As the NBA season nears the midway point, desperation has begun to set in for a number of teams who began the year with high expectations.

With so much basketball yet to be played and with the Feb. 9 trade deadline still more than a month away, all hope shouldn’t be lost, however.

For the following five teams who have tumbled into play-in tournament range (or worse), the path back to contention varies. Be it changes to the starting lineup or rotation, seeking a key player via trade or simply punting on this season for the hopes of a better draft pick and a brighter 2023-24, getting out of basketball purgatory can take many different paths.

These are the transactions and in-house moves the Charlotte Hornets, Chicago Bulls, Los Angeles Lakers, Toronto Raptors and Washington Wizards should make before it’s too late.

Nearly in desperation mode: Golden State Warriors, Miami Heat, Minnesota Timberwolves.

Charlotte Hornets

  • Current Record/Standing: 9-25, 14th in the East

Step 1: Embrace the Tank

Making the playoffs was always going to be difficult for Charlotte in an improved East, a task that became nearly impossible after LaMelo Ball missed 24 of the team’s first 27 games because of an ankle injury.

Even with Ball, the Hornets are just 3-7. They have three wins over teams with winning records this season.

Charlotte’s focus should now shift to developing the young talent on its roster and playing for a top draft pick, a selection they’re tied for the best odds to land. Scrapping and clawing to make the play-in tournament won’t do a whole lot for the future of the franchise. Landing a player like Victor Wembanyama or Scoot Henderson would.

This isn’t a complete teardown but rather a one-year reset.


Step 2: Start the Fire Sale

As bad as these Hornets are, fellow lottery-bound teams like the Detroit Pistons, San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder could all execute better tank jobs over the final few months of the season. If Charlotte stands pat and gets a healthy Ball for the rest of the campaign, this team could be a little too good.

Veterans on expiring contracts like Kelly Oubre Jr. and Mason Plumlee will be the easiest to move, especially with both earning $12.6 million or less.

Getting off the remaining contracts of Gordon Hayward ($31.5 million in 2023-24) and Terry Rozier ($74.7 million over three seasons) is going to take another desperate team looking to win now (hello, Los Angeles Lakers) but could help clear some immense cap space if flipped for an expiring contract.