The NBA trade deadline drops at 3 p.m. ET March 15, and while all eyes remain on Orlando's Dwight Howard, most teams in the league will be trying to improve their position. For some teams, it's the immediate future that is the biggest concern, and they will be looking to fill holes for a springtime playoff run. Others are looking more at the big picture, and they'll be looking for young talent, salary-cap flexibility and other franchise-building assets.
The primary statistic you'll encounter will be wins above replacement player. We're presenting WARP for each feature player in two flavors, separated by a slash. The first number measures a player's WARP value based on his productivity for this season to date, prorated to 82 games. The second projects his combined WARP value for the next two seasons. This will give you a quick glimpse of both short- and long-term value.
The problem: The Bulls are right back where they were last year, sitting on top of the Eastern Conference standings. They've gotten there despite having their starting five together for just eight games. They've gotten there despite the fact that reigning MVP Derrick Rose has missed 10 games. They've gotten there even though they've played just 16 of their 38 games at home. Despite all of these things, the Bulls are in great position. Chicago ranks in the top three of the league on both ends of the floor. The Bulls' point differential is the best in the NBA, and at 9.6 points per game, that margin is clearly of championship quality. Unfortunately for Chicago, there is that Miami team lingering out there and the primary question for this year's Bulls hasn't changed since the day they were eliminated from last season's Eastern Conference finals: Can they beat the Heat in a seven-game series? Right now, we really don't know. No team has a more clear-cut obstacle than Chicago.
The fix: The Bulls had more continuity from last season than most teams coming out of the lockout, which has helped them sustain a strong start despite the injury woes. Richard Hamilton is the only significant newcomer and even though his availability has been severely limited by a nagging groin injury, he's fit like a glove into Chicago's system when he's managed to suit up. Chicago just needs him -- and everyone else -- as close to healthy as possible entering the postseason. Chicago can't match Miami's star power and unless it really tries to make a splash by breaking up its amazing chemistry in pursuit of Howard, the Bulls' greatest ally in the inevitable showdown with the Heat is depth. They need all hands on deck.
The one tweak might be to add another scorer to the third unit, someone who can get hot from long range. Yes, we said third unit, because we're not envisioning another rotation player, just someone that can be called upon in a pinch. Miami's weakest spot has been the number of 3-point looks it has allowed. How about going after Phoenix's Michael Redd? Redd has shown glimpses of his former scoring ability and, given the Bulls' ability to spread the floor, it seems like he'd be a perfect fit. And, he's making the minimum.
Redd WARP: -0.2(this season)/0.7 (next two seasons)
The problem: The Pacers are one of the league's "surprise" teams this season, which has Frank Vogel being mentioned as a Coach of the Year candidate in his first full season at the helm of an NBA club. Indiana has been playing at a fairly high level since Vogel took over for Jim O'Brien last season, and once the Pacers added David West from free agency, you had to figure the Pacers would be in the mix to head up the tier just behind Miami and Chicago in the East. Well, we figured that anyway. Vogel will push Indiana hard to land that third playoff seed, but that could still mean a second-round matchup with either the Heat or Bulls. As well as the Pacers have played, their point differential leaves them with about a 15-game gap to catch the Heat -- 16 for the Bulls -- in terms of expected wins per 82 games. That's an awful steep hill to climb.
Realistically, the Pacers aren't a threat to Miami or Chicago, but if they do want to make the powerhouses a little more uncomfortable, the Pacers could use another scorer. Indiana has really stepped up defensively this season with its deep frontcourt and the disruptive perimeter presence of Paul George. However, the Pacers lack an explosive perimeter player off the bench. George Hill has been terrific, but he's a low-usage, high-efficiency player who can't really be counted on to create much offense against an elite defense. Dahntay Jones is getting nearly 17 minutes per night, and Indiana needs to find a scorer who can replace that playing time, plus a little more.
The fix:: Indiana was one administrative glitch away from acquiring Memphis' O.J. Mayo at last year's deadline and the restricted free-agent-to-be makes even more sense for the Pacers this time around. However, Mayo is playing an important role for the Grizzlies, who would probably want something useful in return. The Pacers have nearly $15 million in cap space remaining, so they can make a big splash in the next two weeks without giving up anything of real value. They'll go after expiring deals -- it would be surprise to see them go after a player with years left on his contract beyond this season. Still, Mayo may be worth giving up something for.
Beyond Mayo, Leandro Barbosa is in the last year of his deal with the Raptors and makes a lot of sense, but Toronto isn't in a salary-shedding mode. Chris Kaman has been mentioned as a possibility, but with Roy Hibbert, West and the struggling Tyler Hansbrough, the Pacers have plenty of interior scoring. Michael Beasley would certainly add scoring ability, but he isn't quite the fit at wing that you'd like to see. Other expiring deals that might become targets include Atlanta's Kirk Hinrich and Cleveland's Antawn Jamison. It's not clear who Indiana will target, but look for them to end up with one or two more bench pieces in the next week or two.
Mayo WARP: 3.8 (this season)/7.8 (next two seasons)
The problem: The Cavaliers' rebuilding effort is moving swiftly thanks to lottery luck and the easy transition Kyrie Irving has made into the NBA game. A playoff berth this season is not out of the question, though that shouldn't be the driving force in Cleveland's decision-making at the deadline. Cleveland still needs more good players and the asset-acquiring phase remains in effect.
The future core is coming into focus, with Irving at the center of it. Anderson Varejao may also be a foundation player, both in terms of his level of play and because his contract has two more seasons plus a partially guaranteed third campaign. He's nearing 30 and his injury history is a concern, but let's be optimistic. Tristan Thompson has shown plenty of the raw athleticism that made him the fourth pick of the most recent draft. He's got rough edges to smooth, but he's a building block.
Barry Gossage/NBAE/Getty Images
The Cavs' best move might be to deal Ramon Sessions to Memphis for O.J. Mayo.
Cleveland has a great cap position as well, sitting about $7 million under this year's cap with veterans Jamison, Ryan Hollins and Anthony Parker all slated to come off the books this summer. In addition, backup point guard Ramon Sessions, who has a player option for next year, has been drawing a lot of attention in the rumor mill. If the Cavs can leverage their cap space and the expiring deals of any of their veterans to bring back cost-controlled talent or more draft picks, that should be their focus. Otherwise, they're fine just to sit tight and prepare for this year's draft.
The fix: Eventually, Cleveland is going to have to find a core wing player to run with Irving. That's probably going to come through the draft, but it's possible that kind of player may come available at the deadline. Mayo -- who seems to end up in just about every trade musing -- might fit that bill. Memphis is looking to upgrade its backup point guard situation and a Mayo for Sessions deal works under the trade rules. Sessions makes about $1.3 million less than Mayo, which should be just enough to get Memphis under the luxury tax threshold. If not, the Cavs have enough cap space to take back another player, perhaps Sam Young. Sessions' player option might work despite Memphis' tenuous cap position because of his modest salary.
As for Cleveland, they get half a season to audition Mayo alongside Irving. If they don't like what they see, they can simply decline to issue him a qualifying offer this summer.
Sessions WARP: 2.9 (this season)/6.5 (next two seasons)
The problem: The Bucks have gone to more of an up-tempo attack this season, which has resulted in an improved, but still poor, offensive efficiency. The defense has hit the skids, however, dropping from fourth to 18th. You would have hoped that the more open style would lead to young point guard Brandon Jennings emerging as an explosive source of points and assists. Jennings leads the Bucks in WARP, but his season has been disappointing. He's still very inefficient and his decision-making remains suspect. If one didn't know better, one might be led to believe he's more concerned with getting his own offense than setting up those around him. Jennings' play and the continued injury problems for Andrew Bogut have killed the enthusiasm any rational Bucks fans may have derived from the emergence of Ersan Ilyasova.
Still, if you want to paint a rosy picture, a core of Jennings, Bogut and Ilyasova -- all of whom are under 28 -- seems promising. Add a scoring wing into mix and the elite perimeter defense of Luc Mbah a Moute, and you might have something. As for the scoring wing, that's the role Stephen Jackson was supposed to fill, but he's flopped miserably.
The fix: The Bucks can free up some cap space by slapping the amnesty tag on Jackson after the season, though it'd be nice to find a taker for him so they could save that option for Drew Gooden somewhere down the line. Until Jackson is moved, the Bucks' search for a scoring complement for Jennings will remain on hold.
Jackson WARP: -1.5 (this season)/3.3 (next two seasons)
The problem: The ugly duckling to beautiful swan is a long-standing Hollywood storyline and one could see it unfolding for a Pistons roster that has been pretty ugly ever since Joe Dumars broke up his last contending team. Greg Monroe has emerged as one of the best young big men in the game. Brandon Knight has flashed NBA ability, though his playmaking is going to have to become much more accomplished if he's going to be a long-term fit alongside Rodney Stuckey.
There are still problems here. The strange decision to bring back Tayshaun Prince in the last offseason for four more years has left Austin Daye a quivering shell of his former potential. Why exactly do you need a 32-year-old player logging 34 minutes a night on this roster? Making this worse, Prince has played well below replacement level with a career-worst .448 true shooting percentage, and he's no longer an elite defender. He not only blocks the lost Daye, but also the currently-more-promising Jonas Jerebko. Looking ahead, Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva each have another season plus a player option left on the bad contracts they signed a couple of years ago. There is a potentially pretty picture here, but can Dumars clear away the cobwebs so that we can see it?
The fix: Dumars might have been the league's top executive during the last decade, but his decision-making has been exceedingly poor since the day he began the breakup of his championship team with the Chauncey Billups-Allen Iverson trade shortly after the 2008-09 season began. New owner Tom Gores brings with him a commitment to restore the glory Detroit, and also reportedly told Dumars he can hang around for as long as he wants. So it looks like Dumars is going to have to clean up his own mess, if he even recognizes his roster as a mess in the first place.
Really, all Pistons fans can hope for is that Dumars regains his touch, their team hits it big in the lottery and that someone persuades Lawrence Frank to focus his attention, and playing time, on his developing players. Keep your fingers crossed.
Monroe WARP: 13.5 (this season)/12.2 (next two seasons)