As of Thursday while I’m writing this, we are officially three weeks away from this seasons trade deadline. All things considered, here are the top five entities I’ll be keeping an eye on over this time.

1.) C’s $28.5M Trade Exception

Via the Gordon Hayward sign-and-trade to Charlotte, in which they received no pick or player compensation, the Celtics created the largest trade exception in NBA history, at $28.5M.

These allow teams to take back salary marching the players contract that they lost, in multiple pieces or in one sole piece. They expire a calendar year from the day of the initial transaction, the exceptions birth.

There’s a few ways they go about applying this. Because of when it expires, they can use it partially for a player making a percentage of what could amount to $28.5M, then use what’s left over in the off-season. Or, they can use it in full.

2.) Ainge, C’s, Addressings Issues

They have some proven flaws regarding energy and connectivity this season, all to which their outspoken GM spoke about earlier this week.

“We’re playing terribly,” he said. “We don’t have a good enough team — in my opinion.”

Ainge would also double-down on comments he made last week regarding the state of his team, a deemed title contender. In those remarks, he made it known that he felt he was responsible for their woes, evident by his statement above.

GMs and other front office executives taking the blame for a situation likely result in a shake up of some sorts, whether that be minor or major.

Defensively they’re in the top third in perimeter defense along the 3-point line, however they’re in the bottom third in each metric defending inside the arch, especially at the rim.

They have also desired a lot more from their playmaking department at guard. Sans rookie Payton Prirchard who as exceeded expectations, Coach Stevens has longed for consistency from his point guards and primary ball handlers.

Though it’s been tough to accurately assess them due to the ins and outs they’ve endure at the hands of both injury as we as pandemic constraints, nonetheless they could be due for a change of some sort as they’ve been a shell of themselves. They currently sit at 4th in the East at 18-17.

Targets: Rim protection, small ball 5 play

As it stands, they seem a half step or full step behind the likes of Philadelphia, Brooklyn, and Milwaukee. The likes of Harrison Barnes, Myles Turner (who likely won’t be available though he was for Ainge as recent as November), an Al Horford reunion (who they never should’ve let go to Philly last off season), or Andre Drummond make sense as targets for them.

3.) Dallas Mavericks

Coming off an inspiring showing in the bubble, the Mavs had been thought to have addressed some of their flaws in the off-season.

Turns out that they have regressed, and then some.

They’re at the bottom of the league in paint defense, and that’s partly due to their lack of a rim protector. Teams are shooting 66% at the cup versus Dallas, and a lot of them are of the uncontested “layup line” variety. This comes after they were 11th in the league at protecting the basket last season.

So they’re in dire need of a semblance of rim protection, but they also need perimeter defenders as well. They have just 4 of their rotational players posting a positive +/- on the defensive end (J. Johnson, Doncic, Powell, Cauley-Stein) which speaks to the lack of success they’ve seen on that end.

Targets: Rim protection, perimeter defense

The likes of PJ Tucker, Javale McGee, Andre Drummond, Larry Nance, and Kelly Oubre make sense for Dallas.

They do still need some viable supplementary playmaking to help Doncic, but the more pressing needs are certainly on the defensive end.

Earlier last week, surprising to everyone, news leaked that the Mavericks are willing to sell Kristaps Porzingis. This would be them selling very low on their clear cut second best player, especially after what they gave up to acquire him.

Should he be included in any trade negotiations, they could very well net a return of future assets along with ready now talents to address said flaws.

4.) Denver Nuggets

Coming off their best win of the season and sitting now at 20-15, the Nuggets are amidst a three-game win streak.

Having also underwhelmed though, months after cutting bait with some of the faction of young talent they’d amassed, they’re in need of a jolt of energy. Likely to come from an external source, the Nuggets find themselves in need of more talent.

A majority of their problems are not at the fault of Nikola Jokic, as he’s been produced at an MVP calibur level (enjoying career-high statistical feats) in leading this team.

To a lesser extent, even Jamal Murray can be absolved of much blame in their collective struggle.

Their main issues exist on the defensive end, where they rank 18th giving up 113.1 PPG (per 100 possessions), after placing 16th and 11th in each of the last two seasons. Based on their efficiency they’re 2.7 games behind where they’re expected to be, which if they were living up to that efficiency would place them comfortably in fifth for the West.

A closer look, three of their four more used lineups are behind the curve defensively. Mike Malone’s perplexed at times in response. Some of this could certainly be attributed to them having new players integrated, but we’re halfway through the season at this point and those “anomalies” are proving consistent.

Targets: 3&D Wings

I expect for them to be in the running for the likes of Trevor Ariza or PJ Tucker, veteran presences that can hold their own defensively while also providing floor spacing to operate around the likes of Jokic and Tucker offensively. Maybe even another target could be Danuel House from Houston.

5.) What other teams/players pick up steam

There’s almost always a surprise or two that comes of this season within the season. Teams like the Heat and Nets are still looking to put finishing touches on their rosters. Players like JJ Redick, Lonzo Ball, Blake Griffin, and Andre Drummond have been publicly spoken about as available and likely to be on the move.

There are sure to be more names to enter the fold.

Whether these teams can execute upon their desires in bettering their chances at ultimate success remains to be seen, nonetheless I’d get my popcorn ready as teams are realizing that there is a great opportunity to seize in a season this strange. The door for success has been left open a little longer than normal with the play-in tournament being implemented, so more teams smell opportunity in the air.

There’s also plenty curiosity surrounding plyers like John Collins who declined his rookie extension, which would leave him as a restricted free agent (RFA) this upcoming off-season, which is essentially him betting on himself. Also, Victor Oladipo declined the offer that Houston made him shortly after acquiring the Indiana product, so he has a looking free agency which leaves Houston with yet another decision to make.

From big names to role players and future assets, there will be plenty more rumors to come as the deadline grows closer. Let’s see what comes! 🍿

*All stats and information come directly from basketball-reference or cleaning the glass unless stated otherwise*

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