The NBA season is roughly a quarter of the way through and it is at this point were you have seen enough of every team to have an idea of their strengths and weaknesses, and can assess which way each team is headed. Normally at this point, coaches have made decisions on their regular rotations and the experimenting with different lineups comes to an end.
LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers lead the way atop the Eastern Conference as expected, with a 14-7 record. However, the Charlotte Hornets, Toronto Raptors, Atlanta Hawks and Indiana Pacers are all hot on their heels and it has become clear the East is far more competitive than years past.
One team who was expected to be a threat to the Cavs this season are the Miami Heat, led by Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and a fully integrated Goran Dragic. With a 12-8 record, Miami is currently in sixth place in the Eastern Conference and despite only being two wins back of the Cavaliers, there are certainly improvements that need to be made on this squad as their inconsistent and slow start has shown.
The New Orleans Pelicans have also been a huge let down so far this year, sitting second from bottom in the Western Conference. Although their abysmal 5-16 record can be attributed to several injuries to key players, a lot was expected going into this season from the Pelicans as they were viewed to have enough talent to at least stay afloat. At this point in time, they are last in defensive efficiency.
The Los Angeles Clippers seem to have the same issues that have plagued them the past few seasons, being their inability to close games, issues at the free throw line, and what rotation is best to play in the fourth quarter in tight games.
Here is a look at a potential three-team trade package that could improve the Heat’s chances at challenging the Cleveland Cavaliers, improve the glaring problems on defense the Pelicans have, as well as cure the Clippers of their problems at the line and in their crunch time rotation.
New Orleans Pelicans trade – PF Ryan Anderson to the Los Angeles Clippers
Miami Heat trade – SF Luol Deng to the New Orleans Pelicans
Los Angeles Clippers trade – SG Jamal Crawford to the Miami Heat and SG C.J. Wilcox to the New Orleans Pelicans
Miami’s offense needs an outside threat
Despite having one of the top defenses in the league, the Heat have some major issues on offense. Miami ranks 25th overall in three pointers attempted and 27th overall in three pointers made. The lack of outside scoring has impacted the Heat’s interior game, as spacing the floor has been an issue.
Starting point guard Goran Dragic has struggled heavily this season in the scoring department, as the paint is constantly clogged, stopping the pacey guard from utilizing his ability to get to the rim. Dragic is averaging 11.3 PPG, his lowest average since 2011, and is finding baskets hard to come by in a stagnant offense. Despite some nice numbers from Dwyane Wade this year, a lot of Miami’s scoring has come from mid-range jumpers and isolation plays due to the lack of an outside shot and lack of creativity, which can be frustrating to watch.
The addition of Jamal Crawford adds some instant offensive firepower from all over the floor. Crawford can create his own shot and his ability to collapse the defense will allow fellow teammates to get open. It would also take some of the creative pressure out of Dragic and Wade’s hands, as Crawford has shown he is one of the best ball handlers in the league.
A former two-time Sixth Man of the Year, Crawford would provide a spark off the bench but has also shown his ability to step up into a starting role over the course of his career. This is of course important in Miami's attempts to keep Dwyane Wade fresh for the playoffs, as the star shooting guard will no doubt miss some games throughout the year to stay healthy.
Although the loss of Luol Deng would mean giving up some perimeter solidarity on defense over the course of the season, rookie Justise Winslow has shown he is able to step up into the role and the extra minutes would help in his development.
The Pelicans need defensive help badly
New Orleans has had a rough start to the year and are currently ranked dead last in overall team defense. The Pelicans can’t seem to guard anyone on the perimeter, giving up a league high 39 percent on three point attempts.
Granted, much of this has to do with the abundance of injuries the team has faced, but with the return of guards Tyreke Evans and Jrue Holiday, both All-Star caliber players, combined with the dominant Anthony Davis down low, there should be no real issues in creating scoring opportunities moving forward.
Luol Deng would slide in as the starting small forward on the team and despite some inconsistencies, is still an upgrade over Alonzo Gee and Quincy Pondexter. Deng is still a very good perimeter defender and has the ability to score the basketball when called upon to do so. Deng has gained the nickname “one through four” during his time in Miami due to his ability to guard almost every position on the court.
C.J. Wilcox is a low contract risk and would not add much to the New Orleans cap when acquired. Drafted in 2014, Wilcox has spent the majority of his time in the D-League, playing just 21 games last season, but could still prove to be a nice prospect for New Orleans if acquired.
The Clippers get another scorer who can play down the stretch and help close out games
There were rumors of Doc Rivers pursuing a trade for Ryan Anderson last season but ultimately, the Hornets were not interested in the trade at the time. However, if given this opportunity, Anderson would be the perfect fit into Doc Rivers' offense. Anderson would bring in a much needed stretch-four the Clippers have been desperate to find, as clearly Josh Smith hoisting three’s has done more harm than good.
Anderson could play in front of DeAndre Jordan, causing defenders to leak out and stop the potential three point threat. This would open up space for the 7-footer to clean the glass, as well as find easier scoring chances at the basket with less defenders in the way.
A career 85 percent free throw shooter, Anderson could also play late in games alongside Blake Griffin, preventing teams from utilizing the infamous ‘Hack-A-Jordan” tactic on DeAndre Jordan and Josh Smith that has cost the Clippers so many wins. Blake Griffin has also drawn double teams late in games and Anderson’s scoring presence would certainly relieve that defensive pressure.
The trade is a clear win for all three teams, as the Heat get their creative guard who can help on the perimeter, New Orleans gets a solid defender to bolster a defensive unit in much need of change, and the Clippers receive another scoring threat with the ability to close out games in crunch time. There is certainly a long way to go in this NBA season and it may not be time to panic just yet, but there are clearly some glaring issues that can be addressed early if teams are willing to talk.