The clock is ticking. As if this compressed season hasn’t gone by fast enough, the NBA’s trade deadline is approaching as fast as Kobe deciding to pull-up for a jumper. March 15 marks the last possible day that teams can trade cats to either improve their shot to make a real title run or look to revamp their squads with an eye towards the future. As basketball fans, we all love to discuss trade scenarios probably more so than the actual play at hand. Now it’s time for GMs to get on the phone and make something happen.
Considering how unique this season has been with the amount of games being played per week, the volume of key injuries transpiring, and the important roles youth and depth have played, the race to win the ‘ship is as wide open as ever. One move could truly alter the playoff landscape.
So a team with the smartest and most proactive basketball brain-trust can steal themselves a ring… be it for this season or one down the line. “Had to had to get these chips. Had to make moves like Olajuwon,” Jay-Z spit in “My 1st Song.” These next five franchises must make a similar move.
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5. Cleveland Cavaliers (13-22, No. 10 Spot)
The Cleveland Cavaliers have seemingly been flirting with the eight seed longer than the teams that courted LeBron in the fateful summer of 2010. A lot of credit should be given to Kyrie Irving and Byron Scott for leading this Cavs roster past everyone’s expectations. They compete every night and are developing their young guys in the process, which are vital starting points for any rebuilding team.
However, how beneficial would it really be for the Cavs to vie for the playoffs as an eight seed? Sure, the playoff experience that Irving and Tristan Thompson would gain could be nice for their growth. But would making the postseason this year be that helpful to their long-term confidence, especially if they potentially face off and are swept by those Heatles? I know Dan Gilbert wants to win so bad he’ll do anything to be Nostradamus on his prediction that his Cavs will win a title before King James.
In fact, Gilbert should look back into this crystal ball and realize the countless mistakes he made, and learn from them so he won’t screw things up in a similar fashion with Irving. The management’s primary flaw in constructing a contender was their approach of trading for and signing veterans past their primes instead of drafting elite players that could grow alongside King James as he matured. Being overly concerned of LeBron leaving them at some point once they drafted him, they felt compelled to win as soon as possible. This tactic, obviously, blew up and embarrassed them in a manner no one could’ve fathomed. With Irving, they now have a second chance to rewrite sports history in Cleveland and bring a championship the right way.
Therefore, the Cavs should look to trade Antawn Jamison and his expiring contract for a first-round pick or young prospects. Jamison is a pro by every sense of the word, but keeping him for the remainder of the season for mentorship would be a disservice to him and the franchise’s future hopes. What’s the point of having the $15-million cap space when Jamison becomes a free agent this summer if players are not attracted to make Cleveland a permanent residence, especially when they’re far from legitimately contending? Some team out there â€“ with assets to load off – could use Jamison’s shooting and leadership for their playoff run. Also, trading Ramon Sessions and even Anderson Varejao should be seriously considered, particularly if the latter could bring in a lottery pick in this loaded 2012 NBA Draft to team up with Irving’s rise amongst today’s point guard elite.
4. Boston Celtics (19-17, No. 7 Seed)
The Boston Celtics are about to blow up – and not along the lines J. Cole rapped about in his Friday Night Lights mixtape. Why are the Celtics so eager to trade Rajon Rondo? Is Danny Ainge willing to dismantle The Big Three to finally rebuild? Who are the Celtics targeting to get in return for any one of their Big Three? These are the kind of questions that have lingered in Boston since baseball’s hot stove month of December. As the trade deadline nears, most NBA insiders believe the Celtics will make some type of blockbuster move. Yet it remains unclear who in their core is going to be dealt, if at all, and what the market value is for their aging stars, particularly Jesus Shuttlesworth and The Big Ticket, both on expiring deals.
In hindsight, Ainge missed the golden opportunity to hit the reset button last year. He doesn’t have anyone else to blame but himself for the level of uncertainty surrounding this group. Ainge was tempted and bold enough to trade a key member from their championship runs – Kendrick Perkins for Jeff Green – before last year’s trade deadline. However, it’s unconscionable to think Ainge seriously believed the C’s would be better off without Perk, and with Green instead, against the Heatles. So why didn’t he have the balls enough to completely change the course of the Celtics future and deal one or two more of the core cats when they could’ve fetched better long-term assets? Ainge’s indecisiveness from last season is at the root behind the trade winds passing by every new tweet.
Rondo, for better or worse, is being shopped harder than a father trying to cop last-minute Toys R Us gifts for his kids on Christmas Eve. His monster triple-double of 18 points, 17 boards, and 20 dimes versus Linsanity on Sunday – the likes of which hasn’t been seen since The Big Dipper and The Big O – would suggest he’s helping his case to stay with the C’s. But, in reality, he is equally making a case for other teams to up the ante to acquire him. While it’s may be too late to trade either Allen or KG for anything worthwhile, Ainge must pull the trigger on any fair trade for Rondo and Paul Pierce to avoid a slow death back to irrelevancy. In free agency, there are far too many variables that’ll detract players from joining the Celtics, which is why Ainge must continue to obtain cats he can control via trade. The moves, or lack thereof, that Ainge makes by the deadline will determine whether Beantown could add another banner to their record number of NBA titles in the foreseeable future.
3. Minnesota Timberwolves (20-19, No. 9 spot)
The Minnesota Timberwolves have made significant strides thus far in their first year with Rick Adelman under the helm and Ricky Rubio manning the point. That first-round pick that was part of the package the New Orleans Hornets received from the Los Angeles Clippers isn’t as valuable now due to the Wolves’ success. Just a game and a half back from the final playoff spot, they could solidify their positioning in the ever-changing West standings by making one trade. Moreover, as SI’s Lee Jenkins points out, the Wolves are on the clock since they refused to grant Kevin Love a full, five-year max extension and gave him the right to opt-out after year three in their four-year deal. Winning immediately is the only thing that would placate him to stay in ‘Sota beyond this new window, and it would only help his chances to raise his MVP candidacy into the top five, too.
The last time the T’Wolves made the playoffs, The Kid played the best season of his career, being crowned the league’s MVP and leading them to a six-game battle with the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals. Since then, the Wolves have been every bit the part of a winter wasteland. David Kahn can’t mess up any more moves from here on out, can he? He’s lucky Rubio has played like a young Steve Nash. His play as a rookie along with the credibility instilled by Adelman in the sidelines this season suggests that there is light at the end of tunnel behind Kahn’s rebuilding plan. Still, the Wolves are far from a finished project. They won’t be getting any more help from ping-pong balls to add talent; they now have to bring in the appropriate veterans to complement and enhance the play of both Love and Rubio.
There have been rumors dating back to the draft that the Wolves have had interest in dealing Derrick Williams (or Michael Beasley) for Pau Gasol, and perhaps still do. This trade possibility doesn’t make much basketball sense outside of the idea that Kahn might want to reunite Rubio with his fellow countryman. At any rate, the fact that they’ve played much of the season with Luke Ridnour out of position at the two, it’s the most glaring area that needs to be addressed. They shipped out one ‘Cuse product, Johnny Flynn, quicker than playing in the legendary six-overtime UConn thriller, and the other in Wesley Johnson is surprisingly still starting and playing 22 minutes a game as he produces nightmare numbers (5.8 ppg/2.7 rpg/6.68 PER).
Consequently, the Wolves should target a primetime swingman scorer that could take the load off Love, someone that can get his own buckets while seamlessly finishing off-the-ball for Rubio. Be it Jamal Crawford or another shooting guard, Kahn must come through in the clutch before he has to listen to screams in ‘Sota he hasn’t heard since the ’09 Draft: Kaaaaahhhhhnnn!
2. Los Angeles Clippers (22-14, No. 4 Seed)
Despite the addition of K-Mart from China, the Los Angeles Clippers only sport a .500 record (7-7) upon his arrival to Lob City. While CP3 is still a viable MVP candidate, he can’t win the Maurice Podoloff Trophy, as his talent and impact evoke, unless he’s paired with a legitimate two guard that could ease some of the scoring burden. The fact that Mr. Big Shot is out for the rest of the year and the Clips didn’t manage to convince J.R. Smith to come to Lob Angeles, it places greater responsibility on everyone to raise their game. Randy Foye as the starting two with his 8.7 points per game and 34 percent three-point shooting is not goin’ to cut it. I’m sorry.
Before the season commenced, Stephen A. Smith and Chris Broussard of ESPN both forecasted the Clippers advancing all the way to the conference finals. These types of bold predictions could still manifest themselves if the Clips look to acquire the missing piece to the puzzle: a prototypical, lights-out shooting guard.
C’mon, now. It’s obvious the Clippers haven’t been this nice and stacked since Sam I Am Cassell was strokin’ mid-range jumpers like it was nobody’s business. Having two All-Star starters in Orlando this year is just as unprecedented. And as fun and entertaining as Lob City is, CP didn’t cop Avril Lavigne‘s almost $9-million pad to just be chillin’ at the crib after an early playoff exit. The fact that he agreed to opt-in for just one more year in his current contract, Donald Sterling should be rushing to the bank to sign off on any deal by the deadline. These Clippers shouldn’t be content on just making some noise come playoff time when they can potentially f@#^ around and be in The Finals. They have already smashed on the Thunder, literally, so they aren’t scared of anyone. It would be a great mistake and disappointment if the Clips fail to come close to their potential.
Is having Mo Williams as a sixth man more valuable than having Jesus Shuttlesworth rain trey bombs as a starter? The Clips will probably justify any playoff shortcomings to Chauncey Billups’ absence. However, they possess just enough assets to swing a pretty significant trade to get hot, gain the No. 2 seed and legitimately be the team to beat out West. And, no, giving Bobby Simmons another 10-day contract won’t suffice. Since the last game before the All-Star break, CP3 has had nights where he’s dropped 36, 27 and 28. Earthquake Blake is still more a finisher off dimes than a consistent scorer on the block. Thus, it’s imperative for Clipper Nation to make a reasonable trade for a two that could get buckets on a moment’s notice, specifically from deep. Maybe Jesus Shuttlesworth can’t save their season, but just about any traditional SG would do alongside CP.
1. Portland Trail Blazers (19-19, No. 10 spot)
Just a few weeks ago, Charles Barkley on “Inside the NBA” was talking about how “scary” this Portland Trail Blazers team is. Well, this same squad has only one victory and three L’s since the All-Star break, and only four wins out of their last 10 games.
The Oregonian‘s Jason Quick recently expressed his thoughts on this critical juncture: “But never in the McMillan era has it felt more like change is needed. The dilemma, of course, is whether small changes now to pursue a low-level playoff seed is worth jeopardizing making a larger, more long-term overhaul in the summer.”
That said, when you have a beast at the four-spot in LaMarcus Aldridge, every decision made should be based on who can flourish with him the most for the years to come. Just barely making the playoffs this year shouldn’t be their focus, but rather how can they elevate into a championship contender with Aldridge as the cornerstone.
There hasn’t been a team ravaged more by injuries in recent memory than the Blazers. Brandon Roy – who at his peak was arguably the second best SG in the game – was forced to an early retirement prior to the season. Greg Oden has had a history of injuries going back to his days in Ohio State. The potential three-some of Roy, Oden and Aldridge never being realized is one the biggest “What If?” scenarios over the past half-decade.
Aldridge is just getting his due by making his first All-Star appearance. When the greatest scorer of all-time, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, comes out and says the following – “I know there’s one guy that posts up the same way that I used to. He plays for Portland: LaMarcus Aldridge” – there isn’t much better praise than that. The Blazers must assure themselves that their foundation isn’t squandered within a middling team as he enters his prime.
Nate McMillan has bothered to experiment and play the ball-dominant Jamal Crawford as their starting PG because they’ve lost all trust in Raymond Felton â€” and rightfully so. Felton came into the season looking as out of shape as a roly-poly, and still isn’t in adequate shape despite all the games played.
Blake Griffin and Kevin Love are at the top of the “best power forward in the game” discussion. But the common denominator they both have? A great point guard. Now why can’t LaMarcus Aldridge be afforded the same necessity, especially when he’s gradually without a primetime PG?
The Blazers couldn’t come to terms to extend Nicolas Batum, which means they don’t think that highly of his skill-set and can make him expendable. When a top-five point guard like Rondo is on the market, how can the Blazers not pounce on the opportunity to pair him up with L.A.? The ball is on the Blazers’ court to drastically change the fortunes of a franchise that’s struck out of luck for far too long.
Which teams desperately need to make moves at the trade deadline?
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