The best trade targets for the NBA's fringe playoff teams
With the 2022 NBA Trade Deadline just around the corner on Feb. 10, we’re officially approaching the season’s stretch run. The Play-In Tournament continues to add intrigue to this part of the league calendar, and several teams in both conferences will be looking to add one more player to help push them over the edge and into the playoffs.
Today we’re going to be taking a look at the five best trade targets for the NBA’s fringe playoff teams.
5. MARCUS SMART TO THE TIMBERWOLVES
The turnaround that the Timberwolves are experiencing this year is nothing short of astonishing. While they clearly had offensive talent, getting to 11th in defensive efficiency is a credit to Chris Finch and every player on the roster. One player getting a good bit of the credit for that culture change is Patrick Beverley, and his role as a bulldog defensive guard is certainly a contributing factor.
But Beverley is also in the twilight of his career and is a persistent injury risk. If the Wolves want to maintain their current defensive identity as Anthony Edwards enters his prime, they should consider trading for Marcus Smart.
Smart has everything Beverley brings, but is younger and bigger. He can effectively guard one through three, allowing the Wolves' lineup flexibility around D’Angelo Russell and Anthony Edwards. Smart can even be a stand-in starting point guard when Russell inevitably misses time.
4. JAKOB POELTL TO THE RAPTORS
The Raptors have been dogged by their lack of a traditional center since the loss of Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka in 2019. As such, the Raptors are forced into playing an unconventional style built around their lineup of like-size big wings.
That style is dangerous because opponents aren’t used to it, but in a playoff series, it’s important to be able to adjust and outmaneuver your opponent. So what about a homecoming of sorts for Jakob Poeltl, who was traded to the San Antonio Spurs as part of the Kawhi Leonard deal?
Poeltl has quietly become one of the absolute best rim protectors in the NBA, and his interior presence could push the Raptors into the elite tier of NBA defenses. He’s also a fine rim runner and post hub on offense. Adding Poetel gives the Raptors a path to playing a conventional style when it suits them and another starting-caliber player.
3. ERIC GORDON TO THE LAKERS
It might be tempting to simply write off this Los Angeles Lakers' season as a lost cause, but LA simply can’t afford to do that in what could be one of the few remaining years of LeBron’s prime. What they need is a true wing scorer, someone who can shoot and defend at a high level, and who can realistically be had for the price of a distant first-round pick (as the earliest the Lakers can trade one is 2027).
There have been some pie-in-the-sky proposals that net the Lakers Jerami Grant, but they simply don’t have a competitive offer. However, Eric Gordon of the Houston Rockets might fit the bill.
Gordon is having an outstanding season shooting the ball (42.9% from 3), and is a proven playoff performer. He could work off of both Russell Westbrook and LeBron in pick and roll, and can guard the opposing team's best guard.
This would be the Lakers' last remaining bullet, but if they are committed to winning with LeBron, and they should be, they have to fire it.
2. JALEN BRUNSON TO THE KNICKS
It seems that every year the New York Knicks have a glaring hole at the most important position in basketball. While this Knicks season wasn’t off to a great start, it truly cratered once Derrick Rose was forced to have ankle surgery.
No team with real aspirations should be sunk because Derrick Rose had an ankle injury in the year 2022. The Knicks need to find a long-term solution, and Jalen Brunson of the Dallas Mavericks might be that guy.
Brunson is a small guard, but is an efficient scorer and crafty finisher who has flashed upside as a playmaker. Just having a player that can break down defenders off the dribble would do wonders to open up opportunities for Julius Randle, RJ Barrett, and all of the Knicks’ young players.
Brunson is an unrestricted free agent, and reportedly the Mavericks did not offer to extend him in the offseason. If he can be had, the Knicks should make it happen.
1. MITCHELL ROBINSON TO THE HORNETS
If you see Mitchell Robinson on the right night, you might think he’s the best big man prospect in the NBA. Just yesterday, he had 14 points on 7-8 from the field, 11 rebounds, and eight blocks against the Memphis Grizzlies. He terrorized Ja Morant and the rest of the Grizz inside, while simultaneously giving a big lift to the Knicks' moribund offense.
But Robinson’s inconsistent health, play, and status as an unrestricted free agent leave his Knicks' future in doubt. If that’s so, the Charlotte Hornets should pounce on him immediately.
LaMelo Ball has not been paired with an athletic dive big in his NBA career to date, and such a pairing might unlock yet another level for the Hornets on offense. Robinson also has immense defensive upside if it can be consistently coaxed out of him, and his age makes him a perfect building block alongside the younger Ball.
Pairing Ball and Robinson could turn the Hornets into the next version of Lob City.