The 1 Trade Target Every NBA Contender Should Consider Adding
Championship-chasing NBA teams need help too.
Most of the time devoted to trade speculation is spent on floundering and fringe squads that need significant upgrades in order to take the next required step. Contenders are secondary to less fortunate franchises. But even title-seekers need assistance and midseason improvements.
These roster tweaks are usually slight. Blockbuster trades are few and far between for successful contingents. Futzing around with a winning formula is inherently dangerous, and significant additions only threaten chemistry. Good teams also tend to be light on expendable assets worthy of facilitating said blockbuster deals.
Marginal additions are more realistic, and it's our job to identify one such additive for each of the Association's title contenders.
Title contenders means title contenders, by the way. Focus will lie solely on teams capable of winning their respective conference. This method not only adds an air of exclusivity, but it ensures the (almost) contender-barren East doesn't feel left out.
This also means we'll have to offer our condolences to fringe contenders such as the Phoenix Suns, Washington Wizards (they miss Trevor Ariza) and New Orleans Pelicans. Sorry, guys. Maybe next year. Or, knowing how turbulent the NBA is these days, maybe next month.
For now, it's all about finding feasible trade targets who can help the best of the best become the best-est.
*Trades will be vetted by ESPN Trade Machine whenever possible. Note that players signed over the offseason cannot be officially dealt until Dec. 15.
Honorable Mention: Oklahoma City Thunder
Legitimately contending for a title will be difficult, if not impossible, for the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Even if Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook's returns vault them back into the playoff picture, they're likely staring down the barrel of an eighth-place finish. There are no easy matchups in the Western Conference, but Durant and Westbrook's injuries have bilked the Thunder of an opportunity to secure home-court advantage.
When their road to the Finals would probably include bouts against the world-beating Memphis Grizzlies and Golden State Warriors, that's a tough pill to swallow. Still, because Durant is Durant and Westbrook is Westbrook, we leave them here as an honorable mention—in need of three-point shooting.
Oklahoma City ranks 25th in distance efficiency, not to mention 29th in overall offensive efficiency. Durant's long-range touch should help the team improve upon its ghastly three-point conversion rate (32.8 percent), but help in the form of a fellow sweet-shooting swingman or stretch forward would go a long way.
Thin on valuable assets and historically frugal, the Thunder will have to think small and hope that's enough.
Possible Trade: Exception from Thabo Sefolosha sign-and-trade for Steve Novak of the Utah Jazz
Chicago Bulls: Gerald Green, Phoenix Suns
Finding a way to improve the Chicago Bulls is both necessary and difficult. What they really need is some mystic medical tape that safeguards Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol against injury and head coach Tom Thibodeau against popped blood vessels in his neck.
In lieu of the folks at Hogwarts mass-manufacturing some unicorn-derived Band-Aid, we have the 6'8" Gerald Green.
With Jimmy Butler god-ing at the 2 spot, the Bulls could really use an upgrade over Mike Dunleavy at the 3. Doug McDermott isn't equipped to defend small forwards, and Tony Snell still looks lost.
Chicago's three-point shooting has also tapered off after a blistering beginning. It still ranks 12th in long-range efficiency, but it could use another catch-and-shoot weapon capable of playing defense without sending Thibodeau into fits of facial rage that were once reserved for Nate Robinson.
Green is shooting 37.3 percent from deep overall, including 38.2 percent on spot-up opportunities. He's also in the last year of an incredibly reasonable deal. With so much already invested in perimeter firepower—and Goran Dragic approaching free agency—the Phoenix Suns might be inclined to move him rather than pay him.
This where that Sacramento Kings pick the Bulls own comes in handy. It's top-10-protected this year. And thanks to the Kings' hot start and an absurdly awful Eastern Conference, it looks like that selection will wind up in Chicago, giving the Bulls a great wheels-greaser in negotiations.
Possible Trade (after Dec. 15): Cameron Bairstow, Nazr Mohammed, Tony Snell and Sacramento's top-10-protected first-round draft pick in 2015 for Gerald Green
Cleveland Cavaliers: John Henson, Milwaukee Bucks
Protecting the rim is not something the Cleveland Cavaliers do well. They rank 25th in opponent field-goal percentage at the iron, and their two most prominent big men—Kevin Love and Anderson Varejao—are each allowing opponents to shoot at least 60 percent inside six feet.
Once Brendan Haywood's salary jumps to $10.5 million this summer, they'll have the means to pull off a blockbuster-type trade by assuming a pricey household, yet unwanted, name. For now, though, they should look at John Henson.
Jason Kidd seldom uses the third-year tower; he barely averages 12 minutes per game one season after former head coach Larry Drew played him extensively. Though Henson allows opponents to shoot north of 60 percent around the basket as well, he's the shot-blocking fiend the Cavaliers don't yet have. He's sending back 3.2 attempts per 36 minutes and could thrive on a team that uses him primarily as a glass-crasher and shot-swatter.
Milwaukee has a lot of money invested in its front line already, and Henson will be due for an extension this summer. Its offense is also broken—22nd in efficiency—and needs another scorer.
Giannis Antetokounmpo won't be classified as a shooting guard forever, O.J. Mayo doesn't project as a long-term staple and Brandon Knight might price himself out of the Bucks' range. The Cavaliers, then, might have just the asset to make a deal worthwhile.
Possible Trade: Dion Waiters for John Henson
Dallas Mavericks: Wilson Chandler, Denver Nuggets
Don't let the incredible record fool you. The Dallas Mavericks need help. Besides, that incredible record of theirs is only good enough for a top-five seed out West. They need that one player to push them over the top.
That one player could be Wilson Chandler.
Dallas is letting opposing offenses put in 39.8 percent of their three-pointers, the second-worst mark in the league. The Mavericks also rank second-to-last in defensive rebounding rate, and they themselves are only connecting on 34.4 percent of their long balls.
Acquiring Chandler helps with everything. His 6.1 rebounds per game would be the second-most of any Mavericks player, he's banging in 38.6 percent of his three-pointers and opponents are converting under 32 percent of their deep balls when being defended by him. He also stands at 6'8", so he can play and defend the 4 position.
But while the fit is perfect, price is an issue. The Denver Nuggets have a logjam at almost every position, but Chandler is one of their most reliable performers. It's not like the Mavericks boast a deep pool of assets either.
Denver could use another proven floor general, though. Someone like Devin Harris—who cannot be traded until Dec. 15—would be a playmaking upgrade over Nate Robinson and Randy Foye, neither of whom is a long-term backcourt solution.
If the Mavericks are content letting a committee of Jameer Nelson, J.J. Barea and Monta Ellis run their top-ranked offense, Harris is a good starting point—the potential centerpiece to a deal that could net this title contender almost everything it needs.
Possible Trade (after Dec. 15): Jae Crowder, Devin Harris and 2016 first-round pick for Wilson Chandler
Golden State Warriors: James Jones, Cleveland Cavaliers
Basically, if it's almost perfect, don't you dare touch it. But that doesn't mean you cannot look.
Rather than seek out a blockbuster deal—which they can totally and, perhaps, should do if they're ready to trade David Lee—the Warriors should peruse the cheap, seldom used second-unit shooting ranks.
So, James Jones.
All of the Warriors' top shooters—Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Harrison Barnes—are starting games, so their bench ranks 29th in three-point efficiency and in the bottom half of offensive efficiency overall, per HoopStats.com. Which, really, is of no surprise when you think about it.
Andre Iguodala is struggling from the field, Shaun Livingston has never been considered much of a shooter and Lee has played just seven minutes all season. Trading for Jones adds floor spacing to a rather crimped bench mob. He buried 51.9 percent of his shots from downtown last season, and he's drilled 2-of-4 in 2014-15.
Prying Jones out of Cleveland shouldn't be too difficult, either. David Blatt isn't playing him consistently, and while he's a LeBron James hanger-on, he stands to make a bigger difference with the Warriors, who are creating more garbage-time minutes than the Cavaliers.
Dangling one of their trade exceptions may get the job done for the Warriors. If not, the Cavaliers need rim protection, and Steve Kerr seems adverse to handing Festus Ezeli substantial minutes. You figure it out.
Possible Trade(s) (after Dec. 15): Exception from Kent Bazemore/MarShon Brooks trade for James Jones or Festus Ezeli for James Jones.
Houston Rockets: Caron Butler, Detroit Pistons
Losing Jeremy Lin and Chandler Parsons hasn't looked good on the Houston Rockets offense. It's done wonders for their defense, forcing them to sign Trevor Ariza and start the now-injured Patrick Beverley, both of whom are defensive upgrades. But, despite their early-season success, the banged-up Rockets rank 20th in offensive efficiency.
Although a handicapped offense hasn't proved fatal in the standings, the Rockets need scorers who fit their volume three-point model—scorers like Caron Butler.
At some point, the doldrums-dwelling Detroit Pistons will need to wave the white flag. If Stan Van Gundy can net a trade exception and pair of early second-rounders from the Rockets in an exchange for a 34-year-old, he should jump at the opportunity.
General manager Daryl Morey can think bigger with his $8.4 million trade exception, but the Rockets don't have the accompanying assets to parlay it into a star point guard. They're also unlikely to acquire anyone who cuts into their cap space this summer.
Butler, for his part, is draining 38.3 percent of his three-pointers. He's someone who won't compromise the Rockets' second-ranked defense while helping them progress as a driving and kicking three-point machine. Plus, you know, he's an able body for a Rockets faction with almost none.
"No one in the league cares if you're hurt or not, they're trying to beat you," Rockets coach Kevin McHale told reporters after his starter-starved team took down the Grizzlies. "It's not easy to be down three starters and still win."
Indeed, it isn't. And with Dwight Howard, Terrence Jones and Beverley all hobbled, the Rockets cannot continue counting on themselves to piece together improbable victories. Not with their oft-stagnant offense. They've dropped to 14th in downtown efficiency, and they're still struggling to move the ball consistently.
Trying to deal for Butler, who can function as a stretch 4 in a pinch, is a step toward improving their offense—or, rather, a step toward strengthening a weakness the Rockets cannot afford to have.
Possible Trade (after Dec. 15): Exception from Jeremy Lin trade and two 2015 second-round draft picks (via Minnesota and New York) for Caron Butler
Los Angeles Clippers: Timofey Mozgov, Denver Nuggets
Perimeter depth remains an issue for the Los Angeles Clippers, but rim protection is a more pressing matter right now.
DeAndre Jordan is their lone interior defender. Blake Griffin, Spencer Hawes and Glen Davis don't instill hesitation in opponents, and the Clippers are allowing rival offenses to shoot 63.8 percent in the restricted area as a result, the seventh-worst mark in the league.
That they have managed to climb into the top 10 of defensive efficiency overall, despite their interior limitations, is something of a shock. They need someone who can come in and spell Jordan without compromising their point-blank defense.
Timofey Mozgov is that guy. Opponents are shooting just 47.8 percent against him at the rim, markedly better than the 55 percent rate the Clippers allow. He's also affordable long-term insurance. Jordan is set to enter unrestricted free agency this summer, at which point he could price himself out of Los Angeles' range.
Sneaking Mozgov out of Denver won't be easy, though. The Nuggets are deep just about everywhere, but Mozgov is a starter. Coach Brian Shaw has shown an aptitude for running smaller lineups, so the Clippers could try offering a space-creating forward like Hawes, who has underachieved for them thus far. Beyond him, however, they don't have much to give.
Possible Trade (after Dec. 15): Spencer Hawes, Ekpe Udoh and 2016 second-round draft pick (via Brooklyn) for Timofey Mozgov and Alonzo Gee.
Memphis Grizzlies: Marvin Williams, Charlotte Hornets
Everything about the Grizzlies offense is weird. They're desperately dependent on Marc Gasol, they're attempting under 15 three-pointers per game, they don't pride themselves on modern-day floor spacing and, most astoundingly, they rank ninth in offensive efficiency.
Inquiring about Marvin Williams would be a step in a more contemporary direction. The Grizzlies cannot expect their current offensive model to hold strong forever. Gasol looks overworked at times, and Courtney Lee is having the kind of year that makes you wonder if you are, in fact, watching Courtney Lee.
Williams gives the Grizzlies a defense-stretching forward they don't really have. John Leuer's three-point touch is there, but it's less than an ancillary device of his game; Williams is draining 37-plus percent of his treys while attempting three every night. And with the Charlotte Hornets going full Charlotte Bobcats, he could be available.
Grantland's Zach Lowe says the Hornets are scouring the market for trades. Memphis has an expiring contract in Tayshaun Prince to offer, as well as a rookie prospect in Jordan Adams who—along with P.J. Hairston—could help make Lance Stephenson expendable in Charlotte.
Second-round pot-sweeteners could be added as well. But whatever the haul, this remains a scenario the Hornets entertain almost solely because they're resigned to basement-squatting this season.
Possible trade (after Dec. 15): Tayshaun Prince and Jordan Adams for Marvin Williams
Portland Trail Blazers: Corey Brewer, Minnesota Timberwolves
Nothing has changed for the Portland Trail Blazers. Well, almost nothing. The biggest knock against them remains their lack of depth.
Promising performances from Chris Kaman—who's turning the clock back nightly—Steve Blake and Allen Crabbe (yes, him) have helped a great deal. But as Evans Clinchy explains for Blazers Edge, there is still work to be done.
After a 2013-14 season that was way too reliant on the team's five lead guys, modest role players are exactly what Terry Stotts needs this year to keep the ship afloat for another season.
... But building a rotation is a gradual process, and to see Stotts develop three solid contributors in five weeks is an encouraging sign. Now the only question is - who steps up next?
How about Corey Brewer?
The Blazers bench still ranks 19th in offensive efficiency, per HoopStats.com, and could use an aggressive slasher with three-point range and a capacity to defend. And according to ESPN.com's Marc Stein, Brewer is available—though Timberwolves coach and president Flip Saunders has said otherwise.
"He's just too valuable to us to move," Saunders posited, per The Associated Press' Jon Krawczynski.
While perhaps true, the Timberwolves have been ravaged by injuries and own the Western Conference's worst record. Now isn't the time to make players untouchable. Now is the time for them to unload veterans like Brewer and make way for younger guns.
San Antonio Spurs: Andrei Kirilenko, Brooklyn Nets
Andrei Kirilenko and the San Antonio Spurs are a match made in Gregg Popovich's heaven (aka: backwoods cigar bar that doesn't admit patrons without full beards or decades-aged bottles of vino).
Not that the Spurs actually need to make a trade. They're well above .500 and (co-)own the league's second-best defense, even though Patty Mills, Tiago Splitter and Kawhi Leonard have battled—or are still battling—injuries.
Popovich and crew will likely scoff at the very idea of a trade. Midseason splashes aren't the Spurs' style. But they'll have to make an exception here.
Kirilenko remains a savvy defender who plays the passing lanes well. He's not the conventional punch the Spurs' 17th-ranked offense could use, but he has three-point range and, let's face it, will probably shoot 78 percent from deep in San Antonio's system.
After falling out of the Brooklyn Nets rotation and favor entirely, Kirilenko should prove gettable as well. Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski says the organization has already tried to move him, a search that's stalled as Kirilenko tends to a family matter in New York.
Brooklyn is apparently looking for a team that can absorb his contract, but it may have to settle since Kirilenko is an attraction for contenders, most of whom aren't flush with cap space. If they can flip him for expiring deals and a pick, they should just pull the trigger and move on.
Possible Trade: Jeff Ayres, Austin Daye and 2015 second-round draft pick for Andrei Kirilenko
Toronto Raptors: DeMarre Carroll, Atlanta Hawks
It was between the Wizards and the Toronto Raptors for the East's third and final contender. And since there isn't much not to like about the Raptors, here they are.
Yet in the three games since DeRozan tore the adductor longus tendon in his left leg, the Raptors have begun acclimating themselves to life in this contingency. The starting lineup – which now includes Greivis Vasquez – has shifted and Dwane Casey's rotations with it. The entire offensive profile of the team has changed to feature dramatically fewer mid-range jumpers (a DeRozan specialty) and far more three-pointers. And, on the most basic level: Kyle Lowry has taken his turn at dominance, assuming control of the Raptors' offense whenever possible. The results have been glorious.
Glorious early-season results aside, the Raptors need some polish. They're not stacked at the small forward position, and their defense is threatening to fall out of the league's top 15.
Porous perimeter protection has been particularly problematic. The Raptors often do a good job of rotating, but they're allowing opponents to find nylon on 35.6 percent of their three-point attempts, which ranks among the Association's 10 worst marks.
DeMarre Carroll can help remedy that while also adding a dangerous three-point stroke. Opponents hit just over 34 percent of their attempts from deep when being defended by him, and he's been dangerous off the catch on offense, converting 39 percent of his spot-up threes.
Toronto also has a trade exception it can pair with a first-rounder to land Carroll. It's a somewhat steep price, but he helps put a definitive end to "the Raptors aren't contenders" conversation. And while the Atlanta Hawks won't be a team that looks to get worse in this season—they're contending for a top-five playoff seed—the organization has to know it's not winning a title now.
Securing a first-round pick for a player who may leave in free agency isn't a bad return, even for a playoff-bound faction enjoying the fruits of an inept Eastern Conference.
Possible Trade: Exception from Steve Novak trade and 2015 first-round pick for DeMarre Carroll.