The NBA trade deadline is 3 weeks away. Which teams – 1 in the East + 1 in the West – most need a shakeup before Feb. 10?
Steve Aschburner: The Philadelphia 76ers in the East and the L.A. Lakers in the West. The Sixers should have dealt (get it?) with the Ben Simmons issue long ago, and it hangs over their season like a big, gloomy 3-point challenged cloud. Maybe Daryl Morey can pull something out of his hat at the deadline and the move will propel Philadelphia to the top of a very wide-open Eastern Conference. If not, the games that have gotten away already could haunt the Sixers and their fans.
As for the Lakers, what we’ve been seeing is not what they had in mind with their offseason roster overhaul. Trouble is, the people making any transaction now — LeBron James, Rob Pelinka, Jeanie Buss — are the ones responsible for the missteps of summer. Firing the coach? That tired old tactic would get laughed out of most Hollywood pitch meetings at this point. Now, finding some other team willing to take on Russell Westbrook and his contract, that could be boffo (or whatever those moguls say).
Mark Medina: In the East, the Celtics are the pick. After appearing in the Eastern Conference finals for three of the past five seasons, the Celtics’ chances of making The Finals have evaporated significantly. So much that Boston might not even make the playoffs after falling in the first round last season to the Brooklyn Nets.
That doesn’t mean the Celtics should break up the Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown tandem. Brown has nursed significant injuries this season and, when healthy, they are among the league’s best wing players. It has become clear that Boston needs more reinforcements around them and it might be challenging to pull a deal without Brown or Tatum headlining a swap. But the Celtics should make everyone available — including Marcus Smart, Dennis Schroder, Al Horford and Josh Richardson. The Celtics already acquired Denver’s Bol Bol and P.J. Dozier in a three-way deal, but they need to continue their roster shuffling.
In the West, the Trail Blazers are the pick. Portland is just stuck in mud. Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum have nursed overlapping injuries and new coach Chauncey Billups hasn’t made enough of an imprint on the team’s roster. Lastly, the organization’s ongoing quest to improve on the margins hasn’t worked anymore.
Shaun Powell: In the East: Pacers all the way. This team is way overdue for a reboot, mainly because Indy has the pieces and also the purpose; the season’s virtually over for the Pacers. Why not become sellers and get a fresh start heading into summer? Myles Turner (even though he’s injured at the moment) can fetch some goods, and possibly Caris LeVert as well. The big question: Do the Pacers dare jettison Domantas Sabonis?
In the West: The Blazers are a prime candidate until you understand the extended misery of the Kings. Sacramento once again has arrived at a critical point; the current cast of players seems maxed out already. The good news is Sacramento has assets that other teams will find enticing, mainly because most of those assets are young and on reasonable contracts, even Harrison Barnes and Buddy Hield to a degree.
John Schuhmann: There are few teams (maybe just Golden State, Milwaukee and Phoenix) that don’t need something. And you can answer this question in a couple of ways, because with the right addition, Philadelphia (via a Ben Simmons trade) or Memphis (via a package of contracts and picks) could make the leap into true title contention.
In the East, Boston probably needs a change, but not by trading one of its All-Stars, because Jayson Tatum is an incredible, 23-year-old talent and Jaylen Brown is the type of do-everything player that should fit well next to anybody. It would be nice to see them alongside a point guard who can execute in the pick-and-roll, distribute the ball and generate more movement in what has been a stagnant, iso-heavy offense.
There are a lot of options in the West. But Utah is obviously underperforming right now and seemingly one piece away (a wing defender?) from being on the same level as Golden State and Phoenix. The Jazz’s offense has been fantastic (save for a couple of games recently), but their defense (which now ranks 12th) is just too dependent on Rudy Gobert. For both the Celtics and Jazz, finding that missing piece is much easier said than done at the deadline, of course.
Michael C. Wright: “Need” and what you can actually do are different things. So, let’s start with the obvious out West: we all know the Los Angeles Lakers need to upgrade their veteran roster to make a real push in this postseason. Even with LeBron James continuing to play lights out, he hasn’t been able to prevent Los Angeles from losing three of its last four, as it hovers near .500 (22-23). With Anthony Davis out since Dec. 19 and Russell Westbrook struggling to find his way, it’s become clear that James can’t carry this team alone. If the Lakers could just get James, Davis, and Westbrook together on the court long enough to play a good stretch of games, perhaps they could figure out a way to successfully coexist. It appears from this vantage point that’s the only way the Lakers will improve because they just don’t have the assets to make significant moves at the trade deadline. Los Angeles reportedly tried to make a deal to bring in Cam Reddish, who ended up with the Knicks. The Lakers can try to move Talen Horton-Tucker and Kendrick Nunn, who hasn’t played this season, but would either of those players bring in a haul that would make them markedly better?
In the East, 2021 Eastern Conference finalist Atlanta is 19-25 and 12th in the standings. But it’s clear the Hawks aren’t standing pat, given their recent trade of Cam Reddish, Solomon Hill and a second-round pick to the Knicks for Kevin Knox II and a first-round pick. Hawks coach Nate McMillan has made it clear his team intends to compete this season despite the slow start, and that first-round pick netted in the Reddish trade gives Atlanta yet another asset to use in making any moves. Perhaps that pick helps the Hawks shore up their need for a perimeter defender.
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