Celtics, Lakers, Knicks among teams to watch leading up to NBA trade deadline
The pressure of the NBA's trade deadline puts team executives into overdrive, with each working their phones frantically in a last ditch effort to secure a player or draft pick of import. Every team is weighing its options and fielding offers, but a select group stands out as deadline week takes hold of the NBA world. Below is a collection of those very teams, many of which figure to be front and center as the rumor mill becomes a spectacle in itself.
Why they will make a move: There's just no reason to keep the current roster in place. Boston pulled the trigger on its rebuild last summer by trading away Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce at the perfect time, though a few tradable veterans still remain. Brandon Bass is a useful shooting big, though the $6.9 million he's owed next season is a touch on the high side. Jeff Green could likely be had for the right price. Danny Ainge will personally wash the car of any GM willing to take back the 2+ seasons remaining on Gerald Wallace's contract. Boston's new era will continue apace with or without those players, though a cleaner cap sheet would likely make the next stages of the rebuild a bit easier.
Then comes the Celtics' bigger-picture decision regarding Rajon Rondo. His talent is undeniable, and in the right circumstances the well-regarded point guard registers the on-court value of superstar. It's worth wondering, though, if Boston really wants to embrace the challenge of rebuilding around a notoriously stubborn ball handler who doesn't pose a scoring threat, hasn't managed consistent defensive effort in recent seasons, and whose contract will expire in 2015. Those "right circumstances" might be hard to come by for a Celtics team still so early in its rebuilding process, leading Boston to more seriously consider the prospect of trading its best player.
Why they won't: It's not as if the players Boston wants to trade are all that attractive at their current salaries, while the most interesting Celtic trade chip is easily the most difficult to price. Wallace earns enough to make him trade-prohibitive, while both Bass and Green pull salaries that teeter on the edge of what might be considered irresponsible spending. That won't likely stop the names of all three players from being pitched in various trade talks, though I wouldn't expect some enthusiastic buyer to be blowing up Ainge's phone with offers for any among them.
Rondo is sure to register more intrigue as a trade candidate, though as noted above (and as laid out by Tom Ziller here) he's not the easiest universal fit. For a team with the right amount of complementary offensive talent, Rondo could be worth quite a bit. But for a team without the shooters and finishers to make the most of Rondo's playmaking talent, it might not make all that much sense to give up serious assets for a season and change of Rondo's services. There's no question that his abilities as a passer and defender (when committed) are appreciated throughout the league, but Rondo's unique blend of strengths and limitations make valuation of his game particularly tricky.
NEW YORK KNICKS
Why they will make a move: They're the Knicks. New York has managed to play more respectable basketball of late, but don't expect that to appease one of the most panicky front offices in the league. Point guards are reportedly the team's opiate of choice, with players such as Kyle Lowry and Jeff Teague being linked to the Knicks. Any talent of that caliber would take a significant trade package to pry loose, but we should know better than to doubt New York's ability to muster roster action beyond reason.
Why they won't: Past moves have left New York's cupboard a bit bare. Due to lingering costs of the deals to acquire Carmelo Anthony and Andrea Bargnani, the Knicks are unable to trade any of its own first or second round picks prior to 2018. The only draft pick the Knicks still have in their possession is a 2014 second rounder that originally belonged to Sacramento, though it bears such heavy protection that it almost certainly will not be conveyed.
That leaves the roster pieces on-hand as the sole components of a potential trade, of which only a handful are even reasonably attractive trade pieces. Anthony is reportedly off the table. Tyson Chandler would likely draw some interest, should the Knicks completely sell out any notion of playing defense through 2015. Otherwise, you're looking at some combination of Raymond Felton (who isn't particularly attractive trade bait), Tim Hardaway Jr. (perhaps New York's only long-term prospect), Iman Shumpert (who has been brutal on both ends of the floor), and Beno Udrih (a merely passable player on a minimum salary) as the basis of a potential trade package. Best of luck in constructing a sensible and legal deal for a quality player with that bunch, let alone Rondo.
LOS ANGELES LAKERS
Why they will make a move: Rumors of Pau Gasol's L.A. exodus have sputtered out over the past month, but the former All-Star remains out of phase with the Lakers' long-term plans. Without a move, Gasol's tenure with the team will likely expire with his contract at the end of the season; Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash alone will register a $33.2 million hit on L.A.'s cap sheet for 2014-15, which doesn't leave room for Gasol or his cap hold if the team intends to be a free agent player as reported. It's understandable, then, that Mitch Kupchak would be exploring any options available for moving Gasol, if only to redeem some value for a talented piece while he still has the option.
The greater motivation for trading Gasol, though, is the same as that behind any potential Laker deadline deal: To alleviate L.A.'s luxury tax burden as much as possible. As it stands, the Lakers are an 18-win team scheduled to pay more than $90 million in combined tax and salary. Gasol's $19.3 million earnings this season are a big part of that, and while the opportunity to actually duck under the luxury tax line seems to have passed, the Lakers could still make moves in which they take back less salary as a means of saving a few million here and there. These are the kinds of concessions losing teams have to consider -- even those as historically mighty as the Lakers.
Why they won't: Simply having the motivation to move Gasol does not make a deal logistically feasible. There aren't that many teams in a position to absorb such a substantial salary, and fewer still all that interested in renting out an aging, injured Gasol for the rest of the season. Beyond that, the ranks of potential trade partners dwindle with the fact that the Lakers would want something more than mere expiring contracts in return, demanding that another team be willing to surrender an actual asset for a player who could sign elsewhere in a few months' time. With all of those factors in play, there are only a few teams that are even worth calling -- none of which is especially likely to land Gasol by the deadline.
As for other potential deals, they'll largely be contingent on L.A.'s willingness to accept little in return for their expiring free agents. There's room for the Lakers to trim salary if they're so inclined, but nine of the 15 players on the roster will be free agents at the end of the season. Of those remaining six, Bryant is likely off-limits, Nash might be untradeable due to injury, and Nick Young has a player option for next season (giving him full control of his future). That leaves Kendall Marshall and Robert Sacre as the only tradeable Lakers who won't be free agents at season's end, and neither can provide much tax relief on their own as they make the league's minimum salary. There's a move to be made if the Lakers are willing to deal Jordan Hill ($3.5 million) for next to nothing, but it remains to be seen if Kupchak would really pull the trigger on a straight salary dump.
Why they will make a move: The Sixers are, logistically speaking, the most accommodating trade partner in the league. By nature of being under the salary cap, they have the ability to take back far more salary in a potential deal than they send out -- thus widening the range of potential deals beyond what most teams are able to pursue. Philadelphia is also so far under the cap ($11 million) that it can absorb salary in exchange for draft picks or young players. For those teams looking to squeeze under the luxury tax line, the Sixers roster is a place to park excess salary at the cost of future considerations. That's big; Cleveland scored a first round pick from Memphis last season under just such an arrangement, and even more teams are interested in skirting the tax this year with the repeater tax penalties looming and those teams under the tax line set to get a nice payday courtesy of Mikhail Prokhorov and friends.
As if that weren't enough incentive to give Sam Hinkie a call, the Sixers also have three interesting players -- Turner, Spencer Hawes, and Thaddeus Young -- dangling on the line for any who might be interested. Any of the three would take real assets to acquire via trade, though Young and Hawes in particular are worth that price if the fit is just right.
Why they might not: Hinkie has already proven that he won't make a move simply because one of his players is expendable. Though one of the most-discussed trade targets this season, Young still has another fully guaranteed season under contract with the Sixers before deciding on his early termination option for the 2015-16 season. Turner and Hawes are in a very different spot as upcoming free agents, though Philadelphia has thus far prioritized the quality of its return package over the need to redeem some value from either by the deadline.
It still seems likely that the Sixers will ultimately agree to trade at least one of those three players by Thursday, though I'd fully expect Philadelphia to do so on its own terms or not at all.
Why they will make a move: Manufacturing offense remains a concern for the Bobcats, and it's far easier to find a source of spot scoring at the deadline than an impact-level defender. Unfortunately, most of the players churning through the rumor mill with the Bobcats attached are less than perfect fits. Evan Turner and Caron Butler? One can see the basic logic behind targeting those offense-first players, though neither really addresses Charlotte's more specific needs for floor-spacing shooters and efficient secondary creators.
Still, those pesky particulars might not stand in the way of the Bobcats getting some kind of deal done. Charlotte currently holds just a half-game lead over Detroit for the eighth seed in the East, with New York and Cleveland well within striking distance. Whether or not a move would actually help Charlotte's offense matters less at this point than whether Bobcats brass thinks it might, and players like Turner and Butler have reputations as scorers that apparently offer some intrigue.
Why they won't: Charlotte isn't exactly rich in expendable assets. Steve Clifford's rotation incorporates just about every useful player on the Bobcats' roster, with Cody Zeller being perhaps the lone exception. Even in his case it seems entirely too early to sell low on a top-five pick from the 2014 draft, especially when he'll need time to ready his body for NBA competition. There's not much to like in the way Zeller has played to date, but it's likely that whatever qualities the Bobcats valued (mobility as a big, theoretical shooting range, passing, etc.) in selecting him fourth overall are still very much present.
Otherwise the Bobcats could test the market on players like Gerald Henderson or Ramon Sessions, though both play important roles that would need to be filled immediately should Charlotte aim to stay in the playoff race. That makes pulling off a potential trade involving either player a much greater challenge; it's one thing if Henderson, for example, could be flipped for a useful player at another position, but a direct swap for another wing player requires a trade partner with different needs from the same basic position. That's not impossible to find, but it does narrow the field a bit.
Los Angeles Clippers: The Clips are reportedly looking around for another rotation big, as has been the case all season. The impediment to such a deal remains the same: Jared Dudley, Matt Barnes, Reggie Bullock, and Willie Green just don't move the needle much for teams around the league.
Denver Nuggets: Andre Miller may be on the clearance rack by Thursday, but he's far from Denver's only tradable piece. Calls have been and will be made to inquire about Kenneth Faried, and any other rotation player short of Ty Lawson is likely attainable.
Phoenix Suns: This is a team with the ability to pick its spots. Like the Sixers, the Suns are under the salary cap and could be looking to make use of that cap space. Very much unlike the Sixers, though, these Suns are reportedly considering deals for veterans who can contribute immediately. Phoenix has the young pieces, the expiring contract (courtesy of Emeka Okafor), the picks, and the cap room necessary to get something done if Ryan McDonough opts to make a push, but there's also no rush; the Suns' best players are young enough and good enough that no deadline move has to be made, giving Phoenix the luxury of waiting for the right offer over a much longer timeline.
Sacramento Kings: Pete D'Alessandro has already had a pretty bold turn at general manager for the Kings, and has reportedly been making pitches to the Celtics for Rajon Rondo. Even if he can't swing that particular deal, it frames the caliber of player Sacramento is angling for at the deadline.
Minnesota Timberwolves: In a playoffs-or-bust season, the Wolves are coming dangerously close to falling out of the postseason race entirely. The deadline offers one final chance at a course correction; it's hard to pinpoint one specific move that could reverse Minnesota's fortunes, though this particular team's record is so misleadingly poor that it might not take a dramatic move to at least make a run toward respectability. If the Wolves can make a minor tweak, get healthy, and manage to translate their impressive per-possession performance to the win column more consistently, they could at least close the gap on those other teams on the postseason bubble.
Cleveland Cavaliers: It's hard to get a feel for a team under new management, but the desperation in Cleveland is palpable. There's also been an odd amount of rumored activity swirling around the underperforming Jarrett Jack, which either means the Cavs are pursuing a market for the handsomely paid guard through media channels or that other teams are calling acting GM David Griffin with Jack in mind. Brooklyn Nets: This team never shifts out of buying mode, and has already been linked to both Jack and Lakers big man Jordan Hill. In the case of the latter, Brooklyn would be adding roughly $17 million to its luxury tax bill, per Yahoo!'s Adrian Wojnarowski.