At long last, every NBA player who signed a new contract over the summer is eligible for inclusion in a trade. That much came to pass on January 15, when those who were retained by their teams via their Bird Rights were no longer restricted from the back-room wheeling and dealing in which general managers around the Association have likely been engaged since the opening tip of 2012-13.
And not a moment too soon, either. The league's contenders and pretenders are finally starting to separate themselves from one another as they approach the midpoint of the campaign. Those with title hopes and fungible assets are perusing the market for difference-makers, while those fading into the lottery are looking at their stars—particularly those on expiring contracts—as valuable chips to jump-start rebuilds rather than individuals who can contribute in one way or another on the court.
Indeed, it's right around this time of year, in the lead-up to the February 21 trade deadline, that impending free agents, like these five guys, emerge as the biggest bits of bait in conversation between front offices.
All signs point to the Atlanta Hawks parting ways with Josh Smith at some point between now and mid-July. Whether the split comes via trade before the February deadline or via free agency over the summer likely depends on what general manager Danny Ferry can get in return and what his plans for the franchise are going forward.
At one point, Smith seemed to be the key to potentially luring Chris Paul and/or Dwight Howard to sop up the team's soon-to-be-copious amounts of cap space. But those two stars have indicated at different times this season that their respective futures reside in Los Angeles—even Howard's, despite the Lakers' ongoing struggles.
That leaves the Hawks with less incentive to keep Smith. The 27-year-old forward has had a rather rocky relationship with his hometown team since the Hawks snapped him up with the 17th pick in the 2004 NBA draft. Things took a turn for the worse when the team suspended and fined Smith in mid-January for "conduct detrimental to the team," as if he were a hot-headed collegian.
It didn't help Smith's case, either, that the Hawks dispatched the red-hot Brooklyn Nets during that one game without him.
Neither has Smith been aided by the return of Al Horford. The return of his All-Star compatriot has forced Smith to spend more time on the perimeter offensively, where he's proven prone to jacking up long-twos and off-balance threes.
Despite all of that, Josh Smith remains an attractive option for a number of teams with postseason hopes, including the Boston Celtics, the Los Angeles Lakers and the Houston Rockets. For all of his shortcomings in offensive IQ and alarming decline in shooting accuracy (down to 27 percent on long-twos and 51.4 percent from the free-throw line), Smith remains a versatile hyper-athlete who can stuff the stat sheet on both ends of the floor.
Smith's trade value may be at its lowest point in years, but if his relationship with the Hawks has truly soured and the team continues to struggle as it has since 2013 began, then Danny Ferry and company would be wise to pile up more assets while dumping their second star since the summer of 2012.
Jose Calderon's name has been bandied about in trade talk for months, and for good reason. The off-and-on back-up point guard for the Toronto Raptors is in the last year of his deal and is getting paid enough (more than $10.5 million) to bring back something of value to the Canadian capital.
He's also doing enough on the court to justify the chatter. Calderon is averaging 10.7 points and 7.7 assists (including 12.3 points and 9.8 assists in starts) while shooting 42.7 percent from long range. His defense is too poor to start on a good team, but his skill set leaves him perfectly suited to come off the bench for a contender.
As for the Raps, it's in their best interest to send Calderon packing, lest they allow him to siphon off more playing time from the temperamental Kyle Lowry. They spent a guaranteed lottery pick to pry Lowry from the Houston Rockets and would do well to let Lowry play without impediment to see if he's fit to be a major building block for them going forward.
Throw in another lost, lottery-bound season, and it stands to reason that the Raptors would shop Calderon vigorously. Better that they get something for their Spanish floor general than watch him walk for nothing.
Even more so if they can offload Andrea Bargnani's onerous contract at the same time.
The Utah Jazz have two quality big men on their roster on expiring deals—Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap. Both are blocking the way for promising youngsters like Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter to strut their stuff and develop into reliable studs.
But, assuming the Jazz want to preserve their current playoff positioning to any degree, they probably won't deal more than one of their twin towers before the deadline. According to ESPN's Chad Ford, the Jazz favor Millsap over Jefferson internally, which may make Big Al the more vulnerable trade chip in the weeks to come.
Utah should be able to get something of considerable value for a player like Jefferson. The 28-year-old big man is one of the most skilled low-post players in the league. He possesses the strength to bowl his way to the basket and the touch to pop out for mid-range jumpers, on top of a keen understanding of how to succeed in the ubiquitous pick-and-roll.
To be sure, Big Al is an even bigger liability on defense, where his slow feet, apparent lack of effort and history of knee problems are thrust to the fore.
Still, in this day and age of spread offense and giants jacking up long jumpers, Jefferson, with his back-to-the-basket game, has become something of an old-school, but still valuable, anomaly in today's NBA. Surely Utah can find a team out there that'd be willing to part with some worthwhile pieces for him if they'd rather not overpay to keep him this summer.
Perhaps even the Boston Celtics, who drafted Jefferson out of high school in 2004.
Trading Big Al, though, would be equivalent to the Jazz simply waving the white flag of surrender. They run so much of their offense through Jefferson that trading him would then require that Utah reorganize its team dynamic almost from scratch.
If general manager Dennis Lindsey would prefer to pick up a player or two without taking a wrecking ball to his team's playoff hopes, then Paul Millsap would seem the better choice with whom to part ways.
Not that Millsap isn't valuable to Utah's operation. His productivity has declined somewhat since peaking in 2010-11, though he's since diversified his game to include a more accurate shot out to three-point range.
Make no mistake: Millsap still butters his proverbial bread by crashing the boards, playing pick-and-pop and using his sturdy frame to score in traffic. What's more, he's not a total loss defensively and is versatile enough to contribute effectively in a multitude of different lineups.
What's most important for Utah's future, though, isn't which star forward gets dealt, but rather who or what comes back the other way. The Jazz are starved for quality guard play, particularly at the point. It's imperative, then, that Dennis Lindsey and the team's front-office brain trust do their darndest to recoup a solid floor general (ideally a young one with promise) in any deal they consider.
A recent string of 10 straight losses (and 11 in 12 games) all but guaranteed that the Orlando Magic would not be the latest team whose performance in the wake of a major roster-related loss supported Bill Simmons' Ewing Theory. The Eastern Conference isn't exactly teeming with top-flight competition, but as of January 18, the Magic were as close to the eighth-seed Boston Celtics as they were the last-place Washington Wizards.
To be sure, Orlando has already blown past post-Dwight Howard expectations. They've played hard for first-year head coach Jacque Vaughn on the whole. Jameer Nelson has played some of his best ball since earning his All-Star bid in 2009, Arron Afflalo has assumed a leadership post on this team almost seamlessly and Nikola Vucevic, once a throw-in from the Howard trade, has emerged as a double-double machine.
JJ Redick has thrived as the Magic's sixth man, as well, to the extent that general manager Rob Hennigan would be wise to shop him. The former Duke star and collegiate Player of the Year is posting career bests in points (14.6), assists (4.5) and field-goal percentage (.448) while shooting solidly from three-point range (.384) and spectacularly from the free-throw line (.909).
Granted, much of Redick's improvement can be attributed to also garnering career highs in minutes (31) and field-goal attempts (11.4). Nonetheless, there are more than enough playoff-bound teams starved for perimeter shooting (i.e., the Boston Celtics, the Denver Nuggets, the Indiana Pacers and the Memphis Grizzlies) to make moving Redick a worthwhile endeavor for the Magic.
Unless, of course, they'd prefer to clog their cap with a salary better than Redick's current $6.19 million take. In that case, more power to the Magic, I s'pose.