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It’s never too early for NBA teams to plan ahead.
Sure, it will take time for the Association’s trade market to fire up. Clubs need a decent chunk of games to assess their 2019-20 outlooks. They also need to wait until Dec. 15 (or in some cases, even longer) to ship out players who signed this summer.
But most clubs already have a good feel for whether they’re in this race. Some surprise sellers will surface, but team projections and contract situations hint at which players might become available before the Feb. 7 deadline.
We have taken these educated guesses a step further by attaching every team to its ideal (but realistic) trade target for this season. We’ll treat this exercise like an actual trade market, meaning players can only be picked for one spot.
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The Atlanta Hawks might be a juggernaut in the making. Between Trae Young, Kevin Huerter, De’Andre Hunter, Cam Reddish and John Collins, they could already have the 1-through-4 combination that eventually supports a contender.
But center is lacking, and that’s being generous. Damian Jones has shown next to nothing through his first three NBA seasons. The first six campaigns for Alex Len register between serviceable and forgettable. Bruno Fernando might eventually help, but as a rookie second-rounder, he’s not the ideal contributor for a win-now club.
How good would Steven Adams look in Atlanta? His bone-rattling screens would free up the snipers. His aggressive, assertive presence in the paint would give this group the muscle it needs. He and Collins might be the best glass-cleaning duo in the business, especially with Adams no longer sacrificing boards for Russell Westbrook.
Since the Oklahoma City Thunder are going nowhere fast, the $53.4 million owed to Adams over the next two seasons looks out of place on the payroll. Atlanta, though, has the expiring salaries to facilitate an exchange and the flexibility to take on a hefty contract, since virtually all of its best players are making rookie-scale wages.
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Yes, the Indiana Pacers just gave Domantas Sabonis a four-year, $77 million extension. No, that doesn’t mean he’s guaranteed to be on their roster all season. He’s an awkward fit alongside Myles Turner—not to mention if rookie Goga Bitadze factors into a crowded frontcourt mix—and someone the Pacers could decide is expendable if they feel the need to balance their roster with another perimeter scorer.
As J. Michael explained for the Indianapolis Star, moving Sabonis this season is possible, albeit complicated:
“Yes [he can be traded], once Dec. 15 comes, but the Poison Pill provision takes effect because of the extension. Sabonis is making $3.5 million this season with an average salary around $20 million when his extension takes effect in 2020-21. The Pacers would be sending out just $3.5 million (and that’s the level of player they’d get in return for the slot). Sabonis’ salary for the team he’d go to would be an average of his four extension seasons plus $3.5 million this year. That’s in the neighborhood of $18 million against the cap for a receiving team. Such a deal like this is incredibly difficult to pull off and offers little benefit for the Pacers. Could it happen this season? Yes. Is it likely? No.”
The Boston Celtics have nothing to lose by making the call. They might be a good big man away from being scary. Kemba Walker’s transition should be seamless. Kyrie Irving‘s departure might’ve cleared the runway for Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown to take flight. If Gordon Hayward is healthy, that adds another potential All-Star.
A Sabonis acquisition would be a fascinating attempt to complete this puzzle. His 2018-19 was masterful, featuring per-36-minutes averages of 20.4 points, 13.5 rebounds and 4.2 assists. With more room to breathe in Boston, the 23-year-old can lift the club’s ceiling and perfectly fits the timelines of Brown and Tatum.
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The Brooklyn Nets are playing win-now basketball, with or without Kevin Durant (Achilles). They have enough in the rest of their rotation to compete for a top-four seed in the East, provided the forward spots don’t hemorrhage points at the defensive end.
That’s hardly a given. Joe Harris is no glove. Taurean Prince looks the part of a stopper, but the stat sheet says he’s regressed at that end. Wilson Chandler has been suspended 25 games for violating the NBA’s anti-drug program. The 6’9″, 228-pound Rodions Kurucs could use more bulk, and his outlook is murky, pending the outcome of his assault case. Rookie Nicolas Claxton needs more developing—with his game and his 6’11”, 215-pound frame.
Trevor Ariza would help stop the bleeding. The lanky, 6’8″ 34-year-old has made a career out of harassing opposing scorers of nearly all sizes. Even if he’s not the nimble athlete he was in his prime, his length and instincts could earn him a spot with the closing crew (especially if he bumps his 33.4 three-point percentage back above league average).
While the Sacramento Kings signed him to help accelerate their rebuild, they may learn—as the Phoenix Suns did last year—he’s most valuable as a trade chip. Once he’s eligible to be moved on Dec. 15, the Kings might have already discovered they’re not ready to hang with the West’s best just yet. The Nets should pounce if that happens.
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By delaying what many saw as an inevitable rebuild, the Charlotte Hornets placed themselves behind the eight ball. This roster looks like it wasn’t prepared for Kemba Walker’s exit, which is wild when the franchise’s low-ball bid seemed to indicate it knew he would leave.
That’s a discussion for a different day (or maybe one Hornets fans should try to block out of their mind). What’s important now is finding the exciting youth this roster desperately needs—and uncovering the kind of overlooked prospects who wouldn’t drain the asset pool.
Why not take a long, hard look at North Carolina native and Duke product Harry Giles III? He’s 21 years old, was once regarded as the top prospect in the 2016 recruiting class and might be added at a discounted rate given his injury issues and Sacramento’s frontcourt overcrowding.
There’s no guarantee his knee problem goes away or that he gets back to being the high-ceiling contributor so many envisioned just a few years back. But for a team such as Charlotte, what’s the risk in trying to develop him? He has looked incredible in his brief ventures inside the lines (17.9 points, 9.7 rebounds, 3.7 assists per 36 minutes), and if his body cooperates, he’d have a clear path to playing time with the Hornets.
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The Chicago Bulls have a chance to limit their playoff drought to a mere two seasons. They have All-Star candidates in Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen, glue-guy starters Wendell Carter Jr. and Otto Porter Jr., and point guards in Tomas Satoransky and Coby White who can give this offense dramatically different looks.
But they must improve their depth, specifically at the wing spots. It looked problematic before the preseason started, and it’s only getting worse with Denzel Valentine apparently out of the rotation and Chandler Hutchison sidelined by a hamstring injury.
Swinging a deal for combo forward Jae Crowder could help correct a roster flaw and perhaps ignite this young nucleus by signaling a confidence in its potential. Teams don’t (or at least shouldn’t) buy on a whim. This would communicate to the youngsters a belief from the front office that this team is ready to compete for a playoff spot.
Crowder would be a consistent source of energy, and he’d give the backup front line substantial defensive versatility along with Thaddeus Young. The spacing might get a bit squeezed with those two, but not if Crowder can rediscover what allowed him to average 2.2 triples per game on 39.8 percent shooting from deep in 2016-17.
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Kevin Love can say what he wants about loyalty and helping the Cleveland Cavaliers navigate their post-LeBron James journey. He knows the constant trade speculation swirls around him for a reason.
He’s a pricey, 31-year-old former All-Star hoping to extend whatever is left of his prime window. They’re a 63-loss team that has tied its future to a pair of 20-and-under point guards. This relationship makes no sense on basketball or financial levels.
If the Cavs have their way, they’ll somehow shed Love’s remaining four years and $120.4 million while collecting prospects and picks in the same transaction. That ain’t happening. But if he starts hot and a win-now hopeful does not, desperation might allow Cleveland to scratch one of those itches.
Should the Portland Trail Blazers come calling, the Cavs have to pounce on the opportunity to nab a blue-chip prospect. They aren’t getting Anfernee Simons and probably can’t get Zach Collins either, but hyper-athletic forward Nassir Little wouldn’t be a bad consolation prize. The 19-year-old is a former top prospect who’s loaded with physical tools, and Cleveland has the time to see what he can become.
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Sure, last season had its rough patches, but the fit with James Harden was always clunky. Paul was still spectacular when he played without the bearded baller (22.5 points, 12.5 assists and 5.4 rebounds per 36 minutes), and overall he graded out as the fourth-best point guard, per ESPN.com’s real plus-minus.
The Dallas Mavericks might be closer to contending than everyone thinks if the Luka Doncic-Kristaps Porzingis pairing looks as good in practice as it sounds in theory. But this club could use another shot-creator, and Paul sits several stories above incumbents Delon Wright, Seth Curry and J.J. Barea.
Paul reportedly pushed for more set plays last season, per ESPN.com’s Tim MacMahon, and Mavs coach Rick Carlisle is one of the best X’s and O’s tacticians in the business. Paul is also a good enough outside shooter (career 37.1 percent) that his arrival wouldn’t stunt Doncic’s on-ball development. If the Mavs want to go all-in, this is their move.
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Is there a world in which the Golden State Warriors transform from juggernauts to sellers? The term “seller” seems strong, but if the Dubs’ outlook is more grim than they expect—ESPN.com’s Zach Lowe has them missing the playoffs—they might entertain some subtracting around the edges.
The Denver Nuggets should keep their ears open and their phones on just in case. Even after adding Jerami Grant this summer, they could use another Swiss Army knife on the defensive end. Big scoring wings were a problem last season, and they can only lean so heavily on Grant and Torrey Craig to stop the bleeding.
Robinson isn’t a top-tier stopper, but his price point on the trade market would reflect that. He is, however, a 6’6″, 211-pound package of long limbs, lateral quickness and sharp defensive instincts, all of which could nudge the Nuggets’ already lofty ceiling a bit higher.
Unless the Nuggets want to roll the dice on a third star—they may want to hold off on dramatic changes until getting a feel for Michael Porter Jr.’s impact—they should aim for a role player who address a specific niche. Robinson can be that guy, and it helps his cause that he’s shown more of an offensive pulse from the perimeter than Craig ever has.
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Know what all that production netted the Detroit Pistons? Bottom-third finishes in offensive efficiency (21st) and points per game (25th). That’s what happens when the only other scoring sources are restricted-area-bound Andre Drummond, the consistently inconsistent Reggie Jackson and some three-point specialists.
The Pistons need more net-shredders. That just so happens to be the calling card of former Michigan Wolverines star Tim Hardaway Jr., who could find his way to the trade market if the Mavs start slower than expected.
Admittedly, Hardaway is a quantity-over-quality scorer, meaning he’ll erupt for 25-plus points every now and then but often posts unsightly shooting marks. Still, the Pistons can’t afford to be picky. They’re not good enough to justify sacrificing major future assets, but they can only be so patient while the 30-year-old Griffin leads the charge.
Hardaway, then, offers the go-between of moving the offensive needle without breaking the bank.
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A summer of sweeping change could have the Golden State Warriors skydiving without a parachute on defense.
Gone are the long limbs and sharp basketball minds of Kevin Durant, Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston (and, for the foreseeable future, Klay Thompson while he recovers from an ACL tear). In their place are the unproven or defensively indifferent newcomers D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Poole, Alec Burks, Marquese Chriss and Willie Cauley-Stein.
Maybe all the moving parts will cause a rejuvenated Draymond Green to switch, steal, block and board his way to Defensive Player of the Year honors. More likely, Green will struggle to plug the many perimeter holes.
If one transaction can change this club’s defensive outlook, it’s swapping out Russell for Robert Covington (and whoever else is needed to make the money match). Covington was rarely healthy last season, and he still landed 12th overall and tops among perimeter players in defensive real plus-minus. Go back one year, when he played 80 games, and he finished third in the league.
Covington’s offense comes and goes at the whims of a serviceable but streaky outside shot. Put him next to Stephen Curry and a healthy Thompson, though, and Covington can hold his own as a spacer. More importantly, he’d reestablish this team’s defensive versatility, which was arguably as much a part of its dynastic run as its high-powered offense.
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With James Harden and Russell Westbrook reunited in an offense overseen by head coach Mike D’Antoni, the Houston Rockets might be the proverbial unstoppable force come to life.
Now, just imagine adding a floor-spacing, playmaking, post-scoring big man to the mix. Give the Rockets Kevin Love, and they might set a new standard for offensive efficiency.
Houston is running short on time to make this work. Westbrook turns 31 in November. Harden celebrated his 30th birthday in August. Father Time will close the Rockets’ window faster than you’d think. Anything that raises the ceiling should be explored. If it depletes whatever depth Houston has, so be it—top-heavy teams have a rich history of success.
Getting Love and his $120.4 million contract to Space City won’t be easy, but we should know by now to never doubt Daryl Morey’s ability to work salary-cap gymnastics. If the Rockets think Love would make them a better team (why wouldn’t they?), they’ll at least kick the tires on assembling the Association’s next Big Three.
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The Indiana Pacers are scrappy, resilient, well-coached and potential thorns in the sides of the Eastern Conference’s elite. They’re also playing with zero margin for error until Victor Oladipo makes it back from his ruptured quad.
“Indiana doesn’t have a reliable shot-creation engine without Victor Oladipo, and it’s unclear when Oladipo might return—or if he can rediscover his peak form this season,” ESPN.com’s Zach Lowe wrote. “If the answers trend in bad directions, the Pacers could be in trouble.”
Indy is built to be a whole-is-greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts kind of team. That strategy can work, but every role player must ace his job. Marcus Morris could give that plan a better shot at success by filling the void of a combo forward who can defend multiple positions and make shots.
The frontcourt doesn’t have that guy. Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner both work best at center. T.J. Warren is a scoring forward who doesn’t defend much and has yet to suit up for a winner. By adding Morris, who’s only on a one-year pact with the New York Knicks, the Pacers could replace much of what they lost when Thaddeus Young bolted to Chicago this summer.
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The Los Angeles Lakers are stacked at the top. LeBron James and Anthony Davis could prove a historic combo. A healthy Kyle Kuzma (injured left foot) is at least a dark horse for All-Star consideration. Sniper Danny Green just enjoyed the highest-scoring debut in franchise history Tuesday.
But the roster erodes quickly behind them. They’ve tried overloading on shooting specialists, which has exposed them in other places. Perimeter defense, for instance, could be problematic—hence the club’s ongoing interest in lockdown defender Andre Iguodala.
“It’s the two L.A. teams,” ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski said on the Lowe Post podcast regarding Iguodala’s potential landing spot. “It’s the Lakers, and it’s the Clippers. If there is a buyout at some point and if Memphis can’t trade him, that’s where that will come down to those two teams. Memphis is willing to hold on to him, and Iguodala is OK with sitting right now.”
Iguodala’s defense helped the Warriors capture multiple world titles and gave them a puncher’s chance in last year’s championship round with his effort on Kawhi Leonard, who torched the Lakers for 30 points on 19 shots on opening night Tuesday. While not technically a trade target (the Lakers need him bought out), Iguodala is the biggest difference-maker they could get their hands on this season.
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Based on what the new-look Los Angeles Clippers showed in their opener—without Paul George, mind you—maybe they’ll decide their depth is too important to sacrifice. But stars typically win the biggest games, so don’t be surprised if they target someone like Kyle Lowry, should the Toronto Raptors get off to a slow start.
“A lot of the reason Toronto signed him to [a one-year extension] is he is easier to trade under contract for next year at $31 million,” ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski said.
While Lowry is a five-time All-Star, he’s best utilized as a sidekick to bigger stars. He just won a ring alongside Kawhi Leonard in Toronto, and Lowry would be an embarrassment of riches with Leonard and George in tow.
Lowry dominates defensively (third among point guards last season in defensive real plus-minus), shines as a spot-up sniper (career 36.7 percent from deep) and finds shots for himself and his teammates (career 16.6 points and 7.0 assists per 36 minutes). While Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams and Landry Shamet all fill critical backcourt needs, none offers the across-the-board impact Lowry would make.
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For being in the infancy of their rebuild, the Memphis Grizzlies have already amassed an impressive collection of young talent. Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. could be among the NBA’s best point guard-big man combos this season, and Brandon Clarke seems like a draft-night heist.
That said, the reconstruction effort on Beale Street is by no means close to completion. The Grizzlies need help almost everywhere, and finding a frontcourt cornerstone to pair with Jackson is one way of laying the foundation for Memphis’ next postseason push.
Myles Turner would be phenomenal. He and Jackson could cover an absurd amount of defensive ground, all while maintaining a fortress around the rim. Offensively, each is a sharp enough shooter to clear the lane for Morant’s attacks or pick-and-rolls (or pops) with the other big man.
So, is Turner obtainable? It doesn’t require a huge stretch of the imagination to see he is. The Pacers need to thin the frontcourt at some point, and they just gave $77 million to Domantas Sabonis. While they could still choose Turner over Sabonis, the former’s rim protection and three-ball likely give him a broader appeal and therefore a richer return for Indiana.
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Between the drafting of Tyler Herro, the acquisition of Jimmy Butler and the promotion of Bam Adebayo, the Miami Heat have a shot at pairing a top-five defense with a top-half offense. Check both boxes, and they could climb as high as No. 3 in the new-look Eastern Conference.
But two things give pause when looking at this roster: shooting and scoring. Do the Heat have enough of both? They ranked just 26th in offensive efficiency last season, and the top two scorers from that team are gone (the traded Josh Richardson and the retired Dwyane Wade). Butler can pick up some of the slack, but it’s unclear how much the youngsters can help.
You know who would look great in Miami, though? Danilo Gallinari, who averaged 19.8 points per game on 46.3/43.3/90.4 shooting last season. He’d be a seamless fit as the starting 4, handling the No. 2 scoring duties and helping shoulder the load in Miami’s playmaking-by-committee approach. Any defensive shortcomings he brings could be worked around with strategic deployment of Butler, Adebayo and Justise Winslow.
Gallinari isn’t long for the Oklahoma City Thunder. This is his final season under contract, and he’s already dreaming of the days he can rejoin a competitive club. The Heat could give him that opportunity, and he could help provide a path into the postseason’s second round or even beyond.
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The Milwaukee Bucks can leave nothing to chance this summer. Giannis Antetokounmpo might be only two years from reaching the open market, and as he told Harvard Business School professor Anita Elberse and her co-author, Melcolm Ruffin, this spring, Milwaukee’s success could have a massive say in his decision.
“I want the Bucks to build a winning culture,” Antetokounmpo said (via the Journal Sentinel). “So far, we have been doing great, and, if this lasts, there’s no other place I want to be. But if we’re underperforming in the NBA next year, deciding whether to sign becomes a lot more difficult.”
The Bucks should have turned over every stone before that article was even finished. The offseason losses of Malcolm Brogdon and Nikola Mirotic still loom over them, and it’s unclear if Antetokounmpo has enough help around him to win a title. But with Milwaukee likely shopping on a budget, the options are limited.
Renting Courtney Lee could be on the high end of what the Bucks can afford, but it’s worth the risk if it helps communicate a commitment to winning. His career 38.6 percent three-point stroke would be yet another weapon in Mike Budenholzer’s three-happy offense, and Lee’s ability to play both ends could lead to a fairly prominent role. If Dallas would let him go for a prospect (D.J. Wilson?) and filler, the win-now bump might be worth it.
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Jeff Chiu/Associated Press
How has this not happened already?
Karl-Anthony Towns is by far the best thing going in the Twin Cities basketballwise. He made his desire to bring D’Angelo Russell to town clear. The Minnesota Timberwolves were even examining cost-cutting moves to work Russell into the budget.
Obviously, that never happened, and D-Lo went to the Bay. But the same reasons he made sense for Minnesota this summer are still apparent. Towns badly needs a second scorer. The team has no future floor general, as both Jeff Teague and Shabazz Napier are on expiring contracts. Russell perfectly fits Towns’ timeline and arguably gives Minnesota its best chance to build a winner over the life of his four-year deal.
If the Warriors are receptive to an offer, the Wolves should be able to meet their asking price. Robert Covington seems a likely centerpiece, with either Teague or Gorgui Dieng potentially making the money work. This makes too much sense not to happen, and who knows—maybe it gets Minnesota in play for Devin Booker down the line too.
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The New Orleans Pelicans need to clear the runway. This team is ready to take flight, or at least it should be by the time Zion Williamson makes it back from his torn meniscus in six to eight weeks.
They must clear up the congestion first. Shooting will be at a premium in the Crescent City, despite what the club’s 19-of-45 showing from distance during the season opener might suggest.
Derrick Favors has 35 career threes over nine-plus NBA seasons. Brandon Ingram is a 33.0 percent perimeter shooter. Lonzo Ball’s career mark checks in at 31.7 percent. Williamson’s one-and-done run at Duke hardly hinted at any promise with his jumper, as he shot just 33.8 percent outside and 64.0 percent at the free-throw line.
New Orleans needs more shooters. A healthy CJ Miles can help address that void, and he shouldn’t be too expensive as a 32-year-old on an expiring contract with a rebuilding team. Injuries and inconsistency plagued him last season, but from 2012-13 to 2017-18, he buried 2.1 threes per night at a 37.5 percent clip.
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After whiffing on big-name free agents, the New York Knicks instead threw a bunch of contracts—nearly all of the short-term variety—at a handful of veterans. It’s not the worst way to handle an otherwise disappointing summer, especially if the ‘Bockers can flip some of these players for assets by the deadline.
But the Knicks need more keepers. They might not have added any this summer, but 24-year-old Julius Randle and 25-year-old Elfrid Payton could make the long-term plans. Those surely feature RJ Barrett and Mitchell Robinson, and they could include the likes of Kevin Knox, Dennis Smith Jr., Allonzo Trier and Frank Ntilikina.
New York should continue scouring for youth, particularly the bargain-priced variety. Jerome Robinson should fit that bill. Last year’s No. 13 pick couldn’t settle into a rotation role as a rookie, and the Clippers roster has only grown more crowded since. He never made it off the bench in their opener, setting an ominous tone for his sophomore run.
If New York could turn one of its win-now vets into Robinson, the transaction has win-win potential. The Clippers would increase their championship odds, while the Knicks would gain a 22-year-old with substantial offensive upside. The scoring guard averaged 20.7 points and 2.3 triples per game as a junior at Boston College, and he has a deep ball that works off both pull-ups and catch-and-launch chances.
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The Oklahoma City Thunder are doing something—just don’t call it rebuilding.
“I think our focus right now is on the team that we have,” Thunder general manager Sam Presti told reporters. “It’s going to be a different iteration of Thunder team than we’ve seen over the last several years.”
That’s one way to put it.
Call it what you want, but the Thunder are redirecting away from annual playoff trips and into a youth movement keyed by 21-year-old Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. They can’t afford to miss opportunities to add assets, especially since their prospect collection is lacking. Danilo Gallinari is an obvious trade candidate, but in an ideal world, Presti sheds the likes of Chris Paul, Dennis Schroder and maybe even Steven Adams.
Collecting more draft picks will be a part of this process, but OKC should aim to add NBA talent too. With multiple trade avenues to Miami, the Thunder would be wise to target Justise Winslow. The 23-year-old boasts a fascinating skill set that allows him to play anywhere between the 1 and 4 spots on both ends of the floor, and his improved outside shot is a potential trajectory-changer.
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After snapping a six-year playoff drought, the Orlando Magic plan to keep winning. They wouldn’t have committed $183.2 million to Nikola Vucevic, Terrence Ross and Al-Farouq Aminu if they didn’t.
It’s a sensible goal, and a realistic one at that. FiveThirtyEight gives Orlando the East’s fifth-best chance of making the postseason (79 percent).
If the Magic want to increase their odds, they should focus on upgrading at point guard. D.J. Augustin had a career year at age 31, and even then he graded out as just OK (24th among point guards in real plus-minus). Markelle Fultz might be the NBA’s biggest mystery. Michael Carter-Williams hasn’t had a league-average player efficiency rating since his rookie season of 2013-14.
The Magic need a backcourt lift, and Goran Dragic could give it to them. The 33-year-old lost his starting spot in Miami, and his contract is up at year’s end. He’s losing his utility in South Beach, and he’d be much more valuable in Central Florida. Orlando could use his scoring; his willingness to increase tempo would maximize this group’s athleticism; and he’d be a great pick-and-roll partner with any of the Magic’s many bigs.
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The Philadelphia 76ers have championship aspirations and the starting lineup to realize those dreams. But the bench is a different story. Truth be told, it might be broken without a rapid transition from rookie Matisse Thybulle and big steps forward from Furkan Korkmaz, Zhaire Smith and Jonah Bolden.
Philly needs depth. But unless the franchise wants to get further into the business of trading picks (it already dealt its 2020 first-rounder), it has almost nothing to spend in the trade market. Push past the Sixers’ stacked starting five, and the highest-paid player is Mike Scott at only $4.8 million. And he’s the most ignitable bench option.
In other words, the Sixers are searching for freebies. That could be close to the cost for Isaiah Thomas, after he’s essentially had two consecutive seasons erased by injuries. The 30-year-old only fetched minimum money in free agency, so the league is skeptical about his chances of bouncing back.
But why not take a flier if you’re Philly? He can’t be moved before Dec. 15 anyway, so the Sixers would have some idea of what he can offer. He won’t morph back into an All-Star, but there are scenarios where he proves more valuable to Philly’s championship chances than Raul Neto or Trey Burke.
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The Phoenix Suns had the NBA’s second-worst defense last season. Adding Ricky Rubio helps in that department, but not nearly enough when the other summer acquisitions included Cameron Johnson, Ty Jerome, Frank Kaminsky and Dario Saric.
Unless the Suns are planning to host nightly races to 120 points—they don’t pack the scoring punch to do that—they should give this defense more attention.
Taking a low-cost (or no-cost?) flier on 2012’s No. 2 pick, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, might be a sneaky-good way to do that. His role in Charlotte for this season is unclear, and he’s unsigned beyond this campaign.
His inability to establish an offensive niche has sabotaged his development, but the Suns need more help at the other end. There, he’s graded out as a positive contributor in each of his six healthy seasons. Head coach Monty Williams could get creative on defense with Kidd-Gilchrist, Mikal Bridges and Kelly Oubre Jr. at the forward spots, and Rubio’s vision might unlock scoring chances for Kidd-Gilchrist as a cutter and transition attacker.
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Basketball gods, we’re begging you. Please make this happen.
LaMarcus Aldridge is stranded in San Antonio. Maybe the Spurs make another brief playoff appearance, and maybe Aldridge produces enough to get another All-Star bid, but he’s not factoring into the championship race—unless he scores a ticket back to the Portland Trail Blazers and a reunion with Damian Lillard.
“I keep telling him I’m going to come back and finish there,” Aldridge told The Athletic’s Jason Quick. “That’s something him and I have talked about—playing together again.”
Why not now? The Blazers might be a scoring big man away from championship contention. Lillard has blossomed into an MVP candidate since Aldridge’s 2015 exit. CJ McCollum is on the short list of the best active players to not make an All-Star Game. Portland has depth to support its stars, high-upside youth to potentially elevate the outlook and a couple of massive expiring contracts (Hassan Whiteside, Kent Bazemore) to make the money work.
The Blazers can stand pat and be really good this season. Swinging for the fences with an Aldridge reunion gives them a shot at greatness.
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Right or wrong, the Sacramento Kings want to accelerate their rebuild. They haven’t booked a playoff spot since Rick Adelman manned the best sideline seat in 2006, so forgive them if they’re feeling themselves after last season’s 39-win mini-emergence.
Some might argue there’s zero reason to rush when your most important players are 21-year-old De’Aaron Fox and 20-year-old Marvin Bagley III. Really, that should be more of a caution against mortgaging the future. Making low-risk investments in proven veterans to help the win column—like the summer signings of Dewayne Dedmon, Trevor Ariza and Cory Joseph, for instance—is fine, especially for a success-starved squad.
Why not further those efforts with a cheap deal for sharpshooter Wayne Ellington? He’s not a long-term option for the Knicks, and he shouldn’t cost much with such a narrow skill set.
But that one skill is special. Over the past three seasons, he has the 15th-most three-point splashes and a 38.2 percent success rate. His shooting threat would keep the court balanced for Sacramento’s attackers, and his off-ball activity would be a simple addition since Buddy Hield already does much of the same.
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When do the San Antonio Spurs reach for the reset button? We have to be nearing that point, don’t we?
LaMarcus Aldridge has only two seasons left on his deal. DeMar DeRozan holds a $27.7 million player option for 2020-21. The end could be rapidly approaching.
Even if the Spurs opt against a total teardown, they should at least think about their future. They already have some interesting youth in the form of Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, Lonnie Walker IV, Luka Samanic and Keldon Johnson, but it’s not enough to stop thinking about prospect collection.
Mohamed Bamba would be an incredible get. He needs rescuing from an overpopulated, ill-fitting situation in Orlando, and the defensive ceiling for a Murray-White-Bamba trio stretches beyond even the big man’s reach. Unless the Spurs are sold on Jakob Poeltl as their center of the future (they shouldn’t be), they should explore all ways of bringing Bamba to the Alamo City.
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The Toronto Raptors probably realize their championship window closed the minute Kawhi Leonard went to L.A. Just don’t expect them to admit it
“All of us are hungry and motivated and still have a lot to prove in our careers, and we want to do it again,” Fred VanVleet said, per SportsNet’s Michael Grange.
The Raptors aren’t winning another title this year. But if they keep this team together, they’re among the clubs capable of competing for the East’s No. 3 spot. They shouldn’t go wild with buying in that pursuit—they could look dramatically different next summer—but a smart, focused purchase could go a long way.
Veteran Langston Galloway could check a lot of boxes. They need more backcourt depth and extra shooting. He can provide both, plus he’s a willing defender, and as a well-traveled veteran, he could bring himself up to speed quickly. Oh, he should cost next to nothing, too, as Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press hears the Pistons are “very open” to moving Galloway and have been trying to “for months.”
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The Utah Jazz are either on the doorstep of NBA contention, or they’re already inside the exclusive club of realistic championship dreamers.
Mike Conley is close to the perfect backcourt complement for Donovan Mitchell. Rudy Gobert is the best defensive anchor there is. Bojan Bogdanovic addressed a need for support scoring. Joe Ingles might be the game’s best glue guy. Jeff Green, Ed Davis and Emmanuel Mudiay up the athleticism.
But if you wanted to nitpick, power forward could be a soft spot. The Jazz can get scoring there for sure. Defense, though, could be harder to find. Green can play it, but he doesn’t always do so. Not to mention, his outside shot comes and goes, which could make it hard for him to log major minutes alongside Gobert.
Bringing Marvin Williams back to Salt Lake City might be the way to go. He defends multiple positions. He’s buried threes at a 38.2 percent clip over the past four seasons. He adds another leadership element to the locker room, and he’s smart enough to ease his transition. He also shouldn’t be too hard to get, as his timeline no longer aligns with Charlotte’s.
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Bradley Beal’s decision to take the money and stay with the Washington Wizards doesn’t change much for the District this season.
With no John Wall (torn Achilles), the Wizards have given Beal almost no help. It’s hard to say who his highest-scoring teammate will be. Isaiah Thomas could get that gig. Rookie Rui Hachimura is in the running too. It’s pretty bleak.
Trading for Kris Dunn—who might have a permanent place on the trade block—doesn’t transform this team. But maybe it makes a difference down the line.
He has three seasons under his belt. Even if he hasn’t been great, this feels premature to give up on 2016’s No. 5 pick. He’s an aggressive defender and a sound decision-maker. He’s not much of a shooter yet, but he did just have his best season from three (35.4) and at the stripe (79.7).
Could he be good enough that it frees Washington to flip Thomas or Ish Smith for a future second-rounder? Could Dunn successfully audition as a long-term backup to (or eventual replacement for) Wall? Neither seems outlandish, so the Wizards should pay the small cost to roll the dice.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.