Basketball

NBA Trade Deadline: Should They Stay Or Should They Go?

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Nerlens Noel (4) and Jahlil Okafor (8) (Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports)

Nerlens Noel (4) and Jahlil Okafor (8) (Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports)

The NBA All-Star break is here and the trade deadline is fast approaching. Years ago, this was an incredibly exciting time for NBA fans as wild and unexpected trades went down. Big name players would change teams and the playoff races would change drastically. Now, it seems there are never any big-name players being traded and teams seem to either stand pat or trade for role-players.

This year may be different, however. A few teams have already made quite a splash. The Pelicans made headlines when they acquired superstar center DeMarcus Cousins from the Kings, which undoubtedly is the biggest blockbuster we’ll see this season and possibly the biggest over the last few years. Also, the Raptors and Rockets helped bolster their teams by trading for Serge Ibaka and Lou Williams, respectively. Several other big names have been thrown around throughout the course of the season as potential trade candidates. Superstars like Paul George and Jimmy Butler have been rumored to be available, as well as other stars like Carmelo Anthony, Paul Millsap, Brook Lopez, Reggie Jackson, and Danilo Gallinari.

My goal is to take a look at our local teams, the Nets, the Knicks, and the Sixers, and observe some potential trades. Rumors have swirled regarding Carmelo Anthony’s status with the team. The Nets have dangled Brook Lopez to teams looking for an impact big in an attempt to fast-track their rebuild. The Sixers have an abundance of bigs and are looking to unload at least one of them, whether it’s Nerlins Noel or Jahlil Okafor. Whether or not these rumors are true, I’ll take a look at how likely each of these trades are and if each team should pull the trigger.

Philadelphia 76ers: Nerlins Noel/Jahlil Okafor

The Sixers have a serious logjam in the frontcourt. They have several players that deserve significant minutes and they all vary in skill set, long-term potential, and value. Between Joel Embiid, Nerlins Noel, Jahlil Okafor, Dario Saric, Ersan Ilyasova, Robert Covington, Ben Simmons (who is expected to return from his injury soon), and Richaun Holmes, there simply aren’t enough minutes to go around.

Now, Embiid and Simmons aren’t going anywhere. They’re both untouchable. Embiid is just 31 games into his career, but he’s already one of the league’s best centers. He’s currently averaging 20.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 2.5 blocks, and 0.9 steals per game. The crazy part is that he only plays 25.4 minutes per game. He’s the surefire Rookie of the Year after missing his first two seasons with a foot injury. Simmons was the first overall pick this season and, even though he has yet to play, he’s a huge part of the 76ers future. It also doesn’t look like Saric is going anywhere. He’s been great off the bench for the Sixers as a rookie and he could be the leader of their second unit for years to come.

It doesn’t make sense for the Sixers to move Ilyasova, Covington, or Holmes, simply because none of those guys would provide a lot of return value. Also, Ilyasova and Covington have been starters for the Sixers all season and they’ve both been solid players who, at the very least, provide veteran leadership and consistent offense in Philly. Even if they aren’t part of the 76ers future plans, they can help them right now. Holmes is simply a rotational player who can stick around for depth.

That leaves Noel and Okafor. There have been rumors of the Sixers trying to trade either one, or maybe both, of these guys for the past couple years. This could be the time it finally happens. The Sixers have enough depth and talent in the frontcourt that they could move forward without one, or both, of these players. Personally, I think they should trade Okafor, but I’ll try to make the case for keeping either one. I’ll start with Nerlins Noel.

Noel, in my opinion, is simply a better fit for this team. Moving forward, Joel Embiid is clearly the starting center and he’ll get most of the minutes at that position. That means the Sixers need to focus more on the power forward position long term. While Saric could potentially fill that role, he seems better suited for coming off the bench. Starting Noel at power forward would give the Sixers the perfect complement for Embiid. Noel’s athleticism and length gives him a ton of untapped potential, but that doesn’t mean has hasn’t already developed into a very good player.

This season, Noel is averaging just 19.4 minutes per game, but he is still putting up 8.9 points per game while shooting at a 61.1% clip. He’s also pulling in five boards per game and averaging 0.9 blocks and 1.4 steals per game. Those numbers don’t seem impressive, but if given more minutes, Noel could have a significant impact. In his seven starts, his stat line looks like this: 27.6 minutes, 14.4 points, 7.3 rebounds, 1.4 blocks, and 2.4 steals per game.

He’s still working on his offensive game, but he’s getting better each year on the offensive end. Where he really makes an impact is on defense. He’s an excellent rim protector and he has a knack for getting into passing lanes as well. His blend of size and athleticism allows him to guard the perimeter and defend the paint.

Noel is still just 23 years old and still getting better. The rumors of the Sixers potentially trading Noel have cooled off over the last couple months, but there’s still a chance he gets traded. If they do decide to move him, they should ask for a lot in return (I’d say at least a first round pick).

Okafor could be on his way out. Trade rumors have heated up in recent weeks as a lot of teams are looking to acquire the former 2015 third overall pick. Okafor was actually almost dealt to the Trail Blazers before they opted to trade for Jusef Nurkic instead.

Now, Okafor is still a pretty good player and has the potential to be great. He just doesn’t fit in with the Sixers’ plans anymore. When they picked him in the 2015 draft, a lot of people were confused. He was surely the best player on the board, but with Embiid and Noel already on the roster, it didn’t seem they had a place for Okafor. I think they took Okafor both as insurance in case Embiid never got healthy or as a possible trade chip. With Embiid not only healthy now, but dominant, the Sixers really have no choice but to move somebody and Okafor is the best candidate.

Several teams could look to acquire Okafor because of his offensive skill set. There aren’t too many big men these days who can score and pass from the post as effectively as Okafor can. His numbers aren’t great this year, but he isn’t playing the minutes that he deserves. He’s currently playing just 23 minutes per game, but he’s averaging 11.4 points, 4.8 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 0.4 steals, and 1.1 blocks per game. If Okafor was in an offense where he could be a bigger part of the offense and get more touches, he could be a force. Look no further than his rookie season, when Embiid was out and we saw Okafor starting for the 76ers and playing 30 minutes a game. He scored 17.5 points per game while shooting 50.8% from the floor. He also pulled in seven rebounds per game.

Okafor isn’t flashy and he’s not a great defensive player, but if he was on a team that could feed him the ball down low and play him beside a good rim protector, he could shine. The Sixers don’t have the minutes for him, so they might as well trade him while he could still bring back a decent haul.

Final Verdict: Trade Okafor and keep Noel.

Brooklyn Nets: Brook Lopez/Bojan Bogdanovic

It’s been a tough season in Brooklyn. The Nets are struggling mightily, as they have the NBA’s worst record at 9-47. With no end to the losing in sight, they could very well trade away the couple of talented vets they have in order to obtain more assets. The Nets are in selling mode and Lopez and Bogdanovic are the best trade chips the Nets have.

It’s really a shame that the Nets are so bad, because they are wasting Brook Lopez’ talent. I truly feel bad for him, even though he’s been a really good sport about playing for a losing team. Lopez is having a monster season and any team would be lucky to have him. He’s exactly the type of player who could help a few teams make a serious playoff run.

The main trade candidate in Brooklyn is certainly Lopez, as a few teams have inquired about him throughout the course of the season. The Pelicans were interested before trading for Cousins and rumors have popped up that the Pacers, Celtics, Trail Blazers, and Lakers are all interested in Lopez’ services. Any of these teams would be lucky to have Lopez, but the Nets certainly shouldn’t give him up easily.

The Nets are already the worst team in the league, so I suppose trading Lopez wouldn’t have much of an effect in terms of wins and losses, but they should hang onto him nonetheless, at least until the offseason. Lopez’ value is more than what he brings on the court. He’s the leader of this young team.  They should at least let him finish out the year in Brooklyn and maybe trade him in the offseason. After this year, he’ll have an expiring contract, which is more valuable on the trade market.

Lopez’ newfound ability to shoot threes has really opened up his game. He’s always been dominant in the low post and he’s also been an excellent mid-range shooter, but now he’s dangerous from beyond the arc, which means he can score from anywhere on the court. He also has a wide array of moves that he uses to drive to the basket from the perimeter, meaning that even when he catches the ball away from the rim, he isn’t reduced to just shooting.

Look no further than the Nets’ final game before the All-Star break. It was a close loss to the Bucks, as they fell 129-125. Despite the loss, Lopez displayed his value to the Nets and possibly any other team who is interested in acquiring him. He scored 36 points on 12-20 shooting and 6-8 from the free throw line and that wasn’t even the most impressive part of this game for him. He also drilled six threes and recorded eight blocks, the first time in NBA history that both those numbers were achieved in the same game by a single player.

Lopez really fits the “unicorn” term that’s been thrown around lately. He’s a rare type of player now that he can shoot threes. By the way, this three-point shooting ability has really come out of nowhere. He made just three of them in his career prior to this season. So far, in 51 games this year, he’s made 90. That’s a massive jump, and it isn’t just because of volume either. He’s shooting 34.4% on his three point attempts this year, which puts him 18th among qualified power forwards and centers (he’s fifth among just centers). Among those players, he’s also first in blocks, meaning his ability to shoot threes and still protect the rim is among the best in the NBA, if not the best.

Originally, the Nets were seeking two first round picks for Lopez, but since the Cousins trade (which included just one first round pick), their price for Lopez has dropped to a first rounder and a second rounder. I personally don’t think they should’ve lowered their asking price, but moving him would definitely help continue the rebuild, so it wouldn’t be the worst move. But imagine a Nets team fielding Justin Hamilton as their starting center. Eww.

Now, on to Bogdanovic.

The Nets have sent Bogdanovic, along with Chris McCollough to the Wizards for their 2017 first round pick, Marcus Thornton, and Andrew Nicholson. It seems to be a good trade for the team, although I don’t like the inclusion of McCollough.

Honestly, any trade the Nets can make to acquire draft picks would be beneficial to the team’s rebuild. They are devoid of picks for the next few years after former GM Billy King traded them all away. Their new GM, Sean Marks, appears to be doing the best he can to obtain picks and get this team on the right track.

Final Verdict: Bogdanovic traded, only trade Lopez for a great offer.

New York Knicks: Carmelo Anthony/Derrick Rose

Oh boy. Where to begin with this one? The Knicks’ situation with Carmelo Anthony is a total mess right now. The Knicks want to trade him. He wants to stay. Obviously both sides will not be happy, but Melo is really the one that’s in control because of his no-trade clause. He said he would be willing to waive it if he was traded to a contender, but that doesn’t seem likely to happen.

The problem for the Knicks is that no contenders have the assets to make a trade. The Knicks want to trade Melo because they clearly aren’t winning now, so they need to rebuild around Kristaps Porzingis. They don’t really have any other prospects to develop, so they would need to acquire a couple if they do indeed trade Anthony. Unfortunately for the Knicks, teams with assets aren’t contenders and Melo only wants to play for the Knicks or a title contender.

Melo would certainly be worth it for a team that could scrap up a good enough package to get him. He’s still an elite scorer, as he’s currently averaging 23.4 points per game and shooting at a rather efficient 44.3% clip. He’s also still a great perimeter threat, too. He’s been hitting 37.8% of his threes this season. He’s also proven to be a capable rebounder and passer, although his 6.1 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game don’t really show that. He’s just the type of offensive playmaker that a team like the Cavs or Clippers could really use for a title run.

Even though he’s getting up there in age, Anthony has not had any injury issues outside of the 2014-15 season. He’s also still been able to carry the load for the Knicks, playing 34 minutes a night, even in his age 32 season.

If there’s one thing that could steer contenders away from making a splash and trading for Melo is his lack of ability on the defensive end. He clearly can’t guard the perimeter anymore, so he’s really limited to playing power forward at this point in his career.

The Cavs have been rumored to be interested in trading for Melo, but the Knicks wanted Kevin Love in return and the Cavs would be idiotic to make that swap at this point in each of these players’ respective careers.

I have a lot of respect for Melo not wanting to leave the Knicks, even while they continue to lose. I’m not sure if he wants to stay because he likes playing at home in New York or if he wants to be around to help the Knicks rebuild, but it shows he’s at least a loyal guy. The Knicks seem to be trying to force him out and it’s not a good look for the franchise. They would probably be better off trading him, if they could get the right offer, but it doesn’t seem likely.

Another rumor that’s been thrown around lately is that the Knicks are trying to trade Derrick Rose as well. He’s having a solid year, at least as a scorer, and could offer some return value in a trade. They have basically said they would trade him for next to nothing, but just getting rid of his massive contract would be beneficial to the team. There have been stirrings that the Knicks are interested in a Rose-Ricky Rubio swap, but I’m not sure how likely that is to actually happen. The Knicks could even look to trade players like Joakim Noah and Kyle O’Quinn, but those guys wouldn’t bring back much.

It’s about time that the Knicks admit they don’t have the pieces to make a playoff run and attempt to rebuild. Trading Melo would be a good start. Trading anyone else would be even better. If they can find any way to acquire draft picks or talented young players, they should make the move. Clearing cap space would help, too. Phil Jackson and James Dolan are getting a lot of flak from Knicks fans and can’t afford to miss at this year’s deadline, or they might lose their fan-base.

Final Verdict: Trade anyone you can for anything you can get, except maybe Melo who should bring back at least a first round pick.

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