The NBA's Trade Deadline is on February 18th, 2016, at 3:00 pm Eastern. Of course, as we all know some buzzer beater trades do happen as well -- but just cannot be announced by the afternoon press time. Trades do happen in the NBA every year, but we seemed to have seen more blockbusters in the 1980s and 90s than now. If anything, most players move during NBA Free Agency or at the NBA Draft. But the trade deadline is still a pretty important thing, after all, we all expect our teams to get better while giving up trash.
For me the big thing is where a team is at a certain point in time -- and that point is about two weeks away. You're either a contender, at your peak, rising, have a closing window, are in the doldrums, or are actively seeking a good lottery result. All 30 NBA teams fall somewhere in those six categories. A contender is a team that you'd be surprised didn't make it to the Conference Finals, and an NBA Finals trip wouldn't be out of the question. A team at their peak is at their apex with their current core group of players. They may be knocking on the door to a championship, or a middling playoff team. But a change is needed to make this team move to the higher level. A rising team is just that, they are improving their station by just being together. A lot of younger teams fall in this group, teams that have recently rebuilt, or teams that just have had poor luck with injuries and are finally getting healthy. The other side of the time spectrum are older teams, or teams that rely upon an aging core who don't have all the time in the world to get it done. Their window of opportunity is closing. Teams that are in the doldrums aren't bad enough to get enough ping pong balls, and just don't have a core with enough potential to be rising right now. They're not going to make the playoffs, and aren't likely to tank. They just are. Finally, the teams eager for the lottery are the teams that are likely to get a Top 5 pick when all is said and done. Those teams are legit trying to be as bad as possible.
Teams of these different categories approach the trade deadline in different ways. A contender may look to find that piece to put them over the top. Teams at their peak may wish to take a larger risk in tinkering, in order to move into contender status. Lottery focused teams may want to get rid of a solid player at his physical prime in order to get back young assets. Doldrums teams may or may not even be awake enough to make a trade. You get the picture. Except for contender and lottery, teams of these four remaining categories can be having successful seasons. For example, not all of the teams in the Peak group are actually Top 4 or 5 teams in their conference. Many are, but not all. You can peak with a bad core and be left wondering where you went wrong.
With the standings how they are right now, and this is just my estimation of things, but here's how I break it down:
- Contenders (6): Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder, Cleveland Cavaliers, Toronto Raptors, and Miami Heat
- Peak (5): Los Angeles Clippers, Atlanta Hawks, Chicago Bulls, Houston Rockets, Washington Wizards
- Rising (8): Boston Celtics, Detroit Pistons, Indiana Pacers, Utah Jazz, Sacramento Kings, New York Knicks, New Orleans Pelicans, Orlando Magic
- Window (2): Memphis Grizzlies, Dallas Mavericks
- Doldrums (3): Charlotte Hornets, Phoenix Suns, Denver Nuggets
- Lottery (4): Philadelphia 76ers, Los Angeles Lakers, Minnesota Timberwolves, Brooklyn Nets
I actually have a 7th group for teams I'm just not smart enough to figure out. The Bucks were a playoff team last season, but are 13th in the conference this year. They are young. They are improving. But I don't know if you can call them "rising" because they fell so far back in terms of their conference regard. As for the Blazers, they are the 8th seed in the West today, have some youth, but I don't know if they are going to hold onto it, or if it is fool's gold. You can be a fun team that defies description. In this case, these guys are exactly that.
Team needs and their trajectory are just one factor. Another happens to be players. Players are harder to predict. Some want to win. Some hate their city. Some don't get along well with their teammates, their coach, or something else entirely. Others deserve a chance to win. Others still are expiring contracts -- they need a place to play in order to get another pay day, and not every team wants to lose a free agent for nothing. There are reasons why more trades happen now -- it's because General Managers aren't always ready to go 'all in' on the players on their roster. If you can get upgrade you have to try.
Another reason to make a trade is the shed salary in the build up for Free Agency in July. A team at their peak may want to do that now, so that they can add a player that makes them a contender next season.