Deadline Watch — Central Division
Basketball Insiders begins our Deadline Watch series, where we examine the trade buzz circulating around each division. Up first is the Central Division where a mixture of interesting teams will play pivotal roles leading up to the Mar. 25 deadline.
The NBA trade deadline is one week away and several organizations are looking to make a splash before the regular season hits the home stretch. Some teams need to facilitate a deal more than others as they prepare for the postseason. Sellers will be just as active as they turn their attention to reshaping their roster for next season and beyond.
Basketball Insiders begins our Deadline Watch series which will focus on the trade buzz within each division. Kicking things off is the Central Division which features a title contender, two solid playoff teams and two organizations ready to sell.
Milwaukee Bucks (26-14)
The Bucks made a big splash on Wednesday by acquiring the highly-coveted P.J. Tucker from the Houston Rockets. Opponents will now have an even more difficult time scoring against this top-tier defense led by potential All-Defensive team members Jrue Holiday, Brook Lopez and, of course, the reigning Defensive PotY in Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Milwaukee prioritized their defense over the backup point guard position as they packaged D.J. Augustin, D.J. Wilson and a 2023 first-round pick in the deal. They didn’t have much flexibility due to the Holiday trade and the luxury tax. Still, they were able to work out a deal to get their top target.
Redirecting was certainly a creative way when it comes to first rd. picks.
Before the trade, MIL was not allowed to trade a first because of the Jrue Holiday trade.
Acquiring their 2022 first back from Houston allowed them to part ways with an unprotected 1 in 2023. https://t.co/STPPgT4siI
— Bobby Marks (@BobbyMarks42) March 17, 2021
Tucker will be an ideal fit in Milwaukee, where they will rely on his versatility and toughness on defense. His corner three-point shooting will also be a welcome addition on offense. According to Cleaning The Glass, the Bucks rank last in three-point shooting from the corner. Tucker has led the league in three-point percentage from the corner in each of the last two seasons. With Antetokounmpo and Middleton drawing so much attention, Tucker will have ample opportunities to cash in from distance.
Milwaukee also dealt seldom-used Torrey Craig to the Phoenix Suns for cash considerations. The Bucks could still use another role player to give their second-unit a boost offensively. Wayne Ellington would be a great addition if they can entice Detroit; Alec Burks is another name to watch if New York decides to shore up their backcourt.
Chicago Bulls (18-21)
Early in the season, it appeared as though the Bulls were destined to be sellers. That is no longer the case as Chicago has been playing excellent basketball under Billy Donovan. Zach LaVine has been shouldering the load for this young Bulls team but he cannot be asked to do much more. The front office needs to be aggressive in its efforts to improve the team.
Lauri Markkanen has been a difficult player to evaluate, given his injuries and inconsistent play. He will be a free agent after this season but Chicago could elect to use him as the centerpiece of a potential blockbuster deal for a guy like Nikola Vucevic. A move like that would signal that Chicago is serious about their immediate future while also putting them in the conversation as a future top destination in the Eastern Conference.
A calming presence in the locker room could prove to be very beneficial for this young group as they prepare for life in the postseason. George Hill is a veteran with leadership qualities in addition to much-needed perimeter shooting. Jarrett Culver would be a tremendous addition to this nucleus in Chicago. A more realistic target might be Troy Brown Jr. or Mo Bamba. Thaddeus Young has been playing well and his versatility on both ends of the floor is very attractive to contending teams.
Indiana Pacers (17-22)
The Pacers are neither buyers nor sellers at this point, as they are still evaluating their core. After moving on from Victor Oladipo early in the season, Indiana has finally been able to see their return on the floor. Caris LeVert has returned to playing basketball after successful surgery to remove a small mass on his left kidney. Indiana is still waiting to get T.J. Warren back before they can get a sense of this group’s chemistry.
According to the Indianapolis Star, several teams have reached out to Indiana about the availability of Myles Turner but the Pacers are not actively shopping the league’s leading shot blocker. They’re only $4.2 million below the luxury tax, which could complicate any potential deals. Doug McDermott is having a career year and will hit free agency at the end of this season. The Pacers might not be able to re-sign him and he will certainly garner some attention from the title contenders.
With Warren still a long way from returning, the Pacers could look to add another defensive wing player to their roster. One realistic option might be James Ennis III from Orlando. Another intriguing option would be Josh Hart, who is vastly underrated for what he does. Hart’s perimeter defense and three-point shooting would help the Pacers, and he is one of the best rebounders in the league at his position.
Cleveland Cavaliers (15-25)
The season started very well for Cleveland but it has been trending downward for months. Now, they are clearly sellers at the deadline. The good news is they have found their starting center for the foreseeable future in Jarrett Allen. After trading for the big man, they have several others at his position to ship out of town. The first is Andre Drummond, who has already played his final game with the team. It will be difficult to move him at his salary but they have plenty of other trade pieces.
Cleveland's Andre Drummond, San Antonio's LaMarcus Aldridge and now Houston's PJ Tucker — all away from their teams for good until they are either traded in the next two weeks (or bought out)
— Marc Stein (@TheSteinLine) March 12, 2021
Kevin Love is another veteran big man that will not be easy to move given his salary and injury history. Both Cedi Osman and JaVale McGee could be on the move before the deadline as well. Larry Nance Jr. is the player that most contending teams are targeting but Cleveland has stated that he is not available. Nance has been one of the league’s best defenders this season and a big reason for Cleveland’s recent decline with him out of the lineup.
The assets that Cleveland will be seeking in return will be in the form of draft picks. The future of this franchise relies upon the continued growth and development surrounding Collin Sexton, Darius Garland, Isaac Okoro and Allen.
Better days are ahead for this transitioning team.
Detroit Pistons (11-29)
It is no secret that the Pistons will be sellers at the deadline. The big question is whether or not Jerami Grant will be part of the sale. After choosing Detroit over Denver in the offseason, Grant has been a man on a mission. The frontrunner for the Most Improved Player Award is coveted by several contending teams, especially the Boston Celtics. If the organization wants to strike while the iron is hot, they could net some extremely good assets to help with their rebuild.
The youth movement continues as Derrick Rose and Blake Griffin have been replaced by Killian Hayes, Isaiah Stewart and Saddiq Bey. Even after a massive overhaul of their roster, the Pistons still have a handful of valuable trade chips at their disposal. Ellington is certainly a player that many teams would like to acquire, but they could also capitalize on Mason Plumlee’s highly-productive season in an effort to collect more future draft compensation.
Detroit has already made several moves this season, including a recent trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder for Hamidou Diallo. They have the luxury of being patient and selective in the hours leading to the deadline. The Pistons are young, full of potential and finally following an established plan that has them trending in the right direction.
The next Deadline Watch series will take a deep dive into the Atlantic Division, which is arguably the best division in the league. All five teams could easily make the playoffs, with two title contenders sitting at the top of the Eastern Conference standings.
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