One Trade for Each Atlantic Division Team
Cover photo by Andy Marlin, USA TODAY Sports
The trade deadline is just over 24 hours away, and there are sure to be moves. Blockbuster deals seem unlikely after the whirlwind offseason that just occurred, but there are still plenty of teams looking to make upgrades.
In fact, the Atlantic Division has four teams in the playoffs if the season were to end today. They all have varying degrees of expectations for 2019-20, but one move can change everyone else's fate.
The NBA is in a bit of a transition year. The Golden State Warriors are broken up (for now), and a good chunk of the league's top 20-25 players have new addresses. The seismic talent redistribution of the 2019 offseason will either never be seen again, or is a harbinger of things to come.
In the meantime, several teams can talk themselves into a run at the Finals. Though the Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers are in the driver's seat for each respective conference's 1 seed, they are by no means unbeatable in the playoffs. The Bucks haven't done it yet, and the Lakers are brand new while led by someone who is the opposite of new.
In reverse-record order, let's take a look at the types of trades each team in the Atlantic should make, and an example of something they could do to satisfy that.
New York Knicks
Oh, the Knicks. Their dysfunction has been apparent for years, but the events of the 2019 offseason and this regular season have been even more on-brand.
From striking out on Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, to barely having a Plan B or C for if they didn't sign, to then blaming David Fizdale for the team's early struggles, nothing has gone right in New York, and most of the wounds are self-inflicted.
That being said, there are ways for the Knicks to get smart as soon as tomorrow. Their glut of bigs and forwards are not on horrible deals, i.e. they're all tradeable. The only guaranteed contracts for 2020-21 are Julius Randle, Joakim Noah, R.J. Barrett, Frank Ntilikina, Dennis Smith Jr., Kevin Knox and Ignas Brazdeikis, with the latter five youngsters amounting to only $22 million combined (per Basketball-Reference).
Photo by Mike Stobe, via Getty Images
Though the Knicks would reportedly like to keep Marcus Morris, it doesn't make much sense to do so. The combo forward is averaging 19.6 points on a .442/.439/.823 slash line, easily having a career year. The other side of the ball has been lackluster, where he posts a defensive box plus-minus of -2.2 and 0.7 defensive win shares, but a lot of that is probably due to his offensive workload (14.8 field goal attempts per game, 24.3% usage rate, both career highs).
Many contenders think he can shore up their bench or slot in as the fifth starter, and he would certainly swing the championship odds in a race as wide open as this year's. His $15 million salary is also easy for other teams to match.
The team that can most easily get to his figure is the Los Angeles Clippers, who have Maurice Harkless' $11.1 million cap number to use as the base. Assuming the Clippers refuse to trade Landry Shamet, their next young piece worth trading for is Jerome Robinson, who has a long way to go but is worth a look for the Knicks. Throw in LAC's 2020 first round pick that many say is "burning a hole in their pocket," and you get fair value for three to four months of Morris:
(trade verified by TradeNBA.com)
The Nets are in a bit of a middle ground this season as they wait for Kevin Durant to return from his Achilles injury. But that doesn't mean they can't improve around the fringes.
Their top seven do not need to be messed with: Kyrie Irving, Garrett Temple, Joe Harris, Taurean Prince, Jarrett Allen, Spencer Dinwiddie and Caris LeVert all belong in a playoff rotation. DeAndre Jordan is an acceptable backup and is not going anywhere if the Nets want to keep their top two stars happy.
The 4-spot looks like a spot of improvement. Rodions Kurucs looked sharp and playable last season, but has somewhat regressed in 2019-20. Wilson Chandler seems to be just eating minutes as the backup to Prince.
Morris could also be a target for the Nets, though it seems unlikely James Dolan would swallow his pride enough to let another good player go to Brooklyn at his expense. The Ringer proposed Aaron Gordon as a target, but can the trio of Durant, Gordon and Prince justify all the combined money they'll make next season?
Photo by Rick Osentoski, USA TODAY Sports
Davis Bertans makes a lot of basketball sense, but not for the price the Nets are willing to pay this season. Marvin Williams could be a sneaky-good get for them on the buyout market.
For the purposes of a realistic trade target, Marcus' brother Markieff Morris makes sense here. His cap hit is very easy to match, he's hitting 39.3% of his threes this season, and though his defensive numbers are down this season, he would likely play up for a more competitive team.
The Detroit Pistons would have to agree to pack it in for the rest of the season, but that already seems like the best move for them. Getting something for Markieff, no matter how small, should be their goal.
(link to trade here)
Arguably the biggest disappointment in the NBA's upper tier, the 76ers find themselves in a bit of a bind. Their big signing of the offseason, Al Horford, doesn't seem to mesh well with the franchise's top two stars, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. That's a problem.
Trading Horford wouldn't do the Sixers any good now. Getting value for him would be nearly impossible, making his role in Philly more valuable to the Sixers than any return he garners.
That doesn't mean they're screwed, though. Philly's size and defense will play up in the postseason, and Horford is integral to that identity. A trade involving one of the Sixers' big six, a group that includes Embiid, Tobias Harris, Horford, Josh Richardson, Simmons and Matisse Thybulle, is not feasible right now. None of them are going anywhere in the next few months.
What is realistic, and arguably necessary, is getting a creator. A player who can score, make plays for others, shoot off the catch and not suck on defense would fit pretty nicely in Philly right now.
Photo by Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Richardson does most of these things, but is only somewhat above-average as a ball handler. Shake Milton has made a nice emergence in Richardson's absence, but trusting a 2018 second round pick in the guts of a playoff game is, well, not ideal.
The player who does all these things, is available and won't cost a ton is Bogdan Bogdanovic of the Sacramento Kings. I outlined the benefits and costs of trading for Bogdanovic here, which mostly comes down to how willing the Sixers are to pay the luxury tax.
The Serbian is a restricted free agent this summer, meaning the Sixers can match any offer that comes his way. But for what Philly is trying to do, its best move may be to go for it now and figure out the rest later.
(link to trade here)
The Celtics are perpetually the team that can do a lot. With a constant influx of young talent and favorable contracts for role players, Boston often has the flexibility to make deals work.
At the same time though, they're also infamous for "almost" making trades for stars. And with their excellent season so far, a trade of monstrous proportions seems even less likely for them.
Their most glaring need is a better center than their hodgepodge of Daniel Theis, Enes Kanter, Robert Williams and Vincent Poirier. But with Clint Capela already off the market, their pickings have slimmed even more.
Gordon Hayward's player option for $34.2 million next season makes adding money past this season complicated, but then again they were interested in Capela, who is under contract through 2023.
Photo by Raj Mehta, USA TODAY Sports
The second King to be proposed in this list, Dewayne Dedmon, makes a similar salary to Capela. He isn't as good of a rim protector, but is a respectable one, a willing 3-point shooter and fine roller in the pick-and-roll. In addition his cap hit for 2021-22 is fully non-guaranteed, meaning the Celtics are really only on the hook for him for next season.
There are financial issues with taking on long-term money. The Celtics are likely to pay the luxury tax next season if Hayward accepts his option, especially with Jaylen Brown's extension kicking in. Jayson Tatum will be negotiating a new deal with Boston this summer too, meaning they'll likely pay the tax in 2021-22 too. Does Dewayne Dedmon take them over the top?
The short answer is no, as few players available today or tomorrow will do that. But it somewhat shores up Boston's main weakness, which may be enough to get them to the Eastern Conference Finals. If Dedmon's cap hit is that unbearable going into next season, he's effectively an expiring contract, and the Celtics will still have plenty of sweeteners to use in a salary dump.
(link to trade here)
For as disappointing as the Sixers have been, Toronto has been a pleasant surprise. Many thought the Raptors' cap situation would cause them to pack it in, as Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka and Fred VanVleet are all free agents this summer.
They flipped a metaphorical middle finger at that idea, as they are on pace for as many wins as last season and don't seem to have missed a beat without Kawhi Leonard. Pascal Siakam has made another leap, Terence Davis and O.G. Anunoby have popped and Norman Powell is justifying his contract.
Leonard's departure didn't set them back; it may have arguably set them free. The risk of anyone leaving this summer is minimal because they can either re-up those free agents for another run or retool around Siakam.
Their success in recent drafts also gives them confidence that they can add talent from anywhere; absorbing another late first-round pick doesn't make their franchise better than simply keeping Gasol or Ibaka for five months.
It's hard to say where the Raptors are weak. Their rotation is versatile, experienced and talented. Everyone could use another big wing/forward body (i.e. a supplement to Anunoby) to deal with the Lebron James' and Kawhi Leonard's of the world.
Photo by Brandon Dill, Associated Press
Marcus Morris fits that bill (shocker, right?), but matching that money would require Powell. He's been good this season, but his player option for 2021-22 could hamper the Raptors' efforts to pursue Giannis Antentokoumnpo that summer. And let's not act like the Knicks aren't setting themselves up for such a pursuit either.
Jae Crowder has a more reasonable salary for Toronto to match. At $7.8 million, all the Raptors would need to send money-wise would be Patrick McCaw and Stanley Johnson. Though the Memphis Grizzlies are in a playoff hunt and are the NBA's most fun story, they have to do what's best for their future, and maximizing Crowder's value is a very easy way to do that.
(trade link here)
There are a lot of trades these tams can make before Thursday's 3 p.m. deadline, and a betting man would presume at least the Sixers make a deal. The Raptors are having a great victory lap season, the Celtics will make the right move if it presents itself, the Nets don't have to do anything, and the Knicks may be too stubborn to make a smart decision.
All stats gathered from Basketball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.