The Whiteboard: NBA Trade Deadline moves that could change the championship picture

Today on The Whiteboard, which NBA Trade Deadline moves could actually affect the fortunes of championship contenders?

Los Angeles Lakers v Atlanta Hawks
Los Angeles Lakers v Atlanta Hawks / Kevin C. Cox/GettyImages

The NBA Trade Deadline is a day away and most of the teams at the top of each conference appear to be relatively set, especially in the Eastern Conference. The Celtics, Bucks and Cavs are looking for depth and the 76ers are weighing their options with Joel Embiid out but each is fairly limited by circumstance and assets. The Knicks have the assets to make a deal but it's not clear there is an upgrade available that moves them up the conference power structure.

There are, however, several possible NBA Trade Deadline outcomes in the Western Conference that could have a meaningful impact on the championship race. With no judgments on probability, here is a ranking of the moves that could make-or-break a contender.

4. Timberwolves get an offensive boost

The Timberwolves have faded a bit and are now in a four-way race for the top seed in the Western Conference. They still have the best defense in the league, by an enormous margin, but their offense is significantly below average. Their most played unit — Mike Conley, Anthony Edwards, Jaden McDaniels, Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert — can more than hold their own, the problem is when Kyle Anderson and or Nickeil Alexander-Walker enter the game.

Both are solid role players but are overmatched when it comes to consistently creating offense for themselves or others. The Wolves desperately need a secondary creator who can keep things running when either Edwards or Conley is on the bench. If they're able to land that player at the trade deadline — say Tyus Jones from the Wizards, Alec Burks from the Pistons, or Malcolm Brogdon from the Trail Blazers — it could be enough to put them at the top of the standings over the rest of the regular season.

3. Lakers land Dejounte Murray

I'm of the mind that even swapping Dejounte Murray in for D'Angelo Russell is nowhere near enough to catapult the Lakers back into contender status. But I felt the same thing about the deals they made at the deadline last year and I was completely wrong.

What changed for the Lakers wasn't just an increase in versatility or talent, it was also a change in chemistry and a reset of expectations. I imagine steadily underperforming can take an enormous emotional toll and it has to be a factor. The Lakers have the talent to be better than the record. I'm not sure Murray instead of Russell dramatically changes that expectation but it lets this team now that help is on the way and gives them a chance to start over, to look at the rest of the season as something new.

It worked last year and it's a worthwhile gamble this year as well.

2. Oklahoma City Thunder take a big swing

The Oklahoma City Thunder seem to have retreated from the trade deadline fray, in part because they have so much young talent and are already knocking on the door of championship contention but also because so much of the top-tier talent already seems to be off the market. But the Thunder have the assets to outbid opponents for anyone available — an enormous collection of future draft picks and various young players on contracts that could be packaged for a star.

Without giving up anything essential to their present or near future, the Thunder could put together a compelling package for Bojan Bogdanovic or Jerami Grant for additional wing scoring, Tobias Harris and his expiring contract, Nikola Vucevic or Clint Capela as backup bigs, P.J. Washington for frontcourt versatility.

On paper, the Thunder's biggest question mark is their lack of high-leverage playoff experience and they may prefer to learn those lessons by doing, rather than mortgaging assets to add it artificially. But if they decide they need talent or have a specific role they need to plug to try and win the West right now, they can pull it off.

1. Phoenix Suns get their two-way, swing forward

The trio of Devin Booker, Kevin Durant and Bradley Beal are finally healthy and clicking. The Suns are outscoring opponents by 13.4 points per 100 possessions with that trio on the floor, scoring an astronomical 128.0 points per 100.

But they could still use another option as the fifth wheel with that group and Jusuf Nurkic. Eric Gordon and Grayson Allen have both been fantastic and provide a ton of shooting, but they're smaller and lock Durant into having to defend bigger and more physical 4s, or has to play the 5 when they go small. Neither Josh Okogie or Nassir Little have inspired much confidence and in trying to build out a flexible playoff rotation that can deal with any opponent, they're reportedly looking for another solution.

Reports have linked them with Miles Bridges and he'd certainly be an ideal on-court solution, albeit a somewhat questionable one given his history of domestic violence. The other options are limited given that they can only really get to about $11 million in aggregated salary (Little, Keita Bates-Diop, Chimezie Metu) without dipping into essential rotation players. But with a second round draft pick or two attached, players like Saddiq Bey, Royce O'Neale, Cedi Osman and Simone Fontecchio could be in play.

Bey or O'Neale are probably the next best options for the Suns but getting anyone productive in that role who can hit 3s and has the size to credibly defend 3s and 4s could be a game-changer for them.

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Jan 30, 2024; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Los Angeles Lakers guard D'Angelo Russell (1) loses and dives
Jan 30, 2024; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Los Angeles Lakers guard D'Angelo Russell (1) loses and dives / Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Stars disappearing from the NBA trade market

What looked like it could be a wild trade deadline now looks like it could be a massive dud. The deadline is tomorrow and most of the biggest names have either already been traded or are looking less and less likely to get moved. Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby and Terry Rozier were already traded. Zach LaVine's foot surgery means he almost certainly won't be traded. Malcolm Brogdon and Jerami Grant are saying they want to stay in Portland. The Lakers are reportedly reconsidering trading D'Angelo Russell and Quin Snyder is reportedly pushing the Hawks to keep Dejounte Murray.

We're too close to the deadline for Murray and Russell to drop out of the rumor mill but it looks more and more likely that someone like P.J. Washington or Gary Trent Jr. is the most impactful player moved at the deadline, with attention immediately shifting to Kyle Lowry, Gordon Hayward and the buyout market.

Stay tuned, but temper your expectations.


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