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Contenders Have Needs, Too

In a shortened NBA season in which unpredictability has reigned, it’s only appropriate that we are a week away from a trade deadline which could either be a landscape-changer or an uneventful dud.

We’ve all heard Dwight Howard and Rajon Rondo bandied about as the two major names who could potentially get moved, but Magic management (primarily CEO Alex Martins and GM Otis Smith) have remained steadfast that their first priority is holding onto their superstar, while Celtics GM Danny Ainge has no incentive to rush the trade of his dynamic 26-year-old point guard (unless the locker room atmosphere is more toxic than we think).

Beyond the two All-Star talents, the pickings are slim, with few other names (Chris Kaman? Jamal Crawford?) being tossed around.

On the other hand, things seem almost too quiet. The NBA championship is, after all, very much up for grabs. The Western Conference, in particular, looks particularly ripe for the taking, with Dallas having a bumpy title defense thus far and no other contender – Oklahoma City, San Antonio or either Los Angeles team – looking infallible. Even in the East, Chicago still faces questions of secondary scoring and Heat fans were reminded of the dangers of Dwyane Wade’s all-out playing style after his injury scare against the Nets.

There’s no sense in speculating on other names that might be made available in the next seven days, as it’s impossible to know which GM’s are making which players available. However, with most teams arriving at 40 games played this year, some clarity is emerging in terms of specific areas of need among some of the contending teams.

*Note: Among possible contenders, you’ll notice I’ve omitted Miami, Philadelphia, San Antonio and Memphis from the teams mentioned below. The Heat have the necessary personnel in place barring injury, the Sixers are a balanced club that may simply lack the talent needed to join Miami and Chicago as East favorites and the Spurs and Grizzlies will be bolstered by players who have returned (San Antonio’s Manu Ginobli) or will soon return (Memphis’ Zach Randolph) from injury.

Need: Scoring
Teams: Bulls, Lakers

Hard to find much fault in the 32-8 Bulls, but the 2011-12 version of the club still isn’t much different from the ’10-11 version that fell short in the Eastern Finals against the Heat, largely because no one else stepped up once Derrick Rose and Luol Deng were held in check. The good news is that Carlos Boozer looks to be leaner and meaner, but his scoring has also dropped almost 2.5 points per game as the team embraces more of an offense-by committee approach. A healthy Rip Hamilton may help, but GM Gar Forman may still take action if there’s a fit to be found.

For the Lakers, it’s all in the stats: the team ranks 22nd in per game scoring despite boasting the league’s leading scorer. Kobe Bryant is clearly doing his part (28.7 ppg) and the Pau Gasol/Andrew Bynum front court, while often maligned, is producing 33.4 points per game. However, that’s where the contributors end, as the next-highest scoring Laker is Matt Barnes at 6.8 points. L.A. is clearly missing Lamar Odom (although, then again, so is Dallas).

Need: Size
Teams: Mavericks, Rockets

If only there was some defensive-minded big man available – someone who, you know, could rebound, block shots and defend the interior. Someone like, say, Tyson Chandler. Fact is, the Mavs have been missing Chandler all season long. While no Mav has managed more than 6.7 rebounds per game, Chandler has been pulling down 9.8 in New York.

Houston isn’t a championship contender, but they have developed a dynamic back court of Kyle Lowry and Kevin Martin. However, opposing defenses can zero in on the duo without any inside forces to contend with. Luis Scola has a few reliable low post moves, but doesn’t possess the size or strength of his rival big men.

Need: Scoring Up Front
Team: Thunder

Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka provide plenty of rebounding, defense and toughness, but not a whole lot of scoring. The addition of a guy like Kaman (sorry, I know I said I wouldn’t suggest names) could open up even more scoring opportunities for Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, not to mention James Harden.

Need: Shooting
Team: Clippers

Current stats would indicate that shooting isn’t much of an issue for the Clippers, who rank 10th league-wide in field goal percentage and 11th in three-point percentage. However, those numbers say more about the amount of attention commanded by the Blake Griffin / DeAndre Jordan front line, as well as the tendency of defenders to play off of point guard Chris Paul (he currently owns a .423% mark from the three-point line). A sharpshooter like Ray Allen (I know, I know!) could be that final piece that cements them – already – as bona fide contenders.

Need: Point Guard Help
Team: Magic

Hidden behind the cover of the Howard saga is the sobering reality that Jameer Nelson isn’t getting the job done at the point in Orlando. The recently-turned-30-year-old has hit a career nadir point in terms of field goal percentage, turnover rate and three-point percentage. While most clubs would face a tricky proposition when it comes to introducing a point guard to a new offense with the stretch run so imminent, the Magic run a fundamentally simple offense based on surrounding Howard with perimeter shooters, so a floor general change would be feasible if Smith could find a reasonable fit.

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