With less than two months remaining before the 2020 NBA playoffs begin, now is the time when champions rise and pretenders fall.
The trade deadline has been and gone, but there’s still one more chance for teams add that one piece which can propel them over the edge in to genuine championship contention. While the guys currently on the market may not necessarily be the cream of the NBA crop, history shows that buyouts around this time of the year can make all the difference.
Think Patty Mills and Boris Diaw on the Spurs in 2012, or Peja Stojakovic on the Mavs the previous season or even Enes Kanter giving the Trail Blazers a much-needed big man presence and propelling them to the Western Conference Finals last year.
It’s these kind of success stories which keep dragging owners and GMs back in to the frame for these second-tier guys, even if the vast majority ending up wasting away on benches around the league. For every Marco Bellinelli and Ersan Ilyasova revitalising the 76ers offense in 2018 there’s a P.J. Brown on the 2008 Celtics, who does precisely seven tenths of stuff all.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (Mavericks), Marvin Williams (Bucks), Reggie Jackson (Clippers), DeMarre Carroll (Rockets) and Jeff Green (Rockets) might already be on their way to new homes, but there’s still plenty left to salivate over. Here’s five guys we think are poised to have a massive impact in the stretch run to playoffs.
1. Tristan Thompson, Cleveland C
According to the Cleveland Cavaliers Thompson isn’t going anywhere, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we won’t see him in a different uniform come the March 1 “deadline”, after which newly-signed players are ineligible to play in the playoffs.
There’s one big reason we don’t fully believe GM Koby Altman when he says the team has no plans to buy out the remainder of Thompson’s five-year, $82M deal he signed in 2015; Andre Drummond. There is no feasible scenario which sees Thompson and Drummond sharing the floor for the Cavaliers in the long-term, which means either Cleveland rid themselves of Thompson now, and begin the anticipated build-around-Drummond strategy, or hang on to Thompson into the summer and hope for an attractive sign-and-trade deal from a team desperate for an above-average defender/rebounder.
Assuming the former (which is at least still a chance), Thompson would immediately become the most sought-after player in the NBA. His abilities as an offensive rebounder are borderline legendary, and a competent big man with big-game experience is worth his weight in gold in any postseason, but particularly so in one which is likely to heavily feature the likes of Anthony Davis, Joel Embiid and Giannis Antetokounmpo.
The Celtics or Clippers would be the obvious destination given their distinct lack of interior defense (Daniel Theis and Montrezl Harrell aren’t exactly brick walls on defense), but don’t rule out the small-ball Rockets or even the LeBron Lakers.
Hell, there’s no reason middle-range teams like the Raptors or Spurs wouldn’t make a bid either.
2. Evan Turner, Minnesota G/F
Evan Turner – a No. 2 overall draft pick – barely played in Atlanta this season, despite the well-publicised ball-handling struggles the Hawks have had, and has eventually ended up in Minnesota as part of the Clint Capela deal.
Every indication is that we will not see the former-Celtic suit up for the Wolves, with both sides seeking alternative options.
The problem for Turner is that there aren’t actually that many contenders with a spot for him, except for perhaps the aforementioned Celtics. Boston’s glaring weakness is the lack of a veteran presence on the bench, and Turner seemed to take well to that role between 2014 and 2016 as a backup in the Brad Stephens offense.
While Turner isn’t going to swing any series or win any playoff games, he might be a valuable roleplayer on a team aching for a veteran presence.
3. Tyler Johnson, Free Agent G
Johnson suffered a noticeable dip in playing time this season behind a host of Suns guards – Ricky Rubio, Devin Booker, Elie Okobo etc. – and was consequently released to continue his NBA career elsewhere.
That’s… Not a good sign. However, there’s a reason Johnson was able to persuade the Heat to part with more than $50M to keep him away from the Nets in that infamous 2016 free agency period. He’s a decent ballhandler, generally a reliable spot-up shooter and can defend both guard positions with his 6-foot-6 wingspan.
Johnson will certainly sign somewhere, the question is where? Arguably the perfect fit would have been the Clippers, until they signed Reggie Jackson. The Denver Nuggets may be on the hunt for some ball-handling behind Jamal Murray, but seem to enjoy employing Gary Harris in that role.
We like the look of the Lakers. Rajon Rando is always susceptible to injury these days and Frank Vogel apparently has no trust in Alex Caruso or Quin Cook to play crunch time minutes.
Look out for Johnson in the purple and gold.
4. Dion Waiters, Free Agent G
Waiters, a former No.4 overall pick, has played in just three NBA games this season after a number of bizarre indiscretions in Miami. To be fair to him kinda hard to take the floor when you’re tripping on edible gummies.
There are a number of Lakers connections which are hard to ignore with Waiters. He and LeBron played 33 games together in Cleveland before David Griffin shipped him off in the deal that brought JR Smith and Waiters is also a Rich Paul client and a member of the Klutch Sports fraternity.
It is, admittedly, difficult to see the Lakers taking a flyer on a guy with Waiters’, shall we say, “chequered” past, but his on-court skillset is actually exactly what they’re missing. A dynamic backcourt shot-creator is precisely what LeBron needs alongside him.
Will the Lakers – or someone else – take the risk?
5. Isaiah Thomas, Free Agent G
Life hasn’t been easy for Thomas since his magical time in Boston, and it took an even more ignominious turn when he was waived by the Clippers last week; a team which literally just signed a veteran guard in Reggie Jackson.
The issue for Thomas has been his body; his troublesome hip just doesn’t seem to be able to hold up to the rigors of NBA basketball anymore. However, when healthy there’s no doubt he’s capable of being one of the better backup guards in the league, as he showed earlier this year in Washington by putting up 12.2 points and 3.7 assists in 23.1 minutes per game while shooting 41.3 percent from 3-point land on nearly five attempts per game.
The other major problem for IT is his defense, with advanced metrics, simple metrics and even just your standard eye-test more than enough evidence that he’s one of the league’s worst defenders, maybe ever.
Thomas will always be an attractive prospect for teams looking for an instant offensive injection from the guard position, but his defensive limitations might be too glaring for a true contender to take the punt.
Written and produced by SportsTips.com
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