By Shawn Dennis
Most die-hard NBA fans love making predictions. Whether it’s the day before the trade deadline or not even 10 games into the season, fans become drawn into being a GM and fantasizing about decisions they’d make. Well, I’m definitely one of those fans and I’ve come up with a list of players and trades that some desperate and contending teams should consider as injuries, unexpected downfalls, and other factors have stirred up the league already.
I’ve included three teams in the East and three in the West who should make something happen before the deadline on March 25, 2021.
One of those teams is the disappointing Toronto Raptors. Losing out on Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol in the offseason was clearly going to hurt their front court, but I don’t think anyone thought to this extent. It’s evident that their presence was important as they gave the Raptors both floor space and bodies down low. Not to knock Aron Baynes, who’s proven himself more and more throughout the years, but the pressure being put on Pascal Siakam again, I believe, won’t help his game any. We already saw that with his playoff performance during the bubble against Boston. So, what should Toronto do to give Nick Nurse another run at Coach of the Year?
Kyle Lowry is the face of the Raptor franchise, but that one year $30.5 million contract tells the story that he’s open to trying things elsewhere. Lowry being 34 years old is on the back-end of his career and I think would prefer spending his last few seasons on a top-contending team. Not to say that the Raptors can’t turn it around, but I don’t see them getting past even the first round if they’re forced into playing a top five seed in the East. If the Raptors are still more than a handful of games below .500, I don’t expect Lowry, along with Norman Powell or another bench player like Matt Thomas, to be on the team still.
Staying in the East with the surprising Charlotte Hornets squad, I think they have what it takes to make the playoffs if they can get one more asset, preferably a two-way big. LaMelo Ball can flat out ball. Grabbing his first triple-double of his career just ten games in, making him the youngest in NBA history to have three stat columns in the double digits. However, this team has a whole lot of guards and not too many bigs. Terry Rozier has been playing like his “Scary Terry” days when he played in Boston against the Bucks during the 2018 playoffs. Who hasn’t been getting any playing time is Malik Monk, with 10 minutes through 10 games. Likewise with Cody Zeller only having 19 minutes total through 10 games, there’s no reason to keep two players that make a combined $19 million a year to ride the bench.
I’d love to see Charlotte make a move and become more of a threat in the East by acquiring a big. Perhaps a team like Oklahoma City would be willing to trade away Al Horford for Zeller, Monk, and a draft pick. Maybe the Detroit Pistons will finally come to terms with being on a rebuild and trade away Blake Griffin for a couple of players and a draft pick. Regardless, Michael Jordan needs to put this franchise on the map for once and give a reason for their fans to be excited aside from LaMelo Ball making some flashy passes or Gordon Hayward hitting a mid range. They need a playoff run.
For the last team in the East, I’m going to emphasize this team once more, the Detroit Pistons. Not only do they have the worst record in the East, but they have the most confusing roster as well. They allowed Christian Wood to walk away to the Houston Rockets, but decided to sign a similar player in Jerami Grant for $6 million more annually than what the Rockets are giving Wood. They had plenty of offers for Derrick Rose, which they did nothing about. Blake Griffin should not be on a team who’s on the verge of tanking for a lottery pick and neither should DRose. Teams that can’t accept when they need to clear house and build from the ground up will never get out of the gutter and the Pistons are a prime example.
This team does have plenty of talent, but the roster itself is simply baffling. If a contending team offers them some draft picks or a couple of young guys in return for either Rose or Griffin, they have to pull the trigger.
Honorable mention in the East: Boston Celtics- As much as I believe in this Celtics roster as of right now, I think Danny Ainge should do something about the trade exception Charlotte gifted them. The largest in NBA history ($28.5 million), Boston can go after a higher target and not have to give up everything in the bag in return. With the return of Kemba Walker and the rookie guard Payton Pritchard looking promising, they have to think about getting a big before the deadline. Two names that come to mind are Aaron Gordon and Marvin Bagley, but I wouldn’t be too keen on a deal getting done.
Transitioning over to the Western Conference, the Houston Rockets just can’t finish out games on top. It’s difficult to determine what the Rockets will do after this season depending on where they end up in the West, but I can’t see James Harden being a part of this roster after March 25. Houston has to accept the fact that he doesn’t want to be there anymore and look to get the best deal that gives them a longevity of young talent in return. Stephen Silas will be a great coach for years to come, but I don’t think the trio of Harden, John Wall, and DeMarcus Cousins is going to be the answer for them, simply due to the fact that Wall and Boogie Cousins just can’t stay healthy.
With a myriad of teams throwing out a trade scenario for Harden, I think they have to consider pursuing one because I don’t see him wanting to be there all the way up until when his contract expires in 2023.
Next up are the Sacramento Kings. This team has been swirled around in trade rumors even before the bubble. Buddy Hield has been amongst nearly all of them as he’s been iffy on sticking around. Marvin Bagley has also joined this conversation with his recent show of disinterest and lack of production on the team. Then there’s Harrison Barnes, who’s been irrelevant after he left Golden State, but still has been playing quite well. The West is just too good to have a team that’s stuck in this inbetween stage of trying to rebuild while holding on to established players.
They need to get value for these veterans while they can and focus on the future rather than finishing between the 8th and 11th seed and ruining their chance at a lottery pick. Trade away Buddy Hield, start playing the young guys, and see what else you can get for Barnes, Bagley, and maybe even Hassan Whiteside.
Lastly, a team that has been consistent for over two decades and has one of the best coaches of all time, the San Antonio Spurs. After tying the record for most consecutive playoff appearances at 22 seasons, Gregg Popovich has to be coming to terms with reality and understanding that the incredible dynasty he’s had, winning five rings since 1996, is over. It’s highly unlikely that the Spurs will make another playoff run this year or the next and they need to be open to trading players like Lamarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan now while they can for draft picks. They have plenty of young guards to build around and establish like they’ve done before with Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.
I’m unsure of what the Spurs are planning to do prior to the deadline, but I believe it would be appropriate for them to give their young talent more playing time and start to shop around for contending teams that need veterans. The West is just too good to push for the playoffs while developing players. It’s also difficult to predict how much longer Pop wants to keep coaching. If he only has a season or two left, maybe that’s why they haven’t gone all in on a rebuild yet and are waiting for him to inevitably retire until a total rebuild occurs.