Time for teams to go all-in, or all-out - NBC Sports

Time for teams to go all-in, or all-out
Which teams should push forward with title hopes, and which should bottom out?
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As we forge into the second half of the NBA season, the last place teams want to be is in the middle.
February 14, 2013, 1:02 pm

But then comes the All-Star break, when the entire league takes pause for four days, allowing for genuine reflection on prospects going forward.

That the trading deadline comes four days after the All-Star Game merely heightens the motivation to take stock.

And this season, there is plenty of stock to take, with an argument to be made that in this era of Big Threes, we already have three clear-cut championship frontrunners in the Spurs, Thunder and Heat.

Yet, if everyone else is actually playing for second place (or fourth or fifth or sixth), then the All-Star break also is a time to take a longer view when it comes to the impending increase in the luxury tax, free agency, draft positioning (and, yes, that includes the celebrated NBA tradition that is tanking).

In the NBA, there is no worse place to be stuck than in the middle. If you don't have legitimate NBA championship expectation than you likely are far better off with cap space or draft position.

Eastern Conference

The Heat clearly are playing for the moment, additional championship jewelry the best enticement for LeBron James to bypass that 2014 opt-out (or to re-up).

With their aging roster, the Knicks, too, have no choice but to live in the moment.

And yet, beyond that, there are plenty of teams with plenty to weigh.

Bulls: With Derrick Rose on the verge of his return, it could be argued that no team will get as significant a second-half boost as the Bulls.

Yet there hardly can be a definitive read before the trading deadline.

To a degree, with the way the Bulls sold off their bench for cheaper pieces in the offseason and the way they've been looking to either unload Rip Hamilton or even Carlos Boozer in the name of tax-prevention, the Bulls could find themselves using the final two months of the regular season setting the table for a full return to health by Rose in 2013-14.

Pacers: Like the Bulls, the Pacers also are getting a significant roster boost with the return of Danny Granger. But this might not necessarily be addition by addition, not with the way Paul George has thrived to All-Star heights in the absence of Granger.

Yes, Granger's offense is badly needed, and he certainly would boost their odds in a run at the No. 2 East seed and therefore no Heat before the East finals. But as a leading NBA scout said recently, plenty of questions remain regarding the chemistry of how the Pacers are playing now and how Granger could impact that dynamic.

All of that said, amid meager attendance, the Pacers have to play for the moment and put everything into securing No. 2.

Hawks: Of course Josh Smith is gone. If not now, then in free agency. Did you really think Danny Ferry was done after Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams?

It is a move that has to be made, a fresh start under Ferry and more than these one- or two-and-done playoff runs.

At this stage, it is better to let Smith fail elsewhere. Little in his past performance indicates championship pedigree.

Nets: Speaking of Smith, isn't he exactly what the Russian oligarch covets? Brooklyn already has added Johnson, so why not become the Hawks North, a thrill show that fizzles in the playoffs?

Smith alongside Gerald Wallace could prove to be just that.

Amid Deron Williams' injury woes, it might be time to step back and accept that there will be no challenge to the Knicks this season. Billy King might accept that; the Russian oligarch won't.

Celtics: More than the seven-game winning streak, the loss in Charlotte was an eye opener, with Danny Ainge's eyes long ago opened to this roster's aging limitations.

Yes, Doc Rivers can coach chicken $%&$ into chicken soup, but the time is at hand to prepare for the next wave. Paul Pierce simply has more values to other teams. Ditto, K.G.

Eric Bledsoe would be a start, and also allow for a seemingly needed parting with Rajon Rondo, who could fetch value in his own right (Hello, Russian oligarch?).

Bucks: Even with Scott Skiles walking out on the team, everything has fallen into place for the Bucks to secure the conference's eighth and final playoff seed thanks to the failings of the 76ers and everyone beyond.

Yes, it likely would lead to an ugly first-round demise at the hands of the Heat. But it also would afford the Bucks a moment in the national spotlight and at least two badly needed playoff games.

They have no choice but to play for the moment.

76ers: So Andrew Bynum is experiencing knee pain again? He is sort of a Dwight Howard who doesn't play, a center who is bringing as much baggage and free-agency drama from the bench.

There isn't much that can be put in play on the trade market, but if the 76ers aren't already looking to the future, they're fooling themselves.

Western Conference

Clippers: This is an intriguing case study. By now, the Clippers have convinced themselves it's all about the moment, and perhaps it has to be, with Chris Paul's impending free agency. To a degree, that also hamstrings their options with Bledsoe.

Yet for all the depth they have collected, depth that tends to be minimized in the postseason, questions remain about DeAndre Jordan as a playoff center and the limitations of Caron Butler at small forward.

With the Lakers down, the Clippers undoubtedly will go for it this season, yet what they really need is more top-line quality alongside Paul and Blake Griffin, to a degree to keep building. If the approach is all about the moment, then Bledsoe-K.G. has to be considered, or possibly even something for Paul Pierce.

Nuggets: Yes, George Karl again is telling us about the joy and possibilities of a team without a superstar but with wonderful complementary pieces. And exactly what else would you expect him to say?

The Nuggets are built for regular-season success with their mile-high homecourt advantage. Still, it might be time to package some of those pieces for something more substantial, even at the cost at a run at homecourt in the first round.

Otherwise, it will be another good-but-not-good-enough outcome.

Grizzlies: Only at 3 p.m. Eastern on Feb. 21 will we take the word of Grizzlies' management that Zach Randolph is staying. My gosh, it's almost as if we're left longing for the Heisley era.

There is little Memphis can do to undo the damage they've already done to their 2013 playoff prospects. Once the deals with Cleveland and Toronto were made, the Grizzlies went from contender to something far less.

Jazz: Just do it already. Make a decision with Paul Millsap, Derrick Favors, Al Jefferson and Enes Kanter. Pick two guys, say, 'This is our power rotation,' and then balance out this badly unbalanced roster.

Yes, a playoff spot might be there for the taking. And there certainly would be satisfaction in holding off the Lakers or Mavericks. But to what end, a swift playoff demise?

Rockets: Daryl Morey has made it clear that Dwight would be welcomed at anytime. So yes, even with their own playoff hopes in the balance, a pitch will be made. As long as it doesn't involve James Harden, we're fine with that.

Lakers: Of course they should trade Dwight. He's simply not cut from Lakers cloth. We know that. They know that. He knows that.

Or else they should trade Kobe, if only to allow him to finish out his time in something more than a go-nowhere situation.

Instead, they will push for No. 8 and likely something gruesome (if they get there) in the first round against the Spurs or Thunder.

Mavericks: Yes, the Bank of Cuban is open. Yet have you noticed how precious little the Mavericks actually have to offer? And it's not as if a sign-and-trade, under the new CBA, would be all that simple for Dwight in the offseason.

So they likely will push forward with what they have in search of a playoff spot. Most likely fruitlessly.

Ira Winderman writes regularly for NBCSports.com and covers the Heat and the NBA for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. You can follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/IraHeatBeat.

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