Trade Targets to Put nba Contenders Over the Top
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For nba teams fortunate enough to find themselves in the championship race, a little greed can be a good thing.
The margin for error at the Association’s apex is either wafer-thin or simply nonexistent. Teams must be over-prepared for anything the basketball gods throw their way, be that an ill-timed injury, a brutal matchup or a team-wide case of the chills.
In other words, even the best-built rosters could be improved, so that’s the objective here. Using a batch of six squads recently crowned full-fledged contenders by B/R’s Greg Swartz, we are identifying the ideal trade target each one could realistically land.
Boston Celtics: Bojan Bogdanovic
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With Danilo Gallinari lost to a torn ACL, Boston could pivot toward a higher-end version of the same archetype with Bojan Bogdanovic.
While the 34-year-old Gallinari had perhaps started showing his age of late, there has been no such apparent decline with the 33-year-old Bogdanovic. If anything, he seems to be on the aging-like-fine-wine plan. Last season, he hit the second-best marks of his career in points per game (18.1) and win shares per 48 minutes (0.118).
He is every bit the outside marksman that Gallinari is, but Bogdanovic offers more as a self-sufficient scorer. He can post up smaller defenders and snake around bigger ones. Now, Boston might primarily want catch-and-shoot sniping from him, but he could still nab enough touches to add an extra wiggle or two to this attack.
The Utah Jazz, who are now under the direction of former Celtics decision-maker Danny Ainge, are reportedly seeking a first-round pick for Bogdanovic, per ESPN’s Zach Lowe. The Celtics shouldn’t have much hesitation meeting that price with a potential championship run on the line.
Denver Nuggets: Jonathan Isaac
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Expectations are understandably up in Denver given the anticipated returns of Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. With those two set to rejoin two-time reigning MVP Nikola Jokic, the Nuggets might have the horsepower needed to navigate a prolonged playoff run.
However, Denver’s defense could have some rough moments, as all three do their best work at the opposite end. The Nuggets have smartly snagged a few stoppers to support their high-scoring trio—Aaron Gordon, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Bruce Brown—but they could be in the market for more.
Particularly a talent like Jonathan Isaac, who flashed Defensive Player of the Year potential before knee and hamstring injuries knocked him out of the past two seasons. Now, there’s a joke to be made here about his injury woes fitting right in with this franchise, but if Denver kept him upright, it might have an all-purpose, five-position defensive dynamo.
The Orlando Magic have overcrowded their frontcourt in Isaac’s absence, so perhaps they’d be open to moving him for the right price. If the Nuggets can afford whatever that is, they should pounce. Isaac not only looms as a possible cure for what ails Denver’s 15th-ranked defense, but he could also stabilize their very unstable collection of backup bigs, which is slated to feature DeAndre Jordan, Jeff Green and Zeke Nnaji.
While Isaac is signed through 2024-25, all of the remaining seasons on his contract are either partially guaranteed or non-guaranteed. Orlando could wait to see what he has left in the tank, but with No. 1 pick Paolo Banchero, Wendell Carter Jr., Mo Bamba and Mo Wagner all filling up the frontcourt, the Magic have enough depth to deal Isaac before his trade value falls even further.
Golden State Warriors: Jakob Poeltl
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If the Golden State Warriors sense their roster isn’t quite ready to defend the crown, they’re likely eyeing an upgrade at center. Kevon Looney is rock-solid, but he’ll never be confused for a spectacular talent. James Wiseman, the No. 2 pick in 2020, boasts drool-worthy upside, but he might lack the polish to contribute to a championship chase right now.
If Golden State has its sights set on a center, then it should be fully focused on the Alamo City. That’s where the San Antonio Spurs are knee-deep in a rebuilding project that might make it impossible to justify retaining Jakob Poeltl, who turns 27 in October and needs a new contract by next summer.
Now, to be clear, San Antonio has zero interest in just giving Poeltl away. Word on the street, courtesy of SpursTalk’s LJ Ellis, is the Spurs are seeking a pair of first-round picks for Poeltl. That seems a bit steep, although if the Warriors feel a Poeltl deal would move them significantly closer to another championship, they might disagree.
Poeltl offers a wealth of two-way talent, and the fact that he has spent four seasons under Spurs skipper Gregg Popovich could allow for a swift transition under Steve Kerr, a disciple of Popovich’s. Poeltl shines brightest as an interior anchor, but he has the mobility to handle perimeter switches, is a strong finisher around the rim and sees the floor well enough to find open teammates out of the short roll.
Los Angeles Clippers: Myles Turner
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The thought of Myles Turner joining the Los Angeles Clippers is, in a single word, terrifying.
This club already boasts arguably the Association’s best tandem of wing defenders in Paul George and Kawhi Leonard, a pair with 11 All-Defensive selections and two Defensive Player of the Year awards between them. Adding Turner, a two-time leader in blocks per game, to the interior might make this defense an actual stone wall.
Perhaps that’s why the Clippers reportedly had interest in Turner in 2021, per J. Michael of the Indianapolis Star, and it’s why they should remain interested now. Turner might be too old (27 in March) and too expensive (impending free agent) for the rebuilding Pacers, but he’d be a snug fit for a win-now L.A. team with championship upside.
Turner’s skill set doesn’t stretch much beyond floor-spacing and paint protection, but that’s all the Clippers would need from him. Plus, adding him and keeping Ivica Zubac would give L.A. one of the league’s better center rotations.
Milwaukee Bucks: Kelly Oubre Jr.
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The Milwaukee Bucks might not have needed more than a healthy Khris Middleton to successfully defend their championship this past postseason.
Still, his knee injury exposed a thin wing rotation in Milwaukee and placed a heavier burden on Wesley Matthews and Grayson Allen than they were able to carry. Matthews has essentially become a shooting specialist at this stage of his career, and Allen gets relentlessly targeted on the defensive end.
Kelly Oubre Jr. could give the Bucks a two-way lift on the wings. He can be a bit streaky, though that’s easier to handle on a roster headlined by top-shelf talents like Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jrue Holiday. If Oubre bought into a support role, his athleticism, finishing and spot-up shooting could shine.
He isn’t the most obvious trade candidate on this list, but he is an impending free agent whom the Charlotte Hornets may not want to pay in the future. Charlotte could be stepping back without Miles Bridges—and it hadn’t climbed very high to begin with—which might make it amenable to flipping a win-now player like Oubre for a long-term asset who could eventually help out 21-year-old franchise face LaMelo Ball.
Philadelphia 76ers: Alec Burks
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It’s possible Philadelphia already did all the heavy lifting it could this summer when it acquired De’Anthony Melton in a draft-night deal, added P.J. Tucker, Danuel House Jr. and Montrezl Harrell in free agency and still found enough change in the couch cushions to re-sign James Harden.
If 76ers President of basketball Operations Daryl Morey hasn’t exhausted his asset supply, though, then a run at Alec Burks could be in order.
Philly could use another playmaker on the second unit, and Burks, a career wing, just held his own as an emergency point guard for the New York Knicks (3.0 assists against 1.1 turnovers). He can manage most defensive matchups on the perimeter, and he has splashed better than 38 percent of his threes each of the past three seasons.
His skill set is the kind most contenders could stand to add, which makes it highly unlikely the rebuilding Detroit Pistons will hold on to him for long, particularly when his contract has just a team option remaining after this season.