Players, teams to watch as NBA trade deadline looms
The title contenders do not appear likely to shake up their rotations in pursuit of a major move, and there are no All-Stars known to be on the market as the NBA trade deadline approaches. Then again, isn't this a week for surprises? Here is a look at the landscape leading up to the finish line for trades on Thursday at 3 p.m. ET:
The biggest names
Josh Smith, the Hawks' versatile 6-foot-9 power forward, has played in 46 playoff games over the last five years but has never been in an All-Star Game. He was on the All-Defensive second team in 2009-10, and he has ranked in the top 10 in blocks for six of the last seven years.
The Hawks, who appear reluctant to commit huge money to Smith as a free agent this summer, have been gauging the 27-year-old's value. Smith said recently that he views himself as a max player, which, if he sticks to that target, is going to reduce interest over the next few days. A number of teams are interested in Smith's ability to impact the game at both ends and in transition as an athletic scorer and playmaker. But he'll be an expensive hire who will be demanding a long-term investment.
Most of the biggest names known to be available this week are impending free agents. The Jazz could choose to move center Al Jefferson and/or power forward Paul Millsap, who are both on expiring contracts. The Jazz have younger, cheaper replacements in Derrick Favors (a future star, they hope) and Enes Kanter.
"I think they'll trade one of them because they can't keep both,'' a rival general manager said. "But I'm never sure which one will go. One day I think it's going to be Jefferson, and the next day it will be Millsap.''
A trade for Millsap or Jefferson will carry the same responsibility as any deal for Smith -- the acquiring team must protect the investment by being confident in its ability to re-sign him in the offseason.
Another imminent free agent who could be moved is Orlando shooting guard J.J. Redick, who is in his prime years with mature skills that are suited to help a playoff team. The Magic are headed for the lottery and are unlikely to meet the contract numbers that will greet the 28-year-old Redick on the open market this summer.
Veteran shooting guard Ben Gordon has made it clear that he wants out of Charlotte. His scoring off the bench would help any playoff team.
Raptors president Bryan Colangelo has suggested a willingness to move former No. 1 pick Andrea Bargnani as part of his overhaul of Toronto. The Bulls have reportedly shown interest in an exchange centered on Bargnani for Carlos Boozer, who is having a strong year in the absence of Derrick Rose.
The Celtics are gauging the value of their entire roster. The most important -- and dangerous -- trade they could make would involve 35-year-old franchise star Paul Pierce, whose departure as the main ball handler could plummet Boston into the lottery. If Pierce were to be traded, would Kevin Garnett change his mind about a deal (he has a no-trade clause) -- or might the 36-year-old big man consider an early retirement with two years left on his contract? Either of those Celtics would become the most accomplished player on the market this week.
The title favorites
Four teams are positioned above the rest of the league -- the defending champion Heat, the defending finalist Thunder, the Clippers of All-Star MVP Chris Paul and the eternally contending Spurs -- and none of them appears committed to making a deal by the end of the week. The Clippers have shown well-known interest in acquiring Garnett, who has vowed to exercise his no-trade clause to remain with the Celtics. The Spurs have been linked to potential frontcourt trades with Utah for Jefferson or with Atlanta for Smith. But those players' imminent contract demands may threaten the discipline that has long defined San Antonio's payroll.
Neither Miami nor Oklahoma City has appeared to show interest in a trade, and for good reason. The Heat won seven straight games entering the All-Star break with the healthiest rotation among all of the title contenders, while the Thunder have looked more interested in bonding their team rather than introducing more new faces after trading James Harden to Houston in October. It would be a surprise if any NBA trade in the next few days turns out to be bigger than the Harden deal.
In fact, the race in the East may be influenced more heavily by the potential returns of Rose to the Bulls and Danny Granger to the Pacers, if those stars are able to recover from knee injuries in time to make a difference this season.
Mavericks owner Mark Cuban acknowledges that he is seeking a big-time talent in exchange for the cap space and expiring contracts he has been amassing for the last two years. The Pistons and Suns could be seeking to make a preemptive trade, as opposed to waiting until the summer to make use of their cap space.
The Bucks have an opportunity to make a big trade, given their wealth of young talent, including their backcourt of imminent free agents Monta Ellis (unrestricted) and Brandon Jennings (restricted). The rebuilding Wizards and Cavaliers would also be interested in a trade for the long term.
Though this is shaping up to be a weak week of big-name activity, there should nonetheless be a flurry of lesser moves, along with the potential surprise for a blockbuster that no one saw coming.