While the NBA put on one of its showcase events last weekend with the All-Star festivities in New Orleans, another key date on the league's calendar looms less than a week away.
The trade deadline is Thursday, and numerous players figure to change teams as contenders look to bolster their rosters and pretenders turn their sights to the future.
The Sports Xchange asked its NBA correspondents for their projections as the trade deadline approaches. Here are the team-by-team responses:
The Celtics hit the trade deadline as a rebuilding team, which means anything is possible. This is a roster that seemingly has no one labeled as untouchable. Point guard Rajon Rondo was named team captain, but that likely does not mean a thing. The Atlanta Hawks were said to be hot after forward Jeff Green, and veterans like swingman Gerald Wallace and forward Kris Humphries could be attractive to a contender. General manager Danny Ainge will be busy on the phone, and the roster could look a lot different after Feb. 20.
Due to the combination of playing much better after the turn of the new year (14-5 in 2014) and being handcuffed by a $101 million cap hit, the Nets are highly unlikely to make a move at the trade deadline. Even though center Brook Lopez is out for the remainder of the season with a foot injury, the current Nets will probably be the same veteran team vying for home-court advantage in the postseason.
NEW YORK KNICKS
Even though the Knicks underachieved in the first half of the season, they are still in the hunt for a playoff berth in the Eastern Conference. Still, they are nowhere near championship contenders, leaving them in a bit of an in-between area when it comes to buying or selling. Forward Carmelo Anthony will be a free agent this summer, and the thinking is he is not going anywhere. He will wait for a rich, long-term offer from the Knicks. Guard Iman Shumpert is the most likely Knick to be shipped out. His game regressed since he earned all-rookie first-team honors in 2011-12.
The Sixers are expected to be sellers at the Feb. 20 deadline, and the veteran most likely to be dealt is guard/forward Evan Turner, the team's leading scorer at 17.5 points a game. ESPN.com recently reported that the Bobcats are the most likely suitor, and Charlotte might be willing to part with the first-round draft pick the 76ers crave. Other teams reportedly are in the mix for Turner, too, and there figures to be interest in center Spencer Hawes and forward Thaddeus Young as well.
A team that supposedly went in the tank by trading forward Rudy Gay in December made itself a playoff contender by going 21-12 since the deal. And that is the problem. Do the Raptors risk disrupting the strong team chemistry that developed during the recent run by making a deal for a needed big man, or do they leave things alone and let the young group continue to develop? A deal at this stage likely would be a minor one, a tweak for a team that is still a work in progress.
The Bulls have a plan to retool the roster, but none of it involves making a trade at the deadline. First of all, they are trying to stay below the luxury tax and have a small cushion of roughly $600,000, so they are not likely to take on any salary. They also do not have many spare parts. The Bulls conceivably could dump a player like forward Mike Dunleavy, but he is signed through next season at $3 million, a relative bargain. It makes more sense to keep Dunleavy around for what they hope is a more successful return of point guard Derrick Rose. Look for the Bulls to stick with the plan of using the amnesty clause on forward Carlos Boozer this summer to open cap room. Maybe New York Knocks small forward Carmelo Anthony becomes a target, but the more likely addition is 6-foot-10 Real Madrid sharpshooter Nikola Mirotic, whose rights they acquired on draft night in 2011.
Cavaliers acting general manager David Griffin promises to be a buyer and not a seller at the trade deadline. The roster could use some tinkering if Cleveland, currently three games out of a playoff position, is to make a push in 2014. A couple of players who might be on the move are point guard Jarrett Jack and forward Luol Deng. An unrestricted free agent after the season, Deng was acquired from the Chicago Bulls on Jan. 7. He doesn't appear to be interested in signing an extension with the Cavaliers.
The Pistons made it clear throughout the summer they were determined to make the playoffs for the first time since 2008-09. That goal was reinforced Feb. 7 when coach Mo Cheeks was fired after just 50 games. Detroit has a glaring deficiency -- outside shooting. It ranks last in 3-point shooting, which has created major spacing problems. The club resisted overtures for power forward Greg Monroe, a restricted free agent, and would need to a minor miracle to shed forward Josh Smith's four-year, $54 million deal. The most likely scenario is trading forward Charlie Villanueva's expiring contract for a perimeter shooter.
The East-leading Pacers already picked up one player -- center Andrew Bynum -- who could give their bench a completely different offensive dimension with his post play. However, Indiana remains willing to pursue something else. With reserves Danny Granger and C.J. Watson struggling from outside, the missing piece to Indiana's championship aspirations could be a long-range sniper who doesn't demand a lot of touches. Kyle Lowry, enjoying a career year in Toronto, has been mentioned in conjunction with the Pacers, although he is much more than a shooter. A team more desperate than Indiana for Lowry's point guard skills is likely to make the winning offer. As for Granger, the question marks surrounding his future -- his contract is up after the season -- make it difficult to deal him now. Also, Granger's salary is big enough to make matching contracts difficult, especially if the Pacers want value in return.
The Bucks are almost guaranteed to finish with the worst record in the NBA this season, but general manager John Hammond still faces some tough decisions as the deadline approaches. Without a doubt, Hammond would love to deal reserve guard Gary Neal, who signed a two-year guaranteed contract worth about $6 million over the summer but has played sparingly this season. Veteran forward Caron Butler was limited by injury, but he and his expiring contract could be of value to a contender. Center Larry Sanders, a non-factor since signing a $44 million deal last summer, might draw some interest, but the Bucks aren't ready to pull the plug just yet. Forward Ersan Ilyasova, in the second year of a five-year, $40 million deal, is enduring an up-and-down season. He, too, could draw some interest for teams looking for frontcourt help.
The Hawks aren't looking to move point guard Jeff Teague, but it is a possibility if they get a strong offer. Atlanta matched a four-year offer that Teague received from the Milwaukee Bucks last summer, but management has been less-than-sold by his lack of consistency. Example: He scored two against the Miami Heat on Jan. 20 and had 23 against the Orlando Magic on Jan. 22. Teague, who averages 15.7 points and 7.3 assists, was yanked late in the third quarter against the Indiana Pacers on Feb. 4 and did not return. In the seven games since Jan. 24, Teague scored more than 12 points only once. However, unless Atlanta gets a point guard in return, the team would be dependent on Shelvin Mack and rookie Dennis Schroder should Teague be moved, hardly an enviable scenario.
Coach Steve Clifford insists that the Bobcats are always looking for ways to improve the team, and the club has a history of making minor deals at the trade deadline. However, don't expect any major transactions. Charlotte has a game plan for building piece by piece, so the next moves would come with the selection of three first-round draft picks next summer. The Bobcats gladly would part with guard Ben Gordon to any team that needs a veteran scorer, and they could use some perimeter scoring punch in return. The nucleus of center Al Jefferson, point guard Kemba Walker, shooting guard Gerald Henderson, forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and center Cody Zeller will remain intact, and several of the role players, particularly forwards Josh McRoberts and Anthony Tolliver, are playing too well for Charlotte to consider dealing them.
The Heat already made a slight roster adjustment, acquiring backup combo guard Toney Douglas in a three-way trade last month that sent center Joel Anthony to the Boston Celtics. The move saved Miami a significant amount of money on the luxury tax. Never put any further moves past team president Pat Riley, but the sense is that he is satisfied with the roster -- the Heat are the two-time defending NBA champions after all. In addition to the Douglas move, oft-injured center Greg Oden can be viewed as a deadline-day acquisition. The talented 7-footer was acquired in August but did not make his debut until Jan. 15. He is a player the Heat are being very careful with, and Miami's hope is that he will be ready when it needs him -- in an Eastern Conference showdown with the Indiana Pacers and their 7-footer, Roy Hibbert.
In the early stages of their rebuilding process, the Magic will be listening closely to anyone interested in veterans like guard Jameer Nelson, center Glen Davis and forward Arron Afflalo. They made no secret of their desire to land more draft picks and create more salary-cap room for this summer and next. Afflalo, who is having his best NBA season, is catching the attention of several teams vying for playoff position.
Sitting sixth in the Eastern Conference, the Wizards are on track to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2008. There is a move or two out there to keep them on course if not pick up the pace, though they probably would be relatively minor tweaks. The Wizards previously shipped a first-round pick for center Marcin Gortat, while the strong performance of forward Trevor Ariza, a potential trade asset, is making it impossible to send him elsewhere. Picking up an additional backcourt ball-handler would be helpful, as would acquiring a "stretch 4" in case injured Al Harrington cannot return to full strength.
The Mavericks don't have particularly strong trade assets in terms of players or a 2014 first-round draft pick to deal, so they are not going to be buyers, at least not for an impact player who could give them a power boost into the top four of the Western Conference. Team officials remain adamant that they are not interested in dealing veteran forward Shawn Marion or swingman Vince Carter as long as they are in contention for a playoff spot. Marion is a valuable jack-of-all trades, and Carter is the Mavericks' best scoring threat off the bench.