by Aron Taamrat and Jordan Lee
The trade deadline is just a couple days away, and teams on the cusp are making their final push to acquire a player who can help elevate them to “true” contender status. They target teams looking to change direction (like Brooklyn) and willing to unload their assets like a fire sale in Call of Duty, hoping to flip them for future draft picks or expiring contracts.
Before I get into the possible trades, I’ve established 3 rules so I don’t find myself talking about which teams should try to give up all their assets for Anthony Davis (probably the whole league).
1st: No top 25 players —I know the “top 25” is debatable, but I assure you no players mentioned are in the top 25.
2nd: Both teams involved in the trade must be making a clear delineation in which direction they are headed: tank or title, unless you’re trading with Billy King. After completely failing to surround Allen Iverson with legitimate pieces for 9 years, King constructed the worst $100 million team in history (2014 Brooklyn Nets). Prokhorov was stuck paying $80 million in luxury tax ($51.9 million was the previous high) for a team that barely made it out of the first round. It’s clear Billy King still has no idea how to construct a real NBA team, even though he’s been a GM for 17 years!
3rd: Both teams must have viable trade assets (there goes the Clippers’ chances of a trade).
We will focus on the Western Conference , which is turning out to be a battle of seismic proportions. Besides the Warriors, who have established themselves as the team dripping in sauce (IN SAUCE WE TRUST, OWEEEE), everyone else from second to tenth has a viable argument as to why they are one piece away from a title, except Memphis who may have already made their final addition with Jeff Green. But of the nine teams in the Western Conference that should be making a push to bolster their rosters, there are three that stand out the most: the Rockets, Trail Blazers and Thunder.
1. Houston Rockets (Sorry I’m a Rockets fan, so conventionally this is first)
Since Daryl “Young Guru” Morey, the swindling statistician, arrived in Houston, he’s made his fair share of questionable moves. What was going on from 2007-2012? Why trade Nicolas Batum for Joey Dorsey? Why lose Goran Dragic to free agency? How did these trades eventually work out? Is it luck or Morey’s genius? I vote luck, but I guess his brain does function correctly every once in a while. The grand scheme of his philosophy as a GM is to flip assets until you end up with a superstar, and it has undeniably changed the trajectory of this team.
The offensive logic employed by Houston according to Guru’s analytics are: threes, layups, and spacing. He had the pieces in place when he arrived on the job in 2007 with Yao, T-Mac and an assortment of shooters and defenders like Shane “the Swiss Army Knife” Battier, Rafer “Skip to My Lou” Alston, Luther “Deron William’s College Teammate” Head, and the only player to play at age 50, Dikembe “Mount” Mutombo (Coach Jeff Van Gundy also deserved Defensive Player of the Year honors). The team was in the discussion for title contention, but then T-Mac’s back imploded. And Yao was 7’6” and 330 pounds. I think you’re smart enough to figure out why he didn’t last for more than 8 years, especially since he spent every off-season training with the Chinese National Team.
After 5 depressing years with the likes of Kevin Martin, Luis Scola, and CHUCK HAYES running the team (a.k.a. Team Afraid of Heights, a.k.a. Team Scrap-A-Lot, a.k.a. Team Orange Slices at Halftime, a.k.a. Team No REAL Centers ALLOWED, a.k.a. Team Thank GOD Kobe was in The League, a.k.a. Team Please Implode like Yao’s Feet and T-Mac’s Back) into the ground, Morey has finally brought in a pair of superstars that can make a title run. Somehow, signing Kevin Martin to a $40 million contract turned into Jameseis Harden (I like to add the “eis” when you reach a certain plateau of Legendary—say thanks to “Famous Jameis” and Barney Stinson). And Dwight was having a midlife crisis in LA, only concerned about running away from Kobe and property taxes. Maybe Young Guru knew what he was doing, but I still say it's mostly luck.
However, with Jameseis and Dwight in Houston, I believe in Young Guru. People forget what he did for Houston in 2008, the last year the Rockets were outside contenders. He acquired RonRon (or the artist formerly known as Artest), who added toughness to what was then a relatively soft team. Despite T-Mac missing the last half of the season and playoffs, the Rockets made it out of the first round for the first time since 1997 (Hakeem The Dream’s last healthy season in Houston). In similar fashion, he has acquired defensive minded wings with the additions of Trevor Ariza and Corey Brewer, who have changed the whole defensive dynamic of the team, even more so than Dwight has at times. The Rockets have improved from 12th to 8th in defensive efficiency this season, even though Dwight has missed 20 games already.
The Rockets also have some budding stars who contribute on a nightly basis, namely Donatas Motiejunas and Terrence Jones (working his way back into form after missing 3 months with nerve damage). The emergence of D-Mo (best hook shot in the game...check the stats) has had a profound effect on the offense, and Terrence Jones is well on his way to becoming a great role player. Kostas Papanikolaou, Isaiah Canaan, and Clint Capela are also ripe with potential. Young Guru needs to flip Houston's assets like Gucci Mane, Young Thug and Young Scooter in an Atlanta trap house.
Missing Piece: a REAL Point Guard
While I personally love everything Patrick Beverly stands for, he lacks the prerequisite skill of a PG — effective passing. It’s plausible to argue Pat’s defensive impact outweighs his inability to make plays with Jameseis running the offense. But all Pat can do is shoot 3s, and as a point guard, you have to be able to create off the dribble. There are no above average passers on the team (other than James), so the offense turns to poo whenever it’s not run strictly through Jameseis. That’s a problem.
Even though Jameseis is putting up all time great numbers — 27 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 steals and a block (the LeBron Stat Line) — the Rockets’ offensive efficiency ranks just 15th, slipping from 4th last year. Houston needs to acquire a player that will give them the ability to score through another conduit besides Jameseis. A true playmaker that can both score when Jameseis is off the court, and facilitate while he is on it. I guess we (kind of) miss Chandler Parsons.
P.S. Josh Smith still wants to be a point guard 11 years into his career (I wanted to go on a 2,500 word rant about why Josh is SOOOO BAD, but you don’t need to hear that from me. Just ask the Pistons).
Assets Available: The Rockets have a good assortment of young talent and draft picks that can potentially lure a point guard away from their current team. The bench is also solid enough to withstand losing a couple of young pieces. Personally the only untouchable young commodity is D-Mo, everyone else can…
Frontcourt: Terrence Jones (23), Clint Capela (20), Kostas "Papadoppalaou" Papanikolaou (24)
Backcourt: Isaiah Canaan (23), Nick Johnson (22), Patrick Beverley (26), Alexey Shved (26), Jason Terry (37)
Draft Picks: New Orleans Pelicans 2015 1st Round Pick and like eight 2nd Round Picks over the next 3 years (including the Knicks' this year)
Ideal Piece: Ty Lawson
In my opinion, the best move for the next five years is Ty Lawson. While many in Houston are praying for the return of Goran, they are misguided in their understanding of what this team needs. They need a floor general to run the show as a supplement to Jameseis Harden, not an attacking slasher whose main strength is scoring. And while I’m not saying that I wouldn’t welcome Dragic with open arms, the right answer to the Rockets’ ailments is Ty.
I hope Denver decides to completely start over with Jusuf Nurkic and go for Thon Maker in the 2017 Draft. I know this might sound crazy and premature because Nurkic is nowhere near a sure bet, but this team’s chances of winning a championship in the next 5 years are substantially smaller than the probability of Nurkic (20 years old) turning into a top 5 center. There’s no reason to keep Lawson with the hopes of building a contender in the next 5 years, as we all know the Nuggets aren’t doing anything in the crazy Western Conference. Ty Lawson is going to be ancient (32) by the time Nurkic matures or any 5-year plan to contend for a championship comes to fruition, so why not trade Ty?
The Nuggets don’t even have enough cap room to sign a big time free agent this offseason; besides maybe Larry Sanders, who would probably sign at a huge discount. Or maybe he has "learned to live independently from weed." Faried, Gallo, Afflalo, McGee, Chandler and Hickson are owed $55 million through 2016 (far too much for a bunch of role players). If the Nuggets want to be in the hunt for a championship in the next 10 years, they have to start thinking about tanking for the future. Faried, Afflalo, and Wilson can be very valuable to certain contending teams, so why not trade them for future first rounders and young assets?
I propose Ty for Terrence Jones, Kostas Pappanikolau, Alexey Shved, the Pelicans 1st round pick, and whatever other player or pick they want besides D-Mo (that’s a good haul of cheap young talent to rebuild around). Daryl you better make these trades happen or else….. I’m coming to the games and......... watching in the theater room downstairs that I’m not supposed to know about.
Realistic Piece: Goran Dragic, Jose Calderon (Mr. Ole), or Deron Williams
If the Rockets can’t get Ty (Spoiler Alert: EXTREMELY LIKELY), I have these three point guards as the next best options (I don’t know why I typed Deron’s name; he should retire). Goran would obviously be the preferred piece, and with the signing of Isaiah, the Suns are unabashedly telling Goran…click here
If this scheme falls through, the Rockets better get Jose Calderon, a.k.a. Mr. Ole (formerly James Harden who lost the title belt during a tables and ladders WCW vs. WWE title match). Nonetheless, Calderon could effectively run the bench unit and space the floor with his 3 point shooting, while Pat and Corey harass the opposing guards, masking Mr. Ole’s defensive inefficiencies.
But I’m still praying for Lawson. If the Rockets get him, the NBA should be scared:
(Starters) Ty, Jameseis, Trevor, D-Mo, Dwight
(Bench) Pat, Brewer, Josh “Why So Many 3s?” Smith, Joey “Little Dwight” Dorsey
2. Portland Trail Blazers
From the dawn of the Blazers’ existence, it’s seemed like all it did was rain in Portland. Actually wrong city reference, but you get the point. Shit has been rough, and the word “luck” has only been mentioned when preceded by “bad”. Just refer back to Sam Bowie and Bill Walton’s injury history. And a sign of their recent misfortunes: Greg Oden literally never played because his knees were made of chalk, and Brandon Roy is STILL ONLY 30 and would be in the tail end of his prime today. Do you realize how sad/ridiculous/absurd/unlucky/infuriating/crazy that is? Actually, this describes how most people feel about the circumstances. PERSONALLY, I HATE PORTLAND, DAMIAN AND BRANDON!
Anyways, in 2012, after failing to get past the first round for 6 years, LaMarcus desperately wanted out of Portland. He didn’t re-sign his local endorsements and even tried to cancel his lease on his current apartment. I think it’s fair to say this is how Aldridge felt about Portland: click here. Somehow, Blazers GM Neil Olshey convinced Aldridge that the Blazers would soon be contenders, and surprisingly, he was right.
By drafting Damian Lillard in 2012, Portland had finally found their replacement for Brandon Roy. This time around, Portland got a smaller, more explosive guard that could shoot the lights out. Just like B-Roy, Video Game Dame stayed in college for four years (at Weber State) and came into the league NBA ready, winning Rookie of the Year.
Since 2012, the Blazers have steadily improved each year. Olshey has made some great additions to the team, highlighted by trading for Robin Lopez. Less than a month after the 2013 draft, Olshey shipped off recently acquired Jeff Withey (39th pick), cash, and two second rounders for RoLo and Terrel Harris. As a defensive minded 7-footer, Lopez has proven to be the perfect fit as Aldridge’s muscle for the Blazers — like Tyson Chandler with Dirk (something J.J. Hickson couldn’t provide).
With Lopez injured (fractured hand) and cheering on the sidelines, the Blazers went just 13-10, dropping 8 of those last 10. Unfortunately (for me), the Blazers still remain 8 games ahead of OKC in the Northwest Division. Lopez is back in the starting lineup, and the Blazers should be a lock to win the division. How the hell did Portland get here so fast?
Missing Piece: Bench Scoring
The only thing Portland is missing is a bench (and I hope they never get one). Everyone, including Olshey, knew this was the weakest part of the roster. Last season, the Blazer’s bench ranked last in offensive efficiency and points scored. Olshey tried to bolster the bench by adding Chris Kaman and Steve Blake, but it just hasn’t been enough (especially since Lopez got hurt). Portland’s recent draft picks aren’t helping out either. C.J. McCollum wishes he had pursued an engineering career like all of his classmates at Lehigh while Meyers Leonard, despite recent success, is still wondering why he didn’t take up modeling or volleyball. Through half the season, the Blazers’ bench still remains near the bottom in both categories, ranking 24th in offensive efficiency and 27th in points scored.
Assets Available: Portland doesn’t really have anyone on the bench that they need to keep. They have a plethora of mediocre big men and young shooters, and Portland should start thinking about trading their potential for a Sixth Man caliber player (I hope Olshey has no success with any of them. Sorry, I’ll stop).
Frontcourt: Meyers Leonard (22), Thomas Robinson (23), Chris Kaman (32), Joel Freeland (27)
Backcourt: C.J. McCollum (23), Allen Crabbe (22), Will Barton (24)
Draft Picks: 1st Round picks (all their own) for the next 8 years and some 2nd Round Picks
Ideal Piece: Thaddeus Young
I know this is a long shot, but the T-Wolves have been pushing to trade Young’s expiring contract for the last few months, and it doesn’t look like they are committed to resigning him in the offseason. Instead of just losing Young to free agency, Minnesota should do their best to grab some younger assets and draft picks.
Thaddeus can certainly run the second unit and provide a nice scoring spark off the bench. We saw what he did with the Delaware 79ers…. I mean the Philadelphia 76ers.... last season. But what would make him so useful to the Blazers is his versatility. Portland would have the option of running a smaller lineup with Young at the 4 and Aldridge at the 5 in stretches. As much as Portland loves Meyers Leonard, I think it’s worth packaging a deal centered around him to bring Young over.
Likely Piece: Wilson Chandler
I don’t necessarily think this move will push Portland over the hump, but it would certainly be a step in the right direction. Nicolas Batum’s growth has stagnated, largely due a torn tendon in his shooting wrist, and it’s about time to give him a few weeks off (shooting 29% from 3s). Unfortunately, Batum knows how thin the Blazers bench is, so he does everything in his power to suit up and give the team whatever he’s got on any particular night.
Batum injuries aside, this move also gives Portland a viable and experienced scoring punch off the bench. Terry Stotts could even decide to start Wilson Chandler and let the more skilled Batum run the second unit as a Point Forward defensive extraordinaire (like Golden State has done with Andre Iguodala).
SIDE NOTE: I wanted to add Wilson to the Clippers, but they literally have no tradable assets. Why the hell is Doc still GM? I dont know, but trading for his son wasn’t the brightest idea, if just for the fact that it made me actually look at his GM history. I don’t hate the trade, I just hate how the Clippers got to a point where Austin Rivers could help. Clipper Nation, start praying for a miracle and hope Wilson Chandler lands in your lap.
3. Oklahoma City Thunder
After ascending into the playoffs in 2010, the story has repeated itself in OKC. The Thunder always seem to be in contention before realizing they’re one piece short. (Side Note: I firmly believe that the Thunder starting lineup today should be Russ, Jameseis, KD, Jeff Green and Serge Iblocka. The Thunder front office should have financed and leveraged every dollar possible in order to win 5 championships in a row. JUST PAY THE LUXURY TAX!)
This season, with Durant and Westbrook dealing with multiple injuries, OKC is in 9th place in the Western Conference standings. I think it’s a solid bet to say that they will not win the championship this year as they are currently composed.
It’s time for Sam Presti to take advantage of having two of the ten best players in the league. In 2012, the Thunder failed to convince Harden to stay, which was not very surprising. Harden is already making a run for MVP in Houston, so it’s easy to see why he didn’t want to play second (or third) fiddle to anyone.
Presti panicked and/or sharted when trading him to the Rockets for Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb and some draft picks (Kevin Martin will never be the answer to any question). Let’s not forget Presti also lost Jeff Green by trading for KP (Kendrick Perkins, not Kim Possible although that trade would make more sense; she has BUNGEES with at least 3 steals and 2 blocks per game, GUARANTEED). Since losing Harden and Green, the Thunder have not made any significant attempts to strengthen their roster. Presti needs to give KD and Russ the help they deserve, and it starts by surrounding them with proven talent.
The Thunder continue to search for talent solely through the draft. I know they’ve done a great job drafting recently (Reggie Jackson-24th, Perry Jones-28th, Steven Adams-12th), but Durant doesn’t need any more players with potential. He needs proven talent and production. Recent rumors came out about the Thunder’s reluctance to trade Reggie because they see a future in Reggie and Waiters running the bench ...what are they smoking?
If you want your young talent to stay (Reggie and Harden), you have to appease their desires to some extent. I know Reggie is no Jameseis, but I’d put my life savings on the fact that he is getting the hell out of OKC at the end of the season. Who wants to play behind Westbrook? Nobody with viable talent — flashback to Bledsoe, who played behind Chris Paul, leaving Clipper Nation. Because Reggie is the only member of the GS9 Crew (Thunder Bench) that can qualify as a "hot n****" — Rowdy Rebel a.k.a. Andre Roberson isn’t a real commodity — they need to trade him before he shmoney dances to another team.
Missing Piece: A CENTER who can make a HOOK SHOT (no more, no less)
The Thunder currently have one of the only players in the league whose hook shot is blockable: Kendrick “UPS Ground” Perkins (Big Baby Davis is on his heels though). Mr. UPS Ground has become, let’s be nice, recyclable (I thought trash was too harsh). They also have one of two rugby players in the NBA: Steven Adams (the other is Reggie Evans). I know Adams is just 21 and has a lot of potential to be a bruiser down low, but again, it’s all potential, and OKC doesn’t have any more time for potential.
Assets Available: The Thunder have a lot of young talent, but Steven Adams and Reggie Jackson are the only ones worth playing time. It’s time to pacakage these youngins (and Perkinis, who is only valuable as an expiring contract) for a few players that have already proven their worth.
Frontcourt: Steven Adams (21), Perry Jones (23), Mitch McGary (22), Kendrick Perkins (58, I’ll admit he plays like he’s 56 though)
Backcourt: Reggie “Shmurda” Jackson (24), Dion “I STILL THINK I’M JORDAN” Waiters (23), Andre Roberson (23)
Draft Picks: Most of their 1st and 2nd round picks (for next 5 years) with a couple extra 2nd round picks
Ideal Piece: Roy Hibbert
I don’t think the Thunder have the pieces to get Hibbert, but he’s been on the block before and I wouldn’t be shocked if he left Indiana. Imagine how good the Thunder would be…even if Scott “I CAN’T COACH” Brooks remains as head coach.
Hibbert and Ibaka protecting the rim would be terrifying for the rest of the league. However, I question Roy’s motor and toughness, two things necessary to win a championship. Nevertheless, I’ll take him as my 4th option any day of the week. The only problem is Roy has a $15.5 million player option next year (also the only reason why he is on the trading block). If Indiana is somehow willing to trade Roy to OKC, the front office has to be willing to pay a fat luxury tax for a few seasons. You owe it to KD!
Likely Piece: Brook Lopez
Both Hibbert and Lopez can be uber effective, but they are also uber effective at being useless for prolonged periods of time. I will never understand how these two mammoth human beings can play 20 minutes in a game and end up with only 3 rebounds (I can arguably do this with some luck). Nevertheless, both are better options than Perkins and Adams.
Sam Presti should take advantage of Billy “I Miss Cheesesteaks” King (who the hell hired me after Philly?), a.k.a. Billy “Burger” King (even the Whopper is a B-; 10 nuggets for a dollar though… actually $1.49 #LIVINLALAHLABHADA #ANBILLYJUSBEGAAANAAIIN #LIFESTYLE #CA$HBILLY #RICHGANGBILLYGANG) a.k.a Billy "BonKing". Have no idea what’s going on? Click here for an explanation.
A few weeks ago, Brooklyn, Charlotte, and OKC were negotiating a trade somewhere along the lines of Jarrett Jack and Brook Lopez for Lance Stephenson and Jeremy Lamb. Once Charlotte backed out of the talks, OKC and Brooklyn tried to work out a deal (before failing) centered around Brook Lopez and Kendrick Perkins.
If the goal is to keep Durant for the long-term, then you have to put all your chips in now with the hope of bringing in what it takes to win a championship, therefore, creating some sort of allegiance to the city. That piece must provide solid low post offense, and at this point, it looks like the right option would be Brook Lopez due to his current uptick in production. OKC better not lose Reggie to free agency. If they do, it will be obvious to Durant that OKC’s front office is not going to pay the luxury tax required to win a championship (it takes money to surround superstars with talent that can win a championship). In my opinion, OKC’s clear reluctance to spend money should be enough for KD to leave OKC for his hometown stomping grounds (Russ to the Lakers?).
(P.S. I truly believe the real problem is Scotty “I CAN’T COACH” Brooks — they should send him down to the D-League like a struggling, unproven player.)
Even though these pieces would bring each respective team closer to a championship, almost ⅔ of the season has already passed. I believe chemistry is everything in basketball, so we will only see true results after 60 or more games of experience between the rotation players. Just look at Rondo in Dallas. Many would contend that this would have been a seamless fit, but in actuality there has been a substantial gelling time. Basketball is dependent on the interaction of the players and how well they coalesce; it's why the San Antonio Spurs have been elite for the past 18 years.
(For your information, this is how I feel about the Spurs. I was born and raised in Splashtown, Texas).