2020 NBA trade deadline: Western Conference buyers and sellers

In the Western Conference, things are so condensed in the standings that 14 teams are still within striking distance of the playoffs. Only five games separate the Memphis Grizzlies in eighth place and the Sacramento Kings in 14th place. That makes adding, or subtracting, talent a bigger gamble than usual when it comes to playoff aspirations.

In the East buyers and sellers analysis, we broke down the landscape of the league.

At every trade deadline, each team sorts into one of four categories:

  • Buyers: Teams actively looking to add pieces

  • Sellers: Teams actively looking to trade players for future assets

  • Either: Teams that have some pieces to sell, but will buy in the right deal

  • Neither: Teams that will just sit out the deadline and do their work in the summer

Let’s break it all down.

Dallas Mavericks: Buyers. The Mavs haven’t made the playoffs since 2016. After being in the postseason for 15 of the previous 16 seasons before that, this feels like an epic drought. Dallas is always aggressive, but tends to do so with an eye on the future as well as any sort of short-term upgrades. Look for the Mavs to target players who can help this year, but are also under contract for the next couple of seasons. Three-and-D wings and combo forwards are the biggest needs.

Denver Nuggets' Nikola Jokic controls the ball against Minnesota Timberwolves' Shabazz Napier in the first half of an NBA basketball game Monday, Jan. 20, 2020, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Stacy Bengs)
Does Nikola Jokic need a true No. 2 star alongside him? (AP Photo/Stacy Bengs)

Denver Nuggets: Buyers. Denver has a bit of a “Why not us?” feel when it comes to talk about being an NBA Finals contender. The Nuggets have Nikola Jokic, supplemented by a deep roster of good players. They are missing that true second star to pair with Jokic, but that’s more of an offseason type of trade to make. If Denver can add another wing shooter, it’ll do it. Keep an eye on the Nuggets flipping Malik Beasley and/or Juan Hernangomez in any deal. Both players are only occasionally in the rotation, are restricted free agents this summer and Denver’s roster is already getting pricey.

Golden State Warriors: Neither. The Warriors certainly aren’t buyers, as they’re the one West team that has no shot at a playoff run. They don’t really have any interesting pieces to sell off either. Maybe one of the veterans could get them a second-round pick or a major project, but that’s about it. It’s usually been a quiet trade deadline for Golden State because it was loaded with talent. It’s for different reasons this time around, but the activity level projects to be about the same.

Houston Rockets: Buyers. GM Daryl Morey is constantly on the lookout for ways to upgrade his roster. This time around he’s got quite the challenge to find help. After the NBA and NBPA agreed that Nene’s deal violated the spirit of the CBA, and the Rockets locked him in at his base salary of $2.5 million, one of the Rockets’ major trade chips was off the table. That leaves Morey with only a collection of minimum and barely above minimum deals to use in trades. Because of this, Houston will engage in all sorts of trade talks, but nothing is likely to get done. However, look for the Rockets to be active on the buyout market.

Los Angeles Clippers: Buyers. The Clippers will look to add talent, as this team is a clear title contender. If L.A. can upgrade the starting center spot, that’s the place to start. L.A. could put together a couple of their bigger deals (Maurice Harkless, JaMychal Green, Rodney McGruder or Ivica Zubac) to make a play to add talent around the core group. Barring that, the Clips are another West contender that will do some work during buyout season.

Los Angeles Lakers: Buyers. The Lakers have rolled to the best record in the Western Conference, but are still heavily reliant on their top-end talent. When LeBron James or Anthony Davis has missed time, a roster full of role players looks a lot shakier. Los Angeles will get involved on any available player. The challenge for Rob Pelinka is that several of his players have de facto no-trade clauses because they are on what amounts to one-year deals with Bird Rights. That makes trading a little harder because none of those veterans is likely to be very happy with any trade that takes him away from a potential Finals team, and thus could block the deal.

Memphis Grizzlies: Buyers. This one is a stunner. Almost everyone projected the Grizzlies to be one of the worst teams in the league. Instead, Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. have skipped right past the development stage and put Memphis in the playoff picture. The Grizzlies have a few good-sized expiring contracts (Solomon Hill, Andre Iguodala and Josh Jackson) that they could use to bring in talent. Memphis also has a whole bunch of cap space this summer. With a weak free-agent class, the Grizzlies may choose to use that space via trade right now, while bolstering the playoff push.

Minnesota Timberwolves: Either. Minnesota has hung around the edges of the playoff race despite injuries to just about every meaningful contributor on its roster. The main guys (Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and the rookie-scale players) aren’t going anywhere. Everyone else? The Wolves will listen. On the flip side, Minnesota has been linked to D’Angelo Russell for a while now. Russell and Towns are good friends and are rumored to have talked about teaming up. Many believe the Warriors will move Russell this summer, as they reposition themselves around a healthy Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. If so, the Wolves could try to get a jump on things by swinging a deal for Russell by the deadline.

New Orleans Pelicans: Neither. The Pelicans have weathered the storm of Zion Williamson being out all season, along with a multitude of injuries to other key rotation players. The team is now finally healthy, with Williamson poised to debut on Wednesday. Team vice president David Griffin is always tinkering and looking for both short- and long-term upgrades, but it feels like he’d like to get a look at this roster fully healthy. Considering the team is just outside of the playoff picture, that’s the prudent path.

Oklahoma City Thunder: Either. Oklahoma City has made a surprising playoff run. It’s in the seventh spot in the West and is a good bet to stick there because of its current four-game lead over the eighth seed. But that doesn’t mean the Thunder are going all-in on this season. GM Sam Presti doesn’t operate that way. If there is a deal that makes sense for the Thunder long term, he’ll do it. If there is a deal that helps for this year, but doesn’t hurt the team’s flexibility moving forward, he’ll do it. OKC is in a different position from almost every other team. It’s good right now, but the future is even brighter. That makes it hard to know exactly what it’ll do at the deadline.

Phoenix Suns: Neither. Oh, the Suns. This season started with so much promise. It looked like Phoenix might actually snap its nine-year playoff drought. Then Deandre Ayton got suspended, several key players got injured and the Suns fell off. They’re still within striking distance, but it’s going to be a tough mountain to climb. That puts GM James Jones in a tough spot. The Suns would love to make the postseason, but they can’t sacrifice the future to gamble on making a difficult run at the playoffs. If Jones can move Tyler Johnson’s expiring contract for a player that can help now and is under contract going forward, he’ll do it. Beyond that, what you see is what you get for Phoenix.

Portland Trail Blazers: Neither. Portland is kind of stuck. It’s fighting for the playoffs, but has so many injuries, it’s hard to predict where this season will go. If the Blazers had confidence that Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins would both be back this season, the Blazers could trade Hassan Whiteside and his expiring contract for help. But if either of the injured big men can’t make it back, then Portland could be left without a viable center option. The Trail Blazers will most likely stand pat at the deadline and do their work over the summer.

Sacramento Kings: Either. The Kings looked left for dead after a terrible start to the season. Then they started to roll. Then everyone got hurt. They’re getting healthy now and hanging in the playoff race. VP Vlade Divac is no stranger to making moves around the deadline, so he won’t hesitate to pull the trigger again. If Sacramento can upgrade talent around its young core, it’ll do it. Keep an eye on Dewayne Dedmon as the swing piece in trade talks involving the Kings. He wants out and his contract would go a long way toward matching salary in a trade.

San Antonio Spurs: Neither. The Spurs never do anything at the trade deadline. This could be copy and pasted from year to year. Barring a drastic change, the Spurs are what they are.

Utah Jazz: Neither. Utah already made its move to shore up the bench by acquiring Jordan Clarkson. Now, it’s about getting Mike Conley healthy and figuring out its eventual playoff rotation. Maybe if a stretch big becomes available on the cheap, the Jazz will get involved. But past history tells us that VP Dennis Lindsey does his work early and quietly before anyone expects anything. That’s likely to hold true again this year.

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