Trade season has arrived for the NBA and with it comes plenty of rumors and speculations on how the landscape will change from day-to-day.
Teams that have gotten off to disappointing starts may look to sell and position themselves better for future seasons. Others may decide that it’s worth it to bring in one more piece to solidify a contending rotation.
Justin Kirkland and Felix John-Baptiste are back to discuss trades and other storylines from around the league with the holidays in full swing.
1. Kristaps Porzingis will step up to keep the Mavericks afloat with Luka Doncic out.
Kirkland: Fake News. It would have been silly to believe that Kristaps Porzingis would come back from an ACL injury in All-Star form, and the results so far have been about what we expected. His line of 16.8 points and a career-high 8.9 rebounds per game are encouraging but well beneath the expectations of a talent dubbed “The Unicorn” after exploding onto the scene for the New York Knicks. With Doncic out, Porzingis should use the time to just go ball out and try to get his rhythm back as he gets a few more sets run for him. I do not think this trial by fire will turn him back into a stud, but a nice game or two may give him some confidence as he continues his year getting his legs back underneath him. We just saw it with Gordon Hayward’s recovery. We may not see Porzingis back to his old self until at least next season.
John-Baptiste: Big Facts. Kristaps Porzingis has already shown flashes of brilliance this season, both with and without Luka Doncic. Check out this stat line: 26 points, 12 rebounds, 4 assists, while being a +20, to stop the Milwaukee Bucks’ 18-game winning streak. He doesn’t have enough games under his belt to return to his New York Knicks All-Star form, but he has more than enough juice in the tank to keep the Mavericks afloat. You can teach skills, but you can’t teach height. At 7’3″ he’ll be able to get his shot off from anywhere on the court. With Doncic out, his rhythm will be force-fed as he will undoubtedly be the primary scoring option.
2. The Los Angeles Lakers need to make a trade to put themselves over the top.
Kirkland: Fake News. Los Angeles can really use another perimeter defender. However, the bench depth has been much better than advertised. Dwight Howard has embraced his role and provides a Tyson Chandler-esque quality to this team as a rim protector and lob threat offensively. The rest of the roster has performed admirably and the Lakers would be wise to reconsider before packaging a bunch of these pieces when they could potentially make a run with this group. The x-factor going forward should be trying to get Kyle Kuzma going which would be a huge boost to the team offensively and give them another gear for the playoffs. With LeBron James and Anthony Davis suiting up every night they can afford to be patient and wait for Kuzma to get going instead of gutting themselves for Andre Iguodala.
John-Baptiste: Fake News. Sure, it would be nice if they went out and got another sharpshooter or perimeter defender. However, they’ve already proven they’re good enough to win the title as is. Folks were uneasy about LeBron James taking over the point guard position full time, but all he’s done is lead the league in assists. They have a nice balance of spot-shooters, perimeter defenders and paint depth. When James catches a breather, they have no issue running the offense through Anthony Davis, with Kyle Kuzma being a perimeter threat as a pure scorer. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a subtle move they made before the deadline if they feel it would further solidify what they already have, but it certainly is not necessary.
3. The Milwaukee Bucks are the best team in the NBA.
Kirkland: Fake News. The Milwaukee Bucks are on fire. They have won 19 out of 20 games and are blowing people out with ease, leading the NBA in point differential. Giannis Antetokounmpo has only played over 30 minutes twice in the last eight wins. All hands were on deck for Thursday’s win against the Los Angeles Lakers, but the Lakers have two world-class talents in LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Until proven otherwise, I’m going to stick with that motivated star duo in any game with championship stakes.
John-Baptiste: Fake News. I’m a sucker for teams and/or individuals being proven with past performances. The Bucks are torching the league to the same tune as the Lakers, but I am putting judgment on hold until I see what happens in the postseason. They retooled in the offseason after being ousted in the Eastern Conference Finals by the Toronto Raptors, and it remains to see how they will respond come playoff time. To me, this regular season is an extension of what they were able to execute last season. This is the stamp on their coming out party. Giannis once again looks to be in MVP form, and they’ve been validated as a contender after beating the brakes off both the Los Angeles Clippers and Lakers recently.
4. The Detroit Pistons should trade Blake Griffin.
Kirkland: Big Facts. Griffin’s odometer is ticking loudly and his numbers have dipped after spending parts of last season looking like an All-Star. No doubt his missed games and struggles from the field to begin the season have affected his trade value, but a team desperate enough for additional star power could make a move. Last season, Blake averaged 24.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 5.4 assists for the Pistons in 75 games. The knee surgery in the summer has likely affected his play so far, so perhaps as time goes by he will continue to improve. Even with Griffin at his best, the Pistons are far from being serious contenders in the East. If they can get multiple assets in return for a team in need of Blake’s services they should certainly jump on the phone.
John-Baptiste: Big Facts. The reality is Blake Griffin is no longer a franchise player or number one scoring option on a championship team. However, a contender acquiring Griffin via trade would significantly boost their chances of achieving their ultimate goal, IF he can remain healthy. He’s missed significant time due to injury as a member of the Pistons, and the roster isn’t good enough to make much noise.
Griffin is currently sitting at 28.4 minutes per game which is likely a result of playing himself back into game shape and rhythm. With some further “load management” on a contender, they can ensure an efficient Griffin is fresh for an extended postseason run.
5. The Toronto Raptors should trade Kyle Lowry.
Kirkland: Fake News. The Raptors have multiple options for the road they choose to take for the rest of the season. Lowry is on a one-year deal so he can easily be moved to any team with aspirations of making a playoff run that wants an instant upgrade at point guard. If they came out looking like a team that lost their best player in the offseason, it would make sense to deal Lowry for assets and prepare for the Giannis sweepstakes in 2021. However, they have not looked like that type of team.
The Raptors are good. Pascal Siakam has slid into the lead role and will make his first All-Star game as a result. This team is on pace for 50-plus wins and could very well be on the doorstep of the Eastern Conference Finals if all goes well. Instead of dealing Lowry they could go in the other direction and using their expiring contracts (Serge Ibaka, Norman Powell) with picks to add some extra firepower on the wings to carry into the playoffs. There is no reason Toronto shouldn’t be thinking about back to back Finals appearances at this point.
John-Baptiste: Fake News. This is basically a title defense run for the Raptors. It comes down to this — Can you beat the Sixers/Celtics/Bucks and advance to the NBA Finals? If they think the answer is yes, they keep Lowry and make a strong push.
By the way they’ve played, including the emergence of Pascal Siakam as an elite player, all signs point to them running this thing back. Trading Lowry may somewhat concede this year as a flameout while trying to retool. Although Fred VanVleet has proven he’s more than capable of running the show, a brief injury history would require them to have Lowry as an insurance policy for this run. He’s not going anywhere!