More NBA teams than ever are still in the playoff hunt thanks to the new postseason play-in tournament. Even earning the 10th seed in a conference of 15 will give a franchise a chance to make the playoffs.
That also makes the decision to become a seller at the deadline even more difficult, especially for teams that may be just a few games away from play-in contention.
It's already safe to say the Minnesota Timberwolves and Detroit Pistons, owners of the two worst records in the league, will be sellers. The Oklahoma City Thunder and Cleveland Cavaliers have already begun their respective rebuilds, as well, a plan that should continue throughout the 2020-21 season.
For the remaining teams on the bubble, five clearly stand out as should-be sellers before the March 25 trade deadline.
Once upon a time, the Rockets were 11-10 and in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race.
An injury to star center Christian Wood has led to 13 straight losses for Houston, however, now putting it just above the Minnesota Timberwolves for 14th place in the West.
DeMarcus Cousins has already been released, but the Rockets still have a collection of talented veterans (John Wall, Victor Oladipo, P.J. Tucker, Eric Gordon, Danuel House, David Nwaba) who no longer fit a rebuild.
While Wall's contract (owed $44.3 million next season with a $47.4 million player option in 2022-23) means he's almost certainly staying put, every other vet could reasonably be on the move. The backcourt of him and Oladipo (minus-2.6 net rating in 216 minutes) hasn't clicked yet, either.
Oladipo and Tucker are the key players here as both can leave Houston in free agency this offseason. Oladipo recently turned down a two-year, $45.2 million max extension, per ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, either a sign the Rockets truly want to keep him or a smokescreen to cover up his awful efficiency in Houston (47.7 percent true shooting) and keep his trade value high.
For all his faults, Oladipo could end up being the most talented player traded at the deadline, especially if the Washington Wizards refuse to part with Bradley Beal. With few young, promising players to build around, trading Oladpio and Tucker now is the best long-term option for the franchise.
New Orleans Pelicans
Even after they traded Jrue Holiday to the Milwaukee Bucks in the offseason, the additions of Steven Adams and Eric Bledsoe certainly gave the New Orleans Pelicans some playoff hope.
A full, healthy season featuring Zion Williamson only added to the optimism, although New Orleans has since disappointed with a 15-20 record.
Sitting just one spot out of the 10th seed, the Pelicans can afford to be patient and play the long game here, tempting as going all-in for the playoffs would be. Williamson is 20, Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball are 23, and Nickeil Alexander-Walker (22), Jaxson Hayes (20) and Kira Lewis Jr. (19) are just starting their careers.