Sloan, Willie Reed, Sergey Karasev or Markel Brown major prospects I’d say the Nets might be better served to state they’re openly and actively targeting their opponents free agents.

Depth Chart: 

Nets Depth
Nets Depth

Bottom line: Apparently the Nets have invested big time money in scouting especially overseas as they suspect they’ll need to pull their best Spurs impression by finding talent no one knew existed. This due to the Russian forfeiting Brooklyn’s future trying to buy a championship! NBA.com’s Hang Time Blog provided an update on Prokhorov’s comments to the fans re: lessons learned… i.e you  can’t buy a championship!

It’s also very likely the Nets will release Joe Johnson via a buy-out after the trade deadline to attempt to come in under the luxury tax.  The best case scenario would be if the Nets could find a team willing to take on Thaddeus Young for a high draft pick. The Raptors are not likely to be that partner since Young can’t spread the court and is undersized.  As much as Young offers competence on defense, is (no pun intended) young and is extremely coachable he isn’t necessarily a major upgrade from Patterson.

Category: – no brainer the Nets are SELLERS needing to add talent but have very few assets to gain draft picks from and have none of their own this season. Other than Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young the Nets have no real assets or talent to build a core around. And, as the current situation has them shopping Young with the hopes of adding draft picks to their barren coffers.

Next: Zinger Time?

Nov 13, 2015; New York, NY, USA; New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony (7) drives past Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) during the third quarter of an NBA basketball game at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

Draft Picks:

As per Real GM here is a complete draft overview for the Knicks. Notably this season the Raptors own whichever pick is the worst between the Nuggets and Knicks. Currently that would translate into the 10th pick for the Raptors. This pick came courtesy of the Andrea Bargnani trade and the pick is UNPROTECTED.

Salary:

Knicks Salary
Knicks Salary

Free Agents: Though there are a number of players who will enter free agency the two contracts of substance are likely to come from Arron Afflalo and Derrick Williams both of whom have player options and will likely use them.

Depth Chart: 

Knicks Depth
Knicks Depth
Bottom line

: With no first round pick and the Knicks in rebuilding mode one of a couple things will happen on Thursday. Either the team will pull a major move and send Carmelo Anthony, one of Afflalo or Williams out the door or the team will attempt to purchase draft picks or they’ll work with their existing assets to try to land a quality starting point guard (Teague, Lawson or Rubio would seem like likely targets).

Bucks, Knicks Have Interest In Ricky Rubio: https://t.co/nIFrWoDf4R pic.twitter.com/nBgppEl0DW

— RealGM (@RealGM) February 17, 2016

Category: The Knicks are both BUYERS AND SELLERS.  They need to add a point guard for the future, but it’s unlikely they can improve enough this season to move up the ladder. They currently trail the 8th seeded Hornets by 6 games with 3 other teams between them.  Without trading Melo it’s unlikely the Knicks do enough to effect this season. That said, Anthony has a caveat in his contract that allows him to approve his trade destination and you can bet he won’t go anywhere without a top shot at the title. This means the only likely considerations are Cleveland or the L.A. (Clippers). It’s logical Anthony would accept these locations because of their title chances as well as his close friendships with Chris Paul and LeBron James.

My long shot prediction would find Miami sending Goran Dragic plus picks (and likely another player) to the Knicks for Melo. It would offset the loss of Bosh should he not return from the blood clots and resolve the problems of the Heats Wade – Dragic backcourt which just can’t seem to find chemistry together.

Next: Tank Time Over?

Feb 10, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers center Jahlil Okafor (8) reacts to an officials call in front of Sacramento Kings guard Rajon Rondo (9) during the second quarter at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Draft Picks: As per Real GM here is a complete draft overview.

Salary:

Sixers Salary
Sixers Salary

Free Agents: Ironically it’s the point guards Ish Smith and Isaiah Canaan who will both be free agents this coming summer. Though there are other players who could find themselves looking for a new team this summer the two point guards are the ones of relevance.

Depth Chart: 

Sixers Depth
Sixers Depth
Bottom line

: Scuttlebutt on social media Wednesday was the Sixers were dangling Canaan as a trade option as well as investigating interest in Okafor. Could the Sixers look at shopping one of Nerlens Noel or Jahlil Okafor to get a piece they want for their core group?

Category: Sure the Sixers need to add pieces and still hold a bunch of draft picks to use as collateral in trades. Many believe they’ll look to retain their picks and their youthful top draft picks, but I wonder if one of their talented front court players could wind up somewhere else in order to add a talented guard close to their prime instead. Hey, it’s not like they still won’t have numerous picks and let’s not forget Dario Saric is meant to join the club next season. This means the Sixers will have a glut of talent up front and just need to add a backcourt and wings. The big question is will they be willing to part with some of this talent to fill their real needs? My guess is yes. For this reason I’m calling the Sixers as SELLERS with a view to being role specific BUYERS

Next: We The Challengers!

Jan 6, 2016; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Toronto Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas (17) reacts with Toronto Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry (7) and Toronto Raptors power forward Patrick Patterson (54) against the Brooklyn Nets during the fourth quarter at Barclays Center. The Raptors defeated the Nets 91-74. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Draft Picks:

As per Real GM here is a complete draft overview.

As I noted prior, the Raptors own the unprotected draft pick of whichever of the Nuggets and Knicks finishes worse. At the moment the Nuggets would retain their own pick at 7th and the Raptors would get the Knicks 10th pick. In addition the Raptors have their own pick. Next year Toronto owns the Clippers pick (via Milwaukee) this time however it is 1-14 protected. This is noteworthy because the Raptors can utilize these draft picks to sweeten trades.

Salary:

Raptors Salary
Raptors Salary

Free Agents:

The big free agent will be DeMar DeRozan who will opt out this summer and is extremely likely to return to Toronto. This isn’t wishful thinking on my part, rather his confidence in Kyle Lowry returning wouldn’t make sense if he planned on bolting 2 years later. Plus he’s told many local outlets he has no plans to leave and would like to go the Reggie Miller route (stay with one franchise for his entire career).  Other free agents are Luis Scola, James Johnson and Anthony Bennett.

Depth Chart: 

Raptors Depth
Raptors Depth
Bottom line

: The Raptors as mention in the opening need an upgrade at the power forward position and ideally that would come via someone of Nicolas Batum’s ilk. Since Charlotte appear hell bent on making their run to the post season it’s unlikely they’ll be willing to let Batum go UNLESS…  Houston works with Charlotte and involves Toronto. The Hornets have shown interest in Howard but the Rockets want a first round draft pick as well as talent. If Charlotte would be willing to let Batum go the Raptors could offer their New York first round pick (which should be a top 10 pick) as well as young prospects and or talent. I haven’t figured out all the pieces but it does give all parties something they want, Rockets get something for Howard plus a first round pick,  Charlotte gets the big they desire and Toronto becomes a legitimate contender to take down Cleveland with quite possibly the most versatile starting 5 in the Association with a scary good small ball line-up to rival Golden State!

One contender who is not interested in Phoenix's Markieff Morris: The Toronto Raptors.

— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojVerticalNBA) February 16, 2016

The other option would be if GM Masai Ujiri could work a deal with his old bosses in Denver for Danilo Gallinari.  As for players like Ryan Anderson unlike the Cavaliers (or should I say LeBron James demands) Ujiri isn’t willing to sell the franchises future for a playoff rental. The reason the Batum deal works is a trade would give Toronto his bird rights meaning the Raptors could offer both DeRozan and Batum their 5 year max. Plus if you recall early in the season there was speculation Batum wanted to come to Toronto all along. Guess we’ll find out today just how convincing Ujiri can be and how badly Daryl Morey and Rich Cho want to get their portion of the deals done. Make no mistake, the Raptors have not been mentioned as part of this trade rumor .. it’s all speculation on my part, however it does make logical sense.

Category:  BUYERS Notably Ujiri is not one to veer far off his proposed long term plan and has shown himself to be very patient. Sure, the Raptors may be able to take an earlier than planned ascent to the top rung, but he’ll only do it if the price is right and the player fits this team. As Zach Lowe pointed out many teams are struggling with internal conflict, but Toronto is one of the few teams who gels on and off court. Ujiri won’t chance messing up that amazing chemistry, so unless he can find the perfect power forward who can stretch the floor and maintain that chemistry he won’t risk the future (or that top 10 draft pick).

Next: Trade Deadline Countdown- Southwest Div. Analysis

Next: Trade Deadline Countdown-Central Div. Analysis

Next: Trade Deadline Countdown- Southeast Div. Analysis

Next: Trade Deadline Countdown- Northwest Div. Analysis

Next: Trade Deadline Countdown- Pacific Div. Analysis

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