TORONTO RAPTORS - Stay Confident and Trust Masai
Might as well start with the Raptors, suddenly the talk of the NBA after beating the Thunder and Pacers while demolishing lesser East teams. In the midst of their most encouraging season since the Mesozoic era, they’ve shed their two biggest financial burdens, and now unexpectedly have risen to the top of the Atlantic Division’s garbage heap.
Virtually any team that goes on an over-achievement streak will begin to head-check itself at one point, especially one like the Raptors in the midst of a Masai Ujiri overhaul that could consume almost anyone on the roster. Toronto just beat the top team in each Conference, and will have to deal with the sudden target on their backs, coupled with the uncertainty that most of this team has to feel.
It’s hard to tune out, but with this lineup eyeing both playoff position and their own trade stock, it’s in Team Drake’s best interest to keep their heads on the court, play for wins, and embrace the 4-seed that seems ever more likely. Even if the Raptors dodge the Lottery, Ujiri knows enough about crafty trading to upgrade the roster the old-fashioned way.
SACRAMENTO KINGS - Trade for Stoppers and Grow Up
Not that anyone expected much differently, but this Kings’ squad is a dysfunctional mess that rates near the bottom of the NBA on defense across-the-board and plays with the general cohesion of a Big Brother household.
The Kings aren't fit to rule, shunning their own potential progress under respected, no-nonsense hire Mike Malone. One or two defensive-minded players couldn’t hurt to help plug up the points this team hemorrhages with DeMarcus Cousins manning an interior behind liabilities like Jimmer Fredette, Marcus Thornton, and the undersized Isaiah Thomas. Adding Rudy Gay to a team with a reputation for selfish gunning likely didn't help matters much on the other end.
The city of Sacramento is thrilled just to still have a team, but there won’t be much more to celebrate if an already-maligned roster continues to play uninspired, one-way basketball. Rebuilding has to start somewhere.
MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES - Get Rid of Tayshaun Prince
Somehow, some way. Kidnap him, waive him, get on the phone with the Knicks; whatever needs to be done. We all know that Rudy Gay was a wing who couldn’t shoot on a bad contract, but the least Memphis could’ve done in trading him last season was not take on another in return.
Prince has completely lost his outside touch, and while still a good defender against most small forwards, he severely compromises the Grizzlies’ – already too thin an offensive team – ability to stretch the floor. Tony Allen is far more integral to Memphis’ defense, and whenever he and Prince share the floor, opposing D can double down on Zach Randolph with total impunity (see: Spurs, San Antonio; 2013 WCF).
Still under contract next season at almost $8 million, Prince may not have much value on the trade market beyond his expiring deal. If he still lingers by the summer, the “A-word” might be the easiest way for frugal Robert Pera’s cap-strapped team to acquire the outside shooting they so sorely need.
DETROIT PISTONS - Fire Joe Dumars
This might be a hard pill to swallow for a team that Dumars has helped win titles for from both the court and front office, but the man’s worn out his welcome. There’s almost a decade’s worth of mounting evidence of his early decline into senility.
The Darko Disaster was just a foreshadowing: trading Chauncey Billups too soon (and for the wrong guy), holding onto Rip Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince too long, and blindly throwing every available dollar at guys who did little or nothing to help the Pistons (Charlie Villanueva lingers as a painful reminder).
The Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings additions have so far exacerbated both players’ weaknesses, while failing to complement Motor City’s stellar post duo; they’re just the latest in a long trend. The NBA’s GM climate his shifted radically over the past decade, and left once-savvy Dumars behind breathing fumes. It’s time for him to finally go.
MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES - Trade for Rim Protection
Minnesota is a team of several glaring flaws, but perhaps their most damning is the abysmal rim protection that results from the NBA’s most Earthbound post tandem.
While Nikola Pekovic and to a lesser extent Kevin Love can both be physical presences in the paint, neither blocks or alters shots well, especially on help when Kevin Martin gets beat. Gorgui Deng has shown flashes of promise, but is still too raw, leaving the Wolves’ roster without a single threat against opponent penetration.
Rumor has it a team in Texas might have exactly what Minnesota’s looking for, and is apparently in a bit of a hurry to unload him, so work the phones. There’s no shortage of teams waiting to lowball the Wolves for Kevin Love if their situation doesn’t improve, and immediate, proactive trades will be the only way to avoid them.
L.A LAKERS - Start Saving
What was supposed to be a revival for the Lakers last season turned quickly into a drastic rebuild that conveniently left the Lakers with just one player – the possibly-retiring Steve Nash – under contract after this season.
Of course, with so much cap space and such an appealing area code for the upcoming Free Agent Bonanza of 2014, the Lakers decided to ink freshly-injured Kobe Bryant (who, of course has since gotten injured again) to a two-year extension that itself devours 40% of their cap space. Building a roster around a guy with an ego equally imposing as his contract – not to mention a shady health prognosis and sudden retirement from playing defense – will be a difficult task, especially against Bryant’s ticking NBA clock.
The Bynum/Gasol swap would have been a start; even if this is the L.A. Lakers, they’d hate to be paying the Repeater Tax and rebuilding around the NBA’s most expensive and least stable franchise player. Let the liquidation sale begin.
NY KNICKS AND BROOKLYN NETS - Go To Church
You scared? Big Apple basketball fans should be after they watched their franchises mortgage their futures in “Win Now” mode. Both teams are failing miserably and unable to break .500 in the __________(insert derogatory noun/adjective) Division, but can’t really do anything about it.
The Knicks slowly traded away what would now be very appealing lottery picks for the rest of this decade, securing middling assets (and Andrea Bargnani) in return. Now cap-strapped with a mostly-untradeable roster, their defense is even more hilarious than their bloated payroll. They're almost certainly losing Melo sometime in the coming months, can't rebuild through the Draft or Free Agency.
Speaking of hilarious payrolls, Mikhail Prokhorov tried to Boardwalk Empire his way to a title, taking it by force with salary-law-insulting acquisitions and shady maneuverings. The joke now seems to be on the Nets, with their team perpetually injured, old, losing, about to be doling out millions via the repeater tax with an $82 million starting lineup, and Billy King steering their franchise.
It’s really all Nets and Knicks fans can do; get religious. Only divine intervention can save you anytime soon.