Welcome to the NBA trade deadline, where rosters are reshaped and franchises change direction. The NBA trade deadline is like no other – almost every year, we bear witness to seismic shifts across the NBA landscape. In recent years, we’ve seen names like Kevin Durant and James Harden find new homes, along with a litany of role players and draft picks. The deadline poses an opportunity for every team, whether they’re stockpiling assets for the future or cashing in to contend. What a team does, or doesn’t do, will have reverberating effects going both immediately and going forward. With that being said, here are the five teams that are facing the most uncertain deadlines heading into the NBA trade deadline on Thursday.
NBA Trade Deadline: Five Teams Facing A Make-Or-Break Day
The path forward for Philadelphia seemed a whole lot simpler before superstar and presumptive MVP Joel Embiid tore his meniscus on January 30. Now, they face an uncertain future, both this season and longer-term. Prior to the injury, this looked like an all-in, championship-or-bust season for the 76ers. Breakout star Tyrese Maxey will hit restricted free agency this offseason, and his status combined with Embiid’s age (almost 30) and extensive injury history had put pressure on Philly to win this season. Now, Embiid’s murky status makes this deadline puzzling; do the Sixers go all-in and bank on Embiid’s immediate health? Or, do they hold serve and risk losing their best chance at contention before Maxey signs a much larger contract? It’s not an especially enviable question for GM Daryl Morey to answer, and there’s no apparent solution.
Los Angeles Lakers
As it always does, the buzz around what the Lakers will do or will not do has risen to a din. Having LeBron James on any roster comes with the expectation of contention, and this year’s Lakers have not met that expectation. They sit at ninth in the Western Conference, and they face pressure to improve with LeBron’s potential free agency looming. The conundrum with the Lakers is not so much if they should contend as it is if they need outside help to do so. This same roster was in a similar position at last season’s NBA trade deadline and ended up in the Western Conference Finals.
Do they need help? Prime trade candidate D’Angelo Russell has seemingly played himself out of trade talks, averaging nearly 24 and 8 over his last 11 games, and Austin Reaves has come to life. James and Anthony Davis are getting healthy, and the Lakers are likely to move up the Western Conference standings. Is it worth mortgaging their future to try and entice a 40-year-old LeBron to stick around? Are they comfortable with the current level of talent on the roster? Even if they aren’t, can they realistically acquire someone to put them over the top?
The Mavericks are in a similar position to the Lakers in that their star power comes with expectations. Unlike L.A., they’ve been competitive throughout the year, and their timeline is longer due to the youth of Luka Doncic. However, a player like Luka still brings a good bit of pressure to win now. The idea that Doncic might request a trade grows ever likelier if Dallas flounders in the playoffs.
What can the Mavs do? Dallas has reportedly been in the market for a versatile big man to spell Grant Williams, and they’ll be in the market for a defensive-minded wing. Moving anything major is out of the question, but Dallas shouldn’t let that deter them from making a move. Are they a piece away from championship contention? Probably not. Should they show Luka they’re serious about competing? Probably. Letting a player like Luka Doncic grow disgruntled is dangerous, and the Mavs can make additions around the edges to try and keep him happy. They should search for any minor upgrades they can find before the NBA trade deadline on Thursday.
The Hawks are unlike the teams we’ve already discussed because their chances of contending this year are about zero. Atlanta is in a weird spot where their previous rebuild should’ve paid dividends, but it hasn’t; their young, talented roster sits tenth in the East. They aren’t good, but they are loaded with trade chips. Dejounte Murray is one of the most sought-after players on the market, and Saddiq Bey, Deandre Hunter, and Bogdan Bogdanovic are all semi-attractive pieces.
The question in Atlanta is not whether to sell – it’s how much to sell. It’s hard to imagine the fanbase being thrilled with another full-scale rebuild, but maintaining the status quo is unacceptable. Is it reasonable for general manager Landry Fields to start a fire sale? Should he entertain the idea of shipping everybody? Should he stand pat and pray for internal development? Will a Godfather offer come in for Trae Young? The next 24 hours before the NBA trade deadline will dictate a lot of Atlanta’s future.
Golden State Warriors
I’d be remiss not to include the disappointing Warriors. There simply isn’t a realistic trade out there that shifts the Warriors’ 2024 outlook in any meaningful manner. Steph Curry and Draymond Green aren’t going anywhere, and Klay Thompson’s performance has been so poor that it’s hard to envision anybody trading for him. The major question mark here is Andrew Wiggins, who’s been inconsistent at best and damaging at worst. It’s very possible that the mediocre, tax-riddled Warriors try to move his hefty contract (4/110m) to get some cap relief. Look out for the Pistons – they were in on Zach LaVine before his season-ending surgery amidst rumors they were looking for any way to avoid the infamy of the worst record in NBA history.
Trades aren’t necessary here, and it wouldn’t be unreasonable for Golden State to do nothing. However, pressure will be on in the Bay for the team to show some semblance of direction after a rudderless season. It’s almost unthinkable that the Warriors would pivot to a full rebuild in the middle of a season. However, cutting costs and expediting the transition between old and new has a real chance to be on the agenda.