Already this offseason, we've looked for ESPN Insider at teams that could make a leap forward next year and those headed downward in the standings. Now, we're considering the issue from a different perspective. What moves might teams make--or not make--that could cause them to head one direction or the other? After looking at possible scenarios that could spell trouble for five teams on Monday, we take the optimistic perspective with teams that could make moves to improve.
Golden State Warriors: Moving Monta Ellis for a bigger player
Concerns that Ellis and Stephen Curry could not share the basketball have proven unfounded. With Curry serving more as a traditional point guard but Ellis sharing ballhandling duties, the Warriors have been solid offensively the last two seasons.
So why should Golden State break up the duo? Because the backcourt can't stop anyone, and Ellis' stature is a big reason why. Ideally, Ellis would be paired with a bigger guard who could take on some of the more difficult defensive assignments. Instead, playing with Curry forces Ellis to be the team's defensive stopper at guard, a task to which he is not equal.
Given their options on offense, the Warriors have the opportunity to deal Ellis for a more traditional shooting guard with a more balanced game to complement Curry. A better rebounder at the position could also help the league's worst team on the defensive glass. Finding a partner that values Ellis' scoring punch may be difficult, but it's the most likely way for Golden State to take the next step and contend for the playoffs.
Houston Rockets: Consolidating talent
A trade for a star-caliber talent may prove to be Daryl Morey's white whale. The Rockets GM has by all accounts been seeking to deal a handful of above-average players for a single elite one since Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming slipped from that level. By continuing to add solid players such as Chase Budinger, Courtney Lee and Patrick Patterson, Houston has enviable depth but lacks the game-changing superstar that makes all the difference in the NBA.
Every offseason presents the Rockets a new opportunity to make a big move. They can dangle some combination of their young wings, as well as stalwarts Kyle Lowry, Kevin Martin and Luis Scola. For that to be enough to tempt a team into dealing an All-Star, it will likely require desperation built on the fear that a player in the last year of his contract is likely to leave as a free agent.
Los Angeles Clippers: Trading for Andre Iguodala or Josh Smith
No plausible trade rumor this summer has been more favorable to a team than the swap of Chris Kaman and Iguodala bandied about prior to the draft. Iguodala would be an ideal fit for the Clippers' gaping hole at small forward, having posted 8.0 wins above replacement last season by Basketball Prospectus' metrics, while Clippers small forwards combined to rate nearly two wins below replacement level. That kind of 10-win swing would instantly make the Clippers playoff contenders even before accounting for the development of the team's budding stars.
Even if it's not Iguodala, an upgrade at small forward is the quickest avenue for the Clippers to improve dramatically. Atlanta's Smith could also be available as the Hawks look to pare payroll. The Clippers should be looking at players such as Iguodala and Smith, who are still young enough to grow with the rest of the team's core--most notably Blake Griffin and Eric Gordon--over the next few seasons.
New Jersey Nets: Signing Andrei Kirilenko
Making the connection between Kirilenko and the Nets after Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov bought the team was easy enough. Before coming to the NBA, Kirilenko starred for the CSKA Moscow team that Prokhorov supported financially. Now Kirilenko is a free agent after the conclusion of his lucrative contract with the Utah Jazz, while the Nets happen to be sitting on a pile of cap space.
Fortunately, such a match makes sense on the court as well. New Jersey's small forwards were a disaster last year, while Kirilenko remains a valuable contributor when healthy. His 5.6 WARP ranked eighth among all free agents. If the Nets are looking for a short-term fix to help convince Deron Williams to stick around, Kirilenko might be their best option.
Toronto Raptors: Signing Tyson Chandler
The task for new Raptors coach Dwane Casey is simple in theory but difficult in execution: fix a defense that ranked dead last in the league on a per-possession basis last season. Already Casey has suggested that Andrea Barganani will be moving from the center position, for which he was unfit, to power forward.
Toronto needs a defensive anchor in the middle, and the veteran Chandler--whom Casey coached as an assistant in Dallas before getting promoted--would be a perfect fit, giving the team not only length at the position but also rebounding to make up for Bargnani's poor work on the glass.
Of course, the Raptors thought they were getting Chandler last summer, when the Charlotte Bobcats nixed a proposed deal at the last minute. Instead, Chandler ended up getting traded to the Mavericks, where he peaked at the right time and raised his value during Dallas' run to the championship. Now he is arguably the top prize on the free-agent market, which will make it difficult for Toronto to outbid other suitors.
A version of this article originally appeared at ESPN Insider .
Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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