After the final whistle sounded on the NFL season Sunday night, a new sound arose: The sound of trade buzz throughout the NBA universe.
With just mere days until the trade deadline, the rumors are swirling at gale force as teams try to get an edge on their competition. Certain teams will be making calls tirelessly to find that one piece that could propel them to a championship. Others will field those same calls hoping to gather draft capital and young pieces for the future.
In this piece, the focus will be on the buyers. Here are a few teams that should be looking to improve their title chances at the deadline.
1. Philadelphia 76ers
The Sixers lead things off as an obvious buyer heading into the deadline. Their whacky and huge roster coupled with championship aspirations put them in the market for nearly every available shooter and shot-creator.
The Sixers have gone 8-9 since dispatching the Milwaukee Bucks at home on Christmas and seemingly staking a claim as one of the league’s titles favorites. The main culprit for the underwhelming play has been a lack of consistent shooting, injuries and poor shot creation in the half-court.
They are 28th in the league in scoring directly from a pick-and-roll ball-handler and last in the league in scoring from the roll-man, per NBA.com. They are also 25th in the league in scoring out of isolation.
These numbers will likely be even more of an issue come playoff time when defenses take away actions and teams are forced to rely on perimeter freestyling. Last season, Jimmy Butler took the reigns down the stretch in the playoffs. If nothing changes, the Sixers would be relying on Tobias Harris in that role with a heavy dose of Joel Embiid post-ups.
With those facts in the mind, Derrick Rose would be a good fit. Rose runs the pick-and-roll at the second-highest frequency in the NBA and the Pistons score 0.94 points per possession on those plays. That’s good for the 75th percentile in the league, per NBA.com. Rose has also shown his isolation chops this season, with the Pistons scoring 1.15 points per possession when he isolates, good for the 92nd percentile in the league.
Another intriguing name is Rose’s teammate, Luke Kennard. Kennard is not given the same share of ball-handling duties, but he has had success in those opportunities. The Pistons have scored 0.96 points per possession in the pick-and-roll with Kennard.
The added benefit of going after Kennard would be his ability to fill two roles in one. He could be asked to create offense and also operate as a spacer when paired with Simmons thanks to his 41 percent three-point shooting. Kennard is also a bit cheaper than Rose and under contract through the 2021-22 season.
If the Sixers can’t swing a deal for either of the Pistons, they may target a floor-spacing forward like Marcus Morris or Davis Bertans. Either way, the Sixers will almost certainly make a win-now move come Thursday.
2. Milwaukee Bucks
Staying in the Eastern Conference, the Bucks are the next team that will do whatever it takes to get to a title. The Bucks have the best record and net rating in the league by a sizable margin, but some losses to playoff teams and last year’s playoff exit should have them determined to keep improving the roster.
The first place to look is at the guard position. During the regular season, both Eric Bledsoe and George Hill have had success running the offense. Their net ratings are very similar when operating with Giannis Antetokounmpo on the court. With the rise of Donte DiVincenzo, the Bucks have three solid guards that they could look to fill the rotation down the stretch.
Bledsoe is the most expensive of these three. His salary combined with his brutal playoff performance last season could have the Bucks seeking out offers involving the point guard. Using Bledsoe’s contract in a deal opens the door for the team to go after a big name. Someone like Jrue Holiday would be very intriguing in Milwaukee and could give them that extra juice to win the championship.
That said, it would be very hard for Milwaukee to scrounge the pieces together for a big fish. Bledsoe is not highly sought after and they don’t have a young piece that would make a lot of teams bite. They will likely look to either use Bledsoe or a package multiple players to find one more scorer for the rotation.
Marcus Morris comes to mind as a potential fit, as does Danilo Gallinari if they can put the money together. They could also look to add a more defensive-minded wing to the rotation like Robert Covington or Andre Iguodala.
The Bucks have been the best team in the league thus far, but if last year proved anything, that doesn’t matter when it goes to best-of-7. They should be looking to buy as the 6th of February approaches.
3. Houston Rockets
With Daryl Morey at the helm, it is expected that the Rockets will be in the mix every season. This year, with contention in mind and a roster in need of a jolt, it is especially likely that there will be some action down in Texas.
There are already reports circulating from none other than Adrian Wojnarowski that the Rockets have engaged a few teams on Clint Capela. Capela would reportedly be used to gather assets for the acquisition of a wing — and duck under the luxury tax penalties — but whether this would be ruled as buying or selling is really anybody’s best guess.
The obvious names that come to mind here are Robert Covington and Andre Iguodala. Covington will certainly cost more. Marc Stein of the New York Times has reported that the Timberwolves are asking for two first-round draft picks in return for the former All-Defensive asset.
With the Boston Celtics being one of the teams potentially interested in Capela, a three-team trade could emerge here. The Celtics have young players and draft picks that could be sent to Minnesota, who would in return send Covington to Houston and Capela up north to don the green and white.
Outside of moving Capela, the Rockets have little options to improve their roster. They are tight on draft capital and most of their players outside of the starting five are on minimum salaries. Tucker is making $8 million, but his defense and willingness to play off-ball for 48 straight minutes make him invaluable to their operation.
4. Miami HEAT
Down in South Beach, the HEAT have managed to stay near the top of the conference with only one true star coming into the season, Jimmy Butler. Bam Adebayo has since taken a leap, but outside of that, they have received large contributions from multiple young and previously unknown players.
While the HEAT are a nice story and playing very well, they should look to add one more piece if they want to seriously contend this season. The team is currently a perfect 8-0 in games that went to overtime and has been out-performing their expected win total by three games, per Cleaning the Glass. That is the third-highest difference between actual wins and expected wins.
The HEAT could attempt to go after a third star to pair with Butler and Adebayo, but getting there will be tricky. Holiday is a name that comes up often but it seems unlikely that the Pelicans would trade him barring a huge offer. The conversation around Holiday would likely need to start with Tyler Herro being put on the table. The HEAT love Herro and think he is a crucial piece for years to come, so a trade there seems out of the question.
The most likely scenario is the HEAT try to use Justise Winslow to find one more piece to add to this rotation. Unfortunately, Winslow’s value is tough to gauge. He is still just 23 years of age and has shown flashes of strong two-way point-forward play. Howeer, Winslow also has had issues with injuries and inconsistency throughout his short career.
If a team thinks Winslow would be a nice piece to add to the mix, his $13 million dollar salary could be the ticket the HEAT need to add some additional scoring punch. A player like Morris once again comes to mind, as does Bogdan Bogdanovic.
Pat Riley always has a few tricks up his sleeve — so watch out for the HEAT to jump into the mix for numerous players over the next few days.
Those four teams should certainly be looking to improve for this season as the deadline approaches. Each team has high hopes and could use another player that acts as the final puzzle piece.
They will not be the only buyers as other teams will be manning the phones in search of the right deal. Most notably, this would include the two Los Angeles teams and the Celtics, who each have their own lofty goals for the season.
While there may not be any stars on the move this season, this could be a very active trade deadline as many teams believe they have a chance to hoist the trophy. The race to the 2020 NBA finals starts now.