As of today, most teams are past the 30 game mark, giving fans a good sample size to judge how their teams are doing. Perhaps your team started out hot and has recently cooled, or your team stumbled out of the gate and has seemed to get back on track. Most teams outside of the elite three or four elite teams in the NBA are trying to find their footing and make the monumental decision of what direction their franchise will go for the rest of 2017. Some squads will try to improve their roster at the February trade deadline by acquiring players that an help in them in the short term. Some squads will decide to make moves for the future and look to trade their current assets for picks or young players that will help beyond 2017. These thoughts and decisions have franchise-altering ramifications, whether they are positive or negative is hard to tell. Here are some NBA teams that look to toe that line in the coming weeks.
Detroit Pistons: The Andre Drummond led Detroit Pistons shocked many fans and analysts at the beginning of this season when they started 14-6 going into December. They were not only getting wins but were smashing teams as they went along, winning by double digits almost every time. Unfortunately the Pistons have stalled as of late, losing seven consecutive games. Their fans (including Rob, Chadd and sort of myself) are reeling, this team when from being an honest-to-goodness Eastern Conference contender to the ninth seed in a quick stretch. Their success was fueled the resurrection of Reggie Jackson, who after much criticism over his inability to take a back seat in his role for Detroit, finally gelled with Stan Van Gundy’s philosophy and has been a fine player in 2017. For the Pistons to have sustained success for the rest of the season and have any chance at a playoff run, Jackson and Drummond (my current candidate for Most Improved Player) will have to get back to their early season ways and continue to be the tenacious tandem they were to start the season.
How to Improve: The best chance for the Pistons to improve and reestablish their contender status would be to get back to their early season ways and by acquiring a new forward. Although Stanley Johnson has shown that he has the potential to be a solid NBA player and Tobias Harris has truly blossomed, the Pistons need to grab one more player who can play on the wing to help build depth at that position and be able to help the team rotation. A team like Denver or Chicago have a surplus at forward (Wilson Chandler/Kenneth Faried and Bobby Portis/Nikola Mirotic respectively) and would be good candidates to make a trade with.
Verdict: Not Tank
Memphis Grizzlies: One of the largest roster shifts that prospered over the 2017 offseason happened in Memphis. The Grizzlies moved on from veteran mainstays Tony Allen and Zach Randolph while bringing in newcomers Tyreke Evans and Ben McLemore. This change of pace was initially great for the Griz, they started off as one of the NBA’s hottest teams at 8-4 through November 7th. Since this stretch, Memphis has gone on to lose 11 straight, plummeting them down to near the bottom of the Western conference. A large contributor to the recent ways of Memphis was an Achilles injury to Mike Conley. Since Conley left the lineup the team has been in a complete tailspin, landing them at the 14th spot in the West currently. While the team was able to have some success with a healthy roster, it may be time to face the truth for the Grizzles. The skid they were on has knocked them far out of playoff consideration. Even if Conley comes back and the team can find a similar rhythm to what they had to start the year, their best possible scenario would be to crawl into the playoff as face one of the Western Conference juggernauts (Houston, Golden State or San Antonio) in the first round, a series I would not bet on them winning. Another factor that makes things merky for Memphis is the Marc Gasol situation. He has been vocal about his displeasure at time during this season. So much so, that it cause the team to let their head coach David Fizzdale, a seemingly competent coach. While his feud with the team simmered once Fizzdale was ousted, the damage he caused to the team dynamic became apparent and his overall love for his situation became suspect. Gasol could, and should, be the first item sold in the demolition and rebuild of the Grizzles.
How to Improve: Trading both Gasol and Conley would be the best option for the Grizzles so that they could fully restock their team with young talent and start with a completely clean slate. However, with Conley’s injury and massive contract, his would be the harder of the two to move for just young pieces. That being said, if Memphis could only make one move this season it would be best to move Gasol. The demand for elite centers in the trade market are extremely high and a lot of teams would surely pay handsomely for Gasol’s services. One such trade that makes sense would be sending him to Cleveland for the right to the Net’s 2018 first round pick and someone to match his contract, like Tristan Thompson or so on. Another team that could be a good fit for Gasol would be the Washington Wizards. A trade centered around Otto Porter would be best for both parties. It gives the Grizzles an up and coming wing player to build around while Washington gets another elite player to use in their quest for an Eastern conference championship. Either way, Memphis is best off completing the steps for the rebuild that they started last offseason.
Oklahoma City Thunder: When you look back at the awesomeness that was the 2017 offseason, one of the biggest talking points from that time will be the moves made by the Oklahoma City Thunder. Sam Presti came in with a mission to improve the roster around his homegrown star Russell Westbrook. He made majestic moves in that time: pulling off the blockbuster trade of Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis for Paul George; sending Enes Kanter, Doug McDermott and a second round pick to New York for Carmelo Anthony; signing some nice role players in Patrick Patterson and Raymond Felton. It was heralded as a success by many fans and analysts, pushing the expectations for this Thunder team sky high. But much like George Bush’s time aboard the U.S.S Abraham Lincoln, things have not quite been accomplished yet. Oklahoma City has had an extremely up and down season in 2017. At times they look as though they can be among the contenders in the West, but at others they look as though they belong in the basement of the league. For example, on the week of November 20th, the Thunder hosted a healthy Golden State Warriors squad that is as elite as they come in the NBA. Oklahoma City controlled the night and all three of their star players played well, giving them a 108-91 victory. This win was to stand as the moment the tide turned for this team and they would fully meet their aspirations for the rest of the season. The Thunder’s response? Going on a three game losing streak that included a 16 point loss to the Dallas Mavericks, a team clearly tanking for the future. No one can get a clean grasp on this team, they cannot find their full footing in their first year together. This should not be all that surprising, history has shown that these newly formed “superteams” need some time to fully develop the chemistry and timing that can make these rosters so effective. Look at both the LeBron James Miami Heat and his second return to Cleveland, both of those situations took a long period of time to fully come to fruition (the Miami case taking all of 2010 to fully form). Even the Golden State Warriors had some growing pains when Kevin Durant came to town. It took them a few months at the beginning of 2016 to find out how to best use him and now they have one of the best squads in NBA history. The extremely unfortunate thing for the Thunder is the short amount of time they have to make this work. Unlike the teams previously mentioned, there is not a lot of firm commitment to this roster after this season. George will be a free agent after this season, and even if he elects to come back, he will certainly shop around before making a final decision, making him a very questionable option for their future. Anthony has another year on his contract, but could opt out and be a free agent this offseason if he so chooses. There is a real possibility that Oklahoma City could have been stripped and built back up in 2017, only to end up being bare again in 2018. The next few weeks will be extremely important for the Thunder and should lay out the best course of action for their team.
How to Improve: The Thunder are in possibly the stickiest situation in all of the NBA. They have not played up to expectations and could possibly sell off some of their talent for future picks, but their top assets are almost untradeable. No team is going to give fair value for Anthony or George. Both are projected to leave for free agency in 2018 so any team that trades for them would be purely renting the players until they leave in June. Even if a team was interested in a player, like the Lakers allegedly are with George for example, why would they send the Thunder any assets when they can just sign them this offseason for free? With this option off the table, some would say they should look into adding pieces to the roster to bolster it for the playoffs. Unfortunately, this isn’t much of an option either. Presti sold a lot of their depth to make these superstar moves, leaving their talented starting five and not much else. The best bet for the Thunder is to stand put, try to maneuver the roster they have and hope at some point the chemistry clicks for them to make a deep playoff run.
Verdict: Not Tank
Los Angeles Clippers: One team that stood at the edge of obliteration this offseason was the Los Angeles Clippers. With both of their star players Chris Paul and Blake Griffin heading to free agency, it looked as those the Staples Center’s step child would have a whole new look in 2017-2018. While some moves were made (mainly Paul being traded to Houston), the Clippers keep things fairly the same this past offseason by resigning Griffin to a five year/$173 million extension. This move along with the additions from the Paul trade (Sam Dekker, Patrick Beverly, Lou Williams, a first round draft pick and other players) were to breathe new life in to Clip City and elevate them past their stagnated status. And briefly, it did. Los Angeles started the season 5-2 and looked to be on their way to contention in the West. Unfortunately the wheels feel of the wagon, literally, and the Clippers season has been derailed. After their hot start, the team went on a seven game losing streak and suffered injuries to major contributors like Blake Griffin (out until January or February) and Beverly (out for the rest of the season). These injuries and losing ways have submarined the Clippers and they are now faced with the tough decision as to what to do with the rest of this year.
How to Improve: While the time is not in a position to completely blow the team up as Griffin untradeable right now dues to his new contract and injury, the Clippers can still make some moves to turn a few of their veterans into future assets. One obvious move would be to trade Deandre Jordan. His contract expires at the end of this year and would make a nice addition to a team that is looking for one more player to make their playoff push. One team that could make a good fit for Jordan is the Cavs. Assuming they don’t a trade for Marc Gasol, a similar offer could work for Jordan (the Net’s 2018 first round pick and Tristan Thompson). Another team that could be a landing spot for Jordan is the Milwaukee Bucks. A trade involving Jabari Parker, young player that still has a lot to prove when he is healthy, and another salary to match like John Henson could be an excellent fit for the Clippers.