The NBA trade deadline, which comes our way on Thursday, got a whole lot more interesting on Sunday night when the New Orleans Pelicans acquired DeMarcus Cousins. Well, stole Cousins is a more accurate term, because people have gone to jail for far smaller acts of thievery than the Pelicans pulled off in that stunner. They proved that any team can be a buyer in the NBA if they are presented with a deal that is good enough - and getting a Top 15 NBA player while giving up a 23-year-old rookie who isn't developing quickly, a very replaceable veteran and a first- and second-round pick is a deal any team would take. Even more ridiculous, that first-round pick is Top 3 protected, so if New Orleans doesn't make the playoffs and somehow does well in the lottery they don't even lose the pick. I still shake my head every time I think about it.
The Cousins deal has to force us to reconsider everything we thought we knew about the market heading into this deadline. Cousins obviously has his issues, and a lot of teams probably didn't want him in their locker room. The Celtics, Wizards, Nuggets and others, though, could have beaten the New Orleans offer without even breaking a sweat. So, either Cousins is that toxic or the trade market isn't as lively as people seem to think. I tend to think it's Cousins that was the issue here. Boston and Washington both know they have an opportunity in the East with the Kevin Love injury, and they also know that Toronto has already fired their shot and gotten solidly better by acquiring Serge Ibaka. Can either team afford to stand still? And the West isn't rock solid as it is, so teams will be looking to move as well.
So, who are the biggest potential buyers in the next three days? Here are five:
Boston Celtics: This goes without saying. The team has a very solid core and a world-class point guard. They have plenty of young players that could be attractive to others, and they aren't married to them. And they have done a very good job of building up draft assets in recent years that they can use now if they choose. They almost can't afford not to make a deal right now. And that could be part of the problem - people know they are looking, so they aren't going to be in any hurry to offer a bargain. The Celtics have been in Jimmy Butler discussions for so long that it's getting harder to believe that a deal will be made - especially because Chicago knows they could easily face Boston in the first round of the playoffs. Still, he's a perfect fit for Boston, and they can offer a lot of value to Chicago, so it is very possible to see this, or a similar deal, happen. It would feel like a failure on behalf of management if this team isn't noticeably improved by deadline day.
Washington Wizards: After some red-hot play of late the Wizards have gone from afterthought to legitimate contenders in the East. Their backcourt duo seems to have dealt with their personal feelings and learned to play together better than ever, Otto Porter Jr. has matured dramatically, and there are a lot of pieces. They, too, could use another piece, though. They don't have as much to offer as Boston, but in guys like Andrew Nicholson, Markieff Morris and Kelly Oubre they have either players or contracts that teams could like, and they have their first-round pick this year, too. If Boston makes a move, or is clearly going to, then the odds of Washington making a move increase exponentially - and vice versa.
L.A. Clippers: The Clippers are stuck in a no man's land - better than most teams but not good enough to beat the best teams in the West. They either have to accept their fate or make a bold move to try to improve. There has been plenty of buzz both around some more modest options and the full nuclear approach - trading Blake Griffin and rebuilding the look of this team entirely. I personally favor that approach, but only if the value they receive in return is massive. It's less certain that the Clippers will make a deal than the first two on this list, but they are in play.
Denver Nuggets: The Nuggets are in an odd spot. They have the same problem as the Clippers but even more so. They have been rumored in pretty much every deal that is out there. They were players in the Cousins deal, apparently. They liked Ibaka. They are considering dealing leading scorer Danilo Gallinari for the right price. They've flirted with Boston and the Clippers. They seem like they are itching to do something, and they have the assets and flexibility to make things very interesting. They seem to realize that they are doing a lot of things right but that they aren't going anywhere meaningful in any hurry as they currently sit. That's a recipe for potential fireworks.
Philadelphia 76ers: This team doesn't fit the mold of a typical buyer - they aren't a playoff team. They have two big men they are willing to move, though, as well as a core they are happy to build around, and they have almost limitless cap space next year. They aren't nearly as fearless as they were under the prior management regime, but they are in a position of strength, and they have one massive advantage - they don't need to do anything right now, so they can sit back and wait for the perfect deal. It would be far from shocking to see them drive the market in a big way leading up to the deadline, however.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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