We’re barely a month into the NBA season, and already, we’ve had a preview of the teams that may end up faring way below their expectations for the year. The sample size is extremely small at this point, and a lot will still happen within the next few weeks/months, but just for the sake of argument, we’ve come up with a list of teams that may find that a major shake-up might be the solution they require to address their current conundrums.
Below are four teams that have been underperforming thus far, and have made it on our ranked list of way-too-early team blockbuster trade nominees.
4. Houston Rockets (4-7)
The Rockets are on this list for the sole reason that they have fallen off a cliff compared to how good they were last year. In the previous season, the Rockets came very close to upsetting the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals. They definitely put up more of a fight than the Cleveland Cavaliers did in the Finals.
This is just not the same Rockets team right now. Over the summer, concerns were raised regarding the team’s defense coming into the new season. The Rockets were an offensive juggernaut last season, but it was their defense that took them to the next level.
Houston’s inability to retain the services of defensive stalwarts Trevor Ariza (signed with the Phoenix Suns) and Luc Mbah a Moute (signed with the Los Angeles Clippers), along with the questionable circumstances of former assistant coach Jeff Bzdelik’s (the man credited for the team’s shift to a more defensive mentality) sudden retirement all put question marks on the team’s ability to sustain the same level of defense they showed last term.
Due in most part to their poor start, the Rockets have made a U-turn on Bzdelik and have asked him to return to the team as a consultant. This is an indication of the team’s desire to restore a bit of defensive grit to their side, and perhaps, one or two big-name trades to bring in a reputable defensive stopper might/should be on the horizon for the Rockets.
3. New Orleans Pelicans (6-6)
The Pelicans’ most noteworthy achievement last season was making quick work of the third-seeded Portland Trail Blazers in an unprecedented sweep in the first round of the Playoffs. Much like the Rockets, the Pelicans are currently looking like a particularly different team from the side that was responsible for Damian Lillard and co.’s early summer vacation.
The Pelicans are not bad, but mediocrity in a ultra-competitive Western Conference is just unacceptable. There is very little room for error, and a major shake-up may become imminent for New Orleans.
Newcomer Julius Randle has been great off the bench so far, which has made Nikola Mirotic somewhat dispensable. Perhaps they can move the 27-year-old veteran and get an upgrade at the two-guard (currently manned by free agent signing Elfrid Payton) that will better compliment star point guard Jrue Holiday.
2. Washington Wizards (3-9)
The Wizards are perhaps the biggest underperformers of the season thus far. With only three wins in twelve contests, only the Cleveland Cavaliers and Phoenix Suns have worse records than the Wizards.
Rebounding has emerged as a major problem for the team early on, as they currently rank 29th in the league with only 39.4 rebounds per contest. Dwight Howard, who signed with the Wizards as a free agent in the offseason, is slowly getting up to speed after missing the first seven games of the season due to a back injury, so that should help put a plug on that hole.
Nonetheless, the Wizards front office may still have their work cutout if this downward spiral continues, and dealing away one of their expensive contracts may be the long-term solution to the mess they are currently in.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers (1-11)
Coming into this season, the expectations for the Cavs were already quite low. Nonetheless, very few could have imagined that they would be this bad. A couple of weeks into the season, and they’ve already replaced their head coach — an indication that the team’s priority now lies in the development of their youth (read: tank mode on).
With their eyes already fixed on the future, it will be in the best interest of the Cavs to trade five-time All-Star Kevin Love in exchange for future draft picks. While he may still be a formidable big man, building their franchise around Love is not going to be ideal for the Cavs. According to some reports, the 30-year-old has a number of suitors that may be able to offer a decent deal to Cleveland.
Moving Love will not only secure additional pieces for the team, but will considerably decrease the team’s level of competitiveness, thereby virtually guaranteeing that the Cavs will be able to keep their top-10 protected pick for next season’s draft.
If the Cavs get lucky, they might even be in the running for the likes of RJ Barrett or Zion Williamson in the 2019 Draft. Either of these two Duke standouts are certainly going to be centerpiece material.
There are still a good number of teams out there that should consider a blockbuster trade to address their early-season woes. There are others still that may want to explore the same possibility in preparation for the future, under the premise that this season has become a foregone conclusion (we’re looking at you, Cleveland).
Nonetheless, these four aforementioned teams above are the most viable candidates based on their recent showings. It would certainly not come as a shock if two or more of our predictions come to fruition in the very near future, especially if these teams are unable to turn their seasons around fast.