NBA Power Rankings: Separating Buyers from Sellers at Trade Deadline


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    The NBA trade deadline arrives this Thursday, which gives teams unhappy with their current spots precious little time to make deals that juice their rankings.

    We’ll still focus on record, advanced stats, health and recent play to compile our usual 30-team order, but this week’s edition also covers each organization’s mindset heading into the deadline.

    Who’s buying? Who’s selling? Who’s standing pat?

    If we get some unexpected transactional fireworks this week, maybe a disruption to the typical ranking order will follow. For now, in these last few days of calm before the storm, here’s where everyone stands.

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    30. Golden State Warriors (30)

    When Draymond Green, maybe the headiest player in the league over the last several seasons, is forgetting to inbound the ball, you know nothing’s going to plan. Golden State has the fewest wins and most losses in the league, and the only difference between 10- and 20-point bludgeonings these days is whether D’Angelo Russell heats up from deep for a quarter or so.

    At least Green remembered enough to log 16 assists against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday.

    The Dubs already dealt Willie Cauley-Stein to the Dallas Mavericks, and it’ll be disappointing if they don’t also move Alec Burks and Glenn Robinson III before the deadline.

    Deadline Status: Seller

    29. Minnesota Timberwolves (28)

    Karl-Anthony Towns has played in 15 games since Nov. 27, and all have been losses.

    Monday’s 133-129 overtime defeat against the Sacramento Kings may have been the worst of them. After controlling the game’s first three-plus quarters and setting a new franchise record for made threes, Minnesota folded spectacularly, blowing a lead that was once as large as 27 points. The Wolves sat on a healthy 17-point cushion with 2:49 remaining in the fourth quarter…and lost.

    It was, by one measure, the most shocking late-game collapse in NBA history. But since it was the Timberwolves, who’ve lost games in every way imaginable this year, maybe it shouldn’t have been such a surprise.

    Robert Covington would be a fine fit just about anywhere. Minnesota could also use Josh Okogie to sweeten a deal that moves Gorgui Dieng, whose value is probably higher now than it’s been since signing that four-year deal in 2016.

    Deadline Status: Seller

    28. Cleveland Cavaliers (29)

    We can now add high-altitude blocks and frenetic twitching to the once-a-week poster dunks on Collin Sexton’s 2019-20 highlight reel.

    March 2019 is still probably the best month of Sexton’s career, but his recently completed January easily ranks second. He averaged 22.7 points on 57.1 percent true shooting, and his 25 points against Denver on Jan. 11 fueled Cleveland’s best win of the year.

    Though the sophomore guard’s productivity will be suspect until the numbers come on a quality Cavs team (so, roughly 2025?), it’s getting easier to set his floor as a high-energy scoring spark off the bench. He could be significantly better than that if he ups his three-point volume, which has declined from its rookie level.

    The Cavs won in Detroit this past week, but like just about every team this low in the rankings, they’re building for the future. Jordan Clarkson departed back in December, and though takers for Kevin Love’s salary aren’t exactly coming out of the woodwork, the Cavs will continue their recent pattern of offloading veterans for future considerations. 

    Deadline Status: Seller

    27. New York Knicks (25)

    The Knicks went 1-2 this week, dropped to 14-36 and got deep in their feelings over Jae Crowder’s unsporting shot selection on Wednesday. Marcus Morris Sr.’s troubling misogyny made everything worse.

    Buyer or seller? Hmm…let’s crowdsource the question and see where it lands us.

    Oh.

    Deadline Status: Burn It All Down

    26. Charlotte Hornets (26)

    Charlotte won its first two games of 2020, only to drop 10 of its next 11. Though not quite a member of the Hawks-Knicks-Cavs triumvirate of playoff hopelessness in the East, it’s increasingly difficult to imagine the Hornets making a late push.

    Bright side: Miles Bridges scored 23 points in Thursday’s loss to the Washington Wizards and 25 more in Saturday’s defeat at San Antonio. That two-game total of 48 points is his best of the season.

    Marvin Williams should be in demand. He’d help a lot of contenders as a backup forward who could survive in switching schemes and hit some catch-and-shoot threes. Unfortunately for Charlotte, Williams and other vets on expiring contracts (Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Bismack Biyombo come to mind) probably have more appeal as buyout acquisitions.

    Deadline Status: Seller

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    25. Atlanta Hawks (27)

    In Thursday’s 127-117 win over the Philadelphia 76ers, All-Star starter Trae Young turned in the first 39-point, 18-assist game since Tim Hardaway Sr. did it in 1993, a half-decade before Young was born. John Collins also snatched 20 boards in that one, helping continue a surprisingly respectable recent stretch for Atlanta.

    The Hawks are 5-5 in their last 10 games. Young’s sprained ankle, suffered during Saturday’s 123-100 loss to the Dallas Mavericks, is a concern, but it doesn’t appear serious. If he misses time, this ranking will be far too high. Nothing works in Atlanta without Young running the offense.

    Atlanta’s mid-January trade for Jeff Teague addressed a clear need at backup point guard, but don’t view that as a precursor to more win-now moves. With more cap space than they’ll realistically be able to spend this summer, the Hawks are among the top likely absorbers of bad money with assets attached. Though something of an unconventional one, Atlanta actually profiles as a buyer.

    Deadline Status: Buyer

    24. Detroit Pistons (22)

    The Pistons have lost five of their last six games, with each of those defeats coming by double figures. Though Reggie Jackson has looked surprisingly solid after nearly three months on the shelf (until that rough 2-of-12 outing against the Toronto Raptors on Friday), Detroit won’t make the mistake of chasing the eighth seed.

    The Athletic’s Shams Charania reports Derrick Rose won’t come cheap for contenders in need of a ball-handler, and Andre Drummond’s ability to hit free agency this summer will limit returns on a potential trade. That doesn’t change the fact that Detroit needs to start over—to the extent that’s possible with Blake Griffin‘s deal on the books.

    Deadline Status: Seller

    23. Washington Wizards (23)

    Tuesday’s 151-131 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks earned Washington an embarrassing (but not altogether surprising) distinction. Not since the 1990-91 Denver Nuggets had a team allowed at least 150 points in back-to-back games.

    The Wizards’ historically inept defense is rendering Bradley Beal’s scoring run mostly meaningless, but he’s still competitively chirping while lighting up the box score. His response to being left off the East All-Star roster on Thursday: 34 points, nine rebounds and nine assists in a 121-107 win over the Hornets.

    He added 34 more points in another win on Saturday, 113-107 at home against the Brooklyn Nets.

    Beal’s extension means he’s off the table until the offseason, but every contender should be clamoring for Davis Bertans. Washington should try to re-sign its prolific frontcourt gunner this summer, only trading him for a Godfather offer that probably isn’t coming.

    Deadline Status: Seller

    22. Chicago Bulls (21)

    A career-best 21 points from Chandler Hutchison weren’t enough to keep the Bulls from gagging away a game they should have won in Indiana on Wednesday. Despite that familiar collapse, Chicago is still 6-7 in its last 13 games, and the absence of Wendell Carter Jr. hasn’t been the death sentence on D many expected.

    Since the second-year center went down on Jan. 6, the Bulls have performed with mid-pack stopping power. Not bad under the circumstances. 

    The Bulls are ninth in the East and within striking distance of the Orlando Magic and Nets, currently slotted seventh and eighth. Unfortunately, Otto Porter Jr.’s health makes him almost impossible to trade for value, and what few veteran contributors the Bulls have on the roster will be necessary for a playoff push. Chicago also isn’t in a position to ship out youth for short-term help. Expect the Bulls to stand pat and trust in organic development and better injury luck down the stretch.

    Deadline Status: Holder

    21. Sacramento Kings (24)

    If Buddy Hield stays this hot, we may see an epidemic of benched starters across the league.

    The $86 million man scored 20 of his career-high 42 points and was perfect from the field in the fourth quarter of Sacramento’s absurd comeback win against the Timberwolves on Monday. In his four games off the pine this past week, he was 23-of-48 from deep.

    You will never see anyone execute an intentional free-throw miss better than the one De’Aaron Fox pulled off to force overtime against those poor, shell-shocked Wolves. Disregard critics (and the L2M report) saying Fox committed a lane violation; that’s no fun.

    The Kings also took the Los Angeles Clippers down Thursday, securing the 124-103 win on the strength of a franchise-record 21 made triples and a career-high 34 points from Fox.

    Sacramento isn’t vaulting over the New Orleans Pelicans, Phoenix Suns, Portland Trail Blazers, San Antonio Spurs and Memphis Grizzlies for that eighth playoff spot, and both Dewayne Dedmon and Bogdan Bogdanovic profile as desirable trade candidates.

    Bogdanovic, particularly, could address the need for a scoring playmaker on any number of contenders. With Hield already paid, Sacramento may not want to face the choice between overspending to keep Bogdanovic in restricted free agency or losing him for nothing.

    Deadline Status: Seller

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    20. Orlando Magic (17)

    Times are tough in Orlando, where the Magic have dropped five straight and seven of their last eight overall. 

    Scoring has been a bugaboo all season, and Orlando failed to top 100 points in each of its four most recent defeats. Worse still, the Magic’s defensive efficiency ranks in the bottom 10 since mid-January. Once tethered to mediocrity by their D (in a good way), the Magic haven’t even been able to rely on that strength during their slide.

    It seems like Aaron Gordon never escapes deadline whispers. The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor reported the Timberwolves asked about him, which shows he’s still a player of interest.

    The Magic are a likely playoff team, which you’d think would designate them as buyers. But it’s really not that simple. The return on a potential Gordon trade should tell us how they view themselves. If they move him for bad long-term salary and a pick, it’ll feel more like a sell. Alternatively, if Gordon and a pick head out for a piece who fits better this year and (hopefully) juices the offense, that’ll count as a buy.

    Deadline Status: TBD

    19. Brooklyn Nets (20)

    Brooklyn is 3-2 in its last five games, but don’t mistake that for a resurrection. Of its last six wins overall, five came against Atlanta, Detroit and Chicago. Brooklyn has a lot of work to do before it sniffs the East’s top six.

    Kyrie Irving scored an inspiring 54 points on only 23 shots, leading the Nets to a 133-118 win over the Bulls on Friday. No player had ever scored that many points on that few attempts. Unfortunately, Irving had to leave Saturday’s loss to Washington with a knee sprain.

    Tenuous postseason position makes the Nets an intriguing deadline team. It’s still probably best to view 2019-20 as a gap year until Kevin Durant returns, but they face decisions now that will affect the roster next season.

    Joe Harris is headed for free agency this summer, and though he’s exactly the type of starting-caliber floor-spacer you’d want on a two-superstar team, he might simply become too expensive to keep on a roster already ticketed for the luxury tax in 2020-21.

    General manager Sean Marks is among the league’s more transaction-happy executives, but there aren’t any significant moves out there that make sense. Brooklyn might trim a little salary with an eye toward next season, but don’t expect much action.

    Deadline Status: Small-time Seller

    18. Phoenix Suns (18)

    Devin Booker didn’t make the All-Star reserve cut, a strange state of affairs considering his status as the league’s most efficient 25-point-per-game scorer. With 32 points in Tuesday’s blowout win against the Dallas Mavericks, Booker also became the youngest guard to reach 7,000 points. The previous record-holder: Kobe Bryant.

    Phoenix has played .500 ball for more than a month (9-9 in its last 18 games), but the Portland Trail Blazers are on fire, and the San Antonio Spurs notched a high-quality win over the Utah Jazz this past week. Those two deserve their spots above the Suns, who should still take solace in being among several West teams with an outside shot at that eighth playoff spot.

    It’s hard to envision a long-term stay for Dario Saric in Phoenix, and Tyler Johnson could be salary ballast in a move that adds multiyear money to the payroll. Deandre Ayton hit the Mavs for 31 points and nine boards on 13-of-15 shooting Tuesday, and if he keeps putting up big numbers while producing positive plus-minus figures (which he has for most of January), maybe the Suns would consider moving Aron Baynes for a boost in the backcourt or a future pick.

    Deadline Status: Seller

    17. San Antonio Spurs (16)

    DeMar DeRozan became the first Spur with back-to-back 35-point games since Tony Parker, and he did it, as he always does, without even thinking about shooting threes. His 38 points against Utah on Wednesday produced a surprising 127-120 win without LaMarcus Aldridge. That victory came after three straight losses, but San Antonio beat the Hornets on Saturday to get to 2-1 for the week.

    The Spurs, like Portland and Phoenix, are a solid stretch away from putting the heat on the eighth-seeded Grizzlies. But you can never assume San Antonio will view a midseason trade as the way to close any gaps. It hasn’t made a deal during the year since 2014.

    History says the Spurs won’t do anything at the deadline even if they’ve got high-priced vets to unload (Aldridge and DeRozan) and a backcourt logjam that could stand some clearing.

    Deadline Status: Holder

    16. Portland Trail Blazers (19)

    Damian Lillard “only” managed 36 points in Portland’s 125-112 win over the Houston Rockets on Wednesday, a slow night for a guy whose previous three scoring totals were 61, 47 and 50. But the meager 36 points came in Dame’s first career triple-double, so nobody will accuse him of slacking.

    Things got back to normal when he scored 48 points in the Blazers’ 127-119 win over the Los Angeles Lakers in L.A. on Friday. Then, he put up 51 more to beat the Jazz on Saturday. Add all that up and Lillard averaged 48.8 points and 10.2 assists over a six-game span.

    That’s not something that happens. Like, ever.

    Portland is on a four-game winning streak, leaving several playoff-bound opponents in the rubble of Lillard’s destructive scoring. The Blazers had to climb this week, mainly at the expense of the tumbling Rockets.

    The Athletic’s Jason Quick reported Jusuf Nurkic suffered a calf strain in his rehab, which had progressed to full-court work, this past week. Uncertainty surrounding Nurkic’s return should be a factor in Portland’s deadline thinking.

    Hassan Whiteside’s $27.1 million expiring salary would make him difficult to trade under any circumstances, but if Nurkic won’t be back to man the center spot, the Blazers probably can’t sustain their playoff hopes unless they swap Whiteside for another big.

    Trevor Ariza has been better than Kent Bazemore was, so the Blazers are already in the black on their in-season trades. Maybe that’ll encourage them to swing another mid-tier deal. It doesn’t seem like anything of real consequence (like a core-busting CJ McCollum trade) is on the horizon.

    Deadline Status: Buyer

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    15. New Orleans Pelicans (15)

    If Brandon Ingram’s rates hold, he’ll join Kevin Durant and Karl-Anthony Towns as the only players to finish a season at age 22 or younger with a scoring average of at least 24 points and hit rates of 40 percent from deep and 80 percent from the stripe.

    In a testament to New Orleans’ depth, its lone All-Star hasn’t led it in scoring since a season-defining 49-point outing on Jan. 16. Zion Williamson’s 24 points gave him the first of what should be many team-high scoring efforts on Friday, and his total was key to toppling the upstart Memphis Grizzlies.

    The Pels should probably be in observation mode through the deadline. They need to see how Jrue Holiday fits with their complete young core, which now includes a participating Williamson. That’s to say nothing of a playoff push made more realistic by a 13-7 mark since Dec. 23. Still, if it’s got to be one or the other, New Orleans should lean toward offloading vets for picks and pieces that better fit with its 23-and-under timeline.

    Holiday would obviously net the largest return, but the Pelicans don’t need to make a move and should be in a position of strength in any high-level trade negotiation.

    Deadline Status: Cautious Seller

    14. Indiana Pacers (12)

    Tuesday’s 115-106 overtime win against the Bulls saw Victor Oladipo take the floor for the first time in just over a year. The Pacers played exactly 82 games without him, and the two-time All-Star paid immediate dividends, hitting a game-tying three with 10.3 seconds left in regulation.

    Indy missed Myles Turner (illness) in that win, which was closer than it should have been because the Bulls wrecked shop in the paint against Domantas Sabonis and Indy’s depleted front line. And since the Pacers can’t seem to catch a break, Saturday’s fully healthy rotation (including Turner) didn’t last. T.J. Warren left that 92-85 loss to the Knicks after taking multiple shots to the head.

    Indiana hasn’t made a significant deadline move since 2014, and Oladipo’s return represents a larger talent infusion than it could hope to get by swinging a trade. If anything, Indiana might look to add another wing defender. But don’t expect much.

    Deadline Status: Buyer

    13. Philadelphia 76ers (11)

    Initially, Joel Embiid didn’t look too bad after nine games off. He put up 24 points and 10 boards in 26 minutes against Golden State on Tuesday. Bruising bigs have run roughshod over the Warriors all year, so his return came in especially favorable conditions.

    The rust showed up Thursday in Atlanta as the Sixers fell 127-117 while Embiid moved around as if his shoelaces were tied together.

    Cam Reddish’s dunk was just one example of him failing to move with urgency, but we should cut him a break since history shows his conditioning can fall off a cliff after even short periods of inaction. The big man’s 1-of-11 effort against a Boston team he’s dominated when fit was another indicator we may not see the Sixers at full strength for a while.

    Its ceiling remains as high as anyone in the East outside of Milwaukee, but Philly went just 1-2 in its first three games with Embiid back.

    I couldn’t be more intrigued by the prospect of dealing for Chris Paul to fill the Sixers’ pick-and-roll and playmaking voids. But it’s tough to find a reason the Thunder would want Al Horford‘s remaining three years, valued up to $81 million, without heavy draft compensation and young talent attached.

    That said, the Sixers’ clunky personnel mix, fat salaries and enticing youth make them a strong candidate to execute a win-now deal.

    Deadline Status: Buyer

    12. Dallas Mavericks (10)

    Luka Doncic’s sprained right ankle (again!) means the Mavs are roughly 75 percent less interesting than they are with their superstar 20-year-old in the lineup. It should go without saying they’ll be a lot easier to beat until Doncic’s return, which is projected for Feb. 10 against the Jazz.

    Dallas is 2-3 in its last five games, but it was encouraging to see Kristaps Porzingis go for 35 points and 12 boards with Doncic out against the Houston Rockets on Friday. The result was a loss, but anything that gets KP going will benefit the Mavs when they’re back at full strength.

    Courtney Lee’s expiring contract and some future picks (probably second-rounders) could be enough to land Andre Iguodala from Memphis. If somebody tops that offer, it may still be wise for the Mavs to move Lee for help on the wing. Dorian Finney-Smith isn’t quite strong enough to slow down the likes of Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and LeBron James in a potential playoff series.

    Deadline Status: Buyer

    11. Memphis Grizzlies (14)

    The Grizz are 11-3 in their last 14 games and rank in the top 12 for both offensive and defensive efficiency in 2020, which helps validate this extended stretch of success as more than the product of hot shooting.

    The defense seems real, too, as Grizzlies opponents since Jan. 1 have converted shots at rates roughly in line with what you’d expect based on shot-location data, per Cleaning the Glass.

    Dillon Brooks is a nightmare to play against—a frustratingly competitive scrapper who never gives an inch on either end and also happens to be striping it from deep at a 40 percent clip. When he scores 20 points, Memphis is practically unbeatable.

    It’ll be a shock if the Grizzlies try to fast-track their growth by dealing youth or draft assets for help. If they retain the West’s eighth seed, great. If not, the rebuild is still years ahead of schedule. A trade sending out Andre Iguodala or Jae Crowder is the most sensible approach.

    Deadline Status: Seller

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    Last Week: 13

    James Harden‘s four lowest scoring outputs this year have all come since Jan. 9. Some combination of fatigue and a thigh injury caused the league’s leading scorer to lose his touch and move at three-quarters speed for the better part of a month, but he appeared recovered in Houston’s final two games of the week.

    Harden put up a combined 75 points in Friday’s win over Dallas and Sunday’s over New Orleans.

    Russell Westbrook, meanwhile, has scored over 30 points in nine of his last 11 games.

    Houston is 5-2 in its last seven outings, though Clint Capela’s heel injury just won’t go away. Eric Gordon looked healthier than he had since early last season when he pasted 50 points on the Utah Jazz during Monday’s massive 126-117 win in Utah, but he’s not going to do half that well most nights.

    The Rockets have been worse than New Orleans and Memphis in record and net rating over the last month, so there’s a case to be made that Houston belongs behind both of them. Still, it’s difficult to justify dropping the 31-18 Rockets quite that low.

    Houston still has a fringe-contender ceiling if everyone can get right by the playoffs, and you know general manager Daryl Morey is flooding rivals with offers in search of a sucker. The Rockets have never been afraid to surrender draft considerations for stretch-run help, and they’re as safe a bet to be aggressive this week as any team in the league.

    Deadline Status: Forever a Buyer

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    Last Week: 7

    First-time All-Star Bam Adebayo posted his third triple-double of the season in last Monday’s 113-92 win over the Magic, but he and the rest of the Heat didn’t have the wherewithal to take care of the Boston Celtics on Tuesday. That shouldn’t have been a surprise. Miami has only swept both ends of a back-to-back set once this year.

    The Heat looked shakiest among the East’s top six in January. Its 8-6 mark was worse than the records the Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto Raptors, Celtics, Sixers and Pacers managed.

    Might those relative struggles nudge the Heat toward a trade to shore up the roster? Maybe, but Miami can’t trade a first-rounder, is right up against the hard cap and may not find it easy to locate takers for its more expendable mid-tier salary pieces: Meyers Leonard, James Johnson, Kelly Olynyk and Dion Waiters.

    Miami is always ambitious, but now that a CP3 deal seems more unlikely than ever, it’s tough to see how anything substantial gets done.

    Deadline Status: Buyer

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    Last Week: 3

    Donovan Mitchell laid an egg after earning his first All-Star nod, and Jordan Clarkson’s 20 fourth-quarter points weren’t enough to help the Jazz avoid a third straight loss on Thursday. Damian Lillard‘s 51 points did them in on Saturday, running the Jazz’s slide to a season-high four games.

    In addition to a four-loss ranking session that came out of nowhere, Utah must now wrestle with Mike Conley’s reinsertion into the starting lineup. He joined the first unit Saturday.

    Did the Jazz make the veteran a pre-trade promise about his role, or do they still believe his play is key to reaching their postseason ceiling? There’s not much of a case to be made that Conley’s presence in the starting five (or on the floor at all) has made the Jazz better to this point. Utah’s net rating is 5.0 points per 100 possessions better with him off the floor.

    The Clarkson deal was a good one for a Utah team that needed scoring punch. In light of how well the Jazz have played (this past week notwithstanding), another move feels unlikely. If anything happens, they’ll be buying.

    Status: Buyer

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    Last Week: 8

    It’s not easy to significantly impact a game in which you shoot just 3-of-13 from the field, but Marcus Smart has a career-long habit of controlling the proceedings without scoring. He mucked things up against Miami on Tuesday, defending several positions, denying touches to Jimmy Butler, switching seamlessly, diving on the floor, blocking three shots and skying to tip an offensive rebound to Kemba Walker that effectively ended the Heat’s hopes for a last-minute comeback.

    A sore knee kept Walker out of Saturday’s meeting with the Sixers, and it’ll also prevent him from playing Monday in Atlanta. But Jaylen Brown—curiously left out of the All-Star snub conversation despite numbers that compare favorably with Jayson Tatum’s—dropped 32 points and nine rebounds on the Sixers to secure the 116-95 victory.

    It’d be nice if Boston (3-0 this week and a winner in six of its last seven games) could add a center with more size than Daniel Theis and more defensive fortitude than Enes Kanter, but any meaningful move would probably require surrendering Gordon Hayward or Smart.

    Hayward can opt out of his deal after this season, which could diminish his value, and Smart’s impact on winning (and reasonable salary) should discourage the Celtics from shopping him.

    Deadline Status: (Interested but Probably Unsuccessful) Buyer

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    Last Week: 9

    OKC went 9-1 on the road in January and is 7-1 in its last eight games overall, rising to 30-20 on the season.

    Everything about this Thunder squad once screamed deadline seller. Chris Paul was presumed to be a short-timer from the moment he came aboard via trade, a veteran out of place on a team that had just hoarded a heap of young players and assets. Danilo Gallinari never seemed like someone who’d last through February, either.

    But Paul’s leadership, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s emergence and a team-wide knack for coming out on the right end of every clutch situation have the Thunder looking like a threat to just about anyone in the postseason. Can you really consider stripping a team for parts if it already has more future draft assets than it knows what to do with? Is pick overkill a thing?

    Oklahoma City might be good enough to offload Gallinari and still finish with a win total in the high 40s, and a full zoom-out on the franchise reveals a future focus. If they’re one or the other, the Thunder have to be a seller.

    Deadline Status: Seller

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    Last Week: 5

    Saturday’s 118-106 win over Minnesota featured Kawhi Leonard’s ninth straight 30-point game and marked just the second time this season that the Clippers had their entire 10-man rotation healthy and available. Considering the Wolves’ total check-out over the last few weeks, L.A. probably could have rested its entire 10-man rotation and won anyway.

    It’s important for the Clips to show what they can do with all hands on deck. More than any other team, their regular season is only as valuable as the glimpses it offers into what things will look like come playoff time. Saturday’s indication: They’ll look pretty darn good.

    It’s hard to get past losses to Atlanta and Sacramento in January, but the Clips are 7-2 in their last nine games and still have a top-five offense on the year. With Paul George back, the defense, disappointingly mediocre to this point, will be better.

    The Clippers sent away almost every young player and future pick in the war chest this past summer, so you’d better believe they’re focused on the present. Moe Harkless can still defend, but L.A. should be on the hunt for a higher-volume shooter who can do something off the dribble to replace him.

    Perhaps more importantly, the Clips could use a closer at center. Ivica Zubac lacks mobility, and Montrezl Harrell isn’t the most reliable defender inside.

    Deadline Status: Buyer

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    Last Week: 6

    All nine players who took the floor in Denver’s 127-115 road win over the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday reached double figures in scoring. That’s the kind of collective effort it takes to hand Milwaukee a loss on its home floor; Dallas and Miami are the only other teams to escape the Fiserv Forum with wins this season.

    The night before, Nikola Jokic led an inspired second-half surge, staving off Jordan Clarkson’s scoring barrage to beat the Jazz by a final of 106-100. There haven’t been many more impressive back-to-back wins than the Nuggets’ two-step against Utah and Milwaukee this past week, especially considering Jamal Murray, Gary Harris and Paul Millsap were on the sidelines for both games.

    We won’t penalize the exhausted Nugs for Sunday’s slip in Detroit. They built a huge first-half lead in that one and then simply ran out of gas.

    Michael Porter Jr. is a genuine rotation contributor, Jerami Grant keeps making an impact on both ends, and Jokic is taking over games on command.

    With things going so well, the Nuggets could be excused for rolling through the deadline with what they’ve got. But Malik Beasley and Juancho Hernangomez should draw interest, and it’s certainly interesting to imagine Denver adding someone like Derrick Rose or Robert Covington.

    Deadline Status: Buyer

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    Last Week: 4

    Toronto’s 11-game winning streak features just two opponents currently in playoff position, but seven of the victories came on the road. The Raptors own the league’s top net rating since Jan. 15, and all three of Fred VanVleet, Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol have been locked in from deep for several weeks.

    Unfortunately, Norman Powell’s snakebit season continued. The fractured finger he suffered in Detroit on Friday will hold him out indefinitely, the Raptors announced.

    Last year, the Raps built their roster via trades, adding Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green over the summer before bringing Marc Gasol aboard in February.

    This time around, Toronto is more likely to ride with its current personnel. Its younger assets are almost all worth keeping, and buyers may not have much interest in the expiring deals of Toronto’s veterans—Gasol and Serge Ibaka in particular. Those two are too important to Toronto’s title defense anyway.

    Deadline Status: Holder

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    Last Week: 2

    The Lakers postponed last Tuesday’s game against the Clippers as the franchise was still reeling from the death of Kobe Bryant three days prior. When L.A. took the floor against Portland on Friday, it was understandably shaky and not up to the task of slowing an inspired Damian Lillard.

    A date with the Kings on Saturday got the Lakers back on the winning side of the ledger, but it may be a while until the organization moves past the shock of Bryant’s loss.

    As for trade prospects, the Lakers reportedly couldn’t coax the Kings into swapping Bogdan Bogdanovic for Kyle Kuzma, and it’s possible asking prices for Derrick Rose and Andre Iguodala will be too high. If Iguodala secures a buyout from Memphis, bank on L.A. being the top contender to sign him.

    Deadline Status: Buyer

14 of 14

    Dylan Buell/Getty Images

    Last Week: 1

    This has to be the first time we’ve led the Bucks section with praise for anyone other than Giannis Antetokounmpo, who missed Tuesday’s game against Washington with a sore shoulder.

    But Khris Middleton’s week can’t be ignored.

    He hung 51 points on the Wizards in Tuesday’s runaway win and is nearly on track to post a 50/40/90 season with a scoring average over 20 points per game. That’s only happened five times in league history, and it’s particularly eye-catching that Middleton is getting his points in under 30 minutes per contest.

    Insofar as you can have concerns about a team on pace for 70 wins, Middleton falling just a hair short of true second-star status was one of them. Maybe we won’t hear about that so much anymore.

    The Bucks actually lost this past week, which warrants mention because they’ve only dropped seven games all season. Antetokounmpo registered 31 points, 16 rebounds and nine assists against Denver on Friday, but the Nuggets handed Milwaukee just its third home defeat of the year anyway. 

    Bogdan Bogdanovic would be a huge addition, as Eric Bledsoe’s playoff production will be suspect until he proves it isn’t. It’s unclear whether Donte DiVincenzo, a first-rounder and salary filler would be enough to get the Kings to the bargaining table, though.

    Milwaukee has no clear holes in a deep and experienced roster, but this team’s window of contention is open now. Few organizations have a clearer “buy” designation.

    Deadline Status: Buyer

    Stats courtesy of NBA.comBasketball Reference and Cleaning the Glass unless otherwise indicated. Accurate through games played Sunday, Feb. 2.

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