Basketball Prospectus is taking a look at the NBA division by division and suggesting ways each team should tackle the forthcoming trade deadline, starting today with a look at the Pacific and Southwest Divisions. Friday, we continue with the Northwest and Southeast Divisions. We'll conclude on Tuesday with the Central and Atlantic.
The NBA's trade deadline drops at 3 p.m. EST on March 15 and while all eyes remain on Orlando's Dwight Howard, every team in the league will be trying to improve its position. For some teams, it's the immediate future that is the biggest concern and they will be looking to fill holes for a spring-time playoff run. Others are looking more at the big picture and they'll be looking for young talent, salary cap flexibility and other franchise-building assets. Let's take a team-by-team look at what teams need and how they might go about filling those needs.
The primary statistic you'll encounter will be Wins Above Replacement Player (WARP), for which you can find an explanation by clicking here. We're presenting WARP for each feature player in two flavors, separated by a slash. The first number measures a player's WARP value based on his productivity for this season to date, prorated to 82 games. The second projects his combined WARP value for the next two seasons. This will give you a quick glimpse of both short- and longer-term value.
Los Angeles Clippers
The Problem: How good is the combination of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin? Well, consider that the Clippers rank as the league's 4th-most efficient offense despite the fact that Vinny Del Negro hadn't coached any of his previous three teams to a top-half finish on the offensive end. That's despite the presence of Derrick Rose on his first two teams and Griffin on last year's Clippers. Unfortunately, the Clips' 22nd-ranked defense hasn't been able to keep up despite the elite athleticism of starting big men Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. Jordan ranks third in the league in block percentage, which is really all L.A.'s defense has to hang its hat on. According to 82games.com, they are 11.5 points per 100 possessions worse defensively with Jordan out of the game. Opposing centers have an 18.2 PER versus Jordan, so it seems as if he's protecting the rim at all costs, even if it means abandoning the man he's assigned to guard. If the Clippers are going to be able to deal with efficient opponents like Oklahoma City and San Antonio in the postseason, they are going to have to get consistent stops.
The Fix: The Clippers' defense has been better in the nine games since Kenyon Martin joined the rotation. However, Del Negro is still a man short in his big-man rotation, with scrappy but undersized Reggie Evans still logging too much court time. Eventually, some team is going to snap up solid defensive center Kyrylo Fesenko, who is surprisingly still dangling on the free agent market even though he's reportedly recovered from knee problems. The Clippers would be a good fit for him as they wouldn't expect much out of his limited offensive arsenal but could really use his butt-kicking presence in the lane. Los Angeles can only offer Fesenko the veteran's minimum, so they'd have to sell him on the opportunity to be a part of a contending rotation.
Fesenko WARP: -- (this season)/-1.5 (next two seasons)
Los Angeles Lakers
The Problem: The Lakers really are a moribund team, ranking right smack of the middle on the offensive end of the floor. The defense is 10th in efficiency, but that ranking is based on the league's fifth-best opponent percentage on two-point shots. With Andrew Bynum's knees always a question mark and Pau Gasol the subject of an avalanche of trade rumors, the team's strength -- interior defense -- is precarious. L.A. is just one bad injury or trade from really sliding down the ladder in the West. Even if Bynum and Gasol stay, the Lakers need help. Despite the high percentages of Bynum and Gasol, the offense is mired in mediocrity because the roster lacks a traditional point guard. The Lakers still have a group of lead guards brought in to run the triangle. Somehow, the Lakers need to uncover a Jeremy Lin of their own because as it stands, they'll only be able to improve by selling off one of their twin towers. But if you don't do something to help the perimeter game, Kobe Bryant's shooting percentages may continue to tumble, along with the Lakers' chances to contend in the West.
The Fix: There are a lot of rumors about the Lakers pursuing Boston's Rajon Rondo, but that would mean giving up Gasol. Mitch Kupchak may have other ideas, but we're proceeding from the premise that any chance the Lakers have to make noise this season depends on retaining Bynum and Gasol. (Unless, of course, they can be used to bring back Dwight Howard.) The next-best point guard that might be available is Portland's disgruntled Ray Felton. However, the Lakers really don't have anything that fits in Portland and it seems unlikely the Blazers would want to help out a bitter division rival. That brings us to Cleveland's Ramon Sessions, who might work. He's a flashy scoring/assists type that can help create more offense from the perimeter and take some of the load off Bryant. The Lakers can offer rebuilding Cleveland a couple of their young players like Andrew Goudelock and Darius Morris, plus the first round pick they acquired from the Mavericks in the Lamar Odom deal. That trade created an $8.9 million exception that would allow the Lakers to absorb not only Sessions, but also perhaps Daniel Gibson if the Cavs happen to be looking to clear him off the roster.
Sessions WARP: 2.9 (this season)/6.5 (next two seasons)
Golden State Warriors
The Problem: The Warriors are building for the future, even if they cough up occasional sound bites about not giving up on this season. Every year, Monta Ellis is rumored to be on the trade market and it's only gotten worse since Golden State drafted Stephen Curry. This may be the year that Ellis finally goes. Curry is having a fabulous season, but still has to defer to Ellis far too often. Meanwhile, the Warriors' defense is as poor as ever despite the inclination of first-year coach Mark Jackson to emphasize point prevention. The Curry-Ellis combination is undersized on the perimeter and they collectively do a poor job of running opposing shooters off the 3-point line. The team has been better defensively with rookie Klay Thompson playing the two and he's clearly the future at that position. Meanwhile, the Warriors are still searching for a center that can serve as the defensive anchor Jackson needs so desperately.
The Fix: You can probably sense where this is going. The Warriors need to move Ellis and bring back a big guy. Seems simple enough, right? But where's the fit? Dwight Howard would fix everything, but that is the longest of shots. More realistic would be to send Ellis to New Orleans for Chris Kaman. This trade accomplishes a couple of things for the Warriors. It gives them a half-season to see if Kaman can be the center they've been looking for. If so, they'd have the best financial position to retain him when his contract expires after the season. If not, they can let him walk, clearing enough cap space to go after a max-contract free agent. Meanwhile, they've broken up an unworkable backcourt. It's not a good trade talent-for-talent, but it would shake up the culture in the Bay Area and create flexibility. For the Hornets, this would be merely a case of adding talent, fit be damned. Ellis would become their top scorer and his presence would protect them against the possibility that Eric Gordon may not want to hang around for the long term. Unfortunately, someone would have to convince David Stern that this would be a good idea for New Orleans.
Kaman WARP: -0.2 (this season)/2.2
The Problem: The Suns are in a "Roadhouse Blues" phase in the franchise's existence: The future is uncertain and the end is always near. Phoenix is old, bad and getting worse. Nevertheless, the biggest problem of all seems to be that Robert Sarver's team seems intent on running the organization as if it were on the cusp of finally breaking through for that long-sought championship. It's not going to happen, not with this group. Not with Steve Nash; not with Grant Hill. Somehow, the league's fourth-oldest team needs to tear down and finally begin the long overdue process of rebuilding the right way.
The Fix: To finally set out in that much-needed new direction, the Suns need to make the symbolic gesture of trading Nash for the tangible return of as many future assets as they can get. And since no reason to have them around either, they can throw Grant Hill and Michael Redd into the deal as well. The Suns have some nice, young frontcourt pieces in Marcin Gortat, Robin Lopez and Markieff Morris. So they can start by rebuilding the perimeter positions for a post-Nash existence. In particular, Phoenix needs to get younger and more athletic at the wing positions. If they target cost-controlled players and draft picks, their cap situation will be excellent.
One possibility might be to send Nash to Toronto for Leandro Barbosa and DeMar DeRozan. That would give the Suns an athlete at wing in DeRozan and a bench scorer. If the Suns could hope to get lucky on lottery day, allowing them to target promising a small forward like a Harrison Barnes or Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Then they can target a free agent point guard like D.J. Augustin (restricted) or Ramon Sessions (unrestricted). How about a young starting five of Gortat, Augustin, DeRozan, Barnes and Morris? We can dream, can't we?
DeRozan WARP: -4.7 (this season)/3.6 (next two seasons)
The Problem: At least it appears that the Kings will be staying put, so we know they will continue to have the support of a loyal fan base. What we don't know is how the Kings are going to evolve. On paper, they have a pair of super-talented building blocks in Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins. The results, however, remain awful. The offense ranks 25th in efficiency despite a third-place standing in offensive rebound percentage and the defense ranks 28th. The Kings just can't score inside the arc, ranking 29th in two-point percentage.
Sacramento once held hope that Evans could be the primary decision maker on offense, but he's been used more at the wing positions this year. They've been using rookie Isaiah Thomas as their starting point guard of late, but he's more of an Earl Boykins type that really should be used as a streak shooter in limited minutes of the bench. It's a mess.
The Fix: The Kings have to continue to develop the Evans-Cousins core and make it work. There is just too much talent there to give up. For that pairing to succeed, the third member of Sacramento's big three needs to be a playmaking point guard, a dynamic Ricky Rubio type that can make decisions for players that don't make good ones for themselves. If you find that, then you can get a defense-first wing to play alongside Evans on the wing and a rim protector/rebounder to go with Cousins inside. Voila! You've got a playoff contender -- if Evans and Cousins mature. (Not a given.)
The Kings could get lucky and win the Anthony Davis sweepstakes, but they are likely to have fewer lottery balls in the hopper than several other teams. Besides that, this isn't a great draft for point guards. The Kings could offer their first-round pick and a couple of young pieces like Thomas or Hassan Whiteside to the Celtics for Rajon Rondo. The Celtics would be creating even more flexibility for the future, adding a high lottery pick and getting rid of a player that they seem to want to move. The Kings would gain one of the league's top point guards, one who plays the exact style they need, though a couple of high-percentage perimeter shooters would have to be added.
Rondo WARP: 7.8 (this season)/13.8 (next two seasons)
San Antonio Spurs
The Problem: The Spurs looked like a team primed to make yet another run for the Western Conference title with an 11-game winning streak before the break. Make no mistake, these old Spurs aren't the old Spurs. San Antonio is winning with offense, ranking fifth in efficiency on that end versus just 16th on the defensive end. Don't expect the Spurs to swing any major deals in an attempt to shore up the defense. During the Gregg Popovich era, San Antonio has steered clear of splashy deadline maneuvers. During his 16 seasons, the only significant pieces they've added via in-season trades have been Steve Kerr, Nazr Mohammed and Kurt Thomas. The Spurs typically prefer to fill in the gaps by scouting out a Mario Elie here or a Matt Carroll there from the free talent market.
The Fix: With nine players earning at least 1.0 WARP, depth has been the Spurs' calling card so far this season. They've built the second-best record in the West despite getting just nine games out of Manu Ginobili, who comes out of the break battling an oblique injury that reportedly isn't as bad as initially thought. Getting Ginobili back to full strength is the biggest boost the Spurs can get as the season moves into March. If a playable shot blocker pops up on the buyout market, San Antonio could use him. In the meantime, Popovich might want to swing the DeJuan Blair/Tiago Splitter playing time pendulum a little more in the big Brazilian's favor. Splitter has been ultra-efficient on the offensive end and San Antonio has been better defensively with him on the floor. Of course, Pop is smarter than we are and he's rarely put Tim Duncan and Splitter on the floor at the same time. Based on what we've seen from Popovich, the roster and the rotation you see in San Antonio is probably what you're going to get.
Ginobili WARP: 3.2 (this season) /10.6 (next two seasons)
The Problem: After shaking off some post-championship cobwebs, Dallas has gradually climbed back up the ladder in the West and is in position for another postseason run. The defensive decline that was supposed to undermine the Mavericks hasn't happened even though former center Tyson Chandler is now plying his trade successfully for the Knicks. The emergences of Ian Mahinmi and Brandan Wright off the bench have helped Dallas to the third-best defensive efficiency in the NBA. However, the Mavs rank just 19th on the offensive end. Dirk Nowitzki got off to a rough start and Lamar Odom has been missing in action and, now, he's missing altogether. As evidenced by Dallas' inability to get a good shot at the end of its home loss to the Nets on Tuesday, the Mavericks could really use another offensive creator.
The Fix: The Mavericks have probably missed Jose Barea's punch off the bench more than they've missed Chandler presence in the middle. Rodrigue Beaubois has played well in spurts, but hasn't given Rick Carlisle the jolt he got from Barea. Vince Carter has shot the ball well from the perimeter, but his days of breaking down defenses by attacking the rim are over. Dallas is well positioned for a major run at the top free agents this summer, and it would be shocking if the Mavs did anything to jeopardize their cap position. If a point guard somewhere is bought out that can be brought in on a minimum deal, then perhaps Dallas would pounce on that. Otherwise, Dallas' best hopes for an offensive boost lie in improved play from Beaubois and Odom.
Odom WARP: -1.3 (this season)/6.1 (next two seasons)
The Problem: The Rockets are enjoying a strong first season under new coach Kevin McHale and are one of a cluster of teams in the West that could finish anywhere from the third seed to out of the playoff bracket altogether. Behind breakout point guard Kyle Lowry, the jump-shooting Rockets were a top-10 offensive team during the season's first half. The perimeter defense is much improved over last year and Houston ranks right smack in the middle of the defensive efficiency standings. The old bugaboo of interior defense has been a problem, as it has been ever since Yao Ming went down. Despite the addition of Samuel Dalembert, the Rockets rank 25th in opponent 2-point percentage and 22nd in block percentage. The defense has been very good when Dalembert is in the game, but it gets killed when he's replaced by Jordan Hill or Patrick Patterson, or when Luis Scola moves over from the four. The Rockets need an upgrade at backup center.
The Fix: McHale and Danny Ainge have done business before and one could say that Ainge owes his old Boston teammate a favor after the 2007 trade in which McHale sent Kevin Garnett to Ainge's Celtics. No one really knows how Ainge is going to approach this year's trade deadline. He could stand pat, but if he decides it's time to go into immediate rebuild mode, anything could happen. Remember how shocked we were when he sent Kendrick Perkins to the Thunder last year? Anyway, perhaps the Rockets could poach Jermaine O'Neal from Boston to work in tandem with Dalembert. Houston could send back Hasheem Thabeet (to make the salaries work) and a young piece as a sweetener. O'Neal's contract expires after this season, so his presence wouldn't harm the Rockets' enviable cap position going into the summer.
Of course, you can't address trade scenarios for the Rockets without mentioning Pau Gasol. After all, Houston actually traded for Gasol once this season already, only to have the deal nixed by David Stern. As with Ainge in Boston, it's hard to read what direction Mitch Kupchak is trying to push the Lakers in Los Angeles. In his public comments, he refused to commit to keeping Gasol in L.A. Most Houston-Los Angeles rumors involve sending Lowry to the Lakers, but the Rockets aren't likely to bite on that. However, if things get really messy between Kupchak and Gasol, perhaps the Rockets can steal him for a mega-package of their young players -- much like the Wolves took for Garnett a half-decade ago.
Gasol WARP: 12.6 (this season)/18.1 (next two seasons)
The Problem: Memphis general manager Chris Wallace has done a great job of building the Grizzlies, and has locked up Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol, Rudy Gay and Michael Conley to make sure the good times roll on. Unfortunately, with that much long-term money tied up, Wallace now faces the challenge of filling out the rest of his roster the next few years. His immediate decision is what to do with O.J. Mayo. Mayo hasn't been as sharp off the bench as he was as a starter, but he's still a key member of Memphis' rotation and is the Grizzlies' only two-guard capable of creating offense for himself on a consistent basis. But he's going to be a restricted free agent after the season and since Memphis owner Michael Heisley has vowed to avoid paying the luxury tax, Wallace is stuck with an old-fashioned quandary.
The Fix: The ideal outcome of the Mayo issue would be for Wallace to move him to a team in exchange for a young, cost-controlled player with a similar skill set. One possibility might be Washington's Jordan Crawford, an explosive streak shooter that still has one year plus a team option left on his modest rookie contract. The Wizards face the possibility of losing Nick Young over the summer and Mayo would give them a higher-ceiling replacement. Mayo is a much better player than Crawford to be sure, but the latter might be better suited to the bench role Memphis needs to fill. The Wizards would have to add a player or two to the deal to make the trade work, but low-salaried veterans like Maurice Evans and Roger Mason make more sense in Memphis anyway.
Crawford WARP: 1.1 (this season)/3.2 (next two seasons)
New Orleans Hornets
The Problem: With Chris Kaman rounding into form, the Hornets have been much more competitive of late. The problem is that Kaman is in the last year of his contract and seems highly unlikely to stick around in New Orleans. Hornets general manager Dell Demps (and presumably Commissioner Stern) are tasked with finding a taker for Kaman and getting back some assets that will help the rebuilding effort.
The Fix: Demps has done a great job of finding some young pieces to build around. Eric Gordon has been limited to two games because of injury, but can be a legit No. 2 guy on a contender. Surprise rookie Gustavo Ayon looks like a keeper, as does preseason pickup Greivis Vasquez. What New Orleans lacks, as do most lottery-bound teams, is the franchise-type player they lost when Chris Paul forced his way out of town. That's what the draft is for, because the Hornets aren't going to find that guy in a deadline deal for Kaman.
Demps already has his team's own pick headed for the high lottery this spring, plus a possible low-lottery pick from Minnesota via the Clippers. He'd do well to add a third first rounder for Kaman in exchange for a matching expiring contract. It's a long shot, but one deal that would work would be to send him to Cleveland for Antawn Jamison's expiring deal plus Cleveland's first-rounder, another probable low-lottery choice. The Cavs could use Kaman's low-post scoring and the Midwest native might be keen enough on Cleveland to agree to an extend-and-trade deal, even though the new CBA makes that option less palatable to the players. The Hornets would likely buy out Jamison -- if Stern lets them.
Jamison WARP: 7.0 (this season)/ 0.9 (next two seasons)
A version of this article originally appeared at ESPN Insider .
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