Although there is still plenty of time before the NBA’s February 8 trade deadline, it’s time to start thinking of potential deals that could re-shape the rest of this season and beyond.
By now, the clear contenders are separating themselves from the rest of the pack. In the Eastern Conference, the Boston Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors look like the three teams to beat. In the West, it’s a two-team race between the Houston Rockets and the Golden State Warriors, both of whom have dominated even with stars out of the lineup due to nagging injuries throughout the early season.
It might be too early to label a team as a “pretender”, but since we passed the quarter-way point, we also generally have a good idea of what teams will probably continue to struggle for the rest of the year as well.
Like always, teams in the middle of the pack will look to acquire talent (become buyers) in order to chase those at the top while teams at the bottom of the standings will either look to offload salary, trade a veteran to a winning team out of goodwill or create an opportunity for younger players to receive playing time (become sellers).
There is a lot of drama happening all around the league right now and rumors are swirling. Here are four realistic trades that would be beneficial for both teams and all of the players involved. (Note that all trades work financially according to ESPN's Trade Machine).
DJ says goodbye to LA
The deal: Los Angeles Clippers trade DeAndre Jordan and Willie Reed to the Milwaukee Bucks for John Henson, Mirza Teletovic, Thon Maker and Rashard Vaughn
After the Bucks acquired Eric Bledsoe earlier this season, they made it clear that they want to win now. At this point, they have one major flaw: rebounding the basketball. In fact, Milwaukee ranks dead-last in the NBA in offensive rebounding, averaging 7.7 per game and are the second-worst team in the league in defensive rebounding, averaging 30.7.
Enter Jordan. Averaging 10.9 points and 14.6 rebounds per contest this season, he would be the ideal solution for that issue. A core of Bledsoe, Giannis Antotokounmpo, Khris Middleton, (eventually) Jabari Parker and Jordan would be among the best in the Eastern Conference (on paper).
The Clippers reportedly identified three players they’d want in return for Jordan: Malcolm Brogdon, Henson or Middleton. If the Bucks could avoid giving up Brogdon and Middleton (who can help the team win right now) and include Thon Maker, a top prospect, along with Henson, they might have a shot at completing this deal. Maker has a long road of development ahead of him and although Kevin Garnett predicted that he’d be the MVP of the league someday, he hasn’t shown any real in-game improvements so far over his short career.
Maker could very well emerge into a star, but this would be about the short-term possibility of contending this year.
Jordan would likely help the Bucks win right now.
Meanwhile, the Clippers could begin their rebuild around Blake Griffin by giving Maker and Vaughn extended minutes for the rest of the year. Since both young players are playing minimal roles for the Bucks at the moment, they’d be able to gain valuable in-game experience. Both have shown various glimpses of brilliance so far, but not over a sustained period of time, perhaps more based on a lack of playing time than an overall lack of ability.
Magic lands PG-13 after all
The deal: Los Angeles Lakers trade Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Julius Randle to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Paul George and Jerami Grant
Los Angeles’ new president of basketball operations Magic Johnson loves George so much that he and the Lakers were fined $500,000 earlier this season for making impermissible contact with the player’s agent.
At 14-14, the Thunder have struggled to establish themselves as viable contenders in the packed Western Conference. In many ways, last year’s Russell Westbrook-centric team was more productive than this year’s squad that features the formidable trio of Westbrook, George and Carmelo Anthony.
As someone who thrives with the ball in his hands, George has seen his role in OKC’s offense slightly diminish from his previous standards due to Westbrook’s never-ending control of the ball. He’s averaging 20.3 points, 5.6 boards and 3.3 assists per game.
Adding him to a core that includes Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and Jordan Clarkson would undoubtedly make Lakers fans excited.
Although George will likely be a top target for the Lakers in the offseason if he opts out of his player option, they might want to make a move for him now to ensure that he ends up there and gets a glimpse of playing for the historic franchise before signing him to a max contract. Since Randle currently plays limited minutes on the team’s second unit, Johnson would likely be in support of the deal, especially since the power forward is slated to become a restricted free agent next summer.
Caldwell-Pope is on a massive one-year deal and is set to become an unrestricted free agent in the summer. Therefore, since the Lakers are looking to add at least one All-Star level player, he’s probably not part of any future plans. As an elite perimeter defender, he could offer essentially the same thing defensively that George does, but could be more comfortable taking on a small offensive role, something that George hasn’t adjusted to yet (and might not adjust to in general).
Caldwell-Pope and Randle would likely be thrust into starting roles and would be included to a starting five featuring Westbrook, Melo and Steven Adams, who is having a breakout year. Since Westbrook, Anthony and George have hoisted up the overwhelming majority of shots so far this season for the Thunder, this deal would force opposing defenses to defend all five positions on the court with equal vigor, not just three or four.
Also, OKC is struggling mightily with depth, so gaining two able-bodied producers for one would be a smart move.
Although Randle and KCP will be entering free agency after this season, the move would allow the Thunder to get into the market for a big-named free agent or even bring one or both of them back if things go well.
It would also allow the Lakers to give their young core a chance to develop alongside each other for 30-plus minutes every night. They will probably not be willing to match whatever high offer sheet Randle receives in free agency and only have Caldwell-Pope on the roster as a holdover, so receiving high-level compensation for the pair would be logical.
It seems like George simply doesn't fit alongside Westbrook and if he decides to leave without the Thunder receiving any compensation, it will be the Kevin Durant situation once again.
Gasol gets a fresh start
The deal: Memphis Grizzlies trade Marc Gasol and Mario Chalmers to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Tristan Thompson, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and a future first-round draft pick
It’s been a tumultuous year in Memphis.
Key players have gotten injured. Coach David Fizdale was fired after Marc Gasol publicly complained about his lack of minutes. They are also 9-20, one of the worst teams in the league.
Therefore, it might be a perfect time to sell and start fresh. Although trading one of the two faces of the franchise in Gasol would undoubtedly be a tough decision, the team would have an opportunity to gain a couple of players that fit Memphis’ traditional defensive-oriented style of play (Thompson and Crowder) as well as a young big man in need of development (Zizic). Since the NBA’s lottery rules that discourage teams from tanking don’t take effect until the summer of 2019, it’d be in Memphis’ best interest to lose as many games as possible in order to secure a high pick in the 2018 Draft.
Thompson and Crowder would be solid additions to a roster that could be built as something similar to the Utah Jazz: a slow-paced, defensive-oriented club that presents unique challenges to the rest of the offensive-minded Association.
Meanwhile, the Cavaliers would add yet another All-Star to the roster. Imagine a starting five of a healthy Isaiah Thomas, JR Smith, LeBron James, Kevin Love and Gasol with Dwyane Wade coming off the bench as the team’s sixth man.
Since Thompson was demoted to the second unit earlier in the season (in part due to his injury), the Cavs would undoubtedly benefit from the multi-faceted two-way game of Gasol, who would add a whole new dimension to an already-awesome squad. Chalmers would walk right in and provide valuable point guard depth, possibly forcing Jose Calderon or Derrick Rose onto the waiver market.
Z-Bo goes back to a familiar place
The deal: Sacramento Kings trade Zach Randolph to the Portland Trail Blazers for Moe Harkless and Noah Vonleh
In the offseason, Randolph signed a three-year deal with the Kings. He’s 36 years old. Apparently, that made sense to Sacramento. In all seriousness, the veteran power forward has been outstanding this season, averaging 15.2 points and 7.0 boards in just 25.9 minutes per game.
Watching the Blazers play, one thing is obvious: other than Jusuf Nurkic, their frontcourt is a mess. Playing some combination of Meyers Leonard, Ed Davis, Al-Farouq Aminu, Vonleh, Caleb Swanigan and Zach Collins on a nightly basis, Portland hasn’t received any kind of consistency.
Pairing Randolph with Nurkic in the frontcourt would make the lives of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum a lot easier. It would also be one of the most physically-demanding frontcourts in recent memory based on each player’s size, grit and tenacity. Right now, Lillard and McCollum carry most of the offensive burden on a nightly basis. Although they’ve led the team to a 15-13 record, it might not be sustainable, especially with their supporting cast not delivering consistently.
Randolph played the first six years of his career in Portland and emerged as a star through the course of his development. This would be his second stint with the club.
Since the Kings have meshed together a bunch of veterans with a slew of first and second-year players, watching Randolph go would be tough, but gaining Harkless and Vonleh would be largely beneficial. Harkless would likely start immediately and see plenty of minutes based on Sacramento’s roster while Vonleh would become a part of a talented young frontcourt trio that would feature Willy Cauley-Stein and Skal Labissiere. Since the Kings are taking their own approach at rebuilding, figuring out what young players they want to be a part of their long-term future should probably be a priority.