NBA Trade Ideas to Rescue Surprisingly Slow Starts
Not every early-season NBA problem is solved with time.
Sure, some are erased from memory with hot play over the cold winter months. But others are here for the long haul and threaten to kill a campaign before it ever really starts.
The potential for the latter is why the trade machine gets so much activity this time of year. While it's too early to seriously consider most swaps—and too early to actually get many done given the restrictions on dealing players who signed this summer—it's never too early to start thinking about potential transactions.
Speaking of which, we've already gotten the ball rolling with trade ideas to snap five teams out of their frustratingly sluggish starts.
NBA legends turned “All The Smoke” podcast cohosts, Stephen Jackson and Matt Barnes, join “The Full 48 with Howard Beck” to discuss their new Showtime pod, the most misunderstood guys in the NBA (Draymond Green, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and LeBron James), the best and worst organizations in the league, load management, and the negative culture of social media.
Bulls Bulk Up on the Wing
Chicago Bulls Receive: Jae Crowder
Memphis Grizzlies Receive: Cristiano Felicio, Chandler Hutchison, 2021 second-round pick (from CHI or NO)
A popular preseason sleeper, the Bulls have stumbled to a 2-5 start, and coach Jim Boylen has already called out his players. They lack toughness, veteran leadership and even the slightest bit of depth on the wing. Chandler Hutchison and Denzel Valentine theoretically fill the backup wing spots, but the former's role is murky and the latter's appears nonexistent.
Renting Jae Crowder could address all three concerns.
He's a 29-year-old who's been a part of five franchises, most of which headed to the postseason. He's not the only reason for the playoff success, of course, but he helps in most areas related to winning. He can defend multiple positions, he keeps the ball moving on offense, and he's even capable of hitting big shots when needed.
He's the kind of player who makes life easier on his higher-profile teammates, and it's clear Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen could use all the assistance they can get.
The Grizzlies obviously don't have a future with Crowder, and they can't expect much in return for him when he's saddled with a grotesque 27.8/23.1/76.9 shooting slash.
In fact, they should be rather thrilled with getting both Chandler Hutchison, last year's 22nd pick, and a future draft choice with a decent chance of being in the first half of the second round. That's enough to stomach losing Crowder and adding the remainder of Cristiano Felicio's bloated-but-not-too-burdensome contract.
Magic Address Anemic Offense
Orlando Magic Receive: Bogdan Bogdanovic
Sacramento Kings Receive: Mohamed Bamba, Wes Iwundu, 2020 second-round pick (from ORL)
If you prefer your takes ice-cold, try this one out: The Magic are going nowhere as long as they have the Association's least efficient offense.
Admittedly, it's not as bad as it looks. (It rarely is this time of year.) Nikola Vucevic, D.J. Augustin and Terrence Ross won't be sub-26 percent outside shooters all season. This will stabilize to a certain degree.
But this roster was imbalanced before the opening tip was tossed. The Magic have too many bigs and not enough perimeter shooters/shot-creators. Making an aggressive move for Bogdan Bogdanovic not only addresses those weaknesses now, but it also helps extend the window of the current core, assuming Orlando is ready to invest in the 27-year-old restricted-free-agent-to-be.
The Magic probably should be. Bogdanovic is a gifted offensive player. Over the last two seasons—his first in the NBA, mind you—he was one of only 16 players to deliver 900 points, 250 assists and 125 triples in each campaign. If he were to reproduce his 2018-19 production (14.1 points and 3.8 assists), he'd be Orlando's third-highest scorer and second-best distributor.
So, why would the Kings let him go? Because he needs to get paid—maybe PAID—this summer, and Sacramento has already invested elsewhere. Harrison Barnes and Buddy Hield will both collect $20 million-plus salaries next season, and De'Aaron Fox and Marvin Bagley III will likely join that club sooner than later.
There have also been whispers that Bogdanovic isn't thrilled about having a reserve role. While he refuted that report, it doesn't take a major leap in logic to speculate that the Kings may not have the funds or the touches to keep him happy.
If he's not part of the long-term plans, it's better for Sacramento to try to find players who could be. Maybe Mohamed Bamba just needs a change of scenery to get going. The Kings could use some extra muscle in the middle, as they sit 23rd in rebounding percentage and 24th in blocks. Their 24th-ranked defense also needs a lift, and Wes Iwundu might have the length, athleticism and versatility to help stop the bleeding.
Kings Scratch Shooting, Scoring Itches
Sacramento Kings Receive: Danilo Gallinari, Nerlens Noel
Oklahoma City Thunder Receive: Trevor Ariza, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Harry Giles III, 2020 first-round pick (lottery protected)
This was supposed to be Sacramento's breakout season. Instead, the early portion has been defined by regression. The Kings aren't running and gunning. They're not doing much of anything on offense, actually, as they sit just 26th in efficiency, 27th in scoring and 21st in three-point shooting.
Ponying up for a Danilo Gallinari rental should help turn those numbers around. The 11-year veteran proved he's an elite offensive contributor when healthy last season, as he tallied a career-best 19.8 points per game and a pristine 46.3/43.3/90.4 shooting slash. So far, he's picking up where he left off with 18 a night on 45.3/43.6/100 shooting.
He should be very obtainable, too, as a 31-year-old in the final season of his contract with a rebuilding team. League sources told The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor they "fully expect" OKC to explore moving Gallo, just in case anyone still questioned his availability. Since this deal couldn't go down before Dec. 15, each team should have a clear idea of its trajectory and whether this swap makes sense. (Spoiler alert: It will.)
His comfort with the basketball would ease the burden on De'Aaron Fox. The half-court offense would get a boost by having Gallinari and Buddy Hield both racing around screens and launching upon the catch. So long as Nerlens Noel approves a change of scenery—it's hard to say why he wouldn't—the defense would improve, too, with another pogo stick in the paint.
As for the Thunder, this adds yet another first-round pick to the pile, plus it gives them extra keepers or trade chips (or both).
Bogdanovic might be 27, but his late arrival to the league might mean more upside remains. (If you caught his FIBA World Cup play, you'd agree.) Harry Giles III is still super interesting if his body ever cooperates, and OKC has the time to see if it will. Finally, Trevor Ariza might only need a good month to convince a contender he's its missing three-and-D piece, meaning yet another asset might emerge out of this deal.
Nets Find Their Third Wheel
Brooklyn Nets Receive: Aaron Gordon
Orlando Magic Receive: Spencer Dinwiddie, Joe Harris, 2020 first-round pick (lottery protected from PHI)
The Nets need more.
Sure, that sounds like low-hanging fruit for a team missing Kevin Durant, but that's the thing. Even when KD comes back, this club will need more. This defense is nowhere near championship-ready (19th in efficiency), and Durant's return won't change that.
"They have lapses in intensity and effort," an NBA scout told Yahoo Sports' Mike Mazzeo.
Swinging a mini-blockbuster for Aaron Gordon might eliminate some of those. He's exactly the kind of malleable stopper this unit needs. He can suffocate opposing scorers of almost all sizes, his effort never wavers, and he's disciplined enough to match wits with the biggest stars.
Brooklyn does this deal for defense but also with the knowledge Gordon's offensive limitations might be less damning—or, if you're feeling glass-overflowing levels of optimism, erased—by having the likes of Durant and Kyrie Irving around him.
For Orlando, this is a way to clear the frontcourt clutter and turn someone who isn't a great fit for this roster and might be plateauing shy of stardom into three valuable assets.
Spencer Dinwiddie is more exciting than D.J. Augustin and less volatile than Markelle Fultz. Joe Harris' elite stroke makes him a fit for everyone, and having his shooting threat could make life easier for Jonathan Isaac (who has the runway cleared to take over this team). The first-rounder will almost certainly be a late one, but again, it's still a first in a trade largely meant to rebalance the roster.
Rockets Go All-In on Offense
Houston Rockets Receive: Kevin Love
Cleveland Cavaliers Receive: Clint Capela, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
Charlotte Hornets Receive: Ben McLemore, Nene, Isaiah Hartenstein, 2021 second-round pick (from HOU or PHI)
The Rockets aren't fixing this defense. They probably can't come close without taking a hatchet to their offense, which, if all clicks, remains their only potential ticket to the top.
The only teams with worse defensive ratings than the Rockets' 113.6 are the Pelicans and Warriors, who've opened the season a combined 3-11. Houston has allowed four of its first seven opponents to blow past 120 points, including the 158 it allowed to a likely lottery-bound Wizards team in an Oct. 30 game that ended in regulation.
But the Rockets are 2-2 in those games, and they won that wild shootout with the Wizards. Offensive firepower has always been their key to success—Mike D'Antoni still runs the show—but they just haven't packed enough of a punch yet. Both James Harden and Russell Westbrook are shooting below 26 percent from deep, and they're combining to commit 9.9 turnovers per night.
This offense must be better. With Kevin Love, it could be ridiculous. He has the three-ball to work as a spacer, the post game to bail them out of stagnant possessions, the outlet passes to ignite the transition game and the IQ to work wonders as a ball-screener for Harden or Westbrook.
Even though Love is still attached to a potentially problematic contract ($120.4 million over the next four seasons), the Cavs could demand something of value if he continues his hot start. (This deal couldn't go down before Jan. 14, since Nene signed so late.) Love is averaging an absurd line of 19.2 points, 15.3 rebounds and 4.3 assists, all while assembling a sizzling 49.3/41.5/86.7 slash line.
That might be enough for Houston to part with Clint Capela, who's an exciting big man but someone who has struggled in certain small-ball matchups in past postseasons. That's not a great concern for Cleveland, which pounces on the chance to get a 25-year-old cornerstone big man and has roughly three months to decide whether Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, the second pick in 2012, is worth keeping around.
The Hornets simply play the money-matching part to grab a couple of low-level assets for a player they pulled from the rotation late last season and haven't reinserted since. Isaiah Hartenstein is a 21-year-old 7-footer with inside-out potential. The second-round pick gives general manager Daryl Morey another trade chip to play with. Ben McLemore probably isn't turning the corner at this point, but what's the harm in adding him?
It only works if the Rockets are willing to gamble, but with Harden and Westbrook both on the wrong side of 30, they might feel pressured to act.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.