In the days leading up to the February 23 trade deadline, Hoops Rumors will be taking a closer look at each of the NBA’s 30 teams, by division. We’ll be identifying each team as a buyer, seller, or something in between, and discussing which teams and players are most likely to be involved in deals this month. Today, we’re examining the Atlantic.
Two Atlantic teams currently hold top-four spots in the Eastern Conference, and both the Celtics (35-19) and Raptors (32-23) are in great position to strengthen their rosters at this year’s deadline.
Boston, in particular, is loaded with trade assets, including a handful of extra first-round picks. While there are several teams around the league holding additional draft picks, none have the upside that the Celtics’ selections do. The C’s have the right to swap picks with Brooklyn this season, and hold the Nets’ 2018 pick outright, and no NBA team has a worse 2016/17 record that the Nets. If any club wants to make a superstar available, a logical first step would be to give Danny Ainge a call and ask about those two Brooklyn picks, either of which would be a great starting point for any trade package.
The Raptors, meanwhile, don’t have quite the stash of draft picks that Boston does, but Toronto holds a couple extra future first-rounders, and is also carrying several intriguing young players on its roster. Guys like Delon Wright and Bruno Caboclo should be available, and in the right deal, perhaps the Raps would be willing to include a rotation player like Terrence Ross, Norman Powell, Lucas Nogueira, or even Jonas Valanciunas. Although they’ve struggled lately, the Raptors took Cleveland to six games in the Eastern Conference Finals last season, and adding an impact power forward would make their roster even more dangerous.
As noted above, the Nets have the NBA’s worst record this season (9-45), and it’s not particularly close. It’s an easy decision for the team to become a seller, rather than a buyer, though Brooklyn’s trade assets are somewhat limited. Most of the club’s roster consists of young developmental players, or recently-signed veterans that the Nets might not be ready to move, such as Trevor Booker and Jeremy Lin. The most obvious trade candidate on the roster is Brook Lopez, and the Nets are certainly listening to offers, but since the veteran center has another year left on his contract, there’s no urgency to make a move quite yet.
Across town, the Knicks (23-33) are a little closer to playoff contention than Brooklyn is, but New York seems rightly reluctant to push all its chips in on this season’s team. The Knicks’ front office is believed to be leaning toward trading veterans and building around Kristaps Porzingis and Willy Hernangomez. In order to start that process in earnest though, Carmelo Anthony would have to go, and there’s no indication yet that he’ll waive his no-trade clause within the next 10 days, which complicates New York’s approach to the deadline. Veterans like Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah could also be trade candidates, but Rose’s expiring contract and Noah’s exorbitant long-term salary make the former Bulls duo a tricky sell.
Somewhere in between:
At 20-34, 13th in the East, the Sixers are closer to being sellers than buyers, but after a multiyear tanking process, the franchise appears open to adding immediate help in the right deal. That doesn’t mean that Bryan Colangelo expects a playoff berth this season, but if he can add a veteran on a multiyear contract who can contribute for the next couple years, he seems willing to pull the trigger.
At the same time, it’s not hard to imagine the Sixers going the tanking route for one more season. With Joel Embiid sidelined due to a knee injury, moving one or two other key rotation players from a group that includes Jahlil Okafor, Nerlens Noel, and T.J. McConnell would go a long way toward securing another bottom-five finish – and another top-five draft pick – for the franchise before it shifts to win-now mode in the summer.
Team most likely to make a move:
On paper, the Celtics and Raptors seem very likely to make at least a modest deal, but both teams have been extremely patient over the years, hoarding assets and waiting for the right moment to strike. If that moment doesn’t come in the next 10 days, it’s not unfathomable that both teams could wait until the offseason to cash in some of their trade assets.
The Sixers, on the other hand, seem like a virtual lock to make a move of some sort. It would be a surprise if both Okafor and Noel remain on the team’s roster through the deadline.
Player(s) most likely to be moved:
If it weren’t for his no-trade clause, and perhaps that pesky 15% trade kicker as well, Anthony would probably be the top trade candidate in the division. Phil Jackson and the Knicks have made it pretty clear – publicly as well as privately – that they’re ready to move on from their longtime star, but that appears to have made Carmelo dig in his heels even more, and he has all the leverage.
With Anthony a question mark, and few obvious trade candidate in Brooklyn outside of Lopez and Randy Foye, we’ll turn to the Sixers for the players most likely to be moved. Trade rumors have surrounded Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel all season long, and Philadelphia finally appears ready to make a move with at least one of them. Okafor was held out of action this weekend and reportedly told teammates he thinks he’ll be dealt, while Noel has been viewed all season as one of the players most likely to change teams.
Under-the-radar trade candidate:
The sheer amount of media coverage in New York, Philadelphia, Boston, and Toronto makes it difficult for trade candidates from any of these five teams to fly under the radar. But it’s worth keeping an eye on Nets sharpshooter Bojan Bogdanovic. The 27-year-old is enjoying a career year, with 14.3 PPG and a .362 3PT% in 53 games so far. He’s also a restricted free agent at season’s end.
Last summer, the Nets had two unsuccessful forays into restricted free agency, but they may be more willing to jump back in when they’re the ones with the matching rights. Bogdanovic is young enough to be a long-term piece in Brooklyn, and the team has the cap flexibility to keep him around, even if he fields other offers this summer.
Still, Bogdanovic’s outside shooting could help a contender down the stretch this season, and his RFA status reduces some offseason uncertainty, making him more appealing than an unrestricted free agent. If a team makes the Nets a strong offer for Bogdanovic this month, it would make sense for Sean Marks to consider a move.
What do you think is in store for the Atlantic teams over the next 10 days? Which teams are most likely to make a deal? Which players will be on the move?
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.