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Is Aiding A Weakness Worth Sacrificing A Strength?

With the trade deadline fast approaching, Matt John dives into instances where teams gave up some of their talent in order to help the weaker aspects of their roster.

Matt John



Before we begin, something, or someone, needs to be addressed- the death of one Kobe “Bean” Bryant. The NBA community lost one of its biggest icons over the weekend when Bryant lost his life in a helicopter crash. This news is very tragic seeing how popular Kobe was both during and after his time in the NBA and how young he was when he passed on.

It’s hard to write anything period right now because tragedies like these almost never happen, and in Kobe’s case, no one could have ever imagined that it would end for him so tragically soon. It’s going to be a long time before everyone can fully process this. Some of us may never be able to. If you’re still understandably grieving, take your time.

Let’s also remember the other lives that were lost that day, which included Kobe’s daughter Gianna Bryant, and keep them in your prayers if you haven’t already. There are plenty of videos and articles that go into much more detail about the man and the player that Kobe Bryant was. Please feel free to check those out, because fair warning, this won’t be a piece about the man who once donned the numbers 8 and 24.

This is going to be about the trading season. The trade deadline is less than two weeks away. Slowly but surely, trade buzz is now heating up. Over the past few weeks, the Minnesota Timberwolves added some desperately needed shooting while the Atlanta Hawks wanted some nostalgia in an already lost season. The Golden State Warriors are going full throttle on their tank job, while the Dallas Mavericks have adjusted accordingly following Dwight Powell’s devastating Achilles injury.

That might be the tip of the iceberg, or it might be as good we get in terms of impact. Teams may think they want more time to evaluate their squads, or they may think that it’s not worth making any big changes. That hasn’t stopped anyone from speculating about the big names potentially finding new homes — Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge and Chris Paul come to mind.

Then, there’s one that always comes up despite no rumors being tied to him: Gordon Hayward.

For context, let’s start with the Boston Celtics. The Celtics have played well enough to put their name among the very best in the Eastern Conference and arguably the entire league. Despite their impressive 31-15 record, what seems to be preventing them from entering the contender discussion is their lack of a difference-maker in the big department.

Al Horford didn’t provide a whole lot of flash, but his skill set checked a lot of boxes. His departure left a huge void for Boston to fill. With him and Aron Baynes gone, Daniel Theis, Enes Kanter, Robert Williams III and Grant Williams have handled the majority of the minutes at the five position. Together, the four of them have done a good enough job. Good enough in the sense that they haven’t brought Boston down nearly as much as originally feared. Still, if they had a bigger name manning the middle, maybe that would put the Celtics back in the discussion.

Now would be as good a time as any to get that particular big name at the center spot. Steven Adams and Andre Drummond have been rumored to be on the market since both of their teams are supposedly changing course.

This is where the prospect of trading Hayward comes in. With his $30+ million on the books, he makes enough money that he would match in a trade with any upper-tier big in the league. Also, because the Celtics have plenty both in the scoring department with Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Kemba Walker — and the playmaking department with Walker and Marcus Smart — a case can be made that Hayward isn’t the top offensive option on the team he once was.

Another case can be made that Hayward, who has objectively played so much better this season than last, gives the Celtics another layer on both sides of the floor because of his abilities as a jack-of-all-trades wing. When fully healthy, the Celtics have had the privilege of having two of either him or Kemba or “the Jays” on the court at all times without missing a beat. Together, the four of them are plus-14.1 when they share the court.

The only problem is that those four have had trouble staying on the court together throughout most of the season. Believe it or not, that particular quartet has only played in 16 games together total.

If the Celtics were to trade Hayward for a high-profile big, they would, on paper, be taking away from a strength to aid a weakness. Teams have made these types of trades before where they trade a player believed to be superfluous for a player who was slated to help in a weaker area.

Has this strategy worked? Yes and no. History says it’s a mixed bag. This brings us to a tweet made by former Celtic Kendrick Perkins a little while ago.

This specific trade idea has been brought up what seems like an infinite amount of times, but coming from Perk this time is a little ironic. That’s because Perkins himself was involved in a similar trade nine years ago.

For those who don’t remember — and any Celtics fan who’s reading this certainly doesn’t — Boston traded Perkins among others to the Oklahoma City Thunder for primarily Jeff Green. Many were put off by this trade seeing how Perkins played a vital part in Boston winning its 17th championship, while Green helped Oklahoma City get its first playoff berth.

Putting all emotions aside, the rationale was pretty straightforward. The Celtics lost backup wing Marquis Daniels for the season with a bruised spinal cord and were one of the oldest teams in the league. They needed some depth on the wing and a little infusion of youth couldn’t have hurt. The Thunder had been bested by the then-defending reigning champion Los Angeles Lakers the previous postseason because LA took advantage of their lack of size. Getting someone who could stand up to them potentially made them the favorites in the West.

Both sides also viewed Perkins and Green as expendable. Boston had a strong enough frontcourt that they were one of the East’s best teams, even with Perkins out for most of the season. Oklahoma City had plenty of young talent in its arsenal that Green was a surplus — plus, they needed to see how good James Harden would be if his role expanded.

Both teams sacrificed a part of their strengths to help a weakness. We all know how this worked out. To make a long story short, it didn’t. Perkins did not fit the Thunder’s up-tempo style at all, and Green never really found a role for himself with the Celtics until it was too late. In this instance, the player acquired in hopes of aiding the weakness either didn’t really do that (Green) or even if he did, he hurt the team more than he helped overall (Perkins).

There have been other instances where making a deal like this worked for the best — at least for one side. A year after OKC and Boston agreed to their midseason swap, Golden State and the Milwaukee Bucks made some rather seismic roster changes midseason when the Warriors traded Monta Ellis to the Bucks for Andrew Bogut, among others.

This move also didn’t sit well with fans even if the thinking made sense. Golden State had one of the league’s most talented scoring duos between Ellis and a young Stephen Curry, but since the team’s defense was a complete joke — especially in the post — a rim protector was needed to change its fortunes. Milwaukee needed more scoring help seeing how Brandon Jennings couldn’t do everything himself, and Bogut was injury-prone.

In short, while Ellis didn’t really do much for the Bucks, Bogut was exactly what the Warriors needed. His high IQ both as a shot-blocker and as a passer gave Golden State the final touches to start what would turn into an era of dominance. Ellis may have been the more talented player at that point, but Bogut was the better piece to put next to Curry.

Another reason why both teams agreed to a swap? They both had blossoming players who had great potential ahead of them. For the Warriors, it was hot-shot rookie Klay Thompson, whose shooting and defense proved to be a better fit next to Curry. For the Bucks, it was second-year man Larry Sanders, whose athleticism and rim protection made Bogut redundant. Because they had their replacements lined up, both sides felt they could give up the players in the deal.

It may have only worked out for one side in the long run, but it still proves that making a move like this can work out as long as you prepare accordingly. It’s not a given, but the risk is worth taking.

Getting back to Hayward, the odds of Boston trading him period should seem low. If the Celtics traded a guy who:
– Left more money on the table to join them
– Has gone through hell and back with his leg injury
– Has a personal relationship with their head coach

It would not make them look good. The Celtics’ image took a substantial hit when they traded Isaiah Thomas for Kyrie Irving. Even if it was the right move, Thomas gave the Celtics everything he could while dealing with both an injured hip and the death of his sister. Trading him made the Celtics look cold and ruthless. That cold image would only be amped up if they did the same with Hayward.

Then again, maybe it wouldn’t matter to them if they believed a title was in their grasp should they make such a move. That was the thought process when they acquired Irving. Getting to that final stage requires making moves that aren’t comfortable to make. If taking away from your strength bolsters your team overall because it helps a weakness, you should do it. Especially if a title is within your grasp.

When it comes to topics like this, always think of what Thanos said during Avengers: Infinity War.

“The hardest choices require the strongest wills.”


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NBA Daily: The Young, Western Conference Bubble

The race for the West’s final playoff spot may seem crowded, but the last two months make it clear that two teams are already ahead of the pack.

Douglas Farmer



We all jump to conclusions too quickly, this space and this scribe most certainly included. Three months ago, five weeks into the NBA season, the Western Conference playoff bubble looked like it would be a race between the Sacramento Kings, Phoenix Suns and Minnesota Timberwolves. That has assuredly not become the reality.

While the Kings and Suns can claim to still be in the playoff race, they would have to not only make up five-game deficits, but they would also each have to jump over four other teams to reach the postseason. The Timberwolves would delight at such challenges as they initiate a not-so-subtle tank with franchise cornerstone Karl-Anthony Towns sidelined for at least a few weeks with a fractured wrist.

Instead, the race to be swept by the Los Angeles Lakers has come down to a pair of up-and-comers, a perpetual deep threat and the NBA’s most consistent organization. Of all of them, it is the youngsters who are both currently playing the best and have the most control of their playoff hopes relative to their competition.

Between the current No. 8-seeded Memphis Grizzlies, the Portland Trail Blazers (3 games back), New Orleans Pelicans (3.5) and San Antonio Spurs (4), the next six weeks will feature eight key games. Five of those will include either the Grizzlies or the Pelicans or, in two instances, both.

That pair of matchups is still a month out, but they warrant circling already, nonetheless. Memphis and New Orleans have been playing at a high level for two-plus months now, and by the time they play two games within four nights in late March — when the basketball world is largely distracted by the NCAA Tournament — the two inexperienced teams may have completely separated from Portland and San Antonio.

After starting 1-5, 5-13 and then 10-19, the Grizzlies have gone 18-9 since Dec. 21. The Pelicans have matched that record exactly, down to the date, since starting even worse than Memphis did, bottoming out at 7-23 before finding an uptick long before Zion Williamson found the court. Winning two-thirds of your games for two months is a stretch with a sample size large enough to make it clear: Neither Memphis nor New Orleans should be dismissed in this playoff chase.

Their early-season profiles were examples of young teams sliding right back into the lottery — and there was absolutely no indication a surge was coming.

Grizzlies Pelicans
Offensive Rating 106.4 – No. 23 106.8 – No. 21
Defensive Rating 111.7 – No. 23 113.5 – No. 27

Through Dec. 20; via

Then, for whatever reason, things changed. They changed in every way and in ways so drastically that one cannot help but wonder what could come next for the teams led by the top-two picks from last summer’s draft.

Grizzlies Pelicans
Offensive Rating 111.9 – No. 15 115.1 – No. 4
Defensive Rating 109.3 – No. 11 110.3 – No. 13

Since Dec. 21, through Feb. 23; via

In a further coincidence of records and timing, the Blazers and Spurs have both gone 13-16 since Dec. 21.

If all four teams in the thick of things out west continue at these two-month winning rates for another month, then Portland and San Antonio will have drifted out of the playoff conversation before Williamson and Ja Morant meet for a second time. Of course, those rates would keep New Orleans a few games back of Memphis; the latter has 14 games, compared to 12, before March 21, so the gap in the standings would actually expand to an even four games.

If the Pelicans can just pick up a game or two before then, though, they have already beaten the Grizzlies twice this season. Doing so twice more that week would just about send New Orleans into the playoffs – at which point, perhaps Williamson could steal a game from LeBron James to put a finishing coda on his rookie season.

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NBA Daily: The Stretch Run — Southwest Division

David Yapkowitz finishes Basketball Insiders’ Stretch Run series with an overview of the Southwest Division.

David Yapkowitz



We’ve hit that point in the NBA season approaching the final stretch of games before the playoffs roll around in April. The trade deadline has come and gone, the buyout market is wearing thin and most teams have loaded up and made their final roster moves in anticipation of the postseason.

Here at Basketball Insiders, we’re taking a look at each team — division by division– at what they need to do to get ready for the playoffs, or lack thereof. Looking at the Southwest Division, this was a division that used to be one of the toughest in the league.

It still is for the most part. The Texas triangle of the Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets and San Antonio Spurs was no joke and hell for opposing teams on a road trip. Those are still a couple of formidable teams, but with the exception of the Rockets, it’s not quite near the level of yesteryear.

The Memphis Grizzlies and New Orleans Pelicans are a pair of young, up-and-coming teams that will give you 100 percent every night. While Memphis sits firmly in the eighth spot in the Western Conference, the Pelicans are on the outside looking in. Here’s a look at how each team might fare in the stretch run.

The Houston Rockets have been the best team in the Southwest all season long, and all that remains for them is playoff positioning. They currently sit in fourth place in the West, giving them home-court advantage in the first round, but they could just as easily slip a bit with the Utah Jazz essentially tied with them record-wise in the standings and the Oklahoma City Thunder a mere two games back.

The Dallas Mavericks have taken a huge leap this season behind Luka Doncic, who is rapidly becoming one of the best players in the league. They currently sit in seventh place in the West and a return to the postseason is in the cards for the Mavericks.

The rest of the teams in the Southwest is where things get a little interesting. The Grizzlies have been one of the surprises of the season, as they’ve defied expectations and are firmly entrenched in the playoff race out West. They have a three-game lead on the Portland Trail Blazers and a four-game lead on the San Antonio Spurs.

Out of the Grizzlies’ final 26 games, 15 of them come against teams over .500, more than either the Blazers or the Spurs. 14 of those final 26 are also on the road, again, more than the Blazers or the Spurs. They also play both the Spurs and Blazers one more time this season. If the Grizzlies end up making the playoffs, it will be very well earned.

The Spurs are knocking on the door, and they have one more game against the Grizzlies which could prove to be very meaningful. This is a team that has been one of the standard-bearers in the league for success over the past decade. Their streak of playoff appearances is in serious jeopardy.

They’ve won two of their last three games, however, and out of their final 26 games, 15 of those are at home, where they are 14-12. Based on how the Grizzlies are playing though, a close to .500 record at home probably isn’t going to cut it. They’re going to need to pick it up a bit over the next month if they want to keep their playoff streak intact. A lot can happen between now and then, and the Grizzlies do have a tough remaining schedule, but it looks as if San Antonio will miss the playoffs for the first time in 22 years.

The final team in the Southwest is the Pelicans, boosted by the return of prized rookie and No.1 draft pick Zion Williamson. Prior to the start of the season, the Pelicans were looked at as a team that could possibly contend for the eighth seed in the West. Then Williamson got hurt and things changed.

But the team managed to stay afloat in his absence, and as it stands, they’re only three-and-a-half games back of the Grizzlies with 26 games left to play. Out of the bottom three teams in the division, it’s the Pelicans who have the easiest schedule.

Out of those 25 games, only seven of them come against teams over .500. They are, however, just about split with home and away games. New Orleans is 8-2 over their past 10 games, better than the Grizzlies and Spurs. If Memphis falters down the stretch due to its tough schedule, and the Pelicans start gaining a little bit of steam, things could get interesting in the final few weeks.

In all likelihood, the Pelicans probably won’t make the playoffs as not only do they have to catch up to the Grizzlies, but the Spurs and Blazers as well. But it certainly will be fun to watch them try.

There are some big storylines in the Southwest Division worth following as we begin the final run to the postseason. Can the young Grizzlies defy expectations and make a surprise return to the playoffs? Will the Spurs get their playoff streak snapped and finally look to hit the reset button after nearly two decades of excellence? Can the Pelicans, buoyed by Williamson’s return, make a strong final push?

Tune in to what should be fun final stretch in the Southwest.

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NBA Daily: The Stretch Run — Southeast Division

With the All-Star Break behind us, the final stretch of NBA games has commenced. Quinn Davis takes a look at a few teams in the Southeast Division that have a chance at making the dance.

Quinn Davis



Well, that was fast.

With the NBA All-Star break in the rearview, there are now fewer than 30 games to play for all 30 NBA teams. In other words, time is running out for certain teams to improve their seeding in the conference.

Here at Basketball Insiders, we will be looking at a certain subset of teams that are right on the border of making or missing the playoffs. In this edition, the focus will be on the Southeast Division.

The Southeast features three teams — the Charlotte Hornets, Orlando Magic and Washington Wizards — operating in the lower-middle-class of the NBA. These three will be slugging it out over the next month-and-a-half for the right to meet the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round of the playoffs.

The two remaining teams are the Miami HEAT and Atlanta Hawks. As this is being written, the former is comfortably in the playoffs at 35-20, while the latter is comfortably gathering more ping pong balls at 16-41.

In this space, the focus will be on the three bubble teams. The Magic are currently frontrunners for the eighth seed, but the Wizards and Hornets are within striking distance if things were to go awry.

Led by head coach Steve Clifford, the Magic have ground their way to the eighth seed behind an eighth-ranked defense. Lanky wing Aaron Gordon is the standout, helping the Magic execute their scheme of walling off the paint. The Magic only allow 31.3 percent of opponent shots to come at the rim, putting them in 89th percentile in the league, per Cleaning The Glass.

Following a post-break loss to Dallas Mavericks, the Magic sit at 24-32 and three games up on the ninth-seeded Wizards. While a three-game margin doesn’t sound like much, that is a sizable cushion with only 26 games to play. Basketball-Reference gives the Magic a 97.4 percent chance to make the playoffs.

The Magic have the third-easiest remaining schedule out of Eastern Conference teams. They have very winnable games coming against the Bulls, Hornets, Cavaliers, Knicks and Pistons. They also have multiple games coming against the Brooklyn Nets, the team they trail by only 1.5 games for the seventh seed.

The Magic are prone, however, to dropping games against the league’s bottom-feeders. It can be difficult to string together wins with an offense this sluggish. The Markelle Fultz experiment has added some spark in that department, but his lack of an outside shot still leaves the floor cramped.

After a quick analysis of the schedule, the most likely scenario appears to be a 12-14 record over the last 26 games, putting the Magic at 36-46 come season’s end. A record like that should not be allowed anywhere near playoff basketball, but it would probably be enough to meet the Bucks in round one.

If the Magic go 12-14, that would leave the Wizards, fresh off a loss to J.B. Bickerstaff and the Cleveland Cavaliers, needing to go 17-11 over their last 28 games. They will need to finish one game ahead as the Magic hold the head-to-head tiebreaker.

The Wizards finishing that strong becomes even more farfetched when you consider their remaining schedule. They have the second-toughest slate from here on out, per Basketball-Reference.

The Wizards do have a trump card in Bradley Beal, who is the best player among the bubble teams in the East. He has now scored 25 points or more in 13 straight games and has been the driving force behind the Wizards staying in the race.

He has also picked up his defense a bit following his All-Star snub in an effort to silence his critics. The increased focus on that end is nice, but it would’ve been a little nicer if it had been a part of his game earlier in this season when the Wizards were by far the worst defense in the league.

Even if Beal goes bonkers, it is hard to see a path for this Wizards team to sneak in outside of a monumental collapse in Orlando. Looking at their schedule, it would take some big upsets to even get to 10 wins over their last 28. Their most likely record to finish the season is 8-20 if all games go to the likely favorites.

The Wizards’ offense has been impressive all season, but injuries and a porous defense have been too much to overcome.

The Hornets, meanwhile, trail the Wizards by 1.5 games and the Magic by 4.5 games. They have won their last three in a row to put themselves back in this race, but they still have an uphill climb.

The Hornets also may have raised the proverbial white flag by waiving two veterans in Marvin Williams and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. The goal coming into this season was never to make the playoffs, so they are likely more interested in developing young talent over these last 27 games.

If the Magic do play up to their usual levels and go 12-14, it would require the Hornets to go 18-9 to finish the season against the sixth-toughest remaining schedule in the East.

Devonte’ Graham and his three-point shooting have been a bright spot for the Hornets, but it would take some otherworldly performances from him and Terry Rozier down the stretch to put together a record like that. Basketball-Reference gives this a 0.02 percent chance of happening (cue the Jim Carrey GIF).

Barring a miracle, the eight playoff teams in the Eastern Conference are locked in place. The only questions remaining are how seeds 2-6 will play out, and whether the Magic can catch the Nets for the seventh spot.

The Wizards will fight to the end, but it is unlikely they make up any ground given the level of opponents they will see over the next six weeks. The Hornets, meanwhile, are more likely to fight for lottery odds.

At least the playoffs should be exciting.

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