The March 15 trade deadline is fast approaching. Which teams could be dealing? Our 5-on-5 crew weighs in.
1. The fifth most important team to watch before the trade deadline?
Jared Dubin, Hardwood Paroxysm: Golden State Warriors. Whether they try to make a big move for Dwight Howard or finally part with either Monta Ellis or Stephen Curry, this feels like the deadline when the Warriors have to finally make a decision about which direction they want to go with their franchise.
Brian Kamenetzky, ESPN Los Angeles: Boston Celtics. Will all those pesky, historically good games from Rajon Rondo finally get Danny Ainge to ship him out? If Rondo is traded, do the C's just decide to start the rebuild now, or do they believe this team has real postseason potential?
Ian Levy, The Two Man Game: Houston Rockets. Daryl Morey has compiled an impressive collection of young, inexpensive role players. It's hard to imagine any combination of their assets netting one of the big trade-deadline prizes, but they have the pieces to help facilitate as the third team in almost any other scenario. They may not be the biggest winner at the trade deadline but they'll likely be involved.
Beckley Mason, ESPN.com: Houston Rockets. Since starting 3-7, the Rockets have steadily climbed into the Western Conference playoff picture and now cling to the eighth seed. GM Daryl Morey has never been shy about making moves and has plenty of worthwhile assets to deal for a major talent, though I'm not sure if the big men he covets are actually available at a price he can afford.
Brian Robb, Celtics Hub: Chicago Bulls. Last year, the top seed in the East made no notable moves at the trade deadline. You could say that backfired as the team struggled to find consistent offense against the stifling Heat defense in the Eastern Conference finals. With Richard Hamilton battling injuries, will Chicago look elsewhere for a scorer this year?
2. The fourth most important team to watch before the trade deadline?
Dubin: Phoenix Suns. The Suns say they don't want to trade Steve Nash and he says he doesn't want to be moved, but the rumors will persist until the deadline passes. Nash could potentially swing a team's postseason hopes if it acquires him, so he'll be a hot name for the next week.
Kamenetzky: Portland Trail Blazers. Reports say things are getting ugly in Rip City. If they decide to blow things up, a lot of very good players could end up on the market from a place people wouldn't have expected a month ago.
Levy: Dallas Mavericks. Three months ago the Lamar Odom trade looked like a theft of the highest degree. The problems he's created since, however, go deeper than a lack of production and have been disruptive both on and off the court. Odom can still help a team go deep in the playoffs, I'm just not sure that team is Dallas.
Mason: Golden State Warriors. The Warriors know they need to use either Stephen Curry or Monta Ellis to add more balance to the roster. They will be listening to plenty of offers for each player in the next week.
Robb: Los Angeles Clippers. The injury to Chauncey Billups was a major blow, keeping this team a player or two away from being a true title contender. But with two of the most dangerous weapons in the game in Blake Griffin and Chris Paul, along with some attractive young chips on the roster, a strong move to win now may be the best play in the wide-open Western Conference.
3. The third most important team to watch before the trade deadline?
Dubin: Los Angeles Lakers. Despite their championship pedigree, this is a Lakers team that has more holes than in past years. Whether it's a long-rumored deal for Dwight Howard or something smaller to get a starting-caliber point guard like Cleveland's Ramon Sessions, they'll be an interesting team to watch.
Kamenetzky: Miami Heat. Chris Bosh's absence showed they're one unfortunate ankle twist from actually having to consider playing Dexter Pittman or Juwan Howard in important games down the stretch or in the postseason. Better frontcourt depth makes them a terrifying playoff team.
Levy: Los Angeles Lakers. The Pau Gasol storm has quieted somewhat, but the possibility of him or Andrew Bynum being moved in the Lakers' pursuit of Dwight Howard is very real. If elite players are being moved, the Lakers will likely be involved. Also don't rule out a smaller deal to upgrade the struggling 4-12 portion of the roster.
Mason: Indiana Pacers. The Pacers have a great financial situation and a number of solid assets they would be willing to deal and are on the cusp of challenging the Bulls and Heat in the East. A big move here could return the Pacers to pre-Malice at the Palace relevance.
Robb: Los Angeles Lakers. The rumors haven't stopped since the vetoed Chris Paul deal in December, making the Lakers one of the most intriguing teams to watch at the deadline. The biggest question here is whether they will go with a complementary deal to upgrade the point guard position or move one of their bigger stars in Pau Gasol.
4. The second most important team to watch before the trade deadline?
Dubin: New Jersey Nets. A Dwight Howard trade is looking less and less likely with every successive Brook Lopez injury, but that doesn't mean the Nets won't be trying their hardest to swing one between now and March 15. Striking out could also mean losing Deron Williams and heading to Brooklyn with Lopez and MarShon Brooks as their marquee stars. This team desperately needs to make a splash.
Kamenetzky: Los Angeles Lakers. Do they hold out for Dwight Howard? Do they flip Pau Gasol? Do they make smaller moves designed for one more run with their current Bryant/Gasol/Bynum core? How do financial concerns factor in? The answers will have a major impact on the Western Conference race this year and down the road.
Levy: Boston Celtics. Although they may not be the most important team in the leaguewide trade landscape, I find them the most interesting. The next era of Celtics basketball is rapidly approaching. Is Danny Ainge willing to build it around Rajon Rondo's surly demeanor and unique skill set?
Mason: Los Angeles Lakers. I don't think they'll make a deal, but besides the guy I have at No. 1, Pau Gasol is the best player being floated in a trade scenario.
Robb: Boston Celtics. The window of opportunity for this squad is open barely a crack. The question now is whether Danny Ainge will slam that window shut in the next two weeks with a major deal or let this roster have one final stand together. The team's play over the next nine days should be a major indicator of what Ainge decides.
5. The most important team to watch before the trade deadline?
Dubin: Orlando Magic. Who else? Until and unless the deadline comes and goes and Dwight Howard is still in Orlando, this is the team everyone will and should be watching. Do they send him to L.A., New Jersey or Golden State? Do they want young pieces and picks or capable veterans? Or will they hang on to him in hopes he won't be able to pass up all that extra money he can make by staying with the Magic this summer?
Kamenetzky: Orlando Magic. Because they have the biggest chip in the game. Howard is the sun around which the NBA player transaction universe currently orbits. If the Magic don't pull the trigger, the deadline could be much quieter as teams hold assets until the summer. If they do, activity leaguewide picks up.
Levy: Orlando Magic. The public position is to hold on to Dwight Howard and hope he re-signs. There's no telling how confident they really are in the position, but it seems like an epic roll of the dice. Any team that can grab Howard immediately moves into the NBA's top tier. This is the capstone around which every other trade possibility falls into place.
Mason: Orlando Magic. Even if the Magic don't trade Howard, who is the first domino in a winding maze of potential NBA transactions, they are still likely to pursue any deal that can give them a better shot at a deep playoff run.
Robb: Orlando Magic. The dominoes at the trade deadline begin and end in sunny Florida. Reports continue to trickle out that Orlando will hang on to Dwight Howard, but if a move is made, it could signal a tremendous shift in power across the league. Otis Smith's decision on what to do with Dwight is undoubtedly the one that matters most.
ESPN.com and the TrueHoop Network
Brian Kamenetzky writes for ESPN Los Angeles. Beckley Mason contributes to ESPN.com. Jared Dubin, Ian Levy and Brian Robb contribute to the TrueHoop Network.