The Ringer’s 2019 NBA trade deadline live blog will keep tabs on the latest news, trades, rumors, premonitions, and everything else in between leading up to the deadline at noon PT on February 7. Check back for the latest from around the league.
The Short List of Teams That Have to Do Something, Anything
January 14, 3:30 a.m. PT
Justin Verrier: Are you happy with your parity? Great. I’m glad. Because as fun as this prolonged leapfrog down the Western Conference schedule has been, it may have cost us what we actually tune into the NBA for: the rumor-mongering. We’re less than four weeks out from the trade deadline and it’s nothing but scuttlebutt tumbleweeds. HoopsHype is bone-dry. Twitter is nothing but SLOB GIFs. And your favorite news-breaker is still trying to figure out whether the Warriors lost their 15th-best player through legal means.
The longer the West playoff chase remains 14 teams deep, the fewer clear-cut sellers we’ll have before the February 7 buzzer and the harder the tried-and-true equation for an agreement (your future assets for my veteran player) becomes. But some teams don’t have the luxury of sitting out, no matter how difficult the environment for making a deal may be. Here are six that must do something over the next few weeks to save their season (or their GM’s job).
Boston Celtics: If Kyrie Irving is going to IRL subtweet his teammates like LeBron, he has to do a better job of covering his tracks. After freaking out on his coach and his teammates for not giving him the last shot in Saturday’s loss to the Orlando Magic, Irving blamed “experience.” The players on the court with Irving for the final possession? Al Horford (12th year), Gordon Hayward (ninth), Marcus Morris (eighth) … and Jayson Tatum (second). Quite the mystery. There’s something off about this Celtics team, and I’m not sure that Irving has the proper essential oil diffuser to fix it. We’re not at the point where we need to start talking about breaking up the core—although, a quick reminder: Horford is 32 years old and able to opt out this summer, Hayward is still playing below replacement level, and one of their more reliable players just shoved a teammate in the huddle—but is there anything stopping Danny Ainge from sacrificing Terry Rozier and/or one of those many first-round picks for the greater good?
Philadelphia 76ers: Everything is fine.
New Orleans Pelicans: The cold-blooded move would be to accept the inevitable fate of the Anthony Davis saga and use the extra half-season for which Davis is under contract to the franchise’s advantage, like the Utah Jazz once did with Deron Williams. That almost certainly won’t happen—the Celtics can’t get in the mix until Irving’s deal is reworked; the Pelicans, despite a brutal schedule on the horizon, are just getting healthy; and there’s just a slight difference between Deron and Davis. It’s also not the organization’s style: The Pelicans have dealt all but one of their own first-round picks for immediate help since drafting Davis, and they traded that player (Buddy Hield, selected sixth overall in 2016) at the next deadline along with their next first. GM Dell Demps has nearly all of the club’s future picks burning a hole in his pocket; the questions are which weakness he’ll choose to address, and how many picks he’s willing to sacrifice six months (or less) out from when they’ll be forced to finally confront Davis’s long-term plans.
Sacramento Kings: Vlade Divac may be holding one of the best hands at the deadline, whether he intended for it to end up that way or not. Because the Kings can’t get anyone to take their money, they still have $11 million in cap space to burn. (Every other team, even the Phoenix Suns, is operating above the cap.) That means Sacramento can either take back a helpful player with a burdensome salary (Enes Kanter? Otto Porter Jr.?) to aid its first playoff push in 13 years, or eat salary (Tim Hardaway Jr.?) to replenish its draft coffers. Has Vlade become Bizarro Hinkie?! I don’t know how we got here, and I’m afraid for us all.
Detroit Pistons: Imagine going into debt to put a new engine into the Honda Civic you’ve had since high school. That’s basically what the Pistons did last year, when they improbably mortgaged the future for Blake Griffin. It didn’t work. Detroit is just a half-game outside of the playoff cut, with a point differential (minus-2.8, ninth-best in the East) that only reaffirms their predicament. It has $96.5 million committed next season to Griffin, Andre Drummond, Reggie Jackson, Jon Leuer, and Langston Galloway. On the bright side, it also has all of its future firsts. Trade for literally anyone.
Washington Wizards: I don’t know whether the Wizards are good or bad anymore, and I’m pretty sure their future is fraught regardless, but the special kind of cap hell that they find themselves in is a result of one of the laziest blueprints in recent memory—maxing out top draft picks until you can’t afford to—provides a certain kind of clarity. For the length of John Wall’s supermax extension, the franchise becomes one long episode of The Leftovers: What does Ernie Grunfeld do if there’s nothing left to hope for? Whatever he decides, it will likely involve forking over a first-round pick.