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Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press
NBA teams have little more than a month to finalize their trade deadline plans and put them into practice.
While the trade market is still taking shape, there’s already some separation forming between buyers and sellers. In some cases, it’s even becoming clear which clubs will operate on the extreme ends of basketball’s swap-meet spectrum.
Things can get a little desperate out there as buyers pay significant prices for on-court assistance or sellers part with productive players for pennies on the dollar. But if the trades ultimately nudge the bottom line in the right direction, that’s all that really matters in the end.
We’re firing up the trade machines to see how some of those desperation deals might come together between now and March 25.
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Michael Dwyer/Associated Press
Boston Celtics receive: George Hill and Trevor Ariza
Oklahoma City Thunder receive: Romeo Langford, Aaron Nesmith, Tristan Thompson, Jeff Teague and 2021 second-round pick
The Celtics are past the point of scuffling. What they’re encountering now can only be characterized as a full-fledged struggle.
Theoretically, Boston could play it slow and patiently keep building around 24-year-old Jaylen Brown and 22-year-old Jayson Tatum. But those up-and-comers look ready to lead a championship charge now—provided the rest of the roster can catch up. For that to happen, the Shamrocks must look outside the organization for help.
George Hill and Trevor Ariza could be perfect, assuming the latter would be ready to resume his career after a trade away from the Sooner State. The Celtics need consistency, experience and support shooting. Those two would provide all three.
Both have double-digit scoring averages over decade-plus careers. Hill is a career 38.4 percent three-point shooter. Ariza is at 36.2 percent since 2012-13. They have 229 total playoff appearances and 181 postseason starts between them. Slot them alongside Marcus Smart, Daniel Theis and Payton Pritchard, and Boston might finally have proper support for Brown, Tatum and Kemba Walker.
The Thunder, meanwhile, would take another step toward a brighter tomorrow.
Between Romeo Langford (14th pick in 2019) and Aaron Nesmith (14th in 2020), OKC should find at least one player who sticks with its long-term nucleus. The second-round pick would offer another throw at the dartboard.
Jeff Teague would be a buyout candidate, but Tristan Thompson, who’s signed through next season, might have time to attract a center-needy shopper who’d put another asset in the Thunder’s collection.
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Matt York/Associated Press
Miami Heat receive: Blake Griffin and Wayne Ellington
Detroit Pistons receive: Andre Iguodala, Kelly Olynyk, Meyers Leonard and 2022 second-round pick (via PHI or DEN)
Is Blake Griffin washed? The fact the question is being raised and can’t be outright dismissed helps explain why the rebuilding Pistons plan to sit him until they pave his path out of Motor City, per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
But Griffin is close enough to posting notable numbers—he’s a season-plus removed from his most recent of five All-NBA selections—that word of his availability should’ve been enough to trigger the distressed-star signal for Heat president Pat Riley.
Miami also happens to need an upgrade at the 4 and more juice for its 26th-ranked offense. If Griffin isn’t washed—he was a nightly supplier of 24.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 5.4 assists in 2018-19—then he could scratch both itches.
That’s not bad business given the minimal investment the Heat would have to make.
Meyers Leonard wasn’t getting regular floor time before shoulder surgery knocked him out for the season. Andre Iguodala and Kelly Olynyk are among the players who have tried and failed to fix Miami’s frontcourt issues. The second-round pick would cover the cost for Wayne Ellington, a career 38.0-percent three-point shooter who was a record-setter during his first stint in South Beach.
Detroit, meanwhile, would presumably pounce on just about any exchange that got Griffin out of town without putting money on the books or requiring the sacrifice of an asset. Olynyk’s contract is up at season’s end, while Iguodala and Leonard both hold team options for next season. In other words, the Pistons could wipe the slate clean and, thanks to Ellington’s three-point cannon, even add a minor asset in the move.
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Tony Dejak/Associated Press
Dallas Mavericks receive: Andre Drummond
Cleveland Cavaliers receive: James Johnson, Dwight Powell, 2021 second-round pick and 2022 second-round pick
Andre Drummond puts huge numbers in the box score—13-plus rebounds per game in eight of his nine NBA seasons—but his impact doesn’t always measure up. If it did, he might be playing his way into Cleveland’s long-term plans instead of sitting and waiting for a trade out of town.
But Drummond might help the right contender in a rather big way. If there was a win-now dreamer that, say, had an MVP candidate running its offense but couldn’t gain ground in the standings due to bottom-five rankings on defense and the glass, maybe Drummond would stand out as a significant addition.
Well, the Mavericks are getting MVP-caliber contributions from Luka Doncic (29.1 points, 9.4 assists and 8.6 rebounds per game), but they’re sitting a disappointing 10th in the West. Care to guess the culprits? Let’s just say Dallas is doing itself no favors on defense (27th) or the glass (27th in rebounding percentage).
While Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle stopped short of labeling a glass-cleaning big man as a pressing deadline need, per Callie Caplan of the Dallas Morning News, he hardly dampened deadline expectations for Mavs governor Mark Cuban and president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson.
“You know Mark and Donnie. These guys are gunslingers,” Carlisle said. “They’re riverboat gamblers, and they’re ready to talk about anything that would get the team better.”
It’s hard to see how this exchange wouldn’t improve the Mavericks.
Drummond would immediately add bulk and boards, and the trade cost would be minuscule. James Johnson has fallen out of the rotation. The same goes for Dwight Powell, who’s owed more than $11 million each of the next two seasons. Dented cans aren’t discounted this much.
For Cleveland, though, Drummond lost any hope of being its center of the future once Jarrett Allen came aboard. The Cavs have already shifted to life after Drummond, so anything they bring back at this point would help them come out ahead. The chance one or both of the second-round picks could hit on someone interesting should be enough for Cleveland to sign off on the swap.
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Nell Redmond/Associated Press
Atlanta Hawks receive: Victor Oladipo, Ben McLemore and 2021 first-round pick (lottery-protected, via POR)
Houston Rockets receive: John Collins, Cam Reddish and Tony Snell
The Hawks have been plotting their 2021 playoff push for a while. That’s why they traded for Clint Capela at the 2020 deadline and then forked over major cash in free agency to ink Bogdan Bogdanovic, Danilo Gallinari, Rajon Rondo and Kris Dunn.
Atlanta remains in striking distance of the play-in tournament, but it seems a big external lift is required to position this group for something more substantial than a first-round cameo. A major move for Victor Oladipo, who the Rockets would reportedly consider trading, per Marc Berman of the New York Post, could be that boost.
The 28-year-old has had trouble shaking the injury bug this season—his second since rupturing the quad tendon in his right knee—and it shows on the stat sheet in the form of his forgettable 40.1/32.9/74.0 slash line.
But more often than not, he’s looked the part of a capable offensive costar (20-plus points in 11 of 20 games), and his point-of-attack defense would help with the Hawks’ biggest weakness (their 21st-ranked defense).
If Oladipo gets his legs under him, he could be the perfect backcourt complement to Trae Young. Ben McLemore would slot in somewhere among Atlanta’s support staff as a spacing specialist.
Since the “if healthy” caveat needs mentioning with Oladipo, Houston would have to grease the gears of this exchange with a first-round pick. But that might be a sacrifice the Rockets are willing to make since they have plenty of other picks headed their way and could put a higher priority on more known commodities like John Collins and Cam Reddish. Tony Snell would simply be a money-matcher and quite possibly a buyout candidate.
Collins’ ability to operate inside and out would help him play and develop alongside Christian Wood. Throw in the multi-talented Cam Reddish and the relentless Jae’Sean Tate, and Houston would have an interesting 25-and-under nucleus to start building around.