Basketball Prospectus is taking a look at the NBA division by division and suggesting ways each team should tackle the forthcoming trade deadline, continuing today with a look at 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.
Oklahoma City Thunder
The Problem: You have to squint real hard to find any trouble with the Thunder. Sure, they're last in the league in both turnover and assist rates. But they also have the second-most efficient offense in the league, so whatever they're doing is working. Oklahoma City does it by running the floor, isolating Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and staying the heck out of each other's way. The defense ranks just 14th, but all the pieces are there for elite point prevention. The Thunder have shown they can ratchet up the defense when needed, such as Wednesday when they held the Sixers without a field goal for nearly 5 1/2 minutes down the stretch of a close game. This is a complete team, a legit title contender.
The Thunder has missed backup point guard Eric Maynor since he went down for the season with a torn ACL. Rookie Reggie Jackson hasn't played well in his place, putting up a .441 true shooting percentage and turnover rate even higher than Westbrook's. Whereas the Thunder's efficiency improved on both ends of the floor when Maynor played, it gets worse on both ends when Jackson comes onto the floor. You'd like to see the Thunder find a veteran backup that can both play alongside Westbrook for stretches and settle the team down when the turnover issues spirals out of control. As well as Oklahoma City is playing, this seems like a small problem, but little things can become magnified at playoff time.
The Fix: A modest proposal would be to pick up 36-year-old Mike James, who has played well in a pair of stints this season for Chicago, averaging 18 points and 10.5 assists per 36 minutes over seven appearances. James has always been a low-turnover point guard, but he's also been a shoot-first type at the position. That's not what Oklahoma City needs, but James showed a willingness to be primarily a playmaker for the Bulls, and with his NBA career hanging by a thread, he'd surely do the same with the contending Thunder. Plus James fits in the Bible Belt -- he's an ordained minister.
James WARP: 0.38 (this season)/-- (does not have a SCHOENE projection beyond this season)
Portland Trail Blazers
The Problem: In terms of efficiency margin (the difference between a team's offensive and defensive rating), only Oklahoma City has played better than the Trail Blazers out West. Unfortunately, their record doesn't match up to the stats. Portland has struggled in close games, often faltering down the stretch. The only offensive creators on the roster are Jamal Crawford and LaMarcus Aldridge, though Nicolas Batum is showing signs, as Marv Albert might say. Ray Felton has played better than Crawford in the clutch, but has been so poor overall that the latter has replaced him in the starting lineup. To get the rotation back to normal, the Blazers would love to find a good points/assists point guard that can create offense and push Crawford back to the sixth man's role.
The Fix: Felton's contract is up after this season, which should make him highly tradeable. Gerald Wallace has one more year plus a player option left on his deal. Given the Blazers' needs, finding takers for one or both of the former Bobcats would seem ideal. Unfortunately, starting-quality point guards aren't that easy to find. The best at that position with an expiring deal is Phoenix's Steve Nash, who is reportedly coveted by Portland. Unfortunately, the Suns are looking to extend the Nash era beyond this season and Nash appears content to stay. Whatever.
That could leave Toronto's Jose Calderon as Portland's best option. He's not a big-time scorer, but knocks down a high percentage of his looks and is one of the best passers in the league. His decision-making would be a key for the Blazers when things get tight. You could send Felton and Wallace to Toronto for Calderon and Linas Kleiza. Portland gets its new point guard, one who would allow Crawford to play off the ball down the stretch and might also boost the game of struggling Wesley Matthews. Batum steps into a 35-minute role as Portland's full-time three and inherits Wallace's job as the go-to perimeter stopper. Kleiza is a versatile bench scorer, better suited to that role than either Batum or Wallace, and is one of the league's top-25 per-minute scorers this season in clutch situations.
Toronto would get the three it lacks and the defensive ace that Dwane Casey surely covets in Wallace. They also get a replacement for Calderon in Felton. Someone has to run the team for the rest of the season. If it works out, they can re-sign Felton this summer and he's young enough still to be considered a point guard of the future. If things don't go well, cap space is always nice.
Calderon WARP: 8.2 (this season)/6.3 (next two seasons)
The Problem: The Nuggets' slide over the last month can be traced directly to injury problems, something which should hopefully self-correct as the season goes along. Denver has one of the league's deepest and most versatile frontcourts, so much so that rookie Kenneth Faried hasn't been able to get consistent playing time even though on paper, he's been the Nuggets' best per-possession performer. The offense is fine, ranking seventh in efficiency even though top scorer Danilo Gallinari missed most of February. The defense ranks just 19th, largely because of shaky perimeter defense. Denver ranks 26th in opposing effective field goal percentage and 29th in 3-point looks allowed.
Arron Afflalo has struggled after signing a big contract off the restricted free agent market. Despite his reputation as a defensive stopper, the Nuggets have been 4.5 points per 100 possessions better defensively with Afflalo on the bench. Some of that may be due to the amount of time he's had to spend playing small forward, nearly 40 percent of his minutes, according to 82games.com. Getting Gallinari back will certainly help, as his defensive prowess is the most underrated aspect of his game. Corey Brewer is a good-defending three off the bench, so that's not the issue.
The Fix: As with a few teams through the league, the best thing that can happen to the Nuggets is a return to health by all of their key performers. If Gallinari returns, then Afflalo will spend less time playing out of position and also will be asked to do less offensively. The book on him has always been that he's a 3-and-D performer that has the potential to be more in a higher-usage role. This year, with the Nuggets battling injuries, his usage is up but his efficiency has tumbled. It's time to get him back to what he does best: run the floor, spot up and play defense.
Afflalo WARP: -0.4 (this season)/4.0 (next two seasons)
The Problem: The biggest issue with the Wolves from a fan's standpoint is that they don't play every night. Man, these guys are fun to watch. Lately, their results have been as aesthetically pleasing as their style of play. Derrick Williams has come alive and may be on the verge of establishing himself in Minnesota's dynamic young core trio along with Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio. Nikola Pekovic is one of the most improved players in the league and stirs memories of bearded big men of yore, like Mike Gminski and Dave Corzine. Even Michael Beasley, for the time being, has embraced his role as an off-the-bench gunner.
Believe it or not, the Minnesota offense (17th place in efficiency) ranks behind its defense (13th). There are issues on both ends. With Wesley Johnson looking like a bust, shooting under 25 percent from deep, Minnesota finds itself short of 3-point shooting. Williams may be coming on in that regard, but he's not going to help in the backcourt. Luke Ridnour has been starting at two and he's a good player, but isn't a long-range ace and has a redundant skill set to that of reserve Jose Barea. On defense, the Wolves are 29th in block percentage as that's not a strength for either Pekovic or Love. Backup Darko Milicic blocks a high rate of shots, but has his head in the clouds defensively far too often.
The Fix: Despite some obvious deficiencies and talent surpluses, Minnesota general manager David Hahn has to be careful not to get overly aggressive in shaking up his young team simply to squeeze into the playoff bracket. That said there are moves that could be made that fit both short and long term. Sending Ridnour back to the Pacific Northwest might sound great to Portland fans, but Minnesota would probably have to take back Felton and that wouldn't make much sense. The Blazers aren't exactly replete with 3-point shooters, either. A whacky idea might be to target the expiring contract of Boston's Ray Allen if it turns out that rumors of Danny Ainge breaking up the Celtics are true.
More realistically, a good fit would be Atlanta's Kirk Hinrich, who hails from neighboring Iowa. Hinrich has really struggled, shooting 34 percent this season and 28 percent over his last five games. Atlanta has been using him as Jeff Teague's backup at point guard, but is better suited to a combo role and is strong off the ball -- he's a career 38 percent shooter from deep and can defend either backcourt position. Minnesota could send Ridnour to Atlanta. What's more, these two teams could exchange each other's disappointments -- Johnson for Marvin Williams. Adding Williams would give the Wolves another spot-up shooter and defender, and free them up to flip Beasley. The Hawks would get younger and hope that Johnson benefits from a change in scenery. In this scenario, the Wolves would have to add a player or two to make the salaries work, but they have a lot of trade-friendly contracts on the roster.
Hinrich WARP: -1.0 (this season)/1.2 (next two seasons)
The Problem: After a strong start, the Jazz have crashed back to earth, and given the number of strong playoff contenders in the West, the postseason now looks like a long shot. That's fine, because that allows Utah general manager Kevin O'Conner to keep his focus on where it needs to be -- the future. The Jazz are fixed in the frontcourt, with depth and talent galore. Neither Derrick Favors nor Enes Kanter is old enough to drink, but they have already shown that they can someday be among the leagues' best-rebounding frontcourts. Paul Millsap is having an All-Star-caliber season and has another year left on his deal beyond this one at a reasonable salary. Jeremy Evans can jump over things and dunk two balls at once.
While there might not be a true center in the bunch, the problem is that the featured frontcourt player on the roster is defensive sieve Al Jefferson. Jefferson is the same player he was in Minnesota, and that's not a good thing. He's a high-usage, low-efficiency performer on the block, doesn't pass and has the foul-drawing rate of a perimeter player. He's got skills to be sure and would fit great alongside a top rebounding/shot-blocking big man, probably a four since Jefferson is too slow to defend that position. He is superfluous not only for where the Jazz are now, but where they're going to be in a couple of years.
The Fix: Trade Jefferson. That should be easy enough, right? Alas, it's not. His contract isn't a franchise killer, but with a $14 million cap number this season and $15 million more coming his way for 2012-13, it's not the easiest deal to absorb. In fact, it may impossible. When you scan the league's rosters, you're hard-pressed to see a team on which Jefferson really fits, not unless your plan is to build around a guy that puts up empty points and rebound numbers every night. Millsap, on the other hand, has a lot of trade value, so that may be the guy you have to move if you're trying to break up the frontcourt logjam. That'd be a shame. O'Conner may be stuck with what he's got until next season, when Jefferson's expiring deal will have a lot more market value.
Jefferson WARP: 10.6 (this season)/10.7 (next two seasons)
The Problem: How much of a problem can a team have when it's outscoring opponents by 11.2 points per 100 possessions? Not much, and that's why the Heat are the odds-on favorite to take home all the marbles come this June. The changes Erik Spoelstra made to his team's style of play have paid off, as Miami has improved from third to first in offensive efficiency over last season while hanging tight to its fifth-place standing on the defensive end. Spoelstra has his charges playing more of a pressure-style defense, resulting in a jump from 25th to third in forced turnover percentage. That's fed directly into the Heat's success on the offensive end because LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and company are unstoppable in transition. You can't improve the offense from first, and as for the fifth-place defense, it's not far behind the efficiencies put up so far by Philadelphia, Chicago, Dallas and Boston. In other words, there doesn't seem to be anything on the Heat worth "fixing."
But we've got to come up with something, so here's this: The Heat has allowed the highest-rate of 3-point attempts in the league and rank 25th in opponent percentage from deep. This isn't unusual for teams that deploy a pressure defense -- the Nuggets, Grizzlies and Mavericks are among the other teams that force a lot of turnovers, but also allow a lot of 3-point attempts. The percentage may or may not be a fluke as research has shown that teams don't have nearly as much of an ability to limit 3-point percentages as you might think. The real variance comes in the number of attempts allowed. The Heat needs to do a better job of finding shooters and running them off the 3-point line.
The Fix: Miami has a plethora of premier perimeter defenders on the roster -- James, Wade, Shane Battier and Mario Chalmers. It's not personnel or effort that's the issue, it is philosophy and design. However, the give-and-take doesn't have to be this extreme. The Knicks are second in forced turnover percentage and 19th in rate of 3-point attempts allowed; the Blazers are fourth and 18th. It's certainly not worth overhauling the roster, but it merits attention. The Heat has allowed nine or more 3s in 15 games this season and five of their seven losses have come in those games. It could hurt them in the postseason. The only suggestion we can really make is that maybe Spoelstra goes small when other teams get hot from deep, keeping Battier on the floor. His always-strong defensive metrics are off the charts this season and the Heat are 4.4 points per 100 possessions better on that end when he's in the game. Battier is playing about 22 minutes per night, which seems about right.
Perhaps certain matchups can dictate that Battier's minutes be boosted at times. That said, the Heat is 15-0 when Battier plays under 22 minutes, so perhaps it's best to leave well enough alone.
Battier WARP: 1.7 (this season)/2.2 (next two seasons)
The Problem: You mean, besides the fact that their best player wants off the team? We'll approach this as if the Magic intend to keep Dwight Howard past the deadline, which means we're trying to put them in the best possible position for postseason success. Hey, this is the home of Disney World, right? Unfortunately, even if you take that optimistic slant, it's tough to make much out of this Magic roster. Thus is the poor position that Orlando general manager Otis Smith finds himself in. The most tradeable asset on the roster, except Howard of course, is breakout forward Ryan Anderson. He has usurped the big center's role as Orlando's most efficient scorer, top offensive rebounder and sports one of the lowest turnover percentages in the league. He's got enough game inside the 3-point arc to set up his long-range stroke, and he has become one of the league's best shooters. You get the feeling he could do even more, especially on the defensive glass, in a different system and alongside a different player other than Howard. Nevertheless, Anderson is the perfect complement to Superman and it's tough to envision Orlando getting better by dealing him away.
What you're left with are the downward career arcs and bloated contracts of Jameer Nelson and Hedo Turkoglu. Nelson has played below replacement level this season, and upgrading his position is the best possible fix Smith can make. Turkoglu hasn't been very good either, but there aren't any teams that are going to take on the $23.8 million he's got coming after this season. Not unless he's packaged with a certain All-Pro center.
The Fix: Last season, Smith shook things up by dealing Vince Carter and Marcin Gortat to Phoenix for Turkoglu, Jason Richardson and change. In effect, he got the Suns to deal a problem for a problem, with the sweetener being the disgruntled Gortat. A problem-for-problem deal involving Nelson is the best Smith can hope for if he holds onto Howard. There are current rumors going around about Monta Ellis and Steve Nash but there isn't a scenario involving either player that makes any sense. You can say the same about other point guards that have popped up on the rumor mill like Rajon Rondo and Ray Felton. In each case, you'd be asking a team to take on a lesser player with a worse contract. Orlando -- and Smith -- appears to be stuck. But if nothing is done, how will that sit with Howard? These are desperate times in Disney. It's hard to imagine the franchise being in a better place on March 15 than they are on March 2.
Howard WARP: 18.5 (this season)/31.9 (next two seasons)
The Problem: The Hawks are having another nice little season. The upside is another second-round departure and that's only going to happen if Al Horford returns to health and full productivity by the end of the season. Atlanta has beached itself on the rocky shores of upper-mediocrity, and it becomes a less interesting team by the month. There are tradeable assets here, however. Horford is a player almost any team would love to have starting at either center or power forward. Josh Smith is still only 26 years old and has played near an All-Star level for much of this season. With Joe Johnson nearing 31 years of age, it would be tough to trade him and his gazillion-dollar contract, but packaged with one of the aforementioned, you never know. Plus there are useful spare parts like Kirk Hinrich and Zaza Pachulia. A creative mind could bring shape to all of this and really give this roster a much-needed shakeup.
The Fix: A version of this is a trade that has actually surfaced in Twitter-based rumors the last couple of days: Johnson, Horford and Marvin Williams to Orlando for Dwight Howard, Hedo Turkoglu and Jason Richardson. The catch for Atlanta is that it isn't on Howard's infamous "list" and would be taking on the Atlanta native without a pre-arranged agreement for an extension. It's worth a gamble to shake up the Hawks' doldrums. Whether or not this deal is palatable from Orlando's perspective is another issue, but Otis Smith has been known to do crazy things when under duress. Let's focus on what a deal like this would do for the Hawks.
Right off the bat, you'd have a starting five of Howard, Jeff Teague, Richardson, Turkoglu and Josh Smith, with a primary bench of Hinrich, Pachulia, Tracy McGrady and Vladimir Radmanovic. It's a scary mix. Plus, the Hawks would be featuring a pair of Atlanta natives in Howard and Smith as their big two, which can't hurt the box office take. It's easy to imagine a scenario where the Hawks go on a postseason run, the city goes nuts and Howard says, "This doesn't suck. I think I'll sign on for a little more." Let's be clear though: This kind of a trade would be a franchise-wrecker for Orlando. It only happens because Smith falls prey to desperation and turns out to be one of those NBA decision makers who believe Johnson is a franchise player.
Turkoglu WARP: 1.8 (this season)/3.1 (next two seasons)
The Problem: The rebuilding Wizards have a franchise centerpiece in place in John Wall and have begun the process of surrounding him with some elite athletes. As abysmal as Washington seems at times, it's a team headed in the right direction. After the season, Ernie Grunfeld will be tasked with finding the right coach to oversee the development of this combustible mix and he can make that project easier by improving the team's chemistry. This is a group with some high-maintenance personalities like Nick Young, Andray Blatche and JaVale McGee. That's more than any coach should have to endure. Young, who is playing out his tenure in Washington after signing the team's qualifying offer after the lockout, will be a self-corrective problem. It's difficult to see how he's any better than Jordan Crawford anyway.
McGee is worth the trouble. If someone can get his head on straight, he can be one the game's ten-best centers and a game-changing defender. He's just got to learn that there is more to basketball than making the nightly highlight reels. That leaves Blatche, a talented, underachieving player who has three years, $23.4 million left on his contract after this season. If the Wizards can move Blatche, it can set up the franchise for a true rebirth. Jan Vesely will hopefully develop into the long-term solution at power forward and his athleticism is a better fit next to Wall than that of the often out-of-shape Blatche.
If Blatche goes, the Wizards can amnesty Rashard Lewis in the offseason and then would have a young core of Wall, McGee, Vesely, Crawford, Chris Singleton, Trevor Booker, Kevin Seraphin and Shelvin Mack along with a cap position of just around $20 million committed dollars next season (depending on what McGee gets as a restricted free agent) plus whatever high-lottery talent is added from the upcoming draft. As we said, this is a franchise headed in the right direction.
The Fix: Pare those problem personalities down to McGee, get a young, cutting-edge coach to develop the talent and watch it grow. To get to that point, Grunfeld has to try to unload Blatche on any team that will take him. We're going to go out on a limb and guess that no team is willing to take a chance on Blatche. If that happens, Grunfeld can amnesty him this offseason instead of Lewis. Lewis has a partially-guaranteed contract for next season and given the Wizards' lack of payroll commitment, they can keep him around for one more campaign. It'd be worth it to get rid of Blatche. Plus, once Lewis' deal is due to expire, it'll suddenly have a modicum of trade value. Or you can just buy him out.
Blatche WARP: -1.2 (this season)/8.8 (next two seasons)
The Problem: The Bobcats are in the very early stages of rebuilding and are just trying to accumulate as many young assets as possible. There really aren't any problem contracts on the roster, especially since Charlotte still has its amnesty clause in its hip pocket. Michael Jordan could use that on Corey Maggette, but you've got to pay and play someone and his contract is up after next season anyway. Tyrus Thomas is still young and useful enough to keep around, but Jordan can hold onto the amnesty option for a couple of years in case things go south with him. There are a lot of assumptions going around about the Bobcats using the amnesty clause this summer, but there really isn't any reason to hurry. The best trade asset the Bobcats currently have is the expiring contract of Boris Diaw. If you can bring back a youngish, cost-controlled player or a draft pick, then go for it. It's doubtful that a team would be acquiring Diaw to help them for a stretch run. He's out of shape, hasn't played well this season and can be a chore to motivate.
The Fix: As we said, if someone will take Diaw, then great. Chances are you're left trying to buy out the rest of his contract just to get him away from the rest of your young roster.
Diaw WARP: 0.7 (this season)/2.8 (next two seasons)
A version of this article originally appeared at ESPN Insider .
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