Most teams have passed the quarter mark of the season, which means shit is getting real in the NBA. Some early successes, like the Celtics and Pistons, may now be on the lookout to bolster their playoff pushes, while some strugglers, like the Thunder and Clippers, may be looking to cut bait and begin a reboot early. Our own NBA team offers up some friendly trade suggestions for the enterprising GMs out there.
Pelicans get: Russell Westbrook
Thunder get: Bradley Beal, Jrue Holiday
Wizards get: DeMarcus Cousins
Justin Verrier: Westbrook’s thrash-metal brand of basketball may have reached cult-hero status in Oklahoma City, but if Russ can’t optimize his game next to an elite-level wing who is his equal in isolation or next to an elite-level wing with the shooting and defense to cover his biggest blind spots, the Thunder may be stuck chasing triple-doubles rather than titles for the next five years. This deal — which has to wait until mid-January because of Holiday’s recent contract — would both course-correct the franchise out of a spin cycle reminiscent of post-peak Iverson and, Melo willing, deliver the ball movement coach Billy Donovan is seeking. OKC definitely loses its (ill-fitting) edgy identity, but a team with three fringe All-Stars and Paul George as its new focal point would surely bolster the bottom line.
The Wizards, meanwhile, cough up perhaps their best player this season to give the world the John Wall-DeMarcus Cousins reunion it needs. And the Pelicans become one of the best League Pass teams in history by pairing Anthony Davis with his buddy Russ (who, unlike Cousins, is already locked up for the foreseeable future). Team Wasserman would have issues filling out its wing rotation, and coach Alvin Gentry will continue to tell you all about them at every assembled media availability, but as New Orleans learned with last season’s Cousins heist, you take the best player and figure it out later.
DeAndre Jordan Goes to Washington
Wizards get: DeAndre Jordan
Clippers get: Marcin Gortat, Jason Smith, Tomas Satoransky, 2019 unprotected first-round pick
Haley O’Shaughnessy: The Clippers’ playoff hopes have either been lost or, at best, considerably decreased after injuries to Blake Griffin, Danilo Gallinari, Milos Teodosic, and Patrick Beverley. Doc Rivers recently told reporters that despite “internet people” thinking the franchise should start rebuilding now, he isn’t listening. But he should! (Plus, Doc, that decision is no longer up to you.) Gortat has one year left on his deal, Smith has a player option in 2018, and Satoransky could either be another guard added to the Clippers’ messy mix or waived.
Washington might have to throw in another pick to make L.A. bite; then again, conceding to defeat shouldn’t be all that new for the franchise. Adding DeAndre instantly takes the Wizards from the outside looking in on the top of the East, to a legitimate threat to make the NBA Finals.
Portland, Utah Swap Wings
Blazers get: Alec Burks
Jazz get: Maurice Harkless
Jonathan Tjarks: A good old-fashioned challenge trade for two guys who could use fresh starts. Harkless has been benched in Portland, and he may fall out of the rotation entirely now that Al-Farouq Aminu has returned. Utah has been running a patchwork rotation at the small-ball 4 position with Joe Johnson out, and Harkless is worth a shot as a long-term answer there. Burks has never been able to live up to his potential in Utah, and he’s third in the pecking order at shooting guard behind Donovan Mitchell and Rodney Hood. He could give Portland a legitimate scoring weapon off their bench and remind the rest of the league of what he’s capable of as a sixth man.
Lou Williams to Minnesota
Timberwolves get: Lou Williams
Clippers get: Tyus Jones, Cole Aldrich, second-round pick
John Gonzalez: We need to find a good home for Williams, who’s having another typical Sweet Lou season: averaging 18.7 PPG, 4.1 assists, and 1.1 steals while shooting 45.5 percent from the floor, 39 percent from 3-point range (on 5.9 attempts per game) and 89.7 percent from the line (on 4.4 attempts per game). He could help someone as an instant-offense sixth man.
The Timberwolves could use that kind of help. Minnesota is 29th in 3-point attempts, and Tom Thibodeau is playing each of his top five guys more than 32 minutes per game. Meanwhile, no one off the bench is averaging even 20 minutes. Someone needs to save Thibs from himself. Let Lou be that someone.
The Lakers got a first-round pick when they traded Williams last season. The Clippers probably won’t get that much considering Williams will be an unrestricted free agent in the offseason, but they can certainly get something: maybe a second-rounder or two and Tyus Jones (and, to make the money match up, Cole Aldrich, who has only a partial guarantee for next season).
Detroit Doubles Down
Pistons get: Paul George
Thunder get: Tobias Harris, Luke Kennard
Paolo Uggetti: This is starting with a big, but not so unrealistic assumption. Say the Thunder continue to self-destruct. Say Paul George continues to be used as a luxury shooter only to create space for Russell Westbrook to drive, while Carmelo Anthony keeps taking bad shots and not playing defense. Say George wants out sooner rather than later.
Enter Stan Van Gundy and the surging Pistons. Detroit is 14–6, second in the East, and already has wins over the Warriors and the Celtics. The team won’t keep this pace up, but what if an addition could help it stay near the top of the East? Is a half-season rental on George worth the Pistons’ leading scorer and their best young asset? Debatable, but if this is the season in which the East is weakest, it would make sense for Detroit to pounce on the opportunity. A starting lineup of Reggie Jackson, Avery Bradley, Stanley Johnson, Paul George, and Andre Drummond is tantalizing enough to get you excited for a matchup with both the C’s and the Cavs.
Why would the Thunder do this? (They probably wouldn’t.) But adding two more scorers to work around Westbrook while letting him be freed from having to incorporate a second superstar has an outside shot at working better than whatever they’re doing now.
Lou Williams to a Contender
Clippers get: 2017 first-round pick
A contender to be named later gets: Lou Williams
Kevin O’Connor: The Clippers are on the outside looking in of the playoff race with a 8–12 record. Griffin, Beverley, Gallinari, and Teodosic are out. Austin Rivers is averaging 33.5 minutes per game. Doc Rivers is still the coach for some reason. If at some point the Clippers, who are just 4–12 since their 4–0 start to the season, choose to sell, then it’ll be interesting to see what they could get for Lou Williams, who is once again a Sixth Man of the Year candidate, averaging an efficient 18.7 points off the bench.
The Lakers acquired a first-round pick, along with Corey Brewer’s salary, from the Rockets for Williams last season. The Clippers could look for a similar deal. The Cavaliers need a backup point guard if Derrick Rose never returns to the team. The Celtics could absorb Williams into their designated-player exception. Jerryd Bayless and T.J. McConnell are doing the job off the bench for the Sixers, but neither of them can score like Lou Will. All of these teams have late 2017 first-rounders they could cough up. The Clippers should start building for the future in what looks like another season lost.