Winning a championship isn’t always about landing a star to turn the tide at the NBA trade deadline.
In fact, for many contenders, the big pieces of the puzzle are already in place. The difference between hoisting the trophy or a disappointing exit often lies in the depth of the roster.
The New York Knicks, Cleveland Cavaliers, Atlanta Hawks, and other bottom-dwellers will be spending the next day and a half painting in broad strokes, aggressively seeking roster improvement by either adding a “big 3” level piece or hoarding high-value future picks.
The contenders face a different, perhaps even more difficult obstacle. They already have the talent necessary for a deep playoff run, but a championship is the goal. No one will find solace in falling just short of the title. Trades are an opportunity to opt for the scalpel while other teams hammer away. Filling out the back of the rotation with quality players is essential for non-star minutes and preventing drop-off when starters come out of the game.
Basketball continues to trend towards perimeter-oriented versatility, a pattern that has somewhat diminished the value of the more traditional big man. Still, the upper crust of the NBA contains big bodies. The Lakers and 76ers are both huge and will punish smaller rosters defensively and on the boards in a seven-game series. Giannis Antetokounmpo requires multiple big bodies to deter him from dunking on anything, and Nikola Jokic is catching his stride in Denver.
This creates a market for big bodies as the deadline rapidly approaches.
As the NBA world continues to stalk Woj’s twitter account here are a few less talked about bigs that could make a contribution to teams that may just need a little tweak.
Madison Square Garden’s house of horrors continues to baffle virtually everyone outside of the organization with oddly timed, inpatient management. The firing of Steve Mills right before the dominoes begin to fall leaves the Knicks without a GM during a time where they could, and should, be using what they have in-house to set the franchise up for a better future.
Taj Gibson is far from his physical prime, but the 34-year-old is still more than capable of improving a team’s depth from the bench. Gibson is a high-intelligence defender that can shoot out to midrange. He has a wealth of playoff experience and is capable of 15 minutes of smart basketball for anyone.
The Houston Rockets will be in the market for a big body to play alongside Tyson Chandler after the departure of Clint Capela. PJ Tucker will be overmatched in any potential Lakers or Nuggets series, and Gibson could plug into the lineup and provide stiffer resistance for situations where small ball wouldn’t work. The Clippers could also benefit from additional beef in the paint.
Aron Baynes is another potential solution for teams that are looking to add quality depth and high-IQ play in the post.
The 33-year-old is on an expiring contract and would be a rental, but again, the size of the Lakers puts the rest of the contenders in a compromising position in a seven-game series. The New York Times’ Marc Stein reported last week that the Los Angeles Clippers were seeking “dependable size” and “wing depth” to gear up for an inevitable meeting with Denver or their purple-and-gold-clad neighbors across the hallway. Baynes could fit the bill for the right price.
Baynes started off the season hot after the suspension of Deandre Ayton for testing positive for a diuretic. His defensive ability and improved outside shot gave Phoenix a spark and played a major part in all of us wondering if we undersold this promising young roster.
He and Phoenix came back down to earth around December and the former Celtic has struggled, shooting 28% from deep in December and 20% in January.
His shooting stroke will return at some point, but his defensive abilities and basketball intangibles are a constant. He plays position defense and is one of the better screen setters in the NBA. Phoenix would like to keep him around to mentor DeAndre Ayton, but Baynes might be worth overpaying for if a team wants to gain an edge for the next few months.
Moving Dedmon will not be easy, But the former Atlanta Hawk requested a trade after falling out of Luke Walton’s rotation for the Sacramento Kings.
Dedmon was the Kings’ “big signing” over the summer, inking a three-year $40 million deal in July before losing the starting job four games into the season. There will not be many takers at this price for a fringe-starting center in an increasingly perimeter-oriented NBA, but necessity creates opportunity in a situation where both parties want to part ways.
The Dallas Mavericks have been in the market for help in the paint after Dwight Powell tore his Achilles against the Los Angeles Clippers. Dedmon could keep Kristaps Porzingis from having to play extended minutes at center while providing a capable target for Luka Doncic’s special passing ability.
If his shooting stroke can get back to the Atlanta Hawks days (36.8% during his two seasons there) then he would be the perfect plug-in to keep the Mavericks’ historic offense running without exposing Maxi Kleber and Boban Marjanovic to too many minutes.