Trades That Would Strengthen the NBA's Top Title Contenders
Do you hear that? That's the sound of the Trade Machine churning out fake deals with aplomb ahead of the NBA's February 21 trade deadline.
With mere days left until then, current and wishful general managers will be busy tossing around ideas and doing their best to make the numbers work. But as interesting as it will be to see which teams buy, which teams sell and to what extent each does so, the real intrigue of the trade deadline lies with those already at the head of the class.
Titles have been won and lost on deadline day in the past. The Detroit Pistons put themselves over the top when they picked up Rasheed Wallace in 2004, and the Los Angeles Lakers came ever so close to doing the same with the acquisition of Pau Gasol in '08 (a trade that paid off handsomely for both the Lakers and the Memphis Grizzlies, mind you).
Of course, potential champions don't always require significant midseason trades to put themselves over the top. The Miami Heat largely stood pat last March, the Dallas Mavericks kept quiet in 2011, and the Lakers opted against a shakeup during their title defense in 2010.
Still, the rumor mill is bound to be abuzz with trade suggestions for those at the top of the title-contending heap. These five in particular will certainly create a lot of chatter—however unlikely the possibility.
The Heat have proven they don't need much (if anything) to ensure that they're in the mix for another Larry O'Brien Trophy at season's end. LeBron James is playing better than perhaps anyone ever has before, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are both performing at All-Star levels and the supporting cast, while inconsistent, has done enough to make the Heat the favorites to repeat.
Still, Miami's issues against teams with size has been all too evident. They've been pounded on the glass in losses to the likes of the Indiana Pacers, Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Clippers, all of whom stand out as possible postseason opponents. What's more, the Heat are facing a future filled with large luxury tax bills and onerous roster-building restrictions as a result of their massive payroll.
Exchanging little-used big man Joel Anthony for another center wouldn't solve all of Miami's problems in this regard, but it would be a solid step in that direction. They could package Anthony (and the remaining two years on his contract) with a first-round pick in a bid to acquire another big whose deal is set to expire.
The best prospects? Tiago Splitter of the San Antonio Spurs and Timofey Mozgov of the Denver Nuggets. Both the Spurs and the Nuggets could use a stout positional defender and rim protector of Anthony's caliber to bolster their back lines.
At this point, the Spurs seem an unlikely fit, given the growth of Splitter's role under Gregg Popovich's tutelage. Mozgov, though, has been rotting away on Denver's bench. He has also been mentioned in connection with Miami as recently as mid-January. Nuggets general manager Masai Ujiri would be wary to take on more money going forward, but the potential of picking up another draft pick may be enough to ease his concerns.
Elsewhere in the Eastern Conference, the Indiana Pacers appear primed for a long playoff push. They sport the NBA's stingiest defense and, along with the development of Paul George and the impending return of Danny Granger, boast an offense with plenty of potential for growth over the stretch run of the season.
But as promising as the reunion of George and Granger (and the added depth gained from moving Lance Stephenson to the bench) seems on paper, the Pacers offense will still be without anything resembling a reliable three-point threat. Indy ranks in the middle of the pack in three-point attempts, makes and percentage, and will surely need someone to open up driving lanes for their wings and space in the middle for David West and Roy Hibbert.
It just so happens that the Orlando Magic have just such a player available in J.J. Redick. The seventh-year guard out of Duke is a career 40 percent three-point shooter, is in the midst of his finest season as a pro (15.3 points, 4.4 assists) and is in the last year of his contract. Better yet, Redick is already intimately familiar with coming off the bench and all that such a role entails.
The only problem? The Pacers might not have the pieces to satiate Orlando's appetite. ESPN's Chris Broussard recently reported that Indy offered up Tyler Hansbrough and D.J. Augustin for Redick, but was summarily rebuffed. That jibes with what ESPN's Marc Stein wrote in early February about Orlando GM Rob Hennigan seeking picks and/or young players on cheap contracts for the sharpshooter.
Chances are the Pacers would need to sweeten the pot with a pick of their own to make this deal work.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Would Kevin Garnett consider waiving his no-trade clause to play in Oklahoma City?
At first glance, this seems like a silly thought, especially if the Thunder sent Kendrick Perkins back to the Boston Celtics to make the money work. Garnett has no known connection of any significant depth to the city or the team.
But would he really pass up the chance to win another ring while playing alongside Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook? With KG, the Thunder would almost certainly vault to the top of the title-contending heap, especially considering how close they are to the apex already.
Garnett would be almost too perfect a fit for OKC given what the team needs. He's a skilled offensive player who can post up if need be, but is perfectly suited to spacing the floor with 20-footers. His defensive acumen is nearly unmatched, even as he approaches his 37th birthday, and he can protect the rim better than anyone currently on the Thunder roster.
Moreover, KG is a fiery leader with a penchant for plaguing the Heat (i.e. OKC's top competition for the title), and could potentially rein in the often unpredictable and volatile Westbrook.
There are certainly drawbacks for the Thunder in this scenario, not the least of which are Garnett's salary (more than $12 million over the next two) and the likely loss of prospects (Perry Jones III? Jeremy Lamb?) and picks that such a deal would require.
But if Garnett were to rubber-stamp such a move, OKC's biggest concern would ultimately be a matter of handling having so many Kevins (Durant, Garnett and Martin) in the same locker room on their way to the Finals.
Los Angeles Clippers
Strange as it may seem to long-time followers of the NBA, the Clippers might actually have the best chance to acquire Kevin Garnett.
For one, they have plenty to offer the Celtics for Garnett's services. They could part ways with Eric Bledsoe and DeAndre Jordan (as was first reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports), or include Caron Butler in some capacity, be it in place of Jordan or as a means of bringing back other parts.
More importantly, the Clips can offer KG some of the comforts he has be hard-pressed to find anywhere else. He lives in nearby Malibu during the offseason and shares a close relationship with current Clippers guard Chauncey Billups, dating back to their days as teammates with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
And if contending for a title is still on Garnett's radar in any capacity, then, surely, he should find this Clips squad appealing. They already sport a legitimate MVP candidate in Chris Paul, a productive forward in Blake Griffin, and arguably the NBA's deepest bench. In KG, the Clippers would finally have themselves a top-notch defensive force who can provide a bit of floor spacing on the offensive end and championship-caliber leadership all around.
For their part, the Clippers may not be keen to shake up their roster at all, much less by parting ways with a promising point like Bledsoe and an athletic, young big like DJ, whose presence was allegedly part of the reason Chris Paul pursued a move to L.A. in the first place. Big picture: making a move for Garnett would set the Clips up for a run at a championship now while proving to CP3 that they're committed to winning...
At least to the extent that would entice Paul to re-up with the team this summer.
San Antonio Spurs
You know who else could use Kevin Garnett? The Spurs.
It would make plenty of sense for San Antonio to talk shop with the C's, particularly with Stephen Jackson's contract to make the numbers add up. The benefits for Boston in such a situation, though, seem less than enticing, and Garnett, while not quite the Tim Duncan adversary he once was, probably wouldn't be all that keen to join his long-time rival in the Alamo City.
Assuming that doesn't even register, San Antonio could turn to the Utah Jazz, who are now led by former Spurs assistant GM Dennis Lindsey. The Jazz have two big men on expiring contracts (Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson) who could fill the Spurs' need for a productive player to pair with Duncan up front. As well as Timmy has played this season, San Antonio can hardly expect to parlay its regular-season success into a title without more support behind their aging Hall of Famer.
Both of Utah's bigs would fit well into the pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop sets that comprise so much of San Antonio's offense. Millsap is more athletic and has better range on his shot, which could make him a more natural fit next to the Big Fundamental.
But, according to Chris Sheridan of SheridanHoops.com, the Spurs have expressed plenty of interest in Big Al. Such a swap would more than likely include Stephen Jackson's contract, along with Tiago Splitter and one of the Spurs' young point guards, be it Patty Mills or Nando de Colo.
Whichever player the Spurs pursue (if they choose to pursue either one at all), you can be sure they won't be parting ways with Kawhi Leonard to make the math work.