The NBA Trade Deadline is just a few days away, and last Wednesday brought the first dominoes to fall of a very interesting deadline, as PJ Tucker got sent from Houston to Milwaukee and Trevor Ariza was dealt from OKC to Miami. Following Thursday’s deadline, we’ll also see some players hit the buyout market, as there are some particularly interesting players like LaMarcus Aldridge and Andre Drummond who have big contracts that will be hard to trade and, it’s possible, each simply has to get bought out.
The Nets have already dipped their toes in the buyout game, landing Blake Griffin, and they might not be done chasing frontcourt depth to compliment their Big Three. The lack of a clear frontrunner at this moment makes for a very interesting deadline dynamic, as there are a number of teams that feel like they have a chance at a Finals run, but few if any feel particularly confident that their roster, as is, is a lock to make a Finals run.
As such, the next two weeks will likely see a lot of posturing and moves made by contenders, even if mostly seeking out depth rather than a major shakeup to their roster. We’ll take a look at the top teams in each conference and their biggest areas of need heading into the deadline and players they might be targeting, either in a trade or on the buyout market, starting with the three-team breakaway at the top of the Eastern Conference
Philadelphia 76ers: The Sixers made a lot of progress in terms of building a better roster this offseason, but Daryl Morey is always willing to make a move if he thinks it will make his team better. The two spots where I think they might look to add depth are with another perimeter creator/shooter and an upgrade at power forward. Of the top teams, they seem like the most likely to take a big swing, as there’s been plenty of rumbling — both reported and just guessing because of the Philly connection — that they could go after Kyle Lowry. Should they look not to shake up their starting lineup (or simply be unable to pry Lowry from Toronto), George Hill, Patty Mills, and Garrett Temple all could make some sense as a perimeter option to bolster their bench with a veteran. In the frontcourt, Thaddeus Young would be an incredible pickup for them (and, like, any contender) but I’m not sure if they have the package Chicago wants for a player who’s been so good for the Bulls in their own playoff push. Rudy Gay would also be a snug fit for what they need out of a bench power forward.
Brooklyn Nets: The Nets have made a ton of moves already this season and they likely aren’t done. Spencer Dinwiddie remains a valuable trade chip should they want to use him and their desire to get more frontcourt depth is well known. They took the low-risk chance on Griffin and they’ve seen some really good things out of Nic Claxton, but they want more. They’ll reportedly be in the buyout mix for Drummond but also could look for his Cavs teammate, JaVale McGee in a trade. I also think, sneakily, dealing Dinwiddie for Thaddeus Young would be a really good move for the Nets and would be a worthy use of Dinwiddie as an asset, as Young would be a major upgrade in the frontcourt that would bring them a lot of versatility and a different small-ball option from Jeff Green.
Milwaukee Bucks: The Bucks won’t have a lot of trade chips left to use after making the Tucker move, so anything they’d do at this point is going to be on the periphery. They could be in the mix for a center still, as while Tucker brings them frontcourt versatility, they do not have much insurance should something happen to Brook Lopez as far as a rim protecting big man. The dream scenario here is they can pry Richaun Holmes away from the Kings, because he’s a huge bargain and would be a great pickup for them. In a similar price range, but not quite as impactful, I’m still a fan of Nerlens Noel as a target for a contender that could use some rim protection in a pinch of the bench, as he’s likely not in the Knicks long-term plans. They also would happily add a Wayne Ellington type for some more bench shooting so they aren’t so reliant on Pat Connaughton come playoff time. The Bucks have also positioned themselves to be buyout players after moving off of a few roster spots in the Tucker trade, again likely for a center or another veteran guard now that they shipped DJ Augustin to Houston.
Utah Jazz: The Jazz are scuffling, but it might be a blessing in disguise. This is a team that still could use a little bit more and stalling out before the deadline, when you can make some adjustments, is better than doing so after. The Jazz could use another wing defender, and if New Orleans is selling, Josh Hart feels like a fairly snug fit into their 3-and-D group on the wing. I also would love the Thaddeus Young fit here, but whether they can meet what should be a steep asking price from Chicago is a different question. Young would give them a versatile defender in the frontcourt who can handle bigger wings, while providing them with more lineup versatility for the playoffs than Derrick Favors. Adding Ersan Ilyasova isn’t going to fix much for them, so I’d expect them to at least explore more frontcourt/wing help in the coming week.
Phoenix Suns: Phoenix has been really good this year and they swooped in to snag Torrey Craig for free in the Tucker deal, as they continue to collect long wings who can defend. There are two clear needs, most notably another center to backup Deandre Ayton and provide a little insurance on the nights where the second-year big man simply doesn’t have it. Aldridge to Phoenix feels almost too easy, but I also love this as a Holmes destination should they be willing to part with some assets via trade. They also might look for another veteran guard for their bench, as they have a lot of guys that haven’t quite earned the trust in the playoffs. Another Spur, Patty Mills, would make sense here as would any of the vet guards mentioned previously. They also could take a look at Aaron Gordon, a player they’ve been in talks for in the past and is once again on the trade block, particularly if they think they could use a talent bump to really contend with the top teams in the West as this year is worth going all-in on.
Los Angeles Lakers: Prior to the LeBron injury, I think the focus in Los Angeles was still on the periphery. Their desire to land frontcourt help is well known and they’re considered the frontrunners for Drummond, but I’m not 100 percent sure he’s what they need, as their issues are on offense not with defense or rebounding. Adding another shooter in, say, Wayne Ellington also made sense and still does, but it’ll be interesting to see if they look to make a bit of a bigger swing now that they might be without both of their top stars for a couple weeks. That’s not a reason to panic and make a rash trade, but it might push them to be a bit more aggressive in pursuing another playmaker who could carry some offensive load in the absence of LeBron and AD.
Now, any move they make is going to have to be with a playoff run alongside their two stars in mind, but while seeding isn’t all that important to L.A., they won’t want to slide too deep in the standings. Maybe they go see if Norman Powell could be had from Toronto, or possibly look into Eric Bledsoe in New Orleans or, and this seems far less likely, they poke around on Victor Oladipo. Their cap situation makes adding a $20 million guy very difficult without a major shakeup to the roster, but I think they’ll be at least a bit more interested in a bigger splash move now than they would have a week ago.
Los Angeles Clippers: Boy, the Clippers just look miserable right now, having not won back-to-back games in more than a month, and while part of that is just getting healthy, they really could use some point guard help. Insert just about any available lead guard and they’d be a welcome sight in L.A. George Hill, Patty Mills, bringing Eric Bledsoe back home, Delon Wright, or anyone else who is a competent would help them. One would think they’d be set on the wing with their two All-Stars plus Kennard, Morris, and Batum, but another frontcourt piece might not hurt them either and they’ll at least explore the buyout market. I still think they believe they don’t need a major move to be a top contender, and for that reason I don’t expect them to go chasing anyone major, but they have to address the backcourt situation this week.