Biggest Need Every NBA Team Must Address at the Trade Deadline
- The forecasts are calling for a quiet NBA trade deadline.
Between last year's frantic deadline and a subsequent offseason for the ages, many teams have shot their shots already. Most clubs also lack incentive to cut costs since the 2020 free-agent crop looks underwhelming. Oh, and the draft class doesn't seem special, either, so rebuilders may not be racing to find extra picks.
If you're an avid NBA fan, you know just how unpredictable #TradeSZN can be. Last year's deadline was supposed to be a snoozer, too, before it flipped the hoops world on its head.
Deals are going to happen. Roster reinforcements will be available. Some teams will make a run at this year's crown, while others turn their attention toward a brighter tomorrow.
We can't tell you what will happen next, but we can tell you the biggest area all 30 teams must address between now and 3 p.m. ET on Feb. 6.
Atlanta Hawks: Modern Center
It's too late for this to become the leap year ATLiens were hoping to see, but the Hawks will never take flight without fixing their center spot. Specifically, they must find a 5 who fits with John Collins, a bouncy 4 who doesn't stretch the floor and, until recently, didn't provide rim protection.
Three-point sniping, shot-blocking big men are dubbed unicorns because they're so difficult to find. Maybe a reunion with Dewayne Dedmon would do the trick—Atlanta has poked around, per The Athletic's Sam Amick—but the 30-year-old is a temporary fix at best, and maybe not even that if he can't reverse the deep decline he's suffered this season.
Atlanta has backed off an Andre Drummond trade, per Yahoo Sports' Chris Haynes, which makes sense for a few reasons. For starters, he isn't an ideal fit with Collins, since he clogs the paint on offense and can get exposed at the other end. Plus, the Hawks can chase Drummond this summer as a free agent and keep whatever a deadline deal would cost them.
The specific target is tricky to identify, but the need has been obvious dating back to the summer and still has not been addressed.
Boston Celtics: Interior Anchor
The Celtics' center spot has performed above expectations. However, it's still nowhere near championship-ready, so that's kind of a moot point unless Boston isn't title-chasing this season.
The C's can't chase the crown and keep this center rotation intact. Daniel Theis is as tall as Jayson Tatum and is lighter than Jaylen Brown. Make Enes Kanter move side-to-side and it's like he's walking in wet cement. Robert Williams III has only 51 NBA games under his belt and may not have another until after the All-Star break.
That's a problematic position group in any playoff matchup. It's a fatal flaw in a series against Joel Embiid, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Pascal Siakam or Anthony Davis.
Boston has three options. Do nothing, and hope Brad Stevens can mask this shortcoming, maybe with the league's next small-ball death lineup. Practice patience and hope the buyout market delivers a life preserver like Tristan Thompson. Or make a bold move for a big man, even if it costs a core player like Gordon Hayward.
The latter is extreme, but if the C's think they have a shot at contention, they may throw caution to the wind.
Brooklyn Nets: Noise-Cancelling Headphones
The Nets seem like they get it. They didn't expect to have Kevin Durant this season, and their stance on the recovering superstar hasn't changed. Keeping consistent on that front has largely held expectations in check.
But Kyrie Irving didn't do them any favors when he made a public plea for improvements to the supporting cast. The situation only grew more confusing once Uncle Drew himself acknowledged this is essentially a developmental year.
"There was a sense of we knew who was going to be on the team and we were going to have to wait a certain amount of time in order to get at a level," Irving said, per Mollie Walker of the New York Post. "... This is just the reality of where we are."
Hmmm. This isn't the easiest thought process to follow, which makes inquisitive media minds try to guess what's going on behind closed doors, despite Irving's instructions to...uh, do otherwise.
All of that creates unnecessary distractions, and the Nets should pay attention to none of them. They know better than us how Irving is as a leader, so they shouldn't let our interpretations of his words color their beliefs. Instead, they should bunker down, block the outside noise and focus on the upcoming stretch run.
If the Nets do get involved in the deadline, they should avoid dramatic changes.
Charlotte Hornets: Best Asset Available
The Hornets are in the infancy stage of their post-Kemba Walker rebuild, which predictably has its ups and downs.
On the plus side, Buzz City has rattled off several player-development wins. Devonte' Graham looks like a legitimate diamond in the rough. P.J. Washington has skills and savvy seldom seen in a rookie. Miles Bridges has built on a promising rookie season. Terry Rozier has shown that even the Hornets are overpaying him, it isn't by the egregious amount many suspected when he signed his three-year, $58 million deal.
As for the negatives, Charlotte is getting buried underneath an avalanche of losses. Few, if any, veterans on expiring contracts have surprised enough to make win-now shoppers overpay to rent them. And not all of the player-development projects have been resounding successes (looking at you, Malik Monk and Dwayne Bacon).
It's possible, then, that the best asset available to the Hornets is the cap relief created by letting the contracts of Marvin Williams, Bismack Biyombo and Michael-Kidd Gilchrist expire after this season. But maybe someone would give up a decent draft pick for Williams' two-way game or Biyombo's interior presence. Charlotte should be open to all possibilities, and anything sweetening the future pot is worth exploring.
Chicago Bulls: Whatever Thad and Denzel Are Worth
The Bulls carried sleeper potential into the season, but they aren't likely to wake up in time to enjoy any meaningful success. Perhaps they can rally to sneak into the playoffs and promptly get annihilated in the first round, but how much will they gain from that?
It's better for the Bulls to remember that even if they're antsy for success, time is still on their side. They might be tired of losing, but almost all of their long-term keepers are on the right side of 25, and several are nowhere near that age.
By shifting their mindset, they can turn this season's disappointments into opportunities. Considering this market might be short on sellers, the Bulls could be pleasantly surprised to find what buyers would pay for Thaddeus Young and Denzel Valentine. One is a walking Swiss army knife, the other is a sharpshooter; good luck finding contenders who don't need those skill sets.
Valentine is again out of the rotation, so Chicago should take whatever it can get. If the Bulls plan on keeping Otto Porter Jr.—he has a $28.5 million player option in 2020-21—then their need for Young diminishes. The veteran forward wouldn't be short on suitors, so Chicago should fetch something valuable in return.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Picks, Prospects and Reclamation Projects
Year two of Cleveland's second post-LeBron James era looks no different than year one. The Cavaliers are drowning in a pool of losses and a sea of question marks.
They're dreadful on defense and abysmal on offense. Despite spending consecutive top-10 picks on point guards, they're among the league's worst passing teams and are the very worst with ball control. They still don't know if head coach John Beilein is the right for the job, and if a trade suitor existed for disgruntled big man Kevin Love, he'd be donning a different jersey right now.
That's a long-winded way of saying that even after a year-and-a-half, the Cavs are still in step one of their rebuild. Asset accumulation should be the lone focus, and it doesn't matter what form those assets take.
Shedding Love's contract would be a godsend, and it's arguably worth sacrificing a pick to do so. They should heavily shop Tristan Thompson to any frontcourt-needy buyer, and if he can fetch a first-rounder, it'd be a no-brainer move. Eventually, Cleveland can whittle its target list down to specifics (stretch big, wing stopper), but for now, it's all about getting the best available assets.
Dallas Mavericks: Dwight Powell's Replacement
On the same night the Mavericks welcomed Kristaps Porzingis back to the fold, they appear to have lost Dwight Powell for the season. He crumbled to the floor with a non-contact injury to his right knee, and Dallas' worst fears have reportedly been realized.
Powell "is expected to have suffered a season-ending torn right Achilles tendon," according to Shams Charania of The Athletic.
Dallas was already in the big man market and had been linked to Andre Drummond, per Yahoo Sports' Vincent Goodwill. One could have argued that frontcourt depth wasn't as big of a need as fortifying the wing (with defense, shot creation or ideally both), but Powell's injury changes everything.
Dallas will sorely miss the bouncy rim-runner who had the third-highest on/off differential of the rotation regulars. Filling that void should now become the focus of its deadline dealings.
Buoyed by Luka Doncic's ascension into the MVP conversation, the Mavs should aggressively seek out buying opportunities. It isn't often that an NBA team employs a superstar making rookie-scale money. Between Courtney Lee's expiring $12.8 million salary, ownership of the Golden State Warriors' second-rounder and some youngsters to sweeten the pot, Dallas should be able to cobble together a package that nets a starting-caliber center.
Denver Nuggets: Wing Stopper
When you've stumbled on a virtuoso, as the Nuggets have with Nikola Jokic, it's tough to preach patience. The skilled 7-footer has already helped them gain access to the NBA's elite club, so it's only natural to wear out the nearest trade machine in search of the missing piece.
But Denver shouldn't feel forced to act dramatically. (Can we all agree to never link the Nuggets to Kevin Love again? Thanks in advance.) Jokic is 24 years old. Jamal Murray is 22. Michael Porter Jr. is 21. Time is on Denver's side, and staying the course with this group means maintaining a nucleus responsible for a 30-13 start.
The Nuggets aren't trying to reinvent the wheel; they should just be looking to fill a specific niche. Any type of deep playoff run will inevitably pit them against an elite perimeter player: LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, James Harden, Paul George, Luka Doncic, Donovan Mitchell—you get the idea. Denver could use another perimeter stopper to throw at that group, especially the ones with size.
Torrey Craig comes closest to being Denver's designated big-wing defender, but how playable is he with a dismal 39.4/23.4/66.7 shooting slash dragging him down? Jerami Grant fits the mold, too, but he's best utilized as a small-ball big. Gary Harris gets after it defensively, but his 6'4", 205-pound frame isn't getting any bigger.
Add the Nuggets to the massive list of win-now teams who could use Robert Covington.
Detroit Pistons: Youth
Seemingly in perpetual pursuit of mediocrity, the Motor City's finest finally sound (sort of) ready to accept their fate.
"We have to look at everything," owner Tom Gores said, per Rod Beard of the Detroit News, "because we're not winning. So you're not winning, to me, you have to assess everything."
Our advice to Gores: sell, sell and sell. Then sell some more.
The market for Andre Drummond is thinning—the Hawks and New York Knicks both sound like they're out—but the Pistons should leave no stone unturned. Normally, you might think the impetus for trading an impending free agent is to get something back at the risk of losing that player for nothing. Here, the bigger worry is the big man sticking around and clogging the cap by picking up his $28.8 million player option.
Suitors are already lining up for both Derrick Rose and Markieff Morris. Flipping the vets for future relief is an obvious way to grease the rebuilding gears. If there are markets for Langston Galloway or Tony Snell, then cut those cords, too. The Pistons have a handful of youngsters to build around—a group headlined by Sekou Doumbouya and Luke Kennard—but youth and upside remain critical needs.
Golden State Warriors: Draft Picks
Over the summer, the Warriors could talk themselves into the possibility of contending without Kevin Durant. If Stephen Curry rejoined the MVP race, D'Angelo Russell enjoyed a smooth transition and a healthy Klay Thompson had time to knock off the rust ahead of the playoffs, the Dubs could've done some damage.
That's why it made sense to target helpful, cheap, niche veterans like Alec Burks and Glenn Robinson III. But since Golden State now finds itself competing for the No. 1 overall pick, it should (and is, according to NBC Sports Bay Area's Monte Poole) shop those plug-and-play wings to teams in the position this franchise hoped it would be.
Absent from this recommendation is a D-Lo deal, even though The Athletic's Jon Krawczynski and Shams Charania recently reported that the Minnesota Timberwolves are "intensifying their pursuit" of Russell. But that report also said talks "have yielded no traction," and Golden State preferred to keep the point guard "unless it is blown away by an offer."
Robert Covington and contract filler is not a blow-you-away package, so the Warriors are wise to delay any Russell moves until this summer. Packaging the 23-year-old with a high lottery pick could yield a massive return.
Houston Rockets: Frontcourt Depth
Houston, you have a problem. And no, we aren't talking about your four-game skid.
Rather, it's your 17th-ranked defense that doesn't look like it can support a championship run. And given your limited assets on hand, it may be difficult to address that issue.
Even an executive as razor-sharp as Daryl Morey can only do so much to turn five pennies into a quarter. Unless the Rockets are willing to trade Clint Capela or P.J. Tucker, they don't have a major salary to move. James Harden is their key to contention, Russell Westbrook is almost unmovable with his contract and Eric Gordon is locked in for the season after inking an extension in late August.
The Rockets need more size and two-way wings to withstand the rigors of the postseason, but their price range only reaches so far. They've dropped out of the Robert Covington sweepstakes (for now, at least), per The Athletic's Kelly Iko, which more or less reflects what they can't afford. Markieff Morris would be a huge get, but he might be out of their price range, too.
Indiana Pacers: Roster Balance
Want to get bullish on the Pacers? They're 12 games over .500 without Victor Oladipo, and they'll get the dynamic two-way guard back next week. Their roster features a group of breakout ballers—what up, Malcom Brogdon and Domantas Sabonis?—and none of their players are so ball-dominant that Oladipo's return should throw them off their games.
OK, now who wants to get bearish? Well, the frontcourt fit of Sabonis and Myles Turner still looks funky, and it's made rookie first-rounder Goga Bitadze an afterthought. Once Oladipo returns, the rotation will only grow more crowded, which might squeeze T.J. McConnell or even Aaron Holiday out of a consistent role.
Having too much talent theoretically sounds like a good thing. But when that talent is either redundant or buried on the bench, how much can it really help?
The Pacers could use some consolidation, and the league knows it. While ESPN's Zach Lowe reported they keep declining overtures on Turner, he added that "every team in need of a big man should keep an eye on Turner." Multiple executives also told B/R's Eric Pincus they expect either McConnell or Holiday will hit the trade market. A perimeter-oriented power forward would make a ton of sense in a Turner trade.
Los Angeles Clippers: Two-Way Forward
The Clippers are objectively awesome. They have one of the NBA's premier pairings in Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, boast impressive depth in support of their stars and rank among the five best teams in winning percentage and net rating.
But they aren't quite the world-beaters many expected to see. They've been more really good than great, which could be the difference between planning a championship parade or processing a playoff exit. They don't need a massive lift, but one more addition to this rotation could be the difference-maker.
"I think they're good enough that they're like a smaller player away, like a Marcus Morris level player away—they're already a serious team—from being really, really serious," ESPN's Zach Lowe said on The Lowe Post (via ClippersMaven). "... I would be shocked if they got through the deadline and didn't make a trade, [because] they are all-in."
As Lowe noted, both George and Leonard can enter the 2021 free-agent market—which nearly the entire league has been saving up for—so the Clippers should feel an intense sense of urgency. They could look for another playmaker or more size, but they might get the most mileage out of fortifying the forward ranks with another two-way contributor who could both ease the burden on and enhance the impact of their dynamic duo.
Los Angeles Lakers: Shot-Creator
The Lakers have LeBron James and Anthony Davis on the same roster. It's been every bit as incredible as your wildest imagination dreamed it could be.
Except, of course, when the King needs a breather. As soon as James exits, the Purple and Gold plummet from juggernauts (plus-10.8 net rating) to fringe playoff hopefuls (minus-1.1).
No team will be the same without an all-time talent, but you'd think one with Davis and a competent supporting cast could get by. The fact that isn't happening highlights the Lakers' glaring need for another facilitator and shot-creator. Rajon Rondo has been a wreck—he has the worst offensive rating among the regulars—and L.A. cult hero Alex Caruso is not a primary ball-handler.
The Lakers are among the teams in the Derrick Rose sweepstakes and have been linked to D.J. Augustin, and they're a logical landing spot if Darren Collison decides to come out of retirement. Something needs to happen, because even the King can't handle 48 minutes per night of playoff basketball.
Memphis Grizzlies: Future Assistance
Name five teams in the Association more fun than the Grizzlies right now. It's impossible, right?
They are the surprise team in the playoff race, a long-term rebuilder who stumbled on immediate success due to the incredible on-court connection of young cornerstones Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. Memphis has been nothing short of a hoops heavyweight since the calendar flipped to 2020, going 7-2 with an elite plus-7.5 net rating in January.
No one can blame the Beale Street ballers if they're feeling themselves, but this recent run shouldn't distort their view of their place on the hoops hierarchy. Memphians might've cringed when Yahoo Sports' Keith Smith reported hearing the Grizzlies could be a "sneaky buyer" before the deadline. As entertaining as this team is, it isn't in position to sacrifice assets for instant gratification.
The Grizzlies could still be buyers, but it has to be the right type of player. For instance, there's nothing wrong with grabbing a young wing who has a chance to grow with this core. But if that type of deal is unavailable, then Memphis should stick to the original script and focus on finding picks or prospects in exchange for veterans Andre Iguodala, Jae Crowder and—let's drown ourselves in optimism—Solomon Hill.
Miami Heat: Second Scorer
Heat stars Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo shine brightest on defense, so it's little surprise that head coach Erik Spoelstra has crafted an egalitarian offense. That it has worked well enough to claim a top-10 spot in offensive efficiency, however, certainly meets the threshold of surprises.
Rookie guard Kendrick Nunn has been a revelation. Every time you wonder whether he's bumping into the rookie wall, he pumps out a 20-plus-point performance. Fellow rookie Duncan Robinson has splashed his way into the Association's elite class of marksmen. Goran Dragic looks revitalized after being repurposed as an instant-offense reserve. Tyler Herro is a fearless scorer with uncanny footwork for a freshman.
But it's fair to wonder whether this all-for-one, one-for-all approach can survive in the playoffs. We're already seeing that winning time is Jimmy's time. His 46 field-goal attempts in clutch situations are twice as many as any of his teammates. He's also the team leader in assists (12) and turnovers (four), so this squad is clearly comfortable letting him initiate most of the late-game attacks.
That might be out of necessity more than anything, though, which could have the Heat looking for a second star who can diversity their end-of-game portfolio. Jrue Holiday would be perfect for the job, but his availability is murky, and he might be outside of the budget. The same goes for Danilo Gallinari.
Still, Miami is in a position where it doesn't need to make a move, so it can swing for the fences with nothing to lose if it doesn't connect.
Milwaukee Bucks: Defensive Forward
The Bucks have three reasonable needs, but only one feels realistic. Let's start with the others, since those are more entertaining.
The first is Chris Paul, as the Point God's relocation to Milwaukee is my favorite fake trade of the season. The Bucks could use another off-the-bounce initiator, and Paul-Giannis Antetokounmpo pick-and-rolls would be unstoppable. But it's unclear whether the Thunder would let him go, and it's even harder to imagine the Bucks moving enough money to match his massive deal.
Statistically speaking, Milwaukee is the best team in the league. Clearing the deck for almost anyone would be a head-scratcher.
The other is a fast-forward button. Maybe Adam Sandler still has one laying around from Click. The Bucks are on pace to have the highest scoring differential ever. Why fix what clearly isn't broken, right?
Except this roster isn't perfect. The Bucks could use a big wing who can create shots, space the floor and defend multiple positions. When playoff defenses throw the kitchen sink at the Greek Freak, the Bucks need as many safety valves as possible. They won't dismantle a huge chunk of the roster to broker a blockbuster, but any avenues to a Morris twin are worth exploring.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Point Guard
If only this was as simple as saying, "Go get D-Lo." Russell is everything Karl-Anthony Towns needs in a co-star, and the 2015 draft classmates happen to be close friends.
It almost makes so much sense that it has to happen, until you remember the Warriors will want something in return for Russell. Try as you might to spin the Timberwolves' roster in the most positive direction, they just don't have the assets to get this done.
But someone needs to address the massive void at point guard after the T-Wolves traded Jeff Teague and Treveon Graham to the Atlanta Hawks for Allen Crabbe. Andrew Wiggins isn't the answer. Neither are Jarrett Culver, Shabazz Napier, Jordan McLaughlin or whomever else they want to trot out at the position.
Minnesota can only solve this problem externally. And if the right player becomes available, it might worth dangling a first-round pick in a not-great draft to get him.
New Orleans Pelicans: 3-and-D Forward
Let the Zion Williamson era commence!
Patience has been a virtue for the Pelicans, who will welcome back their No. 1 overall pick Wednesday while playing their best basketball of the season. New Orleans is 10-4 with a plus-3.9 net rating dating back to Dec. 23, and its only losses of this stretch have come against the Lakers, Clippers, Celtics and Utah Jazz.
If there's ever been a 17-27 team with a license to buy, this is it.
The Pels have witnessed tremendous growth from their youngsters, including Most Improved Player candidate Brandon Ingram and 2017 No. 2 pick Lonzo Ball, who's still struggling with his shot but is flooding the rest of the stat sheet. They've also gotten predictably solid play from veterans such as sharpshooter JJ Redick and interior anchor Derrick Favors.
This all sets up to potentially complement Williamson perfectly, and if the big fella can hit the ground running, then New Orleans should adopt an aggressive mindset for trade season. The Pels have the trade chips to snag an impact player, and a forward who can spread the floor and defend multiple positions tops the wish list.
New York Knicks: Draft Picks and Undervalued Prospects
The Knicks can't Knick this up. They are woefully light on long-term keepers, so they need to treat their placeholding veterans as such.
But the 'Bockers always find a way to 'Bocker, don't they?
"Knicks forward Marcus Morris Sr. is a hot name around league circles for so many reasons, but the Knicks have no plans on trading him," Yahoo Sports' Vincent Goodwill reported.
Morris is among the league's most logical trade candidates. He's a proven veteran on a lottery-bound team, and his size, two-way skills and experience would endear him to virtually every contender. He might fetch a first-round pick on the trade market, which is quite the haul for a non-star, 30-year-old rental. It'd be hard to argue for the Knicks keeping him without doubling over in laughter.
New York should view all of its vets in this light. The Knicks should even make Julius Randle available for the right price. They need a nucleus they can build around, and any picks or prospects that could become part of that core are worth adding.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Selective Stockpiling
The Thunder are shattering all realistic expectations, which could make the deadline complicated.
With several high-priced veterans on a roster loaded with youth, OKC looked like an obvious seller. Then it decided to go berserk over the last two months, rallying from a 5-10 start to a 25-19 record just past the halfway point. Short-term thinkers might see the success as reason to stand pat or even buy at the deadline, but on last check, the Thunder were still (wisely) prioritizing their future.
"Oklahoma City is open for business," ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski said earlier this month.
With that said, a full-on fire sale feels unlikely. The Thunder won't want to send the wrong message to their youngsters by demolishing a playoff team, so selective selling should be the focus.
Steven Adams is a keeper. He's worth the money. Chris Paul is probably a keeper. He'll likely prove too expensive to move, and his leadership is invaluable for the development of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. But Dennis Schroder is worth shopping, and Danilo Gallinari almost certainly must go. He's a 31-year-old on an expiring contract who should have an overwhelming amount of suitors. His price tag is too high for OKC not to make the move.
Orlando Magic: Scoring
Some team needs surface subtly and change over time. Orlando's unscratched itch for offense is not one of them. It has basically been accompanied by its own billboard and theme music all season.
On Nov. 13, The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor reported the Magic were "scouring the trade market for scoring help" and had kicked the tires on DeMar DeRozan. At the time, they sat 29th in both offensive efficiency and field-goal percentage.
The Magic don't have a 20-point scorer on their roster. Their leading scorer, Evan Fournier (a possible trade candidate should they opt to sell) sits 37th leaguewide at 19.1 points per outing.
Whether it's DeRozan or a different point-producer, someone needs to come in and salvage this attack.
Philadelphia 76ers: Shooters
Years of Process-trusting netted the Sixers a few elite prospects, but also an imperfect pairing of stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, plus an uneven roster around them. Despite possessing one of the Association's most loaded starting fives, this group sits a head-scratching 20th in offensive efficiency.
Hot-take peddlers will take the above statistic as evidence that the Embiid-Simmons duo is fatally flawed. Admittedly, each presents sort of a round-peg-in-a-square-hole fit alongside the other.
But it must be noted that last year's squad—which was different, but still had the same two-headed beast atop this attack—was a competent (and contending-quality) eighth in the category.
This roster could use plenty of upgrades, but with limited assets to offer—Simmons is going nowhere, folks—Philly might only be capable of a targeted addition or two. Shooting, then, will drive the Sixers' deadline dealing, as evidenced by the list of names the Sixers have sought, which includes Malik Beasley, Davis Bertans, E'Twaun Moore and Robert Covington, per The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor.
They may not have the ammunition to acquire some of them, but one or two sniping specialists would go a long way toward unclogging this offense.
Phoenix Suns: Depth
Forever weary of the NBA's treadmill of mediocrity, it's never easy recommending that a sub-.500 squad should go hunting for marginal upgrades. But when you're the Suns, potentially careening toward a 10th season without a playoff berth and desperate for youngsters to experience some level of success, don't you have to try to make a postseason push?
Sure, this group could use another co-star, but which elite player could skyrocket its ceiling and fit the trade budget? There might be a few Kevin Love truthers out there, but godspeed to anyone considering adding him to the NBA's 12th-worst defense.
The Suns appear to have their nucleus in place. If they do anything, they'll likely target players who can perk up this often punchless second unit.
"We're never done building," general manager James Jones told Bright Side of the Sun's Dave King. "But we are also realistic, understanding that the components of this team, the guys on this team, are more likely to get us across the finish line than a pipe-dream scenario where you acquire another team's best player or top-five player."
There must be a shooting guard out there who can stop this offense from torpedoing anytime Devin Booker needs a breather. Or a point guard who can close the revolving door behind Ricky Rubio. Or an athletic big man who can juice the bench and buy spot minutes alongside Deandre Ayton or Aron Baynes. You get the idea.
Portland Trail Blazers: Tax Savings
Our apologies to Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Carmelo Anthony, the cast and crew of "Portlandia" and everyone associated with the Trail Blazers. But this is white-flag waving time for the 2019-20 season, and they know it.
They have the NBA's most expensive roster and the Western Conference's sixth-worst record. That's an untenable combination, and they already admitted as much by sacrificing two second-rounders to ship Kent Bazemore's contract to Sacramento. As The Athletic's John Hollinger observed, the Blazers all but signaled their intention of ducking below the tax line:
"Many insiders suspected Portland would try to throw small assets on the table to move themselves away from the tax line and, most likely, all the way under it. That Portland started working in that direction nearly three weeks out from the deadline, and gave up two draft picks to do it, puts their cards on the table. The endgame here is almost certainly to get all the way out, and this trade gives them a legitimate means to get there."
Thanks for the memories, Hassan Whiteside, but your $27.1 million salary needs to go sooner than later. It's a disappointing decline for a club that hoped to compete for the conference crown, but the injury bug had other plans, and Portland would be wise to pivot accordingly.
Sacramento Kings: Flexibility
After losing several fights with the injury bug and taking a frustrating step back from last season, the Kings can't enjoy looking themselves in the mirror. But they need to embrace these self-assessments a bit longer, because their economic model can't support inactivity.
Starting next season, both Harrison Barnes and Buddy Hield will earn more than $22 million. This summer, Bogdan Bogdanovic will be a restricted free agent, and De'Aaron Fox is eligible for an extension. Marvin Bagley III can negotiate his next deal the following offseason.
Do the Kings want to commit massive money to all five? That seems risky (to put it mildly) for a group that "broke out" with 39 wins last season.
The Kings don't know that they can win with this core, and they won't have that knowledge before they must write most of these checks.
If the right trade presents itself, Sacramento should get ahead of the situation now. Bogdanovic's free agency could get messy (as restricted free agency often does). Both sides reportedly want to stay together, but NBC Sports Bay Area's James Ham reported Sacramento's interest in a new deal only works "as long as the money doesn't get completely out of control." Given his skillset, that's a distinct possibility.
San Antonio Spurs: A Brighter Future
This can't be what the Spurs envisioned, can't it? Sure, the entire hoops world thought it was short-sighted when San Antonio opted to have DeMar DeRozan headline its return package for Kawhi Leonard, but San Antonio isn't even getting instant gratification anymore.
The Spurs are 16th in both winning percentage and net rating. If the campaign closed today, they'd be left out of the playoffs for the first time since the Clinton administration. This is where it's worth nothing that four of their top seven scorers are on the wrong side of 30. And injuries aren't to blame, as this has been the healthiest team in basketball.
Is this the Silver and Black's new reality? The team can't seem to decide. Despite the blah results and nonexistent growth potential, San Antonio "hasn't decided" whether to try moving DeRozan or LaMarcus Aldridge, per Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald. Other than trying to keep the postseason streak intact, what's the rationale for rostering the vets?
The Spurs need a new direction. They have an interesting prospect here and there, but the group is mostly devoid of skyscraper ceilings. This deadline is the latest opportunity to change that. Shop DeRozan, Aldridge, Rudy Gay, even Patty Mills to add picks, prospects and anything else to fuel the inevitable rebuild.
Toronto Raptors: Frontcourt Reinforcement
If the Raptors want to, they could send a cannonball splash through the hoops world for the second time in as many years. Sports Illustrated's Chris Mannix explained:
"The Raptors could be active everywhere. They have the expiring contracts. They have the intriguing young players. They have the future draft picks. They could probably pluck Toronto native Tristan Thompson out of Cleveland anytime they wanted. If they got aggressive, they might be able to quickly cut a deal for Kevin Love, too. Versatile wings like [Jrue] Holiday and Robert Covington could be in play."
Aggressive selling seemed possible at one point, too, but Toronto is close enough to the top of the East that buying is the preferred path forward.
The frontcourt could use a lift. The Raptors aren't good on the glass overall (21st in rebounding percentage), and they're especially dreadful on the defensive end (26th). That likely explains their connection to the Andre Drummond talks, as his relentless rebounding would be an obvious need-filler, and his size-athleticism combo could give the group a different look.
Would they consider replacing Marc Gasol or Serge Ibaka? You could make the argument they should consider it. If not, they might seek more size behind them, as Chris Boucher's 200-pound frame can get tossed around the paint.
Utah Jazz: Backup Bigs
Never overestimate the meaning of a sluggish start in Salt Lake City. With Rudy Gobert manning the middle, Donovan Mitchell patrolling the perimeter and Quin Snyder stalking the sidelines, the Jazz always find a way to shrug off any stumbles out of the opening gate and rejoin the elite ranks by the marathon’s end.
Utah's awakening arrived early this season. The early lethargy only led to a disappointing-but-far-from-damning 13-11 start, and the Jazz have been skyrocketing up the standings ever since. Dating back to Dec. 11, this is the Association's top team by winning percentage (.895) and net efficiency rating (plus-11.4).
Incredibly, this probably isn't the best Utah can play. Mike Conley only just rejoined the fold after struggling to shake a nagging hamstring injury, and he's yet to approach his normal form. Just last season, his per-game contributions included 21.1 points and 6.4 assists.
The Jazz, in other words, don't need to reinvent the wheel between now and the deadline. Instead, they should grab a frontcourt reinforcement who can play behind and alongside Gobert. Add Markieff Morris' toughness, tenacity and versatility to this group, and the Jazz might have their missing piece to make a push for the crown.
Washington Wizards: Defense, Defense and More Defense
The Wizards were weirdly fun early on, but even then you knew their offense-over-everything approach had both a short ceiling and limited shelf life.
A top-five offense through October and November, Washington's attack has since torpedoed to 20th. As for the defense, the best thing we can say is it isn't the worst we've ever seen. But it's literally as close as one can get. Throughout the Association's entire existence, only last season's Cavaliers fared worse defensively than the current Wizards club.
It's a disaster, and a healthy John Wall—remember, we're talking the post-Achilles version—can only do so much to stop the leakage. This roster will have sieves, and that's before budgeting a spot for sniping specialist Davis Bertans, whom they say they plan to keep.
The Wizards will need some roll-up-your-sleeves kind of stoppers, and if they shop some of their vets on expiring deals, they'll open avenues to find them. Nabbing a young(ish), defensive-minded player would be ideal, but netting a draft pick or two to go find one isn’t a bad consolation prize.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.