Here's the thing about NBA title contenders: They generally don't need a whole lot of help. If they had glaring weaknesses, it'd be hard to call them contenders in the first place.
Still, no team is perfect.
In looking around the league at the current crop of ring-chasing hopefuls, there's at least one area in which each elite club could use a little help. Some of the deals to get that help will be big ones, but in most cases, they'll feature smaller changes and incremental improvements.
It won't take much to push any of these teams over the top, but finding realistic deals that fit under the NBA's collective bargaining agreement can be tricky.
Every proposal here is designed to benefit the contending team while still giving the "non-contender" enough of a return to make the exchange a plausible one.
Shuffle up and deal.
Just get this one done already!
When a specific one-for-one swap has been churning around the rumor mill since last July, that's a pretty good indication that we're in no-brainer territory.
The Houston Rockets need to get something for Omer Asik, as the big man has made it abundantly clear he's not interested in backing up Dwight Howard. Rather than have him sit out and work on his various sad faces from the sidelines, why don't the Rockets exchange him for an ideal stretch 4 who has already had success alongside D12?
The New Orleans Pelicans are understandably reluctant to cut Ryan Anderson loose, but the fact is that a conventional, defense-first big man is a much better running mate for Anthony Davis. The Pelicans' second-year superstar-in-waiting needs a bruiser to handle bulkier matchups for him in the paint.
Jason Smith is a capable mid-range shooter at the center position, but he's nowhere near as good on the boards or on D as Asik is. The salaries are close enough to leave picks and auxiliary players out of the conversation, and both teams get something they need.
By adding a proven knockdown shooter to stretch the floor, Houston could really up its title chances.
The Indiana Pacers aren't getting much from Chris Copeland, but if we pretend that the preceding Asik-Anderson trade actually took place, there might be a landing spot for a floor-stretching forward in New Orleans.
If the Pelicans were to swap Anderson for Asik, they'd have need for what Copeland offers. On the other end of the deal, the Pacers could divest themselves of a big man who doesn't defend well enough to fit into their system while adding a dead-eye sniper at shooting guard.
Lance Stephenson is an all-around stud, but Orlando Johnson is an inconsistent backup option. Anthony Morrow is as one-dimensional as they come, but his lone skill—drilling threes—could help Indy's second unit retain decent spacing.
For his career, he's hit 42.6 percent of his long-distance tries.
The Pacers will go as far as their defense takes them, but it sure wouldn't hurt to have one more reliable marksman to upgrade the offense. Furthermore, Morrow's defensive shortcomings aren't as pronounced as Copeland's, which means he'd likely have an easier time earning minutes under Frank Vogel.
To make the money match up, the Pellies would have to toss in Austin Rivers. I'm guessing they'd be amenable to that, considering Rivers has remained one of the least effective guards in the league during his second season.
Indiana's disciplined system (and the benefits of a fresh start) might help squeeze out whatever talent still remains in Rivers.
Hey, not every trade has to be a blockbuster.
There was a time not long ago when it looked like Reggie Bullock was going to be a useful rotation piece for the Los Angeles Clippers. In a summer league update for ESPN, B/R's D.J. Foster wrote:
Every prospect wants to become great, but very few are willing to adapt their definition of greatness to achieve it. Bullock may project to be “just” a 3 and D guy, but he has all the physical and mental tools to excel in that role going forward.
There's a great chance that Bullock is still someone the Clips see as an important asset. But he doesn't provide L.A. with what it needs most: interior defense.
Enter Nazr Mohammed, Chicago Bulls veteran and noted banger. He doesn't do anything on offense and very little of his game could ever be described as "pretty," but Mohammed will grab a rebound, offer up a few hard fouls and generally provide the toughness L.A. desperately needs.
And let's face it: Chicago could use all the offensive punch it can get. Bullock hasn't proved anything yet, but he's got the stroke to someday become a heck of a shooter.
Losing Bullock before they've had a chance to really see what kind of player he might become would hurt, but if the Clips are serious about making a run this year, they're going to need another big to shore up their defense.
Mohammed could be that guy.
It might be tough for the Milwaukee Bucks to give up John Henson for Harrison Barnes in a one-for-one swap with the Golden State Warriors. But if the Dubs also had to toss in a future pick, they'd almost certainly do it in order to get back the kind of defensive big man their second unit desperately needs.
Henson is a shot-blocking, rebounding stud with tons of potential, and Golden State needs somebody who can protect the lane better than Marreese Speights when Andrew Bogut is on the bench. Jermaine O'Neal is out indefinitely following wrist surgery, and Festus Ezeli isn't expected back for at least another month. So Henson would be a very welcome addition.
Losing Barnes might upset some fans in Golden State. He's a high-character player who, by all accounts, works extremely hard.
But the truth is that the second-year forward hasn't shown the kind of instincts or growth many expected. Draymond Green is a much more useful, productive player at this stage, and Barnes struggles mightily in the create-your-own shot role into which head coach Mark Jackson has thrust him.
Plus, we know Jackson is in love with Green. He's been (rightfully) singing the gritty, intelligent forward's praises since last year.
Per David Mayo of MLive.com, Jackson said of Green: "A genius as far as basketball is concerned. A coach in the future, a winner, competes and is a no-nonsense guy that was a leader the day he walked into our locker room.”
There's no doubt that Henson would improve the Warriors dramatically in an area where they're weak. If the Bucks would consider taking back Barnes and a pick, the Dubs would jump at this deal.
Miami Heat Get: Brandon Rush
Utah Jazz Get: Jimmer Fredette and Hamady Ndiaye
Sacramento Kings Get: Joel Anthony
All right, here's why this three-way exchange makes sense: The Heat get their hands on a rangy shooter with a reputation as a great defender (before a torn ACL cost him the 2012-13 season) in Rush. He's doing nothing for the Jazz right now, but could be valuable to Miami as a backup option who could spare Dwyane Wade and Ray Allen.
Remember, he shot 45 percent from three and played lights-out defense for the Warriors in 2011-12.
Utah gets Fredette, which would probably spur a state-wide holiday. BYU products tend to find a pretty good following in Salt Lake City. Ndiaye is nothing more than a throw-in to make the salaries match up, but he's seven feet tall and the Jazz have no reason not to take on yet another project at this stage in their rebuilding process.
For the Kings, this deal is all about interior defense. Head coach Mike Malone goes on a new tirade once every few days about Sacramento's lack of stopping power and while Anthony doesn't do much, he can definitely hold down the lane on D.
Miami has little use for him with Chris Andersen and Chris Bosh playing well. And with Greg Oden potentially helping out later this year, there's no real reason to have Anthony on the books through next season.
If Rush can't find his game in Miami, no big deal. The Heat will have at least picked up an expiring deal.
The San Antonio Spurs don't need much, and with just one player (Tiago Splitter) under contract for more than two years, it's not like they need to open up any long-term flexibility either.
But the Spurs also have a glut of talent at the point guard spot, which means they can spare Cory Joseph in exchange for another shooter to help space the floor. Tony Parker is as good as ever, and Patty Mills has firmly taken hold of the backup minutes by improving drastically over the offseason.
With Manu Ginobili also capable of running the offense, that leaves Joseph as the odd man out, which is a shame because the third-year guard from Texas can actually play. In fact, he'd immediately become the best healthy point guard on the Los Angeles Lakers.
L.A. would love to get its hands on a young, promising asset at the point, and if it only had to surrender one of its many wings to get the deal done, all the better. Pack your bags, Jodie Meeks; you're headed for a title run!
San Antonio loves to have as many shooters available as possible for its penetrate-and-pitch offense, and Meeks is a career 37 percent shooter from deep. This season, he's hitting better than 40 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc.
Like I said, San Antonio doesn't need much. But by digging into its point guard depth, it could add the one thing no contender can ever have enough of: Shooting.
Way back in October, B/R's own Andy Bailey noted that the Denver Nuggets' acquisition of Nate Robinson created something of a logjam at the point. With Ty Lawson and Andre Miller already on the roster, the Robinson signing was a little curious.
Defensively, all three are too small to check opposing wings. And with a career three-point percentage of 21, Miller is a terrible outside shooter to boot. ... Considering those things, it follows that the Nuggets could move their veteran playmaker in exchange for a defensive specialist on the wing.
Attention, Nuggets (and Andy); I give you your defensive specialist on the wing. His name is Thabo Sefolosha and defense is all he does.
Really, though, this is all a roundabout way of getting back to the real contender in this scenario, the Oklahoma City Thunder.
As you may have heard, OKC is going to be without Russell Westbrook until the All-Star break, which means it could use somebody with a little experience to back up Reggie Jackson at the point. And yes, I'm aware Derek Fisher is on the roster, but I suspect Oklahoma City would like somebody who can do more than deliberately collide with defenders to run the second unit.
Miller can still back down almost anybody, throws sweet lobs and absolutely never gets hurt. Basically, he's a massive upgrade over Fisher, and would probably continue to see minutes even after Westbrook returns.
Plus, with Jeremy Lamb looking more and more like a guy who deserves a starting spot, Sefolosha is finally expendable.
The Portland Trail Blazers have no trouble scoring, but they currently rank 22nd in the league in defensive efficiency, per NBA.com. If they can't correct that issue, their title-chasing dreams will disappear quicker than a Damian Lillard crossover.
Kosta Koufos isn't much of an offensive weapon, but he proved his defensive worth with the Nuggets last season, and he'd give the Blazers some added stopping power where they need it most.
See, Portland's new-wave defensive scheme focuses on limiting opponents' three-point looks. That's a noble aim, but it has come at the cost of a ton of paint points. Closing out on shooters and almost never doubling in the post leads to easy chances from close range. It's a natural trade-off.
Robin Lopez is a passable interior defender, and he's done well this year given the circumstances. Koufos would be a big help whether he played ahead of or behind Lopez. He's a proven stopper.
To get him, Portland would have to surrender some young, cheap talent. Meyers Leonard was a lottery pick a year ago, but he's still remarkably raw. And C.J. McCollum hasn't played a minute this year because of a broken foot, but he'd represent a very enticing option for a Grizzlies team that desperately needs offensive punch from its guards.
Memphis has to get younger and Portland needs a better defense to contend. Win-win.