Tempting Trade Targets These NBA Contenders Must Avoid
Throw caution to the wind! Time for big swings and rash decisions!
With parity comes opportunity in the NBA, and plenty of teams are in the mix for the Larry O'Brien Trophy.
There are still a plethora of moves contenders can make. Some could elevate their respective franchises to an NBA title as they did in Toronto, while others may wash away front offices as they did in Detroit.
It's up to these franchises to hit the correct target when pulling the trigger.
Here are targets these contenders must avoid if they are to improve their odds by the February 6 deadline.
Boston Celtics: Andre Drummond
We're stating the obvious here.
Finding a big man capable of impeding the impact of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Joel Embiid could be paramount to Boston's exceeding expectations in the Eastern Conference.
The Celtics aren't churning desperate waters, though. Daniel Theis has been a competent presence following the departures of Al Horford and Aron Baynes. Though he's listed as a power forward on ESPN, Theis plays most of his minutes at center, and his defensive real plus-minus would rank 12th among centers.
But the C's could use some help behind him. Enes Kanter and Robert Williams III rank 19th and 48th, respectively, among centers. Trotting those two out against superstar bigs could come at a cost.
Andre Drummond has come up in the rumor mill for obvious reasons. The Detroit Pistons should look to the future following Blake Griffin's knee surgery. While Drummond could explore free agency this summer, he might consider playing out his player option in 2020-21 valued at $28.8 million. Given their circumstance, the Pistons don't need to take that hit.
He's too expensive and frankly underperforming the expectations that come with his price tag. For the Celtics, grabbing him would require moving on from an important piece like Marcus Smart or Gordon Hayward. He's done little as of late to prove worthy of the sacrifice.
Jahlil Okafor may have ended any trade speculation when he played Drummond off the floor on January 13. Okafor would finish with 25 points, 14 rebounds and five assists, and Drummond played only 22 minutes.
Besides, Boston's five-man lineups of Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Daniel Theis and either Hayward or Smart each outperform their opponents by at least 6.8 points per 100 possessions. Why break that up?
Boston would be better suited to wait for a more cap-friendly addition who won't break up a core that's just two games away from the second seed in the Eastern Conference.
Denver Nuggets: Kevin Love
Kevin Love just can't seem to keep himself out of the headlines.
Playing for another lottery-bound squad isn't the best fit for the 31-year-old former champ, and it makes sense for both parties to transfer him to a contender while Cleveland Cavaliers stockpile assets in return.
The Denver Nuggets make the perfect partner on paper. They have a perfect salary matcher in Paul Millsap, or they could package Gary Harris and Mason Plumlee.
Consolidating is in this team's best interests. Promising guard Malik Beasley is an above-average three-and-D wing who may earn a sizable payday beyond what the Nuggets offered last summer. Moving on from Harris could clear the way for his minutes, or packaging him with Millsap could be all the Cavs need to pull the plug on their marriage.
Love is still an effective player. At 17.4 points and 10.2 rebounds per game, he provides a steadying presence in the post along with being a reliable spacer. Another playmaking big alongside Nikola Jokic could unlock the half-court offense and help the unit when he sits.
But Love is still in the first year of a four-year, $120.4 million extension and a long-term health risk. He hasn't played more than 60 games since 2015-16 and has quite the list of games missed due to injury just in the previous two seasons alone.
And why move on from Millsap? He is the highest-rated defender in defensive real plus-minus among power forwards, shoots 41.3 percent from three and gives the Nuggets financial flexibility this summer with his expiring deal.
Moving on from the remaining three years of Gary Harris would make sense if the Nuggets see Beasley as their future, but with Love in tow, they could struggle to pay for him.
Anyway, the Nuggets may already have their long-term answer at power forward in Michael Porter Jr. While MPJ has only played 10 percent of his minutes there, he's done so to dramatic effect with a plus-18.2 point differential per 100 possessions.
The Nuggets should hold their cards for a definitive star (Jrue Holiday, Bradley Beal) or at least a solid three-and-D wing capable of giving minutes at the 3 as well as the 4 (Jae Crowder, Robert Covington).
Houston Rockets: Alec Burks
The Warriors are going nowhere, and Burks could be a cheap addition for a contender.
At 6'6" and averaging 15.8 points per game, Burks provides a scoring punch that could interest the Houston Rockets.
It won't take much to get him. Despite unloading the goods for Russell Westbrook, the Rockets have some assets to spend, such as a highly protected second-round pick from Memphis (via Chicago) or their own 2021 second.
This might not be enough to entice the Warriors, who could elect to keep him rather than unload him for such an underwhelming offer.
Regardless, Burks' effect in Houston would be minimal, anyway. The Rockets already have a plethora of backcourt playmakers in Westbrook, James Harden, Austin Rivers and Eric Gordon (albeit underperforming). The Rockets are second in the NBA in both offensive rating and scoring.
They need defenders.
They need a versatile wing defender who can spell PJ Tucker and improve a mediocre unit that promises to be gashed by the Los Angeles Clippers and Lakers. Markieff Morris, free agent Joakim Noah or buyout candidate Andre Iguodala would facilitate the Rockets' needs in a better fashion.
Los Angeles Clippers: Steven Adams
Standing pat could be in the Los Angeles Clippers' future at the trade deadline. Arguably the title favorites, they have one of the deepest rosters in the NBA.
And yet, there's one very long problem the Clippers could face in Anthony Davis. He is a potential nightmare for the 6'7" Montrezl Harrell. With career averages of 28.6 points, 11.0 rebounds, 3.4 steals, 2.5 blocks and 1.8 steals in 12 games both Harrell and Davis have played, the Lakers' newest superstar could convince Jerry West to make a move.
Trusting two superstar wings in Kawhi Leonard and Paul George to make up for their deficiencies could be enough. Or, West could target Thunder big man Steven Adams.
And adding Adams and his remaining year could be better than losing Harrell for nothing this summer.
But while Adams is effective in the pick-and-roll, Harrell is the very best. The Clippers will need to rely on Williams and Harrell's lethal combination in the playoffs for easy baskets and to relieve stress on Leonard and George. In addition, adding Adams would mean moving on from Maurice Harkless or Patrick Beverley. The Clippers should stand pat or take a smaller swing.
Los Angeles Lakers: Andre Iguodala
OK, we're cheating on this one.
Andre Iguodala would make the perfect addition to this Lakers squad, albeit as a buyout candidate.
Iguodala can serve as a half-court secondary playmaker or as a reliable shooter from the corner, where he shot 47.1 percent in last season's playoff run.
Most importantly and dramatically would be his effect on opposing playmakers like James Harden and Kawhi Leonard. Fighting against the best on the biggest stage is partially why earned Iguodala his Finals MVP in 2015, and he continued that high level of play in 2019.
120 points on 472.9 partial possessions is all that Kawhi Leonard, James Harden, Pascal Siakam, Chris Paul, Kyle Lowry and Lou Williams could muster against Iguodala in the 2018-19 playoffs—an astounding rate of 0.25 points per possession.
The problem with trading for Iguodala is it would almost certainly mean moving on from Kyle Kuzma (unless LeBron calls in another favor). The Lakers have little to no assets to send, and the Grizzlies have shown their willingness to wait for a strong offer.
Plus, there's the issue of matching salaries. They'd need to convince Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to waive his right to veto the trade and then pay his 15 percent kicker as compensation. They'd then still need to add one of Quinn Cook or Alex Caruso to make the math work.
All of this for one season of a soon-to-be 36-year-old with over 40,000 minutes played in over 1,200 games?
It's too much. If the Lakers were set on moving Kuzma, they should kick the tires on the Washington Wizards and Davis Bertans.
Philadelphia 76ers: Langston Galloway
Detroit Pistons swingman Langston Galloway has quietly had a productive season. As the Pistons' luck has waned, so has his production. However, he's still managing 39.4 percent shooting from deep on 5.1 attempts per game.
A low-cost spacer who can replicate some of what they lost when JJ Redick departed would be a worthwhile addition for a Philadelphia 76ers squad that's 25th in three-point attempts per game. The 76ers still have picks to spend (as well as Zhaire Smith). Galloway is in the final season of a three-year contract and earning just $7.3 million, perfect fodder for a Mike Scott swap. Scott is still a member of the 76ers rotation but has scored just 3.6 points per game over his last 10 on an effective field-goal percentage of 33.7.
Galloway as a buyout candidate makes a lot of sense for this squad, but as a trade piece, it's hard to imagine the 76ers can't do a bit better. He has struggled of late, hitting just 30.8 percent of his three-pointers in the past 10 games. Disregarding that, his impact beyond that of a floor-spacer is minimal. The shooting guard takes just 2.9 two-points shots per game. Defensively, he ranks 100th among shooting guards in ESPN's defensive real plus-minus as well as in the 17th percentile in opponent points per possession (Cleaning the Glass).
The Process has led to this point, and there's no time for saving pennies now. If they are to jettison Scott, the Sixers need to think bigger then an undersized guard (6'1") who converts just two three-pointers per game.
The 76ers should spend and spend big. At the very least, they can target Luke Kennard, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Robert Covington, Davis Bertans or E'Twaun Moore.
Milwaukee: Chris Paul
Speaking of big swings, it's now or never for Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks. Like Anthony Davis one season ago, the 2019 MVP approaches an impasse this summer in which he must decide to extend in Milwaukee, force a trade to the next would-be contender or play out the last season of his contract amid speculation that he'll sign somewhere else as a free agent.
The Bucks have no reason to do anything. They're the NBA's best team and have the wins to prove it. Thirty-eight wins, first in SRS, first in defense and third in offensive rating—there's nothing this team doesn't do well.
And yet, many will point to Eric Bledsoe's playoff performance as the root of the team's failures last season. Bledsoe managed just 13.7 points on 23.6 percent shooting from deep on 4.8 attempts per game, a far worse percentage than his regular-season average.
He's been much improved this season (35.7 percent from three) and is one of the best isolation scorers in the NBA. Among those with one isolation possession or more per game, Bledsoe trails only De'Aaron Fox and Rodney Hood in field-goal percentage. He's also one of the best finishers among guards, converting 64.7 percent from inside five feet, trailing only Luka Doncic, Ben Simmons, De'Aaron Fox, DeMar DeRozan and Norman Powell (4.5 attempts or more).
But Chris Paul is demonstrably better. A real-plus minus annual hero, the Point God beats Bledsoe in every significant category.
The math for a Paul trade is difficult but not impossible. Packaging Bledsoe and the Lopez twins works. So does Bledsoe, George Hill and Ersan Ilyasova. And that might be enough for an OKC squad that has proved to do right by its superstars. Plus, the Thunder cleaning up their books long-term while giving the keys to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander comes with its perks.
But the Bucks should not take this risk. Bringing on Paul cripples depth and clogs the books. They need to trust Bledsoe will respond this spring. The whole franchise might be counting on it.