The Top Thing Every NBA Team Should Address at the 2022 Trade Deadline
NBA teams have roughly a month to formulate and execute their plans at the 2022 trade deadline.
Actually, they aren't waiting to map out their strategies, and frankly, neither are we.
The 2021-22 campaign is already nearing the halfway point, which means there is enough data to see what teams have figured out so far and what items still need addressing. We're focusing on the latter here by spotlighting the one thing each team needs to tackle by the end of trade season.
Atlanta Hawks: Point-of-Attack Defense
History holds that it typically takes top-10 execution on both ends of the floor to make a championship run. The Hawks, less than a calendar year removed from an Eastern Conference Finals berth, have the fire-breathing offense down, but their 25th-ranked defense is a nonstarter for title talks.
The issues start right at the top, as Atlanta has struggled to both prevent dribble penetration and stay attached to snipers. The Hawks have surrendered the second-most isolation points per game and rank 20th in three-pointers allowed.
While Trae Young's physical limitations make him an obvious target for the opposition, the stoppers around him haven't been up to snuff, either. A healthy De'Andre Hunter would help, but the Hawks can't bank on sudden good fortune on the medical front from a player who has suited up just 34 times since the start of last season.
Boston Celtics: Future of the Jays
Jayson Tatum won't turn 24 until March. Jaylen Brown celebrated his 25th birthday in October. Both booked All-Star trips last season and have the numbers to secure their spots this time around, too.
The idea of splitting them apart sounds preposterous, and yet...
"I think they're starting to get to a place where they don't think [Brown] and Jayson Tatum can coexist," a rival assistant general manager told B/R's Jake Fischer in December.
Even if the trade smoke reeks of optimism from potential poachers, there's enough of it to at least wonder whether some fire exists at the source. Boston must either silence that speculation completely and swing big for a difference-maker alongside its star wings or field what should be astronomic trade offers to construct something substantial around the remaining building block.
Brooklyn Nets: Forming an Identity with a Perpetually Changing Rotation
Brooklyn, the era of the part-time player has arrived.
After previously denying Kyrie Irving a spot, since New York City's vaccination requirements prevent him from playing at home games, the Nets are now prepared to bring him back on a part-time basis starting Wednesday night, per Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium.
Brooklyn will be better off for the reunion, as half of an Uncle Drew is still better than most players' whole, but how will this consistently work? Does Steve Nash draw up different game plans for home and away tilts? How much do the rotations change depending on venue? And does the front office identify needs that will literally shift from one city to the next?
So far, the Nets have proved more stingy but less explosive than expected. Irving's addition could flip the formula, but if it just reverts back to the new norm in Brooklyn, then it will be tough to tell who the Nets are and how they can strengthen themselves. Godspeed, Sean Marks.
Charlotte Hornets: Finding a 5 Who Can Plug Defensive Leaks
The Hornets had a glaring void at center before swinging a summer deal for Mason Plumlee. To no one's surprise, the void still remains.
Plumlee is statistically meh—in fact, his current 14.4 player efficiency rating (the worst of his career) sits a hair beneath the league-average rate of 15.0. Even on his best days, though, he does little to help Charlotte's problematically generous and 28th-ranked defense.
How the Hornets haven't brokered a Myles Turner blockbuster yet is beyond us. He isn't the only option, of course, but he sure looks like an ideal solution: instantly impactful as a shot-blocker and floor-spacer and also young enough (25) to grow with this group if it still needs some seasoning before ascending the conference ladder.
Chicago Bulls: Are Win-Now Upgrades Worth Long-Term Sacrifices?
The Bulls' most...uh, bullish outlooks entering this season saw them returning to the postseason for the first time since 2017 and landing a seed line or two above the play-in tournament. (Oddsmakers pegged them for seventh in the East.)
The calculation has totally changed. DeMar DeRozan has morphed into an MVP candidate. Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso have spearheaded a chaotic, relentless defense. Zach LaVine keeps doing Zach LaVine things. Nikola Vucevic is finding his footing, which has the entire team teetering on the brink of terrifying.
Now, the front office must decide what to make of this sudden success. The Bulls are more capable of winning right now than anyone expected, but are they close to enough contention to consider selling off an up-and-comer like Coby White or Patrick Williams? That feels aggressive (especially in Williams' case), but the land of championship chases often favors aggressiveness.
Cleveland Cavaliers: This Season's Ceiling
Speaking of obliterated expectations, what up, Cleveland?
You could've kept a straight face while predicting this club would win 21 games all season. The Cavaliers instead have 21 victories to show for their first 38 hardwood excursions, and all three of Darius Garland, Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley could receive not insignificant All-Star support. And Kevin Love is clearly the front-runner for the Back From Oblivion award.
The pre-deadline inquiry to tackle, then, is what does this sudden success mean to the organization? Is it a reason to dream bigger than anyone would've dared at the deadline? Or is this a sampling of what could be just over the horizon if the Cavs keep cultivating their suddenly fertile soil? Cleveland sits firmly in the wild-card column of trade season, as it has the chips to swing big but no obvious rush for doing so.
Dallas Mavericks: Co-Star for Luka Doncic
New season, new coach, same issue for the Mavericks—the supporting cast around Luka Doncic still doesn't quite cut it. (That Doncic is a half-step behind last season's production isn't helping, but that changes nothing for Dallas' deadline mindset.)
The Mavericks could use...well, frankly a little (or, in some cases, a lot) of everything around their 22-year-old centerpiece. They still haven't solved the issue of non-Doncic shot-creation. They don't have as many snipers as they should with such a gravitational force piloting the attack.
If they're being honest with themselves, though, they might concede their biggest issue is the fact that Kristaps Porzingis shouldn't be the second option on a heavyweight contender. He looks like he could be that kind of talent in stretches, but he lacks the consistency of a championship-caliber co-star. It's hard to say if that player will be available or if the Mavs can afford him, but that remains the primary shortcoming of this roster.
Denver Nuggets: Support Scoring
Nikola Jokic might be the top offensive talent in the Association right now. The metrics can't quite agree on that take—offensive box plus/minus has him first, FiveThirtyEight's Offensive RAPTOR has him second—but they all agree he's an elite among elites.
You might think, then, that the Nuggets are equally regarded on offense, since they follow the lead of the best passing big in NBA history who also happens to be unstoppable in the post and plenty potent on the perimeter. If you did, though, you'd think wrong, as Denver sits a head-scratching 20th in offensive efficiency.
The Nuggets don't have enough scoring oomph around their centerpiece to fully capitalize on what he brings. The return of Jamal Murray from an April ACL tear should help, but the sting of losing Michael Porter Jr. to another back surgery won't go away. If the Nuggets are going to make the most of this probably Porter-less season, they need to find more net-shredders.
Detroit Pistons: Draft Pick Collection
The Pistons have overhauled their roster to such a degree that it feels like they've been in rebuilding mode for a while now. They haven't. Just last season, they rostered the likes of Derrick Rose, Blake Griffin and Mason Plumlee.
Since Detroit is so relatively close to when it hit the self-destruct button, it hasn't built up the draft pick collection most long-term rebuilders have. In fact, the Pistons not only have zero incoming first-rounders, they actually owe a 2022 first (top-16 protected) to the Oklahoma City Thunder as part of the 2020 sign-and-swap that sent Christian Wood to the Houston Rockets.
That's why Detroit should be furiously working the phone lines to find more throws at the draft dartboard in hopes of uncovering more prospects to develop alongside Cade Cunningham, Saddiq Bey and whoever else holds keeper status within the organization.
Golden State Warriors: James Wiseman's Role
The Warriors have rarely struggled this season, but when they do, it's often due to a size deficiency. There's only so much 6'6" Draymond Green and 6'9" Kevon Looney can do against the likes of Nikola Jokic, Deandre Ayton or Joel Embiid.
If only Golden State had a 7-footer with a sky-high ceiling waiting in the wings...
James Wiseman, last season's No. 2 pick, showed promise and plenty of growing pains as a rookie before his campaign was cut short by a meniscus tear. In theory, he's the lob-crushing, rim-protecting center who potentially completes their championship puzzle. In reality, he made them 13.5 points worse per 100 possessions just by taking the floor last season.
Perhaps his instincts have sharpened considerably since and he'll be able to handle a sizable role upon his return. But if not, Golden State's championship hopes could be tied to a big-man hunt at the deadline.
Houston Rockets: Christian Wood's Value
Christian Wood had an uncertain future with the Rockets even before reportedly refusing to enter a recent game, per Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium, and subsequently drawing a one-game suspension.
Wood is only signed through next season, and he might be looking to get paid after outperforming his $13.7 million salary. Houston could have the funds to cover his next contract—John Wall's albatross will be erased by then, and that could be enough time to shed Eric Gordon, too—but do the Rockets see Wood as a long-term keeper?
His talent is obvious, but so are his limitations (distributing and defending chief among them). He's also old for Space City (26) and might be worth more to the Rockets as a trade chip (they'd want "a first-round pick plus further capital," per B/R's Jake Fischer) than as a building block.
Indiana Pacers: Which Big Stays, Which One Goes?
In early December, The Athletic's Shams Charania and Bob Kravitz brought word the Pacers were "moving toward a substantial rebuild and are expected to open up trade conversations around some of their veteran stalwarts."
Indiana was 10-16 at the time of the report. It was 14-23 entering Tuesday. Something tells us this 4-7 stretch hasn't forced the team's top decision-makers to rethink this stance.
The Pacers were reportedly willing to discuss deals for one of Domantas Sabonis or Myles Turner, splitting apart the throwback, twin-tower tandem. But which one is worth keeping? Or will the Pacers simply let the trade market decide? The perfect roster for a Sabonis-led team might look a lot different from one featuring Turner, so unless Indy is coveting draft picks, it needs to determine which big is staying so it knows what to get in return for the other.
Los Angeles Clippers: Playmaking Shortage
Finding a competent table-setter remains the most obvious place to start.
George has relatively impressed as a playmaker considering this is still on-the-job training for him, but it's obvious passing doesn't come naturally to him (5.5 assists against 4.2 turnovers). For that matter, it doesn't come easily to score-first Reggie Jackson or defensive specialist Eric Bledsoe either. The Clippers, who create the 10th-fewest points per game off assists, need an inborn ball-mover to unlock their attack.
Los Angeles Lakers: Defensive Decline
When the Lakers landed Russell Westbrook this summer, the idea was to turbo-charge their offense.
They may have drained the life out of their formerly elite defense instead.
That swap cost them a pair of formidable stoppers in Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Kyle Kuzma. The decision to let Alex Caruso walk robbed them of another. Players brought in to help cover those absences haven't worked out due to inconsistency (Kent Bazemore) and injury (Trevor Ariza).
L.A. had the Association's stingiest defense just last season. Now it's down to 14th. The Lakers dismantled the one thing that made them great, and their offense is no better than before. They must get back to their dominant defensive roots if they're going to maximize what's left of LeBron James' prime.
Memphis Grizzlies: Is the Timeline Moving Up?
Memphis is one of seven teams with a .600-plus winning percentage (.632) and a net rating of plus-three or more (plus-3.0). The other six clubs have exhausted their resources as part of all-out, win-now pursuits. The Grizzlies, on the other hand, made several future-focused swaps this summer.
Is it already time to change course? Ja Morant has continued the superstar ascension he started in last year's playoffs, Desmond Bane has rocketed into the Most Improved Player race, and the roster seems to perpetually improve under the watch of coach Taylor Jenkins. Memphis could be a pesky playoff out for almost anyone.
If the Grizzlies want to dream bigger, though, they can let their imagination run wild. They own all of their first-round picks and have three others headed their direction. For deadline sellers seeking financial relief or up-and-coming prospects, Memphis can check those boxes, too. If the franchise wants to accelerate, it has the horsepower to bury the needle.
Miami Heat: Has the Next Wave Entered the Circle of Trust?
The Heat turned a little top-heavy this summer when they splurged on Duncan Robinson and added both Kyle Lowry and P.J. Tucker to a core already featuring Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro. That thinned out their resources to build a reserve unit and forced them to rely on faintly recognizable names.
With this player development program, though, that simply doesn't matter. Max Strus is suddenly a rocket launcher. Gabe Vincent bears some statistical resemblances to last season's Goran Dragic (at least on a per-minute basis). Caleb Martin buried the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks beneath a 28-point barrage. Summer-league star Omer Yurtseven has been a walking double-double.
Those players—and more—have helped the Heat avoid any pitfalls among myriad injury and illness issues, but can their contributions sustain when the stakes are heightened? Is Miami ready to entrust these players with postseason minutes, because if not, this bench might need some attention ahead of the deadline.
Milwaukee Bucks: Donte DiVincenzo's Future
Donte DiVincenzo missed the first 34 games of this season following June surgery on his left ankle. He made it through three rusty, inefficient contests before tweaking the ankle and winding up back on the shelf.
Even if all goes well with his recovery, he's looking at limited appearances between now and the trade cutoff. That's seemingly fine within the context of the current championship chase, as this will hopefully be in the rear-view mirror long before the Bucks start playing their most meaningful games. But a more macro view of the situation shows some possible discomfort for Milwaukee.
If the Bucks want to upgrade anything at the deadline, they don't have many trade chips to offer—unless, of course, they're willing to listen on DiVincenzo deals before he heads off into the thorny world of restricted free agency this summer. His ankle and impending payday could both give this front office pause, and it's possible neither situation looks much clearer between now and the deadline.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Complementary Offense
The Timberwolves have bulldozing potential on offense.
Karl-Anthony Towns is a hot stretch at the charity stripe away from pushing for 50/40/90 enshrinement. Anthony Edwards has knockout power in his scoring punch. D'Angelo Russell's microwavable bucket binges are sometimes too hot to touch.
And yet, the Wolves are buried down at No. 23 in offensive efficiency. Collectively, they can't shoot (bottom-third connection rate at every level), and they haven't consistently squeezed enough scoring out of their supporting cast. While Towns, Edwards and Russell can handle most of the heavy lifting, the roster needs other reliable weapons to keep defenses honest.
New Orleans Pelicans: The Scope of Their Sale
No matter what New Orleans set as its internal expectations before the season, the bar has surely lowered since.
Organizational centerpiece Zion Williamson is nowhere to be found, and a roster built to support him has nothing to support. The Pels have a worse winning percentage than an Oklahoma City Thunder team seemingly constructed to stack up draft lottery odds. Basketball life is brutal in the Big Easy.
This should shape the Pelicans' plans at the deadline, but to what extent? Will they only make moves around the margins and hope they can extract sneaky-good values for Tomas Satoransky, Garrett Temple and Jaxson Hayes? Or will they shake things up and field offers for Jonas Valanciunas, Josh Hart and even Brandon Ingram? Even if New Orleans is disinterested in a demolition, it should have its ears open in case any no-brainers come along.
New York Knicks: Shoddy Shot-Creation
There's a version of this Knicks offense that's all kinds of fun. It's in the universe where Julius Randle builds off last season's breakout, RJ Barrett takes a massive third-year leap, Kemba Walker's Big Apple homecoming grants him access to a time machine and Evan Fournier impresses with volume and efficiency.
We don't live in that universe. Not one of those light bulbs has clicked.
New York's offense is a mess. Only eight teams have been less efficient at that end, and most of them are already thinking about next year (or beyond). The Knicks need players who can create for themselves and their teammates because they're underwhelming on both fronts (38th percentile on isolations, 26th in assist percentage).
Oklahoma City Thunder: Offensive Support...Or More Draft Picks
The Thunder have three players averaging double-digit points. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander paces them in field-goal percentage at 41.8. Lu Dort has the best three-point percentage at 31.3. Josh Giddey has impressed in other areas, but scoring clearly isn't his strong suit.
Those are the key pieces of Oklahoma City's league-worst offense. If the Thunder hope to even catch a whiff of the play-in tournament, they have to invest in this attack.
Retracing the franchise's footsteps to this point, though, suggests OKC seeks nothing more than maximum draft lottery odds this season, so shipping out veteran talent for draft consideration probably remains its primary focus.
Orlando Magic: Mo Bamba's Fit Going Forward
The Magic are far enough from contention that they don't have to concern themselves much with fit. Grabbing as much talent as possible and trying to solve the puzzle later is rarely a bad strategy.
This could be one of the exceptions.
Keeping Mo Bamba past the deadline is a step toward committing to him beyond this season, since restricted free agency awaits him. In a vacuum, that's fine, since his combination of length, shot-blocking and three-point shooting is seldom seen. In Orlando, though, it'd be tricky keeping Bamba when the franchise has already paid Wendell Carter Jr. and Jonathan Isaac, both of whom might do their best work at Bamba's center spot.
Philadelphia 76ers: The Ben Simmons Saga
By letting the Ben Simmons saga drag on without an end in sight, the 76ers are basically playing this season with one hand tied behind their back.
"You see the glaring holes that he leaves us," Sixers skipper Doc Rivers said, per Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Philly's defense has declined. The playmaking has regressed, too. Those are the exact areas where Simmons could've made the most impact.
If the 76ers let the deadline pass without a Simmons deal, they'll effectively punt this entire season. Maybe they think that's the only way to extract acceptable value, but given Joel Embiid's health history, wasting one of his peak years feels particularly reckless.
Phoenix Suns: Bench Buckets
Beyond the oft-discussed Jalen Smith-for-Thaddeus Young swap, there isn't much for the Suns to do at the deadline. That is, unless they are at all concerned about the sub-40 percent connection rates of reserve guards Cameron Payne and Landry Shamet.
With both Dario Saric and Frank Kaminsky on the shelf, Phoenix needs to draw most of its reserve scoring from Payne, Shamet and Cameron Johnson. If Payne and Shamet were both playing up to expectations, that'd be fine. In fact, it'd probably give the Suns one of the Association's top second units.
But Payne's field-goal percentage has dropped nearly nine points from last season (39.5, from 48.4). Shamet is having his worst shooting season ever from the field (38.0) and from three (36.4). Phoenix might be banking on some positive regression, but if it's still waiting for recovery a month from now, it might have to sacrifice some assets to snag a scoring spark.
Portland Trail Blazers: The Defense, Which Still Stinks
The Trail Blazers were supposed to get serious about defense under new coach Chauncey Billups. Guess what? It's still abysmal, sitting dead last in efficiency.
Even worse, Portland's once explosive offense no longer has the juice to carry this club. The Blazers were second in offensive efficiency just last season. They're 11th so far, and not coincidentally are on course to post their worst winning percentage in over a decade.
Clearly, some of these problems are attached to the personnel, but what does that mean for the deadline? Is CJ McCollum as good as gone? Could the Blazers really entertain Damian Lillard trade talks? Or will the Blazers poke around for modest upgrades and hope that Billups eventually finds a fix?
Sacramento Kings: Choosing an Endgame
The Kings haven't secured a postseason spot since 2006. For a quick reminder, the advent of the play-in tournament means two-thirds of all teams advance beyond the regular season, and more than half make the playoffs.
Sacramento is starved for success like no other NBA team. A morsel of it would surely taste divine, so it'd be hard to knock the organization for pushing for the playoffs during trade season.
At the same time, Sacramento needs to sit down and iron out what the realistic goals are for this group. The Kings obviously aren't contending for a title any time soon, but can they position themselves for something more than a playoff cameo? If the answer is no, then they might want to take trade calls on everyone not named Tyrese Haliburton.
San Antonio Spurs: Shooting Volume
The Spurs won't pull the competitive plug as long as Gregg Popovich continues to captain the ship. So, while there might be some interesting long-term moves worth exploring, San Antonio's likely disinterest torpedoes those ideas.
If the Spurs want to win, they have to find more firepower. Despite sitting 10th in three-point percentage, they're down at 29th in made triples. There are 74 players averaging at least two triples this season (minimum 10 games), and the Spurs have just one: Doug McDermott, who barely clears the threshold at 2.1.
In the past, San Antonio's offense could hum with constant movement of players and the ball. While the roster's quality isn't the same, the system could at least resemble that one if the Spurs had enough shooting threats to properly space the floor.
Toronto Raptors: Backup Backcourt
If the Raptors wanted to, they could really jolt trade season into life. A plug-pulling has always felt possible since Kawhi Leonard skipped town (even more so once Kyle Lowry left), and the Raptors would immediately become the most sought-after seller if they fielded offers for Pascal Siakam or Fred VanVleet.
Having said that, there are no words coming out of Toronto indicating any type of impending fire sale. The Raptors have hovered close enough to the playoff picture to justify playing this out, and in the rare moments when they've had their best players all available, they've been awesome. The quintet of Siakam, VanVleet, OG Anunoby, Scottie Barnes and Gary Trent Jr., for instance, owns a plus-9.6 net rating across 56 minutes.
If the Raptors want to fully gauge what this group can do, they might have to bulk up the backups behind them. Goran Dragic has been on indefinite leave since November, Malachi Flynn has been more down than up, and Dalano Banton went face-first into the rookie wall (2.7 points on 30.4 percent shooting his last 16 games).
Utah Jazz: Completing the Closing Lineup
If the Jazz stand pat at the deadline, there probably won't be a peep of complaining out of Salt Lake. This is objectively one of the best teams in basketball, owning, among other shiny things, the league's best net rating (plus-9.9).
But it's hard not to wonder whether this group has everything it needs to escape the West. Maybe that's underselling the players on this roster. Perhaps it's just our brain failing to forget this team hasn't escaped the second round in more than a decade.
Or maybe there's a simpler basketball explanation: When reviewing this roster, it still looks like it might be one big-wing defender away from handling the elites. It could prove too cost-prohibitive to go get one—expect names like Jordan Clarkson, Joe Ingles and even Bojan Bogdanovic to float around as trade bait—but if the potential prize is a world title, maybe Utah's new leadership will bite the bullet.
Washington Wizards: The Ticking Clock of Bradley Beal
Are the Wizards worried at all about Bradley Beal's continuing crawl toward unrestricted free agency? While he hasn't given any indication that he wants out of the District, he also hasn't married his future to the team.
"I've never been in this position," Beal told Yahoo Sports' Chris Haynes (via CBS Sports), "so I'm kind of embracing that, being able to, OK, kind of dictate how I want my future to be and where I want it to be."
Have the Wizards done enough to convince him to stick around? Since storming out to a 10-3 start, they're just 9-15 with underwhelming returns on both ends of the floor. If Washington sinks lower in the standings and feels there are reasons to worry he'll walk for nothing this summer, the Wizards could restock the shelves with a blockbuster Beal deal.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.