The Celtics aren’t the only team staring disappointment in the mirror as they pass the quarter pole of the regular season.
A host of teams across both conferences are looking at very underwhelming starts in the face of high expectations. While Danny Ainge is expected to be a patient man when it comes to shuffling the deck with this mostly younger core, other franchises may benefit from a bit of a shakeup. Which teams and players should you keep an eye on in the coming weeks as December 15th (the day teams can start trading free agents) approaches? Let’s examine the possibilities:
Injuries to James Harden and other role players within their rotation have been a factor within their 9-9, start but the numbers don’t lie about Houston’s defensive woes. After losing a couple of their key rotation cogs, they have regressed into a bottom-seven defense in the NBA. The team replaced standouts like Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute with James Ennis and Carmelo Anthony, and the results have gone like everyone expected. They are getting killed on the defensive glass, fouling more than anyone else in the West, and allowing opponents to take the second-most 3-pointers in the league. They have already brought back their former top defensive assistant (Jeff Bzdelik) out of retirement and sent Anthony home for good to help address the problems, but that isn’t solving what is largely a personnel issue across the roster. P.J. Tucker, Clint Capela and Chris Paul are the only above-average defensive pieces in the rotation right now, and they aren’t collectively good enough to make up for others' mistakes.
What do they need on the trade market? The sense of urgency is real for this group, especially given the age of Chris Paul. The rumors swirling around Jimmy Butler were very much real, but the fact that the Rockets lacked younger appealing trade pieces loomed large in those talks. There is literally nothing at the bottom of the roster that moves the needle for potential suitors. If Daryl Morey is going to make a meaningful move, he’s going to have to sacrifice multiple first round picks with a bad salary (Brandon Knight) or shake up his rotation by moving a key piece (Gordon, Tucker). Those guys are vital components of this roster, so the guess here is that Morey is going to have to mortgage some of his future picks in order to turn this team back into a real contender. A versatile defensive wing is the top priority on the wish list, something they may have to wait until the buyout market hits to acquire.