NBA Contenders That Failed to Answer Their Biggest Trade-Deadline Question

The NBA trade deadline reshaped the league in a significant way, but the wave of change didn’t touch every team.

A handful of contenders emerged Thursday afternoon looking a lot like they did Thursday morning, complete with the same strengths and weaknesses.

Here, we’ll hit contenders that either didn’t make deals at all or didn’t trade for help in the areas they needed it most, pulling in part from this piece a few weeks ago.

We’ll exclude the Philadelphia 76ers and Brooklyn Nets because their massive James Harden-for-Ben Simmons swap addressed their biggest issues but created plenty of new ones. We haven’t seen enough yet to be sure what those even are. In addition, we’ll omit the Milwaukee Bucks, who covered for the absence of Brook Lopez by adding Serge Ibaka, and the Miami Heat, who lead the East and don’t have a weakness to speak of.

Otherwise, the field is limited to teams sitting in the top four in each conference.

All of these clubs could still improve via internal growth or the buyout market. But they also just missed on their best chance to perfect themselves.

Chicago Bulls

The Chicago Bulls had to decide at the deadline whether Patrick Williams was a core piece. He was their ticket to a defensive upgrade on the wing, perhaps in a trade for the Detroit Pistons’ Jerami Grant.

It seems Williams will be a long-hauler in Chicago. The Bulls held onto the second-year forward.

The prognosis on Williams’ wrist injury improved over the last several weeks, and he may yet be able to return with enough time to ramp up for the playoffs. But even if he’s back in the fold, Chicago will head into the playoffs without a proven shutdown defender to throw at bigger wings. That could be a problem for a team that defended at a bottom-five clip since the calendar flipped to 2022.

Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso can handle the point of attack (when healthy), and Derrick Jones Jr. is a solid option, especially in zone looks. But Jones has dealt with a bone bruise in his knee and fractured his index finger during rehab; he may not be back until late March.

Chicago had the ammo to improve a problem area, and it decided to hold its fire at the deadline. We’ll see if that comes back to bite the Bulls.

Cleveland Cavaliers

The Cleveland Cavaliers added Caris LeVert prior to the deadline, which gave them a badly needed second ball-handler.

At the risk of raining on the Cavs’ parade, LeVert isn’t an ideal fit because of his suspect shooting, and he may not be enough to address the dearth of backcourt playmaking that has hurt Cleveland all year.

Remember, the Cavs lost both Collin Sexton and Ricky Rubio. Darius Garland’s development into an All-Star has been remarkable, but he’s had one of the heavier lifts in the league with so little guard help around him.

Author: Lucy Green