Every NBA Team's #TradeSZN Shopping List
The trade machine is moving at a dizzying pace. Mobile companies are regretting every unlimited data plan held by an NBA executive. Names are breezing from one rumor to the next like a plastic bag riding the wind.
#TradeSZN is upon us, folks, and all 30 clubs have at least one thing they hope to find between now and the Feb. 8 trade deadline.
This is—in theory, at least—a time when warts can be removed and voids can be filled.
Some are targeting specific on-court shortcomings, while others have more flexibility in their pursuits. Ceilings will be raised and lowered over the next month-plus, as some gear up for the playoff push and some shift their attention to future campaigns.
Atlanta Hawks: Franchise Focal Point
The Atlanta Hawks roster looks how you'd expect from a team that only recently opted to nosedive into a rebuild. Dennis Schroder has cemented himself as a solid starting point guard, Taurean Prince has raised his ceiling, and rookie John Collins has posterized anything that moves, but no one has approached the level of elite talent.
"I think if we're going to be honest with ourselves right now, we don't have that franchise guy," Hawks general manager Travis Schlenk said on Sirius XM's NBA Radio. "That's the guy we're looking for."
Finding an organization-altering talent is never easy—especially in-season—and Atlanta isn't exactly swimming in assets. The Hawks shouldn't consider dealing their own draft picks, and those owed to them aren't likely to be of the high-level variety that move the needle in a blockbuster move.
But they should be open to everything, even if it's only dealing away a few veteran rentals for extra draft-night dart throws. Ersan Ilyasova and Marco Belinelli both have expiring contracts and could attract win-now suitors who are light on shooters.
Boston Celtics: Single-Browed Blockbuster Or Stand Pat
With president of basketball operations Danny Ainge at the helm, the Boston Celtics are seemingly always open for business. But maybe the motivation to move isn't there this time around. They do, after all, own the Eastern Conference's second-best winning percentage (.730) and the NBA's fourth-highest net efficiency rating (plus-4.6).
Still, a certain one-browed basketball superstar would have Ainge racing for his phone if the New Orleans Pelicans ever made him available.
"[Anthony] Davis remains an obsession of several NBA teams full of the necessary trade assets to unfasten him from New Orleans, should the Pelicans ever consider a rebuild—or should Davis ever request a trade," ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski wrote. "Boston has remained vigilant on the possibility of acquiring Davis."
A Davis deal seems highly unlikely, but Boston's fascination with the four-time All-Star is warranted. He owns a top-five player efficiency rating for the third time in four seasons (28.2, fourth overall) and would instantly vault the Celtics into best-superstar-duo talks alongside Kyrie Irving.
All potential paths to Davis are worth exploring, but if that's not possible, Boston could have a quiet exchange season.
Brooklyn Nets: Assets of Any Kind
The current Brooklyn Nets' regime, spearheaded by general manager Sean Marks, inherited an atrocious situation: empty shelves and limited options to fill them. It's a mini-miracle, then, to see them already relatively well-stocked with 25-and-under assets like D'Angelo Russell, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Allen Crabbe, Spencer Dinwiddie, Jahlil Okafor and rookie first-rounder Jarrett Allen.
But that collection hasn't pushed the Nets near .500, and there's little reason to believe it will anytime soon. Brooklyn must keep adding and continue unearthing creative ways of doing so.
Maybe that involves unloading Joe Harris, a former second-rounder posting back-to-back seasons of above-average perimeter shooting. His market won't be rich—he'll be an unrestricted free agent come July—but flipping him for an early second-rounder might provide a pleasant surprise.
The Nets still have cap space to work with, so they might be able to extract another useful piece for absorbing an inflated contract. It's not even out of the realm of possibilities they could convince a wing-starved club that DeMarre Carroll is worth having, although getting anything worthwhile in return would be Marks' most magical move to date.
Charlotte Hornets: Salary Relief And/Or Scoring Help
The Charlotte Hornets have a contender's payroll, a bottom-feeder's record and a roster that screams mediocrity. Unless they want to spend the future chasing back-end playoff berths or late-lottery draft picks, they must align their franchise in a common direction.
If they aim for competitiveness, they need a second scorer to support Kemba Walker. Right now, that role is being split between Dwight Howard (limited arsenal) and Jeremy Lamb (consistently inconsistent). In other words, there isn't a second option, leaving Charlotte struggling to stay above water when Walker is anything less than spectacular.
If cap flexibility is the focus, the options are almost endless. The Hornets have over $116 million committed for this season and next with six different players collecting eight-figure salaries. Basketball Insiders' Steve Kyler hears Nicolas Batum and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist are both trade candidates, and it's possible Cody Zeller becomes expendable with Howard and Frank Kaminsky both in the center rotation.
But this will be a tricky trade season to navigate. Unless the Hornets take the nuclear route of dealing Walker, they're unlikely to make an extreme move in either direction. With 2019 free agency awaiting Walker, Charlotte might not want to sacrifice too much win-now talent or flip a young prospect who could play a significant role in the post-Kemba era.
Chicago Bulls: Improved Lottery Odds
Has any team had a stranger season than the Chicago Bulls?
They lost two players to an in-practice punching and predictably plummeted down the standings. But those same brawlers—Nikola Mirotic and Bobby Portis—then keyed a historically improbable winning streak. As Chicago bullied its way to seven consecutive victories, Mirotic and Portis were at the forefront with combined nightly contributions of 34.5 points and 14.3 rebounds.
But this surprise success shouldn't change the Bulls' focus. This past summer's trade of Jimmy Butler was a clear indication of their intent to bottom out and build around a prospect to be named later, which should still be the Windy City's guiding principle.
"Scouts and NBA personnel have agreed that the 2018 draft has star potential," Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times wrote. "And the strength of it is in the first four picks. ... Landing one of [the] top-four players is essential to keeping the rebuild on schedule."
The Bulls have ample time to race back to the bottom, and their recent winning might actually assist their continued tear-down effort. It's much easier to convince clubs you have something of value when the win column agrees with that take, and the play of Mirotic (who can veto any deal and can't be moved before Jan. 15) and Portis in particular gives Chicago an easy way out of a strenuous situation.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Interior Stopper
The Cleveland Cavaliers went without a major challenger in the East last season and still never really resembled true contenders. History holds that it takes a top-10 defense to claim the crown, and Cleveland didn't have anything close. The Cavs closed the campaign tied for 22nd in defensive efficiency, and any talks of calculated coasting fell apart when their efficiency worsened in the playoffs.
Don't look now, but Cleveland keeps backtracking on the point-prevention end. The Cavs own the Association's fourth-worst defense and rank among the bottom 10 in opponents' paint points (45.2 per game, 21st) and restricted-area shooting (64.8 percent, tied for 25th).
It makes sense, then, to have reported interest in All-Star defensive anchor DeAndre Jordan. Basketball Insiders' Steve Kyler says Cleveland has engaged the Los Angeles Clippers with an offer built around Iman Shumpert, Tristan Thompson and a first-round pick. It's been to no avail so far, but if the Clippers can't climb closer to relevance, they might snatch a first-rounder for Jordan rather than risk his departure for nothing.
Assuming the Cavs view winning as their best bet to appease LeBron James, they have to consider everything that strengthens their roster. An aerial two-way center like Jordan does that, even if Cleveland would still be looking up at a Western Conference heavyweight or two after the swap.
Dallas Mavericks: Get Younger, Cheaper
The Dallas Mavericks are knee-deep in the rebuilding waters. While they've found a few intriguing youngsters, they're still employing Dirk Nowitzki and several costly(ish) veterans who were initially brought onboard to extend the Diggler's window.
This is the time to start cutting the cord. Unloading the pricey pacts with Wesley Matthews or Dwight Powell would make for a dream deadline. More realistic paths might involve flipping J.J. Barea or Devin Harris for a draft asset or two.
And don't forget about Nerlens Noel. He was buried in Rick Carlisle's doghouse before opting for thumb surgery and has unrestricted free agency awaiting him at season's end. Noel also would need to sign off on the transaction, although one would assume he'd be receptive to a fresh start. That's assuming, of course, he still interests suitors enough for them to ship something of value to Dallas.
If the Mavs can't move their own bad money, they might have a chance to add an asset for absorbing someone else's. They're sitting comfortably under the cap and have the wiggle room to be on the receiving end of a salary dump if the right pick and/or prospect comes attached.
Denver Nuggets: Roster Balance
Losing offseason import Paul Millsap didn't help, but the Denver Nuggets have yet to look ready for their anticipated launch. The defense still sits on the wrong side of average (106.4 per 100 possessions, 18th), and their depth chart has a funhouse-mirror feel.
Some spots are bloated. Five different players have spent at least 10 percent of their minutes at center, while Millsap (9 percent) and Darrell Arthur (6) narrowly miss the cut. The 10-plus percent group includes Mason Plumlee and Kenneth Faried, both of whom aren't regular starters but are among their three highest-paid players. Oh, and the 5 spot belongs to Nikola Jokic, their top talent and franchise focal point.
There's not just fat to trim off the center rotation; there's actual meat to tempt other teams. And that's critical, as Denver is dangerously thin in other areas.
In this golden era of point guards, the Nuggets have substantial question marks at the position. Jamal Murray doesn't do anything consistently, and Emmanuel Mudiay keeps struggling as a scorer, finisher and decision-maker.
Denver could also bulk up its wing collection behind Gary Harris and Will Barton, especially with Wilson Chandler having a down year and Malik Beasley failing to find traction.
Detroit Pistons: Wing, Center or Cap Savings
The Detroit Pistons have cooled considerably since their 10-3 start, and their 18th-ranked net efficiency suggests further decline could be coming. So, the Pistons need to do something, although buying and selling both are on the table.
As Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press opined, Detroit's trade candidate list extends all the way to Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson if the price is right. It would be a demolition-type of deal, but as Ellis notes, "the Pistons' bloated cap situation...makes one think they would like to move several contracts, especially Jon Leuer (3 years, $30 million) and Boban Marjanovic (2 years, $15.3 million)."
If Detroit does something less dramatic, that could put Stanley Johnson or even Avery Bradley on the bubble. The former has yet find his footing since being selected eighth overall in 2015, while the latter is owed major money this summer and might not be long for the Motor City if it falls out of the race.
The Pistons, though, could just as easily use their Eastern Conference standing (fifth) as justification to buy. It wouldn't take much to substantially upgrade the small forward spot, and the reserve frontcourt could stand to add a more reliable option.
Golden State Warriors: Clean Bill of Health
Finding a trade need for the Golden State Warriors is the NBA equivalent of the "what do you buy for the person who has everything" dilemma. Only here, there is no obligation to act.
Think about it. The Dubs have the NBA's highest overall efficiency, top defense and best bench. Their offense—which, at times, has had to make do without Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant or Draymond Green—sits second. They have eight rotation players shooting 50 percent or better and none shooting worse than 44.
On paper, Golden State hasn't fielded a stronger squad under head coach Steve Kerr. And remember, the first three years of his tenure included two world titles and the greatest regular-season performance in NBA history.
The formula is almost flawless, and any tinkering would feel unnecessarily risky. But maybe the Warriors can work out a deal with the basketball gods to clean up their various medical maladies. Four of their top five minute-getters have missed at least five outings, and Curry's twice surgically repaired ankle has again sparked sleepless nights in the Bay.
Houston Rockets: Unloading Ryan Anderson (Finally)
The Houston Rockets almost find themselves in it-ain't-broke-so-don't-try-to-fix-it territory. They're second in both winning percentage (.781) and net efficiency (plus-9.5), and that's while juggling both Chris Paul's transition and his lingering knee injury.
But unlike the Warriors, Houston's warts aren't hidden. Namely, Ryan Anderson's bloated salary stands out for all the wrong reasons. He's a shooting specialist who's paid to be so much more, and his traffic-cone defense limits how much he can play in the postseason. So far, his faults have short-circuited all attempts to discard him.
"The market for the three years and $60 million left on Anderson's deal was frigid [this summer]," ESPN's Zach Lowe wrote. "Not even the Kings wanted him for free. At least two teams would have demanded two Houston first-round picks in exchange for absorbing Anderson, according to several league sources."
It's hard to imagine attitudes have changed since. And that's fine. If moving Anderson is impossible, the Rockets don't need to do anything. But every stone should be turned for a potential Anderson trade. The Rockets have fared 9.6 points better per 100 possessions when he's not in the game.
Indiana Pacers: Defense-Oriented Depth
The Paul George-less Indiana Pacers look so far ahead of schedule that they're just playing with house money at this point. And if they feel like gambling—they should with a net rating ranked fourth in the East and seventh overall—they could make some targeted trades that potentially allow them to keep turning heads once the second season starts.
Their offense is ready to contend (sixth overall), and their starters fit together like puzzle pieces. But bench play has been an issue, particularly at the defensive end.
It doesn't help that the Pacers are only average defensively to begin with (17th). But they grade out much worse once their reserves start hitting the floor. Cory Joseph's on-court defensive rating is 106.6, which would be 19th. Lance Stephenson's is 108.2, which would drop Indy down to 26th. Rookie T.J. Leaf checks in at 113.4, a higher rating than any team has posted.
Indy's bench boasts the seventh-best offense, but it's a net negative inside the lines due to its dreadful defense (25th). There's some pesky potential on the perimeter with the likes of Joseph, Stephenson and (whenever he's healthy) Glenn Robinson III, but the backup bigs practically beg opponents to attack.
Los Angeles Clippers: Fair Value for DeAndre
DeAndre Jordan is more of a finishing piece than a focal point. He's someone who can shore up a defense but needs ample assistance the other way. The Los Angeles Clippers need more than he can provide and vice versa, which should put the All-NBA center firmly on the market before he potentially opts for 2018 free agency.
L.A. is going nowhere fast. A rash of injuries has made things appear worse than they are, but a trio of Jordan, Blake Griffin and Danilo Gallinari doesn't even qualify as a Big Three—let alone the type of mega-talented trio needed to contend for a title. As soon as Chris Paul bolted, a large-scale rebuild became a necessity.
Dealing Jordan—at the right price—would grease the wheels of an overhaul. It's a move Sporting News' Sean Deveney reports L.A. "would certainly be willing" to make "if a good enough market can be established."
There aren't a ton of teams hunting for restricted-area centers, but it doesn't take much rumored interest to spark a bidding war. If someone else sees Jordan as the rim-rocking piece that pushes them over the top, it's entirely possible the Clippers find the right mix of prospects, picks and/or salary relief to pull the trigger.
Los Angeles Lakers: Maximum Flexibility
The Los Angeles Lakers have a simple plan to return their franchise to glory: sign multiple difference-makers in free agency. All efforts have been made to give that strategy its best chance of success.
L.A. only has two deals beyond this season that aren't rookie wages or minimum money. One is the albatross tied to Luol Deng, which is impossible to move without attaching a valuable asset (or more). The other is the $25.9 million going to Jordan Clarkson for the next two seasons, a pact looking as reasonable as ever with the scoring guard setting highs in player efficiency rating (17.0) and true shooting percentage (53.1).
The Lakers can't do anything that involves taking on more future commitments, and they should explore ditching the ones they already have. But they should also market their other players—tagging only Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma as untouchables—to see if they can accumulate picks and/or prospects to facilitate a blockbuster deal should that prove to be the best path to a superstar.
This is a functional holding pattern, with this upcoming free-agent class (or even the next one) holding most of the front office's attention. But that doesn't mean this must be a period of inactivity. If there's a way to make this club more attractive to its top-shelf targets, it's almost certainly an option worth pursuing.
Memphis Grizzlies: Ready-Made Rebuilding Kit
It might be a begrudging rebuild, but it's on in earnest for the Memphis Grizzlies. Yes, even with Marc Gasol and Mike Conley still present on the roster. When franchise stalwarts/adopted Memphians like Zach Randolph and Tony Allen have both been shown the exit, it's obvious this is a team in transition.
Could that transition be a quick relaunch around Gasol and Conley? It's possible. They're probably going to make their first lottery pick since 2010, and they could collect more draft assets by shipping out veterans on expiring deals.
But that assumes one of two things: Either Conley catches fire whenever he returns from his latest Achilles injury and Memphis skyrockets up the standings, or the incumbents accept punting this season to find reinforcements. The former seems farfetched, and the latter might have already been declined.
"I'm 32, 33 next month. I don't have the season to throw away," Gasol said, per Chris Herrington of the Memphis Commercial Appeal. "I don't have the luxury. I'm not 23 or 24, where I can just say, well, next year will be better. I have a sense of urgency and a desire to win."
Memphis shouldn't have trouble finding a win-now shopper with eyes on Gasol, a three-time All-Star and former Defensive Player of the Year. Conley would be just as easy to move as a point guard with no major faults. Deal those two, and the Grizzlies' shelves should be stocked with players and picks, and there'd still be value to extract from moving the likes of Tyreke Evan, James Ennis and Brandan Wright.
Miami Heat: Dynamic Scorer
The Miami Heat haven't lived in the extremes like they did last season, but they're still ebbing and flowing all the same. They can beat anyone (Celtics twice) or lose to anyone (Hawks, Orlando Magic), and their offensive production rarely takes a similar shape from one night to the next.
Some of that can be attributed to injuries, as nearly the entire rotation has been affected already. But the bigger issue is that for all the money Miami has spent, it has failed to find a go-to scorer. The top three players by points per game—Goran Dragic, Hassan Whiteside and Dion Waiters—own respective career scoring averages of 13.5, 13.6 and 13.3 points.
And since all three players are on the wrong side of 26, it's tough to imagine any of them growing into the role. The Heat have other offensive prospects, but there's nothing to suggest Josh Richardson, Tyler Johnson, Justise Winslow or Bam Adebayo can carry an attack on a nightly basis.
Miami knows this already. It's why the franchise heavily pursued Gordon Hayward this past summer and fawned over Kevin Durant the year before. It's why the Heat faithful are hopeful Pat Riley can wave his magic wand and put Paul George in South Beach before the deadline. Head coach Erik Spoelstra can get this defense to perform at a dominant level, but he can't mask the absence of a top option at the other end.
Milwaukee Bucks: Interior Oomph
The Milwaukee Bucks already made one mega-move this season, snagging a disgruntled Eric Bledsoe for Greg Monroe and a pair of draft picks. Milwaukee has gone 13-8 and posted the 10th-best net rating since mini-LeBron's debut, so the transaction has already provided the desired impact.
The Bucks will soon get another boost, this time free of charge. Jabari Parker—who was playing at an All-Star level last time we saw him—is nearing his return from a February ACL tear. Once his wind is back, he could assume the second scorer role and slot everyone behind him into more comfortable capacities.
But Milwaukee may have another move to make. A Western Conference executive told Bleacher Report's Ken Berger the Bucks have been "kicking the tires hard" on DeAndre Jordan. Even if they can't pry him loose, they are "intent on adding size and rebounding at the trade deadline," the executive said.
They have some contending-caliber strengths. Their offense is a top 10 unit, and Giannis Antetokounmpo is (easily) a top 10 talent. If Parker gets right, there aren't many better quartets than him, Giannis, Bledsoe and Khris Middleton. But their 22nd-ranked defense isn't close to being ready to compete with the elites and desperately needs an anchor of Jordan's ilk.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Thibodeau-Approved Reserves
After years of false starts and missteps, the Minnesota Timberwolves are finally ready to rejoin the playoff party. One summer removed from a 51-loss misfire, they're now rolling at a 51-win pace.
The problem is head coach Tom Thibodeau treats his top players more like sprinters than marathon runners. Jimmy Butler (third), Andrew Wiggins (ninth) and Karl-Anthony Towns (13th) are all in the top 15 of minutes per game. Jeff Teague (29th) sneaks inside the top 30. Minnesota's starters have logged 693 minutes together; no other lineup across the Association has topped 425.
They desperately need more reserves who Tom Thibodeau trusts. Few teams can match the talent level of their top lineup, but that doesn't matter when it's gassed late in games. Minnesota is essentially down to an eight-man rotation—Jamal Crawford, Gorgui Dieng and Tyus Jones off the bench—and needs to be fleshed out with better defense, shooting and wing depth.
New Orleans Pelicans: Complementary Talent
For as much as people talk about the New Orleans Pelicans' new-age twin towers experiment, Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins were always awful barometers for its viability. Even if it worked, it wouldn't prove that two bigs could coexist in the modern game, only that these two bigs could dominate together.
So far, that's what we're seeing. Cousins and Davis are the only teammates who are top 10 scorers and rebounders. They're responsible for 51.0 points, 22.5 rebounds, 7.6 assists, 3.5 blocks and 2.6 steals on a nightly basis, and New Orleans outscores opponents by 3.3 points per 100 possessions when they play together.
But (almost) everything else is open to scrutiny. New Orleans needs better wing defenders and more reliable reserves. Getting cheaper and younger while filling those voids would be ideal. Oh, and everything must click sooner rather than later, because Cousins is headed for 2018 free agency and Davis is getting anxious after only making one playoff appearance through five seasons.
"You can have all the numbers in the world, but you better win," Davis told ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski. "That's what it is. This whole league, everything is about winning."
New Orleans doesn't have enough to do the kind of winning Davis wants. But since it has the luxury of building atop a two-superstar base, it might only be a smart swap or two away from appeasing its focal point.
New York Knicks: Cheap Defenders Or More Assets
Resisting the temptation to tinker won't be easy. Not for the New York Knicks, who have a chance to end their four-year playoff drought during their first season without Carmelo Anthony or Phil Jackson. And not when the potential benefits extend beyond bragging rights and playoff gate receipts, like early postseason exposure for Kristaps Porzingis and Frank Ntilikina.
Plus, certain types of deals would be worth it. If the 'Bockers can sniff out an economic option to upgrade their 15th-ranked defense, they'd have to at least explore it. Fewer franchises could better use the good vibes of a postseason return, and maybe they'd prove an unexpectedly tough out. It's not like there are a wealth of good strategies for handling a scorching-hot 7'3" unicorn, after all.
But the Knicks need to keep two things in mind: cost and trajectory. They aren't one piece away, so they should treat their future first-round picks and on-hand prospects accordingly. They're also not in dire need of financial flexibility, so they shouldn't consider sacrificing assets just to shed Joakim Noah's pricey pact.
New York's future outweighs its present. Regardless what happens with Ntilikina, Porzingis is a full-fledged centerpiece. He's also only 22 years old, so there's no need to rush a rebuild around him. If cheap upgrades are available, then give them a look. Just don't take the short-sighted, blank-check approach that has plagued this organization before, and be open to forward-thinking moves if they offer the biggest benefit.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Multiskilled Spacers
The Oklahoma City Thunder have three of the league's top point-producers and the 18th-ranked attack. The problem is rooted in several areas—limited movement, too many isolations, lack of creativity—and might require a solution too complex for trade season. However, a simple swap could make a substantial difference.
The Thunder need more shooters. They're a bottom-half team in three-point volume (10.3 makes, tied for 17th) and efficiency (35.6 percent, 20th). If they could improve either area (or both, ideally), they'd have the decoys needed to take attention off their stars and let them shine like normal (Carmelo Anthony is having his worst shooting campaign; George and Russell Westbrook are having their second-worsts).
More specifically, OKC has to find marksmen with the ability to do more than convert clean looks. Alex Abrines and Patrick Patterson are both relatively regular splashers, but they don't do enough else to warrant major minutes. Andre Roberson, Jerami Grant and Terrance Ferguson offer more diverse portfolios, but their floor time comes at the expense of spacing.
Offense shouldn't be this hard for this iteration of the Thunder, and a change in the way they approach that end could make a world of difference. But they'll need to find snipers at some point and have those players contribute in multiple areas.
Orlando Magic: Reset Button
The Orlando Magic are still searching for their first playoff appearance since Dwight Howard's exit in 2012. And with their lukewarm 8-4 start having since frozen amid a 3-19 stretch, they won't be closing the drought this season.
Few rosters are this ripe for a rebuild. Nikola Vucevic and Bismack Biyombo are both paid like starting centers, but neither has the requisite two-way skill. Evan Fournier and Elfrid Payton are solid players, but not special talents. Aaron Gordon is still struggling to prove he can be a consistent star. Rookie Jonathan Isaac is years away from even getting that chance.
Plus, most of this puzzle was assembled before the organization overhauled its front office. Key figures like president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman and general manager John Hammond have few attachments to these players and perhaps little interest in completing whatever this picture is supposed to be.
Orlando should be one of the most aggressive sellers leading up to the deadline. If the only move to make is shedding bad money, that helps improve flexibility and likely increases this club's draft lottery odds. If certain veterans can bring back high-upside prospects or draft considerations, the Magic could quietly have one of the league's more productive trade seasons.
Philadelphia 76ers: The Identity of Markelle Fultz
The Philadelphia 76ers hit two jackpots with The Process. When healthy, the Joel Embiid-Ben Simmons duo is absurdly effective for their respective ages. Simmons is on pace to join Oscar Robertson as the only rookies to ever average at least 16 points, eight rebounds and seven assists. And Embiid somehow crams 23.8 points, 11.1 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 2.0 blocks into only 31.2 minutes per night.
But employing those players alone doesn't make the Sixers a contender. Right now, they're not even holding onto a playoff spot (15-18, 10th in the East). They need more help and might have some if No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz can ever shake the shoulder ailment that's kept him sidelined since October.
"We've had lots of practice at it," Sixers coach Brett Brown said of the injury, per ESPN's Dave McMenamin, "and I think that he'll come out better for it, in a twisted way, for the time that we've been able to give him when he just can't play NBA basketball."
Fultz, who's barely been involved in Philly's best season since the tear-down started, will ultimately define the success of this campaign. It doesn't matter if the Sixers reach the postseason; their best days are ahead. And—health questions notwithstanding—Simmons and Embiid already have little to prove inside the lines. But Fultz is a mystery, either the missing link to a terrifying trio or a costly misfire.
Phoenix Suns: Competence at Point Guard
It wasn't that long ago the Phoenix Suns had more point guards than they could handle. They broke 2014 training camp with Eric Bledsoe, Goran Dragic, Isaiah Thomas and then-first-round rookie Tyler Ennis all on the roster. By season's end, they had traded three away but brought back another in one of those exchanges (Brandon Knight).
Well, Bledsoe—the lone survivor of that initial house-cleaning—was finally sent packing in early November. And Knight was lost well before that, tearing his ACL back in July. Unsurprisingly, the Suns have yet to find even serviceable play from the position.
Collectively, Phoenix's floor generals rank 28th in field-goal shooting (39.1 percent) and 30th from three (28.0), per HoopsStats.com. There are no indications those numbers will change on their own. Tyler Ulis is shooting below 39 percent, and Isaiah Canaan is sub-37 percent for his career. Mike James, who parlayed a two-way deal into a starting spot, was unceremoniously waived two weeks after inking a standard deal.
Overall, the Suns might not be as far away as their 12-23 record suggests. Devin Booker already scores like a star, T.J. Warren isn't far behind, and rookie Josh Jackson is loaded with two-way potential if he finds a jumper. Between Alex Len, Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender, there's hope of having at least one young big to build with.
That same optimism can't extend to the lead guard spot until a significant upgrade is made.
Portland Trail Blazers: Scoring Support
The Portland Trail Blazers share at least one trait with the world champion Warriors: The two Western Conference clubs are the only ones with two guards averaging 20-plus points.
But whereas Golden State's offensive success extends far beyond the backcourt, Portland is so deficient in other areas it drags down the high-scoring guards. Despite the efforts of Damian Lillard (25.2 points per game) and CJ McCollum (20.7), the Blazers sit just 26th in offensive efficiency—lowest among teams with a winning record.
Portland can thank its surprisingly stingy defense (fifth in efficiency) for keeping it out of the cellar, but the Blazers are waging a similar war to the one they lost last season. They look two one-sided to seriously contend; it's just their strengths and weaknesses swapped sides.
They need more shot-creators, as Lillard is the only player averaging three-plus assists. They have spot-up snipers and some inside-the-arc attackers, but not enough guys who can do both. Finding at least one is imperative, although the return would have to be sweet if the price tag is a future first-round pick.
Sacramento Kings: Young Replacements for Disgruntled Vets
Something convinced the Sacramento Kings this offseason was the time to make their move. Maybe the 11-year run of missing the playoffs proved too much to bear. Perhaps there was some desire to rebrand as a winner in the aftermath of DeMarcus Cousins' exit.
Whatever the reason, the Kings attacked the summer with a win-now fervor. They showered veterans George Hill, Zach Randolph and Vince Carter with $89 million combined and tasked the trio with turning the franchise around.
That hasn't happened. Sacramento is the league's least efficient team, and priorities have apparently shifted away from winning anytime soon.
"Sources say many of the Kings veterans were rounded up early in the year and told the philosophy has shifted, that the front office isn't interested in winning and is more interested in acquiring a top-five draft pick," Tony Jones wrote for the Salt Lake Tribune. "...An organization that brought in veterans aiming to win now is aiming to lose."
The Kings roster should better reflect their new direction. They don't have the most attractive deals to shop, but they can offer plug-and-play vets to teams that actually need them.
San Antonio Spurs: Full-Strength Kawhi
The San Antonio Spurs can take several different approaches to the swap season, up to and including, "I'm not sure anything here is broke, so what are we trying to fix?" Sure, they're a half-step behind their normal pace, but they still have the fifth-best net rating and the fourth-ranked defense.
Oh, and everything to date has either happened without Kawhi Leonard or with a minutes-restricted, less-than-100-percent version of himself. The perennial MVP candidate has been hampered by a quadriceps problem since training camp, and it's limited him to just 69 minutes across five outings.
That makes it almost impossible to accurately evaluate the Spurs. They look like they could use more shot-creators and an injection of explosiveness. But would either need seem as pressing if Leonard was logging his customary 33 minutes a night? Once he assumes top scoring and stopping responsibilities, the trickle-down effect behind him gives everyone more comfortable opportunities.
When he's not available to do the heavy lifting, though, some flaws might look worse than they are. And if the Spurs commit too many resources to address them, they won't get great returns on those investments. Get Leonard healthy, and the next step should be obvious by then.
Toronto Raptors: No Dramatics Needed
For the Toronto Raptors, the faces are familiar and so are the winning ways. But the methods have been revamped in a way that could help them climb even higher in the regular season and—more importantly—sustain their success in the playoffs.
The Raptors reshaped themselves without resetting. Their roster has barely changed—OG Anunoby and CJ Miles are the only new rotation players—but their style is dramatically different. They're playing with better tempo (from 22nd to 10th in pace), more ball movement (30th to 10th in assists) and extra emphasis on three-point shooting (21st to 10th in triples).
"Once we bought in, and understood how we could be better at it, you started to see the effects of it during the season," Kyle Lowry told NBA.com's David Aldridge. "It took us a little while. ... Now, you see it. We're finding our rhythm. Guys understand where to be, how to move the ball, everything."
The Raptors have yet to forge their way into the NBA's ruling class, but maybe this is their breakthrough. Their East-leading .742 winning percentage would be a franchise record, and they're the only team outside of Houston and Golden State with top-10 efficiency rankings on offense and defense. Rocking the boat now might carry much more risk than reward.
Utah Jazz: Wing Depth and Stretch Big
So much for the Gordon Hayward-less Utah Jazz being a team without a centerpiece. They look like they have at least two top talents.
Despite being slowed by injuries to both knees, Rudy Gobert is an elite defensive presence and only 25 years old. And rookie Donovan Mitchell has been a show-stopper, first forcing his way into the opening lineup and later seizing control of the scoring. Rodney Hood, meanwhile, has quietly raised his own ceiling, and few NBA wild cards are more mysterious than Dante Exum (lost before the season to a shoulder injury).
The Jazz have enough weapons to stay near the playoff hunt. The question is whether that would justify any deadline dealing. The answer is it depends on the market.
Utah has players to sell—Derrick Favors and Joe Johnson are both on expiring deals—but teams aren't exactly scrambling to add interior bigs or 36-year-old wings. That's not necessarily bad news for the Jazz, though. If they don't do anything, they'll open up significant cap space, so trade partners have to make this worth their while. Send a stretch big or two-way wing to Salt Lake City, and they'll be open for business.
Washington Wizards: Reliable Reserves
Apologies for spinning a broken record, but the Washington Wizards still don't have a second team capable of competing with the elites.
They look better equipped this year than last, thanks to Kelly Oubre's third-year leap to consistent double-digit scorer. But that just means Washington went from being a five-man team to a six-player squad. In the Christmas matchup with Boston, Oubre and the starters all played 26-plus minutes. Mike Scott was the only other Wizard to clear 10 minutes and finished an abysmal minus-17 in 15 minutes.
Head coach Scott Brooks' options are limited. Scott and Jodie Meeks are shooting specialists who are too dependent on streaky strokes. Slowed by knee injuries, Ian Mahinmi has yet to impress since inking a four-year, $64 million deal in 2016. The point guard spot has already shifted from the passive Tim Frazier to the unproven Tomas Satoransky.
External assistance is required, and the Wizards might have the capital to get something done. They have used future draft picks to make aggressive deadline deals before, and that route looks viable again with John Wall firmly in his prime and Bradley Beal rapidly approaching his own.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @ZachBuckleyNBA.