The 2021 NBA trade deadline is just two days away, and teams at the top and bottom of the standings are lining up to make their move. While there is no superstar on the market to redefine the championship race – not after James Harden was traded from the Houston Rockets to the Brooklyn Nets in January – there may be small steps to spur contenders and help teams on the margins take another big step.

With that in mind, we asked our experts to answer five key questions for Thursday, including which teams they’re watching the most, which ones could be moved and their bold predictions.

MORE: Six undervalued prospects that could blossom after the trade.

1. What do you watch the most this week?

Tim Bontemps: What’s going on with Kyle Lowry? In a trade market devoid of players who can change the game, Lowry could be a blow to the title race. If he leaves Toronto and joins the Philadelphia 76ers or Miami Heat, he could completely change the landscape of the Eastern Conference. It’s hard to imagine other displaced players having a similar impact.

Kirk Goldsberry: Can the Lakers help with the shooting? They rank 27th in the league in point production and 22nd in scoring percentage. Their current fleet of shooters scares no one, and in an era increasingly defined by long-range attacks, the Purple and Gold need extra firepower on the sidelines to defend the title.

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Tim McMahon: What will rebuilding the Rockets accomplish? First-year general manager Rafael Stone has added a lot of capital to the squad while acquiring nearly the entire starting lineup from last season, led by a lot of picks acquired in the James Harden trade to Brooklyn. Perhaps the Rockets can offer some additional compensation by trading Victor Oladipo, who Houston hopes will be traded to a team that values his bird rights and isn’t just a mercenary. Houston is also trying to cash in on some of those draft picks for a player who can be a long-term foundation, like 25-year-old forward Aaron Gordon of the Orlando Magic.

Bobby Marks: Lowry and the Raptors, who have lost eight games in a row and are eliminated from the qualifying tournament (three games behind Chicago in the loss column). Lowry is under contract for $30.5 million and has the option to compete for a championship with a team like Philadelphia or finish the season with the Raptors. Lowry has no no-trade clause, and Toronto can send him to any of the other 29 teams. But with Lowry being considered the best player to ever don a Raptors jersey and helping lead Toronto to a championship in 2019, he’s in control of who his next assignment is.

Royce Young: Will the teams on the periphery advance or hope for a draw in the showdown? The new season structure could have a big impact on trade deadlines if more teams retain players. This can lead to problems with delivery times and demand, and quality players are hard to find.

2. Which title challenger has to make the most moves?

Goldsberry: The Sixers need some offensive help. Although the Doc Rivers/Daryl Morey era has gotten off to a great start, Philadelphia needs to improve its offense to compete with Brooklyn and Milwaukee, both of whom have top-notch attacks. Joel Embiid, Tobias Harris and Ben Simmons are a great trio, but if Philadelphia could add one or two more potent perimeter threats – like Lowry, for example – it would increase its chances of getting out of the East.

McMahon: The need may be a bit of an exaggeration, but the 76ers should definitely be aggressive in their pursuit of Lowry. Lowry was born in Philadelphia, has proven himself in the playoffs and would be a good fit with Embiid and Simmons. Daryl Morey’s history with the Rockets suggests the 76ers will make a splash before the deadline.

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Bontemps: All of them? The interesting thing about this season is that all of these teams have weaknesses in contention. The Lakers and the Sixers need attackers. Networks must be protected. The Clippers need someone to lead the offense. The Bucks need depth. The Heat and Celtics need energy to move forward. The Nuggets and Blazers are feeling the pressure. Even in a market where there isn’t much interest, they should all consider moving.

Stamps: Since the Celtics aren’t title contenders, I’m picking Philadelphia. I know Dr. Rivers said he loves his team and that getting Embiid healthy should be a priority. Still, the 76ers’ team has everything it needs to make a trade: $30 million in expiring contracts, $8.3 million in trades, two valuable young players in Tyrese Maxey and Matisse Thybulle, and the ability to trade two first-round picks. Yes, it takes two parties to make a deal, but the 76ers shouldn’t be satisfied with their team at the deadline, especially if a player like Lowry becomes available.

Youth: I’m keeping the Denver Nuggets in the title contender category, although that’s a little questionable since they were in the NBA’s final four last season and still have top-15 players on their roster. The Nuggets clearly lack consistency and need shooting and scoring options alongside Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic.

3. Which lottery team needs to practice the most?

McMahon: It’s time for Orlando to reinvent itself and get back into the top five of the lottery after missing the playoffs the last two seasons. According to the source, Evan Fournier has made it clear that he has no intention of signing with the Magic as a free agent this summer, so Orlando might also get something in return for the player who is effectively making 19.1 points per game. Gordon, who is under contract for one more season, is attracting a lot of interest.

Stamps: I’m not saying Orlando should make a move, but the Magic have the pieces to rebuild their team and make plans for next season. The Magic have been decimated by injuries this season and are headed for the lottery as a result. With his contract expiring, Fournier is more of a short-term rental, but he could help a playoff team looking for an additional shooter. It’s time for Orlando to maximize its profits with a deal with Gordon, who is under contract through 2021-22.

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Wednesday, 24.
– Celtics v Bucks, 7:30 p.m. on ESPN
– Nets v Jazz, 10 p.m. on ESPN
Friday, March 26.
– Celtics v Bucks, 7:30 p.m. on ESPN
– Hawks v Warriors, 10 p.m. on ESPN
Still in the East

Youth: Oklahoma City Thunder. Sam Presti is considering changes to the roster, but there are a few veterans who could please other teams. Al Horford may be hard to move because of his remaining salary, but George Hill and Mike Muscala are very affordable and could be a big bonus for good teams. And no, Presti wouldn’t say he has enough future choices already.

Bontemps: The Orlando Magic have generally been reluctant to make any big moves. That should change this year. Fournier’s contract expires and Gordon will play at the same position as injured striker Jonathan Isaac. The two should be swapped on Thursday to give the team a chance to regroup rather than get caught up in the treadmill of the battle for 8th place.

Goldsberry: Even with P.J. Tucker gone, Houston still has a few tradable contracts that could not only help their rivals, but also provide pieces to help the Rockets rebuild. The arrival of Oladipo, Danuel House, or even Eric Gordon could help Houston finally break out of this post-hardcore nightmare.

4. What trade (or type of trade) would you prefer to see?

Stamps: I want Dallas to strike and bring in Andre Drummond. This Mavericks team can beat the best at any time, but my concern is whether Kristaps Porzingis can keep up for the rest of the season. It’s time to find help for Luka Doncic now, without waiting for the offseason. The Mavericks could offer Cleveland the expiring contracts of James Johnson and Willie Cauley-Stein, but the challenge is matching another $3 million salary with a player not in the rotation. The combination of Johnson and Dwight Powell works, but Cleveland inherits $11.1 million from Powell in 2021-22 and 2022-23. With Jarrett Allen expected to command a salary of around $20 million, the Cavaliers should have no problem bringing in Powell without third-team help.

Youth: Oladipo in Denver. The Nuggets need to keep their payroll up, so it should be Gary Harris and a young, challenging player for the Rockets like RJ Hampton or Zeke Nnaji. But the Nuggets are in the shop window with Jokic and Murray and should take advantage of this opportunity. After reaching the Western Finals, they have slipped a bit this season, and we all know that time is running out in the NBA. The great Oladipo could put the Nuggets back in the title hunt.

Want to predict where your favorite NBA stars will finish? Create your own transactions with the ESPN trading engine.

Bontemps: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Talen Horton-Tucker against Bogdan Bogdanovich. The Hawks need protection, and they get it with KCP and THT (plus, it was fun writing those short names). In the meantime, the Lakers still need a creator and a shooter, and Bogdanovic could provide both. Plus, he could start a long-term relationship for her, which she would love. He would also bring some financial security to a team facing many difficult financial decisions this summer, as he is under contract for the next three seasons.

Goldsberry: Miami will have one more star before the season is over. The Heat have become a defensive force, but their offense is just unstoppable this season. Whether it’s Lowry, Oladipo or another player, I’d love to see the Heat import another star who can bring this group back into the game and make the East even more exciting.

McMahon: Right now, the Nuggets don’t have the status of a contender, but that could change if Denver brings in one of its developmental players for an immediate upgrade. It makes sense for the Nuggets to be aggressive, even if it’s just a loan. If you have a player like Nikola Jokic playing at MVP level, you need to be in win-now mode.

5. What is your bold prediction for the trade deadline?

Youth: Toronto is exploding. It’s been a long time coming, but with their aging and expensive core, the Raptors should move on to a hopefully scaled back rebuild. Lowry has been a legend for the Raptors, but his time is running out and he’ll go to another team in the East to have another chance at the Finals.

Bontemps: Lowry is for sale. After eight consecutive defeats, it’s hard to argue that Toronto is a realistic candidate to make an impact in the East. Therefore, the Raptors should transfer Lowry to a contender and give themselves a chance to quickly transform their young core of Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby.

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Goldsberry: Boston won’t do it. The Celtics are at .500 and need help, especially on the front line. However, this office is developing a reputation for the deals it doesn’t make, and the trading deadline is a good time to acquire important new items at reasonable prices. The Celtics may want to add little things, but they won’t be pooped. In turn, they will come back empty-handed.

McMahon: The Celtics are smart about paying a luxury tax for a team that entered the week at .500, but they can’t find the right fit for their huge trade exception. Harrison Barnes would make a lot of sense, but the Kings shouldn’t sell him unless they get a lot in return.

Stamps: Lowry is being traded to Philadelphia for a package consisting of Danny Green, Mike Scott, Vincent Poirier, Tybull and an unprotected 2023 first-round pick from the 76ers.

frequently asked questions

Can NBA trades take place after the deadline?

A free agent player who signs a standard NBA player contract (or a player who signs a standard NBA player contract or switches to a standard NBA player contract as part of a two-way contract) may not sign a player contract for three months after the date the contract is signed or before the 15th day after the date the contract is signed. December of the salary year in which the contract is signed will not be traded, …

When is the NBA trading deadline?

The NBA trade deadline is Thursday the 25th. March. Closing time is 15.00 hours. ET, although some deals may be announced shortly after that deadline.

Can players be traded after the deadline?

In the NBA, trading after the draft is prohibited, but teams are allowed to contract free agents and draft G-League players until after the regular season.

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