How Every NBA Contender Can Fix Biggest Problem with a Trade
While the Los Angeles Lakers should be considered the title favorites, a number of elite NBA teams could catch them with a little outside help.
For the NBA's top 10 title contenders (based on FanDuel odds), we first identified each team's biggest weakness, be it outside shooting, ball movement, replacing an injured player or something else.
Then, we established a trade target. While Bradley Beal is widely considered the top player to potentially become available, not every team has the necessary pieces to swing a deal for such a star. Many trade targets will be far more modest.
Here's how every major contender in the NBA can repair itself with a trade.
Biggest Weakness: Starting Power Forward
Trade Target: Julius Randle
The Boston Celtics have an odd-fitting frontcourt of Daniel Theis and Tristan Thompson, both traditional centers.
Unless he's setting a screen, Thompson is useless offensively outside the paint, and Theis is only 11-of-31 from three (35.5 percent) this season. This lack of spacing will only shrink driving lanes for Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Kemba Walker.
Individually, both are fine as center options. Thompson has a net rating of plus-2.3 this season, compared to Theis' plus-2.2. In the duo's 144 minutes on the floor together, however, the Celtics' net rating is minus-0.5.
Bringing in a more versatile power forward—one who can knock down threes at a higher clip and play-make for others at times—would help. Boston is just 29th in assist percentage (53.8 percent) and has remained in the bottom four even with Walker's return from a knee injury.
Julius Randle, 26, is assembling the best season of his career (22.5 points, 11.3 rebounds, 6.0 assists per game, 35.6 percent from three) for the New York Knicks. His long-term future with the franchise was in doubt after the team selected power forward Obi Toppin at No. 8 overall this past draft, meaning Randle could be available via trade.
The Celtics' $28.5 million trade exception from the Gordon Hayward sign-and-trade is more than enough to absorb Randle's $18.9 million salary, so the sides wouldn't have to match money when deciding on compensation.
A starting unit of Walker, Brown, Tatum, Randle and Thompson would fit together beautifully while containing better spacing and ball movement overall.
Biggest Weakness: Defense/Center
Trade Target: JaVale McGee
The Brooklyn Nets are extremely limited on the amount of help they can bring in after emptying the cupboards in the James Harden trade.
While the team's offense has predictably taken off with Harden (116.7 rating, fourth overall) losing Jarrett Allen as a rim protector in the middle has decimated the team's ability to stop anyone (115.9 defensive rating, 25th overall).
Brooklyn doesn't need an Anthony Davis or Joel Embiid-type player to fill up the score sheet on offense, but rather a low-usage rim-runner who can help rebound and deter players at the basket.
JaVale McGee has been great for the Cleveland Cavaliers in a limited role (8.2 points, 5.9 rebounds, 1.1 blocks in 16.5 minutes per game), even knocking down 40 percent (4-of-10) of his catch-and-shoot threes. He's been bumped out of the rotation on most nights behind Andre Drummond and Allen, however, meaning the 33-year-old three-time champion should be available.
Brooklyn can match salary to try to keep its tax bill lower, but it doesn't have to thanks to a newly granted $5.7 million disabled player exception it received after Spencer Dinwiddie went down for the year with a torn ACL in late December. McGee is on an expiring $4.2 million deal.
McGee is a far better rim protector than starter DeAndre Jordan as well. While McGee is holding opponents to just 51 percent shooting from within six feet of the basket, Jordan is giving up a 60 percent conversion rate.
With Brooklyn looking to fill in defensive role players around its new Big Three, McGee would be an upgrade at center.
Biggest Weaknesses: Three-Point Shooting and Rebounding
Trade Targets: Otto Porter Jr. or Andre Drummond
For a team that entered the season with hopes of making a deep playoff run, the 8-10 Mavericks have displayed two crucial weaknesses.
Dallas sported the league's best offense a season ago, one that's dipped to just 16th overall this year. One big reason? Three-point shooting. The Mavs hit 36.7 percent of their threes in 2019-20, good for 10th in the league. This year they sit dead last as just 33.2 percent, a result of swapping Seth Curry for Josh Richardson.
Otto Porter Jr. is one of the best shooters who could be on the trade market. The 27-year-old is averaging 12.6 points, 6.6 rebounds, 2.0 assists per game and nailing 47.4 percent of his catch-and-shoot threes for the Chicago Bulls.
The team that leads the league in contested rebounding? The Cleveland Cavaliers, fueled by Andre Drummond. Leading the NBA with 14.7 boards per game to go along with his 18.9 points, 2.6 assists, 1.6 steals and 1.4 blocks per game, Drummond could single-handedly turn the Mavs back into a competent glass-cleaning team.
Flipping James Johnson and Dwight Powell would come close to matching either Porter or Drummond's $28 million-plus expiring salaries and clear $11 million in cap space for Dallas next season. The sides would only need to decide on additional compensation.
Biggest Weakness: Rim Protection
Trade Target: Nerlens Noel
Nikola Jokic may be the best center in basketball with his overall offensive game, and he's grown steadily as a defender as well.
One thing he's not, however, is a rim protector.
Denver ranks near the bottom of the league in opponent field-goal percentage at the rim (65.7 percent, 27th overall) and blocked shots per game (4.1, 25th overall). While Mason Plumlee was a serviceable backup center to Jokic last season, the Nuggets' failure to replace him in free agency needs to be corrected.
Nerlens Noel continues to be one of the better defensive big men in the game with his ability to bother shots at the rim and switch onto the perimeter—both weaknesses in Jokic's game.
Among players who have defended at least 75 shots within six feet of the basket, Noel's opponent success rate of just 47.7 percent ranks tied for fourth in the NBA with Allen. Jokic, by comparison, ranks 38th while allowing opponents to shoot 60.9 percent.
Los Angeles Clippers
Biggest Weakness: Sixth Man/Point Guard Upgrade
Trade Target: Eric Bledsoe or Lonzo Ball
The Los Angeles Clippers don't have many weaknesses, but their point guard-by-committee approach could haunt them come playoff time.
Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams and Reggie Jackson are good enough to keep the seat warm while Kawhi Leonard and Paul George assume more playmaking responsibilities, but bringing in an upgrade at point guard would make the star duo's jobs easier.
Eric Bledsoe is the more established option, one who brings enough defensive chops to take Beverley's starting job while serving as a major upgrade offensively. He's shooting 39.7 percent from three for the New Orleans Pelicans this season, chipping in 13.1 points and 3.6 assists per game.
The Athletic and Stadium's Shams Charania reported the Pelicans are open to moving Ball, a restricted free agent-to-be who's taken a step back this season. As he's still just 23, the Clippers could be buying low on a potential franchise point guard—one who carries a lot of defensive and playmaking potential.
With the Clippers ranking just 16th in assist percentage (60.6 percent), bringing in a new point guard would especially help during the postseason.
Los Angeles Lakers
Biggest Weakness: General Depth?
Trade Targets: Wayne Ellington, Mike Muscala or Garrett Temple
Finding a major weakness on the Lakers is like finding a bad Ted Lasso episode. They simply don't exist.
The Lakers sport the league's best defense (104.4 rating), are up to fifth in three-point accuracy (after ranking 21st a season ago) and still have two of the best players in the world.
LeBron James and Co. also sport a plus-8.0 net rating, good for No. 2 in the NBA.
In a COVID-shortened season when depth is perhaps more important than ever, all the Lakers need to do is add a few rotation bodies. Trade targets ideally need to be on small salaries so L.A. doesn't have to part with any of its core pieces.
Wayne Ellington is knocking down 51.8 percent of his three-pointers while averaging a career-high 12.9 points per game for the 4-14 Detroit Pistons.
Mike Muscala was a trade-deadline acquisition in 2019, although the price L.A. paid at the time (Ivica Zubac and Michael Beasley) was far too high. The 29-year-old big man is averaging a career-high 9.3 points per game and is shooting 36.7 percent from three off the Oklahoma City Thunder bench.
Garrett Temple can guard multiple positions and is hitting a career-best 40.6 percent from three. If the 7-10 Chicago Bulls fall out of playoff contention, he'd be a nice addition to the Lakers bench.
Biggest Weakness: Lack of Go-to Scorer
Trade Target: Bradley Beal
A 2020 trip to the Finals seems like a distant memory for the Miami Heat, who have slugged their way to a 6-11 record to begin the year.
Jimmy Butler and Tyler Herro have both missed time, and asking Bam Adebayo to take on a primary scoring role seems unfair even if he's on his way to becoming one of the NBA's best centers.
Miami's offense ranks just 27th. The NBA's leading scorer could certainly help with that.
Bradley Beal is averaging a whopping 35.4 points per game for the 3-11 Washington Wizards. Someone needs to save the 27-year-old, and Miami's the perfect landing spot.
While trading for Beal would mean giving up Herro and more (Duncan Robinson? Kendrick Nunn? 2025 and 2027 first-round picks?), Miami should have the assets to pull off a deal while keeping Butler and Adebayo.
With Butler 31, the Heat can't afford to let this season slip away. Beal and Miami could save each other, returning the Heat to the top of the East.
Biggest Weakness: Opponent Three-Point Shooting
Trade Target: David Nwaba
While the Milwaukee Bucks offense has jumped to first overall this season with Jrue Holiday in at point guard, Milwaukee's previously first-ranked defense has tumbled to 10th (108.8 rating).
With reigning Defensive Player of the Year and MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo protecting the paint, the Bucks' opponents have found success at the three-point line. Milwaukee is giving up 14.5 three-pointers per game (fourth-most in the NBA) on a 38.6 percent clip (fifth-highest mark overall).
While Holiday is a premier wing defender, the Bucks could use another menace in the backcourt to help chase shooters off the arc.
David Nwaba, 28, can play and defend nearly every position with his 6'5" frame and 7'0" wingspan. The Houston Rockets surrender 6.5 fewer points per 100 possessions with Nwaba on the court, as he uses both his strength and length to take on the NBA's best offensive wings.
If the 8-9 Rockets sell more pieces at the deadline, Nwaba's $1.9 million salary would be easy to acquire. If the Bucks run into a team like the Nets in the playoffs, they'll need players like Nwaba to help slow the opponent's offense.
Biggest Weakness: Secondary Ball-Handler/Backup Point Guard
Trade Target: Derrick Rose
The Philadelphia 76ers have needed a secondary playmaker for years, especially to unlock Ben Simmons' complete offensive game.
Outside Simmons, no Sixer is averaging more than 3.2 assists per contest. Philly is 26th in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.47), the worst mark of any of the top-10 title contenders.
Derrick Rose is an affordable option on an expiring $7.7 million contract and would be a terrific backup to Simmons.
The 32-year-old point guard is averaging 14.7 points, 4.5 assists, 1.2 steals and shooting 36.1 percent from three in 23.4 minutes per game for the 4-14 Detroit Pistons. He's still extremely quick with the ball in his hands, able to get into the paint before rifling a pass out to an open shooter.
A Rose-Simmons pick-and-roll has some explosive potential as well, putting the 6'11" All-Star on the scoring end of the partnership for once.
With the Eastern Conference getting even more talented at the top, Rose would help the Sixers add to their 13-6 start.
Biggest Weakness: Isolation Scoring
Trade Target: DeMar DeRozan
The Utah Jazz are the NBA's hottest team, winning their last 10 games to improve to 14-4.
While the offense has been a top-five unit, there's a single element missing from Utah's high-powered attack: isolation scoring.
The Jazz are dead last in the NBA in isolation points per game (2.7 points) on the worst efficiency (.56 points per possessions). Even Donovan Mitchell is averaging just 1.6 isolation points per game, and the Jazz could use another player who can put his head down and get a bucket in the postseason with the game on the line.
DeMar DeRozan has long been one of the game's best one-on-one players and is tied for eighth this season with Luka Doncic at 3.6 isolation points per game. Not only does that dwarf the entire Jazz team, but DeRozan is also doing it on strong efficiency (1.21 points per possession).
The 31-year-old is averaging 20.1 points, 5.3 rebounds, 6.8 assists and 1.0 steals while shooting a career-high 35.5 percent from three.
If Utah can move Bojan Bogdanovic, salary filler and picks to the San Antonio Spurs, a starting lineup of Mike Conley Jr., Mitchell, DeRozan, Royce O'Neale and Rudy Gobert would be one of the NBA's best.
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