There's been quite a bit of consternation about the play-in tournament's impact on the NBA trade deadline. Even if borderline teams would benefit from more aggressive rebuilds, the creation of two extra pseudo playoff spots will inevitably motivate shortsighted owners to chase wins … and the millions of dollars home playoff games generate at the gate. As of this writing, only one Western Conference team (the Houston Rockets) is more than two games out of the No. 10 seed. There are four in the East, but one of them is the reigning Eastern Conference runner-up Atlanta Hawks. Cam Reddish trade aside, they aren't selling.

So we're approaching a Feb. 10 deadline in which the number of sellers has been artificially deflated, but that doesn't mean we're overflowing with buyers, either. As we've covered, the overwhelming majority of the NBA's contending class is restricted in the sort of draft capital it can surrender for midseason improvements. As it stands right now, the Memphis Grizzlies are the only team near the top of the standings that has complete freedom of movement with its picks. Everyone else is at least partially Stepien-locked.

Logically, a season with few willing sellers and fewer flexible buyers should generate a fairly dull trade deadline. That's not how the modern NBA works. There is going to be significant movement at the deadline because there's significant movement at every deadline. It's just going to boil down to a few teams to spur that movement this time around because they are uniquely qualified to facilitate the sort of moves that are going to dominate this specific deadline. These four teams stand out as the power brokers of the in-season trade market.

 

Chicago Bulls

Rarely does a buyer wield as much power at the deadline as the East's current No. 1 seed does this season. Why? Consider this deadline's hottest commodity: The versatile, shooting forward. Jerami Grant and Harrison Barnes might be available. Robert Covington certainly is. T.J. Warren could probably be had for a reasonable price if a contender wants to take a major swing. Marcus Morris is looming as yet another option at this typically sparse archetype. Every team wants players like this. Few have enough of them. But look at what contenders can offer.

The Lakers, Jazz, Nets, Mavericks, Nuggets and Heat have extremely limited draft capital to offer, and most sellers aren't especially interested in first-round picks five or six years down the line. Phoenix has a bit more flexibility when it comes to picks, essentially operating with the capability to deal first-rounders in 2024, 2026 and 2028 if it really wants to, but how valuable are Suns picks, really? If Devin Booker, DeAndre Ayton and Mikal Bridges are there long term, those picks are likely to be in the 20s. The talent at arguably the NBA's most important position far outweighs what most of the league's buyers are capable of paying for. Except the Bulls.