How Every NBA Contender Can Fix Its Biggest Problem With a Trade

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistDecember 16, 2021

How Every NBA Contender Can Fix Its Biggest Problem With a Trade

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    Mary Altaffer/Associated Press

    The floodgates are open, folks.

    Now that the NBA calendar has moved past Dec. 15, #TradeSZN is officially upon us. Most of the Association is trade-eligible now, so front offices should be working furiously to find any and all available upgrades.

    We're here to help with that process. Twice.

    Earlier in the week, we spotlighted the one thing holding back each championship contender—a status earned by landing among the top 10 in FanDuel's championship odds. Now, we're out to fix those issues by firing up the trade machine and hypothetically shopping our way to the solutions.

Denver Nuggets (Championship Odds: +2400)

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    Darren Abate/Associated Press

    The Problem: The scoring lost to the injury bug

    The Trade: Bol Bol, Zeke Nnaji, JaMychal Green and future first-round pick to the San Antonio Spurs for Derrick White  

    Denver could decide not to push too hard with Michael Porter Jr. (back) and P.J. Dozier (ACL) both down for the count, but holding anything back during one of Nikola Jokic's prime seasons feels risky. If Jamal Murray makes a successful return from his ACL tear, the Nuggets could still do damage this season.

    Not to mention, a move for Derrick White wouldn't just be about the current campaign. The 27-year-old Colorado native is signed through 2024-25, which means Denver would have several bites of the apple with this core.

    White would scratch several itches for the Nuggets and help patch up some of their problems created by injuries. He could take on some of the scoring load left by Porter's absence, perk up the playmaking Murray would normally provide and even defend like Dozier. Once Murray makes it back, White would have no trouble moving off the ball, since that's his normal setup with Dejounte Murray in the Alamo City.

    The Spurs reportedly made White available around the draft, per The Athletic's Zach Harper, and they've since trudged through a 10-16 start. Even if they'll never undergo a top-to-bottom rebuild with Gregg Popovich at the helm, they should be thinking about their future and could question White's place in it.

    Turning him into multiple assets could be best for San Antonio's long-term outlook. The future first-rounder would take a while to arrive (2027 at the earliest), but it should be lightly protected or unprotected as a result. Zeke Nnaji and Bol Bol would increase the offensive skill level of the Spurs' frontcourt, while JaMychal Green might give the Spurs another veteran to trade down the road.

Philadelphia 76ers (+2400)

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    Ned Dishman/Getty Images

    The Problem: The defensive regression without Ben Simmons

    The Trade: Ben Simmons and Furkan Korkmaz to San Antonio Spurs for Dejounte Murray, Thaddeus Young, Doug McDermott and 2022 first-round pick (top-five protected)

    The 76ers are seemingly aiming higher than Ben Simmons' trade value can take them—they want Damian Lillard, but that isn't happening, as ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski and Zach Lowe reported last week—and if they remain focused on established stars, this won't cut it for Daryl Morey and Co.

    But perhaps Philly could see the value in a package built around an ascending player in Dejounte Murray that also features both veteran reinforcements and a trade chip to help broker a separate swap.

    Murray keeps making strides on offense—he's one of only six players averaging at least 18 points and eight assists this season—but he earns his highest marks on defense, where the Simmons-less Sixers have seen the most slippage. They basically have the same offense as last season (13th in efficiency then, 14th now), but their formerly elite defense (second) now bleeds points with the worst of them (21st).

    Murray might not be as versatile of a defender as Simmons (few players are), but his defense is relentless on the ball and disruptive away from it. He'll also at least look at the basket from long range, and this season, he's bagging 1.3 triples per contest at a 33.7 percent clip. That would help give Joel Embiid more breathing room than he's ever had with Simmons.

    Doug McDermott is a plug-and-play sniper with a three-point cannon. Thaddeus Young, who spent his first seven seasons in Philadelphia, could boost the Sixers' frontcourt versatility, since he could play alongside Embiid or Andre Drummond or soak up minutes as a small-ball 5. Finally, the draft pick should have enough intrigue for Morey to turn it into something worth having.

    As for San Antonio, the desire would be simple—wanting to rebuild the roster around Simmons instead of Murray. Simmons has flashed the higher ceiling, owns superior physical tools and has thrived (All-NBA third-teamer in 2019-20) on a roster that doesn't play anything resembling his preferred style. Furkan Korkmaz is primarily a money-matcher, but Popovich would surely find an interesting use for a 24-year-old, 6'7" shooter.

Los Angeles Clippers (+2100)

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    Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

    The Problem: The lack of playmaking

    The Trade: Keon Johnson, Serge Ibaka and 2022 second-round pick to Memphis Grizzlies for Tyus Jones and Sam Merrill

    Paul George isn't a natural playmaker, but he is the best ball-mover that the Los Angeles Clippers have. That's a problem, especially when considering he's also their top scorer and wing defender.

    L.A. needs a table-setter to lighten George's load and help unlock the club's 25th-ranked offense.

    Tyus Jones and the Grand Canyon-sized split between his assists (4.3) and turnovers (0.8) could be perfect. He looks for the pass as his first, second and third option (career 7.2 assists per 36 minutes), and he protects the ball like a lioness guarding her young cubs (1.5 turnovers per 36 minutes).

    Jones' shot comes and goes, but it's up right now (40 percent), and even if it falters, L.A. would have enough shooters around him to maintain proper spacing. He isn't a lockdown defender, but the Clippers have enough stoppers to cover him. Sam Merrill would be a money-matcher, but maybe L.A. could carve out a specialist role for him.

    Meanwhile, Memphis might pounce on the chance to deal Jones when his stock is highest, especially since his contract is set to expire after this season. The Grizzlies made several future-focused moves this offseason, and their recent run of success might not divert from that big-picture plan since their best players are still only 22 years old (Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr.).

    Keon Johnson, this year's No. 21 pick, would be the Grizzlies' top draw. He is plenty rough around the edges, but his age (19), athleticism and physical tools hint at towering two-way potential. The second-round pick would grant the Grizzlies another throw at the draft dartboard. Serge Ibaka, included to make the money work, would emerge as a likely buyout candidate.

Miami Heat (+1200)

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    Zach Beeker/Getty Images

    The Problem: Not enough three-point shooting with Duncan Robinson in a funk

    The Trade: KZ Okapla to Oklahoma City Thunder for Kenrich Williams and 2023 second-round pick (via WAS)

    There's no reason to think Duncan Robinson's shooting slump (33.6 percent from three, down from 42.7 over the past two seasons) is anything more than a temporary rough patch. Having said that, the calculations for the Heat's starting five can't compute as long as he's trapped in it, since Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo aren't shooters and P.J. Tucker isn't a high-volume one.

    Miami shouldn't break the bank for a shooter, since it can reasonably expect Robinson to eventually return to form, but the ideal addition would be a net-shredder who can contribute now and maintain a role once Robinson gets rolling.

    Kenrich Williams might be up to the challenge. While he isn't a super active shooter, he is splashing 1.3 threes per 36 minutes at a 42.3 percent clip since the start of last season. Add a great motor and impressive versatility to the mix, and he looks like a fit for the franchise's famed #culture and for the wing rotation.

    As for OKC, its lengthy rebuilding plan would place a higher priority on 22-year-old KZ Okpala than the 27-year-old Williams, hence the addition of the future second-rounder. Okpala admittedly hasn't earned much optimism over his first three years in the league, but his physical tools continue to intrigue, especially for what they might eventually mean for his defensive versatility.

Utah Jazz (+1100)

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    Melissa Majchrzak/Getty Images

    The Problem: The wing defenders not named Royce O'Neale

    The Trade: Bojan Bogdanovic, Jared Butler and 2026 first-round pick (top-three protected) to Detroit Pistons for Jerami Grant

    The Utah Jazz have the statistical markings of a heavyweight title contender—they're tops in the league on offense and No. 5 on defense—but it's still fair to wonder whether this team fully measures up. Literally.

    Utah gives the starting backcourt spots to 6'1" guards Mike Conley and Donovan Mitchell, leaving 6'4" Royce O'Neale to man the 3 spot. That means all of the tricky wing assignments come O'Neale's way too, even the ones who tower over him.

    Bulking up with a bigger, more versatile defender like Jerami Grant at the other forward spot could be the last puzzle piece completing Utah's championship picture.

    Bring Grant to Salt Lake City, and there would be no comfortable way to attack this frontcourt. Getting around him or O'Neale would be hard enough, and those who somehow slipped past them would still need to deal with three-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert. Adding Grant at the expense of Bojan Bogdanovic would hurt the offense a bit, but the Jazz have enough cushion at that end to stomach the blow.

    The Pistons are taking calls on Grant, per B/R's Jake Fischer, and should be ready to move on a deal with his contract up after next season. They should get plenty of calls, but this offer has a chance to outshine the rest.

    Jared Butler could last a decade-plus in this league and wouldn't be a hard fit into Detroit's young backcourt. The future first is very lightly protected and coming from a veteran-heavy team. Bojan Bogdanovic could help simplify the offensive end for the Pistons' young players now and possibly fetch another valuable asset or two in a later trade.

Los Angeles Lakers (+1000)

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    Jeff Haynes/Getty Images

    The Problem: The lack of spacing

    The Trade: Kendrick Nunn to Indiana Pacers for Justin Holiday

    The Los Angeles Lakers have a slew of issues and a limited number of assets to attack them with. They need to make targeted moves around the margins and hope they can turn into more.

    Here, they'd be flipping the promise of Kendrick Nunn to the Pacers—a team planning to reshuffle but not rebuild, per B/R's Jake Fischer—for the proven, two-way production of Justin Holiday.

    L.A. needs better spacing if the trio of LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook trio will ever work. More than that, though, the Lakers need a competent spacer who won't destroy their defense.

    That would be the sales pitch for Holiday, who offers a moderate amount of defensive versatility and has splashed 38.6 percent of his threes since the start of 2019-20.

    If Nunn can get healthy (bone bruise in right knee), he would represent the type of player Indiana should be going after. The 26-year-old has only two seasons under his belt, so his best basketball should be ahead of him. But since he has that experience, he can contribute to winning right now, especially for a team that may not get T.J. McConnell back this season after surgery to repair a torn ligament in his right hand.

Phoenix Suns (+900)

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    The Problem: The scoring inefficiencies of the reserve guards

    The Trade: Dario Saric, Jalen Smith, Abdel Nader and 2024 first-round pick (top-10 protected) to San Antonio Spurs for Thaddeus Young and Bryn Forbes

    The Phoenix Suns need a stronger scoring output from their second-unit guards. If they can scratch that itch while also making their reserve frontcourt more versatile, that'd be even better.

    Bryn Forbes could do damage in the desert, catching and firing off of passes from Chris Paul and Devin Booker. Forbes would enter Phoenix's locker room and immediately become its top shooter (44.7 percent since the start of last season). He is almost automatic off the catch (46.7 percent), but if he needs to create for himself, that's sometimes in his bag as well (he shot 39.6 percent on pull-up threes last season).

    The proverbial icing on the cake here is the simultaneous acquisition of Thaddeus Young, whom Phoenix reportedly has "strong interest" in acquiring, per B/R's Jake Fischer. Young's veteran know-how would help him make a rapid transition to his new team, while his versatility would allow him to play alongside or in relief of Deandre Ayton.

    Why would San Antonio do this? A few reasons.

    For one, the Spurs are seen as a suitor of Jalen Smith, per Fischer, and maybe their development program would get the 2020 No. 10 pick on track. They'd also collect a future first-round pick from a team led by a 36-year-old point guard. Finally, they'd have the rest of this season to get Dario Saric and Abdel Nader back to full strength, then all of next season to shop them for additional assets.

Milwaukee Bucks (+700)

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    Gary Dineen/Getty Images

    The Problem: The inability to replicate Brook Lopez's combo of shooting and interior defense

    The Trade: Donte DiVincenzo and Semi Ojeleye to Orlando Magic for Mo Bamba

    Bobby Portis is doing everything he can to make Bucks fans forget that Brook Lopez hasn't played since opening night due to a back problem that eventually demanded surgery. This is Portis' seventh NBA season, and he has never averaged more threes (1.9) or blocks (1.0), the two pillars of Lopez's unicorn skill set.

    But there's usually a point of diminishing returns with Portis' defense, and his 6'10" frame doesn't always measure up to his matchup. Mo Bamba could, thanks to the 7-footer's 7'10" wingspan.

    Bamba has yet to match the shooting success of Lopez or Portis, but the foundation is there for a rapid rise. His form looks good enough, and his perpetually improving free-throw percentage (now up to 72.0) should boost his confidence level.

    Most importantly, he's firing 4.0 three-point attempts per game. That could be enough to pull defenders out to him and therefore away from Giannis Antetokounmpo's attack lanes.

    As for the shot-blocking, Bamba brings every bit of the above-the-rim resistance you'd expect of a player with his dimensions. He's averaging 2.8 blocks per 36 minutes this season, which is actually the fewest of his four-year career.

    The Magic might not view Bamba as a long-term keeper. He needs a new deal this summer, and they've already spent large on other young frontcourt pieces like Wendell Carter Jr. and Jonathan Isaac.

    If Orlando can't see a future with Bamba, then it might rather have Donte DiVincenzo, who's more polished than the Magic's backcourt prospects but young enough to grow with them. Semi Ojeleye is here to make the money work unless the Magic see something in him that we're missing.

Golden State Warriors (+600)

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    Sam Forencich/Getty Images

    The Problem: The lack of size at center

    The Trade: Damion Lee and 2022 second-round pick to Portland Trail Blazers for Cody Zeller

    It'd be interesting know how much the Golden State Warriors care about this issue, or if they see it as a problem at all. They'll give most (if not all) of their crunch-time center minutes to Draymond Green anyway, and they'll have sophomore 7-footer James Wiseman rejoining the rotation at some point.

    Still, after seeing the problems this club recently had with Deandre Ayton, Joel Embiid and Domantas Sabonis, it doesn't take a huge leap of the imagination to picture the Dubs addressing the center spot at some point between now and the trade deadline.

    They reportedly aren't considering trading Wiseman, per The Athletic's Tim Kawakami, which cuts pretty deeply into what they can afford. But if they're fine with a low-maintenance, low-minute veteran center who sets solid screens and won't get his lunch money taken in the paint, Cody Zeller could work.

    The 29-year-old is a 6'11", 240-pounder who can soak up 15ish minutes against the biggest bodies in basketball. The Warriors might want that in their back pocket for the playoffs, knowing the likes of Ayton, Embiid, Nikola Jokic, Anthony Davis and more huge hoopers could be awaiting them.

    The Blazers, who feel like they could veer into a rebuild at any time, could be attracted to Damion Lee in hopes of his three-ball returning and expanding their perimeter arsenal. Add a second-round pick to the swap, and that should be enough to get a handshake.

Brooklyn Nets (+260)

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    Mike Stobe/Getty Images

    The Problem: The scoring void created by Kyrie Irving's absence

    The Trade: Joe Harris, Nic Claxton and Cam Thomas to Indiana Pacers for Domantas Sabonis

    If the Nets want to go supernova with their offense—that is how they're designed to win—a huge swing at the trade market could be in the cards.

    They'd have to unload the few prospects they have (plus Day'Ron Sharpe, if Indy wanted him) and arguably their top trade chip in Joe Harris. But if Sabonis finds his footing and blows the roof off of the offense, it would all be worth it.

    The Nets are "eager to upgrade" ahead of the deadline, per B/R's Jake Fischer, and this would clearly qualify. They'd go from having underwhelming options up front to having a 25-year-old, two-time All-Star manning the middle.

    Sabonis is malleable enough to fit wherever the Nets would need. He can be a go-to scorer, an elite glass-cleaner, a primary playmaker or any combination of the three.

    His passing could coax even more efficiency out of Kevin Durant and perhaps help James Harden get his shooting rates in line with his career numbers by easing his distributing duties. If Kyrie Irving made it back to play with these three—the Nets have "renewed optimism" about a return this season, per The Athletic's Shams Charania—it almost wouldn't matter who filled the fifth spot. The Nets would be juggernauts again.

    As for the Pacers, this return would help them add for now and later. They're unlikely to overhaul so early into head coach Rick Carlisle's tenure, so making a plug-and-play option like Joe Harris a central figure in the return would work. His impact on the offense as a dead-eye shooter and off-ball mover could be profound.

    Still, if Indy pivots away from its current core, it should shift at least some attention to the future. That boosts the appeal of Nic Claxton, a 22-year-old center with impressive versatility on defense, and Cam Thomas, a 20-year-old rookie with all the makings of a walking bucket.


    Statistics through Tuesday's games and courtesy of and Basketball Reference, unless otherwise noted.

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