The NBA has become a transaction-centered league. Teams and media alike are always looking ahead. About a quarter into the season, some franchises are running out of time to look ahead before their seasons crater. Here are five teams that need to make a trade sooner rather than later.
New Orleans Pelicans
The Pelicans are in trouble. Of any team on this list, they are probably the most desperate to make a move. The stakes are astronomical. It seems like, as things stand now, Anthony Davis will almost surely turn down the max extension the Pelicans will likely offer this summer and head for a more promising franchise. New Orleans needs to give him backup, and quick. This team was supposed to be in the middle to top half of the West, but its supporting cast has been exposed: Aside from Jrue Holiday and Davis, no one else can consistently contribute. New Orleans is somehow a bottom-five defensive team with one of the best defensive players in the league. The Pelicans need one or two more useful players on the perimeter (Otto Porter Jr.? Spencer Dinwiddie?). They are starting Tim Frazier in lieu of their usual starting guard, Elfrid Payton, who is injured. That says all you need to know.
The Rockets haven’t gotten worse since starting the season with a 4-7 record, but they haven’t gotten that much better either. Houston is 5-5 in its last 10 games and still has a record below .500 and a negative point differential. The Rockets sleepwalking through this season, relying on Harden to drop at least 30 points every night and waiting for Chris Paul to become fully healthy. They need another 3-and-D player … maybe someone like Trevor Ariza? Ariza, as has been reported, is not long for the Suns. He got his money and now he’s going to get himself onto a contender. The Rockets could use his services again, but there are a few hurdles Houston would have to clear in order to get him back, so it has to look elsewhere for help.
I’m torn. I don’t know whether I should first chastise the Wizards for thinking they were going to be better than last season or write about how terrible the East is after the top six teams, and how it’s making everyone look better than they are. To put it in perspective: The Wizards’ 10-14 record would put them behind 14 teams in the West. But in the East, that same record has them 1.5 games out of a playoff spot. The blow-up is long overdue. Sure, getting out of John Wall’s contract would be impossible for Houdini, but it’s about time the Wizards move Porter, at the very least. This team needs change, and, frankly, I’d hate to see Porter and especially Bradley Beal continue to waste their primes on a franchise that has been so dysfunctional. The Wizards need to pick a direction, and it shouldn’t be to double down on the race for the East’s 8-seed.
This summer was a fork-in-the-road moment for the Heat, and … they botched it. The Heat practically had Jimmy Butler in a Miami Vice uniform before talks of a trade with the Timberwolves broke down, reportedly over the inclusion of Josh Richardson. Butler is now on the Sixers, the Heat are 9-14, and Richardson has been good, but not great (in the last five games, he’s shot 29.5 percent from the field). But Richardson isn’t the main problem. This roster does not have a robust construction: Miami just doesn’t have anyone that can carry the team, and, if you look at its payroll, it doesn’t have much of a chance to do anything in the free-agent market either. (It doesn’t help when the center you’re paying $24 million appears to walk off the court in the middle of a game, either). The Heat need to either unload contracts and rebuild around Richardson, Bam Adebayo, and Justise Winslow, or try to trade for … uh, John Wall’s contract? That’s bleak.
The Mavericks, unlike the rest of the teams on this list, are enjoying a pleasantly surprising season so far. Luka Doncic is a one-man highlight reel who already looks like a vet, and he has elevated the rest of the team to a 12-10 record and an early position inside the playoff field. Patience is key when it comes to rookies, but Doncic has already altered the expectations and the timeline. It would be a huge boon for Dallas to make the playoffs this season, and, while things are looking up now, Wes Matthews’s expiring contract could make for a useful piece come the trade deadline to bolster the lineup. Doncic is now unquestionably the centerpiece of this franchise, and everything should be done to build the best team around him. Plus, if the Mavs go for it and make some noise as a lower seed in the playoffs, it’d also help their image come free-agency season.