NEW YORK -- The East was a two-team race at last year's trade deadline, and Larry Bird made the move he thought would win it.
When the Indiana Pacers acquired Evan Turner from rebuilding Philadelphia, they hoped it would provide the scoring punch to beat out Miami and reach the NBA Finals. It didn't, and Turner is now in Boston.
Now the Pacers are trying to get in the postseason, two games out of eighth place and seeking a spark that could sling-shot them past others down the bottom of the playoff ladder. Bird promises to be as aggressive as when his team on top.
"We're always looking to improve the team and obviously there's a lot of improvement that needs to be done," the Pacers' president said recently. "So we'll look around the league and talk to a lot of different people and see what's out there and hopefully we can do something that makes us better."
If not, he said, he'll wait until the summer.
That's what every NBA team has to decide in the next couple of days.
The trade deadline is Thursday afternoon, and with many teams in contention, the question is whether that makes them more conservative or cautious.
Help could be found in the hours before the NBA returns from its All-Star break. But some will be hesitant to tinker with so little time left in the season. The Turner deal, in which Indiana traded popular veteran Danny Granger, certainly didn't help its locker room chemistry.
Plus, teams can plug holes by simply opening their wallets, without costing any assets.
Houston signed Josh Smith after he was waived by Detroit, Amare Stoudemire is headed to the Mavericks once he clears waivers, and other veterans could be bought out and become free agents after the deadline.
One of the most intriguing moves could involve Ray Allen, who will have contending suitors if he opts to play after sitting out all season.
The teams most motivated to deal might be the disappointing ones. Brooklyn probably can't find a taker for Deron Williams with all his injuries and dollars left on the $98.5 million contract he signed in 2012, but was close to moving Brook Lopez earlier this season. Denver's rocky season should have contenders calling to inquire about Arron Afflalo, Ty Lawson or Wilson Chandler.
The right move can help someone surge through spring. The wrong one could mean an early start on summer.
Don't count on top stars changing teams - none has at the deadline since Utah surprisingly sent Williams to the Nets on the eve of the 2011 one. Teams more likely trade at this point to clear cap space for the summer, which is why the New York Knicks could seek a deal for Jose Calderon after already shipping out guards J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert.
Cleveland acquired them and, along with getting Timofey Mozgov from Denver in a separate deal, perhaps proved the best moves for this season were already made.
Dallas acted quickly to acquire Rajon Rondo from Boston in December, not long before Memphis capitalized on the Celtics' youth movement to deal for Jeff Green.
For Golden State and Atlanta, the current NBA leaders, their winning moves maybe came long ago.
The Warriors got Andrew Bogut from Milwaukee at the 2012 deadline to provide some muscle in the rugged West. Five months later, the Hawks acquired Kyle Korver from Chicago, and he could be headed for the best perimeter-shooting season in NBA history.
"When I got traded to Atlanta I was coming from Chicago and I wasn't really all that excited about it, to be honest with you. But all the people that Danny Ferry kept on bringing in, they've been not just good basketball people, but good people," Korver said.
"When I was a free agent two summers ago, I chose to come back. We had some opportunities to go to some teams that already were more established and could win, but I just really believed in what Atlanta was building and what they were doing. I could see my role in it and I just wanted to be a part of that. I never thought that it would come together this quickly."
That's the lightning in a bottle every team is hoping to catch.