NBA Trades to Reinforce 2021 Title Contenders

Andy Bailey@@AndrewDBaileyFeatured ColumnistMarch 23, 2021

NBA Trades to Reinforce 2021 Title Contenders

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    Even the top teams in the NBA can take advantage of trade season.

    With one shrewd move, playoff locks can become fringe contenders. Fringe contenders can become title favorites.

    This year, the addition of a play-in tournament that increases the number of teams in contention for the playoffs could limit the number of sellers, but there are still plenty of intriguing names in the rumor mill. And there are some title contenders (or fringe contenders) that could fill needs with those players.

    Below are five deals that could bring some of the league's best teams a bit closer to a 2021 championship.

Clippers Add a Combo Guard

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    The Deal: George Hill for Lou Williams, Terance Mann and a 2022 second-round pick

    Something isn't quite right with the Los Angeles Clippers. Despite formidable individual campaigns from Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, L.A. has fallen to sixth in net rating. The Clippers are an uninspiring 11-11 since Feb. 1.

    After those top two players, there isn't much punch. The problem is the Clippers roster doesn't have a ton of movable contracts, and they've already spent almost all of their draft capital.

    "And then you also have the reality that they don't have much to trade," ESPN's Brian Windhorst said on The Jump. "And if they were to trade for anybody, they probably would have to include a guy like Lou Williams in the trade. ... Keep an eye on George Hill."

    Hill may not be as dynamic as Williams in one-on-one settings, but the Clippers probably don't need that. Kawhi and PG can handle the bulk of the creation. What Hill excels at is floor generalship and spacing. He has plenty of experience playing alongside ball-dominant wings, including George when both were with the Indiana Pacers.

    Hill would also be a significant upgrade over Williams on defense. The latter often gets swallowed up by opponents' screens and struggles to stay in front of guards. Hill is a heady defender who's typically in the right spot and has the length to cover some wings.

    L.A. may be out of all of its future firsts, but expending another second-round pick would be worth this overall upgrade.

    For OKC, Williams is an expiring contract who likely wouldn't encumber the books next season. A buyout right after the trade might even be on the table.

    Another pick and an extended look at 24-year-old Terance Mann is a solid return for the 34-year-old Hill, who isn't part of the Thunder's long-term plans.

    If others are interested in his services, L.A. might have to up the ante with another second, but a framework like this should at least be a starting point.

Denver Lands Another Forward

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    Adam Hunger/Associated Press

    The Deal: Aaron Gordon for Gary Harris, Zeke Nnaji and a first-round pick

    The Denver Nuggets already have plenty of forward minutes spent on Michael Porter Jr., Paul Millsap and JaMychal Green, but they're reportedly interested in an Orlando Magic high-flyer who might clog things up even more.

    From the Denver Post's Mike Singer:

    "Denver has interest in Orlando forward Aaron Gordon ahead of next Thursday's trade deadline...

    "At this point, six days from next Thursday's trade deadline, a deal is still viewed as unlikely, according to a source. With so few quality players on the market, sellers have requested a premium on their returns.

    "The cost for interested teams in Gordon is believed to be a young player or players, a draft pick, in addition to matching salary, league sources said."

    Yes, that would be a decent haul for Gordon, but it's not prohibitive, especially not for the Nuggets.

    There are young, intriguing players on this team who can barely find the floor thanks to the depth of talent ahead of them. Vlatko Cancar (23) is an active defender and rebounder who could develop some offensive skills with a bigger role. Zeke Nnaji (just turned 20 in January) is a stretch big shooting 43.6 percent from three as a rookie. Even R.J. Hampton or Bol Bol might tickle Orlando's fancy.

    Regardless of who it would end up being, the fact is that Denver may have the "young player" box checked. And including a first should be palatable for them. Such a pick figures to be outside the lottery, and the Nuggets' depth chart is set for a bit (especially if Gordon comes back).

    The last piece of that reported price (which was also reported by HoopsHype's Michael Scotto) is a salary that satisfies the league's trade rules. That's Gary Harris, who's under contract for as long as Gordon, so he doesn't clog up the Magic's books.

    For Denver, adding Gordon creates a potential rotational quagmire. The key might be MPJ being able to survive at the 3. With his athleticism, that seems like something he should be able to do, but his still-developing defense has been less of a problem at power forward.

    Even with the slight headache that might come with sorting out minutes, this could be a "talent is talent" situation. Gordon is having a solid season, and he could replace some of the defensive versatility that was lost when Jerami Grant signed with the Detroit Pistons in the offseason.

    Bumping Porter to the 3, Millsap to a backup 5 role and starting Gordon would make the Nuggets more of a problem against Western Conference powers like the Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers.

Boston Gets Bigger

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    The Deal: Nikola Vucevic for Daniel Theis, a 2021 first-round pick and a 2023 first-round pick

    It should be noted at the outset that a Nikola Vucevic trade feels more than unlikely. HoopsHype's Michael Scotto reported that teams have called the Orlando Magic about the big man but that they are "reluctant" to part with him.

    If Orlando finds someone willing to pay its asking price for Gordon, though, the temptation to lean into a rebuild may get stronger. And declining two firsts for Vucevic might be tough.

    The Boston Celtics are in a unique position to do just that.

    Despite the presence of two of the game's best wings, the .500 Celtics are likely seen by many as a disappointment. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown were worthy All-Star selections, but the rest of the roster has underwhelmed, particularly the big men.

    Plugging Vucevic into lineups with those two would change the geometry of the court. With him inside, perimeter defenders wouldn't be able to focus as much on Tatum and Brown outside. And Vuc can invert that too with his ability to shoot the three. When he spaces the floor, bigs have to follow him. That opens driving lanes for teammates.

    Using the $28.5 million trade exception created by the Gordon Hayward deal to bring Vuc in would vault the Celtics back into the contenders' picture.

    The cost would probably be steep, though. Vucevic is a near-7-footer who can dominate the glass, score inside, hit threes, pass and play solid positional defense. The Magic moving him would likely coincide with a philosophical shift to tanking. So, it'll need to be worth their while.

    But the Celtics have all their future picks, and their recent draft record on selections outside the top three isn't stellar. It's unlikely that the eventual combined value of the 2021 and 2023 picks would be equal to what Vucevic can give Boston now and for the next couple of years.

More Shooting for the 76ers

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    Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press

    The Deal: Nemanja Bjelica for Mike Scott and a 2021 second-round pick

    The additions of Seth Curry and Danny Green worked wonders on the spacing issues the Philadelphia 76ers experienced last season. Joel Embiid jumping up to 42.2 percent from three helped too.

    But as long as Philly starts a point guard who outright refuses to shoot threes, it'll be hard to argue against adding more long-range prowess. And the Sacramento Kings have a stretch big languishing on their bench who could help.

    "There’s a belief from several opposing executives that the Kings can move [Nemanja] Bjelica for at least one second-round pick," Michael Scotto wrote for HoopsHype. "If Sacramento is willing to take on some additional salary past this season, more draft pick compensation could be added in a potential deal, the executives estimated."

    If one second-round pick is all it takes, it's hard to imagine someone won't jump on that deal.

    With Sacramento prioritizing developmental minutes for Marvin Bagley III, Bjelica's role has been significantly smaller this season. And his production has cratered along with his minutes. But over the two seasons prior to this one, Bjelica averaged 10.6 points and shot 41.1 percent from three.

    That version of Bjelica is a clear upgrade over Mike Scott, and at 6'10", he's probably big enough to even play some stretch 5 with reserve units.

    Again, if all it costs is a second-round pick, this is worth it for the Sixers.

Brooklyn Goes (More) All In

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    Garett Fisbeck/Associated Press

    The Deal: Spencer Dinwiddie for Dillon Brooks and a 2022 second-round pick

    With James Harden, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant on the roster, the Brooklyn Nets figure to be one of the NBA's most expensive teams for the foreseeable future. Offering Spencer Dinwiddie's next contract simply may not feasible, and the guard may realize it.

    HoopsHype's Michael Scotto explained further:

    "Spencer Dinwiddie will decline his $12.3 million player option, enter unrestricted free agency this summer, and should command a nice raise in the process. Looking ahead, the Nets will have a tough time retaining Dinwiddie due to future luxury-tax implications.

    "Dinwiddie can be obtained for a role player off the bench who can contribute this season as Brooklyn chases a title and a future second-round pick..."

    As was the case with Bjelica, this really isn't asking much for Dinwiddie. And some team should be willing to take advantage of Brooklyn's tight spot financially.

    The Memphis Grizzlies make sense as a possible destination.

    Dinwiddie has played most of his career minutes at the 1, but at 6'5", he's big enough to start alongside Ja Morant. And the 27-year-old isn't too far from the rest of the Grizzlies' core in terms of age. Long term, a backcourt with those two would command loads of defensive attention, making things easier for Jaren Jackson Jr. and Brandon Clarke inside.

    Dillon Brooks and a second-round pick is far from prohibitive. In fact, if other teams are after Dinwiddie, Memphis might even be able to justify including multiple seconds.

    For Brooklyn, acquiring a guard who has been below average in both effective field-goal percentage and true shooting percentage in each of his four seasons may seem odd, but remember that the Nets are looking for a "role player off the bench." That's exactly what Brooks would be on this roster. And he's cost-controlled on a reasonable (and perhaps more importantly, movable) salary through 2022-23.

    Regardless of who he's sharing the floor with, Brooks would likely be a fourth or fifth option in Brooklyn. And though his accuracy has fallen off this season, he shot 38.4 percent on catch-and-shoot threes in 2018-19 and 2019-20.