As much attention as the NBA trade deadline gets – and it has long and short-term impacts across the league – how often does a deal lead to a championship that season?
In a blockbuster deal last season, the Phoenix Suns acquired Kevin Durant, however, the Suns lost in the second round of the playoffs. The Dallas Mavericks acquired Kyrie Irving to put alongside Luka Doncic a year, but the Mavs didn’t even make the playoffs.
Over the past two decades, the trade deadline has yielded moves that helped a team win a championship:
P.J. Tucker helped the Milwaukee Bucks capture the 2021 title; Marc Gasol pushed the Toronto Raptors over the top in 2019; and Rasheed Wallace propelled the Detroit Pistons to a championship in 2004.
Teams are compelled to make deals for assorted reasons, and here are six teams who can’t stand pat at the trade deadline:
Los Angeles Lakers
With two All-Stars in LeBron James and Anthony Davis, the Lakers are a borderline play-in team. They are not a lock to make the postseason, and they expected a deep run this season after reaching the Western Conference finals in 2023 and putting together what appeared to be a solid offseason with the roster. If the Lakers want to take advantage of James playing at an All-Star level at 39 years old and Davis at an All-NBA level, they need to improve a roster that is average defensively and below average offensively. It doesn’t help optics that the Los Angeles Clippers are surging and the Boston Celtics have the best record in the NBA.
For the Celtics, a championship is the goal (just about) every season. They have played in the Eastern Conference finals in five of the past seven seasons and reached the Finals in 2022. But there’s no title to show for it with a group led by Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. With Tatum, Brown, Kristaps Porzingis, Derrick White and Jrue Holiday, this might be Boston’s best team of the era. And it’s best chance to win a title if it can add the right player, even if it’s a reserve.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Atop the West with a 35-15 record, the young Thunder are ahead of schedule, and it’s understandable if the Thunder don’t want to disrupt chemistry as they try to build a sustainable team that can be near the top of the West and compete for a title the next 7-10 seasons. There’s another train of thought, too. Championship windows open just as fast as they shut, and the Thunder have an opportunity now with MVP-caliber guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, star-in-the-making rookie center Chet Holmgren and outstanding second-year guard-forward Jalen Williams. If there’s a move that puts the Thunder closer to a title this season, they should do it.
Phoenix is on the edge of a top-five seed, but not the top four. Top-heavy with talent in Durant, Devin Booker and Bradley Beal, the Suns can use scoring help off the bench. Phoenix has the 26th -ranked bench offense, and while rotations shrink in the playoffs, having a seventh and even eighth player who can provide offense will help.
Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers have never been to the Finals. They’ve had good teams, and in 2021, they lost to Phoenix in the Western Conference finals. Adding James Harden and Russell Westbrook to Kawhi Leonard and Paul George has put the Clippers in position to make a title push, and there’s plenty to like about this team offensively and defensively. The best team in the league since Dec. 1, the Clippers have depth, but they’re also looking to make a move that will better help them compete with Denver, Oklahoma City and Minnesota in the West.
Do the Bucks have enough, even with Giannis Antetokounmpo and Damian Lillard? That’s a question the front office has to answer for a team that is tremendous offensively and so-so defensively. They just made a coaching change, hiring Doc Rivers to replace Adrian Griffin, who was midway through his first season as an NBA head coach. If the Bucks can find a perimeter defender, that could be their answer to a second championship in four seasons.
Follow NBA reporter Jeff Zillgitt on social media @JeffZillgitt
First appeared on www.usatoday.com