Stars all around the league have been missing from action due to health and safety protocols. Coaches have been missing games because of it as well, as teams continue to try to fill out their rosters as the season pushes through. With Christmas now in the rearview mirror, everyone is looking forward to 2022 and what the new year will bring.
Although the trade season was expected to heat up on December 15, organizations have not yet begun to make deals. With the feeling-out process nearly complete, most teams have an idea of what needs should be addressed as we head into the new year. Basketball Insiders is taking a look at every team in the league to identify those needs, beginning with the Eastern Conference.
Some of these teams are more desperate than others, but all 15 organizations are seeking improvement in 2022. Be sure to check back later in the week for the resolutions for the Western Conference teams.
Brooklyn – Road Trips
There are only a few teams in the league that have an All-Star waiting in the wings. Kyrie Irving’s situation in New York City is rather unique, but the Nets will have him back on the floor in a limited capacity once he clears protocols. He can’t play in New York or Toronto but even on a part-time basis, Brooklyn will be much improved, especially once they get Joe Harris back.
The Nets don’t have a ton of other options in terms of making deals to improve the roster, but they should have enough with James Harden getting back into shape and Kevin Durant playing at an MVP level. Patty Mills has been the steal of the offseason and even with all of the chaos surrounding this team, they sit at the top of the Eastern Conference.
Philadelphia – Simmons Drama
This one is a no-brainer. In order for the 76ers to have any shot at success in the postseason, they will need to remedy the Simmons situation. Replacing his offense has not really been a problem for this team but their defense has taken a major hit. Last season Philly was 2nd in defensive rating and 5th in net rating. This year they are 19th and 15th in those same categories.
Philly survives and escapes Toronto with a win, but this is yet another in a long string of reminders this team has a very limited ceiling in the East until the Ben Simmons situation is resolved. It took a near-perfect Joel Embiid performance to get a win tonight.
— Tim Bontemps (@TimBontemps) December 29, 2021
Rebounding has also been a problem, which is odd considering their dominant big men. They are 30th in rebounding and 26th in assists this season. Simmons fixes all of these things but Daryl Morey may not budge before the February 10 trade deadline. Doc Rivers has this team playing .500 basketball right now, which is exactly what this team is without Simmons. Last year they were 7-7 without him, and 8-8 the year before. The organization is throwing away money ($143 million luxury tax payroll) and they are wasting a prime year of Joel Embiid’s career.
Boston – Point Guard Solution
It has been another disappointing year for the Celtics, who find themselves below .500 entering 2022. Their search for a long-term solution at point guard continues, but this group just doesn’t seem to have enough leadership to catapult them into serious contention. They are bottom ten in pace and assists, which is reflective of their inability to move the ball on offense, where they rank 21st in the league.
Toronto – Defensive Rebounding
The defensive scheme in Toronto has been to play small and force turnovers. That strategy has been working well but the side effect of that is getting pounded on the glass on that end of the floor. The Raptors rank dead last in defensive rebounds per game, giving opposing teams extra possessions to score.
Toronto has an amazing starting lineup when healthy, which includes a sensational rookie in Scottie Barnes but their second unit could use a boost. Finding a resolution for Goran Dragic is the best avenue to upgrading their bench but they need to improve in many areas to avoid becoming a lottery team.
New York – Defense, Defense, Defense
Everyone is aware of the defensive issues in New York. It has been jarring to see a team coached by Tom Thibodeau be so dreadful on that end of the floor. Those issues are magnified even more because of their mediocre offense, which is 22nd in scoring. They are 28th in pace, which doesn’t help either. Getting more production in transition offense might help but it also means more defensive possessions they will have to play.
Could Tom Thibodeau be on the hot seat if the Knicks miss the playoffs this season?@IanBegley and @CWilliamson44 discuss that and more on The Putback: https://t.co/AqBJQVH6rh pic.twitter.com/k84WwqdJNp
— SNY (@SNYtv) December 28, 2021
This is a far cry from the Knicks team that burst onto the scene last season. The deals made by the front office handicapped them on defense but their top two players have both regressed. RJ Barrett has not shown significant signs of development and Julius Randle is not as aggressive at attacking the rim as he was last year when he had career-high numbers across the board. There is a lot here but fixing the defense should be their top priority if they want to get back to the postseason.
Chicago – Bench Production
While they may have the best starting five in the league this season, the Bulls are struggling to find offense from their bench. That group ranks 29th in scoring, which could be a serious problem come playoff time. The Bulls had a thin frontcourt even before they lost Patrick Williams for the season, and rank 27th in rebounding. If they can bolster that part of their team without giving up too much, it could fortify their rotation in a way that cements them as serious title contenders.
Milwaukee – Healthy Big Three
Despite the loss of Brook Lopez, the Bucks are sitting pretty right now. The addition of DeMarcus Cousins has been great and Bobby Portis continues to deliver in his role. They have each missed some time but as long as this team has their “big three” intact, they will be in a solid position to defend their title. They have a solid guard rotation with Donte DiVincenzo’s return and the strong production that Grayson Allen has provided. Like most contenders, the key for this group is to just stay healthy.
Cleveland – Guard Depth
There is no question that the Cavs have been the league’s best surprising team this year. Armed with a pair of savvy veterans and loaded with young talent, this team has been playing incredibly well in the loaded Eastern Conference. Cleveland has an abundance of talented bigs but the loss of Collin Sexton has made them thin at the guard spot. Darius Garland is a favorite for the Most Improved Player of the Year award this season and Ricky Rubio has been a revelation but this team could use another solid guard to help them come playoff time.
Ricky Rubio just went down in a heap and immediately started to signal to the bench.
He's been helped off the floor by teammates and he's not putting ANY weight on it.
Rubio: 27 points, 13 rebounds, 9 assists. Incredible game. Horrible to see it end like that…
— Andrew Lopez (@_Andrew_Lopez) December 29, 2021
Indiana – Major Move
The Pacers are another team in the East that has failed to live up to expectations this year. Granted, they still haven’t gotten TJ Warren back but the “Turbonis” experiment with Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner has played itself out. The ceiling for this group has been reached and with Malcolm Brogdon’s injuries and the inconsistent play of Caris LeVert, this team desperately needs a reboot.
That is exactly what owner Herb Simon wants, as he clarified earlier reports that Indiana was ready for a rebuild. Tweaking this roster on the fly might not be as difficult as it seems, as they have a lot of really good pieces that teams will want. In the short term, Indiana could really benefit from improved three-point shooting, as they rank 24th in made threes and shoot just 32 percent from behind the arc, which ranks 28th in the league.
Detroit – Selling High
Cade Cunningham is asserting himself back into the Rookie of the Year conversation, giving the Pistons a sense of optimism when they really need it. Detroit’s rebuild is going to take some time, and it doesn’t appear that anyone else on this roster has staying power. Saddiq Bey has been nice, Isaiah Stewart has been okay, and the jury is still out on Killian Hayes. The one player that has serious trade value is Jerami Grant, who was traded to Detroit just over a year ago. The soon-to-be 28-year-old is having another solid season and could really help them jumpstart this rebuild for a team that is willing to pay a steep price.
Miami – Inside Improvement
Every team is dealing with player absences this year but the Heat have had difficulty getting their “big three” all on the floor at the same time. Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo have been dealing with injuries while Kyle Lowry has recently entered protocols. Their record-setting outside shooting has been carrying them but Miami needs some help inside, as they rank in the bottom third in rebounding and are dead last in blocks. Despite all of that, they just keep finding ways to win, which is a credit to the players stepping up and head coach Erik Spoelstra.
The Miami Heat are 18-13 and 5th in the NBA East. But their 2 best players, Butler and Adebayo, have played only 18 games each and the Heat have played a league low 12 home games. And still, on the season, they are in the Top 10 in the league both offensively and defensively.
— Stan Van Gundy (@realStanVG) December 21, 2021
Washington – Find The Reset Button
After a red-hot start to the season, the Wizards have fallen flat on their faces. Bradley Beal has not looked the same and their defense has been atrocious over the last month or so. Their offense has become an issue now, which is not a good combination to have. The good news for Washington is that they hope to have Thomas Bryant and Rui Hachimura making their season debuts in the not-so-distant future. This Wizards team is deep, they just need to get back into the rhythm they were in back in November.
Charlotte – A Defensive Identity
The Hornets might have the most exciting offense in the game but they also have the worst defensive rating in the entire league. The overall improvement that Miles Bridges has shown this year has been phenomenal but this team is still searching for a leader on defense. They give up the most points to their opponent, despite ranking inside the top ten in both steals and blocks. They are flashy but this team will have to get consistent stops on the defensive end of the floor to be taken seriously.
JB says Houston's pace and young players are going to challenge the Hornets' transition defense tonight; mentions this area overall in particular is where the team's defense has to be better
"I'd rather have our group be aggressive [on defense] then hold back."
— Sam Perley (@sam_perley) December 27, 2021
Atlanta – Fixing the Defense
After last season’s success, the Hawks were primed to be a contender in the East. They have been arguably the most disappointing team in the league this year, and it is not just one or two areas where they have been struggling. Sure, they have been missing bodies on their roster just like everyone else, but their transition defense has been horrific and they are 26th in defensive rating heading into the New Year.
Atlanta leads the league in three-point shooting, which should surprise no one. Their offense is elite but even that isn’t enough to mask their defensive woes. Getting De’Andre Hunter back will help but it has to be a collective effort from everyone. Teams are going to target Trae Young on that side of the ball so Nate McMillan will need to have a plan in place to minimize the damage.
Orlando – Patience
The Magic are in the midst of a long rebuild but they do have some nice talent on their roster. The setbacks to Markelle Fultz and Jonathan Isaac have been disappointing but the emergence of Cole Anthony and the strong play of Wendell Carter Jr offer some solace there. Orlando also has two incredibly talented rookies in Jalen Suggs and Franz Wagner that will be a major part of their future going forward. The organization should also be able to get something good in return for veterans Gary Harris and Terrence Ross before the trade deadline in February.
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