With only a few days remaining before the February 19 NBA trading deadline, general managers across the league are sleeping a little less and spending a bit more time on their phones.
According to reports, few general managers have been as busy as Billy King out in Brooklyn. With owner Mikhail Prokhorov looking to divest his majority interest in the team, the Brooklyn Nets find themselves in the precarious position of being an aging, underachieving bunch. It should then come as no surprise that the Nets have reportedly shopped Deron Williams, Brook Lopez and Joe Johnson over the course of the past few weeks.
Out West, as Goran Dragic prepares for his bout with unrestricted free agency and what could be maximum-salaried offers from the likes of the Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks, the Phoenix Suns are in discussion mode, as well. With the Oklahoma City Thunder nipping at their heels and the Suns barely holding on to the eighth seed out West, any such trade for Dragic would be done solely as a proactive maneuver to avoid losing him for nothing via free agency.
In many ways, it would make sense for either the Nets or Suns to be working the phone lines, but as we peruse the league and ascertain which teams have the most to lose (or gain), there are five teams that strike us as needing to make a deal.
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Yes, the Brooklyn Nets would be wise to make a trade, but not necessarily for the aforementioned reasons that are primarily financially motivated.
As a result of the 2012 trade that brought Joe Johnson to the Nets, the Atlanta Hawks have the right to swap first-round picks with the Nets in this year’s draft. If the season ended at the All-Star break, the Nets would have finished the season with the 12th-best odds of winning the draft lottery. That position would give the Nets just a 0.7 percent chance of winning the top overall pick, so the concern is not that the Hawks would somehow win Duke’s Jahlil Okafor or Kentucky’s Karl Anthony-Towns, but for a team that is devoid of any real hopes for the future, all the Nets have is right now.
The team could opt to go on a fire sale, but for the team with the league’s highest payroll for the second-consecutive season, missing out on the playoffs would be a bit of an embarrassment.
So, the Nets find themselves at a bit of a crossroads. They can pull the plug and attempt to peddle some of their productive pieces for draft picks or could attempt to add a piece or two and hope to sneak into the Eastern Conference playoffs. As crazy as it may sound, although the Nets will begin the second half of the season at 21-31, they are just one game behind the seventh-seeded Charlotte Hornets in the standings.
As of this moment, the Nets appear to have no future and no present. Between now and February 19, general manager Billy King and his staff must do something to give the team direction, one way or another.
You would be hard-pressed to find a member of the national NBA media that would argue that James Harden is not at least worthy of honorable mention as the Most Valuable Player of the first half of the season.
Despite only having Dwight Howard for 32 games, the Rockets will begin the second half of the season as the fourth seed in the Western Conference and Harden has been the catalyst. His 27.4 points, 5.7 rebounds and 6.8 assists per game has capably led the Rockets, but he merits special recognition for the way he has developed into a leader in Houston and willingly painted a bulls-eye on his chest when, in the aftermath of the departures of Chandler Parsons and Omer Asik, he declared that as long as he and Howard were in Houston, they would be contenders.
Turns out, even without Howard, the Rockets look like contenders.
Still, general manager Daryl Morey would be wise to at least peruse the market because the Rockets may be depending on Harden just a bit too much. By the time March and April rolls around, the 37 minutes per game he is playing may have him a bit worn down and if the Rockets hope to stay atop the Western Conference, his minutes and usage may actually need to increase.
Howard’s questionable health also leaves the Rockets with just one seven-footer that is worthy of rotation minutes, Donatas Motiejunas. Since waiving the promising Tarik Black for Josh Smith earlier this season, the Rockets have been shuffling their big man rotation, but some stability is much-needed.
The Rockets are also said to have eyes for a point guard to strengthen their backcourt alongside Harden. Both Goran Dragic and Ty Lawson have been mentioned as potential targets for the Rockets and it is easy to understand why.
Under normal circumstances, it would be difficult to argue that the fourth-seeded team in its respective conference needs to make a move, but with the Rockets potentially one piece away from winning a championship and teams with size standing in their way, adding a combo big man certainly wouldn’t be the worst idea. Similarly, finding a way to preserve Harden would help the cause, as well. Not to mention, Morey is always active at the deadline and it’s unlikely this year will be the exception.
LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS
Depending on who you speak with, the Los Angeles Clippers are either a contender that is pacing itself and preparing for the playoffs or a team that is missing something and in need of a shot in the arm.
In the recent past, the Clippers have been linked to Tayshaun Prince, Andrei Kirilenko and Amar’e Stoudemire, who has reportedly committed to joining the Dallas Mavericks upon clearing waivers on February 18.
Where there’s smoke, though, there’s fire, and if Rivers has interest in adding another piece to his core, it is because he agrees with the notion that the Clippers may not have enough to put them over the top. That is especially true before even considering how the extended absence of Blake Griffin will affect the club. After undergoing surgery to remove a staph infection in his right elbow on February 9, Griffin is expected to be out for four-to-six weeks.
Even a return after four weeks would have Griffin return on March 9. Fortunately for the Clippers, partially due to the All-Star break, they will play only 10 games during that stretch, but of those 10 games, only three of them will come against non-winning teams.
If Griffin is out for up to six weeks, he would miss about 18 games and although the Clippers are a fairly deep team, they weren’t exactly dominating the West with him.
As a team, the Clippers are heavily reliant on their perimeter shooting to score points and win games and without Griffin, the team loses its best post-playmaker and finisher. In a perfect world, with only 13 players on their current roster, Doc Rivers would find a way to add another player who can get to the basket consistently and score points in the paint. A rugged front court player would be ideal, but even a guard who could spell Chris Paul and create easy scoring opportunities for DeAndre Jordan and Glen Davis could pay major dividends.
Someone like Wilson Chandler (whom the Clippers have pursued) could be the ideal fit in Los Angeles. The challenge the Clippers have encountered, however, is a dearth of tradable assets and desirable pieces. That is the main reason why the targets that have emerged for the team have been buyout candidates.
Still, the Clippers are a team that is in need of another body or two and it is one of the league’s poorly kept secrets as the clock ticks toward February 19.
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
It seems odd that the Oklahoma City Thunder would be mentioned as a team that needs to make a trade. Winners of five of their final six before the All-Star break, the Thunder will enter the second half of the season trailing the eighth-seeded Phoenix Suns by just a single game.
The reason the Thunder need to make a trade, however, is because the franchise aspires to not simply make the playoffs, but to win a championship. With Kevin Durant’s upcoming free agency in July 2016, regression is not an option.
How would Durant react if, after seeing James Harden emerge as an MVP candidate in Houston, the Thunder lose Reggie Jackson to restricted free agency this summer? If Jackson is not moved and signs a maximum offer sheet, would the Thunder match it? Would doing so be prudent?
With Brook Lopez being dangled by the Nets and the ability to upgrade their center position with a much-needed low-post threat, could the Thunder afford to turn down the opportunity to add an offensively gifted 26-year-old seven-footer?
As currently constructed, one could certainly make the argument that the Thunder are already one of the most talented teams in the Western Conference, but moving Jackson in the right deal, for the right piece, could fortify the team not only for this season, but for years to come.
In the alternative, imagine the Thunder standing pat at the deadline and then failing to return to the NBA Finals this year. Imagine Jackson signing a maximum-salaried offer sheet with the New York Knicks and the Thunder opting not to match. The team would be entering the 2015-16 season a bit weaker, having underachieved and with Durant having the opportunity to flee after one last crack at a title.
If you were general manager Sam Presti, that is the last place you would want to be.
It seems like so long ago that the Toronto Raptors were beating up on everyone in the Eastern Conference, in many cases, even without DeMar DeRozan. Kudos are due all around. Last season, Dwane Casey began in the unenviable predicament of coaching for a general manager that did not hire him in Masai Ujiri and he has gotten his team to play. Kyle Lowry has proven that his productivity last season was no aberration and rightfully earned an All-Star berth this past season while DeRozan has more than lived up to the four-year, $38 million extension he signed back in 2012.
And yes, credit general manager Masai Ujiri for keeping it all together.
Here is why the Raptors are on this list, though… Would you choose them in a seven-game series over the Chicago Bulls, Washington Wizards, Atlanta Hawks or Cleveland Cavaliers? Even if you would, how confident would you be in the selection?
Thanks to the ill-fated Andrea Bargnani trade of 2013, the Raptors own the 2016 first round pick of the New York Knicks. Would it be wise for the Raptors to attempt to package that pick in order to upgrade one of their positions of need? Standings aside, we are of the opinion that the Raptors are the fifth-best team in the Eastern Conference and with that pick coming in from the Knicks, the team has the ability to fortify and solidify itself as a favorite in the conference.
If there is one thing that the Detroit Pistons taught us back in 2004 when they acquired Rasheed Wallace at the deadline, it was that going “all in” on a title push isn’t always a bad proposition.
The Raptors could certainly do worse than adding someone like Greg Monroe, Reggie Jackson or David West to their already impressive core, and with a nice array of young talent and future draft picks to potentially peddle, we happen to think they have a means to do so.
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From Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green to Corey Brewer and J.R. Smith, some big names have already changed addresses this season. As Amar’e Stoudemire prepares to take his talents to Dallas and LeBron James sets his eyes firmly on punching his ticket to a fifth-consecutive NBA Finals appearance, the teams across the NBA have one final shot to bolster their rosters in an attempt to go “all in” and make a run.
Indeed, across the league, all general managers are fielding phone calls and pondering whether to pull the trigger on trades that could shift the power pendulum in the NBA.
All teams are active, but the five aforementioned would be most wise to get something done between now and 3:00 p.m. ET on February 19.
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