The holidays are drawing closer but right now it is trade season that is on the minds of everyone around the league. As of yesterday, all of the free agents signed from this past summer are eligible to be traded, which really gets the ball moving on trade talks.
With more than a third of the season in the books, organizations have a better perspective of the teams that they have, and what roster changes they need to make. By identifying their weaknesses and evaluating their trade pieces, they can begin to have internal discussions about what types of players to target.
This list does not include rebuilding teams that are likely to miss the playoffs or the clear-cut contenders like the Warriors, Suns, Nets, etc. These are teams somewhere in between, on the cusp of being a contender after making the right deal. Front office personnel will need to move swiftly as the February 10 deadline is fast approaching.
Philadelphia 76ers (15-14)
The elephant in the room is Ben Simmons but Daryl Morey has shown that he is not willing to just settle for a trade. His asking price remains high and teams are reluctant to give up that much for a player with so many flaws. What he does provide is something they desperately need; defense and transition offense. They rank 21st and 13th in those categories this year, after finishing 2nd and 3rd last season. He is also an excellent creator, setting up guys like Tobias Harris with easy looks.
Tobias Harris ($36M) is making more than Joel Embiid ($32M) this season.
The Sixers are 1-5 when Harris plays without Embiid.
Harris is shooting 30.7% from three (lowest since 2014) and set to make $77M more in the following 2 seasons. pic.twitter.com/AybkuW1t7K
— StatMuse (@statmuse) December 14, 2021
Tyrese Maxey and Georges Niang have stepped up tremendously and Joel Embiid has been relatively healthy, stuffing the stat sheet each night. There is no single ideal candidate for this team but Morey has not given up his pursuit for another star. Kyrie Irving and CJ McCollum are two names that often come up but someone like De’Aaron Fox might be a much better fit for this team. Another name to keep an eye on is Brandon Ingram, who would provide them with some much-needed offense.
Los Angeles Clippers (16-13)
After a devastating end to their season last year, the Clippers came into the 2021-22 campaign fully aware that Kawhi Leonard would likely not play at all. That meant that Paul George would have to shoulder the load for this team, which he has done a fine job of when available. An elbow issue has kept him off the floor recently, but the team has rallied well, winning five of their last seven games. Still, this team will need to improve if they want to go deep into the postseason.
Unlike most teams, the Clippers are in need of offense. They rank 4th in defense, which is even better than last year, but this season they are 25th in offense after finishing 4th last season. The Eric Bledsoe return has not gone well and Luke Kennard can only do so much. Christian Wood could give them a major boost as an upgrade over Serge Ibaka and Marcus Morris. If they could put together the right deal, someone like Kyrie Irving would be the perfect fit to lift this team. It might be a long shot, but it is one call they need to make.
Dallas Mavericks (14-14)
The situation in Dallas is reminiscent of many LeBron James teams early in his career with Cleveland. The organization knows it must surround Luka Doncic with talent, but has not yet been able to lure those pieces. Mark Cuban is always fishing for the next star player but the closest he has ever come in free agency might be Deron Williams. While he has had an excellent season so far, it doesn’t appear that Kristaps Porzingis is that second star that the Mavericks so desperately need. Dallas ranks inside the top five in terms of three-point attempts per game, but are making just 32 percent of those, which ranks 25th in the league.
Everyone: You're 7'3, GO TO THE BASKET 🗣
Kristaps Porzingis: pic.twitter.com/3spBaUVazF
— FanDuel (@FanDuel) December 16, 2021
A move certainly needs to be made if the Mavericks want to have any shot in the West this year. Doncic has admittedly been out of shape this year and has struggled shooting the ball (32 percent from three and 69 percent from the free-throw line). Jalen Brunson has stepped up nicely this season but it is no secret that Goran Dragic is trying to find his way to Dallas. The Mavericks could really use a rim protector like Myles Turner or a scorer like Buddy Hield to boost their 20th ranked offense.
Boston Celtics (14-14)
Perhaps no team has underachieved in the last decade than the Celtics. Along with a dynamic young duo of Jayson Tatum and Jalen Brown, Boston has had several draft picks that either have not panned out or were not used in a potential trade to bring in another elite talent. Brad Stevens has handed the reigns to Ime Udoka and they remain a .500 team in the Eastern Conference. They rank in the middle of virtually every important statistical category and seem to lack a leader on the floor.
Rumors have started making the rounds that Boston is open to the idea of trading Brown, but that could be a big mistake. The better move would be to cash in on their players on short-term deals like Dennis Schroder, Josh Richardson, Al Horford, and young guys with real potential like Robert Williams III and Aaron Nesmith. The Celtics have long been searching for the perfect point guard, with many failed experiences along the way. Moving Schroder and Marcus Smart might be the play here, but the Boston front office remains a mystery.
Portland Trail Blazers (11-18)
This might be the most obvious team on the list, but Portland is in trouble. Damian Lillard still has yet to find his groove this season, and many still question whether or not the situation there has gotten in his head. Injuries to him and CJ McCollum certainly haven’t helped, and Jusuf Nurkic has been wildly inconsistent. The biggest issue for the Blazers has always been their defense, as they rank 29th for the second consecutive year. The last time they ranked higher than 28th in defense was during the 2018-19 season. With their backcourt issues, finding offense has been tough as well.
Damian Lillard played 47 minutes last night in OT, but Chauncey Billups has had a tough time resting him because the Blazers just can't score or even create good looks when he's on the bench. They're minus-22 in those 10 minutes.
— Kevin Pelton (@kpelton) December 16, 2021
Portland desperately needs a perimeter defender as Robert Covington has not been the answer. The organization does not want to break up the Dame and CJ show but that might be what it takes to ultimately fix their defensive woes. They also don’t have many other trade chips at their disposal, if they want to keep Lillard in Oregon. The perfect trade target for Portland is Jerami Grant, but there will be plenty of competition for the Detroit forward. He is also out for the next few weeks with his thumb injury.
Honorable Mention: New York Knicks (12-16)
After finishing 41-31 last season, expectations were high for Tom Thibodeau and the Knicks. The offseason acquisition of Kemba Walker was clearly a mistake and their team has suffered because of their losses on the defensive end. Walker and Evan Fournier are liabilities on that end of the floor but Thibodeau doesn’t have many options right now. A lineup change has not been the answer as they still rank 23rd in defense after finishing 3rd in the league last season.
Kevin Knox is one player that New York is trying to move, and teams have reportedly already inquired about him. If they could flip him (and Walker) for some defensive help on the wing, it would go a long way in turning their season around. Guys like Justin Holiday and Torrey Craig from Indiana would fit that bill, although they would really love to get their hands on Myles Turner.
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