The NBA’s trade deadline frenzy has already begun with the New York Knicks and Dallas Mavericks offering the first salvo in blockbuster deals.
With one stroke, the Knicks and Mavs sent shock waves reverberating throughout the league as Kristaps Porzingis, Tim Hardaway Jr., Courtney Lee and Trey Burke were sent packing from New York to Dallas. In exchange, the Knicks received Dennis Smith Jr., Wesley Matthews and DeAndre Jordan plus a couple of draft picks.
With the deadline fast approaching, teams are scrambling for that one trade that will bring them closer to their goal—winning a championship, making the playoffs or salary cap savings. Of course, several trades could help some teams but there is that one trade, one player that each team covets.
Who could these players be?
Let me try and suggest a particular player for each team that will take care of their worries heading into the second half of the season. The Feb. 7 trade deadline, roughly three weeks earlier than usual, has made it more imperative for general managers and team presidents to assess their roster much more carefully. For many teams, this will make or break their season.
As you will no doubt notice later, some players would be a good fit for several teams so expect to see a few names listed on a couple of teams’ want list.
Shout out to Bleacher Report’s Dan Favale for his invaluable insight into each team’s needs.
Need: Young center
Player Target: PF/C Bobby Portis, Bulls
The Hawks are in need of a big man who can grow with this young team. A team that would be interested in a small forward like Kent Bazemore should be a good trade partner. That may be the Bulls who have an abundance of frontcourt players but have yet to unload any of them since the season started.
Bobby Portis could be that big for the Hawks who will pair with John Collins in what could be one of the more intriguing young frontcourts in the league. The potential is there but the consistency isn’t yet. If these two mesh well, they could help Atlanta become a playoff contender in a few years.
Need: None, unless it’s Anthony Davis
Player Target: C Anthony Davis, Pelicans
Boston is one of a few teams that doesn’t need to add another player to their overabundance of talent on the roster. If anything, they could use less not more. Nevertheless, for the sake of our projection in terms of that singular player that would make the Celtics make a deal before the trade deadline, Anthony Davis is that player.
However, with Kyrie Irving on the team, Davis isn’t eligible to be traded to Boston. Here’s how Boston.com’s Nicole Yang explains the NBA’s ruling that’s put the clamps on them:
“NBA teams cannot trade for more than one player who has signed an extension under the ‘Rose Rule’ — a limitation that is only applicable when the players are still on their ‘Rose Rule’ extensions. The Celtics acquired Irving via trade in August 2017, so they cannot deal for Davis — or any other player that has signed such an extension — until Irving leaves or agrees to a new deal. Irving will become an unrestricted free agent at the conclusion of this season and has expressed his intention to re-sign with the Celtics. The earliest he can do so is July 1, 2019.”
This means that they can wait until the summer and miss out on one of the premier players in the league or they can choose to let go of an All-Star player and champion who may not be the right leader for their team.
If Danny Ainge can have his way, he’ll likely trade Irving now so he can get Davis for at least half a season and if they win the title this year, he will likely want to defend the title next season. It’s risky, yes, but Ainge is just the GM to do it with a three-team trade that will help facilitate this deal or two separate deals starting with Irving going to a different team.
Need: Small forward
Player Target: SF Trevor Ariza, Wizards
If the regular season ended today, the Nets will be in the playoffs for the first time in years! Brooklyn is expected to work their way up the standings with a trade that can elevate the team’s play. They are currently the Eastern Conference’s sixth seed but would prefer to be in the top four. It’s a tall order for sure but not impossible.
One player who may not be that difficult to acquire is the Washington Wizards Trevor Ariza. Ariza has been on fire of late, averaging 15.6 points in his last five games. He can defend with the best of them and shoot with range, definitely a terrific pick up for the Nets who are going to be major players in the free-agency frenzy this summer.
Need: Legit big man to control the paint
Player Target: C Andre Drummond, Pistons
Kemba Walker needs a reason to stay in Charlotte after this season and though he is likely going to re-sign with the Hornets, the decision would be easier if he has an All-Star teammate to help him carry the load in the coming years. That player could be Andre Drummond if Michael Jordan the President and his Jordanaires can find a way to pry him away from the Pistons.
With the Pistons just at the doorstep of the playoffs, there’s a chance that they might not get in at all judging by how poorly they’ve been playing the past month. If they are convinced that they’re headed to rebuilding mode instead, look for Charlotte to try and gauge what it will take for the Pistons to give them Drummond.
Player Target: SG/SF Kent Bazmore, Hawks
It’s crazy to think that the Bulls are still holding on to so many power forwards on their roster which is why the deal for Jabari Parker is just ridiculous the moment I heard of it. He doesn’t play the small forward position well. In order to get better, they need a swingman who can space the floor for them and defend perimeter players as well.
The Hawks’ Kent Bazemore could be the answer. Bazemore has a $19.3 million player option for 2019-20 which he will likely exercise in the summer so he’s not going anywhere next season. With Zach Lavine and Lauri Markkanen in tow, Chicago doesn’t need too many young players anyway. They have the chance to land the first pick of the 2019 NBA Draft which could give them Zion Williamson who would be another key player for their future. Bazemore will provide some stability to a young team that will look to advance to the playoffs next year after several seasons at the lower end of the standings.
Player Target: PG Kyrie Irving, Celtics
The Cavs were supposed to be Irving’s team after LeBron James retired but couldn’t wait that long so he went to Boston instead. With the Celtics salivating over the thought of bringing in All-World center Anthony Davis to Boston, perhaps they would be willing to explore returning their All-Star point guard to the team that drafted him.
A three-team trade between Boston, New Orleans and Cleveland could work. It would be the perfect ending to the Irving saga and hopefully, he decides to stay in Cleveland after he becomes a free agent as well. That would mean the end of the (very) short-lived Collin Sexton era, though.
7. Dallas Mavericks
Need: Center to replace DeAndre Jordan
Player Target: C Marc Gasol, Grizzlies
With the emergence of Luka Doncic as the team’s primary playmaker as a point forward, Dennis Smith Jr. was traded to New York. But another player who might not have a future with the Mavs any longer is Harrison Barnes. As soon as Porzingis returns from his injury, the one player that Dallas truly needs is a legit center in their push to make the playoffs this year.
If the Memphis Grizzlies ever decide to tank the season and start their rebuild, the Mavs should consider making a call about Marc Gasol’s availability. With Gasol manning the middle, none of the starters will be playing out of position, giving coach Rick Carlisle the opportunity to work with a traditional lineup at the beginning and then create a more versatile lineup when the reserves come in.
For the Grizzlies, the younger Barnes could be a centerpiece in their rebuilding efforts.
8. Denver Nuggets
Need: Perimeter depth
Player Target: SG Wayne Ellington, Heat
Those who thought before the start of the season that the Nuggets would be in prime position for the best record in the West, raise your hands. I thought so. No one, perhaps even the Nuggets themselves would have ever thought that they could be championship material but here they are.
Though they have an abundance talent, bringing in Wayne Ellington for perimeter depth would strengthen the team’s chances at securing one of the top two spots in the conference and a chance at the Finals this year. The only question is what it will cost them to bring in Ellington whose shooting is the main reason Denver covets his game.
9. Detroit Pistons
Need: Point guard
Player Target: PG Dennis Smith Jr., Knicks
Reggie Jackson has to be traded. The team knows it and his teammates, whether they admit it to him or not, know it, too. If they can package him in a deal for Dennis Smith Jr., perhaps they can salvage the season. Even if they don’t, the Pistons still have a terrific young player to become a part of their future.
They may need to include a couple of draft picks in the process but Smith is likely going to be better than any of the players they’ll get in future drafts. This is a win for the Pistons if they can get this done.
10. Golden State Warriors
Need: Nothing but an inside presence defensively would help
Player Target: C Robin Lopez, Bulls
Honestly, the defending champions don’t need any new player at all. If anything, they have too much of a good thing with five All-Stars on their roster. However, if they really want to nitpick, there is one thing that they can improve on if they want to ensure that they win their second consecutive title.
The Warriors are 14th in points in the paint and could use help inside. Robin Lopez could be a good fit here as an enforcer-type who can protect the rim from any and all would-be rim attackers. Cousins is already playing but it would be good for them to have a backup in case he gets into foul trouble and in case he isn’t back to his normal All-Star self when the playoffs arrive.
11. Houston Rockets
Need: Back up to Clint Capella
Player Target: C Dewayne Dedmon, Hawks
Capella is out for some time and there’s no telling how good he will be once he returns. To address that uncertainty, GM Daryl Morey should give the Hawks a call and see if they can pry away center DeWayne Dedmon. Dedmon is one of the better centers this season and he is likely in the radar of many teams ahead of the trade deadline.
The Hawks would do well to request Marquese Chriss in exchange as he has been a misfit in the Rockets system but could thrive with a young team like the Hawks. A player or two have to be added to make the deal work aside from maybe a second-round draft pick.
12. Indiana Pacers
Need: Shooting Guard
Player Target: SG Malik Monk, Hornets
The loss of Victor Oladipo to a season-ending injury is just devastating to a team that was looking to advance past the first round of the playoffs this year. A shooting guard, even on rental, should be their top priority heading into the deadline. That player could be the Hornets’ Malik Monk.
Though it’s unlikely that Charlotte Hornets will want to give up on a lottery pick from a year ago, the Pacers could offer up a combination of Doug McDermott, an expiring contract and a second-round pick. Maybe these are enough to secure Monk but if not, Indiana can try to send additional expiring contracts to Charlotte to see if they would bite. If only Nicolas Batum’s contract was more palatable…
13. Los Angeles Clippers
Need: Expiring contract wing player
Player Target: SG/SF Corey Brewer, Sixers
Expiring contracts are what the Clippers crave for and that’s what will make them players at the deadline. That said, they are not going to compromise their playoff standing (eighth place as of this writing) just to get those. One such player who could help them would be Corey Brewer. Brewer’s playoff experience will be invaluable to this team and if they can unload Avery Bradley’s contract at the same time, that would be fantastic.
The Sixers are in win-now mode and Bradley’s perimeter defense and scoring would prove beneficial to their title hopes. All the Clippers need to do is convince them that his $12-million contract (which extends up to next season) isn’t so bad.
14. Los Angeles Lakers
Need: Another All-Star
Player Target: C Anthony Davis, Pelicans
I wrote a few days ago that the Lakers should look to trade for Bradley Beal believing that the Pelicans wouldn’t trade Anthony Davis this season. But with the latest report from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski saying that Davis has no intention of signing an extension and wants to be traded, the Lakers have to put on the brakes and make a U-turn. Rather, the first order of business is to get Davis from the Pelicans A.S.A.P. It could take Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and Lonzo Ball to get him, though, so the Lakers have to be ready for anything.
Putting together a team that has Davis and LeBron James on the same team has to be done no matter what or else some other team could get him and that won’t be pretty. Otherwise, there’s still Beal and possibly Nikola Vucevic just in case things fall apart.
15. Memphis Grizzlies
Need: Trade Chandler Parsons
Player Target: PF Kevin Love, Cavaliers
One of the worst contracts in recent memory was the one given to Chandler Parsons by the Grizzlies in 2016-17. The four-year $94 million contract is near its end (next season) but Memphis wants to say good riddance as soon as possible. Their best case scenario for making this happen is to trade him for a player with a lengthier contract that another team is trying to get rid of but one who can benefit the Grizz short term.
That would be Kevin Love.
Cleveland didn’t think that they were going to be rebuilding this season despite the departure of their franchise player during the summer but the firing of coach Tyronn Lue and the injury to Love made them change direction. The 6-foot-10 forward signed a five-year $113-million contract with the Cavaliers but with the hopes that they wouldn’t be rebuilding. Now that the idea is no longer to compete for a playoff spot, perhaps the Wine and Gold would be willing to take on an expiring contract like Parsons’ albeit one that ends next season. It’s time for Memphis’ marketing team to sell the idea to the Cavs.
Love would give the Grizzlies a solid collection of core players with Mike Conley Jr. and Marc Gasol. Whether that’s enough to bring them back to playoff contention this year or next is still a big question mark, though, pending Love’s return from injury. If not, at least rookie Jaren Jackson Jr. has a veteran power forward to look up to now.
16. Miami Heat
Need: All-Star player
Player Target: SF Jimmy Butler, Sixers
They wanted to go get Butler before the Sixers landed him last December. If not for the Minnesota Timberwolves former president of basketball operations and head coach Tom Thibodeau’s additional demands from the Heat’s Pat Riley, Butler should have been in Miami instead of Philly.
But the Heat shouldn’t trade too much for a player who could just be a rental. But the problem is, there’s not much from the team that the Sixers would want except for Josh Richardson who is locked up for a few years but whom the Heat are unlikely to trade. Needless to say, they may have to seek a third team to join in to get a deal done.
17. Milwaukee Bucks
Need: Perimeter shooting
Player Target: SG Wayne Ellington, Heat
The Eastern Conference power now resides in Milwaukee. For now. The playoffs are going to judge them ultimately and as good as they are, they can be better. Three-point shooting is an area that the Bucks should improve on and they could get that with Wayne Ellington who has fallen out of favor in the Heat’s rotation.
Ellington is a proven commodity and the Bucks should find a way to pull him loose from the Heat’s grasp. His shooting will open up the middle for Giannis Antetokounmpo’s drives and post-ups and will provide the team with much-needed depth as well. Both will come in handy in the postseason and the Bucks would do well to explore this trade.
18. Minnesota Timberwolves
Need: Another big man
Player Target: C Nikola Vucevic, Magic
Ideally, the Timberwolves prefer a power forward but if the Orlando Magic’s Nikola Vucevic can be had in a deal for Andrew Wiggins, they’ll take it. Minnesota needs cap relief especially given that Wiggins hasn’t shown that he is going to be any better than he already is. Besides, it’s unlikely that they will find a better deal that will give them financial flexibility down the line.
But this depends largely on how highly the Magic believe in Wiggins’ potential. The kid is, after all, only 23-years-old and is only in his fourth year in the league. The deal has potential and should be one that the Timberwolves should take a gander at and see if there is any interest from the Magic’s side.
19. New Orleans Pelicans
Need: Young players
Player Target: PF Kyle Kuzma, Lakers
If the Pelicans are going to give in to Anthony Davis’ trade demands, they better make sure they get the best collection of talent they can get. It’s hard to see the Pelicans making a deal with Boston that will net them Jayson Tatum. Jaylen Brown may be the next best target but even he isn’t good enough to be a cornerstone of the team.
If L.A. is Davis’ preferred destination and New Orleans gives in, here’s who they should demand—Kyle Kuzma. Kuzma is the kind of young player who could become something special later on. Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram are likely going to come along for the ride so they have three building blocks to work with and the Pelicans can afford to be patient and see if at least one of them becomes a superstar down the line. Kuzma is the best bet here as he has shown flashes of brilliance since his rookie year. If Ball and Ingram come anywhere near their full potential, watch out for the Pelicans.
Then again, if New Orleans decides that they want to make a playoff push with Davis at the center, they should look to just trade for someone like the Mavericks’ Wesley Matthews instead.
20. New York Knicks
Need: Player/s with expiring contracts
Player Target: PF Taj Gibson, Timberwolves
The Porzingis trade that the Knicks and Mavericks engineered leaves only one player that New York wants to unload—Enes Kanter. The Knicks priority, as demonstrated by the blockbuster trade, heading into the trade deadline is to ship off Kanter to another team for another expiring contract plus draft picks. New York wants to be a free-agent destination this offseason but they also want to acquire as many draft picks as they can.
Several players have expiring contracts but the one who might want to bite the bullet here could be the Timberwolves who can offer expiring contracts with a draft pick. That could just be a second-rounder but the Knicks won’t complain. A combination including Jerryd Bayless or Anthony Tolliver could also work here.
The T-Wolves want to make the playoffs again and Kanter will allow Karl-Anthony Towns to play the power forward position, making this a thought-provoking offer to consider.
21. Oklahoma City Thunder
Need: Power Forward
Player Target: C Nikola Vucevic, Magic
The Thunder are playing terrific basketball with Paul George submitting MVP-type numbers all season. At third place in the Western Conference, they are still lacking in firepower if they want to advance to the Finals.
Enter: Nikola Vucevic
If the Thunder can strike a deal to improve their rebounding percentage and offensive rating while increasing their three-point production, Vucevic is their man. His numbers this season are All-Star worthy (20.6 points, 12.0 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 1.1 blocks and 1.0 steals per game, shooting 37.5 percent from three-point range and 51.8 percent from the field overall.
The only problem is, who can they trade that the Magic might be interested in? There are only two possible players that I can think of—Jerami Grant and Dennis Schroder. If that doesn’t work for them, a three-team trade could help them net Vucevic.
22. Orlando Magic
Need: Picks and/or an All-Star
Player Target: SG Bradley Beal, Wizards
It’s hard to figure out whether the Washington Wizards are going to be buyers or sellers. Even so, it doesn’t hurt to ask if Bradley Beal can be had in exchange for a couple of players with expiring contracts but who can also help out in their playoff push this season in case they still want to try.
The Magic can offer Nikola Vucevic and Terrence Ross, two excellent players who can help a team right now.
Beal will be a key player for the Magic as he and Aaron Gordon become the team’s cornerstone.
23. Philadelphia 76ers
Need: A taker for Jimmy Butler
Player Target: SF Nicolas Batum, Hornets
As good as the Sixers have been since Butler came to Philly, the team hasn’t exactly embraced him as the veteran leader they can look up to. Consider the experiment a slight success but moving forward, if there’s an opportunity to deal him, they would do well to take on a player who can help them right away.
Nicolas Batum could be the short-term answer here as long as he comes with a second-round pick or perhaps someone like Jeremy Lamb who can add depth to the roster. The Hornets can easily get cap relief once Butler becomes a free agent and they finally rid themselves of Batum’s massive contract.
24. Phoenix Suns
Need: Point guard or picks
Player Target: PG Dennis Smith Jr., Mavericks
The market for a good, young point guard is huge and the Suns are one of those teams who are in need of Smith’s talents. Devin Booker has been really good as the team’s playmaker for now but it’s not the perfect formula for success. With Smith on the floor, Booker’s numbers should explode almost immediately with fewer responsibilities on his shoulders.
Another option would be to contact the Celtics and inquire about Terry Rozier although Boston may not be too interested in adding another wing player to their roster.
25. Portland Trailblazers
Need: Small Forward
Player Target: SF Robert Covington, Timberwolves
Another All-Star to complement Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum would be ideal but the Blazers may not have the assets that can entice any team to take a look at their roster other than Jusuf Nurkic. Unfortunately, unless they can replace Nurkic with an All-Star big man, the Blazers shouldn’t shop him around just yet.
Instead, Portland may want to make a trade for the Timberwolves’ Robert Covington, someone who isn’t ball dominant and yet can make an impact on a team’s fortunes. As presently built, the Blazers aren’t going deep into the playoffs unless they do something meaningful before the deadline.
26. Sacramento Kings
Need: Legit Small Forward
Player Target: Harrison Barnes
There are several small forwards available but not all of them are within reach. Harrison Barnes could be had if the Kings send two players with expiring contracts to the Mavs namely Iman Shumpert and Zach Randolph.
With Barnes, the Kings no longer have to field in players who are not necessarily fit for the position like Shumpert or Bogdan Bogdanovic. They’re only a few games out of the playoffs and striking the right deal soon could bring them to the brink in a few weeks. Barnes will give the Kings a legit small forward, one who can play on both ends of the floor.
27. San Antonio Spurs
Need: Back up big man
Player Target: PF/C Tristan Thompson, Cavaliers
The Spurs are rolling right along despite the loss of franchise player Kawhi Leonard. But they still need a few pieces to truly contend for the title in the tough Western Conference. The player they should target is the Cavaliers Tristan Thompson.
Thompson is going to be a great frontcourt partner for LaMarcus Aldridge who can focus on playing the power forward position if they acquire the Cavaliers big man. As he displayed while playing for the 2016 championship team, Thompson has the energy and the defensive capabilities that the Spurs can utilize to full extent in the postseason where his experience will be extremely valuable.
28. Toronto Raptors
Need: Outside shooting
Player Target: SG Bradley Beal, Wizards
As good as Toronto is right now, they’re still not among the top five in offensive or defensive rating. Their shooting could be improved and with Bradley Beal possibly available, they would do well to explore that route and see if they can bolster their chances at winning it all this season with another All-Star on the roster.
Beal is locked up for a couple of years so even if they lose Kawhil Leonard to free agency in the summer, they will at least have one of the best shooting guards in the league to pair alongside Kyle Lowry. But that’s if they can find a deal that Washington would like. OG Anunoby or Paskal Siakam might be the price but depending on how highly the Raptors think those two players’ ceilings are, expect GM Masai Ujiri to think long and hard about what he wants to do.
If the Raptors want to go all nostalgic on the fans, they could also do a minor trade for the Hawks’ Vince Carter. That would certainly bring added excitement to every Raptors game.
29. Utah Jazz
Need: Another scorer or shooter
Player Target: PF Kevin Love, Cavaliers
As good as Donovan Mitchell is, someone has to help take the pressure off of his shoulders on the offensive side. Kevin Love can score and his shooting range should keep defenses honest.
Love fits the bill as a scorer but his defensive deficiencies are what keep other teams away. Those can be masked by the presence of Rudy Gobert. The Cavs are not headed to the playoffs anytime soon, making Love and his five-year contract expendable. The Jazz can afford to gobble that up and Utah is probably the one destination that he can thrive in. It’s a win-win for both sides if you ask me.
30. Washington Wizards
Need: Expiring or rookie contracts
Player Target: SF Kyle Kuzma, Lakers
I was tempted to say that what the Wizards need is to decide what they really want to do with their roster. I guess I just did.
Salary cap relief is a must and given the kind of roster that the Wizards have, paying the luxury tax without competing for a championship is no way to go about managing your team. Their best move right now is to blow up the roster and start over.
The Lakers are interested in Anthony Davis but their next best course of action is to trade for Bradley Beal. Washington should hope that the Pelicans don’t want to give Davis to the Lakers and they have to convince them that Beal is the better choice. Their most important target is Kyle Kuzma together with Lonzo Ball. If L.A. flinches and decides to give up Brandon Ingram instead, they could go for it anyway. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s expiring contract would be necessary to get the deal done and will provide savings next season.
Of course, the Wizards could look for another superstar with a short-term contract in exchange for Beal but that still won’t get them below luxury tax territory.