Opportunity frequently knocks in the NBA but many GMs fail to open the door.
The trade deadline has passed and most league insiders will spend their day evaluating the winners and losers from each transaction. Inevitably, one team overpaid for a need, shed too much talent in an attempt to reduce salary or finally gave up on the season and cashed in their chips.
Whatever the reason, there are always a number of teams that miss the chance to improve their team, either now or for the future. The lack of movement is due to a number of factors, from owner spending limits to more tricky concepts like chemistry concerns. Most importantly is the difficulty in finding trade partners where everyone can get what they need from their competition. The eight could-have, should-have, but didn’t win-win trades below highlight a few of these missed opportunities.
(Editors Note: A few trades below include players traded at the deadline but provide alternative transactions.)
1. Philadelphia 76ers and Charlotte Bobcats
Charlotte receives: Evan Turner, Spencer Hawes and Jason Richardson
Philly receives: Cody Zeller, Ben Gordon, Jeff Taylor, 2014 1st round pick (via Portland), 2015 2nd round pick
The 76ers threw in the towel a couple seasons ago and have been working on a full rebuild. All indications point to an unwillingness to sign swingman Turner or center Hawes to extensions so there has been interest in recouping some value for the young contributors. The “Horncats” have a number of young assets and a real chance to advance in the weakened Eastern Conference. Swapping Gordon’s expiring deal, two young talents in Zeller/Taylor and non-lottery picks for two pieces that would fit beautifully around Kemba Walker and Al Jefferson could be just the push they need. Taking on Richardson’s awful deal would sting but a potential playoff series win would be worth it.
2. Boston Celtics and Utah Jazz
Utah receives: Jared Sullinger, Avery Bradley, Jeff Green, Kris Humphries
Boston receives: Gordon Hayward, Rudy Gobert, Marvin Williams, Jeremy Evans, Richard Jefferson, future 1st round pick
All of the attention has been on the Celtics’ plans for Rajon Rondo, who remains the last piece from the Celtics championship run. While there is obviously a market for Rondo, the Celtics have enough assets to make some serious acquisition noise over the next couple seasons. One of those proposed targets is Hayward, who would fit nicely in Boston and would be reunited with college coach Brad Stevens. The inconsistent Jeff Green is owed $9 million for three years plus any new deal for Bradley would cut into the ability to sign Gordon. Bringing Hayward in now while shedding those dollars should get the pairing done. For the Jazz, they eliminate the risk of losing Hayward for nothing while bringing back two great prospects in Sullinger and Bradley. They use their expiring deals plus a mid-to-low pick in exchange for Green who would fit nicely in their system.
3. New Orleans Pelicans and Detroit Pistons
Detroit receives: Eric Gordon, Al-Farouq Aminu
New Orleans receives: Josh Smith, Rodney Stuckey
In the past 10 years, the Detroit Pistons have twice blown offseasons with major cap space. Most experts viewed their moves this year with concern as the new pieces seemed destined to clash with the prior roster. Halfway through the season, coach Mo Cheeks is gone and the Pistons are on the verge of missing the playoffs. Two major issues for the Pistons are a lack of a stronger backcourt mate for Brandon Jennings and Josh Smith’s playing out of position at small forward. While they haven’t settled Greg Monroe’s future with the team, balancing out the starting lineup by bringing in a scorer like Gordon and a role player in Aminu may be the best chance they have of correcting their signing mistakes. The Pelicans have too many scorers in the backcourt and a depleted frontcourt. While Smith’s tendency to shoot threes prevent him from maximizing his potential, he could form a deadly shot blocking tandem with Anthony Davis and the move would allow Tyreke Evans to join the starters at shooting guard. They would still lack outside shooting, especially with Ryan Anderson out for the season, but it would be a start.
4. Brooklyn Nets, Dallas Mavericks and San Antonio Spurs
Brooklyn receives: Jose Calderon, Brandon Wright, Boris Diaw, Matt Bonner, Vince Carter, Bernard James, Wayne Ellington
Dallas receives: Deron Williams, Mirza Teletovic, Mason Plumlee, Corey Joseph, Bojan Bogdanovic
San Antonio receives: Kevin Garnett, Devin Harris
The Nets entered the season willing to overspend while compiling a roster of aging but championship-tested pros. Injuries to Brook Lopez and the inevitability of time have ended what was an intriguing exercise in Mikhail Prokhorov excess. The weakened Eastern Conference should allow the Nets to make the playoffs, but then what? The reality is their window to succeed was incredibly small and in all likelihood closed. When your owner has the kind of wealth Prokhorov has, if the team can’t compete, break it up and start again. There’s a price to pay for unloading big contracts for underperforming players and the Nets would have to include young players like Plumlee and Bogdanovic, but they could shed huge amounts of salary while adding a few useful pieces. Dallas would be taking a risk that Williams could stay healthy enough to earn his big deal but he could be a good wingman for Dirk Nowitzki’s final tour and they would also bring in some young talent. Finally San Antonio would add the third big they need in KG along with another scoring guard in Harris. It would be a fitting farewell for Garnett to pair with Tim Duncan in a final push for a championship.
5. Minnesota Timberwolves, Houston Rockets and Phoenix Suns
Minnesota receives: Emeka Okafor, Jeremy Lin, Alex Len, Terrence Jones, Omri Casspi, 2014 1st rounder from Houston, 2014 1st rounder from Phoenix, 2nd rounder from Houston
Houston receives: Kevin Love, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Alexy Shved, Rony Turiaf, Viacheslav Kravtsov, 2014 2nd rounder from GS
Phoenix receives: Omer Asik, Chase Budinger, Donatas Motiejunas, Francisco Garcia, Greg Smith, Aaron Brooks, 2016 1st rounder from Houston, 2018 1st rounder from Houston
Kevin Love is going to leave Minnesota. It may not happen for another season but the bright lights of Los Angeles or New York are calling and Minnesota will be left holding whatever turd sandwich those two franchises manage to scrape together in the form of a trade. Other teams could make a compelling offer for Love, especially Boston, but the longer Minnesota waits, the weaker their bargaining position becomes. This is particularly true if the Wolves miss the playoffs and other teams get wary of a one-season rental. One team that lies outside the most desirable markets but still has a compelling team and some assets to offer is Houston. Love would be a great fit with Dwight Howard and James Harden and they would likely contend for the title. The Rockets don’t have enough pieces on their own to make the deal work, which works to the Suns’ advantage as they can swoop in and offer a pick, Okafor’s expiring deal, and project big Len in exchange for complementary pieces for their playoff run and future assets. The Wolves would walk away from their franchise player with picks, young pieces, and major cap space which may not be his worth but would be preferable to forced trades with the Lakers.
6. Oklahoma City Thunder and Portland Trailblazers
Portland receives: Nick Collison, Perry Jones III
Oklahoma City receives: Dorrell Wright, Meyers Leonard
Sometimes the best move a team can make is a smaller one that meets a need. Portland and Oklahoma City are having terrific seasons but both teams could use one final piece for their playoff runs. Portland needs another solid big man to assist LaMarcus Aldridge and Robin Lopez, and Nick Collison is a steady and hardworking upgrade over their current youngsters. The Thunder have a need for an experienced swingman that can defend and shoot, which is the role Wight excels at. They swap projects for down the road as well.
7. Sacramento Kings and Milwaukee Bucks
Sacramento receives: John Henson, O.J. Mayo, Luke Ridnour, Kris Middleton, 2014 2nd rounder
Milwaukee receives: Isaiah Thomas, Carl Landry, Derrick Williams, Travis Outlaw
Holding two of the worst records in the league reflects the numerous needs of the Kings and Bucks. Both rosters are unbalanced, have recent deals that they are already looking to unload, and young talent to use as assets. The Bucks need help at the point, among other places, and have an overabundance of low post defenders that can’t score. The Kings need to make a decision on Thomas and need to add shot-blocking. This deal allows the teams to swap young talent that fits better while trading bad contracts and other complementary pieces. Neither team is headed for the playoffs based on these moves but both come away with better balance.