How to Fix Lakers, 76ers and NBA's Most Disappointing Teams with a Trade
It's too early in the 2021-22 NBA season for clubs to have completely lost the faith of their fanbases.
There might be a few brutally bad teams out there, but those fans mostly knew to brace themselves for the worst and pass time studying up on draft prospects.
The following four teams aren't in that group, but it's what puts them among the Association's most disappointing teams through the first-quarter mark. They were supposed to be something far greater than they are.
Our challenge is to broker one transaction for each that could realign their reality with those lofty expectations.
Indiana Pacers: Add a Featured Scorer
Indiana Pacers receive: Brandon Ingram and Tomas Satoransky
New Orleans Pelicans receive: Myles Turner, Caris LeVert, Isaiah Jackson and 2021 first-round pick (lottery protected)
The Pacers are supposed to be pushing to avoid the play-in tournament with a top-six seed, not buried near the long-term rebuilders in the Eastern Conference. But Indy's inability to finish games—1-7 in contests decided by three points or less—speaks to the squad's larger failure to establish an identity.
Maybe consolidating assets for an ascending star like 24-year-old Brandon Ingram could be the franchise's fortune-changer.
He packs a three-level scoring punch the likes of which the Circle City hasn't seen since Paul George skipped town. Ingram can create something out of nothing—he was a top-20 isolation scorer and 71st percentile isolation finisher just two seasons back—and Indy's 18th-ranked offense lacks that rabbit-out-of-a-hat magic.
Assuming he hasn't played his best basketball yet, which feels relatively safe at his age, he can be a ceiling-raiser, which tops Indiana's wish list. The Pacers lack pizzazz, and a bold move for 2016's No. 2 pick could scratch that itch. Tomas Satoransky could be a good addition to the swap if Indy can re-establish him as a secondary playmaker and occasional spacer.
For the Pelicans to sign off on this, they must be convinced the incoming package can make things easier for Zion Williamson now (a relative term since the big fella isn't playing yet) and down the road.
Myles Turner might seem awkward with Jonas Valanciunas crushing it, but the 29-year-old Valanciunas isn't a long-term fit with the 21-year-old Williamson. Turner, who turned 25 in March, might be. Caris LeVert, 27, could fit the same core and provide complimentary scoring, distributing and shot-creating.
The vets don't move the needle like Ingram, though, hence the addition of Isaiah Jackson, this year's 22nd pick, and an upcoming first-rounder. New Orleans might be crowded up front for a bit, but all of the individual players should be usable in trades as the Pelicans' other needs crystallize.
Los Angeles Lakers: Find Two-Way Role Players
Los Angeles Lakers receive: T.J. Warren and Justin Holiday
Indiana Pacers receive: Talen Horton-Tucker, Kendrick Nunn and Malik Monk
When oddsmakers assessed the 2021-22 field, they dropped the Lakers' win total at a lofty 52.5. That was best in the Western Conference and third to only the Brooklyn Nets and Milwaukee Bucks.
While the Nets and Bucks have since established their elite credentials, the Lakers can't escape the NBA's middle class. Their minus-1.7 net rating (22nd overall) suggests they're fortunate to even be there.
Fixing L.A.'s issues is a tall task, given the production woes (bad offense and blah defense) and financial constraints, but targeting more two-way talent in the supporting ranks is a great place to start. The Lakers have become overly reliant on specialists, since that's usually all minimum-money can afford, but those players are often too easily schemed off the floor in the postseason.
If T.J. Warren gets healthy—he'd have some time, since Talen Horton-Tucker isn't trade-eligible until Jan. 15—he wouldn't fall into that trap. Warren could push Russell Westbrook for third-scorer duties while making L.A.'s defense more reliable and versatile on the wings. The latter also applies to Justin Holiday, who'd be an asset for his on-ball defense and a closer if his three-point shot perks up (35.7 percent this season, but 39.2 the past two).
Indiana, meanwhile, could decide its current core isn't good enough and opt to sell ahead of the deadline. If the Pacers wind up playing the long game, they could be drawn to the 26-and-under trio of Horton-Tucker, Kendrick Nunn and Malik Monk.
Horton-Tucker would be the crown jewel, given his intriguing blend of offensive creativity and defensive malleability. Nunn and Monk are natural scorers, and the Pacers need more bucket-getters.
Philadelphia 76ers: Turn Ben Simmons into Deeper, Better Balanced Roster
Philadelphia 76ers receive: Dejounte Murray, Devin Vassell and Doug McDermott
San Antonio Spurs receive: Ben Simmons
Back in early October, B/R's Jake Fischer reported the Sixers were uninterested in bringing back Dejounte Murray and Lonnie Walker IV in a Ben Simmons blockbuster. But maybe Murray's subsequent growth a reshuffled trade package could get something done.
Murray has played his way into Most Improved Player award consideration with a slew of personal bests, including 19.1 points, 8.6 rebounds and 8.2 assists. While he may never be a knockdown shooter, he's at least willing to take aim from distance and let it rip (4.1 three-point attempts per game).
Add elite defense to the equation, and Murray might qualify as a "difference-maker," which is the stated target of 76ers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey in the Simmons trade talks. Murray could check a lot of the same boxes as Simmons, albeit with far less size (6'4", 180 lbs. to Simmons' 6'11", 240 lbs.) but more shooting.
What could tip the scales for Philly are the additions of Devin Vassell, a three-and-D wing with some off-the-dribble verve, and Doug McDermott, a 6'7" sniper and clever off-ball cutter. All three players could factor into the Sixers' rotation right now, and this underperforming roster could use the relief.
As for the Spurs, this would be about conceding that there isn't a franchise talent on the roster and wanting Simmons to fill that void.
San Antonio should see enough openings in its long-term blueprint to be intrigued by the idea of building around Simmons. On a roster that hides his shooting shortcomings and emphasizes his athletic strengths, he could shine in ways he never has in Philly. And that's saying something for a player three All-Star selections and one All-NBA honor on his resume.
Portland Trail Blazers: Win the Ben Simmons Sweepstakes
Portland Trail Blazers receive: Ben Simmons
Philadelphia 76ers receive: CJ McCollum, Nassir Little and future first-round pick (top-three protected)
Creativity is overrated. At least, when the solution seems so obvious to (almost) everyone, there's no need to overthink it.
Portland has long loomed as one of the most logical trade suitors for Ben Simmons. The Blazers need defense in the worst kind of way, they have a high-level shot-creator to send back to Philly (although not the shot-creator the Sixers really want) and as many sweeteners needed to secure a handshake. They also now have a frustrated Damian Lillard who is eager for improvement, and reportedly thinks a certain 6'11" floor general is the solution.
"Multiple sources have told The Athletic that Lillard would like to play with Philadelphiathree-time All-Star "The Trail Blazers' league-worst defense would instantly improve, and sharing a backcourt with a non-shooter could work given Lillard's high-volume usage."
Philadelphia reportedly put this package or something close it on the table, then balked when Philly wanted McCollum plus "multiple draft picks and multiple draft swaps." After the removal of Blazers ex-general manager Neil Olshey, though, it's fair to ponder whether these sides can find an agreeable area in the middle.
The above works at least as a starting point. Simmons might do more to transform that defense than anyone could as one of the Association's only actual five-position stoppers. CJ McCollum, meanwhile, would give Philly a true No. 2 scoring option to pair with Joel Embiid, letting Tobias Harris and Tyrese Maxey slide into more complimentary roles. Nassir Little would give Philly another versatile, athletic defender, and the pick could be invested in the organization's future or spent in a separate trade.