Which NBA Teams Desperately Need to Make a Splash at Trade Deadline?
Desperation day is almost upon the NBA.
No, we're not referencing the day before Valentine's Day. That already passed and is only tacitly recognized as an actual thing.
What we're talking about is the Association's trade deadline, which falls on Feb. 20 and is the last opportunity teams have to make campaign-altering moves before this summer.
Every year, without fail, it's the same story. The number and magnitude of deals vary, but chatter is constant and predictable.
Teams are always looking to improve or save money. More pointedly, there are always desperate factions lurking in the headlines, frantically trying to salvage or drastically improve their season.
This year will be no different. How many will actually make or have the means to make a move remains to be seen, but the desire, the burning passion and interest in making changes will be there.
Plenty of teams need to make a splash by Feb. 20 or risk living to regret it.
*All salary information via ShamSports.
Honorable Mention: San Antonio Spurs
"Desperation" isn't a word thrown around the San Antonio Spurs' locker room very much.
All right, it's not even in San Antonio's vocabulary. The Spurs are so unbelievably and enviously consistent, it's sickening—for 29 other NBA teams.
San Antonio has experienced much of the same, predictable success this season. But there's a twist: Good teams are taking them down.
When going up against fellow top-five Western Conference teams—Oklahoma City Thunder, Houston Rockets, Portland Trail Blazers and Los Angeles Clippers—the Spurs are 1-9, or winning 10 percent of the time. Or, as I've come to call it, "For real, bro?"
Injuries have dogged the Spurs more than ever, and eliminating them from the championship discussion is Zooey-Deschanel-as-Lady-Larken-in-Once-Upon-a-Mattress silly. They still have the Western Conference's second-best record, still have resident sideline grouch genius Gregg Popovich and most importantly, they're still the Spurs.
At the same time, pining after a deal that shores up their performances against top-heavy juggernauts is a must if they wish to make the most of their closing championship window.
This isn't about Greg Monroe. Well, not entirely.
The Detroit Pistons are bad. Really bad. There's a certain element of both surprise and predictability in how bad they are. Head coach Mo Cheeks has already been canned in what must be construed as a reminder that owner Tom Gores won't stand for losing. Not while footing $61.9 million in player-salary expenses this season.
Coaching, however, is only part of the problem. Cheeks may be gone, but the Pistons aren't exhibiting any urgency in their coaching search. Joe Dumars, the man largely responsible for investing time and money in a roster that doesn't make sense, is also still around.
Beyond that, the Pistons, well, they're not built to win. They rank 18th in offensive and defensive efficiency and are still a half-game outside of the woeful Eastern Conference's playoff picture.
There's no secret as to why they're struggling, either. Their rotation isn't especially deep and the starting lineup is littered with overlapping and conflicting talent, none more so than the Josh Smith-Monroe pairing that has yielded stone-cold results.
With Monroe set to hit restricted free agency this summer and Smith nigh immovable, The Detroit News' John Niyo says the Pistons will explore moving the former. Makes sense, because Monroe is headed for a payday Detroit shouldn't finance while J-Smoove is still in town.
Flipping Monroe in favor of floor spacers who can shoot—the Pistons rank dead last in three-point percentage—would help the team a great deal. Something, anything really must be done in order to ensure the Pistons don't continue to hover outside of the playoffs after (supposedly) entering win-now mode.
Hold your metaphorical, boiled-egg-fed horses. I'm not saying the Minnesota Timberwolves should trade Kevin Love, though it's most definitely an avenue worth exploring. But if they want to keep him beyond next season, or capitalize off of his value now, they must make a move.
The Timberwolves are in a, let's say, awkward situation. They join the Thunder, Clippers and Spurs as the only four teams that rank in the top 10 of both offensive and defensive efficiency, yet unlike the other three, they're six games away from a playoff spot.
Injuries to Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Martin certainly haven't helped, but Minnesota's downfall has been its performance when facing winning teams. Its 7-21 record against teams .500 or better ranks 26th in the league.
To put that in perspective, the Boston Celtics (8-20), Sacramento Kings (10-22) and Utah Jazz (8-21) all have better records against winning teams, yet they all also have worse overall records than the Timberwolves. The only way to describe this is weird.
Conventional wisdom (and statistics) suggest the Timberwolves should be better. Much better. Instead, they're tracking toward another lottery finish, desperate for change that can salvage this season—a change that may never come.
"If you want to make a trade to make yourself significantly better right now, then those have to be blockbuster-type trades, and I don’t think there are a lot of teams that are leaning toward doing something like that," team president Flip Saunders told The Pioneer Press' Andy Greder.
Assuming the Timberwolves—who also rank 26th in attendance—wish to escape the present state of affairs, Saunders and friends must find a way to make the most of an apparently stiff trade market.
Think of the Cleveland Cavaliers as a Gordian knot wrapped in a dysfunction-soaked enigma.
General manager Chris Grant is gone. Finally. Cleveland's longstanding irrelevance cannot be put on him alone, but he never really grasped the concept of making intelligent draft-day decisions. And so, the Cavs play on, talented enough to make the playoffs on paper, inconsistent enough to continue their tumultuous free-fall down a rabbit hole.
Despite entering the All-Star break on a four-game winning streak, the Cavs have work to do. They rank in the bottom 10 of offensive and defensive efficiency and cannot depend on their current, um, resurgence (I guess?) to carry them into the postseason.
Basketball Insiders' Alex Kennedy has heard Luol Deng's name crop up in trade rumors, but dealing the freshly acquired small forward—who can be traded again as long as he's the only player coming out of Cleveland—stands as more of an admittance the playoffs aren't an option. Trading Dion Waiters and Anderson Varejao's non-guaranteed contract for next season makes more immediate sense.
Whatever the Cavs do, they must do it quickly and deliberately. Their three-game playoff deficit is completely erasable, but for how long it stays that way remains a question.
Ending a three-year, LeBron James-less playoff drought starts with change, something the still-embattled Cavs continue to need plenty of.
Golden State Warriors
To hell with quaint, safe and secure moves like trading for Jordan Crawford. The Golden State Warriors need a blockbuster-type deal.
This isn't to be confused with filing bankruptcy. Golden State needs to go big and presumably expensive before the trade deadline.
While the Warriors rank third in defensive efficiency, their offense has been Magic-Johnson's-stance-on-the-Los-Angeles-Lakers inconsistent. Sophomore Harrison Barnes has regressed into an on-again, off-again, mostly off-again reserve, and Mark Jackson's pedestal from last season has turned into a conflagrant soapbox.
Fluctuating effort and execution has left the Warriors 31-22, tied for seventh place in the Western Conference, which has, in turn, left owner Joe Lacob impatient and in danger of turning his passive, closed-door, sometimes openly subtle rampages into standard public practice.
"There’s no real limit on what we can do," Lacob told the San Jose Mercury News' Tim Kawakami. "Bob Myers has the ability, he knows, to propose anything to ownership, even if it means going into luxury tax, if means using those trade exceptions. We’ll consider all things."
Rival executives have also told USA Today's Sam Amick that no one on Golden State's roster, save for Stephen Curry and Andrew Bogut, is untouchable. That type of up-for-grabs trade-deadline approach is usually reserved for fringe-playoff teams, not championship hopefuls falling $2.5 million shy of paying the luxury tax.
Once you realize the Warriors are both of those things, you understand why they should be itching to make a move.
Relax, Brooklyn Nets apologists. The Nets are still playing better than they were, and they're still going to make the playoffs. But that's about the extent of their ceiling.
Brooklyn isn't a legitimate title contender. Not even with seven-time All-Star Joe Johnson on its side (yes, I'm still amazed by that). The Nets still rank 18th and 19th in offensive and defensive efficiency, respectively, and peaked leading into the All-Star break, going 5-5 in their last 10.
Last time I checked, the league's highest payroll was supposed to contend for more than an outside shot at maybe, quite possibly, winning the Atlantic Division (if the Toronto Raptors suddenly start playing with their eyes closed and ball-dominant hands tied behind their backs).
The problem, like it has been all along, is flexibility. Brooklyn has few tradable assets and is incapable of taking back any salary or moving any (valuable) draft picks to whet other teams' appetites. That's why it's no surprise the New York Daily News' Stefan Bondy brings word that it's unlikely the Nets make a deal by the deadline.
Standing pat is a risky move when the team is operating on a one-year title window, though. It doesn't help that Deron Williams looks more like the below-$18 million man, rather than the $80-plus million man he's supposed to be through 2016-17. Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett still aren't themselves, either.
Improvement isn't grounds for inaction. The Nets have turned things around, but they're still staring down a path they weren't supposed to traverse. Finding one more or additions that can help reverse things even further is a necessity if they're to make anything more than second-round playoff noise.
Portland Trail Blazers
Please take this only for what it is: an admission that the Blazers aren't perfect.
Portland cannot defend. On occasion, maybe. Over the course of a seven-game series, not so much. The Blazers rank 23rd in defensive efficiency, and the offensive gap between them and everyone else isn't as prevalent as it was early on.
Bench play is also an issue. Their second unit ranks dead last in scoring, an issue that's only compounded by their porous defense.
Glaring flaws haven't made the Blazers what you would call "desperate" by any means. They seem more concerned with LaMarcus Aldridge's future in Portland than anything else. This is more of a friendly "Get desperate, Portland." And rightfully so.
The Blazers have already gone from sitting atop the Western Conference to a dead heat for third. Realistically, they could find themselves finishing fifth, a huge disappointment when you consider Houston continues to pay Omer Asik for nothing and the Clippers lost Chris Paul for over a month.
Strengthening their defense and overall rotation would go a long way in rekindling the fire Portland started not too long ago. The Blazers are still good—maybe even great—but they need to be even better to genuinely contend in the Western Conference.
New York Knicks
Ah, the New York Knicks. The always exciting—but not necessarily in a good way—Knicks.
Carmelo Anthony waxed loyalty over All-Star Weekend, playing music to owner James Dolan's selective hearing-inclined ears.
"Without a doubt,’" Anthony said, per the New York Post's Marc Berman. "Any opportunity I have to build that up in New York, I’d do it. I told people all the time, if it takes me taking a paycut, I’ll be the first one on Mr. Dolan’s steps saying: ‘Take my money and let’s build something strong over here.’ "
Admirable. Really, it is. But it guarantees nothing. Anthony's willingness to accept less bodes well for other interested teams, because he would have to take less in free agency to join them.
Although that doesn't appear to be Anthony's mindset, missing out on the playoffs could change everything. He's never missed the playoffs. Ever. For all of this talk about his losing and first-round exit stasis, his teams make the playoffs.
Coming out of the All-Star break, the Knicks will be 2.5 games back of a playoff spot with 30 to play. Something substantial needs to be done between now and Feb. 20. No exceptions, no excuses. Missing the playoffs isn't an option.
Like their crosstown rival, however, the Knicks are limited in what they can do. They're capped out, cannot trade a draft pick until 2018 and have devalued Iman Shumpert so much by dangling him in countless negotiations, teams aren't likely to relinquish more than an industrial-sized bag of cocktail weenies for his services.
Trading Tyson Chandler, who has been underwhelming yet still holds ample trade value, is an option they can and must explore. This far into a disastrous season, nothing and no one should (technically) be off limits. Not if the Knicks wish to successfully sell Anthony on a future in New York.
And most certainly not if they wish to escape this perpetual state of hoping against hope.