Trade Ideas to Help NBA's Thinnest Rosters

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistMarch 5, 2021

Trade Ideas to Help NBA's Thinnest Rosters

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    As much as the NBA is defined by its stars, lineups are sometimes only as good as their weakest links.

    Sure, coaches can try to scheme ways to hide generous defenders or work around space-killing non-shooters. But roster holes are tough to mask, especially come playoff time.

    That's why teams will look to improve those deficiencies between now and the March 25 trade deadline.

    We'll get the ball rolling with hypothetical swaps to strengthen some of the league's thinnest rosters.

Boston Celtics

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    Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press

    Boston Celtics receive: Harrison Barnes and Nemanja Bjelica

    Sacramento Kings receive: Romeo Langford, Tristan Thompson, Carsen Edwards and 2021 first-round pick (top-10 protected)

    The Celtics could use...well, a little of everything to support Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, to be honest.

    They don't have a top-10 ranking on offense (13th) or defense (15th). They don't know for sure what they'll get out Kemba Walker on any given night and are clueless what (if anything) the reserve unit will contribute.

    That could send Boston a number of different directions between now and the deadline, though president of basketball operations Danny Ainge has cited "shooting with size" as a trade target (h/t Celtics Wire). Boston would get that here, along with support scoring, perimeter defense and ball movement.

    This trade—which would actually be the combination of two swaps to take advantage of Boston's $28.5 million trade exception—could make the Shamrocks much harder to handle come playoff time.

    Barnes is better than casual fans think. His contract has been a point of contention, but the criticisms don't match the eye test. He offers both flexibility on defense and loads of production on offense (16.7 points on 49.2/39.4/82.2 shooting, plus a career-high 3.6 assists). He also has four playoff trips on his resume and a championship ring in his jewelry collection.

    Nemanja Bjelica is an obvious trade candidate as a veteran on an expiring contract playing for a club well outside of the playoff picture. If the Celtics could bring him in, they'd be getting a 6'10" career supplier of 3.0 assists and 2.0 threes per 36 minutes.

    As for the Kings, they'd be pushing their focus into the future, as they arguably should when their most important players are 23-year-old De'Aaron Fox and 21-year-olds Marvin Bagley III and Tyrese Haliburton.

    Romeo Langford could be a find if the injury bug ever left him alone. Carsen Edwards is an ignitable scorer. The first-round pick speaks for itself. Tristan Thompson could be helpful next season, either assisting with a playoff push if the rest of the roster is ready or potentially attracting a contender as a playoff-tested veteran on an expiring contract.

Golden State Warriors

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    Todd Kirkland/Associated Press

    Golden State Warriors receive: John Collins, Danilo Gallinari and Kevin Huerter

    Atlanta Hawks receive: Kelly Oubre Jr., Kevon Looney, Eric Paschall, Jordan Poole and 2021 first-round pick (top-three protected via MIN)

    There are two ways to process Stephen Curry's offensive wizardry this season. One is sitting back and enjoying the show from a generational talent. The other is wondering why the Warriors haven't done more to ease the burden that the 32-year-old is carrying.

    This would take care of the latter.

    John Collins is an All-Star by statistics (19.7 points and 9.3 rebounds per game since the start of 2018-19), if not by stature. Danilo Gallinari is a half-season removed from a two-year run of averaging 19.3 points on 45.1/41.8/89.9 shooting. Kevin Huerter has made good on his shot-making promise (career 2.0 threes at a 37.9 percent clip) and outperformed expectations as a shot-creator (3.7 assists against 1.3 turnovers this season).

    Get all three to Golden State, and Curry's back would be grateful for relieving him of so much heavy lifting.

    The Warriors are 21st in offensive efficiency now. Add this trio, and they should be at least a top-10 attack. Add a hopefully healthy Klay Thompson to the mix next season, and this might be one of the best offenses in basketball.

    Collins needs a new deal before then—which is a major reason why Atlanta might consider letting him go—but Golden State's front office has never shied away from paying big to win big. Between the three incoming players, Curry, Thompson, Draymond Green, Andrew Wiggins and James Wiseman, the Warriors would have enough to chase championships now and lay the foundation for their future.

    Atlanta is further removed from relevance than it anticipated, which might make Gallinari expendable. Collins could be replaced in-house by Onyeka Okongwu and De'Andre Hunter. The loss of Huerter would sting, but the Hawks could slide Bogdan Bogdanovic into his spot. For giving up three quality players, Atlanta might not be hurting as much as you'd think.

    That means the Hawks could feel they're coming out way ahead with the highly coveted first-round pick from the Minnesota Timberwolves and a quartet of 25-and-under players to keep or flip.

    The good version of Kelly Oubre Jr. is a great on-paper fit with Trae Young. Eric Paschall could perk up the second-team offense. Jordan Poole might be an interesting developmental project, and the playoff-tested Kevon Looney could immediately slide into a frontcourt role.

Toronto Raptors

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    Eric Gay/Associated Press

    Toronto Raptors receive: P.J. Tucker, Danuel House Jr. and David Nwaba

    Houston Rockets receive: Malachi Flynn, Terence Davis, Aron Baynes, Patrick McCaw and 2023 second-round pick

    The Toronto Raptors have a strong top six, which is more than some teams can say. But it gets really dicey after that. Filling out the rotation ahead of the postseason could move them closer to headache-matchup territory.

    All of three of the incoming players can induce headaches for the opposition.

    P.J. Tucker, who has served two stints in Toronto, is a relentless, versatile defender who can bury open shots at the opposite end. He's also 35 years old and in need of a new contract that the rebuilding Rockets have no incentive to pay. He's seemed close to the exit of Space City from the moment James Harden left.

    "I want to be where I'm wanted," Tucker said in mid-December, per The Athletic's Kelly Iko and Sam Amick.

    Toronto would surely want him. The Raptors have lost a step at center after losing both Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka over the offseason. Bringing back Tucker would ramp up their toughness, not to mention assemble a terrifying defensive trio with him, OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam.

    Danuel House Jr. would give Toronto another lanky wing defender who can splash spot-up triples. If the Raptors were willing to wait on David Nwaba's wrist to heal, they'd get another plucky defender to add to the perimeter collection.

    Houston, meanwhile, would be accepting its post- Harden fate. The Rockets aren't bad without The Beard, they're brutal. Entering Thursday, they have lost 13 straight games, including 10 decided by double digits. The stat sheet is just begging for a rebuild.

    The Rockets could start the process by turning three veterans into as many as four keepers (all of the incoming pieces other than 34-year-old money-matcher Aron Baynes). Malachi Flynn was this year's 29th pick. Terence Davis made the All-Rookie second team last season. The oft-injured Patrick McCaw is only 25 years old and offers an intriguing blend of ball-handling and defense when healthy.

Washington Wizards

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    Jeffrey McWhorter/Associated Press

    Washington Wizards receive: Aaron Gordon

    Orlando Magic receive: Thomas Bryant, Troy Brown Jr., Jerome Robinson and 2021 first-round pick (top-10 protected)

    If you're anything like me, you raise a skeptical eyebrow any time word leaks that Bradley Beal and the Washington Wizards aren't headed for a divorce. But what if we took them at their word?

    Well, then we'd need to upgrade a supporting cast that is so light on actual support that Beal is leading the scoring race and the Wizards aren't even a top-20 team in offensive efficiency. Or a top-10 team in the Eastern Conference standings.

    Washington needs a serious talent upgrade, which is why a thin roster could be made fuller in a three-for-one exchange.

    Thomas Bryant is out for the season with a torn ACL. Troy Brown Jr. and Jerome Robinson are out of the rotation. None of them are helping Washington during the best season of Beal's career. Aaron Gordon would, though.

    As soon as Gordon's sprained ankle heals, he could hit the ground running in Washington as a transition attacker, multi-positional defender and potentially devastating pick-and-roll partner with Beal. The Wizards' league-leading pace might hit an even higher gear with a spring-loaded athlete like Gordon sprinting alongside Beal and Russell Westbrook.

    Washington could rethink Gordon's possibilities as a small-ball 5, potentially unlocking a new layer of his production and raising its own ceiling in turn. Get the right amount of growth from recent top-10 picks Rui Hachimura and Deni Avdija, plus some positive regression from $80 million sharpshooter Davis Bertans, and the Wizards should at least lock themselves into a playoff spot.

    That may not be the richest prize imaginable, but if they're going to keep Beal around, they better at least win with him, right?

    For the Magic, this could be the beginning of an overdue overhaul. Their present is going nowhere, so they should work to brighten their future. The incoming first-round pick is clearly the biggest catch, but that isn't all Orlando would receive. Bryant provides size and spacing, Brown adds length and playmaking to the perimeter, and Robinson has shown flashes of ignitable offense.


    All stats current through games played on March 3 and are courtesy of and Basketball Reference unless otherwise noted.

    Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.