Upgrading the Frontcourt: How Feasible Is It?

Although in our hearts it’s always trade season, we’re less than 2 months away from the official NBA trade deadline and internet commenters like myself will need to start ramping up if we want to be at the top of our trade machine games by the time February 9th rolls around. There’s been plenty of chatter about how the Bucks can shore up their wing defense – despite their great start to the season, I think most of us can agree it would be good to add another player who could slot next to Giannis in a small-ball or closing lineup, even just as an insurance policy in case Wes/Ingles don’t have enough in the tank at this point in their careers. I took a look around the league to see who could potentially be available and what they might add to this Bucks team.

A few assumptions I made:

*They probably won’t trade the vets. Nwora and Allen are the only players they’d shop around, so for salary-matching purposes, the Bucks would be looking at players making $14.4 million or less this year.

*They’re looking for either a PJ Tucker type who can play power forward while Giannis plays center, or maybe a small-ball center who can switch while Giannis stays at power forward (Larry Nance Jr., Maxi Kleber types of players). Upgrading other areas is possible too but not a priority.

*Their best trade chips are MarJon, the 2029 1st round pick, and the 2028 1st round pick swap, probably in that order. I don’t think they’ll trade any of the three unless it’s for a legit long-term contributor, so they’re probably limited to some 2nd round picks and the draft rights to Hugo Besson.

*The coaching staff would need to feel comfortable throwing them out there in crunch time or into a 9-man playoff rotation, so most developmental players are probably not the right fit. They would probably trade Nwora for a player like that but probably not Allen.

*Good teams aren't going to trade rotation players unless it's an overpay that the Bucks couldn't afford.


With all that being said, let’s take a look at the landscape and see how green it is out there!

Warriors: Not really seeing any marginal moves they’d want to make. I could see them making a move for a legit/reliable backup center which might make JaMychal Green expendable – his 3-point shooting percentages are not what they used to be but it’s also on super low volume. Great rebounder/hustle player, probably about as impactful as Jae Crowder to me and a million times more likable.

Clippers: A couple of scenarios here – they decide to swap some of their wing-sized players for an actual center to back up Zubac, or they decide Kawhi’s health won’t hold up for a long playoff run and try to trim their luxury tax bill (like they did last year when they dumped Ibaka). Nic Batum would be the best and therefore least likely option – great 1-on-1 wing defender, great in a switching defense, great shooter, and can be a secondary playmaker. I doubt they’ll let him go unless Kawhi is completely done. Robert Covington would be more likely to be moved since he is less versatile than Batum – more of a help defender than a 1-on-1 "stopper" and limited to catch-and-shoot 3s on the other end. Not too many players better at jumping the passing lanes but he doesn’t quite fit what the Bucks need – they need another Wes who can really dig in. Amir Johnson is interesting to me – I wanted the Bucks to sign him over the summer but he’s probably more of a 2/3 than a 3/4 and is one of the Clippers’ few cheap contracts so I don’t know about the fit there either.

Lakers: Seem to be trying to correct the same roster imbalance the Bucks are – swapping some of their guards for a wing.

Suns: The Jae Crowder connection is pretty obvious. Solid switch-y defender but not a 1-on-1 lockdown type – I’m not opposed but I think the Bucks could make a better move. Don’t see any other matches on the roster – looks like Torrey Craig is starting in Crowder’s place for now so that should paint a clear picture of their wing depth.

Kings: Team chemistry seems to be off the charts right now so I doubt they trade a rotation player unless it’s for a real upgrade. I also suspect they’ll be looking for the same type of player the Bucks are looking for.

Blazers: Justise Winslow is a legitimately good 1-on-1 defender but his shooting numbers are as dreadful as they’ve ever been – he can do some useful stuff on offense in a Draymond type of role but I don’t think he would be able to share the floor with Giannis in crunch time. He also seems to be a good locker room guy for Portland so I don’t know how likely they are to move him. Nassir Little was playing well before getting hurt but I don't know when he's supposed to return and his health has always been pretty questionable.

Nuggets: Zeke Nnaji might be a candidate for a change of scenery or at least a change of medical staff but is probably not a crunch time lineup guy at this moment.

Thunder: I really like Kenrich Williams as a 1-on-1 defender. He’s a passable 3-point shooter on Thanasis-esque volume and a bad free throw shooter – might bring the same spacing and intentional fouling issues that Winslow would but I feel like he could contribute as much offensively as PJ Tucker did. Doesn’t seem like it should cost too much to trade for him but the Thunder don’t seem to be too good at marginal moves so who knows.

Jazz: If the Bucks decide to abandon offense and go with the we-aren’t-scoring-but-neither-are-you approach, Jarred Vanderbilt is probably the best option. Great 1-on-1 defender, great rebounder, super high motor. I’m not really buying the 3-point shooting numbers since he’s only attempted 30 all year, but he’s young enough that some offensive development is still possible. The catch is that Danny Ainge runs this team and wants "significant draft compensation" for Vanderbilt. I don’t know if I’d give it to him. I might!

Timberwolves: They’ll definitely need to do something at the deadline given how poorly their pieces have fit so far. I could see Taurean Prince getting moved – kind of an uninspiring 3-and-D guy, good shooter, middling rebounder and defender. No idea if they’d move Kyle Anderson but he seems like a Bucks type of player, great glue guy and defender but not a reliable shooter.

Pelicans: Great season so far so they’re probably looking to upgrade somewhere or at least consolidate some of their end-of-bench guys. In other words, their rotation players are probably off limits but maybe Naji Marshall or Jaxson Hayes could be pried loose? I’d prefer Marshall of the two but I don’t know if I’d want either in a closing lineup tomorrow night.

Mavericks: Their next big move is probably a coaching change, but if things continue going sideways and they decide to tear their roster down to the studs, Dorian Finney-Smith might be one of the few role players I’d give up the ‘29 1st round pick for. Having a slow start to the year but a great defender and one of the best corner 3 shooters in the league, and young enough/under contract long enough that the Bucks wouldn’t have to worry about filling this role for a while. Kleber can't be traded until the summer because of the extension he signed.

Rockets: I was interested in Kenyon Martin Jr. over the summer when he asked for a trade, but I’m a little less interested in the middle of the season – he would probably benefit from a training camp with a non-tanking team. Still interested as a long-term play but I don’t think he’s a solution this year.

Spurs: More like San Antonio Sparse, folks, this roster is almost totally devoid of forwards.

Grizzlies: Nobody really fits the bill, but I think Dillon Brooks could guard up enough to be a 4 on a Bud team if Memphis is interested in moving on from him. I don’t endorse this idea but I find it plausible enough to include and intriguing in a grotesque kind of way.

Heat: They’ve been looking for an answer at the 4 themselves for a while now.

Hornets: PJ Washington looks the part but hasn’t been very impressive – I don’t think he’s consistent enough to throw into a closing lineup midseason. Same goes for Jalen McDaniels, although he would be an upgrade over Nwora.

Wizards: Probably going to shuffle some deck chairs soon. Obviously Kyle Kuzma is the name that comes up a lot and I think he’d be a good-not-great fit – he was really good in that small-ball lineup that propelled the Lakers to the championship despite not being a particularly good 1-on-1 defender, and he’s a pretty smart offensive player as well. He’s one of their best players so I think Washington would prefer to hold onto him – if the asking price is more than a couple of 2nd round picks, I don’t think I would do that without assurance that he would agree to a reasonable extension.

Hawks: Don’t see a feasible match here.

Magic: I’m no longer on board the Chuma Okeke Express. I don’t see a match here.

Pacers: A flyer on Oshae Brissett would have interested me over the summer – I’d still take him over Nwora, but if we’re looking for someone who is at least better than Wes, I don’t know if this is the guy.

Pistons: Similar to Brissett, I’d take a flyer on Saddiq Bey but that wouldn’t be particularly helpful in the short term.

Bulls: No idea whether they’ll push the rest of their chips in or sell off some of their vets but they need a 4 themselves so I don’t see a match here.

Cavs: Really only one quality 3-and-D wing in the rotation and I don’t see them trading him to a division rival.

Raptors: Some rumors of a firesale but I’m guessing it will be headlined by Fred Van Vleet and Gary Trent Jr. Other useful vets have their warts – Thad Young can still defend but is a mediocre shooter, I could talk myself into this move just because I’d love to see him get a ring. Otto Porter Jr. is currently out with a sprained toe and has no timetable to return – if he shows he’s healthy before the deadline, this seems like a possibility.

Celtics: Can’t imagine they’ll do the Bucks any favors.

Nets: Hard to see Yuta Watanabe getting moved unless they really tear it down to the studs. Maybe our old friend John Hammond could talk them into a 3-team deal where the Nets get Mo Bamba, the Bucks get Yuta and Seth Curry, and the Magic get Allen, Nwora, and the undying appreciation of the Lightning Rod Man.

Knicks: Supposedly shopping Cam Reddish around – I don’t think he’s a good fit, better than Nwora but not good at anything this Bucks team needs their roleplayers to be good at. I actually think the Suns would be the best landing spot for him, as he probably needs a Chris Paul-level control freak telling him exactly what to do and what not to do in order to carve out a career.

Sixers: If things go really sideways I’d happily accept draft pick compensation in exchange for absorbing the last 2.5 years of PJ Tucker’s contract.

All things considered, I would be sorely tempted to throw caution to the wind here. If you could get both Vanderbilt and Simone Fontecchio from the Jazz, you’d have your wing stopper for this year and next, plus a guy who could maybe give you what you were hoping to get from Bogdan Bogdanovic. I could talk myself into giving up the ‘29 1st for that.

But on the other hand I could also talk myself out of that… What do you think?

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