Surprise Trade Deadline Targets for NBA's Top Contenders
Sometimes, NBA teams are connected with players long before they join forces—tampering rules be damned.
Other times, clubs and contributors with little (if any) reported connections can seemingly be brought together on the fly. Those are often the most fascinating deals of #TradeSZN, and they're the ones that have our attention now.
While you might have heard rumblings about where different players might land, there's much less of a chance you'll uncover many links between the top contenders and the surprise targets we have uncovered. To simplify this discussion, we're using a basic formula to anoint top contenders: the three teams in each conference with the highest average ranking in winning percentage and net efficiency.
With those parameters in place, let's unveil the top trophy-chasers and identify a surprise target for every one.
Brooklyn Nets: Tomas Satoransky
The Nets have an obvious need at the center spot, and a more subtle (but perhaps just as critical) scratch for forward depth. But it's fascinating to think of what this attack could do with another ball-mover added to the mix.
Brooklyn's offense is, at the moment at least, running through James Harden. The three-time scoring champ is suddenly a pass-first quarterback, with Kyrie Irving telling Harden, "You're the point guard, and I'm going to play shooting guard," per ESPN's Malika Andrews. It's tough to question the setup. Since Harden joined the Nets, he's averaging 11.6 assists, and they're posting 119.1 points per 100 possessions.
Incredibly, this might not be peak proficiency for him or them, though. Just because he's an impact table-setter, that doesn't mean it's how he's optimized.
If the Nets could get their hands on another distributor—like Chicago Bulls swingman Tomas Satoransky, whose 2021-22 salary is only partially guaranteed—they could allow Harden to binge on buckets like he had the past three seasons (averaging a ridiculous 33.7 points). It would also let Irving and Kevin Durant focus even more on their individual offense.
While Brooklyn is hardly hurting for offense, it might need historical dominance at that end to overcome such a leaky defense (25th in efficiency, 27th since Harden's debut). Upping Harden's scoring output without sacrificing anything in the quarterbacking department—Satoransky is averaging 9.1 assists (against 3.0 turnovers) per 36 minutes with far inferior scoring support in Chicago—could nudge this attack closer to the record books and the Nets nearer to a title.
Los Angeles Lakers: Mo Bamba
Yes, the Los Angeles Lakers spent their offseason overhauling their center group. No, Mo Bamba wouldn't be guaranteed a place in the 2020-21 frontcourt rotation.
But if the Lakers feel good enough about their core—considering the defending champs are second in winning percentage and third in net efficiency, why wouldn't they?—they might use this swap season to try catching lightning in a bottle. If Bamba booms in Hollywood, this would reach double-surprise status: first that the Lakers made the move, second that the big fella finally found his footing.
It wasn't supposed to take this long for 2018's No. 6 pick, but his stalled career could spark an interesting nature vs. nurture debate. Of all the places Bamba could've landed, Disney's capital might've been the worst. Since his arrival, he's been trapped behind both Nikola Vucevic and Khem Birch, and Orlando's long-term future at the 5 could be in the hands of Jonathan Isaac.
Bamba hasn't had the opportunity to showcase...well, anything basically. He logged 16.3 minutes per game as a rookie and has seen that number tumble twice, down to just 7.3 this season. The sample size is too small to extract anything of substance, though the intrigue remains. Bamba, who sports a jaw-dropping 7'10" wingspan, owns career per-36-minutes averages of 14.2 points, 11.9 rebounds, 3.3 blocks and 1.3 threes.
If he's available for cheap, the Lakers should make the phone call. He probably won't help for this championship run—though maybe his length alone would add something in the right matchup—but maybe he could blossom in a way that contributes to a later one. If the Lakers have dynasty dreams, they'll need more up-and-comers to travel through the pipelines, and this might be the path to a bargain blue-chipper.
Los Angeles Clippers: Andre Iguodala
When talking potential trades for the Los Angeles Clippers, point guard inevitably winds up as the focus. Even Kawhi Leonard has reportedly cited the position as an area to upgrade, so it feels a little funny to discuss players at any other spot.
But as fun as it is to imagine this group with a new lead guard like Kyle Lowry or former Staples Center hooper Lonzo Ball, this has less to do with solidifying that position than it does increasing the collective playmaking prowess.
Could the Clippers use a guard who's more consistent than Reggie Jackson or more versatile than Patrick Beverley? Sure. What they really need, though, is someone who can help ease the shot-creating burden being carried by Leonard and Paul George. It's been awesome to see those two answer the call with a combined 10.5 assists per game, but the threat of burnout is real when they're also the club's top scorers and stoppers.
L.A. might take several things off its stars' plates by swinging a deal for Andre Iguodala, who's owed only a $15 million team option beyond this season. The 37-year-old has built the better portion of his 17-year career around sharing the rock and silencing the opposition's top option. He locked horns with LeBron James in four consecutive Finals and walked away with three championship rings and the 2014-15 Finals MVP.
Iguodala might've lost a step, but his hands and mind are as quick as ever, and he remains allergic to turnovers (career 2.1 per 36 minutes). In the right complementary role, he could still conjure up 20-odd minutes of high-intelligence, moderate-impact defending and distributing. If the Miami Heat can't shake out of their early funk before the deadline, Iguodala might be there for the taking.
Milwaukee Bucks: Cedi Osman
For being a full-fledged championship contender and the NBA's back-to-back wins leader, the Bucks have a surprising number of question marks. Perhaps none is more pressing than where the team will turn late in close playoff contests. The Bucks might only have 60 percent of that lineup Bingo card filled out (Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday) or 80 percent if your Donte DiVincenzo cup is overflowing.
Filling that final spot or two seems to be the focus of most hypothetical exchanges. While the Bucks don't have the budget to broker a blockbuster, trade-machine enthusiasts sense there might be enough to route P.J. Tucker, JJ Redick or Alec Burks to the Badger State. But those aren't the only options.
If Milwaukee can cobble together something that interests the Cleveland Cavaliers, maybe it could give Cedi Osman his first taste of playoff basketball since LeBron James left Northeast Ohio for the second time.
Osman has had his share of ups and downs, which makes sense for a 25-year-old who has almost experienced three different careers in four NBA seasons. He played sparingly as a rookie as the Cavs chased the crown with James, rocketed up to more than 32 minutes a night as a focal point of the club's rebuild as a sophomore and now sees himself stuck behind raw 20-year-old rookie Isaac Okoro.
But the ingredients of a do-almost-everything role player are present. He can make rhythm shots, create as a secondary passer, attack overzealous closeouts off the dribble and hold his own on defense. If he could play off of stars like Milwaukee has as opposed to his young teammates in Cleveland, that might be a big boon to his efficiency. His best true shooting percentage came during the lone season he spent with James (57.7).
Assuming the Cavs are already penciling Okoro into their long-term plans, perhaps Osman could be had at a reasonable price.
Philadelphia 76ers: Pascal Siakam
The 76ers have the chance to dream as big as they'd like between now and the deadline.
Their perch atop the Eastern Conference standings suggests little needs to be done with this roster, but there might be some smoke-and-mirrors shenanigans at play. Philadelphia has played the fourth-easiest schedule so far, per ESPN, and it ranks just 14th in offensive efficiency.
The Sixers might conclude that a major addition is required. That's why you'll inevitably see them tied to premier shot-creators like Bradley Beal, Zach LaVine or Philly native Kyle Lowry.
But what if Philadelphia went off the expected path and out of left field for a hyper-ambitious run at Pascal Siakam? His defense, scoring versatility and willingness to share the spotlight would all make him a natural frontcourt fit with Joel Embiid. Even if Siakam isn't technically available now, maybe another month-plus of non-elite play from the Raptors and the prospect of building around Ben Simmons could change that.
Toronto has half-recovered from a disastrous 1-6 start, but even then it's only 11-8 since and just 2-9 against teams .500 or better on the season. The Raptors don't look like contenders, and a portion of Raptors personnel is ready to split from Lowry, per B/R's Jake Fischer.
If Toronto tears it down to the studs, would it value Siakam over Simmons? The former is probably older than you think (will be 27 in April), and the latter might be younger (24 until July). Siakam might be a great second option, but the right roster might squeeze more out of Simmons as a focal point since his five-position defense and transition attacking should fit with anyone willing to run.
But in Philadelphia, Siakam's ability and willingness to find his own shots should make him a cleaner fit with Embiid. The Sixers might have a logistical puzzle to solve with Tobias Harris—would the frontcourt fit all three, or would he need to be routed elsewhere—but they wouldn't let that stand in their way of a star like Siakam. And if they can't get him, they'll just "settle" for moving forward as the top seed in the East.
Utah Jazz: DeMar DeRozan
The Jazz are the best team in basketball. Maybe that won't be true come playoff time. Maybe it won't last through the month. But for now at least, it's objectively true as Utah stands above everyone with both an .815 winning percentage and a pristine plus-9.1 net rating.
That allows the Jazz to be selective this trade season. If they chose to stand pat, who'd blame them? It's tough to improve on top-five efficiency ranks on offense (fourth) and defense (second), a distinction unique to Salt Lake City's finest.
Then again, maybe this is as green as the light for buying will ever get. Utah's decorated franchise history features everything other than an NBA title. Perhaps the club should leave nothing to chance.
Rather than poke around for depth pieces, Utah could aim for the stars—or rather a four-time All-Star sizzling down in San Antonio.
DeMar DeRozan would be a fascinating addition to the Jazz's offensive menu. He has never made a bigger impact as a passer (career-high 6.8 assists), and he remains a ruthless attacker in isolations. The latter might be what interests Utah the most since the Jazz don't have a one-on-one weapon this sharp. DeRozan is a 93rd percentile finisher on isolations; Utah's top finisher is Mike Conley in the 68th percentile.
Since DeRozan and the Jazz are both starving for a ring, they could bring the best out of each other. Considering how well each is faring apart, this just might prove to be a championship connection.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.