Looking at the current NBA standings, I’d guess that the following teams are in striking range of the playoffs and would be likely to make a trade to either increase their seed or help them get one of the last playoff spots at stake:
East: Atlanta, Indiana, Toronto, Washington, New Jersey, Cleveland, Milwaukee
West: Denver, LA Lakers, Golden State, Utah, Houston, Sacramento
After the cut I’ll try to spell out what I think each Eastern team’s needs are, with some potential trades also suggested. Western teams will be addressed later this week.
Atlanta: They are in the 4th seed right now, and especially now that Speedy Claxton is out for the year, could benefit by adding a competent point guard. Rumors have persisted that they are looking at Luke Ridnour, but his lack of defense and over-sized contract make him a mediocre option. The ideal candidate for their team would be Sam Cassell, but they could also settle for a quality distributor like Cassell’s back up Brevin Knight.
Indiana: I like their team a lot, but they still have the nagging Jermaine O’Neal issue (doesn’t fit well, unhappy, overpaid) and could stand to add a backup point guard or shooting guard. JR Smith would be a great addition off the bench for them, he’d fit their long range style, although he’d be a liability because of his personality. The Nuggets are looking to get rid of him because of his constant problems with George Karl, and he might be had at a reasonable cost, especially because Indiana has a surplus of big men they can deal.
Toronto: They may need to add a point guard if TJ Ford’ spinal issues cause an early retirement. If this is the case, they may earn a medical retirement exception that could make Earl Boykins affordable, and I think he’d make a decent backup/energy scorer to place behind Jose Calderon. They could also benefit from some added toughness for the playoffs, and a small for big trade with Indiana, if they’re willing to part with a Carlos Delfino, Juan Dixon or Anthony Parker.
Washington: Washington would benefit from a more skilled 2 guard and a better post presence. DeShawn Stevenson leaves much to be desired, but Nick young is not ready yet to fill that role. Brendan Haywood has had a good year, but he could use a backup besides Andray Blatche to help rebound, especially in the playoffs. I don’t think they are very likely to make a move, because Gilbert Arenas’ return will act as the boost they need as they approach the run to the playoffs.
New Jersey: They certainly don’t look poised for any sort of playoff run, and may be looking to move Richard Jefferson, Vince Carter, or Jason Kidd in order to restructure their team. Jefferson is outrageously overpaid, making him hard to move, Carter is incredibly under-motivated, and only slightly less overpaid, and Kidd is too valuable to part with. What they really need is the healthy return of Nenad Kristic. They are likely to make a move, but it probably won’t help them reach the playoffs.
Cleveland: Larry Hughes is likely to be moved, and probably would already be gone if he weren’t tremendously overpaid. The team needs a true point guard, and has long sought Andre Miller or Mike Bibby. However their offers are not very palatable, especially for teams looking to rebuild and it is becoming increasingly likely that Danny Ferry will have to trade financial flexibility for player quality. A deal with the Knicks, with similarly frustrated Malik Rose or Quentin Richardson possibly involved, may work for both teams.
Milwaukee: They are a borderline playoff team, and may, if they enjoy a good run, be legitimate contenders for the 8th seed. They need rebounding and toughness, and would also benefit a great deal if last year’s super sub Charlie Bell could regain his shot. they have an attractive trade piece in Charlie Villanueva, and should look to trade him for a solid rebounder such as Reggie Evans.