NBA Teams and Players Already in Desperate Need of a Trade
Nothing gets the hot takes flowing quite like the first week or so of an NBA season.
But not everything witnessed since the campaign opener Oct. 16 is an overreaction.
While surprising trends need larger sample sizes to analyze, predictable outcomes are potentially immediate causes for concern. When on-paper weaknesses noticed during the offseason (or even before then) grow more glaring on the hardwood, action is required—preferably sooner than later.
The following situations are troubling enough to warrant serious trade consideration, even at such an early juncture.
On the surface, the 4-0 Detroit Pistons look about as far from desperate as a team can get. But this sizzling start is precisely the reason why they are in dire need of upgrades along the wing.
Pegged as a playoff bubble team coming in, the Pistons have a chance to become something greater. Blake Griffin has thrown his hat into the MVP running. Andre Drummond has never been more effective as a scorer and rebounder. And if Reggie Jackson can stay healthy, he forms a lethal one-two punch at point guard with Ish Smith.
But there's no way Detroit wins big with this crop of wings.
Stanley Johnson, Reggie Bullock and Langston Galloway are all shooting worse than 39 percent from the field and no better than 25 percent from distance. Luke Kennard, last year's lottery pick, was struggling to get significant minutes before suffering a shoulder injury Thursday. Glenn Robinson III already has one healthy scratch and may have had two in a row if not for Kennard's injury.
Only one of those five posted a positive real plus-minus last season. That was Galloway, who finished 108th overall, per ESPN.com. None had even a league-average player efficiency rating (15.0). Bullock came closest with a 13.6, which put him tied for 162nd among players who logged at least 1,000 minutes.
Right now, Detroit is counting on Griffin to be elite, Drummond to be close to it and either Jackson and/or Smith to fill out the Motor City's big three. That isn't a sustainable model for long-term success. The Pistons need better production from their wings to not only complement their stars but also provide a safety net on nights when those players don't have it or can't see the floor.
While they'd ideally find a starter, that could prove cost-prohibitive. They aren't in the market to sacrifice first-rounders after giving up this summer's in the trade for Griffin, and they have been struggling to develop their recent choices (Johnson, Henry Ellenson and perhaps Kennard). Even parting with a second-rounder is tricky with four already shipped away.
They'll probably have to buy low on a reserve and hope that player perks up with a change of scenery. Sharpshooter Kyle Korver is expected to be moved at some point, per The Athletic's Joe Vardon, and—if Detroit can make the money work—Courtney Lee could be an interesting target if he can solve his mysterious neck injury.
The Orlando Magic are headed nowhere fast.
While their 2-3 record doesn't look abysmal and does include a victory over the Boston Celtics, Orlando's underlying numbers paint a more grisly picture than last season's 57-loss squad. The Magic are 27th in offensive rating (103.2), 21st in defensive rating (111.7) and 27th in net rating (minus-8.5). All three efficiency stats and rankings are worse than in 2017-18.
Why, then, are recent No. 6 picks Jonathan Isaac and Mohamed Bamba each seeing less than 24 minutes a night? Why does their top five in minutes feature three players aged 28 or older: Nikola Vucevic, D.J. Augustin and Jonathon Simmons? Why hasn't intriguing second-rounder Melvin Frazier Jr. seen the floor once?
The Magic would probably tell you it all stems from a desire to be as competitive as possible. But if you're trying to compete, wouldn't you form a stronger point guard rotation than Augustin and Jerian Grant?
Perhaps there's some showcasing going on—Vucevic could fit in almost any offense with his improved shooting and passing—but the Magic don't sound like they're in a hurry to deal.
"We have no designs on trading anyone right now," president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman told reporters last month. "That's something we'll worry about later."
There's no reason to wait. Orlando must get a firm grasp on exactly what it has in Isaac and Bamba, in particular whether those two can coexist with each other and Aaron Gordon. The longer Vucevic sticks around, the more elusive that answer becomes.
Two summers back, the Phoenix Suns deemed Dragan Bender worthy of the fourth overall selection. The NBA world agreed. Bleacher Report's Jonathan Wasserman described Bender as a blend of Kristaps Porzingis and Joakim Noah, boasting the former's perimeter game and the latter's passing and defensive versatility.
Sounds like a player worth keeping, right? Try telling that to the Suns.
They still haven't picked up his $5.9 million option for 2019-20. And despite dealing away Marquese Chriss, they haven't found any sort of role for Bender. He has only appeared in two of the team's first four games—for a total of six minutes.
"He has to play the game," Suns coach Igor Kokoskov said during the preseason, per Bright Side of the Sun's Dave King. "We can't play the game for him. I wouldn't buy into him missing shots, there's so many other areas that he can help this team, when it comes to defensive stops, presence, rebounding. Help us with those things."
No one outside the organization can say for certain if the Suns have given up on Bender, but there doesn't seem to be much hope that he will figure things out.
Maybe some other club is hopeful, though. He's still a skilled 7-footer who has yet to celebrate his 21st birthday. He's younger than 11 players drafted in the first round this year, as the Ringer's Kevin O'Connor noted.
Patience will be critical to Bender's development. The Suns seem short on that—understandable after two-plus forgettable seasons—but maybe another rebuilder can create the right environment for him to grow.
Remember the Cleveland Cavaliers' claims about keeping their heads well above water without LeBron James? How the playoffs were still in reach? How they were still the team to beat out East? How they could build a LeBron-less contender?
So much for that.
The Cavs are objectively the worst team in the NBA. No has lost more games (0-5). No one has a worse net rating (minus-12.8). No one else has suffered a double-digit loss to the Atlanta Hawks or Brooklyn Nets, let alone both.
"Neither the veterans nor the youth on the roster seem capable of contributing consistently," Bleacher Report's Grant Hughes wrote. "It's going to be a long year."
Losses are unavoidable. But Cleveland could still get something out of this season by better defining its purpose.
This isn't about proving anything without James. It's finding a way to survive this departure better than the last one.
The Cavs must clear out veterans. If they can cut costs in the process, even better. In addition to discussing Kyle Korver's availability, Vardon also reported the club "would probably listen" if a market developed for Tristan Thompson. Tim Bontemps of the Washington Post opined that the "Kevin Love Trade Watch" has already started.
Cleveland has youngsters to develop and a top-10-protected pick to safeguard. Any and all trades to tear down this thing to the young foundation are worth exploring.
Every time trade talks heat up, the Timberwolves douse them with frigid water. They could have had Josh Richardson and a protected first-rounder, but the potential swap with the Miami Heat fell apart twice, per Marc Stein of the New York Times.
And shortly after ESPN.com's Adrian Wojnarowski reported the Houston Rockets put four future first-round picks on the table, Stadium's Shams Charania said Minnesota had shown "no inclination" to accept.
"Just have to do what's right," Timberwolves coach and president of basketball operations Tom Thibodeau told reporters. "If something is a good deal and you're getting good value for the franchise, you have to do what's right."
Of course, only Minnesota knows what it would deem "a good deal." And if that price tag is exorbitant—don't forget, Butler can hit unrestricted free agency at season's end—then the swingman might be stuck for the foreseeable future.
To Butler's credit, the situation has done nothing to impact his play. The four-time All-Star has surged out of the gate with 24.8 points on 53.3 percent shooting (42.9 percent outside), 5.3 rebounds and a league-best 3.8 steals per game.
But the rest of the Wolves look as flawed as Butler seems to believe they are. Former top picks Karl-Anthony Towns (15.4) and Andrew Wiggins (14.7) are both hovering around NBA mediocrity in player efficiency rating. This defense is again one of the NBA's 10 worst.
Butler has done and continues to do his part. Minnesota should find a way to honor his request and grant him a ticket out of town.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @ZachBuckleyNBA.