Now that the NBA All-Star festivities have wrapped up this weekend in New Orleans, the frivolity of the league is in the past and it's time for NBA teams to get down to serious business. With most teams having approximately 30 games left on their schedule, certain front offices are deciding whether to make a push for an NBA Championship or throw in the towel for the season. The NBA Trade Deadline, which falls this Thursday (February 20) at 3 p.m. EST, allows for many teams to make a decision one way or the other.
While this year's trade deadline is likely to be a little quieter at least among blockbuster names--as Luol Deng and Rudy Gay were a part of separate deals earlier this year--there are still plenty of teams looking to add or get rid of players. In many ways, expiring contracts of overpaid players are a great way for contending teams to get a solid contributor for a championship push, while the sellers are able to free up cap space and get compensated with role players and/or future draft picks. Here's a look at 10 teams in alphabetical order who are more likely than others to make a deal and how it would affect their team payroll.
10 Boston Celtics
The Boston Celtics are in rebuilding mode right now and are one of the many sellers of this NBA trade season. However, looking at the team's payroll alone, you wouldn't know it as the Celtics currently have the 11th highest payroll in the NBA at $70.34 million, nearly $12 million over the $58.67 million cap limit. Boston, which has a 19-35 record and sits 12th place in the Eastern Conference, could trade any of their top six highest-paid players--Kris Humphries, Rajon Rondo, Gerald Wallace, Jeff Green, Brandon Bass, or Keith Bogans--as all these players are making somewhere between $5-$12 million in 2013-14. Rondo and Green are the two least likely to be dealt as the Celtics brass seems to have a penchant for both players, but dealing a player like Humphries who's making $12 million this season on an expiring deal or a combination of Bass and Bogans who are making a combined $11.4 million, makes financial sense for Boston to avoid luxury tax.
9 Charlotte Bobcats
The first buyers mentioned on this list are an unforeseen one: the Charlotte Bobcats. Normally sellers at the trade deadline, the Bobcats are currently in eighth place in the Eastern Conference with a 23-30 record and are trying to do what they can to make their first playoff appearance in six years. It has been reported by CBSsports.com that the Bobcats have interest in the Philadelphia 76ers shooting guard Evan Turner, who is currently in the final year of his rookie deal making $6.67 million. The Bobcats are already over the cap limit, but not by much with a team payroll of $61.65 million that ranks 24th in the league. It may be very well worth it for Charlotte to make a deal just to avoid going to the lottery once again.
8 Denver Nuggets
One deal that would be more surprising if it didn't happen is if the Denver Nuggets didn't part ways with veteran point guard Andre Miller. After a dispute with head coach Brian Shaw a month-and-a-half ago, Miller has been relegated to the end of the bench as Ty Lawson and Nate Robinson have taken over all point guard duties. Miller is earning $5 million this season with a year left on his contract that will pay him $4.6 million in 2014-15, potentially making him a solid piece for a playoff team. Another player Denver is rumored to be considering moving is power forward Kenneth Faried. The third-year player has a deal that expires at the end of next season when he becomes a restricted free agent and looks to be an expendable piece. Denver could use the cap space when it comes to moving either players as they are currently at $67.32 million (16th highest in the NBA) and not in the playoff picture sitting in 11th place in the Western Conference with a 24-27 record.
7 Houston Rockets
The Rockets have made some big moves over the past couple years, first by getting James Harden in a trade and then signing Dwight Howard as a free agent last summer. The moves have proved worthwhile as Houston went from a pretender to a contender in only two years' time. Currently sitting third in the Western Conference with a record of 36-17, the Rockets are definitely a buyer this trade season, trying to make a championship run. With the 17th highest payroll in 2013-14 at $64.95 million, Houston also has some flexibility to overspend, at least more so than other competitors. It's uncertain at this point what the missing piece might be, but probable players that could be moved to get that missing link include Omer Asik ($8.37 million), Donatas Motiejunas ($1.42 million) and Ronnie Brewer ($1.18 million).
6 Los Angeles Lakers
Usually a buyer, the Los Angeles Lakers are actually a seller this year and have several players that could be dealt by Thursday's trade deadline. The biggest and most obvious choice is that of Pau Gasol, who is making nearly $20 million this year in the final year of his expiring contract. Other pieces that are being rumored to be potential trade bait are the expiring contracts of Chris Kaman ($3.18 million), Jordan Hill ($3.56 million) and Steve Blake ($4 million). Despite having the highest payroll in the Western Conference and fourth highest in the NBA at $79.44 million, the Lakers are tied with the Sacramento Kings for the worst record in the Western Conference at 18-35. There's no question that the Lakers could shed some of the fat from their payroll, but then again they don't necessarily need to as one of the most profitable NBA franchises.
5 Milwaukee Bucks
The NBA's current worst team, the Milwaukee Bucks, might be another seller this trade season as they look to the future. With a 9-43 record the Bucks are looking for some future first round draft picks to rebuild, and one of their players, power forward Ersan Ilysova is currently frustrated with the organization according to the Racine Journal Times. Another decent asset from the Bucks that teams have interest in is backup point guard Luke Ridnour, who is in the final year of an expiring contract where he is making $4.3 million. Milwaukee's payroll right now is at $51.17 million, so neither of the moves is necessary for salary cap reasons, but a deal could prove valuable for the franchise's future.
4 New York Knicks
After an exceptional season that saw the New York Knicks capture the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference in 2013, the Knicks find themselves in an unwanted predicament this year as they currently sit in 10th place at 20-32. It looks though as the Knicks will be sellers this trade deadline, trying to shop point guard Beno Udrih. Not getting much playing time behind Raymond Felton, Iman Shumpert and Pablo Prigioni, the 10-year NBA veteran could be a solid backup for a playoff team. There are also rumors that star-player Carmelo Anthony may get dealt, but those seem unlikely, at least according to Melo who told the New York Daily News "I know for a fact I'm not being traded." The Knicks have enough to worry about as it is with the second highest payroll in 2013-14 at $89.74 million, which has been taken hostage by Amar'e Stoudemire's awful contract that's paying him $21.67 million this year.
3 Oklahoma City Thunder
While the Oklahoma City Thunder do have the best record in the NBA at the All-Star Break, sitting at 43-12, that doesn't mean they're not trying to get better. Yahoo's Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the Thunder are looking for a shooter to compliment Kevin Durant in Oklahoma City's quest for a title. The Thunder currently have the 10th highest payroll in the NBA at $70.66 million, but that shouldn't shy them away too much from making a deal, especially since they hold a mid-level trade exception to land a player. However, Oklahoma City does have some leniency not to make a move as the team's three highest paid players--Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka--are each signed through at least the 2015-16 season. Then again, there may not be a better time than the present to roll the dice that could bring the franchise its first NBA Championship.
2 Philadelphia 76ers
Despite having the lowest NBA payroll in 2013-14, the Philadelphia 76ers are still looking to get rid of some of their highest-paid players in order to stock up on future draft picks. With a current payroll of $46.6 million, which is nearly $5 million less than the 29th placed Milwaukee Bucks, the 76ers are rumored to be shopping their three highest-paid players: Thaddeus Young ($8.85 million), Evan Turner ($6.67 million) and Spencer Hawes ($6.5 million). Philadelphia has little to play for at this point, having gone into the All-Star Break with the second-worst record in the NBA at 15-39, which included two recent losses to the Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State Warriors by a combined 88 points.
1 Washington Wizards
The Washington Wizards are in a similar situation to the Charlotte Bobcats this year as a team normally known for its futility, but currently in the playoff picture and therefore buyers this playoff season. At the All-Star Break, the Wizards stood in sixth place in the Eastern Conference with a 25-27 record, and similar to the Bobcats, look to make their first playoff appearance in six years. With young talent acquired through the draft in guards John Wall and Bradley Beal, the future certainly looks bright for the Wizards. Interestingly though, the rumors about potential acquisitions for the team include a couple of guards, like aforementioned point guards Andre Miller of the Nuggets and Beno Udrih of the Knicks, an area where they don't seem to need much help. Amazingly, the Wizards actually have one of the higher payrolls in the league that could deter them from taking on any extra salary as they are on the books for the eighth highest payroll at $70.94 million.