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another ranking? ANOTHER RANKING.
4. Oklahoma City Thunder
As I outlined in my “Buy, Sell or Hold?” primer, this is more wishful thinking than rooted in reality:
“Limited matching salary is one issue. Roster-spot limbo is another. The Thunder project to have one open slot this summer, which they will fill with their own first-round pick or the Clippers’ selection. They’re unlikely to complicate that.” situation—especially with so many additional firsts coming their way after this year.
The Thunder have a $10.2 million trade exception, plenty of second-rounders to which they needn’t be attached and at least one or two dispensable players. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is tracking toward All-NBA honors, and play-in territory is within reach. This might be a team that replicates the competitive landscape by adding talent rather than standing pat.
3. Utah Jazz
Now that their hot start has settled into a tepid reality, the Jazz are expected to act like sellers at the trade deadline, according to NBA reporter Marc Stein.
Counterpoint: What if they don’t?
Indeed, the Jazz might move Mike Conley or Jarred Vanderbilt or Malik Beasley. But what if it’s part of a buy rather than a sales gig? Or what if they just scoop up a quality player at his nadir like John Collins? They could target reinforcements on the wing in Josh Hart, Cam Reddish or Jae’Sean Tate.
Ponying up for a blockbuster is most likely off the table. But don’t be surprised if Utah optionally buys without shedding any of its core players.
2. Indiana Pacers
Tyrese Haliburton’s absence with knee and elbow issues should nudge the Pacers into sellers territory. With the exception of last season, though, they’ve never been that team. And even amid their 0-for-6-streak sans Hali, they remain close enough to the East’s playoff bracket to keep on Pacers-ing.
Basically, you have to ask yourself, what’s more on-brand for them: Finally, at long last, shipping out Myles Turner? Or keeping him, potentially renegotiating and extending him and leveraging some combination of their $27-plus million in cap space, 2023 first-rounders from Boston (top-12 protection) and Cleveland (lottery protection) and maaaybe Chris Duarte into a John Collins, Obi Toppin, PJ Washington, Patrick Williams, Jae’Sean Tate, etc.?
1. Toronto Raptors
The Raptors appearing in both the “surprise sellers” and “surprise buyers” sections is a perfect encapsulation of their season, when you really think about it.
Toronto teardowns get discussed waaay more often than this alternative. That probably has something to do with the complete absence of sellers hawking title-tilting talent. But if the Raptors have so many of those players in OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Gary Trent Jr. and Fred VanVleet, they could theoretically buy.
Quadrupling down on this season would be quite the gamble and not in character for team president Masai Ujiri. That’s fine. The current trade market isn’t conducive to monster moves. But the Raptors have all their own picks and a handful of easy-on-the-gullet salaries. They are stocked enough to beef up their shot creation, functional shooting and overall depth—and still, at this moment, close enough to the East’s playoff fracas to believe any upgrades, at all, can make a world of difference.
Unless otherwise noted, stats courtesy of NBA.com, Basketball Reference, Stathead or Cleaning the Glass and accurate entering Tuesday’s games. Salary information via Spotrac.