Brian Byrnes discusses potential deals that could make teams ready for a championship run this season.

So we are already about 20 percent through the NBA season. And while the standings are still shaping up, there are four teams on the fringe of title contention that can put themselves over the top with the right trade.

Right now the Thunder, Heat, Grizzlies and Cavaliers are in this delicate position. There’s only one thing to do at a time like this; bust out ESPN’s trade machine and see what happens. There are just a couple things to note before we get into it.

  • All trades are deemed successful by the ESPN Trade Machine.
  • Draft picks were excluded for the sake of simplicity. Obviously, they’d be involved in the real trades.

Now let’s get started.


Oklahoma City Thunder receive: F Taj Gibson

Chicago Bulls receive: G/F Dion Waiters, G Cameron Payne

Gibson is a fan favorite in Chicago for many reasons. He is extremely fast for a big man, plays great defense and has a solid post game. He can shoot 15-footers and operate in the paint. He would be a starting power forward almost anywhere else, but he’s surrounded by the loaded frontcourt of the Bulls. He has had less of a role every year for the Bulls, and as crazy as it seems, he is expendable.

The biggest hurdle for the Thunder will be dealing with the size of the Clippers and Spurs and versatility of the Warriors. If Serge Ibaka, Enes Kanter or Steven Adams get in foul trouble, the Thunder have no other reliable big men to match up with the likes of the Spurs or Clippers. Getting Gibson would solidify a shaky frontcourt.

Their interior defense would be much improved since Ibaka and Adams could switch with Gibson, and Durant wouldn’t have to take a beating on defense playing power forward. Gibson could try center against smaller lineups with Durant at the power forward spot, and his mid-range shooting would provide floor spacing.

The biggest problem for the Thunder in recent playoff runs has been a lack of post-up offense. In the 2014 western conference finals, the Spurs packed the paint, leaving Durant and Russell Westbrook to take jumpers. With no one to throw the ball to down low, Westbrook, Durant and Ibaka became volume jump shooters and lost 4-2 to the Spurs. With Gibson, the Thunder would have a guy besides Kanter who can score in the post and Durant and Westbrook could take less of the load offensively. That would be crucial for the Thunder want to make it out of the wild western conference.


Miami Heat receive: F Carmelo Anthony

New York Knicks receive: F Luol Deng, F Josh McRoberts, F Chris Andersen, F Justice Winslow

Miami has a good, well-rounded team. They have a go-to-guy for the fourth quarter in Dwyane Wade, a true stretch 4 in Chris Bosh and a good rim protector in Hassan Whiteside, along with an offensive spark plug in Goran Dragic. What they need is an automatic scorer to help improve the offense, and someone who can match up with LeBron James in the playoffs. Carmelo Anthony is just that guy.

Thanks to the Knicks surprising 8-7 start, Phil Jackson may want to hang onto to ‘Melo and try to get into the playoffs. Realistically, since the Knicks have little chance of winning in the postseason, Carmelo may want to get out while he is still in the prime of his career. Jackson could get a lot of young talent for Anthony, as well as draft picks. If Anthony really wants to win, and Phil Jackson really wants to rebuild, then this trade could work.

With all the weapons that would surround him, his percentages should increase since the defense has to respect the other scorers for the Heat. Miami would be able to go small and let Anthony play power forward. He has dominated in the past, (Career 28.0 ppg at PF) and Bosh could play at center in crunch time. The only risk for Miami is mortgaging the future and giving up Justice Winslow. The trade would still work without Winslow, but the Knicks would likely want him as a young piece to develop along with Kristaps Porzingis.

As of right now, Miami’s ceiling is reaching the conference finals. They need that extra crunch time scorer that they can run the offense through, and someone to give Wade some rest. With Anthony scoring 18-20 points through the first three quarters, Wade can coast through games and then take over down the stretch alongside Anthony and Bosh when it’s time to close the deal. If Pat Riley, one of the all-time NBA Titans, can pull this trade off, it could pay off in a big way in the playoffs.


Memphis Grizzlies Receive: Kyle Korver, Shelvin Mack

Atlanta Hawks Receive: Courtney Lee, Matt Barnes

This is certainly an unlikely of the trades, but a fun one to ponder nonetheless. Korver does so much for the Hawks, and is a big part of their identity. It is unlikely that they would part ways with him, but if the Grizzlies could pull it off without giving up one of their core players, it could push them from fringe second round team to a true title contender. The Hawks in return would get a knock down shooter of their own in Courtney Lee, and Matt Barnes, who could fill the defensive void left by the offseason departure of DeMarre Carroll.

Memphis Achilles heel has been the same for years; perimeter shooting. On paper, they are the most old-school basketball team you can find, and boy, it is refreshing. Conley is the fundamentally sound floor general, Randolph and Gasol are back-to-the-basket and post up big men, Jeff Green is a traditional small forward and Tony Allen’s whole offense is based on cuts to the basket. In the age of small ball, this team plays smash mouth, half-court basketball, and just punishes teams with their size. It is simply awesome that this team can be this successful just by going against the NBA norms.

If the Grizzlies had a shooter as lethal as Korver on their team, they would finally have someone to kick out to when Gasol and Randolph draw double teams, and someone to offset the lack of offense between Tony Allen and Matt Barnes. In match-ups with the Thunder or Spurs, the Grizzlies could still go big with Z-Bo and Gasol, and against the Warriors they could play with four shooters around Gasol at center.

The Grizzlies are only a piece or two away, but I don’t think this team gets fair consideration as a true contender. If they were in the eastern conference (which, geographically speaking, they should be) they would hands down be the best challenge for the Cavaliers. They have beaten the Clippers, Thunder and Spurs in past playoffs with this core group, and one lethal shooter can really put them into the conversation as Finals favorites. However, they need to act soon; their title window is rapidly closing.


Cleveland Cavaliers Receive: F Lance Stephenson

Los Angeles Clippers Receive: F Anderson Verajao

This one is really fun for me, but also highly unlikely. It could work for both teams, and it’s very low risk. Although the Cavaliers are favorites to get to the finals, they should not be the favorites to win them with their current roster.

Stephenson is a coiled spring, and no one in the NBA knows which way he’s going to pop. He is currently buried on the Clippers bench despite their weakness at small forward. It doesn’t seem like he will pass Austin Rivers or Jamal Crawford on the depth chart at shooting guard either. This time next year, I could see Stephenson being an all-star on another team, or out of the league.

Anderson Verajao is not always healthy, but he is still a skilled big man who can play power forward or center. The Clippers could use him to put in late game situations to neutralize DeAndre Jordan’s free throw shooting. Verajao is also a good veteran presence and someone who has played in an NBA finals. His presence would be much better suited than Stephenson for the Clippers’ locker room.

Stephenson is a fierce competitor and is entertaining. He was truly one of my favorite players these last couple years, but it looks like he is running out of chances. Two years ago he led the league in triple doubles, and now he is getting DNPs by coach’s decision. He is a quality player, but only in the right situation. He had stability in Indiana and would need a stable environment with proven leaders, like LeBron James.

If Lance could swallow his pride and play with his former arch nemesis, he could be the missing piece that the Cavaliers need to win the title. He’s a 6’5”playmaker who matches up well with multiple positions. He’s a better perimeter defender than J.R. Smith, and better offensive weapon than Iman Shumpert. If the Cavaliers were to meet the Warriors again in this year’s finals, Stephenson would be able to play against the likes of Klay Thompson, Shaun Livingston or Andre Iguodala, and could also make them work on defense.

The Cavaliers already have a formidable roster, but they are still one piece away. They can cruise to the finals in the eastern conference, but their lack of depth at the wing will be exposed again. With a lineup of Irving, Stephenson, James, Love and Thompson, the Cavaliers would be deadly, and finally have their best chance of bringing Cleveland an NBA championship.

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