By Rahul Lal
The NBA trade deadline is one of the season’s most hectic times for teams. It’s their last chance to get that player who can give them an extra playoff push or more draft picks as they embrace a rebuilding project.
Names like Jimmy Butler, Paul Millsap and DeMarcus Cousins have crossed the trading block, though it no longer looks like trades for any of them will materialize. Here are some more realistic deals that teams should consider before the deadline actually hits and rosters are solidified:
1. New Orleans Pelicans trade Dante Cunningham and Tim Frazier
Philadelphia 76ers trade Nerlens Noel
The situation in Philadelphia is incredibly tricky. Jahlil Okafor would probably garner less value on the trade market, but Nerlens Noel’s contract expiring this summer makes him available for a very low price since he would probably walk for nothing. Similarly, the team that would acquire him would probably have to do it without the promise of him signing an extension.
The Pelicans should make this deal happen, as they’re primed for a playoff push with their stars finally healthy. Pairing former Kentucky big men Noel and Anthony Davis would make for an intimidating front court. This move could also give future free agents like Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans a reason to stay long-term and build their core or even attract new players this offseason. New Orleans, which originally traded Noel’s draft rights to get Holiday in the 2013 NBA Draft, would wind up having them both. Philadelphia would add Tim Frazier, a guard who has shown solid production this season and is locked in a bargain two-year deal.
2. Milwaukee Bucks trade Khris Middleton, Thon Maker and a 2nd Round Pick
Miami Heat trade Goran Dragic and Dion Waiters
Who says no? The Bucks are on their way up to legitimacy, while the Heat are struggling their way down to the lottery. This move gives the Bucks, a team looking to take that next step, a legit point guard and another dynamic player. Grabbing Dion Waiters will let Milwaukee play another shooter and scorer. They can finally stop giving 30 minutes a game to Tony Snell.
The Heat can allow Khris Middleton to slowly recover from his torn hamstring rather than be rushed back. Justise Winslow and Middleton can line up on the wings next season, quickly rebuilding a team with other solid pieces like Hassan Whiteside, Tyler Johnson and Josh Richardson. Middleton’s absence this season could ultimately help the Heat attain a top-three pick in one of the most stacked drafts in recent memory. Whatever Thon Maker develops into would be an overall plus for the Heat, as he could become a dynamic and scary fit next to Whiteside.
3. Cleveland Cavaliers trade Iman Shumpert, DeAndre Liggins and Chris Andersen
Minnesota Timberwolves trade Ricky Rubio
This trade makes about as much sense as any deal out there right now. The Cavaliers are desperate for a backup point guard and, by grabbing Ricky Rubio, could have one of the top playmakers and pure point guards on the market. Rubio would run the second unit, feeding shooters like J.R. Smith, Kyle Korver and Channing Frye, and get valuable minutes reuniting with Kevin Love and setting up the stars.
The Timberwolves and Tom Thibodeau get an incredible fit in Iman Shumpert to play some defense out on the perimeter. This move would also open up minutes for Kris Dunn and create a dangerous backcourt rotation with Shumpert, Dunn, Zach LaVine and Andrew Wiggins.
4. Chicago Bulls trade Taj Gibson and Denzel Valentine
Phoenix Suns trade Brandon Knight
At a certain point, you have to feel for Brandon Knight who is one of three former Kentucky point guards rostered. He also has fellow Kentucky player Devin Booker lined up at the two, which severely limits his production for the team as he can’t be in long enough to find his groove. He has plenty of potential and could relieve the Chicago Bulls from having to play both Rajon Rondo and Michael Carter-Williams, two below average players, at the point. Knight would likely be one of their better players immediately and also provide some upside for the future.
The Suns don’t have an immediate need for a player like Gibson, but he could be a good veteran presence for rookies Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender while they continue to develop. Gibson will also be a free agent this offseason and will likely go elsewhere, freeing the Suns of some cap room. Denzel Valentine has given Bulls fans reason to get excited and would continue that slotted next to fellow shooter Booker. He could potentially line up at the three and give the team one of the brightest futures in the league.
5. Denver Nuggets trade Jusuf Nurkic
Boston Celtics trade Kelly Olynyk and Terry Rozier
Denver has been openly shopping just about any one of their bigs not named Nikola Jokic, as they rightly see him as a future star. Jusuf Nurkic is also a very good player but has become the less preferred of the two, making him a prime candidate to be traded to a team looking for a young big on a rookie contract. Nurkic could instantly fit alongside Al Horford and play the center position in Boston; he could be just the under-the-radar acquisition to turn a good team into a great one.
Years later, the Nuggets are still that team with plenty of good players and so much depth it almost hurts them on a nightly basis. Players just don’t get the time they deserve. Olynyk would give the Nuggets another young player who can play either low-post position and will ultimately be a great rotation player. Rozier has been getting decent minutes in Boston, which rosters three other point guards who can all play. Going to Denver would certainly create a bit of a logjam at guard there. But it would also add another young bright spot as the team decides who is the future and who is a trading chip.
Rahul Lal is an LA native stuck in a lifelong, love-hate relationship with the Lakers, Dodgers and Raiders. You can follow him on Twitter here.