The NBA is often thought of as a place where blockbuster trades don't exist. Yet there have already been three involving the 2012-13 season. Are we on the verge of a fourth?
At time of publication, the NBA trade deadline was just 28 days away. With Feb. 21 fast approaching, there are several teams either struggling or without direction. At the halfway point of the season, that isn't a spot you want to be in.
It is getting to be that time when franchises must make a decision. Do they stay the course, whether that means remaining mediocre and hoping something clicks or tanking? Or, can they locate a season-altering trade?
The Los Angeles Lakers, Denver Nuggets, Philadelphia 76ers and Orlando Magic did it before the season. As did the Atlanta Hawks and New Jersey Nets. The Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder waited 'til the last minute before pulling off a high-profile deal.
That deadline is coming, and it's about time some of these franchises poked their heads around the corner to see what needs to be done.
The statistics used in this article were accurate as of Jan. 23.
Current Record: 20-21
Current Rank: No. 8 in Eastern Conference
20 games? OK. 30 games? All right.
After sleepwalking through the first 41 games of the NBA season, it is time to be legitimately concerned about the Boston Celtics.
The direction of the franchise has become somewhat cloudy, with questionable defense and just an overall lack of visible effort. Boston has lost four straight, three of which came against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Detroit Pistons and New Orleans Hornets. The turnaround everyone expected after six straight wins is now a thing of the past.
The only thing keeping the Celtics in the playoff picture right now is Andrew Bynum, who's absence from the Philadelphia 76ers lineup has helped lead to a giant drop-off from the East's top-eight. The time is nearing for GM Danny Ainge to make a significant trade, and I'm not sure who is untouchable anymore.
With the fanbase growing more in doubt with every loss, I have to imagine Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett are safe, solely for sentimental reasons. Other than that, it is all fair game.
The most valuable pieces are Rajon Rondo and Jared Sullinger. Avery Bradley is up there as well, but he is barely shooting 40 percent since his return and has taken only six free throws in 10 games, against 32 threes.
Sullinger has played himself into one of the most desirable rookies from the 2012 draft class. He is not without faults, but is maximizing his skills like a veteran right now.
As for Rondo, yes he is outrageously talented, but right now there just isn't proof he can win games. Even when playing well, which he has over the past five games, the Celtics are 1-4. A 30-point night against the Chicago Bulls, lost. An eight-point, 15-assist, nine-rebound night against Detroit, lost. A 17-point, eight-assist, 13-rebound night against Cleveland, lost.
If Rondo, along with any Celtic, can bring in an elite-scorer or big man, Ainge now has to keep his ears open.
Current Record: 11-32
Current Rank: No. 13 in Eastern Conference
What direction are the Cleveland Cavaliers moving in?
At 11-32, there isn't a whole lot going on in Cleveland worth talking about right now. They are in some sort of rebuilding mode, but thanks to a rash of injuries and questionable drafting, they haven't improved.
They were dealt a tragic blow with Anderson Varejao's injury and subsequent blood clot, as he was playing incredible for them. However, even so, with him and Kyrie Irving on the floor together, this team was 3-12.
Irving is fantastic and won a game single-handedly against Boston recently, but after missing 11 games himself, the season was pretty much dead. Before his injury, the team was only 2-8 anyway.
Tristan Thompson has a lot of value and is having himself quite a January. Right now, the Cavaliers are just Irving, Thompson and some struggling rookies. I don't see a recipe for future success here, and with some valuable assets laying around, a move is a good idea.
The rookies, Dion Waiters and Tyler Zeller, are both struggling to find the basket consistently. Both have great value as first-round picks, but I doubt Cleveland wants to hedge their bets this early.
However, It is hard to grow attached to a shooting guard who is hitting 38 percent from the floor, or a big man shooting 42 percent, so I wouldn't be surprised if one was used to sweeten a deal.
The problem is, with the oft-injured Varejao out for the season, Cleveland may have missed their chance to sell-high on him. On the bright side, now his crazy numbers, 14.1 points and 14.4 rebounds per game, will remain. Had he played out the season with this roster, those may have dipped. GM Chris Grant can still market him based on those stellar stats.
While he won't play again this season, for the Cavaliers or any other team, there is still value in having a premier rebounder and interior scorer for roughly $9.1 and $9.8 million over the next two seasons (five percent trade kicker).
While there is little precedent trading for an injured center in the middle of the season, Andrew Bogut was moved while injured last season. Bogut was thought to have a chance of playing again in 2011-12, even though that never came to fruition.
Trading for Varejao is a move that sacrifices this season. However, down the road you are looking at quite a player. Just be careful you don't get burned like the Golden State Warriors, as Bogut has played in only four of a possible 67 games with the team.
Current Record: 24-18
Current Rank: No. 6 in Eastern Conference
Prior to their Jan. 23 stomping of the Charlotte Bobcats, the Atlanta Hawks had lost seven of their last 10 games, dropping like a stone in the East's playoff race.
Games against Charlotte and the Minnesota Timberwolves stemmed the tide, but this team is struggling, highlighted by a 97-58 loss to the Chicago Bulls.
Star forward Josh Smith was recently suspended for one game due to conduct detrimental to the team, and has flip-flopped on his desire to stay in Atlanta at Dwight Howardian levels.
Smith is by no means having the breakout year some expected with Joe Johnson moving on and leaving the door open for an offensive leadership role.
His scoring and rebounding are both down from a year ago, and he has seen his free-throw shooting become another thing resembling Howard's. That expiring $13 million contract is looking ripe for a move.
Joining Smith on the list of Atlanta's expiring deals are Zaza Pachulia, Kyle Korver and Devin Harris. None are probably a part of the Hawks' future. Harris is still a starting-caliber point guard stuck on a team with Jeff Teague. Korver is hitting 46 percent of his threes right now, and Pachulia is about as consistent a rebounder as you'll find for $5 million.
If the losing continues in Atlanta, where they are 4-8 in January, and they fall to the bottom or even out of the playoff race, they will be players in the mid-February market.
Current Record: 18-24
Current Rank: No. 11 in Western Conference
The Dallas Mavericks needed to keep the seat warm for Dirk Nowitzki to return, at which point the team would take off and start winning at a pace set forth in previous seasons.
Roughly none of that has gone correctly for the now 18-24 Mavericks. Nowitzki returned to a team that was 12-15, and has gone 6-9 with them since.
For himself, he has struggled to regain his form through 15 games, shooting just 40.8 percent from the field. A recent ratcheting up of his minutes has helped the team win five of their last six, but time is growing late for them to make a serious run.
Dallas is still three games out of just the eighth seed in the Western Conference, and all that means is an additional four or five games against the Oklahoma City Thunder or San Antonio Spurs, and who really wants that?
Donnie Nelson and Mark Cuban, along with Rick Carlisle, did maybe the best they could over the offseason. Then, the Nowitzki injury threw things off-balance for a third of the season. Luckily, they didn't hamstring the team with bad contracts.
Both Chris Kaman and Elton Brand are in Dallas on attractive one-year deals, while they stole O.J. Mayo for $4 million. Mayo has a player option for 2013-14 that he can't reject fast enough, shooting 43 percent from downtown and averaging 18.2 points per game.
If the Mavericks are looking to make noise this season, they have the ammunition to make a major move.
Both Nowitzki and Shawn Marion's deals run out after next season, at which point harder decisions have to be made. The one right now may be easier, do you continue blowing a year of each 34-year-old's declining prime?
Current Record: 15-27
Current Rank: No. 11 in Eastern Conference
I can admit that I loved the Toronto Raptors entering the 2012-13 season. For a variety of reasons, things haven't worked out north of the border.
Bringing in Kyle Lowry, coupled with the rookie seasons of Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross, has not paid dividends through half a season. A late-December run was not sustainable and the Raptors have dropped five of six. Where to go from here depends on how willing Bryan Colangelo is to admit some mistakes.
The biggest mistake of all is Andrea Bargnani, who hasn't played since Dec. 10. While on the court this season, things were not going great for the former No. 1 overall pick. He was shooting just 39.8 percent from the field and 31.9 percent from deep, scoring just 16 points per game and grabbing only 4.3 rebounds through 21 games.
Bargnani is signed on for two more seasons after this, at $11 million and $12 million. While not the most prized trade chip, Toronto has to move on.
An expiring deal to help things along would be Jose Calderon, who is stuck in a somewhat of a QB-controversy at point guard with Kyle Lowry, but he has immense value as a consistent veteran distributor.
Toronto has little else expiring, after inking DeMar DeRozan to an extension. Role players like Linus Kleiza and Aaron Gray both have sizable player options for next season.
The Raptors need to pick a route and stick with it. Right now they are trying to play two different games. Picking up Lowry on the cheap and bringing in three rookies (Quincy Acy) signaled a shift to a younger and faster team.
Yet, they are catering to Calderon and clinging to the hope of Bargnani realizing something in his eighth NBA season.