West Contender Trade Targets

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Updated: February 25, 2021
Lonzo Ball Pic 2

This is the second part of my two-part series about the rotation holes among contending NBA teams and how they might plug them ahead of the March 25th Trade Deadline. If you missed the previous article about the Eastern Conference contenders, I’d recommend you check it out here.

The Dallas Mavericks

The Maverick’s big positions are a mess. Porzingis is very talented, but he has lost a step that has yet to return following his latest injury. And given his history, the Mavericks cannot realistically expect him to play more than 60 games in a regular season going forward. He’s missed 11 games already this year. And KP has not played in 70 games or more since his rookie season. And perhaps more pressingly, even when he has played he and Luka have not lived up to expectations. Trade rumours have begun to swirl around Porzingis but it’s unclear if teams even see him as positive value anymore. They moved pieces around including trading swapping Seth Curry for Josh Richardson, believing that their best of all time by some metrics offense would continue to hum as they tried to cobble together a workable defense. It has not worked.

And while the Mavericks offense has started to come around with both Doncic and Porzingis on the floor, their defense has cratered from already bottom 5 in the NBA to a level that would be 29th overall. Only the desolate Cleveland Cavaliers have played worse defense than the Mavericks over the last 2 weeks. KP isn’t the only issue here, though his performance and (un)availability loom large.

Dwight Powell rushed back from his Achilles injury and does not seem himself, and may not again. Willie Cauley Stein is playing crucial minutes for a team that has ambitions of being a championship caliber team. That is simply unserious behavior.

The Mavericks need a big in the worst way, preferably an iron man and a rim diver to replace Powel’s contributions from last season. While it would not be a flashy pick, the Mavericks should seriously consider prying JaVale Mcgee away from Cleveland. McGee is receiving DNP’s as the Cav’s pivot to the future and getting him via trade should not be pricey. He’s been an eite shot blocker for his entire career, and the Mavericks need a rim deterrent in the worst way. His role with the Lakers also proved that he can be a capable, rangy defender on the perimeter, certainly more mobile than KP has been this year. He’s also an improved ball handler and a competent finisher inside. The Mavericks have structural problems that will take more than one in-season trade to fix, but to stop the bleeding this season, JaVale should be their guy.

The Phoenix Suns

For a team that has not sniffed the playoffs in many years, the Phoenix Suns are a surprisingly deep outfit. They have a star-duo backcourt in Chris Paul and Devin Booker, a wing rotation that would make anyone save the Clippers and Celtics envious in Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson, and Jae Crowder. And though he’s shown some sophomore inconsistency, DeAndre Ayton is the future of their center rotation. They have even seemingly found his small-ball backup in a reimagined role for Dario Saric.

The Suns are good, deep on both ends, and capable of a lot of internal improvement. They are deftly walking the path of competing now without sacrificing their future.

Strangely, the one hitch so far is that Paul and Booker, the team’s unambiguously best two players, have not fully meshed. Their best lineups, feature one of Paul or Booker, but not both. With both on the floor, the Suns are merely treading water at a +.01, but with just Booker and no Paul, they’re a robust +12.3. And with Paul and no Booker? An even better +13.8.

It is seemingly a conflict of styles. Paul likes to dribble the air out of the ball, while Booker would be better suited playing on the 7 Seconds or Less version of the Suns, hunting advantages early in the shot clock. So, how do they split the difference? And how do they maximize the present but also prepare for a future without the Point God?

One player comes to mind, Lonzo Ball.

Curiously, Ball has seen his stock precipitously drop since coming into the NBA, despite steady improvement. True, his game is limited because of his inability to attack the rim, but he remains a special passer who has a high basketball I.Q, and his improved shooting both off the catch and off the dribble has turned him from a once horrific pick and roll guard into one that should be great for years to come. Ball suits Booker as a partner perfectly, as a plus defender, with size, capable of spotting up, and importantly – pushing the pace. He can also be trusted to run the team when either Booker or Paul are on the bench or unavailable. And while Paul remains on the team, Lonzo can function as a plus passing wing without taking anything away or needing to dominate the ball to be effective.

When I began this article, Ball was noted to be on the trading block. Since then, he has broken out, not only shooting from deep but also bolstering the Pelican’s wobbly defense. The chance to snag Ball from the Pelicans might already have passed Phoenix by. But the NBA is capricious, and should the window crack open again, James Jones should snatch the eldest Ball brother while he has the chance.

 

The Los Angeles Lakers

What do you get the team that has everything? Well, the thing that no team can get enough of, Wing shooting. While the Lakers romped through the playoffs last year, they did so on the back of their defense. They avoided the Clippers, Bucks, Celtics, and even a healthy Heat squad that might otherwise have troubled their sometimes-sputtery half court offense. And if you think that’s underselling their run, consider that despite their dominance, they went and reshaped the roster nearly wholesale around LeBron and AD in the offseason. The Lakers were not content to rest on their laurels. Nor should they be now.

LeBron has certain archetypes that naturally complement his style of play, and being the player that he is, LeBron consistently engineers it such that these players find their way onto his team. Whether it’s JR Smith, Ray Allen or Kyle Korver, shooting specialists, ready, willing, and able to fire away at LeBron’s direction have thrived alongside the 4-time NBA champion. While there aren’t as many of those players languishing on bad teams as in years past, there are a few. One such specialist Wayne Ellington is just waiting to be plucked like an overripe fruit from the now rebuilding Detroit Pistons. Last season Ellington looked cooked, when at 32 years old he shot just 35% from deep, the worst mark of his career. But that turned out to be just another aberration in a season full of oddities as he has rebounded with a vengeance in Detroit, knocking in 43.8% from downtown, which over a full year would be a career mark.

The Lakers need shooting and Ellington would be a low cost move for the cap-strapped Lakers. Not only should acquiring Ellington bolster LA’s rotation, it’s certain to juice LeBron’s assist numbers – and consequently his campaign for MVP. Win/win.

 

The LA Clippers

The Clippers had one of the more glaring holes in the NBA last year and it took an embarrassing rout by the Jokic led Nuggets to spur them to action. With Harrell out and Ibaka in and with the Nic Batum reclamation project in full-swing, the Clippers have no significant needs.

But that doesn’t mean they should stand pat, either. While Kyle Lowry and Bradley Beal are all but assuredly out of reach for the Clips, recent reporting that the Atlanta Hawks are seeking a lottery level first round pick for John Collins should be carefully monitored.

Obviously, the Clipper’s own picks (such as are remaining after the PG trade) are not on that level. But the Hawks may not find an eager trade partner and if as the deadline approaches the Hawks decide to lower their asking price, the Clippers should offer what they have in draft compensation, and potentially even move Lou Williams to acquire more.

While this might seem far fetched, the reason Collins is on the trade block is allegedly his intent to seek a maximum contract. If the Hawks view that as an overpay, many other teams no doubt do as well – the market for a young, potential star could be cooler than typically expected. And the fact that Collins is seeking a big payday should not prove an obstacle for LA. While the Clippers have few avenues remaining to improve over the long term, all the addition of Collin’s contract would cost them would be piles of Steve Balmer’s money in luxury tax. And with arena plans in Inglewood underway, Balmer has already invested heavily in building a sustained winner.

 

The Denver Nuggets

“A four, a four, my kingdom for a four” – Denver Fans probably. The Nuggets have had an uneven start to the season, the poor play of their starters not named Nikola Jokic has muted an MVP caliber start by the Serbian big man.

The solid play of the 22nd overall pick Zeke Nnaji has alleviated the need somewhat, but it would be foolish to expect too much of Nnaji at just 20 years old. The Nuggets have a Tier-1 superstar in Nikola Jokic, and any season they do not seriously contend for a title for the duration of his prime is a crime. The Nuggets have squandered previous free agencies focusing their efforts on ancillary pieces like the (no doubt ridiculously fun) Facundo Campazzo. The Nuggets need defense, they need wings, and point of attack defenders that can switch. Those are prized players, and acquiring one, particularly from a team that considers itself trying to win now – will carry a heavy price. But Denver must pay it.

They need a PJ, Tucker, a Kyle Anderson, or if he returns quickly from injury, an Aaron Gordon. Paul Milsap is 36 years old and is not the future. Michael Porter Jr is the future*, but his focus and development have been frighteningly erratic. They need to bridge the gap, ideally with a player that can play the 3 as well in closing lineups. JaMychal Green is shooting well but is not the defensive difference maker Denver needs alongside Jokic. PJ Tucker will have many suitors and Kyle Anderson is having a career year for a Grizzlies team that no doubt values him highly. But Memphis is not quite ready to really compete, and their draft department might relish yet more bites at the apple in the draft, particularly if they drop below .500. If not, the play could be to aggressively target Kenrich Williams, who is sporting great numbers in relative obscurity for the Thunder this season.

* *crosses fingers*

The Utah Jazz

The Jazz are the hottest team in basketball, not only are the reliable twosome of Mitchell and Gobert playing out of their minds, Mike Conley and Jordan Clarkson are playing at All-Star caliber levels and seemingly the whole team has decided to never miss again.

The Jazz are simply too good to mess with, any addition they make should not come at the cost of screwing up the good (read: dominant) vibes they are radiating this year. To that end, I propose something of a wildcard – the Jazz should trade for Knicks guard Frank Ntilikina. Ntilikina has never gotten a fair shake in New York, and though he has struggled with health and consistency there is clear upside to his game. He is a premier perimeter defender and in brief moments of action has flashed a jumper that looks much improved.

And while not a big factor, Ntilikina and Mitchell are noted friends off the court, which would ease his transition into the Jazz ecosystem and certainly please Utah’s centerpiece guard. He’s also experienced playing alongside Gobert during FIBA competitions for France (including beating the United States in the previous tournament). The Knicks have not made the French guard a priority and he has been on the block multiple times, while matching salary is tricky, it’s not impossible, and could be bundled alongside other moves made at the deadline. Some smart team is going to trade for Frank and reap the benefits – why not the Jazz?

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