Year after year in the NBA, we see teams that are on the cusp of taking the next step in their progression.
Maybe they just made the playoffs and they need to hit the second round. Or maybe they’ve been stuck in first/second round misery and need to make a sizable leap.
Although Golden State is the favorite to win it all again, other teams can set themselves up to better compete. Who knows, maybe one move can set them up for when Golden State’s run is done.
For these series of trades, we look at teams that can poach talent from the lowly Cleveland Cavaliers while they prepare for a full rebuild:
Kevin Love to the Blazers for Moe Harkless, Al-Farouq Aminu, and a first-round pick:
The Portland Trail Blazers have made the playoffs the last five consecutive seasons with no Conference Finals appearances.
They lost twice in the second round (San Antonio Spurs & Warriors), and three times in the first round (Memphis Grizzlies, Warriors & New Orleans Pelicans), with the past two seasons ending in first round sweeps.
They’ve essentially fallen into the abyss with no signs of major progression. Folks have even called for them to break up their dynamic backcourt of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum.
They currently sit at 15th in the league in points per game (111.2) and 16th in field goal percentage (45.5).
With Jusuf Nurkic having the third best scoring average (15.3) behind Lillard and McCollum, no other player averages double digits.
Such a void at the forward position leaves room for them to welcome in Kevin Love.
Although Love is ineligible to be traded until after January 23rd (due to signing an extension during the offseason), the fit would be great.
Inserting him into the starting lineup with that backcourt would immediately open the lanes for Lillard and McCollum to penetrate the defense.
Furthermore, you could implement some high-low action between him and Nurkic, both of whom can operate in the post.
The Blazers’ current roster hasn’t gotten over the hump thus far, so why not take a chance to make the team better?
The team as currently constructed is not championship caliber, but a move like that could help them make progress forward in the right direction.
Tristan Thompson to the Timberwolves for Gorgui Dieng, Tyus Jones, and a second round pick:
So the Timberwolves fired coach Tom Thibodeau? Sounds like it’s time they went in a different direction and inserted some energy into this young team.
Enter Tristan Thompson.
Looking back on the 2016 NBA Finals when the Cavaliers overcame a 3-1 deficit to beat the Warriors, Thompson was a complete problem.
He led both teams in total offensive rebounds for the series with 27 and averaged a double-double (10.3 points per game, 10.1 rebounds per game).
This seems like the new energy the Timberwolves should want and probably need.
The Timberwolves are currently starting a 33-year-old Taj Gibson and could use those veteran minutes off the bench. While he isn’t getting any younger, Gibson is shooting 39.3% from deep which could provide some scoring efficiency to the bench unit.
Thompson’s tenacious gameplay can also help Karl-Anthony Towns on the glass and bring about some new competitive fire between the big men.
Thompson has shown the ability to be able to switch onto the perimeter with some level of competence, which is necessary for today’s game.
Though the difference in their record may be marginal, the Timberwolves should consider bringing in the high energy center.
JR Smith to the Rockets for Brandon Knight:
The Rockets had a wildly successful season last year, staggering the minutes of Chris Paul and James Harden. When neither of them was in, Eric Gordon took center stage and ran the offense as the strong combo guard.
It’s no secret that the Rockets got off to a slow start this season. Had it not been for the current historic run that the MVP James Harden is on, it’s likely that they would still be out of the playoff picture.
The formula is simple. Switch everything and get up as many threes as possible.
With Trevor Ariza gone, the Rockets have yet to replace that three-point shooting. They can get some filler role players to defend by committee with Clint Capela protecting the rim, but in a Mike D’Antoni system, it’s imperative to have shooters all along the perimeter.
The leadership in Houston is strong enough in which Smith should be held mostly in check for any off the court issues. Smith can be the heat-check player that gives them the extra oomph they need come playoff time.