The best way for an NBA team to improve is to trade for one of these players. The February 21 trade deadline is still nearly a month away, but trade-rumor season is in full swing.
The bulk of these reports never come to fruition. Some are merely speculation; others seem more like pure make-believe. But certain names keep coming up in talks, and prudent teams should be inquiring about the following players for their various benefits, whether short- or long-term.
If a team wants Andrea Bargnani, now is the time to go after him.
The Toronto Raptors are playing well, and the performance of the team's other frontcourt players has left little need for Bargnani, who wore out his welcome with fans in Canada a long time ago.
Chad Ford of ESPN reported that the Raptors will listen to offers.
If there is a decent offer for Bargnani, I expect the Raptors will take it. They won't give him away, but with how well Ed Davis is playing, he's finally expendable. The issue right now is that I haven't spoken to a GM who is excited about trading anyone on their roster for Bargnani. That's a problem.
In many ways, there isn't a lot to desire.
The 27-year-old has yet to live up to the potential he showed earlier in his career, and when he hasn't been injured this season, he hasn't been able to make a shot. He started off last year with a bang, but again, he couldn't stay healthy. Once he did return, his shooting touch had disappeared.
Still, there is clearly talent there, and Bargnani has both the size and youth to become a productive player on a very good team. His first 13 games last season (23.5 points per game on 47.6 percent from the field) showed that.
The phone lines in Canada are open.
If the asking price is too high, teams should try to find his (replaceable) skill set elsewhere. But Bargnani has enough upside to at least make him worth paying the international calling rate.
J.J. Hickson is playing the best basketball of his career. Last season, after he joined the Portland Trail Blazers, he showed flashes that a breakout campaign may be on the horizon, but the sample size and meaningfulness of his time on the court left much uncertainty.
This year, he has been even better, averaging a double-double in less than 30 minutes per game while blowing away his career rebounding numbers.
Hickson's 21.5 rebounding rate—the percentage of missed shots he collects while on the court—and 13.4 rebounds per 36 minutes are huge increases over his career averages of 16.7 and 10.4, respectively.
At just 24 years old and already with 318 games of NBA experience, it seems like Hickson has nowhere to go but up. GMs throughout the league could all use a hyperactive physical specimen like him in their frontcourt.
He can be a starter or a super sub, and in this day and age, he can play at either the 4 or the 5.
Questions remain as to whether he will be dealt.
Oddly, the uncertainty starts with the player himself rather than the team. Hickson has the right to veto any trade due to his quirky contract status. So, rival general managers have been calling his agent to see whether he would approve of them trying to acquire him, according to Chris Haynes of Comcast Sportsnet.
Yeah, I'll be lying if I said it wasn't an exciting time in my life. It's also exciting to play on this team that everybody counted us out at the start. We're making a lot of noise in the Western Conference. I'm trying to make this playoff run if I'm here after the trade deadline. Obviously, I'll be happy either way because I can veto any trade.
This all sounds a little like the old-fashioned tradition of getting a father's approval before asking for his daughter's hand in marriage.
GMs who hope to make Hickson theirs will still need to get permission from Neil Olshey, head of player personnel in Portland. But before they put the cart before the horse, they are trying to make sure their hopeful bride-to-be is going to say yes—which makes this tricky.
According to John Canzano of The Oregonian, however, there are strong signals suggesting that Olshey has Hickson on the market.
Anyone who has ever spent any time around owner Paul Allen knows that he'll be irked if Olshey loses the 24-year-old Hickson at the end of the season without getting something for him.
The forces pushing Hickson out of town will only grow stronger if the Blazers, who hope to make a big splash in free agency this summer, begin to falter in the standings.
With his contract set to expire this summer, the asking price should not be high, so any team with long-term interest may be wise to strike now before Hickson hits the free-agent market this offseason.
The Memphis Grizzlies have already made the trade they needed to make.
The team's new owner, tech entrepreneur Robert Pera, bought a franchise that has had troubling financial results of late, according to Forbes, so there were fiscal incentives to get below the luxury-tax threshold before season's end.
By slashing $6 million from their payroll earlier this week in a trade with the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Grizzlies did just that, alleviating their immediate concerns and saving upwards of $15 million.
They save $12 million in direct payroll costs, plus they will now be recipients of the NBA's recently expanded revenue sharing program.
It was merely a short-term fix, however.
Sean Deveney of Sporting News explained the remaining challenge.
The Grizzlies have not addressed the real problem, which is that their frontcourt—Zach Randolph, Rudy Gay and Marc Gasol—is earning $47 million this year. It is slated to make $50 million next year, and almost $52 million the following year. You just can’t pay three players that much money and expect to fill out a credible roster around them. Memphis dodged the tax bullet for now, but the Grizzlies are still committed to $68 million in salary next year, and that’s for eight players. Someone in that Randolph-Gay-Gasol trio is still going to have to go.
Eventually—probably before the start of next season—someone else needs to go.
Since Memphis now appears to be a clear step behind the Oklahoma City Thunder, Los Angeles Clippers, San Antonio Spurs and probably the Golden State Warriors, the Grizzlies may still be willing to part with Rudy Gay before the trade deadline.
The Grizzlies' loss could be another team's gain.
Gay is underperforming this season, but he has the versatility, talent and athleticism to fit into any rotation.
He can handle the ball on the wing, drive to the rim and find his own mid-range shots. And though mired in a tough shooting slump this season, on the right roster, he should be able to space the floor better as a spot-up threat—if he isn't asked to create shots so often with the shot clock winding down.
On the other end, he is no lockdown defender, but he has the size, quickness and strength to guard both bigger and smaller players.
Memphis likely won't part with him easily, as it has already found a creative option to shed salary without giving away its 26-year-old swingman. Gay remains on the trading block, however, so any team that can absorb his salary could land a prize.
J.J. Redick will be a free agent this summer, and it doesn't make much sense for him to remain with the Orlando Magic. He reportedly enjoys the team and the location (his wife even went to college in Orlando), but the team does not look poised to be a contender in the foreseeable future.
While Redick has the skill set to help any team, his talents as a complementary player will be wasted if he plays for a rebuilding franchise. The Magic should know this: Redick is at his best playing in an offense that is crisp and well executed.
According to Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today, if the Magic get the feeling that they will not be able retain Redick for what they deem a reasonable salary—and Zillgitt writes that Redick "wants a raise" from the $6 million he makes now—they could be willing to deal.
If it emerges that Redick and Orlando can't find common ground on a salary, don't be surprised if the Magic trade him by the Feb. 21 trade deadline. If the Magic can't keep him, they want to get something for him.
The general managers of contending teams should be lighting up the phones.
Redick is one of the deadliest shooters in the league—and not just from behind the arc. His career 39.9 percent three-point accuracy speaks for itself, but he is also an assassin from mid-range, where he has hit 45 percent of his shots this season, according to NBA.com advanced stats.
This means teams can stick him on the wing or in the corner or run him off pin-down screens to get him open looks around the top of the key. These skills fit into any offense that has penetrating creators or simply big bodies to set solid screens.
Redick may not be the best individual player on the market right now, but he could quite possibly be the most valuable acquisition any contender could make.
The Los Angeles Lakers can make as many public statements as they want about trying to make this work with the current roster, but it isn't working. It's broken, and this isn't a franchise that will sit on its hands as the house burns to the ground.
The guys manning the block are on the block.
While there will likely be more interest in Dwight Howard, the Lakers are sure to be more receptive to offers for Pau Gasol. Any team that tries to acquire the Spaniard will be wagering that his recent poor play is more the product of circumstances and injury than a permanent new normal.
Because nobody should want to pay nearly $20 million per year for the current version of Gasol.
Call me an optimist, but I don't think he is ready to be put out to pasture. He is simply too talented, and we have seen him display his superior skills way too recently to believe he can't rejuvenate the right franchise.
In the London Olympics, for example, he had a marvelous stretch of play to put a scare into Team USA during the gold-medal game. After the half, he played as well as he has in years.
That is why Gasol—even as bad as he has been on the court and as sullen as he has looked at times off of it—is the best talent to be had.
Down low, he is the total package: He has the passing, the soft touch, the presence in the paint, the savvy, the experience and the professionalism.
When he is at his best, he is in the conversation for the best big man in the league. Even if those days are over, he can still easily be the All-Star that every team needs anchoring its frontcourt.
Vinny Del Negro thinks his young backup point guard should be flattered that his name keeps coming up in talks. The coach worries that it could become a distraction, but for now, he is just telling Eric Bledsoe to keep doing what he is doing: improving every day.
Phil Collin of the Los Angeles Daily News asked the coach about the trade rumors, to which Del Negro replied:
A lot of guys' names will come up, but that's a good thing. That means people want you. That's a positive thing.
There'll be all these rumors out there and things being said, and most of them probably won't be very accurate. As guys' names are out there, we'll discuss things with them if there's anything to it or whatever. I don't see that being an issue for us. We've got pretty good balance on that and obviously, I'm always available.
Simply put, Bledsoe is the trade-block player with the most upside.
He is young, incredibly gifted as an athlete and able to make plays that few others in the NBA can. There is a reason that Jamal Crawford started calling him "Mini LeBron," which is a nickname that even LeBron James has used glowingly about the young dynamo.
There is even a possibility that Bledsoe could be a max-salary player in a few years.
The fan favorite still has a long way to grow before such a designation is warranted. But any team that passes on the chance to acquire Bledsoe in 2013 may spend 2016-2020 trying to figure out how to stop him.