FOX Sports NBA Analyst
The NBA trade wire remains frozen with less than a week to go before the Feb. 9 deadline.
League executives say it’s because most teams are still debating whether they should add talent, trade it for future assets or maintain the status quo.
I’m here to help with that identity crisis.
Here are the top three teams that need to make a winning move now, three that should begin deconstruction for a rebuild, and three that should exit the season as is.
Golden State Warriors
The defending champions have been a perfectly mediocre team. His record (26-25), his defensive rating (15th) and his offensive rating (16th) say it too. As of Thursday morning, they were even averaging as many points, 118, as they were scoring, according to Basketball Reference.
The only category in which they are superior is pace – they lead the league. Woohoo! The top five teams in pace last season were the Timberwolves, Rockets, Grizzlies, Lakers and Hornets. Takeaway: Being a pushover means nothing when it comes to chasing a title or postseason success. Having a strong bench does, though, and that’s where the Warriors need help: size, rim protection, perimeter defense, you name it. There are a couple of rebuilding teams that might be willing to move a vet, say Jordan Clarkson or Jakob Poeltl, for a young player with potential (James Wiseman, Jonathan Kuminga and/or Moses Moody).
Having Steph Curry also means something: It means you have a chance to get another ring. He’s shooting and playing as well as ever. You know who else is for the Warriors? No one. This is why there can be no sacred cows. The Warriors need to move whoever can provide an upgrade: Draymond Green, Jordan Poole, and certainly any of the young unproven talents. Steph won’t ask them to do something, which is all the more reason they should. It rewards the man for being a good, loyal and patient soldier.
Los Angeles Clippers
Yes, they already have a loaded and expensive list. Yes, coach Tyronn Lue will face a challenge in reducing his rotation if or when the entire roster is healthy. But as deep and talented as they are, they don’t have a leader, specifically a playmaker, with championship experience. Kawhi Leonard has championship experience, but he’s not a leader. Paul George is a playmaker but lacks Championship experience and his decision-making in big moments remains a concern.
Fortunately for owner Steve Ballmer, there are players available who fit the bill, namely Kyle Lowry with the Miami Heat and Fred Van Vleet with the Toronto Raptors. Added bonus: They were part of a championship-winning formula with Leonard. Van Vleet would be the first option, but if the Raptors are willing to move him, they’d likely want draft picks and young talent, and the Clippers don’t have a surplus of either. Lowry might be easier because team president Pat Riley is always looking to stay competitive; some combination of Norm Powell, Robert Covington, John Wall and/or Reggie Jackson should be attractive in light of how much Lowry has accomplished in Miami.
The Bucks are Golden State as their superstar, Giannis Antetokounmpo, isn’t nearing his expiration date like Curry, but many of the pieces around him, like Brook Lopez, Wes Mathews, George Hill and Joe Ingles . Each will be 35 or older when the playoffs begin. Jrue Holiday turns 33 in June and Khris Middleton will turn 32 in August. Whatever Giannis’ main cast has, it’s now. Expecting Middleton being healthy for the postseason will cure their No. 22 offense is capricious. The Bucks reportedly have interest in Jae Crowder, but he doesn’t fill a need for another bucket-catcher like Clarkson or Bojan Bogdanovic would. It would also be wise to explore Houston’s interest in moving one of their young scorers.
PS For anyone wondering why Dallas Mavericks not mentioned here: They aren’t close enough to make a deal at the trade deadline that will make them title contenders. Christian Wood and Dwight Powell are presumed free agents this summer, but there’s no indication Dallas can’t re-sign them if they choose. This means that there is nothing forcing them to make a move. And as it stands, they should make the postseason.
Fresh out of the box, GM Landry Fields has two options: rebuild the current team around Trae Young or deal with their 24-year-old point guard. There is no in between. This roster has too much familiarity, talent and athleticism to be a .500 team, which is why I’m willing to believe the rumors that there’s a disconnect between Young and the rest of the roster.
If the Hawks are going to build around Trae, they will need players capable and willing to cover his defensive deficiencies and happy to let him dominate the ball. It’s pretty clear that the current crew isn’t about that. It’s hard to blame them, considering there are only four players in the league with higher usage rates — Giannis, Luka Doncic, Joel Embiid and Ja Morant — all of whom are in the top 15 in VORP (value over replacement ). Young is 27th. Translation: Young’s production isn’t very proportional to how much he has the ball. Another reason for Atlanta to put up a sale sign: They have players who would presumably be attractive to teams with title hopes and looking to rebuild: John Collins, Clint Capela, Bogdan Bogdanovic and Dejounte Murray are all under 30 with reasonable contracts. .
They got very close. The addition of Chris Paul did exactly what the Suns hoped it would: It galvanized a team with plenty of talent but lacking in leadership and mental toughness. Paul’s arrival put a perennial lottery team on the express elevator to the finals. But now they’re in the same elevator, and it has nowhere to go but down. No team that had reason to believe they had a championship-caliber roster wants to admit they were wrong or that the window has closed, so let me do it for them. They weren’t wrong; winning the 2021 Western Conference title was a test. But that was two years ago. All the signs are there that the window has closed, starting first with Paul. He’s still one of the smartest, toughest, and smartest players in the league, but at 37, his defensive ability isn’t quite the same and his availability is more precarious than ever.
If Paul’s attrition was the only issue, I could see you standing up and dealing him after the season, but before June 28, when his guaranteed salary next season jumps from $15 million to 30 million dollars. But it isn’t. Head coach Monty Williams and young center DeAndre Ayton are clearly not on the same page, and a league source says most in the locker room believe Williams is to blame for the strained relationship. Several executives also believe GM James Jones made a mistake by allowing Williams to tell Crowder before the season he wouldn’t be a starter and send him home when he was upset about the demotion. No one questioned Williams’ coaching acumen, but when it comes to these two players in particular, the belief is that he mishandled them.
All of which is reason enough for the Suns to get down to reworking the roster now.
Like the Hawks, the Bulls’ record should be considerably better in light of the talent on the roster. Being without their starting point guard, Lonzo Ball, for the entire season thanks to a mysterious knee injury deprived them of caulk, but his absence only exposed a painful truth: The core pieces just don’t fit. Nikola Vucevic is a borderline All-Star, but taking full advantage of his size and scoring in the paint means taking away driving lanes from Zach LaVine. Getting the most out of the third piece of the core, DeMar DeRozan, requires putting the ball in his hands, but the same could be said for getting the best out of LaVine. If the two could trade off playing the pick and roll with Vucevic, it could still be viable, but Vucevic is much more adept at pick and pop than pick and roll.
Whatever they do, moving Alex Caruso, who has also missed considerable time this season and is the name I’ve seen thrown around the most, is NOT the answer. At $9 million, he’s an absolute bargain and vital to creating the selfless culture the Bulls presumably want to create. A culture, I should add, that they were on their way to creating before Ball and Caruso’s injuries. There are teams with title hopes looking for size (Brooklyn) and scoring (Dallas), and with a shortage of sellers, the Bulls could get a better return now than if they waited until the summer.
Scouts and rival GMs have suggested the Celtics could use more size with Al Horford, Robert Williams and Grant Williams, all of whom are listed as 6-foot-9 or shorter, making up their big man rotation. Of course they could, but at what cost? One of the main reasons the Celtics lead the Eastern Conference and look so formidable is their chemistry, stemming in part from the fact that they collectively came up short against the Warriors last June. As with real chemistry, there is no telling what will happen when a new element is added to an established formula. They had no problem beating Embiid and the 76ers on opening night and that was with Williams still on the mend. As the old mantra goes: they have enough, they do enough, they are enough.
New Orleans Pelicans
Given all the assets they have, it would be tempting to bolster their roster with a proven postseason vet or a dynamic scorer like Clarkson, especially given their 17th-ranked offense, and they have the picks and expiring contracts to do it It would also be myopic. Until they know Zion Williamson can play 61+ games in a season, they need to approach their roster construction with caution. If missing large parts of each season is Zion’s fate, his seven first-round picks over the next three years will be useful in shaping the team around Brandon Ingram and CJ McCollum, or preparing a package to pick talent of teams looking to hit. the reset button this summer.
Los Angeles Lakers
He saved this one for last so the howling Lakers fans wouldn’t be a distraction. But here’s the reality: It’s virtually impossible for the Lakers to come to a deal that guarantees them the upgrade, let alone the jump in talent needed to be a title contender. Even if they were willing to spend the much-talked-about 2027 and 2029 first-round picks, and every GM and scout I’ve talked to has used the exact same word to describe team VP Rob Pelinka doing that: ” irresponsible” – You will need to attach a player to match the incoming salaries. That player since the start of the season has been Russell Westbrook, and his $47 million contract is expiring. In case you haven’t noticed, Westbrook has been his best playmaker and has been flirting with triple-doubles on a semi-regular basis since he started coming off the bench. Getting the Lakers into the postseason would require not only adding enough talent to replace their production, but surpassing it. At the moment, there is not even a hint of a deal to do so.
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