One of the neat developments in the NBA the past few seasons are the teams who see — or create — an avenue to win a championship and go for it.
No waiting around for the “perfect” time.
The Toronto Raptors did it 2019 when they acquired soon-to-be-free-agent Kawhi Leonard with no guarantee Leonard would stay with Toronto beyond that season. The Raptors didn’t re-sign Leonard. But they won a title with Leonard.
The Miami Heat signed Jimmy Butler in the summer of 2019 and Butler helped Miami reached the 2020 Finals. Though they didn’t win the title, the Heat remain a factor in the Eastern Conference.
The Phoenix Suns traded for Chris Paul just before the start of the 2020-21 season and the Suns won the Western Conference championship and remain a favorite in the West to return to the conference finals.
It doesn’t even have to be a championship-caliber team. It can be a team trying to improve its seed and ensure it won’t be in the play-in game format. Or, it could be a team like Chicago last season — making moves (acquiring Nik Vucevic) in preparation for the following season.
With that spirit in mind, let’s take a look at five teams who could or should make a move ahead of the Feb. 10 trade deadline and make a strong playoff push:
The 76ers need to make a move even if that means re-adjusting their expectations in a Ben Simmons trade. Given the wide-open nature of the Eastern Conference — just 2½ games separate spots one through six — it is necessary the Sixers take advantage of the situation, especially with Joel Embiid putting together an MVP-caliber season: 27.2 points, 10.5 rebounds and 4.2 assists while shooting 48.4% from the field and 38% on 3-pointers. Trade Simmons. Get players in return who can help the Sixers win a championship this season.
At this point, the Lakers are trying to 1) secure a playoff spot and 2) stay out of the play-in game format. Except for LeBron James’ play, this has been a disappointing season. Injuries and COVID haven’t helped. But it’s not like the Lakers were tearing up the league with Russell Westbrook and a healthy Anthony Davis. What can the Lakers do? They need to do something because this isn’t working. It’s on Rob Pelinka and his front office staff to figure it out because they are the ones who created this roster. It’s on them to fix it. If possible.
Often on the verge of doing something big in recent seasons — a league-best 52-20 record last season — the Jazz falter in the postseason, going no further than the conference semifinals in the past five seasons. Championship windows open and shut quickly. Yes, the Jazz have Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell signed to long-term deals, but the future also changes quickly in the NBA.
The Bulls began the process of improving the roster around Zach LaVine last year when they traded for Nikola Vucevic mid-season and then continued in the offseason, acquiring DeMar DeRozan, Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso. The front office, led by Arturas Karnisovas and Marc Eversley, has shown it is proactive — unwilling to just stand pat. The Bulls don’t need a major move, but a P.J. Tucker-like trade could push the Bulls closer to a conference title.
The Cavaliers are reminiscent of last season’s Hawks with a talented young guard (Darius Garland), young athletic bigs (Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley) and veterans (Kevin Love, Rajon Rondo, Cedi Osman). The injuries to Collin Sexton and Ricky Rubio really sting, but the Cavs are still in fourth place in the East, just 1½ games behind first-place Chicago and Miami. General manager Koby Altman doesn’t want to give up too much with such a solid future but perhaps some improvement around the edges could help.
Follow Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter @JeffZillgitt.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NBA trades: Why the 76ers, Lakers, Jazz and others need to make a move