FOX Sports NBA Analyst
FOX Sports NBA Writer
December isn’t just the time for the holiday season — it’s also the unofficial start to the NBA trade season.
On Dec. 15, a majority of players that signed new contracts in the offseason will be trade eligible. Ahead of that date, we asked our NBA reporters, Yaron Weitzman and Ric Bucher, to do a scan of the league and see which teams might be active ahead of the trade deadline on Feb. 8.
1. The Lakers were crowned the first-ever NBA In-Season Tournament champions on Saturday. Do they have a roster capable of doubling up on hardware at the end of the season or are they still a piece or two away?
Weitzman: I think the Lakers have one of these teams that can basically beat anyone in a single series but don’t have enough firepower to win three or four. The defense will be there, LeBron will be there; we know what AD is at this point (awesome defense every night, awesome offense every few nights); but they need to add scoring. They’re 19th in half court efficiency, according to Cleaning the Glass, which is just not good enough. The trade target that makes sense is the obvious one — Zach LaVine. Being a No. 3 behind AD and LeBron would be the perfect situation for him. If the Lakers could get him for D’Angelo Russell, another salary and a first round pick, to me, that’s a deal they should do. It gives them a legit shot at winning one more title with LeBron.
Bucher: No, I don’t see the Lakers winning two championships in one season as currently constituted; the problem is, about-to-turn 39-years-old LeBron James remains their closer, which is good enough to beat the Indiana Pacers, the *checks standings* fifth-best team in the East that hasn’t been to the playoffs in the last three seasons. He wasn’t good enough in that role to beat the Nuggets a year ago with three cracks at it, so I can’t imagine this year would be different. Any team with a power forward he can’t bully and stops him from getting a head of steam in transition is going to make it tough for him. It’s too bad they couldn’t hold onto Malik Monk because he’s doing a pretty nice job in Sacramento as a counterpart closer to De’Aaron Fox. DeMar DeRozan and Kyrie Irving also could fit the bill — I just don’t see what the Lakers have that the Bulls would want, and I can’t imagine the Mavs doing something to improve the Lakers’ chances at another ring.
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2. Elsewhere in the Western Conference, the Warriors are struggling to get their season off the ground and Draymond Green’s indefinite suspension doesn’t help matters. Is there a trade that can put them back into the title conversation or is this core’s window closed?
Weitzman: At this point, there’s no reason to believe this team is anything more than an average squad that, if you take away the all-time great propping them up, would find itself at the bottom of the standings. The Warriors are 16th in offense and 17th in defense. Klay Thompson (34.3% from deep) appears to be on the last legs of his career. Andrew Wiggins is back to being the maddening player who the Timberwolves dumped. And none of the players chosen with those lottery picks have panned out. So, to answer the question: no, there’s no one move for this tem to make. The title window has closed.
Bucher: The great illusion is that the Warriors are a move away, or they just need to incorporate the new pieces and they’ll find their championship stride. They are a perfectly mediocre team, offensively and defensively. The new acquisitions are not the problem. Dario Saric has been terrific in his role, and Chris Paul is doing everything he can to fit into a complementary role. Neither of them are the issue. The heart of the issue is that Andrew Wiggins is playing like a guy satisfied with his new contract and one ring, Klay Thompson gets picked on defensively as much as Stephen Curry and Draymond Green can’t keep from getting suspended. It’s why Wiggins and Klay were on the bench at crunchtime the other night. That they still nearly won the game says more about Phoenix than the Warriors.
[Related: Draymond Green’s suspension is a symptom, not the cause of the Warriors’ woes]
3. A team that’s sure to have their phones ringing during trade season is the Bulls. If you were running things in Chicago, what would you be looking to do before the trade deadline?
Weitzman: Everything and everyone. It’s not like this is a middling team within striking distance of a higher playoff seed — the Bulls are 9-16 with the league’s seventh-worst point differential. It’s over for this group! Actually, the “it” here never even began. Trade Zach LaVine. Trade Alex Caruso. Trade DeMar DeRozan. Give the keys to a suddenly resurgent Coby White, bottom out, get a good draft pick and go from there.
Bucher: I’m looking to land a legitimate cornerstone player, and I’m dismantling the Zach LaVine-DeRozan-Nikola Vucevic core for a shot at one. Their games don’t fit. Whether that’s loading up on draft picks and taking my swing in the lottery or making a play for a guy in a worse situation who could be that building block — Cade Cunningham in Detroit comes to mind — I’m doing it.
4. The Raptors could be sellers, too, with Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby potentially available. Is there a team that would be vaulted into championship contender status by adding Siakam or Anunoby?
Weitzman: OG Anunoby is one of these guys that can fit with and bolster basically any containing group. The Sixers would be an incredible fit. He’s exactly the type of player they’re missing, and would vault them right into the top tier of East contenders with the Celtics and Bucks. The question is whether Anunoby would be content playing the next few seasons as the clear No. 3 option behind Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey. OKC, by the way, would be another cool and fun fit for Anunoby, but I just don’t see them making that sort of big-swing trade this season.
Pascal Siakam is a harder player to find a match for — he’s a ball-dominant scorer who is only shooting 25.3% from deep this season. That said, the Pacers and Hawks are two teams that could benefit from his skills. Indy, in particular, would be fun, where he could get up and down the floor and be the No. 2 behind Tyrese Haliburton.
Bucher: I’d love to see either one of those guys on the 76ers or the Bucks, but there are a half-dozen teams that could bolster their chances by acquiring one of them. The Bucks sorely need another athletic wing defender. The Magic desperately need a playoff veteran or two. The Mavs, Thunder and Timberwolves all feel like they’re one piece away. As much as I’m reluctant to mess with championship chemistry, even the Nuggets look as if they could use an addition to solidify themselves for a second run right now.
Warriors season already over after Draymond Green suspension? | First Things First
5. Is there a team that wasn’t mentioned that you expect to go big-game hunting?
Weitzman: The Knicks are trying to find The Guy — the problem for them is it doesn’t look like such a player is on the market right now. The Wolves aren’t going to be trading Karl-Anthony Towns this season — and I’m not even sure that he’s the guy the Knicks want to cash their chips in for. Donovan Mitchell is the other name we always hear around the Knicks, but are we sure they’d want to pair him with Jalen Brunson? To me, what the Knicks do with all the assets they’ve accumulated and how they handle their roster and all the young guys who want to get paid and get touches is one of the more intriguing NBA questions.
Same, by the way, goes for the Thunder, who we know are awesome, and we know have more assets than anyone. Will Sam Presti go for it this season and swing a deal, or will he wait to see how his current group performs in the playoffs and do something in the off-season?
Bucher: I’ll be shocked if the Sixers don’t make a move with the assets they collected from the James Harden deal. The Pacers were exposed by the Lakers and desperately need an interior presence/rim protector. It’s going to be a challenge for the Knicks to upgrade. The guys they’d want to move — Julius Randle, RJ Barrett — are not particularly valued around the league. My guess is that the Thunder and Magic continue their slow-roll approach and let their young guys develop. It’s not as if either team is sorely lacking for anything other than experience.
Yaron Weitzman is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. He is the author of “Tanking to the Top: The Philadelphia 76ers and the Most Audacious Process in the History of Professional Sports.” Follow him on Twitter @YaronWeitzman.
Ric Bucher is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. He previously wrote for Bleacher Report, ESPN The Magazine and The Washington Post and has written two books, “Rebound,” on NBA forward Brian Grant’s battle with young onset Parkinson’s, and “Yao: A Life In Two Worlds.” He also has a daily podcast, “On The Ball with Ric Bucher.” Follow him on Twitter @RicBucher.
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