Battling for the East's last playoff spot

·The Vertical
Kemba Walker averages 22.5 points per game. (AP)
Kemba Walker averages 22.5 points per game. (AP)

The Vertical Front-Office Insider Bobby Marks, a former 20-year executive with the Nets, looks at each team’s roster and trade assets, as well as examining the track record of each team’s general manager during previous trade deadlines.

Previous trade guides: The title contenders | West teams pushing for playoff spot | East teams eyeing home court | Teams that shouldn’t focus on playoffs | Rebuilding teams with limited assets | Teams built through the draft | Big-market teams dealing with adversity | Playoff teams that have dealt with key injuries

A look at three teams fighting for the East’s last playoff spot as the Feb. 23 trade deadline approaches.

Player Value Insider info
1. Kemba Walker All-Star
2. Nicolas Batum Key starter
3. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist Key starter
4. Marvin Williams Starter
5. Cody Zeller Starter Poison-pill restriction
6. Frank Kaminsky Top reserve
7. Marco Belinelli Top reserve
8. Jeremy Lamb Rotation
9. Miles Plumlee Rotation
10. Ramon Sessions Rotation/injured 2017-18 team option
11. Brian Roberts Roster Expiring contract
12. Ray McCallum Roster 10-day contract
13. Christian Wood Development 2017-18 no protection
14. Treveon Graham Development 2017-18 no protection
15. Mike Tobey Development 10-day contract

Trade assets

Before the trade with Milwaukee to acquire Miles Plumlee, the Hornets had the expiring contracts of Roy Hibbert and Brian Roberts and the short-term contracts of Spencer Hawes, Jeremy Lamb, Marco Belinelli and Ramon Sessions.

Now with Hibbert and Hawes off to Milwaukee, the Hornets will be limited.

The purpose of the Milwaukee trade was two-fold.

Charlotte, a team without cap space this summer, acquired the long-term contract of Plumlee for two players that could have become free agents.

While the reasoning is sound to fortify the roster, the length of Plumlee’s contract (three years, $37.5 million) could complicate the Hornets’ cap situation in the future, especially when All-Star Kemba Walker is eligible to renegotiate his contract.

Charlotte has its own first-round pick in June and also in the future.

The Hornets also have $3.5 million in cash and their second-round pick this season.

Should be off the table

The future cap situation in Charlotte puts a premium on the Hornets retaining current and future draft picks.

Although Charlotte has 12 players under contract for next season, the Hornets’ offseason additions last July, along with the Plumlee acquisition, have Charlotte treating their draft picks as if they were free agents. They are precious commodities.

GM history at the deadline

Not including the Plumlee deal, Rich Cho has made four trades at the deadline since taking over in 2011.

Although the Courtney Lee three-team deal last year could now be deemed a short-term rental because he left for New York in the offseason, at the time the trade helped solidify the Hornets’ playoff positioning and gave Charlotte a quality starting guard without giving up much value (multiple second-round picks).

Post-trade deadline roster movement

Charlotte has 13 guaranteed contracts.

The Hornets will need to make a decision after the All-Star break on the contracts of Mike Tobey and Ray McCallum.

Both players have already signed two 10-day contracts.

Along with the minimum exception, the Hornets also have the pro-rated room mid-level exception ($2.6 million).

Player Value Insider info
1. Andre Drummond Core
2. *Tobias Harris Key starter
3. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope Key starter
4. Reggie Jackson Key starter RFA expiring contract
5. Marcus Morris Starter
6. **Jon Leuer Top reserve
7. Ish Smith Top reserve
8. Stanley Johnson Rotation/development
9. Aron Baynes Rotation 2017-18 player option
10. Boban Marjanovic Roster
11. Reggie Bullock Roster RFA expiring contract
12. Beno Udrih Roster Expiring contract
13. Henry Ellenson Development
14. Darrun Hilliard Development 2017-18 no protection
15. Michael Gbinije Development 2017-18 $500,000 protection
*Comes off the bench but roster value is that of a top starter.
**Currently starting but roster value is best coming off the bench.

Draft assets

Could the Pistons follow the script from last February and trade a first-round pick at the deadline?

While the Donatas Motiejunas trade was eventually voided because of health concerns, Pistons management proved they were willing to risk draft picks in exchange for a young player with upside that had a controllable contract even if Motiejunas eventually would be a restricted free agent.

A year later, the Pistons face a different situation.

Though Detroit has a tenuous hold on the last playoff spot, a summer of spending has left the Pistons with limited roster flexibility.

Holding on to current and future draft assets is imperative.

The Pistons have their own future first-round picks, but have traded their 2017, 2019 and 2020 second-round picks in previous deals.

The Pistons need to figure out what they want to do with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. (AP)
The Pistons need to figure out what they want to do with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. (AP)

The proactive approach

The approach at the deadline should not only be about improving the team for a playoff run but also about keeping an eye toward free agency.

The Pistons’ best approach is to check the temperature on soon-to-be restricted free agent Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.

The Pistons with, $96 million in guaranteed contracts next season, could see that payroll swell to $120 million if Caldwell-Pope’s future salary is commensurate with last summer’s signings.

Though the former lottery pick has been inconsistent, an average shooting-guard market could see Caldwell-Pope become an attractive piece.

The challenge in entertaining trade offers for Caldwell-Pope is that the Pistons will not have suitable cap space to replace him unless a shooting guard is acquired.

There is also the track record of restricted free agents with agent Rich Paul, who represents Caldwell-Pope.

Paul, known in league circles as a tough negotiator, is not afraid to hold out free agents like he did with Eric Bledsoe in 2014 and Tristan Thompson in 2015. Bledsoe signed right before training camp started and Thompson days before the regular season tipped off.

GM history at the deadline

Two consecutive Februarys have seen Jeff Bower make a franchise-altering trade.

In 2015, Detroit acquired point guard Reggie Jackson in a three-team, seven-player trade with Oklahoma City and Utah.

Jackson, a backup for Oklahoma City, became the Pistons’ starting point guard and signed a five-year, $80 million contract five months later.

While the Jackson trade added a missing piece to the Pistons’ roster, the acquisition of Tobias Harris last February proved to be beneficial on the court and from a cost standpoint.

Signed to a long-term contract by Orlando in 2015, Harris, 24, was traded for an expiring contract in Brandon Jennings and rotational big Ersan Ilyasova.

Harris has been a staple in the Pistons’ lineup, starting 63 out of a possible 78 games.

Though head coach Stan Van Gundy is in charge of basketball operations, Bower is the point person when it comes to putting the Pistons’ roster together.

Post-trade deadline roster movement

The Pistons have 15 guaranteed contracts. They also have the pro-rated room exception.

Player Value Insider info
1. Giannis Antetokounmpo Franchise Poison-pill restriction
2. Jabari Parker Core/injured
3. Khris Middleton Key starter
4. *Greg Monroe Starter
5. **Malcolm Brogdon Top reserve/development
6. **Tony Snell Top reserve RFA expiring contract
7. **Michael Beasley Top reserve Expiring contract
8. **John Henson Top reserve
9. Mirza Teletovic Rotation
10. Matthew Dellavedova Rotation
11. Thon Maker Rotation/development
12. Rashad Vaughn Rotation/development
13. Spencer Hawes Roster 2017-18 player option
14. Jason Terry Roster Expiring contract
15. Roy Hibbert Roster Expiring contract
*Comes off the bench but his roster value is that of a starter
**Has started this season but is best suited coming off the bench.

Jabari Parker’s injury was a terrible break for the Bucks. (AP)
Jabari Parker’s injury was a terrible break for the Bucks. (AP)

Ride out the storm

The Milwaukee Bucks have dealt with serious adversity when it comes to injures.

From Khris Middleton’s hamstring surgery before the preseason began to Jabari Parker’s recent season-ending knee injury, Milwaukee has faced an uphill battle throughout the season.

Since the Middleton injury in September, Milwaukee has been able to acquire stopgaps (Michael Beasley and Tony Snell) without risking future assets. Now it must do the same with Parker.

The Bucks do have their own (and future) first-round picks.

However, like many teams that spent money last summer and have limited flexibility, Milwaukee will need to put a high premium on retaining current and future draft picks.

GM history at the deadline

John Hammond is no stranger to pulling off a blockbuster trade.

Hammond, hired as general manager in 2008, has made six different trades at the deadline, not including the recent acquisition of Spencer Hawes and Roy Hibbert from Charlotte.

Perhaps the two big trades in recent memory occurred with Milwaukee trying to make the playoffs.

In 2013 with Milwaukee hovering right at .500, the Bucks acquired free agent-to-be J.J. Redick from Orlando for former first-round pick Tobias Harris.

Milwaukee made the playoffs but was swept by the Heat, and Redick joined the Clippers in the off-season as part of a sign-and-trade.

Two years later, Milwaukee acquired former Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams along with Miles Plumlee and Tyler Ennis as part of a three-team trade with Philadelphia and Phoenix. With restricted free agency on the horizon, starting point guard Brandon Knight was moved to the Suns in the deal.

One thing is for sure: Milwaukee has not been afraid to retool their roster during the middle of the season.

Post-trade deadline roster movement

Milwaukee has 15 guaranteed contracts.

Keep an eye on Hibbert if Milwaukee needs to create an open roster spot.

Hibbert is in the last year of his contract and has been inactive since being acquired.

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