One Trade Every NBA Playoff Team Would Make If They Could Right Now
The trade deadline was in February. It's long past.
And unfortunately, it's unlikely that any players on your favorite playoff team are going to take a sudden, massive step forward. Which means that there aren't a lot of avenues for any teams to immediately improve.
How can a playoff team get better in a hurry? They can't. Except through the powers of imagination and wishful thinking. So let's do just that—imagine some trades that each playoff team would make if they could.
Keep in mind that many of these trades would never happen in reality and that they're designed specifically for improvement during these playoffs and these playoffs only. Additionally, since pretty much any team would improve if they traded for a player like Chris Paul, we'll try and keep superstars out of it. So with all that being said...let's make some trades.
Chicago Bulls receive: Goran Dragic
Phoenix Suns receive: Rip Hamilton, Kirk Hinrich, 2013 first-round pick, 2014 first-round pick (from Charlotte)
The Chicago Bulls made it through the first round of the playoffs thanks to their defense, brilliant play from Joakim Noah and some uncanny shot-making from Nate Robinson (which has apparently carried on to the second round). But it's hard to imagine them getting past the Miami Heat without someone who can consistently create his own shot.
The Bulls scored just 103.5 points per 100 possessions in the regular season (per Basketball-Reference). They're a great passing team and can get good looks against most teams—like the Brooklyn Nets—but they really struggle to score against top-flight defenses. Goran Dragic may not be Derrick Rose, but he's a great passer and scores well in isolation and pick-and-roll situations (per Synergy Sports Technology).
Of course, this is all dependent on the idea that Derrick Rose won't return for the Bulls' playoff run, but that seems like a safe assumption at this point. And Dragic would fit nicely in the Bulls' offense—he can score in bunches, set up players for easy jumpers and is surprisingly capable off the ball.
As good as Nate Robinson has been so far, the Bulls really need consistent guard play, and Dragic is the best of the non-superstars. And as an added bonus, the guy's had some playoff moments.
Memphis Grizzlies receive: Arron Afflalo
Orlando Magic receive: Tayshaun Prince, Darrell Arthur, 2013 second-round pick, 2014 first-round pick
Tayshaun Prince has been solid for the Memphis Grizzlies but hasn't been able to fix the spacing issues that have plagued their offense all year.
Memphis was dead last in NBA three-point attempts and second-to-last among playoff teams in three-point percentage (per Basketball-Reference). The Grizzlies don't have a single knockdown outside shooter and allowed their opponents to crowd Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol in the paint.
Memphis wins a lot of games with its grit-and-grind philosophy, but because of its lack of outside shooters, the squad doesn't have the ability to score in bursts like other great playoff teams.
Someone like Arron Afflalo could change that in a hurry. Afflalo is a great outside shooter who also wouldn't jeopardize the Grizzlies' defensive identity. His numbers this season may not be great, but that's more a product of having to do too much for the Magic than any actual decline in play. Afflalo hits around a 40 percent clip from deep, and he could carve out a lot of space for Randolph and Gasol to operate.
Throw in the fact that Darrell Arthur being moved would free up time for Ed Davis—who really should be getting most of the minutes anyway—and this is about as good as a trade gets for Memphis.
Miami Heat receives: Any other backup point guard
Any other team receives: Norris Cole, picks, James Jones/Rashard Lewis
It's generally hard to find many flaws in a 66-win team, but the Miami Heat definitely have one.
At first glance, the Miami Heat's biggest weakness seems to be their defensive rebounding—they grabbed just 73 percent of all available defensive boards, good for 23rd in the league (per NBA.com).
But that's mostly because Miami's biggest strength is playing small. They may give up a fair amount of offensive rebounds, but that doesn't matter much when they're getting to the rim and hitting threes at will.
No, the Heat's biggest weakness is backup point guard Norris Cole. Cole's numbers don't look terrible for a backup, but he's one of the least productive players in the league in terms of how he affects his team when he's on the court.
When Cole is on the bench, the Heat's offense improves by over seven points per 100 possessions, and their defense improves by over four points per 100 possessions (per 82games.com).
The problem is that Cole has a remarkably high usage rate for someone so inept offensively (per Basketball-Reference), and it kills what the Heat do on that side of the ball. You could genuinely make a case that he's the worst backup point guard in the league.
There's no specific player the Heat need. Ideally, they'd probably want someone who can play off the ball and hit from a decent clip outside; but really, any other rotation point guard would give a huge boost to the Heat's bench unit.
New York Knicks
New York Knicks receive: Greg Stiemsma
Minnesota Timberwolves receive: Quentin Richardson, 2013 first-round pick
Since the New York Knicks roster is roughly a combined 4,000 years old, they don't have all that much of value that they can afford to trade away.
Still though, even a seemingly small pickup like Greg Stiemsma would give New York a boost.
The Knicks were carved up defensively by the Indiana Pacers in the first game of their playoff series, allowing over 110 points per 100 possessions (per Basketball-Reference). The Pacers gave the Knicks problems in a few different ways, but they really hurt the Knicks at the rim.
The Pacers abused the Knicks on cuts and post-ups from Roy Hibbert and David West in Game 1 (per Synergy Sports Technology). New York only has two defensive-minded big men—Tyson Chandler and Kenyon Martin. Chandler and Martin are both very good rim-protectors, but they're also both limited right now—Martin because of age and Chandler because of injury.
Stiemsma is a great shot-blocker and outstanding at altering opponents' looks. Opposing players shoot under 42 percent when Stiemsma is within five feet, one of the best marks in the NBA (via Eric Weiss and Kirk Goldsberry's “The Dwight Effect”).
Stiemsma might not be the best offensive player, but he can catch and finish at the rim, and any team with Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith doesn't have a ton of shots to give away in the first place.
Teams that can't protect the rim don't win championships, and Stiemsma could help the Knicks in that regard. If Chandler was magically 100 percent physically, things might be different, but as it stands, New York could use Stiemsma's services.
Indiana Pacers receive: Wesley Matthews
Portland Trail Blazers receive: Lance Stephenson, Gerald Green, 2013 second-round pick
The Indiana Pacers are sort of like the Memphis Grizzlies from the East. They both have great big men, a great player running the offense and no knockdown shooters to take advantage at all.
Wesley Matthews isn't spectacular when he's asked to create his own offense, but he can hit threes at a high percentage—40 percent for his career—and is capable of defending 2s and 3s.
The Pacers, who don't have anyone who can provide spacing for Roy Hibbert or David West, need someone like that. Paul George and George Hill are the best shooters on the squad, but they're not sharpshooters, and they spend most of their time on the ball rather than away from it.
Obviously, it would be a shame to give up Lance Stephenson, who's done a little bit of everything for the Pacers so far this postseason. But Stephenson's man often cheats off of him to help congest the paint, and that won't change anytime soon. Like the Grizzlies, the Pacers have nearly all the tools for an elite offense. They just need someone who can get it going from outside.
Matthews offers that, plus the defensive chops to take on an opponent's best wing scorer whenever George needs a breather. “Three and D” guys are essential to every NBA contender, and Matthews is already one of the league's best.
San Antonio Spurs
San Antonio Spurs receive: Martell Webster
Brooklyn Nets receive: DeJuan Blair, 2013 second-round pick
They don't make teams much more complete than the San Antonio Spurs, who don't really have a glaring weakness.
But if you're really trying to find a hole in the squad, then it's probably the play of Gary Neal, who plays spot minutes at the point and shooting guard poistions. Something just hasn't been right with Neal this season. He hasn't been that bad, but he hasn't been the same guy he was in years past.
Neal hit under 36 percent of his threes this year, down from 42 percent in his last two seasons. It's not totally his fault—he's been banged up for awhile—but even a small decline in his play really hurts the Spurs. This is a guy they used to run plays for during crunch time. He's important.
All San Antonio really needs is a cheap backup who can hit threes and not call his own number too many times. And the player who fits that criteria best is the Washington Wizards' Martell Webster.
Webster's not really a playmaker, but he was one of the best spot-up shooters in the league this season, hitting on 42 percent of his threes. He doesn't try to do too much, and he's actually a hybrid guard/forward, so he could provide Gregg Popovich with some added flexibility in both big and small lineups.
Again, this is mostly nitpicking as the Spurs, when healthy, have few weaknesses. But Webster would be a nice addition to the Spurs, and DeJuan Blair won't get many minutes now that Boris Diaw is back, anyways.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Oklahoma City Thunder receive: James Harden, Francisco Garcia, Carlos Delfino
Houston Rockets receive: Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, Perry Jones III, 2013 first-round picks (from Dallas and Toronto), 2013 second-round pick (from Charlotte)
Yeah, yeah, I know I said no superstars, but this is an exception because of what might have been.
Obviously Sam Presti, the Oklahoma City Thunder's general manager, couldn't have predicted a Russell Westbrook injury, and it would be stupid to use hindsight to bash the trade now. But, man, if there's one player in the league the Thunder could use on their team right now—outside of Westbrook—it would be James Harden.
Outside of a great showing against the Memphis Grizzlies, OKC's defense has been very poor without Westbrook, allowing 104 points per 100 possessions (via NBA.com). But that's mostly been due to dumb mistakes and should fix itself. The real problem is the Thunder offense, which has become far too simplistic.
OKC essentially has two ways of attacking—throwing Reggie Jackson in the pick-and-roll or letting Kevin Durant play point-forward. That's it. Those are the only two members of the team who can handle the ball. No disrespect to Derek Fisher, who's been great offensively—and shockingly solid defensively—for the Thunder, but when he's trying to break down defenses off the dribble, it can be tough to watch.
Ideally, the Thunder would have another ball-handler who can create shots and also hit from outside. Basically, their ideal player would be James Harden. This isn't to make light of Kevin Martin's contributions—he's been excellent for OKC. But the majority of his offense is set up by other people, so he can't fill the roles that Harden or Westbrook did.
The Thunder are still a top-tier team since Durant happens to be really, really good at basketball. But his life would be much easier if this team still had Harden.
Golden State Warriors
Golden State Warriors receive: Chandler Parsons
Houston Rockets receive: Harrison Barnes, 2014 first-round pick
Without David Lee, the Golden State Warriors have been forced to go small quite a bit, playing either Draymond Green or Harrison Barnes at the 4. Going small with Barnes worked well against the Denver Nuggets (yielding a net rating of plus-15.7 per NBA.com), but the Warriors could face trouble against a tighter defensive team.
Barnes' man has a tendency to simply leave Barnes alone and play free safety, where he can disrupt Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry off of screens and provide help against pick-and-rolls or Andrew Bogut post-ups. Now, to be fair, when the Nuggets tried this, Barnes made them pay. He hit 40 percent of his threes and made smart cuts for easy buckets.
Barnes is just an average outside shooter though, and he often struggles with his shot selection. For just a one-year run, Golden State would be better off with someone like Chandler Parsons, who could play a hybrid Barnes/Lee role.
Parsons is well-accustomed to playing fast-paced small ball with the Houston Rockets, and unlike Barnes, he's a knockdown shooter who will pull the trigger if he gets any daylight at all. He's also a gifted passer and could be used in some of the same pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop sets that David Lee was.
This is no indictment of Barnes, who could be a fantastic player in the future and has already made a lot of highlight-reel plays—this probably being the most recent example. He could be great. He's just not there yet.
Unless David Lee looks 100 percent healthy against the San Antonio Spurs, Golden State has to rely on speed, shooting and flexibility to beat elite teams. Parsons would give them all of that.