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Buy or Sell: Trade strategy of NBA Western Conference playoff hopefuls

The NBA’s Western Conference has grown considerably more competitive with the Golden State Warriors’ fall from grace. Injuries after their 2019 Finals defeat to the Toronto Raptors have decimated the Warriors’ stranglehold on the conference, and the arrival of Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, and Anthony in Los Angeles—between two teams—has further shaken the power dynamic in the west.

Outside of the top contenders in the west (Lakers and Clippers, Mavericks, Nuggets, and Rockets), there are playoff-hopeful teams ranging in “trying to get in for the first time in over a decade” to “trying to not miss the playoffs for the first time in two decades.”

December 15th is the unofficial start of the NBA’s trade market opening, with players signed in the past offseason allowed to be dealt.

Let’s check in on the playoff hopefuls; which teams should be buyers and which should be sellers.

Utah Jazz

The Jazz’s biggest offseason move was trading for respected veteran point guard Mike Conley from the Memphis Grizzlies. While in the summer that move looked advantageous for Quin Snyder’s group, Conley hasn’t exactly played up to par on his second-ever team during his thirteen-year NBA tenure.

Despite this, Utah needs to be buyers and find reinforcements. The Jazz haven’t played as well as they can, and they have two great pieces to continue building off of in Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell. The Jazz would stand to benefit in finding another playmaking guard and some more shooting.

Oklahoma City Thunder

The Thunder shipped former MVP Russell Westbrook out to the Rockets for Chris Paul in the summer despite multiple moves signaling a rebuild. However, general manager Sam Presti’s team is in an awkward stage of still good enough to kinda compete.

OKC should be buyers, however. Hear me out on this: Presti and the Thunder should look to make moves to acquires players that simultaneously help them compete now, but more importantly down the line in the future. The Thunder have a wealth of draft picks—too many, actually, like, too many to even draft everyone. It’s better to cash in now using some of those picks if that means acquiring solid, young talent that fits with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

Phoenix Suns

At the cost of the Jazz letting Ricky Rubio walk to trade for Conley, the Phoenix Suns have thrived with the Spanish floor general on the squad. The Rubio–Devin Booker backcourt looks like the real deal, and Deandre Ayton is returning from suspension soon, although savvy draft-night trade for center Aron Baynes looks like the steal of the summer.

Nevertheless, the Suns should be sellers. They own all of their own future first-round picks and owe the 2020 draft’s second-rounder to Memphis. While it may seem unfair to have Booker sit out another postseason, for the good of the future, it might serve Phoenix better to regroup and round out their team with deeper talent than going all in this season.

Sacramento Kings

The Kings paid one-time champion Harrison Barnes a handsome ransom in the offseason, bringing their long-run plans into question. Sophomore big man Marvin Bagley’s health is another mystery, and the team has gone on a mini-run of sorts in recent weeks without De’Aaron Fox.

The Kings should be sellers, even if it’s a bitter pill to swallow for northern California fans seeking their first NBA postseason berth since 2006. This could involve selling high on Bogdan Bogdanovic.

Minnesota Timberwolves

The Timberwolves are another team like the Thunder in a difficult spot. Outside of the 2015 draft’s number-one overall pick, center Karl-Anthony Towns, and the sudden emergence of former Rookie of the Year Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota doesn’t have much to show for. They’re on the outside looking in the Western Conference playoff picture, and they need talent longterm.

So, the Wolves should trade for longterm assets, even if that requires parting with younger players. Maybe that’s enough to make the postseason in 2020, but the goal should be to surround Towns with the best talent possible.

San Antonio Spurs

At last, the time has come. The Spurs have one of the worst defenses in the NBA, shockingly, under five-time champion head coach Gregg Popovich. This might be it for Pop with former star player-turned-student Tim Duncan sitting on the bench as an assistant (and Becky Hammon rumored to be interested in the Knicks’ job).

San Antonio should sell what it can on LaMarcus Aldridge, DeMar DeRozan, and bench piece Rudy Gay while maintaining an emphasis on youth; players like Bryn Forbes, Dejounte Murray, and Lonnie Walker IV.