NBA Teams That Are 1 Trade Away from Landing a Star

Stephen BabbFeatured ColumnistJuly 30, 2013

NBA Teams That Are 1 Trade Away from Landing a Star

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    Here's a new one. Your team struggling to put those rebuilding days behind it? Just find yourself a "disgruntled" star—presumably in the hope he becomes a little less disgruntled on account of the greener grass and all.

    That's one way to do it, anyway, and it's crossed new Phoenix Suns GM Ryan McDonough's mind (via HOOPSWORLD's Steve Kyler):

    “We could have as many as three [picks] next year and two the year after,” McDonough said to Adam Green of ArizonaSports.com.

    “When teams have maybe a disgruntled superstar, what are they looking for in return? Well, they’re looking for picks, that’s what they want.

    “I think we’re well positioned to strike if and when the next disgruntled superstar becomes available.”

    Sounds appetizing, huh?

    The Suns aren't exactly in any position to be picky. And if one of those disgruntled stars is—oh I don't know—DeMarcus Cousins, well, you suck it up and see what happens.

    The trade market may seem like a second-best means of roster improvement to the casual fan. Why lose something of value when free agents and draft picks cost only their price in cap space? Unfortunately, even the best free-agent targets become overly valued, empowered with all the leverage afforded by a pretty open market. Meanwhile, draft picks are rarely guaranteed to pan out, much less pan out on an All-Star scale.

    For many organizations, that means trading one's way out of the lottery is the surest option. When there's a chance to take someone like James Harden and turn it all around, it's a no-brainer for all but the most risk-averse, penny-pinching GMs—the one's who've gotten used to losing.

    Looking to acquire a difference-maker is one thing, but having the resources to do so is obviously another. A handful of teams could—and most definitely should—be in the market to snag a star who's thus far eluded them.

Atlanta Hawks

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    With or without Josh Smith, the Atlanta Hawks still have at least three more seasons of Al Horford. What they make of those seasons depends on what you make of Jeff Teague's upside and whether you believe an assortment of role players like Kyle Korver and Lou Williams will compensate for the lack of a star scorer.

    Good luck with that.

    The Hawks are in perfect position to overachieve for the 500th year in a row, sneaking into the playoffs only to have reality come crashing down in the first round. It could be worse, but it could probably be much better too.

    Capitalizing on what's left of the Horford era won't be easy. Lucas Nogueira, Dennis Shroeder, John Jenkins and Jared Cunningham all have various degrees of upside, but they're another year or two away from becoming rotation players worthy of a club looking to contend. Danny Ferry and the Hawks front office may be willing to wait it out, hoping Horford's patience follows suit. The last thing Atlanta needs is another Joe Johnson-sized mistake.

    If the opportunity to secure a versatile scorer presents itself, though, Ferry has to think about it. Should Shroeder rapidly improve upon his intriguing summer league performances, recently-retained Jeff Teague could become reasonably enticing trade bait.

Boston Celtics

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    Danny Ainge has plunged the Boston Celtics into a strange netherworld of partial rebuilding. Some might fancy it a "reload," a more patient approach where the lows aren't quite so low. Every now and then, that kind of thing pans out. Most of the time, though, you're either winning or losing. First-round exits and middling draft positions still count as losing.

    This roster isn't terrible. Rajon Rondo is one of those force-multiplying guys who makes everyone else better, so his teams tend to overachieve. Jeff Green and Avery Bradley are ready-made, quality role players, just waiting for a new star to support. There's plenty to like here.

    But there's no one in sight who figures to replace Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. At least not anytime soon.

    The C's have a basic choice before them. If Ainge is willing to wait on youngsters like Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk and Fab Melo to develop, he might as well send Rondo packing and set the Celtics up with still more young assets. On the other hand, if he wants to win now, he's already in fine position to assemble an attractive trade package or two, ensuring Rondo at least one elite partner.

    That could mean parting ways with Green and/or Bradley unless Ainge can spin something magical out of MarShon Brooks, Jordan Crawford, Kris Humphries' expiring deal and any of those young bigs. The Celtics also have a trade exception from the Nets deal worth over $10 million that can be used to defray the need for matching salaries in a deal.

    Perhaps most importantly, they're awash in draft picks thanks to separate deals with the Nets (for Garnett, Pierce, Jason Terry) and L.A. Clippers (for Doc Rivers).

    The closer we get to the trade deadline, the better positioned Boston will be to benefit from another club's failed experiment or attempt to save money. Boston should look to secure a big man and some shooting, targets who will make the most of Rondo. Josh Smith would have been nice. With him off the table, it might be worth keeping an eye on LaMarcus Aldridge—an All-Star big man who could be on his way out of Portland before long, per Comcast Sportsnet.com's Chris Haynes.

Charlotte Bobcats

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    It's lonely at the top, but the Charlotte Bobcats have proven it's even lonelier at the bottom.

    The organization has little to show for all its bottom feeding, and it has to be open for business if it's to accelerate its extrication from this vicious lottery cycle. Outside of recently signed Al Jefferson and point guard Kemba Walker, most of this roster should be up for grabs—if not free.

    Though rumors of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's availability were reportedly refuted, it's hard to imagine the Bobcats passing on an opportunity to land a two-way star on the wing, preferably one who can shoot the three. Nothing would complete the 2014-15 Hornets' resurrection like a shooter who'd make Dell Curry proud. Finding that shooter is another story, to say nothing of the front office's willingness to take on salary.

    In a perfect world, Charlotte would probably prefer a deal allowing them to keep Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, along with at least one of either Bismack Biyombo or Cody Zeller. Unfortunately, that would leave little else to deal outside of Ben Gordon and Ramon Sessions' $18.5 million in expiring contracts.

    Alas, the Bobcats are not living in a perfect world. They probably knew that already.

Denver Nuggets

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    The Denver Nuggets have it all—except for the one thing they probably need to graduate from mere discussions of dark-horse possibilities. Ty Lawson needs help, the kind of help Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler or JaVale McGee may never provide.

    There's plenty to like about Denver's depth but plenty to doubt about whether depth alone can overcome an increasingly irreproachable Western Conference elite.

    Fortunately, the Nuggets stocked up after Andre Iguodala forced his way to the Golden State Warriors. The decisions to sign J.J. Hickson and acquire Darrell Arthur, for example, make it possible—albeit heartbreaking—to deal Chandler or Kenneth Faried, both of whom could go a long way in fetching good value.

    Denver also has a batch of potential trade add-ons that would fill out some of the league's thinner rotations. Evan Fournier, Jordan Hamilton and/or Anthony Randolph might help new GM Tim Connelly assemble a package with which to reckon.

    Some Nuggets fans may just as soon roll the dice with the status quo, hoping another year together will yield some continued growth and maybe a little luck on the injury front.

Milwaukee Bucks

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    The Milwaukee Bucks have a glut of pretty good young players, now including point guard Brandon Knight as per the Brandon Jennings-to-Detroit deal reported by Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski.

    But do they have any stars in the making? While we can't discount the possibility we still haven't seen the best of O.J. Mayo, the emergence of Milwaukee's backcourt is no guarantee. We know it's talented, but we don't know that either Mayo or Knight will blossom into someone capable of carrying the Bucks.

    Milwaukee could opt to preserve cap space for next summer, but standing entirely pat would put the Bucks in serious danger of taking a step back. Having let small forwards Mike Dunleavy and Luc Mbah a Moute escape via free agency and trade (respectively), there's a gaping hole on the wing at the moment.

    Meanwhile, the Bucks do have something other teams want, namely any one of big men Larry Sanders, Ersan Ilyasova and John Henson—all of whom are young and either proven (Sanders, Ilyasova) or promising (Henson). Sanders might as well be untouchable on account of his superior athleticism and ability to protect the rim.

    Sanders' emergence could make the similarly disposed and slightly younger Henson expendable. Though Henson alone wouldn't translate into a star, he's the sort of high-reward prospect who'd help get the job done. Throw him into a deal including some draft picks, maybe a veteran or two (e.g. Luke Ridnour's expiring contract) and you're in business.

Orlando Magic

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    Don't get me wrong. The chances the Orlando Magic actually want to acquire a star are slim, especially at the moment.

    Just one season into the organization's post-Dwight Howard rebuild, GM Rob Hennigan knows it usually takes some time to get from those nascent regrouping stages to resemble a "win now" roster. Coming off the nightmare of trying to keep Howard happy, the Magic may be content to see where their young ensemble project takes them.

    All the same, there will be opportunities to make immediate talent upgrades.

    In addition to reasonably priced veterans like Arron Afflalo and Glen Davis, the Magic boast an army of even more reasonably priced prospects. Maurice Harkless, Nikola Vucevic, Tobias Harris and Andrew Nicholson are all still relatively early into modest rookie contracts, and all potentially attractive to clubs needing to get younger. Hard as it'd be to part with those kind of assets, that's at least partly why they're there.

    If rookie Victor Oladipo experiences a meteoric rise to stardom, Hennigan may seize the moment and exchange some of his future talent for an immediate impact—much to the delight of fans bracing for a long road ahead.

     

Phoenix Suns

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    So do the Phoenix Suns have what it takes to land a star—disgruntled or otherwise?

    Adding Eric Bledsoe could help by freeing the organization to deal point guard Goran Dragic. Though the current plan is to see how Bledsoe and Dragic fare in the backcourt together, it wouldn't be surprising to see a better plan in place before too long. It seems like those small backcourts never last for long.

    It's tempting to focus on the Suns' specific needs, but the truth is they need better versions of everything. 

    Ryan McDonough won't look all that young anymore by the time he sees through the development of guys like Kendall Marshall and Archie Goodwin. He may be well-advised to flip those guys—along with Alex Len and really anyone else on the roster—for whatever surfaces in advance of the trade deadline.

    Suns fans will keep talking themselves into the Morris brothers' upside or the possibility that Shannon Brown's secretly much better than he's ever let on. The cold truth is that this rebuild either needs to go into overdrive (goodbye Marcin Gortat), or it's time to roll the dice on whichever disgruntled star McDonough has in mind.

    Don't rule out Eric Gordon as an option. The previously disgruntled guard may sound like he's on board with the New Orleans Pelicans' next chapter, but let's not forget how badly Gordon longed for Phoenix just a year ago.

     

Sacramento Kings

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    The Sacramento Kings might want to think about just starting over.

    It's hard to know what to make of new GM Pete D’Alessandro's incredibly brief tenure. Ben McLemore was a nice find at the draft, but is there anyone who wouldn't have taken him at No. 7? Should we give the Kings' front office credit for anything more than not overthinking things?

    Veterans Carl Landry and Luc Mbah a Moute both bring useful (and contrasting) skill sets to the table, but if the season started today, this roster isn't quite ripe yet. If the plan is to wait things out another couple of years and see where McLemore takes them, the Kings may put the brakes on any big moves.

    On the other hand, DeMarcus Cousins is entering his fourth season, and D'Alessandro would be wise to either keep him happy or trade him before things get messy. Cousins is a phenomenal talent, but there's no telling whether he'll remain content as the team brings along a young backcourt and still-imperfect wing rotation.

    If keeping Cousins in Sacramento is priority No. 1, potential trades should revolve around finding upgrades at the point guard and small forward positions.  

    Isaiah Thomas is better suited to be a sixth man, and not just because of his size (5'9"). His 22.3 assist ratio ranked 61st among point guards last season, and that's not going to cut it in a rotation with scorers like Cousins and McLemore looking for touches. Newly acquired Greivis Vasquez fits the profile of a pure-blooded distributor, but it's not at all clear he's a legitimate star in the making.

    Mbah a Moute adds needed defense on the wing, and Landry can split some time with him at the 3 when he isn't at the 4. All the same, this club probably needs a legitimate two-way starter on the wing before it can seriously entertain a playoff run.

    So what's Sacramento got to offer? In theory, it makes sense to swap some combination of Thomas, Vasquez and Marcus Thornton (along with picks as additional sweetener) for a star who can score, make plays and defend.

    Jrue Holiday would have been the right idea had the New Orleans Hornets not already snagged him. Andre Iguodala would have been a nice fit too. The Kings could go after someone like Wilson Chandler, Thaddeus Young or Danny Granger. Minus the making plays part, each of those guys fits the profile.