About a month away from the trade deadline, here are a few teams that line up as buyers and sellers
As the NBA flips the calendar into 2019, fans and front offices turn their attention to the Feb. 7 trade deadline. It’s the time of the year when contenders look to bolster their rosters and teams on the cusp decide to blow it up and stock up for next season. While this season has had the most parity and highest number of fringe contenders in recent memory, here’s a look at a few teams who should go all-in for a playoff run, and some that should fold now and start fresh in 2019-20.
Sellers: Cleveland Cavaliers
NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) September 27, 2018
This one seems pretty obvious. The absence of LeBron James has transformed the Cleveland Cavaliers into an NBA bottom feeder overnight, despite Tristan Thompson’s preseason confidence. Without a star to fill the void, the Cleveland roster is largely comprised of veteran role players unable to compete.
Most Likely to be Moved: J.R.Smith
The three most valuable veterans on the Cleveland roster are J.R. Smith, Jordan Clarkson, and Kevin Love. Considering his discontentment post-LeBron and the few effective years he has left in the league, Smith would jump at the idea of joining a contender. For their part, Cleveland has made no secret that Smith is available, and he might actually be released if a deal doesn’t materialize. Smith is at his best when he has a well-defined bench role, in which he can be a leading scoring option with the second unit.
Buyers: Denver Nuggets
In a somewhat unexpected turn, the Denver Nuggets have emerged as one of the best teams in the league, and currently sit atop the Western Conference. Fresh off a season in which the team narrowly missed the playoffs, the Nuggets look poised to make a deep run in 2019. Denver boasts excellence on both ends of the court, ranking eighth in defensive and offensive efficiency. Their rise to elite status coincides with Nikola Jokic’s rise to superstardom.
Best Target: Kemba Walker
While Denver may be slow to make a move until they know what they have in Isaiah Thomas and Will Barton, Kemba Walker looks like an ideal fit in Denver. With the Hornets as the textbook definition of mediocre, the front office would be smart to deal Walker for assets, rather than break the bank this offseason. It would take a valuable package to net Walker, most likely consisting of picks and a young player like Gary Harris or Jamal Murray.
Denver is not an excellent three-point shooting team (32rd in makes and attempts, 12th in percentage), and adding Walker would make the squad a bigger inside-outside threat with a Walker-Jokic tandem. Walker is averaging 37% from behind the arc (above the league average), and attempting 9.2 per game from range. Adding one of the most dynamic backcourt scorers in the game would instantly cement Denver as a legitimate contender.
Sellers: New York Knicks
When Kristaps Porzingis was sidelined last season with an ACL injury, the New York Knicks anticipated a rebuilding year in 2018-19. So far, it has gone according to plan, with New York tied for the second-worst record in the league. The team has had mixed success with their plan to reclaim former lottery picks with some like Emmanuel Mudiay and Noah Vonleh making meaningful strides in the league, while others (Mario Hezonja and Trey Burke) have not made much of a mark this season. Their rookies (Kevin Knox, Allonzo Trier, and Mitchell Robinson) have shown flashes of brilliance, but it hasn’t translated to wins for the Knicks.
Most Likely to be Moved:Courtney Lee
As the Knicks have their sights set on a lottery pick in the next draft, the roster boasts a few veteran players that could be on the move. The most likely of these is Courtney Lee, the 3-and-D specialist that has seen his playing time cut in favor of New York’s young guards. Despite missing much of this year with nagging injury, Lee has been one of the more consistent shooters in the league; last season, Lee shot 40.6% from behind the arc, and, to attest to his consistency, broke the Knicks’ franchise record for consecutive free throws made. His reliable offense and defense—and more importantly, his veteran leadership—would make Lee a welcome addition to any contending team.
Buyers: Philadelphia 76ers
The Sixers already came out swinging in the trade market this season by adding the discontented Jimmy Butler. The team has had a strong start to the season, but they might still need another big piece to help them join the class of the conference like Toronto and Milwaukee. They’ve already made one splashy trade, why not another?
Best Target: Bradley Beal
This would be a swing-for-the-fences move; Beal would ameliorate many of Philadelphia’s deficiencies. His 3-point shooting would space the floor, giving Joel Embiid more room to work in the paint, and he can give the Sixers a guard that can make plays and defend more consistently than JJ Redick. Embiid is the only Sixer averaging over 20 points per game, and it would be a lethal pairing to add Beal to the Philadelphia offense. This move would certainly be a power move, and one that would put the rest of the East on notice.
Sellers: Washington Wizards
For the past several years, the Washington Wizards have held on to their core of John Wall, Bradley Beal, and Otto Porter…but it seems like those days might becoming to an end. At 14-23, the Wizards are one of the worst teams in the league, and John Wall has been shut down for the year with a heel injury. Washington has all but thrown in the towel for 2018-19, and it’s time to consider drastic changes to the roster.
Most Likely to be Moved: Otto Porter or Bradley Beal
The front office already parted with Kelly Oubre in mid-December, and they have attractive pieces in Porter and Beal, particularly. They recently added Trevor Ariza to the squad, but that was a reactionary move by Ernie Grunfeld in an overly optimistic attempt to compete for the playoffs. However, the Wizards have almost no chance to compete without Wall. By the deadline, it seems almost like a fait accompli that Porter or Beal will be moved. In the cellar offensively and defensively, Washington will be a candidate for a full rebuild in the near future, and should be open for business at the deadline.
Edited by Emily Berman.
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