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The Utah Jazz weren't supposed to be this good this season, not after that amazing collapse once Jerry Sloan retired and Deron Williams was traded a year ago. Last year, the Jazz dove from playoff team to lottery squad almost immediately; given that the Williams trade netted youth -- Derrick Favors and the pick that became Enes Kanter, most notably -- it wasn't expected that there'd be a huge leap this season.
But Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap have played extremely well, Kanter and Favors have been some of the league's better frontcourt backups, Gordon Hayward is developing well, and the guard mishmosh of Devin Harris, Earl Watson and Raja Bell has actually performed. This is a pretty decent team!
That makes the team's status at the deadline is pretty massive question mark.
Given that Hayward looks better at two-guard than small forward, that small forward is a real hole for Utah looking to the future. Alec Burks, the team's second lottery pick in 2011, is a true shooting guard, which may keep Hayward more at the three, and perhaps the rebounding talent of Utah's frontcourt (current and future) will make that work. But still: small forward looks like the hole.
Point guard is a close No. 2, but you have to feel that unless the team decides to unload either Jefferson or Millsap, the point guard future of the club will be decided in the future. Harris has plenty of life left in his legs, and he actually been decent this season after a really slow start.
The Jazz absolutely have no need for another big man, a rare surplus.
The Jazz are at a salary figure of $57 million this season, according to ShamSports.com, just under the cap. Utah does actually have $51 million for next season already locked up. Without dealing Jefferson, Millsap or Harris, it looks like it'll be a tight free agency period.
For more on the Jazz, visit SLC Dunk. And that is the end of the NBA Trade Deadline Preview series. Check us out next week for awesome deadline fun!
The Portland Trail Blazers have suffered an inordinate amount in terms of injuries, from losing Greg Oden consistently to dropping Brandon Roy suddenly. That said, the team has been a relative picture of health (Oden aside) this season, with LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, Gerald Wallace and Wesley Matthews -- the team's core -- remaining largely fit. Raymond Felton, the fifth Beatle, so to speak, has been fit in terms of health but not fit in terms of fitness, and it shows as he's had a disastrous season.
But that doesn't mean that he still wouldn't be an improvement for some team. Hi, Lakers.
The Blazers need backcourt help, as Felton's been amazingly bad and Jamal Crawford, who has been good, isn't a point guard by any stretch of the imagination. Frankly, the team should never have traded Andre Miller for Felton -- Miller's problem in Portland was that he struggled to play well with Roy. He worked quite well with Aldridge, Batum, Matthews for a short period Wallace.
That said, the Blazers could also stand to lose some of the current backcourt. Matthews has been disappointing after earning our the first year of his contract last season. Batum will be a restricted free agent in July, and will be due a big payday. (There's already talk about the cap-rich Kings making a big move for him.) Wallace can also become a free agent, but chances are that he'll pick up his $9.5 million option and tie up Portland's space. So it's a tricky balance: you'd love to get something, anything for Felton or even Crawford (who has an option for 2012-13), but you also, y'know, need some guards.
The Lakers could take Felton off of Portland's hands because, stunningly, Felton would be an upgrade for L.A. We think. L.A. has an appropriately sized trade exception from the Lamar Odom deal. Crawford's suitors would be the usual suspects: playoff contenders with bench scoring needs.
Because Felton and Camby come off of the books at season's end, the Blazers are slated to have at least $18 million in cap space next season, according to ShamSports.com. If Wallace and Crawford decline their options, that could increase to a whopping $33 million. There is some flexibility here.
For more on the Blazers, check out Blazer's Edge.
The Toronto Raptors are definitely a year away from being remotely interesting, with no offense intended toward DeMar DeRozan, Linas Kleiza and The Gaping Void Left By Andrea Bargnani's Injury. Dwane Casey has done some good things in a half-season in charge in T-Dot, but the prize in his eyes -- Mr. Jonas Valanciunas -- won't arrive until the summer. Along with it should be a top-10 pick in the 2012 NBA Draft. Those two pieces will have Raptors fans as stoked as anything seen on the court this year.
(Bargnani's pre-injury breakout wasn't too shabby, though.)
The Raptors do have a couple of pieces that could draw eyes from around the league. Foremost is Leandro Barbosa, the lightning bug who has remained largely anonymous since moving north. Leandrinho is on an expiring $7.5 million deal; there are a couple of playoff teams -- the Clippers, Lakers, Timberwolves, Celtics, Hawks, Magic and Pacers come to mind -- who could use some wing scoring off of the bench.
The other backcourt player who could take an audience is Jose Calderon, the pass-happy point guard who has the honor of being Toronto's highest-paid fellow. That's a problem, not just because it's tough to move a $9.7 million contract, but because Calderon is on the books for $10.5 million next season. That's a big pill to swallow.
The Raptors have a salary figure of $53 million, according to ShamSports.com. That works two ways: the Raptors can help a team get under the luxury tax by absorbing a contract, but Toronto won't be able to, say, deal Barbosa for a trade exception without sliding under the minimum salary threshold. The team needs to take something back if it deals Barbosa, either in a straight-up trade or in a separate imbalanced deal.
For more on the Raptors, please visit Raptors HQ.
Recently, the San Antonio Spurs have had it both ways: they have added pieces to rebuild the club while maintaining a core that can compete for championships. The team hasn't won a title since 2007, mind you, but if you finish a season with a No. 1 seed, you are a contender. San Antonio did just that last year; only an injury to Manu Ginobili and a buzzsaw matchup with the insatiable Grizzlies derailed the dream. (Note: other things may have eventually derailed the dream.)
Unfortunately, the Spurs' interest in making sure the cupboards aren't bare when Tim Duncan and Ginobili retire has deflated the consistent production of the supporting cast somewhat. Kawhi Leonard is been OK for a young rookie in a demanding environment, for instance. But the Spurs need more than that. There's the rub.
Because of the Spurs' interest in rebuilding while contending, any deal is difficult -- there are aren't a ton of expendable pieces that'd be considered valuable. You could take Matt Bonner off of San Antonio's hands, surely, but ... why? Duncan nor Ginobili are going anywhere, and Tony Parker hasn't been in a heavy rumor since (checks calendar) June (!), and it's unlikely the team would give up on Leonard or Tiago Splitter at this point. (Note to self: start a Tony Parker rumor. We're due.)
All that said, the Spurs have a salary figure of $73 million, according to ShamSports.com. The luxury tax threshold is $70 million. Bonner makes just over $3 million. He does play better than 20 minutes a game and is a valued shooter for San Antonio. But if a team with cap space will trade for him and an asset, it could make financial sense for the Spurs. The complicating factor is that Bonner has $4.6 million guaranteed beyond this season -- that could require a first-round pick from a team helping San Antonio.
For more on the Spurs, please visit Pounding The Rock.
The Sacramento Kings are like the Washington Wizards in that they have one clear above-average young player -- DeMarcus Cousins, in this case -- and a whole lot of question marks. But for the Kings -- wait, let me put on these rose-colored glasses -- the spare parts are largely assets, not problems to solve.
Take Tyreke Evans, for example. He's been moved to small forward, and will likely end up back at shooting guard, when the roster is sorted out. When he's not a point guard, his value is far lower -- the point of Tyreke Evans was that he had these massive athletic and physical advantages at point guard. He's still a monster to handle, but doesn't project to be a nightly nightmare matchup for opponents.
There have been murmurs that the Kings could deal Evans if it'd get them a good veteran. But the action on this bet is extraordinarily light; if Evans is dealt, it likely wouldn't be until the offseason or, if an early extension isn't reached by October, the 2013 deadline. More front and center in the 2012 market are J.J. Hickson -- for whom the Kings would be thrilled with a prospect or pick -- or Jason Thompson, who is actually pretty good.
The Kings aren't giving up on Jimmer Fredette, but you'd have to think that he wouldn't be a dealbreaker in the right move; Sacramento just adores Isaiah Thomas and thinks that he can keep it up. Outside of Evans, the team's small foward contingent has been an atrocity exhibition -- John Salmons, Travis Outlaw and Francisco Garcia are the names -- while Donte Greene has played well in limited minutes, he's a low-value guy at this point in his career.
The Kings have just $48 million of salary tied up, according to ShamSports.com, meaning that Sacramento can take on salary for assets or in an unbalanced trade. The Kings have just $44 million locked up for next season and still hold their amnesty waiver in reserve, with Salmons looking like an increasingly appetizing option.
The Washington Wizards find themselves right where they've been for the past three seasons: at the bottom of the standings. The Wizards have been a bottom-five team since 2009 and had the league's third-worst record at the All-Star break. Unfortunately, the talent base doesn't exactly look like it's growing by leaps and bounds. Just one draft pick since the club's fall from grace looks like a sure-thing NBA starter: 2010 No. 1 pick John Wall.
The rest of the roster is full of modest hope, moderate expectations and bad dreams. Andray Blatche is the most heavily shopped player on the roster. He's the bad dream.
Blatche is just a mess of a player, a man who wants to be a leader but doesn't know where to start, a gifted athlete who neglects his strengths and can't figure out that his weaknesses are weaknesses. But he's on the market! He could be yours for the low, low price of a plate of beans, probably. Luckily, Washington is experienced in trading problems for other people's problems -- they lost Gilbert Arenas, didn't they? -- and can probably find a sucker to do a few Hail Marys on the rest of Blatche's contract.
Other names on the Wizards roster seem less likely to move unless the front office decides that it is opposed to matching offers on JaVale McGee this summer on spiritual grounds. McGee could fetch something -- of the league's all rebounding and shotblocking centers, he's one of the more productive and athletic. He just needs some shock therapy and a Popovichian coach who lacks moral aversion to using extreme behavior change techniques.
As for needs: all of them, except for point guard. Jan Vesely, Kevin Seraphin, Trevor Booker, Chris Singleton, even Jordan Crawford (well ...) -- they are nice prospects, but not a single one is remotely close to a sure-thing solid NBA starter. Not even close.
The Wizards have a salary figure of $56 million, according to ShamSports.com, just $3 million under the cap. The team has $46 million tied up for next season, but still has its amnesty clause in reserve and Rashard Lewis' $22 million salary isn't fully guaranteed.
The Philadelphia 76ers began the season on a tear, for a time leading the league in offensive and defensive efficiency. The team's record has come back toward rational expectations as the season has wore on, though the Sixers still boast one of the league's elite defenses. With eyes on long-term contention in the East and a surprisingly young core, the Sixers are at a bit of a crossroads: does Philadelphia hold tight and augment the roster in July, or consider major moves to improve the team on the fly?
The Sixers don't have a weak position, with advantage in PER matchup data at all five spots. The two slimmest margins are up front at center and power forward (+0.6 and +1.9 respectively). The center issues are certainly tied to Spencer Hawes' injury; the young man was performing brilliantly before getting knocked out of action. At power forward, expensive Elton Brand is in place as a starter, but Thaddeus Young, a legit Sixth Man of the Year candidate if only James Harden weren't so dominant, is actually getting the bulk of the minutes. Per 82games.com, Young has played 55 percent of Philadelphia's power forward minutes, both when Brand sits and in small lineups with Brand at center. The team has been incredible overall with those lineups.
While being able to bring Young off of the bench is certainly an advantage that Philadelphia exploits, his production makes a deal dropping Brand (and his $18 million salary scheduled for 2012-13) tenable. Unless the team moves Brand, signing Hawes to a market value contract -- he'll be an unrestricted free agent in July -- could put Philadelphia right up against the luxury tax. That'd be the incentive to move Brand above all else.
Of course, losing Brand only adds to the frontcourt worries in terms of depth. Hawes remains out, and might not be effective as expected when he finally returns in late March or early April.
The Sixers are at $65 million in salary this season, according to ShamSports.com. As noted, the luxury tax is a concern for next season.
It's funny to think that of all the machinations in the New York Knicks' rebuild that began back in 2008, the one with the biggest impact could very well have been when the club picked up Jeremy Lin off of waivers. The Knicks made moves to clear cap space by forfeiting picks, put on a full-court press for 2010 free agents, engaged in a months-long negotiating session to land Carmelo Anthony and shocked the world by chasing and landing Tyson Chandler. Yet the team finally turned around when the front office grabbed an undrafted second-year Ivy League guard. Sports are weird.
Because the Knicks are now set at every position -- albeit with some deficiencies -- they aren't leading the NBA trade rumor mill at this point. Had it not been for Lin, you could expect "Steve Nash to the Knicks" to be on everyone's lips. Sorry, Steve. Jeremy's taken your spot.
There have been immodest suggestions that the Knicks could still want Dwight Howard, despite landing Chandler and appearing to be on the upswing. The rumored package has been Anthony and Chandler, which might be appealing to the Magic if a full rebuild was to be avoided. Dropping 'Melo at this point would leave New York without a signature wing; for all of the greatness of Howard and Lin, neither is exactly a 30-point threat most nights.
One more defender could be a target, too; Amar'e Stoudemire is a clear minus on that end of the floor, and 'Melo is far inferior to Chandler's 2011 Finals partner Shawn Marion. Chandler defending the paint against the Heat without Marion or Jason Kidd -- and with 'Melo and Landry Fields or J.R. Smith in their places -- seems problematic.
The Knicks do not have their 2012 first-round pick to use, and cannot trade their 2013 pick on account of having traded their 2014 pick to the Nuggets.
According to ShamSports.com and adjusting for the recently signed Smith, the Knicks have a salary figure of $63 million, over the league's cap. The Knicks are actually at the cap for next season before accounting for Smith or Lin and project to flirt with the luxury tax when it becomes more punitive in 2013-14.
The Phoenix Suns have one big name player, and given that he's nearing the end of his illustrious career, still incredibly effective and will become a free agent in July, and with the understanding that the Suns are not a serious contender for a playoff bid this season let alone a championship, there is nary a reason that the world shouldn't be shouting his name as the NBA trade deadline approaches on March 15.
Yet there are hardly peeps about Steve Nash.
Reports suggest that the Suns won't trade Nash unless he requests it. Other reports suggest that Nash won't request a trade. So here we are: a mediocre team likely to lose its All-Star point guard in free agency won't flip him for an asset out of fear of offending him, and a Hall of Fame player who wants another run at a title is too sweet to demand that reason reign.
The Suns have a long-term answer at center in Marcin Gortat, who actually possibly came semi-close to sniffing consideration for the All-Star team this season. (Soft enough endorsement for you?) That makes Robin Lopez, a restricted free agent in July, expendable if someone is willing to pony up. Markieff Morris looks solid as an NBA power forward, though he still can't be considered a sure thing. (He takes way too many jumpers -- almost three-quarters of his shots are away from the basket -- but is proving a good shooter to date.)
There's little else in the pipeline. Wing Grant Hill is ancient, Jared Dudley is a role player (defense and threes, defense and threes). There's nothing of note behind Nash at the point (and I say that as a Ronnie Price fan). Just about everyone on the roster outside of Nash, Gortat and Morris is truly expendable.
But will Phoenix deign to rebuild, or just keep running out the clock on Nash's career?
The Suns have a salary figure of $63 million, according to ShamSports.com, right in the above-the-cap sweet spot where purely financial moves won't be likely. Phoenix has tons of cap space freed up for 2012-13, almost $30 million worth without including Nash, Hill or Lopez.
The Dwight Howard trade saga hasn't played out anything like the one we saw engulf Carmelo Anthony a year ago. With 'Melo, a trade seemed both inevitable and constantly right around the corner. Even when Anthony demurred on this team or that, or a team publicly dropped out of the running, a major move always felt certain. With Howard, it's the opposite: There has never seemed to be any urgency, any great likelihood that today would be the day. All told, the Orlando Magic (and New Jersey Nets, perhaps) have done a good job deflating the story as much as a story about the best center in basketball asking for a trade can be deflated.
Still, nothing takes on higher importance for the next week.
If the Magic decide to wring out the season with Howard on the roster, the team desperately needs to make a major play to strive for the top of the conference. Unfortunately, Howard is the only major asset the team has. Ryan Anderson is a cracking good power forward, but he doesn't seem to carry the value he deserves. He's getting almost no free agent buzz, despite the fact that he'll be a restricted FA in July. Anderson is good enough and young enough to be the centerpiece of a deal to land Orlando a veteran playmaking guard. But those rumors just aren't out there right now.
If the Magic decide to ship out Howard, the best offer appears to be the one from New Jersey: Brook Lopez, the Nets' 2012 first-round pick and other less important considerations. Lopez is a good player, but he's due a pay day and he's a steep downgrade from Howard (as would be almost any replacement). But because the Nets' offer isn't overwhelming, the Magic could be in position to receive a similar or better offer from a team willing to rent Howard without a guarantee he'll sign a new deal in July. Of course, Orlando has no reason to turn down a rental offer it likes better than New Jersey's full-blown offer; the only issue with the rental situation is that teams are expected to downgrade their offers to mitigate the uncertainty. But if the Golden State Warriors are willing to cough up Stephen Curry? That's worth looking at.
Orlando may also be looking to unload Hedo Turkoglu in a Howard deal, saving the team lots of salary and cap space. In a rebuilding situation, decreased salary obligations are almost as important as players.
The Magic have a salary figure of $69 million, according to ShamSports.com. That puts Orlando just below the luxury tax threshold. The club has just $37 million committed for the 2012-13 season; losing Turkoglu could free up another $11 million, depending on what a Howard return package looks like.
For more on the Magic, please visit Orlando Pinstriped Post.
Like the Chicago Bulls and Miami Heat, Oklahoma City don't really have much to worry about in terms of its roster. The Thunder have perhaps the best big man rotation in basketball (with Chicago the central challenger) and a dynamite one-two-three punch in Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden. The Thunder were overwhelming favorites to win the West before the season began, and remain so thanks to a strong first half. There is little room for roster improvement.
What little room that can be found is at backup point guard, where a season-ending injury to Eric Maynor has left a hole behind Westbrook. Rookie Reggie Jackson and veteran Royal Ivey had taken up the mantle, but neither instills much confidence right now. While Scott Brooks can lean heavily on Westbrook and even Harden in spot minutes at the point, the optimal solution would involve adding an experienced backup there. But that may not be feasible, given that point guards are at a premium this season and that anyone the Thunder acquires would be made superfluous or would make Maynor superfluous next season.
In a perfect world, the Thunder might also rent a power forward who can put up 15 points in 30 minutes, when needed. OKC's cadre of big men are far better on defense than offense.
The Thunder have a salary figure of $59 million, according to ShamSports.com. Oklahoma City can really not afford to take on additional salary going forward, given that Westbrook's new contract kicks in for the 2012-13 season with Harden and Serge Ibaka a year behind. Westbrook's contract, combined with those paid out to Durant, Kendrick Perkins and others, will put the Thunder over the cap next season without any additions.
For more on the Thunder, please visit Welcome To Loud City.
The New Orleans Hornets are clearly embroiled in what could be a long rebuild project, having traded Chris Paul for the Timberwolves' 2012 first-round pick, Eric Gordon and Al-Farouq Aminu. If New Orleans plans on retaining Gordon, who will be a restricted free agent in July, point guard and the frontcourt will be the areas of need. The Hornets' own 2012 pick should be in the top six, Minnesota's will be No. 12-18 and there's an outside chance that New Orleans can land one more.
Unfortunately, it doesn't look like Chris Kaman, the Hornet most likely to be traded by March 15, will draw a first-round pick; his salary is pretty onerous, even though his contract expires at season's end. Most teams just can't absorb $14 million, and there aren't many $14-million expiring players or packages that are too expendable for teams that would want Kaman.
Trevor Ariza (playing in front of Aminu), Carl Landry and Jarrett Jack are other veterans that contending teams could want, and Landry's on an expiring $8.5 million deal. But Jack is on the hook for $5.4 million next season, and Ariza has $15 million over two years guaranteed. Drawing a first for any of the three seems unlikely, but who knows? Let us not doubt the persuasive powers of the Hornets' ownership group!
The Hornets are sitting at $66 million, according to ShamSports.com. New Orleans has just $34 million locked up for next season, and won't likely take on more before the deadline.
For more on the Hornets, visit At The Hive.
Dwight Howard is the Alpha and Omega of both the 2012 NBA Trade Deadline and the hopes and dreams of the New Brooklyn (né New Jersey) Nets. The Nets have been trying to pull Howard since the summer, and it's difficult to overstate the importance of landing the big man given all the awful dominoes that could fall if N.J.'s bid falls through.
To wit: without Howard, the odds of keeping Deron Williams figure to shrink dramatically. The Nets are awful, far out of playoff contention even in the East. Why would Williams commit to Brooklyn in July if the Nets continue to prove unable to land a second star to help him make the postseason? If the Nets lose out on Howard and lose Williams, the team would be opening up the shiny new Barclays Center with a roster featuring ... Brook Lopez, MarShon Brooks and Jordan Farmar?
Yes, the stakes are high.
Williams is an ace at point guard, and Lopez is pretty good on offense at center. Kris Humphries is a solid rebounder, Brooks can score with volume and Farmar's a good backup point guard. Other than that, the well is completely dry. The Nets need upgrades at three starting positions; Brooks is a classic third guard and Hump is more specialist than anything. Howard would be a huge answer at center, giving the Nets the league's best center-point guard combo (edging Tony Parker-Tim Duncan and Steve Nash-Marcin Gortat). But the team would still have a gaping hole at small forward, and with Howard in place Humphries would be mostly superfluous.
If Howard isn't going to happen as the days tick off the calendar, will Billy King look elsewhere for instant help? Lopez is a tricky guy to trade, despite sitting at the centerpiece of the Howard talks for so long. He'll be a restricted free agent in July, and should demand a high salary as an elite scoring center who can also block shots. (His overall defense is just OK, and his rebounding is atrocious.) New Jersey should be willing to risk everything to keep Williams, but who will bite? How much can the Nets get for their own first-round pick and the protected Rockets pick (non-lottery this year) they own?
The Nets are sitting at a salary level of $60 million per ShamSports.com, just above the cap, which restricts the team's ability to take on much extra salary in a trade. The team amazingly has just $9 million committed for 2012-13 -- that's Miami 2010 commitment -- meaning that the Nets could conceivably sell Williams and Howard on a Big Three put together in July instead of swinging a trade now. That idea carries just a bit more risk, however.
Only the L.A. Clippers have improved more than the Minnesota Timberwolves year over year; the Wolves, for the past two seasons complete laughingstocks, are legitimately in the playoff mix out West. With Ricky Rubio and Derrick Williams at age 20 and Kevin Love just 23, time is on Minnesota's side. But you can't blame the club for getting greedy and looking to bolster the core for a playoff run and a crescendo toward contention within five years. Because of that and GM David Kahn's infamous activity level, expect to hear plenty about the Wolves over the next week.
The Wolves have one significant hole: the wing, where the production battle has been a complete bloodbath. The Wolves have a PER deficit of 5.8 at shooting guard and 6.5 at small forward, negating nice advantages at power forward and center. Williams has been far better at power forward (backing up Love) than at small forward, whereas Beasley hasn't been great in either spot. Wesley Johnson is abysmal, Martell Webster is roughly the same, and this squad needs help out there.
Thankfully, Nikola Pekovic has filled the gaping hole at center, and the Wolves are far better with him on the floor versus Darko Milicic. Minnesota has reportedly been requesting a first-round pick for Beasley (good luck), and wouldn't be expected to deal Williams for anything less than a star. Solving the problem on the wing in March seems like a difficult stretch, but never count out the genius of KAHN.
The Wolves are $2 million under the salary cap, according to ShamSports.com. That gives Minnesota the flexibility to facilitate trades for teams flirting with the luxury tax threshold.
The Milwaukee Bucks are in a bit of no man's land, with a tough bid to get into the playoffs ahead that seems almost entirely dependent on Andrew Bogut returning from injury and being effective. The club is 7-5 when Bogut plays this season and 7-17 when he doesn't. The team is built around Bogut. It's a bit difficult to make adjustments without knowing that he'll be around.
Interestingly, the Bucks don't have any gaping lineup holes, just small holes up and down the roster. Per 82games.com, Milwaukee is winning just one positional PER matchup: point guard (+3). The team is winning the shooting battle at the two guard spots, and the scoring battle only at the point and center. A Bogut return solves one problem, and the point guard pairing of Brandon Jennings and Beno Udrih do well, but the Bucks have a lot of salary tied up in those forward spots given the deficit in production. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Ersan Ilyasova, Drew Gooden and Mike Dunleavy combine to make about $17.5 million this season; Stephen Jackson, on a $9 million salary this season, has played a third of the team's small forward minutes, too.
The problem is that Gooden is on a bad contract, Jackson on an awful contract, and there aren't a whole lot of assets in the Bucks' cupboard to use to upgrade the forward slots. Playing Jon Leuer more might be Milwaukee's best bet, but Scott Skiles doesn't seem terribly inclined to move in that direction.
Udrih hasn't been great this season, but is a decent option for the teams looking for an upgrade at the point. He's on the books for $7.3 million next season, which will give teams projected to be over the tax line or interested in messing around in free agency pause.
The Bucks have a salary figure of $60 million, according to ShamSports.com. Milwaukee has $51 million in salary tied up for 2012-13, and Jennings will be eligible for an early extension in July (though that won't kick in until 2013-14).
For more on the Bucks, visit Brew Hoop.
The Miami Heat did their improvement work in the June draft, nabbing Norris Cole, and with a single meaningful move in free agency, grabbing Shane Battier. Miami was the East champ with a young squad a year ago, and has improved with those two additions and no major personnel losses. That's why Miami's name won't likely crop up much at the trade deadline.
If there's anyone the Heat could consider an upgrade, it'd be at center, where Joel Anthony has been a useful starter, and where Miami often goes small. (Chris Bosh is playing 36 percent of the team's minutes at center.) If Chris Kaman is bought out by the Hornets after the deadline, he could be enticed to join Miami, though likely as a backup. Kaman doesn't exactly strike you as a South Beach guy, but the same could be said of Battier.
With a salary level of $77 million, the Heat are roughly $7 million over the luxury tax threshold, according to ShamSports.com. James Jones isn't getting too many minutes, but he's valuable to have in the cupboard as a shooter and defender. Trading him would only have the team about $2 million, less any salary they'd have to send out with him.
For more on the Heat, visit Peninsula Is Mightier.
The Memphis Grizzlies began the season among those in desperate need of outside help with Darrell Arthur going down for the season and Zach Randolph being put on the shelf for an extended period. But thanks to trades for Marreese Speights and Dante Cunningham and exceptional play by Marc Gasol, Memphis stayed afloat and will look to compete for a top-4 seed once Z-Bo returns.
Memphis could still use some help up front; Gasol is playing a ton of minutes, and that will weigh heavily as the lockout-condensed season will keep a hot pace through April. A center like Chris Kaman or Marcus Camby could be a huge aid, and potentially make Memphis a legit threat in the West. (Grizzlies in the Finals!)
On offense, the Grizzlies' hole is in deep shooting, though the team has always been able to gameplan around that. The Grizzlies are dead last in three-point attempts and No. 22 in conversion rate. O.J. Mayo is the only Grizzly making at least one three-pointer a game; there are 299 such players in the NBA. This team is not crazy about the three-pointer. Adding a legit gunner could help in those cases when Memphis may need to shoot itself back into the game.
The Grizzlies are at $71 million, according to ShamSports.com, just above the luxury tax threshold. It probably makes sense for Memphis to trade Sam Young (12 minutes per game) or Hamed Haddadi (6 minutes per game) and cash for a conditional second-round pick to slip under the threshold.
For more on the Grizzlies, visit Straight Outta Vancouver.
The L.A. Clippers have improved more than any other club this season. It's truly amazing what a Chris Paul can do! But no one believes that the Clippers are satisfied with a playoff bid and a quick exit -- L.A. has CP3 through 2012-13, and wants to win big before he becomes a free agent.
Do they have enough right now, or should additional moves be made at the trade deadline?
The Chauncey Billups injury was a massive blow to the club. Not only is replacing Billups with Randy Foye a massive downgrade -- as of Saturday, Foye was shooting 35.7 percent as a starter with an effective field goal percentage of just 43.7 percent -- but it puts more pressure on CP3 and Mo Williams to score. Neither is particularly shy, but each would be more comfortable with a viable player at the starting two-guard.
As such, and because Caron Butler hasn't lit the world aflame, a wing could be mighty useful for L.A. But despite Foye's problems, offense hasn't been the issue for the Clippers: it is defense where L.A. struggles. According to 82games.com, opposing small forwards are shooting an eFG of 51 percent against the Clippers, far too high. But unless the Clippers intend to give up on someone like Eric Bledsoe, a path to a solution at that spot seems unlikely to be broached.
The Clippers have a salary level of $64 million, according to ShamSports.com, about $6 million under the luxury tax line. L.A. also already has $50 million locked up in 2012-13.
The Detroit Pistons have reason for hope: with Greg Monroe (nearly an All-Star this season), Brandon Knight and what should be a top-10 pick in June's draft, the future is bright. But it's still a bit of a waiting game, and Detroit still has some bad contracts on the books.
That Joe Dumars added another -- re-signing Tayshaun Prince in December -- is disheartening. Detroit appears intent to hover in no man's land in the low lottery with a few veteran pieces and a few young prospects and just hope that it works out. The Pistons should really be counting their lucky stars Monroe wasn't taken where he ought to have been (top five, with Wesley Johnson and Ekpe Udoh sliding down).
In the next 18 months or so, Detroit needs to find a big man to pair with Monroe -- a defensive-minded type would be preferred -- and a promising wing. That ought to be the goal: to find two more young, starter-quality players. (Young need not mean draft picks, just players younger than, say, Prince and Ben Wallace.)
Unfortunately, Prince, Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva remain difficult to move. Gordon is due $25.6 million over the next two seasons, and Villanueva is on the books for $16.5 million over the same term. Prince just began a four-year, $28 million deal. These aren't unmovable -- Rashard Lewis and Gilbert Arenas got traded last year, after all -- but they aren't exactly assets. They aren't going to help Detroit get what it needs. Any team trading for one of those players would be doing Detroit a favor.
As such, it's difficult to see where there's room for action for the Pistons at the deadline. There's always June and July.
The Pistons sit at a salary of $66 million, per ShamSports.com. Detroit won't likely be involved in any finance-only deals.
The L.A. Lakers find themselves in a terribly odd spot as the second half of the season continues: well outside the No. 1 spot in the conference, with a chance of going on the road in the first round. The Lakers finished No. 2 behind the San Antonio Spurs last season, but have landed in the top four in the conference in each year since acquiring Pau Gasol. With the Oklahoma City Thunder running away with the No. 1 spot and the Spurs, L.A. Clippers and Houston Rockets making legitimate claims to top-4 seeds, L.A. could find itself away from Staples in the first round.
But a big trade at the deadline could definitely change the team's trajectory and give the franchise new life as the Kobe Bryant era slowly winds down.
To say that the Lakers desperately need a point guard is a great understatement. According to 82games.com, the team's PER differential at the position is -7, equal to the team's advantages at shooting guard and center. In other words, the awfulness of Derek Fisher and Steve Blake completely counter the brilliance of Kobe. A mediocre point guard would be a massive upgrade.
Kyle Lowry is a name tied to Lakers rumors, with Pau Gasol the supposed bait. But Houston isn't interested in losing Lowry, the team's best player. Aiming lower, the Lakers have been linked to Ramon Sessions, and it'd be easy to see L.A. consider players like Kirk Hinrich, Beno Udrih or even Jordan Farmar. (The phrase is, "You can always go home again," right?)
The Lakers also have problems at small forward, where Metta World Peace's game-to-game performance has become a dice roll and where Matt Barnes is suitable only on defense. A more consistent performer there would be useful, but it's a far lower priority than point guard.
The Lakers are tremendously over the luxury tax threshold at a salary of $87 million, according to ShamSports.com. The team's expiring contracts are all relatively small (Barnes is tops at $1.9 million), so outside of larger talent-based deals, cutting salary will be difficult.
Spring is here for the Indiana Pacers, as the long post-Malice rebuild has resulted in a team looking at a top-4 seed in the East and hopefully a long run of postseasons ahead. The team has a young All-Star center in Roy Hibbert, an above-average small forward in Danny Granger and a stud wing in Paul George. There are interesting players in the backcourt and, of course, the offseason splurge named David West at power forward. Where else can Indiana look for improvement at the deadline?
The point guard position is unresolved. Darren Collison is the starter, but hasn't been as good as expected since being acquired from the New Orleans Hornets. Indiana traded its No. 15 pick last June for George Hill, who (through injuries) has assumed a back-up two-guard role behind George. Understandably, the team expected more from those two. Collision is 24 and Hill 25, so it's not as if there isn't room for growth. But it stands to reason that the Pacers could be much better if it could upgrade that position.
The other spot of note is power forward, where West has largely been a disappointment. You can't imagine he'd be satisfied as a backup, and he does have another year on his deal. But if Indiana could land someone the caliber of, say, Luis Scola, and find a new home for West without parting with too valuable an asset, wouldn't that be an improvement?
If Indiana goes big with a major move, keep an eye on Danny Granger, if only because George a) is a stud and b) can play small forward and because teams have lots of reasons to like Granger very much.
The Pacers are well, well under the cap: at just $43 million, according to ShamSports.com. Indiana has huge flexibility at the deadline. Huge.
In December, the Houston Rockets were a David Stern Ambien from landing the legit star that Daryl Morey craves in the form of Pau Gasol, acquired via a three-way Chris Paul trade with the L.A. Lakers and New Orleans Hornets. Stern said, "No," and Houston kept Luis Scola, Goran Dragic and Kevin Martin. All three have been pretty good as Houston contends for a top-4 seed in the vicious West.
But Morey (understandably) wants an upgrade in the frontcourt, and the Rockets have some pretty intriguing assets. Few teams are as active as Houston, so there's plenty reason to tune in on what Houston has in store of the next 10 days.
A frontcourt star is the major target, with Dragic, Scola and Martin -- the Gasol package -- apparently in play. Of course, one acquisition there creates a hole elsewhere, especially with regards to Martin. Houston does have the Knicks' first-round draft pick unless New York slips into the lottery and wins a miraculous top-5 pick. That should end up right around No. 16 or so. Houston's own pick will be closer to No. 20, but so long as the Rockets make the playoffs it will be headed to the New Jersey Nets (Terrence Williams trade, huzzah!). Houston has already traded its 2013 first-round pick (lotto protected) for Donatas Motiejunas and, uh, Jonny Flynn; it should receive Memphis' 2013 as a result of the Hasheem Thabeet-Shane Battier trade. Short version: draft picks aren't really in play for Houston.
Houston could be an intriguing third team in a Dwight Howard deal, especially if the Nets are involved since additional assets are needed. I fail to see how Houston can land a star in such a deal, but the Rockets always seem to be willing to get in the mix with assets at stake.
No one on the Houston roster can be deemed "untouchable," but Kyle Lowry is pretty close, one would imagine.
The Rockets are at a salary of $57 million, right under the cap, according to ShamSports.com. But Houston stands to sit at about $20 million under the cap in July, depending on a few key decisions.
The Golden State Warriors are always looking to make a major move to really knock the dust off the ol' franchise. Sometimes -- the Baron Davis trade -- it happens. Sometimes -- Kevin Garnett, anyone? -- it does not. Sometimes, the Warriors think that it's happened, but it turns out to be a mirage. (I'm looking at you, David Lee acquisition.)
The Warriors are purported to need a big man, though the Lee-Ekpe Udoh tandem looks just fine to me. Udoh has turned into a pretty nice prospect in his second season, especially on defense, where he looks like a potential anchor for the long haul. Lee can score, and while there are a number of better power forward scorers than Lee and better defensive anchors than Udoh, I'm not sure why you focus attention there instead of the defensive inept backcourt and wing.
Per 82games.com, opposing small forwards have an effective field goal percentage of .547 against Golden State's small forwards, which is every flavor of absurd. A shutdown wing could do wonders for this team, and given that Klay Thompson has been decent at the two-guard and small forward, pawning Ellis for a solid small forward could pay off.
Unfortunately, small forward might be the toughest position to come by right now.
You'd expect that Lee is also available, and that Stephen Curry could be made available for the right All-Star. Rumors suggest that Golden State turned down a Curry-Rajon Rondo deal this season.
Like many teams, the Warriors sit just below the salary cap level at $57 million, according to ShamSports.com. The team has a major commitment to Curry a year away, overlapping with the big contracts owned by Ellis and dead weight Andris Biedrins for one season, which happens to be the first season of the more punitive luxury tax.
The Denver Nuggets had a huge offseason, locking up Nene and Arron Afflalo. Before the early extension deadline, Denver made a commitment to Danilo Gallinari. As such, the Nuggets' core is pretty well tied up with the exception of Ty Lawson, who should be receiving an extension of his own this summer or fall.
Those offseason moves may prevent the Nuggets from doing much of anything at the deadline.
The Nuggets have a strong point guard in Lawson, a two-guard in Afflalo and a small forward in Gallinari, plus a big man who can play effectively at either position in Nene. That would seem to put the priority on a second solid big man, perhaps one with a mid-range jumper, as Nene is used primarily at the rim. There are a number of options out there; either Carl Landry or Chris Kaman from the New Orleans Hornets would appear to make sense, though matching salaries on either would be highly difficult. If Denver does look for a power forward or center, a cheaper, younger target like Jason Thompson or even Ersan Ilyasova could make more sense.
Long-term, a viable back-up for Lawson -- current sub Andre Miller will be a free agent in July, and would be expected to seek a starting job somewhere -- and a bench shooter could also be needs.
Miller is the most tradable asset that Denver could conceivably be willing to deal; he soon turns 36 and is on the books for $7.8 million this season. If the Nuggets do make a play for a player like Landry or Kaman, Miller could be dealt to a third team for a trade exception. For instance -- and this is not a rumor, just an example -- the Nuggets could send Miller to the L.A. Lakers for their Lamar Odom trade exception, then use that for a Landry deal.
The Nuggets sit at $59 million, just above the salary cap, per ShamSports.com. A small or slightly imbalanced trade could help the Nuggets gain an asset by helping another team slip under the luxury tax.
The Charlotte Bobcats are quite possibly the worst team of the past decade, even worse than the 2004-05 Atlanta Hawks, 2009-10 New Jersey Nets or 2010-11 Cleveland Cavaliers. With an average margin of defeat of around 14 points -- yes, 14 -- the Bobcats are clearly atrocious on every level.
At last year's deadline, the Bobcats dealt their best player (Gerald Wallace) for expiring contracts and a pick; on draft day, Charlotte dealt Stephen Jackson to move up and take Bismack Biyombo and Kemba Walker with two top-10 picks. Walker is currently coming off the bench behind D.J. Augustin. Biyombo is now up to 16.5 minutes per game. Things are going great.
Charlotte needs everything. There's no guarantee Walker or Biyombo will work out long-term, and while Gerald Henderson might be a keeper at two-guard, there's nothing remotely untouchable on this team ... except for the Bobcats' 2012 first-round pick. Charlotte won't get Portland's first-round pick from the Wallace deal until 2013 at the earliest, and the Bobcats do owe Chicago a protected first for Tyrus Thomas (guh).
Every single veteran should be available for a first-round pick. From Thomas to Corey Maggette to Boris Diaw (ha!) -- sell, sell, sell. That's easier said than done, of course; teams would be rolling their own dice to pick up any of those guys. Even though Diaw's contract expires at season's end, his lethargy could be contagious.
Charlotte needs to amass draft picks. One pick this year and two in the top-20 next year are not going to get it done.
Charlotte is at $58 million, just a hair under the salary cap, according to Shamsports.com. That means the Bobcats could become a cap mule on small deals for teams trying to escape the tax. Picks ought to be the price.
For more on the Bobcats, visit Rufus On Fire.
The Dallas Mavericks, in the mix out West after taking the 2011 NBA Championship, might just be content to sit on their hands at the 2012 NBA Trade Deadline. It's not that the Mavericks have no need for improvement -- they have lots of room for improvement. But the most desired path to that improvement could very well be found in July, not March.
Jason Kidd is very close to retirement, Rodrigue Beaubois has underwhelmed, Jason Terry remains Jason Terry and ... the Mavericks need a legit point guard for the future. While Beaubois is just 23, Dirk Nowitzki isn't getting younger and Dallas can't wait for development at this point. The Mavericks also aren't getting what they need at center, and the bench unit hasn't been as strong as hoped.
But the point guard Dallas allegedly seeks is Deron Williams, who will be a free agent at season's close. The center that the Mavericks want is allegedly Dwight Howard, who will be a free agent at season's close. To get both, the Mavericks need to lose Lamar Odom and Shawn Marion and possibly use the amnesty clause on someone like Brendan Haywood. But ESPN's Marc Stein reports that the Mavericks will not trade Marion for cap space during the season; if the pieces come together in July, Dallas will work on freeing up the space then.
Odom's a different story because he's struggled so much. Dallas said it will not buy him out so that he can regroup and either retire or attempt to come back with his head right next season, but you have to imagine that the Mavericks would consider trading him for some short-term help at a need position. Beaubois might also finally be available, and rumors have suggested that the Mavericks may be willing to make a play for a Steve Nash reunion rental.
The Mavericks have a salary of $74 million, according to ShamSports.com, putting them over the luxury tax threshold by just under $5 million. While in theory that could allow the Mavs to go under the tax for the first time in a decade, that will actually be difficult in practice: Dallas doesn't have any expiring contracts large enough to offload to get under, other than Terry ($11 million) and Kidd ($10 million). Something tells me Dallas won't be willing to pawn either of those guys off without value in return; it's hard to see anyone sends $5 million worth of good assets back for either on a rental.
The Cleveland Cavaliers have had a surprisingly good season considering how awful the club was a year ago, and much of that can be attributed to rookie Kyrie Irving's incredible production. As a result of Irving's quick ability to become comfortable in the NBA, Ramon Sessions has become expendable. Given the premium put on able point guards who can play at pace, Sessions is Cleveland's hottest name in the rumor mill this March.
But there are other areas of note.
Long term, the Cavaliers need a wing. Omri Casspi, acquired for J.J. Hickson after the 2011 NBA Draft, has been a disappointment and may not last in the NBA if he doesn't turn it around in 2012-13, the final year of his rookie deal. The Cavaliers had expected to have a shot at one of college ball's best wings (Harrison Barnes, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist) in the 2012 NBA Draft, but Cleveland's simply been too good. It'd need another lottery miracle to pick high enough to grab a prospect of that caliber. (The Cavs had the top shot at the No. 1 pick in 2011, but actually landed it with the L.A. Clippers' pick, which was No. 7 in lotto rankings.)
The Cavs have Tristan Thompson in the pipeline up front, but could use a second big man, as well. Thompson could end up at either frontcourt position, so the only position that looks off-limits in terms of trade acquisitions is point guard.
The Cavaliers are said to be looking for a first-round draft pick in exchange for Sessions, which seems fair given that the teams targeting the point guard will be picking toward the back end. The Lakers have been and will continue to be a top rumored target for this asset.
Antawn Jamison is the other wild card in all of this. Jamison has been a consummate professional in Cleveland, even though his contract ends this season and he's nearing the end of his career. If a team is willing to give up an asset to take on Jamison's contract for the stretch run, the Cavs should listen. That his salary is $15 million could make that impossible.
The Cavs are at $51 million per ShamSports.com, some $7 million under the salary cap. That could allow Cleveland to use its cap space as lubricant for bigger deals, which could net some small assets like low draft picks or mid-rung prospects.
There are only a few teams in the NBA this season comfortable enough with their roster to remain quiet through the 2012 NBA Trade Deadline. The Chicago Bulls are one of them. The Bulls were incredible last season and made few tweaks in the offseason, the most notable change being the signing of Rip Hamilton. Hamilton, though, has had injury issues -- not rare for Chicago -- and hasn't boosted the team as expected. There's been talk of upgrading the power forward spot manned by Carlos Boozer, but there really aren't many better options who are available.
82games.com's positional PER match-up comparisons show a deficit only at center ... and it's a small one that says more about how little Joakim Noah scores than anything else. Because of Hamilton's issues, Chicago could desire more shooting prowess to go with Kyle Korver, and a better creator than dutiful C.J. Watson to bring off the bench would be nice.
But no needs the Bulls have are gaping enough to require the use of Chicago's best assets, which are Noah, Omer Asik and
Damir Markota Nikola Mirotic. (I am an abject failure, and I apologize. -- TZ) This looks like the makings of a library quiet deadline for the Bulls.
The Bulls have about $2 million of breathing room under the luxury tax threshold, so don't expect any minor moves on the fringes either. Lord, the Bulls are boring.
Excepting the Dwight Howard sweepstakes, no story will be more fascinating to follow in the approach to the NBA trade deadline than the fate of the Boston Celtics. The "Big Three" have scored one NBA championship and two conference titles for Boston, but their time seems to be running out. All of the team's stars other than Ray Allen have missed time due to injuries, Kevin Garnett is playing at a much lower level than we've become accustomed to and the playoffs -- not a top seed in the playoffs, but the playoffs themselves! -- are legitimately at risk.
But the name talked about most frequently remains Rajon Rondo, who Boston seems to dangle once every six months or so. If Danny Ainge does intend to revamp the roster in advance of a huge free agency opportunity in July, there's no question that Rondo, again an NBA All-Star, would draw the best return. With Paul Pierce, Allen and Garnett, there are legit questions as to whether the club could even pull a first-round pick. Rondo is the type of player who could be traded for a high pick or young cornerstone.
Whether Ainge tries to flip one of the veterans and swings hard by leaving Rondo out there, that remains to be seen.
The frontcourt is the biggest area of need, and it's not even close. Boston has suffered impressive attrition with injuries to Garnett, Chris Wilcox and Jermaine O'Neal. Doc Rivers planned to play more small-ball lineups this season ... but this is ridiculous.
If the Celtics are looking to retool on the fly instead of waiting for free agency in July, the frontcourt looks like the right place to start. Garnett is likely to be gone in July if he's not in March, and there's nothing in the pipeline (the team unloaded prospect Semih Erden to cut salary a year ago). Unless the Celtics deal Rondo, they are set at point guard. Pairing the creative playmaker with a rock down low and Pierce (who has another guaranteed season on his deal) seems like a reasonable plan.
The Celtics are way over the luxury tax threshold at $79 million. In the past, Ainge has unloaded as many "dead weight" contracts as possible, paying portions of the salary to cut the tax bill. Jermaine O'Neal ($6.2 million in tax) seems like the top candidate this go around, and Sacramento could be the partner, just as it has been for the Celtics in recent years.
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