This season's trade deadline is fast approaching.
The last day teams will be able to make trades this season is Thursday, March 25. The cutoff point is 3:00 p.m. ET, although some trades may be announced shortly after the deadline.
The last couple of trade deadlines have been hectic, to say the least. In 2018-19, Marc Gasol, Kristaps Porzingis and Tobias Harris were among the best players traded at the 11th hour. In 2019-20, we saw D'Angelo Russell, Andrew Wiggins, Clint Capela and Andre Drummond wind up on new teams the day of the deadline.
Time will tell how chaotic this season's trade deadline will be, but the answer to these six questions could shape what's to come.
1. Will the Boston Celtics use their trade exception?
When the Celtics signed and traded Gordon Hayward to the Charlotte Hornets in the offseason, they acquired a $28.5 million trade exception, the largest in NBA history.
That exception allows the Celtics to acquire a player in a trade without having to match their entire salary. The catch? The incoming salary has to fit in that exception, so the Celtics can't combine it with another contract to pursue a player making over $28.5 million.
According to Basketball-Reference, that rules out a total of 33 players, including Drummond, Bradley Beal and Kevin Love.
There are a few other stipulations - Celtics Blog's Keith Smith answered any question you might have about Boston's trade exception here - but it puts the Celtics in position to make a big move without having to give up Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart or Kemba Walker. And while they don't have to use it before the trade deadline - the exact expiration date of the exception is still unknown, but it will carry over into the 2021 offseason - they could use it to upgrade their roster this season.
A couple of players the Celtics are reportedly interested in: Detroit Pistons forward Jerami Grant and Orlando Magic centre Nikola Vucevic. It's hard to believe the Pistons would trade Grant and the asking price for Vucevic is expected to be "massive," but Boston's trade exception would get it a seat at the table if either one of them does become available.
MORE: Would a Vucevic trade make sense for the Celtics and Magic?
2. Where does Andre Drummond end up?
It's no secret that the Cleveland Cavaliers are looking to trade Drummond.
On Feb. 15, ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski and Brian Windhorst reported the Cavaliers were "no longer planning to play" him as they worked towards moving him ahead of the trade deadline. Sure enough, Drummond hasn't registered a single minute in the almost month since, with Jarrett Allen replacing him in Cleveland's starting lineup.
It's not hard to think of some teams that could use Drummond, but his contract situation makes him a tricky player to trade for. For one, he's on the books for $28.8 million this season. Two, he's in the final year of his current contract, setting him up to be an unrestricted free agent in the offseason.
Productive as Drummond was prior to the Cavaliers sidelining him, the combination could make teams think twice about making a big offer for him.
What will be interesting to see is what the Cavaliers do if they can't find a trade for Drummond ahead of the deadline. There's been some chatter of him potentially being bought out if he isn't traded, in which case title contenders like the Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets would become options for him.
Depending on where he ends up, Drummond could have a lot more eyes on him in the second half of the season.
3. Which contender needs P.J. Tucker the most?
Get ready to hear Tucker's name a lot over the next week.
While he's having one of the worst seasons of his career, Tucker is the type of player every contender is looking for. Not only is he one of the league's most respected defenders - a 6-foot-5 forward who is capable of guarding multiple positions, even some centres - he's long been a knockdown 3-point shooter from the corners.
According to Shams Charania of The Athletic, a number of contenders are interested in Tucker, including the Nets, Lakers, Milwaukee Bucks, Miami Heat and Denver Nuggets. The Philadelphia 76ers have also expressed interest in him, per Bleacher Report's Jake Fischer.
It's worth noting that Tucker will be an unrestricted free agent in the offseason. At the age of 35, he could be looking for one more payday. If he is traded at the deadline, whichever team acquires him will have to be prepared to navigate his free agency.
4. How many teams are buyers?
The crazy thing about this NBA season is there are about 26 teams still in the mix to make the playoffs.
In the Eastern Conference, only 3.0 games currently separate the Indiana Pacers in 10th place from the Washington Wizards in 13th place. In the Western Conference, only 3.5 games separate the Memphis Grizzlies in 10th place from the Sacramento Kings in 13th.
Remember, the top six teams in each conference will make the playoffs this season. The next four teams in each conference will then battle it out in a play-in tournament for the final two seeds. That leaves a total of 20 spots up for grabs.
Not every team in the playoff picture will be buyers, of course, but there are some closer to the top that could be looking to move up in the standings and some closer to the bottom that could be looking to improve their roster in the hopes of ending extended playoff droughts.
The Celtics are obvious potential buyers because of their trade exception, but keep an eye on the Heat, Golden State Warriors and Hornets. The Heat and Warriors are always looking to make big moves, and the Hornets have the salaries and assets to add one more piece to their core if they see fit.
5. How many teams are sellers?
On the flip side, there are bound to be some teams in the playoff picture who become sellers at the trade deadline.
It's harder to predict which teams could become sellers because of how tight everything is in the Eastern Conference and Western Conference right now, but a quick scan of who is being mentioned as potential targets ahead of the trade deadline gives you an idea.
Which brings us to...
6. Who is the best player traded?
The Nets acquiring James Harden will almost certainly be the biggest trade of the season, but there are still some good players who could be moved at the deadline.
In addition to Grant, Vucevic, Drummond and Tucker, The Athletic's Shams Charania reported Spencer Dinwiddie, Harrison Barnes, Aaron Gordon and John Collins are among the players drawing interest from teams around the league. JJ Redick and Eric Bledsoe also appear to be available, according to Bleacher Report's Jake Fischer.
There's a big difference between a player drawing interesting and a player actually being available, but things can change quickly in the NBA.
Two more names to monitor: Victor Oladipo and Kyle Lowry.
The Houston Rockets only recently acquired Oladipo, but there are a couple of teams reportedly interested in acquiring him, one being the Warriors. As for Lowry, there could be nothing there - his agent recently shot down trade rumours and Lowry appeared to do the same - but he's the type of player who could turn a contender into the favourite to win it all. If the Toronto Raptors do make him available, there will likely be no shortage of interest.
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