Every year, there are NBA teams who are a few pieces away from contending for a title and teams who are on the verge of a full-blown rebuild. For those looking to add, or buying, they may assemble a trade package to acquire that final star and make the final leap. Those looking to rebuild, or sell, might do the opposite, trading away players with big contracts in exchange for draft picks. In this article, I will be looking at three potential buyers and three potential sellers this offseason.
Point guard and offensive wunderkind Trae Young is determined to win in his third season in the league. So far, his first two seasons have boded well for plenty of All-Star selections in the future, but the Hawks have gone 49-100. One primary cause of the sickly record is their lethargic defense, ranking 28th in defensive rating in consecutive seasons. Atlanta’s front office took a right step in drafting De’Andre Hunter in 2019, but most of the team’s improvement will likely come via trade or free agency.
In free agency, Atlanta should be looking for veteran wings to bolster their rotation, as De’Andre Hunter, Cam Reddish, and Kevin Huerter will enter next year with a combined four years of experience. One name they have been eyeing is Davis Bertans, the 6’10” sharpshooting wing. Although Atlanta ranked 8th in 3-point attempts last season, they were dead last in percentage, shooting 33.3% from behind the arc. Another player that could help on both sides of the ball is Alec Burks. In 48 games with the Warriors last season, Burks averaged a career-high 16.1 points per game while shooting 37.5% from 3-point range.
Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers were one of the favorites to win the championship this season. Instead, they found themselves on a plane home following a second-round loss to the tenacious Denver Nuggets. Not only did they get knocked out early, but they did so after having a 3-1 series lead going into Game 5. With a chance to shed their legacy as the dysfunctional LA basketball team, the Clippers simply collapsed.
The only option coming into next season is to try again, as they don’t own a first-round draft pick until 2027. The Clippers’ two main needs going forward are a facilitating point guard and a rim-protecting center. Patrick Beverley simply doesn’t get it done on the offensive side of the ball, and Lou Williams is the exact opposite. While they’re slightly tight on cap space, they could work out a trade to acquire a pass-first guard like Ricky Rubio. Los Angeles’ center situation is slightly more complicated. Their defense wasn’t necessarily a problem, but they need size at the 5 spot to compete with bigger centers like Nikola Jokic. The league’s center market seems to be deeper than other positions, so the Clippers could simply sign a veteran minimum contract (eg. Robin Lopez, JaVale McGee) and call it a day.
Not many would argue against the statement that Phoenix had the best trip to the NBA bubble out of the 22 invited. Led by Devin Booker, the Suns went 8-0 in Orlando but still missed the playoffs. Everybody played their role, as Deandre Ayton patrolled the paint, Booker served as primary scorer and facilitator, and young wings Cameron Johnson and Mikal Bridges showed their first-round pedigree. Add in Kelly Oubre Jr. (missed the seeding games because of a torn meniscus) and Phoenix looks like the team to watch in the future.
With that being said, the Suns would benefit from a pure point guard. Devin Booker has been stretched over the last two years as Phoenix’s go-to scorer and occasional playmaker. Someone like Spencer Dinwiddie on the Nets would be a perfect fit. Caris LeVert emerged in the bubble and proved he could be a third option behind Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. So, Dinwiddie would make a prime trade piece for Phoenix to deal for. If the Suns could somehow pick him up, less pressure would be on Booker to do it all on offense.
San Antonio Spurs
San Antonio missed the playoffs this year, ending their record-breaking 23-year streak. Now, they are in a strange position entering the offseason. Under Gregg Popovich, the Spurs haven’t been a team that’s felt the pressure of the 3-point movement; that isn’t to say that they’re slouches from behind the arc. Although they ranked 28th in the league in 3-point attempts this season, they were 4th in conversion percentage.
There’s only one small problem: their leading scorer, DeMar DeRozan, doesn’t shoot threes... at all. Since coming to San Antonio in 2018, DeRozan has attempted only 80 3-pointers. The Spurs have young guards to build around in Dejounte Murray and Derrick White. Now, they should be open to trade suggestions for DeRozan and age-35 LaMarcus Aldridge. Bringing in a few draft picks would allow them to bring in some fresh wing talent to accompany their young guards.
Oklahoma City Thunder
When the Thunder dealt both Paul George and Russell Westbrook in 2019, they made it clear that they had rebuilding in mind. Chris Paul was the main piece sent to Oklahoma in return for Westbrook, seen as a veteran presence without a lot left in the tank. Instead, Paul led the Thunder to the 7th seed in the Western Conference and reached the second round, where they lost to the Rockets in Game 7. So, why should they tear it all down now?
It all comes down to cap space. Head coach Billy Donovan parted ways with the team, as they knew a rebuild was in the works. Additionally, Paul is owed $41.4 million next year, and there’s a chance his stats may decline precipitously. The Bucks and the Knicks have already shown interest in him, and the Thunder could work out a trade for more draft picks if they please. Even consistent players like Danilo Gallinari and Steven Adams aren’t off-limits. Although they overachieved this season, don’t expect the same results next year.
The Pistons are currently one of the worst teams in the league, as they are in full rebuild mode. However, they still need to find teams to take on bloated contracts like Tony Snell (owed $11.4 million next year) and Blake Griffin (owed $36.6 million). Besides blossoming center Christian Wood and Sekou Doumbouya, no Piston is safe from being traded.
This coming season will be a painful one for a team stripping their roster down to bare bones. If they don’t trade down from the 7th overall pick in this year’s draft, next season could be a baptism in fire for the rookie selected. However, if they keep Derrick Rose and Griffin around for one more season, the Pistons could be stuck in mediocrity once again.