NBA Power Rankings: Cavs climb into top five; trade deadline thoughts for each team


It’s trade deadline week! We’ve already seen some big-time moves this season, but what happens between now and Thursday’s trade deadline?

Let’s discuss whether each team will make a move and whether it should make a move. Not to mention, we will flawlessly rank all the teams without anybody disagreeing!

And then, as always, we’ll flawlessly rank all 30 teams.

Reminder: The Power Rankings don’t just rank the 30 teams. We divide these teams into tiers, which teams can move in and out of. We currently have the tiers broken into seven new categories:

  • Incomprehensibly bad – These guys are historically inept right now.
  • Not tanking but maybe someday — They haven’t started tanking yet, but it’s on the table this season.
  • Looking to make the Play-In — They’ve been rebuilding/retooling and think they can crack the top 10 in their respective conference.
  • Play-In Tournament teams or better — They should be in the mix unless something disastrous happens.
  • Playoff teams — Probably don’t have to worry about dropping down to the Play-In Tournament.
  • On the brink of contention — A piece away from us believing they can win the title.
  • Contenders — They are contending for the championship, barring a massive injury.

As always, I am sure we will all agree on the placement of all 30 teams, especially your favorite team.

Here’s how the Power Rankings work:

  • It’s up to my discretion how the rankings shake out. For some teams, they’ll be hit in the short term. Others will be given the benefit for the long term. Yes, it is entirely subjective.
  • If I have a team ahead of another team, there’s no reason to ask why they’re ranked above the team you like. The answer is pretty simple: I think that team is set up better for success.
  • Yes, I watch the games. And yes, I watch your favorite team.
  • This is supposed to be fun, so let’s have fun.

With all that said, let’s dive into Week 16 of The Athletic’s NBA Power Rankings. Stats and records are through Monday’s action.


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Tier 1 – The Contenders

Do you expect a deal? I do not. The Clippers already made their in-season splash with the Harden deal. They’ve shown this group is pretty elite already and has plenty of depth at almost every position. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are the foundation, so the Clippers just need them healthy.

Should they make a deal? It doesn’t totally make sense, unless they think they can dangle Terance Mann for an upgrade at his position. Maybe they feel they can move P.J. Tucker for something? I think they have enough size, but any additions they make likely happen via the buyout market.

Offensive Rating

120.3 (2nd tied)

Defensive Rating

114.0 (13th)

Western

Tier 1 – The Contenders

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Do you expect a deal? I don’t really expect the Celtics to make a move. I know they have some assets they can send out, but the Celtics seem pretty comfortable with their system and players they have for it. Boston is dominating most teams this season, nearing a double-digit net rating weekly. I think Brad Stevens plays it cool here.

Should they make a deal? I think they need a little bit of depth — either a forward who can play some center or just one more bit of depth that turns their top six into a top seven. Would someone like Tucker be available and gettable for them? Wouldn’t someone like him be a good backup for Kristaps Porziņģis and Al Horford? Maybe the Celtics find an addition in the buyout market.

Offensive Rating

120.3 (2nd tied)

Defensive Rating

110.6 (2nd tied)

Eastern

Tier 1 – The Contenders

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Do you expect a deal? Is it even possible to expect anything with a Sam Presti team? The Thunder are one of the most tight-lipped organizations in sports. Figuring out how active they might be at the deadline is impossible. I don’t expect them to make any major changes because they’re playing with house money right now.

Should they make a deal? I still want to see them acquire some more size to have Nikola Jokić lean against in a potential playoff series. But the Thunder seem to want to check out if this young core with this particular way of playing can find grand success in its first playoff journey. This team is talented enough to do it.

Offensive Rating

119.3 (5th)

Defensive Rating

111.2 (4th)

Western

Tier 1 – The Contenders

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Do you expect a deal? Not really. The Nuggets are probably fine, as long as they’re healthy. They have good depth, even with young guys who might be totally ready for big playoff minutes. Denver has been cruising through the regular season, for the most part, and look how deadly it remains. The Nuggets have other gears to reach, so that probably means they don’t need to make a move.

Should they make a deal? I wouldn’t. This is still the team to beat in the West. And even with as dominant as Boston has looked most of this season, Denver could be the team to beat in the entire league. Running it back with this exact roster makes a lot of sense.

Offensive Rating

118.1 (8th)

Defensive Rating

113.7 (11th)

Western

Tier 1 – The Contenders

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Tier 2 – Brink of Contention

Do you expect a deal? I do not. Maybe there’s a minor move they can make for a piece in the backend of Cleveland’s rotation, but it’s on fire and getting healthy. The Cavs get a chance to see how much their moves from this past summer cured what ailed them in the previous postseason.

Should they make a deal? Absolutely not. The Cavs are rolling right now and have no need to disrupt what’s happening. They probably still want to wait and see what happens with the healthy version of this group in the postseason. Cleveland making any major swings after this run wouldn’t make much sense.

Offensive Rating

115.7 (15th)

Defensive Rating

110.6 (2nd tied)

Eastern

Tier 2 – Brink of Contention

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Do you expect a deal? I do. There’s a lot of scuttlebutt about Tyus Jones possibly being a target for the Wolves, but they don’t have any first-round picks to deal. I think it shows they want another confident playmaker to bring off the bench. They need someone who doesn’t turn the ball over to add depth to the rotation.

Should they make a deal? Yes, they should. I love the idea of targeting Jones and trying to re-sign him in the summer as the starting point guard. The Wolves have a chance to match their deepest playoff run in franchise history (WCF in 2004). They don’t have much to trade other than a grip of second-round picks. But the West might be more open than we assume.

Offensive Rating

114.1 (19th)

Defensive Rating

108.2 (1st)

Western

Tier 2 – Brink of Contention

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Do you expect a deal? I kind of do. And I’m not sure they need it. The Knicks have been on a tear since acquiring Anunoby, and now they’re trying to figure out how to weather the storm until Julius Randle’s shoulder is healthy. New York is still very involved in some trade rumors and potentially trying to bring another playmaker into the backcourt. I want to see the Knicks be aggressive here.

Should they make a deal? I think they need some backcourt depth. Donte DiVincenzo has stepped up his play lately, but he’s not really a playmaker. He’s shown to be more of a scorer. Losing Immanuel Quickley for Anunoby left them without their reliable backup guard, although they could stagger things and make sure Quentin Grimes and Miles McBride get more run.

Offensive Rating

118.0 (9th)

Defensive Rating

112.0 (6th)

Eastern

Tier 2 – Brink of Contention

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Do you expect a deal? Not really. There are rumors they’re trying to pull off some things for another difference-maker, but the Bucks don’t have a lot of ways to make a deal right now. They’re still figuring things out with Doc Rivers taking over the sidelines, and I’m not sure how they even dangle a marginal role player for a good return without draft picks to utilize here.

Should they make a deal? No, because they have to figure out if there is a way to make this group work before they break it up. And then, you’re breaking up by moving a star or a significant role player. I’m not convinced they are the top destination for the buyout market guys, but that’s their most realistic route for improvement.

Offensive Rating

119.9 (4th)

Defensive Rating

116.4 (19th)

Eastern

Tier 2 – Brink of Contention

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Tier 3 – Playoff Teams

Do you expect a deal? I really don’t. I love this Pelicans roster and think its depth is really necessary, even for the postseason, when rotations typically get shorter. The Pelicans’ biggest problem has been injuries and not having on-court continuity. Disrupting what’s been a pretty successful season so far doesn’t make a ton of sense to me.

Should they make a deal? No. If the Pelicans decide this group doesn’t work long-term after a postseason dud, then go make changes in the summer, starting around the deal frenzy that is the draft. Maybe they decide Zion Williamson isn’t the star of the future for them. Or maybe they decide a different way to build around him. Either way, wait to see how they do in the playoffs.

Offensive Rating

117.3 (12th)

Defensive Rating

112.8 (8th)

Western

Tier 3 – Playoff Teams

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Do you expect a deal? I do not. Maybe they can pull off some kind of deal for a player on a smaller contract – something in the sub-$10 million range for annual salary. But really, the Suns don’t have much to trade at all. They simply have the group they believed would rise above any roster restrictions a big three would create for them.

Should they make a deal? Not really because, again, they just don’t have much to offer. I’d keep trying to build continuity with the roster, as much as that can exist. Their season will hinge on Kevin Durant, Devin Booker and Bradley Beal being healthy in the postseason and the problems that creates for their opponents. Just wait for the buyout market.

Offensive Rating

118.2 (7th)

Defensive Rating

115.3 (16th)

Western

Tier 3 – Playoff Teams

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Do you expect a deal? I think the Kings will be active, but I’m not sure what’s out there for them to pull off. As I wrote in this space a while ago, Anunoby was a target I hoped they would have landed. Obviously, he’s on the Knicks now. For this Kings squad, I can see them making more of some minor tweaks with backend of the rotation, rather than any significant swing.

Should they make a deal? They have a lot of movable parts if they want to shake things up and try to improve the roster. However, the Kings are having a really good season, and we’re seeing them in a great groove recently. Sacramento can stand pat and feel good about its chances in the postseason.

Offensive Rating

116.6 (14th)

Defensive Rating

116.1 (17th)

Western

Tier 3 – Playoff Teams

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Do you expect a deal? Orlando could be a landing destination for Kyle Lowry, who would be a solid short-term option. The Magic are in a great spot. They have a very young team with a lot of roster flexibility and no bad contracts they need to offload. They can dangle Jonathan Isaac as a potential difference-maker for other teams. The question for them is whether they make an aggressive move for Chris Paul or hope to sign Lowry after a buyout if he doesn’t get moved.

Should they make a deal? I don’t really think it’s necessary. It would be great for Orlando to get an experienced playmaker, but I don’t mind the team taking the “let’s see what happens in the postseason” approach with this group. Letting this core experience the ups and downs of chasing a postseason berth before the pressure of playoff hoops is a good developmental approach.

Offensive Rating

112.5 (24th)

Defensive Rating

111.4 (5th)

Eastern

Tier 3 – Playoff Teams

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Do you expect a deal? Even though it’s Daryl Morey, I do not really expect them to make a big swing due to the Joel Embiid injury news (which is why they fell in the rankings so much). This probably becomes a lost season for Philly, who will see how Tyrese Maxey handles this stretch. Maybe the Sixers go for some interior depth in a deal, but I’m not expecting much.

Should they make a deal? Not really. There is no replacing Embiid, let alone by Thursday’s trade deadline. The 76ers have so much cap flexibility this summer, even with Maxey’s likely max deal in restricted free agency. To ruin that for any fleeting hope that Embiid will come back in April better than ever seems naive. Just get him healthy for next season and enter this summer with a bigger checkbook than everybody else.

Offensive Rating

119.0 (6th)

Defensive Rating

113.5 (10th)

Eastern

Tier 3 – Playoff Teams

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Do you expect a deal? I believe the Pacers are done dealing for now. They have a great core they’ve assembled the last couple years and seem pretty set with everything. Sure, some team could try to poach Buddy Hield, but the Pacers have an identity and a great trio with Tyrese Haliburton, Pascal Siakam and Myles Turner. Let’s see what they do in the postseason.

Should they make a deal? No. Like a lot of other teams in this range, I believe just showing up to the postseason and seeing how they fare makes sense. The Pacers know exactly what they are and need to see how that something reacts to the pressures of the playoffs. How do Siakam and Hali help each other as teams prepare for them? Afterward, reassess in the summer any tweaks or changes.

Offensive Rating

120.7 (1st)

Defensive Rating

119.1 (26th)

Eastern

Tier 3 – Playoff Teams

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Tier 4 – Play-In Tournament Teams Or Better

Do you expect a deal? I do. I think the Mavs are in a unique position to really disrupt the Western Conference when nobody is really talking about them in that way. Luka Dončić is playing at an insane level, and so is Kyrie Irving when they can get him on the court. They could really use a 3-and-D type of player. Will that be Bruce Brown Jr.? Will that be wondering if Andrew Wiggins can regain some magic?

Should they make a deal? Absolutely. I don’t think there’s a realistic move that throws them into contender status, but they could ruin/end some seasons in the playoffs with another piece. They don’t have a ton of assets to give up for draft capital, but dangling someone like Jaden Hardy or Josh Green (it would have to be a really good player coming back) could open some doors.

Offensive Rating

117.4 (11th)

Defensive Rating

117.7 (23rd)

Western

Tier 4 – Play-In Tournament Teams Or Better

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Do you expect a deal? Yes. The Lakers are getting pressure from LeBron James using emojis on social media. They aren’t even a guarantee to make the Play-In Tournament right now. And they might only survive all this by making a big move. The question is whether Dejounte Murray is worth the asking price. I think he could be, but the Lakers need more than just him. They have so little consistency from game to game.

Should they make a deal? Definitely. LeBron is probably better than they could have reasonably expected at this stage in his Lakers tenure. Just going with Anthony Davis hasn’t ever been fruitful, so, if they need to do something to keep everything good with LeBron, I do think they need to make smart swings to improve the roster. The Lakers can’t make LeBron’s final years irrelevant. They also can’t replace him to keep winning if he decides he’s had enough and moves on in the summer.

Offensive Rating

113.6 (20th)

Defensive Rating

114.6 (14th)

Western

Tier 4 – Play-In Tournament Teams Or Better

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Do you expect a deal? My guess is the Heat are done dealing, unless they find a swap for Tyler Herro. Could you entice Atlanta with Herro to bring in Murray? It would make sense on plenty of levels for Miami, but I don’t see Atlanta adding that contract and putting Herro next to Trae Young. Miami made its big move with Terry Rozier, so any other major swing probably happens in the summer.

Should they make a deal? They really should. Duncan Robinson becoming more versatile and Jamie Jaquez Jr. being a must-have in the rotation changes things for the Heat. It makes Caleb Martin expendable, even though he was so good in the playoffs. They could add another offensive initiator or more 3-and-D size with a forward. Miami needs one more piece here for this season.

Offensive Rating

112.8 (23rd)

Defensive Rating

113.8 (12th)

Eastern

Tier 4 – Play-In Tournament Teams Or Better

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Tier 5 – Looking to make the Play-In

Do you expect a deal? Not as much as I did a month and a half ago. The Jazz have played so well that I think they’ve talked themselves into being very stubborn at the deadline. “Give us what we want for our players or keep it pushing.” The Jazz looked like they’d be sellers and still might be. But they have a great chance to make the Play-In, so they’ll demand a high return for potentially disrupting that.

Should they make a deal? I still think they should. I thought they should’ve gutted the team early last season to make sure they had a real shot at Victor Wembanyama. They didn’t, and it was too little, too late in terms of tanking for a top pick after the trade deadline. Now, they’ve reversed the order in which they win this season, and it complicates the deadline for them. It’s just tough to build in the middle, where Utah currently sits.

Offensive Rating

115.6 (16th)

Defensive Rating

117.9 (25th)

Western

Tier 5 – Looking to make the Play-In

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Do you expect a deal? Houston just made a move for Steven Adams, but he doesn’t help them until next season. The Rockets have been looking for some 3-and-D options in the trade market, and they have so many different ways they can make a deal happen. General manager Rafael Stone can be very aggressive with any deal to push them into the playoffs without disrupting their core.

Should they make a deal? I don’t think they need to make a deal. Houston has a great blend of veterans and young guys. I like the idea of seeing how that meshes as the pressure intensifies for everybody involved. Head coach Ime Udoka seems to want to win now, which I don’t think is a bad trait to have. But the Rockets getting the kids battle-tested under the tutelage of the vets could have massive long-term benefits.

Offensive Rating

113.2 (21st)

Defensive Rating

112.1 (7th)

Western

Tier 5 – Looking to make the Play-In

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Do you expect a deal? I do. Despite a little uptick for the Hawks recently, this team is not good enough to match its high talent level. They need to make wholesale changes to the roster because this is the second straight year they’ve underachieved. Murray will probably be the hottest name at the deadline. I think a deal with him gets done.

Should they make a deal? Definitely. This team has been one giant disappointment since making the conference finals in 2021. Nate McMillan didn’t fix this. Quin Snyder hasn’t fixed it. Young is a special talent, but the Hawks are underperforming. Even though Young has flaws, he’s good enough to build a successful team around. I’d have anybody but him and maybe Jalen Johnson on the trade block.

Offensive Rating

117.8 (10th)

Defensive Rating

120.0 (27th tied)

Eastern

Tier 5 – Looking to make the Play-In

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Do you expect a deal? I do. I’m not sure how much of a swing the Warriors will take here. I doubt we’re seeing anything with Klay Thompson or Chris Paul being moved because the options out there aren’t great. But would they move Andrew Wiggins? I think so. Would they package Wiggins and Jonathan Kuminga together for a bigger trade? That’s the tricky part, but I do think they know they have to make a move for this roster.

Should they make a deal? Absolutely. I do not believe the Warriors have the magic in them to just let things play out and find the championship level of play they hope to muster. I also do not think you should potentially risk wasting these final years of Steph Curry being such a ridiculously good player. Do everything you can to get the team back to title contention while he’s still playing this well.

Offensive Rating

117.2 (13th)

Defensive Rating

117.1 (20th tied)

Western

Tier 5 – Looking to make the Play-In

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Do you expect a deal? Absolutely. Teams are gunning for Mikal Bridges, and the Nets are telling everybody, “No.” it doesn’t matter how many first-round picks or young players you throw their way. However, they have guys like Royce O’Neale and Dorian Finney-Smith to move, if they’d like. That’s where you could see them recoup trade assets, which doesn’t really hurt the long-term plan the Nets front office probably has. Brooklyn should pounce on that.

Should they make a deal? I would entertain moving everybody not named Cam Johnson, Nic Claxton or Bridges. The Nets probably haven’t been winning as they expected. They could make moves to send out some wings and still compete for a Play-In spot, as long as further injuries don’t hit their team. They have so much flexibility here and should use it to gain more assets.

Offensive Rating

115.2 (17th)

Defensive Rating

116.2 (18th)

Eastern

Tier 5 – Looking to make the Play-In

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Do you expect a deal? Not really. After the Zach LaVine news that he’s opting for season-ending foot surgery, the Bulls are in a good spot for trying to make the Play-In Tournament. Coby White has saved their season. Maybe they move DeMar DeRozan, but the Bulls seem committed to sticking with the status quo before trying to figure out how to make themselves more competitive this summer.

Should they make a deal? I do think they should gut this team. Even when it’s healthy, I don’t believe they can truly compete at the top of the East. I think their 39-21 start and sitting atop the East in 2021-22 was an aberration. I would try to move DeRozan, Alex Caruso and Nikola Vučević this deadline or in the summer, then quickly retool the core.

Offensive Rating

112.9 (22nd)

Defensive Rating

114.7 (15th)

Eastern

Tier 5 – Looking to make the Play-In

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Tier 6 – Not tanking yet but maybe someday

Do you expect a deal? Not anymore. The Steven Adams deal with Houston was a little surprising, but I think the Grizzlies have the roster flexibility they want, considering the lost season this has been. They’ll be a really good team when healthy next season, so I just don’t see any further big changes to the roster.

Should they make a deal? The injuries give them plenty of lineup flexibility to see what young guys like Vince Williams and GG Jackson can do. And they’re sprinkled in with veterans to try to remain as competitive as possible during the development work. Memphis just needs to see what it has and reassess this summer.

Offensive Rating

107.2 (30th)

Defensive Rating

113.4 (9th)

Western

Tier 6 – Not tanking yet but maybe someday

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Do you expect a deal? Not really. Plenty of times we see players talk about how they don’t want to get moved, only to get moved. Or teams saying they won’t move a player right before moving said player. However, I think the Blazers will hold onto Malcolm Brogdon and Robert Williams III unless they’re blown away by an offer. Brogdon provides good mentorship and stability for Scoot Henderson right now.

Should they make a deal? If they can get real draft assets for their veterans, yes. If you’re getting random protected firsts that are likely to become seconds, then I don’t really see the point. The Blazers want to lose often, lose closely and develop their young guys. We’ve seen them give up on seasons and get their teeth kicked in a lot the last couple years. They’re in a very good spot with the start of their rebuild and don’t need to deviate.

Offensive Rating

108.9 (29th)

Defensive Rating

117.1 (20th tied)

Western

Tier 6 – Not tanking yet but maybe someday

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Do you expect a deal? I do. It feels like Bruce Brown Jr. is one of the more coveted role players at the deadline, and the Raptors should be able to get a nice return for him. They don’t really need to do much else outside of dealing Brown. Acquiring Quickley and RJ Barrett was big for them. It feels like they have their core heading into next season.

Should they make a deal? I don’t think it’s imperative to move Brown before the deadline. With his contract flexibility, the Raptors could wait until around the draft to move him. I like their core right now. I like building everything around Scottie Barnes. He’s a star. I think Masai Ujiri can remain patient, which he tends to do anyway.

Offensive Rating

114.2 (18th)

Defensive Rating

117.6 (22nd)

Eastern

Tier 6 – Not tanking yet but maybe someday

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Tier 7 – Incomprehensibly bad

Do you expect a deal? Historically, the Spurs don’t make a whole lot of in-season moves. And it feels like Gregg Popovich is totally cool with them just trying stuff throughout the season in the image of development. San Antonio might make a minor move, but I wouldn’t expect much.

Should they make a deal? I wouldn’t mind them having another point guard to get Wembanyama the ball. Tre Jones can’t be the only one doing it. I’d love to see them get Tre’s brother, Tyus, from Washington and prepare to re-sign him as the starting point guard of the future. This team just needs playmaking for Wemby.

Offensive Rating

109.3 (27th tied)

Defensive Rating

117.8 (24th)

Western

Tier 7 – Incomprehensibly bad

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Do you expect a deal? I’m not certain the Pistons will actually trade key guys. Killian Hayes apparently wants out, and Pistons fans would love to help him pack. Alec Burks wouldn’t be a bad option for a couple second units out there. Bojan Bogdanović should be someone who creates a bidding war.

Should they make a deal? Definitely. Remember: The Pistons were trying to win this season but ended up setting records for futility. They wouldn’t be changing any plans by actually trying to improve the team in real time. And they wouldn’t be ruining any tanking hopes. The Pistons need talent – veteran or otherwise.

Offensive Rating

111.0 (26th)

Defensive Rating

120.5 (29th)

Eastern

Tier 7 – Incomprehensibly bad

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Do you expect a deal? I do. The Wizards can really own the trade deadline with pursuits of Jones and potentially Kyle Kuzma. Washington want assets in return, which makes sense considering the front office didn’t get many in the Beal and Porziņģis deals this summer.

Should they make a deal? They could potentially pull in three first-round picks total by moving both Kuzma and Jones. The Wizards are like a couple other awful teams from this season. Holding on to some of these guys makes no sense. What are you holding onto? Just get more opportunities for rookie Bilal Coulibaly.

Offensive Rating

111.2 (25th)

Defensive Rating

120.0 (27th tied)

Eastern

Tier 7 – Incomprehensibly bad

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Do you expect a deal? It wouldn’t shock me to see the Hornets trade Miles Bridges and/or Gordon Hayward. They’ve already moved Rozier to the Heat. We think they’ll try to flip Lowry, but that contract isn’t totally easy to move. He’s probably more of a buyout option. Bridges is extremely easy to deal with his contract number.

Should they make a deal? Absolutely. This is the worst/least competitive team in basketball during a season that involved the Pistons losing 28 straight games! The Hornets have LaMelo Ball, Brandon Miller (who looks great) and Mark Williams for the future. Everybody else should go. This organization needs an overhaul under new ownership.

Offensive Rating

109.3 (27th tied)

Defensive Rating

121.2 (30th)

Eastern

Tier 7 – Incomprehensibly bad

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(Top photo: David Liam Kyle /  Getty Images)





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