ENIGMAS: Bulls, Suns, Timberwolves, Kings, Pelicans
These five teams have the toughest decisions heading into the trade deadline. All of them have talented, young players who could greatly benefit from making the playoffs. Yet all of them are at least a star away from being competitive in the playoffs. All of them have shown flashes of competence this season, and each has looked inept at other times. A young franchise player (Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns, Phoenix’s Devin Booker, etc.) could get wandering eyes if his team tanks. However, not tanking and sacrificing future assets could put a permanent first-round ceiling on these franchises for years to come.
The Bulls (13-23) should NOT TANK. Chicago should also trade Zach LaVine (23.4 ppg.). Wait, but he’s their best player, isn’t he? Well, he’s definitely the Bulls’ most talented player and the player they run their offense through (30.9 usage rate). On the other hand, he’s the worst defender in their rotation, a chucker on offense (18.7 FGA) and a below-average distributor (3.9 apg.) for someone with the ball in his hands so frequently. Trading LaVine to a team that desperately needs a bucket-getter (Sixers?) would yield the Bulls a nice return (probably a protected first-rounder and a young rotation player) and could have an addition-by-subtraction effect on the rest of Chicago’s roster (think of the Raptors trading Rudy Gay in 2013-14).
The Suns (13-21) should NOT TANK. Why would the Suns tank? I mean, they won the lottery in a draft that had a once-in-a-lifetime talent (Luka Doncic) and other future superstars (Trae Young, Jaren Jackson Jr.) and ended up with Deandre Ayton, a traditional big man in a sport where traditional big men are nearly extinct. Plus, I get the feeling their franchise player, Devin Booker, is about to get wandering eyes if the team keeps wasting years of his early prime.
The Timberwolves (13-21) should NOT TANK. Much like the Suns, the T’Wolves have an immensely talented franchise player in Towns (26.5 ppg., 11.7 rpg., 4.4 apg.) who already has teams (Warriors and Knicks) monitoring his situation. The team had no intention of tanking heading into this season and even got off to a hot start, so giving up on the season when they’re still within striking distance of the No. 8 seed would be a bad visual.
The Kings (13-22) should NOT TANK … for now. Things are starting to unravel a bit in Sacramento, with Buddy Hield questioning coaches’ trust in him and Dewayne Dedmon demanding a trade. However, tanking isn’t the option for this team because it is capped out and has young, talented players on its roster who would greatly benefit from playoff experience. The Kings should trade Dedmon, deal Bogdan Bogdanovic so that they don’t lose him for nothing this offseason, and let De’Aaron Fox do what he does best: fast break. (The Kings are the slowest team in the NBA. Last season they were fifth fastest.)
The Pelicans (11-23) should WAIT until Zion Williamson returns to decide whether to tank or not. Williamson’s anticipated debut is reportedly going to come in January, which should give the Pelicans at least a couple of weeks to determine whether to consider offers for the likes of Jrue Holiday, JJ Redick, Derrick Favors and Lonzo Ball -– all of whom could yield significant returns. If Zion comes back looking anything like he did during the preseason, New Orleans should try to make a run for the playoffs. If it struggles, the Pelicans should worry about the future and focus on getting their young, talented roster as much experience as possible.