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John Bazemore/Associated Press
The 2019 NBA trade deadline was just tossed on its head in a way that might alter the contending field.
Anthony Davis—former No. 1 pick, current soul-snatching MVP candidate—wants to get away from the New Orleans Pelicans and onto “a team that allows him a chance to win consistently and compete for a championship,” Davis’ agent, Rich Paul, told ESPN.com’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
Where (and when) Davis lands could reshape the basketball hierarchy. While his new team won’t dispatch the Golden State Warriors as championship favorites, it could become the first legitimate challenger to their throne in the West or the overwhelming favorite to escape the East.
But let’s keep the cart behind the horse until Davis heads elsewhere.
Instead, let’s look at the one trade—where needed—that can attack each contender’s biggest area of concern. We’re defining contenders as clubs with a reasonable chance to reach the championship round, meaning there’s an overwhelming favorite in one conference but four teams with similar Finals paths in the other.
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Jae C. Hong/Associated Press
The full-strength Warriors are by far the West’s best, but a few clubs could close the gap a bit with the right addition.
Give the Denver Nuggets a knockdown shooter, and their second-ranked attack would become even harder to handle. With a trade exception to help take on Wayne Ellington’s expiring salary and a 2019 second-rounder (likely from Washington) to give Miami something for the sharpshooter, Denver would accentuate its strengths in potency and depth.
While health would get the Houston Rockets closer to a championship ceiling, the only way to break through might be finally filling those two-way wing voids from the summer. Kent Bazemore could be a tremendous get as a versatile defender, a supplemental spacer and a supporting playmaker. If Houston attaches a lightly protected 2019 first to Brandon Knight, that might be enough to interest Atlanta.
The Oklahoma City Thunder have the Association’s third-best defense, a legitimate MVP candidate in Paul George and a walking triple-double in Russell Westbrook. But their bottom-third shooting from three and the free-throw line come off as fatal flaws. Terrence Ross, a career 42.3/37.2/80.4 marksman, could improve their offensive spacing if Orlando would let him go for Alex Abrines, Patrick Patterson and a second-rounder.
The Utah Jazz are heating up just as Donovan Mitchell does the same, which makes sense given how reliant they are on the sophomore’s offensive production. They want a third impact piece to join Mitchell and Rudy Gobert, and they’ve identified Mike Conley as an option, per Andy Larsen of the Salt Lake Tribune. If Ricky Rubio, Derrick Favors and a future first could deliver Conley, Utah might vault into the West’s No. 2 slot.
Finally, there are the Los Angeles Lakers, who are simultaneously the West’s No. 9 seed and biggest wild card. This isn’t even a contender in theory at the moment, but that could change in an instant if they win the Anthony Davis sweepstakes. They seemingly have the assets to do it, especially since the Boston Celtics can’t make a non-Kyrie Irving trade offer before the summer.
The Lakers basically need to break open the piggy banks and offer nearly their entire asset collection. Sources told the Los Angeles Times‘ Brad Turner that L.A. needs Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, Ivica Zubac and a No. 1 pick to start trade talks. Add Brandon Ingram and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope with Tim Frazier and Wesley Johnson joining Davis on the flight to L.A., and the Lakers could have their coveted second star.
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While the initial reaction to being given “Do Not Panic!” instructions is usually to panic uncontrollably, we’re asking Celtics fans to trust us when we tell you, “Do Not Panic!”
We get it. You’ve waited a long time for Davis to come anywhere near the trade market, so his request alone has multiplied your excitement levels by the thousands. But then when you account for the timing of this—and the barrier between Boston and The Brow—that excitement might naturally transform into butterflies in the stomach if not outright dread.
But this doesn’t necessarily change anything. The Pelicans aren’t obligated to move Davis before the deadline, and there’s already talk of Davis possibly playing out the season with them. Maybe that’s an attempted leverage play on New Orleans’ end, but it’s important to remember the organization retains control of the situation here.
The fact that the Pelicans will have to field offers at some point is potentially great news for the Celtics, who can still put the strongest offer on the table.
“It’s pretty simple,” ESPN’s Bobby Marks wrote. “The Celtics have the right mix of draft picks, young players and controllable contracts to make a Anthony Davis [trade] work in the off-season. Boston checks all the boxes that the other teams do not have.”
The Celtics can’t touch their treasure chest before the summer, which is fine. Danny Ainge was already preparing for a quiet trade season, and if this group’s chemistry ever clicks, there’s much more to gain in-house than there would be through a non-Davis deal.
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Want to know how absurd Golden State’s collection of talent is? Even with Davis becoming available, the Warriors would rather keep this club intact (for now, at least) to chase a third straight title, per The Athletic’s Tim Kawakami.
“The Warriors don’t have a pressing need for Davis,” Marcus Thompson II wrote for The Athletic. “They have eyed Davis because they longed for a big who can score. The Warriors now have DeMarcus Cousins. They have their horses for this season and would be crazy to mess with that.”
Read the first part of that again—the Dubs don’t need Davis, a 25-year-old averaging 29.3 points, 13.3 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 2.6 blocks. That Golden State would be fine with not giving him chase might be the greatest testament to the team’s talent so far.
It also indicates just how quiet things will likely be in Oakland over the next week-plus. If the Warriors aren’t willing to rock the boat for Davis, why would they sacrifice anything for a likely part-time specialist? Dealing drafts picks feels inadvisable given the need for young, cost-controlled contributors, and the prospects on the roster are either in the rotation or lacking usable trade value.
The Warriors appear like they’re rounding into championship form. They have both a 10-1 record and an incredible plus-13.7 net rating in the month of January.
This team needs nothing. If it decides it wants an insurance policy in some area—maybe bench scoring or depth at center—it shouldn’t spend assets to add one, but rather wait to see what surfaces on the buyout market.
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Milwaukee Bucks Receive: Rodney Hood
Cleveland Cavaliers Receive: Thon Maker, 2020 second-round pick (from Washington)
The Bucks are quickly learning there’s no such thing as too many triples under head coach Mike Budenholzer.
Milwaukee players now encounter a fluorescent green light on the offensive end, and it has resulted in a one-year surge from 25th to second in three-point attempts. Just as the offense has erupted, so too have the Bucks’ championship chances. This team struggled to clear .500 last season; it owns an NBA-best .729 winning percentage now.
But the higher the Bucks ascend, the faster their margin for error shrinks. They need more shooting to at least buy themselves some breathing room.
For all the threes they launch, they’re only 16th in success rate at 34.9 percent. That number needs to improve, especially with the knowledge that playoff defenses will surely crowd Giannis Antetokounmpo (and, to a lesser extent, Eric Bledsoe) and force someone else to beat them.
Rodney Hood could help.
The smooth 6’8″ swingman is a career 36.8 percent long-range shooter over four-plus NBA seasons, and he could even find his own scoring chances on a second unit that’s light on shot-creators. He’s an obvious trade candidate as an impending free agent on a rebuilder, and he’d be worth the price if Cleveland wants to grant Thon Maker’s wish for a scenery change, per Wojnarowski.
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Philadelphia 76ers Receive: Garrett Temple, JaMychal Green, Omri Casspi
Memphis Grizzlies Receive: Wilson Chandler, Furkan Korkmaz, Justin Patton, 2019 second-round pick, 2020 second-round pick
If you’ve come here looking for the most intriguing theoretical blockbuster of this trade season, we’re sorry. It’d be tough investing too much time in Anthony Davis-for-Ben Simmons talks when sources informed Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes that Philly “currently has no plans to pursue a deal” and consider a deal centered around the two Rich Paul clients “highly unlikely.”
(Our quick two cents: We’re not sure it’d be worth the risk for Philly. The top remaining shot-creator would be T.J. McConnell or whatever’s left of Markelle Fultz. It’s probably best to stay the course.)
While it’s hard to imagine Philly feeling any buyer’s remorse over the Jimmy Butler trade, it did eat into the franchise’s depth. The Sixers need more perimeter stoppers, forwards and backup bigs. This does a relatively good job of targeting those areas without being too costly.
Provided Garrett Temple’s shoulder sprain doesn’t linger, he’d be the three-and-D support piece this roster needs. The Sixers need more resistance on the perimeter than Landry Shamet can provide, but they must keep spacers around the Butler-Simmons-Joel Embiid trio. The best version of Temple addresses both areas.
JaMychal Green would add defensive versatility, toughness and a touch of spacing to the bench. Omri Casspi would add another perimeter threat—and a lot of savvy off-ball movement—although he can be reluctant to launch.
This isn’t a great package going back to the Grizzlies, but it’s still some draft consideration for a few role-playing rentals. And it could blossom into more if Memphis flips Wilson Chandler for further draft capital or views Furkan Korkmaz and/or Justin Patton as keepers.
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Toronto Raptors Receive: Reggie Bullock
Detroit Pistons Receive: Delon Wright, 2019 second-round pick
Could the Raptors shoot their shot for Anthony Davis? Sure, you’d at least get a callback for an offer built around Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby, Serge Ibaka (or Jonas Valanciunas) and draft considerations. But that’s unlikely to be the best offer New Orleans receives, and it would leave Toronto without much depth or long-term security.
There’s a much better chance the Raptors have already made their major move with the addition Kawhi Leonard and are now looking to shore up around the margins.
Despite having a thicket of long-limbed perimeter defenders, they could always use more versatile stoppers—especially those who pack a three-point punch.
Reggie Bullock does both and at a more-than-reasonable price (for now). He’s hitting 41.0 percent from three since the start of 2015-16, and he can switch through multiple assignments on defense. He’s also unsigned beyond this season, so he might be available if the Pistons aren’t keen on paying him.
Of course, Delon Wright is also an impending free agent, but he’d come attached to restricted-free-agency rights. And it’s not like the future looks great for Detroit’s floor generals. Add the second-rounder for a club woefully short on prospects, and maybe there’s enough here to get something done.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @ZachBuckleyNBA.