With the NBA trade deadline (February 18) less than six weeks away, you can expect chatter to start heating up shortly – even if talks of deals have been rather quiet up until this point. One of the questions that arise each year is should contenders make a move at the expense of team chemistry?
As we approach the halfway point of the season, weaknesses for each unit have emerged. But the question remains, do you tinker with team chemistry by bringing in new parts or do you let things play out?
Let’s take a look at the top five teams from the Eastern Conference, as of January 13, and evaluate if moves need to be made before the deadline (for the Western Conference teams, click here).
2015-16 Record: 27-9
Conference Rank: First
Realistic Trade Assets: Anderson Varejao ($9.6 million), Mo Williams ($2.1 million),
Potential Need: Shooting guard / small forward depth
The Cavaliers are riding high, winners of eight straight contests, and in complete control of the improved Eastern Conference. The biggest thing that has hindered Cleveland from getting off to an even better start is health. All-Star guard Kyrie Irving is finally rounding into form after missing a significant part of the early season, while key rotation players such as Iman Shumpert and Timofey Mozgov have also battled through their own respective ailments.
Earlier this week, the Cavaliers sent reserve Joe Harris (and a 2017 second-round pick) to the Orlando Magic for a protected 2020 second-round pick. The move was made for financial purposes and saves Cleveland close to $3 million in potential luxury tax payments.
But are there more moves coming?
Veteran center Anderson Varejao could be an intriguing trade asset with $20.3 million of non-guaranteed salary the next two seasons. This is more than enough to bring in a valuable piece if a franchise were looking to shed future salary. The Cavaliers are in a strong position leverage wise, so don’t expect them to make a deadline deal just to make a move. But the Varejao situation is worth watching.
2015-16 Record: 24-15
Conference Rank: Second
Realistic Trade Assets: Luis Scola ($2.9 million), James Johnson ($2.5 million),
Potential Need: Power forward depth
The Raptors have crossed the threshold of mediocrity, but now the franchise must capitalize and win its first playoff series. This would be the year to do it after two consecutive unceremonious first round exits. Toronto has All-Star level talent in the backcourt, depth on the wing and a solid collection of big men at center.
However, one area of focus for the team could be strengthening their talent at power forward if the opportunity presented itself. The aging Luis Scola and steady Patrick Patterson have been productive, but are up and down most nights.
Wing depth is also an area to watch. The team’s marquee free agent signing last summer, DeMarre Carroll, has spent most of the season battling a troublesome knee. Terrence Ross and James Johnson have both had spells of productivity, but are wildly inconsistent on a night to night basis.
2015-16 Record: 23-15
Conference Rank: Third
Realistic Trade Assets: Mike Scott ($3.3 million), Shelvin Mack ($2.4 million)
Potential Need: Shooting guard depth
The Hawks haven’t been as dominant as their 60-win season a year ago, but the team appears poised to make their ninth consecutive playoff appearance. Two-time All-Star Al Horford is approaching free agency this summer so that remains the elephant in the room, so there is a need to maximize the current campaign.
In recent years, the Hawks have been praised for their ability to sign guys at below market value. Those guys then go on to exceed their contracts exponentially (see Paul Millsap, DeMarre Carroll and Kent Bazemore). However on the flip side, when it comes time to work the trade market, those smaller dollar contracts, alone, typically cannot generate a significant asset in return.
The team acquired Tim Hardaway Jr. this past offseason while also introducing Justin Holliday and Lamar Patterson into the fold to provide shooting guard and wing depth. All three guys have spent the early portion of the season glued to the pine. Complicating matters is the decline of Kyle Korver. The veteran could be losing the battle to Father Time and the Matthew Dellavedova dive into his ankle during last year’s playoffs definitely hasn’t helped.
For a team that creates so much spacing on the perimeter from their crisp ball movement, shooting guard is a position to watch headed to the trade deadline – but keep in mind the team’s assets to deal are limited for reasons stated above.
2015-16 Record: 22-15
Conference Rank: Fourth
Realistic Trade Assets: Joakim Noah ($13.4 million), Taj Gibson ($8.5 million), Mike Dunleavy ($4.5 million), and Kirk Hinrich ($2.8 million)
Potential Need: Shooting guard and small forward depth
The Bulls have a talented corps of big men on their roster. The problem is this creates a nightly logjam that currently has Nikola Mirotic playing out of position at small forward. But when you look at the depth behind Jimmy Butler at shooting guard and the fact Tony Snell and Doug McDermott haven’t been able to secure the team’s small forward position, it shows that the franchise may have to leverage one of their big men at the deadline. Noah is headed to free agency this summer; Gibson, the next. The Bulls also have rookie Bobby Portis waiting for an opportunity to log consistent minutes.
Chicago will have to be careful though. Pau Gasol can elect to become a free agent this summer too. Making the wrong deal or two could, with a few unplanned departures, could potentially leave the franchise thin at the position.
2015-16 Record: 22-16
Conference Rank: Fifth
Realistic Trade Assets: Chase Budinger ($5 million), Jordan Hill ($5 million)
Potential Need: point guard depth
The Pacers are surprisingly back in the playoff hunt and if it weren’t for Stephen Curry, Paul George would be generating some MVP buzz for his electric start to the season. One area the Pacers don’t have vast depth is at point guard. Veteran guard George Hill is logging plenty of minutes each night but his production, while still solid, is down from last season. As the season roars on and those minutes add up, getting guys rest becomes even more important. If there’s an area to watch regarding the Pacers as we near the trade deadline, it’s improving their point guard depth.
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