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March 5, 2012
Deadline Targets
Atlantic and Central

by Bradford Doolittle

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Basketball Prospectus is taking a look at the NBA division by division and suggesting ways each team should tackle the forthcoming trade deadline, concluding today with a look at the Atlantic and Central Divisions.

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.

ATLANTIC DIVISION

Philadelphia 76ers

The Problem: The Sixers best offensive players aren't their best defensive players, which leaves Doug Collins with a lot of choices to make down the stretch of close games. Philadelphia continues to lack a go-to scorer, though Lou Williams has been explosive off the bench. The attack is ultra-balanced, with six players averaging double digits just as it did last year. However, Elton Brand is having the worst season of his career and Spencer Hawes' career season has been halted by a strained Achilles, leaving Collins to rely on jump-shooting rookie Nikola Vucevic for interior scoring. Neither Jrue Holiday nor Evan Turner has evolved into high-volume scorers, so the league's top defensive team is going to need another offensive threat if it intends to make noise in the postseason.

The Fix: There are some interesting scenarios you could work with the Milwaukee Bucks that would bring disgruntled veteran Stephen Jackson to Philadelphia, but a more direct route might be to simply deal lottery semi-disappointment Evan Turner to Memphis for O.J. Mayo. Mayo will become a restricted free agent after the season and the Grizzlies won't have space under the luxury tax threshold to keep him around. He has never really adjusted to coming off the bench, but still shows flashes of being the big-time scorer that he once projected to be. The Sixers might be hesitant to pull the plug on Turner, but he is blocked by Andre Iguodala, who still has one season plus an ETO option for another left on his deal. The Sixers would be able to retain Mayo and add another piece over the summer by using their amnesty clause on Brand. Jodie Meeks could shift to a bench role.

Mayo WARP: 3.8 (this season)/7.3 (next two seasons)

New York Knicks

The Problem: At this point, we don't really know, do we? We've hardly seen the Knicks' rotation that now includes emergent point guard Jeremy Lin, recent injury returnees Carmelo Anthony, Amar'e Stoudemire and Baron Davis, plus newcomer J.R. Smith. Amazing as it seems, just a few weeks after we were shaking our collective heads over what a mess the Knicks' roster had become, you now have to squint real hard to find an element that is missing from its current contingent. On paper, of course. The Knicks have some time to practice now the All-Star break is over, and then will play eight games before the trade deadline. More than anything, New York coach Mike D'Antoni has to figure out how all of his pieces fit -- or if they fit at all.

The Fix: One thing that would be nice is a deep-shooting big man that isn't a complete sieve on defense, and as it turns out, they don't have to go outside the organization to find one. Steve Novak has been lighting it up from the outside since Lin moved into the starting lineup, but is a major defensive liability. Enter rookie Josh Harrellson, who is expected back as soon as this week after sitting out about five weeks with a wrist injury. Harrellson was a bit of a mad bomber before he was hurt, but was shooting a high enough percentage behind the arc to stretch opposing defenses. Now that Lin is running the show, Harrellson's looks should be that much cleaner. The Knicks are also in the lower third in the league in blocked shots and while Harrellson isn't a big-time rim protector, he can still help in that regard. Throw in some decent rebounding percentages and you've got a high-energy option as your third big man. The Knicks will always be on the lookout for shooting, but if Harrellson can come through, they may have all they need.

Harrellson WARP: 1.7 (this season)/-- (no projection for next two seasons)

Boston Celtics

The Problem: The Celtics are planning for the future while hoping for the best in the present. It's the last hurrah for the Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett trio and while team architect Danny Ainge is doing the right thing by thinking big picture, it's created an odd limbo feel to this Boston season. There really isn't much to be done about the state of things in Beantown. Earlier this season, we declared that if Ainge could move Garnett or Allen, he probably should. One month later, that seems truer than ever though the opportunity to do so may not exist. The Celtics are two games under .500 and any moves made at or after the deadline have to fit with Ainge's long-term vision for the franchise. There have been rumors involving Rajon Rondo floating around and Allen would have a lot of value to almost any contender. So would Garnett for that matter, but his $21.2 million cap number won't be easy to unload. Still, it would be easy for Ainge to just ride this season out, let the contracts of Allen and Garnett expire and bid farewell to the big three in a dignified manner. It would be a surprise if that's not how Boston's season plays out, especially given the team's adamant public stance that Rondo is not on the market. So, for now, the focus remains on this season.

The Fix: If Ainge wants to maximize the chances of his current roster making some noise in the postseason, he's got to find some help at the pivot. The Celtics are the league's worst offensive rebounding team and only part of that is by design. They are also just 20th on the defensive end off the glass. There probably is a package for New Orleans' Chris Kaman that would work, but you'd have to chop into Boston's teetering depth even more. That scenario would involve sending Jermaine O'Neal and Brandon Bass to the Hornets along with young defensive whiz Avery Bradley. That might not get it done, but perhaps the Hornets would be tempted by the young asset in Bradley, plus a usable big man in Bass. The Celtics get an answer at center in Kaman and then hope rookie JaJuan Johnson continues his strong play as a backup big. The contracts of both O'Neal and Kaman expire after this season, so there aren't long-term ramifications of acquiring either. It's food for thought but, really, Ainge will likely be on the prowl for a splashier deal and if he finds none, then he can go to the D-League or the buyout market for center help.

Kaman WARP: -0.2 (this season)/2.2 (next two seasons)

Toronto Raptors

The Problem: It's too bad about Andrea Bargnani's nagging leg injuries because he was really playing well under first-year Raptors coach Dwane Casey. Nevertheless, the sharp-shooting Italian seems to have cemented his place as part of Toronto's core for the foreseeable future. The problem is that it's hard to define with any clarity who might make up the remainder of that core. The Raptors have some a couple of young players with promise in DeMar DeRozan and Ed Davis, but it's far from a given that either of that duo will develop into a foundation player. So the Raptors remain very much in asset-acquisition mode. If you believe the rumor mill, there is a lot of interest in Raptors point guard Jose Calderon, who has played well this season. If Toronto moves him, the team's cap position will be wide open the next few years. However, the quandary for Bryan Colangelo and Ed Stefanski is that they need to get real talent in return for any trade because it's not going to be easy to attract elite free agents to Toronto no matter how much money the Raptors can pony up. A more likely scenario involves sending the expiring deal of Leandro Barbosa away for a draft pick.

The Fix: The Raptors have some cap space available which could in theory allow them to trade for Calderon for a star-level player without the salaries matching up. Which star player you ask? Well, there's the problem. The kind of high-impact, cost-controlled talent the Raptors need simply isn't available on the trade market. Rumors had the Raptors making overtures to restricted free agent Wilson Chandler (combined 7.6 projected WARP the next two seasons) and that would have been a nice pickup. But now that March 1 has come and gone, the Nuggets are the only team that can snag Chandler before the summer. So in their quest to add star power, the Raptors need to lose and lose big. The more lottery balls in the hopper that might pop up and allow Toronto to snag Anthony Davis, the better.

Davis WARP: too soon to project

New Jersey Nets

The Problem: New Jersey's issues have been well chronicled. The Nets took a swing at the James/Wade/Bosh bounty last year and whiffed. Now they are stepping up again with their pursuit of Dwight Howard. Time is of the essence because the Nets would love to entice Deron Williams to stay in the fold after his contract expires this summer and team him with another star for next season's Brooklyn debut. The Nets could wait till after the season and pursue Howard on the free agent market and hope that Williams re-signs, but given their recent luck, it seems like a proactive stance might be in order. Billy King has to get a good read on Williams because if it appears that he isn't coming back, then he's got to try to get something back now. This is a different situation than the one Howard has created in Orlando. Williams, as good as he is, isn't the irreplaceable, generational-type talent that Howard is, if only because he plays a position where there is more of an abundance of impact players.

The Fix: So simple, yet so complicated: just get Howard. Any combination of talent, draft picks and cash is fair game, with Williams being the exception. If King lands the big fish, then the possibility of Williams staying put becomes much more likely. With those two stars together, the Nets would already have a second-round playoff prognosis as a floor -- no matter who they bring in around them. Of course, getting beyond that point, and past Miami or Chicago, would be the really hard part, but let's not get ahead of ourselves. You have to lay the foundation before you install the Jacuzzi. Tor a couple of teams, namely Dallas and New Jersey, it's really seems like it's going to be either Howard and Williams, or neither. The question for the Nets is whether they can afford to wait till the summer to found out.

Howard WARP: 18.5 (this season)/31.9 (next two seasons)

CENTRAL DIVISION

Chicago Bulls

The Problem: The Bulls are right back where they were last year, sitting on top of the regular season Eastern Conference standings. They've gotten there despite having their starting five together for just eight games. They've gotten there despite the fact that reigning MVP Derrick Rose has missed 10 games. They've gotten there even though they've played just 16 of their 38 games at home. Despite all of these things, the Bulls are in great position. Chicago ranks in the top three of the league on both ends of the floor. Their point differential is the best in the NBA, and at 9.6 points per game, that margin is clearly of championship quality. Unfortunately, there is that Miami team lingering out there and the primary question for this year's Bulls hasn't changed since the day they were eliminated from last season's Eastern Conference Finals: Can they beat the Heat in a seven-game series? Right now, we really don't know. No team has a more clear-cut obstacle than Chicago.

The Fix: The Bulls had more continuity from last season than most teams coming out of the lockout, which has helped them sustain a strong start despite the injury woes. Richard Hamilton is the only significant newcomer and even though his availability has been severely limited by a nagging groin injury, he's fit like a glove into Chicago's system when he's managed to suit up. There really aren't any worries about whether Hamilton fits or improves the team; he's shown enough already to answer those questions in the affirmative. Chicago just needs him -- and everyone else -- as close to healthy as possible entering the postseason. Chicago can't match Miami's star power and unless they really try to make a splash by breaking up their amazing chemistry in pursuit of Dwight Howard, the Bulls' greatest ally in the inevitable showdown with the Heat is depth. They need all hands on deck.

The one tweak you'd like to see them make is to add another scorer to the third unit, someone who can get hot from long range. Yes, we said third unit, because we're not envisioning another rotation player, just someone that can be called upon in a pinch. The Bulls have been efficient offensively with most of their primary lineups this season, but the reserves can bog down when a starter is not left on the floor. Given the tightened rotations at playoff time, that might not seem like a huge problem. But remember, the Bulls are looking to plug every tiny little leak in the dike because if they are going to get past Miami, they are going to have to do it by being better in the margins. So you'd like to see Chicago add an instant-offense type that can keep the attack humming when things get tight. Plus Miami's weakest spot has been the number of 3-point looks it has allowed. How about going after Phoenix's Michael Redd? Redd has shown glimpses of his former scoring ability and given the Bulls' ability to spread the floor, it seems like he'd be a perfect fit. And, he's making the minimum. It's worth a call. Failing that, the Bulls will just wait to see who pops up on the buyout market.

Redd WARP: -0.2(this season)/0.7 (next two seasons)

Indiana Pacers

The Problem: The Pacers are one of the league's "surprise" teams this year, which has Frank Vogel being mentioned as a Coach of the Year candidate in his first full season at the helm of an NBA club. Indiana has been playing at a fairly high level ever since Vogel took over for Jim O'Brien last season and once they added David West from free agency, you had to figure the Pacers would be in the mix to head up the tier just behind Miami and Chicago in the East. Well, we figured that anyway. Vogel will push Indiana hard to land that third playoff seed, but that would still mean a second-round matchup with either the Heat or Bulls. As well as the Pacers have played, their point differential leaves them with about a 15-game gap to catch the Heat -- 16 for the Bulls -- in terms of expected wins per 82 games. That's an awful steep hill to climb.

Realistically, the Pacers aren't a threat to Miami or Chicago, but if they do want to make the powerhouses a little more uncomfortable, the Pacers could use another scorer. Indiana has really stepped up defensively this season with its deep frontcourt and the disruptive perimeter presence of Paul George. However, they lack an explosive perimeter player off the bench. George Hill has been terrific, but he's a low-usage, high-efficiency player that can't really be counted on to create much offense against an elite defense. Dahntay Jones is getting nearly 17 minutes per night, and Indiana needs to find a scorer who can replace that playing time, plus a little more.

The Fix: Indiana was one administrative snafu away from acquiring Memphis' O.J. Mayo at last year's deadline and the restricted free-agent-to-be makes even more sense for the Pacers this time around. However, Mayo is playing an important role for the Grizzlies, who would probably want something useful in return. Indiana has nearly $15 million in cap space remaining, so they can make a big splash in the next two weeks without giving up anything of real value. They'll go after expiring deals -- it would be surprise to see them go after a player with years left on his contract beyond this season. Still, Mayo may be worth giving up something for.

Beyond Mayo, Leandro Barbosa is in the last year of his deal with the Raptors and makes a lot of sense, but Toronto isn't in a salary-shedding mode. Chris Kaman has been mentioned as a possibility, but with Roy Hibbert, West and the admittedly-struggling Tyler Hansbrough, the Pacers have plenty of interior scoring. Michael Beasley would certainly add scoring ability, but he isn't quite the fit at wing that you'd like to see. Other expiring deals that might become targets include Atlanta's Kirk Hinrich and Cleveland's Antawn Jamison. It's not clear who Indiana will target, but look for them to end up with one or two more bench pieces in the next week or two.

Mayo WARP: 3.8 (this season)/7.8 (next two seasons)

Cleveland Cavaliers

The Problem: The Cavaliers' rebuilding effort is moving swiftly thanks to lottery luck and the easy transition Kyrie Irving has made into the NBA game. A playoff berth this season is not out of the question, though that shouldn't be the driving force in Cleveland's decision-making at the deadline. Cleveland still needs more good players and the asset-acquiring phase remains in effect. The future core is coming into focus, with Irving at the center of it. Anderson Varejao may also be a foundation player, both in terms of his level of play and because his contract has two more seasons plus a partially-guaranteed third campaign. He's nearing 30 years old and his injury history is a concern, but let's be optimistic. Tristan Thompson has shown plenty of the raw athleticism that made him the fourth pick of the most recent draft. He's got rough edges to smooth, but he's a building block.

Cleveland has a great cap position as well, sitting about $7 million under this year's cap with veterans Antawn Jamison, Ryan Hollins and Anthony Parker all slated to come off the books this summer. In addition, backup point guard Ramon Sessions, who has a player option for next year, has been drawing a lot of attention in the rumor mill. If the Cavs can leverage their cap space and the expiring deals of any of their veterans to bring back cost-controlled talent or more draft picks, that should be their focus. Otherwise, they're fine just to sit tight and prepare for this year's draft.

The Fix: Eventually, Cleveland is going to have to find a core wing player to run with Irving. That's probably going to come through the draft, but it's possible that kind of player may come available at the deadline. Mayo -- who seems to end up in just about every trade musing -- might fit that bill. Memphis is looking to upgrade its backup point guard situation and a Mayo for Sessions deal works under the trade rules. Sessions makes about $1.3 million less than Mayo, which should be just enough to get Memphis under the luxury tax threshold. If not, the Cavs have enough cap space to take back another player, perhaps Sam Young. Sessions' player option might work despite Memphis' tenuous cap position because of his modest salary.

As for Cleveland, they get half a season to audition Mayo alongside Irving. If they don't like what they see, they can simply decline to issue him a qualifying offer this summer.

Sessions WARP: 2.9 (this season)/6.5 (next two seasons)

Milwaukee Bucks

The Problem: The Bucks have gone to more of an up-tempo attack this season, which has resulted in an improved, but still poor, offensive efficiency. The defense has hit the skids, however, dropping from fourth to 18th. You would have hoped that the more open style would lead to young point guard Brandon Jennings emerging as an explosive source of points and assists. Jennings leads the Bucks in WARP, but his season has been disappointing. He's still very inefficient and his decision-making remains suspect. If one didn't know better, one might be led to believe he's more concerned with getting his own offense than setting up those around him. Jennings' play and the continued injury problems for Andrew Bogut have killed the enthusiasm any rational Bucks fans may have derived from the emergence of Ersan Ilyasova.

Still, if you want to paint a rosy picture, a core of Jennings, Bogut and Ilyasova -- all of whom are under 28 year old -- seems promising. Add a scoring wing into mix and the elite perimeter defense of Luc Mbah a Moute, and you might have something. As for the scoring wing, that's the role Stephen Jackson was supposed to fill, but he's flopped miserably.

The Fix: The Bucks can free up some cap space by slapping the amnesty tag on Jackson after the season, though it'd be nice to find a taker for him so they could save that option for Drew Gooden somewhere down the line. Till Jackson is moved, the Bucks' search for a scoring complement for Jennings will remain on hold.

Jackson WARP: -1.5 (this season)/3.3 (next two seasons)

Detroit Pistons

The Problem: You know how in movies that they take a gorgeous actress, pin her hair up, slap some glasses on her, then expect us to buy her as "mousy." Invariably, something happens to boost her confidence, she takes out the pin, puts in contact lenses and -- bango -- you've got a beautiful swan. This is a painfully stretched metaphor, but you can envision a similar storyline unfolding for a Pistons roster that has been pretty ugly ever since Joe Dumars broke up his last contending team. Greg Monroe has emerged as one of the best young big men in the game. Brandon Knight has flashed NBA ability, though his playmaking is going to have to become much more accomplished if he's going to be a long-term fit alongside Rodney Stuckey.

There are still problems here. The strange decision to bring back Tayshaun Prince in the last offseason for four more years has left Austin Daye a quivering shell of his former potential. Why exactly do you need a 32-year-old player logging 34 minutes a night on this roster? Making this worse, Prince has played well below replacement level with a career-worst .448 true shooting percentage, and he's no longer an elite defender. He not only blocks the lost Daye, but also the currently-more-promising Jonas Jerebko. Looking ahead, Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva each have another season plus a player option left on the bad contracts they signed a couple of years ago. There is a potentially pretty picture here, but can Dumars clear away the cobwebs so that we can see it?

The Fix: Dumars may have been the league's top executive during the last decade, but his decision making has been exceedingly poor since the day he began the breakup of his championship team with the Chauncey Billups-Allen Iverson trade shortly after the 2008-09 season began. New owner Tom Gores brings with him a commitment to restore the glory Detroit, and also reportedly told Dumars he can hang around for as long as he wants. So it looks like Dumars is going to have to clean up his own mess, if he even recognizes his roster as a mess in the first place.

Really, all Pistons fans can hope for is that Dumars regains his touch, their team hits big in the lottery and that someone convinces Lawrence Frank to focus his attention, and playing time, on his developing players. Keep your fingers crossed.

Monroe WARP: 13.5 (this season)/12.2 (next two seasons)

A version of this article originally appeared at ESPN Insider Insider.

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Bradford Doolittle is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Bradford by clicking here or click here to see Bradford's other articles.

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