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The NBA trade deadline feels like it’s a lifetime away.
Technically, it’s a shade under six months (Feb. 7, 2020), but the distance between now and then allows ample opportunity for change. An offseason of hyperactivity transformed identities all across the hoops landscape, but some will learn the transformations weren’t for the better.
While our crystal ball offers nothing more than a fuzzy outlook for the following six months, the blurry images are enough to make educated guesses about team needs and ways to address them. Whether strengthening up for a postseason run, tearing down for an organizational overhaul or doing something less dramatic, every team in the league will have at least one move worth considering.
We’ll pinpoint each of those targets, and to give this more of a trade-deadline feel, we won’t use the same player more than once.
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The Atlanta Hawks are close to constructing their next foundation.
Trae Young is the defense-bending catalyst who might soon be elite as a scorer, distributor and pull-from-anywhere sharpshooter. Kevin Huerter holds down the other backcourt post with solid size and a better stroke. Rookie De’Andre Hunter checks the all-important three-and-D box. John Collins is the extra-bouncy big man who’s nearly an automatic 20 points and 10 boards every night.
But unless Alex Len changes from who he’s been through six NBA seasons, this roster still needs a long-term answer at the 5. Given that Collins is neither a floor-spacer nor a shot-blocker, Atlanta’s ideal big man would do both.
Myles Turner is one of the few players who scratches each itch. Just last season, he tallied a league-leading 2.7 blocks and a career-high 1.0 triples per game on 38.8 percent shooting. Even better, he’s signed through 2022-23 and young enough to fit the timeline of Atlanta’s core.
While the Indiana Pacers probably aren’t rushing to trade Turner, they haven’t answered questions about his long-term viability alongside Domantas Sabonis. In fact, this frontcourt grew more congested when Indy added center Goga Bitadze on draft night.
If there is a price point that gets Turner out of the Circle City, the Hawks should do everything within reason to meet it.
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When Kyrie Irving ditched the Boston Celtics this summer, they deftly pivoted to a near-perfect replacement in Kemba Walker. If the latter handles his leadership duties better than the former, it’s possible next season’s Celtics will be in better hands at the point guard spot.
But the center position is a different story. When Al Horford bounced out of Beantown, his absence opened a void that still hasn’t been filled.
It hasn’t been for a lack of trying. Enes Kanter arrived with sharp scoring and rebounding chops but debilitating defensive weaknesses. Vincent Poirier added muscle to the mix, but he’s unproven in the NBA and doesn’t have an outside shot. Those same weaknesses apply to athletic sophomore Robert Williams III. Daniel Theis might have a three-ball (career 35.2 percent on low volume), but he can struggle against strength and speed.
No one in Boston’s price range is replacing Horford’s immense two-way impact, but Dewayne Dedmon could come closer than all the in-house options. The 30-year-old blends length, sound instincts, athleticism and activity into a productive package. He’s one of only seven 7-footers with at least 100 triples and 100 blocks over the past two seasons.
If the Sacramento Kings realize they are further from contending than they hoped and make Dedmon available, he would significantly improve Boston’s frontcourt.
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If Kevin Durant successfully speeds through his ruptured Achilles rehab, the Brooklyn Nets might have realistic championship hopes as soon as next season.
If that’s the case, they may want more reliable two-way options than Taurean Prince and Wilson Chandler. Adding someone like Jae Crowder, who’s played in 51 playoff games and started 30 of them, could better prepare this group for the postseason.
He’s the kind of player win-now clubs want for their supporting cast. He hustles, he defends multiple positions, and he’s capable of making open threes. He offers enough versatility that he could crack the Nets’ closing group, depending on how some of their younger players handle the new spotlight.
As a 29-year-old on an expiring contract, he clearly isn’t long for the rebuilding Memphis Grizzlies. The Nets, though, could get a lot of mileage out of what should be a minimal investment.
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If last season was an indication of Gordon Hayward’s post-injury career, then he has one of the worst contracts in basketball.
He lost the 2017-18 campaign to a gruesome leg injury, and he never looked right in 2018-19. He lost both volume and efficiency, and his struggles only worsened in the postseason. Maybe time gets him closer to his old self, but with his 30th birthday looming in March, perhaps he never makes it back to where he was.
That would be crushing for the Shamrocks since he’s owed $32.7 million for next season and holds a $34.2 million player option for 2020-21. But it could be an opportunity for the Charlotte Hornets, who should be hunting for assets to help them traverse the post-Kemba Walker landscape.
With a slew of expiring contracts to send back to Boston, Charlotte is uniquely positioned for a salary dump. The Hornets should be focused solely on their future, and a Hayward deal could brighten it by delivering picks, prospects or a combination of both.
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No offense to Otto, but a different (and unrelated) Porter Jr. was supposed to be the one who fixed the Chicago Bulls’ small forward problems.
Michael Porter Jr. was the apple of Chicago’s eye (and everyone else’s eyes) before a back injury erased his college career and bumped him from the top slot of the 2018 draft class. Even after the setback, he still seemed to be in play for the Bulls, who held the seventh overall pick.
“I feel like I fit in great with those [Bulls] guys,” Porter said at the time, per Bulls.com’s Sam Smith. “They have a great core, a lot of young guys, athletic guys and they are kind of looking for a small forward position. So I feel I would fit in there.”
Porter still makes sense with this roster. His healthy version, which, admittedly, hasn’t been seen in two years, features excellent size, three-level scoring and potentially elite shot-creation. Line him up with Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, Wendell Carter Jr. and Coby White, and Chicago would have a present headache for opposing defenses and maybe a future contender.
Two things must happen to bring this Porter to the Windy City.
First, Chicago must decide it’s far enough from competing at a high level to consider fielding offers for the 26-year-old Porter. Next, Denver must feel some slippage in the reloaded West and determine it needs a move away from Paul Millsap. If both boxes are checked, maybe the younger Porter finally makes it to Chicago, and the Bulls add another trade chip in Millsap.
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The Cleveland Cavaliers can’t keep Kevin Love. Maybe they once entertained dreams of him leading them to post-LeBron James playoff glory, but those bubbles burst long ago.
He’s a soon-to-be 31-year-old five-time All-Star either approaching or well into his twilight. They are coming off a 63-loss season and won’t be much better this time around. It makes zero sense to keep this relationship going.
However, it makes plenty of sense for the Cavs to try and generate any leverage they can. That’s the only way to explain their reported asking price of “some combination of young players and draft picks,” per Cleveland.com’s Chris Fedor.
That isn’t happening, but the right team could deem Love worthy of one of those things. If the Portland Trail Blazers are that team—they still don’t have a third scorer next to Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum—then the Cavs must get Nassir Little back in the deal.
After prioritizing offense at the draft, Cleveland looks desperate for defense. If everything breaks right, Little could emerge as one of the premier stoppers in this rookie class. He has the length and strength to battle in the post and the lateral quickness to stay in front of perimeter players. It’s a long-term, upside-driven wager, which is precisely what this organization should make in its current state.
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While free agency again failed to deliver a difference-maker to the Dallas Mavericks, at least they entered it with two already on their roster. Luka Doncic was nearly a unanimous Rookie of the Year after a freshman campaign for the ages. The last time Kristaps Porzingis was healthy, he produced at an unprecedented rate.
This dynamic duo has a chance to be special for Dallas, but only if the roster improves around it. A major move for six-time All-Star Blake Griffin could make the biggest in-season impact of any realistic addition.
The 30-year-old is coming off arguably the best season of his career. His 24.5 points and 2.5 threes per game were both personal bests. Each number should excite the Mavs since his scoring shows he can thrive in the spotlight (alleviating the pressure on Doncic and Porzingis) while his shooting highlights the damage he can do as an offensive costar (freeing the youngsters to continue their development).
Would the Detroit Pistons be open to a Griffin deal? Given his age, contract and spotty supporting cast, they should be. They might find the Mavs are more willing than most to sacrifice something of value for Griffin since locking him in now would likely give this group three years to make a deep playoff run.
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The Denver Nuggets are on the doorstep of contending, thanks in no small part to the meteoric rise of superstar center Nikola Jokic. This was a 54-win conference semifinalist last season, which was only the Joker’s fourth in the NBA and the first in which he started every game he played.
Internal development could eventually make Denver scary. But a sooner, more reliable method of crossing the threshold to full-fledged contention would be swinging a blockbuster deal for Bradley Beal.
“Make a deal for Beal, and the Nuggets have not one bona fide all-star, but two in their starting lineup,” Mark Kiszla of the Denver Post wrote. “… Add Beal, a 26-year-old shooting guard in his prime, and Denver pries open its championship window for the next five years.”
Both Beal and Jokic can carry an offense by themselves, and they’re sharp enough shooters to let the other run the show. Their consistency would lessen the reliance on the talented but erratic Jamal Murray, though neither is so ball-dominant that they would disrupt one of his scorching-hot streaks.
Beal could take this team from really good to great, which is the hardest leap to make in this league.
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The Detroit Pistons carried win-now intentions into this offseason. Save for the drafting of Sekou Doumbouya, virtually every move was made with the idea of improving the 2019-20 roster, from trading for Tony Snell to signing Derrick Rose and Markieff Morris.
While one can argue the logic of this approach—this looks like a team about to bump into a low ceiling—it’s a fruitless exercise given the direction of the franchise. If the Pistons want to field the best team possible, they should continue attempting to perk up this perimeter group.
Courtney Lee could do that.
If he’s healthy—he only played 34 games last season—he’s a good shooter who keeps the ball moving and handles his defensive assignments. He might be more three than D with his 34th birthday coming in October, but even his career 38.7 three-point percentage could be a big get on its own given the need for maximum spacing alongside Griffin, Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson.
In line with the summer transactions, Lee would also help keep the financial books clean going forward. Rose signed for two seasons, while Snell and Morris both have only player options for 2020-21. Lee would be even less burdensome since his $12.8 million salary expires at season’s end.
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The Golden State Warriors and Minnesota Timberwolves are logical trade partners.
D’Angelo Russell doesn’t make much sense in San Francisco. He’s a pick-and-roll player, and they run fewer of those sets than anyone. He lacks the size, outside shot (career 35.3 percent) and defensive versatility of the ideal Stephen Curry backcourt mate. And at 23 years old, he’s a little behind the timeline of his most important teammates.
Get him to the Gopher State and next to Karl-Anthony Towns, though, and he might be perfect. (We’ll dive deeper into that later.)
Conversely, Robert Covington might be running out of usefulness for Minnesota. While his low-maintenance play style fits almost anywhere, his age and lack of upside are suddenly possible sticking points for a team getting younger and further removed from the playoff picture. This will be season No. 7 and birthday No. 29 for Covington, which could nudge him out of Minnesota’s plans.
But he’d be perfect in Golden State.
On offense, he can feast on catch-and-launch triples (39.4 percent last season). On defense, he’d help replace the versatility lost with the departures of Kevin Durant and Andre Iguodala. Covington could seamlessly fit into the old Harrison Barnes role with a little less offense but a lot more defense.
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Step one of the Houston Rockets contending for next season’s crown is striking the perfect balance between Russell Westbrook and James Harden.
Step two is fixing a defensive unit that plunged from seventh to 17th in efficiency last season and, on a related note, still hasn’t replaced Trevor Ariza. Adding Andre Iguodala, whose many defensive exploits include bothering the Beard like no one else, might do the trick.
Between Iggy and PJ Tucker, the Rockets would have an elite stopper to throw at nearly every top offensive option around the league. Iguodala put a Finals MVP in his trophy case largely for his defensive work on LeBron James in the 2015 championship round. If Houston wants a difference-maker who may not carry a difference-making cost, Iggy is the one.
Getting him to Space City could be tricky, though.
While Stadium’s Shams Charania reported the Rockets were “strongly pursuing” Iguodala in July, he added the team was hesitant to take on the luxury-tax hit. Maybe the Memphis Grizzlies simplify things by buying out the 35-year-old. But if not, Houston general manager Daryl Morey must be at his most creative to get a deal done.
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While the Indiana Pacers had a productive offseason, the identity of their second offensive option remains unclear.
Assuming Victor Oladipo returns to full health, he’ll again be their offensive catalyst. But good luck figuring out his top supporting actor. Malcolm Brogdon is now the second-highest-paid Pacer, but he’s never averaged 16 points in a season. Same goes for Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis. TJ Warren has, but his opportunities may not be the same as he joins a much more competitive club.
Danilo Gallinari would be a fascinating option to address this issue. And given the rebuilding state of the Oklahoma City Thunder, he should be readily available as a 31-year-old on an expiring deal.
While not quite a star, the 6’10” forward often looks the part at the point-producing end.
Last season, he was one of only five players to average at least 19 points and two triples while shooting 40-plus percent from distance. The Pacers have only had eight such seasons in their history, four of which were authored by Reggie Miller. Gallo also ranked 11th overall in ESPN’s offensive real plus-minus, or 47 spots higher than the top Pacer (Darren Collison, 58th).
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In the span of two transactions, the Los Angeles Clippers transformed from gritty overachievers to possible NBA frontrunners. Paul George and Kawhi Leonard are so absurdly talented they can cover up almost every weakness that existed before their arrivals.
But this roster doesn’t quite have everything. Acquiring Nerlens Noel would address a minor but noticeable void on the interior.
Ivica Zubac has size, but he underwhelms as an athlete. Rookie Mfiondu Kabengele brings bounce, but he needs polish. The Clippers get energy from Montrezl Harrell and defensive versatility from JaMychal Green, but they sacrifice size when the 6’8″ Harrell or 6’9″ Green mans the middle.
Noel, a 6’11” shot-eraser with hops, go-go-Gadget arms and perimeter agility, could help complete the puzzle. He’s an exceptional talent on the defensive end—11.1 boards, 3.3 blocks and 2.3 steals per 36 minutes last season—and he adds an above-the-rim element on offense. He might not be too tough to pry out of OKC, either, where he’s joined up front by Steven Adams, Mike Muscala and Justin Patton.
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After pairing LeBron James and Anthony Davis, the Los Angeles Lakers aggressively chased a third star for two reasons. First, adding a player of Kawhi Leonard’s ilk would have upgraded this roster from powerful to possibly unbeatable. Second, after cashing in almost every trade chip for Davis, the Lakers can’t afford another blockbuster deal.
So, the type of player who should be on their radar is similar to the ones they hurriedly signed after Leonard joined the other Staples Center residents. Much like Danny Green and Avery Bradley, Trevor Ariza isn’t a building block, but rather one who can support the Purple and Gold’s centerpieces with spacing and defensive versatility.
The 6’8″ swingman has long been extinguishing fiery scorers with length, quick hands and polished instincts. Even if the 34-year-old has lost a step to Father Time, he’d give the Lakers another option to cycle through defensive switches or serve stretches on the opposition’s focal point.
While the Sacramento Kings added Ariza as a hopeful rebuild-accelerator, they might learn—as last season’s Phoenix Suns did—he has more value to them on the trade block than on the hardwood. If he becomes available, the Lakers should push hard for a reunion.
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Sooner than later, the Pacers must decide which up-and-coming big man they plan to keep: Myles Turner or Domantas Sabonis. That is, of course, unless they already did. Indy locked up Turner on a four-year, $72 million extension ahead of the 2018-19 campaign, which could mean Sabonis is the odd man out.
The Memphis Grizzlies can only hope that’s the case. While they just committed $45 million to Jonas Valanciunas, Sabonis is closer to the core’s timeline and better suited to coexist with Jaren Jackson Jr. and Ja Morant. Not to mention, Memphis’ youngsters might coax another level out of Sabonis, who was already a Sixth Man of the Year finalist last season.
“He’d work particularly well with the Memphis Grizzlies, who have Jaren Jackson Jr., a player with defensive potential that could exceed Turner’s,” Bleacher Report’s Grant Hughes wrote. “More than that, Jackson profiles as a more versatile frontcourt weapon than Turner. His facility in switching schemes should allow him to excel at power forward.”
The Grizzlies should have enough minutes at the 5 for Valanciunas and Sabonis to coexist for the time being. But when they hand the keys to the latter, they would elevate their ceiling. Despite being four years younger, Sabonis has already displayed greater promise as both a shooter and passer, both of which would make life easier on Jackson and Morant.
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The Miami Heat are in a difficult spot.
With Pat Riley at the wheel, this team never strays from the win-now lane. If that hadn’t been clear before, this summer’s four-year, $140.8 million pact with soon-to-be 30-year-old Jimmy Butler hammered it home.
That said, the organization’s asset collection is getting interesting. Between Justise Winslow, Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro and Derrick Jones Jr., the Heat might have their nucleus to carry them into the future. That’s a big reason why Russell Westbrook isn’t lounging on South Beach right now. They also don’t want to restrict their future finances, which is partly why a Chris Paul trade hasn’t happened.
Brokering a deal for Kyle Lowry, though, might allow Miami to continue pushing for today without sacrificing tomorrow.
The Kawhi Leonard-less Toronto Raptors are a prime firesale candidate, as Lowry is one of three high-dollar veterans on an expiring contract. Even though he’s a five-time All-Star, his market should be reasonable given his huge salary ($35 million), his age (33) and his position (most win-now teams have a point guard).
At the right price, he’d be a great costar for Butler and perhaps a big enough splash for Miami to compete for a top-four seed in the Eastern Conference.
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The challenge facing the Milwaukee Bucks could not have higher stakes.
They just won 60 games, made the conference finals and paced the entire league in net efficiency. Now, they need to repeat that success—and ideally turn it into a title—despite having lost the likes of Malcolm Brogdon, Nikola Mirotic and Tony Snell over the summer.
Oh, and if they suffer any unexpected stumbles, the fallout could be catastrophic. Reining MVP and all-galaxy superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo is only signed through the 2020-21 season. Even if he has given no indication of looking elsewhere, it’s safe to assume the entire Association is nevertheless looking at him.
Milwaukee must fortify its ranks for the grueling task ahead.
Plucking Al-Farouq Aminu away from the Orlando Magic, who shouldn’t need long to discover they have way too many bigs, could give the Bucks another do-it-all stopper and capable three-point shooter. An Antetokounmpo-Aminu-Khris Middleton trio could answer virtually any defensive challenge, especially when Eric Bledsoe can erase his point guard counterpart.
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The Minnesota Timberwolves’ point guard plan for 2019-20 revolves around 31-year-old Jeff Teague. Hopefully for their sake, he was simply injured and not outright declining last season when he posted his worst player efficiency rating since 2010-11.
Their plans for the position beyond next year? Nonexistent. That seems sort of important, especially with Karl-Anthony Towns climbing toward his peak.
The Wolves thought D’Angelo Russell could be the answer to this problem. Entering free agency, they were said to be his top choice and vice versa, per Marc Stein of the New York Times. Towns, a friend of Russell, clearly seemed on board with the pursuit.
Russell eventually joined the Golden State Warriors instead, but Minnesota shouldn’t wave the white flag just yet. If the Dubs are willing to take trades, the Wolves can build an interesting offer around Robert Covington and either Teague or Gorgui Dieng.
Russell and Towns would immediately enter the discussion of the NBA’s best point guard-big man combo. Their pick plays would be a nightmare to handle—Towns can pop or roll; Russell can launch, drive or find an open teammate—and each could carry the offense while the other sits. Minnesota would have its answer at floor general and a foundation on which to fuel its next playoff run.
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The New Orleans Pelicans should be in a rebuilding state. After all, they just drafted the No. 1 overall player in Zion Williamson and traded their only All-Star, Anthony Davis, for a package of picks and prospects.
And yet, this roster suggests they’ll already compete for a 2020 postseason berth. Jrue Holiday is criminally underrated. Lonzo Ball could be a magician in Alvin Gentry’s uptempo offense. Brandon Ingram has shown flashes of star potential. Derrick Favors and Jaxson Hayes form a lethal one-two punch at center. JJ Redick is a top-20 shooter all-time and a winner everywhere he goes.
Then there’s Williamson, who is as physically impressive and marketable as any rookie since LeBron James. In his only season of college hoops, he had the highest PER in more than a decade. He looks like a two-way force, and if he hits the ground sprinting, New Orleans will follow his lead.
If the Pelicans are ahead of schedule, they’ll seek out more instant contributors, specifically those who can address this team’s shooting shortage. If the Brooklyn Nets are behind schedule—it’s possible they won’t have Kevin Durant all season—they might be convinced to take back an asset for the soon-to-be 28-year-old Joe Harris, who’s entering the final year of his contract.
Harris would do wonders for this roster. Like Redick, he’s another elite sniper who’s cleared 40 percent from deep each of the past two seasons, including a league-best 47.4 percent in 2018-19.
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The New York Knicks are going nowhere fast, and that’s OK.
They have plenty of young players to develop, including this summer’s No. 3 pick, RJ Barrett. They also have very little money committed beyond next season, meaning their priorities include maintaining flexibility and adding assets where they can.
Rather than acquiring picks for bad contracts, New York would be better off chasing undervalued youngsters. Jerome Robinson fits that bill. After spending last summer’s 13th pick on him, the Clippers never gave him an opportunity. He totaled just 320 minutes across 33 games and made multiple trips to the G League.
Somehow, his role is even less certain for his sophomore campaign. With L.A. in the championship hunt and the backcourt crowded, Robinson could again get lost in the mix.
Maybe that would allow the Knicks to sneak in and get him for cheap. It’s strictly an upside play, but maybe a good one. Over his three-year college career, he punished defenders as an off-the-bounce scorer, spot-up shooter and secondary playmaker.
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The Oklahoma City Thunder want everyone to believe they don’t have a Chris Paul problem. In fact, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported the Thunder and Paul see benefits to sticking together until at least December and maybe for the duration of the campaign.
That’s a different way of saying the trade market for a 34-year-old point guard owed $124.1 million is frigid at best. Possible trade partners will want multiple assets to take on that albatross contract, and OKC is posturing as if it’s fine without a deal.
But that’s ludicrous. The Thunder, who currently have a luxury-tax bill despite slim-to-none chances of making the playoffs, have zero use for Paul or his contract. They aren’t winning with him now, and they could even impact their chances of winning later if his presence stunts the growth of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, their only blue-chip prospect.
OKC must get something done, probably with the Miami Heat given their perpetual push for maximum competitiveness. Even if this costs the Thunder a draft pick or two, shedding Paul for a player like Goran Dragic, who has an expiring contract and potential trade value in a subsequent deal, would get the wheels rolling again on this massive rebuilding effort.
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The Orlando Magic keep glossing over their point guard issues and collecting big men by the busload. Even worse, each issue exacerbates the other. This jumbo-sized roster needs a floor general to figure it out, so the longer Orlando goes without a solution, the more glaring the point guard void and frontcourt congestion become.
Adding a legitimate lead guard might cost more than the Magic want to spend, but they need to try something. Their only point guard signed beyond 2019-20 is Markelle Fultz, who might contribute one day but has only made it through 33 games over his first two NBA seasons.
However, what drew Orlando to Fultz—and interested it in Frank Ntilikina—could also steer the club toward Kris Dunn. All three are former top prospects who have since been discarded in the clearance bin. Even if Dunn, 2016’s fifth overall pick, never pans out, the Magic’s losses would be minimal.
But if he does right the ship, Orlando might have an impact point guard at both ends of the floor. His shaky shooting is a concern (career 41.7/32.3/72.3 slash line), but he’s a sharp decision-maker (career 4.4 assists against 1.9 turnovers per game) and a disruptive defender (career 2.1 steals per 36 minutes).
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When Wayne Ellington dons the New York Knicks’ blue and orange this fall, it will be the ninth different jersey he’s worn across 11 NBA seasons. The Philadelphia 76ers should make sure they’re his 10th.
They can never have enough spacers around Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, and Ellington is one of the league’s better marksmen. He’s one of 16 players with 500-plus triples over the past three seasons, and his 38.2 percent conversion rate ranks 10th among that group.
The Sixers have taken note of that success. They were among his top suitors last season when he was bought out after a deadline deal to the Phoenix Suns. Ellington opted for the Detroit Pistons—his former agent, Arn Tellem is their vice chairman—but he surely gave consideration to joining his hometown team.
That opportunity could knock again near the deadline, as the 31-year-old sniper seems likely to find his way back to the trade block. He took a two-year deal with the rebuilding Knicks this summer, but the second season is only partially guaranteed. If Philly can rent his outside shot, it could give this offense badly needed breathing room.
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The Phoenix Suns entered last season with the worst position group the NBA has seen since the Philadelphia 76ers were trusting the process. Their opening-night starter at point guard, Isaiah Canaan, was waived before December, and the position went without a steady hand all year.
The Suns might have one in Ricky Rubio, who signed a three-year, $51 million deal in the desert this summer. But they should not declare this problem solved. If anything, the 28-year-old (29 in October) is a stopgap solution before they find a floor general on the same timeline as 22-year-old Devin Booker and 21-year-old Deandre Ayton.
Why not see if Dante Exum could be that player? Like Rubio, he’s a defensive-minded, pass-first point guard, which is the player type that best fits Booker. But Exum is younger (24), longer and more athletic, all of which could make him the superior fit over time.
He’s hardly been healthy since the Utah Jazz made him the fifth pick in 2014, as he’s only played 204 games across five seasons. They still valued his upside enough to give him a three-year, $33 million deal in 2018, but even their patience must be wearing thin by this point.
If the Suns can get him for next to nothing—Utah has Mike Conley and Emmanuel Mudiay to run point—that should be a no-brainer. Injuries and all, Exum’s potential still stretches above Rubio, Tyler Johnson, Elie Okobo and Ty Jerome.
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The Portland Trail Blazers had a busy—and productive—summer, signing the best support players possible for Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. But unless a youngster such as Anfernee Simons, Zach Collins or Nassir Little makes a rapid, miraculous leap, this continues to be a two-star squad.
Portland’s options to change that are limited. The Blazers’ prospects may not have shown enough to anchor a blockbuster swap, and the free-agency outlook is dim given the big-money deals on the books and the fact that Portland has never been a major destination.
But the Blazers could afford a dented-can kind of star. Between Kevin Love’s age (30), cost and injury history, he matches that description as well as anyone. He’s a fish out of water in Cleveland, but get him to Portland, and he might connect the dots on the next Big Three.
“If you put a playmaking screen-setter who can shoot next to Dame and CJ, that’s a problem,” ESPN’s Zach Lowe said on Woj & Lowe (h/t Tim Brown of The Oregonian).
Portland could have the NBA’s best offense, and if it plays even passable defense—16th last season—this is a full-fledged contender. It’s hard to think of better realistic ways to spend the prime years of Lillard and McCollum.
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The Sacramento Kings put a premium on defense this offseason, which made sense. They were 21st in defensive efficiency in 2018-19 and third-worst among teams with 35-plus wins.
They were right to recognize that weakness, but they probably went too veteran-heavy with their spending. Splurging on 30-somethings Trevor Ariza (two years, $25 million) and Dewayne Dedmon (three years, $40 million) is strange when the primary building blocks are 21-year-old De’Aaron Fox and 20-year-old Marvin Bagley III, and it feels like one or both could be shopped by midseason.
If Sacramento focuses on perimeter stoppers who are on a similar schedule as its core players, then Norman Powell could come across the radar. The 26-year-old hasn’t had the most consistent four seasons with the Toronto Raptors, but he can guard multiple positions and has hit 40-plus percent from deep in two of those years.
If the Raptors want to reset, they might want out of Powell’s deal ($21 million over the next two seasons, $11.6 million player option in 2021-22). The Kings should be at the front of the line for a stopper with a longer shelf life than their aforementioned additions.
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Aaron Gash/Associated Press
The San Antonio Spurs had a chance to reset once Kawhi Leonard forced his way out in July 2018. They’ve clung to the competitive route ever since, which should probably surprise no one when 70-year-old Gregg Popovich is calling the shots.
Rather than seeking an asset-heavy package, they built their return around established All-Star DeMar DeRozan. Now, they’re reportedly mulling a max extension for the 30-year-old, per Mike Finger of the San Antonio Express-News.
If this is direction they want to go in, they should make a play for stranded center Steven Adams. The 26-year-old is waiting for some competitive club to pull him out of the wreckage in OKC and drop him back into the playoff race. The Spurs could scratch that itch, and he’d return the favor by anchoring the middle and allowing LaMarcus Aldridge to get back to his comfort zone at the 4.
“That is home,” Aldridge said, per Tom Orsborn of the San Antonio Express-News. “It feels great. It feels like walking in the house and getting mom’s cooking. It just feels right.”
What an Adams-Aldridge frontcourt lacks in athleticism, it might compensate for with size and brute strength. Adams does the dirty work as a screener and rebounder, which would free Aldridge and DeRozan to handle the scoring duties. It would probably cost San Antonio promising young big man Jakob Poeltl and more, but if the franchise is focused on the present, Adams is a bigger help.
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John Raoux/Associated Press
The Toronto Raptors aren’t thinking in teardown terms—yet.
“As for veterans Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka … the Raptors have no intention of moving them, at least not before the season,” TSN’s Josh Lewenberg reported.
That shouldn’t take long to change. Without Kawhi Leonard, Toronto has no chance of a title defense. While the Raptors could treat the year as a victory lap and maybe hope for a second-round playoff push, this is the end of the road for this nucleus. Lowry, Gasol and Ibaka are all unsigned past this season, so rather than watch them leave for nothing, Toronto could start the exodus early.
Whenever the Raptors flip that switch, they should chase cheap upside wherever they can find it. Mohamed Bamba would be a fascinating option to start. His upside stretches as far his 7’10” wingspan. He has Defensive Player of the Year potential as both an intimidating anchor and a capable perimeter switcher. If he finds consistency with his shot (21 threes in 47 games), he’ll offer the ideal skills of a modern big.
So, how could he possibly be had at a discount? Because the Magic have a traffic jam on their interior, and they just blocked Bamba for the foreseeable future by giving Nikola Vucevic a four-year, $100 million deal. If Toronto gives Orlando a way to balance its roster, the Magic could meet the Raptors’ new demand for youth.
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Chuck Burton/Associated Press
The Utah Jazz found almost everything they wanted this summer.
Mike Conley arrived as a badly needed offensive co-star for Donovan Mitchell. Bojan Bogdanovic brought more outside shooting and shot-creating to the mix. Emmanuel Mudiay offered insurance behind Dante Exum. Jeff Green and Ed Davis bulked up the frontcourt depth.
But the club still hasn’t quite found the right frontcourt partner for Rudy Gobert. Moving away from Derrick Favors to stretchier options such as Bogdanovic and Joe Ingles helps on offense, but both battle athletic limitations at the defensive end. Green has the requisite athleticism, but he’s not a great shooter or defender.
Could Marvin Williams be the answer? He’s at least worth having in the mix. The 6’9″ 33-year-old has length, athleticism and mobility, so he can handle most frontcourt assignments thrown his way. He’s also been an above-average three-point shooter for his career (36.2 percent) and sometimes a really good one (38-plus percent three different times). Plus, he’s a former Jazz player with fond memories of his tenure.
“I was just telling the guys 20 minutes ago, how much I enjoyed playing there,” Williams told reporters before a January 2018 game. “We didn’t have the best record and I still remember walking around Salt Lake and so many people would come up to you and were so encouraging, so enthusiastic about the team.”
As icing on the cake, Williams should be available. He’s entering the final season of his contract and no longer fits the direction of the franchise.
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Michael Dwyer/Associated Press
The Washington Wizards don’t want to trade Bradley Beal. Who would? He’s a 26-year-old All-Star who’s stringing one breakout season after the other. Most recently, he was one of six players to average 25 points, five assists and five rebounds per game in 2018-19. Giannis, LeBron, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and James Harden were the others.
“[Trading Beal has] never crossed our mind,” general manager Tommy Sheppard told The Athletic’s Ben Standig. “Bradley is somebody we’re building around.”
Washington’s commitment is more than words. The Wizards have a three-year, $111 million max extension on the table for Beal, per The Athletic’s David Aldridge.
But it’s in Beal’s best interest to leave that unsigned. Once he does, it’s in Washington’s best interest to field trade offers for him. While it’s possible he’d be open to a longer, richer agreement to stay next summer, it’s also possible he might be fed up by then. The Wizards might not have John Wall (ruptured Achilles) all season and could miss the playoffs for the third time in five years. Is that really how Beal wants to spend his prime?
Washington shouldn’t wait and see. If he’s unwilling to commit, the Wizards must get rolling on an overdue rebuild facilitated by his departure. That’s a tough pill to swallow, making it all the more critical for them to ace the exchange.
Boston swingman Jaylen Brown should be their primary focus. He’s a 22-year-old who projects as a three-and-D ace on the low end and an elite two-way talent on the high side. Move him to the center of a youth movement featuring the likes of Rui Hachimura, Troy Brown Jr., Thomas Bryant and Moritz Wagner, and Washington could be in a better place down the line.
Unless noted otherwise, statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference and NBA.com.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.