NBA Fastbreak: How to tell the buyers from the sellers ahead of trade deadline

The playoff race at the bottom of the Western Conference continues to make things tricky for teams as they try to understand what the trade market is going to look like. And this past week, a move in the East reminded teams that things aren’t necessarily as simple as they seem.

The Atlanta Hawks, the East’s last-place team, sent Allen Crabbe’s expiring contract to Minnesota for guard Jeff Teague, the type of veteran player who could maybe nudge a team a spot or two higher in a playoff push. Except the Hawks aren’t going to sniff the playoffs. So why did they act?

The idea is that adding Teague, a free agent after the season, will give Atlanta a look at a possible solution to one of its problems — a need for a back-up point guard who can help ease the problems when Trae Young is off the court. This isn’t “buying” in the traditional sense — it’s getting a preview of a possible solution before the Hawks tackle the problem this summer.

Last year, the Chicago Bulls made a similar move, trading for Washington’s Otto Porter Jr. despite having no real shot to make the playoffs when they acquired him.

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The general lesson teams have taken into this trade deadline is this — sometimes sellers look like buyers and sometimes buyers look like sellers.

It’s something scouts around the league are wondering about as the Feb. 6 trade deadline looms — whether some teams near the top of the standings could actually sell.

The team that comes up most often in NBA circles in this regard is the Toronto Raptors, who have had a tremendously successful season considering they lost Kawhi Leonard for nothing in free agency and have had to deal with injuries to Pascal Siakam and Marc Gasol.

Some teams believe the Raptors would listen to calls on players like Gasol and Serge Ibaka, both of whom are in the final years of their contracts and, seemingly not in their long-term plans. There’s also speculation that Kyle Lowry could be had at the right price — the kind of seismic moves teams headed for the postseason wouldn’t normally make.

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Two other names that have rival scouts and executives intrigued — Indiana’s Myles Turner and Brooklyn’s Spencer Dinwiddie.

Turner is one of the NBA’s best shot blockers and has fit better with Domantas Sabonis this season than in the past. Still, as Sabonis has blossomed, Turner could be viewed as an attractive asset to help the Pacers in other areas. It’s not an easy decision — he has value if he stays in Indiana, too.

Similarly, Dinwiddie has been awesome this season in Brooklyn, but with Kyrie Irving back and Kevin Durant returning next season, Dinwiddie’s opportunities in Brooklyn, logically, will shrink. He’d come at a steep price, but rival executives are at least thinking about it.

At the bottom of the conference, the New York Knicks have a roster full of veteran pieces — almost all power forwards — who are expected to attract some interest. At the top of that list is Marcus Morris, who would make a lot of sense for contenders like the Clippers.

Cleveland’s Kevin Love has played well and certainly would welcome a change of scenery, but his contract is a tough one for teams to take on.

For teams looking for a big man who can shoot, Davis Bertans in Washington, who is a free agent after this season and due for a big raise this summer, would probably be preferable. Charlotte’s Marvin Williams is another big man who can shoot and is in the final year of his deal.

Tip-ins

The Philadelphia 76ers scored a three-point basket against the Chicago Bulls on Friday night in an unusual way — they did it with six players on the court. The botched substitution led to a technical foul. … Proposed league changes — including an in-season tournament, reseeding the final four teams in the playoffs and a potential play-in tournament — won’t be voted on in April. The NBA will continue studying the changes and discussing them with teams and the players union.

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